Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said Tuesday that countries helping postwar Iraq and Afghanistan must remain steadfast in their commitments to avoid the possibility of a return to despotic rule in the two nations.

The Bush administration has been anxious about the staying power of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq after five countries have withdrawn their troops in recent months, reducing to 31 the number still on the list.

Iraq (search) dominated Powell's talks during his 18-hour stay in Hungary's capital. He indicated he wants Hungary to keep its 354 troops in Iraq beyond a planned Dec. 31 withdrawal. Polls show, however, scant support among Hungarians for the deployment.

After Powell left Hungary Tuesday afternoon for Egypt, reporters were told he will meet in Saudi Arabia on Thursday with Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi (search).

It will be their first meeting since the United States handed over sovereignty to Iraq a month ago.

During a morning interview on the "Napkelte" television show, Powell acknowledged the challenge of building democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan (search), which have known only despotism.

"Democracy is hard," he said. "Democracy is dangerous. This is the time for us to be steadfast, not get weak in the knees and say, 'Oh, gosh, this may be too hard. Let's leave these poor people alone so the tyrants can return.' We're not going to do that."

At another point, he said, "We must not allow insurgents, those who will use bombs and kidnapping and beheading, to triumph."

After the television interview, Powell went to the elegant, gold-trimmed, high-ceilinged Parliament building where he received the Award of the Grand Cross of the Hungarian Republic in recognition of his contribution to U.S.-Hungarian relations.

He then went to the Foreign Ministry, where he addressed Hungarian ambassadors summoned for official discussions. He linked Hungary's own struggle for independence and freedom from Soviet influence to what he saw as a similar effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"You've had your own experience in this part of the world with struggles for freedom," Powell said. "From the dark days that shadowed this city in October of 1956, it took 30 years for your heroism to be vindicated, for Hungary to be free.

"It won't take that long for the hope and the hearts of the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq to be vindicated because the forces of freedom in the world are now stronger than ever."

While the NATO-led deployment in Afghanistan has been going up, the number of non-U.S. forces in Iraq has been going down. In recent months, troops from Spain, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and the Philippines have returned home.

Powell was especially concerned about the Philippines' decision two weeks ago to drop out. Filipino authorities acted to spare the life of a kidnapped Filipino truck driver. Powell believes that meeting terrorist demands only encourages more kidnappings or other violence against foreigners by insurgents in Iraq.

He said the 30 non-U.S. members of the coalition have pledged to meet their troop commitments to Iraq. He acknowledged, however, that some countries are not committed to keep their troops in Iraq beyond this year.