Tuesday, July 8, 2003

Rock star Bono praises Bush for AIDS plans

But concerned Congress will delay money

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The rock star Bono offered high praise for President Bush on Monday as the president prepared to leave for a tour of Africa - and a pointed message to Congress.

"This is not just about Africa. It's about America and what Americans want their country to be," said Bono, the star of U2, who spoke from Dublin, Ireland, in a telephone press conference.

"This is the defining moment of our generation," Bono said.

"Fifty years from now people will be asking, did you really let millions die while you had medicines you could easily distribute?"

President Bush has endorsed spending $15 billion over five years for AIDS relief in Africa, where an estimated 7,000 people a day are dying from the immune-system destroying disease.

He also supports spending $10 billion over three years in economic aid to reduce poverty and corruption in several African nations.

On Monday, Bush left for a tour of Senegal, Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa and Botswana.

In Washington this week, Congress is expected to debate whether to reduce plans to allocate about $4.3 billion in combined AIDS and trade support for Africa that Bush proposed for 2004.

Today, members of DATA - the AIDS organization co-founded by Bono - will return to Cincinnati as part of a national campaign to urge Congress to back Bush's promise. DATA stands for Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa.

"If President Bush can deliver on his promise, I'm ready to trumpet that and give him the applause he deserves," Bono said.

"There will be few things that he will do in his administration that will touch more lives."

In December, Bono and actor Chris Tucker visited Cincinnati as part of a multi-state "Heart of America" tour to raise awareness about the AIDS crisis in Africa.

In January, President Bush announced his $15 billion proposal for AIDS relief as part of his State of the Union address.

Bono said his recent visit to Africa fundamentally changed his life. He predicted that President Bush also will be moved by what he sees.

"If they let him see people queuing up to die three in a bed, he will be moved," Bono said.

Actress Ashley Judd, who had joined Bono on several parts of the Heart of America tour, also spoke Monday.

She said she was impressed by Bush's statements about Africa during the State of the Union address.

"I thought, 'They get it. They really get it. We're going to stop the bubonic plague of our time,'" Judd said.

Bono largely dismissed debates among opposing political and religious groups about whether AIDS relief money should be used more for treatment or prevention, or whether AIDS prevention programs in Africa should stress abstinence or condoms.

He said his tour of the Midwest gave him new faith that all but the most radical Christians are willing to look past differences in doctrine to focus on the health and humanitarian crisis in Africa.

"I'm more amused than annoyed by all the little groups that think they have their own portal to God," Bono said.

But Bono said he remains concerned that - despite approving the overall $15 billion spending plan in May - Congress will delay allocating the money, which in turn would slow any progress hoped for in Africa.

"I believe the president is serious in his commitment to put America out front in a way that hasn't been done before," Bono said.

"But we're watching the process and we're not fooled by photo opps. It's not the check-signing that impresses, it's the check cashed."


E-mail tbonfield@enquirer.com

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