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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Richard Boucher, Department of State Spokesman
Press Briefing at the Carl T. Rowan Briefing Room
January 9, 2001, Washington, DC
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
Blue Line

MR. BOUCHER: Shall I introduce you?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: If they don't know me yet, we're in deep trouble.


MR. BOUCHER: We'll allow Barry to take his seat.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Wow. There are lots of reasons I'm sorry I'm leaving, but this is really -- there is clearly no sense in dedicating a room if you're not going to use it, so I am eager to respond to your questions and I'll be very brief.

First, I would really like to say to all of you who are here truly how much I have enjoyed working with you and how deeply I respect your role. Obviously our perspectives are not always the same, but the give and take that has gone on in the old briefing room and on the plane and various places is indispensable to both of us. And I have valued the opportunity to express my thoughts and explain our positions, and I know that you have appreciated the interesting and frank answers you have received to each and every one of your questions.

But rest assured that in any case, that knowing that you are here has made us work harder every single day. And in our travels, we have seen many countries where there is no independent press, and there is no one to ask questions. There is no Elaine Monoghan or Matt Lee or Roy Gutman or Barry Schweid in these countries, where the official truth is the only truth and is almost always a lie. And you remind me every single day about the privilege that we all have to be living in a democracy, and also that democratic accountability is not easy and that we have to continue to do it. And it's because it is so hard that I think that it is absolutely essential.

As I prepare to leave office, I can tell you that I am very, very proud of the efforts we have made under President Clinton to build peace and foster prosperity, promote democracy and halt ethnic cleansing, foster security and cooperation in East Asia, and create a Europe that is whole and free. I am proud of the efforts that we have made to adapt our foreign policy to the demands of a new era, through a historic reorganization, efforts to advance the status of women, the measures to counter the emerging threats of terror and crime, pollution and disease.

And I am proud also of the successes we have had in reversing the decline in the availability of funding for foreign policy. Since I became Secretary, we have nearly doubled our rate of hiring and increased appropriation levels in real terms by 17 percent. But obviously this is just a beginning, and as I have discussed with Secretary-designate Powell, and many times with you, State Department operations and programs are America's first line of defense. They are a core component of our national security and should be funded and equipped accordingly.

It has been an unparalleled honor to serve President Clinton and our nation as Secretary of State, and a pleasure to get to know many of you, and I will now have one of those pleasures continue by responding to your questions.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you for your kind words, and thank you for giving us two superlative Spokesmen, Jamie and Mr. Boucher. You are always welcome here, if you promise to tell it like it is in your reports.

Iraq. Iraq was the centerpiece of your foreign policy. And the tenth anniversary of the war is coming up. As you leave office, would you say Saddam Hussein is stronger or weaker, or about as strong as he was when you first came aboard? Do you think any administration could do well with sanctions without more support from the allies? You have had to do a lot basically with Britain at your side, and not much more.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I am really sorry that we had the issue of Saddam Hussein on our plate when we arrived, and I am equally sorry to say that we are passing it on. But I do think that Saddam Hussein is weaker. He has been contained. We have worked very hard not to have him be a threat to the region, to do everything that we can to make sure that he doesn't reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction and that he not terrorize his people, and tried to do everything to make him live up to his international obligations.

It has not been easy, as you have pointed out. I think that this has been the longest running sanctions regime. And when I was Ambassador at the United Nations, I worked very hard with our friends and allies to keep the regime in place, and we have worked hard since I have been Secretary to do the same thing.

We invented the Oil-for-Food Program because we were concerned about the fate of the Iraqi people who were suffering as a result of Saddam Hussein, not as a result of the United States or the Alliance. And I think it is essential that this continue. When Secretary-designate Powell and I spoke about this, he said that he wanted to strengthen the sanctions, and I wish him a lot of luck in that. It is the right thing to do but it's very difficult, and I think ultimately the Iraqi people will have to deal with the problem of Saddam Hussein with much help and support from the civilized world.

QUESTION: The Kuwaitis report that there are 600 Kuwaitis that were abducted by Iraq, and little has been heard from them in a long time. There has been a report that some of them have been seen alive and are Iraqi prisoners. Can you confirm any of these reports, and can you also say whether or not the return of these prisoners is a precondition for lifting sanctions?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, the issue of the 600 prisoners has been one that has been on the table from the very beginning, and every discussion that I had in New York and since then has always talked about the necessity of the release and repatriation of those prisoners. I cannot confirm for you whether they are in a prison or not. I have not seen that, and I cannot confirm it or deny it.

We have always said that it was important for Saddam Hussein to live up to all his obligations that are in Security Council resolutions, and this is one of them, that those 600 prisoners be accounted for or repatriated. Also, there has been a great deal of Kuwait property that was stolen that also needs to be returned.

This is part of the whole package that we have talked about that would make it possible for Saddam Hussein to return to the community of nations; although from my own sense of him, it's very hard to imagine that he could do all those things and still be in power.

QUESTION: Can you respond to Republican critics of this Administration's Mideast policy who suggest that the Camp David summit was premature and that the ensuing violence, and now the last-minute negotiations, have only raised expectations and made people more rigid, less flexible, about willingness to compromise?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think the important part about the whole effort that the Clinton Administration has made on the Middle East has, I think, been one where we have tried everything we could to help the parties reach agreement in what is clearly one of the most difficult issues in the entire world. I believe that, on the whole, our record has been very good with the Declaration of Principles, with the treaty with Jordan, and various aspects of carrying out the interim accords.

One of the issues that I keep being asked about is whether we are the ones that are the instigators of the activities that have taken place during the last year, whether they were the Syrian track or Camp David or subsequently. And the truth is that what we have done is respond to calls from the region to do something and for President Clinton, who is truly unique in his ability to deal with these problems, to be a part of helping to resolve them.

As President Clinton said on Sunday night, and as I have said for some time, I believe that what we did at Camp David is a seminal event in terms of having ultimately discussed the issues the resolution of which is the only way to get to a peace. Everybody knows that the issues will be those issues when there is a peace.

And so I believe that we have done the right thing. And it is only frustrating at this point, with so few days left, that we are not able to bring this monumental work to some conclusion. Ambassador Ross is going out again. We think that it is very important for the security situation to be dealt with. We have called on the parties to -- that there be no violence, because I think that's an important point here. And so we are going to work as long as possible.

I must say that some of those same critics criticized us for what we were or were not doing in Bosnia and Kosovo, and I think it turned out right there. And so I feel very comfortable about what we are doing.

QUESTION: May I just follow that up and ask what advice you would give if the next few days do not produce some sort of miraculous breakthrough? What advice would you give to your successor as to how to handle the Mideast?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that ultimately the only way to go forward is for -- the parties themselves have to make the decisions. That's what we have learned; that the United States, with the greatest amount of dedication and intelligence and conceptualizing cannot do this if the parties themselves are not willing to do it.

I know, as I have gone back and read about other Secretaries of State who have been involved in the Middle East, they have written that the last thing they ever wanted to do was to be involved in the Middle East. All of them are. I have been intensively, and I am sure that Secretary-designate Powell will be also.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, on the Middle East? This demonstration in Jerusalem, 100,000 or people, plus some of the people on the Palestinian side, could be showing that the core people on the ground are drifting farther away from what may be discussed on paper and in the halls of diplomacy.

Do you think that there is still a willingness or a support amongst core people on both sides for whatever agreement might be under consideration, based on what we saw last night and based on what is coming out of the Palestinian side?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, clearly the issue is very difficult. And we have said over and over again that these are existential decisions, and it is very hard to predict reaction across the board. What I have believed, as has President Clinton, as has Prime Minister Barak, who was elected on a peace mandate, is that we should do everything we could to try to move the process forward. And I think that obviously time is running out. We are going to continue to work. I think we have to be realistic -- the security issue has to be dealt with -- and that we are not interested in concluding this with something vague. We are going to see what we can still do.

But I think public moods change very rapidly, and we will have to see. But I do not take demonstrations anywhere as definitive in terms of a complete expression of the public mood; it shifts.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, the Administration, and especially you, have put an enormous effort into the Balkan region, as you pointed out, and your successor in the job has had some very famous disagreements with you on the policy at an earlier stage.

So it raises two questions. One is, do you see eye-to-eye now -- you have talked to him many times, and I am sure he has thought about the issues -- more than you did at an earlier point? Or, put another way, do you think that what you have done -- sending troops, intervening, having forces stationed there, having a lead role -- does this have sticking power in the next Administration?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, again, I keep making the point with individuals, and as I speak out publicly, about the fact that foreign policy does not come in four-year blocks, that there is a continuum. And with the question that Barry asked, that's evident.

We also were left with the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the question as to whether the Europeans could do it alone. And we believed that the United States had an interest, and I specifically pushed to make clear that I thought that having the Balkans piece of the European puzzle fall into place was not only important for Europe, but for the United States. And I think that the things that have happened there, with the democratic elections across the board, have vindicated that point of view.

General Powell wrote a book, and one of the problems with writing a book is that it takes a while to get it published. And it was I think probably ironic that just at the time that this came out, in fact the limited application of limited force in Bosnia was working.

I happen to believe that the US can make a difference, and that there are any number of ways that the US projects its power and its desire to help. There needs to be a policy where diplomacy and force work together, and that the limited application of limited force in various areas is useful.

Secretary-designate Powell and I have obviously have discussions. I believe that the story in the Balkans is not finished and that the next Administration needs to keep in mind that our presence there is very important. We, too, obviously, were going to review how long our forces were going to be there. Nobody intends them to be there permanently, but I would hope very much that it would be evident that American support is essential, and that it be very clear to everyone that the US is playing a minor part in this, that the majority of the forces and the economic assistance is coming from the Europeans, as it should be. But in order to make that continue to go forward, it is important for us to be a part of it.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, rightfully, much has been made of the fact that you are the first woman to hold this position. I would like to ask you, if I could, just very briefly to comment on developments regarding two women -- other women who are prominent today--one of whom you admire, one of whom you most assuredly do not, I would imagine. The first is the surrender --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What a clever way to phrase that question. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The surrender this morning to the ICTY of the former Bosnian-Serb President, Mrs. Plavsic, and the other is reports coming out from Burma that the former SLORC and Aung San Suu Kyi are back talking again. I was wondering if you could --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, on Mrs. Plavsic, I understand that she has arrived in the Netherlands, and I understand that she intends to cooperate with the War Crimes Tribunal. I think that I respect her for living up to what we think is an international obligation, and that she is going to do the right thing. So I think she made this decision to do this. I agree with it obviously, and I'm sure that it was an incredibly difficult decision and she was courageous to take it, and I'm glad that she has.

On Aung San Suu Kyi, I was called yesterday by the Secretary General, who told me that Mr. Razali, his personal representative there from Malaysia, reported that there was a dialogue that was going on between Aung San Suu Kyi and the government, and one of the things that we have wanted to have is the establishment of such a dialogue.

Obviously we will have to see where it leads and whether it is a genuine dialogue rather than the kinds of patronizing and cruel conversations that were evident when I was there, where she needs to be respected as a political leader and not, as was framed to me, as a little sister that they had to take care of by keeping her in her house. So I think that the level of dialogue is very important.

But I do think that it's extremely useful that the United Nations, this current Representative, is taking this kind of an active role.

QUESTION: Could you address European concerns that US ammunition used in Kosovo contains depleted uranium that may be causing cancer among European peacekeepers? And could you tell us what the US did in terms of warning the peacekeepers about the presence of the uranium tips and what the US is prepared to do in the future? Are we prepared to compensate soldiers that may have been exposed to US ammunitions?

And then, secondly, if you could address for the new Administration the hot spots that you think are of the greatest concern that they need to be especially vigilant?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Do you want to be here for an hour?

QUESTION: But most importantly the uranium.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say this. I mean, clearly, there have been extensive inquiries about the health risk of these uranium-depleted ammunition. NATO has been doing the investigation of it. As far as I have been told, there is no scientific evidence that would link this to health hazards.

But I think what is very important is for the facts to be made known and not to have hysteria and emotion take over. This is a scientifically based issue and NATO has been conducting the inquiry, which we obviously are supportive of. And I think that it's important to understand that this is a scientifically based question, not an emotional one.

On the other issue, I think that what is evident is that there are many issues out there for the next Administration that need to have attention paid. Obviously, as we have discussed, the Middle East is one of them. I think that they will have to stay consistent on the Balkans.

I hope very much that there is as much attention given to issues of Africa as we have given; that there continues to be support for Plan Colombia and our relations with Latin America, which we have raised to a new level; that we continue to work very carefully with the Russians on a whole host of issues that are kind of the bread and butter of foreign policy in many ways; and obviously with China and Taiwan as they begin what looks to be the beginnings of some kind of -- it's pre-dialogue, I guess, is the way to talk about it.

I hope very much that they pick up where we left off on North Korea. I think that there is an opportunity here to change the dynamic on the Korean Peninsula and the last vestige of the Cold War, and I wish them the actuarial tables in Cuba.

Thank you very much.

[End of Document]
Blue Line

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