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Rice & Jack Straw: At Blackburn Town Hall

Remarks With British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw At Blackburn Town Hall

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Blackburn, England
April 1, 2006


FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Blackburn. And, Secretary Rice, welcome on your second day of this memorable and historic visit to Liverpool and to Blackburn. We've just spent an hour talking to representatives of the Muslim community here in Blackburn, women as well as men, a very important point. And the dialogue that I witnessed -- I simply chaired this -- was one of the best that I've ever seen between a group of people concerned out their heritage, their culture, their religion and their political interests and one of the people who literally helps to lead the world. It was a very serious discussion. It covered all big issues, including that of the position of Islam in the world, immediate political issues including Guantanamo Bay, Israel, Palestine, Iraq, and it covered too women's issues, which was fascinating for me and all the other men to listen as Secretary Rice was asked advice by some of the Muslim women present about how they could advance their careers, just as one way or another she seems to have managed to advance hers. So it was really a terrific hour.

Secretary Rice.

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, thank you very much, Jack, and I'd like to really thank you and Alice for making the suggestion I come to northwest England and for this second day in Blackburn. It's really been a great trip and I'm enjoying it immensely. And I really did very much value the dialogue that we just had. It was stimulating, it was interesting, it was candid, it was really quite wonderful. And we talked about a lot of things, but we started with an assertion with which I readily agreed that there is no difference or no conflict between Islamic values and democratic values, that in fact people who practice the Islamic faith live here in a great democracy as great participants in this democracy, as they do in the United States, as they do in India, in Indonesia and other places around the world. And we talked a lot about how we could further the opportunities for people to solve their differences by politics and by compromise and dialogue, and not by conflict and violence.

It was indeed also wonderful to talk to the women representatives there who raised a number of issues about their own lives, but also about what we could do for the empowerment of women worldwide, which I believe is one of the most important issues that we face. I said to them that I thought that the empowerment of women really had an effect on whole societies, that when women have economic opportunities and educational opportunities, whole societies do change. That's with all due respect to men, that educational and economic opportunities of course also important for men, but I think whether you're talking about Africa or Latin America or the Middle East that people will tell you that the economic and political empowerment of women makes a difference to people's lives.

And so it was a really wonderful opportunity. I want to thank Lord Mayor for having arranged it and for welcoming us here so warmly and I look forward to the rest of my Blackburn visit.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, protestors have greeted you on every leg of this trip. You can hear them outside now. Do you feel that your message has somehow been drowned out?

And Mr. Secretary, Guantanamo Bay is one of the key issues that protestors are demonstrating about. Do you think it is time for Guantanamo Bay to be closed? The British Government has called it an anomaly which must be ended at some time. Should there be a timeline set for its closure?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, first of all, Sue, to a certain extent the protestors make my point, that democracy is the only system that allows people to be heard and to be heard peacefully. And it is the President's contention that that is the reason that when there are more places that people's voices can be heard peacefully, especially in the Middle East, we're all going to be far better off.

And indeed I've been very warmly welcomed. I've also noticed the people waving along the streets. I noticed the considerable gathering of people from Blackburn just on the other side of the demonstrations, and I'm hearing their voices equally clearly and equally well. And so the opportunity to come here and to be in this very diverse and very interesting community that has come back from very tough times has really been stimulating for me and I've enjoyed it and I'm glad I did it and I look forward to seeing other parts of other countries in the world because I think it's important to get outside of capitals.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: I want to comment on Guantanamo Bay. Let me just say this, that I hope that one of the things that is reported from this morning is the fact that the crowd of people to turn up in support of Secretary Rice's visit here was as least as large as those in front of the town hall who were opposed to her views and mine in respect of Iraq. And that was a really quite remarkable event that there was that crowd. It was entirely spontaneous. It's very unusual to get people to turn up to show that they agree, in this case, with the purpose of a visit. But it just shows what we've seen right across the northwest, the strength of positive feeling and affection and support for this visit and real gratitude to Secretary Rice for the fact that's she's taken up two and a half days to come to the northwest, actually hear the concerns of the northwest and realize or to experience the rest of the United Kingdom, just as Alice and my visit to Alabama was a remarkable eye-opener for us about the real America beyond the beltway.

In respect of Guantanamo, the Prime Minister has said our opposition, our position, has indeed said it's an anomaly which ought to be ended and that we look forward to its closure. I may say that it's not that different from what I've heard the Secretary say in public as well as in private that the United States did not want to be the jailer of the world and they do want this matter to be solved. But we all have to understand, which is the point that the Prime Minister and I make as well as the Secretary, that this did not happen out of nowhere; it happened as a consequence of the world's worst ever terrorist attack on September the 11th.

QUESTION: Jon Craig from Sky News. Foreign Secretary, when you say there was a crowd welcoming the Secretary of State, one, I'm not sure it was as big as the crowd of demonstrators are, it was a very big and noisy demonstration in Liverpool last night. Can I ask you, as the host, how embarrassed you've been by the sort of noise we can still hear now outside and the very big and angry demonstration in Liverpool last night; and, Secretary of State, how irritated you've been that every way you've gone these protestors seem just to follow you around.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Can I say I'm not embarrassed in the least. Should you be here on a normal Saturday morning, the person making the noise outside onto William Street is one J. Straw just down the road there. And the crowd that I'm talking to, sometimes it gets very lively, but you hear a man on a very good public address system not always agreeing with what he's saying, but he's making, because we practice real democracy here.

As to the size of the crowds, well, I've been on plenty of demonstrations in my life and -- what?

QUESTION: A few years ago.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Well, it may be a few years ago, but I've not forgotten what's a big crowd and a small crowds. (Laughter.) And that was not a big crowd either here or in Liverpool. I mean, I'm not trying to -- well, I am trying to make a few claims, but they said they were going to get busloads and busloads here. And I'll tell you, well, I didn't think they did very well. If they'd asked me, I could have done better for them. (Laughter.)

SECRETARY RICE: I have seen demonstrations before. By the way, I'm a university faculty member. I've seen lots of demonstrations before. I have seen demonstrations before in the United States. I suppose these won't be the last demonstrations that I see. And I find them an exercise in democracy. I find them not in any way off-putting or in fact all that disconcerting. I think people are simply expressing their views. That's just fine.

I also know that when there are demonstrators, there are people who go into the streets to demonstrate, there are an awful lot of people who, in their own private ways, let you know how very welcome you are, like the ladies who came out of shops along the way to wave or the people in the church today or the people down the street, and who do that without organization. And so I value it very, very much.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, there's been a lot of interest in your comment yesterday that the United States probably made thousands of tactical errors during the Iraq war. We're obviously very curious about which tactical mistakes would be at the top of your list. Is it the number of troops for the occupation, de-Baathification, disbanding the Iraqi army, the failure to anticipate the insurgency or some other issue?

SECRETARY RICE: Glenn first of all -- first of all -- I meant it figuratively, not literally. All right? Let me be very clear about that. I wasn't sitting around counting. I also said a little later on that I've done this a thousand times. That probably was also figurative.

Look, the point that I was making to the questioner, and it was by the way in the discussion that we had at the speech, the point I was making to the questioner is that of course, if you've ever made decisions, you've undoubtedly made mistakes in the decisions that you've made, but that the important thing is to get the big strategic decisions right and that I am confident that the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein and give the Iraqi people an opportunity for peace and for democracy is the right decision.

The other point that I was making to the questioner is that I'm enough of an historian to know that things that looked brilliant at the moment turn out in historical perspective to be mistakes, and that things that looked like mistakes turn out to be -- turn out to have been right decisions. And so the point was that at some point in time when I go back to Stanford and starting supervising dissertations again, this will be a question that we can look back on with some perspective of time and some perspective of where different steps led.

But the important point is to underscore that if you don't get right the big strategic decisions, then you're not going to make history and you're not going to have a history -- you're not going to make history in a positive direction because that's how big historical changes happen. People have to take choices and they're always difficult and they're always turbulent, but I think if you look back on history you'll see that an awful lot of them came out just right.

QUESTION: From ITV News. We saw yesterday a demonstration of more than a hundred schoolchildren, predominantly Muslim schoolchildren, and the representations you've had this morning are largely from the Muslim community. Do you accept that you've completely alienated the Muslim world, particularly in this country and indeed in America as well?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, it certainly didn't feel like that in the meeting that I just had. We had a wonderful and open discussion that was respectful in which we shared our views. I also met a fair number of Muslim children in the school who were warm and generous and ready to talk. And I certainly hope that what the Muslim world is seeing, or beginning to see, is that the United States recognizes and President Bush has recognized that there are questions about American foreign policy and perhaps not all people agree, including many Muslims, with some of the things that we've done.

But I would say that probably the most important thing that we've done is to declare for the past 60 years of American policy that in the Middle East, the heart of the problem that we currently face, that the 60 years of trying to buy stability at the expense of democracy is now gone. There was a kind of Middle East exceptionalism in American policy and that policy was both because we were so concerned about stability but also the President suspects, and he's said it from time to time, that it was also the result of an attitude about certain parts of the world and certain peoples around the world that they really weren't quite ready for self-governance.

And that premise has been proved wrong time and time again throughout the world and America has now said it's also wrong when we talk about the Middle East, that Muslims, people of the Middle East, are perfectly capable of self-governing, as they're showing here in Blackburn, as they're showing in Dearborn, Michigan, as they're showing in India or in Indonesia. And so that is the policy change that I would hope would be somehow acknowledged by Muslims, even if they don't agree. And I don't want to, by the way, assume everybody. But even people who don't agree with our particular policies, I think would have to acknowledge that that is a change in the way that the United States deals with the Muslim world.

QUESTION: Thank you. Madame Secretary, you say that you appreciate the protests and this is what democracy is all about, but -- and you appreciate the different views. But one of the things that you and your Under Secretary of Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes have said is that the dialogue is a two-way street and you're not just there to listen but you're really there to hear about other parties' concerns and perhaps factor that into your foreign policy going forward.

Was there anything that you heard during your visit in Blackburn, during your meeting with the Muslim leaders today, that made you think you might be able to take this back when you're factoring your foreign policy? Is there something that you might do differently in terms of U.S. policy towards Muslim countries?

SECRETARY RICE: Well, I certainly think that you hear a passion about a number of issues that I think is very important. You hear passion about the plight of the Palestinians and I think everybody recognizes that these are people who live in extraordinarily difficult circumstances and where the President has said that the only answer to stability in the region for both Israel and the Palestinian people is to have a Palestinian state. And one person asked me, you know, are you prepared to try to seize the moment for the development of a Palestinian state, and I said that it's an issue that I think about all the time and that given changes in the region, of course we're going to, even with the elections, we would very much value an opportunity to try and bring about a Palestinian state. And so it's experiential; you do hear people's passion and that's important.

And of course we are always evaluating where we are, but I think the United States is on a course that is dedicated to the proposition that human beings desire democracy and they ought to be supported in that desire for democracy. It's true that the dialogue is two-way and what I really like about our sessions today is that I felt that I had a chance to listen and process, but I also think that other -- that people listened to me. Because it does have to be a two-way street.

So of course we'll constantly look at what our policies are and adjust to the circumstances, but the one thing that I don't think needs adjustment and the one thing that I think has to stay absolutely steadfast, is the belief that people deserve to govern themselves, they deserve to be able to speak freely, and that the United States of America simply has to stand for that even if sometimes people don't like some of the policies that that leads to.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary of State, a couple moments ago the Foreign Secretary said that he looked forward to the closure of Guantanamo Bay. Do you share that same wish? And if so, can you give us some idea of the time frame in which that may happen?

SECRETARY RICE: I've said to the Foreign Secretary and to many others the United States doesn't desire to keep Guantanamo in being any longer than it's needed because we don't want to be the world's jailer. That's not the United States because it's not U.S. policy.

But we have to recognize that Guantanamo is there for a reason. It's there because we captured people on battlefields, particularly in Afghanistan but sometimes, frankly, on the battlefields of our own democratic societies, who were either plotting or planning or actively engaged in terrorist activities. And we have released hundreds of people from Guantanamo. It is not as if everybody who was in Guantanamo on October 1st, 2001 or January 1st, 2002 is still in Guantanamo. We have gone out of our way to try to release people. We've released British citizens back to Great Britain. We've done that with many different countries.

But there are some people who cannot either be safely be released to their countries or certainly safely released, and there are people for whom the value of the information that they have is still relevant to the fight against terror.

But I would just ask: What would be the alternative? If the alternative is to release people onto the streets so that they can do harm again, that we're not going to do. If the alternative is to try people, that we want to do. And we are looking for the means to do that, including the fact that the fate of military commissions is being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, and so I'll say nothing more about that since it's a court case.

But I want to assure you, the reasons for Guantanamo have to do with the necessities of keeping very dangerous people off the streets.

I want to say one other thing. A number of people who have been to Guantanamo actually understand better the efforts that we've undertaken to make it a place where, for instance, people are able to practice their religious practices, in which they get religiously appropriate meals, and so on and so on, reading materials and the like. And we offer very often for people to go to Guantanamo. Sometimes people decide to write reports even though they haven't been to Guantanamo. And so I would just suggest that people look at some of the work that's been done by people who have been there.

But that's not to say that we will not be very glad at the day that conditions permit the closure of Guantanamo and the trying of its inhabitants or for their release.

FOREIGN SECRETARY STRAW: Good. Thank you very much indeed. Thank you.

2006/T20-10

Released on April 1, 2006

ENDS


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