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Former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright dies aged 84

In a statement, Albright’s family said she died “surrounded by family and friends”.

Madeleine Albright.
Madeleine Albright.
Image: PA

MADELEINE ALBRIGHT, THE first female US secretary of state and one of the most influential stateswomen of her generation, has died of cancer at age 84, her family has announced.

In a statement, Albright’s family said: “We are heartbroken to announce that Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, the 64th U.S. Secretary of State and the first woman to hold that position, passed away earlier today.

“The cause was cancer. She was surrounded by family and friends. We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend.” 

US President Bill Clinton chose Albright as America’s top diplomat in 1996 and she served in that capacity for the last four years of the Clinton administration.

At the time, she was the highest-ranking woman in the history of US government.

She was not in the line of succession for the presidency, however, because she was a native of Czechoslovakia.

Albright remained outspoken through the years.

After leaving office, she criticised President George W Bush for using “the shock of force” rather than alliances to foster diplomacy and said Bush had driven away moderate Arab leaders and created potential for a dangerous rift with European allies.

However, as a refugee from Czechoslovakia, she was not a dove and played a leading role in pressing for the Clinton administration to get militarily involved in the conflict in Kosovo.

She also toed a hard line on Cuba, famously saying at the United Nations that the Cuban shooting of a civilian plane was not “cojones” but rather “cowardice”.

She advised women “to act in a more confident manner” and “to ask questions when they occur and don’t wait to ask”.

2.66015521 Then-President Bill Clinton confers with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Source: PA

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent,” she told HuffPost Living in 2010.

When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee asked her in January 2007 whether she approved of Bush’s proposed “surge” in US troops in bloodied Iraq, she responded: “I think we need a surge in diplomacy. We are viewed in the Middle East as a colonial power and our motives are suspect.”

Albright was an internationalist whose point of view was shaped in part by her background. Her family fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 as the Nazis took over their country, and she spent the war years in London.

As secretary of state, she played a key role in persuading Clinton to go to war against the Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic over his treatment of Kosovar Albanians in 1999.

“My mindset is Munich,” she said frequently, referring to the German city where the Western allies abandoned her homeland to the Nazis.

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2.66015532 Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat greets US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in 2000. Source: PA

She helped win Senate ratification of Nato’s expansion and a treaty imposing international restrictions on chemical weapons.

“I am an eternal optimist,” Albright said in 1998, amid an effort as secretary of state to promote peace in the Middle East. But she said getting Israel to pull back on the West Bank and the Palestinians to root out terrorists posed serious problems.

As America’s top diplomat, Albright made limited progress at first in trying to expand the 1993 Oslo Accords that established the principle of self-rule for the Palestinians on the West Bank and in Gaza.

But in 1998, she played a leading role in formulating the Wye Accords that turned over control of about 40% of the West Bank to the Palestinians.

She also spearheaded an ill-fated effort to negotiate a 2000 peace deal between Israel and Syria under Syria’s late President Hafez al-Assad.

She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, the nation’s highest civilian honour. 

With reporting from the Press Association. 

About the author:

Jane Moore

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