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U.S.: Rice Speaks On Democracy, War On Terror, Iran

Condoleezza Rice (file photo) (AFP) U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in England today as she continues a European tour. The highlight of her visit today was a speech on U.S. foreign policy, which sought to highlight the leadership role of the United States in fostering the development of democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere. At the same time, she defended Washington against charges that it has sent prisoners in the war on terror to secret sites in Europe and elsewhere to extract information through torture. Turning to Iran in a follow-up question-and-answer session, Rice also said Iran must give up activities that could lead to nuclear weapons or risk "deeper isolation."

PRAGUE, March 31, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. secretary of state spoke in Blackburn, in northwest England, while visiting the hometown of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

Condoleezza Rice used the occasion to emphasize many of the historical and political values the United States and its closest foreign ally share. But she highlighted one value in particular: commitment to liberal democracy.

Bringing Democracy To The Middle East

Then, she turned to explaining what has become the centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy under the administration of President George W. Bush. That is, fostering the growth of democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere as a strategy for increasing world stability.
"The old status quo was unstable. Any sense of stability
was a false sense of stability. It was not serving any interest and
democratic reform had to begin."

She cited recent elections in Egypt and the Palestinian territories as examples of a start down the difficult road to change, despite criticism that they have not ushered in more liberal governments.

"Recent elections in places like Egypt and the Palestinian territories, the freest by far in both of those places, have led some to argue that our policy of supporting democratic change in this region is creating not liberal democracy but illiberal democracy, elected governments that view no inherent limitations to state power," Rice said.

But she said building democracy in the Middle East is necessary because the old status quo has proven incapable of meeting the region's needs.

"The old status quo was unstable," she said. "Any sense of stability was a false sense of stability. It was not serving any interest and democratic reform had to begin."

Rice particularly defended Washington's efforts to give Iraq a democratic system of government after decades of tyranny under Saddam Hussein. She said that Iraqis want democracy and that much of the difficulty in achieving it stems from the former regime's strategy of keeping power by repressing some communities while favoring others.

"When we look at Iraq today, we must take care to separate the culture of its people from the near-term legacy of a tyrant and we must support the millions of Iraqi patriots who are striving nobly to redeem their country," she said.

Rice also defended the United States against criticisms that it is making the protection of human rights secondary to winning the war on terror. Much of that criticism in Europe has focused on reports that Washington has sent terrorist suspects to secret jails abroad for alleged torture.

"But I also want to say that no one should ever doubt America's commitment to justice and the rule of law," Rice said. "President Bush has stated unequivocally, as have I, that the United Sates is a nation of laws and that we do not tolerate any American, at home or abroad, engaging in acts of torture."

Iran's Nuclear Choice

The U.S. secretary of state arrived in England from Berlin, where she discussed the Iran nuclear crisis with the foreign ministers of the other permanent UN Security Council members and Germany.

Replying to questions, she said Washington reserves the right to seek sanctions against Iran if Tehran does not meet Security Council demands to stop uranium enrichment.

"Where we end up in this process in terms of the potential for sanctions, which I do agree with the foreign secretary [Straw] have to be on the agenda, I think would be in part dependent on whether the Iranian regime decides to respond to the just demands of the international system," she explained.

She said that Tehran must now make a clear choice of giving up activities that could lead to developing nuclear weapons or risk becoming a pariah state.

"The choice [for Iran] is a pretty clear one, that is, accept a way to the development of civil nuclear power that does not have the proliferation risk associated with [uranium] enrichment and reprocessing on Iranian soil, or face deeper isolation from the international community," she said.

Rice also said that Washington wants a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear crisis but that all options remain on the table, including military.