|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 24, 2002
Remarks by the President to Community and Religious Leaders
4:40 P.M. (Local)
PRESIDENT BUSH: Thank you all very much. Mr. Ambassador, thank you, and Lisa, for opening up your modest home. (Laughter.) I bet every ambassador that represents the United States wishes they lived this way. But we appreciate your taking on this very important assignment, and that is to represent our country here in Russia.
I'm honored that Laura was traveling with me today. Trips always seem to go so much better when she is by my side, so I'm really glad you got to meet Laura. I like to tell the story in America that when I married her, she was a public school librarian who didn't like politics and didn't particularly care for politicians. (Laughter.) And then she got stuck marrying one. (Laughter.) But she's doing a great job for our country and I'm real proud of her.
And I'm proud of the team I put together, as well. I've got a great national security team, headed by Colin Powell and by Condi Rice and Andy Card. And I'm honored they're traveling with me and I'm honored you have a chance to meet them, as well.
And thank you all for coming. For those of us, the Spaso House -- at least those of us who pay attention to international politics -- the Spaso House was always viewed as a refuge for freedom. And I'm so privileged to give you a few comments here in this historic setting, where so much history was written.
You know, I'm aware that during World War II, Russian-American diplomats and soldiers met here as allies. It's kind of an interesting part of the history of this house. And during the Cold War, this is where many of you came -- refusniks and human rights activists. You're always welcome here and we're glad you're here.
Our nation stands for freedom. That's what we're fighting off the terrorists about. We believe so strongly in freedom, we're willing to defend it at all costs. The Soviet era is gone. The Cold War, I hope, is past us. And today, President Putin and I signed an historic document. It was more than just a document that reduces nuclear weaponry, although that in itself is good. It's a document that says there's a new era ahead of us; that instead of being stuck in the past, these two leaders are willing to take two great countries forward in a new relationship built on common interests and cooperation. And cooperation on all fronts -- the idea of working together to make the Russian economy strong and vibrant, so people can make a living, so people have hope about putting bread on the table for their families. The cooperation of fighting terror, the cooperation of promoting peace. But the best cooperation also must be based on common values, as well as common interests.
And I want you to know that we hold the values in America dear, and you know that. We hold dear what our Declaration of Independence says, that all have got uninalienable rights, endowed by a Creator -- not endowed by the ones who wrote the Declaration of Independence, but by a Creator, a universal Creator. I want you to know that I believe all governments have a duty and responsibility to protect those rights, those inalienable rights.
In Soviet times, people heroically defended those rights with incredible courage, and you earned the respect of a lot of people -- a lot of people -- by doing so. Many of you now are active in a modern Russia, and I want to thank you for staying active and involved in this important society, starting with making sure that freedom is protected by rule of law, and we agree completely. And we hope we can help. Because rule of law is essential for a modern society to thrive and to succeed.
I applaud your commitment and your patriotism. I love the fact that you love your country. I love mine and you love yours, and that's incredibly healthy and important. You understand that free nations and a free Russia require strong civic and religious institutions committed to democratic values.
Russia's on the road to democracy, but it's important, as she does so, that she embrace the values inherent in democracy. In the past, I know you know that we have been committed to helping institutions which promote those values through direct government assistance, and we will continue to do so. We believe it's for the good of Russia. We believe it will help Russia develop in a way that will be -- enable Russia to become a lasting friend. And that's what I'm interested in. I'm interested in friendship, and peace, and mutual development.
Most Russians want and expect what most Americans want and expect -- and that's important for the Russian people and the American people to understand -- a government -- starting with a government that works for citizens, that represents everyday citizens, not a corrupt elite. And that's important.
People want a society ruled by law, not by special privilege, special circumstance, a law where people are treated equally, regardless of their religion, ethnicity, income level. In a multi-ethnic society, people must work toward tolerance, and reject extremism. It's important in America, just like it's important here in Russia. And this is a multi-ethnic society, to the credit of Russia, just like America is a multi-ethnic society, which makes our country strong. We're bound together by common values, and so can Russia be bound by the same values.
To reach these goals, societies need fair laws, and as importantly, fair enforcement of law. They need independent media that is respected by the government. I remind those who sometimes get frustrated with the media that, even in America, elected officials sometimes don't agree what's written about them. Maybe especially America, for all I know. (Laughter.) But it's important for those of us who value democracy to promote an independent media.
Opposition parties must be free to associate and must be free to speak their minds. In order for a democracy to be strong, there has to be competition of ideas, a free discussion of ideas and an airing of philosophy in an open way. Freedom of religion and separation of church and state are so important, so important so that people can worship as they choose -- Jews, Muslims and all Christians, and all religions.
Free societies have all got to meet the great challenges we face in ways consistent with values. That's what I'm here to tell you that's in my heart. That's what I want you to know about this administration -- that we're not only committed to fighting terrorism, and we will, we are. We were under attack in America.
In Germany yesterday I said, September the 11th was just a fine -- just as clear a dividing line in our history, in our nation's history, as Pearl Harbor. It was. America at one time was protected by two oceans; we seemed totally invulnerable to, for example, the wars that took place here in Russia or on the European Continent, all of a sudden found ourselves attacked -- because we love freedom, because we respect religion, because we honor discourse. And you need to know that we're going to defend ourselves, and defend that which we hold dear, and at the same time, protect civilization itself.
But in Afghanistan, we've shown, I believe, how to do it, in a way that's commiserate with our values -- that, on the one hand, we're plenty tough, and we will be. We've got a military we're going to use, if we need to, to defend freedom. But on the other hand, we delivered a lot of medicine and a lot of food. We hurt thinking not only that the children in Afghanistan could not go to school, we cried for the fact that people were starving in the country. We have rebuilt schools. We have also provided medicine and food.
Russia is building hospitals in Afghanistan. It's incredibly positive, we think. Nations are not only contributing military forces, but we're working to build a state that can function on her own, a state at peace in the neighborhood, and a state where people have got hope and a chance to survive, where moms and dads can raise their children in peace.
And that's important for you to know, as well. You know, a lot of times people talk about the tough talk. But you've got to understand, we also have got a soft heart when it comes to the human condition. Each individual matters to me. Each individual has got worth and dignity.
The experience in Afghanistan has taught us all that there's lessons to be learned about how to protect one's homeland and, at the same time, be respectful on the battlefield. And that lesson applies to Chechnya. The war on terror can be won and, at the same time, we have proven it's possible to respect the rights of the people in the territories, to respect the rights of the minorities.
We are -- I represent a great nation, and Russia is a great nation. Both of us share a lot. We've got a big resource base. We've got people who are very smart. I remind Vladimir Putin that the great resource of Russia is the people of Russia. The resource of this country is the brain power of this country.
And when they get the system right, that encourages individual growth and entrepreneurship, that brain power is going to flourish, and so will commerce, and so will opportunity. And while that happens, both nations must respect the multi-ethnic character of our lands. That, too, makes us great. And how we promote that multi-ethnicity, and how we respect human rights is another way we'll be judged by history. We'll be judged by history on how we defend our freedoms. We'll be judged in history by how we help our people prosper and grow. And we'll be judged by history as to whether or not we defend the universal values that are right and just and true.
I want to thank you for that commitment to those values. I appreciate your stance for freedom. I appreciate your love of your country. I appreciate your understanding there is a universal and gracious God.
May God bless you all. May God bless Russia. And may God bless the United States. Thank you very much. (Applause.)
END 5:05 P.M. (Local)