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U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
96/02/29: U.S. Leadership at UN (Albright)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE USUN PRESS RELEASE
"THE IMPERATIVE OF AMERICAN LEADERSHIP
AMBASSADOR MADELEINE K. ALBRIGHT
U.S. REPRESENTATIVE TO THE UNITED NATIONS
AMERICAN JEWISH CONGRESS
FEBRUARY 29, 1996
Good evening. I am delighted to be here to help you
honor Seth Glickenhaus. And I am pleased to offer my
support and that of the Clinton Administration for the
wonderful work you are doing.
For ninety years, the American Jewish Congress has
served this country nobly and well.
You have never flinched in your defense of American
interests; or in your support of human and civil
You have never failed to come to the aid of those who
deserved help and were in urgent need.
You have never wavered in your belief that the welfare
of each part of humanity depends on the fate of all
This last principle is grounded in a profound respect
for human life. And this past weekend, that principle
was on trial again as the shadow of terrorism fell
once more upon the people of Israel.
Tonight, we offer our prayers for the victims of the
outrages in Jerusalem and Ashkelon, and for their
We ask for the courage never to be intimidated by such
tactics and always to oppose them.
And we re-affirm the right of Israelis to live with
their neighbors in dignity and security.
This evening, I would like to discuss with you a
matter of direct relevance to these and other purposes
of the American Jewish Congress. I would like to
discuss the apparent divide amongst Americans about
how we view our country and its role in the world.
This divide is not partisan. It is not between left
and right. It is more fundamental than that. It is
the divide between those who see a continuing need for
American leadership abroad, and those who do not.
Today, the trend towards isolationism is stronger than
it has been in seventy years. If our response is
simply to ignore that trend or to patronize the
emotions underlying it, we will invite disaster.
To borrow a soundbite from this political season, we
should do to isolationism what some would have us do
to the tax code--drive a stake through it, kill it,
bury it and be sure it does not rise again. For if we
allow this cancer to spread, we will embolden our
enemies, unnerve our friends, weaken ourselves and
betray our children.
Let us begin with this truth. Those who insist that
Americans should devote primary attention to problems
at home are not wrong; they are right. Our position
in the world depends on the vigor of our economy, the
vitality of our institutions, the unity of our people
and the clarity of our moral vision.
But a second truth is that challenges overseas cannot
Today, our fundamental aims are not opposed by another
superpower. Nuclear weapons no longer target our
homes. But although the Cold War is over, a viper's
nest of lesser perils remain.
If you doubt that, consider the rise of international
criminal cartels, the dispersal of nuclear and other
advanced arms, the poisoning of our environment, the
mobility of epidemic disease, the persistence of
ethnic conflict and--as I have remarked--the deadly
and cowardly threat of terror.
It has been true throughout this century. It should
be self-evident now. We Americans can never be secure
in isolation, for the modern world does not permit
Nor can we be passive, for neither our interests nor
our character allow that.
We must lead. This does not mean that we must respond
ourselves to every outbreak of violence or disaster.
But it does mean that our armed forces must remain
modern, mobile, ready and strong. And as President
Clinton has pledged--they will.
It means that we must maintain vigorous alliances--and
It means that we must conduct creative diplomacy in
regions of strategic importance and--under the
leadership of Secretary of State Christopher--we are
doing just that.
Finally, it means that we must remain true to American
principles. Some suggest that it is softheaded, when
conducting foreign policy, to take the morality of
things into account. I believe a foreign policy
devoid of moral considerations can never fairly
represent the American people. It is precisely
because we have kept faith with our principles that American
leadership remains not only necessary in many parts of
the world, but welcome.
The Middle East is one example.
Thirty months ago, a certain well-photographed
handshake ended one era and began a new one. But as
both Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat warned,
and as the American Jewish Congress knows from its own
longstanding and trailblazing efforts, the path to an
enduring peace remains difficult and long.
I have been with President Clinton on several of the
occasions in recent years when milestones towards
peace in the Middle East have been marked. Three
months ago, I was with him in Jerusalem for the
funeral of Prime Minister Rabin. Never have I seen
him so filled with grief, or determination.
Let there be no mistake: America cannot make peace in
the Middle East, but we will do all we can to reduce
the risks of peace and to support those with the
courage and vision to make peace.
We will help to ensure that Israel's qualitative
military edge remains; for, as President Kennedy said
in the context of America's own defense, "only when
our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain
beyond doubt that they will never be employed."
We will insist that the Palestinian authorities do
more--much more--to halt terrorist actions.
We will continue to encourage between Israel and Syria
a real peace that provides real security for the
We will not rest until that relic of the past--the
Arab boycott--is completely dead.
We will work to see that Israel's partners in peace
derive tangible benefits from their support of peace,
through economic development in Jordan, Gaza and the
And we will strive for a more balanced and
constructive approach to Middle East issues at the UN.
The UN has not always been a hospitable place for
Israel. But last fall, when Prime Minister Rabin,
King Hussein and Chairman Arafat each addressed the
General Assembly; each used the language of peace.
Israel is now able to participate more fully in UN
bodies. The content of resolutions on the Middle
East, although still unsatisfactory, is at least more
balanced and supportive of the peace process. And
this past weekend, the Security Council was quick to
condemn the terrorist bombings in Israel--a simple
enough gesture, but one which could well have been
stymied in the past.
Helping to spur reconciliation in the Middle East is
but one of many U.S. initiatives aimed at enhancing
stability throughout the region and beyond.
Another example is our policy towards Iraq.
Since the end of the Persian Gulf war, strict economic
and weapons sanctions have been in place against Iraq.
Our purpose has been to prevent that country from
once again developing weapons of mass destruction or
threatening its neighbors with aggression.
We do not wish to hurt the Iraqi people, but Saddam
Hussein has still not formally accepted the chance we
have offered to sell oil to buy humanitarian supplies.
He continues to squander Iraq's money building
palaces for his cronies. He continues to demonstrate
ruthless brutality towards those who oppose him--even
within his own family. And he continues to evade full
compliance with the Resolutions of the UN Security
Until last summer, Iraq denied outright the existence
of a biological warfare program. Because the UN
refused to accept that lie, Iraq finally confessed to
producing more than 500,000 liters of anthrax and
botulinin toxin--enough poison to kill everyone on
Before the Persian Gulf war, the Iraqis had placed
much of this material in artillery shells, ready to
use, . The danger to America and its allies,
including Israel, could not have been more real. And
that danger will remain real until we have hard
evidence that this material and the capacity to
produce it have been destroyed.
So the burden of proof is not on us; it is on Iraq.
Iraq must demonstrate through actions, not words, that
its intentions are now peaceful and that it respects
the law of nations. After years of deceit, that proof
will not come easy.
Saddam Hussein's complaints about the unfairness of
all this remind me of the story about the schoolboy
who came home with his face damaged and his clothes
torn. When his mother asked him how the fight
started, he said: "It started when the other guy hit
The need for American leadership is evident also in
our policy towards Iran.
As I suspect you know, Iran is actively pursuing
nuclear technology. Obviously, this is not because
the country is about to run out of oil. We believe
Iran intends to build nuclear weapons.
Accordingly, we are working hard to gain support for
our position that Iran should stop trying to build
weapons of mass destruction and stop supporting
terrorists around the globe.
To succeed in our policy, we will need the help of
others. But to ensure that cooperation, we must
demonstrate our own seriousness of purpose. That is
why President Clinton ordered an end to all U.S. trade
and investment with Iran.
Now, there are so-called "realists" who argue that
this kind of unilateral action is naive and doomed to
fail. The truth is that nothing could be more naive
than bankrolling Iran's terrorist regime.
Doing business with Iran is not a multiple choice
question. Terrorism is evil. And under President
Clinton, whether terrorists are wearing robes or
business suits; whether they call themselves warriors
or diplomats; whether they activate bombs or sit in
safety while others do the dirty work for them; the
United States will speak and act against terrorism in
all its disguises, in all its forms. On that you may
depend and, Mr. Farrakhan--with all due respect--I
hope you are listening.
Since the end of the Cold War, the greatest test for
the international community and for American
leadership has been in former Yugoslavia.
Much has been lost in this region that can never be
regained. But we have reached a point where the
killing has stopped and a process of reconstruction
has begun. Americans may be proud that our diplomacy
is a principal reason.
Halting this conflict matters to us because violence
in the Balkans knows no natural boundaries.
But aside from the security issues, we have an
important political interest. If the lessons derived
from this war are that aggression pays, ethnic
cleansing works and international humanitarian laws
can be violated with impunity, we will all pay a
price. No one can predict with certainty by whom such
lessons might be learned or where else they might be
applied. For this reason, all of civilized society
has a stake in whether the Bosnian peace endures.
For that to happen, it will not be enough that the
ceasefire is maintained and that economic assistance
continues. Justice, too, is an essential ingredient.
That is why the success of the war crimes tribunal is
so important in the Balkans, as it is in Rwanda, where
acts of genocide also took place.
Two years ago, in Croatia, I visited a farm in what
was once a pretty town called Vukovar. There, beneath
a pile of rusted refrigerators and scraps of farm
equipment, is a shallow grave containing the bodies of
two to three hundred human beings.
Six weeks ago, in Rwanda, in the region where they
filmed "Gorillas in the Mist", I visited an old stone
church. It was as beautiful a place as I have ever
Outside the church is a pit where American and other
volunteers spend the day amidst the smell of death,
sifting dirt, trying to reassemble the skeletons of
people slaughtered after seeking refuge in that
I saw there a skeleton two feet long, about the size
of my new grandson. I could not help but ask: whom
did he threaten? whose enemy was he?
The dead of Vukovar and Srebrenica, of Kibuye and
Kigali, were not the victims of "heat of battle"
violence; they were not--in the terminology of the
soldier--collateral damage. They were men and women
like you and me; boys and girls like those we know;
intentionally targeted and massacred not because of
what they had done, but for who they were.
There are those who ridicule the effort to prosecute
those responsible for such crimes; those who say that
assembling the evidence and apprehending suspects will
be too difficult, time-consuming and expensive.
But the Administration does not believe the difficulty
of the Tribunal's work should bar the attempt. Just
because we cannot guarantee everything does not mean
we should do nothing.
We simply cannot accept the view that the killings in
Rwanda or the Balkans can be shrugged off as the
inevitable side-effects of ethnic conflict. How could
we? We remember that Hitler once defended his plan to
kill Jews by asking the rhetorical question: "Who,
after all, remembers the Armenians?" And we recall
the words written in 1940 by Archibald MacLeish:
Murder is not absolved of immorality by committing
murder. Murder is absolved of immorality by bringing
men to think that murder is not evil. This only the
perversion of the mind can bring about. And the
perversion of the mind is only possible when those
who should be heard in its defense are silent...
Establishing the truth is essential not only to
justice, but to peace. As Elie Wiesel said to
President Reagan prior to his ill-advised visit to
Bitburg, "I do not believe in collective guilt, nor in
collective responsibility. Only the killers are
guilty." So in Rwanda and the Balkans, the blame does
not reside with Serbs, Hutus or others as peoples; it
rests with the people who committed the crimes. And
true reconciliation will not be possible in those
fractured societies until the perception of collective
guilt is expunged and personal responsibility is
Last year, we observed the 50th anniversary of the
start of the Nuremburg trials. This year, we will see
the first trials of the War Crimes Tribunal for former
Yugoslavia. A cynic might say that we have learned
nothing; changed nothing; and forgotten the meaning of
"never again"--again. We cannot exclude the
possibility that the cynic is right. We cannot deny
the damnable duality of human nature.
But we can choose not to desert the struggle; to see
our reflection not in Goebbels, Mladic or terrorists
in the Middle East, but in Nelson Mandela, Vaclav
Havel, Yitzhak Rabin, and in those from Louis Marshall
to you who have supported so long and so well the work
of the American Jewish Congress, and who embody the
ideals of freedom, human dignity and tolerance.
We can discount what the cynics say, and believe that
humans do have the ability to rise above past hatreds
and to live together in mutual respect and peace.
And we can accept, because we are Americans, the
responsibilities of global leadership.
My own family came to these shores as refugees.
Because of this nation's generosity and commitment, we
were granted asylum after the Communist takeover of
Czechoslovakia. The story of my family has been
repeated in millions of variations over two centuries
in the lives not only of immigrants, but of those
overseas who have been liberated or sheltered by
American soldiers, empowered by American assistance or
inspired by American ideals.
I will remember all my life the day the PLO-Israeli
agreement was signed. I will remember, in particular,
something that was said by then-Israeli Foreign
Minister Shimon Peres. When the history books are
written, he said:
Nobody will really understand the United States. You
have so much force and you didn't conquer anyone's
land. You have so much power and you didn't dominate
another people. You have problems of your own and
you have never turned your back on the problems of
As Americans, we can all be proud of the role our
country is playing in the Middle East, and around the
world. By standing with those who stand against
terror and for peace, we are advancing our own
interests; honoring our best traditions; and helping
to answer a prayer that has been offered over many
years in a multitude of tongues, in accordance with
diverse customs, in response to a common yearning. We
cannot guarantee peace; but we can--and will--do all
we can to minimize the risks of peace.
That was the President's pledge to Prime Minister
That is America's pledge to the people of Israel.
That is my pledge to you.
And that is our shared task as we turn to face the
Thank you very much. (###)
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