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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Coming up, spring has sprung and with it the opening of baseball this weekend. But first, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright joins us in our studios. She has been a policy maker, a partisan, an observer, a teacher, and a critic of U.S. foreign policy in her career. We want to get some of her contemporary thinking. Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. MADELEINE ALBRIGHT (Former Secretary of State): Good to be with you, Scott. And also I did the opening pitch at the Oriole's game in 1997.

SIMON: You got it in over the plate, didn't you?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, I mean, they moved everything up, but I did manage to...

SIMON: We just heard a very vivid description of the danger of everyday life for Iraqis. Let me ask you. What should be done now on this question that's being debated in this country between a phased withdrawal, no withdrawal, no timetable? What do you think?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: I think, Scott, that we have to agree more and more that Iraq is the greatest disaster in American foreign policy, a war that was a war of choice, not of necessity, that was very badly carried out. And there are no good options. I've testified to that, that it is a disaster if we stay and a disaster if we go. I think that because American power has been so weakened as a result of Iraq and because of the conditions there, we have to figure out a way to leave. There has to be a redeployment of our forces. I think they could be used for defending various facilities, for fighting al-Qaida, and around the borders to prevent this from spreading.

SIMON: King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia this week criticized the U.S. occupation of Iraq and other Arab leaders for that matter for what he called letting outside forces define their future. Now, the U.S. had urged the Saudis to be more assertive in the region.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it was a very surprising statement from King Abdullah, who - and the Saudis have been very good friends and allies. The interesting part is, that maybe some people have forgotten, is Osama Bin Laden is a Saudi who originally had decried his own government for its behavior as well as allowing the presence of Western forces. So this is obviously some way to deal with some of the internal problems that he has from extremists, from the desire now to take a more leading role in the region. But the Saudis are very hard to read, I have to tell you. When we were in office, outwardly it looked as though they were not cooperating on a series of issues and frankly in many ways they were quite helpful. And so it's possible that other things are going on behind the scenes. There clearly is something that is a burr under the saddles of the Saudis at the moment. Some of it is just plain concern for what the war in Iraq has done to the entire region in terms of empowering Iran and creating a less and less stable area.

SIMON: Fifteen British sailors and a Marine are being held in Iran. What would you do to get them back?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: I have been thinking that perhaps there's some way to get a third party involved in terms of submitting to that party, whether it's a country or the U.N. the GPS coordinates that the British have. You know, one of - the Iran/Iraq war, one of the causes was the disputed waters in this particular area. And so maybe there's some way that a third party - South Africa, Russia, the U.N., could take a look at the GPS and see if that would help to de-escalate this. But I'm worried about this escalating.

SIMON: There have been some statements this week, or at least some people in the Iranian government said that they are tying the fate of those sailors and the marine, that they don't want to talk about it as long as the U.N. is considering the option of sanctions against Iran because of its nuclear weapons program.

Ms. ALBRIGHT: I hope that that is not the linkage, because they're very different issues. The international community voted unanimously on these sanctions because people do not want to see Iran develop nuclear weapons. That is a major threat.

SIMON: And what would you do to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapon?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, it's very difficult because the message out of Iraq has been if you don't have nuclear weapons you get invaded and if you do have nuclear weapons you don't get invaded. As you remember, President Bush put Iran, North Korea and Iraq into the axis of evil so they get the same message. And we invaded Iraq. We've never invaded the Soviet Union or Russia or China. I think that the Iranians need to understand that they could become a part, and a respected part of the international community if they abided by the regulations of the nonproliferation treaty and eschewed the idea of having nuclear weapons. But it's tough at this point.

SIMON: I'm almost embarrassed for bringing this up under the circumstances, but while you're in the studio - are you going to watch the Georgetown game?

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Well, I'm not sure I can watch it because I've always been nervous about being a jinx. You know what happens? I live about two blocks from the campus. And I can tell by the sounds emanating from the campus as to whether things are going well or badly. And the last time they won, it was like a tsunami of sound going from the campus as the students moved. So I just wish them all the best.

SIMON: Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, thanks very much. She's now president of the Albright Group, and her book, just out in paperback, is "The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs."

Ms. ALBRIGHT: Thank you very much.

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