Critics of US policy are racist, says Rice
By David Rennie in Washington
Condoleezza Rice, the most senior black woman in the Bush administration, has levelled a charge of racism against critics of the US drive to bring Western freedoms to the Middle East.
In an unusually personal speech, Miss Rice, the national security adviser to President George W Bush, said the push to bring democracy and free markets to the Middle East was "the moral mission of our time", to be compared with the civil rights movement that ended racial segregation in America.
Miss Rice rarely plays on her upbringing in Birmingham, Alabama - a hotbed of racial strife in the Sixties, culminating in the fatal bombing of a black church. However, addressing the National Association of Black Journalists in Dallas, she used that personal history to issue a direct challenge to all those critical of the Bush administration's ambitions in Iraq and beyond.
"Like many of you, I grew up around the home-grown terrorism of the 1960s. I remember the bombing of the church in Birmingham in 1963, because one of the little girls that died was a friend of mine," she said.
Black Americans should stand by others seeking freedom today, she went on, and shun the "condescending" argument that some races or nations were not interested in or ready for Western freedoms.
"We've heard that argument before. And we, more than any, as a people, should be ready to reject it," she said. "That view was wrong in 1963 in Birmingham and it is wrong in 2003 in Baghdad and in the rest of the Middle East."
Miss Rice was questioned about her role in approving the president's State of the Union address, with its now infamous claim that Iraq was seeking uranium in Africa.
She expressed remorse for the episode, saying she had read a top-secret national intelligence report that expressed doubts about the uranium connection "cover to cover, a couple of times".
But she played down the importance of the claims. "Of course the president did not go to war over whether Saddam Hussein tried to get yellow cake from Africa," she said.