Media Briefing With Deputy Secretary William Burns

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary of State
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
January 30, 2014

DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS:  Good afternoon and thank you very much for making the time.  It truly is an honor for me to represent the United States here in Addis Ababa at the 22nd African Union Summit.  When President Obama and Dr. Dlamini-Zuma met last June, they committed to broaden and deepen the partnership between the United States and the African Union.  In the last few months, we have taken important strides to ensure that we realize the full potential of that partnership.  Together we are tackling our shared priorities, strengthening democratic institutions, spurring economic growth, trade and investment, advancing peace and security, and promoting opportunity and development.  

No issue is more central to this continent’s prosperity than agriculture and food security, and on no issue are our efforts more aligned.  Together we are working to achieve our shared goal of a hunger-free Africa by 2025, and through the new alliance for food security and nutrition, a partnership of the G8 and African partner countries, we are making steady progress toward our goal of bringing 50 million people out of poverty by 2022. President Obama’s Feed the Future initiative is helping reduce hunger, poverty and under-nutrition throughout the continent.  Last year alone, Feed the Future reached 12 million children and helped 7.5 million food producers increase their yields. 
But as all of you know, in too many parts of this continent, violence and conflict hold at risk the region’s economic progress.  We are committed to supporting the AU’s active role in addressing regional peace and security.  In Somalia, the AU is providing critical political and security assistance, and helping the Somali people rebuild after decades of conflict.  In the Central African Republic, AU forces are an integral part of the international peacekeeping force.  We have made a commitment to provide up to 100 million dollars of training equipment and airlift support to the AU so that they can continue to lead regional responses to regional crises. 
Of course, we are in regular contact with the AU about South Sudan.  We strongly support IGAD’s efforts to end the violence, to reach a peaceful political solution, and to halt the growing humanitarian crisis.  This afternoon, IGAD mediators and international partners will discuss additional steps the international community can take to support peace efforts and help the people of South Sudan achieve the democratic, peaceful state they fought so long and so hard to achieve. 
As all of you know, there are many areas for continued and strengthened partnership between the United States and the African Union.  We are particularly looking forward to the first ever U.S. – Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington this August where we will build on the progress made since President Obama’s trip to Africa last summer and further deepen our collaboration on our shared goals and interests.  Again, it is a pleasure to meet with all of you this afternoon and I look forward to your questions.  Thank you very much. 
QUESTION:  (Associated Press) One of the pre-conditions on the cease-fire in South Sudan was the release of prisoners.  The conditions were met.  What will be the USG position on a peace agreement?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS:  We welcome the release of the seven detainees as you mentioned and we believe that is a positive step.  We will continue to urge the release of the remaining four detainees.  It’s very important, as we have emphasized publicly, that the agreement on cessation of hostilities be implemented.  We are quite concerned, as are many of our partners, about the continuing violence.  We believe it is essential that the agreement, which is still a fragile one, be implemented.  We will continue to provide strong support to the IGAD mediation effort, and we will have an opportunity this afternoon, along with colleagues from the United Kingdom, Norway, the European Union, and China to meet with the IGAD mediation team and talk about ways in which we can further support their efforts.  We will continue to call upon both parties to allow unfettered access for humanitarian agencies to vulnerable populations.  We remain very concerned about evidence of human rights abuses and we will work with partners in the international community to try to ensure that those responsible for abuses are held to account.  The cessation of hostilities agreement provides an opportunity, but it’s a fragile one, and it’s extremely important that the leadership and political leaders in South Sudan make a choice to move towards full implementation of that agreement.  The alternative is further mistrust, conflict, and human suffering.  The United States will continue to do everything that we can to support a serious reconciliation. 
QUESTION:  (Ethiopian Reporter Newspaper):  I want your comments on the priorities of the USG and plans to cooperate with the AU on peace and security issues? 
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS:  Peace and security remains a very important pillar of the partnership between the United States and the African Union, as President Obama has emphasized.  As I mentioned before, the summit meeting between President Obama and African leaders planned for August offers a unique opportunity for us to highlight the importance and priority that we attach to working with peoples and leaders across Africa to promote common goals, to help empower Africans, and to realize the full potential of societies in the continent.  It is an opportunity for us to promote additional trade and investment and economic growth, recognizing that seven of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are in Africa, but also that there are terrible problems of inequality and poverty remaining.  It is an opportunity to strengthen our partnership on peace and security and trying to bring an end to some of the conflicts which have caused so much suffering, whether in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, or the Great Lakes region.  It’s an opportunity for us to redouble our efforts in dealing with the huge systemic challenges, such as health and food security.  It’s an opportunity to deepen people to people ties.  In that respect, the Young African Leader’s Initiative, which President Obama launched and which has already generated approximately 50 thousand applications for 500 opportunities for young African leaders in the U.S. this summer is an illustration both of our commitment to connecting with the next generation of African leaders, and to doing everything we can to support them, whether in public service or in the private sector.  So, looking at all those areas, there are huge challenges, as you know better than I do, but also significant opportunities for partnerships between the United States and the AU. 
QUESTION:  (AFP)  Regarding the situation in C.A.R.:  Given the MISCA donors conference on Saturday and documents floating around New York to raise troop caps to 10,000 – is all that going to be enough to quell the violence?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS:  Obviously the situation in the C.A.R. is a huge and growing challenge.  We have taken a number of steps, working with France and with our other partners in the Security Council, to try to empower forces, both African Union forces, French forces, and now most recently as a result of the resolution earlier this week, an EU force, to reduce violence and create the circumstances in which political reconciliation can occur and in which the humanitarian crisis can be eased.  The United States is proud to have contributed to that effort up to a 100 million dollars in training, equipment and airlift support for AU forces, 45 million dollars in humanitarian assistance, and 7.5 million dollars to date in support for the reconciliation efforts.  But we have no illusion about the challenges that remain or the depth of the human suffering there.  We will do everything that we can to support the new transitional president and transitional government as they prepare for elections no later than the beginning of 2015.  The UN Secretary General has committed to reporting back to the Council about what more may be needed and certainly we will pay very careful attention to his report and work very closely with our partners in the AU, and in the Security Council to try to resolve this terrible crisis.  
MODERATOR:  I’m sorry, I just got word from my colleague that that’s all we have time for today. 
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS:  I can do one more. 
QUESTION: (Power Radio, South Africa) As part of the accountability of Seleka’s role in C.A.R., what do you think should happen?
DEPUTY SECRETARY BURNS:  I don’t have a lot to add to the earlier comments that I made on the Central African Republic.  We want to see a serious effort to bring about an end to the violence, an end to the human suffering caused by the crisis and a serious process of political reconciliation that avoids the kind of sectarian conflict which has broken apart so many other societies in the world.  And so those are the broad aims that the United States is going to continue to work towards, and we will work very closely with our partners in the AU, in the Security Council, and around the world. 
Thank you all very much.