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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > From the Under Secretary > Remarks > 2006 Under Secretary for Political Affairs Remarks

International Understanding Through Citizen Diplomacy

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
Keynote Address at the National Council For International Visitors Annual Meeting
Washington, DC
February 17, 2006

Remarks at Prepared

Thank you for inviting me here today to speak with such a wonderful group of citizen diplomats from all over the U.S. The Council’s network represents a vital core of American citizens who play a crucial role in promoting the mission of the State Department at home and abroad.

I also want to thank the distinguished ambassadors who have joined the Council in honoring citizen diplomacy and international exchange. Many visitors from your countries have participated in the International Visitor Leadership Program -- which we affectionately call the "IV Program" -- over the past 65 years, and many of these participants have gone on to enjoy illustrious careers in their respective fields. Of the more than 150,000 International Visitors, over 200 are former heads of government and chiefs of state.

We do not live in the same world that existed 65 years ago when the IV Program was launched, or even 45 years ago when the Council was founded. Global challenges are in many ways even more complex today.

Over the years, however, the IV Program has remained the public diplomacy tool that ambassadors at American embassies around the world have rated as the most highly valued. It is a program directly related to the U.S. foreign policy of advancing freedom and democracy; building civil society; countering terrorism; expanding economic development; and promoting mutual understanding.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the overthrow of despotism in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the increasingly global reach of information, democracy is taking hold in countries as never before. People are demanding a voice – in directing their lives, in electing their governments, and in influencing the policies their leaders implement that may determine their destinies.

Yesterday, Secretary Rice gave one example of how programs like this one can help give people this voice. She asked Congress for additional funds to support the cause of democracy and human rights in Iran. This money would be used, in significant part, to increase the number of fellowships for Iranian students and the number of Iranian professionals who visit the United States.

Our mission continues to be a good one and a noble one. As the Secretary has said, our transformational diplomacy objective is: "To work with our many partners around the world to build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that will respond to the needs of their people and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. This is a strategy rooted in partnership, not paternalism—in doing things with other people, not for them."

And how do we build a receptive international environment for, as the President has said, "the non-negotiable demands of human dignity: the rule of law; limits on the absolute power of the state; free speech; freedom of worship; equal justice; respect for women; religious and ethnic tolerance; and respect for private property"?

As a government, we can’t do that alone. We can’t build a more stable world unless we work with international partners to promote peace, prosperity and good governance as widely as possible.

And we can’t build an atmosphere of trust in which meaningful dialogue can take place without dedicated citizen diplomats such as you. That’s why the theme of this conference, "International Understanding Through Citizen Diplomacy," is so significant, and timely.

All of you in this room today are on the frontline of our collective national efforts to reach out to people with whom we may not have been connecting very effectively in the past. As citizen diplomats, working at the grassroots level, you are in a unique position to project the America that we know we live in – one that values freedom and dignity and respect for all human beings, whatever their race, religion or political beliefs.

For nearly seventy years, our International Visitors Program has brought up and coming leaders to the United States to experience our country firsthand, to learn about the diversity within our country, to better understand who we are and what we stand for, and to build mutual understanding in the long-term security interests of our country.

I saw clearly from my experience as Ambassador to NATO and to Greece, the impact of this important program.

The foreign policy goals of the United States reflect the themes of so many of the projects that you are creating for the thousands of International Visitors you have hosted over the years. Let me describe some of the positive impact you have had:

Regional stability: One of the ways we can help prevent or constrain regional conflicts is to bring parties together in a neutral venue. When you have an Arab and an Israeli to your house for dinner, or bring an Indian and a Pakistani together to participate in a conflict resolution seminar at a local college or university, you are working as partners to help resolve conflicts that threaten global peace;

Democracy and Human Rights: By meeting with NGOs, local government officials, citizen interest groups, human rights organizations in your communities, visitors can see the promise of democracy built on a foundation of transparent and accountable democratic institutions, laws and economic and political processes.

With your help, this strategy is working:
The president of Georgia – and so many of the opposition leaders who staged peaceful revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine – visited this country as International Visitors.

The new presidents of Slovenia, Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka were International Visitors.

And the first president of the post-Taliban Afghanistan was an IV Program Participant.

Economic prosperity and security: When you introduce visitors to our entrepreneurial spirit and connect business leaders in your community with foreigners, you are promoting global economic growth and development while expanding opportunities to business in your own communities. This exposure is especially important for growing number of women who are becoming involved in international business on all levels.

Counter terrorism and homeland security: We need close coordination with policymakers and law enforcement from all nations around the world to implement an effective counter terrorism policy. You are helping us create those linkages when you host international visitors who meet with your police forces, port authorities, civil defense organizations, and public health providers.

Education: We know we need to reach more young people in a world where twenty percent of the population is between the ages of 10 and 19. As Secretary Rice said recently, in our business, every day we meet "international colleagues who have lived and studied in America . . . and most just light up at the mention of their time here. . . . However, the next generation, they are not studying in America. That is something that we must correct and that we must change." By focusing on bringing all levels of educators to the U.S. for training in and exposure to our academic institutions and communities, we are investing in a huge multiplication of our message internationally. When teachers can share their experiences with young and open minds around the world, the seed of future understanding is planted.

Finally, Interfaith Dialogue. Misunderstanding between faiths has been with us for millennia and has often caused senseless violence. One fifth of the world’s population is Muslim. We know we need to reach out more directly to Muslim communities to find productive ways to work together for peace and democracy. That’s why bringing together clerics of all creeds -- as well as people from different religious traditions -- in peaceful discussion continues to be one of the most important aspects of the International Visitor Leadership Program.

Again, the IV Program has played a critical role:
Over the past three years, we have increased the number of International Visitors from the Near East, North Africa and South Asia regions to over 800 annually. That represents a three-fold expansion.

The IV Program with Iraq is now the third largest IV Program in the world (after Russia and China) with over 100 participants. Just three years ago, we did not have an IVL program with this country.

I want to close by emphasizing that the IV Program is a powerful force for dispelling stereotypes and myths about countries, people and societies.

97% of IV alumni say the program helps achieve its goals of increasing mutual understanding between Americans and people of other countries and developing friendly, sympathetic and peaceful relations between the U.S. and others! What a testimony!

Each one of you can and does truly make a difference in helping us to fulfill our mission: to create a more secure, democratic and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.

I thank all of you for your contributions and dedication to this endeavor.

Released on February 23, 2006

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