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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview on CNN-TV "Larry King Live"
Washington, D.C., January 24, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman, January 25, 1997

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MR. LARRY KING: Good evening. She has been a frequent guest on this program in many capacities, but it's a great honor to have her with us tonight in her first interview since taking the post as the Secretary of State of the United States, a post held by some pretty distinguished gentlemen and now the first woman; also the second immigrant - right - to be -
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That's correct, Larry.
MR. KING: -- Henry Kissinger being the first?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Right.
MR. KING: Based on you, from Czechoslovakia - you're the Secretary of State - our Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is from Poland. Are you in favor of more liberalized immigration laws?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'll tell you, this country has been so great to refugees. Many, many of them have contributed greatly to the United States. That's the strength of America.
MR. KING: Should we be more open?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we need to make sure that the diversity here continues. We have to make sure that people come in legally. The generosity of this country, Larry, is unparalleled, and people appreciate it. I think the people that come here as immigrants really try to do their best to repay their debt to the United States.
MR. KING: How did you find out you were Secretary of State?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, it was terrific. The President of the United States gave me a call.
MR. KING: Where were you?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I was in Washington - at my house in Washington.
MR. KING: Just home? You weren't at the U.N.?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No.
MR. KING: What did he say?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: He asked me if I'd like to be Secretary of State.
MR. KING: After "hello?"
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: After "hello." It was a pretty easy answer, I must say.
MR. KING: At that point, had you expected it, or do you never expect anything?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: You never expect anything. I've said to people, I never even thought about the possibility of being Secretary of State before, because who would have ever thought that a girl who arrived from Czechoslovakia at age 11 could become Secretary of State of the most powerful country in the world. So I am so honored and so proud.
What I really want to do as an immigrant is to make the American people proud of me because what I want to do is defend America's interests.
MR. KING: We know over the years you've promised us you'll be a frequent guest so we'll keep up the date. You like using media, right?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I do very much. I'm very glad, Larry, actually, that you asked me to come here tonight. Because what I want to do - and I think I have the possibility of doing this - is to try to reconnect the American people to our foreign policy so that the average American understands what stakes we have in foreign policy.
Really, for 50 years it was pretty easy. There were the communists and there were us, and we were the good guys and they were the bad guys. Now what we have to try to figure out and explain to people what the threats are against our way of life and how to protect ourselves from that.
MR. KING: Do you think there's been a loss of connection between the people and foreign policy?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I do. I think it seems very foreign. I think that people don't understand what the stakes are, and that our daily life really is governed by living in a global community.
MR. KING: I'm doing a book on the future, and I've talked to Richard Holbrooke, our former envoy to the Middle East, and I asked him about Secretaries of State traveling. I'll read the quote and you can give me your comment. He said, "I don't think they should travel as much. There are many trips that must be done because of either representing us at NATO or the American Secretary of State is the chief negotiator. But just to get on the plane and travel is not productive because the number one priority of foreign policy today is to build a domestic consensus."
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I completely agree.
MR. KING: Completely agree?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I really do. I think that the issue here is - you obviously have to travel abroad because you have responsibilities as a "Foreign Minister or Secretary of State." There are things that you must do in person. But the important part here is that Americans need to understand why foreign policy is important. I have said - I said it today - that I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling around the United States. I'm going to give speeches and have Town Meetings and have discussions because I want the American people to feel a part of what we're going to do to get ready, as President Clinton has said, for the 21st century.
The threats are very different. They are threats that average Americans understand if you tell them about it. There's the issue of drugs, there's the issue of terrorism, international crime, environmental. We were just talking about the weather. The weather has gone nuts.
MR. KING: What's going on with the weather.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: So, basically, the issue here is that we need, as all countries in the world, to work together to try to understand global warming, to do what we can to control environmental hazards. So those are foreign policy issues. People always think of foreign policy issues as only guns. Foreign policy issues are those issues that average Americans care about.
MR. KING: Do you like travel?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I do. I have to admit I do. I like traveling in the United States, too, though. I like to be out with the people. I want very much to have the American people feel that I am representing them.
MR. KING: What's your first major trip?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm going to take a trip -- after I do my first trip, which is to Capitol Hill. I believe the opportunities now to work with the Congress in a bipartisan spirit are really very good. I want to build a bipartisan foreign policy. I feel pretty good about the vote I got from the Senate.
MR. KING: What vote didn't you get?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: There was one Senator that was out of the country. I think that the issue here is that I want to travel around the United States and get people feeling that they understand foreign policy. Then, what I'm going to do is go abroad and in one trip do two continents. I'm going to go Europe and Asia.
MR. KING: In one trip.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: In one trip. Because we really have to understand that both Europe and Asia are very important to Americans.
MR. KING: Is this a "getting-to-know-you" trip?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It is a "getting-to-know-you" trip. I have met an awful lot of foreign leaders because of my job representing the United States at the United Nations. But I want to get to know others, and I want to reacquaint myself with those I know.
MR. KING: Will the Europe trip include Czechoslovakia?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't think so. Though it would be very nice to be able to go back to my "home town," so to speak, but, Larry, I don't think I can ever top my first trip back as a public official when I went with President Clinton on Air Force One, to be greeted by President Havel, which I thought - as we walked down the steps of Air Force One, I turned to President Clinton and I said, "It doesn't get much better than this."
MR. KING: One of the commentators after your press conference said today that you were - it was a very strong preference conference; you did very well - they had one criticism. They thought you were a little weak in the Middle East, and someone mentioned that you hadn't been to the Middle East much, and that it's not your strongest area. How would you respond?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have been to the Middle East.
MR. KING: They said you were there once.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I've been to the Middle East quite often, and I -
MR. KING: A pundit was wrong.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: A pundit was wrong. And I obviously am going to consider myself a great deal with the Middle East. It is a high priority for President Clinton. It's a high priority for me, and I will be very involved in the Middle East peace negotiations; and getting a comprehensive peace, Larry, is absolutely important to us. We've made great strides through the Hebron agreement, and the importance of that is that Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority signed an agreement - the first time that that has happened.
MR. KING: Were you surprised that Netanyahu finally agreed?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that he saw, thanks to the really good work that Dennis Ross has done, the advantages of moving forward on the Hebron agreement and how it is a step towards a comprehensive peace.
MR. KING: Janet Reno is angry, the country's angry at Saudi Arabia. Is Madam Secretary angry?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The issue here, Larry, is that obviously we are deeply disturbed by the fact that Americans died. We're always disturbed when our military dies, but as a result of terrorist activity is something that makes it even worse, frankly. The FBI is in charge of the investigation. We are putting a lot of resources into it. We have been assured by the Saudi Government at the highest levels that they would be cooperative, and we expect them to be cooperative.
MR. KING: What does a Secretary of State do when people like Mr. Freeh and Ms. Reno are criticizing something that you have to deal with? Are you wearing two hats here?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Look, the government is unified on this, and we have made it very clear that we expect the Saudis to cooperate. We have assurances that they will, and we expect them to fulfill them.
MR. KING: We're getting a quick call here from London, England. Hello.
QUESTION: Hello.
MR. KING: Yes.
QUESTION: Congratulations, Madam Secretary. I wonder if I could ask [about] your American foreign policy towards China. There has been a lot of talk regarding the so-called constructive engagement on human rights, and President Clinton talks a lot about Hebron and he somehow ducked that question. Could you explain what you mean by "constructive engagement," as far as the human rights question?
MR. KING: I know you're in London, caller. Are you Chinese?
QUESTION: No, no. I'm someone from Africa, but more or less interested in foreign policy from America.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you, and thank you for your good wishes. Let me say that there's no doubt in President Clinton's mind or my mind that our relationship with China is one of the key relationships as we move into the 21st century. It's a big power. It's an important power, and we have to have what is really a relationship across a lot of issues, a multifaceted relationship. We can't just have it be hostage to one issue, and we need to develop a relationship with them where they feel a part of the responsibility for the international community.
I said today in my press conference that when there are problems with human rights on which we do differ, then I'm going to tell it like it is, to them and to the American people. But it's not the only issue we have with the Chinese, and they have been very helpful on issues to do with Korea, nuclear proliferation, and we have to develop this kind of a more complex relationship.
MR. KING: We'll spend our remaining moments with Madeleine Albright in a moment. She'll be with us frequently over the years, and she's going to be Secretary of State for a long time. We thank her for being with us tonight.
(Commercial pause)
MR. KING: Unanimously confirmed by the Senate, sworn in yesterday by Vice President Gore, she is Madeleine Albright, and we'll spend a few more minutes. She is very tired. As you know, this has been quite a week for - the best week of your life, right?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Can't beat it.
MR. KING: You made a strong statement on Cuba today. Could we make a statement that if we don't talk to other nations, we can't get anywhere. Why not recognize every nation?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we have to make our views very clear, and we have about Cuba. I think that we have tried very hard to make clear that the authoritarian government in Cuba is an embarrassment. I think that Castro knows what he has to do, and the people of Cuba have a right to have a free life. You know what's incredible? They are the last autocratic government in the Western hemisphere. Everybody else has gone democratic. He is a dinosaur.
MR. KING: But should we talk to him?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: People are talking to them. I mean, the issue here is that it's not a matter of not talking - there are contacts - but the issue is that he needs to understand that the form of government in Cuba is not one that is beneficial to his people and not good for the hemisphere.
MR. KING: And one other thing. What do you worry about the most in this job?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that the thing that one has to worry about the most is that we explain fully to the American people why we need to have an outstanding diplomacy, that we aren't spending enough money to have the best diplomatic service in the world, and that we have to have the top-notch diplomacy to go along with our top-notch military.
MR. KING: That's your job.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That's what I'm going to do.
MR. KING: Thank you, Madam Secretary.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thanks a lot.
MR. KING: I look forward to seeing a lot of you.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm looking forward to that, too.
MR. KING: Hard not to call you Madeleine.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Please. Any time. Thanks.
MR. KING: The new Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright. You'll be seeing her frequently on this program.

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