WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama and dozens of African leaders opened talks Wednesday on two key issues that threaten to disrupt economic progress on the continent: security and government corruption.<br />
The discussions capped an unprecedented three-day gathering of African leaders in Washington. Much of the conference has centered on boosting U.S. financial ties with Africa, a continent that is home to six of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies and a rapidly expanding middle class.<br />
As he has throughout the summit, Obama sought to highlight Africa's potential, particularly as an untapped trading partner for U.S. businesses. During remarks at the State Department, he said that even though the continent faces significant challenges, "a new Africa is emerging."<br />
Yet White House officials acknowledge that security issues and governance challenges continue to constrain Africa's overall prosperity. There are particular concerns about Boko Haram, a violent Islamist group in Nigeria that was responsible for the kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls earlier this year.<br />
Obama said the security discussions would center on ways to enable African governments to boost their own peacekeeping and counterterrorism capabilities while moving away from the need for costly outside intervention.<br />
Leaders were also expected to discuss good governance and transparency, with U.S. officials arguing to their African counterparts that both are necessary conditions for economic growth.<br />
The president acknowledged the ongoing Ebola crisis that is gripping three African nations, saying the affected countries have overcome great challenges in the past and are "drawing on that same spirit" now. The leaders of Liberia and Sierra Leone canceled plans to travel to Washington in order to deal with the crisis, while the president of Guinea is attending the talks.
A blustery winter storm dumped snow and ice across the West on Wednesday, making driving treacherous in the mountains from California to the Rockies and forcing residents and party-goers in some usually sun-soaked cities to bundle up for a frosty New Year's.
House Republican leaders rallied around one of their own, Whip Steve Scalise, on Tuesday after he said he regrets speaking 12 years ago to a white supremacist organization and condemns the views of such groups.
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