Madeleine Albright On Syria, Pompeo, North Korea Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks to NPR's Rachel Martin about Mike Pompeo's hearings, missile strikes in Syria and other top foreign policy issues.
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Madeleine Albright On Syria, Pompeo, North Korea

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Madeleine Albright On Syria, Pompeo, North Korea

Madeleine Albright On Syria, Pompeo, North Korea

Madeleine Albright On Syria, Pompeo, North Korea

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/602091025/602091026" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright speaks to NPR's Rachel Martin about Mike Pompeo's hearings, missile strikes in Syria and other top foreign policy issues.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

All right. After taking tough questions from lawmakers yesterday on Capitol Hill, it is not clear whether Mike Pompeo will get the votes he needs to become the next secretary of state. Republican Senator Rand Paul said Pompeo's hearing only solidified his opposition to Pompeo's nomination. And at least two Democrats on the Senate foreign relations committee have suggested they will block his nomination.

For his part, the current CIA director tried to shake the suggestion from critics that he's a military hardliner who doesn't understand the value of diplomacy. On Iran, Pompeo said he doesn't want to get rid of the nuclear deal, just improve it. And he promised to fill key vacancies at the State Department and help the agency, quote, "get its swagger back."

We are joined now by a woman who understands well the job that Pompeo is vying for. Madeleine Albright served as the U.S. secretary of state under President Bill Clinton from 1997 to 2001. She also has a new book out now titled "Fascism: A Warning." Madam Secretary, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: Good to be with you. Thank you.

MARTIN: As we noted, Mike Pompeo was grilled yesterday for hours. You know what that's like - to sit in that hot seat. He was asked about everything from the Iran nuclear deal to his personal relationship with President Trump. What struck you about his hearing and his answers in that back and forth?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I wasn't able to hear them all. But I do think that what he was trying to show was the value of diplomacy and the importance of the State Department, which I really appreciate, given what has happened to the State Department in the - from the beginning of the Trump administration - of cutting funding and people not being respected. I think that part was encouraging. I think that we're going to have to see how he sees the policies, if indeed he is confirmed. I - what I also liked is that he did appreciate the importance of the job as the chief diplomat because we are in dire need of diplomacy.

MARTIN: As has been the case for virtually all of President Trump's cabinet picks, these hearings are full of questions about whether or not the nominee can be independent and give the president information he might not want to hear. No different in this hearing. We've got a clip here of Bob Corker. He's the chair of the committee. He is talking about turnover in the administration.

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BOB CORKER: Many strong voices have been terminated or resigned. That's why I think it's fair for our members to ask whether your relationship is rooted in a candid, healthy, give-and-take dynamic, or whether it's based on deferential willingness to go along, to get along.

MARTIN: I mean, Rex Tillerson famously had a hard time developing a relationship with President Trump. What do you make of Mike Pompeo's ability to manage up, so to speak?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think it depends on how confident he is in his own views and his role. I hope that he does, in fact, do what is supposed to happen, which is the duty - is to provide independent views and that they are received in a way that they are appreciated. Part of the issue here then also becomes, what is the role of John Bolton in terms of the meetings that take place? And how much does he elicit different views? And that - Pompeo or whoever is in that job has a chance to present the views because that's the responsibility.

So from everything that one can see, I think that they, in fact - Pompeo strikes me as somebody who thinks that he can do that. But I think we'll have to see - and how the whole kind of project of having different cabinet members, secretaries in the principal's meetings, feeling that it is their responsibility to present different views, while, in fact, John Bolton tries to figure out what to present to the president.

MARTIN: I mean, as you note, the State Department has suffered a lot of cuts under the Trump administration. There are a lot of key vacancies that have been just left unfilled. Mike Pompeo says that he's going to fix that. But are you convinced that it will even matter if he wants to? Is the State Department, as you see it, an important part of the agency constellation in the Trump administration?

ALBRIGHT: Well, that's the question. I do know what it was like when I was secretary, and it was viewed from the perspective that it always had been viewed, as the senior position in the cabinet and that the person that is secretary of state does have the ear of the president and is able not just to meet him through meetings with other people but also be able to speak to the president alone and present the views. I do think that it would make a difference if, actually, there were diplomats in the State Department.

And discussions are obviously about the big issue with North Korea. And the fact that the main person that was dealing with North Korea in the State Department has left - that is a problem - that we have no ambassador in South Korea and that, generally, the place is empty. And so I do think that the kinds of things that Pompeo said in his hearings - that was encouraging.

The question, though, continues to be, how much will the White House insist that X people be there? And we've already seen a number of people leave the National Security Council because Bolton has asked them to leave, or they've decided to leave. So those are the issues that I think are troubling. Who's there?

MARTIN: Let me ask you - you are one of the rare American politicians to have met face-to-face with Kim Jong Un's father. What is your advice for the Trump administration as they plan this summit with North Korea? Do you think it's a good idea?

ALBRIGHT: Well, I think diplomatic talks are a good idea. They're not a gift. They are the way you talk to people that you disagree with. But it does require preparation. We did an incredible amount of preparation. And that's what worries me - is that all of a sudden, if it is a meeting between the two leaders, both of whom have a tendency to kind of say exactly just what the latest thing is on their minds, I do think there needs to be a lot of preparation. So that's my issue.

And again, Pompeo seems to think that it's an important point. He does have information, having come from his last job. So - but diplomacy is essential. Preparation for diplomacy is essential. Diplomats are essential for diplomacy.

MARTIN: Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state under President Bill Clinton. She has a new book out. It is called "Fascism: A Warning." Madam Secretary, thank you so much for your time this morning. We appreciate it.

ALBRIGHT: Thank you.

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