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Rice: Human Rights Ultimate Factor in US Relations Abroad

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice vowed Monday to make respect for human rights a test of U.S. bilateral relations around the world. She spoke on release of a report on U.S. efforts to advance human rights and freedoms worldwide.

Ms. Rice's comments are a further sign of a new assertiveness on human rights, marked by President Bush's declaration in his inaugural address in January that ending tyranny in the world is a U.S. policy goal.

At a State Department event launching the human rights report, the secretary cited a dramatic shift in the international landscape over the past year, with elections in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories and Iraq, and steps toward democracy in places like Georgia, Ukraine and Lebanon.

Ms. Rice rejected what she termed a cynical notion that some countries and societies are not ready for freedom, and she said respect for human rights will be the ultimate measure in U.S. relations with other countries.

"In all that lies ahead, our nation will continue to clarify for other nations the moral choice between oppression and freedom, and we will make it clear that, ultimately, success in our relations depends on the treatment of their own people. America's belief in human dignity and human rights will guide our policy," she said.

The report issued Monday is a Congressionally-mandated follow-up to the State Department's annual report on human rights worldwide, and documents what the United States is doing to help improve rights conditions in countries found lacking.

The nearly 300-page document covers U.S. efforts in 98 countries and entities, and reiterates many of the critiques contained in the better-known global rights report issued February 28.

Among other things, it promises to maintain public and diplomatic pressure on China and Russia to improve their human rights record, and says the United States will continue to address rights problems in autocratic U.S. allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The State Department's acting assistant secretary for human rights, Michael Kozak, told reporters, U.S. engagement with governments, and where possible programs directly supporting civil society, are aimed at peaceful, as opposed to violent, change.

He downplayed suggestions the U.S. role has been a decisive factor in political upheaval in such places as Ukraine, Georgia, and most recently, Kyrgyzstan, saying, in every instance, the key has been home-grown pressure for change.

"It's not what we do, as much as much what people inside do. At the end of the day, it's going to be people taking back their own countries. We can show support for that," he said. "We can give them help and the tools to be able to do that. But it's a question at the end of the day of their will, their commitment. And I think what we're seeing is that you find people like that in every country, in great numbers, usually ordinary people."

Mr. Kozak said there was no uniform approach to advancing human rights, and that, in some cases, incentives are better than sanctions, and, in others, intensive U.S. engagement with governments works best.

Amnesty International issued a statement generally applauding Bush administration efforts for human rights worldwide.

But the group said U.S. policies on democracy and human rights will be greeted with deep skepticism as long as, an Amnesty spokeswoman said, the administration continues to flout international law and blatantly disregard the Geneva conventions on the treatment of terrorism detainees.

She said the United States loses its moral voice on human rights each day it continues to hold, without charge or trial, hundreds of terror suspects at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba.