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US Bill Would Promote Democracy Around World

A group of U.S. lawmakers has introduced legislation to promote democracy around the world.

The bipartisan bill would create an office of democracy movements and transitions at the State Department, and would establish separate so-called regional democracy hubs at various U.S. embassies to coordinate the promotion of democracy. The bill calls for $300 million in funding for the effort.

Although the promotion of democracy has long been a goal of U.S. foreign policy, sponsors of the legislation say its importance to U.S. national interests has become more apparent after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.

"We have learned that where repression rules, the lack of political participation and economic opportunity engenders despair and even extremism," said Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican. "So when the security of New York or Washington or California depends in part on the degree of freedom in Riyadh or Baghdad or Cairo, then we must promote democracy, the rule of law, and social modernization, just as we promote the sophistication of our weapons and the modernization of our military."

Congressman Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, says the legislation does not seek to impose an American model of democracy on other nations.

"Through this bill and other policy, we will enable willing people in these countries to seek out their own forms of democracy," he said.

The lawmakers say the bill would not take a blanket approach to promoting democratic change, but would create a country-by-country strategy tailored to each non-democratic regime.

They did not list the countries where they hope their bill would promote change, but they suggested North Korea would be a priority.

Senator Joe Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, noted that the non-profit Freedom House cites 45 nations that are not free. He says it comes as no surprise that the legislation is being introduced now, in the wake of elections in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other pro-democratic developments around the globe.

"There has been a thrilling movement of democratic transformation throughout the world," he said. "The ideals that inspired reformists and revolutionaries in Ukraine, that lead the people of Lebanon to demand the right of self-government are at the heart of this advance democracy bill."

Congressman Tom Lantos, a California Democrat and a survivor of the Holocaust, says the legislation is aimed at forging democratic change over the long term, possibly decades.