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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright,
National Security Advisory Sandy Berger, and Secretary of Defense William Cohen

Interview on ABC-TV "Nightline" with Ted Koppel
Columbus, Ohio, February 18, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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MR. KOPPEL: (In progress) over the past few weeks by columnists, commentators and other armchair experts whose opinions Secretary Albright finds less than useful.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What I would like to explain is that some of the suggestions being made by the armchair experts are basically ones that we have considered; that we have looked at various options; that we're integrating a variety of these options; and for people also to understand the goal of this policy.

MR. KOPPEL: You use to be one of those persons.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I did, yes.

MR. KOPPEL: So you'd say you have a certain sympathy for the armchair experts.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Less and less; I have to tell you.

MR. KOPPEL: On the drive out to Andrews Air Force Base, Secretary Albright stresses again that the UN weapons inspectors she refers to them by their acronym, UNSCOM must be allowed to do their job in Iraq. But then she offers a hint of flexibility in the U.S. position.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: If there should be a peaceful solution to this, then we will need to have a real, functioning UNSCOM, which means the experts not I mean, diplomats can go along, but they can't be the ones that are actually doing the very detailed work.

MR. KOPPEL: Diplomats can go along?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I mean, you know, one of the things we thought some diplomats wanted to go along. That did not undercut the integrity of UNSCOM

MR. KOPPEL: Joining Secretary Albright on the flight to Ohio, the two other senior members of the President's foreign policy team Secretary of Defense William Cohen, and National Security Advisor Sandy Berger. They share some of Mrs. Albright's frustrations.

What is it that you see in the newspapers that ticks you off more than anything else on the subject of Iraq right now? Mr. Berger, we'll begin with you.

MR. BERGER: I think what makes me angrier than any other thing is when I see (inaudible) administration officials purporting to describe various military options, about which they know little. And even if they did know something about them, they shouldn't be describing them.

I don't blame the newspapers for this, but it's a constant source of frustration when people feel compelled to talk about military details when they could have operational consequences for the safety of American pilots. I think it's outrageous.

MR. KOPPEL: Secretary Cohen, I put the same question to you. As you read the papers in the morning, whether it's on the front page or on the op-ed pages, what annoys you the most?

SECRETARY COHEN: I think that those armchair (experts) -- generals, admirals, Air Force colonels, whatever they might be, are speculating about what the attack plan might be, what would be successful, what would be a failure, without having any information pertaining to exactly what is being planned.

MR. KOPPEL: Which, in part, is what brings them all to Columbus and the town meeting.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The questions are going to be quite different. I think it will show the concern of the American people for what is happening in Iraq and how it affects Americans. And I think it's important for people to understand that as the US fulfills this role of the indispensable nation that we have our people that have to have responses to questions just as their people do, and we're not afraid of our public. We want our publics to understand what's going on.

MR. KOPPEL: Both inside and outside the auditorium, the reception will be more contentious than anyone had expected.

(Audio clip.)

It will not be an easy 90 minutes for the President's foreign policy team.

(Audio clip.)

MR. KOPPEL: (In progress) -- Assume for a moment, Secretary Albright, that you were sitting there by the side of some senior Iraqi official in Baghdad tonight, watching what you just saw. How do you think it would play? Grade yourself, as an old professor, here.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it shows what a vibrant democracy we have; that people are able to express their views. But it was very clear that the majority of the people in that room were very much concerned about what Saddam Hussein was doing and wanted answers as to what the best way to deal with it with him and the threat that he posed was.

It was a very serious discussion. They asked us a lot of good questions. And I think that we really gave them good answers.

MR. KOPPEL: I must confess, Secretary Cohen, I was a little surprised. On the flight out I think I made mention that we think the polls are indicating 76 % of the American public were in favor of bombing. It was a little difficult for me to tell in here, Washington television set and sometimes a very vocal minority can make a lot of noise. But nevertheless, I had the sense that there was some considerable level of uncertainty in that audience about whether military action is in fact the right way to go.

SECRETARY COHEN: Well, I think what you saw was, number one, was overwhelming support for seeking, as Sandy Berger said, a peaceful solution to this crisis. But secondly, there seemed to me to be rather strong support for doing much further damage in the way of a military option other than the very focused program and plan that President Clinton would have at his disposal, should he choose to use it. I think there was considerable expression for going in and taking Saddam out, without many really fully understanding what that means.

MR. KOPPEL: Mr. Berger, take a crack at the question that I've put to Secretary Albright, which she evaded so skillfully. The notion of how Iraqi officials, who no doubt were sitting there in the foreign ministry tonight and possibly in one of Saddam's presidential palaces, watching that broadcast. Beyond the fact that we live in a vibrant democracy, which, clearly, we do, do you think they will have derived concern, comfort, reassurance, apprehension, what?

MR. BERGER: Well, beyond what the Secretary said, I would think they would see the three senior advisors to the President -- and the President, if they could see him -- absolutely determined to resolve this one way or the other.

There was a vocal minority of people who were there. I agree with what's been said -- that I think most of the people in that room would like a peaceful resolution; so would we. But if a peaceful resolution is not possible, I believe if you polled those people, they would not say, turn your back; throw the problem under the rug. They would say, you have to take action.

MR. KOPPEL: I want to go to Secretary Albright for a diplomatic question, but let's just take a short break and then we'll come back with all of our guests in a moment.

(Commercial break.)

MR. KOPPEL: And we're back, once again, from the campus of Ohio State University, with the Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, the President's National Security Advisor.

Secretary Albright, what, short of complete acquiescence on Saddam Hussein's part, would be acceptable, would prevent war, at this point?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Ted, I think we have to keep in mind here that Saddam Hussein is not here to negotiate with the international community. The Security Council, at the end of the Gulf War, laid out a set of rules that he had to abide by to open up the sites where the weapons of mass destruction are. And they created a commission to do that inspection. What Kofi Annan is going there to talk about is to make sure that this UNSCOM, this UN inspection unit, can do its job in an unconditional and open way.

I think, Ted, we have to remember that Saddam Hussein is the one that created this crisis, and that he has to reverse course. And that's what Kofi Annan is going to the message he is going to deliver.

MR. KOPPEL: : I have heard all three of you say that more was achieved by the UNSCOM inspection teams over the past few years, in terms of the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, than was achieved by the bombing during Operation Desert Storm. Have I got that right so far?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes.

SECRETARY COHEN: So far.

MR. KOPPEL: If with all of the bombing during Operation Desert Storm, which was much greater than any kind of bombing that I believe is being envisioned now, we could not achieve what was achieved by the UNSCOM inspectors, does it not seem to be a little bit counterproductive to even consider a bombing series of bombing raids that would result in the UNSCOM team being left out all together.

MR. BERGER: Chairman Butler, who is the head of this group, a very distinguished gentleman from Australia, has said that he cannot do his job now. In other words, the UNSCOM people are effectively de facto out of the country. They may be into a Holiday Inn in Baghdad. But it doesn't really make any difference if they're in the Holiday Inn in Baghdad and can't do their job, or the Holiday Inn in Bahrain or in Boston if they can't do their job.

MR. KOPPEL: So UNSCOM can't do its job now; won't be able to do its job after a bombing, I think we're agreed --

MR. BERGER: It's up to Saddam Hussein. It's up to Saddam Hussein.

MR. KOPPEL: Well, true, he could. But I mean, if he was going to respond to the pressure of the embargo, one would think that by now and you have mentioned to some it's way in excess of $100 billion that it's cost him already you've also made the point, all three of you, that he is not hurting; his people are hurting, but he's not hurting.

MR. BERGER: He's put blindfolds on the inspectors and defied the international community. So if we now say, well, go ahead, that's okay, we really aren't going to do anything about it, he will have gotten a trifecta, because at that point he will have realized the international community has lost its will. And the moment Saddam Hussein realizes or believes the international community has lost its will, it's not only weapons of mass destruction that he's going to rebuild, he's heading back to dominate the region, which is his intent.

SECRETARY COHEN: I want to add to what Mr. Berger just said, it's not only Saddam Hussein who's at stake here. If we remain indifferent to what he is up to, and if we turn a blind eye and if we don't take action in the face of his flouting of the UN Security Council resolutions, then there is nothing to inhibit Iran from continuing to amass its chemical and biological weapons, North Korea, Sudan, Libya. So there's more at stake than just Saddam Hussein, although that's a very big issue at stake.

We would be sending a signal which would be, I think, unfortunate for future generations as well. If we show a lack of will; if there is a lack of discipline; if there is a willingness to enforce the resolutions through military action if necessary, then I think it's a very bad signal to the rest of the world.

MR. KOPPEL: You heard some of the questions, Madame Secretary, that were raised here today. Let me just sort of give you a variation on that. During all the time that we confronted the Soviet Union, we didn't talk about going in there and bombing the Soviet Union because they have weapons of mass destruction or because they invaded their neighbors or because they constituted a threat to the rest of the world. We had all kinds of surrogate fights with the Soviet Union, but we never thought of confronting them directly. Now, if I'm hearing Secretary Cohen directly, we are holding up the possibility of perhaps bombing Iran, North Korea. I mean, what you were saying is, if we don't do it here with Iraq, we may have to do it with the others.

SECRETARY COHEN: Just to the contrary. As a matter of fact, none of these other countries have used, as Saddam Hussein has, his chemical weapons. What we are trying to do is discourage them from enlarging their weapons of mass destruction, and we are passing treaties, we are trying to get compliance with them.

But the signal that will be sent if Saddam Hussein, the worst offender, is allowed to simply flout the rules, then it could be much harder to contain the spread of these biological and chemical weapons. That's the point that needs to be made.

MR. KOPPEL: Secretary Albright, you put the best possible face on it. But the fact of the matter is that the international community is not remaining as firm as it was. And there is every reason to believe that it will become even more weak-kneed over the next few years, which suggests that the United States at some point, with the possible exception of the British, has to stand alone. Are you prepared to say at this point that we are, and that we would go back and do it again and again and again if need be over a period of many years?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I really do think that you're underestimating the international support for this action. We have been working hard, all of us, and there is support out there.

But let me make the following point; which is that the United States is the only superpower. We have responsibilities as such. We stand tall and therefore we can see further. And we are very concerned about this threat to all our societies, due to weapons of mass destruction. And if we have to go it alone, we will go it alone. But we are always that's kind of where we are in the international system at the moment. We look for partners; we seek help from others that are like-minded; we have a lot of help. But ultimately, Ted, we are the United States, and we are the indispensable power.

MR. KOPPEL: Secretary Cohen, Secretary Albright and Mr. Berger, thank you very much.

[End of Document]

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