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Worldwide Labor Officers Conference

Richard L. Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State
Loy Henderson Auditorium
Washington, DC
July 18, 2003


Thank you, Ambassador Southwick, for that kind introduction. Deputy Undersecretary Levine Allow me to express our appreciation For your presence here today But also for the presence of our Department of Labor colleagues every day In countries around the world, where we work side by side to make human rights a reality.

Indeed, I appreciate this opportunity to meet with all of you State Department colleagues, friends, coworkers from across the government. I am delighted you could all take time out of your busy summer vacations to be here today. I know the Secretary spoke at this conference last year And I m sure many of you were there. I hear it was a huge success. After all, he is surely the only Secretary of State who can say he was once a Teamster. And while there are aspects of my biography that are probably a little, shall we say, unusual For a Deputy Secretary of State I can t say that I share the Secretary s direct connection to organized labor. But I certainly share his appreciation for labor rights as an important building block in a democratic society; And for our labor officers as an important building block for the Department of State. Indeed, the promotion of human rights and democratic values is at the very heart of this country s foreign policy.

We gather together today at a time of challenge for our foreign policy. At the moment, we are considering how to handle the situation in Liberia, even as security in the capital crumbles; And we are working with other countries to cool the tensions on the Korean Peninsula All while keeping the pressure on North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons programs. Of course, we are watching events unfold in the Middle East Where the Israeli-Palestinian peace process seems to be holding, although the situation is still more precarious than we would like. And we are also continuing to repair the strained relations with our friends across the waters And I am referring here to transatlantic waters, not trans-Potomac. And that s just what we ve had to work on this morning. Of course, Fridays are always on the slow side.

In all seriousness Each of these situations is challenging In part because of the severity of the threat to US security in many instances And to the security of nations all over the world. But when you are talking about places such as North Korea and Liberia It s also the sheer scale of the human misery involved that makes these situations so urgent. Conflict, repression and abuse are the dominant realities in far too many countries. Poverty, disease, and hunger are the constant companions for far too may people. We have all found out the hard way that such misery does not stay neatly inside national boundaries Nor do the crime and terror that tend to flourish alongside. The terrible truth is that we treat this agony as someone else s problem at our own peril.

And so today, that is why we have a foreign policy based on the premise that we can best advance peace and prosperity At home and abroad By stimulating free enterprise and supporting democratic values around the world. As President Bush noted in the National Security Strategy We seek to create a balance of power that favors human freedom. A sense of resolve that was only strengthened by the terrible events of September 11th.

I believe that in your work as labor officers all over the world You have seen first hand that the State Department s strategic priorities for peace and security Sustainable development, global prosperity, and international understanding Are all best served by the advance of democratic values and economic development. I believe you also see on a daily basis that democracy is more than a political system based on abstract ideals; It is also a set of concrete institutions Built over time through the hard work of many individuals.

And no place is the need for such institutions and individuals Not to mention hard work More apparent than in Afghanistan and Iraq. I recently traveled to Afghanistan And I can tell you that the decades of war, repression and deprivation have exacted a high cost The signs of disaster and decay are everywhere it s heart-wrenching. But there is also something remarkable going on. Everywhere you look Even in the most devastated sections of west Kabul There are signs of industry and normal life: Market stalls and tea stands Children playing soccer And women, some in burqas and some not Socializing in the streets. So while it will take time and the sustained interest of this nation As well as many other nations To rebuild the physical infrastructure of Afghanistan The resilience of the human infrastructure is inspiring.

There is perhaps less resilience in Iraq today And I think the people of that country will be going through a terrible reckoning for some time As more mass graves are uncovered And as regime loyalists continue to sabotage progress toward a better future. But the central challenge for Iraq As with Afghanistan Is to create the conditions in which the resilience of the human spirit The fundamental will to survive and to thrive Can triumph over awful circumstance. Countries around the world that have made the transition to democratic forms of governance From Eastern Europe to East Timor To some extent have had the ideals and the institutions of democracy in place Nurtured by a core of individuals with faith in the efficacy of human freedom. In Iraq and Afghanistan, however, it appears that the habits and antecedents of democracy have dissipated Under the pressure of dictatorship and war. And so the task of forging a representative government requires more than a leap of faith by individuals; It requires a formidable investment for whole societies Which face the monumental task of creating a basic foundation of ideals and of institutions.

It is absolutely critical to peace and prosperity in Iraq and Afghanistan And around the world That we create the conditions in which civil society can succeed. As we can see all over the world Even in places where communal tensions have a history of boiling over into mayhem and murder The connective tissue of political parties, professional associations And yes, trade unions Has a calming effect on deadly violence and contributes to political and economic vitality. Indeed, I suspect it is no coincidence that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from particularly disenfranchised and poor areas of the Middle East.

In the past two years, this Department has put many programs and policies in place that have sought to help grow this connective tissue. We have worked to create economic opportunity Ensuring that the benefits of globalization will be available to the maximum number of people By negotiating a slew of free trade agreements And developing such mechanisms as the African Growth and Opportunity Act. We have worked to promote democratic values through increased and retooled development assistance Such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative The President s HIV/AIDs program; And the Millennium Challenge Account, which Congress is in the process of shaping right now Though I can assure you it will be a significant program for many of you Regardless of its final form.

Of course, these programs and policies are all very promising But they depend on you for success. I think we have people here today from every continent on the globe. You work everywhere from Beijing to Buenos Aires to Bucharest I think one of you even works in Chicago. We look to all of you for the reporting from the field that informs sound policy here in Washington; For the contacts that result in solid diplomacy with other nations and organizations; And for the projects that lift the fortunes of people all over the world. You have much to be proud of in your work to promote democracy and human rights.

In turn, I want you all to know that Secretary Powell and I are committed to doing everything we can to give you the tools you need to succeed in this vital work. And we will continue to fight for more funds More personnel and better training opportunities As well as better and safer facilities and equipment.

Of course, we will continue to ask you for your excellence And your loyalty to the ideals and the institutions that have made this country so great. Indeed, here, just as in the countries around the world where so many of you are posted The health of our nation depends on the faith of individuals in our system of governance And the belief in the possibility that each individual can affect the destiny of millions. So, while you may not be able to see the direct outcome of every single thing you do I can assure you that from my vantage point I see that your work is helping to define the fate and the future of your fellow Americans. I congratulate you for having the courage to make a difference at such a decisive time in the life of your country I thank you for your commitment; And I wish you good luck and Godspeed.

[End]

Released on July 18, 2003


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