Secretary of State Colin Powell
Remarks with Int'l Visitors Program Participants from Central Asia
October 5, 2001
SECRETARY POWELL: It is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to spend a
few moments with you. I am pleased that you have a chance to visit here as part
of the International Visitors Program that we run. And this is our way of contributing
to this new world that we all live in by encouraging journalists, members of
the media such as you, to come and see how it is done here in the United States,
as just an example of what is possible for a free press, and providing information
to the people of your countries on all of that. I hope that you are enjoying
your tour here.
As Mr. Boucher has been saying to you, we are in a time of crisis. But it is
a crisis that we will pass through, because we have a clear idea of what our
goals are. We have a campaign to achieve those goals. I think we have been very
successful in bringing together the entire international community in the pursuit
of those goals.
Our goal is to go after terrorists, terrorists who threaten what you are trying
to achieve in your countries' democratic systems, terrorists who threaten the
ability of people to determine how they will live and be governed, terrorists
who use religion falsely and who are criminals. And terrorists of the kind who
attacked the United States and the world on the 11th of September should be
seen for what they are: criminals.
I am pleased that all of the countries represented here have been very supportive
of President Bush's campaign and I wish to convey to you and through you to
the citizens of your countries and to your leaders our appreciation for that
support. Before coming down a few moments ago, I went on my computer, my website.
I now have every country in the world that is part of our campaign on my computer.
I wanted to check each and every country represented here to see how are they
doing. You're all doing well. Everybody has offered moral support, words of
condolence, understanding of the importance of this issue and the importance
of this campaign and, in every case, overflight permission for planes and other
means of supporting us for which we are deeply appreciative.
It is rather amazing to think that we are having this kind of exchange and this
kind of relationship with all of your countries, especially for me as a former
soldier, when 12 years ago it was quite a different world. And, to speak bluntly,
you were part of a great enemy that I spent most of my adult life getting ready
to fight. That is now all behind us, and now we seek bridges of understanding,
we seek ways of speaking to one another. We seek to help you in your political
development, as you try to make life better for the citizens of your countries,
and as you work with the United States and the rest of the world, and to give
you the support and encouragement that you need to become a part of this world's
nations who want to be free and people who want to have a better life.
But you did not come here to hear a lecture from me. You are the ones who are
supposed to be asking the questions, and not just listening to speeches. So
perhaps it would be interesting if you have any questions you would like to
ask me for a few moments.
QUESTION: (As interpreted.) We have had the opportunity to meet with various
leaders of different institutions. And have gotten this impression that the
degree of democratic development in our countries maybe is not the most important
thing these days, but rather the level of cooperation. Is that a correct impression?
SECRETARY POWELL: No. As a long-term goal, it is democratic developments in
your countries that is uppermost in our minds. That was the case before the
11th of September, it is still the case now. And that is what we want to work
with you on in the long term. We believe that representative democracy and economic
freedom is the path to a better future. And we will be encouraging that.
But when this crisis came along, you are so close to it, so proximate to Afghanistan,
that we immediately engaged you to obtain your assistance. But this crisis will
pass. We have been assuring your governments that our interest is long term
and not just short term with respect to resources.
QUESTION: (As interpreted.) Kyrgyzstan. We and Tajikistan, we have been worried
about the position, the military position of Uzbekistan. Right now, the United
States is working very closely with Uzbekistan and it is no secret that Uzbekistan
is trying to develop a hegemony in that area, and there is definitely an anti-democratic
regime there now. Do you think that, in -- this country, you are giving support
to a leader who may decide that he will be able to solve these issues only through
SECRETARY POWELL: I don't think that should be seen as any goal of ours, of
course. We are not interested in supporting anyone's efforts at hegemony in
the region. But we are interested, and will not be supportive and will work
against anyone's efforts to subject their people. We are also working with your
government and appreciate the offer that your government has made with respect
to overflight and traffic access down to the region. Uzbekistan is in a slightly
different, closer geographic position.
But I would in no way -- if I were you, I would in no way see this as anything
that is threatening to Kyrgyzstan. Quite the contrary. When people see the United
States come in and begin to support them in one way or another, the basis of
that support is that you will not threaten your neighbors. If that country,
if that regime starts to show threatening instincts toward another country,
then that is the easiest way to get the United States to no longer work with
you and provide support.
The countries that we have supported over the years and have helped to move
into a path of political democracy and freedom turn into countries that are
no longer threatening to their neighbors, because they have found there are
better ways to pursue political goals and a better life for their people than
by aggressive behavior and hegemonic activity.
QUESTION: (As interpreted.) From Kazakhstan. It is no secret that America is
a leader in democracy for other countries. But because of this tragedy on the
11th of September, you are going to be forced to lessen somehow the level of
danger in your own country now. And in our countries where democracy is a rather
new thing, we see your situation where you are going to have to be lessening
democracy to some degree, there is concern that might actually bring to at least
a temporary halt the process of democratization.
SECRETARY POWELL: I think you will see that Americans will not allow their democracy
to be lessened. We are under attack by an enemy, terrorists, and it is appropriate
for us to do things to protect ourselves. Security at airports, protection of
vital facilities. But we will do it in a democratic way. We will do so with
the rule of law.
Americans will see what their government wants and will accept certain limitations
that are limitations of convenience, not limitation of rights. So maybe people
will have to spend more time waiting to get on an airplane, but they will still
travel. Maybe they have to be a little more careful as to how they move around
the society, but they will still move around.
And I think that many of your countries or political systems, the leaders in
many of your countries that think that this is a rationale to limit the progress
or movement toward democracy will find that the United States does not find
that a persuasive argument.
Now, let me ask questions. How do you like the American free press?
QUESTION: (As interpreted.) From Uzbekistan. I am the editor-in-chief in Samarqand
of a newspaper.
Theoreticians on journalism have already now -- that the state right now of
mass media in America -- I mean, we ourselves have seen, we have seen in newspapers,
television, radio, we see how this work is carried out here. And indeed, that
First Amendment that was enacted in 1791 --
SECRETARY POWELL: Bravo.
QUESTION: (As interpreted.) -- we see how it works. Although, we have lots of
laws, the laws don't necessarily work. It isn't so much -- it's not the law
that's so important; it's the traditions. And as an historian, I understand
that we know that you did not get your freedom -- the journalists didn't get
their freedom from the law, they had to go after it themselves. They earned
it. And we see that they bring positive changes to society.
And so when we lobby for a free press, for freedom of speech to our leaders,
to our bosses, that means we emphasize that there is a link between freedom
of speech, press and (inaudible). And those that were raised -- that were brought
up by the Soviet system, they can't seem to understand that. Now that we have
a more realistic view of seeing what we have seen here and will see, we will
be able to speak from personal experience. And the idea of this trip that actually
was arranged (inaudible), that it is also there to stimulate the possible democratic
process in our countries.
SECRETARY POWELL: Beautiful. You got it. You graduated. (Laughter.)
Because it's a combination between what the people want. Our First Amendment
is there because the people insisted on it as a check on the government, and
made it not just a law but in the Constitution, which captures the will of the
people. So you need both the protection of the Constitution and the law, and
the demand of the people that that be the law, and the government must respect
Because you are clearly an historian, and as you well know then, the media is
really our fourth branch of government. Not in the law, but it is a free media
that watches over the President, the Congress, the judiciary -- the Supreme
Court. Those are the three formal parts of our government. But then to watch
all of them and to make life miserable for all of them is a free press, which
everybody has complained about for 225 years. (Laughter.)
The one who complained the most was Thomas Jefferson, one of our greatest presidents,
the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence. By the time he was finishing
his second term as president, he hated the press. They made his life miserable.
He couldn't stand them. When he was first made president, in his first inaugural
speech to the country, he spoke about the beauty of democracy and how wonderful
everything was. Four years later, when he gave his second inaugural address,
he spent the whole inaugural address complaining about the press, how they made
his life miserable for four years, and how he hated them.
But he had one sentence in there. The sentence said, "However, if given
the choice between having a free media and no free media, we must have a free
media." No matter how bad it made his life, it had to be so. And I know
every day exactly what Jefferson was talking about. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: (As interpreted.) We would very much like that your position could
actually be made very clear to our leaders. And in practice, our free press
is being restricted more and more. We've got this tremendous legal basis. It
is -- still our area of real freedom is being restricted more and more. And
our governments are very, very glad that America is going to be working with
them. And they feel -- as she expresses it -- that they will be -- feel freer
to grab them by the throat.
Somehow, somewhere, in a tactful way, if you could somehow explain this to our
SECRETARY POWELL: Every opportunity I get, to speak to groups, to speak to leaders
of countries that have not previously had a democratic experience, I give speeches
similar to the little speech I just gave. But it takes time to learn this lesson
of the freedom of the press, and it takes a population that relieves pressure
on the government. And it takes courageous journalists such as yourself to push
And you can write in your articles and have them published in your country that
the Secretary of State said to you today that freedom of the press is an essential
element for any democratic system. A democratic system that does not allow ideas
to compete, ideas to clash and compete, different points of view to be expressed
freely without fear is not a true democratic system. A government that does
not allow itself to be criticized is not a democratic government. And the United
States believes in democracy, and democracy must include freedom of speech,
freedom of expression.
It will be harder and harder for countries to deny this freedom to their people
when more and more direct satellite television images come in, as more and more
of the Internet opens up your societies. You will not be able to keep free information
-- or you will not be able to keep information out. You will not be able to
keep different points of view out. You will not be able to hide repression.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for governments to control information,
even though you may not see that now. I am now talking about what I believe
the future holds.
I'm afraid I have to go back to work now. Thank you for letting me spend a few
moments with you.
QUESTION: (As interpreted.) Thank you very much.
SECRETARY POWELL: And congratulations to my history professor here. (Laughter)