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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 27, 2007

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT

Thoughts and Prayers Extended From the Department to Tony Snow
Visa Policy Regarding Transplant Donors

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

Revised Aid Plan for the Palestinians

EGYPT

Referendum on Constitutional Amendments / Abbreviated Process
Significant Discrepancies Between Voter Turnout Estimates
Secretary’s Discussions with the Egyptians

JAPAN

Japan a Major U.S. Ally
Prime Minister Abe’s Comments on Comfort Women

IRAN

British Soldiers Held by Iranians / U.S. Call for Release
Action a Violation of International Law / Soldiers Operating Under UN Mandate
Iranian Involvement in Iraq / U.S. Will Do Whatever is Required to Protect Our Troops

GREECE

Under Secretary Burns Meeting with Greek Minister of Economy and Finance
Comments by Ambassador Ries on the Attack on Embassy Athens

VIETNAM

Congressman Wolfe’s Comments on Performance of the U.S. Ambassador / Human Rights

UNITED NATIONS

Human Rights Council Vote / Iran / Uzbekistan / Disappointing on Several Levels

SUDAN

Situation in Darfur / U.S. Deeply Concerned / Disappointing Response from Bashir
Need for AU/UN Hybrid Force

KOSOVO

U.S. Support for Ahtisaari Plan / The Time Has Come for Final Resolution

NORTH KOREA

U.S. Working Toward Resolution on the Banco Delta Asia Issue

GEORGIA

Georgian Potential Membership in NATO / Far Down the Road
Human Rights in Georgia / All People Deserve Free and Fair Trial


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:42 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Afternoon, everyone. Don't have any opening statements or announcements for you. I do just want to say on behalf of all of us here at the State Department Bureau of Public Affairs that we wish our friend and colleague, Tony Snow well and wish him a speedy recovery. I'm sure you've all seen the announcement that's come out of the White House and the statement by the President, but we just want to add our good thoughts and prayers for Tony as he moves forward with his treatment. With that, go to your questions.

QUESTION: Tom, is there -- have you guys gone up to the Hill yet with your revised Palestinian aid -- security aid package?

MR. CASEY: Not as far as I know, Matt. I think that's still something that's under discussion, though I expect if it hasn't as of yet, it will probably do so in the next couple of days.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more to tell on the referendum in Egypt and its very low level of participation?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I did have a chance to look into that a little bit more between this morning's session and now. First of all, while the approval of these amendments is a question for the Egyptian people to decide, it is evident that the vast majority of Egyptians chose not to participate in this referendum. And I think that's reflective of the many voices in Egypt that have criticized the abbreviated process which led up to this referendum, as well as the criticism of the amendments themselves as something of a missed opportunity to advance reform.

We also do take note of the significant discrepancies between the estimates of voter turnout provided by the government and both Egyptian and foreign media and observers. As the Middle East is moving forward towards greater openness and pluralism, we do want to see -- as the Secretary has emphasized and as the President has emphasized, we do want to see Egypt play a leading role in that process. And as you know, the Secretary, in Egypt, discussed political reform with senior Egyptian officials and expressed her concerns to them about this referendum as it went forward. So this is certainly an issue that we're going to continue to follow and we're certainly going to continue to discuss these kinds of issues with the Egyptian Government.

We want to see that the Egyptian people have the opportunity to achieve their aspirations and to have a legal process move forward that meets the standards of openness and transparency and accomplishes the reforms that they themselves have set out.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Let's go back here.

QUESTION: You had a comment yesterday on Prime Minister Abe's apology on the comfort women issue and there has been some criticism that his response actually lacks sincerity. What sort of things would the U.S. hope for from Japan in dealing with this issue in the future? And is there any way this might have a negative impact on U.S.-Japan relations?

MR. CASEY: Well, look. First of all, Japan is a strong ally of the United States. It's one of our major international partners on a whole series of issues and I fully expect that we will continue to have the kinds of good relations between our countries that has been the case throughout the last few decades. In terms of what Prime Minister Abe had said, I really don't have anything more beyond what I had said to you yesterday. We appreciate that that apology was made. We certainly do think it's important that the Japanese Government continue to address this issue.

Yeah, sure. Elise.

QUESTION: New topic on Iran?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: The British soldiers that are still in detention, some people suggest that this is a kind of tit-for-tat, really not against the British, but against the U.S. for the detainees in Iraq. What is your response to that?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not sure who's saying that, but I certainly -- the Iranians certainly haven't drawn a connection between that and we certainly wouldn't either. Look, this is a simple case of British soldiers working to help the Iraqi people and working in accordance with the mandate provided by the UN Security Council. As we've said the past few days, this is something where we back Prime Minister Blair's call and other members of the British Government's call for these sailors to be released immediately and without condition.

QUESTION: But the idea that it's really not directed at the British, per se, but it's kind of a indirect way of getting at the United States. There are some in the Iranian Government that are more hard-line and they're trying to crack down on other elements of the government that want better relations with the West and they did this in 2004. They have a habit of doing this. You don't think this is indirectly against the United States, not the British?

MR. CASEY: I don't have anything that supports that theory and I think it's best left to the Iranians to explain what their motivation was in this case.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you agree with the term of hostage taking that has been used by Dana Perino yesterday at the White House press conference regarding this matter?

MR. CASEY: Sorry, could you say that again? I didn't quite --

QUESTION: Dana Perino --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- in the news conference yesterday at the White House, the briefing she used the term of hostage-taking regarding the British sailor. Do you -- I mean support this -- using this term?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think as we've said, this was -- this action was a violation of international law. The British forces were operating as we understand it in Iraqi territorial waters. As such, they were doing so under mandates provided by the United Nations and so therefore the seizing of them by the Iranian forces and the Iranian Government is an illegal act.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)

MR. CASEY: I don't have any characterization beyond it. My understanding from our legal people is that the best way to describe this is it's a violation of international law.

Yeah.

QUESTION: A follow-up -- well related. U.S. News is reporting that in September, I guess a group of Iraqi soldiers being advised by U.S. soldiers engaged Iranians near the border, but within Iraqi territory. Has the State Department raised this issue before with Iran?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think in terms of any specific military actions in Iraq, you frankly have to go talk to the folks on the ground in Baghdad for that. In terms of our overall view of Iranian activities in Iraq, I think we've made those quite clear. Certainly, the Iranian Government is involved in -- the Iranians, excuse me, are involved in providing materials for EFPs as you've heard from our military officials there. We certainly see Iranian support for various militia groups as well. And as the President said, we'll certainly do whatever is required to protect our troops by making sure we deal with any threats inside Iraq to our troops from whatever nationalities the people involved are.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: (Inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: You said that you would expect -- well, you would hope that Japan would continue to address this issue. Do you mean like engaging its neighbors more or being more candid about (inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: Look, this is a longstanding issue. It involves incidents that occurred in the past. It is a subject of continuing discussion between Japan and its neighbors and we would certainly encourage that dialogue, but this is not an issue where the United States should be telling Japan specifics on how it would like to approach this.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Greece? Mr. Casey, I caught by surprise yesterday reading Washington Times where the Greek Minister of Economy and Finance YeoryiosAlogoskoufis is going to meet Under Secretary Nicholas Burns. I'm wondering: the purpose; who initiated that; when it's going to take place and if they have planned to discuss also economic issues facing southeast of Europe for which you are very concerned?

MR. CASEY: Let's see. Don't know; have no idea, but I'm sure we can find something for you. I wasn't aware of the meeting, seriously. And we'll try --

QUESTION: So you'll take --

MR. CASEY: Yeah, we'll try and find out.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CASEY: As you know, Under Secretary Burns is in Brussels, so I certainly know they're not meeting today.

QUESTION: Okay. I have one more question on Greece. (Inaudible) he is giving to Western times paradoxically March 23rd the final statement after (inaudible) to your rebuttal to Greece, (inaudible) this quote: "The disturbing attack against our embassy in Athens on January 12th highlighted the risks we face as well as illustrated the importance of cooperation on security matters." I'm wondering, Mr. Casey, why you your Ambassador is avoiding systematically to say that the rocket was Albanian made, since he stated that for the first time on January 12th something very important figure out who designed the attack -- terrorists or others.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. CASEY: -- I would refer you to Charlie for any questions about his comments. Certainly his views reflect those of the U.S. Government. We very much appreciate, as you know, the cooperation the Greek Government has given us in terms of supporting our embassy and supporting the investigation or leading the investigation -- excuse me -- into that attack. But in terms of the specifics on that, that's really something for Greek authorities to comment on. And I'd leave Ambassador Ries' comments where he left them.

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the show of force of the junta in Burma yesterday in their new capital and their defiance at --

MR. CASEY: We never got anything on Burma, did we? I don't think so, I'll get you -- we'll get you something later on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CASEY: Matt.

QUESTION: Up on the Hill, there have been some displeasure expressed by one congressman in particular about the performance of the ambassador -- U.S. Ambassador in Vietnam. I'm wondering if you -- that he's not doing enough to promote human rights, citing the arrests -- this is Congressman Wolf to which I'm referring. I'm just wondering if you can say anything -- what you can say about the job that Ambassador -- the Ambassador is doing.

MR. CASEY: Well, I didn't see Congressman Wolf's comments and I certainly will obviously respect and listen to any of the views of members of Congress. The issues of promoting human rights, promoting religious freedom in Vietnam are something that is important to the Administration and that the embassy works on every day. I certainly don't have any reason to tell you that our ambassador isn't faithfully carrying out our policies to -- on behalf of the Administration in Vietnam.

And certainly, we all want to see more progress made and the Human Rights Report that was released recently details some of the areas where we have concerns. As you also know, our special representative, Special Ambassador on Religious Freedom has worked out a number of arrangements with Vietnam to try and help improve the situation of religious freedom in that country. So these are regular concerns. They are things that we are working on and that the ambassador and the embassy are working on as well.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The Human Rights Council yesterday voted to remove Iran and Uzbekistan from the list of so-called (inaudible) procedure. What is your reaction?

MR. CASEY: Well, we're very disappointed by that decision and it was not just Iran; it was Iran and Uzbekistan. In the case of Iran, that decision is completely out of step with the views of the General Assembly expressed which, a couple months ago, voted again to condemn the human rights practices in Iran. I think unfortunately, this is just another example of what we've seen of the Human Rights Council not behaving as a credible body and as one that the international community more broadly can see as being able to actually carry out the function that it was intended to have. So it's disappointing on several levels and certainly, we've expressed those concerns to the countries that are currently members of the council.

Joel.

QUESTION: Tom, once again, there's concern over Darfur with the humanitarian aid going into the region and many of the advocacy groups are now saying that there are only weeks, if not maybe a month until this gets again to critical stage. Also, there's possibly a push by EU and the UK, they're thinking about a no-fly zone. Where do you stand concerning those particular issues?

MR. CASEY: Well, Joel, certainly the situation in Darfur continues to be a very serious one and one that we are very deeply concerned by. We continue to call on the Government of Sudan to do what is necessary to ensure that the hybrid AU/UN force can be implemented. As you know, we received very disappointing responses from President Bashir in terms of the letter that he sent back to the Secretary General and the Security Council. Obviously we're looking at what kinds of specific measures we might need to take to be able to respond to this. But what's critical to us is not only that humanitarian aid be able to continue to flow through and the U.S. continues to make substantial contributions to that effort, but that we do get the AU/UN hybrid force in place so that they can help ensure an end to the violence and that ultimately we can then move forward based on the Darfur Peace Agreement with a political settlement in that country.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Apparently, there are 12 cases of people in a hospital in New York who are awaiting a transplant and they've found donors, but the donors are in other countries. And while the State Department allows people to come in and get transplants who don't meet the visa requirements of having so many assets, they are not allowing these folks in to donate and then go home. Is there some policy on this? Is there any humanitarian loophole that can allow them in?

MR. CASEY: I honestly haven't heard anything about this issue, so we'll have to look into it for you and see what we can find out.

QUESTION: Can you find out?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, sure. Okay.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Kosovo. Mr. Casey, yesterday, once again, you (inaudible) the Martti Ahtisaari plan on Kosovo, but you didn't clarify for us the crucial point that this plan is partitioning Serbia against its sovereignty and territorial integrity in (inaudible) of course (inaudible) in the Balkans, the Albanians.

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, I think what we said was we support the plan that Mr. Ahtisaari has put forward and that he's ably come up with after more than a year of consultation and work with the parties. Our calls and our statement of support for it echo those by the UN Secretary General, the Government of Germany on behalf of the EU and any number of other states and international actors, all of whom believe that the time has now come for a final resolution to the issues that arose with the Kosovo conflict back in 1999. Certainly we believe that the plan Mr. Ahtisaari has put forward is one that helps serve the interests of all communities. It provides for extensive protections for the Serbian and other minority groups in Kosovo; it certainly provides for a managed and monitored sovereignty as well so that the international community will remain engaged. And it is an effort that I think has, generally speaking, broad and wide support in the international community.

Yeah.

QUESTION: On North Korea, you mentioned this morning that Chris Hill said that he thinks you're close to resolving the BDA transfer issue. What reasons are there for this optimism?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think when you look at this, this is something that we have been discussing for a while. We are not dealing with questions of policy right now. We're dealing with technical banking issues. These are things that are inherently able to be overcome. I think we have a very able team of people from the Department of Treasury that are out trying to provide what aid and assistance they can to the Chinese and Macanese as they work through this. And I think most importantly there is goodwill on the part of everyone involved to see this matter finally be resolved. And it's something that I think will be resolved in a matter of days.

All right. Last one, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On human rights in Georgia. It's very important, Mr. Casey. As you may be aware that there is soon to begin a treason trial of Maia Topuria and 11 other opponents over the Saakashvil Government. According to the American lawyers, the evidence against them is flimsy and Georgian authorities are violating every procedure requirement in Georgia's legal code. The case looks like a political show with (inaudible). Two question: How is this kind of -- this consistent with the Georgia (inaudible) to join NATO, in part, justified by claims of progress (inaudible) human rights? And number two: How much American (inaudible) economic aid does the Saakashvil Government receive today?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I'd refer you to our Budget in Brief document, which is available on the website and you can get the figures from there. In terms of Georgian potential membership in NATO, NATO ultimately will decide when and if and who and all the other questions associated with enlargement. Certainly, that's a subject that is fairly far down the road as far as I understand it. In terms of any criminal cases or other human rights cases, certainly we want to see people receive, not only in Georgia but anywhere in the world, a free and fair trial and one that follows the rules of law and the constitutional procedures in any country.

QUESTION: And about the aide?

MR. CASEY: Again, about the aid, you can check with our budget documents that are available on the website and they can give you the specific numbers. I don't have them in front of me.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)

DPB # 53



Released on March 27, 2007

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