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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal   Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview by CNN Worldview and Press Stakeout following Interview outside CNN Studios
Washington, D.C., February 8, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

MR. SHAW: Joining us now to discuss this latest Middle East peace setback and other issues is United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Madame Secretary, if all parties don't exercise the "maximum restraint" that the State Department has called for, what do you foresee?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think that it's very important that we don't get involved here -- or they -- in a cycle of violence. The peace process is one that obviously goes through ups and downs. It is very difficult, and we have arrived at a stage where the parties themselves have to make some very fateful decisions. The fact that it has taken this many years to get this all done is a sign of the very many difficult decisions that they have to make. The fact that this all started -- the Hizballah, in fact, do not have a stake in peace. This is one of the things that happens as you begin to have some success in the peace process, that those who do not have a stake in it try to take action. We hope very much and are encouraging restraint.

I had a conversation the last couple of days several times with Foreign Minister Shara of Syria and urged them to do what they can to control the activities of the Hizballah, and hope very much that there is not an escalation. There is a Monitoring Group that was set up in '96 in order to try to prevent escalation here. That Monitoring Group we believe should be meeting and should deal with this in a way that it does not escalate further.

MS. WOODRUFF: Madame Secretary, this is Judy Woodruff. My question to you is: Have the Israelis overreacted here? There are those who are saying they have escalated; not only that, they're saying they're going to ignore this four-year-old agreement not to involve civilians.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me do the last point first. They have actually not said that they were going to ignore the agreement. I believe that the reason that they took this step is that they have been taking casualties, and they want to make very clear to the Hizballah that they will not put up with taking casualties -- but they are not ignoring the '96 understandings. The Monitoring Group needs to meet in order to deal with the problems.

MS. WOODRUFF: So reports to the contrary are in error?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes. I think that that is not a -- to my understanding, that is not a correct assessment of what the Israelis said.

MR. SHAW: Barry Schweid, the Associated Press' diplomatic correspondent has moved the story, saying that Lebanon's ambassador has accused the Israelis of targeting civilians, and the ambassador has called on the Clinton Administration to stop the Israeli attacks.

Your reaction?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think that as I said I think the Israelis have hit infrastructure and the power plants. I don't think that they are going after civilians, but they did want to send a very strong signal. A number of their military have died as a result of attacks by the Hizballah that have been launched out of villages, which is something that is not part of the understandings of '96.

MS. WOODRUFF: Madame Secretary, the United States has clearly been deeply involved in the region. President Clinton has made numerous phone calls since the latest round and even previous rounds of negotiations were underway. Has he been involved in the last 48 hours making phone calls here?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The President -- we have kept him fully informed in this. I have been making a lot of the phone calls. We all have. The President is obviously very concerned. He has invested a great deal of time in this and will continue to do so.

MR. SHAW: At the beginning of this interview you underscored, in your words, the need to avoid getting into a cycle of violence. In a word, without -- well, I'll just ask you. Tell us where, exactly where, are the Syrians and the Israelis on a peace agreement and the Israelis and the Palestinians? How close are they, Madame Secretary?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: As I said, they have decisions to make, all the parties on both the tracks. The talks that we had on the Syrian track here, first at Blair House and at Shepherdstown, I think that the process was able to move forward. As you remember from the time there had not been meetings of this high level in a number of years, and the fact that they were together and we were actually discussing the issues that are central to the Syrian track -- withdrawal, security, water, and the timing of all this -- I think was very important.

I think progress was made, but there is an awful lot left to do and we can expect to continue to try to move this process forward. But as I said, they have to make the decisions.

On the Palestinian track, they've had a lot of ups and downs, back and forth. They are still working out the interim agreements, the Sharm el Sheik agreement. I believe that after some discussion and difficulties we'll get it back on track. I have gotten, I have to say, kind of used to the ups and downs in this, and we are not the ones that can make the decisions. They have to make the decisions, and the U.S. is always prepared to be as helpful as we can.

Ambassador Ross was in the region last week. He's going back again, and we're just going to keep at it. What we do not want is to have it be disrupted by a cycle of violence.

MS. WOODRUFF: Madame Secretary, just one last very quick question about Chechnya. You told the Senate today that you believe the war in Chechnya will go on even though the Russians have pretty much overrun the capital city of Grozny. Are you saying that you think the rebels there still have considerable strength?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm concerned about the fact, and this is what we have been telling the Russians, that while they may have control of Grozny, that the rebels have withdrawn to the south and the west into the mountains. These are guerrilla fighters who I believe do have resources in order to keep coming back. And, therefore, we have said -- I said it to Acting President Putin -- that we don't see a military solution to Chechnya; there has to be political dialogue and a way for ultimately the status of Chechnya to be resolved within the Russian Federation through political dialogue.

MS. WOODRUFF: All right, Madame Secretary. Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State for the United States, we thank you very much for joining us.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you Judy and Bernie.

MS. WOODRUFF: Thank you.

MR. SHAW: Thank you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thanks.

[End CNN Interview. Followed by press stakeout outside CNN studios.]

MR. RUBIN: They have a few questions for you.

QUESTION: What the Lebanese Ambassador said: he said Israel is violating the '96 agreement in intentionally targeting civilians, and Hizballah is fighting fair. He doesn't say they're not attacking soldiers, but they're not using civilians as cover.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think as I stated, that basically what the Israelis have done is to send a very strong signal about the fact that they don't want this escalating. The Hizballah is -- if one is talking about the '96 understandings -- they are launching some of their attacks out of villages. That is not a part of the '96 understandings.

The Israelis, in contrast to what has been reported, have not said that they will not abide by the '96 understandings, and we believe that the Monitoring Group, which was set up in '96, needs to meet to deal with this so that there is not an escalation.

QUESTION: They said the Israelis are hitting power stations. You know, they say that they're hitting the civilian infrastructure -- I mean, the Ambassador says.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, they are hitting power stations, and I think that they are sending a very strong signal. They have, however, lost a number of their military and they want to make sure that the message is received. There is no question about that.

But what we would like to avoid is an escalation here and a cycle of violence, and we think that the Monitoring Group needs to deal with this. I have spoken to Foreign Minister Shara to see what the Syrians can do more to control the Hizballah.

QUESTION: And what was their response?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, they basically say that they're doing what they can, but I think the problem here is that the Hizballah -- I mean, this is not so unlikely as we move towards progress and peace -- this happens in many places, that those extreme groups, terrorists who have no interest in peace, take their various actions. It's up to those who can have some control over them to make it clear that this is not the way to solve the problem.

QUESTION: The White House guidance, the prescription, their answer, was: Go the Monitoring Group. Is that what you're suggesting?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, that's what I'm saying: it was set up to do this. They have been able to defuse a number of situations that are not dissimilar, and these '96 understandings have worked. What I would really like to see is not to have a cycle of violence; the Monitoring Group work; and for us to be able to continue the kind of preparing the ground on the Syrian track with the Israelis in order to be able to move the process forward.

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Ross going back to work on this problem or to work the peace problem, or are they the same problem?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, he is a multifaceted negotiator.

QUESTION: He used to do Russia, too.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, he's not going to do that this time but he is tuned in to all parts of this problem, obviously, and will do what he can.

QUESTION: When is he going?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Next week.

QUESTION: Are the Syrians correct when they say that both you and Foreign Minister Shara are calling for this urgent, immediate meeting of the Monitoring Group?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, yes. I mean, we are calling for it. The Israelis I think have said that they also -- I don't have their exact words, but it's my understanding that the Monitoring Group --

QUESTION: But it's not a joint call, is it?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, no.

QUESTION: The US is calling for it?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes.

QUESTION: You don't need Syria to --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No.

QUESTION: -- hold your hand, join hands with you?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No.

[End of Document]
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