June 9th, 2011
11:42 AM ET
Washington (CNN) – When the president of the United States invites a world leader into the Oval Office it elevates the meeting and extends the warmest of embraces to his visitor. That’s why Thursday’s meeting with President Ali Bongo of the West Central African nation of Gabon is raising eyebrows.
The oil rich nation of an estimated 1.5 million people has been ruled by the Bongo family for decades, but there have long been allegations of corruption.
A 2009 New York Times headline read: “Underneath Palatial Skin, Corruption Rules Gabon.”
The article detailed the lavish life of the Bongo family, which stands in stark contrast to the ‘have-nots…just around the corner.”
Pressed on the wisdom of the visit in light of swirling allegations, White House Spokesman Jay Carney said President Bongo is “making reform efforts which we support.”
“We do think it is appropriate for the president to meet with the leader of Gabon,” Carney said.
While Carney seemed to suggest thatGabon’s president had a “less than sterling” record, he touted that nation as an “important ally” in dealing with mutual interests in Libya, Ivory Coast and Iran.
A White House statement said the two leaders would discuss “strategic regional and bilateral topics of mutual importance, including the latest developments in the areas of security, democracy and economic growth.”
Coverage of the meeting is being limited to a pool of still cameras, even though Oval Office visits have been historically open to TV cameras and correspondents.
This tight access ensures a quiet photo op devoid of uncomfortable questions.