American political leaders gathered in Washington Thursday for the ceremonial groundbreaking of a building for a nonpartisan group helping to resolve international conflict and promote peace. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

This will be the first permanent headquarters for the U.S. Institute of Peace, founded by Congress in 1984 as an independent, nonpartisan organization to resolve conflict and promote post-conflict stability and development.

Former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz said the group is focused on trying to better understand what factors lead to violence and how are they resolved.

"How did something violent go to something more stable and peaceful? How did that breakdown and all of a sudden there is violence, from the killing fields of Cambodia to something more stable," he said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the U.S. Institute of Peace helped resolve some of the worst violence of the last century and continues that work today.

"The Institute has played a role in helping to find peaceful solutions from South Africa to Rwanda in Kosovo and now in Sudan," she noted.

U.S. President George Bush said it is in America's vital interest to help resolve conflict because people who live in free societies are less likely to turn to ideologies of hatred and fear.

"Freedom is universal," he said.  "We believe that freedom is the birthright of every man, woman, and child. Free societies are peaceful societies. Freedom helps supplant the conditions of hopelessness that extremists exploit to recruit terrorists and suicide bombers."

The president again spoke of the ideological struggle against extremism and three primary ways it challenges free societies. He said countries including Colombia, Lebanon, and Pakistan are facing drug cartels or terrorist networks that are threatening to overwhelm state institutions.

"There are developing nations, many on the continent of Africa, that are facing extreme poverty and health epidemics and humanitarian catastrophes and are therefore vulnerable to extremists who take advantage of chaos and instability," he added.

And in Afghanistan and Iraq where U.S. forces have removed previous governments, Mr. Bush said the United States has a special obligation to help build free societies by providing the security necessary for that freedom to grow.

The U.S. Institute of Peace is currently working on conflict and post-conflict analysis in Afghanistan, Nigeria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and Liberia.

Its headquarters near Washington's Lincoln Memorial will include a public education center, a research library, archives, classrooms, and a conference center.