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Madeline Albright

January 9, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: We go now to a summing up interview with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, to look back at her eight years in the Clinton administration, the first four as U.N. Ambassador, the last four as Secretary of State. Madam Secretary, welcome.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: First, on this terrorism question, do you agree with the officer who just said that the terrorism threat is enduring and is not going away? You heard what he said.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I do. And it is something that is of major concern to all of us whose responsibility it is to deal with Americans abroad. My responsibility has obviously been for our diplomatic structures and for the diplomats that are abroad, and as a result of the bombings that we endured in Kenya and Tanzania, we’ve taken huge steps to get our embassies into a more secure position, looking at property, how to have better security procedures. I now have a daily briefing from my chief security officer on what the threats are. And one of the biggest challenges….

JIM LEHRER: You mean specific threats?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Specific threats that we go through. For instance, we had closed the embassy in Rome over the weekend because we had some threat information, and I spoke with Foreign Minister Deany about it, and the Italian government has been very cooperative and we’ve reopened. But I do think that when we have so many Americans out abroad, that we have to take that responsibility very seriously. The hard part is what it does to the resources of the State Department, because I don’t want to have a choice between recommending that we have secure embassies with nobody in them or people out delivering programs out of trailers. So it’s been a huge concern of ours. And it’s not a macho thing. It’s something that has to be done. You have to worry about the diplomats that are out there.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with Secretary Cohen who also said in that piece today that the threat from terrorism is more immediate and more serious in terms of the military threat to the United States than the traditional threats that we’ve had in the past?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I would agree with that. I mean, we obviously continue to be worried about nuclear proliferation, but the combination of what a terrorist can come up with and the irrationality of their actions and the fact that they can be two or three people that make up their mind to do something, it is a constant threat. And we have to make clear that we will deal with it. What’s interesting, Jim, is that right now there’s a trial going on in the Hague, the Lockerbie trial over the Pan-Am bombing.

JIM LEHRER: Closing arguments started today, in fact.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: And it shows really that we have to be persistent. It may take a long time. There’s also trials going on in New York to do with the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. So we have to keep pursuing and we have to be very clear. But I agree obviously with Secretary Cohen.

JIM LEHRER: Have you discussed this with Colin Powell about the continuation of alerts and that sort of thing having to do with terrorism?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Yes, I have, because I really think that it’s something that’s quite different from the time that a lot of the people that are now coming into the new Bush administration, what they had to face before. And it’s a daily, new issue. It’s obviously people don’t like to work inside barriers and feel that our embassies have to be somewhere way out of the center of town, but it’s a whole new issue, and Secretary-Designate Powell and I have talked about it. And I think he will see how truly important that it truly is to our functioning.

JIM LEHRER: On to other things: The Middle East. Is it now certain, for all practical purposes, that there will be no movement between the Israelis and the Palestinians between now and the time you and President Clinton go out of office on the 20th?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I wouldn’t put it with that kind of certitude. I mean, I don’t want to offer any false hope, nor do I want to kind of say it’s all over. But we are going to be working on this until the day we leave. Ambassador Dennis Ross is going out… will be going out to the region. We’re in contact with the parties. I think that it’s our responsibility to keep trying, but I don’t want to give any false hope. But we are going to keep working on it.

JIM LEHRER: Without going into a lot of the specifics, in general terms, what’s the problem?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think the problem is that these are existential issues for both parties. The issue of Jerusalem has clearly been central. The question as to whether the Palestinian refugees have the right to return to Israel versus just to a new Palestinian state that might emerge in this, the size of the territory; those are… and the security issues — and the thing here, Jim, is that while we may not be able to resolve this– and the ideas that President Clinton put forward will leave with us– the basic issues that we began to talk about at Camp David and the ideas that have been presented are ultimately… have to be a part of the solution because they are the very basic ideas.

JIM LEHRER: Did you ever consider the possibility that it may not be possible to negotiate a peace between these two parties because their demands and their desires are just not reconcilable?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, you have that feeling certainly at certain times in the middle of the night when we’ve been dealing with them. But I think we have to keep trying because you can’t also leave things with the kind of tragedy and violence that we’ve seen in the Middle East. And I think there are those who believe that the U.S. is kind of injecting itself into this story. It’s the other way around, where the parties in various times and ways, call up either me or President Clinton and say, “do something. We need your help. We need to have your help in negotiating this.” I think ultimately there has to be some resolution. The problem is you can’t have two sides wanting 100%.

JIM LEHRER: But in other words, you don’t think they could ever work it out by themselves?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, they have to make the hard decisions. We can’t do that for them. And, obviously it would be better if they could do it by themselves, but they call and ask for help from us or other international players.

JIM LEHRER: What do you say to those who say, wait a minute; things are actually worse because the U.S. Is trying to push its own plan and getting involved in things that maybe these folks don’t need to be pushed on, and that is the cause for violence, in fact?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I have tried to stay away from vulgar language on this, but I really do think that we have not pushed this. We have responded to requests to do something, to have ideas, to try to narrow the gaps. And I think this is not caused by the United States, but caused by the very deep, deep divisions, and they call for our help. The other part that is interesting is that they also… I mean, I can’t tell you how much time I spend on the phone every day talking to other foreign ministers from all over Europe or the Arab countries who say, “what can you do? What are you doing? Can we help something, too?” This is an international problem and a regional dispute that affects everybody.

JIM LEHRER: As you leave office, do you feel in your own heart and soul and mind that the Middle East is a safer and better place because you were here?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I can say that we have tried our best. I wish that the violence weren’t going on, and I wish that we had gotten further. And when I’ve been asked about what has been the most difficult negotiation, and where have I been the most frustrated, I certainly would put the Middle East at the top of the list. But I think that it has gone through violent periods and then peaceful periods.

And unfortunately, there’s kind of a strange paradox that sometimes the closer you get to peace, the more likely there are to be the enemies of the peace that come out. And that’s what we found in the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin and some of the violence that comes out. It’s a rather paradoxical situation. But we’ve done a lot we were asked to do. Do I wish it had ended differently? Absolutely. But I think we’ve done the right thing.

JIM LEHRER: That’s the top of your list as the number one frustration?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Absolutely.

JIM LEHRER: What’s on the top of your list as your number one accomplishment, the thing you’re the most proud of?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, the thing I am the most proud of is basically what’s happened in Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans. What I have found– and I think my successor will find this also– is that foreign policy is a continuum. We are here temporarily and the foreign policy goes on. President Bush, the first President Bush, had talked about a Europe that was undivided and whole and free. That administration did a great deal in terms of the reunification of Germany.

They left us the disintegration of Yugoslavia. And that was the missing piece, the Balkans. We were able to pick that up, a very difficult… and now that missing piece is in place. The war… the limited application of limited force in the area worked. And there are now democracies in the Balkans and a great hope for peace and a Europe that is, in fact, whole and free and undivided. Now, the story isn’t over. One of the issues that I’ve handed over to Secretary- Designate Powell is the Balkan story that needs to be continued. The expansion of NATO was terrific also.

JIM LEHRER: He wants… the suggestion at least is that he wants the U.S. troops out of the Balkans. Have you talked to him about that?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: We’ve generally talked about that. I think, you know, we didn’t want the troops to stay there forever. That clearly has never been the plan. And we have talked about various benchmarks about how the troops went and how they should come out, but the worst part would be to get them out too early. There’s a total misunderstanding here because there are those who believe that the United States is the… is carrying the bulk of the weight in this. That’s not true. The Europeans have around 80-85% of the forces, and they are the ones that are providing the bulk of the reconstruction and economic assistance. So we’re doing our part and we shouldn’t leave.

JIM LEHRER: Looking back on it now, the Kosovo conflict was labeled Madeleine’s war. Does that bother you now?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: No. And at the time, I figured it came with the territory. It was used as a pejorative, not as a compliment.

JIM LEHRER: You saw it that way, didn’t you?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I certainly did. But I think that I am — obviously this was not my war alone. The administration… this was an administration decision. I believed in it. I am still convinced it was the right thing. And what was so terrific, Jim, last Friday, the new Yugoslav foreign minister came in and said, “thank you,” and I said, “thank you for saying thank you,” because nobody had said that. And I think we did the right thing and I’m proud of what the United States did.

JIM LEHRER: Is the conventional wisdom correct that in the highest levels of the Clinton administration, when it came time to talk about, “should we use military force here, what should we do there,” that you were the biggest and loudest arguer for military force?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I certainly was the one who believed that this was an appropriate place to use force, and General Powell and I have… he’s documented some of these discussions and we’ve had a lot of interesting discussions since. But I was not alone. And the greatest supporter of this is President Clinton, who made the hard decisions, and I think that it was a very important decision because there was this theory that the only way that the United States should use force was if it was going to be overwhelming.

JIM LEHRER: That’s called the Powell Doctrine.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: It’s called that, but I’m not sure it’s fair to call it that. And I really believed and still do– that we have to have more diplomatic words, a nuanced approach to the use of force. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. We should be able to use limited force in limited areas, and we also should be able to avail ourselves of peacekeeping operations where the United States doesn’t have to be involved with our troops alone, but it is a tool that allows us to use force when we need to.

JIM LEHRER: Would it trouble you if somebody said what you just said was the Albright doctrine?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, nobody ever names their own doctrine and I don’t think it’s right.

JIM LEHRER: Go ahead.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: But I do think that one of the hardest things to think about is how force and diplomacy work together, that diplomacy is strengthened if you can threaten the use of force that you’re prepared to use. And if you only think about the fact that you have to employ every piece of force that you have and you have to have months to plan it, and the earth is flat, you’re never going to do anything. And I think that we needed that flexibility. The allies agreed with it. And I think it shows that there needs to be the companionship of force and diplomacy.

JIM LEHRER: What about Cuba? Why were you not able to do anything about Cuba or did you even want to do anything about Cuba?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think you know – I said what my greatest frustration was. My greatest disappointment is that I am not present for the time that the actuarial tables will actually work in Cuba, because that will –

JIM LEHRER: You mean when Fidel Castro dies.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: He’s human and that must happen, because change will come in Cuba. And the people of Cuba deserve it. Clearly the system there and the fact that it’s an island and that he was the original leader has made it more complicated. What we have done, Jim, is systematically put in a set of measures, as they’re called, to working within the law because Helms-Burton is the law, the embargo, to try to increase the space of action for the people. So we have allowed more remittances to go and more travel and more cultural exchanges, and I think thereby created a little more space. But I wish we could have done more.

JIM LEHRER: What would you say to somebody who says, “hey, wait a minute, Madam Secretary” — you could go to North Korea, but you can’t go to Cuba?”

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it’s a very different issue because of the threats that are involved, and if we could change the dynamic on the Korean Peninsula, it would be a very large deal because it’s the last remnant of the Cold War. Some people think it’s the most… one of the more dangerous places in the world. There was a different approach by Kim Jung Il, who turns out to be a bit different from his earlier version of what people thought he was like.

JIM LEHRER: Did you feel you carried a special burden because you were the first woman Secretary of State?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I think I was observed more closely, but I am leaving my job thinking that it’s actually a big advantage to be a woman Secretary of State. I’ve had a really interesting time. I have been able, I think, to add a whole new dimension to American foreign policy and absorb what are the new issues in foreign policy….

JIM LEHRER: It was special because you were a woman you were able to do that?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I think so. I think… and to talk tough and be humane at the same time. And I think that it may be easier for the next woman. And I’m very glad that Condoleezza Rice is there as national security advisor. It shows that that was done fairly seamlessly and people didn’t ask, “Can she do it?” One of my daughters called me up and said, “I think that has something to do with you, Mom.” So I felt pretty good about that.

JIM LEHRER: I understand you’re going to write a book now.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I am.

JIM LEHRER: What kind of book?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, I’m going to try to write a book that shows… my life has been really a reflection of the 20th century. And the fact that I came out of Europe and that my… people ask me whether my decisions are affected by my biography, and of course they are. And so I want to write about how I reflect the 20th century. I want to write about the special role of the United States, because that is what I have believed. I want to do something else, Jim, which is I think there is a false dichotomy that comes up when people will say, “well, they’re Wilsonian and we’re neo- realists.”

And I think that’s a phony choice. I think the most realistic foreign policy for the United States is one that reflects our values because this is a very special country. And I want to weave my personal story along with the policy issues. I’m actually really looking forward to writing it.

JIM LEHRER: Good luck to you, Madam Secretary. Thank you for coming on our program many times during the last eight years.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: And thank you so much for asking me. They’ve always been terrific interviews. Thanks, Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Thank you.