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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 3, 2007


Department Employees Seeking Assistance for Mental Health Issues
Confidentiality of Medical Records / Diplomatic Security
U.S. Efforts to Commemorate Press Freedom Day / Dobriansky / Hughes
Turkish Political Process
U.S. Policy with Regards to Turkey's Candidacy with the European Union
Secretary's Meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister
U.S. Desire for Dialogue between the Israelis and Palestinians
Israeli Political Process
U.S. Continues Looking for Information on Mr. Levinson
Reported Negotiation Proposal
Past Direct High-Level Meetings between Foreign Ministers
Human Rights Watch Report / Zimbabwe's Repression of Political Dissent
President Mugabe Bears Personal Responsibility for Assaults on Activists
Efforts on Southern African Countries to Engage Mugabe Government
U.S. Policy on Kosovo / U.S. Expects to Move Forward on Ahtisaari Plan
U.S. Continuing to Work with Russia / Ahtisaari Plan Best Hope Forward
U.S. Discussions with Indian Counterparts on Indian Activities with Iran
Indian Foreign Secretary's Visit to Washington


1:28 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Okay good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to start you with, so who wants to go first?


QUESTION: Can I just go back briefly to revisit something that came up yesterday --

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- about the PTSD and diplomats?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Is it correct that people who -- Foreign Service officers who voluntarily seek treatment or voluntarily go in to take -- to be examined for mental health cases can have their security clearances revoked?

MR. CASEY: You mean simply for reporting that they are having mental health issues?


MR. CASEY: No, it's not true.

QUESTION: It's not. You've seen the statement put out by the concerned Foreign Service officers advising people who take -- choose to take advantage of these programs, but basically not to do it and to instead go to private healthcare providers?

MR. CASEY: Matt, no, I haven't seen the statement. But again simply seeking assistance because one is having mental health issues related to service in Iraq certainly isn't grounds for suspension of clearance or revocation of it. In fact, I think -- I'm not aware of anyone who has had -- certainly related to Iraq service -- anyone who's had their clearance suspended. And certainly you know, you can talk to our folks in Diplomatic Security about what kinds of circumstances would merit the suspension or revocation of a clearance, but simply stating that one is having trouble sleeping at night or, you know, having other issues related to their service in Iraq or Afghanistan certainly isn't grounds, as I understand it, for any kind of clearance suspension.

QUESTION: Okay. Because this statement says that they have seen -- there have been numerous cases where even allegations of mental health issues ranging from PTSD to depression to marital discord have been referred to the bureau of -- Office of Medical Services -- sorry, have been referred by them to DS, "usually resulting in recommendations to revoke a security clearance." They also say that these records are not available to the employees who have gone into -- they're barred from having access to them. So if you could clear that up.

MR. CASEY: Matt, simply -- well simply looking at that, I'm simply not familiar with anything that that would be referring to. Look, the process is pretty simple. Medical records are as I understand it, confidential the way they're confidential for you visiting a physician. I certainly couldn't talk about anybody's individual medical history or case.

QUESTION: But apparently they're not confidential because they're being given to DS. So that would seem to be --

MR. CASEY: Matt, I'll check for you. I have never personally heard of an instance in which one's medical records are forwarded to Diplomatic Security. My understanding is of the approximately, you know, 15,000-odd people who hold security clearances of one kind or another in this building -- currently a handful, somewhere between two and three dozen -- are currently suspended. So I would find it personally hard to believe based on my understanding of the situation that there is any widespread effort to either suspend or revoke people's security clearance, simply for reporting that they might or might not be having some kind of mental health issue associated with service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Clearly as a matter of Department policy, there is no intention to suspend someone's clearance because of that and frankly would be antithetical to our efforts to support people coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan to say, oh, by the way, if you happen to say that you have a problem, we will therefore cause some kind of difficulty for you.

QUESTION: Which is this is so interesting, you know, because it would be antithetical.

MR. CASEY: If there's any factual basis to it, yes. But as far as I know there's no factual basis to it. Be happy to look into it for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: All right, let's go to you.

QUESTION: After days of political crisis in Turkey, the parliament has opted for holding early general elections in July. Anything you would like to say?

MR. CASEY: Beyond what I said yesterday, no.

QUESTION: Would an early election defuse tensions and bring Turkey to a healthy solution?

MR. CASEY: Thanks again for trying to get me and Sean into Turkish politics. These are decisions for the Turkish people to make. Again, our position is we fully support Turkish democracy and want to see things proceed in accordance with Turkish law and Turkish constitution. However the Turkish people and leadership and Turkish people choose to resolve those issues are matters for them to decide not for us or anyone else.


QUESTION: Any further readout of Secretary Rice's meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think the readout of Secretary Rice's meeting with the Syrian Foreign Minister was given by Secretary Rice to your colleagues out there and I know she's also been doing some additional one-on-one interviews this afternoon, so frankly I'll leave it to her to do it. Simply for those of you that haven't gotten any basic information about it, she did have an opportunity to have a brief discussion with the Syrian Foreign Minister on the margins of the Iraq Compact Group meeting today. My understanding is that that meeting focused solely on issues related to Iraq, very specifically those involving the transit of foreign fighters and other kinds of negative behavior that the Syrians have been engaged in. Like I said, she's addressed her comments to this already, but that's the basis of what was discussed.

QUESTION: Can you just for the record tell us how you're referring to this meeting? You said it was on the margins -- so you would not call this a bilateral meeting between the two of them?

MR. CASEY: I would call it a discussion on the margins of the Compact Group; that's how it was described to me.

QUESTION: But it was bilateral, right? There was nobody else there. It was just the U.S. side and the Syrian side --

MR. CASEY: It was just the two of them, but it was not -- it was on the margins of this larger event.

QUESTION: I mean was it -- when you say on the margins, I mean, they were in a separate room? I mean, how was this --

MR. CASEY: I honestly --

QUESTION: I mean, I'm just wondering how you would define it as --

MR. CASEY: I honestly don't have the logistics. On the margins means that it was a -- you know, fairly brief event that happened in the course of this broader set of discussions. My understanding was, yes, the room consisted of the two of them plus other Syrians and other Americans. You know, what the shape of the room was, how many people were in the room and all that kind of stuff, I'll leave to the party to talk about.

QUESTION: And just one follow-on, if you could just say -- if you know about the planning for this meeting, whether this was agreed to before or if they decided during the course of the meeting this is something they wanted to engage in.

MR. CASEY: Again, all that kind of detail, I'd simply refer you to the party on.


QUESTION: Tom, I realize you guys generally don't want to speak about internal political developments in other countries, but there's something related to this that I think you might want to address. Obviously, there's considerable political uncertainty in Israel and I wonder if the uncertainty in any way about who -- whether Olmert survives as Prime Minister and so on -- in any way affects the Secretary's plans to keep working and traveling to the Middle East. Does this change her thinking or planning for when she may go next?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, the basics: The basics remain the same. It's important for us, we believe, to continue to have a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians not only on the immediate short-term issues but on those broader political horizon issues that you've all heard the Secretary talk about. In terms of her future travel plans, I'm not aware of any changes in her schedule. Certainly, I wouldn't want to try and predict, Arshad, any particular changes in the Israeli political system either, because as you said that is an internal matter and I'll leave it to the Israelis to sort their internal politics out.


QUESTION: Any update on Mr. Levinson and particularly the internet report that he has left Iran and gone into Iraq?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, we've seen those reports for several days now. There's been no verification or no indication to us that that is, in fact, the case, but obviously, we're continuing to look at all possible avenues to try and locate him, try and determine his welfare and whereabouts.

QUESTION: Does that mean you're looking in Iraq then as well --

MR. CASEY: Again, that means that we're pursuing all avenues. I don't really have any further details for you beyond what we've already said.


QUESTION: Do you have any information, whatever good or bad, that the efforts to get information from your allies turned up anything? Did they --

MR. CASEY: To date, I'm not aware that we've gotten anything from them that certainly would give us a -- you know, help us do what we've been set out to do here, which is figure out where he is and get him returned to his family.


QUESTION: Tom, Human Rights Watch yesterday put out a report on Zimbabwe basically saying that the repression of the opposition there is continuing unabated and that Southern African mediation efforts there have been basically useless. And I was wondering if you think there's any way the -- sort of the outside world can influence the government there.

MR. CASEY: Well, we haven't had a chance to review the report, but even without seeing it, I do think it's clear that the Government of Zimbabwe continues to take actions to repress political dissent, to prevent the opposition from freely expressing their political views. And there continue to be reports, as you know, that various opposition members and others have not only been assaulted, but some have disappeared.

There are allegations of Zimbabwean security force involvement in those and so these are all outstanding issues for the Zimbabwean Government and issues that they need to address. But it's very clear to us that they have not changed their policy. And again, I think we've -- we're on record as saying that President Mugabe bears personal responsibility for the kinds of assaults on democratic activists and the kinds of acts of repression that we've seen done under his leadership.

QUESTION: Are you dissatisfied -- the Southern African countries had a meeting in Tanzania. Basically, they appointed South Africa to be an intermediary and again, seemingly no effect. Do you have any reflection on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, we appreciated the desire and the effort being made on the part of the Southern African countries to engage with the Mugabe government, but I think we've always said that we'd like to see them do more to help convince President Mugabe and his government to change their policies and to allow the people of Zimbabwe the right to freely express themselves. It is a tragic situation there and if you look at what has happened in Zimbabwe in the last few years, both on the economic front as well as the political front, it's been going nowhere fast. And in fact, the car's been in reverse gear for some time.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Albania, the new Albanian Foreign Minister, Mr. Casey, Lulzim Basha, will be in the town and November 7th is going to deliver a speech in CSIS. Do you know when he is going to meet the Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice?

MR. CASEY: I don't have any updates for her schedule on you. I'm sure when we put out the week ahead or other kinds of planning purposes documents, we'll be able to give you that information.

QUESTION: And one more. As President Bush said, quote -- many, many times, "NATO is the pillar of the U.S. foreign policy," but the Albanians in Kosovo, according to reports, they are threatening to fight even with NATO forces in order to obtain their so-called independence. Would you allow this to happen unless the situation is vice versa?

MR. CASEY: Boy, Mr. Lambros, there's a stretch for you. Look, our policy on Kosovo hasn't changed. NATO's there implementing, are under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 1244. We fully expect to move forward with the Ahtisaari plan. Certainly, as you know Under Secretary Burns is just returning now today from London. He met earlier in the day today with the other members of the Contact Group. They again reviewed the situation in Kosovo. I think there was great unity, as I understand it, among the European Union members, as well as the United States and others on the need to move forward quickly with that. Certainly, we want -- we are well aware that the Russians have some concerns about that, but in this meeting, they were certainly invited and encouraged to move forward with this process and to help us all bring about a peaceful resolution of one of the longstanding crises in the Balkans and an issue which frankly everyone believes the time has come to address in a satisfactory matter.

QUESTION: And the last on Turkey, the French candidate for the presidency --

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR. CASEY: Sure. Let Mr. Lambros --

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Okay --


MR. CASEY: Up to you, guys.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Go, go ahead. Go ahead, Lambros.

QUESTION: MayI go? Thank you. The French candidate for the Presidency of France Nicholas Sarkozy with unusual hate against the Turks stated yesterday: "Turkey not in Europe, I will not accept European borders with Iran via Turkey." Any comments since the U.S. Government fully supports Turkey to become a member of the European Union?

MR. CASEY: I don't think I particularly want to be involved in the French presidential debate either, but if you're asking about our policy on Turkey's candidacy for the EU, as you know, while we're not a member of the EU, we have and continue to support Turkey's ongoing negotiations for membership with that body.

QUESTION: Can we go back toKosovo?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: You said that the Russians were certainly invited and encouraged to move forward toward a resolution on Kosovo. Did they give you any reason to believe that they are interested in the position that you and the Europeans have on Kosovo, or do they remain intransigent on this?

MR. CASEY: Well, I mean, I'll let them speak for themselves. I'm not going to try and tell you, Arshad, that this meeting resolved all outstanding issues with the Russians on this. But we are continuing to work with them not only in the Contact Group, but in the UN. As you know, many of the UN perm reps just concluded a visit to the region to kind of review the situation there for themselves. And certainly, we believe that the Ahtisaari plan does offer a viable way forward, and are looking forward to continuing these discussions with the Russians because we do think that it's important for all of us, including the Russians, to be able to support this resolution as it offers the best hope forward for the people of Kosovo and the people of Serbia.

QUESTION: And when and how -- do you have a plan now for when and how you're going to keep raising it with the Russians? Is it going to come up when the Secretary travels there? Do you expect it later this month or is there some other process --

MR. CASEY: Well, I suspect that first and foremost, there's going to be continued dialogue and discussion within the UN Security Council on this matter. Obviously, the Russians will be a full participant in those discussions. I think Kosovo, certainly in the past, and generally has come up in some way or another in the Secretary's discussions with Foreign Minister Lavrov. To what extent and how much that will be a feature of her meetings in Russia on her trip there later this month, that I just don't know. But certainly, it's a topic that's come up in the past and I would expect it would again.


QUESTION: Tom, Nicholas Kristof had an interesting editorial in the Times on Sunday where he says in May 2003, Iran sent a secret proposal to the U.S. for settling mutual disputes in a grand bargain and in the talks -- well, they included Ambassador Pickering, Wisner, Nicholas Platt, and Iranian Ambassador Zarif. And evidently, in the master document, Iran talks about ensuring full transparency and other measures to assure the U.S. that it will not develop nuclear weapons. So why did those talks fall apart? They seem to have offered up a solution.

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen Mr. Kristof's op-ed. I assume you're referring to what has otherwise been called the Gouldman proposal, the proposal or paper that the Swiss Ambassador presented sometime back in 2003. This is a matter that you can go and look at what we've said on the record before and that Secretary Rice has testified to and I don't have anything to add.


QUESTION: Tom, it's a report that's just come out from the Committee to Protect Journalists, it's in respect to World Press Freedom Day. And they're saying there's been an erosion especially by two countries; one is Russia and of course, the other is probably no surprise, Venezuela. But how do you react? They say there are also four or five backsliders. In other words, for instance, the Russians have nationalized all their television channels. There have been 11 murders of journalists in the last year and no case is solved. Is that a surprise?

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen their report, Joel. I think as most people know, you can take a look at what Karen Hughes -- Under Secretary Karen Hughes and Under Secretary Paula Dobriansky said a couple of days ago in the event that they participated in, that we co-sponsored with Freedom House, looking at the issue of press freedom, in part, as our efforts to commemorate World Press Freedom Day. Certainly, this has been a very difficult year for journalists. I think the reporting I've seen indicates that the greatest number of journalists in many years died this year trying to cover the news in places scattered throughout the globe. And certainly cases you've indicated, including some of the murders of journalists in Russia and elsewhere, are very disturbing and are things that we are concerned about. You know, it is important that you and your colleagues and everyone around the world who's trying to report and cover the news have an opportunity to do so and do so free from either physical threat or other kinds of intimidation.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) getting it from this morning. Did you get -- have you yet gotten an answer about the history of high-level U.S.-Iranian contacts?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'll give it a shot. I've talked with the Historian's Office about this and they have not been able to do an exhaustive search. But what -- my understanding is is the last time you had a direct high-level meeting between foreign ministers on a -- of Iran and the United States in -- that was a substantive meeting would have been in December 31, 1977, before the revolution when President Carter visited Iran. George had asked about the discussions concerning the Algiers Agreement; that of course did involve Deputy Secretary Christopher. But to my -- it's my understanding and as the Historian's Office tells me, those did not involve direct discussions with people sitting in the same room. That was effectively discussions that were mediated by the Algerians in what must be one of the world's record proximity talks of shuttling back and forth between Algiers and Tehran and Washington. My understanding is Deputy Secretary Christopher did, in fact, go to Algiers for some of the final aspects of that, but that again, he was dealing -- while it was a negotiation between the United States and Iran, the direct contacts were with the Algerians in that case.

Otherwise, you have the record of things that I spoke about certainly this morning. Certainly, the meeting that Secretary Powell participated in in 2004 with his Iranian counterpart among others and a meeting in Egypt and there was an exchange there between them. There also, as I understand it, were some very passing, briefing -- pleasantries exchanged between Secretary Albright and then-Iranian Foreign Minister Karzai at the UN in 1999, so I think those are basic data points. And again, as you know, both at the Compact Group meeting in September in New York as well as the subsequent Neighbors meeting that was just held in Baghdad, you have both secretarial level as well as ministerial level engagements or having them be in the same room for discussions on a broader set of issues. And you also have the envoy level process that occurred in Berlin in -- basically between, on and off, 2001 and 2003; that involving several special envoys included Jim Dobbins and Zal Khalilzad. Zal Khalilzad, of course, has also met while Ambassador to Afghanistan with his Iranian counterpart there to discuss specific Afghan issues and it's sort of part of the same process.

QUESTION: First of all, thank you very much to the Historian's Department for running that down. You were careful to say: It's my understanding that -- if for any reason it turns out that that's wrong and there was a substantive exchange after December of 1997, if they could let us --

MR. CASEY: '77 --

QUESTION: '77, excuse me. If they could let you and --

MR. CASEY: And they will.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: And I phrased it that way, Arshad, simply because they emphasized to me that in the way of all things of history it takes a little more time than they had this morning to do it.


MR. CASEY: But that's our best understanding right now.

QUESTION: And then --

QUESTION: On the same subject.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said it was New Year's Eve, 1977?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Oh, was Carter -- Carter was visiting the Shah?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Was that the time that he gave the toast in which he praised Iran as being the island of stability in the Middle East?

MR. CASEY: I have no idea, Matt, I honestly don't. That's -- I didn't get into the specifics of the -- what the visit was designed to accomplish or any remarks anyone would have made at that time.

QUESTION: All right. And the one when he -- and the other thing that you talked about with Albright in -- with, you said, Karzai or Karazi?

MR. CASEY: Karazi.


MR. CASEY: If I said Karzai, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: One other thing again from this morning. We had asked about comment on letters from the Hill about the Indian civil nuclear deal, particularly about alleged Iranian -- U.S. -- Indian-Iranian cooperation. Do you have anything on that?

MR. CASEY: Not much frankly because we have not seen this letter and I'm not sure whether the Indians have had a chance to look at it and react to it. In terms of what we say and while what we have discussed with our Indian counterparts, I know that we have raised Congressional concern about their cooperation with Iran and we continue to encourage the Indians to use what influence they have with the Iranians to press them to comply with U.N. Security Council Resolutions and to behave responsibly in a wide variety of areas. I think my understanding is the Foreign Secretary, when he was here visiting with Nick Burns, among other officials, was -- had some fairly strong views on this subject, and I think I deferred the Indian Government to let them describe their relationship with the Iranians. But certainly this is an issue that we continue to discuss with them in our official contacts as well.

QUESTION: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:53 p.m.)

DPB # 79

Released on May 3, 2007

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