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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 26, 2007


Agreement to Restore Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive Government
Release of Special Envoy Marti Ahtisaari's Report
Referendum on Constitutional Amendments / U.S. Concerns
Treasury Department's Meetings on BDA Issue
Funding Transferred to Bank of Trade in China
Chavez's Comments Regarding Collective Property / Socialism / Fair and Appropriate Compensation
Possible Constitutional Reforms
Alleged Connection between Military and Paramilitary Organizations
Joint U.S.-Colombia Military and Law Enforcement Operations / Three Americans Kidnapped by FARC
Iranian Government's Response to UNSC Resolution 1747


12:38 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Okay. Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Monday, welcome to the start of another week. I just wanted to call your attention to a couple of things that we've just put out in the last few minutes. The first is a media note welcoming today's historic agreement between the parties in Northern Ireland. We do believe that this is a significant step forward and an advance in the cause of peace in the region. I believe that you can take a look at that paper copy as we put it out. You also have some remarks in there from our esteemed Special Envoy and Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky.

The other thing is our second item of the day and our second statement, which concerns the release of UN Envoy Marti Ahtisaari's report on Kosovo. And again, you can take a look at the paper copy, but I want to make clear that we welcome and support Special Envoy Ahtisaari's proposed status arrangement. These are fair, balanced, and the best means to advance regional stability. The settlement does contain a particularly broad and far-reaching set of protections for Kosovo's Serbs and other non-Albanian communities.

And the Ahtisaari plan, which calls for Kosovo's supervised independence, will allow for the resolution of what is the last major issue related to the breakup of Yugoslavia. It would call on all the parties to accept the compromises that Mr. Ahtisaari has proposed and commit to full implementation of the agreement. And for our part, we're going to be engaged with our partners in the Security Council about the way forward and we certainly all have a shared interest in bringing this process to a timely and successful conclusion.

And with that, go to your questions.

QUESTION: The Egyptians are voting today on a constitution. Do you have any thoughts on that subject?

MR. CASEY: Well, George, I think you've heard from the Secretary on this subject of the referendum. We've expressed our concerns both publicly and as she said, in her discussions with President Mubarak. I know that the voting is taking place today. I don't have any results to report to you and I haven't heard back from some of our people in the embassy to give you a better sense of how that process is proceeding, but certainly, the Egyptians have staked out for themselves some pretty clear ideas on reform and we'd like to see them carried out. And again, you've heard the concerns that we have specifically related to this referendum from the Secretary.

QUESTION: And what do you think about the delay which was allowed between the announcement of this referendum and the referendum itself, which is only one week? Do you think it's enough and sufficient?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think you've basically gotten our position on this already. I don't want to try and make pronouncements on the specific details of this, but we do want to see Egypt move forward with the process of reform. As the President and Secretary have both said, Egypt is an important country in the region and we would like to see it be a leader in political reform.


QUESTION: Do you have any update, you know, on BDA issues?

MR. CASEY: Well, nothing beyond what I told some of your colleagues this morning. Danny Glaser from the Treasury Department is in Beijing today. He's meeting with Chinese officials. And again, they're trying to make sure that our officials can do whatever they can to help support the Chinese and the Macanese and the North Koreans as they go through the technical banking issues involved in formerly transferring the money involved over there. I'd refer you, though, to the Treasury Department for specifics of Danny's meetings and the outcomes from them.

QUESTION: Regarding that BDA priority North Korean fund, they're going to a Russian bank, transfer to Russia bank?

MR. CASEY: I haven't seen anything to that effect. The arrangement, as you know, that was agreed to by all the parties was that the funding would be transferred for the Bank of Trade in China and be set aside and we were given assurances to that effect from the North Koreans that it will be used for humanitarian and educational purposes. And as far as I know, that's still the arrangement everyone's working from.


QUESTION: New topic?

MR. CASEY: If it's okay with everybody else.

QUESTION: Yeah. Okay. Do you have anything on President Chavez of Venezuela's announcement over the weekend? He said that he was moving forward with plans to create collective property, seizing a lot of landowners' land to further his socialist policies.

MR. CASEY: Well, really nothing. I hadn't seen those statements. But again, it's going to be up to the Venezuelan Government and the Venezuelan people to determine how they want to manage their economy and how they wish to move their process forward. I think we certainly believe that free markets, fair markets, fair trade and the opportunity presented through those mechanisms in the long run does far better for the people of the region than any statist solutions. And I think the statist models that have been pursued in the past have not exactly had a tremendous record of success.

But ultimately, just as with any country, it's going to be up to the Venezuelans to determine how they wish to proceed, how they wish to manage their economy. As you know, we've spoken in the past in terms of the expropriation or nationalization of private entities. And the one thing that we have held clear is that we would expect Venezuela, just like any other country in the process of nationalization, to provide fair and appropriate compensation to any private owners in accordance with international standards.

QUESTION: Just a follow up. The President said that these would be part of forthcoming constitutional reforms. Do you think that these -- such reforms should be put to a referendum by the Venezuelan people?

MR. CASEY: Again, I --

QUESTION: You said the Venezuelan people should be the ones who --

MR. CASEY: Yeah, and I'm not sure at this point what the mechanism is for amending the Venezuelan constitution. Obviously, we would want -- again, just as in any case, to see any amendments proposed go through whatever the appropriate legal proceedings are. If that's a vote then certainly if it's a two-thirds majority of parliament or whatever the terms and conditions are the important thing is that the rule of law is followed.

QUESTION: Well, just one more on this.

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Chavez has also moved to take more control over other resources such as the oil fields, telecommunications and now he's talking about seizing land for collective property. Are you worried that this is a turning back of the clock in terms of the democratic and economic market reforms that you've been pushing in the region?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, every country has to make these decisions for themselves. We would hold that nationalization and state-run enterprises have a pretty poor track record in the region in terms of providing for the interest of the people, but that is not our call to make. That's the Venezuelans' call to make. Certainly, I don't think if you stack up the record of communist regimes in Eastern Europe or the Cuban model of economic development, you have a particularly pretty picture or one that by any stretch of the imagination would be deemed successful.

Yeah. Same subject or different?

QUESTION: Colombia.

MR. CASEY: Okay. We can switch over to that.

QUESTION: Do you have anything related to the LA Times document saying that the CIA has proof that the most important militaries from the army -- Colombia army is linked with the paramilitaries?

MR. CASEY: Well, in terms of anything related to the intelligence community, you'd have to talk with them. I said this morning to a number of you and I'll happily say here again, though, that there are ongoing investigations by the Colombia authorities into the alleged connections between any number of people in the paramilitary organizations. We believe that President Uribe has handled this issue in a forthright and responsible manner and we have confidence that the Colombian judicial system is going to be capable of handling the issues related to this.

QUESTION: The Washington Times published today that the U.S. Army is doing a joint operation with the Columbia army for the rescue of the three North American that are kidnapped by the FARC. Is this going to continue? I mean, are you going to keep doing like operations together?

MR. CASEY: Well, operations -- joint U.S.-Colombia military operations?


MR. CASEY: There are a variety of joint activities that we do with Colombian law enforcement and military in terms of counter-drug operations. In terms of the three Americans who have been taken hostage, our position on that issue remains the same. We hold the FARC responsible for their condition. We believe they should be released immediately and without harm. And certainly we will do everything we can to ensure their safe and speedy return.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.


MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on the Iranian authority's reaction regarding Resolution 1747?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think their reaction to date has been disappointing and is a continuation of President Ahmadi-Nejad's seeming desire to continue the path of isolation and the path of confrontation with the international community. I would note again that in addition to the passage of Resolution 1747, which does impose additional sanctions on Iran, at the same time and at the same day that resolution was passed, the foreign ministers of the Permanent Five members of the Security Council plus Germany put out their own statement reiterating that they are prepared to sit down with Iran in negotiations, should they be willing to take the simple step of complying with the repeated requests and requirements of the international community and suspend their uranium enrichment activities.

And I think that's important for everyone and particularly for the Iranian people to understand. We would all like to see a resolution of this peacefully, diplomatically, and we would all like to see Iran be able to benefit from civil nuclear power. That is certainly something that we do not object to either for Iran or for any other country that is living up to its obligations under the nonproliferation treaty. But at the same time, as we all know, Iran has conducted a clandestine nuclear program for almost 20 years now. That program, in our mind, is very clearly bent not on producing power for the needs of the people, but on producing nuclear weapons, and that is something that the international community has repeatedly said it will not stand for.

So again, their reaction to this resolution, while in keeping with their past statements, is unfortunate. And it's unfortunate for the Iranian people who are going to continue to pay a price for their leadership's refusal to do the right thing and to enter into negotiations with the international community.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Sounds like a thank-you, Charlie.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:48 p.m.)

DPB # 52

Released on March 26, 2007

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