WASHINGTON (AP) — Leaders from nations gripped by an Ebola outbreak are pulling out of President Barack Obama’s gathering of African leaders in Washington next week, though the White House says the health crisis won’t impact the three-day summit.
“We certainly understand the decision that was made by some of these African leaders to not participate,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “They obviously have some very pressing items of business to handle in their own countries.”
Administration officials said the leaders of Liberia and Sierra Leone, two of the three main countries affected, had canceled their trip to Washington. It was unclear whether Guinean President Alpha Conte still planned to attend the conference.
The White House said other representatives from Liberia and Sierra Leone still planned to be at the summit.
U.S. health officials on Thursday warned Americans not to travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, where the Ebola has killed more than 700 people this year. The current outbreak is the largest since the disease first emerged in Africa nearly 40 years ago.
The outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus threatened to cast a shadow over a summit that the White House has billed a historic gathering of African leaders in the U.S. capital. Nearly 50 leaders were scheduled to attend the talks on boosting U.S. business investment in Africa, regional security and supporting the next generation of African leaders.
Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said the summit would focus on boosting Africa’s ability to address its own challenges and elevate U.S. engagement in the economically growing continent.
“We see enormous opportunities in Africa as it continues to advance its own economic development,” Rhodes said.
Beyond the summit sessions, Obama plans to attend a U.S.-Africa business forum and host leaders for a dinner at the White House. First lady Michelle Obama will also co-host a spousal program with Laura Bush, reprising an event they held together in Tanzania last summer.