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Colin L. Powell Press Briefing Dhaka, Bangladesh

Press Briefing

Secretary Colin L. Powell
Dhaka, Bangladesh
June 19, 2003

FOREIGN MINISTER MORSHED KHAN: Thank you very much. Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and the media. It is my great pleasure to welcome my very good friend, Secretary of State Colin Powell, in our midst this afternoon. His visit to Bangladesh is more than symbolic. It recognizes and reinforces the traditions of friendship and cooperation that so happily exist between our two countries. This visit is timely and a significant milestone in the course of our relationship.

The new century and millennium heralded the potential for expanding and strengthening the existing friendly relations between our two people. Notwithstanding intervening events of a dire nature, we have remained focused on meeting this potential. The war on terrorism, the situation in Iraq and the road map to peace in the Middle East are some of the elements of the exchange of views Secretary Powell and myself had in the short time agenda, in addition to our other bilateral economic and political issues. Yet the focus has been on the long time perspective that can cement America s relationship with South Asia in general and Bangladesh in particular. The long-term interest converged on the promotion of economic growth and reform, expansion of democracy, the promotion of social development, particularly empowerment and advancement of women and Bangladesh s integration into the global mainstream to a pluralistic society.

We also focused on our region and the enormous challenges it faces in eliminating poverty, expanding trade, avoiding regional conflict, preventing nuclear proliferation, fighting drugs, defeating terrorism, avoiding climate changes, etc. Bangladesh s effort in seeking to bring about regional harmony through South Asian regional cooperation and our overall endeavor to be both a responsible and contributing member of the world community were also highlighted.

In the final analysis, a sustained and intensive interaction between the United States and the countries of our region is critical to strengthening peace, prosperity and freedom in our world in the 21st century. We are both committed to create a better society for us tomorrow. With these few words I would like to welcome in our midst Secretary of State Mr. Colin Powell.

SECRETARY POWELL: Thank you very much, Mr. Minister for your warm welcome and I m so pleased that I ve finally had a chance to accept the invitation that you had extended to me previously. My only regret is that my visit here is so short. Even though it is short, I did want to come. I wanted to make a special point of coming because the United State considers Bangladesh to be a valued friend and a valued partner. We ve just had a very fine working lunch hosted by the Foreign Minister. The Ministers of Finance, Commerce and Energy also took part and we discussed the very fruitful economic relationship that exists between our two countries and what we can do to make it even more beneficial to both of us in the months and years ahead. The United States continues to be an important market for Bangladeshi exports. We buy one third of Bangladesh s total exports and one half of its garment exports. The United States already is Bangladesh s largest investor. But all of us agree that we would like to see even more. We would like to see a surge in investment as a way of helping Bangladesh deal with the issues of poverty.

We also agreed that a sustained commitment by Bangladesh to economic reform, the rule of law, and to fighting corruption would go far to improve investor confidence. And in that regard I commend the recent bold decisions Bangladesh has made to close down unprofitable state enterprises and adopt a floating exchange rate. And we also expect, as a part of our economic work with Bangladesh, to sign a bilateral tax treaty in the very near future that will further strengthen our economic ties.

My government has long been a supporter of Bangladesh s development and the American people are proud that over the years we have helped Bangladeshis achieve many of their most notable goals such as lowering infant mortality. We also applaud Bangladesh s efforts against trafficking in persons. In a region still facing huge challenges of building stable governing institutions, Bangladesh s democracy stands out for the enormous strides it has made over the years. There can and must be many more strides forward. Whatever the differences between political parties and coalitions on matters of policy and affairs of state, the people of Bangladesh need their leaders to pull together if the country is to continue to move ahead.

I share this message with the Foreign Minister and I m about to also share it with Prime Minister Zia, who I m looking forward to seeing right after our press conference.

Meanwhile Bangladesh is tackling many daunting challenges at home. It is making important contributions to the international community. Bangladesh represents an eloquent, compelling and greatly needed voice for moderation in the world. Within South Asia, Bangladesh is a strong advocate for regional stability. The United States deeply appreciates Bangladesh s support for the global anti-terrorism campaign. Bangladesh also has been the victim of terrorist attacks and the hearts of the American people go out to the families of the Bangladeshis that were killed on September 11th, 2001. Bangladesh has been a leading provider of troops for United Nations peacekeeping activities around the world and it was quick to contribute to ongoing international humanitarian relief efforts in Afghanistan. We would certainly welcome Bangladesh s participation as the Iraqi people begin the immense task of reconstruction.

Bangladesh s democracy, Bangladesh s economic progress, Bangladesh s friendship and the Bangladeshi people all matter to us. We will continue to work with you, Mr. Minister, and all of your colleagues as we develop together along a path to greater democracy; greater economic freedom and helping you deal with the challenges that you face. Mr. Minister, I thank you for your hospitality, and I thank you for your friendship. It was a great pleasure to be with you.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary of State, what is the purpose of this short visit to Dhaka? Is it an acknowledgment of Bangladesh s war against terrorism and cultivating democratic practices? And with it are you going to increase support to Bangladesh in its fight against poverty, illiteracy and diseases?

SECRETARY POWELL: With respect to your question, I could only get the last part of it, which I heard more clearly than the first part. We certainly are going to help Bangladesh in every way that we can, in its fight against poverty, in helping people to have a better life, and helping educate its population. And one of the best ways to do that is to encourage trade, encourage investment in Bangladesh and one of the best ways for that to happen is to help our colleagues create an investment-friendly environment here in the country. Just the very fact of textile exports to the United States going from almost nothing a few years ago to a point where, as a result of our discussions and negotiations, we have allowed a market to develop so that more than two billion dollars a year of textile exports go to the United States. Those are exports going to us but what happens here is jobs are created and income goes into the pocket books of wage earners. Families benefit from that. So we are looking for ways to assist Bangladesh with further investment opportunities from abroad. We are suggesting to our friends they should look for opportunities to diversify their export market to us so it isn t totally, resting on textiles. And we re looking for other ways to assist them in diversifying not only their export markets but other natural resources that they have available that could be used to help the people of Bangladesh.

Bangladesh has been a strong supporter in the global war against terrorism because their enlightened policy is that terrorism is something that just does not affect your neighbor, it affects all of us. Even though it may be your neighbor who is being attacked today, it could be you tomorrow. And therefore it is important for all of us to see this as a global campaign that each of us must participate in to protect our neighbor as well as to protect ourselves and I am pleased that Bangladesh has that attitude.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

SECRETARY POWELL: I made no special request. Bangladesh is aware of U.N. Resolution 1483, which calls upon member states to assist as appropriate. But I know that Bangladesh has a record, a very, very positive record, and a respected record of assisting in this way in many places around the world. I think over 3,000 Bangladeshi troops are deployed now in various peacekeeping and stability operations around the world. So we did discuss it, but this is a matter ultimately for the government to decide, not for the United States to demand. It is up to them to decide what might be an appropriate contribution. I m pleased that, in the tradition of Bangladesh, they are willing to consider playing such a role but I would leave it up the Minister, and to the Prime Minister, Cabinet and your Legislature to make the appropriate judgment s with respect to the deployment of troops.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, do you know more details today than you did last night about your imminent trip to the Middle East and if so could you share that with us?

SECRETARY POWELL: Yes to both questions. It s settling in and I expect that I ll be going into the region tomorrow from Jordan. And I expect my travels will take me certainly to Jerusalem and then to another location within the Palestinian Authority, probably Jericho, but its still sorting itself out. I m still in touch with my staff in the region to see what the right itinerary and agenda is for tomorrow and also checking how many seats I have.

QUESTION: The United States has described Bangladesh as a moderate Muslim nation, yet the Bush Administration has enforced the restrictions, immigration restrictions, on Bangladeshi nationals. Are you going to consider excluding Bangladesh from the U.S. list? And do you have any intention to enter into a defense pact with Bangladesh?

SECRETARY POWELL: The minister and I have had a number of conversations about the restrictions we found it necessary to put into place after 9/11 that affected not only Bangladesh, but a number of other nations around the world, our NSEERS program. It was controversial and we regretted that it was necessary to put that program in place. We realize that it inconvenienced a number of Bangladeshis both here as well as those living in the United States. We are slowly phasing into a new program, U.S. Visits, which I think will be seen as fair and open and reasonable with respect to our desire to know who is coming into our country and for what purpose, which is a legitimate desire on our part. But at the same time there is another desire we have and we hope we are able to balance these two desires. The other desire is to make sure that everybody sees the United States as an open, welcoming country. We want people. We want Bangladeshis to come to the United States to visit our cultural attractions, to go to our schools, to go to our hospitals if health care is necessary of the highest quality, or to perhaps find a new life in the United States as so many millions of immigrants have over the years.

So we have these two desires. One to protect ourselves which is appropriate, to know who is in our country, but at the same time to never lose that image of an open, welcoming and very diverse country that wants people to come and visit or to stay. We thrive on that diversity and I hope that the people of Bangladesh will be understanding of the need we had immediately after 9/11 to put some restrictions in place, to know who is in the country. Now that we have worked our way through that, I hope that people will see that what we are doing as we move into the new program that will be seen as reasonable and appropriate and in no way will be seen as discriminatory. It was never discriminatory in the first place. It had to put in place certain procedures and there had to be certain filters that had to be put in with respect to who we would apply. NSEERS, again, is a way of getting on top of the problem we had with respect to who was in the country that we didn t know about. But now we have, I think, improved our systems and I think we are putting in place biometric systems which will let us know upon entry who has come into our country, to welcome them. I hope everybody will see this as reasonable.

QUESTION: About the defense pact?

SECRETARY POWELL: No, it never came up in discussion. No.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, what is your reaction to the latest suicide bombing in Israel in which one Israeli has reported to have been killed and do you discern any progress between the Israelis and the Palestinians on reaching a security agreement for Northern Gaza?

SECRETARY POWELL: Well, once again we condemn such acts of terror. Such acts of terror are perpetrated by those who don t want to see two states living side by side in peace. They want to destroy the hopes and dreams of the Palestinian people. We can t let these acts of terror keep us from that dream, keep us from that possibility, so we have to keep moving forward. And the reports I have from my staff within the past few hours suggest that some progress is being made with respect to security arrangements as well and continuing discussions with Hamas and other organizations with Prime Minister Habas and that s all I would say at this point. I don t have anything more current. Nothing has been finalized yet.

Thank you Mr. Secretary. Thank you Mr. Foreign Minister. [End]

Released on June 20, 2003

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