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State Department Briefing, August 2

02 August 2005

North Korea, Russia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Macedonia, Albania, Iran, Turkey, Cyprus, Azerbaijan, Travel by Secretary Rice, Resignation of Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, Sudan, No Change in Policy Toward Latin America/Central American Free Trade Agreement, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia

State Department acting spokesman Tom Casey briefed the press August 2.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Tuesday, August 02, 2005
12:53 p.m. EDT

Briefer:  Tom Casey, Acting Spokesman

NORTH KOREA
-- Six Party Talks/Draft Statement of Principles

RUSSIA
-- Credentials of ABC Journalists/ABC's Broadcast of Interview with Chechen Rebel Leader

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA
-- Renewal of Travel Warning

MACEDONIA
-- Resolution of Intercommunal Differences

ALBANIA
-- U.S. Policy in Kosovo/Current Status of Kosovo

IRAN
-- Contact with Members of EU-3 and IAEA/Statements by EU High Representative Solana and German Chancellor Schroeder/Adherence to the Paris Agreement/Referral to UN Security Council/Intelligence Assessments/Uranium Enrichment Activities/IAEA Activities/Russian Arrangements with Iran to Provide Fuel/EU-3 Proposals

TURKEY
-- Support for Turkey's EU Bid
-- Terrorist Organization PKK
-- U.S. Relationship with Turkey

CYPRUS
-- U.S. Position on Cyprus/Annan Plan/Flights from Azerbaijan/Easing of Economic Isolation for Turkish Cypriots

AZERBAIJAN
-- Secretary Rice's Meeting with Minister of Foreign Affairs

DEPARTMENT
-- Travel by Secretary Rice
-- Resignation of Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega

SUDAN
-- Funeral for Dr. John Garang/Salva Kiir to Succeed Dr. John Garang/Travel by A/S Connie Newman and Special Representative Roger Winter to Sudan/Deputy Secretary Zoellick's Conversations with Salva Kiir and Vice President Taha/Succession Process for First Vice President/Calls to Refrain from Violence

MISCELLANEOUS
-- No Change in Policy Toward Latin America/Central American Free Trade Agreement

VENEZUELA
-- U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela

SAUDI ARABIA
-- Passing of King Fahd/Appointment of King Abdullah/Vice President Cheney to Lead U.S. Delegation

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

TUESDAY, AUGUST 2, 2005
(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

12:53 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY:  Afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the State Department briefing.  I don't have any statements or announcements for you, so let's go right to your questions.

QUESTION:  Can we start with Korea?  Can you give us your take on how the talks are going?  Is there still a constructive atmosphere and were the North Koreans being constructive in these talks?

MR. CASEY:  Well, Barry, I think as you may have already seen from the comments Assistant Secretary Hill made out in Beijing earlier today, talks are continuing.  They had a fairly long set of meetings today of the heads of delegation, focusing largely on continued developments on the statement of principals.  In the morning session, the Chinese produced a third draft of the draft statement and that was reviewed in the morning session.  Comments were exchanged, views were exchanged.  And then after a brief break for lunch, the Chinese then took those comments onboard and produced a fourth draft that incorporated those ideas.  My understanding is that there'll be another heads of delegation meeting tomorrow, at which point they will continue to discuss that fourth draft and continue to focus on reaching some kind of agreement on it.

QUESTION:  But insofar as atmospherics, I mean, the North Koreans had a negative statement publicly, but if this work is proceeding, you know, the inference is that they are being constructive.  Is that right?

MR. CASEY:  Well --

QUESTION:  To an extent.

MR. CASEY:  -- Barry, I think that we basically characterize these discussions as businesslike.  Certainly, as Ambassador Hill said, as we move forward, we are in successive drafts narrowing the differences that are out there.  But I want to emphasize, as we've said from the beginning, that this is a very deliberate and mythological process and we're working through it.  We're continuing to see what kind of progress can be made.  And obviously, it's good that they're continuing to talk and have discussions.  But at this point, as he said, I wouldn't want to try and presume any conclusions.

Yeah, Tammy.

QUESTION:  Do you anticipate the talks having to break for consultations back in capitals?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think we've been consulting fairly consistently, not only -- certainly on the part of the United States, there's been a great deal of consultation back here with Washington, the part of Ambassador Hill and his group.  As I understand it, this last draft that's been circulated, as Ambassador Hill said, was being reviewed in capitals this evening.  And I understand early tomorrow morning, before they reconvene.  But I think that's more a part of an ongoing process for people, rather than anything unique or separate or special related to this draft.

Yeah.  Teri.

QUESTION:  So these anonymous comments that have been floating around saying that the talks should or would end on Wednesday, the U.S. is not of the view that that is a necessary desirable or --

MR. CASEY:  No.  We don't, as we've said all along, we're going to stay at this as long as it is useful and productive and as long as we feel we can make progress.  But certainly, I don't have any end date for them to predict to you.

QUESTION:  Well, can I ask a variation of that?  I understood from what was said on the podium the other day that a sign of progress would be if they made enough headway in this round to be able to set a next round.  So it wouldn't necessarily be a negative sign if they were to -- pick a word -- recess, adjourn, as long as they come back again.  Right?  Which we'll wait and see with --

MR. CASEY:  Barry, I think we really need to wait and see where this goes.  You know, we're continuing the discussions.  At this point, we're focused on trying to see if we can narrow remaining differences and come up with an agreed upon statement of principles.  But how and when these talks conclude, I think, is something I'm just not prepared to speculate on.

Yes.  Saul.

QUESTION:  Change of subject?

MR. CASEY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Russia has through its Foreign Ministry said that it's not going to renew the credentials of ABC journalists and this is a punishment for the ABC interview that was aired with the Chechen rebel.  Do you think this is okay for the Russian Government to do?

MR. CASEY:  Well, Saul, I've seen some of the reports you're talking about and we're seeking to confirm those reports now with Russian officials in Moscow.  Certainly, if that's true, we'd regret that decision.  I think, in terms of the ABC report, though, I'd just refer you back to what Sean said Friday on it.

QUESTION:  What would be regrettable about that decision?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I mean, I think, from our perspective, as we said on Friday, you know, we certainly believe that the actions taken by certain terrorist groups in Chechnya, certainly the actions taken at the school in Beslan and some of the other terrorist activities that have gone on, are absolutely deplorable.  We condemned that at the time.  We continue to condemn them.  We believe that those kinds of attacks on innocents, whether they occur at Chechnya, whether they occur anywhere else in the world, they're simply unacceptable.  They are not a legitimate form of political expression.

We obviously did not have anything to do, as we said on Friday, with ABC's airing of this interview.  But, as we also said at that time, we certainly respect ABC's right, as a news organization, to operate as it sees fit.  And in that sense, I think we believe that ABC, as well as all other members of the media, should have the opportunity for freedom of expression and have the right to report as they see fit.

QUESTION:  So the thing that's regrettable, the thing that you would regret is that ABC would not have the freedom to report as it sees fit if its credentials are yanked.

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, let's see what the actual facts are with the Russians before I sort of get into trying to preview what the response will be.  But, again, I don't think, if in fact, ABC is to somehow be banned from reporting in Russia that that would be positive for -- a positive statement about freedom of expression.

Yeah, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION:  On the Balkans?

MR. CASEY:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Yesterday, suddenly the Department of State issued a travel warning for Bosnia-Herzegovina to remind American citizens for the potential danger.  Since these warnings concerning the entire Balkans Peninsula from a security point of view, could you please to tell us more, what is going on exactly and at what prompted the U.S. Government to do this now in the middle of the summer?

MR. CASEY:  Mr. Lambros, I believe if you look, there have been travel warnings in place for Bosnia and Herzegovina for some time.  As I recall, this is simply a renewal of the existing warning, which is why the first line in it says to remind American citizens of the dangers there.  I think our concerns for American citizens wishing to travel in the region are pretty well stated in the travel warning itself.  And again, this is not something new.  It's something that we've had out there for some time.

QUESTION:  Last night in Belgrade, a Serbian Minister ordered the grounding of two planes rented to a neighboring country - FYROM in retaliation for the jailing of a Serbian Orthodox Church Bishop John by the security authorities in Scopje in the Ochrid area because Bishop John was preaching Christianity.  What is your position on this issue which is developing right now?

MR. CASEY:  Mr. Lambros, I'm afraid that I haven't seen those specific reports.  I think our views, certainly on religious freedom, as we discussed yesterday, are well-known.  With respect to Macedonia, again, we have been strong backers of resolution of intercommunal differences there, certainly through the Lake Ochrid Agreement.  In terms of Serbia, again, I think our policies are well known that we certainly support a peaceful reconciliation of differences among all neighbors in the region.

QUESTION:  On the Balkans -- the Albanians --

MR. CASEY:  All right.  Last one and then let's move on to somebody else.

QUESTION:  Okay.  The Albanian police found near the border with Montenegro (inaudible) automatic rifles, 305 hand grenades, antitank mines, 2,000 weapons, 117 million rounds of ammunition, and 1.5 million explosive devices, according to Associated Press.

I'm wondering if you have anything on that since the press is claiming that these arms are going to be used by new Albanian rebels in Kosovo, which is right now under the protection of the United States, Britain and NATO, and a kind of solution is pending by the end of 2005, as it was said recently many, many times by Under Secretary Nicholas Burns.

MR. CASEY:  Well, Mr. Lambros, let me just step back from that a second.  I haven't seen those specific reports.  Obviously, our policies in Kosovo, as you said, have been very well articulated by Under Secretary Burns.  We certainly do not support any acts of violence and are not supporting any renewed or enhanced weapons transfers within the region.  Certainly, it sounds like it would be a good thing if police or other law enforcement authorities had interdicted any attempts at illegal transfers.

On Kosovo itself, let me remind you that the current status of Kosovo is handled under a UN mandate.  And of course, as Under Secretary Burns has said, we will be looking for a review being conducted by the Secretary General's Special Representative now, focusing on whether the standards that had been outlined by the international community for Kosovo have been met before we might proceed on to the possibility -- I emphasize possibility -- of final status negotiations.  Whether those negotiations would begin would obviously be determined by the outcome of that review.

Let's move on.  Peter.

QUESTION:  Iran, Tom.

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Obviously, you've seen the reports that the Iranians are making very tough statements that their decision to go to fuel cycle activities is irrevocable.  The Europeans have issued a very stern warning.  My question is twofold.  One is, are you in contact with the Europeans about any -- what might be a last-ditch incentive offer to the Iranians?  And two, how close are we to an end to this process in going to the Security Council?

MR. CASEY:  Well, okay.  I think, frankly, we haven't had much of a change for you over what I already told you yesterday.  But we have, as I said, yesterday been in contact with the members of the EU-3.  Under Secretary Burns has done that.  We're continuing, obviously, to watch very closely the situation and we've been in constant contact with the IAEA, as well as our friends in the EU-3.

I think you have seen the statements that EU High Representative Solana made earlier.  He noted that if Iran were to break the suspension, then EU's negotiations would end.  German Chancellor Schroeder has also spoken to this.  I think he's described the situation as "threatening."  Certainly, though, we're continuing to support the EU-3's efforts to resolve this issue through diplomacy and we very much concur with those statements made by European officials and by the UK statement which I referred to yesterday that Iran absolutely needs to maintain its suspension on all enrichment-related activities, including uranium conversion.

QUESTION:  Is that the new --

MR. CASEY:  Let's let Peter follow-up and then we'll --

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) go ahead --

MR. CASEY:  Let the other half of AFP follow-up.  (Laughter).

QUESTION:  Is it a new step toward the Council, the Security Council --

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I don't think I have anything more to offer you on that beyond what I said yesterday.  It is critical to us that Iran maintain its suspension, that it maintain its adherence to the Paris Agreement and that it not take any steps that would be in violation of that.  Obviously, as we said yesterday, if they were to break that agreement, then the next steps would, to our way of thinking, be a referral from the IAEA board to the Security Council.

QUESTION:  Now, just on that, can I just - at what point are they going to be considered in breach of this agreement?

QUESTION:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  I mean, what physically?  If they break the seals, if they bring staff in?  At what point are we going to know?

MR. CASEY:  Again, Peter, I'm not going to try and offer a specific point or data point for you on this, but if we believe that that agreement has been breached, again, the next logical step would be consultations with our friends in the EU-3, as well as with the other IAEA board members, but again, our position would be that if they breach that agreement, we would then want to move to the next step -- Security Council.

Let's go back here first, Saul, and then I'll come around.

QUESTION:  Does the U.S. believe that Iran is further away from having a nuclear weapon than previously believed?

MR. CASEY:  You know, I think I know the press report that you're referring to from this morning.  Look, I don't have any comment that I can offer you on intelligence matters or assessments that might or might not have been made by the intelligence community.  What I think I can say is that we've made clear for a long time, and the international community has been in agreement for some time, that we have very serious concerns about Iran's intentions to acquire nuclear weapons.  That's the whole basis for our efforts through the IAEA. That's the whole basis of our support for the EU-3 diplomacy.  It's our continued belief that Iran's desires and efforts to acquire nuclear weapons is a threat to the entire international community and it's one that we need to deal with and it's one that we are trying to deal with through our support for the EU-3's efforts here.

QUESTION:  Can I follow that point?

MR. CASEY:  All right.  Why don't you go and then we'll let --

QUESTION:  Last April from the podium, Richard Boucher, the spokesman, said U.S. intelligence agencies, in assessing Iran's nuclear program, have used "an estimate that said that Iran was likely - was not likely to acquire a nuclear weapon before the beginning of the next decade.  That remains the case."

I don't see any contradiction in what he said with dusting that estimate off again, leading a newspaper with it.  Is there any reason to retract or update or modify what Mr. Boucher said here in April, that you know of?

MR. CASEY:  Barry, yeah, I don't have anything new to offer you, as far as I know, any comments Ambassador Boucher might have made on that stand.

QUESTION:  Well, you say you have nothing, I need to press.  I know you have constraints when it comes to intelligence, but do you have reason to revise what he said?

MR. CASEY:  I don't have any reason to revise what he said.  And again, I'd refer you to the intelligence community for any comments on intelligence-related issues.

Saul.

QUESTION:  Back to Peter's question.  What we're trying to understand is, as you urge the Iranians not to break the agreement, what actually constitutes a break?  We need to judge when they've broken it and presumably, the Iranians need to be clear when they've broken it or when they're about to break it.  So, can you be specific on what it is they shouldn't do at the Isfahan facility?

MR. CASEY:  They should not engage in any uranium enrichment activities, including uranium conversion.  They should not do anything that would violate either the letter or the spirit of the Paris Accord and that's about as specific as I can be.

QUESTION:  Okay, that's pretty specific.  So things like altering the surveillance cameras to go in there - and I think from what you're saying, actually breaking the seals themselves, that's not a violation?  It's whether they actually go ahead with the activities?

MR. CASEY:  I'm not going to try and parse it any further than I have, Saul.  What I think is important is, the whole reason why - let's remember how we got here.  The whole reason why we are at this stage is because the Iranian Government has engaged in a clandestine nuclear program for almost two decades.  They hid their activities from the international community and when confronted with those activities have still to this day, not fully answered all the questions of the IAEA and not fully come forward with this.

We are working with our friends in the IAEA, in the EU-3 to try and resolve this issue diplomatically, but it would be, as the UK has said, as the German Chancellor has said, as Javier Solana said yesterday, a threatening situation and a disturbing situation if the Iranians were to move forward in any way, shape or form with violating this agreement.  And I think that's, again, a fairly clear statement.

Yeah, Teri.

QUESTION:  So is the United States calling for a Board of Governors meeting?

MR. CASEY:  We have not done so.  I'd refer you to the IAEA on what activities might be coming forward.

QUESTION:  But you're a member of the Board of Governors, obviously a very powerful member, and why are you not calling for consultations on this with the Board of Governors?

MR. CASEY:  Again, right now I think our focus is working on with the EU-3.  We are consulting with the IAEA, as we have been throughout this process, but I don't have anything to share with you about future Board of Governors meetings.

You want to -- still on this?

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MR. CASEY:  Okay, Saul.

QUESTION:  I believe the Iranians were promised by the EU-3 that there would be a presentation of the proposal late July or early August.  Well, we're already at early August.  How much longer do they have to wait?

MR. CASEY:  Well, how longer much do the Iranians have to wait or how much longer does the EU-3 have to wait?  Look, my understanding is the EU-3 is moving forward on this, but I'd leave it to them to describe when and in what way they might breathe their proposals out.

QUESTION:  A couple of other things.

MR. CASEY:  Same thing -- still on Iran?

QUESTION:  No different.

QUESTION:  Iran.

MR. CASEY:  All right, we're still on Iran.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Russian came out even after this announcement and said that it still supports the civilian nuclear program that it, of course, has been working on for so long with Iran.  Doesn't this cause a problem for the United States?  You're opposed to even the civilian nuclear program and, despite these threatening announcements, Russia is remaining supportive.

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I think what we've said with regard to the Russian arrangements with Iran is that we've seen and viewed positively the fact that they have worked out arrangements so that they would be providing fuel on a closed-cycle basis.  Meaning that any nuclear fuel they would be providing for Iran's civilian nuclear facilities, would ultimately be returned back to Russia in a closed fuel cycle process so that there could be assurance that none of this material would be diverted or otherwise used for a nuclear weapons program.

My understanding as well is that the final disposition of all of this -- the final go-ahead on this is still pending.  Some form of settlement of the outstanding issues between the Iran and the IAEA.

QUESTION:  But if Iran does go ahead and pursue a hostile program, a hostile nuclear program, aren't you ever more concerned about the dual-use technology, besides just the spent fuel?  There are other items?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think for right now, our focus is on trying through the EU-3 to end the threat of Iran's nuclear weapons program.  And I think we'll stay focused on that.  And I really don't want to speculate about what'll happen otherwise.

QUESTION:  One more on Iraq?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.  One more on Iraq, please, and then Barry, I'm sorry, then we'll go --

QUESTION:  Just two statements you said previously.  You said that the United States was in contact with the EU-3 and you said the EU-3 is moving forward on this proposal they're going to make to the Iranians.

(A) Have they briefed you on what the proposal they're going to make to the Iranians?  And (b) is the United States comfortable with the proposal they're going to make?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, we're in regular contact with the EU-3 since Under Secretary Burns spoke to them yesterday.  But I don't really have much that I can offer you in terms of specifics about what might or might not be included in any EU-3 proposals.  Obviously, though, again, they are talking to us and we're very much engaged with them and aware of the kinds of activities they're undertaking.

QUESTION:  Are you on the same page with them on this?

MR. CASEY:  I think we are on the same page with the EU-3 in terms of moving forward towards a resolution on this.  Obviously, I'm not going to be in a position to speak about any proposals that they haven't yet put forward.

QUESTION:  France has reported to have said, Turkey, can I get into the EU until it ends its occupation of Cyprus.  Are you on the same page with the French on that?

MR. CASEY:  Well, Barry, I think --

QUESTION:  I know it's a European grouping, but you can have an opinion.

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think as you know, Barry, we have a longstanding history of support for Turkey's EU bid.  We continue to support Turkey's goal of acceding to the EU.  Although, of course, we aren't a member of the EU and this certainly is a decision for the European Union itself to make.

With regard to Cyprus.  As our friend Mr. Lambros certainly knows, our policy on this is well known.  We have not changed our views on that.  We certainly want to see a resolution of the differences on Cyprus resolved.  And we still believe that the way forward on that is under the basis of the Annan plan and what we're working for in Cyprus right now is for both sides to come back to the Secretary General in response to his suggestion that they come up with some ideas for how to move that process forward.

QUESTION:  Well, the stalemate continues.  The troops remain.  It sounds as if the French have another approach that might move things along they hope, I suppose.  The U.S. is just going to wait for the two sides to get together again, right?

MR. CASEY:  Well, Barry, I mean, I think we need to remember where this process was.  The Annan plan went forward.  It was voted on by both communities on Cyprus.  Because one community rejected that plan, that was what we frankly thought was a positive, good plan and an opportunity to resolve the issue.  At this point, conversations continue between the Secretary General, between his representatives and leaders in Cyprus.  We certainly have our contacts with both communities as well.  And again, what we are doing is encouraging them to respond to the Secretary General's offer to come up with some suggestions to move forward.  But at this point, it's up to those parties to try and respond to those proposals and see how we can move forward.

QUESTION:  On Cyprus?

MR. CASEY:  On Cyprus?  Sure.

QUESTION:  Azerbaijan has recently opened the flights to the northern part of the island and the Greek side is very dissatisfied.  They're threatening with retaliation of opening flights to the occupied territories of Azerbaijan.  Where does the U.S. stand on all of this?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I really don't have anything for you on the specific flights.  That's obviously a bilateral issue.  And I'd leave it to the Azeri Government to comment on it.  I think you know our policy is that we continue to support the easing of the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots and that's the policy we're pursuing with response to the north.

QUESTION:  A bilateral between who -- Azerbaijan and --

MR. CASEY:  And Cyprus.

QUESTION:  The Government of Cyprus.

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.  It is not -- it's not an issue.  It's not an issue for us.

QUESTION:  But if the Government of Cyprus objects, where does that --

MR. CASEY:  Again, I'd leave it to the Government of Azerbaijan, the Government of Cyprus.

QUESTION:  But you don't mean bilaterally with Northern Cyprus?

MR. CASEY:  No.

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike).

MR. CASEY:  Our position on Cyprus has not changed.  Our position on recognition has not changed.  I think I anticipated the question.  (Laughter).

QUESTION:  Mr. Casey, you have to clarify between the Government of Cyprus and of Azerbaijan -- or what?  Between Azerbaijan and what?

MR. CASEY:  Her question was that the Government of Azerbaijan has instituted flights that other governments in the region have objected to that.  That is a matter between those other governments and the Government of Azerbaijan to work out.  I do not have an official U.S. comment on it.

Let's move around.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Do you have anything on Secretary Rice's meeting this morning on Azerbaijani Foreign Minister?

MR. CASEY:  I have a more of a preview than a readout.  The meeting was just concluding as I came out here.  So in terms of the preview --

QUESTION:  They're going to (inaudible).

MR. CASEY:  They were -- what they were planning on talking about was a number of bilateral issues.  We certainly were going to thank the Government of Azerbaijan for its assistance in the global war on terror.  Understand that Azerbaijan does have military forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.  We are also going to stress and talk about the importance, as we always do in our conversations with the Azeri Government, of the parliamentary elections in November and the importance of those elections meeting international standards.  And we certainly expected the subject of Nagorno-Karabak to come up as well.

QUESTION:  Interfax is quoting the Kyrgyz Government as saying Secretary of State Rice will travel to Bishkek to attend the August 14th inaugural.  And I know how reluctant she is to travel, but is it possible she might be going there for the inaugural and combine it with a vacation, possibly?

(Laughter.)

MR. CASEY:  Well, I don't have any announcements to offer you in terms of travel, Barry, but I'm unaware of any plans for her to travel at this time.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Are you aware of talks for two days, beginning tomorrow, on Kurdish extremists, I guess you would call them militants?  Supposedly, Turkey, Iraq, and the U.S. will sit down here tomorrow for two days and talk about this problem.  Can you give us anything to get started on that?

MR. CASEY:  I'm sorry, Barry.  I actually don't have anything for you on that.  Let me see what I can get.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR. CASEY:  Teri?

QUESTION:  Any update on plans for someone to attend the funeral of John Garang and any assessment of his already named successor here?

MR. CASEY:  In terms of the funeral, I understand that the funeral is going to take place in Juba in Southern Sudan on August 6th.  We do expect that we'll have a senior U.S. representative attending, but I actually don't have any information about who that will be at this point.  I expect to have something in the next couple of days, obviously.

In terms of his successor, let me just explain what my understanding is of what the status is at the moment.  The Sudan People Liberation's Movement leadership and the Sudan People's Liberation Army military command confirmed yesterday that Salva Kir was going to be the organization's new chairman and the movement's designee as the first Vice President of the Government of National Unity.  That decision still needs to be ratified, so he, as I understand it, will not formally become Vice President until a week or two from now.

Certainly, we think that it's a good thing that this process has moved forward.  As we said yesterday, there was contingency plans in the Agreement, in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, to allow for a successor to be named in the unfortunate event, as did happen, that Dr. Garang had passed on.  The place we are right now, I think, is that we're confident that both sides are committed and continue to be committed to implementing that Comprehensive Peace Agreement and both sides have signaled that to us in our conversations with them.  And we'll certainly be looking forward to having Assistant Secretary Newman and Roger Winter, the Deputy Secretary Special Representative, in Southern Sudan tomorrow to talk with Salva Kir and talk with the Southern Sudanese leadership.

I should note that the Deputy Secretary, who is currently in Beijing, did speak with Salva Kir yesterday.  He's also going to be reaching out to Vice President Taha a little later as well.

Saul.

QUESTION:  When - well, I just didn't check the itinerary of Newman and Winter.  You said tomorrow they're in Southern Sudan.  Are they already in Sudan?

MR. CASEY:  They are still en route.  My understanding is they will arrive tomorrow.

QUESTION:  So, do they go to Khartoum first or the south that afternoon?

MR. CASEY:  I'll have to check on their exact itinerary.  I know they were intending on being in Southern Sudan tomorrow.

Yeah.

QUESTION:  Tom, you said they were leaving yesterday.  Yesterday, you told us they were leaving yesterday.

MR. CASEY:  Yeah, and they are currently - my understanding is they're currently overnighting in a neighboring country.

Let's go back here.

QUESTION:  Still on Sudan.

MR. CASEY:  I'm sorry, still on Sudan?

QUESTION:  Yeah, just - there was a lot of violence yesterday.  Some has continued --

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  -- in some clashes between supporters of the southern - the former southern rebels and the government.  This seems to undercut your confidence that sort of an official level, people are prepared to go forward with peace and everything, while in the shantytowns, they're actually fighting each other.

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I think from our perspective, we're continuing to look for - and what we are so far seeing is an orderly and peaceful succession process for the position of first Vice President President, and that is something that's very positive.

Obviously, we do continue to call on all Sudanese people to refrain from violence and to maintain calm and continue on the path of nonviolence and reconciliation, to continue to work together to fulfill Dr. Garang's legacy and to implement the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

There have been, as you've said, reports of sporadic violence.  My understanding is while there is still some of those reports coming in, that the situation is a good deal calmer today.  We certainly would like to see that continue and like to see all violence cease.  But again, I think the important thing for us to remember is that the Sudanese leadership, both from the north and the south, have, in light of Dr. Garang's death, recommitted themselves to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and have all said that they will intend to move forward to it.  And part of what Assistant Secretary Newman and Roger Winter's visit to Sudan will be is to reaffirm U.S. support for that process as well.

Anything else on Sudan?  Okay.  Let's go back here.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thank you.  On Latin America, Mr. Casey.  There is a new confrontation between the church and the Venezuelan Government.  My question is are the U.S. Government is still following what happened in Venezuela as a part of the international community?  I know Mr. Noriega resigned last week, but is this to expect a new change of policy toward Latin America, toward Venezuela?  And for instance, the Finance Minister of Bolivia resigned after some comments made here in Washington last week on the remarks of Mr. Noriega saying that the Venezuelan Government provides some financement to the coca leader Evo Morales in Bolivia.  Do you have any comments on that?

MR. CASEY:  I know there's a lot in there.  Let me see if I can find a way to wrap all those questions up for you.

First of all, as we did mention last week, Assistant Secretary Roger Noriega is going to be leaving the Department, though he is still here right now, going to explore some opportunities in the private sector.  And we very much value his service both as Assistant Secretary and previous to that as the U.S. Ambassador to the OAS.

In terms of U.S. policy, though, I do not think that any changes in personnel here at the Department represent a change in policy of this Administration.  The Administration has put forward a very positive policy for Latin America.  The Secretary in her trip to the region, I think, articulated it very fully that we're looking to build on the successes of democracy.  We're working to help expand economic opportunity and development in the region.

I think you saw over at the White House a little earlier today, the Secretary participating in the signing of the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which is one of the ways that the Administration is pursuing greater economic opportunities for the people of the region.  And this was very much a landmark agreement that we think will provide great benefit to the people of the region and provide new opportunities for businesses, both here and there.

In terms of Venezuela, again I think the Secretary has made our policy quite clear, and I don't have anything new to tell you about that today.  I do think --

QUESTION:  Do you (inaudible) in what will be the policy towards Venezuela?

MR. CASEY:  The policy towards Venezuela in the future will be the policy that we've maintained over time.  As the Secretary has said, we continue to look for Venezuela as we look for all nations in the hemisphere to enhance the development of democracy, for all those leaders who have been elected democratically to govern democratically, to continue to make forward progress in terms of economic development.  But again, I don't think you should read into the change in assistant secretary as any kind of broader change in our policies.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) of the Finance Minister of Bolivia after the comments or the remarks --

MR. CASEY:  I don't have anything for you on that.  I'd refer you to the Government of Bolivia for the reasons for his resignation.  That's an internal matter to Bolivia.

Yeah.

QUESTION:  On Zimbabwe, any comment on the dropping of the last treason charges against the opposition leader?

MR. CASEY:  I actually don't have anything on that, but let me try and get you something.

Let's go over here.

QUESTION:  On the U.S.-Saudi relation, what are the issues of concerns on this relations?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think our policy -- again, I talked a little bit about this yesterday and I think our policies regarding Saudi Arabia are well known and I don't have anything particularly new to offer you on that, Michel.  I can say that we have a broad and deep relationship with Saudi Arabia, that we cooperate with the Saudi Government on a number of issues.

Right now, though, I think our main emphasis is on paying condolences to the Saudi Government and the Saudi people on the death of the King, to welcome the appointment of new King Abdullah.  I think, as you heard from Scott McClellan this morning, the Vice President will be leading the official U.S. delegation to Saudi Arabia to offer our condolences.  And I think right now our main focus is on continuing the good work that we've done with the Saudi Government and moving forward in our relationship under the Saudi new leadership.

QUESTION:  Did they say who might be going with him from State?

MR. CASEY:  No, I don't have any further details in terms of the composition of the delegation.  And I know that's something that they're going to announce from over there.

QUESTION:  Would you suspect that it would be, you know, I don't want to say -- or use it improper, confined strictly to the occasion or is it an opportunity to talk to the Saudis about financing inadvertent, perhaps, but financing of extremists, of stronger stands against terrorism?  Or is it certainly not the occasion to do that?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I think we talk to the Saudi Government at a variety of levels all the time.  I think the purpose of this delegation is to convey our condolences and also to talk with the new king on his assumption of the throne, but this is not something that I'm aware of that is anything beyond that.

Okay, let's go over here and then we'll go over to you, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION:  On China?

MR. CASEY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  The CNOOC, the Chinese oil company largely controlled by the Chinese Government, announced to withdraw their bid to acquire the U.S. oil company, the Unocal, because - their reasoning is because of the political environment in the U.S.  I'm just wondering if you have any comment.

MR. CASEY:  No, nothing beyond what's been said previously about that issue.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION:  On Turkey, the Turkish Government is claiming now that the Kurdish organization, PKK of Abdullah Ocalan, he has an office with a flag in downtown Kirkuk of Iraq.  I'm wondering if you have anything on that, since the area is under supervision of a U.S.-British coalition forces and, of course, with the Kurdish forces loyal to Jelal Talabani and Massoud Barzani?

MR. CASEY:  Okay.  Mr. Lambros, I haven't seen those specific comments.  Again, in terms of operational details of things happening in Iraq, I'd refer you to the multinational force, as well as the Iraqi Government for further details.  I think, as we've covered quite a few times in the last few days, our position on the PKK is well known.  They are a terrorist organization.  We continue to cooperate closely both with our friends in Iraq, as well as our friends in Turkey, to ensure that the PKK does not have a safe haven or an ability to operate out of Northern Iraq.

QUESTION:  Are you going to try to get us something today, are you, on those talks?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Please.

MR. CASEY:  On the trilaterals.

QUESTION:  Because the Turkish representative is a senior security official, so --

MR. CASEY:  Yeah, I just didn't --

QUESTION:  I would think this --

MR. CASEY:  I just didn't have a chance to check before I came out here, Barry, and I'll get you something on it today.

QUESTION:  One more question.  How do you comment to the polls conducted by the well-known pro-American group ARI, A-R-I, that 35 percent of the Turkish people say today that Turkey and the United States of America are rapidly moving to a full war due to the PKK activities north of Iraq?  It's generating a lot of publicity over there.

MR. CASEY:  Okay.  Well, Mr. Lambros, I think the best thing I can say is that the United States and Turkey have a long history of friendship.  We have worked together cooperatively.  As NATO allies, we have worked together at the UN.  We've worked together on a wide range of issues.  We certainly have a broad and deep relationship that covers politics, economics, as well as security matters and we certainly look forward for that to continue.  We care a good deal about the opinion of foreign publics and we certainly are actively working to make sure, through our embassy and other means, that we explain our policies and our views properly, but I think there's a good deal of friendship between the American and Turkish people and we certainly look forward for that to continue.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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