|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Media Roundtable, Waldorf-Astoria Hotel
New York, New York, September 22, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think this is the third day up here and there have been an awful lot of meetings. I always enjoy being up here because I think it's a wonderful way to do a lot of business and deal with practically every issue that faces a Secretary of State. I think it's been a very useful time. We have covered -- obviously have worked on the Middle East, have had a number of meetings with the Europeans, have spent a considerable amount of time today talking about Bosnia, Kosovo, and the Stability Pact.
A great deal of attention is also being devoted to the issue of East Timor. That comes up in every meeting, whether bilateral or multilateral. Generally, as you also know, there are bilateral issues that are discussed within the context of the overall United Nations agenda.
I think the thing that has been a constant theme here, however, is the irritation that all the other nations have with the United States for non-payment. I really feel that it is very difficult for the United States to fulfill its leadership role so long as we are not able to -- not pay our bills, but our dues -- to this organization. It undercuts our ability to do our work here, whether it's during a few days when I'm up here or Ambassador Holbrooke as he's up here as the Permanent Representative.
I think Congress needs to understand that we have to have the money. If the United States is going to do its job and if it's going to be able to get other countries to do their share of the work, then we have to be able to put our money on the table.
So with that, I'm happy to answer any questions.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the U.S. seems to be having a very difficult time getting inspectors back to Iraq. We have, obviously, shadings of views; one on your own staff has been giving is that if you get the Russians aboard that might very well do it. The French are represented as sort of edging toward the U.S. position, except when they speak for themselves they seem to not be edging toward the U.S. position.
Is this going to be a non-starter? And what are the consequences of the U.S. -- or the U.S.-led -- even though it's a British-Dutch initiative -- if inspectors don't go back to Iraq? Do you think that's an awesome situation, an unchecked Saddam Hussein?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say this. Obviously there are several things that we are trying to accomplish here. As I think I said yesterday to questions on Iraq, we did very well for a long time on Iraq because there was consensus in the Security Council. One of the goals of this resolution is to try to regain that consensus because that sends a stronger message, obviously, to Saddam Hussein.
But it's not "consensus at any price." I think what has to happen here is we have to see compliance from Saddam Hussein on the disarmament aspect of this. We do believe it's important to get the monitors back in. But if they are not in a position to do their job, or the requirements that they are there to make sure happen are so low, then it becomes kind of "Potemkin" monitors.
So I think that the point here is that it's important to get this right. You know, there is a lot of work going on in various places about this, and we believe that there has to be compliance and that it's important for the monitors to get back in. And it is important for us to be able to deal with the humanitarian situation in Iraq.
QUESTION: But can you win this struggle? We all know the U.S. position on Iraq. You're very suspicious of Saddam Hussein. But what's happened to the rest of the world, except for the British?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The truth is that there is a lot -- I'm not going to go into the numbers -- but there is a lot of support for this resolution. I think that the majority of the Council -- 11, I believe -- are really for this. There is one good thing about my having had the experience here is this situation really evolves day to day, hour to hour. In my discussions with the other Foreign Ministers that are really involved in this, I think that we all see the importance of dealing with this, and everybody is. I haven't given up, but nor are we going to do a resolution at any price.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, did you make any progress in your meetings with Mr. Shara today? Are the peace talks with Israel any closer to happening?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I thought it was a good meeting, and we're going to be seeing each other again. We are, obviously, working with both sides to move the process forward. No one meeting, I think, becomes kind of pivotal, but it is part of a process.
My sense -- one from when we were in the region and now here again I'm going to be meeting with Foreign Minister Levy -- is that there is an intention to move forward -- from both sides, is my sense, is that there really is a desire to move it forward. I think that there is a seriousness of purpose that I think validates the fact that we keep pushing it forward. That gives us a reason to keep pushing it forward, that seriousness.
But I am not going to say to you that any one meeting is a breakthrough. It is not. But if there were not this seriousness of purpose, I would not be involved in it -- of having meetings and following the process out.
QUESTION: To follow up on that, did Foreign Minister Shara press for any type of U.S. position on the 1967 line? Also, do you have a sense that the Syrians are coming -- or Asad is more willing to come to the table, but only on his terms?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: They have stated over and over again that the line is important to them, and so they state that. Each side states its position. But I think that the point here that I would like to convey to you is that there is this seriousness of purpose that would show that both sides, for whatever reason -- their own internal reasons -- think that there is some importance to moving forward at this period.
But that does not mean, I have to say, that either side at this stage is really stating positions differently then they have before. But all I can tell you is that I have this sense of seriousness about it.
QUESTION: Do you think there is a possibility for a meeting between Shara and Levy here?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't know that. You know, that is not something that's on our agenda.
QUESTION: When you said that you were going to be seeing Shara again, does that mean you're going to see him again here in New York?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We agreed that we would see each other again. We both have fairly wild schedules but he's going to be here for a while and I will, too, and we're working on it.
QUESTION: Are you going to be able to join -- you said it's not on your schedule. But, I mean, is that something you would like to be able to do?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have found that it's useful when the parties talk to each other, but that is not -- I mean I think that all in the fullness of time. I think that the point here is that I don't want to have you say one way or another. It is not something that is on our schedule. I don't know if it's on theirs.
QUESTION: To go back to Iraq, there is still a lot of talk -- at least among the French -- about some sort of statement coming out of the Perm Five meeting this week on Iraq. Can you talk a little bit about what your understanding is of what this statement might be and how does it bring you any closer, if it does, towards a resolution?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I haven't seen the statement. I have to look at it. I don't think you can try to accomplish in a statement what you can't accomplish in a resolution. We've made pretty clear to everybody what it is that our needs are on this that represent really American positions, and it's very hard to separate positions in a statement from what positions would be on a resolution. But I'd have to look at it. I haven't seen it.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Madam Secretary, Chairman Arafat said that he wants to discuss broadening the horizons, as he put it, on the Middle East peace process, especially when he meets with the President this week. Do you know what he's talking about, what ideas he's got in mind?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that what is very important is that he has -- I gather he has made a statement that the phase that was supposed to have been done has been implemented to the letter, which is really quite a good piece of news given how long it has taken all this. And I'm very pleased about that.
Clearly, there have been the initiation of the final status talks and I think he wants to give his assessment to the President about where things are going. I'm going to be meeting with him later myself and I think that he has obviously assessed the possibilities that are open.
I have wanted very much to make sure that the multilateral process goes forward because I think that it's very important for those that are not directly involved to become more directly involved in the Middle East peace process, although I must say the Egyptians who were so remarkably helpful when we were at Sharm El-Sheikh, I think that we made that very clear about President Mubarak and Prime Minister Moussa playing the very important role they played. I would hope they wouldn't stay on the sidelines as we try to move the multilateral process forward.
QUESTION: Do you think that will, in fact, happen? Did you talk to Mr. Moussa about that today?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that they are trying to assess the situation in terms of whether this is the time or not. We'd like to see the process -- as I said at various times on that Middle East trip -- that the Middle East peace process obviously the parties themselves are the nucleus of how to deal with the issue. But within the region it is absolutely essential that other countries begin to be more and more supportive of the Middle East peace process so that the people that are involved in this begin to feel that there are some benefits from it. The subjects that are part of the multilaterals are all kind of people subjects that need to be put into it.
QUESTION: What role would you like to see Egyptians playing in these final talks -- I mean, this final status talks?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think again it would be terrific if they played the kind of role where we can work together to move the process forward. They have an interest in this -- we all do -- and I'd like to see everyone really do their part. It works when we do.
QUESTION: Getting back to Iraq, what are your plans tomorrow to deal with this? Aren't you having lunch with your colleagues? Do you plan a formal meeting perhaps with P-5 colleagues? And when do you think this issue could be wrapped up and do you also have a deadline or an idea of when you want sanctions to become lifted or when they could become lifted or some sort of firm date before which they wouldn't be lifted?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say that what's been going on -- and I have been somewhat otherwise occupied -- is that there are discussions going on all the time among political directors and various levels of people that are working on the resolution. So at this moment I can't tell you what it looks like -- what the negotiations look like - before we meet with the P-5 tomorrow. There have been a number in the last few days, as I said, a variety of levels of people working on this.
I think that we would like to see this move forward. We don't have a deadline but I think that it would be useful to get this resolved. But I go back to what I said to Barry is that we don't want a resolution at any price.
As far as what happens with the sanctions, this is all part of the resolution -- the timing, the conditions under which - those are the kinds of things that we're talking about.
QUESTION: From your experience up here, couldn't there be some sort of compromise that may link steps a little differently between your position, say, and the French position?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: As I said, we don't want this at any price. I think that we have to understand -- we really believe that the Iraqis have to comply with the disarmament tasks. That is an essential part. How it's worded and timing and all that, that's what the bulk of what these discussions are about.
So I don't want to indicate what at this stage - what particular wording is acceptable, but I'm just telling you what it is that we need because we feel very strongly about making sure that disarmament goes forward, and obviously we would like to see the monitors on the ground but they have to have the ability to work effectively.
QUESTION: I want to go back to something you said in your opening remarks about Congress and what you're hearing from your colleagues up here on the arrearages and the budget situation. Surely by now -- you've been at this a long time both as Ambassador and as Secretary and you've been talking to Congress a lot -- they understand, and yet here you are again saying Congress has to understand.
Is the hold-up purely a political thing? Is there a big problem with the way they understand it and the way you understand it?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that the problem is that the legislative schedule has now slowed down and we had really worked a lot on the Helms-Biden bill. I think that it has -- we have agreed to a lot of components of it. We do believe in the reform of the UN.
Part of the problem is that there is a lack of understanding in Congress about the toll it takes on the American position if we don't have the money. We're into a kind of vicious circle where because we don't have the money we don't get what we want at the UN, and because we don't get what we want at the UN those people who are against the UN say you have no influence at the UN, and the UN is not friendly to the United States so why should we give them money? So it's circular.
And up here they don't understand that the benchmarks have to be met in order to get the money distributed. So there is some lack of connect and there are some of us that are in the middle of this -- of trying to explain the American Congress to our colleagues up here and trying to explain our colleagues to the American Congress.
QUESTION: Can I squeeze in a quick one? Left field. But the feeling on the street that something may finally -- speaking of waiting a long time -- something may finally be happening on the Cyprus issue. Is there any sudden disposition by the parties to resolve this? Is there something in the wind?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, the following thing: What's happening is that people are much encouraged by a more positive relationship between the Greeks and the Turks. As I've said, it's kind of hard to believe that there's any silver lining to earthquakes but I think, thanks to the work of Foreign Minister Papandreou and Foreign Minister Cem, and this reciprocal assistance, I think that that has helped a lot.
And, also, the G-8 has asked that -- and others are talking about this -- but the importance of having a meeting under UN auspices and with no pre-conditions. And then, as you know, Prime Minister Ecevit is going to see the President September 28th and, obviously, this is going to be a subject of discussion.
So I think there are kind of enough elements out there but we'll have to see how it progresses.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on what you were saying to Charlie about the UN dues? You're saying that the UN and other countries need to understand how Congress works, and Congress needs to understand that you're sort of hamstrung up here. But isn't it also the case that your own Administration is trying to hold the line on spending and that's angered the UN as well?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, because there are disagreements and have been about what we owe that have to do with the fact that we unilaterally decided that we would pay 25 percent on peacekeeping. There are a whole bunch of details of this where there is some discrepancy.
We asked for full funding. We have asked for full funding of our general foreign policy budget. They have cut us by $2 billion on the general budget. They are not funding our bills at a Presidential request. Not even vaguely what you're suggesting --that we are limiting it because of our effort.
QUESTION: Following up on my colleague's question, you just mentioned that there is a vicious cycle, a vicious circle, between getting the UN and the U.S. to understand each other in some ways. But I'm wondering if you could -- the crux of that in a lot of ways is reform and the way this is being perceived. I wonder if you could tell us how you would evaluate the reform so far at the UN. It's been, what, two years into the process.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think they've done a lot. I think in terms of cutting down the number of staff. The kinds of things that Kofi Annan is able to do that are Secretariat-directed, not member state-directed.
QUESTION: And that's the crux of it. If you could address the members -- I mean, the GA is not very sympathetic to America's calls right now to reform, and I'm wondering --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, partially because one of the issues that happens is as we want to lower our assessment rate, some of these have to go up. So there is the discussion as to who and why, and we believe that a number of economies are capable of doing that.
There are also, obviously, questions about whether the UN's activities -- what happens is that there's a lot of discussion about the UN undertaking more operations of a variety of kinds, for which they believe they need more money. What we're saying is that we will obviously consider each operation on its own, but it needs to have a good budget and the mandate has to be clear, and that we are for a zero nominal growth budget. We are really making clear that the kinds of stringencies that we have put on our own spending needs to be looked at here.
And I think -- I have to be very clear. I think there is no reason to hide it. They resent us deeply because we are not paying, and we are the backbone of the UN. Now, the truth is that we do pay -- and this is where the American Congress generally I think is correct -- is that even when we don't pay our arrears we are still the largest contributor.
So it isn't that everything that we are saying in Washington, both the Administration and the Congress, is wrong; it's just that what is happening up here is that they see us as making certain demands that undercut a bureaucracy that they have some interest in while not providing any money. And it's a mismatch.
QUESTION: Let me try to be provocative to elicit --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Really?
QUESTION: Yes. Isn't the Kosovo Corps sort of an undisguised -- a disguised army?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No. Let me just say I think --
QUESTION: The Serbs are unhappy, at least some of the precincts that we've heard from.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Gee, really?
QUESTION: Yes. Maybe they have a reason.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No.
QUESTION: They're a minority now. Minorities don't do well in Europe.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say this, is that the Kosovo Corps -- I think that you have to understand what it is that generally we, the international community, is trying to do, and that is to try to develop a civil society in Kosovo and develop a number of institutions that would allow them to be able to regulate their daily lives. There was a KLA and during our various negotiations we managed -- the agreement is over demilitarization. That has been managed, which I think is quite remarkable and has not, I think, received enough plaudits.
The other part here is what are those people supposed to do? So what we have tried to do -- and when I say "we" I don't mean the U.S.; this is the UN and the international community, NATO -- is to try to create out of the people that were out in the hills, people that have a role, whether it's in the police, the regular police, or in the Kosovo Corps that would undertake various activities that have to do with emergencies and fires and disaster relief and assistance in this kind, and at the same time I've been talking to the Europeans about the need to have vocational training and various other things to try to absorb a lot of the people.
What I found in various other situations where demilitarization happens is it's very hard to ask people to give up their weapons and not give them anything in exchange in terms of dignity and their own personal worth about what they're going to do -- a job, some kind of role within their society. I think that the Kosovo Corps is one attempt to do that.
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