US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice hailed the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president as a key moment in history.
Republican Ms Rice, the first African-American female to be secretary of state, said the US was not “race-blind”, but “I think all Americans were quite taken with the fact that we were able, after the long history we’ve been through, that initial birth defect of slavery, that we’ve elected an African-American”.
In an interview for CBS’ Sunday Morning programme, Ms Rice said that was “enormously heartening for people in the country, but also people worldwide who still have trouble with differences”.
Ms Rice, brought up in segregated Alabama, warned that the US still had problems with race.
“But I do think we’ve gotten to the place that we don’t see a person and say, ’That’s a black person, therefore they must be ...’. And that’s an enormous step forward.”
Ms Rice, who was George Bush’s national security adviser when the US invaded Iraq and then became secretary of state in Mr Bush’s second term, said the opportunities available in the US still drew people from around the world.
“People, even in difficult economic times, still admire, maybe even envy a little bit, the entrepreneurship of this country and its capacity to be productive,” she said.
“But what really draws people to this country is that anybody can come here and go from modest circumstances to extraordinary achievement.”
Americans were not “united by nationality”, she added. “We’re not united by religion. You can be African-American or Mexican-American or Korean-American, and still be American. You can be Jewish or Presbyterian or Muslim or nothing at all, and still be American.”
Ms Rice said she planned to write at least two books when she returned to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California – one about foreign policy and one about her parents. She was a professor of political science at Stanford before joining the Bush White House.
“I’m where I am today because I had great parents who believed that anything was possible and then who gave me every opportunity to prove that anything was possible,” she said.
“And I think that’s a story that needs to be told, because it’s in the context of that last group of parents before segregation ended in Alabama.”
Ms Rice said she was not ready to think about how history would judge her as secretary of state.
“The legacy will be for historians years down the road. But what I will remember most is that I think we stood for freedom and liberty for everybody, not just for a few,” she said.
But she said the attitude about Mr Bush’s handling of Iraq would change for the better “when the final chapters are written and it’s clear that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is gone in favour of an Iraq that is favourable to the future of the Middle East”.