PHIL PONCE: Madame Secretary, first of all, thank you for being here.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State: Very good to be with you.
PHIL PONCE: The talks that have been scheduled for this weekend on Kosovo, are they in fact going to happen, are they on?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We have every reason to believe that they're on. They are going to start Saturday in Rambouillet, France. They will be attended by a delegation of Kosovar-Albanians - a mixed group of them. They have all been . . . thanks to Ambassador Hill, they have been put together in a delegation and then we have every reason to believe that there will be a high level delegation of Serbs from Belgrade, and that we are not yet quite clear about who is coming to that.
But these talks are really essential at this point, because what has happened is that in the last few weeks, the massacres in Kosovo have risen. We have been very concerned about what's been going on there and we learned in Bosnia that it's important if you . . . to do something early on, because either you pay a small amount now or pay more later. And so we think it's very important. This is a crucial time to get them together and thanks to the work of Ambassador Chris Hill, our lead American negotiator, he has been able to put this together.
PHIL PONCE: And as they come together, what kind of a deal are you anticipating? What are the parameters of the kind of agreement that you'd like to see?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, this is being done on the basis of a draft document for an interim period of three years that Ambassador Hill and his co-envoy Ambassador Petritsch from the European Union have been working on for some time with the parties. And the basis of it is to put together a high degree of self-government for the people of Kosovo. And it is a document that lays out a whole series of local institutional structures that would be put into place along with the local police and elections for the Kosovar Albanians during this interim period.
And this document is going to be put down at the meeting and they must agree to it and that is what these talks are about. They have one week to have these negotiations, and if they are making significant progress in the contact group, which is -- we are in it and the British, the French, the Germans and the Italians and Russians -- would then decide whether to extend the amount of time.
PHIL PONCE: And if they're not making progress, the possibility of air strikes?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, there are really three outcomes to this. If the Serbs do not comply, and are not, one -- either don't come to the table or are not fulfilling their obligations then they are open to air strikes and that decision has already been taken by NATO and is in, so to speak, the back pocket of Secretary General Solana who after consultation with us and other NATO allies could use air strikes to make clear to the Serbs that they need to comply.
With the Kosovar Albanians, then we would also have other forms of pressure, and it would be also very clear to them that if not complying or not being really forthcoming in a number of ways in these negotiations or not participating in them, that NATO would not be there for them. They are relying very much on the support of international community and if that is withdrawn, then that is a very serious problem for them and there are other forms of pressure.
Now, the other possible outcome is that they actually will agree and in that case, that is when we begin to consider whether there should be a NATO force that would carry out the implementation of the agreement.
PHIL PONCE: And has the administration decided that if there is a NATO force, U.S. troops would form part of the component.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: The president today said that we are seriously considering -- and I believe that there are compelling reasons to seriously consider -- having Americans in that force, because I think there are fundamental American national interests involved in what is going on in the Balkans and in Kosovo.
First of all, we have believed for a long time that it is essential to have stability and peace throughout Europe, but also here in Southern Europe. We also think that it is very important that NATO have credibility and our leadership in it. It is important . . . it is of fundamental interest to the United States that there be democratic principles in this area and it is fundamentally of interest to the United States that all that we put into Bosnia be really protected and we don't want it to become unraveled as a result of Kosovo.
And finally, it is of fundamental interest to the United States to have the rule of law in this region, so those are all the reasons why . . . the compelling reasons to seriously consider our participating in a ground force that would only go in under conditions where there is an agreement between the two parties and it's a permissive environment.
PHIL PONCE: Madame Secretary, how many troops would you envision and how long would you expect them to be there?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, that decision about numbers is something that has not been decided. But, we would have a small proportion of the troops . . .
PHIL PONCE: Can you give a range, when you say small?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, several thousand. I mean not a lot, lower. But the important point here and what makes this a really . . . something that is very important for the American people to know is that the Europeans have already made quite clear that they are willing to participate very actively in a ground force. The French and the British have already said so and that they would be contributing the lion's share and ours would be on the low end of the scale.
PHIL PONCE: And what would the troops be doing. What would the U.S. troops be doing on a day-to-day basis?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well . . .
PHIL PONCE: Who would they be monitoring, so to speak?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, basically what should be happening there if there is an agreement. This interim period would be used in order to help get a local police and have these local institutions and elections take place. And the forces would be there basically in a way to provide a secure environment. The forces that are there now, the Yugoslav forces and the special police, those would be withdrawn on a sequential basis. Local police would rise up and forces there would be doing some of the things they've been doing in Bosnia, providing an environment in which these roots of local institutions and self-government could sink into the earth in Kosovo.
PHIL PONCE: In your opinion, what would be the consequences if US troops were not part of this force?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think there would be two consequences. One is that I think we are the ones that is some ways provide a sense of security, for especially the Kosovar Albanians to go into this kind of an agreement. And so it is important in terms of the Kosovo problem itself. And the . . .
PHIL PONCE: If I can interrupt for a second, why is it not enough for them to see that the British might be there, the French would be there, the Russians would be there? Why is American participation key to the Kosovar Albanians?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Because I think that we are the key to a lot of the things happening everywhere in the world. We have said over and over again, that we are the indispensable nation and not just because we say so, but because others believe it. And I think that they see us as the country that really does and can provide the leadership. They are comfortable with us, and so there is an important part about what is going on in Kosovo itself. But there is a second reason and the second reason has to do with NATO. We consider NATO the prime military alliance of all time and our leadership in it is very important. And, while the Europeans need to take up more and more of the responsibilities, especially when it's happening on the European continent, it's very important to keep the American link with NATO and to maintain our leadership within the NATO alliance.
PHIL PONCE: Madame Secretary, you've been critical of the conduct of Yugoslav President Milosevic. Why do you think he'll cooperate this time and keep his commitments?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that he . . . we have to see whether he will. I think that to a great extend, the Kosovo problem is a drain on him and he knows also that he is rapidly losing any support in the international community and he wants to at some stage, re-enter the international community. He has to weigh what is more important to him -- whether going forward with an endless struggle with people who are determined to have a certain amount of self-government or whether making an agreement that provides an interim period of peace and allows him to at least think in some way coming back into some kind of better reputation with the international community. He has to see that it is a practical ....it's an outcome for him that is useful.
PHIL PONCE: And last question. Are you optimistic that there will be a deal?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I have just given a speech in which I have quoted my friend, Vaclav Havel, saying that you can't be an optimist always because you don't know how things are going to come out. And you can't be a pessimist because they don't always go badly, but it's important to be a realist. And I think here, I'm realistic about the difficulties involved in this but also persuaded, deeply persuaded, that if we do not take this action now, that there will really be increased fighting in the spring that has the possibility of spreading beyond the Kosovo region because there are no natural boundaries to ethnic fighting, that there will be instability of much greater proportions in the Balkans -- possibly spreading to Albania and Macedonia and throughout and that ultimately, we will have to do more. And therefore I am ... I really do think there are now compelling reasons for us to seriously consider not only being a part of this whole process but also sending in ground forces for an implementation of this process.
PHIL PONCE: Madame Secretary, thank you very much.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thank you.