Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday said President Bush, in his second term in office, will aggressively move forward on issues of concern to the Muslim world, including Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and political reform in the Middle East region. He spoke at the State Department's annual Iftar dinner marking Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
This year's Iftar dinner came just two days after the U.S. Presidential election. And Mr. Powell told an audience including Muslim students from around the world that in its second four years in office, the Bush administration will press its Middle East Partnership aimed at encouraging, though not imposing, political reforms and democratic values in the Middle East and North Africa.
"I do want to emphasize that our engagement is shaped by certain principles, and the most important of these principles is that the desire for reform and modernization has to be home-grown and its achievements home-owned," said Mr. Powell. "Reform and modernization can't be imposed sustained from outside. It can be helped, if that help is tailored wisely to the conditions of each society with full respect for the culture and history of each society."
Mr. Powell said he believes reform will succeed in the Middle East as in other regions because democracy and freedom are universal values, and that worldwide most Muslims already live in democratic societies.
The Secretary said he hoped after their stays in the United States, the members of his audience would return to their home countries and try to correct what Mr. Powell said were many unkind and untrue things are being said about U.S. policy concerning the Muslim world.
He said the United States and allies have intervened militarily the recent past to liberate Kuwait, to feed the people of Somalia, to stop the slaughter of Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, and most recently have mobilized diplomatic efforts to assist the local Muslim population at risk in Sudan's western Darfur region.
He said U.S. intervention under the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq has freed 50 million Muslims from the tyrannies of the Taleban and Saddam Hussein, and said the same kind of foreign policy agenda will continue in the second Bush term.
"I assure you that President Bush, in his next four years in office will be aggressively moving forward to deal with the concerns that are in your hearts and on your minds with respect to the Middle East peace process, with respect to reform and modernization, with respect to solidifying democracy in places that have never known democracy before, with respect to fighting terrorism. And in the United States, the nations you represent will find no better friend and partner," he added.
Mr. Powell also assured the gathering that the United States remains an open and welcoming country despite increased security at points of entry following the September 2001 terrorist attacks.
He said U.S. travel for visitors from the Muslim world and elsewhere will become less difficult in the years ahead as visa policies are refined and a balance is struck between openness and security.