BUDAPEST, Hungary – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said Tuesday countries assisting post-war Iraq and Afghanistan must "not get weak in the knees" and abandon their commitments, because that would return the two nations to despotism.
His 18-hour visit here was partly aimed at reinforcing Hungary's deployments in the two countries — 354 troops in Iraq and 27 in Afghanistan. But the parliamentary mandate for the Iraq deployment expires at the end of the year.
Polls show that two-thirds of the Hungarian population want the troops to return home according to the schedule. Powell said they should remain there.
Iraq dominated a series of appearances by Powell on Tuesday morning, which included a television talk show interview and a speech to Hungarian ambassadors assembled here for consultations.
Powell awoke to a gray, sometimes drizzly morning here and sat down for the interview on the "Napkelte" show. Visible through a window behind him was the Danube River and an imposing former presidential palace that has been converted into a museum.
The number of coalition countries in Iraq has been reduced from 35 to 31 in recent months, and Powell indicated that it was imperative that those still on board not weary of the task.
He was angered two weeks ago when the Philippines government withdrew its 51 troops from Iraq in order to save the life of a kidnapped Filipino truck driver.
"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 kidnaping and beheading, to triumph."
Later, Powell went to the elegant, gold-trimmed, high-ceilinged Parliament building where he received the Award of the Grand Cross of the Hungarian Republic (search) in recognition of his contribution to U.S.-Hungarian relations.
He then went to the Foreign Ministry, where he addressed Hungarian ambassadors summoned here for official discussions. He linked Hungary's own struggle for independence and freedom from Soviet tutelage to what he saw as a similar effort in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"You've had your own experience in this part of the 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."
He added that both Iraq and Afghanistan need security as they prepare for national elections in the coming months. The goal, he said, is "not to keep tyrants in power but to keep tyrants out of power."
Powell, who arrived here from Washington Monday night, was leaving Tuesday afternoon for Egypt and from there will travel to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bosnia and Poland. Officials have said there may be an additional stop along the way.
He returns home next Tuesday.