President Bush is promoting literacy as a key to prosperity and liberty around the world. The president and Mrs. Bush spoke in New York Monday at a global literacy event sponsored by the White House.
His schedule over the next two days includes an address before the United Nation's General Assembly as well as meetings with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and several other heads of government.
But Mr. Bush kicked off his trip to New York by accompanying First Lady Laura Bush to the White House Conference on Global Literacy. The president said no nation that has high illiteracy rates can attain prosperity. "In order to be an informed consumer, you have to read. In order to be able to take advantage of jobs that may come to your country as a result of expanding economic opportunity, you have got to read. In order to be a productive worker, you need to be able to read the manual. And so part of the practical application of this initiative is to encourage prosperity by enhancing people's capacity to read," he said.
Also at the conference were officials from the U.S. Departments of State and Education, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). The agencies will be joining forces with their counterparts from nations around the world, as well as the United Nation's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to hold a series of regional conferences to discuss effective means of promoting literacy.
Introducing the president, Mrs. Bush urged all governments to boost literacy rates. Mr. Bush said the ability to read is a prerequisite for establishing and sustaining free nations. "It is very hard to have free societies if the citizens cannot read. Think about that. You cannot realize the blessings of liberty if you cannot read a ballot. Or if you cannot read what others are saying about the future of your country," he said.
White House officials say promoting liberty will be a central theme of Mr. Bush's trip to New York. President Bush said the United States will continue to advocate freedom for the people of the world, but will not impose its version of freedom on any nation.