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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 27, 2008

INDEX:

POLAND

Discussions on Military Modernization / Defense Cooperation
Secretary Rice’s Discussion with Foreign Minister Sikorski

TURKEY / IRAQ

Secretary of Defense Gate’s Comments on Turkish Operations in Iraq
PKK Issue / Terrorist Organization
Status of Turkish Bases in Northern Iraq

IRAN / CHINA

Oil Agreement / Sanctions

COLOMBIA

Reports of FARC Releasing Some Hostages
Comparison Between Simon Trinidad and American Hostages

COLOMBIA / VENEZUELA

President Chavez / Relationship with Colombia / President Uribe

CZECH REPUBLIC

Missile Defense Discussions

ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS

Pending Civil Action in New York Involving Victims of Terror Attacks
Rocket Attack from Gaza

DEPARTMENT

Secretary Rice’s Upcoming Travel

KOSOVO

Duration of NATO Mission / Base
Size and Composition of NATO Force

NORTH KOREA

Assistant Secretary Hill’s Travel / Meeting with Kim Gye Gwan


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:48 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Okay, all right. Good afternoon, guys. Glad to be here with you. Don’t have anything to start you out with, so --

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Secretary contacting Poland about possibly upgrading the military there?

MR. CASEY: Well, you did ask me this this morning. Let me tell you where we stand on this. First of all, the Secretary did speak with Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski over the weekend again, and they talked about a variety of issues there, including things related to NATO as well as the -- at that point, the ongoing situation with our Embassy in Serbia and the situation there. They did also talk about the discussions on missile defense and the separate discussions on defense modernization.

Someone -- I can’t remember if it was you or someone else -- had suggested that the Secretary had made some kind of proposal or other kind of announcement in that phone call. That is not true. However, I would note that there is an interagency team that will be in Warsaw for discussions starting on February 29th on enhancing our defense cooperation with Poland. And that includes, of course, the defense modernization issues that you were discussing. I know that there have been documents that have gone back and forth on this between the Polish and the U.S. side over, oh, a number of months, and so maybe that’s what that was referring to. But the -- in the phone call, there was a general discussion of these issues, but there wasn’t any specific new proposals or offers made. However, we do look forward to having these discussions, and from the U.S. side it’ll be Acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs Steve Mull who will be leading the delegation.

QUESTION: There’s nothing concrete, though? It’s just talks between both sides?

MR. CASEY: These are -- like I said, these are ongoing discussions about defense cooperation and modernization of the Polish military. That is something that’s been ongoing for a long time. You know, we’ll see how those talks play out, whether there’s any new outcomes we’d have to report on it.

QUESTION: Did you say those talks are on -- they’re on defense cooperation and modernization? Are they also on the missile defense project?

MR. CASEY: No. As I was trying to be at pains this morning to say, there’s a separate set of discussions that are going on with respect to missile defense cooperation. This is something that is part of a longstanding process of defense cooperation with Poland, though obviously there have been more recent discussions and I know some proposals from the Polish side as well concerning what they would like to see in terms of U.S. support for modernization of their military.

QUESTION: And why did Secretary Rice feel it was necessary to call the Foreign Minister --

MR. CASEY: I don’t believe she did. I believe he called her. And I think the initial reason for that call was to express his concern over what had happened to our Embassy in Serbia, which is the kind of conversation we’d expect allies to have.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that Turkish Government should finish their operation in northern Iraq in couple of weeks time. Are you urging Turkish Government to finish within that time limit?

MR. CASEY: Sounds like the Secretary of Defense was speaking on behalf of the Administration. You know, I wholeheartedly concur with his comments.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Follow-up?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Gates (inaudible) arrived in Turkey, but before going to Turkey in New Delhi, he also reiterated U.S. calls for Turkey to seek political and economic initiatives in addition to military measures to tackle the PKK problem. Now, what I’m wondering is that in terms of these economic and political complementary measures, what should be the elements of the political components? Would you want Turkey to talk to the PKK proxies or just announce an amnesty or anything like that? Political measures inside Turkey -- what should they be?

MR. CASEY: I’m having a really bad case of déjà vu both from the gaggle this morning and the briefing yesterday. Look, I think as we’ve always said, the PKK is a terrorist organization: it shouldn’t be negotiated with; it needs to be put out of business. That’s the common position of the United States, of Turkey, and of Iraq as well.

That said, I think everyone recognizes -- and the Turkish Government has talked about the need for economic development and other kinds of measures, as well as has already taken a variety of steps on the domestic political front in terms of managing issues in the south -- but no, we are not trying to be proscriptive in terms of anything the Turkish Government should or shouldn’t do. That is for the Turkish people to decide. I think all Secretary Gates’ remarks reflect is, I think, everyone’s understanding that there isn’t any unique military solution in the long term to this issue and that there needs to be things like political dialogue between Turkey and Iraq over how to confront this problem, as well as working with us and others.

QUESTION: But other than that, you are not insisting on specific political measures inside Turkey?

MR. CASEY: Turkey is a good friend and ally. It is an independent, democratic country, and we have full confidence in Turkey’s leaders to be able to devise whatever means or measures would be appropriate to be able to fully address this issue.

QUESTION: One more follow-up.

MR. CASEY: You can keep trying, yeah. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Something – on something related. Under arrangements from the 1990s, Turkey still has some small bases inside northern Iraq with a small number of troops, probably 1,000 or slightly more. And Iraqi Kurdistan’s parliament yesterday urged Turkey to close those bases. Now, what’s the U.S. position on this and what’s the legal status of those bases?

MR. CASEY: What the legal status of those bases is something you’d have to ask the Iraqi Government. I don’t think the United States has a particular view on them, since we weren’t part of the agreement in the first place. Look, this is a very simple issue. Turkey and Iraq are going to be neighbors for an awful long time. They live in the same neighborhood. They are going to have to work out a political accommodation on a whole variety of bilateral issues. And we are very happy to see that on many issues, such as promoting cooperation among Iraq’s neighbors, Turkey has been playing a very positive and very important role hosting one of the sessions of the neighbors conference, working on cross-border economic development.

So these are the kinds of issues, though, that need to be addressed between Turkey and Iraq directly. We certainly will help encourage that – those discussions and dialogue, just as we have on the broader PKK issue. But frankly, it’s for the Turkish Government and the Iraqi Government to determine the status of those facilities and to work out a mutually agreeable arrangement over how they should be handled.

QUESTION: One final thing.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: I’m sorry I’m taking your time.

MR. CASEY: It’s okay.

QUESTION: A couple of weeks ago, we saw Defense Commander and Lieutenant General Henry Obering say that in addition to the plant capabilities in the Czech Republic and Poland, there was a plan to – plan for additional components for an X-radar in Turkey in the Caucasus or the Caspian. Now, are you holding talks with the Turks on this? And if yes –

MR. CASEY: I’m not aware of any conversations with the Turkish Government about that. But you might want to check with the Pentagon. I’m not sure what the general is referring to.

Yeah.

QUESTION: CNOOC, China’s national oil company has just signed a $16 billion gas deal with Iran -- South Pars development. Can you comment on whether you will be talking with China? I don’t know if Hill is still in Beijing or not. Will there be an investigation of potential sanctions, any other comments you may have?

MR. CASEY: Is this something other than what they’ve been talking about for the last four or five months?

QUESTION: Well, now it’s – there’s been a lot of talk. This is actual – the signing of the deal.

MR. CASEY: Well, I’m not familiar with what they may or might not have signed today. Oftentimes as not, these are agreements to cooperate in the future or to do something --

QUESTION: It’s not an MOU.

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I haven’t seen it. Certainly any time there are any – first of all, as a matter of general policy, we don’t believe that now is the time for any country to be making new investments in Iran, whether that’s in the energy sector or any place else.

As you know, there is specific legislation that does cover and potentially sanction investments made in Iran’s oil and gas sector. There are specific legal standards set to that. Certainly, to the extent that this deal raises any questions about it, I’m sure people will look at it. A small portion of that review would take place here. But of course, the vast majority of that would be over at the Department of Treasury and you might want to check with them to see if they have anything more on it.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Colombia. This morning, the FARC released three hostages. How do you read this? It was as a result of the mediation of President Chavez. How do you react about this?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we’ve seen the reports of the hostage release and we’re very grateful that that has happened. Unfortunately, of course, it also points out the fact that these people – and I understand that the – they are former members of the Colombia congress and that some have been held for as long as six years. It’s still reprehensible that the FARC ever took these individuals hostage in the first place. And it’s equally reprehensible that they continue to hold hostages, including our American citizen contractors who have now spent several years in captivity. And we call on the FARC to release all the hostages that they have and to assure their safety in the interim. We will of course, continue to work with President Uribe and the Colombian Government to do what we can to help ensure the safe and secure release of American hostages. And we continue to be heartened by the fact that he and the Government of Colombia have continued to make it clear that they will not treat hostages differently because of their nationality.

QUESTION: And how will you understand the mediation of President Chavez? You know, how hard is that for Colombia because he’s not a friend of President Uribe?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, you know, we respect and want to work with President Uribe and the Government of Colombia as we move forward on it. We’ve always said that to the extent that the Colombian Government believes the good offices of any other individuals is helpful or appropriate, that is certainly something we’d support. As to how this will or won’t affect relations between Colombia and Venezuela, I think we’ll leave that to the Colombians to discuss.

QUESTION: Last question.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Ivan Marquez has said that the American hostages are going to be in the FARC, hence the same time that the America has Simon Trinidad (inaudible) in the jails. What do you think about that?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, there is absolutely no comparison between three American citizens who were in Colombia to try and help the people and Government of Colombia deal with the threat and challenges posed by drug trafficking, and Simon Trinidad, who, of course, is now a convicted felon, tried in a court of law, convicted on charges and now serving a sentence. There’s no equivalence between the two and it’s absolutely ridiculous to make any equivalency between them.

We believe that hostage-taking under any circumstances is not justified and that’s why, again, we call on the FARC to release all the hostages they hold: American, Colombian and any other nationalities. But you know, in the case of Simon Trinidad, again, he was tried and convicted in a court of law, and I have every expectation that he will fully serve the sentence handed down to him.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Back on missile defense. Today, President Bush met with the Czech Prime Minister and said they were very close on their missile defense agreement. In fact, I think Bush said there’s just three words to be worked out. And so I’m wondering, then, how close are you on the talks with the Poles? Because I think the Czech guy has said that, you know, he wants to work with the Poles and he wants to coordinate it. So it does raise a question, then, how are the missile defense talks going with the Poles, and how soon could they be wrapped up?

MR. CASEY: Well, those discussions are ongoing. The Secretary and Foreign Minister Sikorski spoke about that issue and addressed it publicly after their meeting here a few weeks ago. I know that there are ongoing discussions on it. I can’t tell you whether it’s 50, 75, 95 – 95 or 99 percent done, but I believe we’re making good progress. Of course, ultimately, with any of these agreements, you know, nothing’s done – nothing’s done till everything’s done, but we want to be able to move forward on this in the not-too-distant future and obviously, in terms of the status of the Czechs, if the President says it’s three words, sounds good to me.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: This pending civil litigation involving victims of Palestinian terror attacks, a deadline coming up on Friday; a federal judge in New York has set this deadline for the State Department to file a statement of interest. Can you tell me if any decision has been made or has the statement been filed yet?

MR. CASEY: No decision’s been made.

QUESTION: Can you – are the families involved being notified about this formally?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, the way this works is that a federal – a federal judge, in any particular case, will ask not the State Department, but the U.S. Government if they have a statement of interest that they wish to file in it. That is something that is done through Department of Justice and obviously is part of the court proceedings and will be accessible to all parties to it, just as any other court document would.

Look, I want to make it clear that regardless of what happens with this case, the position of the Administration is one of great sympathy for anyone who has suffered at the hands of terrorists. And we certainly believe and, as you know, we’ve been working with Congress on legislation that would provide a uniform standard for compensation for those who have been victims of terrorist attacks. So, you know, we certainly have been and will be in contact with members – family members of those who have been victims. We certainly talk on a regular basis, for example, with those who were affected by the Pan Am 103 bombing and other cases. And, you know, we’ve worked extensively with the Libyan Government on compensation for those cases as well as a number of other areas.

But again, whether or not any statement of interest is done in this particular civil action that’s pending, let me make it clear that we do support the interests of those who have been affected by terrorism.

QUESTION: Well, why is there such deliberation in this particular case? Is it because it’s Palestinians that are involved? Can you elaborate further on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, you know, I am – I’m certainly not a lawyer and I’m certainly not privy to the multi-agency discussions that are involved in something like this. Obviously, when a case like this comes up, there needs to be a clear and common understanding on the part of all the relevant U.S. Government agencies as to whether anything in this specific case, in this specific instance touches on the interests of the U.S. Government. So there are always very complicated legal matters; I don’t think that this one is necessarily more or less complicated than other kinds of cases where we’ve been asked to see if there’s a statement of interest involved, but, you know, I’d actually have to leave it to the lawyers to tell you whether this one has any particular additional twists and turns to it.

QUESTION: But can you just clarify, is no decision going to be made before Friday or are you just going to leave it hanging or how is that --

MR. CASEY: I can tell you-- I know that there’s ongoing discussions about it. All I can tell you is my understanding is a decision has yet to be reached. When a decision will be reached is a factor of how those interagency discussions go.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Kosovo, Mr. Casey, do you know how long the U.S. troops are going to remain in occupied Kosovo, Serbian territory?

MR. CASEY: What U.S. whats are going to remain?

QUESTION: In Kosovo.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, but U.S.?

QUESTION: Troops.

MR. CASEY: U.S. troops? Oh, I’m sorry. I just didn’t hear your word.

QUESTION: You said (inaudible) troops, as I understand.

MR. CASEY: Well, more --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CASEY: Well, more importantly, NATO has a mission in Kosovo and that mission, NATO has said, will continue until such time as the security forces in Kosovo are able to take full responsibility for the duties that are required and until they believe they’re in a position to do so. That means that NATO will stay there, in effect, as long as needed. And there will certainly be ongoing discussions between the new Government of Kosovo and NATO over any specifics or terms of that mission.

QUESTION: Since NATO is the case, Mr. Casey, why then in June, 1999, U.S. seized illegally 1,000 acres in Bondsteel, B-o-n-d-s-t-e-e-e-l, Kosovo and built up the largest military base in the U.S. history, which is functioning today, as you are speaking, ready to accept 10,000 U.S. troops? What is the purpose of this base?

MR. CASEY: The purpose of that base was to support the NATO mission in Kosovo, and that’s still the purpose of that base, and that’ll be the purpose of it until it’s dismantled and removed when U.S. forces and NATO forces leave.

QUESTION: Tom, do you think that the Secretary will discuss possible additional NATO troops for Kosovo next week in --

MR. CASEY: As far as I know, there’s no discussion at this point of increasing the strength of the NATO force in Kosovo. I certainly would leave it to the Supreme Allied Commander and the other NATO military authorities to see whether, in light of recent events, they would foresee any reason to change either the composition of those forces or the number. But as far as I know, there’s no sense from the commanders on the ground that they need to increase troop levels there.

Let’s go down here and then we’ll --

QUESTION: Yes. Do the other NATO members --

MR. CASEY: Or let’s not go -- let’s go back to you, Mr. Lambros. Anyway, okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Do the other NATO members have the right, as you said, to build up bases inside Kosovo today?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, Kosovo is a newly independent state. It has a sovereign government. Any relations between NATO and the Government of Kosovo will be worked out between them. Any decisions on NATO forces will be left to NATO. Any decisions on how those troops operate or are managed will be handled under the standing agreement. This is nothing new.

QUESTION: One more? The international famous Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis with statement characterized the so-called independence of Kosovo as treason without prior approval by the United Nations. Any comment on that?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, you know what? I somehow suspect for the next six or eight months or so, you’re going to come in here every day and you’re going to say some other prominent citizen somewhere in the world has said that they don’t like the fact that Kosovo is now an independent state. And they’re entitled to their opinion. We respect their opinion. But you know our policy, and we and the rest of the international community are moving ahead with it.

QUESTION: But he characterized it as a treason.

MR. CASEY: You know, that’s fine. That’s his characterization of it. Let’s go down here. This guy had a --

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to the reports today of the rocket attacks in Gaza and the retaliatory attacks in Israel? And do you have any details to give us on Secretary Rice’s next trip to the region?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I did promise you something. I am late with my homework, guys, and I apologize. I don’t have a formal written statement to give you a dramatic reading of right now, but let me just do this. I can confirm for you that next week, from March 3rd to the 7th, Secretary Rice will be traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories as well as continuing on to attend the NATO ministerial that we just talked a little bit about. In Israel and in the Palestinian territories, she’ll meet with officials from both sides. And obviously, this is part of the follow-up to the Annapolis process and I’m sure she’ll get a good sense there from the parties as to the state of play of their discussions and negotiations and cover a variety of other bilateral issues as well. NATO ministerial, and certainly, there will be a number of topics under discussion there, including, I am sure, the situation in Kosovo as well as NATO’s mission in Afghanistan and the desire on our part and on everyone’s part to meet the criteria and meet the demand for additional forces there. Of course, this ministerial is also a preliminary meeting, or something of a set-up meeting, for the upcoming summit that President Bush will be attending. And so I’m sure they will also be doing some work in preparation for the leaders discussions there. I am sure that will also touch on the subject of potential NATO enlargement. In terms of – so --

QUESTION: So you’re confirming Rice’s visit for the – for – to the 7th of March?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, in those three locations. In terms of the attack – the attacks that have occurred, I have seen reports that a Qassam rocket did, in fact, result in the death of an Israeli citizen today. We condemn, as we always do, these kinds of unprovoked attacks on innocent civilians. There is no excuse for it and one of the things that we hope will happen is a cessation of that – of those provocations and of those attacks. In terms of Israeli response, as you know, our longstanding view is that Israel has a right to defend itself. However, we always ask that in doing so, they consider the consequences of those actions and the potential effect it might have and we remain, certainly, concerned about the civilian population in Gaza that continues to suffer as a result of Hamas’ misrule and of Hamas’, not only toleration, but active support and promotion of these kinds of attacks on Israel.

QUESTION: And how do you think it bodes for the Annapolis peace process?

MR. CASEY: Well, you’ve heard from the Secretary and from others about the fact that there always are going to be things that will happen that will try and distract or sideline parts of these discussions. But the important thing is that in President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert, we have two leaders who are committed to moving forward on what is a very difficult set of negotiations: to resolve this longstanding problem and bring about a two-state solution. They have made a commitment to conclude an agreement by the end of this year. That is an ambitious timetable, but it’s one that they continue to hold to and we continue to support their efforts to do so.

Yeah.

QUESTION: One last on Turkey. If Turkish forces stay longer than the, you know, time that Robert Gates mentioned, is there any risk that U.S. could halt the intelligence sharing?

MR. CASEY: Now look, if sounds like a hypothetical to me. I think we’ve made clear our views that this military operation should be concluded as quickly as possible. Secretary Gates, as you mentioned, put a timetable on that and I think we’ll just see what happens. Certainly, I’m not prepared to talk about anything beyond that at this point.

QUESTION: On the same subject?

MR. CASEY: Oh, okay, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Okay. According to reports, the Turkish army is trying to create an area under its control in Iraq. The aim is to target PKK but it also has political (inaudible) mainly in Kirkuk. Are you concerned, Mr. Casey, since you have forces in Iraq?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, we support the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Iraq. As far as I know, that is the Turkish Government position as well. We would expect that everyone would hold to that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Tom, any update on the appointment of an energy envoy to the Caspian Sea region?

MR. CASEY: Nope. I’m not aware that there’s anything new to report on that.

QUESTION: Okay. The Secretary said that she would be appointing one soon. And I do --

MR. CASEY: I’ll stick with that. I don’t have any – no, I don’t have anything new for you on it. Sorry.

QUESTION: Is it something you could get back to me on?

MR. CASEY: It’s something that when the Secretary has an announcement to make I’m sure we’ll be happy to tell you about it, but I don’t have anything for you today.

QUESTION: Thanks, Tom.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: This delegation that’s going to Warsaw on February 29th on defense modernization issues. Is that the first time that a U.S. delegation has gone over there specifically to discuss defense modernization?

MR. CASEY: Well, let’s see. I think we have had ongoing consultations on military cooperation with the Poles pretty much since the fall of the Berlin Wall. I can assure you that at any number of occasions during that process, military modernization has been a subject addressed. The U.S., particularly early on after Poland managed to overcome the situation it faced as a member of the Warsaw Pact and under communist rule, did and has received support from the U.S. over time. They’ve received, as I also recall, coalition support funds in part to help support their operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere. So certainly military modernization and discussions about them have been part of our dialogue with Poland for, you know, at least the last decade or so.

QUESTION: Yeah. I guess I should have said since Sikorski was here and Secretary of State Rice said, yes, we would like to – we support, you know, modernization of the Polish air defenses. Since that visit, is this the first time the delegation has gone over there?

MR. CASEY: Okay. So let me be specific, since you’re asking a very specific question.

QUESTION: On this issue. Yeah.

MR. CASEY: You would like to know if an official interagency U.S. delegation has, since Secretary Rice and Foreign Minister Sikorski last met here in Washington, traveled to Warsaw to negotiate specifically on this issue?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. CASEY: The answer to that would be, no, this would be the first time that that has occurred in that format and time since that meeting.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Anything else?

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. CASEY: Got one more here.

QUESTION: A readout on the six-party talks.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Assistant Secretary Hill is staying in Beijing right now. And has he met with his counterpart Kim Gye Gwan of North Korea or if he hasn’t yet, has he any plan to meeting with him?

MR. CASEY: You know, he met with Kim Gye Gwan I guess it was last week -- yeah, I guess it was last week -- in his preliminary travels to China in part as the setup or lead up to the Secretary’s visit here. As you know, the Secretary asked him to stay on in China after she departed because she felt it would be useful for him to continue some of the discussions about how we would like to try and move the six-party process forward. As far as I know at this point -- I certainly haven’t spoken to Chris -- there’s no plans for him to meet with Kim Gye Gwan there. I’m sure if he believes it useful and the North Koreans believe it would be useful as well, they could arrange a meeting, but I don’t think there’s anything planned at this time.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:18 p.m.)

DPB # 35



Released on February 27, 2008

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