The third-ranking official in the State Department stressed the importance of engaging with the rest of the world and avoiding isolationism while addressing students and faculty at the Elliott School Friday.
“After 9/11, every American should reject isolationism” said R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs. “It doesn’t serve our interests to not use our power for good things.”
Burns, the former ambassador to both Greece and NATO, spoke about the most pressing issues of the day, including the fate of the Burmese leader and activist Aung San Suu Kyi, the house arrest of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan and the state of emergency that Georgia only hours earlier.
Burns specifically discussed Pakistan’s recent instability and the recent decision of President Perez Musharraf to declare marshal law.
“We’re not going to forsake Musharraf,” Burns said. “He’s been a friend to this administration, but we’ve been disappointed with the events of the past two weeks.” He added that a stable Pakistan is crucial to the war on terror, as it is an important country in the fight against al-Qaeda.
“We don’t want to intrude, but we have to voice our opinions” he said, adding that the U.S. would like to see elections held.
Burns reiterated a policy that engages other countries, and uses the informal global governing board to influence states positively.
“We hope to engage China,” he said, mentioning successes with the country’s influence on North Korea. Burns remarked that he has been very disappointed in China on the question of nuclear power in Iran.
Burns further cited the importance of Iran in American foreign policy because of its position of financier and arms supplier to terrorist groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and Shiite militant groups in Iraq. He said if Iran was to acquire nuclear power it would change “the balance of power” in the Middle East.
“We have clear national interest in preventing nuclear power in Iran.” Burns said. “We would vastly prefer a diplomatic solution. (The U.S., China and Russia) offered to build a civil nuclear power plant in the country, without the access to the fuel cycle that would allow the creation of nuclear weapons. The Iranians have to come to the table first.”
Burns also spoke on issues affecting the Western Hemisphere. Citing the success of recent free trade agreements with Central American countries, Burns described getting involved in the debate on poverty mitigation in Central and South America as a U.S. priority.
He said that the U.S. was open to all discussions regardless of ideology, but was not prioritizing the leftist governments of Cuba and Venezuela because the government believes discussions with its leaders would not be productive.
“(Chavez’s) whole being is to stand in opposition to the U.S.” Burns said “We’ll work with most anybody in South America, but we’ve put aside these two leaders for now.”