NEWSMAKER: SECRETARY ALBRIGHT
May 6, 1998
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright helped guide two hectic days of talks with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Although the talks yielded no breakthrough in the stalled peace negotiations, a new round of talks may begin next week in Washington.
JIM LEHRER: Madam Secretary, welcome.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
May 5, 1998
The Middle East peace talks end in London without a breakthrough.
April 30, 1998
Israel celebrates its golden anniversary.
November 7, 1997
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to keep his coalition together.
November 5, 1997
The political choices facing Chairman Arafat.
November 3, 1997
An interview with Prime Minister Netanyahu.
September 12, 1997
James Baker and Zbigniew Brzezinski discuss the peace process.
September 4, 1997
Three bombs explode in a Jersualem mall.
March 4, 1997
An interview with the Palestinian Minister of Education Hanan Ashrawi.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of Middle East.
U.S. State Department
The United States and the Search for Peace in the Middle East.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, Secretary of State: Good to be with you.
New developments in the talks?
JIM LEHRER: Have there been any developments since yesterday about whether or not these talks will resume in Washington on Monday?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: No. What has been going on, Jim, is that there have been discussions at lower levels going on constantly. But I don't think there is anything new to report. Prime Minister Netanyahu is back in Israel, and he is talking with his colleagues. And, in the meantime, there are, as I said, discussions going on at lower levels.
JIM LEHRER: But you haven't heard any encouraging or discouraging words since yesterday?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think--not specifically. But I was encouraged yesterday by the creative and helpful things that were being said by Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I think we now have to wait to see what he finds when he is meeting with his people. I think what's very important, as I stressed yesterday, is that there is a genuine opportunity here. We have been at this for a long time. 1997 was not a good year for the peace process. And we're hoping here with May 1998, one year out from the end of this--before we're supposed to have final status done, that we can really have this--this part of it concluded and move on to accelerated final status talks.
Is the ball now in Israel's court?
JIM LEHRER: Now, specifically, you are waiting to hear from Prime Minister Netanyahu whether or not Israel will accept the American proposal that it withdraw from 13 percent of the land in the West Bank, is that it?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I'm not going to be that specific. What--the position, Jim, is that the United States has provided a set of ideas. It's not an official proposal or a plan. It's a set of ideas based on all the negotiations that we have been involved in for the last year and a half. And we are hoping that Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the basis of those ideas, will accept the invitation that the president has made for both him and Chairman Arafat to come to Washington May 11th in order to begin the accelerated permanent status talks.
JIM LEHRER: But he has to accept something, does he not, or those talks do not happen on Monday?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, they are conditional. They are conditional on an acceptance of--on the basis of the ideas that we have presented.
JIM LEHRER: Now, is it correct that Chairman Arafat has already accepted those ideas?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: He has sometime ago accepted the ideas in principle.
JIM LEHRER: So the ball is truly and exclusively in Israel's court at this moment, is that correct?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think what is correct is that Prime Minster Netanyahu was very creative and helpful yesterday. I believe that he wants--I know he does--that he wants to have peace, that he wants it to be possible for Israel to have the security that it needs--no country can make judgments for another about it security--and that he--when he left--he was in a mood, I think, to make this work. So we are waiting to hear--and as I said--there are lower level talks going on. And we're hoping very much that we will be able to have the opening of the accelerated permanent status talks on May 11th.
JIM LEHRER: And when do you expect to hear from Netanyahu about whether or not he will accept these ideas?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, you know, he has until May 11th. So, he's got work to do. He knows he does, and he was very upbeat in terms of his desire to make this work. But, of course, he has to make his own assessment as to whether he thinks that the ideas that we've presented provide a basis for this process to go forward.
"We're not going to walk away from this thing."
JIM LEHRER: Is it correct to characterize what you said to him and to Chairman Arafat, that this was essentially an ultimatum, that you accept these ideas by May the 11th, or this particular process is dead for now, and we're going to go think of something else to do?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: We have never used that word. We have basically said that this particular process has gone on for a long time, that we keep trying to narrow the gaps. We have put an incredible amount of effort into it, as have they, a great deal of time, a lot of care, and that if we can't conclude this part by May 11th, having really everybody given its effort that we might--you know, we're not going to walk away from this thing--but we might have to think of some different approach because we have taken this particular approach pretty much as far as we can.
JIM LEHRER: What other approaches are there?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I can't speak to that now. I think, you know, different venues, different ideas--different--I'm hoping that we don't have to--that this is a hypothetical question.
"I think that we are definitely in the end game."
JIM LEHRER: Now, you've spent a lot of time with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Chairman Arafat in London these last couple of days. Are you convinced these two men really want to make a deal?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I believe that they do. I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu has said--and I have no reason to doubt this--that he wants to have peace, that he believes that he is a person that can bring this about, that he has a vision, that he wants a comprehensive peace, and he wants to do it in a way that protects the security of Israel, which is what he was elected to do. So I do believe that, and I also believe that Chairman Arafat wants to have peace. So, I think they both would like to bring this to a conclusion. Clearly, there are still gaps in how they define that. And for Prime Minister Netanyahu the issue of security is a very important one. And none of us can blame him for that. And we have spoken to Chairman Arafat about the importance of 100 percent effort on the security front. We have been helpful in trying to develop mechanisms to make sure that what is promised is carried through. And for Chairman Arafat, it is very important that he have more land in order to have a place for the Palestinian people to exist. So I think they both have their vision and their approach. And there are gaps between those two, but I think there is goodwill there. I truly do believe that.
JIM LEHRER: Goodwill and yet they wouldn't talk to each other eyeball to eyeball while they were in London. They forced you to go back and forth as a kind of shuttle communicator. Every time they talked publicly they kind of snarled about each other. So where's the goodwill? What are we missing, looking at it from the outside?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, it never was part of the plan that they would meet together this time. I invited them on the basis of meeting with me separately. I think that is really a mediator's job, is to go back and forth between the two of them. And I think that we are definitely in the end game. So the way--what people say has to be regarded in that light, but, frankly, I came to the opposite conclusion, Jim. I thought that the final press conferences by both of them were quite upbeat. I was the one that probably was the most neutral in the press conference. I have been described by one journalist as anodyne yesterday, which I suppose is the best way for a mediator to be.
JIM LEHRER: But the perception then that you--or you, the United States, through you, is having to pull these two people together, kicking and screaming, to make a deal that they really don't want to make is not so.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think--I don't want to sugar coat this.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think that they are apart still. I think they would like to make a deal. They each would like to make the deal that is best for their party. So, they are still apart. But we decided that by offering a summit with the president to get started on accelerated final status talks, which is really what is needed here to bring this to a close, that that was an incentive that might really help to overcome whatever the last difficulties are. I'm not going to--as I said--I'm not going to sugarcoat it. They are still apart. And that's what we're working on now.
The domestic politics of Middle East peace.
JIM LEHRER: Remind us again, Madam Secretary, as to why this is so important to the interests of the United States.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, I think that all of us know the indissoluble bond between the United States and Israel, and especially as we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of Israel, I think we're reminded about the state's creation and the fact that the United States was the first country to recognize Israel. We also have a, I think, many of us feel a great sense about the need for the Palestinian people to be able to have their legitimate rights. They have also suffered over the last years. We also do think that peace and stability in the Middle East, a region of national interest and importance to the United States, is really something that the United States needs to work on. It's vital to us that that area be peaceful and stable. So that's why we're this involved in it. And that's why we've spent hundreds, literally hundreds of hours at various levels, negotiating this peace process. It is something that's important to us and to the America people. And we would like it to work. We want there to be a summit on May 11th based on our ideas. We'll never walk away from it. But we are going to have to rethink our approach if this doesn't work.
JIM LEHRER: One of your predecessors, Jim Baker, said the other day here in Washington, that politics has crept into the peace process, both among the Palestinians and the Israelis--domestic politics, I mean--and also even in the United States, is that correct?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think that, as far as I know, Jim, in Washington and in Jerusalem and everywhere in the world domestic politics are a part of foreign policy, and it's--I'm surprised that any of my predecessors would ever think that there weren't politics. That's what we do for a living. And I think that that is not something that is bad--in order to have people support a policy, that's what domestic politics are. You want the American people, and you want the Israelis, and you want the Palestinians to support what their leaders decide. That's what domestic politics is. And so I make no apologies for the fact that this is a large process in which all equities have to be considered, the most important being that we need to consider the fact that the people in Israel and the Palestinians have been living in a condition of uncertainty with potential terrorism and that we need to do everything we can to try to bring the process to a conclusion for them, and that the leaders have to make the tough decisions, so that the people can exist in that very troubled region. And if that's domestic politics, then so be it. But I think one should not talk about them in a deprecatory way. I think what we need to do is to get a solution here.
Is there a fallback position if there is no Washington summit?
JIM LEHRER: Do you have a fallback position if, in fact, there is no Monday summit?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, as I said, if there is not, then what we'll have to do is to re-examine and re-assess--
JIM LEHRER: You don't have anything immediate, I mean, in other words something that you will do on Tuesday if this thing doesn't come off on Monday?
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: If I did, I wouldn't tell you.
JIM LEHRER: I know. I know. I wouldn't expect--I was just wondering if you had one.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, you know, I think that we'll have a plan, yes.
JIM LEHRER: Well, Madam Secretary, thank you very much.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Thanks a lot.