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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 31, 2008

INDEX:

ZIMBABWE

U.S. Encourages the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission to Release Election Results as Quickly as Possible / Count Every Vote Honestly
Results Should Reflect the Will of the Zimbabwean people
Important There is Not a Delay in This Process

MACEDONIA/GREECE

NATO Membership to be Based on Countries Meeting the Qualifications
No Plan to Delay NATO Summit or Decisions on Membership Due to Name Issue
Important for Agreement to be Reached Between Macedonia and Greece Under Auspices of Mr. Nimetz and United Nations

SOMALIA

Reports of Extremists Activities in the Region
Everyone in Somalia Should Work Together to Support the Political Process
The Need for a Continued Effort to Ensure Threat Posed by Extremists Doesn’t Expand

TURKEY

U.S. Attaches Great Importance to the Democratic Values and the Secular Principles to which Turkey is Committed
Understand the Process of Court Hearing Will Likely be a Long One
Hope Those Involved Will Proceed in Apolitical Way

ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS

U.S. Hopes to See Final Israeli-Palestinian Agreement Before the End of This Year
Leave Details of Negotiation to Israelis and Palestinians

KOSOVO

U.S. Recognizes Kosovo as an Independent Country
Ahtisaari Plan Calls for Kosovo’s Institutions to Carry Out the Full Functions of an Independent Government


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:50 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Happy Monday, welcome to the start of another week. I don’t have anything to start you off with, so?

QUESTION: Update on Zimbabwe?

MR. CASEY: Any updates on Zimbabwe? Well --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) of the reports --

MR. CASEY: Yeah, well, let’s see. Let me walk you through what else we’ve seen here. First of all, while we’ve seen some results announced by the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission, we are concerned by the slow pace of the official tabulation and we’d urge the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission to release the entire election results, including the presidential election returns, as quickly as possible.

You’ve heard us talk about this a little bit both in the run-up to the election as well as, again, from me this morning. But we’ve expressed our concerns about some of the things that were done prior to the election and that includes the excessive printing of ballots, the excessive number of ballots intended for return by post that police and military officials use and any number of other steps that were taken by the Zimbabwean Government that certainly would raise concerns about this part of the process. So we want to see the results released as soon as possible. We certainly, again, call on the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission to count every vote, to count every vote honestly and to make sure that the results that they release reflect the actual preferences and the actual will of the Zimbabwean people.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes. On FYROM, Mr. Casey, since we --

MR. CASEY: What we call Macedonia, yes.

QUESTION: You’re saying Macedonia, I’m saying FYROM.

MR. CASEY: I’ll tell you what. We’ll let Mr. Lambros – he’s on a roll. We’ll let him do Macedonia, then I’ll come back to you. I’m sorry, I didn’t see your hand up before. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Mr. Casey, since the deadlock on the name issue exists and the time limitation almost expired, I’m wondering if your side is taking into consideration any kind of extension of three to six months in order for Athens and Skopje to reach an agreement?

MR. CASEY: Well, any kind of extension regarding what?

QUESTION: Regarding they can negotiate so the next time – I think that NATO is going to resume again sometime in October and FYROM has a chance to (inaudible) -- to reach an agreement?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, as you know, we believe that the decisions that are taken on NATO membership ought to be based on whether the countries meet the qualifications and criteria that NATO has established for them. We certainly understand that the name issue is one that is out there and is of particular concern to our friends and allies in Greece. But there certainly is no plan to delay the NATO summit or delay decisions on membership because of this issue. What we would hope would happen in the coming days is that there would continue to be work and intense work on the part of both the Government of Greece and the Government of Macedonia to come up with a resolution of this issue so that there would not be any extraneous reasons that might affect Macedonia’s candidacy for membership.

But the important thing for us is that this be an agreement that’s reached by the two parties under the auspices of Mr. Nimetz and the United Nations. We think it’s an important issue for them to resolve and again, we’re doing everything we can to encourage and urge them to do so. As you know, Dan Fried, among others, met with the leadership from Macedonia and from Greece, again, to try and foster additional dialogue and encourage progress on this issue.

QUESTION: So I take it, you have by Wednesday; tomorrow is the last day?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, as a great baseball scholar once said, it ain’t over till it’s over. So we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: And the last one, any recent communication on the name issue between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni?

MR. CASEY: I believe that she did, in fact, speak to the Greek Foreign Minister on Friday. You know, just looking at my list here – and, yes, she did give her a call on Friday. They talked about a number of issues, but among them was urging continued efforts to resolve this issue.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Let's go back to this gentleman and then Libby, I'll come down to you.

Sir, you had something else on Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: Yeah. Given all what you have just said and outlined about Zimbabwe, do you therefore believe that there is any slight possibility that this election could be declared free and fair?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think we need to see two things happen first. First, we want to get some additional input from those that were observing it there. We did have ten officials from the U.S. Embassy who were able to observe, and they were accredited and were given generally broad access to the places they wanted to go. But that's a very small number of people.

And of course, it's unfortunate that the Government of Zimbabwe denied broader requests from NGOs and others for a much more expanded international observer presence. But ultimately, you have to judge an election not only on the lead into it -- and we've talked about some of the problems there -- what actually happens on the day of the voting. And fortunately, it was a generally peaceful process during the voting this weekend. But also, and most importantly, the critical step of counting those votes and seeing what the results are.

So right now, I think, before we want to offer any final assessment on this election and on the overall process, we want to see the results come out quickly from the Zimbabwean Electoral Commission and we are looking to see that those results accurately reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people.

Libby.

QUESTION: Somalia.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Islamist fighters have taken over a town, reportedly taken over a town in northern -- north of Mogadishu. Twelve people have died, including nine government troops. What does this say to you about the strength of the government's ability to hold onto control? And also, are you concerned about the pattern that seems to be developing here?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think I'm going to have to stick with "reportedly" for now, because I can't confirm for you the facts on the ground in this particular incident. What we've seen recently is patterns where extremists will, in fact, go into an individual village or location, temporarily conduct activities there, but not sustain that or hold it in any meaningful way. Certainly, we think that everyone in Somalia ought to be working together to support the political process, including the upcoming elections which are scheduled for 2009. There is a need, of course, for continued effort both on the part of the transitional government as well as those international actors out there working to assist it to make sure that the threat that's posed by these extremist elements doesn't expand any further.

Yeah, let's go -- I'll go to you and then we'll go to Michel.

QUESTION: Tom, today, Turkish Constitutional Court accepted the indictment on the closure of the governing AKP party on the grounds of anti-secular activities. How concerned are you on the accusation that Turkey's governing party might be involved in anti-secular activities?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, as you know, we attach great importance to the democratic values and the secular principles that Turkey is committed to and that's the basis of our relationship and to the alliance. I know that the court has accepted hearing this case, but we understand that this is going to be a rather lengthy process. And what we would expect and hope from this process is that those involved would proceed in a way that was apolitical and that reflected the commitment to representative democracy that's been expressed by the Turkish voters in recent elections.

Michel.

QUESTION: Israel -- they have announced today that they will start building 600 units in East Jerusalem. Do you have any reaction on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, nothing beyond what you heard from the Secretary in her remarks in Jordan, which is simply to say that the Roadmap calls for a halt to settlement activities. That's been longstanding U.S. policy and that remains our policy.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on Taiwanese President Ma’s potential visit to the U.S.?

MR. CASEY: Nope, nothing new for you there.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just back to Israel. There are reports that the U.S. would like to see an interim or declaration of principles type of agreement ahead of Bush’s trip there in May. And I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about what’s going on with that.

MR. CASEY: Well, again, the Secretary addressed that in her press avail in Jordan. The main point for us is that by the time we reach the end of this year and the end of this Administration, that there is an overall agreement, final status agreement, and that is what matters to us. I’m not aware of any particular plans for any other kind of interim measure. But certainly, you know, we’d leave it to the Israelis and Palestinians to determine how they specifically want to get to that goal. But the point for us is to achieve that final agreement by the end of this year.

QUESTION: So there is something floating around about Israel possibly agreeing to absorbing some refugees, one-to-one land swaps, details like that. Are you familiar with any of that?

MR. CASEY: And again, the details of their negotiation we’re going to leave to them. They have been, I think, remarkably good at actually conducting their negotiations in private rather than in public, and I’m not going to try and start dissecting it from here.

Okay, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Kosovo, Mr. Casey, the (inaudible) of the Balkans. Former Secretary Lawrence Eagleburger in an interview with the Greek daily Kathimerini stated once again that the so-called independence of Kosovo is the first step of the creation of “Great Albania.” Any comment?

MR. CASEY: Well, I’m not sure what former Secretary Eagleburger might have said, but the great thing about being a former government official is that you’re a private citizen and you can say what you want. The policy of the U.S. Government, as you know, is to recognize the independence of Kosovo. We have recognized it. So have many other countries throughout the world. I am not aware of anyone here or there that is proposing any kind of “Greater Albania.”

QUESTION: Why you have decided to arm up to the teeth the Serbian territory of Kosovo? Is there any particular reason?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, again, I think you’ve heard our views on this before and there’s nothing new there. We recognize Kosovo as an independent country. Part of the Ahtisaari plan calls for ensuring that Kosovo’s institutions, including its security forces, are capable of acting independently and carrying out the full functions of an independent government. That’s the policies that we’re supporting.

QUESTION: And how do you respond to Mr. Sergey Lavrov and the Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica’s statements that the U.S. action is illegal, it is against international law?

MR. CASEY: The same way we’ve always responded to it. I don’t have anything new for you on it, Mr. Lambros.

Let’s go back here.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Tom. I have to take you back to Zimbabwe.

MR. CASEY: That’s okay. You’re going to take me back to Zimbabwe. I’m getting whipsawed between the Balkans and Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: Not literally, though. Not literally, though.

MR. CASEY: Not literally, thank God. What have you got?

QUESTION: Do you suspect that a delay in announcing the votes in Zimbabwe might have anything to do with rigging?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, we’ve pointed out some of the concerns we had entering into this process that would make potential problems in the vote-counting a very serious concern. And for us, what’s important is that we don’t see any undue delay in this process. Certainly, the opportunities for mischief increase the longer the delay is between the elections and the announcement of the vote.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thank you, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:01 p.m.)

DPB # 57



Released on March 31, 2008

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