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Obama to meet Gabon leader at the White House

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Controversy over Gabon president's visit
  • White House press secretary defends decision to invite the leader
  • U.S. officials have accused President Ali Bongo Ondimba of corruption
  • Barack Obama
  • Gabon
  • United States

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama will welcome his Gabonese counterpart to the White House on Thursday, a day after a visit with another African leader.

Obama and President Ali Bongo Ondimba will discuss regional issues and bilateral topics.

Ondimba was elected in 2009 following the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who had ruled the nation for 42 years.

White House press secretary Jay Carney defended the invitation Wednesday when asked whether it was appropriate to invite the leader, whom U.S. officials have accused of corruption.

"Gabon is holding the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council; it's an important position," Carney said at a news briefing.

"Moreover, Gabon has voted in ways that we consider very helpful on issues like Cote d'Ivoire, Libya and Iran. It has been an important ally in our efforts in those countries through the United Nations."

Obama is meeting with the leader as he does with others "who have less than sterling" records, the press secretary said.

Though human rights concerns remain an issue in the country, Ondimba has made several reforms, according to Carney.

"So we're obviously -- we think it's definitely a worthwhile meeting," he said.

The tiny Gabon, which has a population of about 1.5 million, is a major oil producer in Africa.

His visit comes a day after Obama and Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan discussed regional and global developments.

The White House has announced that first lady Michelle Obama will travel to South Africa and Botswana this month.