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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Press Briefing, Four Seasons Hotel
Singapore, July 29, 1997
As released by the Office of the Spokesman in Singapore,
July 30, 1997
U.S. Department of State

Blue Bar

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I would like to make a suggestion that we break some precedence here and for the first time in history have a singing briefing. So I invite you please to sing.
ROBIN WRIGHT: We, like the ASEANs and the members of our group were deeply and profoundly impressed with this untapped talent. We were all so deeply impressed that you would share it with us by serenading us on the back of the plane. We also are fully confident that you will be performing again. And so, we have found a small prop to add to your collection for when you perform at the White House.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That is terrific. I am going to have to grow my hair. Thank you, thank you very much.
Let me just say a couple of things to begin with, and that is that I think that this has been a very important and useful trip. It really solidified for me the sense that I had as I was going there, that the United States is very important to this region -- strategically, economically, politically, and musically. Clearly our presence is very important in Southeast Asia. That was evident in a large proportion of what was said in the meetings and then generally, I think, in the way that the discussion went forward, and how others related to the points that we were making.
Second, as a result of that whole feeling, there are great dividends for Americans and that is this huge market. There are about half a billion of people that live in the ASEAN countries, they are, as a result, our fourth largest trading partner. They are very open to American products, goods, the services approach. Frankly, the tour that I took this afternoon at Seagate was real proof of that in terms of the combination of a product that is designed and created in the United States and then portions of it transferred out here to a company that employs a 100,000 people and a combination of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. I think that is a very good example of what can happen and how good it is for America and it is not just problems that come home to America but also products and jobs. I think that this area is very important to us.
Third, the meeting also gave me a very good way to get to know some of my counterparts better and there were a lot of discussions in a variety of fora. For instance, the ASEAN Regional Forum really does bring together the concepts that I talked about initially -- the importance of the strategic underpinning to the economic and political relationships -- and is clearly a very good way for me to relate to them as a group, but also individually, and the importance of common factors that we have. An example of that is the way that the group came together very rapidly on the initiatives vis-à-vis Cambodia. Obviously, we talked about Cambodia primarily at the dinner the first night. It was a very intensive discussion, and the United States wanted to and did, in fact, do support the ASEAN initiative vis-a-vis Cambodia, and they were very intense in terms of moving forward on that. We then proposed that we form a Friends of Cambodia group that is determined to support the ASEAN initiative and focus on making sure that the elections in May 1998 are free and fair, and we can talk more about that. But I really got the feeling that the consensus methods that operate within ASEAN when directed at a problem such as Cambodia was very effective and provide us a vehicle for helping to deal with the problem with ASEAN in the lead.
We had some excellent exchanges on Burma and all of you know that we did not agree with ASEAN taking Burma in. A number of times I made the point that once they were in that I hope they would use their influence to affect some changes in Burma. I was given a chance to express the view fairly strongly, with which some agreed in the meetings and might have disagreed when they came out of the meetings, but they agreed with me in the meetings that something needed to be done to move the process forward.
Again, as I said to you on the plane as I was coming out, this is my third trip to the region in the first six months of my tenure, and I will be coming back again because I think that the relationships here are very important to the United States. It is evident to me that there is a lot of action in Asia, all of which bears directly on America's interest -- economic, strategic and political interest -- so get ready for long hauls to Asia because I think we are going to be coming back. So, all in all, I think it was at least for me a fascinating three or four days.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, the Korean peace talks are supposed to be starting next week, can you talk a little bit about how you expect them to move, and what kind of discussions you had about them in ASEAN and why you think it has been so hard to get the Asian countries to support KEDO with real bucks? Secretary Christopher also made a pitch for money last year and apparently was unsuccessful or at least they didn't pony up enough money. Why is this happening?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me back into this and from the discussions that we had here. In the meeting, while we are doing the ARF, the Malaysian Foreign Minister kept track of subjects that were the most interesting or mentioned most often, and Korea was number one on the list. Let me just say, having talked about Cambodia the night before, people really focused a lot on the fact that the major strategic disruptions that could come to the region, could come from Korea. So there was a lot of focus on it and, frankly, a sense of relief that the four-party talks or the preparatory talks for the four-party talks were going forward. So there was a lot of focus on it.
I did talk about KEDO. I also do think that there will be greater support for KEDO financially than previously because I think that there was an understanding, more so about how the financial difficulties of KEDO and the necessity for supporting was integral to maintaining stability in the Korean peninsula. So there was, I thought, quite a lot of receptivity but we will see if the check is in the mail. You know we are going to press on it and as some of you know Ambassador Cleveland has been traveling in the region also talking about the importance of getting financial support for KEDO. So we are going to keep pressing it, and I do feel that there was more support for it. The fact the Europeans have contributed to it, and they raised the subject and were supportive of it.
Now what do we expect of the talks? The talks are going to set the agenda and the venue, and I think we will have to see how quickly we could move to the next round. But the feeling that we have now is that the North Koreans are now more willing to engage in a North-South dialogue. The Chinese are definitely supportive of that approach. The South Koreans are also at least in the discussions that I had with Foreign Minister Yoo were really prepared to be quite forthcoming. So I think that we will have to see how it proceeds, but my sense is that there is a lot of support for the four-party approach and a lot of recognition of the fact that this is a remaining problem, the one really serious strategic problem in the region.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, when you said the South Koreans are prepared to be quite forthcoming, what do you mean by that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think they are interested in making the North-South dialogue work also in terms of their willingness to talk about food aid and basically interested in moving the process forward.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, the Israelis and Palestinians are talking about assuming three of the nine areas of the discussion. Are you ready to send Dennis Ross to the region?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think Dennis is always prepared to go and I have been talking to him on the phone every other hour that I am not talking to you, and we are assessing what the appropriate time for him to go is, but we are encouraged by the fact that they are going to be talking. We will have to see how it proceeds.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I have two questions. One is about North Korea. When you met with the Japanese Foreign Minister did you talk about food aid for North Korea? What were the details of that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Every time we meet with the Japanese we talk about that and I think that they also understand the importance of food aid as a humanitarian issue here. We talked about the fact that Catherine Bertini of the World Food Program in fact had classified what was going on there as famine and starvation. I think also there has been some movement in North Korea vis-à-vis the Japanese wives issue. And I think that has eased the situation.
QUESTION: But did you get the feeling from the Japanese that they were more open to the idea of extending food aid?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes.
QUESTION: The second question that I have is about Burma. You have been very strong in expressing the U.S. position on Burma. But did you come away from the ASEAN forum with more than a hope, just a hope, that ASEAN would take some measures to influence change in Burma? Or is it just a hope?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I mean I had a sense that they listened very carefully to what I had to say and that, frankly, that I articulated what some of them had been thinking. They were more willing to admit frankly than I had expected that the process in Burma was much slower than they would like. And they were as dubious as I was about the explanations of the situation as given by the Burmese Foreign Minister. So I do think that they see that they have a responsibility vis-à-vis Burma and that by taking Burma into ASEAN that they have created a different situation within ASEAN, now, of having a government that they do not agree with. This is something that they do not want to have an internal dispute on and, therefore, they want to have some movement on the Burmese front.
QUESTION: Someone is going to ask you this so I will make this my first question. Does the United States yet have a view on whether that is Pol Pot, and is he alive and how do you judge this recent set of video tapes?
And, two, ASEAN, through Mr. Alatas and Mr. Abdullah, said that they were still waiting to hear from Phnom Penh about whether they were serious enough to send the ASEAN triumvirate back for talks despite Hun Sen's letter. Do you expect that to happen soon? And, do you feel that there is significant leverage on Hun Sen to get him to take seriously the five principles that you have stated about what should happen in Cambodia?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I have not seen any of the footage, and I think the answer is: we do not know. What we do think is very important is that Pol Pot be tried as a war criminal and in some procedure that is internationally accepted. And on the ASEAN initiative, my sense is that, at least the last time I had a discussion with Alatas and the others about this, that they considered that they had an invitation to go to Cambodia and that they were prepared to follow through on that. That there was not a question as to the fact that they were going to be able to carry on the mandate.
On the leverage question, I think we will have to see. I think we are building up leverage, and the sense that I got from the meeting and the fact that we spent as much time on Cambodia is that there is a general sense that Hun Sen has to move toward credible, free elections, fair and free elections in May 1998, and that we are going to keep our efforts focused on this. This Friends of Cambodia group will add support to the ASEAN initiative, and it is a sign of the support that the international community will give to the ASEAN initiative -- a symbol of the international community's interest in making sure that the Cambodian people have a chance for the fair and free elections.
QUESTION: Secretary Albright, can I ask you a question on bilateral relations between Singapore and the U.S.? You have met Prime Minister Goh and Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew for the first time. Have the meetings in any way changed your perceptions about Singapore and relations with the U.S.?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that our relations are good and on a very solid footing. They were among those even as I spoke with the Foreign Minister in Kuala Lumpur that are understanding and appreciative of the American role in the region. We have very close ties economically, politically, and strategically, and I felt that there is a very solid basis in fact for our relationship. I did raise some human rights issues, specifically the freedom of the press, with the Prime Minister.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, the last time Pol Pot was deemed to be in custody the U.S. was quite openly exploring ways to put him on trial internationally, as you suggested you are still interested in doing. Are those efforts on-going and we've already heard the Canadians don't feel their law is applicable in this case. Is the U.S. still exploring how to do this? And have they intensified it, given what is going on.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We are trying to explore different ways of making sure that whatever trial there is be one that is appropriate and legal and recognized and valid in terms of the international community. But it is complicated, and we do have people exploring a variety of ways of how this could be done.
QUESTION: Could you give us any more detail?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No.
QUESTION: Today in Malaysia the Foreign Minister of the Philippines is being a bit critical of the U.S. position on Burma, saying that sanctions don't really work, and he compared the situation to sanctions against Cuba. Now you said that in some of your meetings they said something inside the meetings and then said something outside. Is this difficult in dealing with this region? The public face versus the private face?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I do not think it is characteristic of this region. I think it is generally the line of work we are in.
QUESTION: But it is happening, correct?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think there are different venues for one's statements and I think that there are those who will say everywhere they do not believe in our sanctions policies. There is disagreement with it. But we are the United States. We believe that there is a reason to have sanctions against Burma. We imposed them after some very careful thinking and others have different views about how to handle them. However, that particular statement was not raised in any of the closed meetings.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, there has been a suggestion made recently that the United States is making a gesture towards Iran with this pipeline deal. Can you comment on that, please?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It is incorrect. The pipeline deal is one that is basically a way to try to help Turkey and Turkmenistan. It does not trigger the ILSA legislation. But there is no attempt here to change policy.
QUESTION: No recognition of a more moderate government, coming from Washington?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: As the President has said and I have said, we are waiting for some actions out of the new Iranian government.
QUESTION: What type of actions?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that the things that we have spoken about before are that we want to see support for the Middle East peace process, an end to support for terrorism, responsible behavior as far as weapons of mass destruction are concerned. I think everyone has been intrigued by the election of Mr. Khatami but actions speak louder that words.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, if I could I want to ask you about your bilateral with Ali Alatas and whether the case of Pakpahan came up, the labor leader. I guess Winston Lord saw him last September in his jail cell, he's under a capital sentence for labor activity. I wondered whether that had come up and what Alatas had said. And, secondly has there been any success through the ASEAN process in getting the UN special rapporteur for Burma into the country? Did that come up with the Burmese?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: In my discussion with Alatas we spoke about human rights generally and about releasing the Dili Nine, but did not speak specifically about the case. We spoke about East Timor and then spoke at some length about the importance of Indonesia's relationship to the United States. I think a lot of people forget that Indonesia has over 200 million people and a huge area that they occupy and that their relationship with us is a very important one for our strategic, economic, and political role in the region. The subject of the special rapporteur did not come up here, but it is a subject that we raise fairly frequently, Ambassador Richardson and I, when we speak with Kofi Annan in other venues.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, your trip here in Southeast Asia has been different in many ways from your recent trips to Europe. You are European by background. You're known to have European expertise. You know the players in Europe. That's not necessarily the case here. You have made some reference to the consensual approach of ASEAN. Can you talk a bit about the efforts to reach out to people you did not know before. How have you found this environment, perhaps different from the European environment?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, this assumption is actually not correct. I do happen to be European by background. However, I was a professor of international relations and a student of communist systems my entire life. So I have spent much more time thinking about Asia than you might know.
The question that I really have is whether the ways of operating are that different. I think that I have found that consensus is a useful way of operating whether you're operating in Europe, the United States, or Asia. Having personal relationships with one's counterparts is useful in the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, or Latin America for that matter. Having frank discussions privately, sometimes publicly, is useful everywhere and that while I do obviously understand cultural differences and respect them, I think we make a mistake in thinking that diplomatic dealings are that different from area to area. Now obviously you have to know a lot about each of the countries that you deal with. I have found this trip a really useful and important one. As I said, it is my third one. I will be back here a lot more because I believe that the United States and the Asian relationship is absolutely key, and I've made that point from the very beginning.
QUESTION: One follow-up, which was the flip side of that question. Many of the regional leaders did not know you before you came here. And Nick made the point that perhaps your great success in this skit helped them see you as a person and not just as a diplomat. Can you talk a little bit about that, about their discovery of Madeleine Albright?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that you have to ask them. But my sense of that was, first of all, I think that they are always interested in the American Secretary of State. There is no question that being the first woman Secretary of State has created additional interest in who this person is. And I think that they have had an image of me, some of them, as you know, as somebody who speaks her mind and has some fairly definitive and definite views. I think they were a little surprised to see "Evita," as was I. I had been warned about this skit and been warned by Nick about the fact that we had not performed up to American par, and it was very interesting, I think, to see the extent to which a lot them got into it as it is not always an American custom to get up and dance. And I think they were surprised that I thought it was fun and that I was not distant about it. But I think they had some preconceptions about me that are not true -- just the way I think some of you have some preconceptions about me.
So I think overall I would rate this a successful trip and what I was trying to accomplish: to show American interest in being part of this region; our respect for ASEAN as an organization; my personal desire to establish good relations with my counterparts; and to have my version of a good time.
QUESTION: Particularly from Mahathir, another person who tends to speak his mind, you must have had a fairly strong perception of your Kuala Lumpur section of the trip that this part of the world feels it's being pushed overly quickly and overly strongly into the future. And that they really would like the United States to cut them some slack over a whole range of issues -- currency, human rights, whatever you mention there is this underlying feeling that you guys are pushing them too fast. Do you think it would be fair or reasonable to cut them some slack given the opportunity to present their own legitimacies in the way they do things?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I am not sure I can agree with your assumptions. I think Dr. Mahathir is a case of his own. He has his views that are stated rather harshly, I think, and are not reflective, as far as I could see, of the general tenor of the younger leadership of the ASEAN countries. There is not at all a sense of "we" versus "them" in this grouping, which one would think from having read his welcoming speech, and so I didn't find that. I do think that Dr. Mahathir has a perspective that is reflective of his generation, but is not reflective of the other leaders with whom I met. Although I think it is probably not fair to say "generation" because meeting here with the Senior Minister, Mr. Lee, who is obviously one of the older people in the region and who has the most modern and strategic vision of anyone that I have met in a long time, so it may not be a generational thing.
QUESTION: Secretary, talking about Dr. Mahathir, you criticize his proposal to modify the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But since you spoke, the Philippines and the Indonesians have come up with some support to the idea. Are you worried that his proposal is gaining ground and adding some more tension between you and the ASEAN countries?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I am not worried because I think the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is universal. I think it is a reflection of the general feelings of people throughout the world about their desire to have political and human rights, and so I think that it is a declaration that has stood us well and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I would like to take you back to the pipeline issue again. Stipulating what you said about no change in U.S. policy, there is at least a perception among some analysts that if this is not a change of U.S. policy it at least can be read as a gesture, a signal, to Iran that the United States is willing to underscore the seriousness if you are willing to engage if in fact they meet the conditions that the U.S. set down? Is that a fair reading by people who are looking at this issue?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that we have to be careful not to get ahead of ourselves here. There clearly was an interesting election in Iran and unexpected to the Iranians and unexpected to those who follow it carefully. But so far we have not seen anything. First of all, he is not in office and second, there has been no action that one can see that would match a new election. But, as I said, the man has not been installed, so we have to see. But as I said, you know, we are not going to operate on faith. We are going to look for specific actions, and I think it is a mistake to get ahead of ourselves. We have some very, very serious problems with Iran, not ones that are figments of our imagination. We are concerned about support for terrorism, we are concerned about undermining the Middle East peace process, and we are concerned about irresponsible behavior vis-a-vis weapons of mass destruction.
Thank you.

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