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White House backs Powell's safe-sex stance

Powell on MTV
Secretary of State Colin Powell fields questions during the MTV forum Thursday.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration Friday stood behind Secretary of State Colin Powell after his endorsement of condoms to prevent AIDS drew criticism from some conservatives.

During a forum that aired internationally Thursday on MTV, Powell encouraged sexually active young people to use condoms.

"I think it's important for young people, especially, to protect themselves from the possibility of acquiring any sexually transmitted disease, but especially to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS, which is a plague that is upon the face of the earth," he said.

"If you don't protect yourself, who is going to protect you?" he asked.

Transcript: Secretary of State Colin Powell on MTV 

Ken Connor, president of the conservative Family Research Council, called Powell's remarks reckless and irresponsible and urged President Bush to repudiate them.

"Young people need to know the truth that the only sure way to protect themselves from the spread of life-threatening, sexually transmitted diseases is to save sex for marriage," Connor said in a prepared statement.

James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, was even more blunt.

"Colin Powell is the secretary of state, not the secretary of health," Dobson said. "He is talking about a subject he doesn't understand," Dobson said.

But White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Powell's message was consistent with White House policy, noting that Powell limited his remarks to those who are sexually active.

"The president and the secretary are shoulder-to-shoulder on the importance of both abstinence education as well as health education and sex education as a way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease," Fleischer said.

"What the president has done, and what Secretary Powell has long been involved in, is to highlight the importance of abstinence education," he said.

AIDS Action, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, also applauded Powell's stance.

"This is about leadership, and we have for many years been asking our leaders to speak out on HIV and lead, and that's what he's doing," Executive Director Marsha Martin said. "And that's why we say 'bravo.'"

Powell, who was responding to an Italian woman's question about the Roman Catholic Church's position on contraception, noted the AIDS pandemic is raging out of control in parts of Africa, the Caribbean and elsewhere.

"It is important that the whole international community come together, speak candidly about it, forget about taboos, forget about conservative ideas with respect to what you should tell young people about it," he said.

The forum was videotaped Thursday and is scheduled to be broadcast twice Friday and again Sunday.

Powell joined a Washington studio audience connected with remote sites at MTV studios in England, Russia, India, Italy, Egypt and Brazil. He was asked questions on issues such as the global war on terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the drug war in Colombia, as well as the global AIDS crisis.

State Department officials said they viewed the invitation to appear as important because MTV reaches 375 million homes in 164 countries.


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