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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 28, 2008

INDEX:

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

U.S. Condemns Hamas Rocket Attacks
Importance of Humanitarian Needs and Well Being of Palestinian People

UNITED KINGDOM

Status of Prince Harry and Military Deployment

MACEDONIA/GREECE

Name Issue
Secretary Rice’s Recent Meetings with Greek and Macedonian Foreign Ministers

DEPARTMENT

Secretary Rice to Travel to NATO Foreign Ministers Meeting

SYRIA

Executive Order for Sanctions against Those Undermining Stability in Iraq
Syria Remains Primary Point for Foreign Fighters to Transfer into Iraq
Syrian Support for Groups like Hezbollah and Hamas / State Sponsor of Terror
Enforcement Action / Syrian Accountability Act


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:42 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. I don’t have anything to start you out with. And I’m not sure what you may have, but let’s go to your questions.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: A new eruption of violence in Middle East. There are babies killed by Israeli raids in Gaza. Do you have any comment?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think -- and I hope -- you’ve all now seen the comments that the Secretary made on this subject following her meeting with Prime Minister Olmert. Certainly, we condemn the Hamas violence that has occurred, the rocket attacks that took the life of an Israeli citizen yesterday. I think, unfortunately, what we are seeing in the Gaza Strip right now is just an example of what Hamas rule or misrule really means for the Palestinian people.

We have, as the Secretary said, in discussing this issue with the Israeli Government, highlighted the importance of and our concern for the humanitarian needs and well-being of the Palestinian people, and certainly also mourn the loss of life that occurred on that side of the border as well. But unfortunately, the root cause of all of this is Hamas’ failure to control violence, Hamas’ encouragement, in fact, of attacks on innocent civilians there, and so the most important thing that needs to happen is to have this -- these provocative steps, these attacks by Hamas into Israel cease.

QUESTION: Did anybody in the Administration call Israel to ask them to exert restraint?

MR. CASEY: Well, as I said, the Secretary met with Prime Minister Olmert in Tokyo after this event happened, and I’d just refer you back to her comments in terms of what her message was to the Prime Minister.

In terms of other discussions, certainly we are in regular contact through our Embassy and Consulate with Israeli and Palestinian officials, but I’m sure they echoed the points the Secretary made.

QUESTION: There was also a raid very close to the house of the former Prime Minister Haniyeh. Do you know anything about that? Do you have any --

MR. CASEY: No, I’m afraid I don’t have any information on that.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. CASEY: Kirit.

QUESTION: There are new press reports saying that Britain’s Prince Harry is now serving in Afghanistan. Several months ago when the prospect of him going over there was first raised, there was a concern on the part of at least the Brits, and perhaps the Americans as well, that his presence there would make troops more of a target. Is there any fear now that he’s over there that -- and that this is public -- that your troops will be more of a target for attacks?

MR. CASEY: Look, in terms of the status of Prince Harry or any other members of the royal family, I’d leave it to the Brits to discuss. We have full confidence that the British Government and British military will make appropriate decisions concerning the deployment of the Prince or any other members of their military.

QUESTION: But specifically, now that the reports that are out there that he is, do you fear that this would invite more attacks on U.S. and NATO forces --

MR. CASEY: I have no reason to believe that the British Government would do anything that would put their troops or anyone else’s in harm’s way.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, tomorrow in New York City, UN mediator Matthew Nimitz is going to meet once again with representative of Greece, Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis, and FYROM Nikola Dimitrov on the name issue. I’m wondering do you have anything to say due to the upcoming NATO summit in Bucharest.

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, you know our position on this issue. Certainly, we want to encourage both the Greek and Macedonian governments to work through the good offices of Mr. Nimitz to reach a mutually acceptable conclusion on the name issue. And that is something that we believe is important for both countries.

In terms of the NATO summit and any decisions that might be made there, obviously, we’ll just have to see what happens. As I mentioned yesterday, Secretary Rice will be going to the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting, which is something of a prelude to the summit itself. And I’m sure there will be a variety of discussions there about the full issues on NATO’s agenda, including Kosovo and the ongoing NATO military operations in that country; Afghanistan, where of course, NATO is, as just mentioned, rather heavily engaged in leading the International Security Assistance Force; and certainly, internal subjects related to NATO, including the possibilities for NATO enlargement and the course that various countries are charting will be on the agenda, too. But I think we’re quite a bit away from a decision on that.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, to which extent are you concerned as the U.S. about the whole issue since NATO is the pillar of U.S. foreign policy? Greece is one of its first members and the good neighbor relations between the two countries are more important for the alliance (inaudible) in the Balkans.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, Greece is an important friend and a NATO ally for the United States. We also have good relations with the Government of Macedonia. And for us, we think this is an issue that clearly is important for the two countries, and that’s why we certainly hope that they will be able to work together through the UN and through Mr. Nimitz to come to a resolution.

QUESTION: Any communication among DOS, Athens and Skopje in the recent days?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, as you know, the Secretary has met recently over the past two or three weeks with both the Greek and Macedonian Foreign Ministers. In reading out those meetings, we told you that she very strongly encouraged both of them to work with Mr. Nimitz to reach a resolution of this. This is an issue that certainly comes up on a regular basis in our discussions with both Greeks and Macedonians, but obviously, the message remains what the Secretary said to those senior officials. I’m not aware of any new particular high-level contacts on the subject, though.

David.

QUESTION: Tom, today the Treasury Department identified four Syrian individuals as having supported the al-Qaida in Iraq network. It doesn't mention -- the Treasury statement doesn't mention any role that these people had with the Government of Syria. And I wonder what your view is vis-à-vis the Government of Syria and this sort of activity operating on its soil.

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think Treasury can talk to you in specifics about the individuals involved in this. But as you know, some time ago we passed an Executive Order -- the President issued an Executive Order, excuse me -- that provided for sanctions against those who were undermining peace and stability in Iraq. And certainly, I believe this enforcement action is a step towards implementing that Executive Order.

In terms of Syria’s role, again, I’d point you to comments that have been made by our commanders on the ground as well as by officials here in Washington indicating that despite some improved efforts and some progress, Syria remains the primary point for foreign fighters to transfer into Iraq. And we think the Syrian Government has a lot more that it can do to deal with this issue. And the fact that we are sanctioning individuals who currently reside in Syria because of their participation in and support for al-Qaida in Iraq is a clear indication that there’s a long way to go on the part of the Syrian Government to take the necessary actions to really be a valid partner in fighting terrorism rather than being a facilitator and enabler.

And whatever their role is in terms of government support or at least failure to act on these issues, we certainly know that there is active Syrian support for groups like Hezbollah and Hamas. There’s hosting of some of the militant leaders there in the Syrian capital. And again, Syria for a long time has been a designated state sponsor of terror. So Syria’s record on this issue is pretty abysmal, and we’d certainly like to see it improve.

QUESTION: The Administration has never used up the so-called “arrows in the quiver” vis-à-vis the Syria Accountability Act from Congress. If this is going on, why doesn’t the Administration invoke more of those?

MR. CASEY: Well, we’re always looking at what more we can do to convince the Syria Government to change their behavior. In fact, this enforcement action today is, in part, an effort to make sure that the Syrian Government and Syria in general understands that we are serious about enforcing those measures.

In terms of other measures under the Syrian Accountability Act, you know, there are a variety of things there. We always are continually looking at that. Certain steps, I think, have been deemed not to be helpful in the past. Simply, for example, say, cutting off all diplomatic relations with Syria is something that, at this point, we’ve chosen not to exercise because we do want to keep, through our embassy there, a channel to be able to communicate our views and ideas directly to the Syrian Government.

Okay, Mr. Lambros. We’ll give you one more.

QUESTION: On Turkey, Mr. Casey, according to reports, the semi-autonomous Kurdish region authorized today their military to intervene if the Turkish forces bring their fight into civilian areas. Are you concerned such a move will affect your war on terror in the (inaudible) of Iraq?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, the President addressed this earlier in the day and I’d just --

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

MR. CASEY: -- refer you back to his comments.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thanks, Charlie.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:52 p.m.)

DPB #36



Released on February 28, 2008

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