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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 4, 2007


Informal Draft Document on Security / Part of On-Going Dialogue / Informal Benchmarks
Remains of Gregory Stavrou
Missing American Citizen Mr. Levinson
Designation in Department's Terrorism Report / State Sponsor / Cooperation
Possible Transfer of BDA Funds Soon
Possibility of Seat on UN Council for Sustainable Development / U.S. View
Proposal of Amnesty for President Mugabe
Possible Killing of al-Masri / No Confirmation
Employee Mental Health Counseling and Effect on Security Clearances
"Warning" by Concerned Foreign Service Officers
Whether Records are Shared with Diplomatic Security


12:30 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Okay. Good afternoon, everyone, and TGIF. I don't have anything to start you with, so let's go to you guys.

George, anybody?

QUESTION: Can I follow up on something you said this morning?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: I am told that the Israeli media is quoting you as saying that there were no timelines associated with the steps that have been briefed to the Israelis and Palestinians and described in a document that you -- the Administration has circulated among them. Did you mean to say that there were no timelines? Because my understanding is the document actually has dates associated with particular steps.

MR. CASEY: Well, I mean, look, Arshad, my understanding on this is what I've -- you know, what I've said before, and this is a document that's an informal draft that we provided to the parties and it was intended as the basis for further discussion and -- you know, again, this is part of the ongoing dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and our efforts to try and foster that. And there are these informal benchmarks that are on security and movement issues and the kinds of things that we discussed this morning and the idea is to allow us to track progress on improving both the security and the economic environment.

And we haven't asked the parties to approve or adopt or accept these benchmarks. And the idea is they're intended to be flexible and iterative, so I guess what I would say is while certainly, you know, this is something that we would like to see done in a timely manner, contrary to some of the press reports that are out there, these benchmarks don't constitute a plan with fixed deadlines. There are a flexible set of targets and they're intended to help facilitate discussion rather than be a specific plan of action for the parties.

QUESTION: So you're not denying that there are -- even if it's -- you regard it as flexible and you said that there are not fixed deadlines, you're not denying that there are dates associated with particular steps even if those dates are not construed by you to be fixed deadlines?

MR. CASEY: I'm not. I haven't, frankly, seen the document myself, but again, my understanding is there are no fixed deadlines or dates associated with this, that these are flexible targets.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Albania?

MR. CASEY: How did I guess?

QUESTION: I need your attention for it.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: I would like to inquire whether the Department of State -- it would be prepared to arrange a humanitarian issue with the visiting Albanian Foreign Minister Lulzim Basha. This is an issue that was first raised in the floor of the House of Representatives on September 28th and then raised in this forum on October 19th. It concerned the location, exhumation and return of the remains of Gregory Stavrou, a hero who fought the Hoxha regime and who was captured, tried, and executed by the Albanian (inaudible) 1953.

Thus far, they should remain some reserve, Mr. Casey, because the Albanian authorities have consistently refused to identify the place of Gregory's execution and burial. Is the Department of State willing to raise this matter with the Minister Basha? I should note that the products of Gregory Stavrou (inaudible) served also with the U.S. Government.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I know we've addressed this issue before. I'm sure that as I recall, there are some family members associated with this individual that are U.S. citizens. I'm sure the Bureau of Consular Affairs will continue to provide whatever support possible to U.S. citizens that might be required under these circumstances and I'm sure the embassy will continue its cooperation as well. I certainly don't even have confirmation that the Albanian Foreign Minister will be here, much less what's on the agenda. I certainly would expect in any conversations with the Albanian Government, we'd cover the full range of bilateral issues, but I certainly wouldn't want to predict whether anything -- what particular, like this, would come up.

QUESTION: Well, (inaudible) the questions on Albania. Albania (inaudible) former Communist state, Mr. Casey, that has yet to open the Hoxha era (inaudible) that could shed light to -- in the case like Gregory Stavrou. It conveniently posed the arbitrary 50 years time limit and prevents many families in finding the truth about the fate of lives (inaudible) lost in the Hoxha's gulag, Archipelago Gulag. Why is the democratic government of Albania allowed to serve as the protector of Hoxha's secrets and so do prevent families like the Stavrou family from finding closures? Are you concerned? Is the U.S. Government to find out what is going on?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, issues concerning past history in Albania, just like past history in any former Communist country and how one reconciles that past are issues that are for the citizens of those countries to decide. Albania does have a democratically elected government and certainly this is an issue for citizens of Albania to talk about and discuss, but it's really an internal matter for them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Nina.

QUESTION: This morning you'd check. Are there any updates on Mr. Levinson?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I've checked. And unfortunately, we don't have anything new. We still don't have any information that helps us identify his whereabouts or welfare.

QUESTION: Did you hear from the Iranians at all? Did the issue come up over the weekend -- over the last couple of days?

MR. CASEY: No, this issue did not come up in any of the brief exchanges that were held with the Iranian officials in Sharm. And more importantly, we have not heard back from our diplomatic notes and formal requests to the Iranian Government for information about him.

QUESTION: I don't know if you were asked this before I came in, but it's --

MR. CASEY: Probably not.

QUESTION: -- about Sudan and the Terrorism Report?

MR. CASEY: No, you haven't so go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, there -- you may be aware that there was this letter that was sent to the DNI about -- asking how Sudan could be listed in the Terrorism Report as a state sponsor, but also be identified as a country that's greatly cooperating in the war on terrorism. I realize that this is a question that's been addressed to the intelligence people, but since it's your report, the Department's report that says this, if you could explain, perhaps why --

MR. CASEY: Well, I think in terms of the specifics about cooperation on the part of the Sudanese Government on counterterrorism issues, I really don't have anything I could offer you, Matt, beyond the text of the report itself.

In terms of the nature of listing issues, well, again, as you well know, being designated a state sponsor of terror is something that takes a very thorough and lengthy legal review. And getting off that list, as we saw in the case with Libya and as we've talked about in the context of the commitment to begin looking at a review process for North Korea, is also something that takes a great deal of time.

I think our report reflects our understanding of the status of current cooperation between the Sudanese Government and counterterrorism officials more broadly here in the United States. But saying that in the calendar year that that report covers -- that Sudan maintain positive cooperation on counterterrorism issues, certainly doesn't mean that there are no remaining questions about their record, or that any kind of legal finding has been determined, that they are no longer -- or that they should be removed from that list.

I also think too -- I'd have to go back and look at it, but as I recall too, there are some specific -- legislation specific to Sudan that's related to this matter as well.

QUESTION: Is it -- am I correct in my recollection, foggy as it might be, that there was -- that the United States had told the Sudanese that they could begin to look or that you could begin to look at the question of removing them from the list at the time of the North-South peace agreement or is that wrong?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think the fog's rolling in for both us on that one because my memory of that is pretty hazy as well. But I do think --

QUESTION: Well, I remember Secretary Powell had brought -- raised this or it didn't come up. And I can't remember what exactly it was. Can someone look back and see if --

MR. CASEY: Well, I think, yeah, I mean, I'll check and see what we can find for you. My recollection of this is not too dissimilar to yours. Certainly the issue of Sudan standing --

QUESTION: Hold on a second. Your recollection of this is not too dissimilar than mine?

MR. CASEY: Not too different than yours. I think it's -- it's close. How about -- I think I got it almost the same way you do.


MR. CASEY: But I do need to check. As I recall, Matt, you know, this is certainly something that's an issue that's come up in our discussions with the Sudanese over time. Part of discussions as part of the North South agreement, I know they certainly raise their concerns about remaining on the list to us. As I recall, there is certainly no formal commitment to start or begin a review of that. But it was an issue that was discussed. And as I recall, there was something along the lines of saying, as things progressed, we might be in a position to begin such a review after the agreement was signed and implemented.

QUESTION: Even as the genocide was persistent in Darfur?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, George, I think this was an issue that was discussed in the lengthy negotiations over many years, related to the North South agreement. This specific legislation I referred to in this matter I think is one that concerns Darfur. But you know, again there are several sets of issues here and counterterrorism cooperation is one. Countries can in fact actually do positive things in one area, even while they're doing extremely negative things in another. But the point of the matter is there has never been a decision taken to begin a review of Sudan's status as a state sponsor of terror and I'm not aware of any plans to begin such a review now.

QUESTION: Can I follow up --

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Sure, Arshad.

QUESTION: -- on something I asked you yesterday? I asked you about a report that initial transfers of money from the BDA account to the North Koreans were expected to take place this weekend. The report, I believe, was in a Macanese newspaper picked up by Kyoto.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that that is right, that they are close to or have resolved this to such a degree that they can begin transferring the money?

MR. CASEY: Well, we'd certainly like to believe it's right because we're overdue to have this transfer take place and have the North Koreans move forward with their other commitments under the February 13th agreement, including the shutting down of Yongbyon. But no, I don't have any confirmation to offer you that that is something that is to be expected or that I could confirm for you will happen this weekend.


MR. CASEY: David.

QUESTION: On Zimbabwe again.

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Far from being a regional pariah, Zimbabwe appears to be -- being championed by some of its neighboring countries for a seat on the UN Council for Sustainable Development and I was wondering if you had reflection on that?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, you know, I'm looking at a fine set of words here that have been drafted for me on this subject. But let me just take a chance and wing this one for you. You know, we never do that, but hey -- you know, look, the UN Commission Sustainable Development is supposed to look at a variety of issues. And that includes sustainable agriculture, rural development, and to land use, dealing with drought, desertification and other kinds of issues. Well, you know, I guess a friend of mine described this to me as Zimbabwe would have to follow the George Costanza rule to be effective leader of this -- they'd have to act completely opposite to their instincts and certainly opposite to their track record. Put another way, as I said yesterday, the car on -- the train and the car of economic development in Zimbabwe for the last few years has only been going in one direction and it's backwards. So certainly this is something that we are following closely. But we don't think that Zimbabwe would be a particularly effective leader of this body.


QUESTION: With regard to Zimbabwe, there's a Washington Times headline today that perhaps the opposition leaders or the Democratic Movement for Change would let some of the officials off the hook where there's been a call for the international community to eventually bring some of these perpetrators to the International Court of The Hague. Are you working with the opposition there in Zimbabwe? What are your feelings? Are they essentially right in this particular issue or is the Washington Times and their headline wrong?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, I saw that story you're referring to. Ultimately, though, how any country chooses to deal with the legacy of past dictatorships is one that the people in that country are going to have to determine. And you have examples from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to things like the International Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia as a range of examples of how countries or how the international community has chosen to respond to these things.

From our perspective, it will be up to what we hope would be a freely elected democratic government of Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe is no longer president to make a determination about how best to deal with those kinds of issues.


QUESTION: Can you offer any confirmation yet about al-Masri, whether he's dead or alive?

MR. CASEY: No, I can't. I haven't seen anything new on that and I think probably the folks in Baghdad would probably the ones best to be able to give you a readout.


QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have an answer on the mental health questions I had yesterday?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think I gave you pretty much the answers as we had them, but let me just go through what -- what we've got.

QUESTION: I understand you also could be -- that the Department is not particularly pleased with the warning that the concerned Foreign Service officers have put out yesterday.

MR. CASEY: Well, I think as I said yesterday, that "warning" is something that is frankly counterproductive and you know, could potentially be detrimental to people's health if they followed it. The reality here is, as I said yesterday, seeking mental health treatment. Following service in Iraq or Afghanistan isn't something that's going to jeopardize anybody's security clearance. Suggesting otherwise isn't correct and frankly, I think it's a disservice to the people involved.

There is a variety of information that's out there, including a Department Notice that is still of good standing from back in 2004 on the subject of mental health counseling and security clearances simply to alleviate concerns that people who seek professional assistance for a variety of mental health issues would somehow, you know, have their clearances revoked or automatically removed.

And the other things I just wanted to give you a better sense of the statistics. I was in the close-but-no-cigar category yesterday. There are basically 20,000 active security clearances investigated on any given -- in any given year. There are approximately 40 that are either currently being adjudicated for suspension or revocation. None of those are associated with anyone's service or any consequences of anyone's service in Iraq or Afghanistan. So I think the record speaks pretty clearly --

QUESTION: Okay. Well, can you check on that number because in fact this group says that there are at least 53 cases, not (inaudible).

MR. CASEY: Well, we did check on -- excuse me, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, they said there are 53 cases, and they also said that they are aware of several that involve mental health issues.

MR. CASEY: Well, Matt, again --

QUESTION: And perhaps none from Iraq and Afghanistan, but they would also note that this is very early on in that process, that these questionnaires and that this outreach to people is coming just now.

MR. CASEY: Matt, again, I -- we have checked those statistics. Those are the current ones. Those are the statistics that the Department has. I'm not sure where this group claims it's getting its material from. And again, in terms of issues of mental health counseling, this is not the -- Diplomatic Security does not have access to people's medical records or files. If someone has problems that are so serious that they would perhaps be committed to a psychiatric institution because they present a danger to themselves or others, I think on some extreme circumstance like that, you could potentially have a "suitability question" in terms of a clearance. But again someone saying, gee, I would like to have or desire to seek mental health counseling because of my service in Iraq or Afghanistan is not a reason why someone would come in for the suspension or revocation of their clearance.

QUESTION: Okay. Just one more thing on this. You say that the files are not shared between DS and the medical people. But in fact, this group alleges that in fact files are shared because the Department created a parallel file system which are not technically medical records, but which are files that include medical details that are shared with DS back and forth between the two of them.

MR. CASEY: Matt, all I can tell you is again, the notice that all employees have, which I would presume would include this group of individuals from back in 2004, very clearly states that medical records are not shared between the medical facilities people and this building and the diplomatic security office.

QUESTION: You're aware of a letter that AFSA, the Foreign Service Association sent to the Department last year about this very (inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: No, I'm not.

QUESTION: Okay. Apparently it's been a matter that has been one of interest for some time since this 2004.

QUESTION: Can you check whether it's -- whether the allegation in the letter that Matt describes is true, whether there is some second set of files that include some kind of medical information then that is shared with DS does exist? I don't know that they (inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: I'll tell you what, I will -- we will happily provide you with a copy of the Department's notice to employees and that is the sum total of information that is available about this and it very clearly states what is fact and what is myth about some of these things. The -- you know, I don't want to try and discount the fact that people have concerns about raising these kinds of issues. But the whole point and the whole point of where we entered into this discussion a couple of days ago is the Department wants to make sure that its employees get help if they need it because of things that have occurred because of their willingness to serve in difficult places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

And I'll just wrap up, Matt, where I started with this by saying I think unfortunately this letter does a great disservice to some of those individuals to the extent that it discourages anyone who feels that they legitimately are suffering and need help from raising those issues and getting the kind of help that they need. And that's certainly opposite of our intention here because we do want to see people be able to get the kind of medical service and the kind of support that they need if in fact, they've got a problem that's occurred again as a result of service in some of these difficult environments.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:58 p.m.)

DPB # 80

Released on May 4, 2007

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