President Barack Obama on Thursday urged the president of the central African nation of Gabon to help expose corruption and reform the judiciary and other institutions in his country to protect human rights.
Obama also complimented President Ali Bongo on reforms put in place during his tenure to help make the government more open and accountable, the White House said in a statement after the private Oval Office meeting.
Besides good governance, they discussed Libya, Sudan and Ivory Coast, along with environmental protection and the economy. They also expressed a shared desire to see a democratic transition begin in Libya, where rebels are battling to overthrow longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Bongo's oil-rich country holds the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council.
The son of Gabon's late dictator, who ruled for 41 years until his death in 2009, Bongo won a contested presidential election a few months later that many observers said was flawed, even fraudulent, and triggered widespread violence.
Before meeting with Obama, Bongo insisted to The Associated Press in an interview that his government has strong institutions and is building a democratic system.
"It is imperfect, but it is headed in the right direction," he said. "We are fighting corruption and all illegal activities and building a culture of transparency and ethical governance."
The White House defended the decision to have Obama meet with a leader viewed as corrupt.
"I think it's a little naive to believe that the president of the United States should not meet with leaders who don't meet all the standards that we would have for perfect governance," spokesman Jay Carney said. "This is an important relationship."
Carney noted Gabon's "very significant and courageous votes" in the United Nations in support of U.S. objectives, including dealing with Iran, Libya, Ivory Coast and human rights issues. He noted the changes Bongo has put in place and said Gabon is playing an increasingly important role as a regional and global leader. He said the administration will continue to push Bongo to make additional progress on human rights issues.
After his election in 2009, Bongo set out to reduce corruption by streamlining the government. He eliminated numerous government positions and reorganized government ministries and bureaus.
"Given the role that Gabon has played ... it is in the U.S. interest for the president to have this meeting," Carney said.
It was the second consecutive day that Obama met with an African leader.
He met in the Oval Office on Wednesday with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. He congratulated Jonathan on the success of Nigeria's recent elections and urged him to make anti-corruption efforts a national priority, the White House said. Obama also thanked Jonathan for his leadership on regional matters and on the U.N. Security Council on pressing issues such as Sudan, Libya and Ivory Coast.
Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.