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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview on Serbia on CNN's "Larry King Live"
March 23, 199, Washington, D.C.
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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MR. KING: We begin with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Washington. Always good to welcome her to "Larry King Live," hopefully under better circumstances. What can you tell us about where this situation stands right now tonight?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, here at home the Senate has voted to support the President in carrying forward with air strikes. Overseas and in the region, Ambassador Holbrooke, as you reported, had to leave because he was not able to persuade President Milosevic that it was better for him to accept this peace agreement and to stop the fighting. So NATO is prepared to act, and that is where we are right now.

MR. KING: Now, prepared means next hour, tomorrow; what does prepared mean?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Larry, I'm not going to talk about when and what in terms of the military operation because I think that's not appropriate. I'd like to talk about why we're doing this because I think that this is in the national interest of the United States because we are so concerned about making sure that there is not instability in this part of Europe. We've learned, over the 20th Century, that instability in Europe and fighting and ethnic conflict has in fact brought the American soldiers in twice at great cost, and that we have an opportunity to do something now to stop massacre and fighting before it spreads beyond the national boundaries. There's a humanitarian reason, also.

MR. KING: A vote 58 to 41, was that pretty much to your liking? I mean, actually you would have liked 99 to nothing or 100 to nothing. But were you surprised at the size of the amount against it?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that there are people who, I believe, do not see the national interest in this. Everybody has their own views. But we worked this very hard. President Clinton has been meeting with members of Congress, both houses, and we feel very strongly that this is the right thing to do and are pleased by the support that we have.

MR. KING: Senator Domenici, who voted against, said, "We don't have an obligation to send our men and women of the military in every time there's a humanitarian problem in this world or a civil strife or a revolution." What would you say to him?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we don't; the truth is that we don't send them in every time. But when we think that our national interests have been affected and could be affected in a much worse way, then I believe that it's a smart thing to do.

We also know that we can send people -- do the air strikes now and take an active interest in this before it spreads beyond the national boundaries and it will be something that is much worse for us to deal with.

I think we have to learn the lessons of this century and knowing that if we stand by and watch these kinds of things evolve that they will only get worse and we will pay a higher price much later.

MR. KING: The Senate approved air strikes. Is there anything regarding ground troops?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have made very clear that the only ground troops that would be used would be to implement a peace agreement, and we have no plans to use ground troops in an aggressive way -- only to implement a peace agreement.

MR. KING: You are a veteran of diplomacy, UN, Secretary of State. What are your thoughts of the Russian turnaround today over the Atlantic?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I have been in very close contact with Russian Foreign Minister Ivanov, and we have been talking about this. We clearly disagree on how to carry out this operation in Serbia. They have been part of the Contact Group -- this group of countries that have dealt with this issue -- but they disagree with taking military action.

But we have many, many issues that we talk about. The U.S.-Russia relationship is an important one to both countries. We obviously know that is something that will keep going.

MR. KING: Are you saying he should have come?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I think that is his judgment. We have been -- I have to say this, Larry, we have been completely transparent with the Russians in telling them what the options were here, telling them that there was this possibility. Prime Minister Primakov made his own decision.

MR. KING: Is this a tough sell when Milosevic's answers all seems to be "my country?"

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think if this were a normal country and he were a normal leader, it would be a tough sell. But this is a man who has systematically gone after the various minorities that used to make up Yugoslavia. He invaded Bosnia and Croatia, and created such terrible problems there for the last decade. He has taken away the autonomy that the Kosovars had under the Yugoslav Constitution. He has also directed that there be massacres -- the kinds of things, Larry, that we saw about a month ago, where innocent civilians had their throats slit.

MR. KING: We learned a lot listening to Lyndon Johnson's tape of the first year of his tenure in office. We learned that there was a lot of disagreement in the White House and in the Senate, people came to visit him privately, about Vietnam. Can you tell us about the debate, if any, inside the White House?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think it's not appropriate for me to discuss that. But I do want to tell you this -- that President Clinton has national security advisors who discuss and debate the issues for many hours, come up with a common consensus. I think that we all have understood that this is not easy; as you said, this is a tough call. None of us want to be involved in sending Americans into dangerous missions. So we discuss it; that's what we're paid for. We have a common approach and common advice to the President.

MR. KING: We'll take a break and come back with some more questions with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

[Commercial break]

MR. KING: With air strikes apparent, can you tell us, Madame Secretary, what they will be striking if they strike?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me tell you why we are doing this and then -- I'm not going to, obviously, tell you the specific targets. But the purpose of this is to deter Slobodan Milosevic from continuing on his rampage and going in and torching -- having his soldiers and special police torch the villages. So it is designed to deter that, and also to damage his capability to do that.

We would prefer to have a peaceful solution, but it is designed to deter and damage his capability.

MR. KING: Historically -- and there's no better student of history than you -- often bombing fails.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that it is very important for us to be able to do what I said -- deter and damage. I think to damage his material can very well be done through air strike.

MR. KING: How much concern is there for his anti-air capabilities?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs has said that this is not an easy mission, and that he does have air defense capabilities. We all know that this is a serious mission and one with risk, actually. But I think that it is very important for us to go forward with it.

MR. KING: Is it NATO's ball game; is it NATO's decision?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, frankly, this is a NATO operation. We are the leaders of NATO. What is so great about this, Larry, is that we have all the NATO allies together. We have been working very closely. Secretary Cohen has been in touch with ministers of defense and I've been in touch with ministers of foreign affairs. NATO is united and prepared to act. This is a NATO operation, and the United States' leadership in it is very important.

MR. KING: You mentioned earlier this is what we pay you for -- to deal with tough decisions. What is it like on the eve of what might be, to be in the position of one of the button-pushers?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that it doesn't all happen on one night. We have been working on this very hard, Larry. I have spent a lot of time thinking about this issue and about the historical context and trying to avoid something worse.

I feel that as Secretary of State, my responsibility is to think about American national interests and to do our best to resolve issues peacefully; and when we can't, to be able to be a partner of the military of this country, which is the best and strongest.

MR. KING: But on a personal level, is it a sleepless night? You've been working on it a long time, but it's, as they say, come to this.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think there have been many sleepless nights, but I feel that we're making the right decision. So I probably will spend the night on the phone in some form, as I have for the last few nights and probably will for the next few. That goes with the job. But as you know, Larry, it's a job that I am very proud to have.

MR. KING: Is there a time frame here, Madame Secretary, like we're going to keep this up for three, four days, let us know by Saturday? Is there a plan?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Again, I am not going to go into the operational time line. This is a very well thought out military mission. I think it would be a mistake; you wouldn't want me to give the details here so that President Milosevic could hear everything that is going on. But it is going to be a sustained attack, and it is not something that is going to go on for an overly long time.

MR. KING: Well, of course, generally there has to be an end date, right? I mean, he would have to find out -- keep this up and we'll end it by Monday unless you sign.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, what we have said, and this is what Ambassador Holbrooke said to him, is that he had an opportunity to accept the accords that were signed by the Kosovar Albanians in Paris and have a peace agreement. He had the opportunity also to stop the fighting. Ambassador Holbrooke said to him that if he did not do that, there would be very serious consequences. He has not accepted those two threshold objectives; and, therefore, he knows that there now are serious consequences.

MR. KING: And your assessment of how Ambassador Holbrooke has performed?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think he's done a great job. He is our most persuasive negotiator. He knows this area, I think, very well. He has dealt with President Milosevic before. I think he's remarkable and very much a member of our team. I look forward to continuing to work with him as Ambassador to the United Nations.

MR. KING: Thank you, Madeleine.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

[End of Document]

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