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DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA — A world away from America’s political battles and the house they’ve both inhabited, President Barack Obama and former President George W. Bush are preparing to join together in Tanzania to honor Americans killed in an embassy bombing nearly 15 years ago.
Obama arrived Monday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the last stop on a weeklong tour of sub-Saharan Africa that wraps up Tuesday. Obama, his wife and two daughters stepped off of Air Force One and onto the tarmac where a marching band was playing and dancing as dozens waved U.S. and Tanzanian flags. A canon at the airport prepared to salute Obama’s arrival.
Bush, Obama’s Republican predecessor and campaign-trail foil, also plans to be in Tanzania for a conference on African women organized by the George W. Bush Institute.
Although no meeting between the two men had initially been planned, the White House announced as Obama flew to Tanzania that they would come together Tuesday for a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the 1998 bombings at the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam. Eleven Americans were killed in that Osama bin Laden-masterminded attack, which mirrored a near-simultaneous bombing at the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, the birthplace of Obama’s father.
First lady Michelle Obama and former first lady Laura Bush also planned to team up at the conference Tuesday for a joint discussion on promoting women’s education, health and economic empowerment. President Bush plans to be in attendance, before delivering his own speech there the following day, after the Obamas will have left.
Having both presidents in town “sends a very positive message that both political parties in the United States share a commitment to this continent,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.
During his African visit, Obama has credited Bush with helping save millions of lives by creating the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
“The United States has really done wonderful work through the PEPFAR program, started under my predecessor, President Bush, and continued through our administration,” Obama said Sunday during a visit to the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation Youth Center in Cape Town.
Bush’s accomplishment in fighting AIDS was one of his signature foreign policy successes, while Obama has not been so focused on Africa despite his roots there and only now is making a major presidential trip to sub-Saharan Africa. Obama’s only previous visit as president was a brief visit to Ghana his first summer in office, although he traveled to Africa several times previously and has vowed to come back.
Obama told reporters earlier in the trip that finances and politics play a role in preventing him from doing more.
“Given the budget constraints, for us to try to get the kind of money that President Bush was able to get out of the Republican House for massively scaled new foreign aid programs is very difficult,” Obama said. “We could do even more with more resources. But if we’re working smarter, the amount of good that we can bring about over the next decade is tremendous.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Bush and Obama weren’t likely to speak at Tuesday’s ceremony. The visit fits into a busy schedule for Obama at the tail end of his Africa tour.
After arriving in Tanzania on Monday afternoon, Obama was preparing to meet with President Jakaya Kikwete. He’ll visit later with business leaders from the U.S. and Africa to talk about increasing trade in east Africa, before ending the evening with a dinner hosted by Kikwete.
On Tuesday, Obama plans a private greeting at the U.S. embassy, which has been relocated since the 1998 attack. The president then delivers a final speech focused on bringing more electric power to Africa and heads back toward Washington by noon.
AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.