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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at 1998 Asia Society Dinner
Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
New York, New York, June 17, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman, June 18, 1998
U.S. Department of State

Blue Bar

(As Delivered)

Well, I'm very delighted to be here. Thank you very much, Hank, for that wonderful introduction. My good friend, Nick Platt, David Comansky. Congratulations to my fellow honorees - Peter Kann, P.H. Koo, and Jonathon Spence.

I have to tell you that my speech is a little long tonight; but it's raining, and you can't go anywhere, anyway.

(Laughter.)

Besides, if I can't give a long speech on Asia to this group, I can't do it anywhere. So I am very glad, members of the Asia Society and guests, to be here, and very pleased to have this opportunity.

As a professor in my former life, I used to ask my students to put aside the map we customarily use, which shows North and South America as the center of the world. Instead, I would turn the globe to the great Asian land mass, and make the point that, to most of the people on Earth, that is the center of the world.

I am a great fan of the Asia Society because it sees the value in building bridges between these two worlds, and these two perceptions. No work is more important for the 21st century than promoting understanding across the Asia Pacific. And, in this effort, you have made great progress. To cite just two examples, by strengthening US-Asian ties, you've done wonders for the pitching staffs of the Yankees and Mets.

(Laughter.)

And you have created such a reservoir of goodwill within Asia that it even survived my singing last summer at ASEAN.

(Laughter.)

In recent weeks, I have given a series of commencement addresses, and I have been struck by the number of Asian surnames among the graduates. This is a huge change from a generation ago, and it shows that the Asian and American cultures will enrich each other even more in the decades to come. That is the good news. The bad news is that, through much of Asia, the past year has been one of enormous stress. The financial crisis first sent ripples, then shockwaves, throughout the region. A lot of good hardworking people have had their hopes for the future dashed or put on hold. Tonight, as we meet, the crisis continues to deepen.

All this has great implications. For this audience, I do not have to spell out the vast connections. Previous speakers have explained all that. But there are vast connections now that exist between our security, prosperity and freedom and that of Asia's. But I do want to stress the importance of getting that message out to the American people. I find it very disturbing, quite frankly, that Congress has not approved funds to back efforts by the International Monetary Fund to help Asian economies reform and restore financial confidence. Nor has it approved our request to pay the $1 billion we owe to the United Nations.

On matters this urgent and fundamental to our national interests, the United States should be a leader not a laggard. I hope you agree that Congress should act now.

(Applause.)

One aspect of the Asia Society's work that I have always admired is that it is inclusive. It is truly the Asia Society, not just a Japan and China society under another name. That is good because despite the importance of those two countries, I intend only to touch on them in my remarks tonight.

I had the great pleasure of visiting Japan last month to reaffirm our unique and wide-ranging partnership, which is stronger than ever. The US-Japan security alliance is a foundation of Asian stability. We coordinate now on issues from elections in Cambodia to proliferation in South Asia to safeguarding the global environment. While in Tokyo, I took the opportunity to express US concerns about Japan's economic situation. These concerns remain very substantial.

Japan has committed more than $40 billion through bilateral and multilateral channels to help other nations weather the region's financial crisis. Unfortunately, the continuing stagnation of Japan's economy and the resulting depreciation of the yen are viewed by many as a serious obstacle to regional recovery. Japanese investment and trade have been vital contributors to the Asian miracle. If Asia is to grow again, Japan's economy must return to health.

The world is looking to Japan for leadership, and Prime Minister Hashimoto has already taken some courageous steps to stimulate the economy and address problems in Japan's financial sector. We welcome the $116 billion fiscal stimulus package approved this week by Japan's Parliament. We also were pleased with the Prime Minister's announcement this morning that Japan will make every effort to restore its banking system to health, to achieve domestic demand-led growth, and to open and deregulate its markets.

In the context of this plan to strengthen Japan's economy, Secretary Rubin indicated that US and Japanese monetary authorities have cooperated in intervening in exchange markets. As you know, the President talked with Prime Minister Hashimoto last evening, and assured him of US support for Japan's actions so that it can once more serve as the engine of Asian growth.

As for China, the President set out our policy in his speech in Washington last Thursday. Now, as you know, there are a number in Congress and elsewhere who say the President shouldn't go to China. I deeply respect their right to be wrong.

(Laughter.)

The President will have the opportunity to say things in Beijing that the people of China cannot say, and have not heard. His very presence in Tiananmen Square will ensure that the world does not forget, as it must not forget, the terrible wrongs perpetrated there. But the President will also focus on the future. In Beijing, he will support China's constructive role in responding to the South Asia nuclear tests, and urge China to do all it can to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and the systems that deliver them.

He will seek to bring China further into the world economy, to establish greater common ground on global issues, and to reaffirm the importance of democracy in Hong Kong. He will express concern about preserving the unique cultural, religious and linguistic heritage of Tibet. And he will stress the universal nature of human rights, including the right of peaceful political dissent and the right freely and without harassment to worship God.

In short, he will go to Beijing to advance America's interest in a peaceful, prosperous and free world. China must participate and cooperate if such a world is to be achieved. That is why, in going to China, the President is doing exactly what he should be doing; and I hope he will have your understanding and support.

But as I said, I'm not going to talk about China tonight. Nor do I plan to talk, as I often have in recent weeks, about South Asia, although this Society has been very active in promoting better ties to, and within, that vital region. Instead, I want to take advantage of the Asia Society's emphasis on diversity, and focus on three countries that illustrate that diversity quite dramatically -- the Republic of Korea, Indonesia and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Obviously, these countries are quite different culturally, as well as geographically. But each has an important role to play in regional and global affairs. Each is in the midst of an historic transition, and the course of events in each will do much to shape the challenges and opportunities of the new century.

I will begin with Korea; and, more specifically, with my reaction to the new President of that country which is, to use an old Confucian expression, "Halleluia".

(Laughter.)

As was evident to me during my visit to Seoul, where I did make great friends with the Foreign Minister - we had Georgetown in common and many other things, and we did hit it off immediately. During my visit to Seoul in May, and to the world during his state visit to the United States last week, President Kim Dae Jung is a truly remarkable man. More than any other person, he has discredited the worn out debate between so-called Asian values and Western values. President Kim embodies human values, which apply everywhere to everybody; and for that alone he will be honored by the historians of our age.

But the long-time hero is also a new president and, in that capacity, he has his work cut out for him. During the summit last week, President Clinton made it clear that the United States cherishes our alliance with Seoul and our friendship with the Korean people. In addition to our alliance with Japan, this relationship is the bedrock of our security strategy in Northeast Asia; which aims, in part, to facilitate a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.

President Kim has approached this issue with great confidence. The United States fully supports his efforts to re-institute a regular North-South dialogue in parallel to the four-party talks. We have agreed to coordinate closely on the issue of sanctions. We are conveying a common message to the North on the importance of adhering to the agreed framework. After all, the South Asia tests provide no license for the North to renege on its commitments. And do not doubt that we will live up to ours.

Few countries have been hit as hard by the financial crisis as South Korea. Fortunately, the shortcomings of the past are clearly recognized by the new government. President Kim has shown courage in attempting to get Korea's financial house in order. But this is a complex and painful task that will be opposed both by the architects of the old system, and by those hurt most by the adjustments now required.

The road ahead is rocky, but the United States stands fully behind Korea's reform program. And there are reasons to be optimistic. No one can doubt the resilience of the Korean people or their ability to overcome setbacks. A reformed Korean economy, spurred by more open markets, and by a cleaner and more accountable financial sector, would be a formidable and world-class competitor.

I'm told there is an old Korean adage, cited by President Kim in his letters from jail, that even if the heavens were to crash down, there is a hole through which to rise up; and even if taken in a tiger's teeth, there is a way to survive. Korea, like its President, has known hard times before. Because it has chosen the democratic path and is facing its problems squarely, I believe Korea will emerge from the present problems stronger, and with unshakable US support, safer and more secure.

One of the lessons of the past year is a lesson Kim Dae Jung has been teaching for decades: democracies are better able to adjust to change than regimes that are autocratic. A true democracy has flexibility built into its system. The public has outlets for expressing anxiety, frustration and new ideas. Leaders can point to a popular mandate to carry out difficult policies. In times of stress, a democratic people is more likely to pull together than to fall apart.

There could be no better illustration of all this than the past year of living precariously in Indonesia. Here, the financial crisis led to massive demonstrations, ugly ethnic-related violence, the martyrdom of at least four students and a sudden end to the rule of President Soeharto.

The new President, B. J. Habibi, has moved to address popular concerns by promising new elections and releasing political prisoners. He has also assembled a strong economic team to grapple with a crisis aggravated by debt, looting, business flight, currency depreciation, rising unemployment and inflation. Over the long term, Indonesia clearly has the resources and the skills to bounce back. But today, the average citizen is hurting.

If Indonesia is to recover, its new leaders must reach beyond the traditional centers of power to build a consensus for peaceful, but profound, political reform based on democratic principles. It is too early to judge whether the new government will pursue and succeed on such a course. But it is not too early to reaffirm America's commitment to do all we can to help the Indonesian people. This is the right thing to do. It is also the smart thing, because prospects for a stable transition to democracy will increase if humanitarian needs are addressed.

Accordingly, I am pleased to report that we have restored to Embassy Jakarta and throughout Indonesia the full complement of our diplomatic, USAID and other personnel. Second, we will support proposals for new World Bank and Asian Development Bank lending to Indonesia. Third, we are waiting for the report of the IMF team that is now in Jakarta to review its program there and discuss necessary adjustments, including those to address humanitarian concerns. We hope that an agreement can be reached soon that will release the next tranche of funds. Finally, we will be pledging $65 million in food and medical supplies for Indonesia, in addition to our ongoing assistance programs.

The US has long been the world's leading outside supporter of human rights, legal aid and environmental organizations in Indonesia. Today, those groups are playing an indispensable role in helping their country build a true and lasting democracy. We are considering how best to use our support in the months ahead in areas such as civic education, development of a free press, the promotion of ethnic tolerance and technical assistance for elections.

President Habibi has also taken steps to begin to address the long-standing problem of East Timor. The United States would strongly support efforts by the new government to build a real consensus on East Timor through additional confidence building measures, a reduced military presence, and a genuine dialogue with its people.

Indonesia is a country of critical strategic importance. If it is able to recover and move ahead with freer institutions and a more open economy, it will reclaim its position as an anchor of stability and prosperity throughout its region. It will also fulfill, at long last, the deepest aspirations of its people.

Moving now from Southeast Asia to Southwest, we come to another strategic state--the Islamic Republic of Iran. One of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world, Iran is at the center of a region which includes countries that contain three quarters of the world's population, three quarters of the world's proven energy resources and sixty percent of global GNP. These facts of life, and the critical role that Iran plays in that region, make the question of US-Iran relations a topic of great interest and importance to this Secretary of State.

The United States established relations with Iran, then Persia, in 1856. For decades, our ties were limited but cordial. After the Second World War, America supported Iran in a bitter territorial dispute with the Soviet Union. And through the first decades of the Cold War, as part of a strategy intended to counter Soviet expansionism, the US supported the Shah's regime and allocated to it large quantities of military and economic assistance.

We did so because of a common strategic interest. We were concerned with an effort to contain the spread of totalitarian influence across the globe. The exigencies of the Cold War also generated US policies and activities that were resented by many Iranians. In retrospect, it is possible to understand their reaction, but the Cold War is now over and it is time to put that period behind us.

After the forced departure of the Shah in 1979, Iran turned inward, in keeping with the Ayatollah Khomeini's slogan that "we must become isolated in order to become independent." This trend was manifested most extremely and unacceptably in the seizure of hostages at the US Embassy.

Neither country has forgotten the past, but most Iranians, like most Americans, are now focused on the future. And clearly, it is possible now -- if Iran so chooses -- for it to be both fully independent and fully open to the world.

Last May, Iran's people were given a chance to voice their support for a more open society, and did so. Nearly 70 percent supported the election of Mohammad Khatemi as President, providing him with a mandate for change, demanding from the Iranian Government greater freedoms, a more civil society based on the rule of law, and a more moderate foreign policy aimed at ending Iran's estrangement from the international community.

At the time, President Clinton welcomed this election, and as a former professor and lifelong student of history, I found the vote remarkable. The depth of the demand for change was obvious. So too was the evident desire of young Iranians and many Iranian women for greater openness and more personal liberty.

I was most impressed by the size of the mandate. Twenty million Iranians came forward to make themselves heard in the hope that, by so doing, they could effect real change in their government and in their daily lives.

Since taking office, President Khatemi has responded to the demands of the Iranian people by emphasizing the importance of dialogue among nations and cultures, and by acknowledging the world's growing interdependence. He has said that "a society intending to reach development cannot succeed without understanding Western civilization." I would say, in response, that the same can be said with respect to Eastern civilization and Islamic civilization.

President Khatemi has said that the American Government deserves respect because it is a reflection of the great American people. I would say that President Khatemi deserves respect because he is the choice of the Iranian people. In his interview with CNN in January, President Khatemi called for a dialogue between civilizations, something which President Clinton welcomed because of our strongly-held view that there is much common ground between Islam and the West, and much that we can do to enrich each other's societies.

In past years, Iran's opposition to the Middle East Peace Process and to those willing to negotiate with Israel has been vitriolic and violent. The Islamic Republic still refuses to recognize Israel, and its leaders continue to denounce Israel in inflammatory and unacceptable terms. But last December, Iranian officials welcomed Chairman Arafat to the Islamic Summit in Tehran and said that, although they did not agree with the logic of the peace process, they would not seek to impose their views and would accept what the Palestinians could accept.

In January, President Khatemi publicly denounced terrorism and condemned the killing of innocent Israelis. He argued that terrorism was not only against Islam but also counterproductive to Iran's purposes. Iran, after all, has also been a victim of terrorism.

If these views are translated into a rejection of terrorism as a tool of Iranian statecraft, it would do much to dispel the concerns of the international community from Germany to the Persian Gulf, and from Argentina to Algeria.

There are other signs of change, as well. For example, Iran's record in the war against drugs has greatly improved -- at least within its own borders -- and it has received high marks from the UN for its treatment of more than two million Iraqi and Afghan refugees. Iran is also participating in diplomatic efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and is making a welcome effort to improve relations with Saudi Arabia and other neighbors in the Gulf.

We view these developments with interest, both with regard to the possibility of Iran assuming its rightful place in the world community, and the chance for better bilateral ties. However, these hopes must be balanced against the reality that Iran's support for terrorism has not yet ceased; serious violations of human rights persist; and its efforts to develop long range missiles and to acquire nuclear weapons continue.

The United States opposes, and will continue to oppose, any country selling or transferring to Iran materials and technologies that could be used to develop long-range missiles or weapons of mass destruction. Similarly, we oppose Iranian efforts to sponsor terror. Accordingly, our economic policies, including with respect to the export pipelines for Caspian oil and gas, remain unchanged.

But let me be clear. These policies are not, as some Iranians allege, anti-Islamic. Islam is the fastest-growing religious faith in the United States. We respect deeply its moral teachings and its role as a source of inspiration and instruction for hundreds of millions of people around the world. US policy is directed at actions, not peoples or faiths. The standards we would like Iran to observe are not merely Western, but universal. We fully respect Iran's sovereignty. We understand and respect its fierce desire to maintain its independence. We do not seek to overthrow its government. But we do ask that Iran live up to its commitments to the international community.

As in Indonesia, we hope Iran's leaders will carry out the people's mandate for a government that respects and protects the rule of law, both in its internal and external affairs. Certainly, Iranian voters last year were concerned primarily with domestic issues. But the Iranian people are also conscious of the critical role their country has long played in a region of global importance. What Iran must decide now is how its strength will be projected and to what ends. Much has changed in the almost twenty years Iran has been outside or on the fringes of the international system.

Nations have recognized, for example, that if they are to safeguard their own interests from the threat of terror, they cannot tolerate acts of indiscriminate violence against civilians, nor can they offer refuge to those who commit such acts.

Despite the recent South Asia tests, more and more nations have enlisted in the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Respected nations from South Korea to South Africa to South America have decided that it is best for their people to forgo developing such weapons. The tide of non-proliferation agreements reached in the last two decades is ample evidence of this trend.

What have proliferated are multilateral efforts to protect international security. The UN, regional organizations and coalitions have countered threats to peace during the Gulf War and in peacekeeping operations around the world. This global network has grown largely without Iranian participation. But Iran would be welcome if it is willing to make a constructive contribution.

We believe that President Khatemi expressed the sentiments of the Iranian people when he voiced the desire for a world in which misunderstandings can be overcome and mutual respect and logic govern relations among states. The United States shares that desire, and we are taking concrete steps in that direction. This month, we implemented a new, more streamlined procedure for issuing visas to Iranians who travel to the United States frequently. We also revised our Consular Travel Warning for Iran so that it better reflects current attitudes in Iran towards American visitors.

We have supported cultural and academic exchanges, and facilitated travel to the United States by many Iranians. We are ready to explore further ways to build mutual confidence and avoid misunderstandings. The Islamic Republic should consider parallel steps. If such a process can be initiated and sustained in a way that addresses the concerns of both sides, then we in the United States can see the prospect of a very different relationship. As the wall of mistrust comes down, we can develop with the Islamic Republic, when it is ready, a road map leading to normal relations.

Obviously, two decades of mistrust cannot be erased overnight. The gap between us remains wide. But it is time to test the possibilities for bridging this gap.

As the nations I have focused on tonight reflect, Asia is a region in transition. This is true from the Persian Gulf to the Korean Peninsula and virtually all points in between. In responding to this dynamic world, America cannot view every issue or nation through a single prism. We must take into account the full range of our interests. We must combine adherence to principle with a pragmatic sense of what works. We must know when to raise our voices in public and when to work quietly behind the scenes. We must know when to engage and when to isolate, and we must always be flexible enough to respond to change and to seize historic opportunities when they arise. Above all, we must maintain our commitment to human freedom. For of all the ties that bind together the American and Asian peoples, this is the strongest.

The story of Asia throughout this century has been the story of steadily increasing freedom and independence, steadily increasing control by the people of their own lives and their own destinies. For more than 200 years, that has also been the story of America. And it remains the basic objective of US foreign policy to make possible a world in which every people, including those from every part of Asia, have that freedom and that control.

Thank you very much.

[End of Document]

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