She speaks French, Russian and Czech, but what is notable about Madeleine Albright is her English - simple, direct with few lapses - and a style she describes as “people-to-people.”
How many secretaries of state would take time out of a nine-nation, 11-day trip to engage in a computer chat with schoolchildren from around the world? But there was Albright, at the end of a long day in Moscow, answering questions both personal and political, from her aspirations as a child to her thinking on the hostage crisis in Peru.
Then there is that hat, a black Stetson that she bought a week earlier on a trip to Houston. She donned it as she boarded her 25-year-old U.S. Air Force jet for her globe-circling trip and again on her arrivals in Rome, Paris and Brussels.
Otherwise, a security agent carried it around in a hatbox, just in case.
A former teacher who worked in the Democratic presidential campaigns of Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis and Bill Clinton, Albright learned her lessons well.
She splices punchy lines and graphic images into her speeches and news conferences, remembering always to look into the television cameras. “It is no longer us versus you, or you versus us,” she told skeptical Russian officials Friday in Moscow. “We are on the same side.”
Such “sound bites” get public officials on television and help merchandise their policies.
Outwardly, at least, Albright is direct and candid. She openly disagreed with the Russians, for instance, on whether a charter to link Moscow to NATO should be submitted to the U.S. Congress and the Russian Duma to make it legally binding.
“They believe it has to be submitted,” she said Friday. “We do not.”
On the other hand, in Paris, trying to smooth over the differences with the prickly French that bedeviled her predecessor Warren Christopher, she openly invited President Jacques Chirac to “put his shoulder to the wheel” and complement American peacemaking efforts between Israel and the Arabs.
American officials said privately she wasn’t really inviting France to share in the unique role the United States plays as the sole mediator trusted by the two sides.
But the French liked her complimentary ways. Chirac kissed her on both cheeks. French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette outdid his boss and kissed the American secretary of state five times.
De Charette, who clashed openly with Christopher, called her “a very great lady from a very great country.”