Cultural exchanges key
to peace, U.S. official says

An assistant secretary of state
will promote programs in Asia

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

Strengthening educational and cultural ties between the United States and Asian nations before relations become strained over time is an important step toward wiping out terrorism and preventing situations such as the rising tensions in North Korea, a U.S. State Department official said Thursday in Hawaii.

"We've got to build a foundation -- increase the numbers of people of goodwill who are going to work for a positive world environment," said Patricia de Stacy Harrison, assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.

Harrison was in Hawaii en route to Thailand and Singapore to meet with government officials to promote cultural exchange programs sponsored by the State Department.

She says she also expects to have some discussions about the topic on everyone's mind -- North Korea and its nuclear program.

The Bush administration has offered in a joint statement to hold talks with North Korea on the dispute over its resumption of a nuclear weapons program.

"There's always a topic du jour in an increasing dangerous world," Harrison said with regards to North Korea. "I think as these things happen, what I will be talking about is what we must do in good times and in bad.

"Someone once said, 'When is the best time to plant an oak tree?' and the answer is 25 years ago. So when is the second best time, and that answer is now. We have to start planting oak trees regardless of what is happening in terms of current events."

Harrison's department sponsors about 35 cultural exchange programs each year bringing students, government officials and others to the United States to promote dialogue between people from different cultures.

Such cultural exchanges are as important as ever to promote understanding before a climate of distrust is formed, she said.

"If terror is our common enemy, then education could be a common value among people of good will where we can connect with people who want to be a force for good," Harrison said. "That's part of the exchange process."

Alumni of such exchange programs include U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

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