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State Department Briefing, August 4

04 August 2005

North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Colombia, Mauritania, Balkans, Israel/Palestinians, Sudan

State Department acting spokesman Tom Casey briefed the press August 4.

Following is the transcript of the State Department briefing:

(begin transcript)

U.S. Department of State
Daily Press Briefing Index
Thursday, August 04, 2005
12:55 p.m. EST

Briefer: Tom Casey, Acting Spokesman

NORTH KOREA

-- Six-Party Talks/Chinese Drafted Declaration of Principles
-- Obligations of All Parties to Reach an Agreement/Six-Party Process

IRAQ

-- U.S. Forces in Iraq/Success Strategy Built on Training Iraqis
-- Presumed Al-Zawahiri Tape/Emptiness of Ideology of Hate
-- Deputy A/S Matt Bryza's Meetings/Trilateral Meetings with Turkey, Iraq

IRAN

-- Discussions about EU-3 Proposal
-- Possibility of an IAEA Meeting if Iran Breaks Suspension

VENEZUELA

-- Movement of Drugs, Weapons, People Across Border with Colombia
-- Sharp Contrast to What is Going on in the Rest of the Hemisphere
-- Concerns with Venezuela Using Oil Wealth to Destabilize Neighbors
-- U.S. Support for Democracy/Positive Goals for the Hemisphere

NICARAGUA

-- Possible Referendum on CAFTA

COLOMBIA

-- Uribe's Visit with the President in Crawford
-- Certification of Progress in Meeting Congressional Criteria on Human Rights

MAURITANIA

-- U.S. Condemnation of Overthrow of Government
-- Situation on Ground / Military Council for Justice and Democracy in Control
-- Ambassador LeBaron Contact with President Taya and the Military Council
-- U.S. Seeking a Restitution of the Constitutional Government

BALKANS

-- Efforts to Improve and Enhance Trade in Region

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

-- Reports that Israel Plans to Build New Homes in Bethlehem

SUDAN

-- A/S Newman and Roger Winter Meetings with Mrs. Garang, Salva Kiir
-- U.S. Representation at Garang Funeral
-- Situation More Calm / Calls for Restraint

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE DAILY PRESS BRIEFING

THURSDAY, AUGUST 4, 2005 (ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)

12:55 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY:  Afternoon, everyone.  Welcome to the State Department briefing.  I don't have any statements or announcements to start things with today, so why don't we go right to your questions.

QUESTION:  Could we try on the North Korean nuclear talks?  Obviously we know what happened out there, but we're looking for an overriding statement from the State Department assessing the state of play now.  It looks like a mixed bag.  What do you think?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think Ambassador Hill just spoke a couple of minutes ago on his way back to the hotel, but obviously the talks continue today.  There was another heads of delegation meeting.  Our delegation met with all the other participants over the course of the day.  The discussions are still focused on the latest Chinese draft of the Declaration of Principles.  And we're certainly working with the other parties and doing what we can to try and achieve consensus on that document.

There are going to be additional discussions tomorrow, but the schedule has not been formalized at this point, so we'll just have to see where we go.

QUESTION:  The unwillingness of the U.S. to have North Korea retain facilities that, allegedly are for civilian purposes but could be used to make weapons.  What is that based on, a lack of trust, the experience that the Clinton Administration went through or is it all that simple to switch gears and develop nuclear weapons -- without thinking on that?

MR. CASEY:  Barry, first of all, I think our position on North Korea's nuclear program is pretty well known and is pretty clear.  We've all agreed, though, and all parties agreed that the goal of these talks is to achieve a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.  In terms of the Declaration of Principles that's being worked out, clearly as Assistant Secretary Hill said earlier today, "We need to have a certain amount of precision and clarity in what we're doing."  As he put it, "We can't have a situation where the DPRK pretends to abandon its nuclear weapons program and we pretend to believe them."

So, we certainly want to have a declaration that lays things out pretty clearly, that makes it clear what the obligations of all parties are and that's what he and the other negotiators at the six-party talks are working towards.

QUESTION:  My last question.  Are you saying that the North Korean position is a pretense?

MR. CASEY:  I'm not saying anything of the kind.  I'm saying --

QUESTION:  Well, you brought up pretend, Tom.

MR. CASEY:  Well, I'm saying --

QUESTION:  I mean, I thought you were crediting them with constructive attitude; now you're sort of accusing them of being sneaky.

MR. CASEY:  Barry, well, what I'm saying is we need an agreement that's clear and precise -- that's what this Declaration of Principles is and that's what people are working towards.  We're continuing to work in a constructive manner on this.  The Chinese have been doing, we think, an outstanding job of trying to move forward on this process.  We certainly hope that we can get to an agreement on this and again, we're working very hard at that right now. And we'll just have to see what happens.

QUESTION:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Can I (inaudible) North Korea?

MR. CASEY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  A fundamental difference seems to exist between U.S. and North Korea in dealing with the North Korean nuclear standoff.  Would you tell us what that difference is, if you have any?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, let's go back to basic principles here.  This is a six-party process.  We've had a series of meetings.  We've had discussions, both - as all six parties.  We've had bilateral discussions with all the parties within the context of the six-party talks.  The Chinese have developed these drafts based on the input and ideas from all the parties.  A lot of progress has been made, but there are differences that are out there.  Those differences, as Ambassador Hill said, still need to be worked out, but I think all parties are working constructively towards trying to achieve that kind of end.

And I certainly wouldn't place this in the context of one country versus another.  This is about all six parties moving together to try and reach an agreement and we'll see if we can get there by the end of the day.

QUESTION:  And if not?

MR. CASEY:  We'll see what happens.  I'm not trying to predict outcomes, Teri.  Let's go over here.

QUESTION:  Are you trying to ask that the Chinese - to persuade North Korea?  I mean, have you done such a request to the Chinese?

MR. CASEY:  Are we asking the Chinese to do what?  I'm sorry.

QUESTION:  To persuade North Korea to be more agreeable to this?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, we've got a process that's ongoing and the Chinese, as the hosts of this, are, again, playing quite a positive and useful role.  All the parties that are engaged here and involved, we want to see move forward.  But right now, it's - this is not a matter of China or anyone else being particularly responsible.  It's a matter of all the parties coming to an agreement, reaching a conclusion and hopefully getting to a point where we can have an agreed-upon Declaration of Principles as the outcome.

QUESTION:  Just a few weeks ago, Secretary Joseph, as we were heading into these talks, speaking to the Defense Writers Group, said that China is uniquely situated to apply pressure on North Korea and, obviously, he thought they should and suggested various ways -- their economic relationship.  So, even before you said this, I was going to ask you if China is, indeed, playing all the cards it has.  And now you've just said that it's sort of a - there's a certain equal effort involved.  I mean, I can't imagine that Russia is as influential, for instance, as China.

MR. CASEY:  Barry, look, I think all the main point I'm trying to make is this is a six-party process. We've done a lot of work so far out in Beijing.  We want to see that work lead to a statement of principles or Declaration of Principles that's agreed to by all the parties.  As Ambassador Hill has said again today that the Chinese have done a good job of putting that together, moving that process of declaration drafts forward.  And at this point, again, our focus is on all the parties working together to come to that conclusion.  And I'm not trying to put a special emphasis on any one of them in this process.

Yeah.  Peter.

QUESTION:  Tom, can I just focus on just one specific part of the negotiations.  Can you tell us at this point the five countries that are negotiating with North Korea, is there a consensus among those five countries whether North Korea can maintain any level of nuclear activity that they say is for civilian purposes?

MR. CASEY:  Again, I don't want to get into either trying to describe the positions of the other parties or talking about the specifics in the Declaration of Principles.  Our position on this is well known and I don't think I have anything further to offer you on it.  Okay.

Let's go over here.

QUESTION:  Changing the subject.

MR. CASEY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Ambassador Khalilzad said a few days ago that he wants to organize a committee to consult or discuss the present withdraw of the coalition forces.  My question is what would be his exact intention or goal to organizing such a committee with Iraqi personalities?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I'll let Ambassador Khalilzad talk to activities that he is undertaking and that the embassy is undertaking on the ground.

On the more general subject, though, I just want to reiterate what our standing policy is.  As the President said, "U.S. forces are in Iraq and they'll be there as long as is needed, but not a day more than that."  As we've said, our success strategy is built around the idea of helping to train the Iraqi Security Forces to allow them to be able to ultimately provide for the full security of the Iraqi people.  How - the specifics of how that is achieved are a matter that is part of ongoing discussions, as always between the Government of Iraq, the Government of the United States.  But I certainly wouldn't want to forecast any particular timetables or operational details of it.  That's something you'd have to talk to the folks over at the Pentagon about.

Teri?

QUESTION:  Any reaction to the al-Zawahiri tape - presumed al-Zawahiri tape?

MR. CASEY:  We've seen it out there.  Yeah, I think I'd call it a "presumed tape" at this point.  I don't have any specific information from any of the other parts of the government to authenticate it and I'd refer you to them on that.  We've certainly seen these kind of tapes before.  They clearly reflect the emptiness of the ideology behind them, of an ideology of hate. That certainly is opposed to the will and desires of the Iraqi people to have a free, a prosperous and democratic country that's certainly opposed to the efforts of the international community to help them do that.  That's an ideology that focuses exclusively on the use of terror and the use of violence against innocents.  And I think it's something that is and rightfully ought to be rejected by all parties.

Anything else on this?  OK.  Mr. Lambros, let's go to you and then --

QUESTION:  Any comment on the U.S. freelance reporter Steven Vincent who has been assassinated yesterday in Basra, south in Iraq?

MR. CASEY:  I addressed that issue yesterday from the podium.  I really don't have anything new to add to it?

QUESTION:  Nothing.  (Inaudible) Deputy Assistant Secretary Matt Bryza is going to preside on the trilateral counterterrorism meeting you mentioned in the recent days some time this week.  And he just returned from a trip to Turkey.  Do you have any doubt about his talk with the Turkish officials?

MR. CASEY:  I don't.  I know he was there consulting with Turkish officials on a pretty broad range of issues, but I certainly don't have anything specific for you on that.  In terms of the trilateral consultations, as we said, he will be the main State Department representative on it.  Still don't actually have a schedule for you in terms of the timing of those meetings.

QUESTION:  And do you know if the Iraqi delegation arrived for this trilateral meeting since there are a lot of differences Baghdad - who is going to represent the Iraqi - an Arab Sunni or Shi'a?

MR. CASEY:  Mr. Lambros, I'd refer you to the Iraqi Government in terms of who their representatives are and what their travel schedule is.

Tammy.

QUESTION:  Could I switch to Iran?

MR. CASEY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  It appears that the EU-3 is going to make it proposal - present its proposal to Iran tomorrow.  Is the U.S. -- has the U.S. been fully briefed on it and is the U.S. comfortable with what's going to be proposed?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I don't think I actually have a lot more for you beyond what I told you yesterday.  We are in regular contact with the EU-3.  We're certainly discussing issues related to their proposal discussing their ideas and sharing our thoughts with them as well.  What I can tell you again is that we continue to support the EU-3 process and their efforts to resolve this through diplomacy.  We certainly want to see the Iranians maintain their suspension and maintain their adherence to the Paris Agreement.  But beyond that, I don't want to try and characterize their proposal or try to characterize anything else related to it.

QUESTION:  Can you touch on IAEA and UN?  Is there something new in the U.S. thinking today, because there's some very negative stuff coming out of the Ayatollah and some other luminaries?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, you know, I think we've said on many occasions, and I know I've said several times this week -

QUESTION:  It's all right.  You can always say it again.

MR. CASEY:  -- I'm happy to say it again for you, Barry, that we certainly agree with our allies.  That if Iran were to follow through on threats to break the suspension, then the IAEA Board of Governors should meet and should make a report to the UN Security Council.  That's been our longstanding position and it remains that way.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. CASEY:  Yes.

QUESTION:  You've obviously spoken out, warning Iran not to break the deal and you said you've done that as part of the international community.  And is there any consideration being given to calling a Board of Governors meeting to put that warning out through the IAEA as well?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I think the Director General of the IAEA, Dr. ElBaradei, has already said to Iran that he would not think it was helpful and thought it would be inappropriate for them to break the suspension.  And certainly, as I just said, if Iran were to go ahead and do that, we would want to see an immediate calling of the IAEA Board of Governors and would want to see further action, but I don't have anything for you in terms of anything scheduled right now or anything planned.

Yeah, Peter.

QUESTION:  Sorry, is it --

MR. CASEY:  Sorry.

QUESTION:  -- then that only if they break the deal, you would call for a Board of Governors meeting?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think for the moment, as long as they're maintaining the suspension, there is not an immediate need for such a meeting, but obviously, we'll always continue to look at that and if we believe it's appropriate, we'll ask for one.

QUESTION:  Tom, you are aware there are some reports that there is a meeting scheduled for the next few days?

MR. CASEY:  I understand there are reports, but I don't have anything official on it, no.

QUESTION:  I don't know how far you want to go on it.  It sounds like they get a pass as long as they don't break the suspension, that you can't see - foresee taking action against them as long as the status is quo?

MR. CASEY:  Well, Barry, as I have said, first of all, I think I would have to check on the dates, but there's a regular IAEA Board of Governors meeting scheduled for September, which would be the next opportunity for the IAEA board --

QUESTION:  Right.

MR. CASEY:  -- in a regular format to look at this issue.  But again, our focus right now, as it has been, is on supporting the EU-3's process to resolve this issue through its diplomacy.  We want to see that process move forward.  The terms for that moving forward are, first and foremost, that Iran continue to adhere to the agreement - the Paris Agreement, which includes full suspension of all its activities.

Peter.

QUESTION:  New topic?

MR. CASEY:  Okay.

QUESTION:  On Venezuela, Tom, we've been hearing a lot from U.S. officials in generalities about Venezuela's alleged role in destabilizing the rest of the region.  We have a letter from Matt Reynolds, Acting Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, that says, "The administration has found mounting evidence that Venezuela is actively using its oil wealth to destabilize its democratic neighbors in the Americas by funding antidemocratic groups in Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere."

My question is two-fold:  What is the mounting evidence and where is the elsewhere?

MR. CASEY:  Okay.  Well, first of all, let me just say that I don't think that anyone is raising concerns about Venezuelan actions or behavior that haven't been raised before.  One thing that we've talked about and that I know Under Secretary Burns talked about yesterday is concern about the movement of illicit weapons, drugs, and people across Venezuela's borders with Colombia.  Again, that's something we've talked about before and isn't anything new.

As we've said before, Venezuela hasn't been able or hasn't been willing to assert control over its 1400-mile border with Colombia and Colombia's terrorist groups.  Not only the FARC, but the ELN and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia or the AUC, which are all U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organizations as well, are continuing to look at Venezuelan territory and regard it - areas near the border as a safe area to conduct cross-border incursions, to transport arms and drugs, and to provide rest for their members and secure logistical supplies.

Certainly, there's weapons and ammunition and there's some from official Venezuelan stocks as well that are known to have come from Venezuelan suppliers and intermediaries and into the hands of Colombian terrorist groups.  And I think all of that and all those things are very well known, are things we've talked about before, and are things that have been documented.  I also think - and I talked about this a little bit the other day - that one of the things we need to point out is that the actions or inaction of Venezuela on these kinds of issues stands in pretty sharp contrast to what's going on in the rest of the hemisphere.  And, I think, very much stands in contrast with what's happening today in Crawford, where the President and the Secretary are meeting with Colombian President Uribe and are talking about how to move things forward not only in Colombia, but in the hemisphere as well.  They're talking about ways that we can work together to fight drugs, to fight terrorism, to expand democracy in the hemisphere, to build economic opportunity.

And that's the positive agenda that we have for the hemisphere and we would very much like to see Venezuela participating in it, rather than moving in the other direction.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up?

MR. CASEY:  Sure, and then I think we've got - one of your colleagues wants to follow up on the same subject.

QUESTION:  Sure.  No, because the thing is, if I may - I'd like to zero in on a very specific sentence that this is actually the most explicit I have heard on this subject from anybody in the administration, where you say is "actively using its oil wealth to fund anti-democratic groups in Bolivia, Ecuador, and elsewhere," mounting evidence.  What is the mounting evidence and does the elsewhere also include Colombia, if I can --

MR. CASEY:  Well, look.  I don't - first of all, we certainly stand by the letter.  I'm certainly not at liberty to discuss intelligence or other classified information, but I think if you look at the public actions Venezuela has taken, some of its efforts to use revenues that it's gotten through its oil industry to exercise influence or gain influence over some of its neighbors, you have at least some idea of some of the issues that have concerned us.

If you look at Bolivia - I believe this came up in the context of quotes or comments that were made by Assistant Secretary Noriega.  We've pointed people to the public record, including numerous press commentaries of some of the Venezuelan Government's engagement and activities with certain political actors in that country.  So again, I wouldn't try and steer you in the direction that anything we've said in this letter is anything new.  This is part of our ongoing concerns about Venezuela's role in the hemisphere.

QUESTION:  Just one more try.

MR. CASEY:  Okay.

QUESTION:  Please indulge me.  I'm sorry to --

MR. CASEY:  I'm happy to always indulge you, Peter.

QUESTION:  I am sorry, but I must insist, our reporters, when they've asked about this, have been only given some press clippings there.  Don't you think the United States has an obligation, if they make - which is pretty (inaudible) charge about mounting evidence of destabilizing activities there.  The United States has an obligation to provide specifics.

MR. CASEY:  Well, Peter, again I think we've talked about -- and the Venezuelan Government has publicly described things it is doing to try and gain additional influence over activities in its neighboring countries.  I'd point you to that public record on it.  Beyond that, I really am not in a position to get into other information that comes from classified or intelligence sources.

Let's go back here to you.

QUESTION:  Well, just to follow up on Venezuela, did you already contact the Venezuelan Government on that issue that what you say on the links between maybe with Venezuelan Government and the FARC -- this irregulars?  Was also a concern expressed by President Uribe at the meeting with President Bush?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I'll leave it to the folks down in Crawford to discuss what happened at the meeting with the President and that's certainly up to both Presidents in their public comments to address as well as to the White House spokespeople.  I think, again, we've publicly expressed our concerns from this podium and elsewhere about the FARC's ability to operate in Venezuela, about concerns about the lack of control along the border, about weapons in one way or another through illicit means of finding their hands - finding their way into the hands of Colombian terrorist groups.  So again, this is a record that's out there that's publicly well known.   Certainly, it is an issue that has been discussed over time with the Venezuelan Government.  But I again would steer you away from the idea that we're saying something new here.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) to remain in Latin America.  Yesterday in Nicaragua Daniel Ortega called for a referendum to approve the Central American Trade Free Agreement.  Do you have any comments on that?

MR. CASEY:  Obviously, whether it's the Central American Free Trade Agreement or any kind of agreement, it would have to go through whatever any individual country's appropriate legal and constitutional system and means are.  I'm not sure what that is in the case of Nicaragua, but I'd leave it to the Nicaraguan Government to decide how best to proceed on that.

Yeah.  Saul.  I'm sorry, and then Teri, let's go back to you.  Sorry about that.

QUESTION:  That's okay.  (Inaudible.)

QUESTION:  So when you were first asked about this Venezuelan issue, it was about the U.S. accusation that the Venezuelan Government is destabilizing neighbors.  And you replied saying, "Well, there are concerns about stuff, people, arms, et cetera, going across the border to Colombia."

Now, are you saying that the Venezuelan Government is shipping those things across the border?  Because the question was about what the government is doing.

MR. CASEY:  No.  Again, I think I made clear in part of my - in at least part of the answer and I'll make sure I said it right the first time, Saul.  That our concerns are about the movement of illicit weapons, drugs, and people across Venezuela's border with Colombia.  And again, our concern is that Venezuela has been - the Venezuelan Government has been either unwilling or unable to assert control over the border with Colombia, but I'm not making any kind of statement about official support.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Your answer there just didn't seem to associate with the question.  Couldn't you say the same about Ecuador?  We know people cross the border into Colombia.  We know arms cross.  Do you think that Ecuador is both - is either unwilling or unable to stop such traffic?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I think the point that we're trying to make with regard to Venezuela is that there are a number of issues out there in which Venezuela has raised concerns for us.  These are concerns that we've stated publicly before that are reflected in the terms of this letter.

And again, I just want to point out that for us, what we want to do and what our objective is not only for Venezuela, but for the entire hemisphere, is to continue to move forward with the positive agenda that the Secretary laid out in her recent trip to the region.  That is the idea of enhancing and deepening democracy, of moving forward on economic reforms that provide people with more opportunities, opportunities not only for trade but for a better standard of living, to increase livelihoods, to produce jobs.  These are the kind of things that are important to people in the hemisphere.  It's important to us and that's what we're trying to focus on and we would very much like to see Venezuela be part of that process.

QUESTION:  Do you have any concerns that illicit arms or people are crossing the border from Ecuador into Colombia?  That's my question.  It's not about Venezuela.  It's about Ecuador.

MR. CASEY:  Well, obviously, any place there are large, open borders, there's a potential for problems.  What I would say to you, Saul, is we do not have the same concerns about Ecuador that we have about Venezuela in this regard and that's about as specific as I can be for you.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then when you're talking about the influence of Venezuela in Bolivia and talking about this - well, what you call the public record, which is just press commentary -- I think the complaint from the United States is that the Venezuelan Government is using funds to support groups that oppose the government in Bolivia.  Is that the complaint?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think, again, our general concern was with Venezuela trying to use its oil wealth or resources to engage, influence or otherwise potentially interfere with this political situation and some of its neighboring countries.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) the U.S. wealth, the superpower economy using its resources inside Venezuela, funding groups who are patently opposed to the government.  Why are you accusing and complaining about Venezuela doing exactly what the U.S. Government does?

MR. CASEY:  Saul, first of all, I take exception to the notion that the United States is providing any kind of funding that supports a specific political party, that supports a specific candidate, or that supports a specific political movement.  Our funding to groups in Venezuela, as well as to groups throughout the hemisphere, as well as our standing policy worldwide, is to help support the development of democracy, the development of civil society, to help citizens in their own countries understand what their rights are, to support the process of free and fair elections.

That's what the United States uses its resources for, not only in the Western Hemisphere, but around the world.

I think - and maybe this is the easiest way to leave this for you.  I think we find that record of an open promotion of democracy, of citizens' rights, of people's ability to express their views, of people's desire to have a free and open economy, of people's desire to have a better future for themselves and their children stands in sharp contrast with the record that Venezuela has acquired.

QUESTION:  Okay.  That's the key and that's one of the details I think Peter was asking about.  You are making a distinction; you can fund groups in another country.  It might not be a particular political party, but they're involved in political processes.  But in Venezuela's case, you think the funds are going to which groups?  What's the distinction?  It's okay for the United States to do it to a group like Sumate, but which groups are Venezuela funding?

MR. CASEY:  Again, Saul, the distinction I am drawing is between general support for democracy, for political openness, for people to be able to express their rights, as opposed to support for specific candidates, individuals, political movements --

QUESTION:  Is that what Venezuela is doing?

MR. CASEY:  -- or groups and individuals that not only have a particular bias, but are anti-democratic in nature and are not working towards those same kind of positive goals for the hemisphere and that's about as far as I can go on that.

QUESTION:  Well, I'm only trying to explain your words and your words are, "We do one thing, they're doing another," but you're not quite saying - are you saying Venezuela gives funds to anti-democratic groups in Bolivia?  And if you are, well, name them.  If you're saying they're giving money to political candidates, name them.  It's an accusation that you're making --

MR. CASEY:  Saul --

QUESTION:  -- but you're not specifying.

MR. CASEY:  Saul, again, the letter that Peter started out this conversation with - referring to is one we stand by.  I've given you all I got on it and I'm afraid I just don't have any more to offer you right now.

Let's go back to - sorry, Teri.

QUESTION:  Colombia.

MR. CASEY:  Okay.

QUESTION:  The certification -- can you give us some specific examples of where Colombia has improved its record enough to warrant the certification, whereas it was held up last time?

MR. CASEY:  Sure.  Well, let me go through this ample package of guidance here.

QUESTION:  No, no, just the good stuff.

MR. CASEY:  No, I won't do the - I would not do it, Teri.  But I do want to point out that, as you saw from our statement, after a number of months of consultation, the Secretary was able to determine that there was sufficient progress to certify to Congress that the Colombian Government and armed forces are meeting statutory criteria related to human rights and severing ties to paramilitary groups.  I also want to make sure that it's understood that promoting respect for human rights is a central part of our policy in Colombia and that we continue, as we said in our statement, to expect high-level attention to resolving human rights concerns from the Government of Colombia and that President Uribe and other senior Colombian officials have assured us that they're committed to doing so.

After a number of months of consultations and most recently including Under Secretary Burns July 26 and 27 meetings in Bogota with President Uribe and other members of his staff, we were able to feel we had sufficient confidence in that.  In terms of some of the specifics of what's gone on, the Colombian armed forces have made substantial progress in cooperating with civilian prosecutors and judicial authorities in investigating and prosecuting those members of the armed forces who've been alleged to commit human rights violations.  That's included transferring cases to civilian courts, providing information to civilian prosecutors in the form of military records and providing security for civilian prosecutors during investigations.

Colombia armed forces have also made substantial progress in severing links between military personnel and paramilitary units at the command battalion and brigade levels and are working to dismantle paramilitary leaderships and financial networks.  And I think that's a general overview.

QUESTION:  The U.S. fully support the U.S. (Inaudible) proposed by President Uribe and just passed by the Congress?

MR. CASEY:  I think we've spoken to that before and I don't have anything new on it.  I'm sure that's something that'll be addressed in Crawford and I'll let that rest there.

QUESTION:  Change subject?

MR. CASEY:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  More than one human rights group has on the eve of Mr. Uribe's visit to Texas, commented negatively on the disarmament agreement or the demobilization agreement involving the AUC, saying that, you know, basically they're getting off scot-free.  The provisions basically allow people who have committed human rights violations to get away with it.  I was wondering whether your ample guidance had anything about that subject?

MR. CASEY:  My ample guidance, unfortunately, David, focuses pretty exclusively on the certification issue and not on the law.  Again, I think we've spoken to the law and the demobilization issue before.  And I don't have anything new to add to that.  And I'd perhaps leave it to the parties down in Crawford to deal with some of those other subjects.

Saul.

QUESTION:  Is the United States either helping already or planning to help giving aid for the demobilization process?

MR. CASEY:  Don't have anything for you on that, Saul.  Sorry.

Yeah.

QUESTION:  Mauritania, do you have anything to report on today's meeting between the coup leader there and the U.S. Ambassador?

MR. CASEY:  Let's see.

QUESTION:  Was coup involved?

MR. CASEY:  Well, let me just step back a little bit and talk a little bit about where I understand the situation is.  I think most of you saw her statement last night.  The United States joins the African Union in condemning the overthrow of the Government of Mauritania and we oppose any attempts by rogue elements to change governments through extra constitutional or violent means.

As I understand it, the situation on the ground is still fluid, but the Military Council for Justice and Democracy - as it is calling itself - appears to be in control in the capital.  Certainly, we intend to work closely with the African Union and the UN and other regional and international partners to restore constitutional rule to Mauritania as quickly as possible.

Ambassador LeBaron, our ambassador in Nouakchott, has spoken with President Taya's chief of staff who is in Niger.  President Taya, I think, as we mentioned yesterday, was attending the funeral of King Fahd and his plane diverted to Niger when news of the coup reached it and that is where he remains.  The Ambassador was convoked for a meeting late this afternoon by the Foreign Ministry with leaders of the Council, but I don't have any readout on that meeting or any additional information at this time.  And we'll endeavor to get something more for you on it.

Yes.  Saul.

QUESTION:  Forgive my ignorance, "convoked"?  Is there a particular diplomatic weight to that?  What does it mean in diplomatic terms?

MR. CASEY:  I think that - in simple English, it means he was asked to come to the ministry.

QUESTION:  Does he have to go?  It's a request?

MR. CASEY:  I don't believe there was use of force involved, no.

QUESTION:  And he did go; is that correct?

MR. CASEY:  That's - my understanding was he was intending to do so, but I don't actually have a readout on it.

QUESTION:  Even though he's our standing government official, these are - coup (inaudible) officials, do you know?  I mean they aren't the standing government.

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, the request was made by the foreign ministry for him to come and meet with the Military Council of Justice and Democracy.  That is an organ, as I understand it, of the Government in Mauritania and my understanding was he is intending to go meet with them.

QUESTION:  Sorry, so when it's a request and this word convoked -- yes, he's not being escorted by anyone with arms, but is there some kind of threat involved in the request, that "You have to turn up, otherwise you" --

MR. CASEY:  I'm not aware of any threats involved in the request, no.  Sorry, you want to let Saul follow-up?

QUESTION:  Forgive me if I misunderstood.  Has he met or is it that he's going to meet?

MR. CASEY:  My understanding was he was going to.  I don't have confirmation that they have and I will try and get that for you and (inaudible).

QUESTION:  Can you explain the thought behind why you would decide to go meet someone who's organized a coup, as opposed to making a symbolic - a statement that - you know, we don't deal with you, you're not the constitutional government?

MR. CASEY:  Really, Saul, at this point, I don't have anything more for you on it.  I'll endeavor to get you something else.

QUESTION:  So, how will the U.S. respond if its demands for the return to power of the president continue to be completely ignored?

MR. CASEY:  Well, again, I don't want to speculate.  At this point, we're working with the African Union and with the UN.  We certainly are seeking a restoration to a constitutional government in Mauritania and we'll continue to put our focus there for now.

Teri, did you - I'm sorry.

QUESTION:  No, I was --

MR. CASEY:  Mr. Lambros?

QUESTION:  On the Balkans --

QUESTION:  No, can I just --

MR. CASEY:  Sir, you want to stay on this for a second Peter?

QUESTION:  Yeah, just to stay on this for one second.

MR. CASEY:  Okay.

QUESTION:  You say you want the return to a constitutional government.  Yesterday, you said you wanted the return of the president.  Are you still sticking to the return of the president?

MR. CASEY:  The president is the head of the constitutional Government of Mauritania.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR. CASEY:  Yeah, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION:  On the Balkans.  As we know, the United States Government is very concerned about the prosperity of Southeastern Europe with a lot of programs.  Therefore, how do you respond to the Austrian Chancellor's proposal today that a (inaudible) separate trade agreement in Southeast Europe ought to be replaced by a free trade zone because you want to promote growth in the region.  Do you agree?

MR. CASEY:  Mr.  Lambros, I'm not familiar with the proposal.  Obviously, we believe that there should be good relations among all neighbors in the Balkans.  Certainly efforts to improve and enhance trade among the region would be welcome, but I don't have anything specific for you on that --

QUESTION:  The Switzerland Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey stated today that the (inaudible) support the full independence on Kosovo and the international supervision.  How do you see this new approach?

MR. CASEY:  Who stated that?

QUESTION:  Yes.

MR. CASEY:  Who stated that?

QUESTION: The Switzerland Foreign Minister.

MR. CASEY:  I would say that that's the position of the Swiss Government.  The position of the U.S. Government is well known and it hasn't changed.

Michel.

QUESTION:  Israel has decided to build the new homes in Bethlehem.  Did you talk with the Israeli officials about this issue and what's your reaction about it?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I don't think that we have anything more than having seen the reports on this, Michel, and we'll be seeking clarification on it.  Obviously, we've been very clear with Israel about its obligations under the roadmap and our policy on this issue is well known.

David.

QUESTION:  Tom, can you update us on the consultations of Ambassador Winter and Assistant Secretary Newman and any further observations about what's happening in Sudan today?

MR. CASEY:  Sure.  First of all, Assistant Secretary Newman and Roger Winter were in Southern Sudan at New Site Southern Sudan yesterday, as you know.  They offered their condolences to Mrs. Rebecca Garang, the widow of Dr. John Garang.  And they also met with officials from the Sudan People's Liberation Movement.  That included talking with Salva Kiir, the successor to Dr. Garang.  And in those meetings, they expressed appreciation, first and foremost, to Mrs. Garang and also to Salva Kiir for the efforts they have made to call on the Sudanese people to exercise calm and refrain from violence.  They've again reiterated our desire to see Salva Kiir and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement continue on the path to promote reconciliation and to fully comply with and help in the movement and implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

They will also be attending Dr. Garang's funeral in Juba on August 6th and we also expect that there will be additional members of that delegation attending, but I don't have any further information for you on the composition at this time.

QUESTION:  They were supposed to be in Khartoum today.  Did they get up there?

MR. CASEY:  They actually returned to Nairobi yesterday and they'll be traveling back, I believe, again tomorrow morning.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) Khartoum?

MR. CASEY:  My understanding is they'll be traveling back to Sudan.  I don't have an exact schedule of whether they'll be in Khartoum or down south.

QUESTION:  Can I just follow-up?

MR. CASEY:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Because, Tom, when they were going in, you said that - originally, I thought they were supposed to go into Khartoum then Southern Sudan.  They didn't go in.  Now they haven't gone to Khartoum.  Are they avoiding Khartoum?

MR. CASEY:  No, they're not avoiding Khartoum.  There are some logistical issues involved there, too, including the fact that Vice President Taha, among others, have been out of the country attending the funeral of King Fahd.

You know what, let's let David follow-up and then let's go down back to Saul.

QUESTION:  You spoke yesterday that you'd like -- you would have liked to have seen some additional actions by the Unity Government, vis-à-vis the continuing violence.  I'm wondering, in your opinion, have those additional measures been taken?

MR. CASEY:  Well, I think our understanding is that the situation - there are still some sporadic reports of violence, but that the situation is calmer than it was yesterday.  The government has, as we noted yesterday, deployed some troops.  There have been continued calls, both by the government and by the SPLM leadership for calm.  We would like to see that continue until all the violence has ceased.

Yes, Saul.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) do you contribute this greater calm?

MR. CASEY:  I'm not sure I have a good analysis for you, Saul.  Again, I think we do believe that it's important that both the Government in Khartoum, as well as the SPLM leadership, has continued to exercise calls for restraint.  Certainly, we hope that the statements made from here, as well as from other parts of the international community, asking that the Sudanese people respect the legacy of Dr. Garang by recommitting themselves to the peace process and maintaining calm and order, have had some effect as well.

QUESTION:  And given that there has been a little bit of calm, do you think the additional steps that you were calling for yesterday are still needed or is it a moot point now?

MR. CASEY:  I think we still want to see the Government of Sudan ensure that it does everything it can.  At this point, I think we just want to keep seeing the violence decrease and end.  I don't have any sort of greater analysis in terms of specific measures for you.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR. CASEY:  Anything else?  Thank you.

(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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