FAREWELL: WARREN CHRISTOPHER
JANUARY 14, 1997
In this, his thirtieth and farewell appearance, Sec. of State Warren Christopher says that America is a safer place than it was four years ago. But he warns that the U.S. must be vigilant. He advises his successor to look at the globe as a whole each morning and ask what threatens the United States.
A RealAudio version of this NewsHour segment is available.
November 26, 1996 :
Warren Christopher discusses the President's trip to Asia, Boutros Boutros-Gali and sending troops to Central Africa.
October 15, 1996 :
The Secretary of State discusses his recent trip to Israel and Africa.
June 17, 1996:
Christopher discusses the Russian Presidential election results.
May 17, 1996:
Christopher outlines the status and future of U.S.-China relations.
April 30, 1996:
Warren Christopher talking about 20 hours of rocky negotiations with Syrian President Assad and the dangerous situation in Liberia.
April 22, 1996:
Foreign policy analysts rate Warren Christopher's diplomatic efforts around the world
March 5, 1996:
Christopher talks about the downing of two civilian planes by the Cuban Air Force, and troubles in the Middle East with the terrorist group Hamas.
January 22, 1996:
The Secretary of State updates Jim Lehrer on Bosnia, Russia and the Middle East.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Middle-East.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Asia.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Africa.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Europe and Russia.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Latin America.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Bosnia.
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight a Newsmaker interview with Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who leaves office next week. Since 1993, Mr. Christopher has handled an array of issues which he has discussed often on this program.
WARREN CHRISTOPHER, Secretary of State: (August 11, 1993--Somalia) Well, you know, it's the President's decision, and the President feels that we must keep our troops there.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: (February 11, 1994--Bosnia) Well, Jim, we shouldn't expect too much from actions taken by NATO. It's a limited very important step that was taken. We hope it'll limit the shelling and hence limit the killing.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: (March 18, 1994--China) And we needed to let the Chinese know what they needed to do in order to have the renewal of Most Favored Nation's treatment.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: (June 16, 1994--North Korea) What we want to know is whether they're prepared to freeze their nuclear developments, no reprocessing, no refueling of their reactor, maintaining the continuity of safeguards.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: (September 26, 1994--Haiti) President Clinton's policy was the right policy. And that policy was finally vindicated when the American troops came ashore.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: (July 11, 1995--Vietnam) I think we reached that point where we felt that further cooperation would be enhanced by normalizing, rather than not.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: (April 30 1996--Israel) It probably is quite satisfying to sort of turn your back and walk away, as I might have in the middle of last week, but that's not my style, and it doesn't get very good results.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: (June 17, 1996--Russia) Jim, it was a very exciting day in Russia yesterday, the day before for Russians. As the President said, this is the first time in a thousand years that the Russians have chosen their leader.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: (October 15, 1996--Africa) I don't want Americans to think of Africa just as the problems and the failures, or the tragedies they see on television.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: (August 11, 1993) It's not easy. And the problems go with the territory, but it's one of those, you know, if life is about challenges, there are plenty of them here in the field of foreign policy.
JIM LEHRER: And now to Secretary Christopher again and barring some unforeseen circumstance the last time as Secretary of State. Mr. Secretary, again, welcome.
WARREN CHRISTOPHER, Secretary of State: Thank you, Jim. Nice to be here.
JIM LEHRER: First, on the news of this day, have the Israelis and the Palestinians finally made a deal on Hebron?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Not yet, Jim. Right as we sit here they're meeting in the Ares checkpoint on the edge of Gaza. The chairman of the Palestinians, Chairman Arafat, and Prime Minister Netanyahu started to meet about a half an hour ago, and that meeting will be decisive. They have really worked out all the substantive problems. There are one or two details that remain. It's time for them to reach an agreement. And I don't want to predict that they're going to do so. This is the Middle East, after all. But I have high hopes that tonight they will reach agreement.
JIM LEHRER: Have any reason to believe they might not, other than the fact that it's the Middle East?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Well, it's the Middle East, and this has gone on for a long time. Jim, it's a very complicated agreement now. Not only does it provide for Hebron redeployment; that is, the Israeli troops coming out of Hebron, but it provides a road map for the future, steps that'll be taken in connection with the remaining things to be done under the interim agreement, when the final status talks will begin, so really three elements to this, three important elements, and I think they're all done but something could come up at the last minute. Frankly, I'm a little too superstitious to say I think it's going to happen. We've been working on it a long time. I was on the telephone all weekend about it.
JIM LEHRER: If it does, in fact, happen tonight, how important is this, Mr. Secretary?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Very important both substantively and symbolically. Symbolically it'll be the first time that the new Netanyahu government has taken a step in agreement with Chairman Arafat to move forward under the interim agreement. So symbolically it really is crossing a very important threshold.
JIM LEHRER: And just to refresh people's memory, this whole Hebron withdrawal and turnover is based on the 1993 agreement between the PLO and Israel?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: And the subsequent interim agreement.
JIM LEHRER: Interim agreement.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: So it's--it goes back some distance.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: And Hebron has always been the most difficult aspect of this. You know, the Palestinians have taken over six of the seven major cities in the West Bank. Hebron is the last one. By common consent, it's the most difficult, so that brings you into the substantive aspect of (a) the redeployment is very important, but the road map that provides for the future is, I think, perhaps of even greater importance. It provides how the parties will go about negotiating the remaining issues. It provides when the final status talks will begin. It also provides a timetable for the redeployment of the Israeli troops from the rural areas in the West Bank. So it's--it's a very significant move and it happens.
JIM LEHRER: A lot of people believed that when Netanyahu became prime minister that he and Arafat would never make a deal of any kind. So you think it's important just for that purpose as well?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Exactly. Of course, during the campaign, he said he'd never meet with Arafat. I think they've begun to find a basis for working together. When there was that tragic shooting by the Israeli soldier in Hebron the other day they--they got in touch with each other immediately, and Netanyahu had the wisdom to immediately go down to Gaza and meet with Arafat, and they handled that very deftly I thought. So perhaps they've begun to work together. There's lots of difficult territory ahead, but it's a lot better to have this agreement than not to have it.
JIM LEHRER: Leaving off this now, how do you feel about the Middle East? Do you think it--when you look ahead, you, Warren Christopher, what do you see?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Jim, we've come a long, long ways in four years. Naturally at this moment I think back how it was when we came into office, when the negotiations were stalemated; they were absolutely blocked. We were able to take some steps to unblock them. They reached two agreements with the Palestinians. They've reached an agreement that--a peace treaty with the Jordanians. Normalization is beginning. There have been three economic conferences of a kind that could never have taken before. I review that, Jim, not just to point to those achievements, because it indicates how much momentum there is. There's a kind of a logic to peace now that I think cannot be denied. There will be bumps in the road, but I believe the new Netanyahu government begins to recognize the force and momentum of peace, and the people of Israel, I believe, strongly want peace, and I believe--I hope the leaders will listen to the people.
JIM LEHRER: We've talked about this before, but tell us one more time why it's so important to have peace in the Middle East, important to the United States of American.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Well, it's in our very strong interest as Presidents have recognized going back to the end of World War II. One of the reasons is, is there are so many resources there, resources that our economy depends upon very urgently, primarily oil resources. But beyond that, a war in the Middle East involves our vital national interest and thus could impact the United States and draw us in. Every time there's been a war in the Middle East the United States has had to look at it with great care. It does impact on our vital national interest, so it's important for resources but it's important because it could draw us, it could draw the world into war. And one of the problems that the President has and Secretary of State has is the United States is the only superpower in the world. Every crisis in a way becomes our crisis, and so it's very important for that reason, as well as the tangible reasons.
JIM LEHRER: Are you convinced after four years as Secretary of State that that is, that is just the way it's going to be, every crisis of the world becomes a United States crisis?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Well, potentially it is. I think every crisis we have to assess which ones we think we can manage and which ones we can't manage. Some are just beyond our capacity but one of the reasons I think this job that I have, the wonderful job that I have, has gotten more difficult, rather than easier, with the end of the Cold War is because of the unique status of the United States, everybody regards us as indispensable, one of the reasons, Jim, why I think it's so important for a Secretary of State to be able to have an ability to delegate under carefully supervised conditions now. There's no better example of that than really the heroic work being done by Amb. Dennis Ross in the Middle East. I have got enormous confidence in him. I'm on the telephone several times a day hearing his reports, giving him instructions, but it extends my reach in order to--when you have somebody of his quality. It also avoids--and this is a very important point--it avoids getting blind-sided. If the Secretary of State is himself preoccupied with a single issue, then he runs the risk of being blind-sided by some crisis that arises in another part of the world. So I think that one thing that any Secretary of State, which every party needs to do, is every day to stand back and look at the globe as a whole, sweep his eye around a whole 360 degrees and ask what threatens the United States' interest, what is happening there that may cause difficulty for us in the future, rather than getting preoccupied with a single one.
JIM LEHRER: Well, take Bosnia. There are all kinds of things happening in Bosnia, a lot of people dying every day in Bosnia for several years before the United States took decisive action. Was--is that also part of the future too? It's going to take a little longer before the thing coalesces, hey, this is something we need to send troops--this is something that is in our interest?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Jim, some will take a long time. Diplomacy does not happen overnight. You know, there are miracle solutions, magical solutions, but much more often these difficult problems yield to persistent, steady action, trying to get the position, the pieces all in place. And in Bosnia we finally--we did find the formula. We did bring peace to the area. Now we've taken a number of steps to try to give the people of that country an opportunity to achieve a peaceful future. And I think there will be situations like that in the future.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any doubt in your mind, Mr. Secretary, that there would not have been peace without the U.S. involvement?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: In Bosnia?
JIM LEHRER: In Bosnia.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Absolutely. No question. The fact that we were able to bring the parties here to Dayton and have that intense period of negotiation, in a sense they all wanted the approbation of the United States. They all wanted to be accepted in the West, but particularly by the United States. That gave us some leverage to reach this peace agreement between three men who'd been fighting a war for a long time and in many ways were intractable foes. But we were able by concentrating our effort there in Dayton to bring peace to the area. Now in the period since then the IFOR troops and especially the United States troops have been able to separate the forces, to put the weapons in safe areas, and to give that country an opportunity for peace. Many difficult problems lie ahead, but we've brought peace there. We've ended the killing, and only the United States could do it.
JIM LEHRER: And when did you realize that? Was that--when was that? How--not when, but how does that revelation come to you, that if the United States doesn't do something, this killing is going to go on?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Well, I think after Srebrenica and Zeneca--those are names that we talked about so much 18 months ago--but there was terrible killing there, and it seemed, seemed to the President we had to take firm action. And at the London Conference we persuaded our allies that if there was another threat in one of the safe areas we had to go in and had to go in heavy. And then we persuaded NATO to apply what was the Gozny concept to all the other areas of Bosnia. The key element there was the bombing by NATO, which I think brought the Serbs to understand that they'd be better off reaching a peace agreement. So it was one of those times when we combined the use of force with diplomacy, carefully orchestrated program, and it brought peace to that area, but only with the United States leadership.
JIM LEHRER: The end of the Cold War now, Mr. Secretary, help the average American decide-- how should we see Russia? Should we see Russia as a potential enemy again, as a threat to the security of the United States, as a potential ally, as an ally now, what?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: I think we ought to see them as a potential friend and somebody that we can work with for the integration of Europe. We're a lot safer. America is a lot safer than they were four years ago because we have proceeded with arms control agreements. And I want to pay tribute to President Bush for starting down that road, indeed, President Reagan did too. We got Start I and Start II. There's no longer nuclear missiles targeted on the United States. We've reached agreements to take the nuclear weapons out of three of the four former states of the Soviet Union, so we've made a good deal of progress. They're proceeding down the path of market reform, democratization. They held an election for the Duma. They held an election for the president. There has been a lot of--a lot of tension, a lot of bumps in the road, a lot of difficulty there, but they're definitely moving in the right direction, and we need to continue to engage with them.
I think the President deserves great credit for supporting Yeltsin at a time--one year ago now, Yeltsin was at the bottom of the polls. He was getting about 5 percent, and the President stood by him. Yeltsin came back and won the election. He's--I hope this illness is only transitory now. But, you know, that's the first time in the thousand years I guess there's been a free election in Russia with all of its imperfections. They're moving down a road toward democracy and free market, and we ought to do everything we can to encourage them.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Mr. Secretary, since you announced the fact that you were going to leave and not stick around for a second term, there have been a lot of outsiders who have critiqued your stewardship as Secretary of State. How would you characterize the job you have done?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Jim, I was reading one of my favorite books last night, Dean Atchison's Present at the Creation. And at the end he has a chapter called "Summing Up," and he said, you know, I think the balance sheet for my term in office is in the black. And that's about what I'd say about mine. I think the country's safer now, more secure than it was, a little more prosperous, and we've had a chance to forward American values, values of democracy and peace, so without being self-complimentary, too self-complimentary, I think we've had a positive four years. We leave the country a little better than we found it four years ago. And that's about as much as I've asked of myself.
JIM LEHRER: When you look back, is there one particular thing you say, hey, that wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for Warren Christopher at that given time? Is there one particular thing, or two or three things that make you particularly proud?
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Jim, nothing ever happens by one person doing it in this government. It's a team effort, and I've been able to work all my life by having outstanding people around me, and giving them a good deal of responsibility, encouraging them, maintaining supervision, but some of the high moments, of course, were the agreement at Dayton, which that was I believe the toughest negotiation that I've been through bringing those three men together, with tremendous assistance, of course, from Dick Holbrooke.
Certainly in the Middle East watching the signing on the White House lawn and being there and being involved in the other agreements that had been reached there, accompanying President Aristide when he returned to Haiti, that was another one of those difficult matters that took a long time to put in place, and of course is a classic example of marrying diplomacy with very skillful use of our wonderful armed forces, those are three things that--and also I'd say, Jim, the steps that have been taken for the integration of Europe. You know, NATO has been revitalized. When I came into office, NATO was on the ropes because of being unable to find a mission for the future. We've created the Partnership for Peace, brought in 26 nations under that rubric, moving ahead in Bosnia, so those are the things that stick out in my mind.
JIM LEHRER: All right. And Mr. Secretary, thank you very much and good luck in your return to private life. And thank you for coming and being with us so many times.
SEC. WARREN CHRISTOPHER: Jim, it's been a pleasure to be here. When people write me letters--I'm getting a number of nice letters now--they usually talk about your program. They say I got acquainted with you on your program. Thank you very much.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.