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U.S. Department of State

Great Seal Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright
Interview on NBC-TV's "Meet The Press" With Tim Russert
Washington, DC, August 9, 1998
As released by the Office of the Spokesman, August 17, 1998
U.S. Department of State

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MR. RUSSERT: First, terrorism against America. With us, the Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Madame Secretary, welcome. First our condolences to the State Department employees and their families on their loss of life.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you. These are very brave Americans who have undertaken a job as diplomats representing our country. A lot of the people have the wrong image of diplomats -- they think they go to parties. But basically they are people that are out there representing America. They can't be sitting in a building that is just a fortress. They need to go out; they need to represent the best of America; and they need to report to us about what is going on in each of the countries where they are.

So by definition they are on the front lines every day. They join the diplomatic service or come and work -- those who, in the countries, come and work as foreign service nationals knowing that they have to be out and around. That's their job.

MR. RUSSERT: The latest reports have 11 Americans dead. Do you expect that death toll to go higher?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, there's still one missing. I think that we have to see. Basically, we're now looking very much at how to help the Kenyans and hundreds of those who have died and been injured. I think that that is our main effort now is to get the people out, medevac'd out -- a lot of them have come out -- and we've brought in an awful lot of equipment, both medical and disaster relief, as well as trying to -- as you have shown so many pictures -- of trying to still get the building excavated in a way to do two things -- obviously to get those who can be brought out, brought out; but at the same time, not to destroy any evidence that would allow us how to track how this happened.

MR. RUSSERT: How many Americans were injured?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think there were about 30 injured.

MR. RUSSERT: When do you expect the bodies to come home of those who have lost their life?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Tim, we're working on that right now. Part of it has to do with just trying to make sure that everything is done right. But midweek, that's one of the things that we're working on right now.

MR. RUSSERT: There is a lot of discussion at this time, as you might expect, about the facilities. The New York Times had an article, "Bombed Embassies Did Not Meet Toughened Security Standards." In 1985, Admiral Bobby Inman did a report and said that the buildings should have nine-foot walls around them, 100 feet back from the street. Neither of these embassies complied with those security regulations. Why?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think people need to understand we have about 280 different posts throughout the world. Where we have been able to build new buildings, we have done so according to what are known as "the Inman standards." We have also tried, in a systematic way, to upgrade the embassies around the world by making sure that the perimeters are secure, that there are barricades, barbed wire, a variety of things to try to secure the buildings. There was a lot of work done on the embassy in Nairobi, but it is an old building. It is in the location where it has been. The problem that we have, Tim, frankly, is we cannot move every embassy or location in the world now. We don't have the money or the resources to do that. So we are systematically -- and have been for some time -- re-evaluating the security issues across the world and prioritizing, working very hard to get everything up to an appropriate level. But it is a very hard job, and we do not have the resources for it.

MR. RUSSERT: Will you ask Congress for the resources?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We're going to be talking about that, working with Congress. I have to tell you that I have had in the past really good cooperative discussions with Senator Judd Gregg and Congressman Hal Rogers on this subject. When I testify, we all talk about the fact that these are people that are out there doing their job for America and we need to do everything we can to protect them. So we are going to be talking about how to increase their resources.

MR. RUSSERT: Are all American embassies now on a heightened state of alert?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes, they are. We have asked our embassies to be. We have also, Tim, warned Americans who are traveling generally to be aware of dangers, to check with the embassy for additional information on the conditions. But everybody is on heightened alert at the embassies.

MR. RUSSERT: How did this happen? Was it a suicide bomber?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we don't know this. One of the whole problems now is that the investigation is going on. There are FBI agents that have arrived both in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam. There will be the kinds of detailed investigations that have been carried out on previous bombings both in this country and abroad. But at this stage, I think it would be irresponsible, really, to talk about what is going on. The American people and you want us to investigate this fully and we will do so. But I can't answer any specific questions on what is actually -- how that is perceived.

MR. RUSSERT: The sheer force of these explosions and the fact that they were able to do two at the same time indicates a pretty sophisticated technical know-how.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that clearly that is so. But again, I do not want to talk about the details of this because the investigation is going to be a very complex and complete one. I think that it does not help in any shape or form to speculate at this time.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me show you the photograph of one gentleman Osama bin Laden, and we'll put it on the screen for our viewers to see. He is a Saudi now living in Afghanistan and The New York Times has reported he has an extensive terrorist network throughout the world in Africa, of all places. Will we be looking into his potential involvement in this?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Again, I am not going to comment on anything to do with this particular investigation because I don't want harm it in any way. But, clearly, he is someone that has been involved in sponsoring terrorism. He has made speeches in which he has warned of -- basically been very anti-American. But I don't want to comment in any way on this particular investigation or anybody's connection with it.

MR. RUSSERT: Tom Friedman of The New York Times , who covers foreign policy and the Middle East particularly, wrote a column. I want to read something to you and get your reaction to it; and I'll put it on the screen:

"The US pays a price for letting things like the Khobar Towers bombing go without retaliation.

Khobar Towers was the US military apartment building in Saudi Arabia where a huge truck bomb exploded June 25, '96, killing 19 Americans. The Saudis have never turned over the evidence because some of it reveals links to Iran. The Saudis didn't want the US to retaliate against Iran and then leaving Saudi Arabia to absorb the counter-strike."

He goes on, "The White House basically bowed to Saudi wishes. But when people think they can attack the US with impunity, they will be tempted to try again."

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I have the highest respect for Tom Friedman. But I think on this, he doesn't have all the facts. That investigation is going on.. It is a very complicated one. I think that what we have to guard against here, Tim, is to take action without having all the facts because we then provoke different problems. I think that while there might be instant gratification to do something about an attack on us, we have to be absolutely sure we have the facts straight.

The memory of the United States is very long and our reach is very far. We have systematically brought in people who have been accused of terrorist acts. In the last five years we have brought in nine people -- brought nine people to justice that were somehow involved in terrorist acts. So unfortunately this is very difficult work and we have to be very careful to get the facts right, because it doesn't just involve us. I think as -- the part that Tom wrote is true -- that this happened in Saudi Arabia. We have to make sure that everything that we get is accurate. But people should not forget there is no statute of limitations on any of these crimes, and the United States will continue to pursue until there is justice.

MR. RUSSERT: If this is found to be state-sponsored terrorism, we will retaliate against the sponsoring state.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We will take the appropriate action. But I'm not going to speculate about this. I think that it's too tempting to go down a particular path without knowing all the facts.

The problem, though, here -- and I think all of us need to understand this -- we are in a very different kind of a world. We went through 50 years where we knew who the enemy was. We consolidated our forces; we built up the military; we had a way of dealing with a specific threat -- the Soviet Union and communism. We now have a new threat: global terrorism is a huge threat. We discuss it at all levels; the President talks to his counterparts about it, so do I. This is our biggest issue out there that we have to deal with. But it is a complicated one; it comes from a variety of places; it deals with individuals who are willing to commit suicide in order to do it, or some other act. I think that we, as a country, have problems with this at home. We are dealing with it here. Internationally we are doing everything to work together against what is this new threat on countries that live a decent life.

MR. RUSSERT: Let me ask you one more question about political will and show you the remainder of the Friedman column and get your reaction to it, as well. If we can put it on the screen there.

"The other conclusion is that if the US is compelled to retaliate, the Monica Lewinsky affair can only complicate matters. Every foreign or domestic actor who is looking for excuses to oppose any US retaliation in this case will claim that President Clinton is only acting to distract attention from his embarrassing entanglements and that will make building diplomatic support more difficult."

True?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: This is ridiculous. I mean, the bottom line is, is that we are all doing our job, starting with President Clinton. We are not taking into consideration extraneous events. We are all focused on making sure that American foreign policy is carried out properly and taking action that is appropriate to whatever it is, whether it is Iraq or whether it is our Middle East peace talks or whether it is something like this.

I have just come from abroad where I have followed up on the President's visit to China, as well as activities to do with our Asian allies. Wherever I have been, it is very clear to me that the United States -- and President Bill Clinton, specifically -- are highly respected, and that they know that we are undertaking a foreign policy that is in pursuit of our national interests. That is what is on people's minds. I am very proud to say that that is what we are continuing to do.

MR. RUSSERT: So his preparing to testify before a grand jury is not a distraction?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Is it not distraction in terms of foreign policy, I can assure you of that.

MR. RUSSERT: And joining me in our questioning today is our State Department correspondent, Andrea Mitchell.

MS. MITCHELL: Good morning, Tim, Madame Secretary.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning.

MS. MITCHELL: Saddam Hussein, another major challenge to this president, to this country. This weekend Iraq's official newspaper declared the UN inspectors spies and saboteurs, and said that they must be brought to justice. Are we concerned about their safety? And should the UN pull them out?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that what you have made clear here, Andrea, is that this is a problem between Iraq and the United Nations. UNSCOM is a United Nations outfit that has been commanded by the Security Council to go out and do the job of inspections and monitoring. We believe that they are in a position to be safe. That is clearly Saddam Hussein's responsibility. But UNSCOM has a job to do, and it is not up to Saddam Hussein to make the rules about how the UN operates.

MS. MITCHELL: But, Madame Secretary, as of this minute the UNSCOM -- or the UN inspectors, as they are known, are not going out to do inspections; they are not going to sites; they are only doing routine monitoring. So in a way, Saddam Hussein is able to hide his evidence, to snatch documents out of their hands, as he did only last week; and hasn't he, in effect, won?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, on the contrary -- he is further away from his goal. I think we need to put this into context. Saddam Hussein, more than anything, wants to get out of the sanctions regime. Over the last eight years that this toughest sanctions regime in the history of the world has been in, he has lost $120 billion of oil revenue that he believes that he needs. So we have been able to deny that to him.

The only way that he can get out of the sanctions regime is for there to be disclosure of what he has. UNSCOM, the UN inspectors, are the eyes and ears of the international community in order to validate whether he has, in effect, disclosed. If he doesn't let them in or doesn't let them do their job, he's thrown away the key to the box he's in. So he is the loser of this.

MS. MITCHELL: Ambassador Richard Butler, who heads that UN team, says the other major goal he has is to hide his biological weapons, to hide his chemical weapons -- the VX discovery of nerve gas, which a single drop can kill a person -- those kinds of discoveries. So he's desperate to hide, the UN alleges, those kinds of terrible weapons. If he is unwilling to disclose -- and there is a clear lack of will in the Security Council, despite their statement, this time they did not threaten military action and all of the diplomats are telling us that there is no real support for going to the mat with Saddam Hussein again. So won't he be able to get some compromise out of Kofi Annan and the United Nations and keep his secret weapons?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: He has made a deal with Kofi Annan -- a memorandum of understanding about how these inspections were to be carried out. Richard Butler went there in order to try to give him a work plan. He said he didn't want to follow that. The bottom line here is sanctions cannot be lifted without the agreement of the United States. They will not be lifted so long as he does not fulfill the obligations, which is to disclose what he has. The United States reserves the right to use force if, in fact, there is a threat to the stability of the region or in any way that we feel that we are endangered.

We are not going to operate on Saddam Hussein's schedule. He seems to find August an appropriate month to go and threaten the international community. The United States has its own schedule for doing things. We are going to contain him with this toughest of all sanctions. We are maintaining a force in the region which we are prepared to use if, in fact, there is a threat to the region.

MS. MITCHELL: But all of our signals have been that we do not want to use force this time, that we are not going to rise to his bait. We seem to be more and more isolated, certainly within the UN.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: On the contrary. You know what's happened, I think, is that this has been very clearly now turned into what it always has been, but more clearly evident -- that this is an Iraq-UN problem. This is a violation, as was stated, of the memorandum of understanding that Saddam Hussein made with Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations, which was supported in a Security Council resolution. This, at this stage, is not a problem between Saddam Hussein and the US; it is a problem between Saddam Hussein and the United Nations. The United Nations has to stand up for what it has obliged him to do.

MS. MITCHELL: And you don't think that the United States appears to be weaker and more vulnerable?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I do not. I think that the United States has made clear what our position is and that we are prepared to use force if necessary. But basically, Saddam Hussein has wrestled himself to the ground. He is stuck in a box and he's thrown away the key.

MR. RUSSERT: Madame Secretary, we thank you for joining us. Again, our sympathies to the State Department colleagues who have lost their lives.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much.

[End of Document]

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