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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

     
        

Powell, on MTV show, urges condom use to prevent AIDS

Chicago Tribune - February 15, 2002
Howard Witt, Tribune senior correspondent

http://www.aegis.com/news/ct/2002/CT020204.html


WASHINGTON -- Fielding particularly sober questions from a youth audience normally tuned in to watch the latest hip-hop videos, Secretary of State Colin Powell explained the war on terrorism to MTV viewers around the world Thursday and stressed the supremacy of American democratic values.

He also took a question about condoms and gave an unvarnished answer distinctly at odds with the beliefs of many conservative members of his Republican Party. He strongly urged young people to use them.

"I believe condoms [are] part of the solution to the HIV/AIDS crisis and I encourage their use by our young people who are sexually active," Powell said, pausing at first before answering a question from a 19-year-old woman in Milan, Italy, who said she is Roman Catholic.

That represented an apparent difference with President Bush, who has emphasized the virtues of youth abstinence over condom use and sexual activity. But then Powell went even further.

"Forget about taboos, forget about conservative ideas with respect to what you should tell young people about," Powell continued. "It's the lives of young people that are put at risk by unsafe sex, and therefore, protect yourself."

The last rock-star caliber politician to appear on MTV--President Bill Clinton--made news with the infamous "boxers or briefs" question. But Powell drew no such frivolous queries from studio audiences gathered in Washington, London, Cairo, Sao Paolo, Milan, Moscow and New Delhi.

    

During 90 minutes of questioning, no one even asked Powell about his musical tastes, which are said to include reggae and ABBA.

Instead, earnest young men and women--some of them victims of war and terrorism--pressed Powell on every significant international issue faced by the Bush administration.

"Our audience is going to fight the war, and they wanted to get answers to what it's about," said Van Toffler, MTV president.

Ida Norheim-Hagtun, 19, of Sweden nearly knocked Powell on his heels with one question: "How do you feel about representing a country commonly perceived as the Satan of contemporary politics?"

"Seen as what? Satan?" Powell stuttered at first. "Oh. Well, I reject the characterization."

Calls U.S. a `protector'

Powell went on to describe the United States as "the great protector" and a nation that fought world wars to save the world from fascism and communism.

"And when all those conflicts were over, what did we do? Did we stay and conquer? Did we say, `OK, we defeated Germany, now Germany belongs to us?' No . . . we built them up," Powell said.

A young Palestinian woman asked about Powell's feelings about the rights of Palestinians to one day return to homes they were displaced from in Israel.  Powell termed that "one of the most difficult issues" to deal with in the stalled Middle East peace process.

An Israeli youth asked why she had to fear terrorist attacks when she went out with friends. Powell said he wants "the kids in Israel, the kids in Gaza and the West Bank to live in a society where they can go out and enjoy themselves" without fear.

And a senior at Howard University, Natalie Cofield, asked Powell about a statement he once made that "I ain't that black."

"I am as black as anybody whose skin could be 20 shades darker than mine," Powell said. "I consider myself an African-American, a black man, proud of it, proud to stand on the shoulders of those who went before me . . . I've been thrown out of places because I was just black enough not to be served. So I have no illusions about who I am or what I am."

Controversial answer

Powell's answer to the condom question, however, quickly proved controversial among conservative Republicans who believe abstinence is the safest way for young people to prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

"We think it's tragic," said Peter Brandt, a spokesman for Focus on the Family. "It reminds me a lot of Bill Clinton going on MTV and trying to be cool."

Gary Bauer, a conservative activist and former presidential candidate, said: "Secretary Powell should sit down with the president and get a briefing on the fact that he's in an administration that is stressing abstinence rather than condoms."

    

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, however, downplayed differences between Powell's comments and Bush's position, saying the president's budget includes funding for both abstinence-based programs and traditional sex education programs that could include a discussion of condom use.

"The fact is no one is sure what the right answer is," Fleischer said. "This is something society has been grappling with since the 60s. No one has any one answer."

Tribune national correspondent Bob Kemper contributed to this report
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