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Bush, Blair push African debt relief

President pledges additional $674 million for humanitarian aid


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British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush talk to reporters.
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States and Britain are working on a plan to provide full debt relief for African countries that are "on the path to reform," U.S. President George W. Bush has said.

Bush's comment came after a Tuesday meeting at the White House with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is pushing an ambitious African aid plan as this year's chairman of the Group of Eight economic powers.

"We ... agree that highly indebted developing countries that are on the path to reform should not be burdened by mountains of debt," Bush said at a joint news conference with Blair.

"Our countries are developing a proposal for the G8 that will eliminate 100 percent of that debt," Bush said.

The U.S. president said the plan would call for G8 nations to provide additional funding for the World Bank and the African Development Bank to protect these institutions.

For his part, Blair said: "There is a real desire to make sure that we cancel the debt, and cancel the debt in such a way that it doesn't inhibit or disadvantage the international institutions."

Bush has opposed key elements of the 10-year, $25 billion British plan, which would commit donor nations to double their aid to the poorest African nations.

In a compromise, Bush pledged an additional $674 million for "humanitarian emergencies" in Africa.

The money will be in addition to approximately $1.4 billion the Bush administration is spending on humanitarian needs this year, a National Security Council official said.

Bush said U.S. aid to Africa has tripled during his tenure, but he said his administration wants the money to go to countries with "open economies and open markets."

Blair said the time was right for wealthy countries to foster decisive change in Africa. "But it is a two-way commitment," he said.

"We require the African leadership also to be prepared to make the commitment on governance against corruption -- in favor of democracy, in favor of the rule of law," Blair said.

He said political reforms were needed to make sure that aid reached the people who needed it the most.

"No developed nation is going to want to support a government that doesn't take an interest in their people, that doesn't focus on education and health care," he said.

Blair won a new mandate from British voters in May despite the unpopularity of the war in Iraq.

But his ruling Labour Party lost more than 90 seats in the House of Commons, and British lawmakers say it is time for Bush to lend a hand to his staunchest ally on the issues Blair wants to address.

Tuesday's announcement was a way to show Blair's critics back home that he can pry commitments out of Washington on his priorities.

For years Blair has had a mission, one he outlined in a memorable speech after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in America.

"The state of Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world, but if the world as a community focused on it we could heal it," Blair told his Labour Party that autumn.

This year's G8 summit of the world's leading industrialized nations is scheduled for July in Scotland. Besides Britain and the United States, the other members are France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Canada and Russia. The European Union also sends a delegation to G8 summits.

Last week, South African President Thabo Mbeki said July's summit "has the possibility to communicate a very strong, positive message about movement on the African continent away from poverty and development."

"Your contribution to the practical outcomes of the G8 summit is critically important," Mbeki told Bush.

CNN's Dana Bash and Robin Oakley contributed to this report.


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