Remarks to Community and Religious Leaders
May 24, 2002
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
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
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
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.)