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Powell Urges Hungary to Keep Troops in Iraq - 2004-07-27

US Secretary of State Colin Powell is urging Hungary to remain part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. In talks with Hungarian officials and a series of public appearances, he said insurgents in Iraq must not be allowed to triumph.

A Hungarian soldier was among recent fatalities in insurgent attacks in Iraq, and opinion here is running strongly against a renewal Hungary's 300-member peacekeeping contingent when its mandate expires at year's end.

In a series of public appearances, Mr. Powell said he recognizes that Hungary's future role in Iraq is a decision the coalition government and parliament in Budapest will eventually have to make.

But he said there is a brighter future ahead for the Iraqi people only if the U.S.-led security force holds together. And in an address to a gathering of Hungarian foreign diplomats, he said Hungary and other formerly communist-ruled European counties in the coalition must stand up for the emergence of freedom in Iraq:

"Hungary and its neighbors were once subjugated and tethered to the wrong side of history. Now you are free and you are an integral and valuable part of the right side of history. We must not be faint-hearted in the face of current challenges," said Mr. Powell. "We must not waver or lose patience. We must stay the course for freedom in the course and in the face of danger."

Mr. Powell told Hungarian television Hungary's own struggle to achieve democracy took decades, and acknowledged that the process of democracy building in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Hungary also has a small troop presence, is slow-moving and dangerous. But he said this is a time to be steadfast, and not as he put it, become weak in the knees and leave, so that tyrants can return.

Five countries have pulled forces out of the coalition, most recently the Philippines, which departed earlier this month to save the life of a Filipino truck driver kidnapped by insurgents.

The United States has castigated the Manila government for the move, and in his speech to the diplomats Mr. Powell hailed the example of Bulgaria, which has reaffirmed its intention to stay the course in Iraq despite the kidnapping and murder of two of its nationals.

He said Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy told him last week that Bulgarians, while saddened by the loss of two fellow citizens, are not about to let kidnappers hold the freedom of the country's eight-million people hostage.

Budapest was the first stop on a week-long trip by Mr. Powell to Europe and the Middle East. He continues the mission in Cairo, and talks with Egyptian officials Wednesday focusing on Iraq, and U.S. hopes that Israeli plans for withdrawing from Gaza can restore momentum to Middle East peace efforts.