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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview on CNN's "Late Edition" by Wolf Blitzer
January 7, 2001, Washington, DC
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

QUESTION: Let's talk about this effort, what President Clinton has been trying to achieve. Do you have, first of all, any readout yet on what is happening in Cairo with George Tenet's meeting with the Israeli and Palestinian security chiefs?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say that on the last time that Chairman Arafat was here and in our subsequent conversations with the Israelis and the Palestinians, the issue of violence and trying to cut it down has been one of the major aspects because it's very hard to have the peace process and the talks go on in a really definite way if the violence continues. We have been doing everything we can in terms of trying to get the violence cut down, and I gather that the last couple of days have been a little bit better.

QUESTION: And George Tenet, the CIA Director who may presumably stay on, at least for the time being, as the CIA Director in the Bush Administration, a lot of people are confused. Why is he playing this role in brokering the security arrangements between the Israelis and the Palestinians?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't think it's really appropriate for me to comment on his role because he is someone that has been very important generally to our Administration, a brilliant CIA Director, and I think one who has really made that agency work very, very well. I think it's very important for us to be able to use whomever we can in a way to try to lessen the violence, and so that is what's happening.

QUESTION: A lot of people are now suggesting, including the Israelis publicly, that it's almost certainly unlikely that President Clinton in these final two weeks is going to be able to achieve this final Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

Is that your sense as well?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say this: I think there is a misunderstanding in many ways about what President Clinton is trying to do and why he is trying to do it. What has been very evident to me throughout the entire process in which I've been deeply involved is that President Clinton has a unique capability; and the people in the region, the leaders in the region, come to him and say, "Do something." In endless phone calls that I have with European leaders and Arab leaders, they all see President Clinton as playing a truly crucial role, a unique role, because of his ability to listen and conceptualize.

QUESTION: You know the criticism has been that President Clinton is primarily interested in his legacy, and that's why he's been so actively involved these last several months.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I could end my career as Secretary of State with a barnyard expletive, but I will not do that. What is true is that he is called upon to fulfill this role. He is working very hard. What he has done in the last two or three weeks is, on the basis of his really very careful listening to both sides over the last years, he has used his judgment and presented some ideas that have come to be known as parameters about what he thinks it takes to solve the issue.

He is going to be giving a speech tonight in New York in which he is going to lay this out a little bit more, because I think that he has played a role that he has been called upon to play, not one into which he has inserted himself.

QUESTION: And yet there is criticism, as you well know, of the President for perhaps causing more damage than results. In fact, an editorial in today's Washington Post -- let me read an excerpt for you and we'll put it up on our screen. "The peace accord that could be struck has been tarnished by Mr. Barak's ineptness at politics, Mr. Clinton's overeagerness to conclude a deal, and, most of all, by Mr. Arafat's weakness and refusal to compromise."

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I disagree completely. First of all, Prime Minister Barak has been bold and courageous in putting forward ideas for dealing with the peace process. He was elected on a peace mandate, and he has worked it very hard.

President Clinton has been called upon -- I can't express it any more clearly than that -- by the parties and also by a variety of outside leaders. And I am sorry that Chairman Arafat -- with whom we have talked so, so much -- I hope he doesn't lose this opportunity. So I think that he also -- Chairman Arafat -- has some difficult decisions to make. Prime Minister Barak has some difficult decisions to make. These are existential to these two peoples.

What we have been trying to do is to help them along, not insert ourselves. So I think nothing would have happened if it hadn't been for President Clinton and our team.

QUESTION: And yet Larry Eagleburger, one of your predecessors, was on CNN this past week on Tuesday, and had some strong words of advice for President Clinton. Listen to what Larry Eagleburger had to say: "I think it's time the President cooled it and left it for the next administration. I didn't say that a month ago, but I think it's reached the point now he really ought to stop."

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: You know, I started my term as UN Ambassador with a strong disagreement from Larry Eagleburger about what we were doing in Bosnia, and I hate to end my tenure as Secretary of State by having a disagreement with Larry Eagleburger because we've had fabulous relationships in between. But I think he's wrong, and I think it's very important for the President to do what he can do while he has the ability to do it.

We're going to keep working on trying to develop some way to get them to agree on some basic principles because I think it's useful to the next administration. Frankly, in my conversations with my successor, I think they have found that it would be wonderful if we could take this off the table. We are not obviously going to be able to take it off the table completely, but I think if there are things that we can do in the remaining two weeks with this very special President, I think we ought to try.

QUESTION: You know, the two issues that seem to be the most difficult right now involve sovereignty over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, what the Arabs call the Haram as-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, and the return of Palestinian refugees to Israel proper. Some 4 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants, they at least want to have the right to return to Israel from the homes they left in '48 and '49.

The Israeli Prime Minister earlier today, Ehud Barak, was very forceful on these issues. Listen to what he said earlier today: "Let me say it loud and clear. We will not agree to the right of return into Israel, and I do not intend to sign any document that passes sovereignty over the Temple Mount to the Palestinians."

Can there be an agreement if he holds firm on these two points: no return for the Palestinians to Israel and no Palestinian sovereignty over those holy sites in East Jerusalem?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The way that the parameters have been presented to them, they are a balance in terms in which neither side can get 100 percent of what it wants. Obviously a lot of this is how -- the definition of it.

But I think that one of the points that's been made is that basically if the Palestinians were to have their own state, which is theoretically what would emerge from a comprehensive agreement, then why would they need to go to Israel. Every country that accepts refugees, whether it's the United States or France or Israel -- people should have a right to have their own admissions policies.

But there are huge numbers of Palestinians. They need to be able to go back to a Palestinian homeland. And there are various ways that these parameters accommodate these aspects of it.

QUESTION: So let me just get this clear. What the US position is, the Palestinians should be allowed to go to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and perhaps any part of Jerusalem that it might obtain, but not necessarily to Israel?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: There are ideas that we have presented that would make it possible for the Palestinians to be able to go back to their homeland. And I think it's obviously a complex issue, but one of the issues is generally how do Palestinians live within an Israeli state, and how Israeli Arabs integrate and work. These are the issues, the very, very difficult issues, that we're dealing with.

QUESTION: Is Barak backing away from an earlier indication that he would accept Palestinian sovereignty over the Temple Mount, the Haram as-Sharif?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that a lot of it -- the Israelis have come in with certain clarifications or reservations to the parameters, the Palestinians have, and what we're doing now is trying to reconcile those different interpretations of our parameters. But the President has also made very clear that this is a package that, in many ways, once it gets unbalanced, it doesn't work. It's his best judgment of really how things can be worked out. We just have to keep working it as long as we can.

QUESTION: There is a new poll in Israel that just came out, a Gallup poll, which says that among likely voters in Israel, the choice for Israeli Prime Minister -- the elections are a month from now -- Ariel Sharon, the Likud leader, 50 percent; Ehud Barak, 22 percent. Looks like he's in deep trouble right now.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I tell you, one, we don't interfere in Israeli politics; and, two, I wouldn't dream of predicting.

QUESTION: I want to move on to a lot of other subjects coming up, but there is a story today coming out from Rome that the Italian media are reporting that the threat, the reason the US closed down the US Embassy in Rome on Friday, at least for a few days, was that there was a report that Usama bin Laden, the international terrorist, was plotting a plan to blow up the US Embassy in Rome.

Is that true?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to comment on the specific aspects of that, but we were and are concerned about the threats not only to our Embassy but various of our installations in Italy. We are working with the Italian Government very carefully and closely, and really making judgments about what to do.

I was supposed to take a call from Foreign Minister Dini but I came here, and I am going to talk to him later this afternoon.

QUESTION: So, presumably, you get some more information about the nature of this threat, how realistic it was?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes.

QUESTION: All right. Madeleine Albright, stand by. We're going to take a quick break. A lot more to talk about.

During her four years as a America's top diplomat, she visited more countries than any other US Secretary of State in history, including those who served a lot longer. We'll ask her about some of her traveler's tales when Late Edition continues.

(Commercial break.)

QUESTION: Madeleine Albright, back in 1996 when she was nominated to become the first woman to serve as the US Secretary of State. Welcome back to Late Edition. We're continuing our conversation with Secretary Albright.

Probably, I'm guessing, the highlight of your tenure as Secretary of State, and perhaps even earlier as the UN Ambassador, was your outspoken position on the Balkans and Bosnia and Kosovo. You remember that Time Magazine cover from 1999, May 17th -- we'll show it on the screen -- "Albright at War." Others called it "Madeleine's War."

It was a great achievement, I take it, from your perspective, but was it too late because of the killings that preceded the end of that fighting?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I wish we could have been involved earlier. From the time that I was Ambassador at the UN I believed that we needed to have intervention earlier. The reason that I believed all that is that, you know, what I have learned -- and I hope my successor will learn also -- is that we are a part of a continuum of foreign policy. Tthe first President Bush, in fact, was the one who reunified Germany and talked about a Europe whole and free. They clearly had a different view about the falling apart of Yugoslavia.

But for us, we felt that the absence of the Balkans in a Europe whole and free was the missing piece of the puzzle. The venom and the refugees and the horrible things that were happening and spewing out of the Balkans was something that was potentially destabilizing to Europe, would have an effect on our relationship with Russia and the Middle East, and therefore it was essential to do something.

So I wish we could have done something sooner. But, Wolf, I am so glad we did what we did in the end. It made a huge difference.

QUESTION: Well, you know, speaking about your successor and what you could have done earlier, you did have a run-in with Colin Powell in 1993. You were the UN Ambassador; he was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In his autobiography he writes this, referring to the situation in the Balkans: "Madeleine Albright, our Ambassador to the UN, asked me in frustration, ‘What's the point of having the superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?' I thought I would have an aneurysm. American GIs are not toy soldiers to be moved around on some sort of global game board."

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, it would never occur to me that our soldiers were toy soldiers to be moved around on a game board, and I have had the highest respect for our military. What was a little bit ironic about that -- and Colin and I are very good friends and we had a conversation about this later -- which was that at the time his book came out was exactly when the military force applied in Bosnia was working. So I made a comment saying that that's the problem with books; they take too long to edit and that it turned out that I was right about the limited application of limited force in the Balkans; it has worked.

QUESTION: But, you know, he has these Powell Doctrine rules when you engage US troops. You're stepping back now. He's about to step in. What advice do you have on the use of military power around the world in the face of -- whether it's for humanitarian or national security purposes, what advice do you give him?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm sure that a lot of people think it takes gall for a mere mortal female to argue with a general, but I truly do believe that in this day and age the role of the United States makes a difference; our engagement makes a difference. Not just in terms of where we use our military, but generally how we apply our influence.

I think that the situations that will be presented to Secretary Powell will be the kind that will make him -- and everybody -- understand what we have learned in the last eight years, which is that you have to have a choice between doing everything, the way it happened in the Gulf War, or doing nothing.

What has happened as a combination of a lot of work that I have done and others have done is to develop the peacekeeping part of the United Nations where peacekeepers can be sent in, not normally with American ground troops but with American support, or the limited application of limited force by NATO. We need to use what we have.

That's all I've been arguing for is that in order to have a really strong diplomacy it needs to be backed by force; and at various times, the use of force has to be backed by diplomacy. This is a symbiotic relationship, and I don't think -- I've had lots of conversations since with General Powell, and I think he is going to be examining all the issues. Life is very different from eight years ago.

QUESTION: You know, when you were the UN Ambassador, probably the most famous sound bite that you uttered was the one we're about to play. I want you to listen to this.

"I was struck by the joy of these pilots in committing cold-blooded murder and their use of common vulgarity to describe what they needed to shoot down unarmed civilians. Frankly, this is not cojones. This is cowardice."

You were referring to the shootdown of an American civilian plane on its way to Cuba, or allegedly in Cuban airspace -- the US says it was not in Cuban airspace -- and thus the pilot and the other people on that plane were killed.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes. What had happened was that the night that this all happened, we were in the Security Council and I had a transcript of the conversation that these pilots were having. It was stunning because there was glee and the use of the only Spanish word I know over and over again. I was struck by the fact that they thought they were being so macho about everything, and I felt that it was a cowardly act.

It was the most, most unfortunate act because we had all been trying to sort out how we could develop a different relationship with Cuba. One of the great regrets that I have is that I have not been Secretary at a period when things will change in Cuba, because they have to.

QUESTION: Probably the other -- that may have been an important sound bite. The other low sound bite that you had was this one, and I want to play it for you and give you a chance to reflect on that as well. Listen to this:

"I believe that the allegations are completely untrue."

Bill Daley and you and Donna Shalala emerging from a Cabinet meeting with the President in which he denied any sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. You look back on that moment. It was a sad moment for you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, it was, and the whole aspect of this was very unpleasant. But I do think that President Clinton is going to go down in history as a most remarkable President. Yesterday he had a party at the White House where people went over all the things that President Clinton has done in his term and domestic policy and in foreign policy. He has changed the way that the US is viewed internationally and our involvement globally and dealing with a whole host of different issues. I am very, very proud to be his Secretary of State.

QUESTION: All right. What's next for Madeleine Albright? A lot of talk now, buzz you're going to be writing a book, some suggesting maybe it's inappropriate for you to be negotiating a book deal while you're still Secretary of State.

What is next on your agenda?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I am going to write a book and I'm looking forward to it. You know, my life has reflected the 20th Century in many ways, and what I've done as Secretary of State is try to prepare the State Department and the world for 21st Century foreign policy. So I'm going to write a reflective book.

I also have lived in Washington for 30 years. I know a lot of people. I know a lot of things that have happened. I'm looking forward to writing it. But I'm obviously not going to do anything about it until I'm out, and it's going to be a lot of work and I'm looking forward to it. I do think that in many ways people who have held these jobs temporarily -- as I have, as we all have -- have an obligation to history to write about what happened.

QUESTION: And the fact that you were the first woman Secretary of State and now we're going to get a female National Security Advisory, Condoleeza Rice, student of your father, your late father.

Is there anything special about having a woman in these kinds of major national security positions?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The answer to that is yes and no, frankly. I mean, when I go out in the world representing the US, it doesn't matter what gender I am, or in Colin Powell's case what color he is, because we represent the United States and that's what's all important.

But for me, I have -- I think it has made a difference to be a woman. First of all, we've raised a whole host of different issues. We've made women's issues central to foreign policy. So not because just because we're feminists, but because when societies are able to use women economically and politically, societies that have more than half their population female, it makes for more stable societies.

We have made clear that trafficking in human beings, women, is a criminal act. So there have been policy aspects. But some of it is personal and relationships that I've been able to develop, and something that I didn't quite know that I had in me but kind of a combination of being tough and telling it like it is, and yet kind of a normal, nurturing, humanity aspect to me. So I think it's been good. I think there may be some advantage to being a woman.

And what was fun, when Condee Rice, who is a personal friend, was named, one of my daughters called up and said, "You know what, Mom? Nobody has said there's now a woman National Security Advisor because you made the difference." And nice comments from one's daughters are always welcome.

QUESTION: All right, we appreciate that. Thank you so much, Madeleine Albright. You are very kind to us these past three years that I've been moderating this program to join us on several occasions, and I'm sure you'll be back even in your capacity as a private citizen.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It has always been a pleasure, Wolf. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Madame Secretary.

[End of Document]
Blue Line

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