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Remarks as Department of State Welcomes South Asian Seeds of Peace Participants

John D. Negroponte, Deputy Secretary of State
Richard Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
Delegates Lounge
Washington, DC
July 16, 2008

Full Video

Video Summary

(4:40 p.m. EST)

ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thank you for coming. My name is Richard Boucher. I’m the Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, and it’s my pleasure to welcome you all today and to say how excited we are to have you here. You’ve been out in the woods for a couple of weeks, and now you get to see the State Department. We’re nothing fancy, but welcome.

We are enormous fans of Seeds of Peace, and I want to pay tribute to Janet Wallach and especially her late husband, John, for starting this program and running this program. I’ve worked on this program in Cyprus with Greek and Turkish Cypriots. I’ve seen Israelis and Palestinians get together. I know Indians and Pakistanis get together, Egyptians and others. So it’s really got a large group, 4,000 alumni around the world. And one of the things to think about is not just what you did this summer, but what you can do next summer and next year, and 10 years and 20 years from now.

We spend a lot of time working on diplomatic relations between these countries. I spend all my time working on India and Pakistan and Afghanistan and countries of this region. But in the long term, it’s the people themselves who carry forward. And when I talk about trucks or I talk about melons or I talk about mangos or economic opportunities or Kashmir, I have to realize that in the end it’s you all who are going to make it happen. So you’re starting something here that I hope goes on for a long, long time.

We’re very pleased today to be in the presence to have with us our Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. He is one of our most illustrious diplomats. He has worked in, I think, every part of the world. He’s never been stationed in Antarctica, but he would have been if we’d had a post there. And he’s been there. (Laughter.)

So he really has an enormous amount of experience to share with us, and believe me, he does that with us every day, sometimes strongly. (Laughter.) But we’re just really excited to have him here, and I know he’s a big fan of the program. So I’m going to let him talk for himself.

Deputy Secretary, please. (Applause.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY NEGROPONTE: Thank you, Assistant Secretary Boucher. It’s a pleasure to welcome you all to the State Department. I want particularly to welcome my diplomatic colleagues, the Ambassador of India and the Ambassador of Pakistan, here this afternoon. Delighted you could join us to participate in this event. I also want to thank Ms. Wallace for all – Ms. Wallach for all the work that she has done in support of this fine institution.

And let me congratulate our guests of honor for having just yesterday completed Seeds of Peace’s three-week conflict resolution program in Maine. You are a group of 32 extraordinary young people with the courage and the imagination to look beyond decades of conflict and envision a peaceful, hopeful future. I hope your experience during these past three weeks has been rewarding and has challenged you to grow wiser, stronger, and more tolerant.

I also commend the leadership and the staff of Seeds of Peace for taking on such an important mission. After 15 years, Seeds of Peace is a world-renowned conflict resolution organization with programming throughout the Middle East, South Asia, and the United States. By bringing together young people from societies with histories of conflict, and by teaching them how to communicate effectively and think critically, you are helping shape a generation of leaders dedicated to peace and equipped with the skills to achieve it.

The 32 young people we celebrate today will bring skills, perspectives, and experiences gained over the past three weeks back to their homes in India and Pakistan -- two countries that are important friends and partners of the United States, and two countries we want to see succeed.

India and the United States enjoy a broad, deep relationship based on common values and interests. Our strategic partnership covers a wide variety of areas: education, science, agriculture, security, environmental stewardship, and counterterrorism. Together, we are working to solve some of the biggest challenges of our time, including energy security and nuclear non-proliferation.

Pakistan is also a key American partner. We are working closely with Pakistan’s government and people to improve economic development, resolve food and energy problems, and counter violent extremism.

Educational exchanges are central to our efforts to deepen ties between the American people and Indians and Pakistanis. As Seeds of Peace shows, bringing citizens together to listen and learn is a powerful means by which nations can better understand one another and grow closer. I hope all of you will participate in our programs, whether it is through Fulbright scholarships or high school exchanges. We look forward to welcoming you back one day.

In the meanwhile, I know you will continue your efforts to improve relations between your countries. And I encourage you to seek out opportunities at home to support tolerance and understanding. Your dedication to religious and cultural tolerance, coexistence, and dialogue is important to achieving lasting peace.

Equally important is holding on to your ability to imagine a peaceful and hopeful future. This is the point on which I want to end. Imagination is an underrated part of foreign policy. I know it’s often difficult, after decades of war and conflict, to imagine that the future could be not only different, but better. Progress is often frustratingly slow, and worse, sometimes suffers major setbacks. The challenge is to keep imagining a better future and to keep working to make what you imagine real. A principle of U.S. foreign policy is that we have no permanent enemies. This principle challenges us to imagine that our enemies today can be our friends tomorrow, and to work to make that vision a reality. By participating in the Seeds of Peace, you have shown that you have the imagination and dedication to carry this principle home, and to help give your societies the precious gift of peace.

Now, I am pleased to introduce Janet Wallach, the wife of the late Seeds of Peace founder, John Wallach. Ms. Wallach has served as president of the Seeds of Peace and currently sits on the Board of Directors. She is the mother of two sons, one of whom also sits on the Board. And I’ve also mentioned to her before we started our proceedings this afternoon that I had the – I benefitted from the fact that Ms. Wallach is a noted author, and I read her biography of Gertrude Bell while I was – who was a very famous figure in the history of – the contemporary history of – modern history of Iraq, while I was serving as Ambassador to Iraq. And I want to thank you for having provided me with so many very, very entertaining and informative hours of reading. And we’re delighted to have you with us this afternoon.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MS. WALLACH: Mr. Deputy Secretary, Mr. Assistant Secretary, Ambassadors and distinguished guests, it is a great honor and privilege for us to be here today. We want to thank you, first of all, because we wouldn't be here if it weren’t for the State Department and for the help of AID, and we are tremendously appreciative of that help and very proud of the program that we do. And as you were speaking about the future, I remembered that one of our Seeds had said a few years ago something that really ties in to your words, and that was that we have seen the future and we know what can be. And that’s what really Seeds of Peace is all about, because these young people today have – who are here have known what the conflict is like, and they’ve – and what the present is like, and they know how they can see a better future. And I think you would all agree with me that you’ve gained that from being part of Seeds of Peace.

My late husband, John Wallach, as you heard, was the founder of Seeds of Peace, had a saying that treaties are signed by governments, but peace is made by people. And John really believed that people can make the difference, that they can make the world a different place. And John knew both about people because he had done people-to-people programs, and he also knew about governments because he was a State Department correspondent for a chain of newspapers and had an office just upstairs, and spent many, many, many years in this building.

So he was a firm believer that young people can truly make a difference, and he wanted to show that that could happen, that given the right circumstances, that young leaders, future leaders, could change the world. And you as Seeds can show us all the way to a better world. You’ve spent three weeks in difficult conversations, in wonderful sports programs, in things like color games, and I congratulate you who were on the blue team. (Laughter.) Once again. (Laughter.)

But you’ve also had some very difficult conversations, and you know the pain that you have gone through. A Seed way back in ’94 said something that I think is quite meaningful, that before you can make friends with your enemies, before you can make peace with your enemies, you have to go to war with yourselves. You have to really rethink everything that you have known, everything you’ve heard from your parents and your teachers and the press, and undo all of that stuff. And I think that’s the process that you have gone through at camp. And it has made you able to bond in a way that is extraordinary. And I look forward to seeing you all in years to come as you work together to bring your communities together and to lead the way to friendship and to peace.

There are two youngsters today who are going to be speaking – Maria from India –

AUDIENCE: Pakistan.

MS. WALLACH: From Pakistan, I’m sorry. And Parikshit from India. So why don’t you come up. And I don’t know if you toss a coin, who’s going first. (Applause.)

Okay, please.

MS. AZIM: Hi, everyone. I am Maria from Pakistan, Lahore. These past three weeks of my life, as soon as I stepped off the bus and into camp, have been an overwhelming experience for me. I’ve learned so much from people whom I never knew before from complete strangers. And I’ve grown to know them and come to love them so much.

I’ve done things that I never dreamed of doing before, like jumping into a 30-feet-deep lake without even knowing how to swim properly, or climbing and walking the high roads, which are like 50 feet above the ground. All these activities, all these doings that -- group challenge and everything that we’ve been through, they’ve really taught us three important lessons, which are: love, bonds of love, bonds of friendship, and above all, bonds of trust among one another, which are essential for survival and for a better tomorrow.

We’ve had dialogue sessions with the Indians and we talked about different issues, ranging from Kashmir to partition and division of line, and so on. And we discovered that it is not exactly up to us to find a solution to these problems or to figure out whose fault it is all attributed to or anything. But at camp, we were at camp to make peace with one another. And as the youth of today, I think we have a claim to a better, more peaceful tomorrow.

Before coming to camp, I wrote something and I would really like to share it with you all. It goes like – it’s very short. It goes like, “We have one world to live in, one world to share, one world to care for, and our one world is here.” So Seeds of Peace basically highlights all of that. It brings us together to work for a better, peaceful tomorrow.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. CHOUDHURY: Good evening to everyone. I mean – sorry, good afternoon.

I am Parikshit Choudhury, from India, and I must say I’m extremely honored to be here standing in front of you and sharing my experience at Seeds of Peace international camp.

Well, I would like to say that before coming to camp, you know, I had a different mindset about the conflict between India and Pakistan. I had read stories, I had read books, I had heard from the media, from my parents, relatives, their versions of how the conflict is, whose fault it is, and who is right, who is wrong. So I had a mindset that I go to camp and I’ll meet the Pakistanis over there, and then I have to prove it that we are right and maybe they are wrong.

This was what I thought. I admit it. And then, you know, I went to camp. And the moment I set foot on camp, you know, I was completely taken over, overwhelmed by the love, the caring, the – you know, the acceptance of the people over there. Everyone. Over there, we met people from all over the world, say the Middle East, I mean, Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians and, of course, the Pakistanis were there. And as Maria said, that we had many games, many activities together. And you know, we were all intermingled. Not delegation-wise, not country-wise, but everyone in groups. And you know, we had to do those things while helping each other. You know, we helped each other, we loved each other, we cared for each other, we spoke to each other. We learned from each other about our cultures, our histories, what pains we had, what joys we had – everything.

And as the days rolled by, I could feel that I was developing a bond, a bond that cannot be broken by distance, a bond that cannot be broken by being in different countries or having different religions, a bond that is completely based on trust and respect for each other. And then came the dialogues. Dialogues were basically discussions which we had with the people from the other side about the conflicts and about the disturbances -- the disturbances we had in the 60 years of independence.

Well, I was nervous, apprehensive as to how it would go, what I have to say, how will I react when I hear something negative about my country. There were times when the discussions became very intense. It was really, I mean, sometimes hard to listen to things about my country, our country’s army, our people, to share things which I thought I wasn’t true. But then in dialogue, we were always told one thing, that no matter what your views are about any situation, you must always learn to accept the other person’s view, respect them. Tolerance, respect and trust, I believe, are the three most important qualities which we can use to make peace.

And well, I can say that after spending three weeks with so many people, so many friends over there, the one thing I’ve learned is that what I think is not true, not necessarily true. You know, I must always broaden my mind, accept what the others are saying, though I may not like it.

And, well as for, you know, sharing this experience with people back home, as for trying to explain to them how to be friends with different people, I cannot do big things at this moment. I may not be able to achieve a lot of things. But when I hear someone saying that we cannot be friends with the Pakistanis, we cannot live with the other side, we cannot coexist, I can say that, no, it’s not so. I mean, I’ve been there. I’ve seen how they are. I’ve made friends with the other side. And I can see that we are the same. We will be the same, and this world is ours.

Thank you. (Applause.)

MR. BOUCHER: Thank you. Thank you very, very much. On the way down here, the Deputy Secretary asked me twice if he was going to hear from the young people and if he was going to have a chance to talk to them, so I don’t want to take any more time. But I’d like the young people from Seeds of Peace and the two Ambassadors and Deputy Secretary and Ms. Wallach to sort of come up so we can have a picture together, and then here’s his chance to talk to all of you. So, come on over.

Released on July 17, 2008

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