Secretary Rice w/ Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

QUESTION: Thank you. Dr. Rice, I would like to ask a question on behalf of our listeners. We know that tonight, our programming will - there will be people in prisons in Belarus who listen to our (inaudible) broadcasts. A year ago, you said - you called Belarus the last dictatorship in Europe. On your watch, the U.S.-Belarusian relations are perhaps at a historic low. There are economic sanctions, visa ban, there is no ambassador, there are only five diplomats working in Minsk because the embassy was on the brink of closure.

But still, diplomatic ties have not been severed. What stopped it? And if so, does it mean there is hope for improving relations with official Minsk? And if so, how? Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Well, I'll be very clear. What stopped it was that I did not want to take down the American flag in Belarus. That's what stopped it. I think that the American flag continuing to fly in Minsk is an important signal that the United States is going to stand by those who are going to continue to struggle for freedom.

I know that in a place like Belarus, it's difficult. I know that the Lukashenko regime is brutal. I know that it is sometimes efficient in its brutality toward its enemies and the opposition. It was embarrassed by the last election, because - it was very interesting; Lukashenko didn't get 99 percent of the vote. And I think that those demonstrations need to continue to happen. And we're going to continue to work with the opposition through NGOs. I've met with those people myself. There are other countries that are doing great work. The Lithuanians, with whom I spoke just a few days ago, of course, have a university where Belarusians are increasingly going to school. The Poles are very active on - and the Czechs here in Prague- -- very active on Belarus's behalf.

And so I think we can continue to bring pressure through the kinds of measures that you mentioned. And I think we can continue also to work with nongovernmental organizations to try to help them be more organized and more effective in what they're doing. We need, also, the help of the European Union. We work very hard with them on issues concerning Belarus. But again, it sometimes takes time, and then sometimes it seems incredibly sudden that all of a sudden, something starts to shift and the sands underneath change.

You know, I was the White House Soviet specialist at the end of the Cold War. I went to work for George H.W. Bush, the President's father, in February of 1989. And you could not have told me in February of 1989 that by February of 1991, there would be no Warsaw Pact, Soviet power would be effectively out of Eastern Europe, there would be a unified Germany, and that by February of 1992, there would be no Soviet Union. You could not have dreamed such.

And so as difficult as it is, I think what we need to do, and what you do with your broadcasts every day is, you keep alive that hope and that flame of freedom until the time comes that it can fully express itself. And what we know in human history is, it does come to express itself. It isn't defeated. It does come into being. And you keep it alive each and every day in people who listen to you. And if any of us ever start to despair that somehow there is a system or there are leaders or rulers or dictators who are smart enough, somehow, someway, to permanently and completely crush freedom, then those people who depend on that light and that sense that freedom continues to shine -we aren't going to abandon them.

And so I try very hard, when I speak to people who are still living in tyranny, not to say to them, expect a breakthrough tomorrow -- that would be unfair -- but to tell them that their hopes to be free are not misplaced. Because one never knows, and you continue to lay those seeds and you continue to lay that foundation so that when the time comes, there are people who are ready and able to take advantage of it. Thank you. (Applause.)