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  •   Albright, Pope Discuss Cuba, Eastern Europe

    By Vera Haller
    Special to The Washington Post
    Sunday, March 8, 1998; Page A26

    Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Pope John Paul II today discussed their shared East European roots and the prospects for change in communist Cuba following the pontiff's recent visit.

    The pope received Albright at the Vatican for what officials portrayed as a friendly visit despite differences between the pontiff and the Clinton administration on issues such as the U.S. embargo of Cuba and U.N. sanctions against Iraq.

    They also talked about the situation in Kosovo, the Serbian province in Yugoslavia where Serbian forces are attacking ethnic Albanians, and about the promotion of religious freedom in China.

    State Department spokesman James P. Rubin said that Albright asked the pope, who met last month with Cuban President Fidel Castro, to assess the situation in Cuba and give his opinion on the prospects for change.

    "She stressed America's desire to find ways to help the Cuban people without strengthening their repressive government," Rubin said at a briefing. "She shared her hope that Cuba will indeed become open to the world, so that the world can, indeed, become open to Cuba."

    A senior administration official who was not identified said Albright told the pope that she believed he had been instrumental in the fall of communism in his homeland of Poland.

    While they agreed that the situation in Cuba is different from that of Poland, Albright told the pope she thought his visit to Cuba could be "a point of departure" for political change there, the official said. "That is why we are watching Castro's actions so carefully now."

    The Vatican said Albright's 30-minute meeting with the pope had a "very cordial atmosphere" and allowed "a useful exchange of opinions on the responsibility of the United States in the world arena."

    Rubin said the secretary had "expressed her tremendous admiration for the pope's moral and spiritual leadership, for his achievements on behalf of freedom and for his expressions of solidarity with people of every faith who suffer because of oppression, poverty and war." She later said the audience had been "fabulous."

    Albright greeted the pope in Polish, his native language, and switched briefly to Czech, the language of her ancestry, before they turned to English for the remaining discussion.

    Rubin said Albright – who was raised Roman Catholic, later became an Episcopalian and only last year learned of her Jewish heritage – also talked with the pope about U.S. efforts "to illuminate the history of the Nazi period in Europe and to work with the Vatican to resolve the remaining questions about that tragic era." Some of Albright's Czech relatives died in the Holocaust.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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