"In a part of the world where so many have suffered from war and want and famine, these latest tribulations are the cruelest of fates. We have the power to help," Mr. Bush said at a Rose Garden ceremony with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The U.S. pledge, which Mr. Bush said could "reduce suffering and spare lives," is seed money for a $7 billion to $10 billion fund Annan wants the world's rich nations and private philanthropists to establish to fight not only AIDS but also malaria and tuberculosis.
Both Obasanjo and Annan thanked Mr. Bush. They said they remain far from their goal and gently nudged Mr. Bush to consider more.
"But with this beginning and just the beginning, as you have kindly emphasized for the U.S. all nations, governments, foundations, private individuals and private sector and indeed all human kind who are stakeholders in the health of humanity are challenged and called upon to make contributions," said Obasanjo, who marked the first visit by an African president to the Bush White House.
Annan, who is from Ghana, likened the U.S. contribution to a call for "all hands on deck."
Secretary of State Colin Powell, who joined the sober announcement, testified Thursday in support of the additional U.S. funds during a House subcommittee hearing on the State Department's budget.
"Nations will collapse if we don't fix these problems," Powell told lawmakers.
Beginning May 22, Powell will travel to Africa with stops in Mali, South Africa, Kenya and Uganda to see the AIDS problem firsthand and discuss bilateral issues in those countries.
Since the vast majority of people suffering from infectious diseases who cannot afford treatment are in Africa, the continent is expected to get a large share of the funds. Of 36 million people around the world infected with HIV, roughly 26 million live in Africa, and of the 23 million people killed by it worldwide, 17 million were sub-Saharan Africans.
It is Annan's second meeting in Washington this week. A trip on Wednesday and the return trip Friday were part of an effort to drum up support for both the international fund and an action plan to combat AIDS, which is expected to be adopted at a special session of the U.N. General Assembly on June 25-27.
AIDS activists criticized the amount of the Bush administration's pledge.
"It's criminally small," said David Bryden of the Washington-based Global AIDS Alliance. "The United States has got ample money for this and the money has just got to be found something along the lines of $2.5 billion."
"Shameful ..." said the activist Health GAP Coalition in a statement. "It sends a messge to other wealthy nations that this U.N. trust fund and the lives it could save are not worth the investment."
The leader of Africa's most populous nation, Obasanjo visited lawmakers on Capitol Hill, then settled into the presidential guest quarters at Blair House to receive administration officials.
One topic on the agenda was expanded economic development and trade in West Africa. U.S. officials hope Nigeria, a large democracy with economic clout from its oil wealth, can help promote democracy and economic development in West Africa.
Halfway into his term as Nigeria's first civilian leader since 1983, Obasanjo, 64, also planned meetings with heads of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The country is $29 billion in debt.
Though the nation has moved toward democratic rule, Nigeria still flirts with economic and political calamity. Despite its oil wealth, the majority of Nigerians remain mired in poverty. Ethnic and religious tensions simmer; fears of the military linger. Electric blackouts and gasoline shortages are common.
But Nigeria has been moving back into the good graces of the United States after a long period of corrupt military rule. Obasanjo met several times with former President Clinton.
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