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Condoleezza Rice visits new US embassy in Berlin

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday toured the new American Embassy in Berlin, built on a site abandoned by Washington after Nazi Germany declared war on the United States in 1941.

Rice was the first Cabinet-level official to visit the building since it opened last month on a site that lay behind the Iron Curtain in communist East Berlin for decades.

"I know it was not easy to bring this embassy to this place, but it is absolutely fitting that the United States Embassy is here where it was before World War II," Rice told staff.

The original embassy was damaged by fire in 1931. By the time U.S. diplomats moved into it in April 1939, Washington had already recalled its chief envoy to protest an anti-Semitic pogrom.

The remaining diplomats left in 1941 after Germany declared war on the United States, a few days after Japan, the Nazis' ally, bombed Pearl Harbor.

The building was heavily damaged during World War II and later razed by communist officials in what was then East Germany. For nearly three decades during the Cold War, the site stood in the heavily fortified no man's land behind the Berlin Wall.

In 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan stood just a few yards (meters) away, on the western side. as he urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

"If this was indeed the epicenter of the Cold War, it has now become the epicenter of a different world _ a world in which Western values have triumphed, in which East and West have been united in Europe, a Europe that I think was unthinkable just a few decades ago." Rice said.

"It's good to come to a place like this and remember that freedom doesn't die easily - that, in fact, it continues to live in the hearts of men and women. It can be - for a while - delayed, but it can never be fully denied."

The US$143-million embassy will be formally opened July 4 at an Independence Day ceremony with former President George H.W. Bush.

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