Madeleine Albright, the first female US secretary of state who fled the Nazis as a child in her native Czechoslovakia during World War II and rose to lead the United Nations and become one of America’s greatest diplomats, has died at age 84.

In the 1990s, Madeleine Albright was a tenacious diplomat in an administration that refused to get involved in the two largest international crises of the decade — Rwanda’s genocides and Bosnia-Herzegovina’s ethnic cleansing.

“We are heartbroken to announce that Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, the 64th US Secretary of State and the first woman to hold that position, passed away earlier today. The cause was cancer,” the family wrote on Twitter.

The United States’ president, Joe Biden, expressed his gratitude to Albright, saying she was a “force for goodness, grace, and decency – and for freedom”.

“When I think of Madeleine, I will always remember her fervent faith that ‘America is the indispensable nation’,” he stated.

During Bill Clinton’s first term, Madeleine Albright, who had served as the US ambassador to the United Nations since 1993, was a vocal advocate for a harder posture against the Serbs in Bosnia. But many of the administration’s top foreign policy experts looked back on how America became ensnared in Vietnam and vowed not to make that mistake again.

The United States and NATO collaborated on air strikes that brought the conflict to a close after three years, but only after it had been going on for three years.

As a refugee, Albright was inspired to advocate for the United States to be a superpower that uses its power responsibly.

She wanted a “muscular internationalism,” according to James O’Brien, a senior adviser to Albright during the Bosnian conflict.

She once got on the bad side of a Pentagon official by asking why the military still had more than 1,000,000 individuals under arms when they were never used.

While she advocated for a quicker, stronger response in Bosnia during the Clinton administration, Albright supported a UN war crimes tribunal that incarcerated the architects of that conflict, including Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Bosnian Serb leaders.

Madeleine Albright, who was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937 and was nominated as the United States’ first female secretary of state and confirmed unanimously in 1997, served as the country’s top diplomat until 2001.

From March 1999 to June 1999, NATO waged an 11-week air assault on Belgrade, which continued after the Serbs began a campaign of ethnic cleansing against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Albright, who has been a vocal supporter of the concept of American exceptionalism, which opponents claim is the basis for Washington’s global dominance, famously stated in 1998: “We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.”

After a UN-commissioned research revealed that over 500,000 Iraqi children had died as a result of US-led sanctions following the first Gulf War, Albright defended the policy in an interview with The Atlantic in 1996.

When asked about the Iraqi children’s deaths, Albright, who was then serving as UN ambassador, stated: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”

She told Democracy Now in 2004 that she regretted making that remark.

“It was a stupid statement. I never should have made it, and if everybody else that has ever made a statement they regret would stand up, there would be a lot of people standing,” Albright stated.

In the run-up to the Iraq war in 2003, Albright maintained that the invasion was acceptable due on to claims that Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction. However, she said that the nation did not represent an immediate danger to the US and urged vigilance against al-Qaeda.

She said in a 2007 interview with Al Jazeera that “Iraq is going to go down in history as the greatest disaster in American foreign policy.”

Following several attempts to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, which were ultimately fruitless, Albright went to Pyongyang in 2000 and met with Kim Jong-il, becoming the highest-ranking American official to do so.

Critics have accused Albright of supporting US military operations and sanctions, despite her status as a feminist icon in other quarters.

“The impact that she has had on this building is felt every single day and just about every single corridor,” said State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, praised Albright as a“towering champion for peace, diplomacy and democracy”.

“Her historic tenure as our nation’s first woman to serve as our top diplomat paved the way for generations of women to serve at the highest levels of our government and represent America abroad,” Pelosi stated.