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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview with Los Angeles Times Editorial Board
Washington, D.C., April 15, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State

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QUESTION: (In progress) You've been traveling the country. Instead of going to North Korea, you went to North Carolina. You've been traveling the country to try to talk to Americans about why they should be interested in the world and why they should want to spend tax dollars on an active foreign policy.
What's surprised you as you've gone out there and talked to people about these issues? What has struck you? What have you learned?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me just say how glad I am to be with you. It is a sign of my undying affection for the Los Angeles Times that I'm here. But I don't know why I came because you're the only paper in the United States that did not put my picture on the front page (Laughter) - my brilliant performance of throwing out the ball. It has something to do with the question that you've asked.
QUESTION: It was quite a picture too, by the way.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What I am trying to do is to explain to the American people what the stake is for everybody in foreign policy. That has something to do with why I threw the ball out; I think basically to show that foreign policy is not just for elites; that it is not something that is discussed in high academic circles or at meetings of men in suits. It is something that affects the American people directly.
When I go to places such as North Carolina -- actually, my first trip as Secretary of State was to Texas -- it's to talk about the very specific aspects of foreign policy that affect that region. I try to go to a business within the area. I try to go to a school, and I try to give a speech. I try to have a variety of Town Hall meetings.
What I've learned is that whether you're talking to the school kids or to business people, you see that you can quickly relate in terms of how foreign policy is affecting them. I think it works, if one can bring it down to a level where the average American sees the value in spending tax dollars on foreign policy.
QUESTION: What kind of job do you think the press is doing on covering foreign affairs? Because that's got to be part of what you're talking about, I believe.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that it's mixed, frankly. I believe that there is not enough in-depth coverage of issues that are not the issue of the moment. Many of these stories -- the foreign policy stories -- now are very complicated ones.
Let me put something into context here a little bit, and that is that for 50 years the foreign policy story was actually pretty simple. It was the Soviet Union versus us. People got used to various aspects of that story, whether it was Joe Stalin or Khrushchev or what it is that we were doing. We were fighting them and they were bad and we were good. Most Americans flipped through the throw-weight stories.
For the most part, I think people had a sense of what foreign policy was about. There occasionally were some stories about third world countries, depending upon which side they were on in a zero-sum game.
You now have entirely new kinds of stories where we don't know all the players. Let's just take the issue of Zaire, for instance. The story of Zaire and what it is going to do in affecting life in central Africa -- not only central Africa but potentially all of Africa -- is a huge story, but it is a very complicated one. It involves ethnic struggles between the Hutus and the Tutsis and the role of Rwanda and Burundi, and the role of European countries as they have had a relationship with Zaire.
That story takes a lot of column inches. Unless there's shooting, for the most part it is hard to get a real story on it. Let me just say -- not because I'm sitting here -- Tyler's series on NATO enlargement is an educational series because it goes through a lot of aspects of it. You don't get that for the most part. You basically get a headline of some kind and not enough in-depth coverage.
To go back to your question, I think it is much harder to go into a region and lay the groundwork on a story as well as explain it if the local press has not had something that provides some context on it. I think that we are all losing out in terms of having that background.
If I might, though, just to get us started a little bit, because this fits in with both of your questions, give you a little bit of sense of what we are trying to do in the second Clinton Administration. The President has spoken a lot about the fact that we are the indispensable nation. It isn't just a slogan. It is the sign of an activist foreign policy. He has talked a little bit about the paradox of that -- which is that, as we are indispensable, it also means that we are interdependent, because our activities relate a great deal to what other countries are doing and how they react to us. While we are indispensable, we are not doing everything alone. It engages us in a very large foreign policy agenda.
Let me kind of do it by continent because I think that is the simplest. Obviously, we have a huge and very dense schedule for our relationships with Europe that are based on the NATO enlargement issue.
We have a very large agenda with Russia which is not only related to NATO enlargement but also generally moving them through a reform process.
The Middle East is at this stage in probably one of the most critical stages we have had with the Middle East. It occupies a tremendous amount of the President's time and my time. It is a very intensive activity.
In Africa, we are concerned not only about Zaire but [about]increasing difficulties in a number of countries as they move to try to get elections, deal with some of their democracy problems, try to figure out a way to avoid conflict.
I want to end up in Asia, so let me back up. Latin America -- if the President had not hurt his knee, we would be in Latin America as a sign of what we are trying to do to develop a kind of solidarity of the Americans. Except for one country, we have democracies throughout the hemisphere. We are working on a very active partnership with Latin America.
We also want now to move to Asia. We have a huge agenda with Asia. There was a lot of discussion as to whether I should go to Asia on my first trip or Europe on my first trip. I decided -- as the mother of twins, I know about treating equally -- the best idea was to go to both parts of the world, both continents, on the same trip in order to show the equality of the relationship and the importance of Asia a well as Europe to us in terms of strategic relationships, trade relationships, democracy, enlargement relationships.
In Asia, we obviously are in the process of developing a new relationship and agenda for China. With Japan, we have many issues, strategic as well as trade. Big issues on the Korean Peninsula. Also, clearly, in terms of ASEAN and APEC, questions that need to be discussed in Asia. So we have a very full agenda, and I'm sure we'll talk about all that.
Then we have some priorities on the Hill. We have the Chemical Weapons Convention. We have fast-track. Trying to get resources for the foreign affairs part of the budget which also includes trying to pay up our arrears for the United Nations. Then the whole question of how the foreign policy machinery of the United States is going to be reorganized in the 21st century -- and all that within trying to re-energize or develop for the first time in many of our practical lives a genuine bipartisan spirit in order to get all that done.
That is a very activist agenda that reflects the way that President Clinton and I want to see the United States positioned in order to get ready for the 21st century. For that -- to get back to your point, Jack -- while there needs to be a healthy adversarial relationship between the press and the government, it also requires a form of partnership where we can explain what are entirely new kinds of foreign policy issues to the American public so that they can see a stake in why we should worry about what is happening in Zaire or who cares about whether we have fast-track with Chile.
At first blush, that is a little hard to explain. On the other hand, given five minutes and -- I'm not very good at measuring column inches -- but half a page, you could explain those. You'll never get half page; you get 60 seconds on the nightly news.
QUESTION: Help us out right now, if you would, on Zaire for a moment. There are at least claimants or parties that would like to either keep or take power in Zaire. Do we have a preference among those parties? If there is a transition to some more democratic form of government, would you anticipate proposing American aid of some kind for Zaire? And why should the public support that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, as I mentioned, Zaire is a huge country in the middle of central Africa. I think it borders with nine other countries.
When I went to Africa on one of my first trips, it became very evident to me, whether I was in Angola or Rwanda or South Africa, that Zaire somehow impacted on them. This was still in times when Mobutu was very much in control. It had to do with just their general size and their location in terms of trade, as well as arms transfers and support for various groups. So it had a large impact.
Its potential disintegration would also have, obviously, a very large impact. What is happening is that Mobutu, who has been a dictator for 30 years at this point, is an anachronism -- or "dictatorship" is an anachronism. We have found that in this era, governments are increasingly moving towards democracy. Not in a steady way, not on a road that is kind of laid out in some classroom, but basically there is a trend towards that.
People might not believe it, but we actually do not make decisions for other countries as to who the rulers are going to be. We want very much, however, to say that what we want to see is are transitions towards democracy. So far as Zaire itself is concerned, we would like to see a cease-fire. Because what's going on is that there are the Kabila forces -- this rebel alliance that is systematically moving through the country. Interestingly enough, it got its start by having support from outside powers. But it is now moving through the country and creating huge disruptions, primarily of huge numbers of refugees. This does appear in our press because it's a very moving story of people starving as they are moving from one part of the country. Then, there are huge numbers of refugees that are kind of lost in the bush. One doesn't know exactly where they are.
We want a cease-fire so that the country can come back together. Then we want an orderly transition towards democracy and elections and the end of dictatorship - Mobutism. But we have not pointed our finger at somebody and said, "You are the next leader," but [we are] looking more towards a transition because of the tragedy it's creating in Zaire and the potential impact on the rest of Africa.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, Zaire is a good example of the first post-Cold War story because for the most of the last 33 years, Zaire was decidedly a Cold War story. Mobutu was an American ally in the Cold War. During the course of that period, he enriched himself and impoverished his people.
What are American responsibilities for a man who can it can be argued is a creation of the United States?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that we have to move into the future and not dwell on how policy was carried on in the past because there were very different exigencies in terms of how one created alliances in what was basically a zero-sum game. I can't use all the language that was used about "This may be 'a particular person' but he's our 'this particular kind of person'." (Laughter)
This is what we have to get away from, of looking at countries as being part of a zero-sum game and not thinking that we have to support a particular type of leader in order to have him be on our side versus the other side.
What we need to now look at -- our responsibilities, I think -- are the following. First of all, while having stated an activist American foreign policy, I do not think the United States can solve everybody's problem. We need to be there to set the direction, to be available, to support, to get others to participate in a process, but we can't get into the business of the U.S. being the world's policeman or the world's arbiter of good behavior. But we can be there as a model and as a partner with other countries to move the process forward.
I think our responsibilities also are to support an international process to get some solution. For instance, the UN is very much involved in -- they have a representative there appointed by the Secretary General -- in order to help a cease-fire come about.
I do think that while one might have guilt about some things that we did during the Cold War, we have to move forward now and look towards the future.
QUESTION: To be a little more concrete about our responsibilities, are you thinking about, if a transition occurs, either financial aid of some kind or sending American troops in some situation?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think that we have already provided -- and I can't give you the exact number -- large amounts of humanitarian assistance to Zaire -- in the tens of millions that we have given over a sustained period. We have assisted the United Nations Human Rights [Commission] -- Mrs. Ogata's operation. We have a responsibility, I think, to participate in that kind of international relief effort.
I do not see that American forces are necessary in this. One of the things that we had been talking about when I was at the United Nations was to work on creating some kind of an African Crisis Response Force that would be composed of African nations that had trained together and had inter-operable weapons so that every time there was a crisis in Africa, you didn't have to start from scratch.
The American role in that was to be the trainer, the glue -- somebody who can explain how an operations center works -- command headquarters works. Maybe provide some logistical assistance lift.
We have not been called upon to do anything like that, and there are lots of discussions as to the appropriateness of a multinational force. But I think our role is to push others into taking their responsibility and be there, in some ways, as the force of last resort in terms of trying to get some lift.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Norm's question? Maybe I didn't hear correctly. Are you dismissing the Americans' role in the Cold War in setting up Mobutu? If that's the case -- if you're saying we're going to move beyond what's happened in the past -- doesn't that lend some question to American credibility? Whenever we do choose sides and when it's not favorable to us anymore then we're just going to sort of say, we'll move onto whatever's expedient -
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What I'm saying is that whatever the responsibility was for Mobutu , Mobutuism itself, the era of the dictator, is past. It is very important to move to a transition to democracy. It has happened in other countries where there has been a single leader, whether one that came into power by a military coup or as a result of previous policies by other countries. I think we are into a new trend internationally, which is the selection of a leader through democratic means. That is one of the policies that the United States is actively pursuing throughout, whether it's in Latin America where we have been eminently successful because democracy is an idea that catches on everywhere once given an opportunity. But I'm saying that the era of the dictator everywhere is over.
QUESTION: I can follow up on that? Is American policy to bring about a transition to democracy in China? You've been asked a number of times about the difference in policy towards Cuba and China. What I've heard is, "We don't have a cookie-cutter approach." But I want to know whether we apply the same principles to all countries?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, the United States has consistent principles. Our principles are that we believe in democracy, human rights, the free market system, and generally the ability of people to choose the system that they want to have.
We have flexibility and tactics in arriving at what it is that we want. We do not have a cookie-cutter policy because every country requires a somewhat modulated approach depending upon what our strategic interests are with a country, its geographical location, the capability of the people to achieve the democratic free market system.
I think it would be crazy for us to have exactly the same approach to every country. We do have consistent principles. As some of you may have heard in speeches that I give, I do believe that there needs to be a moral component to American foreign policy. Otherwise, it does not reflect the American people. But we clearly treat countries differently, depending upon what it is that we need to achieve.
It is my belief that our relationship with China is the relationship that we are going to have to build and watch as the -- it's very hard to always prioritize everything, but one of the biggest relationships for the 21st century.
QUESTION: Following up on what Jim said, Madam Secretary, our policy in Cuba, we have not only an embargo there but we have an embargo on food and medicine. The American Association for World Health study recently showed it is having devastating effects on women and children, particularly in Cuba. Their reports also points out that, traditionally, even when countries are at war, food and medicine are exempted from embargoes. So how do we really justify that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: (inaudible) assistance, and food and medicine into Cuba. We do not have an embargo on that.
QUESTION: On food and medicine?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, we do not.
MR. BURNS: The United States gave more humanitarian aid last year to the people of Cuba than the Cuban Government did.
QUESTION: And there's no embargo on food and medicine?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No.
QUESTION: This report by the American Association for World Health must be totally untrue then?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I don't know about this report.
MR. RUBIN: They're talking about reimbursements and how money is spent. But the idea that we prohibit the provision of food and humanitarian supplies in a controlled way to the people of Cuba is wrong. There's a financial question to make sure that the Cuban Government doesn't get the money for all these things. But the idea that we would be -
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: On the same kind of thing, people were saying, for instance, that we have prevented food and medicine going to the people of Iraq. That is not true either. We do not have embargoes on humanitarian assistance. Our relationship with Cuba is one in which we believe that it is important to do what can be done to have a transition to democracy there. We believe that the best way of doing this is to encourage a way for the people of Cuba to be able to make choices; but, at the same time, that our having a trade relationship with Castro does not move the process forward; that it just strengthens him.
QUESTION: American companies, though, can not do business in Cuba with food and medicine; is that right?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: They can't.
QUESTION: It cannot?
MR. BURNS: The American private voluntary organizations can channel assistance, a certain amount of assistance to Cuba. American companies - there's a trade embargo --
QUESTION: American companies, though, cannot sell medical supplies --
MR. BURNS: In terms of normal trade; that's correct.
QUESTION: It seems to me like there's an embargo.
MR. BURNS: But there's an avenue for humanitarian assistance through private voluntary organizations.
QUESTION: If we could change the subject a little bit to one of the areas where I think democracy is sometimes problematic for the U.S. Government and its foreign policy. In relations with Russia now, I understand that after the summit there are a bunch of key areas that the Administration is working on with Russia. Some of them like arms control stand to be either forwarded or stopped by what the parliament or their Duma does.
Can you talk a little bit about this new complication in dealing with Russia, where you can't just have a summit with Yeltsin and then make these great pacts and make these swirling signatures. What is the new world like dealing with these democracies? And, specifically, on Russia, how is progress going on the elements that were laid out in the summit - arms control and chemical weapons and the pact on NATO expansion.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, in various moments, one always goes back to quote Churchill. I do think that his statement about the fact that democracy is the "least worst" of various forms of -- I didn't quote him right but -- that with all its problems, it's still better than any other form of government. One always has to think about what the effects of dictatorship were on Russia and the fact that while it might have been simple to sign a deal with Khrushchev or Gorbachev, I think we would all take this as a preference.
It is also interesting because we spent a lot of time, for instance, during the Carter Administration, as we were looking at START treaties. We were signing things and had to explain to the Russians that that didn't necessarily mean that it was a done deal. I remember that Robert Bird went over to Moscow to try to explain how the Senate ratification process worked.
This is one of the side aspects of working with a democratic government. It does complicate factors. There's no question. I think that the Russians themselves, the leadership is learning in terms of how to work with the Duma, how public opinion works in Russia. I think they're going through a whole series of very interesting and useful learning experiences. Sometimes simplicity is not the best answer to international relations.
On the subject that you've talked about, it's part of this very intense agenda that we have for the spring. On NATO enlargement, I think Helsinski was a very important meeting in terms of having the Russians understand clearly from President Clinton what I had said to President Yeltsin when I was there, which was that NATO enlargement will take place on schedule.
While it is evident that they don't like it, it is going to happen. In the meantime, the negotiations are going forward. Secretary General Solana is in Moscow, or has been in the last couple of days, to discuss the elements of the NATO-Russia charter. That is on a parallel track and will in no way prevent the Madrid meeting on NATO enlargement taking place.
There are discussions going on on CFE that are taking place in Vienna. That is supposed to be concluded by May 15th. There are also, as a part of Helsinki, discussions about how to proceed with START II and START III.
So we have the set of guidelines set out. As I said, a kind of very detailed schedule, and we're going to be sticking with that.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, you've spent a fair amount of time this week on the Middle East. You talk about it being at a critical phase. You seem to be in a situation where the way forward is really clouded. When are you going to make your first trip? And how does the process move forward from here?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have been very intensively involved in Middle East discussions from the beginning of the year. Again, let me put this into context. We started the year with the Hebron agreement. That was a significant part of how the process is supposed to evolve as part of the Oslo process. What we thought was going to happen was that as a result of interim measures there would be the development of bonds of confidence between the two parties learning to deal with each other and making it possible to go to permanent status discussions which were to deal with the most difficult issues -- that is, Jerusalem, borders, sovereignty, refugees, water, the most difficult parts of the Middle East discussions.
The hope has been, and continues to be, that the confidence bonds would allow the leaders of both sides to be creative about these very difficult problems. What happened was that as a result of decisions made as Hebron was being carried out -- that is, the forward redeployment and the Har Homa decision, which is viewed as a unilateral act that is pre-empting a final status issue and then subsequently the bomb in Tel Aviv -- has created anything but confidence -- on the contrary -- I think has created a level of mistrust between the two parties that we haven't seen in some time.
In the meantime, what we had scheduled were a series of meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu as well as leaders from the Arab countries in Washington. Prime Minister Netanyahu has now been here twice. President Mubarak has been here. King Hussein has been here. Chairman Arafat has been here. Abu Mazen, who is the number two Palestinian Authority negotiator has been here. The Egyptians are coming again.
Intensively, what is happening is whole sets of discussions that are taking place here -- that is, to answer your question about my going to the region. We have, in effect, for the time being, created a very intense set of -- the shuttle diplomacy is going on between the State Department and the White House and a hotel of some kind. There is a constant kind of movement that we are having here in town dealing with the leaders as they come in and also I've spent an inordinate amount of time on the telephone talking to various Arab leaders and various people.
Dennis Ross is going to the region later today, making it clear that the U.S. wants to and will obviously continue to play the key role in trying to move the peace process forward. We cannot provide assistance in this if we do not have some assistance from the two parties which means that the Palestinians need to understand that the Israelis cannot operate in an insecure environment where there is violence as well as terrorist acts.
The Israelis need to understand that taking actions which pre-empt some of the final status issues makes it difficult for the Palestinians to negotiate. Dennis is going to make quite clear, carrying messages from the President and me on this subject, that we want to be helpful and we want to play the role that we have played but we cannot do it if we do not have some kind of assistance from the parties. We cannot do for the parties what they do not want to do for themselves.
QUESTION: So he is going more with a plea than with --
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, with a message; not a "plea." I think a pretty hard-edged message about the realities of what is needed in order for us to play the role. We have made clear in all these meetings -- with whomever in the list that I gave you -- that we are at a very serious juncture; that there is the danger of the peace process falling apart; that the peace process has been and is essential to, obviously, to the stability of the region for both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people, and that we want to continue our constructive role. But this is not something that can be done if they do not provide us the wherewithal to do it.
QUESTION: You just listed two things that need to be done, that the Palestinians need to show that they're stopping terrorism or the terrorists will stop, and the Israelis need to stop pre-empting final status arrangements.
Have you made any progress in getting agreements to do that since last week, either with Netanyahu or with Abu Mazen? Will that do it? If you get that kind of commitment, is that going to be enough to put the thing back on track, or are other things also necessary?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me just say, I think it's very important -- and I'd like to just make sure this is clear -- is that we, in no way, equate what has been done in Har Homa with the bomb in Tel Aviv. Terrorism is unacceptable, inexcusable and creates a level of despair that makes it very difficult for negotiations to take place.
We have made very clear to Chairman Arafat and Abu Mazen that the terrorist acts create a climate that makes it impossible. What we do think is that if it is possible to get -- there are various levels of talks that take place -- some of the talks about security can proceed in a positive way. If some of the messages out of Israel today, in terms of some future plans that the Prime Minister has about the timing of the building in Har Homa, that these are the kinds of things that will make it possible for this to go forward. I don't want to go into the details of the things that we are asking. They can't be minimalist.
Some important steps have to be taken by both sides that indicate the willingness to go forward because it's the reality of the situation.
To go back to what I said earlier, we are about to face -- this is having kind of "kicked the can down the road" and finally we have to deal with those final status issues. They were put into a box to deal with it at the end because there was the hope by those who designed the process that the inter-workings of Israel and the Palestinian Authority would create a pattern of working together that would create trust that would allow them to deal in these important issues. Part of what has happened is that the recent events have destroyed or undermined that level of trust. We can't move forward until we can re-establish that in some way.
QUESTION: One more quick follow-up. Last Thursday, Saeb Erakat said that he and Abu Mazen had told you that the Palestinian Authority was exerting more than 100 percent effort against terrorism. Did you believe him? Do you believe him? Is the Palestinian Authority doing what it needs to do?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We told them that it was essential for them to exert 100 percent effort; that there needed to be very clear signs that the terrorism had stopped and that the infrastructure of the terrorists, it's not just a matter of saying "not one more bomb," or whatever. The infrastructure of the terrorist organizations had to be dismantled. I think we will see.
QUESTION: If Mr. Netanyahu slows down construction at Har Homa, -- that, of course, is something that the Administration wanted him to do -- can you go ahead and say that that's a good thing?
(Program was interrupted by C-Span switching to Senate coverage.)

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