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Albright's Call for Talks on Women Goes Unanswered

September 17, 1997|NORMAN KEMPSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — On Madeleine Albright's first official trip through the male-dominated countries of the Middle East last week, she conferred with kings, princes, prime ministers and others--all men--who went out of their way to make Washington's chief diplomat feel welcome. In effect, they gave her the implied rank of one of the boys.

"I do think it is somewhat of a novelty in some countries for them to receive a woman secretary of State, but everyone seems to have taken it quite in stride," Albright said at a news conference as Jordan's King Hussein looked on approvingly.

But on at least one occasion, Albright couldn't resist needling her male colleagues. Talking to foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council--six men in desert robes, carrying titles like prince and sheik--Albright said: "You all may have noticed that I am not like other secretaries of State in one way, at least."

According to the senior aide who relayed the exchange to reporters, the gulf foreign ministers laughed, perhaps a bit nervously.

"I hope that in our future discussions, we can speak about the role of women in your societies and around the world," she said, according to the aide. There were no immediate takers on her call for a dialogue on sex roles in the Arab world.

Contortion Act Reworks Circus Tale

One of the hallmarks of Albright's style is an effort to illustrate her points with a snappy analogy or careful turn of phrase. Mostly it works, but sometimes it loses something in the translation.

For instance, talking to a group of Palestinian high school students in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Albright sought to illustrate the interdependence of Israelis and Palestinians if they are ever to make peace.

"In a circus, there are trapeze artists, and they are there on their separate stands," she said. "There is a time that they both jump, and with any luck, they catch each other and it is a beautiful acrobatic act. What the United States tries to do is help the jumpers to understand the moment, so that they can all synchronize their jump and catch each other. If for some reason they don't catch each other, we are the safety net."

Israel Army Radio, reporting the exchange, said Albright "compared [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Palestinian Authority President Yasser] Arafat to clowns in a circus run by Washington."

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