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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 25, 2008



Inauguration of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak


Presidential Elections


Syrian Ambassador’s Comments on Peace Process / Annapolis Conference
Syria’s Role in the Region


Transition of Cuba’s Government


Arrest of Japanese Businessman on US Territory of Saipan


Post-Election Government Formation and Judiciary




Name Issue


Status of U.S. Embassy’s Operations / Ordered Departure of Family Members and Non-Emergency Personnel
Recognition of Kosovo’s Independence


Shooting of Marine Security Guard


Reported New Timetable Proposal for Normalization of US Relations with Sudan
Special Envoy Williamson’s Travel / Meetings


Turkish Operations against PKK Targets


View Video

12:43 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the start of another week. I don’t have anything to start you out with, so whatever questions you may have. Let’s go back here.

QUESTION: New South Korean president took office yesterday. Any comment on that? And what stance does the United States expect of the new South Korean Government to take in dealing with North Korea?

MR. CASEY: Well, of course, Secretary Rice has been in South Korea and been there for the inaugural. She spoke, I think, fairly eloquently about the friendship and longstanding relationship between the United States and South Korea. South Korea, of course, is one of our major friends and allies in the region, a partner with us in the six-party talks as well as on a number of other important issues in the region. And certainly, we very much look forward to working with President Lee as well as his government in continuing our longstanding efforts. We do expect as well that we’ll continue to work well with him and his government as we join in with the other members of the six-party talks to resolve the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Casey, on Cyprus. Any comment on the election of Mr. Demetris Christofias as the new president of the Republic of Cyprus? Part of it, as you know, is under Turkish invasion and occupation since 1974 to the present.

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, we must have known that you would ask this, but I do, in fact, have a statement that we’ll be releasing a little bit later today. Let me just go through it for you quickly:

We congratulate Demetris Christofias on his election as president of the Republic of Cyprus. The United States and Cyprus enjoy close relations and we look forward to working with him to build up on our cooperation to fight terrorism, to safeguard Cyprus’s cultural heritage, and promote reconciliation and reunification of the island. The United States remains committed to comprehensive settlement that reunifies the island in a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation acceptable to majorities in the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, and we will work with the United Nations as well as the Republic of Cyprus, the Turkish Cypriot community, Turkey, Greece and the European Union to support a just and lasting settlement.

QUESTION: Any communication between Washington and Nicosia to this effect?

MR. CASEY: I don’t believe we’ve had an opportunity outside of through our embassy to offer our congratulations. I certainly expect there will be some phone calls made.

QUESTION: And the last one. Anything to say about the departing president, Tassos Papadopoulos, who brought Cyprus into the European Union and succeeded to cross once and for all the Annan plan?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, we have enjoyed close relations with Cyprus and with the Government of Cyprus. We certainly wish him well as he moves on in his future endeavors. But again, we look forward to working with the new government.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: You’re welcome.

QUESTION: Tom, the Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha has just told us that he believes there’ll be no Israeli-Palestinian peace deal this year. He called the Annapolis summit an exercise in public relations and he says that there are powerful elements in Bush Administration who believe chaos is constructive in the region.

MR. CASEY: Well, I don’t know who he’s referring to. I certainly know that we have very serious and ongoing concerns about Syria’s unconstructive role in the region. That certainly includes its continued support for Palestinian rejectionist groups, its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, its continued interference in the internal affairs of Lebanon, as well as the fact that while it has made, I think if you listen to commanders on the ground, some positive steps, it still is the principal transit point for foreign fighters going into Iraq. So I think if anyone has to answer for their promotion of chaos and instability in the region, it’s most likely the Syrian Government.


QUESTION: Yeah, on Cuba. Have you any comment on the changes yesterday?

MR. CASEY: Well, you saw the statement that the Secretary put out. I know that was in advance of the formal transition. But unfortunately -- I used the analogy this morning from a Who song, you know, “Meet the new boss, he’s the same as the old boss.” Unfortunately, the Cuban people deserve much better than the handover of a family business of dictatorship between the Castro brothers.

We will continue to do what we can to be able to promote positive change on the island. But as you saw in the Secretary’s statement, what we want to see happen is a real transition in Cuba that allows for the release of political prisoners, the enjoyment of basic human and political rights by the people of the country, and ultimately, an opportunity on their part to choose their own leaders.

Yeah, back here.

QUESTION: Were you able to get anything on the Japanese businessman arrested in Saipan?

MR. CASEY: Not much, but let me tell you what I was able to get. We’ve seen the press reports indicating that Mr. Miura was arrested Friday in Saipan on charges related to his wife’s death. In terms of U.S. relationship to this case, since it’s a law enforcement matter, though, I’m going to have to refer you over to the Department of Justice.

Yeah, Paul.

QUESTION: On Pakistan, as they go about negotiating whatever the post-election government framework, what is the U.S. goal for the judiciary? Is it a restoration of those judges who were sacked a year -- almost a year ago and all the turmoil that caused? Or is it the condition of independent judiciary determined by their criteria?

MR. CASEY: Ultimately, what we want to see happen is the formation of a government that’s going to be an effective partner for the United States, not only in confronting extremism but also in helping Pakistan achieve the broad-based goals for that country’s political and economic development.

In terms of the specifics of how that’s done, of who winds up in a coalition, who winds up in which ministry, what happens in terms of judicial reform or in terms of judicial appointments, those are really matters for the Pakistanis themselves and for the new government to decide. So again, what we want to see is a government that’s working effectively to be able to meet the challenges that are there, but we’re not trying to offer specific advice to them on how to deal with some of these internal questions.


QUESTION: Tom, do you have any comment on the continuing political turmoil in Armenia in the aftermath of their elections?

MR. CASEY: Well, David, you saw the statement that we put out over the weekend. I really don’t have much to add to that right now. Certainly, you’ve heard from the international observers about some of the concerns that they’ve had about the election, but we believe that these disputes need to be settled within the confines of Armenia’s constitution and political system.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On FYROM. Mr. Casey, in the arrival in Athens of Ambassador Matthew Nimetz for his mediation on the name issue between Greece and FYROM, the Greek Embassy in Skopje for two inclusive days has been attacked by a mob of Skopjens. Not only that, the mob insulted the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis as a female with inappropriate vocabulary, signs and (inaudible). May we have your comment?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, I understand there have been some protests there. Certainly, just as we’ve seen elsewhere in the region, we respect people’s rights to peacefully express their views and peacefully protest government decisions or policies. At the same time, it’s certainly unacceptable for anyone to engage in violence or engage in any kind of activities that would endanger diplomatic facilities or foreign diplomats. My understanding of events in Skopje was that the authorities in Macedonia stepped in very quickly to deal with some of the problems that were there.

QUESTION: And one follow-up. In addition (inaudible), Mr. Casey, anything to say on the new Matthew Nimetz package or proposal on the name issue which under consideration in Athens and Skopje?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, you know our longstanding policy on this is to support an agreement among the parties using the good offices of Mr. Nimetz. If he has any new proposals to speak of, I’ll let him discuss them in more detail. But again, we would continue to urge the parties to work together constructively under the auspices of Mr. Nimetz to resolve this in an acceptable way to both sides.


QUESTION: Any update on the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade? Is it back open? Is it going to be open tomorrow? Do you have any – are there people who left? Have they gone or are they coming back?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Well, as you know, the Embassy went on ordered departure status. What that means, of course, is that family members as well as non-emergency staff were asked to leave the country. They have all done so, as of today. Our Ambassador Cameron Munter and a sizable contingent of our basic Embassy staff, however, does remain in Belgrade. They are continuing to work with the Serbian Government, continuing to do their job. In terms of the status of the Embassy, we’re still finalizing our damage assessment in trying to repair -- start the process of repairing some of the damage that’s there. Until that assessment is completed, while Ambassador Munter and his team are continuing their work, they’re doing so from outside of the Embassy compound.

QUESTION: Just as a matter of whatever the norm is in such cases, is the host government expected to pay for damages or do we pay the damages?

MR. CASEY: Charlie, I don’t know if there actually is a standard on that. Certainly, if it’s appropriate for us to pursue compensation, I’m sure the lawyers will decide to do it.

QUESTION: On the same issue.

MR. CASEY: On the same issue. Okay, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, the Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica stated yesterday, “the U.S. must annul now the decision to recognize a false state on the territory of Serbia. It must reaffirm U.N. Security Council Resolution 1244, which guarantees Serbia's sovereignty and territorial integrity, continuation of the policy of force will deepen the crisis that undermines the foundation of the world order and threatens peace and stability in the Balkans." How do you respond on those charges against the U.S. foreign policy?

MR. CASEY: Sounds like every other speech he’s given on Kosovo. And you know, we respectfully disagree. You know our position on this, Mr. Lambros.


QUESTION: Anything more on the situation in Nigeria with the U.S. soldier?

MR. CASEY: Unfortunately, my friends in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security were unable to churn out a response on that, so we’ll post something for you later.

QUESTION: And on – did you get any kind of readout of –Rich Williamson’s talks?

MR. CASEY: Not extensively. And let me tell you what I was able to get. First of all, there was a question that arose this morning about the reports citing Sudanese Government officials saying that there had been some new timetable proposed for the normalization of U.S. relations with Sudan. That is not correct.

The position of the U.S. Government on that does remain consistent, as I mentioned this morning. We expect for there to really be progress in our bilateral relations with Sudan, that Sudan would remove the existing obstacles and cooperate fully with the deployment with the UNIMID forces, with the combined AU/UN hybrid force, and that they also take the kinds of concrete steps to halt violence by the Janjaweed and others in Darfur. That’s been set out and that’s been a part of our policy for a long time.

Now in terms of Special Envoy Williamson’s meetings, let’s see, he arrived in Khartoum on Sunday. He is scheduled to meet with a variety of officials throughout the week from the Government of Sudan, the UN, some of our international partners and the NGOs. He’s scheduled to go to Darfur and South Sudan later this week. And he did meet, as you know, with the Foreign Minister earlier today – earlier today and that was the main substantive meeting that he had today.

QUESTION: On Turkey?

MR. CASEY: Okay, Mr. Lambros. You can get --

QUESTION: On Turkey?

MR. CASEY: -- one more in. Charlie wasn’t fast enough with the “thank you.”

QUESTION: Okay. Anything to say about the continuing Turkish military invasion today of northern Iraq against the Kurds of PKK?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, our – again, our position on that, as you know, is well-known. The PKK is a threat to the United States, to Turkey, and to Iraq as well. We continue to urge cooperation between Turkish and Iraqi authorities on this. We are conducting diplomacy towards that end. We certainly want to see and make sure that the Turks continue with their stated policy, which is to make sure that any of these military actions minimize the impact and take very serious account of the concerns of civilian populations in the area.

QUESTION: A follow-up, it’s very important (inaudible). Mr. Casey, Turkey’s military assault into northern Iraq will not solve the terrorist problem there, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said yesterday, calling for greater political and economic initiatives by the Turks to win over supporters of the Kurdish rebel. Any comment since it means there is a difference since Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told us last Friday that PKK is a common enemy?

MR. CASEY: The PKK is a common enemy and I think all Secretary Gates is doing is stating the obvious, which is that a – this is a problem that requires more than just a military solution and I think all sides recognize it and that’s why we’ll be continuing our diplomacy on it.


(The briefing was concluded at 12:54 p.m.)

DPB #33

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