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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
April 21, 2008

INDEX:

MIDDLE EAST

Former President Carter’s Trip Made on His Own Initiative
Department Counseled Against Engaging with Hamas
Nothing Has Changed in Terms of Hamas Views on Israel
Quartet Principles Need to Be Recognized For Engagement with Hamas

SOMALIA

U.S. Concerned About Violence / Will Work with Interested Parties to Bring Peace
Any State Without Basic Level of Security is a Potential Safe Haven for Terrorists

TAIWAN

Discussions About Construction of New Complex / Request for Proposals
Not Aware of Any Plans to Station Marines at American Institute in Taiwan

GEORGIA/RUSSIA

Support for Territorial Integrity and Sovereignty of Georgia
Seeking Information from Russian Government on Recent Action in Abkhazia
Very Concerned About Action / Possible Increase in Tension

CHINA

Dobriansky Meeting with Dalai Lama in Role as Special Coordinator on Tibet
Effort to Promote Dialogue Between Chinese Government and Dalai Lama

PAKISTAN

Query Regarding Freeing of Taliban Militant
Series of Ongoing Development Efforts with Government of Pakistan for the FATA
Continuing to Cooperate with Government of Pakistan to Confront Extremism
Pakistani Government Working to Strengthen Security Forces
U.S. Wants to See FATA Free of Extremist Violence and Prosper Economically

NEPAL

Legal Criteria for Removing Groups from Terrorist List / No Change in Status

IRAQ

Query on Iraqi Government Investment and Spending
Iraq is Investing in Its People / Development in Job Programs in Key Cities
Importance of Iraqi People Seeing Government Provide Real Services
Iraqi Government Will Increasingly Take Lead in Development Projects

INDIA/IRAN

Up to Every Country to Determine Bilateral Relations
Hope Governments That Engage With Iran Call for Meeting UNSC Requirements


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:50 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay. Good afternoon and happy Monday, everyone. I don't have anything to start you out with, so Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah. Tom, can you expand at all on what you said this morning about President Carter and his talks with Hamas? And also, I don't know if you've seen these latest comments from Khaled Mashaal, but he's saying that they won't recognize Israel, but they are prepared -- apparently, prepared to be its neighbor in peace and they've offered a 10-year ceasefire.

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think we'll let former President Carter speak for himself. But he made this trip on his own initiative. As you know, we counseled him against engaging with Hamas, in keeping with longstanding U.S. policy. But in terms of the nature of his discussions, I think I'll leave it to him and others to talk about.

What is clear to us, though, is that nothing has changed in terms of Hamas's basic views about Israel and about peace in the region. They still refuse to acknowledge or recognize any of the basic Quartet principles, including recognizing Israel's right to exist, renouncing terrorism and acknowledging all the previous agreements that have been made between the Palestinian Authority and Israel itself.

And I think if you look back at the history of the rhetoric from Hamas, you see all these language about truces and other kinds of issues. But the bottom line is, Hamas still believes in the destruction of the state of Israel. They don't believe Israel has a right to exist. And it's pretty hard to see how Hamas becomes any kind of legitimate partner for Israel or for President Abbas, for that matter, as long as its fundamental view is that the person that you would achieve a peace agreement with doesn't have a right to exist.

QUESTION: Tom, just to follow up quick.

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: If Hamas changes its mind, let's say, against Israel, what they have been saying for the last -- so many years, when -- still U.S. recognize -- does not recognize Hamas, but if they change their mind, you think there will be a change of policy if they do everything -- what they have been saying about Israel?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, Goyal, I think the Quartet has made clear that for the international community to be able to engage in any meaningful way with Hamas, they need to adhere to the Quartet principles. And unfortunately, I don't think we've seen anything that indicates that they intend to do so. Obviously, you know, if Hamas got out of the terrorism business, recognized Israel, met all those criteria, that would be a different situation and potentially would mean a different kind of relationship between Hamas and the international community. But I think unfortunately, we're not likely to see that any time soon.

QUESTION: But you don't see Carter's visit or his talks with -- in Syria as having broken any ice?

MR. CASEY: Like I said, Matt, I don't have any kind of direct readout on those conversations. From what I've been able to gather, though, it doesn't fundamentally change anything.

Elise.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: Can I stay on this for a second?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Tom, actually, Mr. Carter challenged this morning on NPR your assertion last week and the one you just repeated a few minutes ago, that you advised him against meeting with those Hamas leaders and said that he spoke to David Welch and David, in no way, discouraged him or urged him not to meet with these people. He didn't encourage him to do so, but -- so I'm just trying to figure out what exactly it was David said to him that made him believe that he was, you know, free to meet with those people.

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, he is free to meet with those people in the sense that he's a private citizen and a former president and he'll make his own judgments about these things as he has done in this instance. However, again, Nicholas, I can't explain to you why he is saying that. All I know is that you heard from Sean and from the Secretary and from me that the advice we gave him was not to engage in those meetings. Why he didn't hear that message or why he didn't understand that message, I don't know. That's a question you'd have to leave to him.

QUESTION: Well, it may be that David Welch is such an accomplished diplomat that even when he says no, it sounds like yes.

MR. CASEY: I think our policies on this are pretty clear. But, you know, look, he's a former President of the United States. I'll leave it to him to describe his meetings and arrangements. I -- all I can say is you've heard from us as to what we conveyed to him.

Elise.

QUESTION: A new topic?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Somalia. It's -- I'm sure you've heard abut the latest violence, 81 dead, a lot of people are fleeing Mogadishu. What is your take on the new intensified fightings and what do you think the implications will be for the war on terror?

MR. CASEY: Well, Elise, unfortunately, I can't really confirm any of the facts that we've seen in some of the press reporting there. Obviously, we continue to be concerned about the presence of extremists and those who are seeking to have their way in Somalia through violence rather than through participation in the political process. We are going to continue to work with the Transitional Federal Government, with the Ethiopians, with the AU and others who are interested in trying to help bring peace and stability to Somalia and improve the situation in that country and give the Somali people a better future. But obviously, there’s a lot of work to be done in terms of being able to finally put an end to the threat that’s posed by extremist violence there.

QUESTION: Well, what do you see as the threat to the United States in terms of, kind of, intensified violence on the ground?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don’t really have any – again, I can’t even confirm the facts of what’s happened in Somalia today, so I don’t think, at this point, I could offer you any new analysis. Obviously, for a long time, we’ve been concerned about instability in that region.

Any failed state or any state where there isn’t basic levels of security and basic levels of governance creates a potential place in which terrorists might have an opportunity to operate or find safe haven and certainly one of the considerations that we have in terms of trying to help bring about a more peaceful, stable situation in Somalia.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any details on the U.S. apparently building a new Marine barrack in Taiwan, which would, I guess, signal something – somewhat of a shift in Taipei?

MR. CASEY: Well, yeah. I did look into this and I think there’s a bit of confusion here. What is happening is there are discussions about having a new compound or new complex built to replace the existing AIT structure in Taipei. The notices that have gone out have included the broadest possible kinds of elements that might be included in there. But at this point, I’m not aware that there are any plans to station U.S. Marines at AIT in Taipei. And I don’t think anything that is in this notice is indicative of anything more than if you’re looking to have someone contract for a potential project, you want to give them the full range of possible options there. But I don’t think anyone should see this as a signal that we’re changing our policy or that we intend to place Marines, at this point, at AIT Taipei.

QUESTION: Will there be a Marine barrack within that or is that just a possibility in the plan?

MR. CASEY: It’s a possibility, but it’s not – again, this is a request for proposals on a range of options for a new building and for a new compound. And again, there certainly would be a security element to that. There is a security element in AIT there right now, though it isn’t U.S. Marines that are providing it.

QUESTION: Who is it?

MR. CASEY: I’m not sure who the contractor is, but it’s a contract authority.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Georgia’s president called Russia’s Putin to complain about aggressive acts, as he put it, after this drone was shot down – Georgian drone was shot down. What have you been able to find out about this? And who has State spoken to from the Russian Government or the Georgian Government about it?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, let me again just reiterate our support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia. No state should be taking actions that would violate that. In terms of this specific instance, we’re still seeking information from the Russian Government about this. We’ve been in close contact with the Government of Georgia. My understanding is we’ve sought information from the Russians, both from here in Washington as well as through our embassy. But we’re very concerned about this, and as you know, there have been a number of provocative incidents that have occurred in the past. We would hate to see a repeat of that or anything that would be increasing tensions between two neighbors who we would hope would be able to have good relations with one another.

QUESTION: Do you – from what you’ve learned so far, do you think the incident took place as the Georgians are describing it, that it was a Russian jet that shot down the drone?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think there are a lot of open questions about that. Again, we’ve been coordinating closely with the Georgian Government and we are seeking information from the Russians to try and give us a clearer assessment of whether that, in fact, is true or not.

QUESTION: How are you seeking the information from the Russians? Is it Dan Fried inviting the Ambassador to stop by?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, it’s both from here in Washington as well as through our Embassy there.

QUESTION: Yeah, but --

MR. CASEY: I don’t have the specifics on who was calling who.

QUESTION: I mean, a phone call or did someone get -- did you summon someone to (inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: Matt, I know we’ve been communicating with them. I assume it’s been both in person and on the phone, but I don’t have the specifics of who and where and at what time.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Tom, do you have any details about the meeting between Under Secretary Dobriansky with the Dalai Lama this morning?

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven’t had a chance to talk with Under Secretary Dobriansky yet, but she did meet this morning with the Dalai Lama in Ann Arbor. This is in her role as the Special Coordinator for Tibet Issues, a position that she’s held since May of 2001. And her meeting was part of our ongoing efforts to promote dialogue between the Dalai Lama and the Chinese Government. We’ve long held that that kind of dialogue is the best way to resolve the longstanding issues with respect to Tibet. And of course, that includes trying to help deal with the consequences of some of the recent violence there.

I think you all may have seen that Under Secretary Dobriansky had an op-ed in a major newspaper here in Washington today, and I think that outlines, again, the basic ideas behind our policies. She is looking to meet with him and to hear from him about what kinds of discussions have been going on between his representatives and the Government of China, and also to try and see what she might be able to do to help him in encouraging that dialogue and seeing that it move forward.

QUESTION: How would this process -- how would the meeting, in fact, take this process in bringing about some reconciliation between Beijing and Dalai Lama a step forward?

MR. CASEY: Well, of course, we want to hear from him about his ideas and what he believes might be the next appropriate steps in this. We are certainly going to, of course, also continue to have discussions with the Government of China about this. And you’ve heard both in our public statements as well as in our private discussions with Chinese officials we’ve strongly encouraged them to reach out to the Dalai Lama and to his representatives to be able to have the kind of dialogue that would reduce tensions and help lead to a resolution of some of these differences.

QUESTION: Any indications, Tom, whether the -- whether there’ll be any resumption of the Sino-Tibetan dialogue, (inaudible) which six rounds have been held? And there have been a lot of, I mean, calls from the White House, from the State Department and from many in the U.S. for such a resumption.

MR. CASEY: Well, we’d certainly like to see that dialogue resume. As you point out, it is something that has gone on in the past, and we think it’s the best way to be able to manage and deal with the problems in Tibet. But I’m not in a position at this point to tell you that there’s any commitments made that I’m aware of to resume that kind of high-level discussion.

Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: May I just follow one more quickly?

MR. CASEY: Sure, Goyal.

QUESTION: Since, Tom, France is calling for independent and also so are the people of Tibet, and -- but there’s a mixture of views and inside China because they don’t get everything about outside free world. And my question is that this is not the first time that you have been meeting Dalai Lama. It has been many times, including the President at the White House. What Dalai Lama has been saying, actually -- independent or more human rights, autonomy, or what?

MR. CASEY: Well, the Dalai Lama’s public statements mirror the private statements he’s made to us. He’s not calling for independence for Tibet. He’s calling for dialogue with Chinese authorities to be able to help resolve many of these outstanding questions, including peoples’ rights to practice their religion freely, to observe their cultural traditions freely, and to be able to otherwise enjoy some basic civil liberties.

Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: On Pakistan, do you have anything on reports that a Taliban – pro-Taliban leader Sufi Muhammad, which helped lead Taliban forces in the uprising against the U.S. has been freed by the Pakistani Government as part of an effort to make peace with the militants?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. I saw that report right before I came out here. I’m afraid I haven’t been able to confirm it or get any kind of more details on it. We’ll try and get you something and post something for that later.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Tom, is the Bush Administration moving to take the Maoist insurgency movement in Nepal off the terrorism list, now that they’re – they’ve actually become part of the government?

MR. CASEY: Well, David, I’m not sure what, if any discussions, might be going on in that regard. As you know, there are legal criteria that are involved here. I’m sure to the extent that any movement ends its association with terrorism and can do so in a way that would match those or meet those legal hurdles, that we’d certainly take a look at it. But I can’t tell you at this point whether there is, in fact, an ongoing review related to Nepal.

QUESTION: It seems to – just a follow-up.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: It seems to me that the U.S. may be in a Catch-22 because the Maoists are in the government. And are you saying that U.S. is not severing any ties with the government, now that they are in power, especially when you don’t negotiate with terrorists?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, you know, we have -- an organization being placed on the list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations has legal requirements that are placed on us. We have to honor those legal requirements and we’ll certainly do so in the case of Nepal.

To the broader question of what David raised, certainly, to the extent you have an organization that moves away from violence and terror, and participates in a political process and engages in those kinds of legitimate activities, you know, that would certainly, I think, give people an opportunity to at least look again at that situation and at that organization. But at this point, you know, there’s no change in their status, and we’ll follow the law as appropriate.

Yeah, Goyal.

QUESTION: Tom a quick question. As far as this report, or at least we are talking about this GAO report, I believe, what message do you have for the new government in Pakistan? Let’s say because of whatever happened while during General Musharraf. But of course, he is still in power. But billions of dollars had gone to this FATA area to combat terrorism and to bring Usama bin Ladin to justice and bring all these terrorists from that area. Are you doing anything as far as that particular area or lawlessness nation or a land in a nation is existing? So what are you going to do in the future about that area and terrorists -- terrorism?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we have a series of ongoing efforts with the Government of Pakistan that deal with both concerns in Pakistan itself, as well as in the FATA. And you’ve heard from Assistant Secretary Boucher and others about our long-term development program for the FATA, which is geared at helping to give people opportunities, providing schools, providing

basic healthcare, hopefully also providing some economic opportunity and some employment that will help keep people from or give people some options that would keep them or help them to not turn towards some extremist ideas or ideologies.

We’re also, of course, continuing to cooperate with the Government of Pakistan, as it seeks to confront extremism not only in the FATA, but also in Pakistan itself. And I think you’ve heard from any number of officials in the new Pakistani Government about the fact that the fight against extremism is not an American fight, it’s a joint fight with the U.S. and Pakistan and the broader international community. So we continue to work with the new government as it develops its own policies and plans and I expect we are going to do so.

But I certainly think it’s clear that there is a commitment on the part of this government to engage and fight extremism. And I would think, certainly, those parties that are in this government that have been the victims of extremist violence, including, most obviously, the assassination of former Prime Minister Bhutto, don’t have any desire to participate in a dialogue with those who have actively sought to kill them.

QUESTION: But are you going to press for the change of status of this area, particular area, because – who rules that area? That’s what the Pakistanis are saying, that there is a autonomous, a kind of autonomous --

MR. CASEY: Well, it’s not for the United States to determine the political future of the FATA or of Pakistan. This is an issue that is of longstanding. The FATA has always been outside the control of Pakistan’s central government. It’s one of the things that makes it difficult to deal with some of the problems there -- the development problems, as well as those of extremism.

Certainly, the Pakistani Government has been working along with us to strengthen the Frontier Corps, to strengthen those security forces indigenous to the FATA, to be able to deal with some of the problems there. And again, we’re working with them on economic and political development as well. But these are concerns that are going to have to be addressed in terms of the long-term future of the FATA by the citizens of that area itself, as well as the Government of Pakistan.

What we want to see, though, is that the FATA be free of extremist violence, be free of al-Qaida-inspired terrorism, and be able to develop and prosper and provide a better life for the people there.

Nicholas.

QUESTION: Tom, on Iraq, quickly. The Secretary is asking the various countries in Kuwait tomorrow to forgive Iraq’s debt. A couple of months ago, there were reports about the Iraqis, instead of spending their – the oil revenues they’re getting now from the future – from the high price of oil, they’re investing in U.S. treasuries, making other sorts of investments, instead of spending the money on needs that the Iraqi people can benefit from. Have you, by any chance, sort of looked into that? It was a GAO report about this back in January, I think. But have you looked at what the Iraqi spending of those revenues from oil or how much it’s investing in other things?

MR. CASEY: Well, I certainly don’t have a review that I can offer you of that, Nicholas. I can tell you that Iraq is investing in its own people. It’s investing right now, most recently, to the tune of a hundred million dollars for development in job programs in Ramadi, for development in job programs in Najaf and several other key cities.

Certainly, though, one of the things that we have often talked about is the importance of the Iraqi people gaining benefits and seeing real services being provided to them by their government. The process that Iraq has gone through to help both create a capital budget and to begin spending that is an important one. Certainly, we do want to see them continue to do more.

And I think if you look at the transcripts of a couple of the remarks the Secretary made while in Iraq, she has pointed out that Iraq actually is now taking the lead from us in terms of spending on reconstruction and development projects, which is something that we’ve anticipated.

So I would certainly expect that the Iraqi Government is going to continue to be seen increasingly as taking the lead in terms of development projects and development issues, and expect that you’ll see more of these kinds of specific projects as well that are trying to help create jobs or provide greater economic opportunity for specific regions or cities, as well as the kind of broader efforts that are underway to improve some of the basic infrastructure, from electricity to water supplies and services, to all the other kinds of things that one would come to expect governments, both at a local level, as well as on a national level, to be able to provide for their people.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, one in the back.

QUESTION: Hi. Does the U.S. have any concerns about the Indian Government’s invitation to Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad to visit next week? And has there been any message sent to the Indian Government about those meetings?

MR. CASEY: Well, it’s up to every country to determine for itself how it’s going to organize its bilateral relations. Many countries, including some of our strong allies in Europe, have diplomatic relations with Iran. And it’s up to them to determine how best to manage them.

We would hope that the Indian Government or any government that was engaging with the Iranians, including with President Ahmadi-Nejad, would call on him to meet the requirements that the Security Council and the international community has placed on him in terms of suspending their uranium enrichment activities and complying with the other requirements regarding their nuclear program.

We’d also certainly encourage them to ask Iran to end its rather unhelpful activities with respect to Iraq, with respect to support for terrorism, including organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas, and to otherwise become a more responsible actor on the world stage.

Okay. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:13 p.m.)

DPB # 71



Released on April 21, 2008

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