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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 2, 2008



Commission on International Religious Freedom Report
State Department No Longer Lists as “Country of Particular Concern”
There Have Been Changes Since 2004 / Many Concerns Have Been Addressed
Will Continue to Work With Vietnam on Remaining Issues


Election Results / Long Delays and Irregularities
Possible Runoff
Government Needs to Cease Repression of Opposition and Their Supporters


Russian Troop Movements / Abkhazia
U.S. Fully and Completely Supports Territorial Integrity of Georgia
Urge Russia to Exercise Caution and Restraint in Actions


Transferred Detainees / Sami al-Haj / Treatment


Discussions Between Dalai Lama and Chinese Representatives
Concerns of People of Tibet


View Video

12:07 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Afternoon, guys. Happy Friday. I can tell you're all anxious to start the weekend. I will make it as quick for you as I can by telling you; I don't have anything to start you off with this morning, so --


QUESTION: The Commission on International Religious Freedom has issued its report today and they say that Vietnam should be on the list of (inaudible) bad countries. I don't think they call them that.

MR. CASEY: I think the technical phase is “Countries of Particular Concern.”

QUESTION: Concern, yes.

MR. CASEY: But I guess that could loosely translate as bad guys.

QUESTION: Right. Anyway, the State Department delisted Vietnam in 2006 and I wondered what your view was of (inaudible).

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, the Commission is an independent body and we certainly respect their views and look closely at the recommendations that they make as we go about implementing the religious freedom legislation and go about preparing both the country reports as well as establishing those countries that should be listed as “Countries of Particular Concern.”

But as you mentioned, we took Vietnam off the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” in 2006. And we did so because Vietnam has addressed the central issues that we believe constituted severe violations of religious freedom, and they continue to make improvements on those. And so, at this point, we believe that while there are certainly still a number of issues in terms of religious freedom in Vietnam, that the actions that the Vietnamese Government has taken to address some of our concerns makes them a country that does not merit being included on the CPC or the “Countries of Particular Concern” list.

Specifically, what we had asked and why we designated them a CPC in 2004 was because they failed to respond to four specific areas: releasing religious prisoners, opening hundreds of churches that had been forcibly closed, issuing a nationwide decree banning forced renunciation of faith, and ending some of the abuses of religious believers who were just trying to practice their religion. And since 2004 a lot has changed. And in November 2006, we took them off the list because, among other things, they'd released a significant number of prisoners, including 35 that we had specifically raised with the government. They have also reopened most of the churches that had been forcibly closed, particularly in the Central Highlands. They put forward a new legal framework on religion that banned forced renunciations of faith, which again was one of our considerations. And we are also, of course, in regular contact with religious groups throughout the country and they have all reported a significant decrease in the instances of harassment and abuse directed at religious believers.

Now that is not to say that the situation is perfect in the country, but we believe that there's been significant improvements that have been made, and that means that while we continue to work with them on these issues, we don't believe they merit being included as a “Country of Particular Concern.”

More than you probably wanted to know. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Zimbabwe, do you have a reaction to the call for a runoff?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, let's get to some of the basics here. Yes, we've seen the reports and know that the National Electoral Commission has finally put forward results. This isn't a case of better later than never, though. That final tally, I think, has rather serious credibility problems given the inexplicably long delays and some of the post-election irregularities that have occurred.

I think more importantly is-- whether that's an accurate vote count or not, and again I think there are serious questions as to whether it is. It's really impossible as a practical matter right now to think about how Zimbabwe could hold a runoff election in a situation when -- what everyone admits, by any measure, was the leading vote getter is having his party and his supporters regularly harassed and subject to abuse by government officials. So before anything else happens here, the first thing that ought to happen is the government needs to cease its repression of the opposition and of all those in Zimbabwe that wish to express their views peacefully.

We're going to be looking carefully at this issue and continuing to consult with the other countries in the region. But we certainly, as a starting point, need to see the government cease the kinds of actions it's been taking against the opposition before anyone should even think or be able to talk about any kind of runoff election.

Yeah. We'll go back to you and then we'll go to Kirit. I was pointing halfway in between, I think.

QUESTION: Additional Russian peacekeepers and the Russian armed vehicles have already arrived in breakaway Abkhazia and this action causes a very negative reaction of Georgian Government. As you know, Secretary Rice is going to discuss Georgian-Russian relations with Foreign Minister Lavrov, do you have anything -- any comments regarding this?

MR. CASEY: Well, certainly, I'll leave it to the Secretary to talk about any conversations she may have on this subject with Foreign Minister Lavrov. But I think our views on this issue remain quite clear. First of all, we continue to fully and completely support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. We want to see Georgia and Russia have good neighborly relations between them, and we certainly would urge the Russian Government to exercise caution in any activities that it is taking because we don't think that some of the things that we have seen lead to increased stability or increased security, not only for Georgia but for Russia as well.

So we continue to be very concerned about some of these moves. We certainly have not seen any kind of reciprocal movement of troops or military on the Georgian side of the border. And again, we would urge restraint on the part of the Russian Government and urge them to consider the effects of their actions on the overall stability of the region.


QUESTION: Can you provide us any sort of insight into the decision to transfer the detainees in Guantanamo -- the announcement that came out of DOD this morning -- specifically to those that were transferred back to Sudan? Some groups have raised concerns about treatment of prisoners in Sudan. Could you talk about those? And could you also confirm reports that included in them was the -- were the Al Jazeera camera man who has been held for several years?

MR. CASEY: Frankly, I think you need to talk to DOD about the issues involved. I understand that they did release -- I believe it was seven prisoners from Guantanamo Bay -- or transfer them, I should say. I believe it was four to Afghanistan and then three to Sudan. My understanding is that Sami al-Haj was one of the three that was transferred there.

In terms of his case, my understanding is that we have assurances from the Sudanese Government that they will be able to ensure that he does not engage in any activities that would be a threat to us or to others. I am not aware that he or any of the individuals that were transferred back, however, are in prison at this point.


QUESTION: On the Dalai Lama. Has the U.S. been informed of the meeting between China and the Dalai Lama reps? And also, Chris Hill told the press yesterday that he met with one of the Dalai Lama representatives before the rep went to China. What was the purpose of the meeting with Hill and what did they talk about?

MR. CASEY: I'm sorry. Who said they had met with the representative?

QUESTION: Chris Hill had spoken to the press yesterday.

MR. CASEY: I'm sorry. You'll have to ask Chris about it. I have no idea whether -- what interactions he might or might not have had.

In terms of our views on conversations with the Chinese and representatives of the Dalai Lama, obviously, we've been calling for that for a long time. We certainly support the statements, as the President said yesterday, that the Chinese Government has said they're willing to have this meeting take place. We certainly want to see it take place and believe that dialogue between the Dalai Lama and his representatives and the Chinese Government is really the best way to address some of the fundamental issues in Tibet, and will allow for a real communication and a real discussion of those issues between the Chinese Government and an individual and his representatives who really is revered among people in the area and who is an important spiritual leader for many.

QUESTION: A follow-up, if I may?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Concerning the President's remarks yesterday, he said substantive to address in a real way the deep and legitimate concerns of the Tibetan people. What is the U.S. take as the deep and legitimate concerns, and also, what do you expect them to discuss specifically in the dialogue?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't think that we need to catalog for the Tibetan people what their basic concerns are. Obviously, we have a situation in Tibet where people feel that they are unable to freely practice their religion, freely practice some of their cultural traditions and values. And this is an ongoing problem. These are things that we would hope would be able to be discussed.

Certainly, the Dalai Lama himself has said that he is not calling for any kind of change in the political status of Tibet. He's not calling for independence, but calling for a discussion with the Chinese Government to help resolve some of these issues and allow people to be able to enjoy some of these basic rights that I think everyone would hope they'd be able to do.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:17 p.m.)


Released on May 2, 2008

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