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

INDEX:

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. Concern for Death Sentence on Journalist / U.S. Raising Issue with Afghans
Secretary’s Meeting with President Karzai in Davos

DEPARTMENT

Rewards for Justice Program / Reward Given / Senator Coleman Letter
Nominations for Rewards for Justice Program
Rules for Rewards being Granted / Possibility of Eligibility of Others
Under Secretary Burns’ Travel to Middle East

ZIMBABWE

Announcement of Election Date / Need for Participation of All Political Parties

IRAQ

Negotiations for a Legal Framework for U.S. Troops Once the UN Mandate Expires
Declaration of Principles / U.S. Relationship with Iraq in the Future

KOSOVO

Visit of Albanian President to Kosovo
Future Status of Kosovo / Ahtisaari Plan

RUSSIA

Arrest of Semyon Mogilevich / Department of Justice

LEBANON

Attack in Lebanon / U.S. Condemnation, Condolences
Need to see Syria Fully Disengage from Lebanon / Hariri Assassination
Brammertz Report / Special Tribunal
Existing Sanctions on Syria

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

Syrian Participation in Annapolis / Positive Action
Syrian Support for Rejectionist Groups / Hezbollah
Embassy Continues to be in Contact with Egypt about Control of Border Area

PAKISTAN

Reported Missile Test / Need for all Countries to Keep International Obligations

VENEZUELA/IRAN

Venezuelan Diplomatic Ties with Iran


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:43 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to Friday. One - if I may, just before we go to the briefing -- I just need one personal note for all of you now. As you know, my dear friend and colleague and boss, Sean McCormack, will be back here on Monday. And between then and next weekend, he's probably going to mention the New England Patriots a few times. (Laughter).

And you know, as much as Boston is something of an adopted home for me because I went to school up there, I just have to - before what will probably be my last opportunity to brief you guys before the Super Bowl -- put in a plug for the New York Giants, ask you all to root for them and you know ask you to, while not saying anything to him, just, you know, let Sean have his way, let him pretend - talk about this perfect season stuff and all the kinds of things that the Patriots are going to do next Sunday. But you and I know reality here, okay? So go Giants.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CASEY: No, I said this was a personal aside. I did say that up front, Matt.

QUESTION: Are you predicting the final score?

MR. CASEY: I would never - like UN resolutions should never be predicted, the final scores of games should never be predicted. I wait in great and fervent hope with all the other Big Blue faithful out there and we'll see what happens.

Anyway, let's try and do some real business here. So I don't have anything to open with; let's go to your questions.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) thank you very much.

MR. CASEY: Exactly, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: I think Elise actually will want to go first because I - Elise?

MR. CASEY: Elise, you weren't serious?

QUESTION: (Laughter.) No, (inaudible).

MR. CASEY: I don't think she was serious - (inaudible). Okay.

QUESTION: First of all, there's a death sentence that's been given to a reporter in Afghanistan for something that they wrote and it's obviously caused a lot of international outrage from human rights groups, press freedom groups. The UN is asking Hamid Karzai to intervene. I'm wondering if you have talked to the Afghans, if you have a position on this?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we are concerned about this sentence that was handed down to a reporter for basically practicing his profession and we wouldn't want to see any actions taken that would limit his or anyone else's freedom of the press or freedom of expression. This is an issue that we are raising with the Afghan Government. I know our Ambassador, Bill Wood, intends to discuss this with officials there and it is something we are going to be watching closely.

Now fortunately, I understand there is an appeal process that is underway and certainly, we are going to be looking at that very carefully and hopefully, there will be a different outcome to this than the one that's presently there.

QUESTION: Can I -

MR. CASEY: On this? Sure.

QUESTION: Do you know that we did not really get much of a readout of the Secretary's meeting with President Karzai in Davos. Do you know if this came up?

MR. CASEY: I don't think it did simply because I don't think we became aware of this until after that meeting took place. I'll check for you, Matt, and see if this was a subject that (inaudible).

QUESTION: Can I ask one more?

MR. CASEY: Sure. Why not, Elise? It's Friday.

QUESTION: It's on this Rewards for Justice reward that was given out yesterday at a ceremony at the State Department for the flight instructor that allegedly turned in Zacarias Moussaoui. However, there are two other flight instructors in Minnesota that were recognized by the Senate for actually calling the FBI and they're complaining and, you know, others are complaining that they weren't taken into consideration in the reward. And I'm wondering if - Senator Coleman has said that he has called the State Department asking for a clarification. Is there going to be a reexamination of this? How is this person chosen over the other people?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not aware if we've received a communication from Senator Coleman's office. Certainly, if we do we'll be happy to talk to him or respond in writing if that's appropriate to it. As you know, the Rewards for Justice Program operates on the basis of nominations, so a U.S. law enforcement agency would have made a nomination of this individual. It would have been reviewed by the body -- and Rewards for Justice includes, as I recall, a variety of U.S. law enforcement organizations and they would have made the determination that the individual merited this payment.

I'm honestly not aware in this instance whether there were other individuals who were nominated or whose names were considered in this. But if there's questions about the procedures or process that the senator or others have, I'm sure we can address it for them.

QUESTION: Do you think that there would be any -- because these -- like I said, these people were actually considered to be the ones that called the FBI and turned Moussaoui in. Do you think that there would be a reexamination of the reward so these others could be included?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't know if there's any information that wasn't considered about these individuals or others in the initial decision. Certainly, though, the process in Rewards for Justice is open for nominations and open for consideration at any time. If, again, if there's some reason to reexamine this issue or facts that haven't come to light, I'm sure the appropriate people involved will do so.

QUESTION: Tom, on this -- people don't self-nominate for these things?

MR. CASEY: No. In order to be -- as I understand it, and I'll check for you, Matt -- but as I understand it to be considered for one of these -- receive money under the Rewards for Justice Program, it's not a matter of someone saying, hey, I provided this information, I should get a reward. It is something that has to be nominated by one of the constituent members of the Rewards for Justice board and that includes a variety of different law enforcement organizations.

QUESTION: I don't expect that you'll know this but maybe you could find --

MR. CASEY: Probably not, but let's give it a shot.

QUESTION: But are you aware of any case -- of any situation where something like this has happened where -- or something has been reopened and an additional payment has been made after a first one?

MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of, Matt. But frankly, there generally isn't a lot of publicity, as you know, surrounding this program; in part, because the individuals -- if you've provided information that's led to the arrest of a major terrorist suspect or someone else who's committed these kinds of acts against U.S. officials or was on the Rewards for Justice Program in one or another, in many cases, particularly if those individuals are in foreign countries where the terrorist group is operating, the amount of attention they would want for this is often quite limited. And even in this instance, I know the individual involved was not particularly seeking publicity associated with this case. So I'm not sure whether there has ever been an additional evaluation. I know there have been awards given to multiple people as I recall. I think I can think of at least one instance where more than one person was given a reward for information related to a single case. But I'm not sure whether that's a common occurrence or not.

QUESTION: And the other thing -- would the Department or the program be willing to, you know, to look again at this kind of thing or do you just not know?

MR. CASEY: I honestly don't know whether the rules require a case to be opened once and considered once. I would think that if there's - again, if there's relevant information that either affected the initial decision or that would make others eligible for a reward, then certainly we'd be open to considering that.

QUESTION: Can we go to Zimbabwe for a second?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: President Mugabe has announced that new presidential and parliament elections will be held on March 29th and the opposition has accused him of bad faith, saying that this is essentially undermining the - you know, the South African sort of mediation efforts. What do you think about his decision to schedule the elections then, as opposed to in June, which is when the opposition had wanted them? And do you feel that this does undercut efforts to try to find some kind of a negotiated outcome?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, Arshad, I'm going to have to take a look at that. I hadn't seen that announcement before it - before you raised it here with us.

Uh-oh. Gonzo. Did you fail me, my friend?

MR. GALLEGOS: No, no. My - as I always state, if you have something, please give it to us.

MR. CASEY: Anyway, I - we will look and we will get you an answer this afternoon. As you know, though, our main concern is that whenever these elections are held that they do provide an opportunity for all political forces in the country to be able to participate and that the elections be conducted in a free and fair manner. Certainly, when we've seen things like the somewhat arbitrary arrest and then release of the main opposition leader just a couple of days ago in order to basically intimidate him and prevent opposition forces from freely conducting a rally, it certainly doesn't give us confidence that the Mugabe government is intent on having the kind of electoral process that we would like to see. But in terms of the specifics of the date, let me take a look for you and we'll get you something a little later today.

Libby.

QUESTION: Something we talked about yesterday and this morning, but --

MR. CASEY: Let's talk about it again.

QUESTION: Let's talk about it again. Senator Biden and others, just today Senator Webb, Senator Dodd are still saying they need clarification on what actually the scope of the agreement you're looking for with the Iraqi Government. Is it a Status of Forces Agreement or is it a long-term security arrangement that would require Senate approval in the end?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I --

QUESTION: What is it?

MR. CASEY: First of all, let's remember that we are currently talking about an agreement -- the first round of negotiating for has not yet happened and this is something that we will be, over the course of the coming year, entering into negotiations with the Iraqis. And the main goal here is simply to provide a legal foundation for our troops to be able to operate in Iraq, once the current UN mandate expires. And I think that that is something that everyone would like to see happen in any country in which U.S. military forces are present at whatever level.

There needs to be an understanding between the United States and the host country of: how they're going to operate; what the limitations on their actions are; what kinds of rules govern their presence; what the legal authorities are in the event of any issues that arise. And this is something that is essential for the protection of U.S. military forces and their ability to do their job. And I think on that basic level, I haven't heard anyone say that this shouldn't happen. In fact, as I mentioned yesterday to some of you, there is, in fact, a legislative requirement in the 2007 Defense Authorization Act to specifically engage in negotiations and conclude a Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq, so that we can ensure that our troops are able to operate in that way.

Now there has been a lot of attention that has been given to the Declaration of Principles that was signed earlier this year and about the issues in that related to our hopes for a broader relationship with Iraq in the future. I don't think there is anyone out there that believes that we shouldn't have full diplomatic relations with Iraq and that we shouldn't be able to continue to work with the Iraqi Government on things like economic development, on things like political reform as well as continuing to help them as they seek to get their own forces at a level where they don't need any kind of foreign assistance or support. But again, let me stress what I said yesterday, which is that nothing that we are intending to negotiate would limit the ability of the current or future president to make decisions on things like troop levels, on the kinds of operations that'll be performed, or on what sorts of activities the U.S. military will engage in.

QUESTION: Will your ultimate agreement need the approval of Congress?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm certainly not going to try and speak for all the lawyers involved, but my understanding of this is that it will follow the model of similar agreements which are usually negotiated by and signed by the Executive Branch and don't rise to the level of treaty commitments.

QUESTION: And what about this in the Declaration of Principles from November? There was a line in there about guarding against external and internal threats, that the U.S. would help the Iraqis with that. Isn't - that's something beyond the Status of Forces agreement, isn't it?

MR. CASEY: Well, certainly, you can have - there's also language in there about helping to support political reform in Iraq and economic development and other kinds of things which are reflective of the kind of broad relations that we would like to have with the country. But I think there are some people out there that are trying to contend, for whatever reason, that we are attempting, with this very basic kind of agreement, to somehow make a NATO-style treaty commitment with the Government of Iraq and that's simply not the intention here.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Kosovo, Mr. Casey, anything to say on the provocative visit today by the Albanian President Bamir Topi to the Serbian province of Kosovo without permission from Belgrade?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I'd refer you to the Albanian Government for any questions concerning his visit there and I'm sure the authorities in Kosovo can speak to it as well. In terms of the U.S. position on Kosovo, you know it and it hasn't changed.

QUESTION: President Vladimir Putin's appointed envoy to NATO stated Moscow opposition not to send peacekeeper troops to the Serbian province of Kosovo. Are you concerned about that?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, as you know, Russia is not a member of NATO. They certainly have participated in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans previously. Whether they would choose to do so in the future as we transition from current arrangements to implementation of the Ahtisaari plan would obviously be their right. But I think NATO's views on this are quite clear as is the rest of the international community's.

QUESTION: And Hashim Thaci said yesterday in --

MR. CASEY: I'll tell you what, Mr. Lambros. Hold on a second. Let me get down to Arshad here and then we'll see what else is on your mind.

QUESTION: Here's one about the - question about the arrest of Semyon Mogilevich in Russia. He is allegedly a head of an organized crime group who the FBI has been after for many years. And a couple of questions: one, do you know why he has been arrested in Russia? The Russian authorities I don't think have made explicit the reason for his arrest. Was it at the behest of the United States? Are you seeking extradition? And do you have any idea why the arrest comes now given that it's - I believe he's been in Russia for quite some time despite the fact the FBI has him on a wanted list.

MR. CASEY: I'm sorry I'm 0-for-2 for you today, Arshad. I don't have any information about that case. I do think it's something you might want to, though, talk with the Department of Justice and the FBI about as well. Certainly, if he is, in fact, someone who's wanted on criminal charges here in the United States, I'm sure the folks at Department of Justice will take a look at that. And if there's a relevant ability to request extradition or treaty commitments that we'd like the Russians to honor on that, I'm sure they'll move forward with it appropriately.

Yeah, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more to say than you did this morning about the attack in Lebanon this morning?

MR. CASEY: I think I pretty much covered it.

QUESTION: Well, what -- do you have any -- are there any particular concerns you have given the intended victim was -- or the victim --

MR. CASEY: The victim, yeah.

QUESTION: Well, one of the victims at least was a pretty significant player in counterterrorism operations.

MR. CASEY: Well, I think it is always a concern when we see these kinds of actions taking place in Lebanon. This certainly isn't the first instance of an attack on someone who is an important figure, either in the security services or in the political establishment there, and it just goes to show that there are forces out there that are trying to undermine Lebanon's legitimate institutions. I think this case, at least as far as I know at this point, fits in with those concerns and that pattern that we've seen. But I don't think it -- at least at this point has raised any special concerns beyond those obvious ones.

QUESTION: Just to follow up --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Were there any reports of American injuries in the blast at all, do you know?

MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of. As far as I know there were no Americans on the scene and fortunately none or killed or injured. Obviously, and I'll just repeat again what I said this morning, Matt, for those that weren't here. This was a terrible act of terrorism and we condemn it and we offer our condolences to Mr. Eid's family as well as the family and loved ones of those other people who were killed or injured in this.

QUESTION: Tom, how many more of these explosions against people that have been in some ways involved in investigating or looking into Syria's role in Lebanon, how many more of these people need to die before the United States comes out and directly accuses Syria or Syrian agents or people operating under behest of Syria of being behind this? I mean, it seems pretty clear to a lot of people who's been doing this. Why is there reticence?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think, Matt, look, we certainly have concerns and we've talked about our concerns repeatedly about Syrian interference in Lebanon, in its internal political affairs. And the whole basis for the international community's actions in Lebanon, including Resolution 1559 and several of its successors, was based on the need to see Syria fully disengaged from Lebanon and remove itself from its internal political process. And there certainly are suspicions out there that you can hear in Lebanon and elsewhere about who was responsible for this and whether Syria or Syria's -- Syrian-related individuals had a hand in this particular incident or any of the others that we've talked about. That said, there's a difference between people's suspicions and what evidence there actually is and where that leads you. And I think all we're doing is trying to make sure that we don't make judgments about issues and incidents where there still is not a clear set of evidence linking things.

So part of the reason why we have, for example, the tribunal and the Brammertz investigative process is so that there can be a real serious investigation of the Hariri assassination, that those responsible can be held accountable. But I don't think it helps anyone for us to make accusations or assert that we know who is responsible unless we in fact do.

QUESTION: Yeah, remind me again when the Hariri assassination was?

MR. CASEY: Matt, I --

QUESTION: I mean, it's getting to the point that it begs credulity for people not to be doing anything about this.

MR. CASEY: Well, again --

QUESTION: Or getting up and speaking their mind about it.

MR. CASEY: Well, again, Matt, I think we've spoken out strongly about our concerns about Syrian involvement. But I don't think you or your colleagues would -- if I stood here and said, "We accuse Syria of being directly involved in this," your first question to me would be, "Based on what?" And if my response is, "Based on the fact that there's many suspicions that they are" - I don't think that's a particularly credible position for us to take. Certainly, we want to see the violence in Lebanon end. And we are working with the Lebanese Government, with Prime Minister Siniora and with other regional partners to make sure that happens. We're also making sure that Syria understands that we do not want to see them interfering in Lebanese politics. I think that message is made loud and clear by any number of actions that we have taken, as well as by actions of our friends and neighbors and the international community at the UN.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, has there ever been any evidence uncovered directly linking in any of these attacks? Has anyone ever been brought to justice? Has anyone ever been prosecuted? Has anyone ever been arrested --

MR. CASEY: You'd have to - Matt --

QUESTION: -- or even directly accused?

MR. CASEY: -- Matt, you'd have to talk to the Lebanese about what their investigations have shown. I think Mr. Brammertz and his predecessor have put forward some reports in terms of the Hariri assassination. We've established a special tribunal to be able to handle those cases specifically. We certainly want to see people brought to justice. But again, there's a difference, I think, a very clear difference between having suspicions and having concerns and being able to assert who is exactly responsible for this.

QUESTION: Well, fair enough, and I'll drop it after this. But you know, the people are getting picked off, one by one --

MR. CASEY: You will? Okay.

QUESTION: I mean people who are either anti-Syrian or who have been involved in investigations into alleged Syrian complicity, they're getting killed. And you know, one - literally - I mean, it's systemically they're being assassinated. When is it the time to stop, you know, talking in broad and vague generalizations about the need for no outside interference to Syria? When is the time for that kind of talk over and when is it time to, you know, call a spade a spade?

MR. CASEY: Well, Matt, I don't think that there is anyone in the international community that has worked harder on behalf of Lebanese sovereignty and Lebanese ability to run their own affairs than the United States. We've played a leadership role in helping rally the international community for support for the people of Lebanon, for the Siniora government for investigation into these crimes that are being committed, for international pressure to be brought to bear on Syria to honor the commitments that it has made, as well as to honor the requirements of international law and we're going to continue to do that. But it's a rough game out there. It's a difficult situation and it's a terrible time in many ways for the people of Lebanon who have suffered tremendously over the years from the dominance any number of outside forces, most particularly Syria.

Samir.

QUESTION: Ambassador Satterfield gave (inaudible) a few days ago and calling for new sanctions on Syria. Are you considering putting new sanctions on Syria?

MR. CASEY: Not sure. I haven't seen comments from David to that effect. As you know, we have the Syrian Accountability Act that is on the books. We have sanctions imposed on Syria through that, as well as through some individual nonproliferation measures. Certainly, we're always looking at those issues and those sanctions that are available to us to see whether there's more that we should be doing.

QUESTION: Despite Syria's presence at Annapolis, is it fair to say that you failed, the U.S. has failed to get them onboard the peace process you launched just a couple of months ago?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, we were pleased to see that Syria did, in fact, attend the conference. We want to see Syria as well as all of Israel's neighbors to be supportive of Israel and the Palestinians as they work towards an agreement on achieving a two state solution. We think that's in everyone's interest. Despite that position gesture on the part of the Syrians, though, their track record remains pretty clear. They continue to provide aid and comfort and support to Palestinian rejectionist groups, including hosting what we talked a little bit about yesterday, which is a conference of those opposed to the Annapolis process. They also continue, as you know, to provide support for Hezbollah and continue to do a number of other steps that are antithetical to their stated desire to see a peaceful resolution of the situation between Israel and Palestine as well as see resolution of their own disputes with Israel.

QUESTION: Have you seen anything positive in terms of support for the peace process in the last two and a half months? It sounds like there's nothing --

MR. CASEY: Well, I can't -- beyond their attendance at the Annapolis conference, I can't say I personally can think of anything off the top of my head that I would view as a particularly supportive effort on the part of the Syrian Government.

QUESTION: Staying on that --

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Or you want to --

QUESTION: I wanted to ask if there have there been any more contacts with the Egyptians or the Israelis or the Palestinians about the situation on Rafah?

MR. CASEY: Nothing at a senior level. The Secretary hasn't made any calls on this. I know that the embassy continues to be in contact with Egyptian officials on this. I'm not sure if David has had any more contact either with the Egyptian Ambassador or Egyptian officials in Cairo. Clearly this is a difficult situation for them. But the Egyptians are moving to try and reestablish control of the border area and we want to certainly encourage them to do so and hope that they will be able to get the situation completely under control in the next few days.

QUESTION: What about Nick Burns?

MR. CASEY: Nick Burns is in Israel. He gave some remarks after his first round of meetings on the strategic dialogue. I'm not aware that this issue was a major topic of discussion there. I think I recall seeing quotes from him saying it really wasn't. But I'd simply have to defer to Nick's own comments. I didn't get a readout from him of his meetings.

Nina.

QUESTION: Just a quick reaction on the Pakistan missile test. Are you at all concerned by these tests?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, we've seen those reports that the Pakistanis have tested a missile. This I understand is a system as reported that has been tested previously. Certainly, again, we want all countries to comply with their international obligations and would not want to see anything done that would destabilize the region. But in this instance, I think this is something that is not unique and has, in fact, happened before.

QUESTION: Okay. And just very quickly on Chavez again, I'm afraid. What's the level of concern with its increasingly close ties with Iran?

MR. CASEY: Well, certainly, we believe that everyone in the international community ought to be working to support UN Security Council resolutions with respect to Iran and with respect to Iran's nuclear program, and that applies to any country in the world. In terms of other relations, though, every country's free to determine for itself who they're going to have diplomatic relations with, who they're going to have trade relations with and at what level. So frankly, that's a decision for the people and the Government of Venezuela to make.

Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:11 p.m.)

DPB # 17



Released on January 25, 2008

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