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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal   Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview by CNN's Worldview
Jerusalem, December 8, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

MR. BLITZER: U.S. officials say the broad outline of an Israeli-Syrian deal is clear: Israel withdraws from the Golan Heights; in exchange, the Syrians agree to its demilitarization and a full peace treaty with Israel along the lines of Egypt and Jordan.

U.S. officials say they are encouraged, convinced both Prime Minister Barak and President Asad are ready for such a deal this time around. They say Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was especially encouraged by what she heard from President Asad this week. They also say progress on the Israeli-Syrian front should go a long way in helping the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations as well.

Judy.

MS. WOODRUFF: Wolf, why the breakthrough now?

MR. BLITZER: They think there's a fundamental commitment on the part of Prime Minister Barak to accept -- to bite the bullet, which is the complete withdrawal of the Israelis from the Golan Heights. That's been the major barrier as far as the Syrians are concerned, and they also think that for the first time now the Syrians are sending signals they will have to pay the price; if they want that full kind of withdrawal, they're going to have to accept the price of going ahead with the full kind of peace, just like the way the Egyptians did it, the Jordanians did it and, presumably, now the Syrians would do it. If they are going to go forward and get the Golan Heights, they're going to have to pay the price the Israelis want.

MS. WOODRUFF: All right. Wolf Blitzer, thank you very much.

Well, joining us now from our Jerusalem bureau, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Madame Secretary, thank you for being with us. Referring back to what Wolf Blitzer was reporting, does this mean that the Israelis, that Prime Minister Barak, is now committed to giving up the Golan Heights to Syria?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't believe that that is really an accurate description. What has happened here is that there really is a sense that there is a historical moment to be seized, and these talks are going to include four subjects: the withdrawal, the content or the character of the peace, the security arrangements, and the timetable.

And what is remarkable is this is the first time, really, that high level officials, Syrian and Israeli, are going to be talking about these subjects, and I believe that the reason that this moment has come is that they both have confidence that their needs will be met through talks that are going to be very difficult.

Judy, I came to the Middle East this time basically to do an assessment as to where we were on various tracks so that we would know where we stand at the end of the 20th century, and what I found even as the trip began was with the Crown Prince Abdallah, for instance, in Saudi Arabia, a sense that the moment needed to be seized. And when I arrived in Damascus, I found a President Asad who also seemed to understand the historical moment and, I think, showed some flexibility in his approach.

And then I came to Jerusalem where I met with Prime Minister Barak, who also was determined to seize the moment. And that is true also in my meetings with Chairman Arafat who, obviously, is negotiating very hard on the Palestinian track, which is the Palestinian issue is really at the core of a comprehensive peace. So there's just kind of a sense that the time is right for these talks to come together, but nobody has any illusions about how difficult they're going to be.

MR. SHAW: Secretary Albright, diplomatically and even practically, can the Israelis negotiate for peace with the Syrians and the Palestinians at the same time?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We believe that they can because there has been an awful lot of work done already. There are a lot of people that are very dedicated to this and, in some ways, these two tracks obviously work together. And others -- and also let's not forget the Lebanese track -- they will each be taking place on their own timetable.

But we believe because there is such a desire to move this forward, that where there's a will there's a way, and that it is possible to do all this at the same time.

MS. WOODRUFF: Madame Secretary, when you said a moment ago that it's not accurate to say that the Israelis, that Prime Minister Barak, is prepared to give up the Golan Heights, are you saying that there has not been that sort of psychological groundwork laid here in order to even enter into these talks with Syria?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I said what I said because I think it is inappropriate to go into the detail of what either side is prepared to give up or to give. I think that it is most accurate to talk about the four areas that are going to be discussed. Obviously, withdrawal from the Golan Heights is one of the issues that is to be discussed.

But I don't want to in any way predict what is in Prime Minister Barak's mind. Clearly, that is a subject to be discussed.

MR. SHAW: Secretary Albright, obviously you've been doing a lot of listening for the past few days there in the Middle East, and we're aware that there's a February deadline for the Israelis and the Palestinians to agree on how to proceed to a settlement.

In your judgment, are the prospects good? Or are they stagnant?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the other thing that happened here, Bernie, is that while there clearly have been certain problems in the Palestinian track, what I've found in my discussions with Chairman Arafat is that he committed himself to work through the problems and to carry on the negotiations in an uninterrupted way in order to be able to reach a goal by February 13th. So there was a commitment to good faith negotiations in an uninterrupted way, even though clearly there are difficult parts to that negotiation also.

MS. WOODRUFF: Madame Secretary, let me turn to another subject in the news today, and that is China-Taiwan -- a report today that China is building a second short-range missile base that would allow it to target the military bases on Taiwan. Does this concern you? Does it concern the administration, and specifically your ability to defend Taiwan, if necessary?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say, Judy, I obviously have been occupied here. But let me say that, generally, we would like to see the China-Taiwan issue resolved peacefully, through peaceful negotiations. We have our commitments through the Taiwan Relations Act, and we believe in a One China policy. I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment more specifically on that since I have been totally immersed in the Middle East.

MR. SHAW: Well, let us take you to the Caribbean, notwithstanding your presence there in the Middle East, Madame Secretary. Why is the United States giving Cuban President Fidel Castro an issue by not returning the Cuban boy who is in the United States?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Again, this is an issue that has to be handled by the proper legal authorities, an issue that there are all kinds of cases to do with immigration. And I think that I have been in touch with Washington and asked the people in the State Department dealing with this to look at the legal aspects of this, as well as the humanitarian ones.

MS. WOODRUFF: Is it possible that the United States could end up keeping this boy?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to speculate on that. I have asked that the people in our Department that are responsible for this look at the various angles, which include legal as well as humanitarian.

MR. SHAW: Secretary Albright, in your wildest dreams, did you ever envision that Russian troops would be surrounding a town, Grozny, threatening to attack people if they don't get out and zeroing in on rebels against the government in Moscow?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I have made quite clear in my conversations with Foreign Minister Ivanov that we believe that this approach is completely wrong, that they need to have a political settlement, that dealing in this way with innocent civilians is inappropriate, that clearly we have been concerned, as they have, with terrorist activities, generally.

But I do believe that this is the wrong way to go about it. I've been in touch with a lot of European foreign ministers who are very concerned about Russian actions, and the Russians are isolating themselves by taking what we consider untoward military action.

MR. SHAW: Secretary Albright, it's late where you are. You must be tired. I would be. We thank you for sharing your time with us.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Very good to be with you.

[End of Document]
Blue Line

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