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Powell to Hungary: Stay the course

From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
Unrest, Conflicts and War

BUDAPEST, Hungary (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell thanked Hungary on Tuesday for the "steadfastness" of its commitment to the coalition in Iraq, saying now is not the time to get "weak in the knees" despite continued violence and kidnappings.

In an interview with the Hungarian morning television program "Napkelte," Powell said he hoped Hungary would keep its more than 350 troops in Iraq beyond their mandate, which ends December 31.

The Hungarian troops work as truck drivers on humanitarian convoys, and Hungarian leaders have said the security situation in Iraq during the next several months would determine whether the troops' mandate would be extended.

Powell stressed the need to fight against insurgents and kidnappers trying to destroy the future of Iraq.

Singling out Hungary's struggle against communism to develop a full-fledged democracy, Powell said, "Of all the nations in the coalition, I think Hungary has had a greater thirst for freedom and a greater understanding of freedom than perhaps any member of the coalition."

Noting Hungary's parliament would have the final say on how long the country's troops would stay in Iraq, Powell said, "I hope that they will at that time take a look at the progress being made and come to an informed judgment."

As he has in the past, Powell justified the U.S. decision to go to war, saying while no stockpiles of weapons were found, former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was intent on developing weapons of mass destruction.

"I for one am not going to apologize that somehow we took Saddam Hussein out and we're putting in a democratic system," Powell said.

Hungary also has more than two dozen troops in Afghanistan and is expected to send at least 120 more over the summer.

"We're trying to build a better future for the people of Afghanistan and the people of Iraq," Powell said. Noting that both nations are preparing for future elections, Powell said "what they need is security."

"They need the help of the international community," he said. "Democracy is hard, democracy is dangerous. And this is the time for us to be steadfast, not get weak in the knees and say, 'Well gosh, this might be too hard, let's leave these people alone so tyrants can return.' We are not going to do that."

Powell arrived in Hungary Monday night on the first leg of a week-long journey that will take him to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bosnia and Poland.

While in Budapest, Powell will address a conference of Hungarian ambassadors from around the world. Aides say his speech will thank Hungary for its role in Iraq and Afghanistan and claim that the United States and its European partners are on the right course in hot spots around the world.

During his stay in Hungary, Powell also will be awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit, an honor given to those who have promoted Hungarian interests and strong universal values.

Aides say the Middle Eastern legs of his trip also will address Iraq, as well as terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Powell's visit to Egypt comes on the heels of the release of an Egyptian diplomat held hostage in Iraq, whom his kidnappers said they took in response to Egypt's offer to help in security matters in Iraq.

Powell also will visit Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, where aides say he will impress upon the government there the need for ongoing defense reforms before the European Union assumes responsibility from NATO forces at the end of the year.

In Poland, Powell will commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising.

Iraq also is a likely feature in his discussions with Polish leaders, with 2,400 Polish troops in the country.

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