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Albright Talks Russia, Spies And Cuba To US Media

US Secretary Of State Madeleine Albright this morning talked to the NBC, CNN, CBS and ABC about spies in the State Department, "icy" relations with Russia, the need for "dialogue" over Chechnya, the return of the Cuban boy and breakthroughs in the Middle East peace process.

Transcripts from the State Department

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release


December 10, 1999 Washington, D.C.

MS. COURIC: On Close-Up this morning, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She has just returned from the Middle East and is already at work at the State Department this morning.

Madame Secretary, good morning. Nice to see you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Nice to see you, Katie.

MS. COURIC: We'll talk about spies and Cuba in just a moment but, first, let's talk about the Middle East where you've just come from.

A new round of peace talks will begin on Monday between Israel and Syria. Of course, these talks broke off four years ago.

What do you think has changed that will make these talks productive now, when they weren't four years ago?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think what's important, Katie, is that all the leaders with whom I spoke that are involved in this, President Asad and Prime Minister Barak and even the other people in the region, like Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia, all of a sudden really see that there is a historic opportunity here to get a comprehensive peace. This has been going on a long time and I think people got, those involved in it deeply, got tired of negotiating about negotiations and thought that it would, in fact, be useful to get together and start talks next week.

MS. COURIC: I know that the return of the Golan Heights to Israel will be on the table. Obviously -- to Syria, rather. Obviously, the Israelis feel that this region of is utmost importance from a strategic point of view. Why do you think at this point the Israelis might be willing to relinquish the Golan Heights?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, because that is not the only part of this. These talks will be about four different issues. They will, obviously, be about withdrawal. But they will also be about the security arrangements, so that Israel would not feel threatened. Also, about the content of peace, the character, the kind of relationship that Israel might have with Syria, the same kind of relationship it has with Jordan and Egypt. And then the fourth point is, obviously, the time table.

So this is a large-scale discussion that involves all those areas and I think, ultimately, is the question of how Israel lives with its Arab neighbors and how it is able to really be in that area and develop normal relations around its borders.

MS. COURIC: Israel's Prime Minister Barak will come to Washington and will meet with Syria's foreign minister instead of Syrian President Hafiz al-Asad, who is said to be ill. How difficult will that be, without his direct participation?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say, I met with President Asad and we had a very long meeting and so I don't think it is a question of his health. What I think is the issue, each side chose a negotiator and President Asad thought that Foreign Minister Shara could represent him. But, clearly, President Asad will be taking part in the negotiations at some stage.

MS. COURIC: Let's talk now if we could about Elian Gonzalez. As you know, a letter has been sent from his family in Miami to President Clinton requesting a meeting this weekend. Will the President meet with his family?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, the whole point here, Katie, is we are trying very hard to treat this in a humanitarian way and according to the laws and regulations. And what can't be forgotten at all is that actually a small boy has been saved and that people have been acting in a way to make him safe and that this should not become a political issue.

So what we are trying to do is go through the legal procedure. The INS is the one that is going to be making the decisions about this. And it is necessary to ascertain the parenthood of the father and a number of legal provisions. But everything is being done in order to make this little boy comfortable and, as a mother myself, I can surely understand that it is his happiness at the moment that has to be looked at very, very carefully.

MS. COURIC: Madame Secretary, you claim that you don't want to politicize the issue. But with demonstrations taking place in Cuba and Fidel Castro using this as an opportunity to bash the United States and US policy, that's somewhat hard to avoid, isn't it?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I mean, that is what they are doing. We are trying to handle this in a way that really allows for the legal procedures to take place.

MS. COURIC: But the Cuban-American community here in the United States is pretty much doing the same thing, in terms of politicizing this.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: As I keep saying, I really think that the important part is to consider the welfare of the little boy and to follow procedures that have been put in place in order to allow the right decisions to be made and not to have this become a political football. We are working very hard on this. I have talked to -- even while I was abroad -- to our people who are handling this. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is the ultimate arbiter here. But we have been very careful with this and I wish everybody else would too. We're talking about a little boy's life here.

MS. COURIC: And before we go, let me ask you about this Russian spy story. How disturbing, that a bug was planted on the seventh floor of the State Department, one of the most secure areas of the building, where your office is located, and a fairly sophisticated job. Obviously, this is cause for concern and what kind of intelligence do you believe was lost as a result?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, obviously I am concerned. But let me clarify something. This was not near my office or in the most sensitive areas of the State Department. It was on the same floor but in a totally different place.

Obviously, also, we are concerned when this kind of a situation happens and we are investigating it very, very carefully. There has been the most amazing and productive cooperation between the FBI and my diplomatic security service and all the investigations are going forward. It is very troubling but I have to assure people that we are going about this in the most orderly and organized way and, again, assure people of the fact that the most sensitive parts of the State Department were not affected.

MS. COURIC: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Madame Secretary, thank you very much for speaking with us this morning.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thanks to you, Katie. (###)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release


December 10, 1999 Washington, D.C.

MR. HARRIS: Good morning, Madame Secretary. How are you?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Fine. Good morning to you.

MR. HARRIS: Thank you for coming in and talking with us today. It occurred to me this morning in reading the headlines -- if I had awaken from a 10-year nap today and seen these headlines, we're talking now about spies and bugs being found at the State Department and Russia rattling a nuclear saber in China, you would think that we were still in the middle of the Cold War.

How would you characterize right now relations between the US and Russia?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think the relations are complicated because, on the one hand, we clearly have a very difficult incident here now with this potential spy case and, at the same time, we have the problems with -- what we see problems with Chechnya, of their attacking wantonly civilians while dealing with what they say is a serious terrorist problem.

But, at the same time, we have an awful lot of business that we do with Russia in a cooperative way. So it is not as easy to characterize as during the Cold War. We do not wish to re-create an enemy. We are dealing with a former adversary and have a relationship that covers the gamut.

MR. HARRIS: It seems as though if the US can or should do anything to improve or change what Mr. Yeltsin is doing in Chechnya, it is going to worsen relations even more. What is it that the US can and will do in this case?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, not only the US but the Europeans are calling very much for having a political dialogue. Because we believe that the Russians can never solve this problem through this kind of military action. And a European foreign minister of Norway, who is head of the OSCE at this time is on his way to the region in order to be able to assist to get a political dialogue.

The Russians should know that taking a military approach to this is only going to lead to long fighting and also to tremendous civilian losses. So we are urging and pushing and in various ways making clear that it is essential to have a political dialogue to this problem.

MR. HARRIS: Let's talk now about this bug and the incident of the spy that was found, discovered there at the State Department in recent days. How confident are you, considering how long it took to discover this one particular device and the person who was monitoring it, how confident are you that there are no more to be found in the State Department?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we are investigating all this. We have been doing various kinds of sweeps at the State Department. But let me make something perfectly clear to your viewers. My office and the most sensitive offices in the State Department have not been penetrated and this particular incident was -- the State Department is a big, square building and this is on the other side of the square, so to speak. But I have been consistently trying to tighten up security at the State Department. I found it lax in certain areas. And when I was briefed - - I have been continuously briefed on this issue but, even before that, we have been systematically trying to tighten security here.

MR. HARRIS: But, Madame Secretary, what occurs to those who have been watching this case unfold is that this man who was operating outside was operating apparently with some help on the inside. It took a number of men to put this equipment there in place and there is some concern right now that whoever helped this person put this in place may be a State Department employee. And now that this has actually been in the airwaves or newspapers for so long in recent days, this person has been tipped off and there is the chance you may never find this person.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that this investigation is going on now and, frankly, one of the reasons that it took as long as it did to expose or to catch the spy himself is there has been kind of sequential investigation. Nobody wanted to tip him off.

So all I can tell you is that there has been the most exemplary cooperation between the FBI and my Diplomatic Security Service and this will continue. This is very serious and very unfortunate. But, at the same time, I just want to assure people that the most sensitive parts of the State Department are kept under the closest possible scrutiny and this is very unfortunate but we will continue to investigate it and continue to clamp down on security here.

MR. HARRIS: Let's talk now about the developments in the Middle East. From the doorstep, now, of what could be historic talks now between Israel and Syria. What is it that has happened to bring these two nations to this particular point? It has been said that perhaps Asad in Syria is looking now to preparing a way for his son. What is at play here?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, it is very hard to tell exactly what made this happen. But all I can tell you is, from the minute that I arrived in the Middle East region, I got a sense that the leaders were beginning to feel that this was a historic moment that needed to be seized, that they had to stop negotiating about negotiations and really sit down at the table. And in my meetings with President Asad, it was evident that he wanted to have this begin and that has obviously been true of Prime Minister Barak. So the talks will begin without conditions beyond the fact that they will resume from where they left off.

MR. HARRIS: And you are not right now setting any timetables at all. We know that the US election cycle is about to kick into high gear and that is going to take the White House's focus away from this. Is there any thought at all about how long it will take?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We haven't set a timetable but the feeling that I got from being in the region was that they wanted to get on with it. And it is very clear that President Clinton is going to be playing a key role as an honest broker.

What I found that I was so heartened by is that both President Asad and Prime Minister Barak consider President Clinton's role in this as very important. So I will be working with them, with President Clinton. And our role here is to make sure that the talks proceed as expeditiously as possible. And at the same time, also, that the Palestinian track talks continue because the Palestinian issues are at the core of the problems in order to be able to get a comprehensive peace in the region. And then, of course, there is the Lebanese track.

So we have a lot of work ahead of us. None of us are underestimating the difficulties of the negotiations. But the breakthrough is that they have finally decided to sit down at a table together.

MR. HARRIS: Madame Secretary, one final question for you this morning. So much has been discussed in recent months about President Clinton and his legacy, I would like to know about your thoughts about your legacy, considering who you are and what you've been through and where you would like to see things left off when you depart your position.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I tell you, I have been traveling around the world so much and doing so many things, I haven't had time to think about a legacy. But what I would really like to be known as is as a Secretary of State who understood the importance of the goodness of American power and who did her utmost to represent the American people as well as possible in a huge variety of situations. I love the job and it is still there to be done.

MR. HARRIS: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, thanks once again for your time this morning. We appreciate it. Happy holidays to you.


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release


December 10, 1999 Washington, D.C.

MR. GUMBEL: The two countries have exchanged heated words over Russia's military action in the breakaway republic of Chechnya.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is in Washington. Madame Secretary, good morning.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning to you, Bryant.

MR. GUMBEL: Let me start with this listening device that was found. It was found in a sensitive area, it was extremely sophisticated, it was professionally introduced, it was very well hidden. Does all that pretty much guarantee that this spy, Gusev, had inside help inside your Department?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I have no idea about that and I can't comment on that. The investigations are going forward. It is an investigation that first had to require counter-intelligence activity and now the other investigative part of this is going on. And may I say that we have the most exemplary kind of cooperation now between the FBI and my Diplomatic Security Service and we are, obviously, deeply troubled by this.

But let me clarify something that you said. It is in sensitive areas of the State Department. We operate in a sensitive business. But not in my office or in the offices where the highest level State Department officials operate. And so we are concerned, we are investigating it. I was told about this several months ago and we have followed a very, very careful procedure.

MR. GUMBEL: Let me move on to Russia, if I could. I just characterized the relationship as icy. What adjectives would you use?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It's pretty chilly. But let me just say this, it is very easy to have a chilly relationship with a country with whom we were at odds for 50 years. The challenge here is how to manage a very complicated relationship with your former adversary and sort out where we have to be very tough, as we must now, on Chechnya because of the really unacceptable toll this is taking on civilians. On the other hand, we have a lot of business to do with Russia in the arms control arena as well as in trying to deal with various issues around the world.

I talk to Foreign Minister Ivanov on a practically daily basis and we know that we have many points of conflict but we also have many points where we cooperate.

MR. GUMBEL: The fact is, Russia has essentially consolidated its hold over Chechnya, surrounded the city, the capital city of Grozny. Are we powerless to stop them?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We are in physical terms. But what has happened is that we have, and the Europeans, have made very clear that this is unacceptable behavior.

The other thing that we are telling them is that this is leading them down the wrong path. What is necessary is to have a political dialogue and what's called the Chairman in Office, Foreign Minister Knut Vollebaek of Norway, of the OSCE is going on a mission now, next week, to Chechnya to be able to help in some way to get a political dialogue started.

MR. GUMBEL: The final area I want to talk about, and it is in part congratulating you because you recently succeeded in getting the Syrians and Israelis back to the bargaining table. What kind of US assurances did you have to give them to get that done?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Basically, what they are interested in is an American role as an honest broker. Both parties, both the Syrians and the Israelis, trust the United States and, particularly, President Clinton for his ability to be able to be an honest broker. And so the talks are going to begin in the United States next week. President Clinton and I are going to be intimately involved in it.

And the whole point here is that what we managed to do was to have them stop negotiating about negotiations and begin to talk about the substance. But it's going to be tough slogging, I can assure you of that, Bryant.

MR. GUMBEL: Were there no promises of US forces being used, being deployed to patrol borders?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No promises have been made, no. What we have said is that we consider having a comprehensive peace very important. Obviously, we have played a part in the Israeli-Egyptian peace and the Israeli-Jordanian one and we have a role, as an honest broker. And then we try to help as we can afterwards.

MR. GUMBEL: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Always a pleasure.

I assume I won't see you in the next two weeks so enjoy the holidays.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Nice to see you, Bryant. You, too.


U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman

For Immediate Release


Washington, D.C. December 10, 1999

MR. GIBSON: Joining us now from Washington, the Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

Madame Secretary, always good to have you with us.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Nice to be with you, Charlie.

MR. GIBSON: There are many subjects this morning to cover. Let me start with the situation with the Russian spying and the bug inside the State Department. Did you ever have any sensitive conversations in that room where the bug was found?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No. Let me just make very clear that, although this is on the seventh floor, where my offices are, our building is like a huge square and this is on the other side of the square, in a conference room. So, obviously, I am very concerned that something like this could happen at all in the State Department but it was not in the most sensitive offices where I am and where the highest level officials of the State Department are.

MR. GIBSON: If it's in the molding, it says to me it's been there for some time.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: That is the thought. The investigation is going on now. I was briefed on all of this several months ago. We have been following this very carefully. It obviously was very important to catch the person and there has been the most exemplary kind of cooperation between the FBI and my Diplomatic Security Service and now the investigations will go on.

This is very troubling but I would just like to assure people that this was not in my office or in the closest environs. It is on the other side of the square, so to speak.

MR. GIBSON: Are you so sure there aren't bugs in more sensitive offices, including your own?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me, without going into all the details, those are very carefully swept. And, obviously, what I have been trying to do, Charlie, is make sure that this building is more secure. When I came here, I was concerned about a number of the security procedures. We have been tightening them systematically and, obviously, will continue to do so.

MR. GIBSON: Let me turn to the Middle East. President Clinton surprised many of us with his announcement this week that Israeli- Syrian talks would resume and there was a lot of elation about that. But, as we have come to learn, talks in the Middle East are one thing, results are another. Why is there any particular feeling this time it might be different?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Charlie, I was in the region trying to prepare all this and the sense that I got from all the leaders that I met, President Asad, Prime Minister Barak, and then others, Crown Prince Abdallah of Saudi Arabia, generally there was a sense that the time had come to stop negotiating about negotiations and that there was an opportunity now to be seized. And obviously these are going to be very tough negotiations.

But what we had wanted, so far we have accomplished, which is to get them back to the table without conditions beyond saying that the talks will resume from where they left off.

MR. GIBSON: Have we promised the Syrians anything to get them back to the table, perhaps money to modernize their military?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, we have made no promises. But we are going to play the role of honest broker. There is no question in my mind that they wanted very much to have President Clinton be involved as the honest broker in this. He plays a huge role. He has played a very big role in all of the various Middle East agreements that we have been able to have and they have a great deal of confidence in him and he is going to be very much involved in this.

MR. GIBSON: The sticking point is going to be borders here and it is a relatively small amount of territory that's involved. Is there some feeling on your part that President Asad of Syria is now willing to make some concessions to get - to get an agreement perhaps before he leaves the presidency of Syria?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: It's hard to speculate on that and I'm also not going to go into the details. But, clearly, there are four areas that are going to be being discussed, the withdrawal, the security arrangements, the content or character of the peace, and the time table. These are all very important areas and the negotiators will be dealing with that. But I think that I am going to be sorry to disappoint you in the next weeks because the details of the negotiations are not going to be out there in the public; we have to be able to negotiate in a way that allows these to go forward without being subjected to a lot of questioning about it.

MR. GIBSON: And, Madame Secretary, let me turn to Cuba finally. It was almost two weeks after this young boy was rescued at sea, early this week that the State Department began to say that international law points to the necessity perhaps of this boy going back to Cuba. Why did it take two weeks for State to begin to say this?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, the most important thing was the health and welfare of the child and the various - he was rescued, he was taken to a hospital. Some of the issues about him were deferred in order to be able to make sure that he was healthy and that he was well taken care of. And now the Immigration and Naturalization Service are following up. The Coast Guard was tremendous in the original rescue aspect of this and their treatment.

The most important thing here, Charlie, is that the child's welfare be considered. There are now procedures that have to be decided upon the claims of the father to make sure that that is all legitimate. And it is very important that we never forget that we are dealing with a five- year-old little boy.

MR. GIBSON: Well, he's now six. But the fact that the State Department comes into it this week after being relatively silent for the preceding two weeks gives the appearance, perhaps, that we are buckling into the Cubans.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: No, I think that there were procedures in Florida that were in place and the State Department's role in this is basically that we are always concerned about issues to do with other countries. But it is not - this is being handled in as normal way as possible, given this kind of thing.

The child was not in good shape when he was found at sea. So it isn't that he was sick, he just was not in good shape when he was found and, therefore, some of the procedures were deferred until we could be assured about his health.

MR. GIBSON: All right, Madame Secretary. It is always good to talk to you. You come back at any time.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Nice to talk to you, Charlie. Thanks a lot.

MR. GIBSON: Thank you and best to you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Happy holidays. (###)

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