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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview on NBC-TV "The Today Show" with Matt Lauer
Columbus, Ohio, February 19, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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MR. LAUER: On "Close Up" this morning -- the showdown with Iraq. As UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan heads to Baghdad in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to end the standoff, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is traveling around the United States making the administrationís case for a possible strike against Saddam Hussein. Madame Secretary, good morning to you, good to see you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning, Matt, nice to see you.

MR. LAUER: Thank you. To put it bluntly, you were heckled yesterday. What was your reaction to the reception you received?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, actually, I thought it was a very interesting meeting. There were a couple of dozen hecklers. But for the most part, there were some very serious people in the audience who had serious questions that we tried to answer. And weíll continue to do so.

MR. LAUER: Thatís true. You did have people who stood up and expressed their concern over military action against Iraq. Did you walk away from the meeting, Madame Secretary, with a different point of view, a different perspective on the situation?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Absolutely not. I think that we know what we have to do, and that is help enforce the UN Security Council resolutions, which demand that Saddam Hussein abide by those resolutions, and get rid of his weapons of mass destruction, and allow the inspectors to have unfettered and unconditional access. Thatís what we have to do.

Matt, we would like to solve this peacefully. But if we cannot, we will be using force; and the American people will be behind us, and I think that they understand that.

MR. LAUER: Iím just curious. Do you think yesterdayís session helped or hurt your case? I mean, back in the early 1990s, Madame Secretary, you used to appear on this show as an analyst for foreign affairs with William Hyland. And youíd come on and talk about the Administrationís reaction to foreign affairs. If you were analyzing yesterdayís performance by you and your colleagues, how would you rate it?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I thought our performance was great. But I think that the issue here is that there were people who disagree. I would probably say that there were a few dozen hecklers who disagreed. But what I would have said, actually, is that there were more people that asked questions and directed their thoughts about the fact that we ought to send in ground forces.

Thatís what I found interesting -- that there are more Americans who really would like us to go in and finish off Saddam Hussein. That was the message that I got from that meeting.

MR. LAUER: And you lead me right into my next question, because one man you heard from yesterday was a retired serviceman named Mike McCall, whose son died during the Vietnam War. Hereís what he said.

(Audio clip.)

Madame Secretary, Secretary of Defense William Cohen attempted to answer that question yesterday. Why donít you give it a shot for me today.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we had a half-a-million troops there in 1991. And the decision was that they could not take out Saddam Hussein. And I donít think, frankly, that if we got into it, that the American people would want us to send in huge numbers of forces. So we are doing what must be done.

First of all, we would like to have a diplomatic, peaceful solution and have him give unfettered access to these places, so that we could tell what is happening with his weapons of mass destruction. But otherwise, the purpose of a very substantial strike will be to substantially reduce his weapons of mass destruction threat and his threat to the neighbors. We think that is an appropriate goal, and our goal -- and weíve said this, Matt -- may not seem really decisive; but what weíre trying to do here is contain Saddam Hussein. Weíve managed to do that for seven years. This has been a successful policy. Whenever he puts his head up, we push him back.

MR. LAUER: Let me bring in the man who asked that question in Columbus yesterday, Madame Secretary. Mike McCall, good morning to you.

MR. MCCALL: Good morning, sir, how are you?

MR. LAUER: Oh, thank you, Iím fine. It was a bit impersonal and somewhat raucous in that room yesterday, so let me give you a chance to ask a question one-on-one to the Secretary of State.

MR. MCCALL: Good morning, Madame, how are you?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning, good to see you again.

MR. MCCALL: Thank you, kind of early in the morning. My question is, actually, more of a statement. Iím not a warmonger; I donít want to see a war; and I donít think there was any man in that room that was in uniform yesterday, if Iíd have asked the question, who wants a war, who would have stood up.

My thought was, if we send in troops after a saturated bombing run and get this thing neutralized to where the troops could almost walk in there in parade formation as more or less of a police force to support the inspectors that come in; get those weapons; destroy them and then turn around to Saddam Hussein and say, "Hey, run your country now, run it like a human being, take care of your people, weíll buy your oil, weíll give you money for your oil, and make this country for your people." I donít want to hurt those people.

MR. LAUER: Let me ask the Secretary of State, is that feasible?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say how much I admire the gentleman who asked the question; I did yesterday; he is clearly a great patriot.

I think the problem with the idea is that we would have to end up being an occupying force. The Americans donít want to do that. I donít think the American people would want us to do that. But after the substantial strike, I think we have a much better chance of having the inspectors go back in or make sure that these weapons are not reconstituted by being willing to do another strike.

This is a very serious problem. None of us are saying that there are easy solutions to it, but we have to contain Saddam Hussein. And, as Iíve said many times, we are prepared to deal, ready to deal with a post-Saddam regime.

But I appreciate what heís saying, because I think heís a very brave American and a patriotic American who understands why we have to do this.

MR. LAUER: Mike, let me ask you to stand by, and let me ask a couple more questions to Madeleine Albright.

Madame Secretary, your trip to the Middle East several weeks ago was not as successful as I think you would have liked, in building a coalition against Saddam Hussein at this point -- certainly not as successful as the coalition in 1991. Have you spoken to President Bush or former Secretary of State Baker and asked for any advice on gaining support from the Arab world?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think my trip actually went pretty well, because this is a very different situation from í91, when there was a cross-border invasion of one Arab country into another. And frankly, I got a lot more support than is publicly visible, because these people live in the region.

MR. LAUER: So theyíre saying one thing in public, and saying something else to you in private?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes, yes. And we feel comfortable that should we have to use military force, that they will be very cooperative.

And as a matter of fact, I did talk to both former President Bush and former Secretary of State Baker; and they both agreed that we have a much more complicated situation than they had on their hands. And they were very supportive, and I especially enjoyed -- well, I enjoyed talking to both of them, because they do have some very good points.

MR. LAUER: Will you speak for me, Madame Secretary, to the parents of American men and women who may soon be asked to go into harmís way, and who get the feeling that many countries in the rest of the world are standing by silently while their children are once again being asked to clean up a mess for the rest of the world?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say that there are, a couple of dozen countries that are with us on this that are providing a variety of equipment, support and are willing to be with us. So there is a misunderstanding about saying that there is no coalition; there is. And the truth is that in the Gulf War, we did most of the work, too. Thereís no question that we, with the British and French, did a large proportion of the work.

Let me say that we are doing everything possible so that American men and women in uniform do not have to go out there again. It is the threat of the use of force and our line-up there that is going to put force behind the diplomacy. But if we have to use force, it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future, and we see the danger here to all of us. I know that the American men and women in uniform are always prepared to sacrifice for freedom, democracy and the American way of life.

MR. LAUER: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Thank you so much again.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

[End of Document]

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