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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Remarks at Closing Session of White House Conference on Culture and Diplomacy
November 28, 2000, Washington, D.C.
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say how very pleased I am to be back with you, and I am sure that you have had a better time today than I have in the intervening time. (Laughter.) Lots of things have been going on. We've just had an announcement about early elections in Israel. We don't know when or what "early" means, but some changes in terms of the way they're approaching things, and a lot going on.

But I am sure that you all have had a great time, and I thought this morning was sensational and got us off to a terrific start. It is very evident to me that all of the people in this room -- and people who have even called in saying that they've seen all this on C-SPAN or have heard about it -- think it's very evident that we are dealing with a truly crucial and central issue, not a luxury item as far as foreign policy is concerned.

And I think that what is also evident is the amount of experience and knowledge that is represented in this room and in the panels that you've had, and was so evident, I think, in this morning's discussion that went so easily. And there was so much to say and everybody added their -- each person added personal views that were very important.

What we want to do in this final session is to hear reports from the official rapporteurs on the workshop discussions, and I look forward very much to hearing what you have to say and to the ideas that have been presented in many ways as challenges to all of us, and novel approaches about how we deal with it.

So I look forward to hearing all the rapporteurs, and then I'll make some concluding comments. But, truly, I'm so excited about today. We waited a long time to have this happen, and when a conference goes beyond the organizers' expectations, it's really terrific.

So let me begin. All right, housekeeping.

UNDER SECRETARY LIEBERMAN: I would just like to do two housekeeping items before we begin. The first is that I say to my colleagues on stage I'm going to be ruthless about the time. Each of you has five minutes, and I hope you will keep to the time. I know some of your conference chairmen have been very polite; I will not be. (Laughter.)

The second is I just want to thank a number of people who worked very hard to put this conference on and made it a great success besides all of you. And they are Melanne Verveer, Ellen McCulloch Lovell, Bill Bader and the ECA staff, Bill Barrett, Brian Carlson, Sam Wunder, Paul Denig, Phil Walls, the logistics team, and Lisa Cox and the hotel staff. And we're not holding it against you that it was 100 degrees in the rooms upstairs; we were interested anyway.

And, again, thank you all for your participation.


(The reports of the rapporteurs were given.)

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, having heard the reports, I can say with even greater emphasis that I wish I had spent the day with you. (Laughter.)

I have to say also, on a personal note, many of you know that I wasn't born in the United States. I came here when I was 11 with a very different culture. And I think, of various things that affect one's lives, childhood has a great influence. And my parents -- my father was a diplomat and I grew up some in London and some in Czechoslovakia and some in Belgrade, and arrived in the United States and brought our culture with us. And last night I talked about the fact that I was the little girl in the national costume that gave flowers for a living, and clearly my Czechoslovak -- and I deliberately call myself a Czechoslovak -- was my background.

And a lot of people would come and visit from Europe, and they would say, "There's no culture in America." And I got kind of fed up with that as I became a real American. And I know that we get criticized a lot for being nekulturni or a different kind of culture, but to me the strength of this country is the variety of the culture that we have. And so I think that we have a lot to learn from other cultures, but I do think that the United States has a great deal to offer in terms of the way that we have managed to meld the variety of cultures.

But there are ethnic struggles that the President talked about this morning. The truth is that all the people that are fighting somewhere all live in the United States, side by side, and that the ability of this country to absorb all that is quite remarkable.

I look at John Cooke, whom I last saw at Monticello, and I had a great honor to go and have dinner at the house of the first Secretary of State. I always consider it kind of amusing to say I have Thomas Jefferson's job. (Laughter.)

But what this country has added, I hope that people come out of here with a great sense of pride about America and not that we are out there trying to impose everything on everybody, but that in so many ways we are a reflection of what is possible when -- I don't know what term you use now -- cultural diplomacy is used properly.

I think the rapporteurs have done a wonderful job, and I think today's discussion really does show that foreign policy has to have culture at the table, and I think that was the purpose of this meeting and I think a lot has already happened in this way. During the next few weeks we will prepare a report summing up the conclusions of the conference and distribute that report to all the participants and Congress and the media, and my successor - whoever he or she is.

I don't mean to anticipate any of the conclusions, but to me several points really are clear. First, that cultural factors are utterly inseparable from foreign policy. They effect our perceptions of others and others' perceptions of us, and they influence profoundly many of the specific international challenges with which we grapple everyday. They shape our hopes and expectations and our values and our fears. It follows, therefore, that the more we know and understand about other cultures of those with whom we interact -- the more successful our foreign policy will be. I think I've now been to about 120 countries -- and whenever we have a formal dinner there is always some kind of cultural entertainment afterwards which shows various specific aspects of culture. But, what I have found -- and I'd like to tell you -- and this has to do with who said that archeology was so important -- (inaudible) -- is we have tried very hard to talk about how Mexico, Canada and the United States can work together across a broad series of issues, but culture is one of them.

So when I went to Mexico, I went to Oaxaca with Foreign Secretary Green, and we did it on purpose to show that the archeological sites of what it talked about the indigenous culture was so important. And we made a huge fuss about the fact that we had done this together.

When we visited Canada, we were treated to -- at a different conference -- to a very interesting aspect of Canadian culture, which was throat singing, which was very -- was fascinating. And everybody after the performance had to clear their throats in the audience because of the great difficulty, I think, of performing that.

So when I was the host, we had our meetings in Santa Fe -- which by the way is where I picked up -- but we went to Georgia O'Keefe's house, and we also visited a lot about Santa Fe that showed the indigenous Indian and Mexican influence. So this was very practical ways of showing how we can fit foreign policy into -- or culture into foreign policy, and I think made a huge difference as we publicized what we were doing on purpose and not just having dinner.

I think the second thing we have to do is to do a better job of explaining American culture to the world. Harriet, I think your point there is very important. And we can't simply assume that others see us as we would like to see ourselves. To many, the dominant image we convey are those of the multinational corporation, our military or a movie star, and those are only a very small part of a much bigger picture, and we need to emphasize the diversity, democracy and the respect for law.

Third, we have to work together to increase our cultural exchange programs, as has been pointed out, and our artistic and scholarly collaborations with other countries. Cynthia, I think your saying that it was more complicated when artists go somewhere, that there needs to be better training about how this is done, I think that that is very important. And there is a constituency for us moving forward in this kind of exchange program.

Nations today speak to each other on many different levels, and a dialogue between cultures can be one of the most powerful. And the impetus for this conference really did come, as has now been stated proudly a number of times, by the merger of USIA and the Department of State. I think there were doubters, and I think it was one of the best things we have done, and I think it allows us to really explore the possibilities here.

I think also, as has been stated a number of times, funding for cultural and educational programs have been -- there has been a decline in this for 15 years, and the merger has created a new opportunity to integrate our programs into our policy and the budget-making process. And it is based on their proven capacity to contribute to the best interests of the United States, which is what one goes to talk about when you try to get funding from Congress.

Now, I think that it is obvious that for too long, culture has been considered separate from American diplomacy and, as a result, we have not been making the best use of our creative energies. And I hope and believe that our conference this week will mark a turning point and that it will really begin now -- the funding for all this -- to move steadily upward in the right direction to benefit cultural diplomacy and our country in the world.

I think that what has been very important here -- and I think this came up in a number of these reports -- I think there is a kind of a sense that culture is elitist and that it is not something for real people. And, to me, it is the opposite; it is what democracy is about; it is the way the people of a country express themselves. And so I hope that we can turn away from the elitist aspect of this and make so clear that this is democracy envisioned.

And I think your talking about the difference of non-democratic countries and democratic countries, I guess as I said this morning, having been to one of the least democratic countries in the world, North Korea recently, I can tell you that Kim Chong-il watches American movies. He told me he agreed with our Oscar choices. (Laughter.) And maybe a different kind of culture. He loves Michael Jordan, and I brought him a basketball autographed by Michael Jordan. And I think there are whole aspects of American life that penetrate everywhere, and that we should be very proud of that.

I thank you all so very much for all the time that you've spent with us today, and that this is only a beginning. And if I can draw on a metaphor from the arts, the idea of culture of diplomacy is perhaps not a blank canvas, but neither is it a finished and framed work of art at this stage. And so I really do ask for all of you to stay engaged in what we are doing and lend your support in order to try to get a complete picture to go forward.

I can also tell you that as I leave this job I understand increasingly the complexities of our diplomacy and the tools that are available and the richness of our country, and I can just assure you that I plan to stay involved in cultural diplomacy. As I said, I came to this country with the name of Maria Jana Korbelova. I leave it as Madeleine Albright, bearing the name of one of America's most famous artists, Ivan Albright. So I do feel that I am very much a part of the cultural story here, and I will continue to do it.


So with all that, and with great appreciation, I am pleased to announce that the first -- but not the last -- White House Conference on Culture and Diplomacy is adjourned.


[End of Document]
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