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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 6, 2008

INDEX:

BRAZIL/CHILE

Secretary Rice’s Travel to Brazil and Chile, March 13-15
Purpose and Agenda for Secretary Rice’s Visit
Travel by Secretaries of State to Region

CUBA

EU Official’s Visit to Cuba

COLOMBIA/ECUADOR/VENEZUELA

OAS Consensus Resolution
Prospects for Discussion of Issue during Secretary Rice’s Travel to Region
President Chavez’s Plan to Block Colombian Imports/Investments
U.S.-Colombia Cooperative Relationship on Variety of Issues
Documents/Evidence on Captured FARC Laptop / Shannon Testimony

RUSSIA

Arrest of Viktor Bout in Thailand
Prospects for Bout Extradition to U.S. / Outstanding U.S. Warrant
U.S.-Russia Contacts/Discussions on Possible 2+2 Meeting
Timeline for Naming New U.S. Ambassador

TURKEY/IRAQ

Iraqi President Talabani Visit to Turkey

SYRIA

U.S. Coast Guard Placement of Syria on the Port Security Advisory List

UKRAINE

Ukrainian Prime Minister Meeting with Secretary Rice in Brussels

IRAN/IRAQ

No Meeting Scheduled for Security Talks

CHINA

Official U.S. Attendance at Olympic Games in Beijing

KOSOVO

Border Discussions
NATO Operations in Kosovo


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:57 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Well, good afternoon, guys. Let me just start with one quick travel announcement and we'll have a paper copy of this available for you a little later. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to Brazil and Chile from March 13 to 15. In Brazil she looks forward to meeting with President Lula Da Silva as well as her Foreign Minister counterpart, talk about a wide range of bilateral and regional issues, including our cooperation on biofuels. While she's in Brazil, she's also going to be traveling, in addition to Brasilia, to Salvador da Bahia. In Santiago, Chile, she'll meet with President Michelle Bachelet as well as Foreign Minister Foxley and, again, will be talking about a broad range of regional issues, including strengthening our bilateral relationship and the extensive trade and economic relations we have with that country. And again, I think this will be an important opportunity for the Secretary to meet with two significant regional partners.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Can you explain in any greater detail why she's going? And I understand the importance of bilateral relations with these countries and I know you alluded to the biofuels cooperation and -- you know, with Brazil and trade with Chile. But is there any other sort of simple reason or focus for the trip? And secondly, why the trip outside of Brasilia in Brazil?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'll -- we'll try and make sure we have an opportunity for Tom Shannon or someone else to give you a sort of broader brief on this before she goes out. But with Brazil, I think, a biofuels initiative is something that's important. It's something the Secretary helped to launch, and that is an issue of concern for us. Brazil is, obviously, a very important player, not only in the region but globally, on this, one of the countries that we have been working with to, for example, bring into our major economies process, to work out arrangements for them and others, to work on issues related to climate change.

We also, of course, as we've seen at the OAS in the last couple of days, Brazil is a very important player in terms of leading the hemisphere and working with other partners in the region to help deal with some of the other -- some of the situations that are out there, some of the political issues of concern, and this is, in that sense, just a continuation of those discussions. Tom Shannon will tell you that we've had a variety of meetings here with Brazilian officials this week, in fact, specifically focusing on issues related to energy cooperation, but also on strengthening some of our economic ties as well.

Salvador da Bahia, there's a couple of individual events that are happening there, and I'll try and provide you a little more information about them. It's certainly an important region of that country. It's one that also has tremendous cultural significance to it. And I'll try and get you a little more information about the events there, but I want to make sure that we've got them all set and in place before I do.

In terms of Chile, of course, we have a significant and important free trade agreement with Chile. I think that free trade agreement is very much a model for the kinds of regional accords, including the FTA with Colombia, that has been signed and that we're very hopeful Congress will choose to act upon in the not-too-distant future. This is, again, a country with which we've had significant relations, worked with them on a variety of international issues, including -- during Chile's time previously on the UN Security Council. And again, it's an important opportunity to talk with them, work on strengthening some of those economic ties as well as talking about broader regional concerns.

QUESTION: Can I just -- one quick one -- staying in the region. European Union Commissioner Louis Michel is supposed to arrive in Cuba today and is supposed to meet at some point, Raul Castro. One, what does the U.S. Government think about a senior-level European contact like that with Raul Castro? And secondly, did U.S. -- did the U.S. Government, at any level, seek to discourage such a visit by Commissioner Michel?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, it's up to the EU, just like it is any of its individual member states, to decide how it wants to conduct its diplomatic relations with Cuba or with any other country. This is a decision they've made. Certainly, we aren't promoting engagement or more engagement with Cuba at this point in time; specifically, because we believe it's important that this new regime show that it's going to be different than the government of Fidel Castro. But this is a decision that the European Union has made and we certainly hope and expect that the message that Commissioner Michel as well as the message any other representative of a democratic country will bring to Cuba is the same one that we've been saying, that we want to see this government show that it's committed to change and do so by releasing political prisoners, by restoring human rights to the Cuban people and ultimately by committing themselves to free and fair elections.

QUESTION: You said that the U.S. Government has not been promoting contacts with the new Cuban Government as it were at this point. Did the U.S. Government, at any level, seek to discourage the trip by Mr. Michel?

MR. CASEY: Well, Arshad, I’m not sure of the, you know, extent of our consultations with the EU or with individual member states on it. But we have a longstanding dialogue with them. Again, certainly we’re not, you know, actively promoting any kinds of discussions like this, but I’m not aware that we had any particular desire to stop this from happening. And again, it’s up to the EU to decide how they want to manage their relations. They have had longstanding contacts with Cuba and obviously, their diplomatic relations with Cuba in general has been rather different than ours.

QUESTION: So you don’t know if you sought to discourage it or you asked and were given to understand that you didn’t seek to discourage it or --

MR. CASEY: You know, Arshad, I honestly didn’t look into – I looked into the subject of what our views were on the visit. I didn’t look into what our consultations had been. I think if you look at our statements on this as well as those that have been made by some of the European officials, I think there’s a great deal of convergence in what we want to see happen in Cuba. And we are confident that whether it’s Commissioner Michel or others, that they will be putting forward the clear idea that Cuba needs to change its policies.

Yeah, Bob.

QUESTION: I’m assuming that Secretary Rice will discuss the situation in Colombia and the border there and also how to deal with the FARC when she goes to Brazil and Chile. Is that right?

MR. CASEY: Well, given that it’s a topic of great concern in the region right now -- we’ve just seen an OAS resolution passed on that that establishes a commission under the leadership of Secretary General Insulza to look into this – I would expect that it would be a subject that came up, but I certainly wouldn’t expect it to dominate the conversation. But to the extent that it is on people’s minds, certainly, I would expect it to be raised.

QUESTION: Well, I wonder if Secretary Rice would be a little more aggressive on that than to wait for it to come up? Because, you know, you’ve been saying and it’s no surprise that you would like united action in the – or a united front, a united approach to the problems that are going on now between Venezuela and Colombia, Ecuador and Colombia. Isn’t this an occasion for her to try to rally strong – “Well, you didn’t do too well at the OAS?”

MR. CASEY: I would respectfully disagree, Barry. We joined the consensus at the OAS and I think the OAS has created a very positive approach to resolving the differences between Colombia and Ecuador. Look, Barry, you know, she is on the road right now. I believe she’s actually addressed this subject in her press conference in Brazil, in – sorry, in Brussels, another B, and I’d commend those remarks to you. What I simply can’t tell you is, since I haven’t had a chance to talk with her since she’s been on the road and since I certainly haven’t had a detailed set of presentations on the specifics of her discussions. All I’m trying to tell you is that while I would expect it would be a subject that came up in the discussions, it’s not the reason for her visit, nor would I expect it to dominate the conversations.

QUESTION: No, it’s just that you made it a -- you approached it in a passive construction, and I would think that --

MR. CASEY: That’s just my bad grammar.

QUESTION: No, no, not bad grammar. What can you say, if anything, about Venezuela’s stated intention of cutting trade with Colombia? Some might call it economic warfare, but Chavez is trying to -- is vowing to cut off imports from Colombia. There’s a lot of food that gets in that’s very important to the Colombian -- to the Venezuelan people.

MR. CASEY: Well, look, we’ve talked about this issue in a number of different ways. But again, this is a dispute between Colombia and Ecuador. We believe there’s a positive way forward that the OAS has laid out. We would hope that all other countries in the region, including Venezuela, would support that.

I think most of us, including I think most countries in the region, are puzzled by the insistence on Venezuela’s part to try and insert itself into an issue that, frankly, doesn't really concern them. The only issue that should concern them is the possibility and the probability that the FARC has also used Venezuelan territory or Venezuelan resources to conduct their operations against Colombia and Colombian citizens. And we’d certainly hope that the Venezuelans would join in an effort to resolving this problem rather than issuing declarations about how they intend to not work with or not cooperate with Colombia.

Yeah, David.

QUESTION: Tom, just a -- related to the trip, by my calculations, in the Bush Administration the Secretary of State has spent, I think, a total of four hours in Argentina over these eight years, and I’m just -- and there have been several SecState visits to Chile and Brazil. I’m wondering, is this a -- is this giving that government the cold shoulder? It’s a big player in that region.

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, David, I would hate for anyone to think that whether there is a visit from any individual official, that that is the sole way to measure and balance the relationship. We have a great ambassador in Argentina right now in Tony Wayne, who I think most of you know and was the Assistant Secretary for Economic and Business Affairs for a long time and also a senior official in other bureaus of this building as well. He is working very well there along to move forward our relations with Argentina.

It’s a very important country in the region. It’s one with which we do have good relations and intend to maintain them. So I certainly wouldn't look at the lack of her traveling to Argentina or any of the other countries in the region that she’s not visiting as a sign of displeasure or a lack of appreciation for the role that country plays or our relationship with it.

Let’s go --

QUESTION: Can I have one quick one?

MR. CASEY: One quick one.

QUESTION: Even though it wasn’t announced, this trip was planned certainly well before the eruption of the Ecuador-Colombia dispute?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. No, that’s true. This is a trip that’s been in the works for some time, and the timing of it isn’t related to the recent events between Colombia and Ecuador.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Lach.

QUESTION: Viktor Bout -- this morning I asked about him. And, apparently, the Drug Enforcement Agency is looking for him because he’s allegedly selling weapons to the FARC.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, my understanding -- well, my understanding is there’s at least one outstanding warrant for him. I believe the DEA might have more information about that for you. I also understand our friends at the Department of Justice may have something to say about this later today, so I’ll defer to them until they’ve made any announcements on this.

Certainly though, anyone who is a fugitive from justice, whether in the U.S. or any other country, it’s a good thing to see them brought into custody and it’d be a good thing to see them face trial for charges that are against them.

QUESTION: But did the U.S. Government have any role in his arrest?

MR. CASEY: I would defer to the U.S. law enforcement agencies to talk to you about that. I’m really not aware of the specifics of whether there was or wasn’t any direct U.S. participation. I do know, as I said, that there is a U.S. warrant for his arrest.

Yeah, Viola.

QUESTION: Do you have any anticipation -- does the State Department have any anticipation that the U.S. will seek to extradite Bout to the U.S.?

MR. CASEY: That would be a very good question to ask my friends and colleagues at the Department of Justice.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, do you have anything to say about Iraq President Talabani visit – starts tomorrow to Turkey?

MR. CASEY: Sorry, President Talabani’s visit to Turkey? Well, first of all, as you know, we encourage contacts, good neighborly relations between Iraq and Turkey. There are a lot of important issues on the agenda between the two countries, not only ensuring good cooperation in the fight against the PKK, but also a variety of things related to the economic relations between the countries as well as the very positive role that Turkey’s been playing in supporting the neighbors process between Iraq and the various other countries in the region. So we’re pleased to see that visit move forward, hope they have a good, productive set of discussions and I’m sure both parties will brief us about them after the fact.

Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: Yes, the U.S. Coastal Guard announced measures today that will lead to discouraging international ships to visit Syria. Do you have anything on this?

MR. CASEY: A little bit, though you may, Samir, want to talk to my friends both at the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security about this. But my understanding is that the Coast Guard has now placed Syria on something called the Port Security Advisory list. What this means is that because of concerns about the connections between Syria and international terrorist organizations, what this will allow is for the Coast Guard to impose some additional port security measures to ships traveling to or arriving in U.S. ports that have previously been either departing from Syria or have called on Syrian ports, as I understand it, within their last five ports of call.

Yeah.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. CASEY: Works for me.

QUESTION: Oddly, there has been some discussions between Russians and U.S. officials on the upcoming 2+2 meeting and I guess now they speak about the possibility of meeting in Moscow vis-à-vis Washington as it was planned before. Can you announce anything on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, I know there are discussions ongoing. We’ve, of course, had an opportunity for 2+2 meetings, Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates with their Russian counterparts in the past, and look forward to having similar meetings in the not-too-distant future. But at this point, as far as I know, there hasn’t been any final arrangements made and I don’t have any announcements for you either as to date or location.

Yeah, David.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice met with the Prime Minister of Ukraine after her NATO news conference and I was just wondering if you had any readout on --

MR. CASEY: I honestly don’t. I’d have to defer to the party on that one.

Barry.

QUESTION: I haven’t checked, so if I’m asking you something that’s already out, I apologize. On the business of setting a meeting with Iran in Baghdad; you remember there was --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: There was a rumor that it was going to be today and you scotched that.

MR. CASEY: Right, yeah. We talked about it yesterday. I don’t have any – really anything new to offer you beyond what we said yesterday. We’re still willing to have such a meeting. We’ll be in conversations with the Iraqis about it, but there’s nothing scheduled as of yet.

Yeah, Susan.

QUESTION: Representative Frank Wolf said he’s going to introduce an amendment banning any federal funds for any federal official or worker to go to the Olympics in China this year. I just wondered if you know, are any State Department officials going?

MR. CASEY: I have absolutely no idea. I don’t think the – they’re – the President has said he is going. I’m not sure who would be part of his official delegation. It wouldn't surprise me if individual embassy employees who are in Beijing might want to try and get tickets as private citizens to go. But I, you know, at this point in time, certainly couldn't speak of any official plans for that. I don’t think any of those have been made.

In terms of proposed legislation, I hadn’t heard that Congressman Wolf was intending to do so. Obviously, we’ll continue to talk with him about it and see what legislation he puts forward.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Kosovo. Mr. Casey, the occupied Kosovo is claiming now 20,000 acres from FYROM. The Skopjan president, Branko Crvenkovski, rejected yesterday from Bulgaria, where he is on official visit, the request of Pristina to proceed first with the recognition of Kosovo and then they will discuss the differences over the border line. I am wondering, Mr. Casey, what is your position on this border dispute since Hashim Thaci is your puppet and Kosovo is your creation, keeping into consideration that Kosovo never recognized the border agreement reached between Serbia and FYROM in 2001.

MR. CASEY: Ate your Wheaties this morning, huh, Mr. Lambros?

QUESTION: It’s an issue right now.

MR. CASEY: Well, look, first of all, the independent and sovereign nation of Kosovo, as recognized by the United States and many other countries, including the majority of EU nations, has its own government that can speak for itself and operates on the basis of the votes of the people of Kosovo and serves their interests and not anyone else’s.

In terms of any existing disputes between Kosovo and Macedonia or any other countries, we’d certainly encourage people to resolve those issues peacefully and through discussions of them. I’m sure in this case that that can happen. In terms of how other countries choose to make determinations on the timing or nature of their recognition of Kosovo, that’s obviously up to them, though certainly we’d like all countries to do so.

QUESTION: What do -- what is your position on the changing borders? I do remember you said many, many times that you’re not going to allow that happening in the Balkans.

MR. CASEY: Our position, Mr. Lambros, is where disputes exist, people should work them out amicably and peaceably.

Yeah.

QUESTION: One follow-up?

MR. CASEY: Let’s go around here to this -- him, and then we’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: Actually I wanted to change subject if --

MR. CASEY: That’s okay.

QUESTION: -- if it’s okay.

MR. CASEY: We’ll come back to it again.

QUESTION: Going back to the whole issue of crisis between Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador, and I’m aware of the statements made by Secretaries Rice and Gates. But the possibility of U.S. military or otherwise assistance to Colombia, do we have any legally binding treaties or executive agreements which would, you know, oblige you to help them if, God forbid, something happens again?

MR. CASEY: Well, we have a longstanding cooperative relationship with Colombia on a wide variety of issues. That includes extensive assistance to combat drug trafficking, among other things, through Plan Colombia. We’ve got a extensive economic relationship and we have a free trade agreement which, of course, is still pending ratification by the Congress. You know, I’m not aware of the full length and breadth and extent of all U.S. agreements involving Colombia. But I can tell you, I think the President made our views on this subject pretty clear the other day, and I'd just refer you back to those.

Yeah, Lach.

QUESTION: You said on Monday that you didn't know of any U.S. role in the strike on the FARC. Can you say anything more about that today?

MR. CASEY: I don't have any new information to share with you on it, sorry.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Colombian Government has shared with you its evidence that was on that captured laptop that seemed to say that the Venezuelan Government had provided assistance in --

MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of. I understand they have intentions on presenting some of this material to the OAS broadly, but I'm not aware that we've received any of it. I certainly can't speak for other agencies of government, but I don't think any of it is here.

QUESTION: Tom, just for the record, I believe Assistant Secretary Shannon referred to some of the evidence that the Colombians have told the U.S. about, if I'm correct, during his testimony yesterday.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: But that they hadn't seen the hard drive or the computer.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, that's my understanding is that, you know, we've certainly -- they've spoken about this. But in terms of -- people are saying, well, can we confirm this? Can we say that this is true? Have we, you know, examined the physical evidence? As far as I know, that hasn't happened.

Okay, Mr. Lambros, we'll give you one more.

QUESTION: On Kosovo again. Mr. Casey --

MR. CASEY: There's a surprise.

QUESTION: There's a military base (inaudible) in Bondsteel, Serbian territory of Kosovo is guarded today by 17,000 Albanians armed up to the teeth by U.S. weapons. Do you know how much money your government has spent to this effect, and did you sign any kind of political or diplomatic agreement for this base?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I appreciate your obsession with Camp Bondsteel. It's a fine military facility. It's part of the NATO operations there. And I'm sure my friends at the Pentagon will be happy to provide you with the same testimony that's been provided to members of Congress that details the expenditures there. That's enough on that one. Yeah.

QUESTION: We've got on. Last one.

MR. CASEY: We've got one more. All right.

QUESTION: One last one. I think Williams Burns has already left Moscow or he is on his way here. Who's the new -- who's going to be the new ambassador?

MR. CASEY: That would be a decision that the White House will make. I'm not aware that there's been a decision on a new ambassador, but I'm sure they will announce it as soon as they have one.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:22 p.m.)

DPB # 41



Released on March 6, 2008

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