Burmese Service Correspondent Kyaw Kyaw Thein interviewed former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright June 4 in Rangoon. She was in Burma for the first time since 1995, and gave a speech at Rangoon University. Below is a transcript of the speech. Please note: Inaudible words from interviewer are in italics.
VOA: “Thank you very much Madame Secretary for giving me the chance to interview you. First of all, what is it like to be for you back to (in) the country after 18 years?”
ALBRIGHT: “Well, it is a wonderful treat, I have to say. I have followed events in Burma all this time and watched the hard parts, the difficult parts and now with great surprise and pleasure, I think, some of the changes that are taking place. So I was very glad to come back. Also, to have the opportunity to talk with such a wide variety of people. On my first visit here, I met with the government officials and then with Aung San Suu Kyi, and this time, I have met with government officials and Aung San Suu Kyi, but also had the opportunity to meet with people from civil society, women’s groups, representatives of those, representatives of ethnic political parties, religious representatives, and so it gave me a much better picture of various things that are going on in the country so it’s been a very good trip.”
VOA: “As you’ve said, you’ve met people from various segments of the country, including government and Aung San Suu Kyi. The most (main) question everyone wants to know and everyone is asking is whether the country is still in the position of turning back from the democratic reform. What’s your observation on that?”
ALBRIGHT: “I think that they are very much on the right road. My own sense is that it can not be reversed, but one never really knows because there’s always a dynamic in events. But I’m hopeful and the sense that I got from all the various groups that I talked to was while they see problems, they also are trying to figure out solutions and trying to find ways that they can learn from their own mistakes, but also examples from other countries so I think they are on the right track. They need the support of the international community. They need to have a variety of different help, whether it is in training and education; some obviously in the importance of investment and economic assistance. They have a very, very large gap between the rich and the poor, and people have expectations, and so they have to figure out and meet those expectations."
VOA: “What should the U.S. do more to make sure it (Burma) does not turn back?”
ALBRIGHT: "It isn’t just the U.S. I think that the U.S. has in fact eased the sanctions regimes, that we have exchanged ambassadors. President Obama has been here. President Thein Sein was in the United States, and I think we are showing all kinds of support. I think we are looking at United States…USAID is here. Also, our nongovernmental organizations. I’m chairman of the board of the National Democratic Institute, and we have programs here now in terms of training parliamentarians, working with various groups in civil society, helping political party training, and we’re going to host a number of people from Burma in the United States, an exchange program so I think we’re going to be doing quite a lot.”
VOA: "Do you notice for instance any change in the country you did not expect before? You didn’t hope before?"
ALBRIGHT: “I think that it’s hard for…For me, what I found interesting is that some of the people that…there’s a willingness to work together that I hadn’t seen before, frankly, but that’s not totally fair for me to say that since I hadn’t met with such a wide variety of people. I think there is also a recognition that things were wrong, that something different had to be done and that you couldn’t suppress people in the way that it happened in the previous 18 years ago and that Burma can flourish if, in fact, it recognizes its diversity and builds on that.”
VOA: “You are the highest ranking U.S. official ever to visit North Korea, and, as you know, Burma has military relationships with North Korea. How much should we be concerned that Burma may be maintaining secretly the military relations with North Korea?”
ALBRIGHT: “I do not know about that, but I do think that we have to make sure that the North Koreans are not a threat. President Obama has said that. We want to see a denuclearized Korean peninsula, and we also…there have been international steps in terms of sanctions against North Korea, and I think that if Burma wants to be a country in good standing internationally, then it’s important to abide by whatever international regulations or rules that have been made.”
VOA: “My very last question, you are the very first secretary of state, female secretary of state in the United States of America. There are now female…in Burma, there are female representatives and next-generation female leaders, I’m very much interested to know your suggestions and advice to those next-generation leaders especially for those women.”
ALBRIGHT: "Well I had a very interesting meeting with women representatives and women’s groups. I think that there has to be greater involvement of women politically and economically if Burma is going to really flourish. And I say that not just because I’m a woman and a feminist, but because we know that when half of the population is female, and you don’t use the talents, then you’re wasting a resource, and so I think that women have to be in political life, women have to own businesses, help in economic life and men need to understand that it’s better for the country, but opportunities have to be made, and women have to take advantage of them. So I was very glad to meet with the women’s groups.”
VOA: "Thank you very much Madame Secretary. I’m very much honored to be with you."
ALBRIGHT: "Thank you."