|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Secretary of Defense William Cohen
Interview on NBC-TV "Meet the Press"
by Tim Russert and Andrea Mitchell
Washington, D.C., April 20, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
MR. RUSSERT: With us now, both the Secretary of State and the Secretary of Defense. Welcome.
SECRETARY COHEN: It's nice to be here.
MR. RUSSERT: The last time this occurred, Madam Secretary Albright, 29 years ago, Dean Rusk, Secretary of State, and Robert McNamara, Secretary of Defense, came on "Meet the Press" to argue on behalf of the Vietnam war. You are here today for a different purpose: to argue on behalf of this - the Chemical Weapons Treaty. Most Americans don't have any idea what this is. What is it, and why should the Senate ratify it?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Tim, the greatest threat to our nation are weapons of mass destruction. Chemical weapons are obviously a part of those weapons of mass destruction. For the last 20 years, President Reagan, President Bush, and now President Clinton are arguing that it is essential for the countries of the world to give up production and use of chemical weapons.
The United States decided some time ago that we would never produce or use chemical weapons. This Convention, this Treaty has "made in America" written all over it. It was President Reagan's idea, President Bush negotiated it and signed it, and President Clinton has embraced it. We need to ratify it so that we can be a part of the rules-making body that, in fact, makes sure that the inspections are carried out properly and that American interests are really complied with.
If we don't, we will be on the side of Libya and Iraq instead of on the side of our allies. Secretary Cohen will tell you why this is important for American troops. I can tell you why it's important for the American people. Because if you go back and think about the sarin gas attack in Tokyo, where they poisoned people on the subway, this Convention Treaty will allow us to make sure that that kind of a horrible event cannot happen. It will give us the tools to help make sure that doesn't happen in the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: The vote is Thursday in the United States Senate. You need 67 votes - two-thirds of the Senate - to ratify a treaty. How many votes do you have today?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We are moving in the right direction. I'm not going to give you a vote count, but we are here because we consider this so important and we hope very much that the Senators will see it that way, too.
MR. RUSSERT: The passage is uncertain at this point.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I would say that it is. We want very much to make sure that passage is certain because if we don't get this passed, it is a lose-lose proposition; a treaty that we thought up, we will not be a part of. In fact, we will be penalized --our chemical industry in the United States, people in America will be penalized for not being a part of it.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of Defense Cohen, men who have sat at your desk, former Secretaries of Defense - Dick Cheney, Casper Weinberger, Donald Rumsfeld, James Schlesinger - all of them have said this is not in the national security interest of America.
Let me show you what they said on the screen here. Here's a graphic which summarizes their feelings.
"The treaty would likely have the effect of leaving the United States and allies more, not less vulnerable to chemical attack. It could well serve to increase, not reduce, the spread of chemical weapons manufacturing capabilities. Thus, we're going to be better off not to be a party to it."
Why are all those Secretaries of Defense wrong and you're right?
SECRETARY COHEN: First of all, let me point out we live in a democracy, and of course, we have a diversity of opinion, which we seek. Only in a totalitarian state would you have unanimity of thought and expression. So I respect these individuals and their opinions. But let me point out that the people that they served, the Commanders-in-Chief - President Ford, President Carter, President Bush, President Clinton - the Commanders-in-Chief who have been elected by the people of this country to protect our national security interests all favor it.
Let me also point out that the war fighters -- Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, John Shalikashvili; former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell; former retired General Schwarzkopf; Admiral Zumwalt -- all of these individuals strongly support the treaty.
I just returned from South Korea, talking with General John Tilelli, the Commander of our forces there, who is concerned about the level of weapons that are in the hands of the North Koreans - the chemical weapons. They are desperately concerned about what could happen to their troops. So they all favor supporting this treaty because they see this as a way of reducing the threat in the future.
So, yes, you can point out individuals who disagree with the treaty itself. With respect to "will we be worse off?", we are spending almost half a billion dollars in terms of protecting our troops and developing systems that will allow us to defend ourselves against this. We're also committed to spending another quarter of a billion dollars over the next five years for even greater enhancement as far as our protective ability.
So I disagree with the notion that this treaty puts us worse off. We're far worse off without the treaty because we won't have the opportunity to point to countries who refuse to sign, or who sign and seek to cheat, that we can call them on it and bring those sanctions to bear. So I fundamentally disagree with that assessment.
MR. RUSSERT: Let's explore that, the whole issue of verification. Say Libya and Iraq sign this treaty; agree to abide by it. The former head of the CIA said that he has no high confidence we can verify this. When you were a Senator just two years ago, in 1994, you said about this treaty, "We must verify before we can trust." Do you trust Muammar Qadhafi and Saddam Hussein to abide by anything they sign?
SECRETARY COHEN: I don't necessarily trust either of those two individuals. What I do trust is the capability of the United States, combining our intelligence assets, overhead and otherwise, inside information as such, to point us in the direction of those countries who might sign and cheat.
Let me give you an example. There was an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Mr. (inaudible), a former scientist in the Chemical Weapons Department of the Soviet Union - or Russia. For years, he was working on some projects and found out that they were developing five new types of chemical weapons. He called them on it. He spent a couple of years in prison on it before he was finally released and they said he was not guilty of betrayal. He is now in this country, in Princeton. He wrote an article for the Philadelphia Inquirer, saying initially he was opposed to the treaty. Now he understands how the treaty will, in fact, require the Russians, should they ratify this particular treaty, to open up their system. He's given us a blueprint, so now he's strongly in favor. This treaty allows us greater opportunity to go into countries who either sign it and seek to cheat or who don't sign it where we can bring sanctions against them and help to isolate them as the rogue nations of the world.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Tim, I think the thing that might not be clear is this treaty comes into effect whether we sign it or not. By our not ratifying it, we will not have positions on the Executive Board that writes more detailed rules or is able to have inspectors go into these countries. So it isn't as if this is not going to happen. It will happen. We just won't be a part of it, and we will be in the same position as Iraq and Libya. That is what, to me, seems like such a ludicrous position.
That is why we need to be a part of it. It's going to happen anyway.
MR. RUSSERT: But, Madam Secretary, Iraq signed the Geneva Convention in 1925, promising never to use chemical weapons. They've used them. They used them against the Kurds in '88; they used them against Iran. The United Nations, for the last five years, crawling on their hands and knees throughout Iraq, looking for chemical weapons -- they've not be able to find them.
What makes you so confident that if Saddam Hussein or Muammar Qadhafi agree to this chemical treaty ban that they're going to possibly abide by it?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me disagree with you. As a result of the United Nations actions and the commission that goes in there, we have, in fact, been able to find their chemical weapons as well as their nuclear weapons. So the international way of doing things does work. By having this be an international treaty, it gives much greater pressure to all the other countries against the Libyas and Iraqs. They are a problem. There is no question about it.
But we cannot allow the rule-breakers to make the rules. We are trying to get some control over this deadliest of all weapons of mass destruction because it spreads like the wind. We have to try to get some control over it.
MR. RUSSERT: What would happen, Mr. Secretary Cohen, if a country signs up to this treaty, learns a lot of the technology and the know-how, and then 10 years from now decides to break away and use chemical weapons? What will we do if Libya and Iraq actually use chemical weapons?
SECRETARY COHEN: Obviously, we have the capability --General Schwarzkopf talked about this and General Powell and others, and General Shalikashvili as well -- we have the capability of wreaking tremendous destruction on any country that would direct their chemical weapons against our troops.
Certainly, if these countries were to use chemical weapons against any other nation, then the international community would come down very hard in the way of sanctions, possibly other types of actions. So the fact that they might break away and use them, they have to face a retaliation as far as the United States is concerned that would devastate their country.
That is one of the messages that went out very clearly to Saddam Hussein: "Do not even think about it; don't think about using chemical weapons against our troops because you're going to face a response from which you will not recover." That's the kind of message we can send.
MR. RUSSERT: Joining me in the questions this morning, making her first appearance as a married woman on "Meet the Press," - best wishes - Andrea Mitchell. Now, go get them!
MS. MITCHELL: Take it from there, right? Good morning to you both. I want to focus on the chief argument of the treaty opponents, which is that this treaty will help to spread chemical weapons and technology; not to curb it. This is basically what they are trying to fix in what you all call "killer amendments."
Let me show you one of the key provisions of this treaty that they object to. It says that "Each state party undertakes to facilitate and shall have the right to participate in the fullest possible exchange of equipment, material, and scientific and technological information concerning means of protection against chemical weapons."
Basically, in plain English, that would require us to share our secrets of defending against chemicals with these other countries. The President said, as recently as Friday, that he would only authorize medical supplies. But that's not binding, and that's certainly not binding on other countries, is it Madam Secretary?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Andrea, first of all, we have a choice as to how we are going to fulfill that article of the treaty.
MS. MITCHELL: We have a choice, but what about other countries? What about France and Germany providing more than just medical supplies? Providing defensive equipment and technology to Iran?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It is my belief that they will not do that. In our case, we have decided very fully that we will only provide medical and humanitarian supplies. If we are not on this rule-making body, it is much more likely that others will, in fact, provide more.
The point here that I keep making is, this treaty is going forward. Our way of making sure that our national interests are protected is for us to be on that Executive Board making those kinds of rules. So I feel very confident that with our being present, we have a much better shot at preserving our national interests.
SECRETARY COHEN: Can I add a postscript to that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Please.
SECRETARY COHEN: First of all, it would be inconsistent on the part of those who are signatories and ratifiers of this agreement to want to undercut by providing the kind of technology that would make it easier for countries to use this technology against us. That's completely inconsistent.
Secondly, assuming that we don't have a ratified treaty, they could do it now. By being part of the treaty we at least are in a position to encourage our allies not to engage in any kind of sharing of technology that would undercut the effect of the treaty itself.
MS. MITCHELL: But we have said that we have promises from our allies. But first of all, those are not written, they're not binding. Second of all, they don't bind future governments of these allies. And, third of all, it would not stop Russia from trading with China and Iran, India - any of these countries that are not part of this group of allies with whom we deal most effectively. So you've got a second set of countries that could be trading amongst each other, even if we don't.
SECRETARY COHEN: There are countries who may refuse to ratify this particular agreement. They will be isolated, as Secretary Albright has said -
MS. MITCHELL: But even ratifiers might trade amongst each other because they interpret this provision differently than the President has.
SECRETARY COHEN: They may interpret it differently but they will also be part of this Council. The United States would now have a seat at the Council that will give us an opportunity to urge our allies and those who are in this treaty not to do this thing; that we're trying to get people to cut back, not to expand it. So it's totally inconsistent.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Andrea, the thing that I have never quite understood is, we make laws against drug smugglers because we want to prevent drug smuggling. It doesn't mean that we catch all the drug smugglers, but we at least make the rules and do what we can to catch as many people as we can. That is what this is about. It is tightening the noose on those countries that continue to be interested in chemical weapons or are not signatories, and making a very tight international rule system so that chemical weapons cannot be used or spread.
MS. MITCHELL: But part of this is inspections. So now we're going to have Iran signing the treaty and sending Iranian inspectors to root around in all of the secrets in our companies throughout this country? Is that something that American manufacturers or the American people want to have?
SECRETARY COHEN: The American manufacturers, the chemical manufacturers, endorse this treaty.
MS. MITCHELL: They do endorse it -
SECRETARY COHEN: They're not worried about this -
MS. MITCHELL: The industry is split.
SECRETARY COHEN: The major companies are not worried about these inspections. Secondly, an agreement has been reached with the Senate that would set up a procedure whereby we would prohibit any arbitrary type of inspections that would have to be; the type of warrants that would be issued. This is not gendarmes banging on the door in the middle of the night saying "open your doors up." This is very carefully crafted to make sure that our rights are protected, as such.
MS. MITCHELL: Let me get you an example, though, of the non-proliferation treaty. The nuclear treaty is being by Russia; the Atoms for Peace section, which is parallel to the sharing of chemical technology section of this treaty.
Russia is using that Atoms for Peace section as an excuse for selling nuclear reactors to Iran, something we don't want. We've got this wonderful relationship with Boris Yeltsin, we're told. Yet, we have not been able to stop them from selling nuclear reactors. How are we then going to be able to stop them from selling or sharing chemical information?
SECRETARY COHEN: Are you better off with this arrangement or better off without it? If it comes to the point where we say we have no agreement, no opportunity to try to encourage them or discourage them from doing this, are you better off in this environment or outside of it? It seems to me we are better off with this treaty than without it.
MR. RUSSERT: We are the world's last remaining superpower. Yet China and Russia, Madam Secretary Albright, have not ratified this treaty. Why should the United States agree to something that China and Russia may not abide by?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'll tell you, Tim, you've answered the question. We are the superpower. We are the leader. This is a leadership question. The Russian Duma is waiting to ratify this treaty as soon as we do. If we do not ratify it, we are giving cover to the hard-liners that are opposed to it.
I think this does become a leadership question. It is not just a leadership question for the current President. It is a leadership question for the United States. This treaty has "made in America" written all over it. As I said, it will go into effect without us; and those inspectors that Andrea was talking about, if we're not on this Executive Committee, we will have no say over the inspections.
MR. RUSSERT: Can you state this morning with certainty that China and Russia will ratify this treaty?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I am very hopeful that they will. But I can tell you with certainty that if we don't, they probably won't.
MR. RUSSERT: You've been courting Senator Trent Lott, Republican leader of the Senate. He is critical for this to pass. Do you have Senator Lott's vote?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Senator Lott has been very, very helpful and responsible in making sure that the treaty comes to a vote. He and Senator Daschle and Senator Biden and Senator Helms have been all working on this. We are very hopeful that all the Senators will understand the importance of this treaty to U.S. national interests.
We just are very pleased with the way that the negotiations have been proceeding.
MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you about a couple of related issues, Secretary Cohen. Colin Powell went before the Senate this week. He was testifying about the United States during the Gulf war blowing up an Iraqi arms site and apparently released some chemical weapon vapors which could have damaged and hurt our troops.
Colin Powell said that if he was still at the Pentagon, he would be raping and pillaging through the intelligence community trying to find out why the CIA did not tell the military about this danger to our troops. Is anyone at the Pentagon rampaging, raping, and pillaging, trying to get an answer to this?
SECRETARY COHEN: I think to use that metaphor at this particular time, with everything else that's going on, is probably inappropriate for me, at least.
I'd say we have a very intensive investigation underway. We have Dr. Rostker, who is conducting an investigation, certainly, into the Gulf War illness. We're trying to find out what the facts are in terms of who had information, what that information was. It has not been a work of art, to say the least, in terms of what has happened in the past, as far as the accumulation of information, the maintenance of records and logs. We have a lot of work to do, but we are undertaking intensive investigation to find out exactly who knew what and when and why that information wasn't shared.
MR. RUSSERT: Two weeks ago, nearly, an A-10 plane and pilot disappeared in the skies over America. Can you assure the American people today that that pilot, and that plane, is not hiding out someplace, ready to do something awful to this country?
SECRETARY COHEN: No. I don't think anyone can give you any assurance. We believe that the plane ultimately ran out of fuel and crashed. But that's an assumption which needs to be verified, if I can use that word again today. We don't know at this point. We are conducting an intensive investigation. Hundreds of square miles have been surveyed. It's a very tough area to cover, a very large area, mountainous, snow-covered. So we intend to continue the search for this particular plane, but we can't give anyone any assurances as to what happened at this point.
MR. RUSSERT: This morning a defector from North Korea arrived in South Korea, and he had this to say: "North Korea seems to think there is no option but to use the powerful military force it has built." Are we that close to war in the Korean Peninsula?
SECRETARY COHEN: It's one of the most dangerous flash points in the world. It has been for some time. I think given the situation in North Korea today, it remains that way. That's why we're trying to the get the Four Party talks underway.
Also, I would point out that on my trip to South Korea, I had an opportunity to talk to the President of the country, the Foreign Minister and the Defense Minister and was assured that the United States also will have access to this defector to find out more about what is in the hearts and minds of the Korean leadership.
MR. RUSSERT: Madam Secretary, Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel, is facing allegations of scandal; perhaps indictment. Probably not. We'll know later this morning. How weakened has he been by all these allegations?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: This is a purely internal matter for the Israelis. I think they will have to be the ones to make the judgment.
Let me just say, Dennis Ross has just returned from the Middle East. He has managed to get the security talks restarted. He will be reporting to the President and to me more officially tomorrow. We are remaining actively engaged, obviously, to make sure that the peace process can be reinvigorated. That is what we have to keep our eye on.
MR. RUSSERT: You've announced you're going to Hong Kong the day it's turned over to the Chinese communist government. Martin Lee, one of the leaders of the democratic forces in Hong Kong, came to the United States the other day and said, "No doubt the U.S. will defend Hong Kong's freedoms."
One, what message are you sending by going to Hong Kong? And two, how will the U.S. possibly defend Hong Kong's freedoms if it's occupied by the communist Chinese?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have stated over and over again that it is very important to live up to the terms of the Chinese-British agreement on the reversion of Hong Kong, which does state the importance of maintaining the way of life of Hong Kong, the various freedoms that are essential to have it carry on.
I decided to go to the reversion ceremony. First of all, Martin Lee did, in fact, think that it was a very good idea. The British are the hosts of this. They have invited an international delegation, and I will be very pleased to be there. I think that will also signal our continued interest in making sure that the way of life of Hong Kong is preserved by making public statements and also making it very evident to Chinese leaders, whenever we meet with them, that the way of life of Hong Kong is important to the United States.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary Cohen, before you go, the Washington Post has reported that we can now confirm the Iranians were involved in blowing up 19 American boys in Saudi Arabia last year - two years ago almost.
President Clinton had this to say in June '95. I want to get your reaction to it:
President Clinton: "Let me say again, we will pursue this. America takes care of our own. Those who did it must not go unpunished."
Will the Iranians be punished?
SECRETARY COHEN: First of all, I'm not sure that the Washington Post has the complete story since we don't have the complete story yet. The FBI still has this under investigation. There has been no conclusive evidence at this point as to an Iranian involvement. If that is determined, that they were involved, then obviously we have a full range of options we can pursue. So far the evidence is incomplete, and we need more evidence before we reach any kind of a definitive conclusion.
MR. RUSSERT: If we did confirm, we would retaliate?
SECRETARY COHEN: I think if we did confirm they were involved, we have a host and an array of options that we can pursue that would respond to this kind of an attack.
MR. RUSSERT: Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, you're here on behalf of the Chemical Weapons Treaty. The vote is Thursday, and we'll watch it carefully. Thanks for joining us.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much.
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