Madeleine Albright, who served as secretary of state in President Bill Clinton’s administration, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is asserting his authority two years after assuming power by sacking his uncle, a senior military leader who had been installed as a regent to watch over the young ruler.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: We begin the program with the former secretary of state, Dr. Madeleine Albright. Thank you for being with us, Madam Secretary.
MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Great to be with you, Al.
HUNT: You paid tribute, like many people, to the premier global statesman of the last half-century, Nelson Mandela. You said you treasure the memory of your meetings with him. What’s the most memorable?
ALBRIGHT: Well, the most memorable is his modesty. And I was ambassador at the United Nations, and he just kind of walked up to me and said, “Hello, I’m Nelson Mandela,” like you wouldn’t know. And then when he spoke at the General Assembly session, what I found so interesting, he’s - he was an actor. And he’d walk up slowly to that podium in that big room, and he would take out his glasses, and he’d clean them, and then he’d put them on, and then he would speak with a great cadence. And I also visited him in Pretoria, which was amazing.
So as a human being, he was stunning. And then when you knew the history of a man who had spent so much time in prison - and for me, the most important thing about him was his capability of forgiveness.
HUNT: No bitterness.
ALBRIGHT: No bitterness.
HUNT: You also said that the - his words and works will survive. And yet when you look around the world today, whether it’s Asia, the Middle East, or the African continent, it seems to me there’s really the anti-Mandela forces are dominant, racial and religious strife and the like. I mean, why is there no Mandelas today?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it’s important that we actually use his passing as a way to kind of teach that lesson, because I think it’s so easy to develop that animosity and to keep revenge and then polarization. And so I do hope that we kind of use this as a teaching moment, because he actually used it as a teaching moment.
I think partially what has happened is that we are divided by local interests wherever one is and a real sense of - the globalization in many ways has had an opposite effect of making people identify more with their own group, because they feel so lost within a globalized world. And then they’re proud in their own - their pride in your own identity, but when it curdles into hatred of the next people, then that develops this kind of poisonous atmosphere that we have to - that Mandela did not put up with.
HUNT: Let me switch to one of the really poisonous places on the planet, which is North Korea. There were reports this week of internal strife there. Kim Jong Un apparently sacked his uncle and mentor. What does that mean? Do you worry that they may, in order to distract attention, try to get militarily adventuresome?
ALBRIGHT: They’re obviously very hard to read, and I don’t know how much of this has even been confirmed. But he is clearly trying to prove that he is in charge. The uncle was kind of put in there as regent in order to watch over him. There also was a military contingent that was part of that. I think that we don’t know what the effect of it is. And they do have a tendency to kind of do something to distract.
On the other hand, it could be seen - because some of these people were known to be hard-liners - that he wants to move in a different direction. And the bottom line is, we do not know.
HUNT: We don’t know. You were one of the few diplomats to ever spend time there. He was not the leader at that time.
HUNT: But he’s been there for two years. Do we know anything more about him now? Do we know any way he’s different than his father or his grandfather?
ALBRIGHT: I think we don’t know a lot. I mean, people were supposing, because he had gone to school briefly in Switzerland, that he had a different idea about things. And he had a wife - has a wife who dresses well, that he might have more Western ideas.
I think very few people have actually met with him. And I think that we do not have - at least people that don’t have intelligence material - an awful lot of information on him. And the weird thing, Al, is that we didn’t know that much about his father. I know when I was going over there, one of the hard parts was trying to get information on him. Ultimately, I spoke to Kim Dae-Jung, the president of the South Korea, who had just met with him, who was able to tell me that the - Kim Jong Il was not crazy, he was somebody that you could negotiate with.
HUNT: When we get in tense situations there, we rely to some extent on the Chinese. When you look at the whole context of all the conflict, the turbulence that’s going on in the South China Sea and Asia now, is that going to make it harder for the Chinese to rein in the North Koreans or to help us?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I think we’re involved in kind of a trilateral story, which is Korea, Japan and China all have interests in the South and East China Sea. They - the Koreans and the Chinese - are anti-Japanese. That is one of the things that has held them together. They also - I think the Koreans and the Chinese do have some common interest in not having threats come out of North Korea.
So I think they’re different interests there, that the Chinese have their own interests about North Korea, which I don’t think will get in the way of this.
HUNT: One of the sad stories is that the North Koreans captured an 85-year-old American tourist, a Korean War veteran, made him engage in this phony confession. Will he get out? Is there anything we can do?
ALBRIGHT: Well, I hope so. And I think that there are those who are making that effort. I gather that he made this phony confession and that there are those who believe that the fact that they did that means that it’s one of the ways that he might get out.
HUNT: Let me switch to Iran. You have been a supporter of the interim agreement on nuclear weapons. What do you tell Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he says this is an historic mistake?
ALBRIGHT: I think that you tell him - and I gather that Secretary Kerry has been working on this at other levels. People are saying this - first of all, this is an interim agreement. The final agreement, as it is being viewed, would be something that would be very good in terms of making clear that Iran was not a nuclear threat and that one of the kind of things you say about agreements is nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.
ALBRIGHT: And so that is a very important kind of proviso of it. And I also think that one has to keep telling the Israelis and Prime Minister Netanyahu that the United States is an ally, cares about the security of Israel, and that getting an agreement and getting some kind of understanding and control and rollback of the Iranian nuclear potential is something that is good - that is ultimately in the security interest of Israel.
HUNT: Madam Secretary, do you think there will be a final agreement, say, by next summer?
ALBRIGHT: I am an endless optimist who worries a lot, but I think that they’re going to work very, very hard on it. And for me, I know the people obviously involved that are doing the negotiating. I think these are - and the P5-plus-one is a very important aspect, so it’s not just the United States. And I think that it makes it even clearer that the interim agreement is a good idea, because what it has done is halted some production and has rolled back aspects, has provided a whole kind of series of potential inspections, a variety which we haven’t had before, and it makes it much more likely that there will be one.
And I think we have to be supportive and, frankly, Al, is not do things that make it more difficult. There’s no question the reason that the Iranians came to the table were the sanctions. A very small part of them have been lifted. And adding sanctions, I think, would make it worse at this moment.
HUNT: Madam Secretary, thank you so much for being with us.
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