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Albright, Scowcroft Outline Nuclear Summit Goals

April 12, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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For perspective on the president's nuclear summit and the movement to cut weapons stockpiles around the world, Jim Lehrer speaks to summit organizers, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft.
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JIM LEHRER: Now a more general look at this summit and other similar gatherings from former Clinton administration Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Ford and George H.W. Bush National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft.

Madam Secretary, first, what do you expect to come from this meeting here in Washington?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, former U.S. secretary of state: Well, I think that it’s a very important meeting in that, as the invitations went out for this summit, there were also very clear requests that each of the countries deliver something — they’re talking them as house gifts — that they, in fact, having been invited somewhere, will reciprocate and come up with their pledges about what they’re going to do to secure the nuclear material, and that this is not going to be, as President Obama said, just a summit where there’s some kind of a gauzy statement, and no deliverables.

So, I do think that the pressure tomorrow will be for various leaders to come forward and explain what it is they’re going to do. And the statement that was made a little earlier about what Ukraine has already agreed to is that kind of a deliverable.

JIM LEHRER: Brent Scowcroft, is it not true to say, though, that all 40-some of leaders, including President Obama, are pretty much in agreement in general about, hey, let’s do something about the proliferation of nuclear weapons? So, they’re not coming in here to argue or debate. Am I right about that?

BRENT SCOWCROFT, former U.S. national security adviser: Yes, you are, Jim. And I think that’s one of the benefits of starting out the way President Obama is, on nuclear security.

This is part of a four-part program. The first was the signing of a new START — START follow-on treaty. Then, the Defense Department came out with a nuclear policy review. Then there’s this summit. And then, next month, there’s a nonproliferation treaty conference.

This summit focuses on things that virtually everybody wants. Nobody wants loose nukes or loose fissile material floating around, so it can be picked up by bad guys. And that makes it fairly easy to develop a communique and get everybody on board with the part of the nuclear business that almost everyone agrees to. And I think it’s a very useful first step.

JIM LEHRER: Madam Secretary, you agree that this could be a fairly easy task going into this thing, at least?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, in going in. I think that the issue will be afterwards how to make sure that each of the countries follows through on what it is that they pledge.

But Brent is right. I mean, basically, there is agreement here that there has to be some kind of control over this very, very dangerous kind of element that exists and to make sure that it doesn’t get into the hands of terrorists, the worst weapons into the hands of the worst people.

But I do think there is going to be a lot of follow-up work. I find really interesting — and both Brent and I know how hard this is to do — is this quite elaborate program that started with the speech that President Obama made in Prague about ridding the world of nuclear weapons, and then the steps that Brent outlined, and that this is a very big initiative on the part of the Obama administration to get control over this material.

JIM LEHRER: Now, Brent Scowcroft, isn’t it correct to say, though, that most of these meetings, meetings like this — and I realize this is unprecedented in many ways because it’s in the United States, but there are meetings like this, similar meetings, at the U.N. and other things — that these things are very well scripted, that everybody knows how they’re going to end up before the first plane hits the tarmac? Is that the case here?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, they almost — they almost have to be, because you can’t really — at a summit this large, you can’t really negotiate text and so on.

So, yes, there’s a lot of it pre-agreed. But that doesn’t mean that it’s any the less meaningful to come out with a communique which the world community broadly subscribes to. And, in addition, the fact that there are so many heads of state here and senior officials from other countries gives the opportunity for a lot of backroom discussion on issues like what do we do on the Non-Proliferation Treaty, how do we deal with the whole issue of proliferation, which is too dangerous to bring up without the preconditions, as you say, having been negotiated before.

So, this is — yes, I hope it’s been pre-scripted. And I think the whole purpose of having it focus on this subject makes it easier to come out with solidarity. And that’s an important step.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Madam Secretary, that there’s a momentum just having the meeting; it focuses everybody’s mind on maybe making deals that they might not make otherwise as willingly or as quickly if this meeting hadn’t been called for everybody to get together and talk about it?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Absolutely. And it shows the power that the United States has to convene all these countries, but also the realization that no matter how powerful we are, we cannot deal with the — with loose nukes and fissile material without the help of these other countries.

But what is also interesting about a summit like this is that there are a lot of bilateral meetings that the president has with people, as well as bilateral meetings among other heads of state, and a lot of other business gets conducted. And this is the way — these are action-forcing mechanisms, in terms of the countries that are coming and the United States as the host.

So, there’s a lot that is going on specifically to deal with the nuclear issue. But I — I’m sure that, when President Obama met with President Hu, that they talked about other things to do in U.S.-China relations. So, a lot goes on in a summit like this.

JIM LEHRER: Would you agree, Brent Scowcroft, that today’s meeting between President Hu and President Obama is a good example of a side meeting that wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and good things — or good things for both sides could come out of it?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: No, it certainly is.

And Secretary Albright’s exactly right. One of the advantages of meeting on the fringes of a big summit like this, you don’t have to have a communique after the — the bilaterals. You don’t have to have a joint press conference.

You can really unburden yourself about some of your inner hopes and fears to your counterparts, and make much greater progress than the lengthy discussions through long-distance diplomacy permit.

JIM LEHRER: Madam Secretary, can you think, based on your experience, because you were U.N. ambassador — U.S. ambassador to the U.N. before you were secretary of state.

But, based on your high-level attendance at meetings like this, where something really unexpected happened that — either negatively or positively, that had to be dealt with that nobody really came to talk about?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Well, sometimes, what happens — and this happens more at the U.N., where you have not invited everybody, is, you run into somebody that you’re actually not supposed to talk to.

But I do think that, on the whole, this kind of a meeting is pretty much pre-scripted, as was said. What is interesting is that there are different levels of meetings. There’s the kind of official meeting, where the heads of state sit down in chairs and talk to each other.

And then there are various others that have been put into play that are called pull-asides, where there’s just very brief meetings. But I do think it is always possible that something unexpected will happen. And, therefore, there’s a lot of staff work that is going into this, a lot of looking at what contingencies are, the kind of watch-out-fors. But this seems to me a very, very well-planned meeting.

JIM LEHRER: Brent Scowcroft, can you — based on your experience, is there anything that leaps to mind that you think that was something that happened that might not have happened if these folks hadn’t gotten together and talked?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, I — I think, yes, there’s a chance that not getting together, for example, before the Non-Proliferation Treaty would have let a lot of people, in the vernacular, wander off the reservation.

This is a chance to mobilize on, as I said before, an issue on which there’s broad agreement, and to get people heading in the same direction. And that makes it easier to cope with some of the more difficult issues of proliferation on which there’s probably a wide difference within the group.

So, I think it’s a very — a very skillful way to approach the whole very complicated nuclear question. And I — I think the administration is to be applauded for taking such a comprehensive approach.

JIM LEHRER: Well, let’s be specific here for a moment. And that’s the dealing with Iran and its nuclear program that Jeff Brown mentioned that everybody knows is either on the table or off the table at this meeting.

Do you think something really major, whether — not out in a communique, but just as a result of these meetings, could come out of this about Iran?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, I think it’s quite — I think it’s quite possible.

As Secretary Albright said, I think it’s quite clear that President Obama and President Hu didn’t just talk about securing loose nuclear weapons or fissile material. And my guess is that among the other things they talked about was how to deal with Iran. Now, that’s a proliferation problem, not necessarily a loose nukes problem.

But the two sides have had somewhat different approaches, where we have been pushing for sanctions, and the Chinese say sanctions probably is not the best way to go. I think this gives an opportunity to discuss and to formulate, at the top possible level, how they can proceed together toward a goal that they both agree on?

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree with that, Madam Secretary, that something really important could come out of this because of the — because of China’s past position, the U.S. past position, and the two presidents’ talk today?

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: I do think that something can come out of it.

What I think is very interesting is to look at the parallel things that are going on. At the United Nations, they are working on a sanctions resolution. And, even at the highest level, the kind of thing that happens normally in people-to-people relationships, there is peer pressure.

And, when you see 47 heads of state discussing an issue of this importance, and then clearly trying to — I’m sure there will be other discussions on Iran — and what will happen is that the United States is not going to have to do everything alone.

There will be other countries that agree that Iran should not be moving forward, and, therefore, then, there’s a sharing of the responsibility to move the process forward. But I do think that Iran has to be watching this pretty carefully and seeing how these two issues are going on, what is happening in Washington and what’s happening in New York.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree, Brent Scowcroft, that overriding all of this, that the message here is that the U.S. doesn’t have to go alone on this one?

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Well, I think that — I think that’s importantly true. And I think that’s the reason for the way it’s being orchestrated now. Everybody agrees on this issue.

And, having agreed, there’s a sense of solidarity, and they’re prepared to move — move ahead jointly, much more than they would if this meeting were not taking place. I — I agree completely.

JIM LEHRER: All right, Brent Scowcroft, Madam Secretary, thank you both very much.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

BRENT SCOWCROFT: Thank you, Jim.