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Bush praises Nigeria's leadership on AIDS

President visits AIDS clinic in Abuja

President Bush met Saturday with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on the last leg of his African tour.
President Bush met Saturday with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo on the last leg of his African tour.

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ABUJA, Nigeria (CNN) -- Before ending his African visit, President Bush on Saturday pledged that the United States would work with Nigeria to bring peace to Liberia and thanked his Nigerian counterpart for leadership in the fight against AIDS.

"Nigeria is a very important country on the continent of Africa, and because of your forthrightness and your style and your commitment, you are a very important leader on this continent," Bush told Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

Bush's first visit to the continent has been overshadowed by questions over a false statement in his State of the Union address that Iraq sought to buy uranium from Africa.

Bush said Saturday he remained confident in the Central Intelligence Agency and CIA Director George Tenet.

In a statement released Friday, Tenet took responsibility for the now-discredited statement, saying that the CIA had seen and approved the speech before it was delivered in January.

The inclusion of the uranium claim set off a political firestorm in Washington. Some Democrats who were opposed to the war in Iraq accused the president of misleading the American people to build support for military action. (Full story)

The controversy has taken the spotlight away from what Bush hoped to highlight during his Africa trip: a five-year, $15 billion U.S. initiative to combat the spread of AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean.

Bush discussed the AIDS plan with Obasanjo and visited an AIDS clinic in the capital of Abuja with first lady Laura Bush.

The president also said the United States was assessing the situation in Liberia to determine whether to send U.S. peacekeepers to the West African nation.

Nigeria has offered asylum to Liberian President Charles Taylor, whom Bush has called upon to leave the country so civil strife can end. Taylor has agreed to step down but has offered no timetable.

"The first objective, of course, is for Mr. Taylor to leave the country, which he said he'd do, and I want to thank the president [Obasanjo] for his leadership on that issue -- it's been a tough issue," Bush said Saturday.

"I told the president [Obasanjo] we would be active, and the definition of that will be made known when we understand all the parameters."

Bush also thanked Obasanjo for his commitment to economic issues and said that "we look forward to being an active trading partner with Nigeria.

Rich in oil, Nigeria is the eighth-largest producer in the world and sends 46 percent of its petroleum exports to the United States.

In addition to Nigeria, Bush's African tour has taken him to Senegal, South Africa, Botswana and Uganda. He left Abuja for Washington Saturday.

White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

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