Albright wields clout as U.N. booster Democratic envoy's political ties are broad and deep

July 23, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

UNITED NATIONS -- Madeleine Albright has an unusual view for a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. She expects Washington to take the place seriously.

And at a time when the U.N. operation in Somalia is straining to hold together, its humanitarian aid is running out of food and cash, and its credibility is in tatters over the Balkans, she is a powerful and important booster.

The round face and matronly figure have become familiar symbols of resolve as she tells television interviewers and the Security Council in a clear voice trained to fill classrooms that, bloodshed in Mogadishu notwithstanding, the Somalia mission is success and the United Nations should "stay the course."

Her high profile, plus her Cabinet rank, status as a presidential adviser, wide political connections and instinct for discretion give her a level of clout at this tall glass building on the East River and in Washington that is unprecedented among recent U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations.

She will draw added scrutiny next month when she assumes the one-month rotating presidency of the Security Council amid continuing crises in Bosnia, Somalia and Iraq.

The object of this growing attention is part diplomat, part professor, part political networker and all Democrat, with a view of the United Nations as vital to U.S. security in the post-Cold War world that makes some longtime U.N.-watchers in Washington nervous.

Skeptics fear that her determination to expand the U.S. commitment to U.N. peacekeeping and her frequent contact with and outspoken admiration for Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the imperial secretary-general, will submerge U.S. interests and erode this country's ability to act on its own.

"It's hazardous to count on using the U.N. for everything we want to do. There may be cases where it isn't there for us," says Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to former President George

Bush.

Mrs. Albright's ties to and belief in the United Nations are deep.

Her father, Czech diplomat Josef Korbel, was assigned to the United Nations after spending the World War II years broadcasting to his occupied country from London, and he once led a U.N. commission to try to solve the intractable Kashmir conflict.

After the Communist takeover of his country in 1948, he found political asylum in the United States.

Born in Prague

Born in Prague in 1937, the future Mrs. Albright appeared in newsreels as a child bringing flowers to visiting dignitaries. After Mr. Korbel's defection, she grew up in Denver, where her father became a professor and later university dean. She went on a scholarship to school in Switzerland and later to Wellesley College.

Upon graduation, she married Joseph Albright, a journalist from the Patterson newspaper family. Already fluent in English, Czech and French, she studied Russian for eight hours a day while waiting for twin daughters, born prematurely, to be released from the hospital.

Over the next 2 1/2 decades, she raised three girls, earned a master's degree and doctorate from Columbia University, got a divorce with a comfortable settlement and began to work her way into the upper ranks of the Democratic Party's internationalist wing.

She was a legislative assistant to former Sen. Edmund S. Muskie and later joined the National Security Council staff under former President Jimmy Carter's adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, responsible for foreign policy legislation.

She entered the limelight during the Reagan and Bush years as think-tank fellow, Georgetown University professor and adviser to the Walter F. Mondale and Michael S. Dukakis presidential campaigns while opening her Georgetown home and Virginia farm to exiled Democratic foreign-policy specialists.

She added a fifth language, Polish, while researching a monograph on Poland's eruption of press freedom during the Solidarity period. Later, she became president of the liberal Washington think tank, Center for National Policy.

How much of her emerging prominence stems from academic candlepower and how much from political ties strengthened over her dinner table is a subject of debate, with critics noting that she is not widely published. One of the writings listed on her resume, a study of the Soviet diplomatic corps, is her master's thesis.

A sharp public critic of foreign policy in the Reagan-Bush years, she can't resist a partisan barb in her new role as foreign-policy spokesman for President Clinton.

Former Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger wrote to complain after she paraphrased him as acknowledging a "bungled" Balkans policy. He hadn't used this word, she agrees, but he certainly had admitted that it was a failed policy."

Her response to published criticism from John Bolton, a former assistant secretary of state in the Bush administration, over the U.S. role in a failed council vote to lift the Bosnian arms embargo is direct.

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