Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
May 29, 2007
|Statement on Closing of Venezuela's Only Independent Television Network with Nationwide Broadcast Coverage|
|Reports of ICBM Test Launch / Missile Defense System in Europe|
|Detained Iranian-American Citizens / U.S. Calls for Their Immediate Release / Contact with the Swiss / Iran's Motivation for Detaining These People|
|Ambassador Crocker's Meeting with Iranian Ambassador to Iraq / Meeting Focused Exclusively on Iraq Security / Possible Future Meetings|
|Reelection of President Assad / No Real Choice for the Syrian People|
|Turnover of Security Responsibility in Kurdish Areas of Northern Iraq / Consultations with Turkey / Coalition Forces will Remain in the Area / Fighting the PKK|
|Refugees in Syria / U.S. Working With the UN High Commissioner for Refugees|
|Unintentional Violation of Turkish Airspace by U.S. Planes in Northern Iraq / Department of Defense Investigating / Respect for Sovereignty of Turkey|
|Military Buildup / Need for Transparency|
|Detention of Aung San Suu Kyi / U.S. Calls for Release of All Political Prisoners / Mr. Gambari Named UN Special Representative for Burma|
|Possible Travel of Under Secretary Burns to India|
|BDA Issue Tied to Reactor Shut Down|
12:56 p.m. EST
MR. CASEY: Afternoon, everybody. I have one short statement to read to you and this concerns Venezuela. The United States joins the expressions of concern made by the international community about the May 27th closure of RCTV, Venezuela's only independent television network with nationwide broadcast coverage. We join with many other organizations from the European Union to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to private NGOs in speaking on this subject. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and it's an essential element of democracy anywhere in the world. And we'd certainly call on the Government of Venezuela to abide by its commitments under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Inter-American Democratic Charter and to reverse these policies that they're pursuing to limit freedom of expression. And with that, take your questions.
QUESTION: Did you see the story from Moscow to the effect that the Russians have tested a new ICBM capable of withstanding any missile defense system?
MR. CASEY: Yeah. I've seen those reports, George. I can't confirm those for you. I'm sure people over at the Pentagon and elsewhere will be looking at that. But you know, again, in terms of U.S. policy on missile defense, we've got a system that we are planning that involves only ten interceptors in a very limited quantity that is designed to defend against a limited attack by a rogue nation, including a nation like Iran. This is a threat that's there, not only for the United States and its European allies, but also for the Russians as well. And we would hope that the Russians would want to cooperate with us on the issue of missile defense. Certainly nothing that we have proposed or planned is in any way, shape or form a threat to Russia's strategic capabilities and certainly shouldn't be viewed that way.
MR. CASEY: Yeah, Arshad.
QUESTION: Do you have anything more detailed now to say about the reports that three Iranian Americans have been charged with spying?
MR. CASEY: Well, Arshad, it won't surprise you to learn that the Swiss have not gotten any responses to their requests on our behalf for consular access to these individuals. Certainly we understand simply from the reporting in Iranian Government controlled media that these charges have been filed, though certainly there has not been any formal communication of that by the Iranian Government to the Swiss or to us otherwise.
I'd again just reiterate what we've said previously about these cases. These are individuals who are private citizens. They are not party to any of the policy disputes between the Government of the United States and the Government of Iran. It's absolutely absurd to think that they in any way, shape or form pose a threat to the Iranian regime. And we continue to urge the Iranian Government to let them go, to let them go back to visiting their families, to come back home to be with their families here and to continue the very basic people-to-people kind of work that they've been pursuing in Iran for many years.
QUESTION: Do you flatly deny that they are American spies?
MR. CASEY: Absolutely. It's absurd to allege that they are American spies, American Government employees, or that anything they've been doing in Iran is driven by American Government concerns.
QUESTION: And then one last one. Do you know if the Swiss have again sought either consular access or further information regarding the charges since the report that the charges have been filed?
MR. CASEY: I know that they have raised -- they've raised this request on a number of occasions. But I'm not sure of the last time they have -- certainly, we've asked them to look into the specifics of these charges, but of course, the best way to do that would be to have consular access to the individuals and talk to them about it.
QUESTION: On Syria.
MR. CASEY: Are we staying on Iran? Okay.
QUESTION: In your view, is this -- I mean, obviously, they're ratcheting up -- you know, we're hearing about a new person almost every day. I mean, is this simply an attempt to collect bargaining chips, you know, to exchange for the five individuals in Irbil?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I've seen a lot of media speculation about that. I'm not aware that there's been any linkage made between those individuals picked up for engaging in activities against coalition forces in Iraq and these individuals. Certainly, as you know, it was not a subject that came up in Ryan Crocker's meeting with the Iranians yesterday. It certainly wasn't raised by us and it wasn't raised by them. So, why the Iranians are doing this and why they are continuing to pursue this sort of pattern of harassment against private American citizens is something you'll just have to ask them. But certainly, we don't see any linkage between it and those other issues.
QUESTION: So, can I just follow up?
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: On the meeting, obviously it was concerning Iraq security, but in the wider sense, we've had this announcement today. I mean, how can we -- in view of that, how can we imagine that meetings like yesterday's one can yield results if then the next day we have announcements, you know, that these people are being detained?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, again, the meeting that happened yesterday in Baghdad between Ambassador Crocker and the Iranian Ambassador to Iraq was focused exclusively on Iraq and on our security concerns there. But you've all heard from Ambassador Crocker directly on this, the issues that we raised were ones that I think are well known to all of you. And as he said, there was a great degree of similarity in terms of the strategic view of what Iraq should be; that it should be peaceful and that it should be able to manage its own affairs. Unfortunately, as we've always said, the Iranian rhetoric has never been matched by its actions, and so what we are looking for is the Iranians to take specific steps to address concerns about providing arms and support to militia and other groups about interfering in the political process there in Iraq.
So, the question ultimately is not what the Iranians say on this, it's what they do. Certainly, we don't expect there to be any particular positive change as a result of these conversations related to the other aspects of our relationship. There are channels available both for dealing with these issues of American citizens held, as well for dealing with the nuclear issues, as well as for dealing with other issues that are out there. But this particular meeting was focused on Iraq, and again, what we need to have happen afterwards to make it a valuable dialogue and one that is worth continuing to pursue is to see changes in Iranian behavior on the ground, not just see them speak in rhetorical fashion about their desire to have Iraq be a peaceful, stable country.
QUESTION: Do you think -- I mean, this is a speculation, but if there was a subsequent meeting like the one yesterday, and there was still this issue of these missing dual citizens, would it be brought up then? Is that a possibility to use that channel?
MR. CASEY: Well, my expectation is that these -- this meeting certainly focused exclusively on Iraq. If there are subsequent meetings, I would expect that that would be the similar practice, that they would be Iraq-focused.
MR. CASEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just to follow up.
MR. CASEY: Same thing?
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: Meeting and greeting and talking with the Iranians, do you think -- do you see the future softening or changing the U.S. policy towards Iran? And also, what message are we sending to Israel, where this president of Iran always said that he has not (inaudible) but Israel will be wiped out of the map? And also, their nuclear program is still continuing.
MR. CASEY: Well, again, we have to separate out the issues here. Certainly, in the case of Iraq, we had the neighbors conferences. That was an effort to get all of Iraq's neighbors to be working in a positive fashion to help change the security situation there, to help bring peace to the country, and to support Prime Minister Maliki in his efforts at national reconciliation, at economic reform, at political reform, and in ensuring peace and stability.
The conversations that were held yesterday were an outgrowth of that, and it was an opportunity that the Iraqis very much wanted to see happen and that we very much were willing to do to discuss very specific issues of security concerns in Iraq that we have with the Iranians and that the Iraqis have with the Iranians for that matter. Focusing on that issue gives us an opportunity to put to the test the rhetoric that the Iranians have used and that they told the Iranians and every one else at the neighbors conference, which is that they did want to see improvements in the situation. But again, I would draw a distinction between having a very specific and focused discussion with them on those issues, just as we had specific and focused discussions with them in the Berlin process related to Afghanistan or by our envoys in Kabul as well versus our broader concerns about the Iranian regime.
For the nuclear issue, of course there's a separate channel there, and we would encourage the Iranians to take up the opportunity offered by the P-5+1.
In terms of some of these other issues, including the Iranian President's stated desires about the state of Israel, we've spoken on that before. Those remarks are reprehensible. They've been duly condemned by all members of the international community, and certainly there should be no doubt on the part of anyone's mind about our continued support, not only for Israel, but for our other friends and allies in the region.
QUESTION: On Syria, Tom, do you have any reaction on the referendum who gave -- which gave President Assad a new term for seven years?
MR. CASEY: Yeah, well, I think it's pretty hard to suggest that any kind of election can be free, fair or credible when you've only got one candidate, and that candidate receives about 98 percent of the vote. Look, clearly, there was no real choice here for the Syrian people. You know, your choice is between vanilla, vanilla and vanilla. And I don't think that that's one that offers a variety of flavors and identities for the Syrian people to choose from. So, we're, you know -- I'm sure President Assad is basking in the glow of his ability to have defeated exactly zero other candidates and continue his misrule of Syria.
QUESTION: On Turkey. Mr. Casey, according to reports, the Iraqi Kurdistan autonomous government will take charge of the security of both regions this week in a transfer of command from the U.S.-led coalition force, giving full authority to 170,000 peshmergas, or Kurdish rebels, affiliated with the regional government. The decision has been taken between regional President Massoud Barzani; Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki; and high senior U.S. military leader, who confirmed the handover. Any comment?
MR. CASEY: Who confirmed the handover of what to whom?
QUESTION: Of --
MR. CASEY: Could you try -- try me again, Mr. Lambros. I'm sorry, I didn't hear you.
QUESTION: According to --
MR. CASEY: You're talking about -- are you talking about the handover of various provinces in Iraq to Iraqi forces?
QUESTION: I'm talking about the handover of security of three regional areas --
MR. CASEY: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: -- from the U.S. coalition force to Massoud Barzani. I'm talking about giving authority to 170,000 peshmergas, or Kurdish rebels.
MR. CASEY: Well --
QUESTION: It was a decision between a known referee -- the U.S. officials --
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros --
QUESTION: -- Prime Minister, --
MR. CASEY: Yeah, let's --
QUESTION: -- and Massoud Barzani.
MR. CASEY: Let's deal with some facts here. First of all, there are Iraqi Government army, military and security forces that are -- we are working with every day. And we are trying to allow them to get to the point where they can take the lead and ultimately by themselves be responsible for security throughout all of Iraq. However, I would point out that the process of the handover of security responsibilities --
MR. CASEY: -- in a variety of provinces is something that's been going on for some time. And those arrangements have been made with -- openly with coalition forces and the Iraqi Government. I'd refer you to Prime Minister Maliki and his government for details on any specific transfers. But this is nothing new, and this is something that is an encouraging sign of the ability of Iraq's security forces to be able to manage security in at least those particular areas.
QUESTION: But the U.S. Government -- why the U.S. Government had decided prior to the general elections in Turkey, July 22nd, to approve this handover? Why so much urgency?
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I believe this is something that's been -- being worked on for about four years now. Its part of what we said at the very start of military -- or post-combat operations in Iraq. We were going to help Iraq develop its security forces and work to have them be able to take full responsibility for security in the country. The timing of this is totally unconnected to any events in Turkey or any other country that's connected to the longstanding plans of coalition forces and the Iraqi Government. And for any specifics on what might or might not be occurring today or next day on that, I'd refer you to MNFI and to the Iraqi Government.
QUESTION: Okay. And the last one, U.S. warplanes violated the Turkish airspace, about southeast of Turkey flying above Turkish folks in that coastal area making Ankara extremely upset and (inaudible) to the U.S. Government. Any comment on that?
MR. CASEY: Well, we talked a little bit about this this morning. And I think the Embassy has spoken to this as well. There was an unintended violation of Turkish airspace by--
MR. CASEY: Unintended by U.S. aircraft. This is something that's been investigated. It's something that as soon as we found out about it, we did discuss with both the Turkish Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry. Certainly we are very respectful of Turkish sovereignty and of Turkish airspace. And through our investigation, we're going to make sure that we take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that this kind of thing doesn't happen again.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Let's go back here.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what the President -- his thoughts were and secondly to the other question of North Iraq pulling out of the U.S. troops? And if now Turkey decides to send in some troops in Northern Iraq, to fight against PKK, what would be the position of the U.S. army there? Would they intervene? Do they still have the possibility to intervene or not?
MR. CASEY: First of all, in terms of the flights, these were flights by U.S. aircraft based in Iraq. My understanding there is a brief and inadvertent violation of Turkish airspace. I honestly don't know what missions they were performing. You could, I'm sure, check with the Pentagon or with the commanders on the ground there in terms of what specific operational mission they were performing. Again, I want to emphasize that the turnover of security responsibilities in any of Iraq's provinces between U.S. forces and Iraqi forces does not generally mean that coalition forces somehow disappear from the area. It means that the Iraqi forces are taking the lead that they are primarily responsible, but coalition forces are still there to support them.
In terms of the questions related to hypothetical military action on the part of the Turkish Government into Northern Iraq, again, we've spoken to that issue on a number of occasions previously and our position remains the same. We want to work with the Government of Turkey and the Government of Iraq to be able to deal with the real threat and challenges posed by the PKK. The best way to do that and deal with that is by working together diplomatically and working together to deal with those problems.
Yeah. Well, let's go -- Goyal, you got another one?
QUESTION: Yes. One is about this Pentagon's assessment of the yearly assessment on China's need to build up, if anybody from this department is worried or thinking about Secretary's -- I mean, especially the Secretary Condoleezza Rice because the nations, many nations in (inaudible) region are worried about China's buildup?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think you can talk to my friends over at the Pentagon for the specifics on that. But I think in general the report that's just come out or came out the end of the last week is very similar to previous reports that have been done of this kind. Again, we respect the Chinese right to improve their military and take the steps they see necessary for their national defense. But we very much would like to see greater transparency in what they are doing. I think it's important as this country does modernize its military that not only the United States, but in other countries in the region have the opportunity to understand better exactly what the purposes are and what the intentions are behind these moves and that's something that has been a matter of longstanding policy. We've spoken for quite some time about our desire to see the Chinese make additional steps towards transparency and how to develop their military.
QUESTION: May I have one on Burma, please?
MR. CASEY: Okay, we can go for Burma.
QUESTION: It's been almost 15 years this lady detained for democracy in Burma has been in prison in and out by the military dictators in Burma and basically supported by the Chinese who was in there -- Aung San Suu Kyi.
As far as the sanctions are concerned, on and off and are now again on other sanctions, are not working and she's still not free and the democracy still -- what are we doing as far as -- we're talking about democracy around the globe, but here is a military dictator who is keeping this poor woman in prison because she's standing for democracy there.
MR. CASEY: Yeah. Well, first of all, we've spoken about this, again, a number of times in recent days. We continue to call on the Burmese regime to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners in Burma.
You're right; this has gone on for far too long. It is time for the regime to release her and release others and to engage in a legitimate discussion of the political system in that country with all legitimate players represented. Again, we have just renewed our sanctions on the Burmese Government. The President formally reiterated the need to maintain the state of emergency with relation to Burma. We certainly would like to see other countries do more with relation to that government and to try and push the regime forward.
Note that Mr. Gambari has now been named by Secretary-General Ban as a formal special representative of his for Burma and we hope he will be able to continue his efforts towards the release of political prisoners as well. But again, this is something that is a terrible situation, it's gone on too long, and it's time for the Burmese Government to release them.
QUESTION: Couple of quick ones. Is Under Secretary Burns in India this week, possibly on a family trip or vacation ahead of the resumption of Indian civil nuclear talks?
MR. CASEY: Well, Nick, as far as I know, was on the plane with the Secretary headed to Berlin for G-8 meetings. And as far as I know, while he's spoken about his willingness to go on to India if it's appropriate to continue those discussions on India's nuclear deal, I don't believe that he's scheduled a trip there as of yet.
QUESTION: And is he just coming back from Europe after this trip?
MR. CASEY: At this point, I certainly know if there is a reason for him to go later this week or next week, then he will certainly do so. I know originally, they were hoping to have him go out somewhere in the next couple of weeks, but there's no confirmed travel plans at this point.
QUESTION: And then forgive me; one odd one. There are -- there have been a bunch of Pakistani newspaper reports -- I don't know if it's come up in the briefing or not -- about dealings that the Secretary has had with -- or that the Prime Minister of Pakistan has had with the Secretary. Have you seen these reports based on Marcus Mabry's new book? Is there any credibility to them? Do you know what I'm talking about?
MR. CASEY: You mentioned this to me earlier, Arshad, but I have to admit I didn't get a chance to look into it for you. So I will take a look -- we'll take a look at the reporting that's been done and I'll get you an answer later this afternoon.
QUESTION: And last one, the Xinhua report about the Chinese Government asserting that the Chinese state owns Tibetan religious relics. Did you get a look at that?
MR. CASEY: Yeah, I have some people looking into that too. I'm afraid that was one that people needed to take a sort of more extensive view on.
Let's go back here. Charlie.
QUESTION: Please, the question is on Iraqi war refugees, a story in The New York Times today about Iraqi women in Syria so desperate, pushed into prostitution. Is there anything the United States can say or do right now to offer new hope to those people?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we continue to be concerned about the plight of Iraqi refugees in Syria and Jordan and in other neighboring countries as well. We've been working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to be able to make sure that we help meet the humanitarian needs of those people to begin with and also, as you know, with the High Commissioner and his office to help identify those people that need immediate -- have immediate need for resettlement and that process is moving forward as well.
In terms of humanitarian support, you know, we have and will continue to make contributions to the well being of Iraqi refugees both within Iraq itself, those who are displaced from their homes, as well as in neighboring countries. And certainly, we want to do everything we can to be able to relieve any humanitarian suffering that is going on and make it so that those people have an opportunity eventually to be able to return home.
QUESTION: But as a practical matter right now, has the United States suspended or given up on the idea that those people are going to go back anytime soon?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, we are working with the High Commissioner's office on this and they're sort of the lead agency for it. We're committed, as you know, to taking 7,000 Iraqi refugees under this fiscal year's numbers and potentially up to 20,000, depending on what sort of funding might be available to us from the Congress. But we continue to believe that fundamentally, Iraqi refugees, like refugees in most parts of the world, would -- first preference would be to eventually be able to go home and that's part of the reason why we're working with the Iraqi Government to try and help deal with the security situation there, which -- and respond to the problems caused by sectarian violence, which are the leading reasons why many of these individuals have felt the need to flee the country.
Let's go -- I've got one in back here.
QUESTION: On North Korea, Chris Hill, when he was leaving Jakarta, seemed to imply that there -- they'd like to go forward on getting the nuclear reactor shut down with or without the BDA issue being resolved. Is -- could you comment on to what extent these two issues at this point are interconnected and whether or not we're going to try to get the BDA issue resolved before the nuclear issue?
MR. CASEY: Well, that's been the general sense that the North Koreans have had. They want to have the money transferred before they shut down the reactor and meet those terms and conditions under the February 13th agreement. Certainly, we would like to see it done as soon as possible, but I don't have anything new to offer you on that.
I did mention and I'll mention again, just for the sake of people that weren't here, that Chris is going to go on from Jakarta to Beijing. He'll be arriving tomorrow and spend about a day there talking with the Chinese Government not only about six-party talks, but about other bilateral and regional issues as well.
QUESTION: And apparently, he -- the Indonesians offered to use some of their banks to help resolve the issues, but the Under -- Assistant Secretary Hill rejected that in favor of using a Chinese bank?
MR. CASEY: It sounds like you've been talking to Chris. I haven't, so I have no idea. Again, this is something for the North Koreans and their bankers to work out. I'll leave it with them.
QUESTION: One more, Mr. Casey.
MR. CASEY: One more.
QUESTION: On this one over -- we spoke earlier of security of (inaudible) parts of northern Iraq to Massoud Barzani. Did you have any consultation with your loyal friend, General Yasar Buyukanit who has been very, very concerned from a security point of view?
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I am sure that the coalition forces in Iraq and the Iraqi Government consulted on this. I am unaware of what -- how these might be briefed out to friends and allies, though. These things often are.
Okay. Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)
DPB # 95
Released on May 29, 2007
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