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Russia: Albright Says Relations With Moscow Still A Work In Progress

  • Lisa McAdams

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has spent the past two days testifying before the U.S. Congress on the overall state of U.S. foreign relations at the end of President Bill Clinton's administration. RFE/RL's State Department correspondent Lisa McAdams reports the second day of testimony dealt largely with Russia.

Washington, 28 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says U.S.-Russian relations have made great strides, but adds it is not surprising more remains to be done.

Albright shared her views during testimony before the House International Relations Committee on what future policymakers can expect in overseeing the bilateral relationship. Albright said there are clearly continuing challenges for ensuring a free and open press in Russia, fighting corruption, better establishing rule of law, and enhancing regional security and stability.

She also noted with concern Russia's support for the regimes of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. And she said it was tragic Moscow still has no apparent strategy to end the war in Chechnya.

Yet, she urged supporters and critics of U.S.-Russia policy alike to remember from where the relationship began as the outgoing administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton took office. Albright suggests that should be the yardstick by which to measure, as well as to mold, current and future policy:

"Communism was a seven-decade forced march to a dead end and no nation went further down that road than Russia. It is beyond our prerogative and power to determine Russia's future, but we can work together on a bipartisan basis to explore every avenue for cooperation with Russia on the fundamental questions of arms control, non-proliferation and regional security."

Albright also said she strongly believes that certain changes in Russia are now "irreversible."

"In the old days, Russians had NO meaningful right to vote, worship, speak, travel or advocate change. Now they vote regularly and speak freely, and with our help they are beginning to develop the legal structures required for a rule of law. And over the past 11 years, more than 65,000 NGO's (non-governmental organizations) have come into being."

Albright called the changes "startling." She also sought to use the advances as defense of the Clinton administration's record during questioning from lawmakers, saying at NO time during her tenure have policymakers regarded Russia through "rose-colored glasses" (eds: being overly optimistic).

Not everyone was convinced. Case in point was Republican Committee Chairman Benjamin Gilman (R-New York), who opened Wednesday's hearing with this stinging summation:

"Russians who are truly interested in democracy and reforms have warned us that our policy, a policy of continuing to support (former President) Boris Yeltsin while corruption flourished around him, would not result in either democracy or true reforms in Russia. And our own State Department personnel have stated and testified before the Congress that they tried to warn our policymakers, as early as six years ago, that the policy toward Russia had to change. Regrettably, their warnings were not taken to heart."

Gilman said a clear sign that U.S. policy was flawed was Washington's support for the International Monetary Fund's (IMF's) decision to loan billions of dollars to the Russian government. At the same time, he said, billions more were being shipped out of Russia to foreign bank accounts year after year.

"Nobody in the administration seemed willing to call the Yeltsin government to account for that kind of corruption. Instead, a few perfunctory statements were made, and a rather small program was designed to advise Russians on crime and corruption. Having failed to truly stand up to the mess and corruption in the Yeltsin government, will there be somebody now to call the Putin government to account for the sake of democracy?"

With questions and critics like that, Albright may well be glad it is most likely her last public appearance before the committee in her capacity as U.S. Secretary of State.

It was a far different mood during Tuesday's appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which is led by Albright's long-time friend and supporter -- Republican Chairman Jesse Helms (R-North Carolina).

During this appearance, Albright was given virtually free rein to paint a mostly positive portrait about what she views as the successes of Clinton administration foreign policy. But, again, she stressed that more needs to be done.

Albright said one particular area of U.S. concern, in light of events this past week, is Yugoslavia, where the government of President Slobodan Milosevic is refusing to concede an apparent first-round victory to the democratic opposition in recent presidential elections, opting instead to call a run-off election on October 8.

"We have looked at this very, very carefully and in very close consultation and are just hoping very much that the will of the Serbian people who have come out in record numbers is respected by Milosevic and that we will be in a position to welcome a free Serbia, Yugoslavia, into the community of nations and we'll be able to render them assistance once Milosevic is gone and sanctions can be lifted."

The Secretary then addressed the ongoing peace process in the Middle East, a process she says has long captured much of her time and attention. She said she felt the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating parties were clearly "in the end stretch." But she reiterated Washington's view that it is the leaders of the Middle East who must make the hard decisions.

Turning to national security, the Secretary was asked what still needs to be done in order to implement a national missile defense system, or NMD. She urged continued close consultation with U.S. allies. Albright also said there need to be more explanations to the Russians and Chinese, among others, whom she said the Clinton administration failed to consult.

Nearing the conclusion of more than two hours of testimony, Helms invited Albright to speak of whatever pressing concerns she had on her mind. That request was met with philosophical hind-sight from the secretary, a former Georgetown University Professor:

"I didn't ever think that I would be in a position of discussing genetically modified corn with the foreign minister of France or Italy, for instance, or that I would have to know as much as I do about the spread of HIV-AIDS and what kind of medicines it takes; or about every detail of what happens in a country in Africa that didn't exist when I graduated from college. So, I think that we (as Americans and leaders) need to widen our scope about what we know and what we care about."

Albright then shared that her greatest wish during her often contentious relationship with the U.S. Congress was that there could have been more bipartisanship. "I think it would have made a big difference," Albright said. But she expressed her belief that through it all, the central foundations of a new, 21st century foreign policy doctrine had been blazed.

And with that, the hearing drew to a close, but not before the full committee gave the secretary a hearty round of applause. Helms said that he did not believe that had ever been done before. Albright replied, "I'd believe not!"

Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware), a committee member, added that neither had any secretary of state -- including Albright during her previous 18 appearances before the committee -- ever curtseyed before the committee. And with that, an era in U.S. foreign policy neared a close.