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Daily Press Briefing (Corrected)
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 18, 2008

INDEX:

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

Reports of Yemen-Brokered Solution / Support for Efforts of Abbas, Fayyad
U.S. Concerns with Hamas as a Terrorist and Political Organization
How Palestinians Organize their Government is a Decision for Them
U.S. Supporting the Legitimate Government of the Palestinian Authority

TURKEY

Strong U.S. Support for Turkish Democratic Secularism

IRAQ

Progress in Iraq After the Surge / Violence Down / Progress on Legislation
Inevitable that there will be Difficulties During Reconciliation Process
U.S. Believes in the Desire of Iraqi Leaders to Reach Compromise
General Petraeus, Ambassador Crocker’s Upcoming Congressional Testimony

ALBANIA

U.S. Condolences for Those Injured in Explosion at Arms Depot
Resignation of Defense Minister an Internal Matter for Albanians to Address

YEMEN

Mortar Rounds Fired in Vicinity of U.S. Embassy / Sympathies to Victims
Status of Embassy / Closed Today, Closed to Public Tomorrow

MACEDONIA

Activities of A/S Fried / Working on Behalf of the U.S. to Support Parties
Goal is for Greece and Macedonia to Mutually Agree to Resolve Name Issue

DEPARTMENT

Status of Under Secretary for Political Affairs


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:39 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, good afternoon, guys. Happy day after St. Patrick's Day. I don't have anything to start you all out with, so Arshad.

QUESTION: Tom, there's -- I don't know if you would have had a chance to have seen this, but there was a report that came out of Aden suggesting that a senior Hamas official is open to a sort of Yemen-brokered solution on the Gaza Strip. Did you get a chance to see that report?

MR. CASEY: I did get a chance just -- right before I came out here. I think, though, Arshad, while I'm not familiar with the details of this, I think our views on this remain quite clear. We're supporting the efforts of President Abbas, Prime Minister Fayyad and their government, both in terms of developing a negotiated solution and resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the creation of a Palestinian state that can live side by side in peace with Israel. And of course, we're also committed to seeing that state and that government be able to honor those commitments that it makes.

And of course, as you know, the main concern that we've always had with Hamas is that, in addition to its status as a terrorist group, is as a "political" organization, its inability to honor any of the Quartet principles, including recognizing Israel's right to exist, acknowledging the basis of the agreements that have established the Palestinian Authority in the first place, and, of course, most importantly, eschewing violence and terror.

So certainly, ultimately, there has to be, as the Secretary has said, a resolution of the internal conflict, if you will, among the Palestinian people. But we would certainly hope that any solution that would be reached would be one that would be in accordance with the views that President Abbas has spoken about and represent, we believe, the vast majority of Palestinian people's desire for a peaceful settlement of the situation with Israel.

QUESTION: Well, the reason I ask about it is that the Hamas official is quoted as saying that they found the idea acceptable -- the idea would be a return to the status quo ante in the Gaza Strip, and the holding -- status quo ante meaning before the Hamas violent takeover of it in June of '07, and the holding of quick elections to determine the will of the people. And I wonder why the idea of such a resolution is not somehow acceptable to you guys, particularly since it might allow for sort of an electoral outcome.

MR. CASEY: Well, ultimately, it's not for us to determine how the Palestinians wish to organize elections or organize their national government. I'm not aware that President Abbas has expressed any interest in having the situation return to the previous -- to status quo ante. I think it'd be a little hard to do under the circumstances, just practically. I think it's a little hard -- certainly, if you asked the people in Gaza, I think they'd be pretty hard-pressed to simply ignore the illegal takeover that Hamas engaged in, and particularly the repression of many of those associated with Fatah that's gone on since then.

So, you know, look, I think we'll leave it to President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad to make the determinations as to how they wish to proceed. But clearly, you know, from our perspective, the decisions in this regard belong to them.

QUESTION: But ,if I may, the position of U.S. has been for a long time that the Palestinians have to make choices, the choice between peace and the choice between terrorism. If you don't give them the opportunity to have elections, how can they express their choice?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, let's -- first of all, let's start with what I've seen is about a 100-word wire service story. So I'm unprepared, for you, to give a very specific and formal U.S. Government, concerted reaction to something I saw 15 minutes ago. But I think as a matter of general policy, we've made it quite clear that, you know, we are supporting the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority. That is President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. That is who we will be continuing to work with. Our concerns about Hamas while in government were quite clear, and I don't think that there is any value at this point in trying to somehow undo what's already gone on.

Ultimately, though, yes, of course, the Palestinian people and the Israeli people will have to ratify and support any agreement that is reached between their leaders. And that's right and proper and we expect that will happen. And we would expect that an agreement that was reached between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas for a final settlement would be overwhelmingly supported by Palestinians as well as Israelis, because we believe that those two communities overwhelmingly do want to live in peace and do support that idea. And certainly, we hope to get to a point where there will be an opportunity for them to express views in favor of such an agreement.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Turkey. Mr. Casey, the supreme court of Turkey will decide within ten days from today whether to take up a request by state prosecutor to shut down the ruling Justice and the Development Party and ban 71 officials, including the Prime Minister, the President of the Republic, from politics for five years. Any comment on this unusually fascist move, almost a coup d'etat, by a minority of secularists against democracy in Turkey? And Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said, "We are a party that fights for democracy."

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, you missed the briefing yesterday.

QUESTION: Yes. I saw your statement.

MR. CASEY: I did --

QUESTION: But I still have questions --

MR. CASEY: -- and I read the very carefully-crafted and well-prepared language on that that I was provided, and I'll simply refer you back to that yesterday.

QUESTION: But I read your statement --

MR. CASEY: That remains our position.

QUESTION: -- but somehow you are supporting a kind of secular democracy of Turkish something like that. One democracy is the case.

MR. CASEY: Mr. --

QUESTION: And I'd like you to comment because it's a very serious matter.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I can say that U.S. policy regarding Turkey and Turkish democracy is absolutely clear and consistent and has been for many years, and I refer you to the 20-odd years of statements that I'm familiar with from this podium on that subject. The policy hasn't changed. There's nothing new here, and don't try and make anything new out of it.

QUESTION: Tom, one quick question on Iraq.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: As I'm sure you're aware, a number of Iraqi political groups pulled out of the talks that were being held today. We're now more than a year after the President announced the surge as a way to try to provide breathing space for the Iraqi political system to achieve reconciliation. And I think General Petraeus has been very clear that the surge was not an answer in and of itself; it was simply a tool to try to achieve the political reconciliation that was, I think, in his view, the necessary condition for stability in Iraq.

What does it say to you that a year and change beyond the announcement of the surge, that the Iraqi political parties can't even get together for a conversation or a conference like this?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think a lot of progress has happened in the past year since the President announced the surge. We've certainly seen levels of violence go down significantly in Baghdad and in other parts of the country. We've seen a real change, particularly in the Sunni community, in terms of having people turn away from al-Qaida and turn away from the insurgency and work with the United States, multinational forces, as well as, most importantly, with the Iraqi Government. We've seen some major legislation passed by the parliament and we've seen actions on the ground to try and help advance reconstruction and help provide some basic services to the Iraqi people, all of which are important issues that need to be addressed for Iraq to move forward.

In terms of national reconciliation, certainly, you know, the issues involved here are fairly existential ones for the Iraqis. It's how they intend to structure and organize their society moving forward and it's inevitable, I think, that there will be difficulties and there will be ups and downs in this process. And we've seen similar things where people have gotten together and then broken off or had to get back together after some period of discussion. Certainly, we think that in this instance, there is still room for the Iraqi Government to be able to move forward on these questions.

And frankly, if you talk to the leaders in Iraq, whether they're Sunni or Shia or Kurd or other ethnic groups, they all recognize that they have to find a way to bridge these differences and I think slowly but surely, they are. Is the progress as fast as we would like? Certainly, I think everyone would like to see there be greater progress and see it move faster, but these are important and difficult questions for the Iraqis to deal with. They're ones that we think have to be dealt with and we're going to continue to work with them to do so. But we're confident that they are going to be able to ultimately deal with these kinds of fundamental questions and do so in a way that'll allow Iraq to be able to move forward as a peaceful democratic country.

QUESTION: Why are you confident?

MR. CASEY: Well, because we believe in the goodwill and the desire on the part of Iraq's political leaders to reach compromise. And again, I think you've seen, not only through their words but through some of their actions, including the passage of some of the major legislation in recent months, real steps being taken by the Iraqi political leadership to work out compromise. Certainly, one of the things we forget in our country is the habits of democracy, the habits of compromise, of give and take; are not necessarily something that just springs to life fully formed. These are people who are coming out of decades of a brutal dictatorship in which the word of one individual was the only word that mattered. And they have been working since that time-- for the past five years-- to be able to overcome some of that legacy, to work together and be able to overcome some of the legacy of mistrust that was bred into some of the policies of Saddam Hussein's regime.

And that process has not been easy and it's certainly, I don't think, easy for any country to be able to decide some of these fundamental questions. But they have been moving forward. They've shown the will to do so. They've shown the leadership to do so. And they are, on a day-to-day basis, making progress and making efforts towards dealing with some of these questions.

So again, we all wish that this process were moving faster than it is, but we also recognize that there are difficulties there and we believe that the surge has had a positive impact in terms of helping make it easier for these communities to be able to come together and be able to work on some of these questions. And of course, we'll all have an opportunity to hear from the real experts, General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker, later on in the not-too-distant future when they make their report back to Congress.

Okay, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Albania. Mr. Casey, anything to say about the tragic explosion in Albania before yesterday causing 15 deaths, 13 missings and 300 injured? And Defense Minister Fatmir Mediu resigned yesterday instead of Prime Minister Sali Berisha, who is guilty according to the entire Albanian press.

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we express our condolences to those who were injured in this attack and to the families of those who lost their lives -- sorry, in this explosion. This was an incident that occurred at an arms depot in Albania. As far as I know, while investigators are still looking into this, this is not something that occurred as the result of a deliberate act or an attack, though again, I would leave it to the Albanian authorities to provide details on that.

In terms of the political implications and the resignation of the Defense Minister, obviously, these are internal matters for the Albanian Government to respond to and to deal with. Certainly, though, it's important that efforts be made to make sure that these kinds of facilities are secure so that the kinds of incidents that we saw don't happen.

I do know and I should note, too, that the United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, did provide some medical and other kinds of assistance to the Albanian Government to try and help them deal and support some of the injured there.

QUESTION: May I go to FYROM?

MR. CASEY: Let's go to Nina first.

QUESTION: Tom, can you just tell me what your current understanding is of what happened in Yemen today outside the Embassy?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't think I have much more for you than I did this morning. Earlier today, there were, as I understand it, three mortar rounds that were fired in the vicinity of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen. There were no injuries to U.S. citizens or Embassy personnel; however, we do understand that there were a number of Yemenis injured, and we wish them a speedy recovery and extend our sympathies to them and to their families. Clearly, nothing justifies the use of this kind of violence, certainly in a civilian area and against innocent people.

We are going to be working with Yemeni authorities to make sure we fully understand what has occurred here as a result of their investigations. I was asked this morning and I honestly can't say whether the Embassy was the target of this or whether it was simply in the vicinity of whatever else the target might be. As a precaution, of course, the Embassy did close in light of this incident and remained closed throughout the day today. My understanding is they have decided also to remain closed to the public for tomorrow as well.

Okay, Mr. Lambros, one last one.

QUESTION: On FYROM. Mr. Casey, it was reported that the only obstacle for Greece and FYROM to reach an agreement on the name issue is the Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried, who, according to reports, behind the scene is trying exactly the opposite. I'm wondering if Mr. Daniel Fried is of Skopjian origin by himself since he is acting something like that. And why did Department of State approve his disservices to the U.S. interests in the Balkans?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I think Dan would be surprised to know that he has the power to obstruct this agreement. Now, look, Dan Fried, our Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, is working on behalf of the United States to support the parties as they try and achieve an agreement. And Dan and everybody else here has the same objective, which is seeing that Greece and Macedonia resolve this issue in a mutually agreeable manner through the good offices of Mr. Nimitz, the UN Special Envoy.

QUESTION: If I could follow up. Despite the e-mail I received from Nicole Thompson from your office, Mr. Casey, that Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried did not meet with Albanian extremist named Thaci during his visit in Skopje, the previous Saturday, according to reports, the two men, not only they met but even they exchanged messages against an agreement between Athens and Skopje on the name issue. I am wondering why.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I can assure you that Dan Fried fully and completely supports the Administration policy, as Secretary Rice and all the rest of us do, with respect to the name issue. He has not had any conversations in which he has opposed a mutually acceptable agreement between Macedonia and Greece on this issue. And I'm sorry, but any reports to the contrary are simply false.

QUESTION: Thank you for the clarification.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you know how long - how much longer Mr. Fried will be Acting Under Secretary? In other words, do you have a sense of when Mr. Fried --

MR. CASEY: I - well, yeah, I don't have a good crystal ball sense of when the Senate might choose to act on his successor.* So, obviously, it's dependent on that, and Dan will be the Acting Under Secretary for Political Affairs until such time as that occurs. Certainly, we'd like to see that happen in the near future. In the meantime, though, Dan's doing ably there and, of course, Kurt Volker, his Principal Deputy, is serving in his stead as the acting Assistant Secretary for Europe.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:56 p.m.)

DPB # 49




* Note: The nomination of Ambassador Burns as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs has not yet been sent to the Senate.



Released on March 18, 2008

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