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Daily Press Briefing
Sean McCormack, Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 4, 2008

INDEX:

VENEZUELA

FARC is a Designated Terrorist Organization
U.S. Has Supported President Uribe to Deal with the FARC
` U.S. Repeats Call for FARC to Release All Hostages
French Initiative With Colombian Government

NORTH KOREA

Assistant Secretary Chris Hill’s Travel Schedule and Meetings
Follow-up on Talks Held in Geneva on Declaration

CYPRUS

Deputy Secretary Negroponte’s Meeting with Cypriot Foreign Minister
Good Opportunity to Talk with Cypriot Leader

CHINA/TIBET

Issue of Olympic Torch
U.S. Hopes China Will Use Olympic Event to Put Best Face Forward to the World
Would be Helpful to Have an Opportunity to See Full Picture of What is Going On in Tibet

LEBANON

General Michel Suleiman’s Statements / Lebanese Political Process
U.S. Wants to See a Conclusion to the Process of Electing a New President

ZIMBABWE

American Citizens Detained by Zimbabwean Authorities
Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Has Continued to Fail in Its Duties By Not Providing Results of Presidential Vote
U.S. Respects the Right of All Parties to Peacefully Express Their Views / Hopes Zimbabwean Government Will Make an Effort to See Fair and Rapid Accounting of Votes

LIBYA

Deputy Secretary Negroponte’s Meeting with Libyan Counterpart Siala
U.S. – Libya Relations / Bilateral Issues
Important to Release Fathi el-Jahmi to Demonstrate a Commitment to Improving Human Rights Record

IRAQ

Peaceful Expression of Views By People of Iraq is a Good Thing
Muqtada al-Sadr’s Opposition to Presence of U.S. Forces in Iraq

KOSOVO

Decision Rendered By International Criminal Tribunal For Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)

TURKEY

U.S. is a Friend of Turkey / Longstanding Support for Turkey’s Democratic Institutions

BELARUS

Issue on Ongoing Series of Demands from Belarus Government Regarding U.S. Embassy


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:53 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, thank God it's Friday, everyone. Good afternoon. Glad to be here with you. I'm sure you're all glad to be here, too. I don't have anything to start you out with, so let's see what's on your minds.

QUESTION: Could I follow up on Miss Betancourt's situation?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Mr. Chavez in Venezuela is saying that the U.S. should stop hunting for a FARC leader named Ivan Marquez, and the implication seems to be that this might help in getting her release or starting something moving on that. I don't know if you've seen his remarks, but would the U.S. be willing to stop this alleged search for him if it would help her release?

MR. CASEY: I'm not -- to be honest with you, I'm not sure who Mr. Marquez is or what his status is. I'm not sure if he is one of the FARC leaders that might be wanted in connection with criminal charges here in the U.S. You can check with the Department of Justice on that.

But let's get to the main point here, the FARC is a designated terrorist organization. The FARC is a group that has caused great misery for the Colombian people over time. And they have been responsible, as well, for kidnapping a number of people: Columbians, foreign citizens, including three Americans who we very much are interested in seeing released. Let's be clear about who's responsible for that. The FARC bears full responsibility for the completely unjustified taking of these people of hostage in the first place, for their welfare and well-being while they are in captivity with them. And we again, would repeat our call that the FARC release all hostages unconditionally.

As you know, throughout this period, we have supported the efforts of President Uribe to deal with the FARC, as well as his efforts to secure the release of hostages. We have also continued to support efforts by third parties to obtain their release, as long as those efforts were done in conjunction and with the support of the Colombian Government. That remains our position.

With respect to the French initiative here, again, I understand that this is something that is being worked between the French Government and the Government of Colombia, in that sense, is in keeping with those basic policy standards that we have outlined.

But I don't think that anyone should be under any illusions that the FARC is going to fundamentally change its stripes or that the FARC should somehow, as some individuals in Venezuela have suggested, be considered something other than the kind of terrorist group that it was. And I think you saw, when some of those comments were made, that there was a rather amazing, spontaneous, international reaction -- demonstrations not only in Colombia but in other parts of Latin America and Europe and the United States as well, making it clear that the FARC is certainly no friend to the Colombian people and no friend to anyone else as well.

QUESTION: What about Mr. Chavez's suggestion that U.S. action could somehow lead to some sort of movement on the release of --

MR. CASEY: I'm not sure what he's referring to. You'd have to ask him.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you give us what you have on the U.S.-North Korean talks for next week, please?

MR. CASEY: Oh, well, where in the world is Chris Hill? Let's see what we can do for you there. I apologize. There was some confusion this morning about the exact timing of his visit. So let me give you a dramatic reading of what I've got here from EAP and we'll see if we can clarify it for you.

First of all, I think everyone knows that Chris met today in Jakarta with a variety of officials, including President Yudhoyono and had some discussions about bilateral issues there. He then returned to Bali, where he's been attending the Asia Society’s Williamsburg Conference. Now he’s going to leave Bali on Sunday – that’s this Sunday, April 6th – and go to Timor-Leste, as previously scheduled, for some bilateral meetings there. And then he will depart Dili on Monday, April 7th and will arrive in Singapore on the evening of April 7th. He’ll meet with Singaporean officials on Monday evening and then – you thought I’d never get to it – on Tuesday the 8th, he will then have a meeting with Kim Kye Gwan, his counterpart, in – North Korean counterpart in the Six-Party talks. This meeting, again, is, as I said this morning, a follow-up on the discussions that were held in Geneva last month.

He’s then expected to leave Singapore on the morning of Wednesday, April 9th and – and this is in addition to what I told you this morning – we now do have an additional stop for him, so he’ll be going to Beijing later that day on the 9th and have discussions with Chinese officials there. I’m sure that will include a variety of topics, including some bilateral ones, but I’m sure he’ll also use that as an opportunity to provide a readout of the discussions that he will have had previously with Kim Kye Gwan. And then he’ll be leaving Beijing the evening of April 8th* and arriving, again, that same – that same evening back here in Washington.

So, you know, you can start notifying your correspondents in all of those locations to start stalking him at the usual hotels and places and times so that he can have an opportunity to tell you himself about how any of these conversations have gone.

QUESTION: Do you have – do you have any secret agreement between the U.S. and North Korea? You have any --

MR. CASEY: No, that’s a simple answer.

Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible), what are the expectations for this meeting?

MR. CASEY: Oh, I think the expectations are as I described this morning. This is going to be a follow-up on the talks held in Geneva last month. I’m sure they will cover both issues related to the declaration itself as well as the implementation of the disablement phase of talks. As Chris has said too, his discussions in Geneva also talked a bit about how we would move beyond that once the declaration is provided to dealing with what is the most difficult phase in this process, which is the actual dismantling and abandonment of North Korea’s nuclear programs. So I think we expect they’ll have a good conversation about those issues and further the dialogue in Geneva.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just – sorry, as a follow-up, because Ambassador Hill, before leaving here, also he had mentioned how he would not meet with the North Koreans unless there will be a final resolution to the declaration issue. Can we expect significant progress in this meeting?

MR. CASEY: Well, I love that term, significant progress. I’m not sure what it means, but I love the term nonetheless. Look, I think that we will know, and this is something Chris has also said repeatedly, we’ll know how much progress we’ve made when we have a full and complete declaration. Until that happens, it’s pretty hard for me, or for him, or for anyone else to say, whether we’re one, ten or a hundred degrees closer to achieving that goal. And ultimately, until that declaration is in, until we have a full and complete declaration, we really won’t be able to give you anything, I think, of a benchmark assessment of how close we are or how far we are. And ultimately, it doesn’t matter until and unless we get the declaration. I appreciate the musical accompaniment. (Laughter.)

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, on Cyprus.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Any readout on the today’s meeting between Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte and the Cypriot Foreign Minister (inaudible) – excuse me -- Markos Kyprianou (inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, they do change – they change on you, don’t they?

QUESTION: That was his father --

MR. CASEY: Yeah. No, I know.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) his son. (Laughter.)

MR. CASEY: (Laughter.) First of all, Mr. Lambros, the Deputy Secretary was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with the Cypriot Foreign Minister in the absence of Secretary Rice who, of course, is currently on travel with the President. They did have a good discussion of both bilateral issues and the Deputy took the opportunity both to express his support for the opening of the crossing that occurred in the last couple of days, as well as his support and the U.S.’s support for discussions between the parties. We reiterated our desire to see there be a successful resolution of the situation in Cyprus and reiterated U.S. support for the UN process towards achieving that end.

QUESTION: And do you know who initiated the meeting; your side or the Cypriot side?

MR. CASEY: I honestly don’t know who would have made the first phone call, Mr. Lambros, but it’s always a pleasure to have an opportunity to talk with Cypriot leaders. It is a new government, as you know, and I think this was a good – first opportunity for us to have consultations with the Foreign Minister as part of that process.

Let’s go over here, yeah.

QUESTION: On Cyprus, still.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on a possible special envoy for reunification talks in Cyprus?

MR. CASEY: No, I’m not aware that there is anything on that. I certainly don’t have anything on that and I would suspect if there was a special envoy, if it was a presidential one, you’d get that announcement from the White House. I mean, if it was from here, you’d get it from us, but it’s not anything that’s been discussed with me, anyway.

Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) I can switch?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any position - does the U.S. Government have any position on the Tibetan request to avoid having the torch, the Olympic torch, pass through Tibet? There was a Tibetan envoy in Congress yesterday making that request.

MR. CASEY: I’ll check for you and see. As far as I know, there’s no formal U.S. Government position on that. You know, our views on the Olympics and the role of the Olympics in China, I think, are pretty well known. And in terms of the ceremonial aspects of it, the President’s articulated his view. We’ve also said repeatedly that with the arrival of the Olympics, China will be in the international eye and under international spotlight in a way that it hadn’t been previously. And we would hope that they would use that as an opportunity to put their best face forward to the world. Certainly, we have seen actions, including those in Tibet, as well as some of the things we’ve discussed, including the sentencing of Hu Jia and other activists that have gone on, that are very much counter to what we think we’d like to see the Chinese do.

QUESTION: Have you had any more access to Tibet? There was an official trip that --

MR. CASEY: There was a trip that was sponsored by the Chinese Government. One of the individuals who is responsible for handling Tibet affairs in our political section of our Embassy was on that trip. They were allowed to see only those things that the government allowed them to see. We certainly don’t consider that the equivalent or of meeting the request that we had made for an opportunity for our officials to freely visit the area. So I don’t think that the assessment or the views that we got there really gave us a full picture of what has been going on there. And certainly, we would like to be able to have that opportunity.

QUESTION: Was it helpful in any way?

MR. CASEY: Well, I certainly think it was helpful to be able to have the opportunity to at least see something of what was going on there. I just want to stress that something in which access was very tightly controlled by the government certainly didn’t provide us with a full picture.

QUESTION: And no further chance at access?

MR. CASEY: There – we continue to ask for those opportunities, but at this point, there’s been nothing new granted by the Chinese Government that I’m aware of.

Yeah.

QUESTION: But that same envoy was asking or urging the U.S. to establish a permanent and diplomatic posting in Lhasa. Is that something that you were in talks with the Chinese – or is it something that could happen?

MR. CASEY: I’m not aware as to whether there’s ever been any discussions about that or not.

Yeah. Let’s go – Samir.

QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday talked about – asked about the announcement of the – by the Lebanese General – the General of the Lebanese Army that he will intend to quit.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did you assess what impact will – this will have on the crisis in Lebanon, because the government may not be able to replace him and – because of the crisis?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Well, I mean, first of all, Samir, this is an issue that is part of the Lebanese political process and the Lebanese system. Most importantly, though, I think what we want to see happen, as I said yesterday is that there be a conclusion to the process of selecting a new president for Lebanon. And we continue to reject those who are trying to continue to interfere in that process and prevent the Syrian people from being able to move forward. We do, though, whether, despite these possible resignations, believe and remain confident that the government of Prime Minister Siniora has the ability and can manage the affairs of state in Lebanon and that the Lebanese Armed Forces are going to continue to provide security and fulfill their job. But I think what you can see here is yet another sign of the frustration that many in Lebanon, both in the leadership, as well as the population at large, feel about the inability to move forward in this process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, David.

QUESTION: What’s your latest understanding of Americans who may have been detained in Zimbabwe?

MR. CASEY: Thanks for asking that. We talked a little bit about that this morning and I do have a bit more of an update to you. We had discussed a couple of things. First of all, over the course of yesterday, there were four American citizens that were detained by Zimbabwean authorities. Two of those citizens have subsequently been released and, I understand, have now left the country. The other two citizens remain in detention, one of whom we were able to make contact with and consular officials were able to visit yesterday. We have now, working with the Zimbabwean authorities, been able to locate the fourth individual and have also had consular access to them.

We are going to continue to work this issue because we want to see these people released as soon as possible and we’re going to continue to make sure that our consular officials, through our Embassy in Harare, do everything they can to see that this issue is resolved and resolved successfully.

QUESTION: And in which category is the New York Times reporter?

MR. CASEY: He is in the category of someone who currently remains in detention.

QUESTION: Any other journalists that you know of?

MR. CASEY: Not that I’m aware of, no.

QUESTION: Okay. In Lebanon --

MR. CASEY: Okay. Keep going. You can do one more.

QUESTION: Just more broadly, the ruling party in Zimbabwe has talked about getting ready to contest a runoff election for president, oddly in the absence of the release of the official figures thereof. I just wonder what your reflections of --

MR. CASEY: Well, oddly, in the absence of results – and that really is the key point here – people can claim anything they want about the results and about whether those results would then indicate or make necessary a runoff or not. But the fact of the matter is all that means is that the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission has continued to fail in its duties and fail the Zimbabwean people by not immediately providing the results of the presidential vote. And as we said earlier this morning, the longer they delay in this process, the more suspicious it becomes and the, I think, greater difficulty people may find in being able to accept the credibility of those results. So again, we’d call on the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission to count every vote, to count them fairly, and to release those results of the presidential balloting now.

QUESTION: On Zimbabwe?

MR. CASEY: You want to stay on Zimbabwe? Okay, let’s stay on Zimbabwe for a minute.

QUESTION: The Zimbabweans (inaudible) war veterans, of course, that’s – they are rallying to Mugabe’s defense. Are you concerned about what they’re doing? Does that indicate something bad is going to happen?

MR. CASEY: Well, it kind of gets back to the same point. Certainly, we respect the right of all parties to be able to peacefully, and I emphasize, peacefully express their views, but there should be no place, either in Zimbabwe’s political system or anyplace else, for acts of intimidation or of violence. And we would again reiterate and repeat our call to all parties in Zimbabwe to refrain from violence, to act peacefully, and again to act in accordance with the laws of the country and the country’s constitution. But, you know, this again brings us right back to where we were. What’s important here is that the Zimbabwean people, who turned out in large numbers to vote last weekend, are still awaiting word as to what that final vote tally is.

And I would certainly hope that rather than concentrating on turning out their supporters in the streets, that the Zimbabwean Government might want to make additional efforts to see that a fair and rapid accounting of that vote be provided to the people of the country so that we will know what those results are and we will know whether a second round of balloting would be required or not.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Tom, do you have a readout for – at the meeting between Deputy Secretary Negroponte and his Libyan counterpart?

MR. CASEY: Well, we did – they did have, and I think some of you were up there for a brief little photo opportunity between the Deputy Secretary and his Libyan counterpart. As you know, one of the things that they did today was exchange diplomatic notes that bring into force the U.S.-Libya Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement, which was signed in January. This is the first official bilateral agreement signed between the two countries since we reestablished relations in 2004, so I guess, in that sense, has some significance to it.

I should note, though, that the Deputy did also take the opportunity to talk more broadly with his counterpart about U.S.-Libyan relations, both about the progress made and the positive aspects of that, as well as some of our concerns about issues within the country, including some of the human rights and democracy concerns that, you know, we’ve talked about before. That does include a reiteration of something we made a public statement about the other day, which was our desire and call for the Libyan Government to release Fathi el-Jahmi, who is a prominent Libyan activist who continues to be held by Libyan authorities. And we would view his release as an important demonstration of Libya’s commitment to improving its human rights record. And the Deputy made those points in his meeting today.

QUESTION: Have you got any promise from him regarding el-Jahmi?

MR. CASEY: Well, I’ll let the Libyans talk about their side of the conversation and their reaction to it, but again, I would reiterate what we’ve said now publicly and privately to the Libyan Government. I think it’s very important that he be released and that this would be, again, a demonstration that the Libyan Government is seriously committed to improving its human rights record.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) compensation claims? You mentioned that?

MR. CASEY: I think we talked about a number of bilateral issues. I don’t have a very detailed readout of his conversations, but I am sure that he also addressed those issues. They are part of our bilateral relationship and an important one. And in all our conversations with Libyan officials, we always emphasize our desire to see those claims resolved as one of the things that will help foster and improve the climate of relations between our two countries.

So, I think the long and the short is we’ve come quite a long way in our relations with Libya, since the decision that was made in 2004 to give up their WMD programs. We have made tremendous progress there and you do see now a U.S. Embassy in Libya. You see a removal of the sanctions, both by the UN and bilaterally. You’ve seen increased investment and engagement from the U.S. private sector and others there. But that does not mean that there are not still a number of important, outstanding issues and those are the kinds of things that we talk about now as we do have a bilateral dialogue with the Libyans.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Tom, Muqtada Sadr has decided to move the one million demonstration from Najaf to Baghdad on April 9th to protest or condemn what he’s called the American occupation. Do you have any comment?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think it’s a remarkable thing that people who are opposed to policies of the Iraqi Government are able to turn out in any way, shape, or form in the streets of Baghdad or in the streets of Najaf. To the extent that these are going to be peaceful expressions of people’s views, that’s a good thing. And that’s something that could have never occurred under the regime of Saddam Hussein. So I think in one sense, it’s a demonstration of the openness and the freedom that Iraqis now have to be able to freely express their views. Certainly, we would call on anyone who participates in these activities to act in a peaceful and responsible manner and do so in accordance with all the appropriate laws of the country.

In terms of what significance it has, well, I don’t think that it comes as a shock to anyone that Muqtada al-Sadr opposes the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq. I can certainly say that he’s been consistent in his views on that. That, you know, that he is calling now – why he is calling now for this particular kind of action, you know, is a decision that he’s made and I’m sure he would be happy to discuss his reasons behind it. So we would look for this to happen and happen in a way that is peaceful and respectful of the rights of other citizens in Iraq. And I’m sure that we will have an opportunity to hear more about it, including whatever analysis General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have next week during their rather extensive sessions of testimony with members of Congress.

QUESTION: Do you have or do you view any Iranian hand behind this decision?

MR. CASEY: Look, you know, there are well-known connections between Muqtada al-Sadr and Iran. But you know, what – whether he is taking advice or influenced by Iranian officials, that’s a question, I think, you can find lots of analysts around this town to talk to you about. I don’t have any particular insight into his decision making.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Kosovo. The war crimes court yesterday acquitted Albanian extremist Ramush Haradinaj, commander of the terrorist organization KLA, who systematically killed Serb civilians and drove them out of Kosovo during the rebellion of 1998. Any comment?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I know the court has rendered that decision. I’d refer you to court officials for the reasoning behind it. We believe that the ICTY has been an important vehicle for dealing with some of the very serious offenses that were committed during the wars in the Balkans. In terms of the reason for this acquittal, that’s something that I’d have to refer you to the court on.

QUESTION: And one on Turkey. The popular Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan stated, “Attempts to weaken politics will not only hurt the nation but weaken the state as well,” criticizing the decision of the 11 pro-secular Turkish (inaudible) judges who have used the judicial power against the elected government and democracy in Turkey, opening gradually, Mr. Casey, a door for another coup d'état ignoring those judge, even what Kemal Ataturk said, “The sovereignty belongs to the people.” Any comment?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I’m sure that there are many people in Turkey that will comment on internal Turkish legal procedures. The United States is a friend of Turkey. We have longstanding and continuous support for Turkey’s democracy and democratic institutions. We’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: David.

QUESTION: Sean – Sean – Tom.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, you know, whoever's up here.

QUESTION: Sorry, sorry, sorry.

MR. CASEY: It’s okay.

QUESTION: Does the United States intend to comply with an apparent demand by the Belarus Government that the U.S. further reduce its staffing in Minsk to seven?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, there has been an ongoing series of demands from the Government of Belarus regarding our Embassy there. We believe this latest request, like several before it, is unwarranted and unjustified. We will certainly be continuing to discuss that issue with the Government of Belarus, but I’m aware of no plans to make such a drawdown of Embassy staff.

QUESTION: And what’s the status of our Ambassador now?

MR. CASEY: Our Ambassador is our Ambassador as to which – where I physically would locate her at this point, I don’t know. Gonz, do you know where Karen is?

MR. GALLEGOS: I’m not sure.

MR. CASEY: I'm not sure. I do not believe she is back in Belarus. I believe she may still be here in Washington on consultations.

QUESTION: Is she planning to go back?

MR. CASEY: Yes. Okay. Thanks, everybody.

__________________________________

* Leaving Beijing the evening of April 9th

(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)

DPB # 61



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