US Secretary deftly ducks bouncers on Iraq, Afghanistan

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New Delhi, Jan 10 (UNI) Visiting US Health and Human Services Department Secretary Michael O Leavitt dodged some ''tough'' questions on Iraq and Afghanistan from students and faculty of Jamia Millia Islamia here today with elan.

Taking questions from the audience during an interactive session at the University's Ansari auditorium here, he seemed unfazed by the questions on Iraq and Afghanistan.

''While preparing for the session, my colleagues told me that I would be asked questions on Iraq and Afghanistan,'' Secretary Leavitt said.

Firstly, a teacher wanted to know how he felt as the head of a health and human services department over the killing of hundreds of people in Iraq by the US-led forces.

The unruffled visiting dignitary responded with poise and much ease.

''I am not in position to comment on the subject....I am not a government spokesperson. But, it is the bottom of our ideology that people across the world have a right to be free and live with liberty,'' he said.

''Mr Leavitt said people in the US care very deeply about their brethren across the world and want them to be free.'' The Secretary described the happenings in Iraq and Afghanistan as ''heartfelt and painful'' and said these should have been avoided.

Posing a question, a student said the US resorted to ''hegemonising'' the world, trying to capture the global economy and had destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan.

He asked how the US would now help the war victims of Iraq.

''It is our desire to see that people across the world are free and live in peaceful atmosphere. We have stepped up efforts to ensure basics of education and healthcare to Iraqis and see they are lifted from poverty,'' Secretary Leavitt said.

He said the US was ready to hand over the control of war-torn Iraq to its people once peace was established there.

''We would like to get actively engaged in the reconstruction of Iraq and the rehabilitation of its people,'' he said.

As another student got up to ask a question, Secretary Leavitt hoped that it was not a bouncer. ''I hope it is not a tough one again,'' quipped Secretary Leavitt.

UNI AG SZ BD1849

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