October 30, 2000
An interview with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who recently returned from North Korea. She is the first American official ever to visit the communist nation.
LEHRER: We go first tonight to the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.
She has just returned from a trip to North Korea, the first U.S. Secretary
of State ever to visit that communist nation.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: Did you accomplish what you set out to accomplish in North Korea?
|Reducing the nuclear threat|
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I did, because I wanted to obviously meet with Kim Jong Il, a leader with whom no American official had met. President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea had met with him. But I had a chance to meet with him and talk with him, as it ended up, for almost 12 hours -- six official hours and then various dinners and performances. And the point was to try to see how we could significantly reduce the threat from the missiles that the North Koreans have been producing. And I think that we have been, in a step-by-step way, been able to open some doors. The work that I did is now going to be followed up by meetings with technical experts, and we're going to take it step by step.
JIM LEHRER: What did he say about the missiles?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, he's basically prepared to look at some kind of an exchange in terms of this idea that he actually originally had raised with [Russian] President Putin about if we would launch some peaceful satellites for him instead. But he basically, I think, is prepared to take some important steps. We have to test it. We have to make sure that these aren't just words. But I think it's very important, Jim, to put this into context. You know, we were at war with North Korea 50 years ago. Since then we have considered it among the most dangerous places in the world. We have 37,000 troops on the Korean Peninsula. It's a remnant of the Cold War, and if we have an opportunity to break this last barrier, I think it will be a very important step forward, and we need to keep pursuing on a very careful way.
JIM LEHRER: What's the state of intelligence on the missiles and what North Korea has, what threat they pose to Asia and even to the United States?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think we have pretty good intelligence on it that obviously I can't discuss, but....
JIM LEHRER: A serious problem?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we have thought we had a problem with their potential of the nuclear programs and through the agreed framework that we worked out in '94, we were going to freeze their fissile material programs. And now we have had a missile test moratorium with them for the last months. And we want to now make sure that we can significantly reduce the threat in a more permanent way.
JIM LEHRER: And you came away after these 12 hours with Kim believing that he wants... he will do that?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, this is what we have to test. I mean, I think that the information on him was kind of scattered, and it wasn't until Kim Dae Jung went and said that he had some very important discussions with him and found him to be somebody that he could talk to, that was rational, pragmatic. I found the same thing. Basically, you know, we've had such weird stories about him, but it turns out that we had very good discussions.
JIM LEHRER: Where did those stories come from, that he was an irrational man who you could never have the kind of conversation you just did?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think this is a hard thing to assess, Jim. I think that it's conceivable that there were periods that this was what he was like. But it has been six years since his father has died. He is in charge of what is called kind of a hermit kingdom. And we had... he listened very carefully. He didn't lecture me. I went through all my talking points with him. And he gave rational answers. And he seems pragmatic. Now, I think that he clearly has some very serious economic issues, and I think it's worth us probing and testing. I made a big point of saying that these glasses that I have are not rose-colored. And I've spent my whole life studying communist systems, so I know what we're dealing with. But I think it's really worth exploring.
JIM LEHRER: Did he seem informed about the United States and the rest of the world?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: He did seem informed. He also told me he had three computers in his office. He watches a different television network -- and stays informed. He says that he reads....
JIM LEHRER: Does he watch CNN?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: CNN. He said he did. And I did find him informed. We talked about regional issues. I can't say I kind of gave him a test, but we did have pretty wide-ranging discussions.
|A competitive relationship|
JIM LEHRER: Did you come away with the impression that he really wants to have a good relationship with the United States?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think he would like to, above all, have a relationship with....
JIM LEHRER: Did he say why?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think basically he sees us as the major power, but we believe it's very important also for us to go in parallel with the South Koreans -- Kim Dae Jung who really started this -- and with the Japanese. So we have had very, very careful trilateral discussions, where we all three of our countries are very careful about taking each other's interest into concern.
JIM LEHRER: How did Kim Jong Il talk about South Korea?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: He talks about it in different ways. I think he feels a certain amount of competition with it, obviously, but he talked about the fact that it was important to think about the future of the peninsula. He was not hostile. And he was not hostile towards the United States -- so -- competitive I think is the right word. And he does see, I think, the United States as... he understands from what I got that we have a place in East Asia.
|Feeding children with American food|
JIM LEHRER: Now, while they've been developing these missiles, two million of their people have died, by most estimates, maybe even more than that, of famine. Did you talk to him about this -- why his people are starving and why he's putting his money in missiles rather than in feeding them?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, we talked about his economy, and I think that here he believes that something needs to be done. He basically talks about the drought and the problems that this has brought for his people and the fact that they need food to feed the people. He does not, I think, take personal responsibility for it: but he certainly knows that the economy is not working, and they submit requests to the World Food Program. I went to a World Food Program place, a kindergarten, where they were feeding children with American food. And that was very heartening.
JIM LEHRER: But he doesn't sit around and say to you, "Oh, our communist system isn't working. Please help us turn into this into a democracy so we can feed our people"?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: No.
JIM LEHRER: None of that?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: None of that, although he does say that he's interested in other economic models. Look, I don't buy... he was non-ideological -- if I could put it that way. The discussion was not an ideological one, but we have a long way to go, Jim. I mean, he hasn't spoken to people openly, and I think that it's... on what we care about, and I raised all the issues with him. I mean, whether it was about human rights or terrorism or POW/MIA exchanges, all the issues that we have on our agenda. But we did focus on the security issues.
JIM LEHRER: I spoke to a reporter who was on your trip, and she talked about this incredible evening that you spent in the stadium. There were 100,000 people on the field, and then another 150,000 watching. What was that like? Was it all a tribute to socialism and all a tribute to the leader, wasn't it?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: It was a repeat of their performance for the 55th anniversary of the Worker's Party. And it was a feat in terms of pulling together people, you know, it's what a totalitarian system can do, is make everybody dance in tune. But I think that it was something that he was proud of, that he took me to. I thought it was interesting to watch. But as I said, I wasn't fooled by how he had gotten there.
JIM LEHRER: Were you uncomfortable sitting there?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Sure, absolutely. But, you know, one of the things, when you go to a country and the leader of the country takes over your entire schedule, which he did... I wasn't supposed to see him until the second day, and all of a sudden he said that we would have an appointment that afternoon, and that he had cleared his schedule for me for the next day. He said we were supposed to go to some circus, and instead he said, "I want to take you to the show." So it's a little hard to say no. And I did sit there. And when I said I was amazed, amazed is kind of a neutral word. It is amazing to see a quarter of a million people all together and, you know, wild applause for him. But the performance was really quite remarkable in terms of people doing everything in step.
JIM LEHRER: Now, one of the things that was said before you went on your trip is that if everything went well, that President Clinton might go to... also go to North Korea before the end of his term. Is that still in the works?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, no decision has been made. I called the President from Seoul, and we had a meeting today actually. I really briefed him in some detail, and no decisions have been made. As my trip obviously was important in trying to clear away some of the obstacles, and now talks of Bob Einhorn, who is the Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation, is already on his way to Koala Lumpur, Malaysia for discussions with his counterparts and we're going to take this step by step.
JIM LEHRER: What would be the point of the president going?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think only if we were -- you know, we'd have to see whether we were able to accomplish more. And here, Jim, I think we again, to remember, this has been a major threat to US national security, what's been going on in North Korea. And I think after a very careful process that former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry started a couple of years ago, we have followed this out in a careful way, and if we can in some way significantly diminish the threat of missiles, it's worth doing. And we're just going to see whether they follow through on what they said to me and whether they talk to Bob Einhorn and whether there is a value to the president of going. But no decisions have been made on that yet.
|Crisis in the Middle East|
JIM LEHRER: All right. Let's talk about the Middle East. We just reported... as I just reported in the news summary, Israeli Prime Minister Barak said today that the window of opportunity for peace with the Palestinians was closing. Do you agree with him?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I hope not, but I can understand why he says something like that, because of the violence that continues. We want very much for both the parties to live up to the agreements that they made with the President and President Mubarak and King Abdullah and Kofi Annan at Sharm El-Sheikh. And only the parties themselves can carry out their obligations. And we're calling on them to do that. What I have found interesting about Prime Minister Barak is that he comes back always and says that he would like to try the path of peace. And if you see the future for them is either... for both the Palestinians and the Israelis, it's the kind of horrible pictures that we've seen for the last two and a half, three weeks, or of trying to work out a peace. And so we will work until the last day to try to help them.
JIM LEHRER: Is it conceivable that this time there may not be a way to negotiate their way out of this, that these things are so intractable that you can't bring people into a room and say, "let's work this out"?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that clearly the last couple weeks have been very bad in terms of totally undermining whatever trust had developed between them. And I think when we were at Camp David this summer, and they were talking about these very serious issues, and now they're involved in this cycle of violence, it's a great tragedy -- but I don't think we should ever say never. I think the problems have been there all along. There will be a peace ultimately and it will have the elements that we've all been talking about. And I so I think we need to keep pursuing it.
JIM LEHRER: What's the explanation for things to have gotten so close, closer than they've ever been toward peace, and then, boom, more violent than they've been in years?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I actually think one can say that when you actually get closer to peace and you open up subjects that people haven't talked about before, the extremists on both sides come out.
JIM LEHRER: Such as Jerusalem, for instance?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, that's clearly a very crucial aspect of this. Yet there's no way to have a peace that really works without talking about those issues. But I think... I don't think this is just kind of optimistic, but the truth is that because we came so close, I think those people who are the enemies of peace then decide that they don't want to follow through.
JIM LEHRER: But is there anything going on now that makes you the least bit optimistic that even the violence is going to stop anytime soon?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I am basically an optimist, as you know after all these years. But I think that the foreign minister of Israel is coming here on Wednesday. I'm going to be talking with him, Shloma Bename, and the Palestinians will be sending someone also later this week. And we will see. I think it just depends if they want to see a future of stones and bullets and rocks and funerals or whether we can somehow begin to look about a different vision. It's tough now, Jim. You know, there's no question. I'm not going to try to fool anybody. This is a very hard period.
JIM LEHRER: You use the word, "if" they see that in the future. Is there any reason to see anything other than that right now?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think the interesting part, and again, when I've listened to Prime Minister Barak, who went very far and was very bold at Camp David, deep down he's always saying that he'd like to figure out a way to go to a peace process. And I think that the other side, there are numbers of them who say they want to work it out. I can't say that there's anything particularly hopeful going on at this moment, except that they are talking to us. They're talking to -- you know, they're talking to others who want to help. Other countries want to be helpful. The Europeans and Kofi Annan wants to be helpful. And we all sat together at Sharm El-Sheikh just ten days ago.
JIM LEHRER: What's your reading on Arafat's desires at this point?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that he's been saying some things that are very difficult to swallow in terms of kind of wanting to keep fighting. But I hope very much that he will exercise more control, and he should, and he can, and that we can get back to a peace process.
JIM LEHRER: There's no question in your mind that he could exercise more control?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I believe that he can, yes.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Madame secretary, thank you very much.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Thanks a lot, Jim.