Albright Talks Nukes With Wolf Blitzer

Published: Tue 19 Oct 1999 01:41 PM
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, D.C.
October 17, 1999
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you all.
MR. BLITZER: Let's start off with the headlines in today's major newspapers. The New York Times, The Washington Post, says the United States is now formally asking Russia to revise the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; the U.S. would help Russia in certain radars; the United States would therefore be able to go forward and develop some sort of anti-ballistic missile system in this country.
How far along the road have you gone in discussions with Russia on revising the ABM Treaty?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me put this into some context. We are very concerned about the development of missile technology, nuclear weapons, by the rogue stages and consider that to be a threat to us and to the Russians. And so we believe it is time to re-look at how the ABM Treaty, which is really the cornerstone of our whole arms control process and a treaty that we value greatly, is the possibility of adjusting it slightly in order to be able to have a National Missile Defense, because we are concerned about the potential threat from some of the rogue states.
MR. BLITZER: How receptive are the Russians to this proposal by the United States?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, we have begun some discussions with them and they are obviously concerned, as are we, about what the future holds. And so what we are talking to them about is some cooperative action and looking at various technologies and ideas and making very clear to them that any National Missile Defense system that we would have would not be directed against them but against these rogue states -- Iran, North Korea -- that are our concern.
MR. BLITZER: Have you discussed this issue with Foreign Minister Ivanov?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes, I talk to him about it fairly frequently.
MR. BLITZER: And what do they want from the United States in exchange for revising the ABM Treaty?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: They are concerned, as are all of us basically, about not undoing the ABM Treaty because it is so important. And so, basically, they are -- we're just in the preliminary stages of this trying to make sure that the START II is ratified, that we move forward generally on some of the ideas that President Clinton and President Yeltsin have raised at Helsinki and Cologne but, at the same time, we want to work together on dealing with what this major threat is from the rogue states.
MR. BLITZER: The stories suggest that this is going to cost U.S. taxpayers money to pay for some modernization of Russian radars in exchange for their going along with the revision of the ABM Treaty. How much do you anticipate this might cost in terms of U.S. dollars?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: We are not anywhere near anything like that. I mean, basically, one of the things we are trying to get now is money for threat reduction generally from the former Soviet Union, so we believe that it is money well spent if there is any way to lessen the threat of weapons of mass destruction being widely spread.
MR. BLITZER: All right, let's talk about another treaty, the nuclear Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was defeated by the U.S. Senate this past week. Senator Mitch McConnell earlier today, he said that President Clinton knew that there were not enough votes -- two-thirds of the Senate, 67 votes -- necessary to ratify the treaty. He could have gracefully exited from that entire debate but decided not to.
Listen to what Senator McConnell had to say earlier today:
"We asked him to do two things: number one, ask that it be withdrawn and; number two, that it not be brought up again during the remainder of his tenure. Had he been willing to meet those two rather modest requests, this treaty would not have been voted on. He insisted on having a vote when he knew the votes were not there."
Well, what do you say about that?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I hate to say this about Senator McConnell but he's not telling the truth on this. First of all, it was a -- the Senate Democrats made an agreement with the Senate Republicans to bring this agreement forward for -- we weren't so much calling for a vote. We were calling generally for consideration of this landmark treaty. And what happened was, as a result of parliamentary action on the Hill, it went to a vote when there were basically almost a -- well, an almost two-thirds of the senators who wanted a delay. But President Clinton, we were all -- wanted to have a delay because this is a very important treaty and should have been considered properly. And you can not ask any President, any time, to simply decide that he' not going to bring something up in his Presidency. I think that is going beyond what is necessary to ask a President.
But let me just make one thing very clear. This is a very important treaty. I think that what happened here was that the Senate kind of took a casual look at it. I'd call it a drive-by consideration of a major treaty. And what we were calling for and had been for a long time -- I'd given speeches on it and testified to it -- the importance of serious consideration of this treaty.
MR. BLITZER: But a lot of people say that there was some serious consideration, mostly the Republicans generating opposition over a long period of time; the White House, the Clinton Administration, by and large neglecting this treaty. It was signed by the President in '96 but only submitted to the Senate in '97; '98 the investigation of the President seemed to sort of dominate everything. It was neglected by the Administration, bad management, where the Republicans upstaged the President.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, the Republicans defeated a major landmark conduct treaty that would really have helped generally in controlling nuclear weapons and our whole nonproliferation agenda. We have, obviously, negotiated this treaty. We are very proud of it. The President was the first world leader to sign it. We have all spoken about it at great length in speeches. We tried to have hearings on it. It was refused to have hearings on it.
So I believe that what has to remain here as a point of fact, this treaty was defeated for no good reason after a very cursory look at it by the Senate.
MR. BLITZER: Well, Senator Trent Lott, the Majority Leader, says that is simply not the case. He says there were very substantive reasons why this treaty was rejected. In fact, listen to what Senator Lott said on Thursday on this specific issue:
"To vote against ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was not a vote involving personalities. It was not about politics. It was about the substance of the treaty, and that's all it was."
There were six former Defense secretaries, Henry Kissinger, a lot of serious foreign policy experts saying this treaty was flawed.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, look, I think every treaty that comes before the Senate there are questions about, and I have been involved in both sides of it when I was working on the Hill or other treaties that the White House has presented. The reason that you have hearings and that you have a debate on the floor is in order to be able to put in -- if you want to call them improvements to the treaty that then secure it for each individual country. That is acceptable. That is what happened on the Panama Canal Treaty. It's happened on many, many treaties.
What I'm saying is -- and I'm not going to get into the personalities or the motivations -- I'm just telling you that even if there were substantive problems, which there well may have been from the perspective of some of the senators, there is a way to work it out. The President himself had put forward six kind of ways to secure the treaty better that could have been part of an amendment process. They didn't allow any of that. The debate, which was very shortened, did not allow for any of that -- and that's what we're arguing about.
MR. BLITZER: So what happens right now? For all practical purposes, this treaty is dead until the President leaves office.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me just say this: The President has made very clear that we will continue to abide by it, that we will not be testing unilaterally. What we've lost for the time being is the real international leadership in terms of trying to make others live up to the CTBT. And I've gotten calls all week, Wolf, about countries trying to -- from my fellow foreign ministers trying to figure out what has happened here.
And it's very serious. It has hurt us internationally and this kind of casual approach to a major treaty, for whatever the reasons were, has hurt us, hurt our leadership position, hurt us in trying to get India and Pakistan to do what they're supposed to. And I really believe that it is unfortunate that there was not more serious consideration, but I want to assure all your viewers around the world that the United States is going to live up to the conditions of the treaty.
MR. BLITZER: One sort of curious footnote to all of this was the role taken by Senator Jesse Helms. He is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, someone you have worked closely with, developed a special relationship with. But yet, at the end, he used this treaty to take a personal swipe, once again, at President Clinton.
Now I want you to listen to what Jesse Helms said on the floor of the Senate this week:
"After all, the President could pick up the phone and say, `Look, Tony, I got problem over here and got a hat full of words; how about sending me a little ol' letter?' And I know Tony said, 'Oh, yes, I'll do that. I'll do that. And give Monica my regards.'"
He's referring about the President's conversations with Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain, and then he says, "And give Monica" -- Monica Lewinsky -- "my regards." How do you feel when you see the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee say that kind of thing on the floor of the Senate?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I guess he felt -- I have heard that he wanted it expunged from the Congressional Record so maybe he thought about it again. But let me --
MR. BLITZER: It was expunged from the Congressional Record but not from the videotape.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, but I believe the following thing, is that there is no -- Senator Jesse Helms has never seen an arms control treaty that he liked. We have diametrically opposed views as far as arms control is concerned. We have managed to cooperate on other issues but we have diametrically opposed views, and I regret very much that he did not allow a full hearing of this treaty to go forward.
MR. BLITZER: All right, Madame Secretary, we have to take a quick commercial break. A lot more to talk about when we return. We'll go around the world with Secretary Albright and ask her whether domestic U.S. politics is undermining her international agenda. Late Edition will be right back.
MR. BLITZER: Madame Secretary, there was a military coup in Pakistan this past week, as you know. The United States had tough sanctions against Pakistan ever since the nuclear test that they engaged in last year, and the U.S. was warning the Pakistani military against a coup for three or four weeks before it actually occurred.
What does this say about U.S. power in Pakistan at this point, U.S. influence as a result of this coup?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think that obviously we do not favor military coups. What we would like to see is for Mr. Musharaff to take the steps that would return this to a constitutional system that would allow for civil liberties, that would do something about the very serious economic situation and the corruption that takes place in Pakistan. But I believe here that Pakistan is in a very serious decline in terms of what is happening to its people. We would like to see this government, as I said, take some measures that would return it as soon as possible to a constitutional form of government.
MR. BLITZER: Well, they're watching you in Pakistan right now. Is it your message to the people of Pakistan that the democratically elected leader of Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif, should he be restored to power?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: What we're saying here is that the people of Pakistan should have the right to have a democratic or a constitutional government; that they also need to be able to be a part of the international system economically; that they should not have corruption there; that they need to have their civil liberties. And as I understand it, Mr. Musharaff is going to be speaking shortly. We expect that he should make clear to the people that these are the kinds of things that we want to see.
And as far as Mr. Sharif is concerned, we believe that it's important that his security be guaranteed.
MR. BLITZER: But not necessarily that he restored?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, it's very hard for us to get involved in that kind of managing of this, but the main problem here is that it's very important for Musharaff's government to really do everything it can to restore civil liberties and go to a constitutional form of government.
MR. BLITZER: General Pervez Musharaff, being the military commander who took control of Pakistan in the aftermath of the coup.
There are also watching you all over the world right now, but also in Iran -- and I want to refer to a story on the front page of the New York Times, "Arrests Shake Ancient Roots of Iran's Jews." The Clinton Administration for some time has been trying to establish a dialogue with President Khatami of Iran to improve U.S.-Iranian relations. Now 13 Iranian Jews have been arrested on spy charges, spying for Israel.
Can you go along with that effort to improve the relationship with Iran at a time when some are accusing the Iranian Government of simply trying to project a show trial against these 13 Jews?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Let me say as far as our overall relations with Iran are concerned, we have talked about laying out a road map for potential ways of having a better relationship with them. And we are a long way from that because they conditions were that they would support the Middle East peace process, they would not try to acquire weapons of mass destruction and they would eschew any form of terrorism or supporting terrorism. So we're a long way from that.
This particular case about the Iranian Jews is something that has concerned us for a long time. From everything that we know, there is absolutely no reason for them to be brought up on espionage charges. We have sent messages through a variety of channels and other -- I have spoken to foreign ministers about this, all of them do have contact, those who do have contact with Iran, to say that this is completely unacceptable. There is nothing about these people that would make this a case.
And I think that story in the Times makes it very clear about the long history of the Jews in Iran. It talks about somebody who could have left. A lot of them could have left but they stayed because they consider themselves a part of Iranian history, Persia. And so we have made this very clear that this is an unacceptable trial.
MR. BLITZER: All right, on another issue. The British newspaper, the Observer in London, has a story today quoting sources as saying that NATO deliberately bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the fighting in Kosovo because the Chinese were providing assistance to the Yugoslav military.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, to use a fine diplomatic term, that's balderdash. Basically, that was a bombing by accident. We've said that. It was a tragic accident. We have spoken to the Chinese about it many times. I've sent delegations there to deal with them. I, myself, have spoken to the foreign minister. It's simply not true.
Now, what the Chinese were doing at that embassy, clearly there is information that they were carrying on intelligence activities but we, in no way -- and I want to make this absolutely clear -- that that story is wrong.
MR. BLITZER: Okay. You're leaving later today for a trip to Africa. Some are saying that the President and the Secretary of State have neglected Africa. The President was there last year; you're going now; but there's almost a double standard; when terrible things are happening in Africa the U.S. really doesn't step in with the financial assistance, the aid, as was the situation in Kosovo, for example.
I'm sure a lot of Africans are going to be saying that to you on this trip. What will be your response, especially in Sierra Leone where there have been some major atrocities, as you know, over the past few years?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: First of all, let me say generally that we try to give assistance where we can and take a role according to what instruments are available, so that in Kosovo we were part of NATO and that was a NATO operation and, obviously, we have to choose different instruments in different places.
But as far as Sierra Leone is concerned, we have in fact contributed a great deal , 100 million just in this last year, and also we were instrumental in getting this peace process going. We are also now consulting with Congress about voting for a peacekeeping operation which the United Nations is putting together.
I believe that we need to use a variety of African organizations as there was -- ECOMOG is being -- that's one that comes of Nigeria -- was being used in Sierra Leone. I'm going to meet with the commander of that when I'm there. But the whole purpose of this trip, Wolf, is this is my sixth trip to Africa in seven years. The President went. We will be talking about how to integrate Africa economically into the world system to try to develop some of their security arrangements, have them work with us on transnational problems such as terrorism and HIV-AIDS.
Our real problem, if you want to know why we don't do enough for Africa, we don't have money. The reason I've cut my trip short a little bit is because we are really having a financial crisis as far as my budget, the State Department budget, is concerned. Congress has cut $2 billion out of what the President has requested because they think it's a giveaway program. Our budget isn't a giveaway program; it's the first line of defense. And if you ask me why we aren't doing enough in Africa or other places, it's because Congress is not providing us with the money that the President has asked for, and I believe it is necessary for us to carry on leadership. We can't lead on the cheap.
MR. BLITZER: You know, later on this program the House Majority Leader Dick Armey is going to be on. He'll argue that at a time of need for domestic programs, why go ahead with foreign aid?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: This is not foreign aid. This is in America's national interest and we need to support our diplomats abroad, put them into secure embassies, and we need to have programs to help countries, not just in Africa but the former Soviet Union, about reducing the threat of nuclear weapons and getting their scientists so that they are not selling their brains to rogue stages. We need it in order to be able to work on all our proliferation issues.
This is not foreign aid, and I think that there is a way of making people understand we have a defense, a very strong military. They can't do everything. The President has made clear that the defense budget is overfunded and diplomacy is underfunded, and I think it is a real error to believe that this is a giveaway program. This is in America's national interest.
MR. BLITZER: All right. I'm sure we'll be hearing more about that entire issue upon your return from Africa. Have a very, very safe trip and good luck over there.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Thanks a lot, Wolf.
MR. BLITZER: Always great to have you on Late Edition.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you.
MR. BLITZER: Thank you so much.

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