In a visit to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Prague headquarters today, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the assembled journalists that their broadcasts into countries whose repressive regimes restrict free information puts them "on the front lines of freedom."
"As a specialist on the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, I know that, for people behind the Iron Curtain, Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty were their virtual passports out of tyranny and into freedom," said Secretary Rice. "RFE/RL's present and future is to take those same basic ideas – that men, women and children can and must be free – and speak them loudly for people in Baghdad, Kabul, Tehran and all over the world."
[Audio downloads: Secretary Rice's remarks; Q&A with RFE/RL staff] [read a transcript - pdf]
In addition to meeting with all RFE/RL staff, Secretary Rice met separately with Radio Free Afghanistan journalists and gave an interview to Radio Farda, RFE/RL's Persian-language radio service that broadcasts into Iran.
Noting the historical irony of a U.S. Secretary of State addressing the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in the same chamber that used to function as the Czechoslovakian communist parliament, Secretary Rice said that "what seemed impossible in 1948 or 1949 seems, in retrospect, inevitable."
While Rice argued that "liberty cannot be crushed because it exists in the hearts and minds of people," she acknowledged that the struggle for freedom is often hard: "I know that many of you at RFE/RL have lost colleagues and friends," she said. "They've been gunned down and they've been kidnapped because the price of freedom is often great. But the benefit of freedom is always worth it."
Following her remarks, Secretary Rice was asked about the potential damage to U.S.-Russian relations caused by the missile defense pact she signed earlier in the day with the Czech government. She said that she and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates traveled to Moscow twice and made it clear to the Russians that the system is not aimed at the Russian nuclear deterrent: "We told them that the threats we face are common threats – Iranian missiles, potentially North Korean missiles. The U.S. and Russia are not enemies."
On a question about the democratic backsliding of oil-rich countries such as Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and other central Asian countries, Secretary Rice said that their leaders "should be aware that their countries will never develop their full potential if they will not allow their people the creativity and innovation that comes from freedom." She added that these authoritarian regimes "will never fully be a part of the international community or the modern world with systems that belong in the 18th Century."