Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on President Biden’s Meeting with President Kenyatta of the Republic of Kenya

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Background Press Call by Senior Administration Officials on President Biden’s Meeting with President Kenyatta of the Republic of Kenya

Via Teleconference 10:37 A.M. EDT MODERATOR:  Hello, good morning, everyone, from the National Security Council. On behalf of the NSC p

Via Teleconference

10:37 A.M. EDT
 
MODERATOR:  Hello, good morning, everyone, from the National Security Council.
 
On behalf of the NSC press team, I would like to welcome you all to an on-background call to discuss President Biden’s meeting today with President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya. 
 
Today, for your reference, we are joined by [senior administration official].  This call is on-background and, therefore, our speaker should be referred to as a “senior administration official” for the purposes of this call.
 
The call contents will be embargoed until 3:00 p.m. this afternoon.  By joining the call, you are agreeing to these ground rules.
 
I will repeat: We have pushed the embargo back to 3:00 p.m., given that the bilat was pushed back to 2:45.  So, we very much appreciate that you agree to the ground rules and the embargo time.
 
We will not be sending any embargoed materials related to this call.
 
We will begin with remarks from [senior administration official], and then we’ll open it up to your questions.  And with that, over to you, [senior administration official].
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Great.  Thank you.
 
Good morning, everyone, and thanks for joining.
 
I wanted to talk today about a very exciting meeting that President Biden will host President Kenyatta of Kenya at the White House in the Oval Office for a meeting this afternoon. 
 
The President will reaffirm the importance of the strong U.S.-Kenya bilateral relationship in the meeting, and this will be the leaders’ first in-person meeting and President Biden’s first bilateral meeting in the Oval Office with an African leader.
 
So, the “Why Kenya?”  Well, Kenya is a strong bilateral partner and a leader on regional and global issues.  The United States is — we’re committed to working closely with Kenya to advance peace and security, both in the region and globally, as Kenya is current — currently holds the presidency of the U.N. Security Council this month — as well as defending democracy and human rights, strengthening financial transparency, accelerating economic growth, and tackling climate change.
 
And this meeting demonstrates really a new era of U.S. partnership with Africa that is based on principles of mutual respect and equity as laid out by President Biden in his address to the African Union Summit in January of this year.
 
We know that Africa is a continent experiencing rapid demographic growth, vast economic potential, and significant geopolitical influence on the world stage.  And the Biden-Harris administration recognizes that and thus has set out to really encourage an affirmative agenda with the continent, and today’s meeting with President Kenyatta reaffirms that.
 
I’ll just highlight again: You know, Kenya is really an important strategic partner in Africa because we are — we work with them very closely, and they are vital in advancing peace and security in a very fragile Horn of Africa region.  In particular, Kenya can play an important role in countering al-Shabaab in Somalia, as well as deescalating the conflict in Ethiopia. 
 
And as a current member of the U.N. Security Council, Kenya also exerts influence in various international fora, such as, you know, being a leader on cross-cutting strategic issues, such as democracy and human rights, climate, trade and investment, and health and health security.
 
So, with that, I will take — open it up to your questions.
 
Q    Good morning.  Thanks for doing this call.  I listened to the agenda you just described, and what I didn’t hear on it was anything about anti-corruption efforts.  The President has said that anti-corruption is going to be a priority for his administration (inaudible) everything.  And, as I’m sure you’re aware, the recently released Pandora Papers show Mr. Kenyatta’s family holding a lot of offshore wealth, and I’m wondering if the President will be mentioning this at all and raising any sort of concerns about at least the appearance of what was revealed.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you for the question.  As I did go over in the top, we will be discussing strengthening financial transparency, both in Kenya as well as, you know, asking their partnership on tackling this global challenge.  The President has taken note of President Kenyatta’s statement that the Pandora Papers release will enhance financial transparency and openness around the globe.
 
The United States, through various departments and agencies on the ground, at our embassy in Nairobi, has and will continue to build off of our current efforts with the Kenyans to bring additional transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems.
 
Q    Thank you for doing this, and thank you for taking my question.  Also on the Pandora Papers, which expose the fact that President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya and six members of his family have been linked to 13 offshore companies.  President Biden has said that the fight against corruption will be at the center of his foreign policy agenda. And why is he giving the Kenyan President this big international platform? 
 
The President of Kenya is actually a deeply corrupt guy.  But I’m wondering, is the President concerned he’s giving this big platform to someone who is deeply corrupt, like President Kenyatta of Kenya?
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you for that question.  I think, you know, President Biden definitely engages on — with a range of leaders in advancing, you know, his foreign policy priorities, foremost amongst which are absolutely to address and combat corruption. 
 
And so, you know, in the meeting today, we can expect that the President will, again, reinforce the need to bring transparency and accountability to domestic and international financial systems. 
 
And as Jen Psaki said from the podium yesterday, you know, again, these range of meetings diplomatically with leaders where we have shared interests of both the United States and, you know, the host country — in this case, Kenya — we may also have areas where there’s disagreement.  And that’s what this meeting is an opportunity to convey our concerns and to encourage additional support and action on behalf of the Kenyans to ensure financial transparency.
 
Q    Thanks for doing the call and thanks for taking my question.  Another thing that we haven’t heard you talk about much is trade.  It seems that this call is mostly going to be focusing on, perhaps, Ethiopia and national security issues. 
 
But trade is a huge priority for Kenya, as you know.  There’s been reports in the Kenyan media that U.S. investment promises are already drying up because of, you know, lack of progress on the U.S.-Kenya FTA.
 
So, I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about that.  You know, is that going to be a priority for this conversation?  And where does that stand that there have been reports that basically the FTA negotiations are at a standstill right now?  So, we’d love to get some clarity on, you know, whether this is still going forward.  Thank you.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Sure.  Thanks for the question. 
 
So, you know, as I mentioned at the top, we will be, you know, talking about ways in which we can accelerate economic growth in Kenya, and, you know, building off of the work that has already been done by both of our trade negotiations teams. 
 
And, you know, they are continuing to work together.  Both the U.S. and Kenyan trade ministers are working closely on the trade relationship.  And we can anticipate that our U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Tai, will continue to work with her Kenyan colleagues on the best path forward. 
 
But, you know, as you know, I’m sure you’re aware of the Build Back Better World — or B3W — initiative that President Biden announced at the G7 Summit.  You know, we are committed, through B3W, to supporting Kenya’s economic growth. 
 
So, there’s a range of ways to do that in terms of encouraging economic growth, both — as you know, an FTA is one example, but also, you know, an element — another is — or another mechanism is through B3W. 
 
And I think, you know, just on a broader scale, we are thinking through how we approach foreign trade, not just, you know, with Kenya, but, you know, globally, how we approach foreign trade and balancing that with our domestic economic concerns. 
 
But we are committed to working with our Kenyan partners to strengthening our economic relationship.
 
Q    Thank you so much.  I guess I’m just wondering, with this (inaudible) between the U.N. and Ethiopia, what sort of leverage does the White House think Nairobi has over Addis Ababa — and I guess, also maybe over Mogadishu — considering Kenya and Ethiopia haven’t had a bilat themselves since, like, 2019?  What are you looking to ask Kenya to do to, kind of, remind Ethiopia of the need to deescalate the conflict?
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  So, obviously, given its geographical position, Kenya is key to ensuring domestic stability and peace and security, both in Somalia and in Ethiopia, in particular. 
 
And as President Kenyatta sort of, you know, stated publicly at the Security Council the other day, he is calling for, you know, all parties to come to the table to negotiate to end the fighting, to allow for humanitarian access to the people of northern Ethiopia and Tigray.
 
And, you know, President Kenyatta just, in general, spoke in favor of a peaceful resolution (inaudible) a military one, to the situation in northern Tigray. 
 
You know, I don’t — I’m not sure of the information that you have regarding meetings between Prime Minister Abiy and Kenyatta, but Kenyatta was just in Ethiopia last week at Abiy’s inauguration.  So, obviously, there is a relationship, and we know that they do have discussions.
 
And as — you know, Kenyatta is very much a senior elder — an elder statesman in the region, he is a leader.  And we think that Kenya’s voice is important — an important voice that resonates broadly in the region and hopefully with Prime Minister Abiy as well. 
 
So, that’s what we are looking for, is to — for President Kenyatta to continue to use his voice to try to bring a peaceful resolution and encouraging a peaceful resolution to the situation in northern Ethiopia.
 
Q    Hi, thank you so much for doing this.  Kenya refrained from signing a global tax bill because of concerns it would have to stop levying a digital service tax and worries about the agreement dispute resolution mechanism.  Will this come up in the meeting today?  Will Biden pressure Kenya to sign this? 
 
And then just quickly, if I may: What leverage does the U.S. have over Kenya to ensure human rights are respected in the next election?  And does Biden plan to raise this today?
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes, so thank you for that question.  Maybe I’ll take the second part of that question first.
 
As you know, President Biden will be hosting a Democracy Summit by the end of the year, and we expect that Kenya will participate in the summit, as well as other African countries.
 
And I think that we’ll, you know, talk about a broad range of issues, including, as I mentioned at the top, you know, how we can help defend democracy in Kenya. 
 
And so, I think that what the people want is to be able to go to the polls next year and to not have to worry about, you know, any lack of transparency and that institutions — electoral institutions that are in place will uphold and maintain the voice of the Kenyan people. 
 
And I think that’s what President Biden will reaffirm today in his meeting with Kenyatta to just — you know, for — even though Kenyatta is not running again — but to be that voice, as the outgoing president, to encourage, you know, both parties who are running and the various ethnic groups in Kenya to peaceably demonstrate their right to vote and to select their next leader on lines that are more based on policy and platform as opposed to ethnic division.
 
And in terms of the first question, you know, we are not looking for leverage over Kenya.  Kenya is a partner, and we will be engaging with Kenyatta as a partner, and we will talk about some of these more difficult challenges. 
 
I cannot say for sure whether or not the global tax issue might come up.  But again, I think that, you know, President Biden does have a very full agenda of issues to discuss with President Kenyatta, and so it’s possible that it will come up — that it might come up and that he will, again, ask Kenyatta, as a partner, to partner on this very important issue.
 
MODERATOR:  That concludes our question-and-answer.  I wanted to turn it over to [senior administration official] to offer any final remarks before we close.
 
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thank you.  Thanks, [senior administration official].  And thanks — again, I just want to reiterate, as this is again the President’s — President Biden’s first Oval Office meeting with an African head of state, that, you know, the Biden-Harris administration is really opening a new chapter in the U.S.-Africa relationship, and one that is based on mutual respect and equality and that reflects American values.  And that is how we will engage with the continent going forward.
 
Africa is integral to tackling global challenges.  And many African leaders have been a part of various summits — virtual summits that the administration — that the President has hosted since March — from the Climate Summit, to the COVID Summit during the U.N. high-level week and, as I mentioned, the Democracy Summit at the — towards the end of this year where we expect a number of African countries to participate.
 
And these are key pillars of this administration’s foreign policy.  So, Africa policy is integrated into the broader foreign policy of this administration.  And we realize that U.S.-African partnerships and Africa’s peace and prosperity can help not only Africa, but also the U.S. as we seek to tackle global challenges around the world. 
 
Thank you again.
 
MODERATOR:  Thanks, [senior administration official].  And thank you, everyone. 
 
As a final reminder, this call was on background, attributable to a “senior administration official.”  And the call contents will be embargoed until 3:00 p.m. this afternoon. 

Have a great day, everyone.  
 
10:55 A.M EDT