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Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was known as a tough negotiator when she served as the top U.S. diplomat for the Clinton administration. Now a new exhibit touring the country shows how she often communicated her mood by wearing colorful pins and brooches. The exhibit, and a book titled, "Read My Pins: Stories from a Diplomat's Jewel Box" provides an intimate look at Albright's life through the brooches she wore.
Albright served as ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 1997 and as Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001. The idea of using pins and brooches as a diplomatic tool came to her during the first Gulf War. She owed the idea, she says, to Saddam Hussein.
When Albright criticized Saddam for not complying with Security Council resolutions, his court poet called her "an unparalleled serpent." She used that cue to make a diplomatic statement by wearing a pin in the shape of a snake.
Pins and brooches became a diplomatic signature for the secretary. Albright used her pins to emphasize the importance of negotiation, express her mood and expectations and show her pride in representing America.
Most of her pins and brooches are fashion jewelry bought off the shelf, but some of those on display are custom made. There are birds, bugs, butterflies, stars, American flags, and garden flowers.
When she met with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to discuss the ABM treaty in 2000, she wore a missile interceptor pin. President Vladimir Putin mentioned that he would look at Albright's brooch to guess the U.S. negotiating mood.
She wore a beetle pin at her meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Secretary Albright says she spent many hours with Arafat talking about the need for compromise in the Middle East. As she writes in her book "The pin reflected my mood. I wore wasps on tough days when I wanted to do a little stinging and deliver a tough message."
Secretary Albright's collection provides a record of her experiences. It has grown over the years in response to changes and new challenges.
During a recent book signing appearance in suburban Virginia, she was asked what pin she would wear if she were now to meet the Iranians as Secretary of State.
"I have a great pin that is in the book, that is a dove and an eagle joined together. It was designed by the wife of former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen, Janet Langhart Cohen. And I think that states kind of how I feel about that we have to offer some incentives on an open hand, but at the same time maintain our strength and make clear that all options are on the table."
But if she were to meet with the Iranian opposition, Albright says she would choose a much different pin. "I would definitely wear green, if I meet them," she said referring to the campaign colors of Mir Husein Musavi's reformist movement.
"Read My Pins" gives a new view of Secretary Albright, showing her as a fashionable First Lady of Diplomacy, pairing fashion with diplomacy.
The book is in bookstores across the country and Secretary Albright's pin collection currently is being shown at the New York Museum of Arts and Design. The exhibition will tour across the United States and around the world.