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Madeleine Albright's Jewelry-Box Diplomacy

Sep 29, 2009 (Morning Edition)

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In her new book, Read My Pins, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reveals that she used jewelry as a diplomatic tool during her years with the Clinton administration.

"This all started when I was ambassador at the U.N. and Saddam Hussein called me a serpent," she tells Susan Stamberg. "I had this wonderful antique snake pin. So when we were dealing with Iraq, I wore the snake pin."

After that incident, Albright decided that it might be fun to speak through her pins. She went out and bought different costume jewelry.

"As it turned out, there were just a lot of occasions to either commemorate a particular event or to signal how I felt," she says.

There were balloons, butterflies and flowers to signify optimism and, when diplomatic talks were going slowly, crabs and turtles to indicate frustration.

After the Russians were caught tapping the State Department, Albright protested by wearing a pin with a giant bug on it. On days when Albright felt she had to do "a little stinging and deliver a tough message," she wore a wasp pin.

At one point, Russian leader Vladimir Putin told President Clinton that he knew what the mood of a meeting would be by looking at Albright's left shoulder. (Albright's pin with three monkeys, which she wore when discussing Chechnya, was meant to draw attention to the fact that Russia took a "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" stance toward the Chechen atrocities.)

The former secretary of state says that one of her own pins — an antique eagle pin with a complicated clasp — nearly sabotaged her at her swearing-in ceremony.

"I put it on, and there I was all of the sudden with one hand on the Bible and one hand in the air, and the pin was just swinging in the breeze. I had not fastened it properly," says Albright. "I was afraid that it would fall on the Bible."

Accidents aside, Albright says she loved expressing herself with her jewels. And, she adds, making fashion statements — and commenting on each other's attire — is not completely unheard of within a diplomatic setting:

"You think that the heads of state only have serious conversations, [but] they actually often begin really with the weather or, 'I really like your tie.' "

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