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State Department Briefing, May 9

09 May 2005

Syria/Iraq, Iran, Russia, North Korea, John Bolton Hearings/Department Responsiveness to Committee Requests, Classification of Documents Requested by Senator Biden, Qualifications of John Bolton to be U.S. Ambassador to United Nations, U.S. Representatives to the World Economic Forum, Cuba/Venezuela, Israel/Palestinian Authority, Iraq

State Department acting spokesman Tom Casey briefed the press May 9.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Monday, May 9, 2005

1:00 p.m. EDT

Briefer:  Tom Casey, Acting Spokesman

-- Syrian Territory being Used by Insurgents/Syrian Cooperation Along Border

-- Iranian Statements Regarding Resumption of Uranium Enrichment
-- U.S. Support for EU-3 Process

-- Russian Cooperation in Non-Proliferation Efforts

-- U.S. Commitment to Moving Forward with Six Party Talks
-- DPRK Willingness to Participate in Bilateral Discussions within Six Party Talks
-- U.S. Recognition of North Korea as Sovereign Nation

-- John Bolton Hearings/Department Responsiveness to Committee Requests
-- Classification of Documents Requested by Senator Biden
-- Qualifications of John Bolton to be U.S. Ambassador to United Nations
-- U.S. Representatives to the World Economic Forum

-- Luis Posada/Whereabouts/Potential Asylum Request

-- Gaza Withdrawal and Disengagement Plan
-- Quartet Statement
-- Importance of Commitments Made at Sharm el Sheikh
-- U.S. Efforts through General Ward and James Wolfensohn

-- Reports of Japanese Man Working for U.S. Military Facility Taken Hostage


MONDAY, MAY 9, 2005

1:00 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Hope you all had a Happy Mother's Day.  Welcome again to the State Department briefing.  I don't have any statements or announcements to begin with so let's go right to your questions.

QUESTION:  Well, there's a big drive to get at militants or insurgents or whatever they are in Iraq.  There is more talk of Syrian infiltrators, or people infiltrating from Syria, I should say.  Has the State Department got any recent analysis or measure of whether there are more fighters coming in from Syria than before or some idea of the flow?

MR. CASEY:  Well, Barry, I don't think I have any real new analysis to offer to you but I will just state again, as we have in the past, that we do believe that Syrian territory continues to be used by those supporting the insurgency in Iraq; and while we appreciate that there have been some efforts made by the Syrian Government to tighten controls along the border, those problems remain.

We're certainly seriously concerned about former regime elements operating from Syria and we've made that pretty clear to the Syrian Government, as you know.  But again, I don't have anything new to offer you in terms of an analysis of how many people or what level.  I'd really leave that to the military experts.

QUESTION:  Yeah, sure, but that statement raises some questions.  Is the point being that Syria is incapable of guarding the border or on Mondays, Wednesday and Thursdays do they let insurgents out and on Tuesday and Friday they clamp down?  I mean, the State Department has been saying for some time that they've made some efforts and then people are still coming in.  Is it a particularly porous border?  Are they short of border patrolmen?  What -- can you explain that at all?  Is it a half-hearted measure?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think, Barry, that what we have seen, again, are some efforts but it certainly isn't enough.  We do believe the Syrians can do more.  We do believe there's more they can do along the border to tighten controls.  We do believe that there is more that they can do to deal with the regime elements that are operating out of Syria itself and are supporting or encouraging the insurgents there.  And so again, it's not simply a matter of them not being able to take the actions; it's, at least from our perspective, part of it is an unwillingness to take the actions that we know are necessary and they know are necessary.


MR. CASEY:  Arshad, welcome back.

QUESTION:  Going next door, thank you.  Iran, according to a statement released on IRNA, their official news agency, said on Monday that it will resume uranium enrichment related activities within days.  Specifically, it quotes the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organization as telling a conference that they will lift the first stage of our suspension, which is that of our UCF project is Isfahan in the next few days.

One, do you have any reason to believe that they -- that that is true, that they will do that?  And two, what would you -- be your reaction if they did?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I mean, I think, Arshad, we've seen statements of various kinds from the Iranians about different threats to restart uranium reprocessing or restart other aspects of their enrichment program.  I don't really have an analysis for you of them.

What I can tell you is that we remain confident in our support for the EU-3 process.  We believe that is currently the way to go.  We've been backing it, as you know.  We certainly believe and we're united with the European Union, with the Russians and many others in the view that Iran must not be allowed to develop a nuclear weapons capability; and certainly, if it carries through with its threats to resume uranium conversion or testing or production or any other aspects of its program, that step would be in clear violation of its suspension pledge and its agreement with the EU-3.

You know, this all comes back to, though, a decision about what the Iranians really want to do.  They have a choice before them.  They know what the international community is requiring of them.  They understand what they need to do to comply with it.  And the choice is up to them.  The EU-3 is giving them an opportunity and we certainly hope that they take it.

QUESTION:  And if they resume conversion or conversion-related activities, do you automatically try to refer them to the Security Council?

MR. CASEY:  Look, I really am not going to try and speculate about what will or won't happen, but obviously a violation of that agreement with the EU-3 and a violation of their pledge would have consequences and we'd have to look very carefully at what the next steps would be.  But I just don't want to anticipate that for you.


QUESTION:  Both on Iran as well as on North Korea.  Mr. ElBaradei has been pretty vocal the last few weeks, especially at New York City at the conference that's going on at the UN on nonproliferation.  Will President Bush be talking to President Putin about some of the clandestine activities, not necessarily government related but maybe criminal elements coming in from the -- from Russia into Iran?

MR. CASEY:  I'm not entirely certain I know what you're referring to, Joel.  Certainly, the President has had a good opportunity to meet with President Putin.  Secretary Rice has met with her counterpart and other people.  There's a number of public statements that have been made on that and I'll leave it to them to describe their meetings.

The one thing I will say is that we've been working very closely with the Russians, with other members of the international community, to try and halt the flow of proliferation of nuclear materials and other technologies related to the development of weapons of mass destruction.  The Russians have been helpful to us in this.  They've been a full partner in this effort.  And so I think the important thing for us to remember as we look at what's going on at the Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference is what we can all do together to try and halt the flow of proliferation and proliferation technologies.

You want to follow up?

QUESTION:  A follow-up question.  Arshad had asked a question about a week ago about a crane that was being shipped from Germany.  Do you have any updates concerning that -- a crane from Germany to Iran?

MR. CASEY:  No, I don't have anything new for you on that.

Want to go over there.

QUESTION:  Well, can we stick to Iran a bit?

MR. CASEY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Is there any change in the analysis as to how many weapons Iran is prepared to develop?

MR. CASEY:  No, I don't have anything new to offer for you.

QUESTION:  There's apparently talk of -- all right.

MR. CASEY:  I really don't, Barry, and I wouldn't want to get into things that would depend on intelligence issues.


QUESTION:  Yeah, just -- you used a phrase before.  You say, "We remain confident" of our support of the European Union process.  Is there anything that has happened in the last couple months that gives you any confidence at all that this thing is going in the right direction?

MR. CASEY:  I think that was a spokesman's Monday comment.  Let me rephrase.  Let me rephrase it a little more.

We continue to support the EU-3's efforts to negotiate with Iran over a full and complete suspension of its uranium enrichment program and all related activities.  I don't want to try and offer or handicap how that process is going.  I'd leave that to the EU-3.

Thank you for --

QUESTION:  That's the way to go?

MR. CASEY:  Thank you for --

QUESTION:  Well, you just said it's the way to go.

MR. CASEY:  We do support the process, Barry.

QUESTION:  I forget who over the weekend thought the way to go with North Korea, reviving an old notion, is to have one-on-one talks with North Korea.  That's still not the way to go?

MR. CASEY:  That's still not the way to go.  As you know, we're still --

QUESTION:  Because it's been productive -- six of them?  Nah.  I withdraw the question.  I mean, the EU-3 talks are getting no place and the six-party talks are getting no place.  Surely somebody in the building is thinking about another way to go, I hope.

MR. CASEY:  Well, look, Barry, best I can tell you is that we are committed to the routes that we're pursuing.  We're committed to supporting the EU-3's efforts with Iran.  We're committed to moving forward with the six-party talks.  The Secretary spoke to that again today, I believe.  And we'll decide that it's time when we decide that it's time to move in a different direction.  But this is where our focus is in both these areas and we think we can make it work.


QUESTION:  Can I (inaudible) for a moment?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah, sure.

QUESTION:  I'm sure you're aware of the North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman who was quoted on Sunday as saying that North Korea officials want to meet U.S. officials to confirm reports the United States is ready to recognize the North as a sovereign state and to hold bilateral talks within the parameter of the six-party talks.  Do you have any interest at all in -- which you've done in the past -- meeting them bilaterally within six-party talks?  Do you have any interest in doing that now?  And do you see this as a suggestion they're trying to find some kind of a face-saving way back into the six-party process?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think I'm going to try and stay away from second-guessing what the North Koreans are saying.  You know, the Secretary, in an interview that she completed today, talked about this a little bit.  And clearly, the United States recognizes that North Korea is a sovereign nation.  We've certainly talked with them, as you say, in the context of the six-party framework so I don't think that there's anything that would be particularly unusual about that.  Again, what we want to see is having us go back to the six-party talks and we'll be able to work through some of these other issues that way.

But again, I don't want to try and parse the North Korean statements or try and explain them to you.  Again, we're committed to going back to the six-party talks.  Anything they do that gets them closer to coming back there is something we'd support.

QUESTION:  But you're happy to talk to them bilaterally under the six-party talks if they come back, as you've done in the past?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I think as we've done in the past, our practice has been to meet directly with all parties, including the North Koreans, in the context of the six-party talks, and if the North Koreans were to return to the talks, we'd certainly continue that practice.

QUESTION:  But not beforehand?

MR. CASEY:  But not beforehand.

QUESTION:  And one other thing there.  How long has it been U.S. policy that -- has it been U.S. policy since the end of the Korean War that North Korea is its own sovereign state?

MR. CASEY:  I'd have to go back and check for you on exactly the dates involved.

QUESTION:  I missed -- I must have been out that day.  I didn't know that North Korea was a sovereign state.

MR. CASEY:  Jeff.

QUESTION:  On -- well, first, I'd like to, just on behalf of my colleagues, to welcome back my Fox News colleague Teri Schultz to the briefing room today.  It has to be part of the record.  It's part of the record.

MR. CASEY:  It should be part of the record.  Teri, you are duly welcomed back.  You've been missed and welcome back, Mom.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  And if I may follow up.  On the Bolton subject, it seems that Secretary Rice, in her response to the barrage of letters that she has received requesting documents in connection with the Bolton hearing from the various members of the committee, more or less, opted to ignore the Democratic requests.  I know that the position of the Department and of the Secretary and everyone's who's asked to speak on this subject is that the Department is being fully responsive to the committee.  But I wonder if you could address why it is that the Democratic requests were thought unworthy of response.

MR. CASEY:  Well, let me try and give you an update to where we were on Friday.  Friday afternoon, our Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs or our Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Matt Reynolds, responded to Chairman Lugar's letter and material responsive to the specific issues the Chairman identified were provided at that time.  And we certainly have appreciated Senator Lugar's leadership on this, as we've moved through this process and the committees review the nomination.

Right now, I think we're at a point, as the Secretary again said a little earlier today, that what we need to do is have the Senate finish its deliberative process.  It's an enormously important time for UN reform and we believe that John Bolton is eminently qualified to be UN Ambassador.  We've certainly tried to cooperate with the Foreign Relations Committee in making available the information to it that would help them in this process.  But I sincerely hope, as the Secretary said, that we can have Chairman Lugar move forward with this and get a vote on the UN Representative this week as planned.

In terms of the Democratic requests that weren't completely answered, as we explained in our response to Chairman Lugar, we certainly agree with him that those issues are, frankly, burdensome and of little relevance to the specific allegations that the committee is looking into.  I think of most importance in this is the fact that those issues involve remarks that Under Secretary Bolton gave that were fully cleared by the Department and the intelligence community.  No one's claiming that any of those remarks or statements he gave weren't fully cleared.

Most importantly for us, though, what we want to do is avoid having a chilling effect on our internal deliberations that might occur, were we to turn over some of these documents relating to the internal clearance process.  We did certainly include information about those remarks and on the clearance of them on the specific statements that were raised.  But again, we don't believe it's appropriate to be providing material that, in effect, is part of our internal deliberations on this process.

QUESTION:  How would the provision of those documents lead to or help create a chilling effect?  Where's the chill?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I think, just like as we from this podium not talked about internal deliberations and discussions within the Secretary's staff meeting, we certainly don't want to be in a position where our officials, internally, in providing clearances and discussing materials that are being prepared, in debating a policy as it's being developed, would be in a position to have all those deliberations made public.  It certainly wouldn't facilitate the kind of free and open exchange that's required and that's necessary in the interagency process to really develop the kinds of consensus documents that we want to be able to present to the Congress and to the American people.

QUESTION:  And is there -- is there a thought that the State Department will provide any more documents in -- or from the State Department's point of view, everything that's going to be provided to the committee has been provided?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think we've gone through a pretty exhaustive process here.  We've spent hundreds of man-hours on this, we've gone through thousands of pages of documents.  I think at last count, we responded to over 160 written questions, there have been 31 interviews conducted by Senate staff, including 13 current State Department employees.  And all that's in addition to the 12-plus hours of hearings and business committee meetings that we've had.

Again, I think we feel that the time's come for things to move forward, for the committee to conclude its review, to have the vote on Thursday.  And again, we're confident that when it's all said and done, the committee will come to the same conclusion we have, that John Bolton's the right man for the job and we look forward to having him up in New York at the UN.

QUESTION:  So I'll take it as a yes?

MR. CASEY:  You'll take that as a yes.

QUESTION:  The answer is yes.  The flow has stopped.

MR. CASEY:  I'm not aware -- I don't have -- I am aware of a number of additional questions for the record that were submitted late on Friday that we are still responding to, but other than that, I'm not aware of any other material to be going back.

QUESTION:  All right.  This is -- all right, let me just ask the question -- is there somebody in the building who's able to discern what sort of records, if revealed to the Senate, would have a chilling effect on discourse in the Department and other records that, if submitted to the Committee, would not defect the free flow of conversation and point of view in the State Department?  Who discerns this?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again what we've been doing is working in cooperation with Chairman Lugar and in responding to those things that have been agreed upon by the Committee.  That's my understanding of how this process was working and is supposed to work.  And so again, we feel we've been very diligent and thorough and have met our obligations to Chairman Lugar and to the Committee, as laid out for purposes of this nomination review --

QUESTION:  As you were starting to answer, I realized I put the question back.

MR. CASEY:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Is it fair to say that Senator Lugar and his staff have determined what sort of -- let's start all over again -- you are following the guidelines of Senator Lugar in what you're providing to the Committee, not what the Democrats have asked for.  The Chairman says, "in this, this, this and this" and you say, "you can have this, this, this and this."  And Senator Biden says, "How about that?"  And you say, "That'll have a chilling effect."

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, this is a --

QUESTION:  Is that unfair?

MR. CASEY:  That is unfair.


MR. CASEY:  This is a joint inquiry that's being done by both the Majority and Minority staff.  Again, most of the material that we provided on Friday was in response to things that were included in Senator Biden's request.  All we've done is made sure that what we've put forward is in keeping with the agreements that the committee had, which was to pursue this in a joint way.  And what we've been doing is giving answers to the things that the Chairman believes he and his colleagues on the Democratic side can all agree are relevant and important to the investigation.

And again, I would also point out, as I said, that the other material that was being asked for, frankly, is not, as Chairman Lugar said, not relevant to the ongoing issues that are specifically being addressed by the committee's review.

Sorry.  Go ahead, Arshad.

QUESTION:  It is then your position that your policy was to be fully responsive but your policy is now, "We've given everything we're going to give with the exception of answering some questions for the record that were submitted on Friday"?

MR. CASEY:  Again, I think -- we think we have been fully responsive to the committee under the terms that this nomination review was organized under and we've provided everything that the Chairman has asked for.  And again, we've done a huge review of documents, provided a huge number of people -- available to them.

QUESTION:  The question is, if they ask for something else, if Lugar asks for something else, are you going to provide it or not?  It sounded like, in response to James' question, the answer is no.

MR. CASEY:  Well, I'm not going to speculate on requests we haven't received yet.  Obviously, anything we get from the Chairman we look at very seriously and come up with an appropriate response to.

QUESTION:  And to go back to Barry's question, why --

QUESTION:  The Chairman doesn't want material that is negative.  It's the Democrats who are looking for material they feel, you know, hurts Mr. Bolton.


QUESTION:  You're responding -- what?


QUESTION:  No, I mean, you're responding to his supporters.

MR. CASEY:  No, what we're doing is responding to --

QUESTION:  Without impugning Senator Lugar's standards of decency, but you're responding to the Chairman, not to the committee.

MR. CASEY:  Again, we're responding to the joint requests that have been made available to us.  We believe we put forward the information that the committee needs in order to make its decisions.  Again, what we explained in the letter is where we stand on this, Barry, and we can talk about it all you want but I'm not going to be able to move forward from that.

QUESTION:  Well, actually, Tom, since you seem to have read in large portions from the letter that was quoted in the paper and you're explaining your response in relation to the letter, would you make the response public?

MR. CASEY:  I'm checking into whether I can make that available for you but I don't have a definitive answer right now.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

QUESTION:  Now, why is it that stiffing the Democrats should be regarded as being fully responsive?

MR. CASEY:  Again, I don't think we're stiffing anybody here.  What we're doing is providing all the information that's required, that's relevant to the investigation that's going on, in order for the committee to be able to reach reasonable conclusions.  And we feel we've given all the information that's required under those circumstances.

QUESTION:  And you are therefore -- the State Department is therefore the arbiter of relevance and requirement here, not the Ranking Minority Member?  He has no right to decide what's relevant or required; that's your judgment?

MR. CASEY:  Look, we have tremendous respect for the Senate's advice and consent function and for the individual members of the committee.  But again, as we explained in our letter, we are responding to the request made by the Chairman.  We're giving all the agreed-upon information that's been requested and we have determined, along with the Chairman -- and we agree with him on this point -- that the other material that had been requested simply was not -- was either -- was too burdensome and was not relevant to the specific questions being discussed at this time.


QUESTION:  Tom, just for the record, am I right to assume that the documents requested by Senator Biden, which he has not received, are classified?

MR. CASEY:  I don't know whether they are all classified or not.  Certainly, they involved preparation of in some cases, public statements, in some cases classified testimony.  Much of it is.  Whether it all is or not, I can't say with absolute 100 percent certainty.

QUESTION:  And just another quick one.

MR. CASEY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  In deciding what's relevant and what should be provided to the committee, how much of a role does Mr. Bolton have in that process?

MR. CASEY:  Again, this is something that's being worked with the committee and through our Bureau of Legislative Affairs, and they are the people that are making the decisions on this.

QUESTION:  On that process, he's not at all involved in deciding which document is relevant and is to be provided?

MR. CASEY:  Again, this is something that we're working through Legislative Affairs.


QUESTION:  Is there any worry -- the Democrats seem to say -- is it fair to say that John Bolton is rigid and tends to irritate people and is very -- works with ideology and that worries maybe both the Democrats as well as the others at the UN?

MR. CASEY:  Well, Joel, I think both the Secretary and the President and any number of other people in the Administration have spoken to Mr. Bolton's qualifications.  There's no doubt, as the President says, that he's a blunt individual, but that's what we believe we need at the UN right now.  There's a difficult process of reform ahead at the United Nations and we believe Mr. Bolton brings the kind of qualifications available to be able to make that reform process move forward, to be effective and to be able to help fulfill the goals and objectives of the Administration at the United Nations.

QUESTION:  Can we change the subject?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.  You want to change?

QUESTION:  One more, if I may.

MR. CASEY:  One last one.

QUESTION:  Do you have a ballpark figure on how many documents the State Department has provided as a result of the cumulative number of requests?

MR. CASEY:  I'd have to go back and check on it.  As I said the other day, I think it's thousands of pages but I don't have a specific page number for you.

QUESTION:  Has the State Department attempted or asserted some authority as to whether security agency material should be provided to the committee or are you speaking only of literally of State Department documents?

MR. CASEY:  Well, the State Department obviously has only been able to provide its own documents in this matter.  I know other parts of -- I know the intelligence community or various parts of it have also provided or are providing material.  I don't know the exact status of exactly what they've put forward but I know material has been provided.

QUESTION:  The question is:  Is the State Department trying to shut off the flow from them as well as from the State Department?

MR. CASEY:  Absolutely not.  We believe that any of the requests that come through the Chairman ought to be addressed.

QUESTION:  Through the Chairman?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  But it's not being requested by the Chairman.  It's being requested by Senator Biden.

MR. CASEY:  What specific request are you referring to?

QUESTION:  The intercepts.  The names of the --

MR. CASEY:  I believe if you look at the material and the requests that Senator Lugar has made and the things he's said publicly on this on Sunday, he's as interested as Senator Biden is in seeing that material and I suspect that if he is, that that will be provided.

QUESTION:  Can I change the subject?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Luis Posada?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Is -- does the U.S. know where he is?  Is he in the United States?  How did he get here?  Would the U.S. look favorably upon an asylum request?  Sorry for all the questions.

MR. CASEY:  I've got to think which ones are no's and which ones are yeses, Tammy.

Look, I think -- let me tell you what I can say on this subject.  First of all, I just want to reiterate something I think most of you heard from Assistant Secretary Noriega when the Council of the Americas was meeting here the other week, and that's certainly the United States has no interest in allowing anyone with a criminal background to enter the United States.  Certainly, to date, I can tell you we haven't gotten any request for the extradition of Luis Posada Carriles from Venezuela or from any other government.

In terms of how extradition requests would be handled or what existing arrangements there are with Venezuela or with other countries, again, I'd have to leave it to the Justice Department.

In terms of where he presently is, I think it's fair to say we don't know.  But in terms of what information might be available or, you know, what people would do at border points, that's something, again, I'd have to refer you to the Department of Homeland Security for.

QUESTION:  You said that the U.S. has no interest in allowing anyone with a criminal background in.  Does that mean, should there be an asylum request, it would not be granted?

MR. CASEY:  Should there be an asylum request, as you know, I wouldn't really be able to speak to it because that's something that's handled by other departments and, general policy, we don't discuss them.  So again, if you want to have a other "no comment" you can probably talk with the Department of Homeland Security on it, but I'm afraid I'm not in a position to talk about asylum requests.


MR. CASEY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Do you consider him to be a terrorist?

MR. CASEY:  I don't actually have any particular assessment of him to share with you.  Whether he has -- whether he would be wanted or be criminally liable for any activities here is a question you'll just have to take up with the Department of Justice.

QUESTION:  Well, there's a retired FBI agent who said that Posada was up to his eyeballs -- his quote -- in planning the 1976 attack that killed 73 people aboard a Cuban airline.  I mean, you're not saying very much at all when you say the U.S. is not interested in allowing anyone in the country with a criminal background.  That says nothing about Posada.  Are you prepared to say anything at all about Posada's past?

MR. CASEY:  I'm really not prepared to say anything about his specific case.  Again, you know, the U.S. position on terrorism and how to deal with terrorists, I think is pretty well known at this point.  I'm just not in a position, George, to be able to offer you up anything about his specific case at this time.


QUESTION:  I'm sorry, I'll just try one more on -- well, what level of concern is there here that he could have slipped into the country?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I think I'd have to just ask you to go talk with the folks at Department of Homeland Security about this.  I have no information indicating one way or the other whether he is, was -- is, was or has been here.  But they may have something else to tell you, I just don't.


QUESTION:  May I change the subject?

MR. CASEY:  If --

QUESTION:  This is on the Gaza pullout.  Apparently, Prime Minister Sharon said in an interview today that he was delaying the pullout until mid-August.  There are also some reports that he's balking on some prisoner agreements that he made with the Palestinians because the Palestinians aren't doing enough to combat terrorism.  Are you concerned that he's reneging on commitments that he's made to move this process?

MR. CASEY:  Well, you know, I think that -- first of all, I want to make sure everyone's seeing the Quartet statement that was issued today, which again reiterates the importance of the Gaza withdrawal and disengagement plan -- reiterates the Quartet's support for that, reiterates its support for the agreements that were made at Sharm el-Sheikh.  And I think as the Secretary said, too, the commitments that were made at Sharm el-Sheikh by the parties are very important.  And we certainly hope that they'll do their utmost to fulfill those obligations.  And we believe there needs to be a continuing sense of momentum in the process.  And so, we very much encourage both sides to fulfill those commitments and move forward on them.

QUESTION:  Look, well -- but do you think that this delay seeks to any kind of reneging on agreements or have you spoken to the Israelis about this?

MR. CASEY:  Again, I'm not aware that we've spoken to anyone about this right now.  What I would just say is that I think the Quartet and the Secretary, both, have made themselves pretty plain on the subject of the need for people to move forward and meet those Sharm commitments and I think I'll just stick with that.

QUESTION:  Well, I mean, but you haven't said any -- you've spoken about the need for them to meet their commitments, but you're not saying anything on whether they are meeting those commitments?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I think both sides have obligations to move forward on this.  I'm not going to offer you a status assessment at this point.  Obviously, we think those commitments ought to be taken up and moved forward with and I think that's about as plain as I can make it.


QUESTION:  Today, there have been protests in Jerusalem involving Palestinians and there also have been protests involving some of the Jewish settlers.  Is there -- are there plans with both Palestinians as well as the Israelis to end some of these demonstrations before the pullout?  And with these demonstrations, originally, they set off the intifada about four and a quarter years ago.  So things can get out of hand.  Is that partly what General Ward was working on?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I think I want to point you, Joel, towards the Quartet statement that was issued a little while ago.  We're very much focused right now on working together with the Israelis and Palestinians on making the practical steps forward that need to be done to make the disengagement a success.  That includes General Ward's work with the Palestinians on security matters.  It includes James Wolfensohn's work with them to facilitate cooperation on disengagement and help promote economic reform and development there as well.  So, I do think we're working very actively with the parties and again, the concentration's on practical steps on practical steps on the ground.

We'll go in the back here.

QUESTION:  Can I change the topic?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  I'd like to go back to Iraq a little.  There was a claim on Islamic website that Japanese man was captured in western Iraq and that person might be working for U.S. military facility in Iraq.  Do you have anything on that?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.  I saw a press report on that right before I came out.  I'm afraid I can't confirm it one way or the other at this point.  We'll certainly be looking into it.  Obviously, we strongly condemn any kind of hostage taking.  And as you know, we've been working with Iraqi security forces -- through our forces and multinational force -- to be able to try and locate and free those people that we do know are taken hostage.


QUESTION:  Yeah, a quick one.  Assistant Secretary of State Rocca is in Kathmandu.  Can you give us a brief summary of what she -- what is her message, following the declaration, the imposition of an emergency rule and the many arrests and so on there?

MR. CASEY:  I actually wish I could, Arshad, but I'm afraid I didn't have time to look into that one before I went up here.  I will get you something this afternoon.  I apologize for not having it for you right now.

QUESTION:  Two quick ones?


MR. CASEY:  Let's go this way.

QUESTION:  Are you going to take the question and will your answer be blunt?

MR. CASEY:  I hope so.


QUESTION:  Two quick ones.  Have you sorted out who's going to be attending the World Economic Forum on behalf of the State Department?  Is it going to be Deputy Secretary Zoellick?

MR. CASEY:  I know there's been some talk about the delegation, but we don't have anything to announce at this time.  I think we will a little later in the week.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And do you know who will be representing the U.S. at the conference on Anti-Semitism next month?

MR. CASEY:  I think that's a White House call on the delegation, but let me check for you and see if we've got anything on that.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. CASEY:  Thank you.

(This briefing was concluded at 1:30 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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