With storm clouds resting over Asia and the Middle East, U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia called the African continent “the most important continent in the 21st century for our country.”
Mr. Isakson underscored his affinity for Africa during an Atlanta Council on International Relations luncheon address at the Capital City Club downtown on May 2.
Saying that he had traveled to Africa more than seven times during the course of the past decade, he praised Africans for “their intuitive good sense,” particularly in analyzing their relations with China and the United States.
“The Chinese are trying to buy their way in there, and we’re trying to work our way in there,” he added.
Africans see the Chinese bringing in their own workers and companies in contrast to Americans who hire African workers and contractors as well as invest in African companies, he said.
He also praised the Millennium Challenge Corp. and the African Growth and Opportunity Act, legislation which he introduced on a bipartisan basis. Mr. Isakson is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on bilateral international development.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) offers duty free access to the U.S. market for certain exports from eligible sub-Saharan African countries and requires the U.S. State Department to promote these efforts with sub- Saharan African governments and businesses. The Millennium Challenge Corp. is to promote economic growth and cross-border engagement between nations.
Mr. Isakson cited both entities when he described how he and his fellow senator, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., persuaded the South African government five years ago to allow chicken meat into the country.
“This year we, Georgia and Delaware, are going to send 19 million metric tons of chicken to South Africa,” he said, claiming that he and Mr. Cooms should be acknowledged as co-chairmen of a “Chicken Caucus.”
Briefly referring to Africa’s abundance of natural resources as an important strategic consideration for the U.S., he emphasized the good sense of African people, who in addition to recognizing the benefits of U.S. economic efforts on the continent, appreciate U.S. humanitarian initiatives there.
He pointed specifically to the activities of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Emory University Hospital in containing the Ebola virus. “The CDC is winning friends on the continent,” he said. “By saving lives they have said more than we could ever say in speeches or negotiating trade agreements.”
He also singled out for praise Tom Frieden, who retired last year as director, for his leadership of the complex during the Ebola crisis.
During an interview following the luncheon address, the senator further underscored his affinity for African countries by citing the remarks he expressed upon learning of President Trump’s derogatory comments concerning them and Haiti during a bipartisan immigration meeting at the White House.
His office forwarded at Global Atlanta’s request his comments during an interview on POTUS SiriusXM radio upon learning of the incident.
“I did not hear it, but if it’s true, he owes the people of Haiti and all of mankind an apology. That is not the kind of statement the leader of the free world should make, and ought to be ashamed of himself. If he did not make it, he needs to corroborate the facts and prove it and move forward.”
Mr. Isakson’s remarks concerning Africa represented only a small portion of his address which primarily dealt with the administration’s trade and geopolitical initiatives.
On both trade and geopolitics, he repeated his support for “peace through strength,” granting that Mr. Trump has changed the U.S. posture towards North Korea and Iran into better bargaining stances.
He also credited the president with improving the U.S. bargaining position on trade policy allowing that the U.S. would regain entry on better terms into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Mr. Trump abandoned upon gaining the presidency. He also foresaw the U.S. achieving a favorable settlement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the administration also has attacked.
He supported the president’s stance that North Korea rid itself of all its nuclear capabilities and fissile material as a precondition for any agreement with the U.S. And he was critical of the Iranian government accepting Israel’s declaration that the Iranian government was violating the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) agreement.
He said that he supported the move of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as a sign of support for Israel, and acknowledged that Israel has a right to the settlements. He called the Palestinians “disingenuous” in their negotiations with the Israelis, although he added that he favored a two-state solution and an independent Palestine.
Concerning the situation in Syria, he acknowledged having become more of a hawk, saying that both the governments of Syria and Iran are only responsive to brutal force.
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