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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 3, 2008

INDEX:

COLOMBIA

U.S. Supports Efforts of Colombian Government to Respond to Threats
Conversations Between Colombia and Ecuador About Incident at Border
Encourage Colombia and Ecuador to Work Out Concerns Diplomatically
OAS Offered to Provide Forum for Colombia and Ecuador to Discuss Issue

IRAN

Vote On Latest UNSC Sanctions Resolution / Discussions Today
Iran Has An Outstanding Offer On Table To Negotiate
Resolutions Are Produced As A Result Of International Negotiations

RUSSIA

Medvedev Declared Winner in Russian Presidential Election
Election Proceeded In a Peaceful Manner
Future Role of Russian Government / U.S. Work with Russian Government
U.S. Watching Events In International Energy Markets
U.S. Does Not Support Use of Gas Oil or Other Commodities as Political Weapons

NORTH KOREA

Chris Hill / Beijing Meetings with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei
Six-Party Talks / Hope To Move Toward Third Portion Of Process

DEPARTMENT

Annual Country Reports On Terrorism

SOMALIA

Strike Against Al-Qaida / Pentagon Has Additional Details

ISRAEL/PLALESTINIAN

Secretary Rice en Route to the Region; Egypt, Israel and Palestinian Territories
Needs to be a Political Solution to Violence

PAKISTAN

Negotiations Ongoing Between Political Factions Over Formation of New Government
U.S. Concerned By Continuing Violence and Recent Suicide Bombings
U.S. Will Support Pakistan as It Moves Forward to Confront Extremist Violence

INDIA

U.S. Wants To See U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement Concluded

MACEDONIA

Macedonian And Greek Foreign Ministers Encouraged To Work With Mr. Nimitz


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:47 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Happy Monday. Start of another week here. I don’t have anything to begin you with, so why don’t we go right to your questions.

Sure. In the back.

QUESTION: Colombia.

MR. CASEY: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: What’s your opinion about the situation there is with Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia, because of the killing of Raul Reyes in Ecuadorian territory?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Well, we talked a little bit about this this morning. First of all, let me just reiterate that the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia, the FARC, are a terrorist group. They are responsible for kidnapping many individuals. As I have said this morning, they have been making life miserable for the Colombian people for more than 20 years. And we fully support the efforts of the Colombian Government and President Uribe to respond to this threat. In terms of the specific incident along the border with Ecuador, we are aware that there have been conversations between the Government of Colombia and Ecuador about this. We think the way for any differences about this particular military action to be resolved is through dialogue among the two countries and that’s in everyone’s interest and it’s certainly what we are encouraging the Government of Colombia and the Government Ecuador to do.

At this point I certainly don’t see any reason why there should be any involvement from other countries in the region in this matter save to encourage that kind of diplomatic resolution of this issue.

Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: To follow up. Does the Colombian Government can count with the U.S. Government in case of a military reaction in the border or something, due to the fact that Colombia is a main ally that has U.S. in Latin America?

MR. CASEY: Well, Colombia is an important friend and partner for the United States on a variety of issues. Certainly, in terms of counter-narcotics cooperation, in terms of our support for their fight against terrorism and against the FARC. And also of course in our combined efforts to improve the lives of our – both our people through the free trade agreement that’s been negotiated and is currently under discussion. But look, I think right now our focus is on trying to encourage Colombia and Ecuador to work out diplomatically the concerns that have been raised about this military strike. Certainly, we expect that that’s how this is going to be resolved. And I don’t think anybody at this point ought to be talking about military action.

QUESTION: And --

MR. CASEY: Yeah. We want to go back here and then we’ll come around.

QUESTION: In – how do you read operation in which Colombia took out Reyes? The Ecuadorians are claiming, of course, it wasn’t in Ecuadorian soil. Do you support the idea of another country striking on a neighbor because they have actual intelligence that a major terrorist is living within the border?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, I’m going to leave it to the Colombians to talk about the specifics of this military operation. It was their operation and, you know, I would leave the details of it to them. Again, the Ecuadorians have expressed concern about this. Certainly, we support the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of all nations in the region. That’s in accordance with the OAS charter. In fact, I should note that I think the OAS has offered to provide a forum for the two countries to discuss this issue and we think that would be a useful way for them to be able to proceed to resolve those differences. Certainly, though we do understand and fully support the need of the Colombian Government to tackle and respond to threats posed by this terrorist organization.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Was there any support from the U.S. Government either in terms of intelligence sharing or logistics for this operation?

MR. CASEY: Look, I’m not aware of any U.S. Government role in this particular military event. We, of course, have very strong cooperation with Colombia on a variety of fronts, most particularly through our efforts in Plan Colombia to cooperation in counter-narcotics areas.

QUESTION: Were you notified by Colombia before it happened?

MR. CASEY: No. I’m not aware that we found out about this, other than after the fact.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The last question, Mr. Casey. There was found a computer of Raul Reyes in operation and the Colombian minister said this morning that that computer is going to be sent for international agencies to see what is -- what it’s having inside. Does the FBI or DEA or any agency in the U.S. ready to receive this computer and to manage that information?

MR. CASEY: Well, I’m not aware that there’s been any request on the part of the Colombian Government to U.S. agencies in that regard. You might want to check with some of the specific agencies you’ve mentioned to see if they’ve heard anything. But I’m not aware that such a request has been made to us.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Other international countries are worried about the situation with Colombia and Venezuela and also Ecuador because they think in some point this is something can threat this -- the regional peace. What do you think? What is your thought?

MR. CASEY: Again, we think the Colombia and Ecuador, as well as Colombia and Venezuela, have enjoyed good relations with one another for many years. That’s what we hope to see continue on in the future. And I think as far as Colombia and Ecuador, on this issue, we certainly understand the concerns that the Ecuadoran Government has raised, and that’s why we support there being a discussion and a resolution of this issue involving the two parties and the OAS because it’s important for the country -- for the countries involved as well as for the region that people be able to work together to deal with the threats posed by terrorism and also to make sure that when there are disputes that occur that they can be resolved peacefully. That’s what we all have subscribed to through the OAS.

Yeah, David.

QUESTION: What do you make of President Chavez’s comments on this and his seeming deployment of troops over the Colombian frontier?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don’t think I have any information in terms of what Venezuela may or may not have done in terms of its military forces and their status. But look, like I said, this for us, is an issue between the governments of Colombia and Ecuador. We believe it’s appropriate for them to work that out through diplomatic discussion. And our hope would be that other countries would act on this issue to the same extent, that what they would do would be encourage the parties to sit down and work it out. I don’t really see that there is any particular role for any other country, certainly not a military role for them in this issue.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Talk of an Iran vote very shortly. Can you talk a bit about this? Is that what you hoped for?

MR. CASEY: Well, I understand that the Security Council is meeting now, and I think we anticipate that there will, as part of that discussion, be a vote on the latest UN Security Council sanctions resolution. We hope certainly to see a vote take place. We want to see that vote be unanimous. We have every reason to expect that the international community will continue to support the policies that have been outlined by the permanent five members plus Germany. Iran, of course, has an outstanding offer on the table to negotiate with us and to work out an arrangement that allows them to have a full civilian nuclear program while assuring us that they’re not using that as a diversion or cover for building a nuclear weapon.

Unfortunately, because Iran has continued its defiance of the international community, including three UN Security Council resolutions as well as multiple resolutions from the IAEA Board of Governors, we are now faced again with ratcheting up the pressure and ratcheting up the sanctions. Let’s remember, too, that this process is designed to help change the political calculations on the part of Iran’s leadership, and we certainly hope that there will be reasonable leaders in Iran that will be willing to take advantage of an offer to negotiate rather than continuing defiance, and hopefully the increased pressure that’s going to come from this resolution will lead them to that conclusion.

QUESTION: What is the -- sorry. Is the resolution as strong as you would have hoped?

MR. CASEY: Well, these are resolutions that are produced as a result of international negotiations. So we wish that we could have had the resolution sooner than we did, and we certainly didn't get everything that we might have hoped for had we been the sole people drafting that are responsible for it. But it is a good strong resolution. It's going to designate additional individuals and entities. It's going to tighten some of the existing sanctions that are there. And we believe it will, again, also show that the international community remains united in confronting the challenge posed by Iran's nuclear program.

QUESTION: And what do you think support from the new Russian president and also the report of high rise of oil prices in China and everything will continue to support?

MR. CASEY: Well, in terms of Russia's role, of course, the Russian elections have just occurred. The government that is in place now is the same government as yesterday. We've been very pleased to see that the Russians as well as the other members of the P-5+1 have been full participants in this process. We believe that the unity shown by the P-5+1 on this issue has been important. And we hope that with the passage of this additional resolution, it will encourage the Iranians and ultimately get them to come to the table.

In terms of the future role of Russia, well, it's an important country. It's one that will obviously have a very major role to play as we move forward, not only on this issue but a variety of others. And we do look forward to continuing to be able to work with the Russian Government on these kinds of concerns.

QUESTION: Looking to North Korea, has Chris Hill achieved any progress in getting near a declaration, or getting a declaration?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think as you know, Chris was back in Beijing this weekend. He met with Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, who is his counterpart in the six-party talks. They had some good discussions about the way forward. As Chris said, our hope is to be able to complete the second round, meaning -- including a full and complete declaration from the North Koreans, and then move on as quickly as we can towards the third portion of this process, which is the actual dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program. So he had some good discussions. I know he did not meet with Kim Kye-gwan, his North Korean counterpart, while he was there; though I understand the North Koreans have expressed an interest in having a meeting at some point in the near future. So we'll have to see. This is another one of these situations where nothing is done until everything is done. And whether -- where we are in this process at this point is just continuing to push and work for getting that declaration and moving forward. But until we actually have it, I don't think it really is worthwhile to try and speculate on whether we are six degrees closer or six degrees further away.

Yeah.

QUESTION: A follow-up on declaration. Chris Hill said before he left Beijing, he thinks it is still possible to resolve North Korean nuclear declaration nearer -- within this month. And what if you can resolve this declaration issue by the end of this month?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think it's possible for the North Koreans to provide us a declaration at the time of their choosing, and certainly we would like to see that as soon as possible. I don't think Chris was predicting a particular timetable, though.

Yeah, you can keep going.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Just one more. As you know,(inaudible) -- State Department will release a annual terrorism report and that's why everybody is focusing on March where maybe some kind of breakthrough in this declaration and U.S. might remove North Korea from the terrorist list. And at this point, is there any U.S. efforts underway to remove North Korea from the terrorism list?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, let's just -- let me just remind you of a couple of technical points there. The report that will be released this month covers last year. So I don't think -- since North Korea was not removed from the terrorism list last year -- a report covering last year probably won't have anything new for you in that regard.

In terms of our process on this, as Chris said, we have begun the process of looking at these issues -- the terrorism list as well as the Trading with the Enemies Act. You’ve heard from him repeatedly on the standards applied there. But I don’t have anything that I’m trying to indicate to you that would tell you there is anything imminently in the works on that. Certainly, I don’t think you should look to the presentation of a report on terrorism in the world during 2007 for something new.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Somalia. I know we’re being referred to the Pentagon, but if you could talk about the nature of the target, perhaps?

MR. CASEY: If I knew the nature of the target, I’d be happy to talk to you about it. Let me just repeat what the Pentagon has said for you, and then I would have to refer you over there for additional details. The Pentagon has said that the U.S. military did launch a strike in Somalia against al-Qaida and al-Qaida-related targets there. I think this just shows that we as well as our partners in the region and around the world are going to continue to do what is necessary to fight the war on terror and to respond to terrorists wherever they may be.

Yeah, Libby.

QUESTION: Back to Russia. In looking at the election from what you’ve seen so far and also leading up to the elections, what would you say your main concerns are about how that election process was held?

MR. CASEY: Well, we talked a little bit about this in the gaggle this morning. But, you know, the best way I can describe it, first of all, we acknowledge that Mr. Medvedev has been declared the winner in Russia’s presidential election. Russia is an important country, as I was noting in our discussion about the Iran resolution. It’s a country with which we have had good cooperation in a number of areas, including counterterrorism and counterproliferation, and we certainly hope that will be able to continue with this new government.

In terms of the election and in terms of Russian democratic process, the President, the Secretary and many others have spoken about our concerns over time about democracy and the progress of democracy in Russia. And I don’t think that these elections have done anything to change our views or change our concerns about them.

The election itself proceeded in a peaceful manner. In terms of what our concerns were in it, though, you’ve heard a lot of discussion in the run-up to that election about the openness of the process and the ability of people outside of the government candidates to make their voices heard. The best summary of that is in the report from the Council of Europe observers who were on the ground. I think there were others that are putting reports forward. But I think that gives you a general assessment of the concerns that are out there, and we’d certainly share those concerns.

Yeah.

QUESTION: In going forward, I mean, does this bring up any concerns about working with the new Russian president given the way -- given the concerns under which he was elected?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think what’s important is in his campaign Mr. Medvedev has made several references to the importance of the rule of law and the importance of people being able to express their views. I think we hope going forward that he will turn those rhetorical commitments into action and that we will see some of the issues that we have expressed concern about and others have expressed concern about in terms of the development of democracy in Russia move forward and make progress. So we’ll be talking with him about that, but we certainly hope that we can have a good relationship with him on all those areas where we currently have positive cooperation with Russia and perhaps we can see some changes on some of those other areas where we have spoken out.

QUESTION: Do you expect President Putin to still be calling the shots?

MR. CASEY: Look, I expect that President Medvedev will be president of Russia; that if, in fact, as he’s indicated, he will name President Putin as prime minister, that he will fulfill those duties. The Russian system has a pretty clear delineation of responsibilities between the president and prime minister. Until proven otherwise, I think we’ll expect that those officeholders will carry out their duties and responsibilities in accordance with the constitution.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On the Gaza violence, what’s the State Department’s assessment of where things stand now on the agreements made at Annapolis three months ago?

MR. CASEY: Well, where things stand right now is that the Secretary is en route to the region, so you’ll forgive me if I am fairly limited in what I’d care to say about it in deference to her and the party. She’s going out to the region now. She’ll be in Egypt as well as Israel and the Palestinian territories and meet with the relevant officials involved. She’ll get a firsthand understanding of the situation there. But I think the violence that’s occurred over the weekend only points out what we’ve been saying: There needs to be a political solution to this issue; there needs to be a two-state solution; and there needs to be opportunity for the Palestinian people to be able to make a clear choice between the path of violence, which is all that Hamas appears to want to offer, and the pathway of peace and stability and a new relationship between Israel and the Palestinian people, which is what President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert have pledged to achieve through the Annapolis process. We believe that that process can and will move forward. We think it’s important that negotiations do resume as quickly as possible, and we believe it’s still possible for the parties to be able to achieve the basic agreement that they laid out for themselves as a goal at Annapolis.

Goyal.

QUESTION: I have two quick question on South Asia, please. One is violence continues in Pakistan and if the U.S. has been asked for any kind of help because suicide bombings on the rise now before even the government is in place.

MR. CASEY: Well, yeah, I understand there are still negotiations ongoing between the various political factions in Pakistan over the formation of the new government. Certainly, I’d leave it to them to give you a state of play on that.

We are concerned by the continuing violence in Pakistan and condemn those recent suicide bombings, including one that took the lives of a number of individuals in the Federally Administered Territories who were meeting to try and talk about what they could do to oppose al-Qaida and the Taliban there. Certainly, we are going to do whatever we can to support the Government of Pakistan as it moves forward to confront extremist violence. But at this point, I can’t offer you anything new in terms of programs or assistance. You heard from Deputy Secretary Negroponte just last week about what our plans are for continuing to support Pakistan not only in terms of its military and security forces but also in terms of economic and political development there.

QUESTION: And something as far as U.S.-India’s civil nuclear agreement was concerned, it sounds like that now there’s an urgency between the two countries or politicians. Some senators were in India and they have said that now or never. And second, Mr. Burns, Under Secretary of State who worked hard on this issue, he has left the State Department but now Indian Ambassador Mr. Ronen Sen is supposed to leave next week but he has been asked by the Indian Government to stay another year or so because of this issue. So where -- have you any idea?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we want to see this agreement concluded. We think it’s in the best interests of India, the United States as well as in global nonproliferation effort. As you know, we’ve acknowledged that there are internal political issues for the Indian Government to work out, and it’s important that they have an opportunity to do so. There are members of Congress who have pointed out their concerns about, as we enter our own election cycle here, of the difficulties of getting such an agreement through Congress. I’ll let them handicap that aspect of the process. They know that far better than I do.

But we do believe this is an important agreement, an historic agreement really, between India and the United States, and we would like to see it move forward. Under Secretary Burns, or now former Under Secretary Burns, who did leave his position on Friday, has, of course, also agreed, at the Secretary’s request, to continue on in a consultative capacity working on specifically this issue. And so I think Nick will still be very much engaged, involved in this process, and will do what he can to help see that this agreement in all its aspects does get concluded.

QUESTION: This, do it now or never, was from the lawmaker -- U.S. lawmakers or also from the Administration?

MR. CASEY: The U.S. -- as you know, Goyal, U.S. lawmakers, members of Congress, speak for themselves. They have a very important role to play in this process. But they’re -- when they are abroad, they’re speaking in their own name as members of our legislative branch. As you know, we believe this is an important agreement. We want to see it concluded as quickly as possible. But ultimately, the Indian Government needs to be fully comfortable with it and they need to be able to move things forward. It would be a shame if this opportunity, though, for both sides was lost, and we certainly therefore hope that we can reach an agreement as soon as possible.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes, on FYROM. Mr. Casey, the UN talks on the name issue with mediator Ambassador Matthew Nimitz last Saturday in New York City once again failed. Anything to say since there are only 20 days before the NATO summit in Bucharest?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think our message to both parties is keep trying. We, as you know, in meetings that the Secretary had with both the Macedonian Foreign Minister as well as the Greek Foreign Minister strongly encouraged them to continue to work with Mr. Nimitz to reach a mutually acceptable agreement under his auspices on the name issue. That continues to be our position and we certainly hope that there will be a successful conclusion of this in the near future.

QUESTION: Ambassador Nimitz, with a statement, urged specifically the U.S. and the European Union to exert more pressure to both sides. Are you going to try to do this effect?

MR. CASEY: Oh, as I said, Mr. Lambros, we've made our feelings known very clearly to both the Macedonian and the Greek government on this, including directly from the Secretary to her counterparts. This is a subject that comes up regularly in our conversations with both governments and I'm sure we'll continue to encourage them to work together with Mr. Nimitz to reach an agreement.

QUESTION: And the last one, do you know if in the upcoming ministerial meeting in Brussels, Madame Secretary Condoleezza Rice has (inaudible) to the name issue since NATO is a pillar of the U.S. foreign policy as President Bush stated specifically in the recent past?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, you'll have to talk to the party in terms of what meeting she may or may not have while at the NATO ministerial. I'm not sure whether she's planning on meeting individually with either the Greek or Macedonian foreign ministers. Certainly, this is an issue that is of concern not only to the United States but also to other members of NATO. Greece is an important friend and NATO ally. So I wouldn't be surprised if this issue came up in one form or another during the meetings in Brussels. But I'm not going to predict for you where or when. That's really something they'll have to address out there.

David.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. CASEY: You look surprised.

QUESTION: Russia’s gas company, apparently, enacted a sizeable supply cut to Ukraine today in their dispute. And I'm just wondering if that's something you're watching or concerned about.

MR. CASEY: Well, we're always watching events in the international energy markets. Our position on this, though, I think you know and is quite clear. We believe that this issue needs to be settled in a way that's in conformity with economic and business realities, and certainly would not support any kind of effort to use gas or oil or any other commodity as a political weapon.

Libby.

QUESTION: I actually wanted to ask you about Russia again. Senator McCain made some pretty strong comments earlier today. He said that the Russian elections would not pass the smell test in any functioning democracy. And he said the people of Russia are going back to the days where they don't have the right of free elections and even a free society. Do you think that this has set Russia back in such a fashion?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, let me make clear, I'd like to stay very far away from the political campaigns, so let the candidates speak their minds on this issue. Again, in terms of our view, we acknowledge the -- that Mr. Medvedev has been declared the winner and is going to be president of Russia. We intend to work with him. I don't think anyone should be in any doubt about the concerns that we have continued to express, beginning with the President directly to President Putin as well as Secretary Rice in her public remarks, as well as comments with other Russian officials about our concerns about some of the issues involving Russia's democracy and democratic process. Many of those issues touch on things directly related to elections and the electoral process. But beyond that, again, I'd just refer you back to the reports that the observers from the Council of Europe and elsewhere have filed on the specific issues or concerns that they have about this.

Whatever else happens, the fact is Russia and the United States have an important relationship and we need to be able to manage that relationship not only under the current leadership but also under the future leadership as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:14 p.m.)

DPB # 38



Released on March 3, 2008

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