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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Michael Kozak
Senior Director for Democracy,
Human Rights and International Organizations,
National Security Council

June 7, 2007

Michael Kozak
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to have a virtual discussion with you today about the Freedom Agenda. In its essence, the Freedom Agenda is a bipartisan U.S. policy of supporting people in other countries who are working to secure their rights of free speech, press, and assembly and their right peacefully to change their government through periodic democratic elections, which are recognized in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international agreements. The policy is carried out through open, peaceful means and does not involve the U.S. picking political favorites in other countries. Instead, we work with people from across the political spectrum as long as they are committed to human rights, democratic political processes, and peaceful means of pursuing them.

Gregory, from Torrance, CA writes:
Dear Director Kozak: By Expanding NATO Membership and by implementing a Missile Defense Shield, Russia increasingly feels threatened by our actions. Does this not make it more difficult for your agency to convince Russian Authorities to stay on the Democratic Course Yeltsin Started? Thank You.

Michael Kozak
Dear Gregory: NATO expanded during the previous Administration and again during this Administration as part of Europe’s efforts to bring about greater European integration, including with Russia. NATO is not an alliance aimed at Russia, and indeed Russia is a partner with NATO through the NATO-Russia Council. Likewise, the deployment of a small number of interceptor missiles (which do not carry explosives and can be used only to deflect an attacking missile) poses no threat to Russia. President Bush assured President Putin as early as 2001 that missile defense was not directed at Russia and, since then, the Administration has offered to cooperate with the Russians on the full range of missile defense activities, to include sharing technology, inviting Russian experts to inspect our missile defense installations, and cooperating together to address current and future ballistic missile threats. We are disappointed that Russia seems to have abandoned democratic reforms at a time when the United States and our NATO Allies have made great efforts to bring greater transparency and cooperation to our relationship with Russia. Russia is a great country with an exceptional culture. It will become an even stronger country as it proceeds with democratic reforms that unleash the full potential of its people. The future of Russia does not lie with those who wrongly fear internal democracy and external democratic states.

You, from Orlando Florida writes:
Per the President's speech in Prague this week, how are you going to advise the President with the upcoming visit of Vietnam Head of State Nguyen Minh Triet to the White House? Vietnam recently arrested and jailed most if not all the dissidents without any due process and they are totally defenseless. What actions will US do in order to have immediate release of all these political, religous and democratic dissidents? Thank You Sir, Hoang

Michael Kozak
Dear HD: The President met last week with four Vietnamese freedom activists working for freedom in Vietnam to demonstrate our support for freedom in Vietnam, their goals, and particularly to highlight the plight of those unjustly imprisoned. We have also made our concerns about Vietnam’s recent actions known to senior Vietnamese officials in diplomatic channels. Vietnam’s leaders know that these concerns will be raised with President Triet during his visit. Indeed, in announcing the visit, the White House press spokesman said: “President Bush will also express his deep concern over the recent increase of arrests and detentions of peaceful democracy activists in Vietnam, and note that such actions will inevitably limit the growth of bilateral ties.” Vietnam has made progress on certain aspects of freedom, and the recent arrests were a setback that the Vietnamese Government should promptly reverse.

Michael, from Powell, Tn writes:
Which nation has the least human rights being shown to its citizens?

Michael Kozak
Dear Michael: The U.S. Government deliberately does not try to rank countries from worst to best on human rights. Instead, each year we compile the State Department’s Annual Human Rights Reports ( that seek objectively to lay out the facts about what is occurring in each country, other than the United States, relevant to respect for human rights. The same criteria are used for assessing every country’s compliance with internationally recognized human rights. The trends we are seeing over time within a country are, in some ways, more important to the development of policy than the level of compliance with internationally recognized human rights at any given point. A country that is backsliding on human rights may objectively still have a better situation than another country that has had a very bad record but which is steadily improving. But it is the former that often is of more concern from a policy standpoint. Some private experts, for example Freedom House, do rank countries on both political and economic freedom. (See

Cliff, from Brimfield. Ohio writes:
Director Kozak: This FREEDOM AGENDA, freedom for who and what? The title sounds like we are dealing with slavery again. Or is this a world wide agenda and issue? Thank You

Michael Kozak
Dear Cliff: You are right. This is a world wide agenda and issue. As President Bush said in his recent speech in Prague, “We appreciate that free societies take shape at different speeds in different places. One virtue of democracy is that it reflects local history and traditions. Yet there are fundamental elements that all democracies share -- freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly; rule of law enforced by independent courts; private property rights; and political parties that compete in free and fair elections. These rights and institutions are the foundation of human dignity, and as countries find their own path to freedom, they must find a loyal partner in the United States of America.”

Christy, from Atlanta, GA writes:
Dear Director Kozak: What exactly is the Freedom Agenda? Why is it important to Americans?

Michael Kozak
Dear Christy: The Freedom Agenda is a name that has been attached to our policy of showing support for those struggling for human rights and democratic freedoms around the world. This includes such steps as U.S. spokesmen, from the President on down, speaking out when people are imprisoned or otherwise mistreated for peacefully expressing their views, meeting with freedom activists in other countries to show support for their cause, providing assistance to emerging democratic governments for such things as setting up honest election systems, and helping activists in non-democracies with such peaceful activities as learning how to run an independent newspaper or how to detect and deter vote fraud. It is important to Americans not only because it reflects our values, but because it is important to our security. Our National Security Strategy ( is based on the premise that the biggest threat to the U.S. is not another strong nation or group of nations, but the extremism that is bred in weak, repressive states. Young people who grow up suffering abuse by their own government and deprived of any peaceful channel for seeking to change their situation will often turn to extremism and violence. And if their oppressors are permitted to portray normal diplomatic and commercial relationships with those countries as support for the oppressive regime in power, they may well hold the U.S. responsible for their plight and direct their anger and resentment at us. By standing for freedom we can both make clear that we do not endorse the behavior of repressive regimes and, over time, change that behavior by helping those that are trying to bring about democratic reforms in their own countries.

Sam, from Long Island writes:
I don't understand this freedom agenda - isn't this just another way that the US is getting involved places where it shouldn't be?

Michael Kozak
Dear Sam: In the past we might have had a choice about whether to be involved in some parts of the world or not. Today we really do not have that option. As we saw on September 11, 2001, the takeover of Afghanistan by extremists who welcomed terrorist training camps to their territory and the resentment of young people from non-democratic countries in the Middle East against their own governments resulted in horrendous consequences here in the United States. Democratic states that respect the basic freedoms of their own people do not tend to produce large numbers of organized, armed extremists who carry out terrorism across international boundaries. So a world made up of prosperous, democratic states is in our interest. Democracy cannot and need not be imposed on others; it is the dictators and extremists who must use force to impose their views. But we can be supportive of those who are peacefully seeking greater freedoms in their own society, and by doing so we make clear that we do not stand with the oppressors and hasten the day when those struggling for their freedom will succeed.

Jackie, from Milwaukee, WI writes:
Who came up with this Freedom Agenda?

Michael Kozak
Dear Jackie: The “Freedom Agenda” is the current name for a longstanding policy of support for human rights and democratic freedoms that has been pursued by both Republican and Democratic Administrations, and which continues to have strong bipartisan support in Congress. For example, President Carter made human rights a centerpiece of his foreign policy, and President Reagan and the Congress of the time were responsible for setting up some of the key instruments for supporting democracy and human rights abroad, such as the National Endowment for Democracy. What has changed during President Bush’s term in office are (a) the recognition that supporting others struggling for freedom is not only the right thing to do, but something essential to our own national security ( and (b) that the Middle East should not be exempt from our global policy in support of freedom. (

Alex, from AK writes:
How is taking away Civil Rights in the USA promoting Freedom?

Michael Kozak
Dear Alex: It isn’t. We can debate the wisdom of particular policies or procedures, but the important thing is preserving that ability to have a vigorous public debate and to change our representatives if we are not satisfied with the policies they have put in place. That is why in our relationships abroad we judge freedom based on the fundamental elements that all democracies share -- freedom of speech, religion, press, and assembly; rule of law enforced by independent courts; private property rights; and political parties that compete in free and fair elections.

Alexis, from Springfield writes:
How will it be decided who is awarded the Freedom Defenders Award and the Diplomacy for Freedom Award? What motivation will be given to try to receive these awards?

Michael Kozak
Dear Alexis: The Secretary of State will make the final decisions on both awards, based on recommendations from the Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs and the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor. Those officials in turn will get input from our Embassies abroad, other State Department officials, and non-governmental organizations active in the promotion of human rights and democracy. The State Department is still working out the details of this process, but we expect it to be finalized and the first awards to be issued by the end of this year. I should mention that these awards will complement an existing award given by the Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor to the outstanding human rights officer at our Embassies abroad. Candidates for this award are nominated by their Ambassadors, and a panel of experts reviews the nominations and makes recommendations to the Assistant Secretary.

Michael Kozak
I appreciated the opportunity to have a virtual conversation with you about the important topic of freedom, and hope I have done justice to what were some excellent questions. For those who would like to get more detail on both the concept behind the Freedom Agenda and the operational details of carrying it out, I would refer you to the following links:,,,,, Thanks again for the chance to chat.

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