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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 7, 2008

INDEX:

IRAQ

Terrorist Attack in Baghdad Marketplace
U.S. Condemns This Act of Violence

DEPARTMENT

Meeting of Levinson Family with Deputy Assistant Secretary Feltman
U.S. Will Make Additional Representations to Iranians

GREECE/MACEDONIA

Secretary Rice Consistent in Message to Both Greece and Macedonia
Parties Need to Sit Down Together and Work with Mr. Nimetz
Both countries Must Work Hard at Coming to a Resolution

BELARUS

Ambassador Stewart Has Not Been Expelled
U.S. Embassy Officials in Minsk Continue to Review Situation
Belarusian Government Accusations Against U.S. Sanction Policies
Important to Have High-Level Representation in Minsk

CYPRUS

U.S. Perspective on Cyprus Remains the Same
A Resolution to Cypress Situation Important / Support Efforts of UN Special Representative to Lead to Final Resolution

IRAN

Issue of Gay Iranian Teen Seeking Asylum / Not Familiar with Specifics of Case
Individual Governments of Europe Will Look at Case Within Their Own Laws and Procedures on Asylum
Refer to Department of Treasury for Assessment of Impact of Financial Sanctions
Sanctions of International Community Have Had an Impact on Iran

ARMENIA

No Readout of Envoy Meeting in Armenia / Time for Free Media to Have Right to Publish and Broadcast Now

KOSOVO/SERBIA

Assistant Secretary Fried’s Visit to Kosovo
Protection of Minority Rights in Kosovo an Important Issue
Serbia Relations in European Union and International Community is Up to People Serbia and Their Government

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

U.S. Casualties in Attack on Yeshiva / Condolences
No Justification for Violence


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:56 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Okay. Good afternoon, everybody. Pleased to be here. Happy Friday. Happy weekend upcoming to all of you, I’m sure. May it be a pleasant one. I don’t have anything to start you guys off with, so let’s see what’s on your minds.

Yeah.

QUESTION: As you know, the – al-Qaida’s attacks in Baghdad on Thursday killed more than 50 people and I think that there are some fears that it will lead to more civil unrest in Iraq, similar to what occurred in 2006. What’s your reaction to that, in light of the upcoming report to Congress on the progress report being made in Iraq?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I’d point you to the statement that General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker made this morning about the tragic incident and the terrible, terrorist attack that happened in Baghdad in the marketplace yesterday. Obviously we condemn this act of violence. It is another example of what the Government of Iraq and we are fighting against there. The people involved certainly have no respect for innocent life, have no respect for the will or the interests of the Iraqi people and that’s why it’s important that we continue to work with them to be able to bring down the levels of violence, provide greater security for the Iraqi people and allow them to move forward with what they have been doing in recent weeks and months, which is making progress on the kinds of political reforms and reconciliation that’s ultimately going to be required for Iraq to be a stable and secure country and a full participant in the international community.

Yeah, Libby.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the meeting with the Levinson family. They were here yesterday at the State Department. What came out of that meeting, if anything? And is there any new developments that you can fill us in on?

MR. CASEY: Sure. Well, first of all, we’ve been in very close contact with the Levinson family throughout the past year. And it unfortunately now is a year since Mr. Levinson went missing from Kish Island in Iran. And this was another opportunity to speak with her and to talk with her about what we can all try and do to help her and help her family get information about the whereabouts of her husband and see him safely returned to them. The meeting took place with Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeff Feltman and several representatives from our Consular Affairs Bureau. And certainly we believe that after a year has gone by that the Iranian Government certainly must have or be able to obtain information on Mr. Levinson’s whereabouts – information that will help us find him and reunite him with his family. And this was another opportunity to speak with her about how we can continue to work through our projecting power of the Swiss, through other friendly governments as well as use discussions like this with the media to be able to encourage the Iranians to do what they ought to have done a long time ago, which is seriously look at this issue, look at all information that might be available, provide that to us and help us find Mr. Levinson.

QUESTION: Will you be taking any new or different initiatives to try to bring about a different result?

MR. CASEY: Well, what we’re going to try and do is make additional representations to the Iranians on this. We are going to continue to push them. But unfortunately, they hold the key here. And we certainly hope that they would want to resolve this issue. This isn’t a political issue. This is an issue about an individual who’s gone missing, who went missing from Iran, a place where there are very close tabs kept on foreigners. And in a situation in which we certainly have concerns that a year has gone by and we have not heard from him. So we want to do everything that we can to be able to get the Iranians to respond on what is, again, a basic humanitarian effort. It’s about trying to reunite a husband and a father with his family, it’s -- no reason why they should want to do anything else other than support it and quite frankly, we’re baffled by the lack of support that we’ve gotten from them on this.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On FYROM, Mr. Casey, according to AFP dispatched from Brussels, quoting a diplomat, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “had urged the ministers not to force Greece to commit political suicide, as ceding over the issue could provoke nationalists and to – add to tensions with Turkey and elsewhere in the Balkans.” May we have your comments?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I’m sure Lach and his news organization appreciate the plug for AFP, but what I can tell you is Secretary Rice and all of us in the Administration have been very consistent in our message to both the Government of Greece and the Government of Macedonia. We believe that the way forward is for them to work with Mr. Nimetz and his good offices and the UN to resolve the name issue. That is still our policy. That’s what we want to see happen.

QUESTION: According to Washington Post today, “Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis reiterated Thursday that Athens believes the name ‘Republic of Macedonia’ is a backdoor attempt to claim sovereignty over a Greek -- named Macedonia.” Do you share the Greek concerns, Mr. Casey?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, what we know is this is a dispute between Greece and Macedonia. It’s a dispute that’s not going to be resolved by The Washington Post and there’s no one here from that news organization to thank you for that plug. To do that, what we need to see is the parties sit down together, work with Mr. Nimetz, and come up with a mutually acceptable conclusion.

Charlie, I saw you had something.

QUESTION: Same issue.

MR. CASEY: Same issue? All right. Then we’ll go over to you, Charlie.

QUESTION: Mr. Fried is in Skopje tonight, as I understand. Can you tell us if he’s going to Greece also?

MR. CASEY: Well, I also should mention that Dan Fried, the Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, was also in Kosovo today and actually is the senior-most U.S. official to visit that country since its declaration of independence. Dan there was talking to government officials about the way forward as we continue to take steps to implement the Ahtisaari plan. I believe that he has now arrived in Skopje, but certainly, part of Dan’s message as well as any of our messages to the Government of Macedonia as well as the Government of Greece on this is that they need to work together and work hard at coming to a resolution on this issue that’s mutually acceptable under the auspices of Mr. Nimetz.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Tom, we’re getting some conflicting information about the latest spat between Belarus and the United States. Is the United States Ambassador being withdrawn? What do you hear?

MR. CASEY: Okay. Let me try and clarify. The initial reports, the press reports that we got this morning had indicated that she had been expelled from the country or formally told she must leave. That is not true. She – Ambassador Stewart has not been expelled. The Belarusian Government has suggested -- I think that’s the polite phrase -- that she return to the United States for consultations. She is in Minsk and she’ll remain in Minsk while we continue to review the situation. It’s important, we think, to have our Embassy there in Minsk and to have high-level diplomatic representation there to engage with the Belarusian Government on a number of concerns, including some of the ones you’ve heard us speak about, which is the need to release all political prisoners, including Mr. Kozulin, as well as the other issues concerning us about Belarus’ actions in a variety of places.

Since a number of you asked before, let me just say that how, having now heard back from the Ambassador we understand things to have happened, about 3 o'clock today the heads of OSCE missions were convoked by the Belarusian Foreign Minister Ministry specifically to meet with the Deputy Foreign Minister. Our Ambassador was not permitted into that meeting, but was kept outside it. During that meeting, we understand from those present, the Belarusian Government made a number of accusations against the United States and suggested strongly that our Ambassador should leave. She was then called into a separate meeting afterwards and was then told again that the Belarusian Government believed that she should leave the country and also talked about a number of other possible restrictions on the movements of diplomats and other things that they might be trying to impose.

So that is sort of the timeline for us. As of noon today at least, we have not been informed that the Belarusian Government has had their Ambassador actually leave the country, though they certainly have indicated that they intend to bring him back to Minsk for consultations. That, of course, is an internal decision of the Belarusian Government. We’d leave it up to them.

Again, I’d point out, though, that I think we’re deeply disappointed that the government in Belarus would choose to put forward these kinds of ideas and accusations. We have said -- and I refer you back to the statement we made just, I believe, last week, that we are appreciative of the fact that they have released several of the political prisoners. And we, in fact, noted at the time that if they were to release the remaining political prisoners, very specifically Mr. Kozulin, then we might be in a position to engage with them and begin a dialogue on how we might be able to improve relations. But frankly, if the Belarusian Government wishes to shoot itself in the foot, they're welcome to do so.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: And how lengthy will this review period be and what specifically will you be looking at while the Ambassador remains in place?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think, obviously, when you take a look at exactly what the Belarusian Government's actions are and see whether they intend to follow up on any number of these issues. But again, we think that it's important for us to have high-level representation in Minsk, and our Ambassador has not been expelled and I don't expect any change in her status, barring some new developments.

Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) More specific about the accusations that were leveled against the U.S. in this meeting that you –

MR. CASEY: This relates primarily to their concerns about our sanctions policies.

Yeah, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Cyprus. Mr. Casey, UN Deputy Spokesperson Marie Okabe stated yesterday, "The Secretary General Special Representative in Cyprus, Michael Moeller, said that the status quo in Cyprus is unacceptable and the settlement is in the interest of all Cypriots in the region." May we have your comment since the U.S. Government is very much involved to find a solution?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'd leave the UN to speak for the UN. But, Mr. Lambros, our perspective on Cyprus remains the same. We believe it's very important that there be a resolution of the situation in Cyprus. We think it's important that the leaders -- the Government of Cyprus as well as the leaders of the Turkish Cypriot community have expressed an interest in speaking to one another and engaging in dialogue on this issue. I think that's very important. And of course we will be supportive of the efforts of the UN Special Representative to help come to a resolution of this situation. And again, as you know, we've supported those efforts over time. Hopefully, we will get to the point where it leads to a final resolution.

QUESTION: Are you going to take any initiative to this effect?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I think at this point, our role is to be supportive of the UN process. I'm not aware of any new initiatives in the offing, no.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Tom, I wonder if you have any comment about a gay Iranian teenager in Europe seeking asylum from various European countries, worried that if he returns to Iran he'll face the death penalty, what reaction you have and whether the United States has or will play any role in this?

MR. CASEY: Well, gee, I'm tempted to note that in his remarks at Columbia University, President Ahmadi-Nejad asserted that there were no gays in Iran. Maybe he meant that he's kicked them all out of the country.

Look, I'm not familiar with the specifics of this case. Certainly, though, we don't think that anybody should face criminal persecution for speaking out, pursuing their beliefs or for being who they are. That is a longstanding matter of U.S. policy. If you look at our Human Rights Report, it talks in some detail about the persecution that people face in Iran from a whole -- for a whole variety of issues, including for their minority status. So obviously, that's an issue of concern to us. Certainly, I'm sure that individual governments in Europe will look at this case in light of their own national laws and procedures in terms of asylum and make appropriate decisions based on that.

Yeah, Lach.

QUESTION: Anything new on the envoy's trip to Armenia?

MR. CASEY: I don't have any readout from that. He is in Armenia today. He's meeting with both government and opposition officials, though clearly his main message going in there was to tell the government that the time to lift the emergency law is now. The time to let free media have the right to publish and broadcast in Armenia is now. And the time to engage with the opposition in a serious dialogue is now.

Charlie, again. Yeah.

QUESTION: On another --

MR. CASEY: It's okay, keep going.

QUESTION: On an unrelated topic. From your vantage point, can you respond to some recent comments that U.S. action against several state-owned banks in Iran, back in October, has not been as successful as the United States would like?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not sure. I don't think I read through any particular reports on that. And frankly, I'd have to let you talk to our friends at the Department of Treasury for any kind of assessment of the impact of financial sanctions. They really are the experts on this.

But what I can tell you is this, the sanctions that the United States has put in place on Iran, the sanctions that the international community has put on Iran through UN Security Council resolutions, have had an impact on Iran's standing in the world, on Iran's ability to attract investment, on Iran’s ability to do business with other countries. And that’s an important thing. It’s part of our pressure on the Iranian Government to change its policies and to engage in negotiations over its nuclear program.

So I can’t offer you a specific assessment of the, you know, details on the impact of any of these measures, but we do think that individually and collectively they are having an impact on the situation in Iran and we hope they will have sufficient impact that they’ll cause the Iranians to rethink their basic decisions on their nuclear program.

QUESTION: I think one aspect of this is that since this is only United States action, followed certainly by some major European allies, some of Iran’s allies and some banks in the Mideast have stepped into that vacuum and have eliminated any impact caused by the United States.

MR. CASEY: Well, look, I think that any time you have a country that’s under Chapter 7 sanction that is a pretty powerful inducement to people to at least think twice, if not limit their engagement with that country. I think that it’s pretty clear to most of us that Iran has not been able to do business as usual with most of the rest of the world. Does that mean that they are completely cut off from the rest of the world? Certainly not, and the sanctions don’t intend to do that. What the sanctions intend to do is get at those instruments of power that are directly and actively supporting their nuclear program, directly and actively supporting their terrorist activities and their support for terrorist groups around the Middle East. And that, I think, is occurring and I think that’s having an impact. And the fact that they are forced to try and find ways around this, I think makes it pretty clear that they haven’t been able to proceed as they would like.

Okay, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Kosovo. Mr. Casey, Moscow stated yesterday that Kosovo’s declaration of independence has led to the de facto partitioning of the Serb-dominated north from the rest of the country. Are you concerned about this division?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I think Dan Fried already responded to those comments in Kosovo, and I’ll just point you to them. Look, we think that certainly the protection of minority rights in Kosovo is a very important issue. It’s incorporated into the Ahtisaari plan for that very reason. But we certainly don’t think it would be appropriate to talk about anything other than Kosovo proceeding forward independently as a whole and free country.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, do you know how large is the Turkish minority in Kosovo, since Ankara is trying to impose as the official language the Turkish language, too?

MR. CASEY: I haven’t taken a poll recently. Seriously, Mr. Lambros, you can ask the Kosovo Government for statistics on their population. I don’t have them.

QUESTION: And the last one. The Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica stated yesterday that Serbia should be Kosovo above Europe, Kosovo-Serbia, he said specifically. Any comment?

MR. CASEY: Sounds like he’s repeating his oft-stated position and view. Ours is the same; it’s not changed by any comments he’s made.

QUESTION: But about Europe, he says.

MR. CASEY: Sorry, I didn’t -- try me again, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: He said specifically that Serbia should put Kosovo above Europe, so otherwise he is not interested to join the European Union unless --

MR. CASEY: Well, if -- you know, the issues of Serbia’s relations with the European Union, with individual member-states, with the rest of the international community will be up to the Serbian Government to decide. Certainly, we want to see Serbia take its rightful place in the community of European nations. We want it to have a positive relationship with us, with the European Union and with the individual members of it. But obviously, how Serbia chooses to pursue its relations with any and all of those will be up to the people of Serbia and their government.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Libby.

QUESTION: Do you have any -- we talked about this at the gaggle -- any further information on the American killed in Jerusalem last night or the status of the person that was injured?

MR. CASEY: I don’t. I can say that, as you know, one person was killed and one injured -- American citizens, sorry. One American citizen was killed and one injured in the attack on the Yeshiva yesterday. The individual who was injured is hospitalized in stable condition, and we certainly hope and pray for their speedy recovery and send our condolences to the family of the individual killed. Again, I can’t offer you details about them or give you their names simply for Privacy Act considerations.

And I should also just note as well what the Secretary and others have said in response to this. This is a terrible act of terror and we extend our condolences to all those who were injured and to the families of all those killed in this incident. There is absolutely no justification for this kind of violence, and it just points out again why there really so desperately needs to be a resolution of the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians, why the Annapolis process needs to move forward and why there needs to be a negotiated settlement that allows for a Palestinian state that can be fully free and independent but can also assure the Israelis that it will be a good neighbor to them and resolve this longstanding issue. But that is the way forward, not the path of violence, not the nihilistic path that Hamas is trying to offer people.

Sounds like thank you to me, guys. Happy Friday.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:17 p.m.)

#DPB/42



Released on March 7, 2008

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