Press Conference Following Opening of Lincoln CornerKaren Hughes,
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs
Kuala Lampur City Library
Kuala Lampur, Malaysia
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, thank you all very much for joining us this morning, I first of all would - President Bush has sent a letter at I would like to personally extend on his behalf and the First Ladyís behalf, their sympathies and prayers to the Prime Minister and the people of Malaysia after the loss of his wife, I know that she was much loved here and itís been a big loss for the Prime Minister and for your country. And President Bush considers the Prime Minister a good friend and he mourns with him in this time of sadness and sorrow and sends his best thoughts and prayers, so, with that Iíll be glad to answer a few questionsÖ
LESLIE LAU: Ms. Hughes, on your listening tourÖ
THIRD PARTY: Excuse me, could I ask you to identify yourselves?
MR. LAU: Yes, Leslie Lau from Singapore Straits Times. On your listening tour, what do you think is the reason for, how would you say, bad public image of the U.S. among Muslim countries and what kind of message do you hope to bring back to President Bush from your tour of Indonesia and Malaysia?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I hear a lot of different things, one of the things that Iíve heard in every country Iíve visited, including here in Malaysia last night, very strongly made, was the importance of people-to-people exchanges. How important it is that we increase the number of Malaysians coming to America and Americans coming to Malaysia. Thereís no substitute for that sort of contact, for having the opportunity to go to America and experience for yourself what it is like, or having Americans have the opportunity to come to Malaysia, as I have, to see for myself the kindness and warmth of the people, the beauty of the country, the spirit of friendship and cooperation that exists between America and Malaysia. So thatís one of the things Iíve heard emphasized.
Another thing Iíve heard emphasized, is the importance of education, is one of the things that came up at the buka puasa last night, and one of the things that Iím committed to doing as part of Americaís Public Diplomacy efforts is to increase our English language programs, and thatís something the Ambassador and I have discussed as being something that might be very helpful here, particularly in rural parts of Malaysia. When you help young people with English language training, you give them a skill they want and need, and it helps them to have a better life, and also opens a window into America and our values. And so, like the Lincoln Corner that we opened here today, I think those educational opportunities are very important parts of our increasing friendship and understanding between our peoples.
I also hear, obviously, about areas where we disagree. I know that many people here have concerns about the war in Iraq, as do some of my own fellow Americans. No one likes war. We believe that when we are able to build a stable and unified and democratic Iraq, that the cause of peace in the world will have been furthered. So, I hear a lot of different things.
Here in Malaysia I think one of the things Iíve heard most strongly, again, is the importance of exchanges. We want to increase the number of students from Malaysia who are coming to America. Itís dropped somewhat since 1998. In 1998, we had about 12,000 students from Malaysia come to the United States. That was down to about 6,000 last year, and we want to build that back up. We want Malaysian students to know theyíre welcome in the United States and that our universities want them, that the American people would welcome them, that our Embassy is working very hard and has improved the visa process. I know that it was a little slow after September 11th. But weíve worked very hard to improve that situation and we now have, I believe, about a day to get an appointment and about a day to get a visa is the average. So, itís actually very quick, and the Embassy wants to help more Malaysians travel to the United States.
MR. LAU: Since you were in the Middle East, and now youíre here in Malaysia and Indonesia. How do you see the difference between - I mean how does the U.S. see countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, which are more moderate Muslim countries compared to the Middle East?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, each country is unique. And each region has certain differences, and as you know the Muslim world is not monolithic, itís - each country has itís own culture and traditions. I do believe that Malaysia can be a very important part of our outreach - and when I say ďourĒ, I mean civilized peopleís outreach - to confront terror, because here in Malaysia, you have an experience of having people of different faiths and different cultures live together in an atmosphere of tolerance and peace. And I think that provides a very important example to other parts of the world, to Iraq for example, as people there try to figure out how to get along better and how to have people of different faith traditions, different cultures, different tribes live together in a spirit of harmony, and I think that Malaysia is uniquely positioned to help with that because of your leadership, because of your leadership in so many important organizations Ė the OIC, the Organization of the Islamic Conference; and the Non-Aligned Movement; and the ASEAN, and so youíre in a unique position, in Malaysia to have a important role and I think a valuable role to foster tolerance and understanding throughout the world.
MR. BENDEICH: Ambassador, sorry, Mark Bendeich from Reuters. Is that something you will be sharing tomorrow with the Deputy Prime Minister?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Yes it is, itís something Iíll be talking about with him tomorrow in my meeting. Itís something that we discussed a little last night at the buka puasa at the Ambassadorís house. Itís something I know that the Ambassador has discussed with officials here, and itís something I will talk about as well.
MR. BENDEICH: Do you have any thoughts on Islam Hadhari, the Prime Ministerís moderate brand of Islam, and how do you see that playing some sort of role?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Again, I think it says to the world that Islam is a religion of peace, a religion that seeks to work in cooperative ways with other people and other faiths, and thatís a very important message. One of my jobs is to foster a spirit of cooperation and understanding among people of different faiths and cultures and countries around the world, and by doing so to help isolate and the marginalize the extremists who would hijack faith to try to justify horrible acts of murder. And so I think that the Malaysian example is a very important example of an Islamic tradition that is tolerant and respectful and peaceful.
MR. BENDEICH: I guess thatís fine, but the assumption that this is basically a misunderstandingÖ. How much of your trip abroad tells you itís - how much is misunderstanding and how much is just plain disagreement over American foreign policy? They understand the policy, they just donít agree with it?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, you know, itís a - I understand there are some areas where we are going to disagree. As I said, I know that many people in the Muslim world disagree with Americaís decision to go into Iraq. Some Americans disagreed with that decision. President Bush made it, in what he believed was the best interest of Americaís security and greater peace in the world including the Muslim world. He believes itís in the best interests of the Middle East itself, that Iraq become a democratic and stable nation at the heart of the Middle East. I do think that there is some misunderstanding on some issues, for example the Israeli Ė Palestinian issue. Americaís policy is that we support a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel, and I think based on the type of questions I get and some of the concerns I hear, Iím not sure that people always understand that we support that very strongly. This week, President Bush met again with President Abbas, for the second time in Washington. I was present a couple of weeks ago, when President Bush asked to meet with a group of young Palestinian leaders who were working in the Abbas government and sat in the Oval Office with them, and it was a extraordinary conversation to watch seven, six or seven, I canít remember if it was six orÖ about that number, sit in the Oval Office with the President of the United States and talk about their hopes for their country, and having the President talk to them about how - his hopes - that they would be able to develop institutions in Gaza as a first step toward the creation of a Palestinian state that would live side by side in peace and freedom, and he talked about what a moment of opportunity and hope that he believes this is. And so, I think sometimes around the world people donít always have the opportunity to hear that perspective.
MR. BENDEICH: Do you think there are implications for foreign policy itself? I mean, apart from people-to-people exchanges, greater understanding, and so on, have you come away from your trip with any apprehension about foreign policy itself? Do you think that it may need tweaking or changing?
UNDER SECRETARY HUGHES: Well, I hope that everything I learn will contribute toward foreign policy or foreign-policy decisions. One of my goals at the State Department is to more fully integrate Public Diplomacy with policy, and Secretary Rice wants me to do that. Thatís why Iím now sitting on her policy meetings, her most senior policy meetings and not only me, but members of my staff. And we have elevated the presence of Public Diplomacy professionals within the regional bureaus where much of the policy of the State Department is made. On my last trip, and again on this trip, I came home and wrote an extensive report for the President, the Secretary of State, our senior policy leaders, about what Iíve heard, about the concerns Iíve heard, about the insights that Iíd heard, about all sorts of different things and I will do the same this time.
I also consider one of my jobs to be to help to foster greater understanding among Americans about people of different countries and cultures. One of the things that Iíve heard here in Malaysia, and also heard on my trip to the Middle East is concern about how America views the Muslim world and views Malaysians, or views - in the case of my Middle East tour - people in the Middle East. And so, I think a part of my job is also to go home and convey to the American people what I have witnessed here, and talk to them about the buka puasa that I attended last night where very committed Muslims, people of great faith, whose faith is very important to their life and helps guide their life, were sharing with me their thoughts about the future of their country and about our relations between America and Malaysians. Thatís part of my job too, is to go home and convey what I have learned here.
One other point I wanted to mention, I was telling the Ambassador this morning somebody last night asked me if this was my first buka puasa, and I said, ďNo, actually I will attend five this week,Ē which is a real honor for me. I attended my first one in - the American Muslim community calls them Iftar dinners - and I attended one at the White House on Monday night. And it was thrilling to hear the call to prayer on the State floor of the White House and to realize how rich our religious freedom and diversity is the United States of America, and then to come here to Malaysia and before that Indonesia where I attended in Indonesia a buka puasa at the Ambassadorís home and then in a neighborhood, a little community where we had the Indonesiaís rock musician ďDonnieĒ, came and played with a band of local young people and sang as they played and then last night here at the Ambassadorís house, and then tonight Iím really looking forward to attending a buka puasa at a local home. And so I will be at a local home here in Malaysia with a woman who very kindly has invited me and some of my friends to come to her home to break the fast, so Iím very much looking forward to that.
Thank you all so much. I appreciate your time.
Released on November 2, 2005