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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview on CNN's "Late Edition" With Wolf Blitzer
Geneva, Switzerland, March 26, 2000
As released by the Office of the Spokesman, March 27, 2000
Blue Line

QUESTION: First of all, give us please your assessment of Vladimir Putin.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, he's obviously a very complicated man who has several strands to his background but, as we see him now, he is being very pragmatic. He is dealing with Russia's problems and we are going to have to watch his actions very closely and carefully.

He is showing that he's interested in some serious economic reforms. He has been open to discussion about arms control and nonproliferation issues, which are of major importance to us, but we continue to be very concerned about the campaign in Chechnya. He speaks about it a lot in terms of the problems of terrorism, which obviously every country has to deal with, but we are concerned about the displaced people and some of the terrible humanitarian consequences of the Chechnya campaign.

QUESTION: Is it your sense, though, that this is a leader of Russia that the Clinton Administration, the United States Government, can work with?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say that we work with leaders of various countries that have been selected by their people. That is the job of any government, and we will not only work with him but obviously work with other members of the Russian Government and then various other people throughout the system.

When I met with Vladimir Putin as Acting President, I found him pragmatic, smart, on top of his brief, somebody who is a Russian nationalist but someone I think that we can and must work with.

QUESTION: There has been a lot of attention focused on his KGB background, the fact that he was a KGB agent in Germany during the height of the Cold War. Is that an element that Americans and others in the West should be concerned about, that he was overly influenced perhaps by that KGB background?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I said at one point that we have to kind of stop with the psychobabble about him. He clearly has a background with the KGB, but we have to watch his actions. The Russian people are calling for order. You're there now and you know that. They feel that they've been through a fairly chaotic situation. In my mind, the question is whether it's order with a small "o" or a capital "O." I think that we have to obviously watch his actions.

I am somewhat concerned about the fact that there has not been access by the press to Chechnya and some of the issues to do with the media. There are concerns, but I think that, on the whole, what we see here is a leader who wants to be able to organize Russia in such a way that Russia can play its designated role in the international system. We prefer to have a Russia that we can work with, that has a sense of responsibility about how the international system needs to operate and be stabilized.

QUESTION: The New York Times in an editorial today says that there is some question about his commitment to democracy, noting that he is "ambivalent about press freedoms," something that you just raised in the course of your comments. And others here in Moscow are telling me they also wonder how committed Vladimir Putin is to democracy.

In your assessment, how committed is he?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we're going to have to see. He certainly uses all the right vocabulary and talks about the importance of having the support of the people. I think it's a mistake to prejudge him. It looks as though he is going to win this election. It's historic that the Russians are having such an election, that there is a transfer of power in a democratic and constitutional way, that the people have gone to the polls, that they are expressing their views.

I think that it's very important for the United States to be realistic about Putin and about Russia, but I don't think we should prejudge him in the way that some of the comments are. I think we've just got to see what his actions are. His words are okay, but we have to watch his actions.

QUESTION: A lot of Russians say they like Vladimir Putin and that his popularity has increased in recent months because of the crackdown in Chechnya, what many outsiders here see as a brutal campaign, a devastating campaign with an abuse of human rights in Chechnya. How much of an impact does that policy, the Russian military policy in Chechnya -- and we've all seen those devastating pictures of what's been going on over there -- how much of an impact will that have on US-Russian relations?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think it will have an impact. I think the people that I've spoken with are concerned about the kinds of things that are happening in Chechnya. You know, I left the President's trip in India in order to come to Geneva to give a speech before the Human Rights Commission, and among the various things that I criticized throughout the world that we felt were not up to snuff in terms of human rights was certainly Chechnya. It is very much on our minds. We believe that there have been excesses.

We have called for the possibility of an international observer presence there. The International Red Cross, the Human Rights Commission and Mary Robinson should be able to go in. There should be investigations and transparency there. So, clearly, Americans are troubled. Europeans are troubled.

I think that while Mr. Putin and many of the Russian people agree with this campaign, we do not believe that there is a military solution to the problem of Chechnya. We hope very much that very quickly now after his election that there will be a political dialogue that will resolve the issues in Chechnya.

QUESTION: Many of Mr. Putin's associates here in Moscow -- I've been here over the past few days -- have raised questions about George W. Bush's statement that the United States, if he were President, would, if necessary, unilaterally abrogate the ABM Treaty, the Antiballistic Missile Treaty, in order to build a defense missile shield in the United States.

They say that would severely rupture US-Russian relations. What do you say about that?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We believe that the ABM Treaty is central to the arms control regimes that we've had up until now, and we also think that it can be adjusted and amended in a way that if the President should make the decision to deploy the NMD, that the ABM Treaty could be adjusted in a way to make that possible. The ABM Treaty has been amended before, so abrogating it is not something that the Clinton Administration is favoring. What we're favoring is, if the President decides to deploy the NMD, to have an amendment and adjustment of the ABM to be able to suit that.

QUESTION: On an issue that many American officials see as a source of great concern, Russian cooperation with Iran in the development of Iran's nuclear reactors. How serious of a problem is this, and is this a step that could help Iran develop a nuclear bomb?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have been very concerned about the transfer of technology to Iran. Nuclear reactor -- the peaceful uses is something else. But we are very concerned generally about the transfer of technology, the proper export controls, and we have been having discussions with the Russians about transfer of technology. That has been a concern, and they have taken some steps which we believe are useful, but more steps are necessary. It has been an issue of concern for us.

QUESTION: And just ahead, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright discusses prospects for peace in the Middle East and more. Late Edition from Moscow will be right back.

(Break.)

QUESTION: -- Madeleine Albright, who joined us from Geneva, Switzerland.

Madame Secretary, on the situation in the Middle East, the two tracks that the Clinton Administration is pursuing in the peace process, one involving the Israelis and the Palestinians; the second -- you're in Geneva today with the President -- involving the Israelis and the Syrians. Which of these two tracks has a greater chance of success during the remaining months of the Clinton Administration?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I'm not going to make bets on that. We are doing everything we can to get a comprehensive peace. The President and I and others have invested a tremendous amount of time in this. Ambassador Ross has gone back and forth many times, as you know, to work on both tracks, and we also want the track on Lebanon to work. We have been working on a comprehensive peace, and the talks on the Palestinian track at expert level are going on now outside of Washington. We are here in Geneva today because President Clinton believes that it's important to meet with President Assad to assess needs and policies.

We've been talking to Prime Minister Barak many, many times, and so now we've been trying to get the parties to bring their positions closer together on the Israeli-Syrian track, and we will continue to do that. We're going to try, as we can, on all tracks. But as you know, Wolf, it's very hard. The people themselves have to make the decision. We can facilitate and we can ask questions and we can try to make assessments, but the parties themselves have to make the hard decisions.

The President, in a conversation yesterday, said on the Syrian track that, "The distance is short but the walk is hard."

QUESTION: When you say "the walk is hard," I was in Geneva in 1994 covering President Clinton's meeting then with President Assad. And as you will remember, there was great disappointment that President Assad at that time did not utter the words that many Administration officials had hoped he would utter. Has there been a shift, a serious substantive shift in Syria's attitude towards peace with Israel, that you think could result in the kind of breakthrough that you've been pushing for?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, again, I don't want -- I think we have to be realistic about this. These two countries have been at odds for a very long time. On the other hand, the Syrians did come to the talks at Blair House and Shepherdstown. In my conversations with President Assad, he has indicated that he would like to find a solution -- and so has Prime Minister Barak. And so what we're doing is trying to see how we can be helpful in bringing them together and trying to reduce the distance between them.

But again, one thing that I've learned, Wolf, is not to predict success on any of these talks. They're very difficult. Each has its own dynamic. The President is putting a lot of effort into this, but there's no guarantees here. And all we can do is really try and see what the attitudes and needs and positions are, which is why the President is meeting with President Assad.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, another issue that is of great concern to many Americans, namely the price of gasoline. As you know the, OPEC oil ministers are meeting in Vienna tomorrow to discuss whether to increase production, which presumably would result in a decrease in the price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States and elsewhere around the world.

Many Republicans have criticized the Clinton Administration's policy of, in effect they say, begging these oil ministers, friendly oil states, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, to go ahead and increase production. Is it unseemly? Is their criticism justified?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Definitely it is not justified. I mean, what we've been doing is consulting with the producing countries in order to try to get a way for them to make a decision to stabilize prices that would be suitable for consumers as well as the producers. I think this is the way things are done and they obviously make their own decisions, but it's important to get those prices stabilized.

QUESTION: Do you think they will be stabilized as a result of the OPEC meeting in Vienna?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Always hopeful, but it's hard to tell. Again, they have their meeting tomorrow. We'll see how it comes out.

QUESTION: All right, and we'll all be watching. Madame Secretary, thanks so much for taking some time from your busy schedule. Good luck in your peace efforts in Geneva and beyond.

[End of Document]
Blue Line

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