Secretary of State Colin Powell
Remarks with Int'l Visitors Program Participants from Central Asia
Wasington, D.C.
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 military activity?

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 --


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 it.

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 governments?

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 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)