President George Weah received an invitation to attend the Africa Leaders’ Summit at the White House in Washington, DC in December.
The December trip will be President Weah’s first official visit to the White House, and the invitation was presented with great fanfare by the US Ambassador to Liberia Monrovia, Michael McCarthy who unveiled the invitation during Liberia’s 175th Independence Day program at the Centennial Pavilion in Monrovia on Tuesday.
Ambassador McCarthy hailed Liberia’s long and close relationship with the United States, and declared, “The United States stands together with Liberia as we strive to advance the ideals from which our countries were created and continue in our never-ending efforts to become more perfect unions.” McCarthy praised Liberia’s progress in reaching its democratic ideals and commented that Weah’s White House visit “will be a fitting end to an amazing year for Liberia!”
While McCarthy’s words were highly positive at Tuesday’s Independence Day celebration, the Ambassador has also been one of the loudest advocates for accountability, human rights, and the ongoing fight against impunity dating back to the horrors of Liberia’s long civil war.
Analysts have indicated that while the meeting in Washington is almost certain to be positive and a strong sign of the close relationship between the United States and Liberia under President Weah, the US President is almost certain to raise a key policy focus of the Biden Administration: The Global Magnitsky Act and the fight against corruption and impunity.
In particular, Biden will raise the issue of certain individuals who were participants and abettors of Liberia’s civil war and were cited in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report, especially those associated with convicted war criminal Charles Taylor. Particular concern is aimed at those Taylor-affiliated individuals cited in the TRC report who continue to play an active role in Liberian politics.
In December, the Biden Administration emphasized their seriousness by issuing Global Magnitsky Act sanctions focused on Liberia, and in the months that followed arrested a former warlord from Liberia who was living in the United States.
Ambassador McCarthy has made no secret that the pursuit of accountability and justice in Liberia is the Biden Administration’s top priority. In March, the Ambassador wrote in an op-ed, “the U.S. Government is sufficiently concerned about corruption in Liberia to sanction individuals.”
At the top of the Biden Administration’s list is Benoni Urey of the All-Liberian Party (ALP), who infamously played an active role in financing Charles Taylor’s operations and obtaining weapons from the notorious Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout – who has been in the news recently as a possible contender for a prison swap between the United States and Russia.
Urey has already been a target of US and United Nations sanctions, having been listed as a Specially Designated National (SDN) by the US Treasury until 2015 for involvement in money laundering and illegal arms trading. A 2009 cable penned by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice released by WikiLeaks noted, “Benoni Urey continues to pose an ongoing threat to the peace and stability in Liberia and the subregion. Urey was the Commissioner of Maritime Affairs for former Liberian President Charles Taylor, and was known to play a key role in arms procurement.” In 2016, reports also circulated that Urey was denied a US visa in an embarrassing incident at the US Embassy in Monrovia.
While the sanctions against Urey were lifted as part of a blanket amnesty in 2015, Urey has since played a destabilizing role in Liberian politics and Washington has reportedly taken an increasingly strident stance against the former Charles Taylor associate. Some within the embassy in Monrovia as well as within the National Security Council in Washington view Urey’s malevolent influence in Liberian politics in the same way that Condoleezza Rice outlined in her 2009 cable. This has raised speculation that Urey could be the next target of Global Magnitsky Act Sanctions.
Liberia should celebrate its inclusion in the December summit at the White House. But it must also be prepared for the increased attention that such a high-profile visit will bring.