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Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 5, 2008



US Encourages Democratic Dialogue in Bolivia
Comments by Bolivian Government Regarding US Ambassador


US Assistance in Response to Humanitarian Disaster Caused by Cyclone Nargis
US Assistance and Sanctions
Status of US Embassy and Personnel


Reports Regarding Hezbollah’s Role in Iraq


Query on Plan to Build “Zone of Influence” in Baghdad


Communication between US and Belarusian Governments


Possible Travel by Sung Kim


US Ambassador to ASEAN to Travel to Singapore for ASEAN Meetings


View Video

12:49 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Well, it looks like that kind of day. Happy Monday, everyone. Welcome to the State Department. For those of you that are actually out here today, I do have one brief statement that I want to read to you up front here, and then we’ll see what kind of questions you have.

This concerns the desire from the U.S. to see dialogue take place in Bolivia. In light of yesterday’s referendum in Santa Cruz, the United States encourages the Government of Bolivia and the opposition to return to their dialogue and to resolve their outstanding differences of concern to all Bolivians in a peaceful and lasting fashion. We urge Bolivia’s leaders to use this opportunity to consolidate democracy and promote reconciliation and build a consensus on Bolivia’s future. We call on all sides to reject violence and exercise restraint during this period. The United States, for our part, supports the efforts that are being made by the Organization of American States and the Catholic Church and other countries to facilitate this dialogue, and certainly want to see that move forward. And we continue to support Bolivia’s unity and territorial integrity and are committed to strengthening democracy and promoting prosperity for all its people.

And with that, let’s see what, if any, questions you might have.

QUESTION: Do you have any --

QUESTION: On Bolivia --

MR. CASEY: Go ahead, Matt. Actually let -- on Bolivia? Okay, keep going.

QUESTION: The government has made some denounce about the Ambassador over there, your Ambassador over there. What’s your stand?

MR. CASEY: Well, I’m not sure I’ve seen -- there have been some comments over time. Look, our Ambassador is there representing the United States. He’s representing us before the Bolivian Government. He certainly is conducting his actions the same way any other diplomats would. And I think, frankly, it’s a distraction and an unnecessary one when we see these kinds of comments alleging that he or others at the mission are engaged in any activities that aren’t appropriate for diplomats to do.

Yeah, Matt.

QUESTION: Were you able to get any more details about the situation with Burma and --

MR. CASEY: I think if you --

QUESTION: -- whether your DART teams --

MR. CASEY: I think if you look, Matt, that the White House, at their briefing, just said that there would be something coming out of there at about 3 o’clock this afternoon, so you might want to look that way for some additional answers. But in terms of where we are, I’ll just, you know, repeat what I had said this morning. We provided some initial assistance under our disaster declaration that was issued by our Chargé, Shari Villarosa, in response to some of the immediate needs that are there. And we’re looking at what other assistance we might be able to provide -- that does include having a DART team available and standing by to be able to go into the area to make an assessment. But in terms of next steps on this, I think I’ll defer to the White House on this.

QUESTION: But do you know where that team is?

MR. CASEY: I don’t. I don’t. I was not able to determine for you, you know, which airport lobby they’re sitting in.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. CASEY: Yeah, that’s good. I’ll flip a coin.

QUESTION: Can you – can you – any assistance that the U.S. would provide – do U.S. sanctions have any impact on what the U.S. is able to provide? Or because it’s a humanitarian disaster, does that not apply at all?

MR. CASEY: Well, you know, our general way of providing disaster assistance is working through international relief organizations and NGOs. That includes things like the Red Cross as well as implementing partners. I believe that there would be some legal restrictions that I’d have to check with the multiple lawyers on in terms of, you know, what kinds of assistance we might be able to provide directly to the government or government entities in Burma.

But again, that’s generally not how we provide these kinds of measures. And of course, we’re going to make sure that whatever we can do to help relieve the immediate suffering of people there is done. And it hasn’t been an obstacle in past situations like this where we’ve provided assistance to countries, including those that we don’t have formal diplomatic relations with, after natural disasters.

QUESTION: Can you check --

MR. CASEY: Yeah, Lach.

QUESTION: Any update on whether they’ve got permission to go in? The UN in Geneva says that the Myanmar authorities, or Burmese authorities, will let them in, will let --

MR. CASEY: Well, we certainly hope so, but I don’t have anything new to offer you beyond what I’ve said this morning.

QUESTION: So they accepted the money, Tom, or you haven’t even heard?

MR. CASEY: This – as I understand it -- this is money that has been authorized for disbursement, but it’s to international aid organizations, not to the Government of Burma. But as far as I know, the Government of Burma has not tried to block contributions to this effort in terms of financial contributions from anybody at this point.


QUESTION: Do you have any – can you give us a sense of what that money is going to go towards? Is it going to be food aid, is it going to be --

MR. CASEY: Well, let’s see. Let me see what I can do. That immediate disaster assistance has been approved to provide to UN relief agencies for water, sanitation, food, and shelter for the affected populations. So that kind of covers the gamut. But I think you'd see the same kinds of items involved in that, that we've seen in past declarations. That could include things from, you know, plastic sheeting, water containers, purification systems, that kind of stuff.

QUESTION: And it’s all going to the UN ultimately?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: What's the status of the U.S. Embassy people there? You indicated this morning they might be authorized to leave, and I wondered how many are there and --

MR. CASEY: Well, we generally don't get into talking about numbers of our officials. I believe, as I mentioned earlier, that the Embassy has been allowed to move to authorized departure status. That is something -- that's something that allows for the voluntary departure of mission staff and dependents. I -- it's something that has been, as I understand, requested, and I believe has been initially approved. But I don't think anyone's actually left the country as a result of it.

Yeah, Michel.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. CASEY: I guess so.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on Hezbollah's role in Iraq, Tom?

MR. CASEY: I -- you know, I've seen the article that I think your question refers back to. I'd really have to refer you to both officials in the Iraqi Government as well as those at MNF-I. I really don't have anything to offer you in terms of being able to confirm or verify any of the details in that story. I do think, though, that the larger point there is one that we have talked about quite regularly. Iran is playing a very unhelpful role in Iraq. It continues to train, fund, and support these extremist militia groups. Whether that is with or without the contributions, I guess is -- would be a way of looking at it, of Hezbollah is almost beside the point since Hezbollah is in many ways a creature of Iran. The fact remains, though, that the Iranian Government continues, despite their public statements of support for the Iraqi Government, to play this negative role, to provide this kind of assistance to militant groups and to militia groups. And it's something we want to see stopped and it's something the Iraqis want to see stopped.

Yeah, Lach.

QUESTION: Yeah, is the State Department involved in a plan to build a zone of influence in Baghdad in the Green Zone?

MR. CASEY: I'm not even sure what that means. Define a “zone of influence” to me?

QUESTION: It said building of hotels and resorts. (Laughter.) Hard to believe.

MR. CASEY: That's not anything that I'm aware of. Look, we certainly encourage and want to see foreign investment take place in Baghdad and throughout Iraq. We've worked with the Neighbors’ group as well as through various donors’ conferences to try and encourage that. Certainly, I think the areas that most people would identify as the kinds of sectors that we would look for that kind of outside investment or interest in generally are more focused on some of the things like the petroleum industry, for example. I'm not familiar with any plans, certainly no U.S. Government plans, to form any kind of cooperative or any kind of such area.

QUESTION: It sounds farfetched, with the rockets coming down right now, anyway.

MR. CASEY: Well, look, I mean, it's going to be a tough place to do business in, just like it's a tough place for our diplomats and others to operate in, for some time. But that doesn't mean that there aren't opportunities there and it doesn't mean that people shouldn't take advantage of them. I'm just not familiar with anyone talking about this kind of complex right now.

Yeah, Susan.

QUESTION: On Belarus?

MR. CASEY: Sure, we can do Belarus.

QUESTION: Have the Belarusians said anything to you directly about these spy scandal allegations?

MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of, is the simple answer.

QUESTION: Do you think -- is it the same? I notice we had a story from March on this. I wondered if it's -- do you think it's the same allegations -- set of allegations or a new set?

MR. CASEY: Look, here's what I think. I think the Belarusian Government is scared of its own people. I think they are afraid of us or anyone else that's willing to stand up and support democracy and democracy advocates there. And I think they've proven, time and again, through their actions, whether that's reduction of our staff or whether that's ridiculous accusations of this nature, that they'll come up with any excuse to try and deflect from what the real issue is. So, you know, these allegations, whether they're new, old or sideways, are simply untrue and they're unfounded, and they make a very poor excuse for reducing our Embassy staff.

QUESTION: So has there been any communication between their government and the U.S. Government in recent days when you -- as you --

MR. CASEY: None that I'm aware of, no. The communication between their government and ours was to say that they were declaring persona non grata our ten officials. And, certainly, this was not a subject that was discussed during those conversations.


QUESTION: Well, do you have anything on Sung Kim's travel or non-travel?

MR. CASEY: He's here in Washington today, nothing scheduled at present, and we'll see what comes up. Someone also had asked me this morning about whether Chris was going to be going to ASEAN senior-level meetings. He is not. That will be our new Ambassador to ASEAN Scot Marciel, who will be representing us there.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Okay, thanks guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)

DPB #79

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