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Albright Eyed As Czech President

February 28, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Madeleine Albright, America’s Czech-born secretary of state, returns next week to her homeland, where there is talk she might seek the presidency of the East European nation after her tour in Washington ends.

Some Czechs are speaking of her as a possible successor to President Vaclav Havel, who must retire in 2002. Havel, a playwright-turned-politician helped lead the ``Velvet Revolution″ that in 1989 persuaded communist rulers to resign.

He has openly talked about the possibility of Albright succeeding him.

Michael Zantovsky, former Czech ambassador to Washington, said Sunday in Prague that he met last week with Havel and discussed, among other things, the possibility that Albright might run to succeed Havel.

``I never made it a secret that I think that Madeleine Albright could, one day in the future, play a big role in Czech politics,″ Zantovsky said.

He stressed that the idea is not new and that it would not dominate Albright’s agenda in the Czech Republic next week.

In Prague, Havel’s chief policy adviser, Pavel Fischer, told Time magazine: ``It is not impossible that they will talk about this.″

The secretary of state has not publicly discussed her future plans. In its new issue, Time quoted unidentified sources as saying she ``has begun to consider the possibility of running.″

However, Albright spokesman James P. Rubin dismissed the notion.

``From time to time senior Czech officials have approached the secretary about this possibility. She has dismissed it although she is certainly flattered that Czechs would consider her for the post of president of her native land,″ Rubin said Sunday. ``She has never given this any serious consideration.″

Albright’s March 5-8 visit coincides with the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of national hero Tomas Masaryk, who served as the first president of the Czechoslovak Republic after the collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918.

Albright’s visit will have some trappings of a political barnstorming tour. She will receive a gold medal from Masaryk University in Brno and will go to Masaryk’s birthplace at Hodonin. She will lay a wreath at his tomb in Lany, west of Prague, and go to the capital to unveil a Masaryk statue.

Albright’s maiden name is Marie Korbelova. Her father was a Czech diplomat who took his family to London as Germany took over their homeland at the start of World War II. The family then moved to Denver in 1948 rather than serve under a communist Czechoslovakian government.

In an unscientific poll, published by Lidove Noviny, the leading daily newspaper in Prague, Albright was listed among the greatest living Czechs. Havel was first. The poll, taken in March 1999, preceded NATO’s war in Kosovo, which was widely unpopular among Czechs.

Havel first brought up the presidency idea in 1998. After returning to Prague from an official visit to the United States, he expressed regret that he hadn’t asked whether she would be available to succeed him. ``It occurred to me on the plane on my way back home,″ Havel said, ``so I did not have the chance to ask her.″

The U.S. Constitution bars Albright or any other alien-born citizen from the American presidency, but there appears to be no legal bar to keep an American from assuming the presidency of another country.

Other naturalized citizens have served in foreign governments.

Lithuania’s current president, Valdas Adamkus, is a former U.S. government bureaucrat. Yugoslavia’s former prime minister, American Milan Panic, was a California millionaire before returning to his homeland and was barred by a technicality from running against the President Slobodan Milosevic in 1992. In Israel, Golda Meir moved from a Milwaukee classroom to become the prime minister who led Israel to victory in the 1967 war.

And the Czechs already have had an American woman living in their president’s house: Havel’s wife, Charlotte Garrigue.

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