- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 28, 2001

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Talks began yesterday on a new Afghan government and first lady Laura Bush weighed in from the White House, saying women's rights are critical to the stability of post-Taliban Afghanistan.

"It's also very important for the stability of Afghanistan, once the new government is formed, to make sure every child there is offered an education not just the boys," Mrs. Bush told reporters in the White House Diplomatic Room.

The first lady had gathered around her 11 women exiled from Afghanistan. They nodded in agreement as she reported all were very encouraged by the early stages of talks that began yesterday in Bonn about how four Afghan factions will share power after Afghanistan's ruling Taliban is defeated.

Mrs. Bush said her White House guests, two of whom covered their hair with the scarves that are customary for observant Muslims, "know how crucial this time is as the talks start in Bonn to make sure that the Afghan government will be diverse and include everyone."

In Germany, two women were among the Afghan delegates.

Holding forth beneath a portrait of George Washington and taking several questions from journalists, the first lady noted that all of her visitors were educated either in Afghanistan before they fled, or here in the United States. "It's not new for Afghanistan to have educated women," Mrs. Bush said.

"I don't have any choice in how the new government is made, but I hope that one principle of that new government will be human rights, and that includes the rights of women and children," she continued.

"The stability of Afghanistan, the ability of the region is very dependent on making sure that human rights are a very clear part of the new government. And, of course, human rights include the rights of women and children."

Mrs. Bush appeared earlier yesterday on ABC's "Good Morning America" to promote the cause of Afghan women. She sidestepped a question about whether the United States also has an obligation to speak out against the treatment of women in countries such as Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from many professional jobs and cannot drive or travel alone, or Kuwait, where women cannot vote or run for office.

Without specifying whether she was referring to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, Mrs. Bush replied: "Well, at least one good thing is that women are educated in that country and we all know how important education is for the success of any country."

Both Persian Gulf nations are key members of President Bush's international coalition against terror.


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