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Newsmaker: Madeleine Albright

March 6, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: We go first tonight to a Newsmaker interview with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. It’s her first interview since returning last week from a trip that took her to nine countries in barely nine days. Madam Secretary, welcome.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State: Very good to be here, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: First, some of the news of the day. The Mexico story, there appears to be a serious move in Congress, the vote of the House committee today to rescind the certification of Mexico. How serious do you see that?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, we hope very much that that will not take place because after a very difficult decision that President Clinton made to certify, we believe it’s very important to uphold that because I think people need to understand that Mexico knows that it has a serious national security problem with the drug issue; that they are working with us. There is a very high level of cooperation. President Zedillo is committed to dealing with this problem, and decertification only complicates the factors. I think that we do have a high level of cooperation. He has done quite a lot of things that are very difficult to do in terms of eradication, seizing, a lot of drugs, trying to get rid of a lot of the corruption within the police system. He knows he has a big job. There is no question about that. And what we have to do is assure ourselves of continued cooperation and not have a backlash just against the United States for having taken a snapshot of an issue and blaming them. This is not a blame game. What this is, is an attempt to try to deal with a problem that’s bad for Mexico and bad for the United States.

JIM LEHRER: What do you say to those who suggest that this whole certification process is ridiculous anyhow, that the United States ought to be concentrating on the demand problem here in the United States, rather than the supply problem in Mexico and other countries?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, when I announced this decision, or when I talked about it at the State Department, I made very clear that the demand issue is a very serious one. We do have to deal with the demand problem. And there are a lot of countries that say to us, you know, you are grading us; we should be grading you. But the bottom line is that there are two parts to this. Clearly, demand is a problem. Supply is also a problem, and we need to get the cooperation of countries, more people with us, because they know they’ve got a problem. That’s the whole thing, Jim, is it’s a matter of trying to get cooperation on extradition, on dealing with the drug kingpins, and we are going to be following Mexico very closely.

JIM LEHRER: On the Koreas, there was a meeting yesterday in New York, the Koreas both North and South, and the United States. What–how would you describe the outcome?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it was an important beginning. We have wanted for some time to get the Koreas talking to each other. There is a dialogue that is necessary here in order to move for the reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula, there’s never been an armistice, and–

JIM LEHRER: After 44 years–

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Exactly. I was just up at the DNZ. It’s kind of the last outpost of the Cold War, and it is important for this dialogue to take place. This was really a talk about getting four power–four party talks going; that is, China, North Korea, the U.S., and South Korea. So it was a beginning. And we consider it a useful beginning.

JIM LEHRER: Under a dream scenario, what happens next?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, the four parties would get together and begin to talk more about how to move the process forward. But this is an important step. And actually in the end, the two parties–the two Koreas have to try to come to an agreement.

JIM LEHRER: How would you characterize that situation now, just in terms of danger? I don’t mean to each other in Korea, but elsewhere in that part of the world, I mean, a possibility of conflict between North and South Korea, as we sit here now.

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think when you go to the DMZ and you see our forces up there and you see the fact that this is kind of the vestige of the Cold War, you know how important it is to get this resolved. Clearly, there is a sense in North Korea, there is hunger. We have worked very hard now through a framework agreement to limit their–or to freeze their whole nuclear weapons–their whole nuclear capability. I think we are working very hard to make sure that it is not an unstable situation, but there is such a difference between a prosperous South Korea and a North Korea where they are very hungry.

JIM LEHRER: Where does this Korea problem come on your list of priorities? I’ve been reading that if Madeleine Albright said, “I’m going to get this thing resolved,” it could probably get resolved. Do you feel that way?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, there are lots of problems out there, and this is a very high up there. I mean, I think our issue here is we want a stable situation. We do not want to face a problem. We have 37,000 American forces there. We care a great deal about the security and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Asia. Frankly, the reason that I also went to Asia, as well as Europe, was because we have equal concerns and interests and challenges in both regions.

JIM LEHRER: And you wanted to send that message to Asia, that it wasn’t just Europe.

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, that was the whole point here. I think that what was important was to show the equality of interests; that we have strategic and economic interests in both areas. I wanted, Jim, to go and meet with the major powers to talk about a network, a web of relationships, as we set up the framework for the 21st century. I thought it was important to show our interest in their security relations and economic and also, frankly, you know, the President, President Clinton has said so many times that we are the indispensable nation but we are not the only responsible nation. We need the help of others to carry out how to manage international–the international system now with how to deal with conflicts, and resolve issues, such as the Korean line or in Central and Eastern Europe. But we also have to have a 21st century framework where we deal with other countries to deal with these new threats: nuclear proliferation, terrorism, drugs, refugees. So in that regard, the trip was laying out a way of dealing with current problems and thinking about the future.

JIM LEHRER: Another specific. The Middle East, how serious is this problem over the 6500 new Jewish housing units that go into East Jerusalem?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, let me put that into a context a little bit. The Hebron agreement which was reached in the fall was really a critical one there. It came at a critical time. What it did was to provide a way to defuse a very emotional situation, provide a road map for the future, and showed that Prime Minister Netanyahu could take some very important steps for peace. He freed some women prisoners. He dealt with a very troubling tax problem, and he showed that he would live up to the previous agreements. We also thought that it was a good way to move to the permanent status negotiations which would deal with such thorny issues as Jerusalem and the borders and the refugees, and water sovereignty, and in order to have creative solutions to those problems come forward, it’s important to develop confidence, bonds of trust. And the Har Homa decision on these–

JIM LEHRER: That’s the name of the housing project.

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Housing project–in a way detracts from this positive bonds that we wanted to establish. We now have to move on and try to–without making judgments–move on to manage a relationship so that they can get back on track.

JIM LEHRER: Have you expressed your distress to the Israeli government, to Prime Minister Netanyahu, about this decision?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, when he was here, we made clear that it in many ways did not help this building of these positive bonds and the necessity to create a kind of positive atmosphere for moving forward to the permanent status talks.

JIM LEHRER: Well, there’s this–a resolution–as you know, pending before the U.N. Security Council to condemn this action, and the U.S. has not announced its position. Feel free to do so.

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, as you know, I’ve had a lot of experience dealing with this in New York.

JIM LEHRER: Right.

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: And these–the debate–the public debate has just concluded. And I think discussions about this are going forward. But I learned one thing up there, Jim. The U.N. is not a great venue for dealing with issues to do with the peace process and Israel. What is important is not for resolutions but for–or U.N. resolutions on this, but for people to get together on the ground and have these talks. So we have to see how the talks in New York progress.

JIM LEHRER: So it sounds like the United States is not about to vote for that.

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, we haven’t seen anything yet that is–I mean, they’re early drafting discussions, but the point that I would like to make is that the U.N. has not proven to be the best place to have these kinds of–or to have discussions that actually move the process forward.

JIM LEHRER: Now, when Palestinian Authority Leader Arafat was here this week, he said that he was given assurances of support on his position, in other words, condemning the 6500 housing thing by President Clinton. Is that an accurate description of the U.S. position?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that what he heard was what I told you, was that we thought that the timing of that decision was not one that helped to build these bonds of confidence that were necessary for there to be some creative thinking on the permanent status issues, and that we wanted very much to make sure that dialogue continued, and that there wasn’t violence, and that steps were not taken that would make it more complicated to deal with the permanent status issues.

JIM LEHRER: On Albania, are the lives of the 1600 Americans in Albania in jeopardy?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, we are obviously monitoring the situation very carefully, and we do not believe so. But we are concerned about having a peaceful resolution to that problem. Military solutions never work, and President Berisha seems to have taken some positive steps today. We are supporting an OSCE mission into the area to try to resolve the problem through political and diplomatic efforts.

JIM LEHRER: But it’s not–it’s not a–that’s not a U.S. problem, as we sit here now, right?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, we are obviously always concerned about instability, but the Europeans and the OSC mission is dealing with–there is a Europe–an American–Congressman Engel is on this OSCE delegation that is headed by Mr. Berniski of Austria.

JIM LEHRER: Now, back on your trip, you went to China. Is it true that you warned the leaders of China not to try to interfere in the U.S. political process by filtering money through illegal means to various political candidates?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, what happened was that they were very much aware, as were we, obviously, of what had been alleged about this, and we did discuss it. I was told that they had nothing to do with it, and as I have made clear, and so has President Clinton, we are investigating the whole issue because it’s a very serious one.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any evidence that the counter is true, that they, in fact, did try to influence the outcome of the election?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I have no such evidence.

JIM LEHRER: Is this all the turmoil over political fund-raising affecting the operation of the State Department and foreign policy of the United States right now?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: It is not, absolutely not. I have, as you know, just taken over, and I see no evidence of that whatsoever. We are pursuing our foreign policy goals.

JIM LEHRER: But China is only one country that has been mentioned, among others, at mostly Asian countries that have–if the allegations are that they tried to influence foreign policy through campaign contributions. Have you, because of this flap, set up any special mechanism or anything like that to protect the diplomacy of the United States–

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, the diplomacy is just not affected by it. There is no–none–nobody in the State Department. We have not taken part in the political activities, and we carry on our diplomatic activities. And there is no evidence whatsoever of any impact or interference, nothing that I have seen at all in–when I was ambassador at the U.N. or now.

JIM LEHRER: On the more general issue of China, how would you describe the U.S. relationship with China right now?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think it’s very interesting, Jim, that they saw me because, after all, Deng Xiaoping had just died. And I use that as an example from their perspective and ours the importance of having a relationship where we’re engaged in dealing with each other on a whole set of issues. They had a very good excuse to say, please, don’t come, and I went there the night before the funeral and had a full set of talks where we talked about the issues that concern us. We have a very important strategic agenda where we deal with the Chinese on issues of nuclear proliferation, on the question of Korea that we just talked about, on cooperation in the peninsula, on dealing with issues, environmental issues, and so we have a lot to talk about it. We have some things we disagree about. Those are human rights and some trade issues, but what I got a sense of is both the Chinese–and certainly from our part–that we understand that this is going to be a critical relationship in the 21st century, multi-faceted. We’re going to be needing to talk about a whole set of issues, and that was very evident in these talks that I had in Beijing.

JIM LEHRER: After Deng Xiaoping’s death we had a discussion on this program with two former colleagues of yours–Zbigniew Brzezinski and Winston Lord–and they both agreed that the first test of the post Deng relationship or the post Deng era in China is how they handle Hong Kong. Would you agree with that?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it’s a very important issue, and we talked about Hong Kong, and what I thought was interesting was that they used the same vocabulary that we use, which is the necessity of preserving the way of life of Hong Kong and making sure that Hong Kong can go forward as it has. The test will be, is whether they have the same meaning for the vocabulary that we do. And we are obviously going to be watching that very carefully between now and the time that it goes back to China, which is in July.

JIM LEHRER: But as a practical matter, what could you say to them, about, oh, hey, if you don’t handle this well, what’s going to happen? I mean, what kind of consequences can the United States deliver if things don’t go right from their point of view?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I tink that what they know is that the world is watching how this is working, how it is going to work; that it is important to the international community and the financial people within various countries that this go forward smoothly. And, frankly, Jim, from their own perspective, they need to have Hong Kong continue the way it is. It is–

JIM LEHRER: Did they say that to you?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: They said they understood the importance of Hong Kong. Now, again, I can’t say that their meaning of the words is–

JIM LEHRER: Importance.

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: –exactly the same. But this is clearly an issue that is front and center. We have discussed it with our allies. When I was in Great Britain, we talked about it, and everybody is going to be watching very carefully to make sure that the way of life of Hong Kong is preserved and for us specifically that some bilateral issues such as ship visits and consulate generals can go forward. It is an important–an important moment in terms of relationships, yes.

JIM LEHRER: On to Bosnia, Defense Secretary–we’ll get around the world here by the time we’re through here.

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: As fast as my trip.

JIM LEHRER: Exactly. Defense Secretary Cohen said that U.S. commitment of troops to Bosnia is going to end in 18 months no matter what. I assume you agree with him on this?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, we have said that–the President said that in roughly 18 months we would be out of there. And we are going to live up to that. The point that we’re trying to achieve is to make sure that Bosnia is in a position to take over its own life. We don’t want to be there forever. They have to run their own country, and we are working on military stabilization. That’s what the train and equip program is about. We’re working on helping them develop institutions, develop their housing, deal with refugees. So that part of the mission, the civilian part, needs to be worked on. And we’re going to put a lot of emphasis on it with the allies, the donor conferences, and we don’t want to be there. They have to run their own lives. We’ve done what we can.

JIM LEHRER: On NATO expansion, that’s the NATO operation over there, Russian President Yeltsin made his speech today, as we reported in the News Summary. And let me quote what he said about NATO expansion. “We are against NATO’s plans for Eastward expansion. Their realization will deliver a direct blow to our security. Behind them is the aspiration to squeeze Russia out of Europe and to leave it politically isolated.” What do you make of that?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I have just had discussions about this in Moscow, both with President Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Primakov. There is no question that they do not like NATO enlargement, but they also know that it will go forward on schedule, and that the entire NATO alliance is behind that. What they’re interested in, and so are we, is good relations between Russia and the United States and relations between Russia and NATO. And we are in the process of developing a Russia-NATO charter–Secretary-General Salana is the negotiator on that–that will allow the Russians to be a part of European discussions. They will have a voice, not a veto. They will be part of consultations. Nobody’s trying to squeeze them out of Europe. And we believe that that process is moving forward. I had good discussions with Foreign Minister Primakov. He’s coming here, by the way, next Saturday. I invited him, and we are going to continue our discussions, and a lot of discussions about the overall U.S.-Russian relationship will take place in Helsinki between President Clinton and President Yeltsin.

JIM LEHRER: You have no sympathy for the Russian view, hey, wait a minute, NATO is expanding and expanding and suddenly it’s just going to be NATO against Russia?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think, Jim, the issue here, and President Yeltsin said to me, you have to understand that there’s a new Russia. And I said to him, you have to understand there’s a new NATO. It is not us versus them or them versus us. We’re all on the same side. And the side that we are on is trying to prevent instability in Central and Eastern Europe. The United States and Russia have had to deal with instability in Central and Eastern Europe two times in this century, actually three if you count the Cold War. And we think that trying to develop a network of democracies that will make those countries deal with problems between themselves– as Romania and Hungary already have and the Czechs and the Germans–is a way to create stability. So there is no one enemy that NATO is directed at. It is the strongest alliance of democracies ever, and these countries want to be in it, and Russia is not to be excluded from Europe and also will have an ongoing relationship with the United States. And that relationship is political and economic and is much more than just this NATO issue.

JIM LEHRER: Finally, on a personal note, it’s been six weeks now, you’ve been the first woman Secretary of State of the United States of America. It is about what you expected?

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, it’s a lot of work, but it is fascinating, and I think that the trip went well. I had a feeling that I was showing the flag. Jim, we’ve talked a lot about when I was ambassador at the U.N. how proud I was to sit behind that sign that said the United States. I am even prouder now to be able to go around the world representing the U.S.. And it’s really, for somebody that wasn’t born here, the generosity of this country is unmeasurable, and the opportunity that President Clinton gave me is a sign of the opportunity that he wants all Americans to have. And so I’m very grateful, and I’m going to work hard, and I hope that Americans are proud of me in this job, as I am proud of representing the U.S.

JIM LEHRER: Madam Secretary, thank you.

SEC. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Thank you.