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Albright Faces The Nation On CBS

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright answers questions on an "amazing" trip to the Middle East, spies in the State Department, terrorist warnings for tourists, the Cuban boy row and sounds an optimistic note on Chechnya.

Office of the Spokesman
For Immediate Release


Washington, D.C. December 12, 1999

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, welcome.


QUESTION: You're here in our studio this morning. A very troubling thing, it seems to me: the State Department has now warned all Americans traveling abroad to take extra security precautions between now and the first week in January. It says there is a possibility or you have information that there may be attacks planned where large gatherings of people are taking place, celebrations and so on.

What can you tell us about this?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, basically, we believe we have an obligation to let the American people know when there are potential terrorist threats, and we are concerned about Americans traveling abroad and being in large groups. And we are suggesting that if they do travel abroad, that they be in touch with the American embassy and the consulate, and take care.

QUESTION: Well, now, there will be some large gatherings in this country, of course, on New Year's Eve, Times Square, down on the mall here in Washington. Do you have any security concerns about those gatherings?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think we always have to be vigilant, but the one that we put out was for Americans abroad and it is not something that, as we see it, is targeted against Americans here.

QUESTION: You know, you do this -- the State Department does this from time to time, but this one seems a bit more ominous in some way.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we are concerned, obviously, because there are a lot of activities going on, and I think that there are more specific indications. But we don't want to discourage people; we want people to be very vigilant and we want people to contact our embassies. If people want more information, I suggest that they get in touch with our website, which is

QUESTION: Let me ask you, this is obviously aimed at -- you're worried about some sort of a terrorist attack. Could it be Usama bin Ladin? Is it anything to do with him?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say there are a number of groups that we are watching, obviously. For some time we have been concerned about Usama bin Ladin, but these are -- there are a variety of groups that we have been concerned about and are watching. And we are concerned -- there is no question about it -- and we have to be vigilant, which is why we put out the warning.

QUESTION: More than one group?


QUESTION: Madame Secretary, peace talks start next week between Israel and Syria. We have a wire report this morning that said that Syria's foreign minister is so optimistic that he is confident that a peace deal can be reached with Israel within a few months.

Do you agree with that assessment?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, you know, what is great is that this is the first time that we have had this kind of high-level meeting between a Syrian foreign minister and an Israeli prime minister, and I felt when I was on my trip there last week that there was a sense of optimism and a desire by both parties to stop talking about talking and getting down to negotiations. There clearly are very hard decisions to be made and they are going to be talking about four basic areas; that is, withdrawal from the Golan Heights, the mutual security arrangements, the content or character of the peace, and the timetable.

And what we hope will happen while they're here this week is that they will set out the agenda for -- obviously, there will be more talks. And I had a sense of optimism after I had my meeting with President Asad, but nobody should underestimate this is going to be tough going, but this is an amazing moment and there is a sense that a historic opportunity is present.

QUESTION: Do you think this is the closest they've ever come right now?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, certainly they've never met at this level and I think that that is very hopeful, but I think there are lots of things that are going to have to be talked about.

QUESTION: Let me also ask you, we have a wire story that says that this morning Israel signaled that it would look to United States taxpayers to bankroll any pullout from the Golan Heights. Would we be willing to finance that?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, I think it's kind of premature to discuss it, but as a matter of record --

QUESTION: They're saying it.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, but I think that as a matter of record we've seen that after Camp David that the United States Congress and the administration came forward with some assistance after Wye. And I think we've got to remember that if we manage this, this would be 50 years of work that will have been accomplished for a comprehensive peace that I think everybody will cheer and be happy to contribute to.

QUESTION: You just called this an "amazing moment." Tell me why it's an amazing moment. What made it so?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think on my trip what was interesting was even from the minute that I landed in Saudi Arabia and met with the King and Crown Prince Abdallah, there was a sense there that they wanted -- they also, the Saudis, saw this as a time for moving forward and a time that we had to seize the opportunity.

And when I met with President Asad, I got a sense some 20 minutes into the meeting, that we were going a somewhat different direction, that there was -- again, that people were tired about negotiating about negotiations. And Prime Minister Barak has had such energy about getting into the peace process issues and obviously has set deadlines for the Palestinian track. And then when I met with Chairman Arafat, he also wanted to see that track move forward.

And what I have made quite clear is that we can do -- or they can -- we are there as the honest broker; the parties themselves have to make the decisions. But this is a time when the tracks can move forward on their own speed and we are not going to do one track at the expense of another.

QUESTION: Would we be interested in participating or leading an international peacekeeping force?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that is a premature question, and I think that we'll see how it develops. Neither party has asked us to do that, and I think we've got a ways to go before such questions can be answered.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I have to ask you about this thing that happened last week. We all learned about that somehow or another the Russians apparently put a very sophisticated listening device in a conference room on the very floor of the State Department where your office is.

Do you know yet how it got there or how long it's been there?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, let me say I consider this a very serious matter and we have worked very hard -- the Diplomatic Security Service has worked very hard with the FBI. I was briefed about this a couple of months ago. They had been working on this, and we stopped it; we discovered it. And I think that that's very important.

The other point I think is important for your viewers is, while it was on the same floor that I'm on, the State Department is a huge square building and this is on the other side of the square and the most sensitive offices, which are my corridor, none of those have been -- we've swept those and there was nothing there.

QUESTION: But as yet, you don't know how it got there or how long it's been there?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, this is under investigation and I do not know the specifics of that, but I think that we are going about it just the right way. We are very concerned about how this happened and tightened security, obviously.

QUESTION: In a broader sense, does this say in some way that perhaps the Russians are stepping up their spy activities now?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I wouldn't characterize that. I think the thing that we have to remember is that spying is an old form, that it's always been going on. It's our responsibility to protect ourselves against it. We have to do a better job. I have been consistently tightening security from where I found it. We have specifically tightened a whole host of policies.

Our problem, to a great extent, is resources because at the same time that we're doing this we've got the problem with trying to make our buildings overseas secure against terrorists.

QUESTION: Is it possible that there is a mole in the State Department?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not going to speculate on that. They are questioning people in terms of trying to find out, you know, witnesses to things, but I'm not going to speculate on something like that.

QUESTION: But the fact that they're questioning people, it makes you think that this could have been an inside job because they hid this bug in molding and --

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I can't comment on the details of it, but the questioning is not in terms of questioning suspects; it's mainly trying to find out who saw what and trying to piece the story together. And what I've done is, my Assistant Secretary for Security is not a diplomat. I can't disparage diplomats, but I now have a 27-year veteran of the Secret Service who is my Assistant Secretary, David Carpenter, and he is going about this in a very, very systematic way.

QUESTION: Just one more question about this. Do you know, or is it possible to know, if serious security leaks came out of this? I mean, were there discussions in this room that we wouldn't have wanted the Russians to know about?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: This is not, as I said, in the most sensitive part of the State Department and, as far as we can tell, a lot of the meetings there were not the kind that would be the most secret or sensitive, as far as we know.

QUESTION: Let's talk a little bit about this young boy that's become the center of this diplomatic situation between Cuba and the United States. What's going to happen here, Madame Secretary? Shouldn't this boy be sent back to his father? I mean, in any court in this country when there is a father there, wouldn't he have rights over anyone else's rights?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, we have to remember that this is a case where there's a little boy involved in it and then, also, there are various legal provisions. The Immigration and Naturalization Service is going through processing. We have sought, or the INS has sought, to interview the boy's father and there has been no response from Cuba on that. And I think that what we have to do is follow through the legal parts of this, and that is what we're doing.

QUESTION: Will you return the boy without an interview? Do you have to have an interview?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that we believe that INS is doing the processing; they are the ones that are in charge of it. I'm not going to speculate on that, but I think that the boy -- I mean, Bob just said that often the parental rights -- and what has to be established here are the parental rights and the father needs to be interviewed.

QUESTION: Do you have any message to Fidel Castro on this?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, the main thing that I have is just a general message, is to remember that this is a little boy and not a political football.

QUESTION: Let's talk a little bit about Russia. Mr. Yeltsin this week said perhaps the United States has forgotten that we are a country with nuclear weapons. Is that a threat? Is that something you take seriously? It sounds kind of scary on first hearing.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we don't take it as a threat and Prime Minister Putin indicated that it was not. I think that we clearly are watching a very difficult situation in Russia -- a country that has been a superpower, our major adversary that is going through a very difficult time.

I think that was President Yeltsin was doing was basically reminding the world that Russia counts. We met with President Yeltsin -- President Clinton and I -- in Istanbul. He is a fierce defender of Russian national interests and energetic and, at the same time, we have a lot of business to do with Russia.

QUESTION: Some people say that maybe he was just drunk.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I'm not -- you know, I think that he was stating the case that Russia needs to be recognized. And one of the problems, if you think about it, here was a country which for 70 years was out there as a superpower that's going through very, very difficult changes, and I think we have to recognize that.

QUESTION: Realistically, Madame Secretary, what can we do about Chechnya? You have a situation where the top Russian commander has said we won't allow these people to survive the winter. What can you do?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me just say the Chechnya issue is, again, a very difficult one. The Russians were concerned about terrorist threats. They had buildings that were bombed in Moscow. There was an attack by rebels from Chechnya into Dagestan. And they were concerned about that.

The international community -- we, as leading it -- have made very clear that while they may have a terrorist problem they can not deal with this by indiscriminate bombing of civilians and that they need to understand that the only solution to this is a political solution.

What has been hopeful in the last day is that Prime Minister Putin has indicated that they are beginning to talk to some of the representatives of the Chechen leader Maskhadov. There is a mission going from the OSCE in the next couple of days and the international community, the Europeans with us, have been talking about a political solution. It is very bad -- there is no question -- and we're very concerned about the civilians.

QUESTION: But you seem to see just a glimmer of maybe good news here?

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Perhaps. I want to be very realistic about this. They have a goal: they want to make sure that Chechnya does not keep causing them problems. On the other hand, I think that they have understood the international pressure to some extent and there is a sense that Russia is becoming isolated. We're having meetings next week in Europe. I'm going to be in Berlin where we're meeting with the G-8. The Russians are the eighth member of that. And, clearly, this is going to be a topic of discussion and so they know that this is on our minds.

I have talked to Foreign Minister Ivanov practically every day. We are either talking about resolutions at the UN or about Chechnya or various things, and they know how seriously we take this.

QUESTION: Madame Secretary, thank you so much. It's an understatement to say you've got a busy week ahead of you.

SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, thank you. It's great to be with you both.


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