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Bush: Bonn Afghan Conference a First Step - 2001-11-27

President Bush says the conference of Afghan leaders in Germany is the first step toward a broad-based government for Afghanistan. Germany's Foreign Minister opened the meeting asking delegates to reach a consensus to bring peace and stability to the Afghan people.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer the conference of Afghan leaders is the beginning of a process that President Bush hopes will bring a broad-based government to Afghanistan, including a role for women. "The United States is not under any illusions that it will be done easily, right away," he said. "We are talking about different regions of the world where people have their own cultures and histories and the future shape of Afghanistan will fundamentally be determined by the people of Afghanistan."

Members of the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance now control the capital, Kabul, and they are preventing women from demonstrating for greater rights.

Mr. Fleischer says the United States can not dictate the future for Afghan women, but he said U.S. officials are working with the Northern Alliance to ensure they respect human rights, including the rights of women. "The condition of women in Afghanistan today, compared to what it was three, even four-weeks ago before the fall of the Taleban, has led to a dramatic improvement in the quality of lives of women in Afghanistan," said Ari Fleischer. "Children are going to school again. Young girls know they can get educated again. The situation has changed immensely for the better. Will it change to American standards? No. We are America. Not every nation needs to be like us or is like us. But it is dramatic improvement, dramatic change."

Officials from 18 nations, including the United States and Britain, are observers at the U.N. sponsored talks.

Mr. Fleischer said it is a difficult job working with a variety of ethnic groups to come-up with a new government for Afghanistan. He said President Bush wants to see "as much progress made as quickly as possible," but Mr. Fleischer said results are more important than imposing an artificial deadline.

President Bush and members of the U.S.-led coalition have promised to help rebuild Afghanistan once a government is formed to replace the Taleban.