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Albright Kisses and Tells About World Diplomacy

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright talks with Daniel Benjamin, Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth at Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover, N.H., on April 8, 2014. Albright peppered the discussion with jokes and personal anecdotes while giving her perspective on topics such as the United States' relationship with Russia. (Valley News - Will Parson)

Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright talks with Daniel Benjamin, Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding at Dartmouth at Spaulding Auditorium in Hanover, N.H., on April 8, 2014. Albright peppered the discussion with jokes and personal anecdotes while giving her perspective on topics such as the United States' relationship with Russia. (Valley News - Will Parson) Purchase photo reprints »

Hanover — Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, dressed appropriately in green, regaled an overflow audience of more than 900 in Dartmouth College’s Spaulding Auditorium Tuesday with insights about crises in the Ukraine and Syria, dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin, balancing work and motherhood, and the “art of diplomatic kissing.”

A month shy of 77, the nation’s first woman Secretary of State displayed energy, candor and humor in fielding 90 minutes of questions, first from Daniel Benjamin, director of Dartmouth’s Dickey Center for International Understanding, which hosted the event, and then the audience of students, faculty and the public.

Events in Crimea and Ukraine represent a “game changer” in Russia’s relations with the United States and the west, Albright said.

“The situation is truly serious,” she continued. “I spent most of my (diplomatic) life as a Soviet expert. After the fall of communism, we worked very hard on the problem of how to devolve power of an adversary in a respectful way. They lost; we didn’t win. We tried to bring them into the international system … eastern Europe as well as Russia. But Putin has a different view of history. He makes up facts, that’s what they are trained to do in the KGB. This is not the kind of behavior we expect from leaders in the 21st century.”

Albright was appointed Secretary of State by President Clinton and served from 1997 until 2001. Before that, she had been U.S. ambassador to the United Nations for four years.

Asked about options for dealing with Russia, Albright emphasized the need for the United States and western European nations to work closely in deploying what she called “economic tools from the diplomatic tool kit — trade and aid are the carrots and sanctions the sticks. The problem with sanctions is that they take a long time to take effect and there may be pain involved for those countries (applying the sanctions).”

“Will they be able to suck it up?” she said.

She told a story about visiting Putin in the Kremlin with President Clinton.

“At one point, Putin told Clinton that he could read the likely mood of a meeting by looking at my left shoulder,” she recalled. “I love pins and one I had with three monkeys I wore when discussing Chechnya to send a message that Russia took a ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ position on its actions in that country.”

Albright has authored a book, Read My Pins, about using pins and jewelry as diplomatic tools.

At the Dartmouth event, she wore a circular gold pin that she called “America. It has an eagle in the middle with four little pearls, symbolizing justice, equality, prosperity and security. It was given to me by Gen. John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.”

Albright said that there are other diplomatic problems on which Russia and United States may be able to find some accommodation.

“For example, it is in Russia’s interest that Iran not develop nuclear weapons,” she said. “In Syria, they don’t want chemical weapons from that country going to Russia. There are other areas — climate change, the Arctic, terrorism.”

On Syria, Albright said that the situation clearly calls for more concerted action by the United States and the international community to provide more humanitarian assistance — food and medicine — for innocent victims of the war. She said there is “no question that this is an R2P situation.” This is an acronym for “Responsibility to Protect,” an international norm endorsed by the United Nations stating that states have an obligation to protect their citizens from atrocities.

“The real problem is which nation will take the lead on this,” she continued. “Our nation is going to be asked what we did to help in Syria, and I don’t want us to be in same position of (the late British Prime Minister) Neville Chamberlin, who said ‘Why do we care about people in a distant land with unpronounceable names.’ ”

The reference was to his statement about why he signed the Munich Agreement in 1938 in which a German speaking region of Czechoslovakia was ceded to Hitler’s Germany. Albright was born in Czechoslovakia; her father was a diplomat. The family moved to the United States in 1948.

Her daughter Anne Albright, one of three, is a Dartmouth alumna, class of 1983, who, her mother announced proudly, “played goalie on the hockey team.”

Asked about work-balance issues for women, Albright acknowledged the difficulty but said there is need for more women in the foreign service and in government.

“Every woman’s middle name is guilt,” she said. “There is no one formula for every woman. Fortunately, I have three daughters and grandchildren to help.”

Albright said the “art of diplomatic kissing,” is important to learn for a woman.

“You have the Latins on the right, the French twice, and then Arafat,” she explained. “In South Korea, a journalist told me that the foreign minister, who was about my age, said he enjoyed kissing me because he said I had very firm breasts.”