February 26, 1996
JIM LEHRER: Madame Ambassador, welcome.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, UN Ambassador: Good to be with you, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: These five actions that the President announced this afternoon that we just heard him lay out, what are they designed to do?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, Jim, let me say that we offer our condolences to the families of those who were lost and to say that the President--we've had a busy weekend over this--and has taken some very tough actions. What they are--the actions that he's taken are designed to do the following things: First of all to make sure that those who have suffered will be compensated, that the embargo by negotiating with the Congress now on the Helms-Burton Bill, to make sure that the embargo is as tough as we can make it, and really look at what is possible to do within that area, then to make sure that Cubans cannot move around freely in the United States, and then try to limit the problems of charter flights there, one, because of the safety of the people involved in it, but two, to try to make sure that there is not excessive goods going into Cuba, but that's--so it's basically a way proportionally to deal with what is a criminal act by the Cuban government.
JIM LEHRER: But are these actions designed to send a message, or are they actually designed to do harm of some kind? In other words, do you expect specific impact to come, to come as a result of these things?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Well, the point here is that these are penalties against the Cuban government and also a way to make sure that the Cuban people, for instance, one that I did not mention was the expansion of Radio Marti, so that the Cuban people, themselves, do not feel that they have been abandoned, and these are measures designed against the Cuban government, and not in any way to punish the Cuban people who are desirous of some freedom. So these are a very strong message. They are--as the President said--he has reserved for himself the option of taking additional measures, but this is a way to respond proportionately to what is an illegal, dastardly act.
JIM LEHRER: Why was military action, a blockade, or something like that, rejected?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: I think the important point, Jim, is that actions have to have a proportionality. We consider this an appropriate way to deal with the issue, as the President, as you know, and Sec. Christopher mentioned that I called an emergency meeting of the Security Council there. We are working on a condemnation of what is clearly an illegal act to shoot down a civilian aircraft, so we are taking this one step at a time, getting these very tough unilateral actions that the President has put into place, and then marshalling multilateral condemnation also and looking at further steps.
JIM LEHRER: Where does the record and the evidence stand as to where these planes actually were when they were shot down?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Well, according to the material that the United States has, the two planes that were shot down were over international waters, but the point, I think, Jim, and one that I've been stressing in the Security Council, is that it doesn't matter where these planes were. The point is that this is illegal under international law, the Chicago Convention of 1944, that absolutely prevents the use of weapons against unarmed civilian planes. And frankly, even at the heighth of the Cold War, the Soviet Union did not shoot down the civilian aircraft, a Martin Roost, that landed in the middle of Red Square. So this is totally unheard of and absolutely something that needs to be condemned by the international community.
JIM LEHRER: So even if these planes were technically in Cuban territory or Cuban waters, it's still a violation of international law? That is the position of the United States?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: That is the position. We are saying that the two planes that were shot down were outside of their territorial waters. But the point here is that it is markedly totally illegal under international law to shoot down an unarmed civilian plane, having not given it all the proper warnings that you know about, which is direct communication, which is wigging your wings, moving them around, giving some kind of signals. These planes were shot down in cold blood by MiG 29's by air-to-air missiles.
JIM LEHRER: And all of the international laws that apply in this case, you mentioned some of them, they--Cuba does recognize them?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Well, they are parties, we are all parties to this convention, and that is the basis on which we're making the argument that this is recognized international law. The European Union today condemned it and said that this was a breaking with international norms and international law, and we are looking at doing something similar in the Security Council.
JIM LEHRER: Is it your impression, Madame Ambassador, that this was a deliberate act ordered by Fidel Castro or somebody at the top of the, of the Cuban government?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Well, it's hard to speculate on that exactly, but it is our understanding that this kind of action has to come from very high up, that these pilots of the MiG's do not do this on their own recognizance.
JIM LEHRER: So what do you think was going on? Do you have any informed speculation you can share with us?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it's hard to say, but I think, frankly, some of the things that are going on is that the Cuban government is getting increasingly nervous about the desire of freedom by their own people. In the last few days, the have taken very strong steps to limit human rights. A human rights group that was going to meet there was not allowed to do it. And I think it's a sign that our two-track Cuban Democracy Act is, in fact, working, that the reaching out to the Cuban people, trying to show that the world cares about them and, in effect, also working to let them have greater access to information is working and Castro is very nervous and has taken what is clearly an act which is illegal and deplorable.
JIM LEHRER: Do you feel that the Cuban-American group, itself, that was flying these planes, the Brothers to the Rescue, bear any responsibility on the grounds that they may have been egging the government on or anything like that?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think from what we've heard and also just the report that you gave clearly they are taking action which they knew to be dangerous, and they have, in fact, said that they have sometimes flown into territorial--over their territorial air space. But the bottom line here is that it is unacceptable ever under any circumstance for a military of any country to shoot down an unarmed civilian plane. And we deplore the illegal action.
JIM LEHRER: Are you satisfied, Madame Ambassador, that the Cubans had every reason to know that these were unarmed planes, the Cuban government?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Yes, absolutely. We have reason to know that they knew that they were civilian and also that they were outside of their territorial waters.
JIM LEHRER: And that they were unarmed, and they came to do no harm to Cuba.
AMB. ALBRIGHT: From everything that I know, that is the case. I think that the question probably for them is they say what is harm to Cuba, but they were not armed planes. These were civilian planes, and the Cubans have committed a crime.
JIM LEHRER: Now, you are--you are the chair of the UN Security Council now. You called the meeting. What it is that you and the United States want the UN Security Council to do now?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: We are at this moment working on a statement that we would make in the Security Council that would in some way condemn the action that has happened in this illegal act. The point, though, is that because we are an international body, we need to ask for further investigation. I have, as president of the Council, been notified that the Cuban foreign minister is arriving tomorrow. He has sought an audience with the Security Council. It is my obligation as the president of the Council to allow that kind of thing to go forward. Nevertheless, we are pressing and I will leave this program to continue that, for a condemnation of this illegal crime.
JIM LEHRER: But nothing beyond a condemnation?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Well, we are building a case for additional measures, and we're looking at all that, but in order to do this action in the international body, you have to build your case, and that is what we're doing.
JIM LEHRER: Finally, Madame Ambassador, do you see this as step one in an escalating situation with Cuba, or do you think this is one incident, and this is going to go away? What do you--what do you see at this point?
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Well, we would not want to have an escalation with Cuba. We want Cuba to understand that it is alone in the Western Hemisphere as a non-democratic government, we want to have relations with a democratic Cuba. We want the people of Cuba to have the ability to decide their own fate. We are not in a mood to escalate, but we are in a mood to make very clear through the unilateral action that President Clinton has taken, as well as whatever international action can be taken to deplore this illegal act.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Well, Amb. Albright. Thank you very much.
AMB. ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much, Jim.