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Laura Bush Promotes AIDS Initiative

By BEN FELLER
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 17, 2008; 10:39 AM

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania -- To hear President Bush tell it, his program to combat AIDS across Africa faces an uncertain future in Congress. His wife is not so worried.

"I don't think there will be a problem," first lady Laura Bush told reporters Sunday. Her comments came on a day when George W. Bush cast doubt about whether the program would last beyond his presidency and told Congress to act.

The President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief centers on sub-Saharan Africa, the worst afflicted AIDS region in the world. The program, known as PEPFAR, is up for renewal this year.

The Democratic-run Congress is considering changes, including eliminating a provision that require sex abstinence as an AIDS prevention priority. Asked if she thought politics might drag down the program, Laura Bush said, "Not really."

"I think everyone knows how effective PEPFAR has been," she said. "And the Congress ought to be proud of it, too. It's not just the president's initiative."

Tanzania has received hundreds of millions of dollars for AIDS medicine, treatment, counseling and condom distribution. The president and first lady, on a six-day visit to Africa, are trying to raise awareness about how many lives have been helped or saved.

The president wants $30 billion over five years for the program. Some U.S. lawmakers say the right figure is $50 billion, but the first lady opposes that. "A lot of these countries really don't have the capacity to take a huge amount of money all at once," Laura Bush said.

On her separate itinerary Sunday, Laura Bush helped launch Tanzania's plan to help orphans and vulnerable children, an effort that also gets U.S. aid. The country is on an ambitious drive to identify every orphan and provide help to those children and their families.

"This is a landmark day, really, for Tanzania and for all the other countries who are watching," Laura Bush said. Many sub-Saharan African nations have huge numbers of orphans.

Laura Bush is on her fifth trip to Africa as first lady.

In a session with reporters, she also said:

_She and the president will return to Africa sometime after her husband leaves offices in January 2009. "We'll come back, for sure. I know I will. ... Barbara and Jenna say their dad promised them that they would go on a big safari," she said, referring to her daughters.

_People in the United States support helping others in need, even if they are largely unaware of how many of the programs work or even that they exist.

"I think Americans genuinely want other countries to succeed," she said. "I think that is one characteristic that is particularly American, and that is we don't see everything as zero sum."

© 2008 The Associated Press