Biden hosts the Angolan president in an effort to showcase strengthened ties as Africa visit slips

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden hosted Angolan President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço in the Oval Office on Thursday as he sought to reaffirm his commitment to Africa even as two wars consume much of his administration’s foreign policy focus.

The White House meeting follows Angola’s move to position itself as a strategic partner to the United States and as it has shifted away from Russian and Chinese influence under Lourenço’s tenure. The visit comes as Biden appears set to break his commitment to African leaders to visit the continent this year — though senior U.S. officials have made key trips to Africa throughout 2023.

“We meet a historic moment,” Biden said. “America is all in on Africa. We’re all in with you in Angola.”

Lourenço praised Biden’s approach to the continent and said his country is looking to develop increased economic and security ties with the U.S.

“This is a new page that has been turned in U.S.-Africa relations and that’s thanks to you, Mr. President,” he said.

Lobbyists for Lourenço had petitioned Biden administration officials to set up the meeting between the two leaders for months, warning that the absence of such a high-profile engagement could jeopardize Angola’s commitment to working with the U.S.

“While others in southern Africa are strengthening ties to China, President Lourenço is shedding Angola’s historic relationships with China (and Russia) in favor of a new and strategic partnership with the United States. This is a fundamental shift in Angolan foreign policy,” lobbyist Robert Kapla wrote in April to Biden confidant Amos Hochstein, according to lobbyist disclosure records.

“We are informed that if President Lourenço is unable to meet with President Biden this year, there is real risk that the positive momentum both sides have generated since 2017 will begin to lose traction,” Kapla wrote a week earlier to Ambassador Molly Phee, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs.

The visit comes months after Biden and allies among the Group of 20 leading rich and developing nations unveiled a Trans-African Corridor connecting the Angolan port of Lobito with landlocked areas of the African continent: the Kananga province in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the copper mining regions of Zambia. It’s part of a global infrastructure program championed by Biden that is meant as a counterweight to China’s Belt and Road initiative.

”They’re a strategic partner and a growing global voice on issues of peace and security,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday, adding that the two leaders would discuss economic and security cooperation as well as regional and global issues.

Much of Biden’s recent foreign policy focus has been on Russia’s war in Ukraine and the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Declaring that U.S. leadership “holds the world together,” the Democratic president told Americans in an Oval Office address in October that the U.S. must deepen its support of Ukraine and Israel in the middle of two vastly different, unpredictable and bloody wars.

Biden pledged to visit Africa in 2023 when he hosted the continent’s leaders in Washington last December, but the White House has repeatedly declined to say when he will make the trip, and there are no indications that he is set to make good on the promise before the new year. Asked Thursday by a reporter if he’d visit Angola, Biden said only, “I have been there, and I will be back.”

AP writer Chris Megerian contributed.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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