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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 1, 2008

INDEX:

IRAQ

British Troop Levels in Basra / Ongoing Military Operations
Recent Violence / Overall Reduction in Violence Since Beginning of Surge
Ambassador Crocker to Testify Before Congress

CUBA

U.S. View of Recent Easing of Some Restrictions / Minimal Changes

SWITZERLAND

Protecting Power Relationship with U.S. in Cuba and Iran
Gas Deal with Iran / Contract

ZIMBABWE

Election Results / Delay in Releasing Results in Presidential Balloting
Reported Discussions Between Government and Opposition

MACEDONIA/GREECE

Name Issue / Need for Mutually Acceptable Agreement
Posting of Offensive Billboards

RUSSIA

Missile Defense Discussions

CHINA

Importance of Dialogue with Dalai Lama to Resolve Issues

MEXICO

Supreme Court Decision in Jose Medellin Case / Diplomatic Note
U.S. Intends to Comply with Vienna Convention Obligations

NORTH KOREA

Recent Rhetoric in North Korean Media / Status of Six Party Talks

TURKEY

U.S. Fully Supports Turkish Democracy
Constitutional Court Case


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:35 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay, everyone. Good afternoon. I don’t have anything to start you with, so let’s see if we have anything out your way.

Lach.

QUESTION: Any reaction to Britain’s decision to keep troop levels the same in Basra, not to go ahead with their reduction?

MR. CASEY: I actually hadn’t seen that decision. Obviously, that’s something that the British will have to decide in accordance with what they believe is the most appropriate course of action for them to take. I know they’ve been consulting with General Petraeus and with the other commanders on the ground, so I know that that is an issue that’s been discussed there.

Certainly, I think it’s important for all of us and for all the countries that are participating in the coalition in Iraq to maintain troop levels that are appropriate to the needs at hand. The British have always done so, and I suspect this decision will be reflective of their best assessment on the ground, certainly expect that, ultimately, the Government of Britain will carry forward with its stated policies.

QUESTION: Does it indicate that the security problems are more problematic than you anticipated --

MR. CASEY: Well --

QUESTION: -- (inaudible)

MR. CASEY: Again, I think you’ve had ongoing military operations taking place in Basra. I’m certainly not in a position to give you a detailed evaluation of those operations or of outcomes there. I would suspect, though I’d leave it to the British Government to talk about it directly, that they simply assume, given that the situation is still rather fluid, that they would delay that decision until they could have a more thorough and complete analysis of the situation.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: Does the Bush Administration still abide by its view that Iraq is on the path towards normalcy despite all this latest violence?

MR. CASEY: Well, we hold to the view that what’s important is to capitalize on the overall reduced levels of violence that have occurred since the beginning of the surge to make political progress in Iraq. We’re very pleased to see that there has been political progress in the form of major legislation passed related to the provincial powers law and the holding of elections in October, related to distribution of oil resources in a de facto way, related to the budgeting and handling of the financial issues there, certainly related to the changes on the ground in Anbar and Diyala province. And I think that is significant and important, and we’ll, of course, have an opportunity to hear from both General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, who are our two political and -- our civilian and military leaders for the U.S. on the ground there, and get their assessments of the situation. I’m sure they’ll be happy to talk as well about their understanding of the Basra operation and what impact, if any, it has on the long-term situation in Iraq.

QUESTION: Ambassador Crocker is here this week to prepare for his testimony. And does the State Department plan on announcing, you know, more PRTs or additional staff for PRTs? Is there anything special that we can expect?

MR. CASEY: Well, Ambassador Crocker, as I understand it, arrives here on the weekend, so he’s not here in Washington right now. But certainly, he’ll be providing Congress with his assessment of the situation in Iraq, particularly, of course, focused on political-related issues there. I’m not prepared to try and offer you a preview of his testimony. I think he is the only person that honestly knows what’s there.

I certainly wouldn't steer you towards the idea, however, of any fundamental change in our levels of staffing or personnel in Iraq. We have had some successes, and you’ve certainly heard a lot from some of our PRT leaders and PRT representatives over the last few weeks, about their activities there. We’re pleased that those positions have been fully staffed and are operational and look forward to them continuing their work in the various provinces where they’re operating.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: On Cuba?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you guys have anything to say with regard to the new change on civil liberties in Cuba?

MR. CASEY: Hmm. Well, unfortunately, I’m not sure what change in civil liberties you’re referring to. The civil liberty changes that we’re looking for is the ability of the Cuban people to freely express themselves, to be able to state their views in a peaceful way without fear of being thrown in jail or without fear of other retribution from the regime. Certainly, I’m sure that for those few Cubans who can afford to go to luxury hotels, this’ll be a nice thing, but I think most Cubans would prefer an opportunity to be able to speak and act in accordance with their basic, fundamental political and civil rights without fear of persecution.

QUESTION: What kind of label you can put to those changes in Cuba?

MR. CASEY: Minimal.

Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I have a question concerning the tension that exists between USA and Switzerland because of the gas deal that Switzerland has with Iran. On the website of the U.S. Embassy in Bern, you can see the question whether Switzerland should serve as protecting power for the USA in Cuba and in Iran. So do you seriously put that into question?

MR. CASEY: I’m not aware of any decision or any desire on our part to change the status of our protecting power relationship with the Swiss Government in either Cuba or Iran.

QUESTION: But it has a little bit of provocative touch?

MR. CASEY: Look, I think people are always free to ask questions and solicit views from the public. That’s part of what we try and do. But again, as a matter of U.S. policy, there’s no change in our policy either with respect to the continuation of the Swiss role as our protecting power in Cuba and in Iran, as well as our basic views on the idea of whether it’s a Swiss company or a Swiss Government or anyone doing new business with Iran right now. We’ve made no secret of the fact that we don’t think that that’s an appropriate step to take. And we, of course, will continue to express that view both with our Swiss Government friends as well as with other countries that are doing business there.

QUESTION: And you asked for having a look at this contract that was done. Did Switzerland provide you that contract?

MR. CASEY: I know we’ve asked, through our Embassy, to have a copy of the contract provided. As far as I know, we’ve not yet had it. Certainly, we’ll continue to ask. We think it would be very helpful in terms of being able to review this document. I know that the Swiss Government has continued to assert that this particular arrangement or deal would not run afoul of the Iran Sanctions Act, but of course, it would be far easier for us to make that determination if we had the details in hand.

Nicholas.

QUESTION: Tom, that sort of came up when the Hamas question was asked on the blog of the State Department. So if the Embassy has this on its website, are you saying there is no change of policy? But are you or is EUR or the Swiss desk exploring the possibility of replacing Switzerland as a protective power in Iran?

MR. CASEY: Not as far as I know.

QUESTION: It just is sort of a public discussion type outreach?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, you guys have got to loosen up a little bit.

QUESTION: Yeah, you said that before, but --

MR. CASEY: Seriously – no, I know. Seriously – well, you’ve heard from Sean on this. I would put this in the same category.

QUESTION: Right. Okay. I wanted to ask you on something else; do you have anything more new today on Zimbabwe? And I know that you’ve been saying that the results need to be made public and all that. You – you have an embassy still in Zimbabwe. What kinds of things do you see happening in the interim before the results actually are publicly announced?

MR. CASEY: Well, let me try and review where the – where we are. The Zimbabwean Electoral Commission has put out approximately half of the results from the legislative elections, and that shows a rough parity between the opposition and the government parties. What they have not done, however, is release any results in the presidential balloting. And we’re very concerned about that and believe that further delays in releasing these results are not helpful.

Certainly, we want to see, as I said yesterday, that every vote gets counted and every vote gets counted correctly and in accordance with the laws and regulations in Zimbabwe. There have been many concerns that we expressed prior to the election about the situation there, about production of far more ballots than there were registered voters, about the allowance of police in polling places, in contravention of the agreements that had been reached prior to the start of the campaign, and a variety of other things that we’ve talked about. So a continued delay in putting out any results, particularly when you’ve seen some parallel counts and some sample counts released by NGOs and other groups calls into question why this delay is occurring and certainly gives us reason for additional concern.

So we want to see this tally be put forward as quickly as possible, and we believe it’s appropriate for electoral authorities to do so. And it’s also important as well that what they do put forward adequately and accurately represents the actual votes cast and the will of the Zimbabwean people.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: There are apparently discussions going on between the opposition and some of Mugabe’s people over whether he should make an exit. Are you aware of these discussions, I mean, from the contacts that you’ve had with the Embassy? And do you think it’s a good idea once the election results start to come out and they point towards the opposition that Mugabe steps aside to avoid violence?

MR. CASEY: Well, first thing – first things first. We wouldn’t want anyone, whether those supporting the government or those supporting the opposition, to engage in violence. That serves no one’s purposes. In terms of the internal dialogue between political parties or factions in Zimbabwe, I really don’t have any read for you as to what might be going on. We would, however, want to see, again, that the results of these elections and the will of the Zimbabwean people be honored, be honored both in the counting of the ballots and in the release of results as also -- as well, by any government officials who might, as a result of those elections, find themselves soon to be out of office.

Yeah, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On FYROM, Mr. Casey, it’s five minutes to 12 for the NATO summit. Anything to say on the name issue between Athens and Skopje?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, I don’t think our views on that have changed since yesterday. We continue to urge both Greece and Macedonia to come to a equitable and mutually agreeable solution under the auspices of the UN and Mr. Nimetz. I believe it’s an important issue for both sides to be able to move beyond, both in their bilateral relations as well as in terms of Macedonia’s candidacy for NATO and other European organizations.

QUESTION: Any last-minute communication between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis?

MR. CASEY: I don’t have anything new to offer you in terms of contacts between her and the Greek Foreign Minister or the Macedonian Foreign Minister, other than what I referred to yesterday, which was a call she made on Friday.

QUESTION: And the last one. I am wondering how a country, namely FYROM, Mr. Casey, seeking to enter NATO when its citizens in a commercial all over Skopje replaced the cross of the Greek flag with swastika of Hitler and the Greek Government protested? The irony is that the (inaudible) of the then Skopjens of Bulgarian origin collaborated with the Nazis, asking Hitler in 1941-1944, during the occupation of Greece by (inaudible), to give them the (inaudible) of Greek Macedonia. Any comment?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I’ll leave the history to the historians. Certainly, though, I’m -- we’ve been aware of some of these offensive billboards. They are offensive. We don’t think that that contributes in any positive way to a resolution of what we do understand is an emotional issue for both Greece and Macedonia. But that doesn't change our view that the two countries really do need to come to an agreement, a mutually acceptable one, on the name issue.

QUESTION: Did you receive any complaint from the Greek side over this incident?

MR. CASEY: I’m not aware why the Greek Government would complain to us about actions taken by folks in Macedonia.

QUESTION: Not to complain (inaudible), but complain itself as far as for the incident?

MR. CASEY: I’m not sure, Mr. Lambros. Certainly, again, I would hope that if the Government of Greece had concerns or complaints about that issue, they would take them directly to the Government of Macedonia. I think that would be the most effective way to go. As for our views on it, as I said, these are offensive billboards. It’s not something that we view as at all positive or at all contributing in a positive way to resolving the name issue.

Sue.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the discussions last week between John Rood, Fried and other -- with the Russians on missile defense, have there been any new discussions this week? The strategic framework document is meant to be signed by Putin and Bush during their summit, which would suggest that missile defense is included in that, which would suggest that --

MR. CASEY: You know, Sue, given -- in regards to anything that the President might or might not sign during his meeting with President Putin, I think I’ll leave it to the folks out in the parties -- out with the party, excuse me, to deal with those questions. There haven’t been any other formal kinds of discussions involving John Rood, our Acting Under Secretary, or Acting Under Secretary Fried that I’m aware of. Of course, Dan is out with the party. I’m not sure whether he’s had any additional phone calls or anything like that. But again, that’s something you can ask my friends at the White House about. Nice try, though.

Lach.

QUESTION: Is it fair to say, in view of the latest Chinese statements about the Dalai Lama’s alleged involvement in some kind of suicide plotting, that you’ve got your answer that China will refuse all your calls to dialogue -- that he should dialogue with China?

MR. CASEY: Well, I hope not. Certainly, we think it’s appropriate for Chinese officials to engage in dialogue and discussion with the Dalai Lama. He is an individual who has always acted in the best interests of his community. He’s an individual who is a man of peace and someone who supports a nonviolent process of dialogue and discussion to resolve these issues. And hopefully, this won’t be the last word from the Chinese Government with respect to him.

And just to anticipate the next question and repeat what I said this morning, we certainly don’t have any information that would support him taking any kind of approach other than a nonviolent, peaceful one to this issue.

Yeah. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Mexico, I understand the Government of Mexico presented to the State Department yesterday a diplomatic note complaining about the decision of the Supreme Court last week in reference to the Mexican on death row. I know you don’t comment on diplomatic notes, but my question is: Have you transferred the contents of this complaining note by the Mexicans to the Supreme Court or are you going to do it?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we have a government that has many branches and the Judicial Branch is one of them. The Supreme Court has ruled on the particular matter in this case, but what I think is important for people to understand is that the Supreme Court decision in no way states that the U.S. does not have obligations under the Vienna Convention or that we should not fully honor those obligations. And the United States, this government, will continue to do what we can and do what we know is appropriate and required under law: to make sure that issues involving consular notification and access are honored.

That said, I think if you look at the decision, and you can talk with any number of lawyers out there, all the Supreme Court did was say that the obligation of consular notification under the Vienna Convention did not require individual states to re-litigate particular cases. There’s certainly other ways, I think, for us to be able to deal with the concerns that were raised through the ICJ decision. And I know there are a number of people looking at it and, certainly, this is an issue that we’ll continue to be discussing with the Government of Mexico as well as with other interested countries.

QUESTION: I understand your point, but the perception in Mexico and other countries is the opposite of what you say.

MR. CASEY: Well, I would hope that the perception in any country or anyone looking at this is that we have a system of government that has three separate branches, they’re independent branches, and that the Supreme Court made its decision based on the facts in this case. But again, I can tell you and assure you that we intend to fully comply with our Vienna Convention obligations. We’ve taken steps since this initial case came to light, particularly with Mexico, to try to ensure that any Mexican citizens who have become involved in the criminal justice system do, in fact, have their Vienna Convention rights for consular notification honored.

And we’re going to continue to make sure that that happens because it’s important to us to be able to honor those obligations, not only because they are commitments that we have made and binding, legal commitments that we’ve made, but also because we believe it’s important that there is that kind of reciprocity for U.S. citizens who might find themselves involved in judicial proceedings overseas as well.

Yeah, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Can I ask (inaudible) sort of unpleasant, to say the least, exchange of words between Seoul and Pyongyang in the last couple days. There is a new editorial in the North Korean official paper today insulting, pretty much, the South Korean President. Do you have any view on that? And how – I suppose you would urge both sides to show restraint and all that, but given that you’re in the middle of stalled, still, negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear program, isn’t the relationship between the North and the South important?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think I’d just refer you to Chris’s comments on this that he’s made since he’s been in Seoul, which is just to simply say the comments that the North Koreans have been putting in some of their official or semi-official media aren’t particularly helpful. That said, I don’t think that, at this point, there is any change in approach either from us or from the North Koreans in terms of the desire to continue to work through the six-party process and move forward on resolving some of the key issues that are out there, including, ultimately, getting a full and complete declaration from them about their nuclear program.

So I don’t think the kind of rhetoric that we’ve seen from them is particularly helpful. On the other hand, at this point, I certainly don’t think it’s indicative of a change in policy with respect to the six-party talks.

QUESTION: And is that – your thinking that it’s not a change of policy or approach, is that based on something you’ve heard from the North Koreans (inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: That – again, I’d encourage you to go read the several transcripts from every single airport stop and hotel room where Chris has been ambushed along his – along the way. But in his comments to some of your colleagues out there on this, among the other things he said, is that that rhetoric that we’ve seen through the press in North Korea is not reflective of any conversations, direct or indirect, that he has had with the North Koreans.

Yeah, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Turkey, it’s a very serious matter. Mr. Casey, 11 Turkish (inaudible) fascist judges have decided finally to proceed against not only the President of the Republic Abdullah Gul, not only the Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and a dozen prominent Turkish politician, but democracy itself in Turkey and the political volition of the democratic Turkish people expressed in the last general elections. I’m wondering if you could comment since the so-called “seculars” are less than the 2 million out of 80 million brave Turkish democratic people who suffer a lot in the past from military fascists.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, we fully support Turkish democracy and democratic practices, and I’d refer you to what I said yesterday when I addressed this. I thought you were here. You must have missed it.

QUESTION: But yesterday you said that you paid attention to the democratic ideas and to the secular principles. And I was wondering what (inaudible) democracy.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Democracy is under threat in Turkey and I’m wondering if you could comment on what you are doing as a U.S. Government in order to (inaudible) not happen.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, please. My comment is –

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. CASEY: -- let’s all take a deep cleansing breath and let’s calm down. And let’s also talk a little bit about the procedure there. And again, you heard me say, yesterday that the court has decided to take this case. We understand this is going to be a very lengthy process. And again, as I said yesterday, we’d like to see that court move forward in an apolitical manner and respectful of the will of the Turkish people, as has been demonstrated in previous democratic elections.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thank you, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:58 p.m.)

DPB #  58



Released on April 1, 2008

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