Washington: US President Barack Obama urged Gabon`s President Ali Bongo to root out corruption and protect human rights in talks that stirred criticism among his guest`s opponents.
US officials had earlier said it would be naive to expect Obama to avoid every leader with a checkered human rights record, arguing that Gabon had courageously backed several key US diplomatic pushes on Iran and Libya.
The two leaders smiled as they met in the Oval Office. News photographers were allowed in to take pictures, but reporters were not admitted.
"President Obama urged President Bongo to take bold steps to root out corruption and to reform the judiciary and other key institutions to ensure the protection of human rights," a White House statement said.
Obama also "welcomed the reforms that Gabon has taken under President Bongo to bring more transparency and accountability to government."
The statement said the two leaders also expressed their shared desire for a democratic transition for the people of Libya.
Ahead of the talks, the White House said Obama had clear diplomatic goals for the meeting, despite complaints that he should not offer a platform to a man domestic opponents and US media reports say is steeped in corruption.
"It`s a little naive to believe that the President of the United States should not meet with leaders who don`t, you know, meet all the standards that we would have for perfect governance," Obama`s spokesman Jay Carney said.
Carney noted that Gabon had made a number of "very significant" and "courageous" recent votes at the United Nations, on issues concerning Iran, Libya and the Ivory Coast.
He also noted that the west African nation currently holds the rotating presidency of the Security Council.
"President Bongo has made a number of reforms in Gabon, and Gabon is playing an increasingly important role... as a regional and global leader," Carney said.
Carney also argued that the State Department`s annual report on human rights had noted some progress by Gabon.
"We will continue to push, as an administration, (and) the President himself, for further progress on these issues," he added.
In Libreville this week, a Bongo aide described the meeting with Obama as an important sign of diplomatic recognition for the Gabonese leader.
But Zacharie Myboto, the president of Gabon`s National Union, the top opposition party, called on Obama to tell Bongo that Gabon should respect constitutional guarantees of multi-party democracy.
Gabonese activists opposed to Bongo`s rule say his administration is "dictatorial" and corrupt, enriching elite sectors of society while much of the country wallows in extreme poverty.
Bongo took power in 2009 after a disputed election following the death of his father, longtime leader Omar Bongo.