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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 14, 2008

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INDEX:

CHINA

Under Secretary Dobrianksy, Special Envoy for Tibet, Meeting with Dalai Lama
Not Aware of Other Contacts Between Dalai Lama and State Department Officials
Important to Maintain Dialogue Between Dalai Lama, Tibetan Officials and Chinese
U.S. View That Chinese Authorities Ought to Engage in Discussion with Dalai Lama

RUSSIA

Deliberations of Putin’s Party / Internal Matter for Russian Political System
Expect that Decisions Made Will Follow Laws and Constitution of That Country

IRAN/NORTH KOREA

Obvious to Everyone That Iran Has Had a Long-Range Missile Program
Proliferation in North Korea Has Been a Longstanding Concern
Pickering Meeting / Checked with Department Beforehand
Private Initiative to Foster Conversation Between Private Citizens
The Channel for Dealing with the Nuclear Issue is Through the P5+1

IRAQ/IRAN

Iranian Involvement in Iraq / Refer to Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus Testimony
Briefings by MNF-I Officials in Baghdad on Specific Evidence of Iranian Engagement
It’s Clear There is No Diminution in Level of Attacks Conducted With Iranian Weapons

MIDDLE EAST

Former President Carter’s Trip
U.S. Longstanding Policy of Not Engaging With and Not Having Contact With Hamas
Query on Reported Shin Bet Decision Regarding Former President Carter’s Visit

IRAQ/SAUDI ARABIA

Crocker and Petraeus Trip to Saudi Arabia to Broaden Support for Iraqi Government
Lead-in for Secretary’s Meeting with Counterparts from Iraq’s Neighboring Countries

IRAN/LATIN AMERICA

Each Country Needs to Make its Own Decisions About Bilateral Relationships
People in That Region Made Clear Choices in Favor of Democracy

ZIMBABWE

Seen Reports that Electoral Commission is Going to Engage in Recount
Failure to Release Results Raises Suspicions About What Happened in Vote Counting
Pleased to See SADC Meeting Called for Opposition Representatives in Vote Counting

GREECE/MACEDONIA

Name Issue


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:45 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay. Greetings, one and all. Happy Monday. Don’t have anything to start you out with. Let’s see if you got anything.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything to start out with either.

MR. CASEY: We could be quick today.

Nina.

QUESTION: What --

QUESTION: Do you have any answers on the Dalai Lama and meetings with Americans or Americans who have (inaudible) --

MR. CASEY: Well, I – my understanding is that Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky, of course, who is also the Special Envoy for Tibet, is going to be meeting with the Dalai Lama in Michigan on April 21. And I’m sure there have been some conversations between her staff and the Dalai Lama’s staff to set that meeting up. Beyond that, I’m not aware that there has been any substantive contacts at a higher level between the Dalai Lama and other officials here in this building.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: Would you have any comment on this meeting of the political party of President Putin?

QUESTION: Well --

MR. CASEY: Still on the Dalai Lama?

QUESTION: Yeah, I just --

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: What’s the – what’s the reason for this meeting?

MR. CASEY: Well, she’s the --

QUESTION: It’s taking place in a complete vacuum?

MR. CASEY: I believe they --

QUESTION: There’s nothing going on in Tibet right now?

MR. CASEY: And they actually gave – actually gave me a number of times – this will be their 11th meeting since she was appointed to the position of Special Envoy. And that is part of our ongoing efforts to talk about the situation in Tibet and to discuss the importance of maintaining a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Tibetan officials associated with him and Chinese authorities.

QUESTION: And so what are they going to be talking about at this meeting?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, Matt, they’re going to be talking about our view that the Chinese authorities ought to engage in a discussion with the Dalai Lama. We’ll be interested in hearing his views on the situation there. He’s spoken, as I mentioned this morning, about contacts that have occurred or are occurring between some of his representatives and Chinese officials. I’m sure we’ll be interested in hearing about that and any other thoughts and ideas he might have about the situation there. It’s always, of course, a great honor for us to have the opportunity to host him here and to talk to him about the situation. He’s a revered religious leader as well as someone who carries a great deal of moral authority among Tibetan officials.

QUESTION: So you’re suggesting there’s no particularly – particular urgency to this – to this meeting?

MR. CASEY: I’m suggesting, Matt, that this is like the previous 11 meetings that Under Secretary Dobriansky has had with the Dalai Lama. If you’re trying to get at something for me, I’m just being slow today, so --

QUESTION: Well, no. I mean, has she --

MR. CASEY: Matt, there is an ongoing – there is an ongoing and serious problem in Tibet. We have spoken out on that repeatedly. It is an issue that certainly, as I just said, I expect she will be discussing with him. But if your point is, are we going into this meeting with a new initiative or expecting a new initiative from him, that’s not the case.

QUESTION: No, you answered it right there.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: That last one. But you said 11 meetings --

MR. CASEY: I was trying to get it for you.

QUESTION: Eleventh meeting since when? When was she appointed?

MR. CASEY: Since she was appointed. I don’t actually have that for you. I’m sure we can have people on her staff give you that – the specific date she was named.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Sylvie.

QUESTION: Yes, I was interested in a comment about the meeting of the political party of President Putin, which is – the goal is to make him president of the party so he would stay number one, Russia’s number one. What do you think about that?

MR. CASEY: Well, whatever internal deliberations his party wants to have and however they want to organize and establish themselves is an internal matter, and I expect they’ll do so in accordance with their own rules of organization. Certainly, from our perspective, we’ve worked well with President Putin on a number of issues, including important concerns like counterterrorism, the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program, North Korea, among other things. We, of course, look forward as well to working with his successor. As to President Putin’s role in a future government or in that future government in Russia, that’s obviously something that will be determined by the new president as well as with the various political parties there.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the goal is to make him more important than the new president. So it doesn’t bother you that they arm-twist the constitution to preserve his power?

MR. CASEY: Well, Sylvie, look, there’s going to be a lot of internal discussions in Russia about how they organize and manage their political system. I’m not honestly familiar with the details of what’s specifically being proposed here. What we would, of course, expect in Russia, as in any country, is that whatever decisions are made follow the laws and the constitution of that country.

Okay. Now, Nina. I’m sorry. Another – we kind of – I kind of got sidetracked. Sorry about that.

QUESTION: It’s okay. It’s on Iran. There’s a new satellite imagery that seems to show some kind of facility that could be used for long-range missiles.

MR. CASEY: Well, I’m not familiar with any of the particulars of that other than a press story I saw a few days ago. Certainly, anything that would be related to intelligence issues is not something we would comment on. I can say that it’s obvious to everyone that Iran has had, for about 20 years, a long range missile program. It’s one of the many reasons why we have moved forward with missile defense programs because we want to make sure that we are able to respond in a positive and appropriate way to the threat posed by Iran’s missile program, whether that winds up being nuclear armed missiles or conventionally armed ones. But it’s a real threat to the region. It’s a real threat to anyone who is concerned about a country like Iran, a state sponsor of terror, having and continuing to develop a long-range missile program, along with having a nuclear program that is moving ahead in trying to perfect the nuclear fuel cycle.

QUESTION: There seems to be a lot of similarities drawn between this and a similar site in North Korea, the Taepodong site. Can you elaborate on that? Can you talk about –

MR. CASEY: Can I elaborate on things that were being related to intelligence questions? No, I can’t. Look, in terms of proliferation by North Korea, that’s been a longstanding concern of ours. I don’t know of anything new that has occurred in the last few weeks that has caused us any surprise. We have long been concerned about North Korea’s relationship in terms of assisting in the proliferation of missile technology in a variety of different countries, including Iran.

Yeah, Nicholas.

QUESTION: Still on Iran, Tom. I know you talked about the story in The Independent today, but can you tell us – Tom Pickering is quoted as saying that the Administration has not discouraged that group from meeting with the Iranians. Have you encouraged them to do so?

MR. CASEY: No. This was his initiative. He came to us and we didn’t have any particular objections to him doing it, but I wouldn’t say we encouraged it.

QUESTION: And when he came to you, what was the – what did he say the purpose of this whole thing was? Was it just to go for private citizen contact between two countries for cultural and educational reasons? Was it to take policy or what?

MR. CASEY: Nicholas, you can ask him about what the intentions of it were. But how I characterized it this morning is how our understanding of it is. This is a private initiative done not only by Ambassador Pickering, but some others associated with him. It's designed to foster a conversation between private American citizens and private Iranian citizens about the broad parameters and range of our relationship.

But just to be clear again, it is not something that is a channel for official discussions. It's not something that we use as a mechanism to convey messages. It is a private initiative. And whether you look at things that are done at the Wilson Center or done by other think tanks around town, there are a lot of these kinds and style of initiatives that are out there. And we've always said that we don't have any problem with a fostering of people-to-people exchanges and people-to-people dialogue, despite the fact that we have a -- we don't have diplomatic relations with Iran and obviously have very serious concerns with what their government is trying to do.

Again, though, the channel for dealing with the nuclear issue is through the P-5+1. And of course, Dan Fried, the Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs, is on his way out to Shanghai for a meeting of the P-5+1 political directors, in fact, to talk about those kinds of issues.

QUESTION: Well, have you been briefed by Tom Pickering about actual talks? In other words, did -- after they actually took place, did you think they're worth actually holding?

MR. CASEY: Well, that's a question you'd have to ask him. Again, this is a private initiative. And it's -- whether it's worthwhile to him or not is ultimately the question. You know, I don't think we see any reason why this shouldn't take place any more than, again, we wouldn't -- we would oppose or object to the kinds of things that other think tanks or these kinds of private citizen exchanges that go on around town.

I know he has talked with officials here in the building about it. Again, that's something that happens fairly regularly in terms of private contacts here. But, you know, whether it is worthwhile to him or not is a question you'd have to pose to him. I assume by the fact that it's still ongoing, he thinks it is.

QUESTION: Worthwhile for you?

QUESTION: It hasn't led to change of policy on the Iranian side.

MR. CASEY: I guess, is it worthwhile for us; I don't think we have a position on it one way or the other. He, you know, did check with us before he began it. We didn't object to him doing it. I want to make -- I certainly want to make that clear. I wouldn't want to imply that he was doing anything that we found offensive or objectionable. But there is no official standing to this. It is not anything that we are looking to to provide us with any kinds of insights or particular information about Iranian Government thinking.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, just in regard to the Iranian issue -- well, actually in regard to their involvement in funding militias in Basra and their nuclear enrichment program. Defense Secretary Gates and Admiral Mullen said on Friday that they haven't seen evidence that Ahmadi-Nejad is directly funding the militias and the problems with their enrichment program. What evidence or reports does the State Department have confirming their harmful influence in that region?

MR. CASEY: Look, if the two solid days of testimony and the multiple days of interviews that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker did on the subject of Iraq and of Iranian influence in Iraq isn't enough for you, I'm afraid I don't have anything new to offer you beyond that. I think they amply covered the subject of Iran's unhelpful activities in Iraq, and I'd just refer you back to their testimony.

QUESTION: They didn't give any evidence or they didn't give us any reports, though, confirming that they are directly involved.

MR. CASEY: Well, again, if you go back and look at the records, you have had multiple briefings by MNF-I officials in Baghdad delineating specific evidence of Iranian engagement there. You know, please find me anybody that doesn't think that Iran is deeply and directly involved in activities in Iraq and isn't deeply and directly involved in funding militias and in supporting these kinds of negative behaviors. The Iraqi Government certainly thinks so. We certainly think so. And I haven't run across anyone, outside of the Iranian Government, that believes otherwise.

QUESTION: Yeah, not that I can (inaudible).

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, I'm --

QUESTION: (inaudible) anyone globally if they don’t (inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: Globally? Well, you know, Matt, the globe’s --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CASEY: --a big place. Seriously, I don’t think there’s really much doubt about this.

Yeah.

QUESTION: The same subject. Last fall, there had been some statements by U.S. officials, particularly in Iraq, suggesting that there had been a diminution of aid from Iran to some of these special groups, but they said the jury was out at that time as to whether it was – there had been a deliberate change in policy. Judging from what Petraeus and Crocker said last week, it seems as if the jury is in and the answer is no. Is that a fair statement of what we think about that?

MR. CASEY: That’s certainly how I interpret their remarks, yeah.

QUESTION: So there’s been no change in Iranian policy and, in fact, are they increasing their flow of supplies to --

MR. CASEY: Well, you know, what the decision-making is inside the Iranian leadership, I think, is something that’s fairly opaque to us. But I think if you look at the facts on the ground and you look at what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker said it is pretty clear that there’s no diminution in the level of attacks that are being conducted using Iranian-made weapons or Iranian trained forces.

QUESTION: So what do we think was happening last fall? Was it just a coincidence that there was a brief diminution there?

MR. CASEY: Lots of smart guys in uniform that could probably give you a better answer to that than I could. I don’t have an analysis of it for you. You know the facts on the ground are basically what they are and I think the military could probably give you some better sense of whether they have an analysis of what that means in terms of both the tactics and the strategy behind it.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes. Mr. Casey, on northern Epirus, last week, the Albanian attacks against the Greeks in Himara of northern Epirus have been escalated in violation of the most basic human rights and the mayor of the city Vasil Bolano protested. I’m wondering if the U.S. Government’s concerned.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, certainly, we would like to see any incidents or any concerns that people have resolved peacefully, but I’d refer you to the Albanian Government in terms of the specifics of this internal issue here. Certainly, we would hope that whatever differences might exist, they could be resolved peacefully and without resort to violence by either party.

QUESTION: But it’s a matter of violation of human rights. Why I have to address my question to the Albanian Government? Otherwise, what is the purpose to prepare the annual report on human rights globally?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, you can certainly look at our annual report on human rights and see what it might say about the situation there. All I’m simply saying is Albania is a sovereign country. It’s soon to be a member of NATO. And I would fully expect that the Albanian Government could provide you with a clear response as to how they intend to resolve what appears to me and sounds to me to be like a fairly localized matter.

QUESTION: Do you know how large is the size of the Greeks in northern Epirus?

MR. CASEY: Nope.

Nina.

QUESTION: Can you talk about Carter in Syria? He’s been saying that the State Department, in fact, didn’t counsel him against going.

MR. CASEY: Well, we can try this one again. Look, all I know is what you heard from Sean here at the end of last week. He was, in fact, spoken with by David Welch, our Assistant Secretary. And in that conversation, David did, in fact, tell him we didn’t think it would be an appropriate gesture and encouraged him not to, in fact, meet with Hamas officials. Again, I think that’s fairly standard policy and I don’t think that would have come as news to him or to anybody else.

QUESTION: Do you know – I don’t think we ever got the answer to the question of why did the subject of meeting a Hamas official ever come up. Did the former President tell Assistant Secretary Welch that he was planning on going to see --

MR. CASEY: I got --

QUESTION: -- someone in Hamas?

MR. CASEY: I got the same answers that Sean got for you on that on Thursday and Friday. I don't have any more detailed readout of the conversation, and I don't think at this point -- you know if the former President wants to talk more about it, that's fine.

QUESTION: Well, is this a blanket kind of thing that you tell people who are, you know, high-profile, ex-government or are current public officials?

MR. CASEY: Well --

QUESTION: If they call you and say, hey, I'm going to the Middle East, I may be going to Syria, what can you tell me --

MR. CASEY: I think, Matt, you can --

QUESTION: -- and then you say --

MR. CASEY: I think, Matt, you can --

QUESTION: -- by the way, when you're in Damascus, don't meet with anyone from Hamas, even if they haven't said any -- that they're going to?

MR. CASEY: Well, you know, I think, to the extent, Matt, that anyone has a conversation about our policies in the Middle East, and particularly about what we are doing to help encourage peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, you could probably expect that somewhere in there, that Hamas as a subject might come up.

And I think you would be not surprised to learn that in any discussion, I think, with just about anyone about Hamas, that our general counsel is, probably not a particularly good time to engage them. We've said that publicly to various governments as well. We've said it privately in conversations like this. But, you know, saying that the United States continues to have its longstanding policy of not engaging with and not having contact with Hamas, which is a designated terrorist organization, is not exactly, I think, news to a lot of people.

Nina.

QUESTION: Also, what -- can you tell me something about what Ryan Crocker is trying to achieve in Saudi Arabia?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think you heard from the President a little bit about this, end of last week. But General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are visiting a number of countries, including Saudi Arabia. They're there to talk with officials in those countries about strengthening and broadening their support for the Iraqi Government. That includes not only in terms of security issues, but also, of course, in economic and political support. That might be something as simple as encouraging them to open an embassy or send an ambassador to the country. It might be asking them about other commitments that they might have made in terms of development assistance or other kinds of support. And this is all a part of a lead in to next week when the Secretary and her counterparts in -- from Iraq's neighbors -- will be meeting in the third of those kinds of discussions, again, with the focus being on what countries in the region can do to help the Iraqi Government and help the Iraqi people move forward.

Sue.

QUESTION: Just to go back to Carter. Apparently, Shin Bet is refusing to provide any security to Carter while he's there because of his plans to meet with Hamas. Carter's office says that the State Department's Regional Security Officer asked for this protection. I wonder if you have any details on this.

MR. CASEY: I don't, Sue. I'm not familiar with any of the specifics there. I'll happily look into it for you.

QUESTION: But as a rule, the host government would usually help with security. I mean, is this something that you think the Israeli Government should do? And what do you think about their decision to deny that security?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I'd like to make sure I could verify that that decision was actually made. And let me figure out what the facts are here, and then we'll try and get you an answer.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Could we go back to Iran for one second?

MR. CASEY: Oh, sure.

QUESTION: There's sort of a growing influence that Iran is seeming to have on Latin American countries, countries such as Venezuela that have not been -- they're actually -- voted in favor at the UN -- voted in favor of Iran. Sort of, what is the U.S. perspective of this growing relationship? Is the U.S. concerned, or what is the U.S. doing to counter this influence?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, every country, whether Latin America or any place else, is going to have to make its own determinations about how to conduct its bilateral relations with Iran and with any other country. That's their sovereign right. Certainly, I don't think anybody here is losing sleep over the possibility that a rather backward political model that Iran is offering is going to be attractive to the folks in Latin America. I think the people in that region made a very clear choice in favor of democracy and democratic practices. It's democracy that was hard fought for and hard won in the case of many countries and required many years of effort to overcome. So I don't think a country that holds out a rather authoritarian model as a guiding light is going to be something that's particularly attractive to people in Latin America.

QUESTION: Except for one.

MR. CASEY: Except for one, perhaps.

In the back.

QUESTION: Zimbabwe. Over the weekend, there was the summit in Zambia and the neighbors are saying, oh, everything's normal. What's -- do you have an update on the U.S. position on the non-outcome of the elections?

MR. CASEY: Well – and that is the problem in a nutshell. We've seen reports that the Electoral Commission, on its own authority, is now going to engage in a recount of ballots from a certain number of districts.

It's awfully odd to, of course, have a recount before you've released the initial results to begin with. And we'd again reiterate our call to the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission to let the votes be counted, to release those results, and to do so immediately. I know that there are a number of other actions being taken out there, including calls by the Movement for Democratic Change to have something of a stay-in or something of a general strike in the country.

Again, I think it's very clear that as long as the Electoral Commission refuses to release these results that the situation is going to remain tense. And their failure to do so only raises more suspicions about what really happened in the process of that vote counting.

And for the people of Zimbabwe to feel that they have a credible government, they need to know that there wasn't any slight of hand going on on the part of the Electoral Commission. So we need to see these results released. They should be released as soon as possible. And we believe the time to do that is now.

In terms of the SADC meeting over the weekend, we were pleased to see that they at least called for the presence of opposition representatives in vote-counting procedures and in any recount that occurred. And we would hope that they would use their influence positively with the Government of Zimbabwe and with the Electoral Commission to, again, encourage them to do the right thing here.

Okay, Mr. Lambros, I'll give you one more.

QUESTION: One question on FYROM. Mr. Casey, do you have anything to say on the name issue between Athens and Skopje, since, according to a bunch of report this weekend, the U.S. Government has decided to play a more active role and mediation after the failure in Bucharest?

MR. CASEY: A rose by any other name, Mr. Lambros? No, look, I don't have anything new to offer you on this subject. We continue to encourage both Athens and Skopje, both Greece and the Republic of Macedonia, to work out a mutually agreeable outcome on the name issue, working under the auspices of the UN and Ambassador Nimetz. That has been our longstanding position and that's something we're going to continue to do.

I'm not aware, though, that we have changed our level of engagement or certainly are not trying to do anything to replace the existing process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)

DPB # 67



Released on April 14, 2008

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