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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 February 2008, 20:10 GMT
Bush defends US record on Darfur
President George W Bush, interviewed by BBC News America, 14/02/08
President Bush says Africa has been a foreign policy priority

US President George W Bush has defended his decision not to send troops to the Sudanese region of Darfur, despite what he calls a genocide taking place there.

He called it a "seminal decision" not to intervene with force, taken partly out of the desire not to send US troops into another Muslim country.

Mr Bush was speaking to BBC World News America before flying to Africa.

He also discussed controversy over China's Olympics - saying he would attend the event as scheduled.

After Hollywood director Steven Spielberg withdrew his assistance to the Olympics in protest at China's policy towards Darfur, Mr Bush said he would not be taking a similar stance.

"I view the Olympics as a sporting event," he told the BBC's Matt Frei.

George W Bush meets people in Botswana during his visit in 2003
I've got a firm, heartfelt commitment to the continent of Africa

President George W Bush

But he added that he would meet Chinese President Hu Jintao and "remind him that he can do more to relieve the suffering in Darfur".

Mr Bush is scheduled to leave on Friday for his second tour of Africa - though he said on Thursday he might be delayed if a crucial wiretapping bill was held up in Congress.

He is due to visit Benin, Tanzania, Rwanda, Ghana and Liberia.

The president will be travelling with his wife, Laura.

They will visit hospitals, schools and businesses, hoping to show how US investment in health and development programmes has made a real difference to Africans.

Aid promises

Mr Bush said he had a "firm, heartfelt commitment to the continent of Africa".

But he said it was also in the interest of US and global security to tackle poverty there.

Newsnight, BBC Two, 2230 GMT, Thursday
BBC World News America, via BBC News 24, Friday, 0030 GMT
BBC World News America, via BBC World (outside UK only), Friday, 0000 GMT / 1900 ET / 1600 PT

"We have people who are suffering from disease and hunger and hopelessness. The only way a radical can recruit is to find somebody who's hopeless," he said.

US aid to Africa has grown rapidly since Mr Bush entered the White House in 2001. He said on Thursday it had doubled over his first term and was set to double again by 2010.

Asked by Matt Frei if he felt he had got the credit he deserved for such investment, Mr Bush replied: "I'm not one of these guys that really gives a darn about elite opinion. What I really care about is - are we saving lives?"

Interrogation bill veto

Mr Bush will not visit Kenya, where inter-ethnic violence erupted after recent disputed elections, or Sudan.

But his aides say he will discuss both crises with African leaders during his trip.

Benin - Cotonou: arrival ceremony, meets president
Tanzania - Dar-es-Salaam: meets president, tours hospital; Arusha: tours hospital, textile mill and girls' school
Rwanda - Kigali: meets president, visits genocide memorial
Ghana - Accra: meets president, state dinner
Liberia - Monrovia: meets president, visits university

Mr Bush condemned the government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and said he would put more pressure on neighbouring South Africa to find a diplomatic solution.

"I just happen to believe their government could do more to enhance a free society in their region," he said.

Talking about events at home, he defended his threat to veto a bill passed by the US Senate outlawing the interrogation technique of water-boarding, dismissing fears that that might send a negative message around the world.

Asked whether America still occupied the moral high ground after Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, Mr Bush gave a crisply blunt answer, our interviewer says.

"Absolutely," he replied. "We believe in human rights and human dignity. We believe in the human condition. We believe in freedom."

Mr Bush was similarly robust in his defence of his actions in Iraq, saying: "The decision to move Saddam Hussein was right. And this democracy is now taking root. And I'm confident that if America does not become isolationist - you know, and allow the terrorists to take back over, Iraq will succeed."

Matt Frei is the presenter of BBC World News America which airs every weekday at 0030 GMT on BBC News 24 and at 0000 GMT (1900 ET / 1600 PT) on BBC World (for viewers outside the UK only).

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