Madeleine Albright Praises Susan Rice, Talks Multilateralism

The former secretary of state on our complex and unsettled world

Election season may be over in the United States, but leadership changes worldwide are complicating diplomatic relationships. From the Middle East to China, it's complicated. In diplomatic parlance, it's "multifaceted."

"In diplomacy, when something's complicated, we say we have 'a multifaceted relationship'," said former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at The Atlantic's Washington Ideas Forum. "We have a multifaceted relationship with the Chinese." The leadership transition there raises the obvious question, "will they be willing to make any kind of decisions with us, or on international issues?"

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Albright weighed in on a range of foreign policy dilemmas. She called the recent escalation in violence between Israel and the Palestinians "very dangerous." A troubling signal is that Egypt, a longtime U.S. partner in the region, has withdrawn its ambassador to Israel. And the fact that Israel's own elections are looming have politicized the tensions there, she said.

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"This is in a region where we used to have some sense of who is in charge. And in all of the countries there are real questions," Albright said of the Middle East.

The so-called Arab Spring has unsettled governments from Libya to Syria. It's not just that dictators have been toppled; it's that their power has been dispersed to a variety of groups. In many countries, as fragile democracies struggle, it's unclear where the center of power lies.

In Asia, the Chinese leadership transition raises the question of whether China will be more, or less, amenable to working with the United States, Albright said. "What has happened in China is obviously once in a generational, huge change," she said. The Obama administration's decision to shift its focus towards Asia makes sense, she said: "We're a Pacific power as well as an Atlantic power."

Albright also praised the Obama administration's efforts to use multilateral pressure and economic sanctions to deter Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, saying that those tools are working. There isn't an immediate danger of Iran weaponizing nuclear materials, she said, but the situation has to be watched very closely.

The former Secretary of State also weighed in on the furor surrounding a possible nominee to her old post: Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice. At the Washington Ideas Forum yesterday, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina threatened to block Rice's nomination, should President Obama name her as successor to Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"I have known Susan Rice her entire life," Albright said, since Rice was in high school. "There is nobody who knows more about these subjects. And I believe that she has represented us brilliantly at the United Nations." The president has a right to nominate his own Cabinet, she said.

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Sophie Quinton is a staff reporter for National Journal.

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