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14 April 2005

State Department Briefing, April 14

Israel/Palestinians, Italy/Iraq, Egypt, China, China/Japan, North Korea, Western Hemisphere

State Department acting spokesman Thomas Casey briefed the press April 14.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

Daily Press Briefing Index
Thursday, April 14, 2005
3:00 p.m. EST

Briefer:  Thomas H. Casey, Acting Spokesman

-- Announcement of Special Envoy James Wolfensohn / Gaza Disengagement
-- Issue of Gaza Pullout / General Ward / Meetings with Israelis and Palestinians
-- President Abbas and Consolidation of Security Forces

-- Investigation into Shooting of Italian Agent
-- Meeting of Deputy Prime Minister Fini and Secretary Rice

-- Release of Human Rights Report / Political Reform
-- Assessment of Human Rights Problems 

-- Human Rights 2004 Council Report / Status of Lifting Arms Embargo / Under Secretary Burns
-- New Tang Dynasty Television and Eutelsat
-- Media Freedom / Ongoing US Dialogue

-- Ongoing Conflict / US Interest
-- Dialogue Between Parties

-- Commitment to Six Party Talks

-- Review of Passport Issue

DPB # 63

APRIL 14, 2005

(3:00 p.m. EDT)

MR. CASEY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to what amounts to a late edition of the State Department Briefing.  I know we've all had a lot going on today.  Certainly, I know you've had an opportunity to hear from the Secretary herself on a couple of issues.  I obviously don't have any additional statements or announcements to make at this time, but I'd be happy to take any questions that you haven't already been able to ask her.

QUESTION:  Could we start with a thank you?

MR. CASEY:  We can start with a thank you. 

QUESTION:  Seriously.  Do you have any resources that you can talk about with respect to Gaza? 

MR. CASEY:  I really don't have much to add, George, to what the Secretary has already said.  As you know, there are various monies available in the current budget, as well as in the supplemental that's been requested, in general, for supporting reform in the Palestinian Authority.  But I don't think I have anything new to add today to what Richard and Adam have said previously about our discussions with the Israelis on that subject.

QUESTION:  On the same issue.  Do you happen to know whether the new Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement, Mr. Wolfensohn, is taking a paid job or an unpaid job?  It's a very serious question.

MR. CASEY:  No, it is a serious question, Charlie, and I'll have to check for you on that.  I honestly don't know what kind of compensation he might or might not be receiving for it.

QUESTION:  When the Secretary says that, "he will report to the Quartet" how does that work?  How, sort of, formal an institution is the Quartet if he's the Special Envoy of this?  Do they have some kind of charter or something like that?  Or is it very informal?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I know there is an agreement among the Quartet, that he will be the Envoy for the four of them.  I think the thing I want to stress, or want to go back to in talking about this, is just to remind you a little bit of the couple of the points that the Secretary made. 

First and foremost, he's a Special Envoy for the Quartet but specifically for Gaza Disengagement.  Obviously, there are other people working individually for each of the Quartet members.  We have folks working on things like security, including General Ward, and these people are going to be continuing their mission.  Mr. Wolfensohn, as the Secretary said, will be reporting to the Quartet.  At this point, I'm not aware and can't really give you specifics on the formal mechanisms for doing that.  But as you know, the Quartet members meet regularly at a variety of different levels and I'd expect there would be opportunities as he moved along for them, to brief them in a variety of different formats. 

Again, he's not taking up his position, as the Secretary said, until June 1st.  And some of these modalities will be worked out between now and then, I think.

QUESTION:  Tom, do you know who he reports to here, within the U.S. Government?  Does he report to Elliot Abrams?  Does he report to David Welch?  Who does he report to?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think he reports to the administration.  I know he'll have contact with a number of the people in this building, as well as throughout the administration working on this, but I don't think there's a specific point of contact for him.  At least, not one that I have to share with you at this point.


MR. CASEY:  Joel.

QUESTION:  This isn't going over well.  Today, Jewish settlers and others have chained 167 schools shut and nursery schools in the Tel Aviv sub area.  And also, there's been a militant that's been shot dead by Israelis, in Nablus, at a refugee camp.  Is there any -- is General Ward and Jim Wolfensohn -- are they going to work to try and downplay this whole pullout from Gaza?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I'm not sure -- there's a lot of questions in there, Joel.  I think in general, the thing that we've been trying to highlight today with the announcement of Mr. Wolfensohn's appointment, is that the Gaza Disengagement plan does represent and present a real opportunity for us to move forward, for the Palestinians to get back land for their use, to help us move forward on the roadmap.  The Quartet partners, all the Quartet partners, believe firmly that now is the opportunity to put someone in the role of being able to help facilitate that.  And of course, the Secretary outlined what his duties and responsibilities would be. 

Regards to General Ward, as you know, he's been out in the region since March 9th.  He continues to talk with both Palestinian and Israeli officials to try and help move forward on some of the security aspects of the peace process.  His work is going to continue and the work of some of the other Envoys, the representatives of some of the other Quartet partners will go forward as well.

Let's go -- then go back to Saul.

QUESTION:  On India? 

MR. CASEY:  Oh, sorry.  Keep going Michel.

QUESTION:  Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered the security forces today to come under the authority of three main institutions.  Do you have any assessment on that?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I don't think I have a very formal assessment to offer you, Michel.  I certainly -- we've seen his remarks and we're aware of the statements that he's made.  Obviously, consolidation of the security forces in the Palestinian Authority has been a goal of ours for some time.  I think with this announcement, as with others of course, the key is implementation.  And we'll be looking to see how this process is carried out.  Certainly, I know General Ward will be continuing to talk with Palestinian officials about how we move forward and do this. 

As you know, President Abbas has made clear his commitment to end the violence and terror and to pursue peaceful resolution of the conflict.  And he has taken some concrete steps to take control of the security situation and we'll support his efforts.  We have supported his efforts.  We'll continue to support his efforts.  But there's still a lot of work to be done.  So the words are welcome.  We certainly know -- now need to see the follow up and the implementation.


QUESTION:  A follow-up to General Ward's work.  If you don't know the correct answer, you can take the question, please.  Do you know if he's met with Israelis and Palestinians together?  Or is it just one and then the other?

MR. CASEY:  I believe the meetings have been separately rather than together, but before I tell you something that's not true, let me just do a quick check on that for you, Charlie, and I'll get back to you on it. 

Girl in the back.  Please, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Are you aware of that NBC gave the news that the results, the preliminary results of the investigation into the friendly fire incident, which killed an Italian intelligence agent near Baghdad, near the airport when he was driving the journalist who had just been released to the airport to depart. 

And according to MSNBC advance on the results, it was totally -- they completely absolved the American soldiers.  Obviously, this created quite a buzz in Italy today and I was wondering if you have any comment about it.  Clarification, anyway.

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think the main clarification I can offer is that: a) the Secretary and Foreign Minister Fini spoke to this issue, I think, very, very clearly, yesterday in their press availability here.  Id just refer you back to what the Secretary said, which is that we're proceeding, first of all cooperatively and in the spirit of friendship.  We're working together on this.  And the most important thing is not that this be done fast, but that it be done right. 

The investigation is still ongoing.  The conclusions -- or it has not reached any conclusions at this point.  And I know that anyone asserting that conclusions have been reached or anyone claiming that conclusions have been reached and they know what they are, must be misinformed because the investigation is ongoing, again, with the active participation of both Italian and American officials.  And we certainly hope that it will be done as soon as possible.  But as the Secretary said, the most important thing is to do this right, not to do it fast.


QUESTION:  On India, when the Secretary and the Foreign Minister upstairs were emphasizing increased cooperation on the civilian nuclear front, is it that the United States is planning to help India actually build nuclear reactors?

MR. CASEY:  You know, I actually don't have a lot of specifics to add other than what the Secretary said.  We're looking at a variety of ways of cooperation, but I don't have any specific plans to talk about for you at this point. 

Who else have we got?  Peter.

QUESTION:  Yeah, Tom, two days ago there was a report issued by a government-appointed human rights panel in Egypt that was actually very critical of Egypt's human rights performance there, including, if I'm right, that they're against the emergency laws.  How do you see this, this panel and this work?  And also, as a more general question, do you see Egypt making more progress there to sort of ease the tensions that led the Secretary to postpone a visit last month?

MR. CASEY:  Well, let me address the report first.  First of all, we do view the release of this report as a positive step in Egypt's political reform process.  As you know, the report documents a number of things, including a number of the human rights violations that we've talked about in our annual State Department 2004 Country Report on Human Rights and Practices and it makes a number of recommendations to the Government of Egypt on how to address that.

I have to be honest, we have not done a full and complete review of the report yet.  We are continuing to look at it.  But we are encouraged that this organization, which was created on the instruction of President Mubarak and has been supported by the Egyptian Government, including funded by the Egyptian Government, has presented such a frank assessment of Egypt's human rights problems. 

And we do think that this bodes well for more open political dialogue and discourse in Egypt and is an example of how Egypt can move forward in its reform process. 

QUESTION:  And now about the second part of the question, because there was widespread reports that the Secretary had actually canceled or postponed a trip to Cairo because of the Nour case there.  Do you think that the ensemble of what's going on in Egypt has made a better climate there so that you're starting to think about rescheduling the trip?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think Richard and Adam have both addressed the subject of the Secretary's change in travel plans, and I don't think they presented it in quite that way and I'd refer you back to what they said on that issue.

I do think that anything that can be done to promote greater openness, greater political reform in the Middle East or in the broader Middle East is extremely important and something we're supportive of.  The Secretary spoke to that a little bit this afternoon in terms of the context of the importance of internally generated reform in the Middle East to the administration and to the President's agenda. 

QUESTION:  So no comment on trip rescheduling --

MR. CASEY:  Again, I don't have anything new to add to that.  I'd just refer you back to what's been said previously by the spokesmen.


QUESTION:  A different subject, on China and the EU.  The Secretary wouldn't go this afternoon as far as Nick Burns went this morning on the Hill about the fact that the administration doesn't believe at this time that that embargo will be, in fact, lifted soon.  Can you tell us why does Mr. Burns believe that this is not going to happen anytime soon, and do you view that as perhaps a result of American diplomacy?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think, first of all, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nick Burns did give extensive testimony on this subject today.  I have not had a chance to fully go through it or the Q&A with it, but I think the Secretary did speak to the issue today.

You know, we've been making the case, as she said, for some time that we don't think now is the moment for the EU to lift its arms embargo on China.  As much as there are now comments as much as there are now indications that European officials are rethinking a move to lift the embargo, we think that's a good thing.  I'd leave it to them to describe to you how much our persistent discussions with them and clear points that we have made about our positions has or has not influenced their decisions.  But that's for them to talk about.


QUESTION:  The Chinese are saying they are doing a much better job at protecting human rights.  There's a story this morning that said that a large number of people in the security forces have been held accountable for abusing citizens. 

MR. CASEY:  Yeah, I think what you're referring to is China's 2004 human rights report on itself, which was prepared and distributed by the State Council of Information a couple days ago.

I don't have much to say about the report itself.  What I think is clear is that we have expressed our views on China's human rights record very carefully and very succinctly in the Country Report on Human Rights.  I think we stand by those conclusions, and while anything China can do to improve the situations cited in that report is a good thing, obviously we believe that there are serious concerns there and that they need to be addressed.

QUESTION:  On this, Secretary Burns also said that as part of the lobbying of the EU not to go ahead with lifting the arms embargo, that next week there was going to be a meeting.  It was basically about Asian affairs but would be -- that the U.S. would try and make it particularly about the arms embargo.  Do you know at what level -- and I don't know if you had time to check -- at what level the meeting will be?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah, I did at least get a chance to check on this one, Saul, before I came out here. 

We are planning on starting a dialogue and some discussions with the European Union next week.  The focus on that is in the broad security situation in the Asia Pacific region and it will be held at various levels as it advances and moves forward.  However, the meeting that we're planning on putting together for next week, the senior U.S. Government or State Department participant in that will be Under Secretary Burns. 

I don't have a time or date yet scheduled for it.  The actual logistics of this are still being worked out. 

QUESTION:  So his counterparts are expected to take part in that?

MR. CASEY:  I don't know who's going to be participating from the other countries' side.  I'd leave it to them to talk about it.  I would assume that they'd have participants at a roughly equivalent level to him.

QUESTION:  Is it here?

MR. CASEY:  Being arranged right now.  I don't have anything for you in terms of where.

QUESTION:  It’s going to be here, right?

MR. CASEY:  Again, I don't know whether it will be here or not.  There may be other ways of doing it.

You're up, Peter.

QUESTION:  There seems to be, well, obviously, continuing and deepening acrimony between China and Japan, including the violent demonstrations, including a lot of rhetoric.  What is the United States position in this in terms of do they see the United States as having a direct interest in resolving this conflict between China and Japan, and is the United States -- do they see they can do anything and are they doing anything?

MR. CASEY:  Try that again?  Do the people in the region see the United States as having a role or do we see --

QUESTION:  No, I'm sorry.  I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. 

MR. CASEY:  Okay.

QUESTION:  The deepening conflict between China and Japan and the war of words and the demonstrations -- does the United States see that it has a direct interest in preventing this from getting worse and what are the United States direct interests in this situation?  And is the United States doing anything or envisaging anything to try to participate to help reduce tensions? 

MR. CASEY:  Yeah, I mean, I think we've spoken to this in terms of individual issues over the last few days.  Obviously, we have and maintain good relations with many of the countries involved here, certainly with China and with Japan and with South Korea.  We continue to urge that any of these kinds of issues be resolved through dialogue among the parties.  We certainly know that there are ongoing discussions among the parties on a number of these issues and we support those.  But again, I think as Richard said yesterday, we have not been directly involved in those discussions, and I think if you check the transcript, he said he wasn't sure anyone had actually been asked to be either. 

But we do think this is something that the parties can work on themselves and are capable of resolving in a spirit of cooperation and friendship and it's obviously something we're interested in seeing happen.


QUESTION:  Do you see this involvement between China and Japan as maybe justification in another respect for when you want -- you'd like your six-party talks to go ahead with North Korea as somewhat justification, causing a pronounced stir or dissent so that those talks would then fall apart and not proceed?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah, well, I think Richard addressed that yesterday.  Obviously, we want to see good and close relations among all the various countries in the region.  But in terms of the six-party talks, there has been, is and we expect will continue to be unanimity on the need for all of us to work together in the six-party talk frameworks to deal with the North Korean nuclear threat.  And that cooperation is continuing and ongoing and none of the other issues between these countries has affected it, nor do we expect it to.  And again, I'd refer you back to some of the things Richard said for a more detailed view on it.


QUESTION:  I'm just wondering, you may have know that due to the pressure from Beijing that our broadcasting into China would have -- scheduled to be stopped and not renewed tomorrow and we are the only one based in -- U.S.-based and broadcasting into China with open signal and free information.  Do you have anything on that? 

MR. CASEY:  Well, for the benefit of your colleagues who don't work for your news organization, let me provide a little bit of context to this and tell you what we do know.  New Tang Dynasty Television, which is, as you know, an independent broadcaster into China, is seeking to continue direct satellite broadcasts into that country using Eutelsat satellite, which it's been doing for the past year.

For reasons that are disputed between the two companies, Eutelsat plans not to renew the contract with New Tang Dynasty when it expires tomorrow, on April 15th. 

We have been encouraging Eutelsat and the broadcaster to find a solution that will satisfy Eutelsat's legitimate business needs, as well as New Tang Dynasty's aspirations to remain on the air in China.  Officials from here and the State Department have met with both parties to try and explore ways to achieve this end.  Certainly it's important that broadcasters and satellite operators find ways to ensure open and profitable airways and that all governments support their efforts. 

QUESTION:  Do you have anything on the role of Beijing here?

MR. CASEY:  As I said, in terms of our understanding, the reasons for this decision are disputed between Eutelsat and New Tang Dynasty and I'm not in a position to offer an opinion on that.

QUESTION:  And how about the continuous regular harassment of New Tang Dynasty to use (inaudible) here in the United States and others as well by -- obviously from Beijing?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah, again, I think just as with a number of issues related to media freedom in China, you know, China's access -- or, excuse me, China's efforts to limit its citizens' access to independent information, whether that's on the internet or through the press, radio or television, is contrary to the development of a free and open society.  And I believe, as you know, Secretary Rice, when she was in Asia last month, made very clear the administration's commitment to support human rights and freedom and freedom of expression and freedom of information.  And certainly we would welcome the expansion of free and independent broadcasting in China and worldwide.

QUESTION:  Do you know any way have been found so far?  I mean, U.S. Government is obviously biggest client of the same satellite company. 

MR. CASEY:  Yeah, as I said, as I understand it, there are discussions that are continuing but I'm not aware that a resolution to this has been found.


QUESTION:  There are alternate ways of doing media-type broadcasting, such as webcasts and using broadband over the internet, very inexpensive, but China, with its human rights record, has been seen fit to block blogs and chat rooms and other type of what would be considered normal type of communications to their populace.  Have you spoken to the Chinese Government concerning this?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, Joel, I think issues regarding human rights, generally, including freedom of expression and right of free media, are an ongoing part of our dialogue with China.  It's something that gets raised as a regular issue at all levels and will continue to be done so.


QUESTION:  The President this morning said that he was surprised to read in the newspapers last week about the announcement that was made here about the passports that will be needed to come back into the U.S. from Canada and Mexico.  He also said that he's asked Secretary Rice to review that intention and perhaps find a more flexible way to deal with the issue.  Do you know anything about the subject and has the Secretary given a thought about the review that the President wants?

MR. CASEY:  Nicholas, I think I'm on safe ground in assuring you that if the President has asked the Secretary to conduct a review that she will, in fact, do it.  But I honestly don't have anything to offer you in terms of specifics on it. 

As you know, the decision on this is based on the need to implement legislation that's been passed by Congress.  As briefers here told you before, we now have a public comment period open on some of the proposed rules that are out there.  We'll certainly look at all the comments that are available from the public and look to find ways to implement this program, again, this legislatively mandated program, in the way that's most efficient and that facilitates travel in the best ways possible.  But I'm not in the position at this point to offer you any specifics about that.


QUESTION:  Can I ask you about Posada Carriles.  Now that the his lawyer is speaking, saying that he's seeking asylum, I wonder if you're at more liberty to address the issue.  Is his history in the thing he's accused of grounds enough to consider having him sent out of the country? 

MR. CASEY:  Saul, I'm afraid that, as always, we're not in a position to be able to comment on asylum matters or asylum cases.  I refer you over to the Justice Department or the Department of Homeland Security for comment, but I'm afraid you'd probably get the same lack of response because I believe they're covered by some of the same restrictions.

QUESTION:  Asylum aside, do you consider Posada Carriles to be a disreputable individual?

MR. CASEY:  I actually, at this point, don't have an opinion to offer you about him.  What I can tell you is that members of the Justice Department, I believe, have spoken to this and said that should he be here in the United States, allegations that have been made against him would have to be looked at very seriously.  But I'd really leave it up to them in terms of what the legal ramifications are or what the consequences might be. 


MR. CASEY:  Thanks.

(The briefing concluded at 3:25 p.m.)

(end transcript)

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