Friday, March 1, 2024

Background Press Call by a Senior Administration Official to Preview the Bilateral Engagement of President João Lourenço of Angola | The White House

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11:04 A.M. EST

MODERATOR:  Good morning, everyone.  Thank you so much for joining us today for a background or call to preview the President’s engagement this afternoon with the president of Angola, President Lourenço. 

Just a friendly reminder to everyone who’s on the call: This call will be on background, attributable to a “senior administration official.”  It will be embargoed until 4:00 p.m., Eastern time, today. 

For information, not for reporting purposes, on the line, we have [senior administration official]. 

With that, I will turn it over to [senior administration official] for opening remarks. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great.  Thanks, [Moderator].  Thanks, everyone for joining us this morning. 

President Biden is looking forward to welcoming President Lourenço of Angola to the White House today.  This meeting caps off a truly historic year of engagement and partnership with Angola that coincides with the 30-year anniversary of diplomatic ties with the United States. 

It is a profound transformation in our relationship.  And that owes in part to President Lourenço’s leadership and vision from day one and in part to the Biden-Harris administration’s considerable commitment to invest in this partnership through high-level engagements, major infrastructure and economic deals, and collaboration across a range of global and regional priorities. 

Our relationship has gone from strength is strength.  And today, the President looks forward to building on this impressive record. 

So, if I may, I’d like to share just a few highlights.  President Biden’s meeting today with President Lourenço follows a historic, first-ever visit by the Secretary of Defense to Angola in September. 

Other U.S. officials — including USAID Administrator Power, Secretary Buttigieg, EXIM Chair Rita Joe Lewis, DFC CEO Scott Nathan, and Deputy Assistant to the President Amos Hochstein — have engaged with Angolan officials this year.

For the President’s flagship Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment — PGI — we’ve committed over a billion dollars in U.S. financing in the Lobito Corridor this year alone.

The Lobito Corridor connects — or will connect Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zambia to global markets for Angola’s Lobito port. 

We’ve closely collaborated on regional security challenges, including seeking to address the conflict in Eastern Congo.  The United States is supportive and appreciative of Angola’s diplomatic efforts there, and we’ve consulted with the Angolans on our engagements, including Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines’s recent trip to DRC and Rwanda. 

And finally, we value Angola’s principled leadership on global issues, including Russia’s war in the Ukraine.  We have welcomed Angola’s participation in the launch of the Partnership for the Atlantic Cooperation in September and its decision today to sign the Artemis Accords, which is a set of principles to guide civil space exploration and use in the 21st century.  Angola is the third African country to sign the accord.

So, today’s meeting, President Biden and President Lourenço will review the progress we’ve made today and set a course for how we continue to deepen and expand this important partnership. 

And I’m available for questions. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you, [senior administration official].  [Operator], would you please remind our participants today how to unmute themselves?  And we can open up for questions.

Q    Hey, good morning.  It’s Zeke Miller with AP.  I was hoping — and thanks for doing this.  I was you could say whether the President would provide an update on his — what had been his commitment to visit the continent this year. 

You know, that was actually a big piece of the African Leaders Summit earlier this year.  And we’re about to enter December, and there’s no travel on the books yet. 

Will the President set an update on when he plans to visit Africa (inaudible)?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes.  Thank you so much for that question.  At the African Leaders Summit, the President said that he was all in on Africa and committed to advancing U.S. partnerships with African nations and people. 

And so, at his direction, there have been 16 Cabinet member and heads of government departments and agencies trips to the continent.  And it’s really showcased our administration’s renewed commitment to Africa and pushing forward an unprecedented level of investments and engagements. 

With respect to the President’s trip to Africa, I don’t have anything to announce today.

Q    Thank you.  I wanted to ask regarding — I know the Lobito Corridor project is (inaudible) to connect regarding global supply chain and, as you mentioned, to bring Africa into the global market. 

So, the presidents have been talking about supply chain within the U.S.  How can American businesses — small businesses take advantage of the projects and participate in the Lobito Corridor — if you can talk about that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Thank you for that question.  Maybe I’ll talk a little bit about this transformational investment that we are making with our partners on the continent.  But it has also been something that our European counterparts have been eager to get involved with as well, particularly around greenfield rail investment in Zambia. 

But the partnership is really a support for over 180 rural bridges, upgrading the 4G and 5G digital connectivity across Angola, introducing the first-ever mobile money application, and bringing 500 megawatts of solar power to the grid. 

And that’s — you know, those are things that are associated with and in addition to the billion dollars that we’ve mobilized for this rail investment in Africa.  It is the biggest rail investment in the U.S. history in sub-Saharan Africa. 

And so, because of this investment, what we believe is happening and will happen is that it will create a magnet for additional investment, whether that’s Angolan, Southern African, other global partners, and the United States to build around the corridor. 

And the United States has a series of tools through our economic agencies, like the Development Finance Corporation and the U.S. ex- and import bank, that are available to help companies — U.S. companies looking to invest in this exciting corridor.
Q    My name is Chase Winter, reporter with Energy Intelligence.  I was — can you comment a little bit on how you kind of view this Lobito Corridor and — as far as, you know, expanding U.S. access to critical minerals, whether that be in Congo or Angola itself and Zambia — you know, copper mines — and how that sort of — do you view this as sort of the U.S. response to China’s BRI and some of China’s inroads in the region?

In addition, I guess, if I can ask one more question, can you comment a little bit — like, is Angola also putting some money forward on some of these projects?  You know, it’s a big petro state.  I’m just kind of wondering if they’re using those petro dollars to sort of push this along as well.  Thank you.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yeah, thank you so much for that question.  The Lobito Corridor investment is partly a recognition that Africa has some of the lowest road and rail density in the world, and there’s a real need for investment in infrastructure.  And so, this project is one effort by the United States to answer that question in partnership with a number of African countries. 

And the importance of connecting African markets to global — the global marketplace is extraordinarily important.  And there’s a number of commodities that the Lobito port corridor and the rail can help with the export and importation of. 

That includes, of course, critical minerals.  But also, we believe that there is lots of opportunity here, and we are looking at projects to do this, to export agricultural goods and other products to market so that it really is a total package of multiple sectors and multiple products that can move in and out from the interior of the continent in Angola to markets in, first, obviously, the Atlantic and more broadly.

So, it is a pretty important initiative that we think answers a real need for the continent as well as an opportunity for U.S. investment and U.S. access.

And I’ll — I’ll have to get — I have to get back to you on Angolan contributions, but, clearly, the Angolans have made at this opportunity in this partnership with us feasible, possible in helping to realize it.

Q    Hi, my name is Mida [ph].  I’m from the Voice of America, the Portuguese service to Africa.

My question is regarding the defense cooperation.  Angola and the U.S. are set to sign an agreement on defense cooperation in 2024.  What’s the status on that?  And are there any plans to deploy American military instructors in Angola?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Hold on one second.  Sorry about that. 

Yes, our relationship — our security relationship with Angola continues to deepen.  You may know that President Lourenço was a former defense minister and had visited the United States in that capacity and has built strong ties with the U.S. military and the Pentagon. 

And that was — really came together quite powerfully with Secretary Austin’s trip in September — again, the first-ever Secretary of Defense trip to Angola.  And in those conversations, they talked about opportunities where we can deepen our cooperation, in particular, answering some of the Angolans’ interest in military modernization.

So, we are going to have a high-level dialogue in 2024.  We’ll discuss many agreements there.  We’ll also just continue to deepen our — our mil-to-mil exchanges, looking for opportunities where we can focus on education, English language capacity, maritime security, and peacekeeping. 

So, there’s really a lot of excitement about the ways in which we can work more closely with the Angolans on — on these security issues.

Q    Hi, it’s Michael Phillips from the Wall Street Journal. 

You said that “we’ve…” — quoting you, “we’ve committed over a billion dollars in financing to Lobito Corridor.”  Can you break that down for us?  I know you — there’s a DFC, $250 million financing package, that’s going through due diligence now.  Where does the other $750 million that goes to Lobito Corridor specifically come from?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Two of the biggest projects is the $250 million that you referenced, as well as a $900 million Sun Africa investment in solar. 

So, you know, when we think about the Lobito Corridor, as I said earlier, it’s about the rail, but also what we’re doing with solar ener- — to bring solar energy to the grid, what we are doing on upgrading 4G and 5G through the support we’re giving to Africell. 

And then there’s what this investment has induced or encouraged our partners to do.  So, another billion dollars of investment have come from the African Development Bank — $500 from the African Development Bank and another — $500 million — and another $500 million from the EU. 

So, this billion-dollar investment that we are making in the corridor has corralled in additional investments from other partners.

MODERATOR:  Hi, your line is open.  Please state your name and outlet. 

Q    Hi, thank you so much.  This is Raquel (inaudible) Global from Brazil.  Two questions.  One, if you could tell us about any potential deliverables announcement today.  And also, if President Biden will talk about the importance of democracy (inaudible)?  Thank you. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  The presidents will certainly talk about the state of democracy globally as well as in Africa.  I know both of our governments are concerned about the numbers of coup d’états in the region.  And so, I suspect that that will be a topic of conversation.

In terms of deliverables, at least one that I’m — I’m willing to share on this call is the — the signature of the Artemis Accords, which will — which will be happening this morning, and then we will announce it with the President’s meetings. 

Q    Yes, thank you very much.  (Inaudible) from AFP.  I just wanted to follow up on Zeke’s question.  The Chinese president went to Africa this year.  By not going, what kind of message would the President send to the continent?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I think the President’s message is clear.  Since the African Leaders Summit, the amount of engagement that the U.S. government has made with African — sorry, the amount of engagement that the U.S. government has had with Africa has truly been record-breaking.  Sixteen Cabinet-level or principal-level trips; billions of dollars of investment; the launching of a new initiative known as the Digital Transformation with Africa, which is an $800 million initiative; the support for Africans in — in global governance, including the AU joining of the G20; a third seat for the Africans at the IMF; the introduction of two African countries to the EBRD, the European Reconstruction and Development Bank; and our call for a permanent representation for Africans at the Security Council. 

In addition, the President — the Vice President launched just recently the Presidential Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement, which features 12 prominent members of the African diaspora. 

So, across the spectrum in terms of personal time, in terms of the way we’re using our economic agencies to finance and support deals, the commitments that we have made and realize on, including African voices in the global architecture and the strengthening of our people-to-people ties, I think that’s a record — it is a record that we are very proud of following a year of action from the summit. 

Q    Hey.  It’s Trevor Hunnicutt here from Reuters.  Thanks for doing the call. 

Just a couple things.  One on the Lobito corridor.  I’m curious if you have an update on whether Trafigura has any commitments from local mining companies to use the railway. 

And then also, just as far as topics today, is — are the ongoing OPEC+ talks going to be on the agenda with Biden?  And, you know, if you could just summarize where — you know, what the President is going to ask from Angola with regards to Congo and the upcoming elections there.  Thanks. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  I don’t have anything to — to ride on your first question. 

But in terms of what the two presidents will discuss, it will be a review of the economic investments that we are making together in Angola and in the Lobito port corridor and seeking ways to deepen those ties.  Consultation on — on regional issues, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the fighting in eastern DRC making — continuing to align the efforts that the Angolans are leading through the Luanda process and the work that we have recently done through the leadership of DNI Avril Haines to deescalate tensions in this period of time during the Congolese elections.

As President Biden does in all of his engagements, he will solicit President Lourenço’s views on global issues, including, you know, their shared and principled commitment and stance in defense of the U.N. Charter.  And the — and the importance of territorial integrity and sovereignty. 

So, those will be a number of the key issues that the two leaders will discuss.  And as I said at the top, it really is a capstone to a year of historic engagement and consultation in partnership.  I think it’s something that is historic in our relationship of 30 years of diplomatic ties. 

But if you look at the broader trajectory of U.S. engagement in Angola, it really is a remarkable place where we are today with such a close partnership on a host of key priorities.

Q    Yes, Hariana Veras from TPA, Public Television of Angola.  Can you give us a little more details on the Artemis Accord?  I heard you mention this is the third country in Africa signing — Angola will be the third country.

And can you mention a little bit of if the President Biden know about the — that Angola is one of the countries that has the deepest connection with United States because the first African slaves arriving to the United States came from Angola, and they helped build this nation in what it is today?  Is he aware of that?  Does the President know about this piece of history that also, because of this moment in the relations, it came to the mind of the Angolan people.

And please give us more details on this Artemis (inaudible).

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Of course.  So, President Biden has a lot of experience working on Angola, including when he was a junior senator and he was the chair of the subcommittee for African Affairs.  So, President Biden has been involved in U.S.-Angolan relationship, really, from the late ‘70s onward.

And so, you know, he’s very well informed about Angolan history and particularly where this relationship has evolved in during his administration.

With respects to the Artemis Accords, it’s a set of non-binding principles that are designed to guide civil space and exploration and use in the 21st century.  So, it’s a number of norms about a common vision for peaceful, sustainable, and transparent cooperation in space.

And Angola, which has a space program, is an important signatory — or an important country to join this group of countries because how we think about the use of space is critical to all of us.

They’re the third country, as I said.  Rwanda and Nigeria signed the Accords at the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit.

And maybe just to put a fine point on it, I think this meeting that we’re having today is about our past, it’s about our present, but it’s also about our future.  And one of the hallmarks of President Biden’s administration’s policy towards Africa is incorporating our African partners in the most important conversations that affect the future of this very decisive decade in space — space norms.  And our approach towards how we — how countries behave and operate in outer space is incredibly important, and the Africans have and should be at the table for that conversation.

So, that’s why we’re delighted that the Angolans have agreed to sign on to this — to the Accords.

Q    Hi, this is Pearl Matibe, and I’m with defenceWeb from South Africa.

[Senior administration official], I’m very excited that the Angolan President will be in the Oval Office this afternoon and to see how excited you — the Biden administration has in hosting him.  So, thank you so much for doing this.

My question — actually, it’s a two-part question.  Earlier today, I saw the announcement from the Department of Treasury about removal of Zimbabwean sanctions.  I just wanted to find out: Did a request or discussions take place preceding this afternoon’s bilateral in terms of Zimbabwe, given Angola’s regional role in SADC? 

And then, my second part of the question is regarding DRC.  I’m glad that you did bring up the very critical, complex issues in the eastern DRC, where you and DNI have just visited.  I wonder: Will you plan to have an outcomes briefing with us at some later stage?  I’m very interested to hear more about Angola’s role in the DRC and the Luanda Process. 

In terms of the Lobito Corridor, how do you anticipate security issues or challenges given the terrorism out of the eastern DRC.  In terms of protection of that corridor, are there any talks or planning going on with maybe AFRICOM and other partners in the region in terms of securing that corridor?  Thanks, [senior administration official]. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, Pearl.  Well, you asked three questions, so maybe I’ll just do two of them because I think we’ve — we’ve discussed the Lobito Corridor extensively on this — this call. 

But with respect to what’s happening in eastern DRC, DNI Haines traveled to both Kinshasa and to Kigali to secure commitments to deescalate the tensions between the two countries in this delicate time of the Congolese election. 

It is — the commitments were drawn from previous agreements and previous set of arrangements that were decided in the Luanda Process and in the Nairobi Process. 

And so, we did the trip in close collaboration and consultation with our Angolan partners, including providing a debrief just yesterday with Foreign Minister Tete.  And we will continue to work with the Angolans, the Kenyans, and other interested parties throughout this process to ensure that there isn’t an escalation of fighting in the eastern DRC. 

On — on the issue around Angola’s leadership in the region, as you know, Angola is the — the head of SADC and has been a very prominent leader when it comes to dealing with regional security concerns, not just in Congo but, of course — they have several advisors as part of the South African — or Southern African Mission to Mozambique.  And under their leadership, SADC issued one of their most critical critiques and statements on the Zimbabwean elections.  And my expectation is that President Lourenço and President Biden will discuss many of these regional issues and concerns in their meeting.

MODERATOR:  We have one more — time for one more question, I believe.  Please go ahead and state your name and outlet.

Q    Good morning.  This is Andrew with the Independent.  Can you all hear me?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Go ahead.

Q    Wonderful.  I — I just wanted to try one more time on the President not visiting Africa this year.  You — you were asked about the message it sends that he hasn’t gone after he said he would go and you rattled off a whole bunch of things about Cabinet-level visits and other engagements.  But you didn’t actually answer the question. 

What does it say that the President said he would go to Africa this year, but he hasn’t gone and it doesn’t appear that he will go?  What should Africans, African leaders, African governments take away from that that he’s found the time to go to Ukraine; he’s found the time to go to Israel; he’s had other international engagements this year; but even though he said he would go to Africa, he hasn’t gone to Africa? 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, thank you for the question.  I understand why that’s of interest.  As I — as I said earlier, I think if you look at the record of what this administration has done with African partners over the past year since the Africa Leaders Summit, I think it’s very clear to our partners and to the people of Africa what we — what we are committed to do and the effects that we are — we are having on the ground in terms of investments, in terms of integrating African voices in into global governance infrastructure, making reforms to the IFIs in the MDBs as the multilateral — multi- — multilateral development banks and international financial institutions and the U.N. 

So, the President continues to be very engaged with African leaders, including this visit, including a recent call with President Ruto, including standing next — with President Ramaphosa in support of — and President — Prime Minister Modi and President Lula at the G20, talking about the importance of the G20 and welcoming the joining of the African Union to the G20 — something that President Biden called for at the African Leaders Summit. 

And so, I think that the record of engagement and investment and concrete outcomes is a pretty clear and powerful message of our commitment to the continent. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much, [senior administration official].  Thank you very everyone for joining us for today’s call.  Just a friendly reminder that all of this will be attributable to a “senior administration official.”  The call was on background.  And a friendly reminder that the embargo will be lifted at 4:00 p.m. Eastern time. 

Thank you, everyone, again, for joining.  And just for planning purposes as well, I would flag that we will have a readout of the President’s meeting after he meets with the President of Angola this afternoon.  And we will also be anticipating a factsheet. 

I know that I’m getting queries, so I just wanted to make sure that everyone knows that is coming also this afternoon. 

Thank you and have a great afternoon.  Thank you, [senior administration official]. 

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks, everyone. 

11:35 A.M. EST

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