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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 19, 2008

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT

Secretary Rice’s Return to Washington This Afternoon
Security at US Facilities Overseas

TAIWAN

U.S. Looks Forward to Free and Fair Elections on Taiwan
U.S. Wants to See Dialogue Across the Taiwan Straits

CYPRUS

U.S. Supports U.N. Efforts for Resolution

PAKISTAN

Status of Investigation into Bombing at Restaurant

NORTH KOREA

Discussions with North Korea on Food Assistance
U.S. Concerned About Humanitarian Needs of North Korean People
U.S. Willingness to Provide Food Assistance Based on Criteria
Food Aid Not Part of Six Party Talks

GREECE/MACEDONIA

U.S. Wants to See Name Issue Resolved Amicably

MOROCCO/ALGERIA

Western Sahara / Manhasset Discussions

IRAN/SWITZERLAND

US View of Iran-Switzerland Gas Deal
UN Monitoring of Sanctions / Sanctions Committee / Sanctions Compliance
Iran Sanctions Act
Visit of Swiss Foreign Minister to Iran

CHINA/TIBET

Dalai Lama Calling for Engagement with Chinese Officials
US Urges China to Exercise Restraint in Dealing with Protests

KOSOVO

Need to Continue to Move Forward with Implementation of Ahtisaari Plan
Participation of All Minority Groups in Political Process


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:49 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. I don't have anything to start you off with, so let's see what's on your minds.

QUESTION: I don't have anything except I wonder when the Secretary is due back. Do you know?

MR. CASEY: I believe that the plane should be arriving any minute -- any time from now -- may have, in fact, already touched down. But they will be back this afternoon.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment or do you have any expectation for the elections in Taiwan, the presidential elections this weekend?

MR. CASEY: We did look into this subject for you, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. CASEY: And I did want to make sure we were accurate in what we gave you. So the United States does look forward to a free and fair election on Taiwan. And we will work within the parameters of our existing relationship with whoever is elected by the Taiwan people.

You asked about the referendum as well. And as I did tell you this morning, there's no change from what the Secretary said on this issue in December and February. We don't oppose referendum in principle and acknowledge that they are important means by which people in democracies can voice their views. However, as we've indicated, the United States is opposed to this specific referendum. We believe it is unnecessary and unhelpful and will not have an effect on Taiwan's ability to join the UN or other organizations requiring statehood, and has the potential to raise tensions in the Taiwan Straits.

QUESTION: Did you get a chance to check --

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

QUESTION: Oh, I'm so sorry.

MR. CASEY: If you want, I can read it again, Kirit. But try again. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, no, it's -- some commentators have said that the Taiwanese are looking at what's happening in Tibet right now, looking to take some sort of further steps and are encouraged by this. Would you discourage them to look at this as any sort of example?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, our view on the relations between the Taiwanese authorities and the mainland is quite clear. We want to see dialogue across the Taiwan Straits. That's always been the basis of our interest there, and, of course, our obligations under the communiqués and the Taiwan Relations Act. So that’s what we would look for from Taiwan, and our views on that haven’t changed.

Okay, Lambros.

QUESTION: Cyprus.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey --

MR. CASEY: You haven’t asked a Cyprus question in a while.

QUESTION: Because you have --

MR. CASEY: -- so many other things happening.

QUESTION: The Annan plan failed -- 10,000 pages.

MR. CASEY: Well, all right. Let’s go --

QUESTION: You did not invite --

MR. CASEY: I honestly didn’t intend to invite a commentary, so why don’t you give me the question.

QUESTION: UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated yesterday, “I think the international community should seize the momentum of window of opportunity after Demetris Christofias, the new Cyprus president was elected and is committed to a new resolution of this issue,” keeping in mind, Mr. Casey, that in a few days the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Demetris Christofias and Greek Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat are going to meet in Nicosia.

MR. CASEY: Well, we certainly hope that there can and will be a resolution to the longstanding problem of Cyprus. We have supported over time the efforts of the UN to try and help bring about a resolution of it. And certainly, we would hope that the meeting of the -- both the leaders from the Greek Cypriot Government -- the Cypriot Government, as well as from those representing the Turkish community in Cyprus would ultimately help produce the kind of dialogue that would lead to a resolution of this issue. And certainly, the U.S. will support any efforts taken by the parties themselves as well as the UN’s efforts to come to a resolution of this issue.

QUESTION: Any initiative on your part?

MR. CASEY: No initiatives on our part that I have to offer you, Mr. Lambros. Certainly, we will look to be supportive of the UN process.

Yeah, Arshad.

QUESTION: Were you able to check this morning on the question regarding whether the U.S. Government or any of its branches are assisting Pakistani authorities in investigating the bombing at the restaurant?

MR. CASEY: I didn’t get a complete answer on that, Arshad. My understanding is that, you know, we are -- our Embassy is working very actively with them on this issue, again, obviously, since it involves a series of U.S. officials that were among those injured in the attack. But I don’t have anything in terms of any new or additional personnel that have been assigned to it.

QUESTION: Okay. And also --

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. CASEY: Same subject? Different subject? Why don’t you keep going and then we’ll move along.

QUESTION: Just a different subject. Were you able to check on the question about U.S. food assistance to North Korea and whether there is indeed any -- whether there are indeed any plans to -- for additional such food assistance and whether it would go through UNRWA or --

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I mean, basically, I think we are in the same position that we’ve been, which is to be concerned about the humanitarian needs of the North Korean people and, you know, we have had some discussions on the issue of food assistance and management of a food aid program. But there’s been no conclusion to those discussions, and there really isn’t in that sense much beyond the statement we put out back in August of last year -- and it was August 31st -- when we talked about a willingness to provide food assistance based on our longstanding criteria. But I believe there have been officials that have been discussing this at several points in the last few months, but there’s no – you know, no definitive conclusion to them.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I think I said UNRWA, but it’s, I think, traditionally the World Food Program, excuse me.

MR. CASEY: It’s World Food Program that has traditionally managed this issue, yeah.

QUESTION: And as I recall, one of the longstanding issues for the U.S. Government has been the inability to appropriately or properly monitor the distribution systems and so on to make sure that the food is getting to the people that it’s – for whom it’s intended. When you say you had discussions about this, are those discussions with – you know, inside the U.S. Government or with the South Koreans or with the North Koreans? And is there any movement on addressing some of the monitoring and distribution issues?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think to a certain extent, it’s all of the above. I mean, it’s the UN and the Koreans. Both --

QUESTION: North or South? I’m sorry.

MR. CASEY: Both over time on this. I think there was – might have been some discussions on this a couple of months ago. But the main thing is our criteria and you did point out one of them. Part of it is simply, what is the existing need, the second is how does that balance out against competing needs elsewhere in the world, and then the third one is our ability to ensure that the food that’s being provided is actually reaching people in need.

The World Food Program, as you know, ceased their operations for a while, in part, because they felt that they could not adequately monitor and ensure that foods were reaching folks there. So that’s certainly very much a part of the equation. I think we believe, though, it’s important to kind of continue discussions on this issue and if possible, be in a position to be able to provide that kind of support to people in need in North Korea.

QUESTION: And one last one. Can you state for the record your policy that this is not – that you don’t use food aid as a political tool and so any discussions of this are not presumably related to the six-party talks?

MR. CASEY: I’m happy to – I’m happy to say that no, the criteria for food aid are the three I’ve given you. There are not other political considerations involved and this is not, in any way, related to the six-party talks or the six-party talks process.

QUESTION: So as far as discussions with the North Koreans are concerned, is it frequent, is it occasional? And are those discussions held separate and apart from other issues?

MR. CASEY: I understand there have been some limited discussions with the North Koreans on this subject. I can’t tell you how recent any of those have occurred, but they are not done – Chris does not – Chris Hill does not raise food aid as far as I know in his six-party talks discussions. These are done through a separate channel. And again, this is not U.S. aid going directly to North Korea. It would be, as it has been in the past, something that would be channeled through the World Food Program or the other relevant NGOs.

QUESTION: So it’s not the same – he doesn’t put on a moustache and say, “Now, let’s talk about” --

MR. CASEY: No, that – no, I – although I don’t know. You think he’d look good with a moustache?

QUESTION: I don’t know, but --

MR. CASEY: I know he looks good in a Red Sox hat, that’s all.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t want to go further and suggest that he can’t help have a link.

MR. CASEY: Well, I mean, look, I think we have – even at a time when the six-party talks was not underway and we had no real discussions ongoing with the North Koreans about their nuclear program, we were still providing food aid through the World Food Program and have traditionally been the largest donor to those efforts. So I do think if you look at the record on this, it’s pretty clear that we have not linked it to any of --

QUESTION: Oh, no.

MR. CASEY: -- the political issues involved.

Charley.

QUESTION: Can we go back to what you were discussing earlier? Embassy security in a general way --

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- after what happened in Chad and Yemen and Belgrade and Islamabad. Has there been an intensification of focus, surveys, communications with people in the field, anything of that nature?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think first of all, each of the individual instances you’ve cited are different and some involve attacks, direct attacks on American officials. Some involve, as the case in Serbia, rioting and dealing with police presence there. In Yemen, of course, we had a series of mortars fired at the Embassy, so they're each unique cases. And we put a great deal of stock in the efforts on the ground by not only the Ambassador, but obviously our regional security officers, and our security experts in the field to make their best-case judgments about what steps are necessary in each local setting.

That said, as I noted, we've spent a good deal of time and effort and also resources in the Department, doing everything from hardening security at our facilities, providing additional training to our staff, increasing the number of Diplomatic Security agents and taking other measures that are all designed to make sure that our people, who are in a lot of dangerous places but doing very important work on behalf of the United States Government, have the kind of security they need to be able to safely and effectively go about doing their mission.

Okay, Lambros.

QUESTION: On FYROM. Mr. Casey, any readout on the Vienna talks for the name issue between Athens and Skopje?

MR. CASEY: I don't have one, but I'm sure that the folks in Athens and Skopje would be happy to provide it. Our policy, though, I think, as you know, is quite clear on this. We want to see this issue resolved amicably between the two parties. And we think it is important that this issue be resolved in a way that allows both countries to move forward, have friendly relations with one another and allows Macedonia, as well as other countries in the region, to be able to participate fully and appropriately in transatlantic institutions.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Mr. Casey, in 2001, the U.S. supported the Ohrid agreement in order to create a multiethnic and democratic FYROM given to the Skopjians of Albanian origin, 11 (inaudible). Now, however, for the second time, in a few days, the Skopjian extremists of Albanian origin, (inaudible) of democratic party of Skopje explicit desire for the partition of FYROM. Therefore, your imposed system is a failure. Any comment?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, as you'll well recall, there was a lot of effort spent, not only by the United States, but by NATO and the European Union to help mediate and resolve what was a very difficult situation within Macedonia. And those efforts helped produce the agreement among the Macedonians themselves -- the Lake Ohrid Agreement. We've generally been pleased by the implementation of the steps that were required under the terms of that agreement despite some of the difficulties that have been there along the way.

We very much, though, believe that this is an agreement that has been very important in providing for stability and providing for development for all of the people of Macedonia and continue to support it.

QUESTION: What about the future, because the Albanians have claims.

MR. CASEY: Well, what about the future? We hope to see a future in which Macedonia as well as Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia and the other countries in the region all have an opportunity to participate fully in European affairs, to be members of those transatlantic institutions that they wish to join, and more importantly, to be able to provide for greater economic development as well as political freedoms for the people of those regions.

Yeah, let's go back here.

QUESTION: We change the region.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: As you know, the Manhasset negotiation on the Sahara ended yesterday, but didn't break any tangible breakthrough. My question is: What do you think the United States, which supported the Moroccan initiative on the autonomy can do now to convince the Polisario and Algeria that it is in the best interest of the Maghreb region and of the people living there to reach a reasonable compromise to (inaudible) and do something?

MR. CASEY: Well, we do think it’s important that discussions continue on this issue. I have not gotten a readout on the talks. Let me check for you and see what information we have available. But certainly, we have been supportive of Moroccan efforts to help resolve this issue, and I’ll see what we can come up with for you specifically on the results of this latest round of discussions and where we see them going from here.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you. Maybe later today?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I hope so.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Our friends -- my friends in NEA cooperate, we will get you something later today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Nicholas.

QUESTION: Tom, do you have a comment on the deal that Switzerland signed with Iran on Monday, the gas deal, which seems to be pretty big?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I don’t think -- I think we’re still looking at the details of that. But I think our message to the Swiss would be the same message that we give to anyone: We don’t think that now is the time for people to be investing in Iran, not only in its petroleum or natural gas area but in any sector of its economy. Iran is under Chapter 7 sanctions. We would hope that other countries would make clear to the Iranians the need for them to comply with UN Security Council resolutions.

Certainly, in terms of U.S. domestic law and policy, there are implications or potential implications for any kind of arrangement of this sort in terms of the Iran Sanctions Act. And obviously, as we get more details about this, we’ll be looking at that particular deal in the light of U.S. law and see whether it crosses any lines there.

QUESTION: Are you or anyone up in the mission of the UN following or monitoring which countries are abiding by the sanctions on Iran and which are not?

MR. CASEY: Well, there is -- there is a sanctions committee, and I believe there are reports that are required by individual member-states to the committee, or at least to the Security Council, on a fairly regular basis. Certainly, we on a bilateral basis try and take a look at what other countries are doing. I think in general, we have been pleased by the level of compliance. However, of course, this is not a voluntary matter. This is something based on Security Council decisions. It’s obligatory for all states. The sanctions, as you know, do not affect investment in the petroleum sector, so I’m not trying to imply that this arrangement by the Swiss violates their commitments under UN sanctions. But we do think it is important that member-states honor these obligations, and we look very closely at it and read carefully what information is provided to the Council.

QUESTION: And just one last --

QUESTION: But you just don’t think it’s a good idea for anybody, any party, to be investing in any section of the Iranian economy?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don’t think right now --

QUESTION: You say it’s not a good idea?

MR. CASEY: Yeah --

QUESTION: You’re entitled to say that, but it’s a --

MR. CASEY: We are. Well, it’s entitled -- and individual companies and individual countries are going to be --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CASEY: -- are going to be making their own decisions. I think we would point out that --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CASEY: You probably -- you have to face certain issues if you’re going to do business with Iran right now. One is whether you want to do business in a country that is on a very exclusive and very unfortunate list of countries currently under mandatory Chapter 7 sanctions. Do you want to do business potentially with financial institutions that are under UN sanctions or could become under sanctions if it’s found that they are assisting or aiding or abetting Iran’s nuclear program in any way? These are reputational risks. These are business risks. Obviously, people are going to make their own calls on it. But if asked we’ve been saying for quite some time that we don’t think now is the right moment to be doing investments in Iran.

QUESTION: Gotcha.

QUESTION: And did -- the Swiss Foreign Minister was in Iran to sign it on Monday, and she met with the Iranian President and the Foreign Minister. Are you aware of any messages that she might have carried for the United States, whether about Mr. Levinson or anything else, since they are your protective power in Iran?

MR. CASEY: You know, I’m not aware that she was carrying any particular messages from us. We do tend to use our Swiss channel fairly actively on the case of Mr. Levinson as well as other matters. Certainly, I would hope if she had an opportunity, she might suggest to them that they would be a little – be well-served to be a little more forthcoming and helpful to the Levinson family. It’s a basic humanitarian issue.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the Dalai Lama’s potential indication that he would resign if there’s continued violence in Tibet?

MR. CASEY: We talked a little bit about this yesterday. I think one of the things that is clear is that the Dalai Lama is not calling for independence for Tibet. He’s calling for engagement with Chinese officials in dialogue and we support that call. We very much want to see the Chinese speak with the Dalai Lama or his representatives to try and resolve many of these outstanding issues. And as you saw from the Secretary’s comments as well as her statement, we are urging the Chinese to exercise restraint in dealing with these protests that are occurring. We do not wish to see any loss of innocent life and again, we believe the way to address the concerns being expressed by the protestors in Tibet is for there to be this kind of dialogue between the Dalai Lama and his representatives and the Chinese Government.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more on what the British are saying, that the Chinese Prime Minister – or indicated that he might be willing to talk with the Dalai Lama?

MR. CASEY: I don’t. Again, as I said this morning, if that is, in fact, true or more importantly, if such a dialogue has begun, that would be a very positive step forward. We would certainly like to see that happen. Again, he is the spiritual leader for many people in Tibet and elsewhere and we believe that he has an important role to play in being able to help resolve some of the tensions and problems there.

Okay, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: One more on Kosovo. Mr. Casey, any comment on Serbia’s offer yesterday to (inaudible) ethnic Serb areas in Kosovo until the end of the NATO invasion and occupation of this Serbian territory?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, look, our policy on Kosovo is quite clear. We believe we need to continue to move forward with implementation of the Ahtisaari plan in all of Kosovo, and that includes in those areas in which Serbs and other minorities live. We think it is very important that the Ahtisaari plan contains very clear and specific guarantees of minority rights and believe the most important thing now is for those members of the Serb community in Kosovo as well as representatives of other minority groups there engage and participate in the political process so that those rights can be exercised.

QUESTION: So you are against partition?

MR. CASEY: We are absolutely against partition.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)

DPB # 50



Released on March 19, 2008

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