Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
May 30, 2007
|Military Activity on Turkish side Near Iraq's Border|
|General Ralston's Ongoing Contact with Turkish Government Officials|
|Issue of Iraqi Refugees|
|U.S. Expects to Handle 7,000 Referrals from UNHCR this Fiscal Year|
|Additional Screening Procedures Set up by Department of Homeland Security|
|U.S. Reaction to Russia's Testing of Missile System|
|U.S. Respects Russian Government's Desire for Full Understanding of their Missile System|
|Recent Announcement of Meeting Between President Putin and President Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine|
|Media Reports Exaggerate U.S. Concern Over Russia's Missile Defense System|
|U.S. Has a Good Working Relationship with Russia|
|No Response from Iranian Government on Consular Access for Three Americans Charged in Iran's Court System|
|U.S. Believes Iranian Government Should Release Americans|
|U.S. Looking into Reports of Missing American Businessman|
|U.S. Seeking Clarification from Yemeni Government on Surrender of Alleged Al -Qaeda Operative|
|U.S. Concerned about Any Actions Taken to Limit Freedom of Expression And the Rights of People to Gain Information from a Variety of Sources|
|Issue of Corruption Activities in Political System|
|Interim Government's Timetable for Elections|
|Under Secretary Burns Travel to India / Continued Discussions on 123 Agreement / U.S.- India Civil Nuclear Deal|
12.40 p.m. EST
MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. I don't have any opening statements or announcements for you. So George, are you still shaking me off this morning or do you have anything you want to raise?
QUESTION: Like I said the other day, I'm fading fast.
MR. CASEY: It's a terrible thing. You're getting shorter by the day, George, but we'll miss you when you're gone.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the question about Turkey moving some tanks toward its border with Iraq? Do you regard that as significant and have there been any high-level contacts in recent days or weeks with the Turks about the possibility that they might wish to move into portions of northern Iraq?
MR. CASEY: Yeah. Arshad, my understanding is there have been military activities on the Turkish side of the border by Turkish forces as part of their counterterrorism program. And we haven't seen anything unusual or different or anything that would substantiate a report of significant movements of forces at this time. So the answer to that is we haven't spoken to the Turkish Government about this because we haven't seen anything particularly unusual.
Again, we are working with them and want to continue to work with them and the Iraqi governments as well to confront the challenges that are posed by PKK terrorism, and certainly we want to see that cooperation be done in a peaceful, transparent way through the trilateral mechanisms that we've already established, including the work of General Ralston.
QUESTION: And regardless of whether you've spoken to them about the latest movement, my question was sort of more broad about whether there have been high-level conversations with the Turks, more generally in recent weeks, presumably from your side encouraging them not to consider doing anything unilaterally with northern Iraq?
MR. CASEY: Well, I know General Ralston has been in regular contact with Turkish Government officials and, again, his message has been and continues to be one of promoting cooperation on this subject. Certainly, we've spoken out publicly about the issue and about our desire to see Turkey as well as Iraq cooperate with one another on this issue. I'm not aware that this has come up in any specific senior-level conversations though.
QUESTION: Concerning Iraqi refugees, there was a statement put out by the Department of Homeland Security, kind of the latest state of play on interviews and et cetera in there. And they seem -- I mean, so far since there was the announcement of, you know, enlarging a number that would be in the 7,000 for this fiscal year until, I guess, September. And only something like 59 have actually been approved and they've only interviewed 300. They've given 300 interviews for 700 people. How are you going -- you're never going to get to the number of 7,000 by the end of September at this kind of rhythm. Is there some effort to accelerate that progress?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, first of all, let me just draw you back to the remarks made in February by Under Secretary Dobriansky and Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey on this subject. We fully intend and expect to be able to handle 7,000 referrals from UNHCR in the context or in the numbers assigned to this fiscal year. But at the time as they said the expectation was only that approximately half those number would be travel-ready by the end of the fiscal year. And as far as I know, we're still on track for that. Again, there have been, as you know, some delays in having these additional screening procedures that DHS needed to set up be put in place. They've now done so, though, and I think that will allow them to move very quickly through any of the cases that are still pending for review in that regard, so I do think this is very good news that this is now arranged and we look forward to be able to moving forward with the processing of those people that UNHCR recommends to us.
QUESTION: Do you have a figure for the number there, because there are a few figures floating around on the number who have actually come in since 2003? Do you, by any chance --
MR. CASEY: I actually don't have any updated figures for you on that, David. We talked about it a couple of other times. I know the folks in the Refugees Bureau could give you an accurate count of where we actually are today.
QUESTION: Hi. Do you have any reaction to Russia testing this intercontinental ballistic missile?
MR. CASEY: Well, certainly, Russia's within its rights under the START Treaty and the Moscow agreement to test these new systems, so I don't think there's anything particularly unusual or outside the bounds of accepted agreements on that subject. Certainly, they've made some claims about what this system can do. That I really can't speak to; I'll leave it to them. But again, and this gets back to the larger question of missile defense, and I know that the Secretary's spoken to that as well just today in her press avail with her G-8 colleagues, but -- you know, Russia doesn't need any kind of new systems to "overcome" U.S. missile defense.
Let's just put it in simple numerical terms: 10 interceptors and a couple of radar stations, thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons, warheads, missiles, and others. I think it's pretty hard for anyone to think that this very small system designed to help ourselves and our allies respond to a attack from a rogue state like Iran in any way, shape, or form can pose a threat to Russia's strategic capabilities or its deterrents.
Certainly, this is something that we talk to the Russians about and will continue to do so and I expect we'll continue to do so for some time. We certainly respect the Russian Government's desire to have a full understanding of this system. We feel we've been very forthcoming and very transparent with them in our discussions about it and I expect that we'll have an opportunity to continue those and we'll see what we can do. I know that the Russians seem to feel very strongly about this one, but again, it's absolutely just silly to say that the missile defense plans that we have pose any kind of threat to their strategic capabilities.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about this forthcoming meeting with Putin and Bush? Will this be top of the agenda?
MR. CASEY: I'll leave it to the White House to talk about the President's meeting. I know they just announced today that President Putin will be meeting up in Kennebunkport, Maine in the beginning of August and I'm sure they'll talk about a wide variety of issues. And I would expect that certainly, as this has been an issue that's on the minds of the Russian Government, that it will come up. But where it fits into the agenda with the two presidents, I'll leave the White House to describe.
QUESTION: But what's your level of concern about the sort of very public tensions that are building and Russia's convening this emergency conference on the CFE Treaty. We've heard comments from Ivanov about this specific missile test today saying that Russia now has new missiles capable of overcoming any future missile defense system. I mean, there really seems to be a ratcheting up of rhetoric at least.
MR. CASEY: Well, as I said, they don't need a new missile system to overcome any future missile defense system we're planning. It's not designed to prevent the Soviet Union or do anything to change their strategic capabilities. Look; in terms of our broader relationship with Russia, you know, the Secretary and her G-8 counterparts, including Foreign Minister Lavrov, were sitting there today and they were talking about a whole variety of issues on which we do cooperate well, on economic issues, on questions like Iran's nuclear program, on things like North Korea's nuclear program, on issues related to nonproliferation, on counterterrorism concerns. So I think it's quite exaggerated to try and say that somehow, the concerns over a very limited and very small missile defense system somehow have dramatically changed the ability of the United States and Russia to work in a positive way on a whole series of issues.
I'm not minimizing the fact that there are real differences between us on this particular question or on other questions as well. But this is not the Cold War. This is not the U.S. and the Soviet Union. We have a good working relationship with Russia. They're a major power, they're an important country, and we are very pleased that we can and have worked with them so well on a variety of issues, including some of those questions that I just talked about.
QUESTION: Did you find out the question of the American Iranian held in prison in Tehran? What was the last time that -- did you contact with the Swiss Embassy, or they contact you? Any news? Any new developments on this subject?
MR. CASEY: Well, unfortunately, we don't have anything new on it. The Iranian Government has not responded to our request for consular access to the three Americans that they have now charged in their court system. And again, I said this morning that, to quote a headline from a major newspaper today, the headline of this story really is "Iran Arrests Grandma." It's a situation in which you have individuals who are private citizens who are visiting family members, who are engaged in activities in the academic field, in journalism and in other kinds of private concerns that are very basic kinds of human contacts that we would think the Iranian regime would actually want to encourage.
Certainly, none of these people are engaged in any kind of activities that could be seen as a threat to the regime or pose any kind of challenge to it. So, we believe that the government ought to do the right thing. It ought to release these people; let them go home, let them be with their families, and let them continue to do the kind of work that they've been doing in some cases for decades.
QUESTION: Sean -- oh, Tom --
MR. CASEY: Sean, Tom, whatever. We're interchangeable, I know. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What do you know about the case of Ali Shakeri? He is a California businessman; University of California affiliated, reportedly, under similar detention.
MR. CASEY: We're looking into those reports, David, but I don't have any confirmation on him for you.
QUESTION: I don't know if you have anything on this at all, but -- I don't know how to pronounce it -- Jaber ElBaneh, he's an alleged al-Qaeda operative with ties to the Lackawanna six terrorism cases, allegedly surrendered to Yemeni security services last week. He's reportedly under house arrest and he's also on the FBI's most wanted terrorism list. Do you know?
MR. CASEY: You know, I've seen those reports. I know that we were seeking some clarification from the Yemeni Government, but I don't have anything further to offer you on it. I can't confirm that for you.
QUESTION: Do you have any guidance on Venezuelan President Chavez's threatening remarks regarding Globovision, a second independent TV station?
MR. CASEY: I don't have anything specific, Arshad. But look, let's put this in the context of some of the -- the statement we made yesterday and some of the other things we've said. Certainly freedom of expression is an important principle. It's an important principle for Venezuela or any other democratic country. And we are obviously concerned and would be concerned about any actions that it be taken that would limit freedom of expression, that would limit the rights of people to gain information from a variety of sources. It doesn't matter whether those sources have any particular political affiliation or not. What's important is that there's an ability of your colleagues there and in other countries to be able to do their job and be able to report things as they seem them.
QUESTION: Thank you, Tom. This is -- Golam Arshad with The Daily Inquilab from Bangladesh. A question on Bangladesh. The interim administration headed by Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed has the honors of taking some sweeping measures as far as corruption is concerned and leading up to some electoral reforms. And what is the position of the State after his ongoing stint of four months there? And are you supporting his position of a timetable for elections scheduled end of 2008? May I have your kind comments concerning that?
MR. CASEY: Well, in terms of any corruption activities, we've spoken about this before with respect to Bangladesh. Certainly it's important that there's accountability in any political system and that people have faith and confidence that their elected and appointed officials are using resources wisely and are not engaged in corrupt practices. At the same time, that has to be balanced to make sure that any efforts made are not done in a way that's inconsistent with the rule of law or in any way, shape or form is a political gesture rather than simply one designed to tackle the problem of corruption. And that's how we would view any of these things.
In terms of the interim government's timetable for elections, we do want to see these elections move forward. We want to see them move forward as quickly as possible. But what is important is that when they happen, they are free and fair and transparent and open to participation by all legitimate actors in the Bangladeshi system.
QUESTION: Can you try to address more squarely though whether you feel that what the authorities or what the army of that government in Bangladesh has done over the last several months is reasonable; is in keeping with the rule of law or is not? I mean, I think they've arrested more than 170 people, many of them prominent politicians. And it would be useful to have a sense of whether the U.S. Government regards it as a justifiable anticorruption sort of drive in accordance with the rule of law, or whether in fact you think that, you know, politicians are being victimized through these arrests.
MR. CASEY: Okay, I'm happy to look into it for you, Arshad. I certainly don't have anything new beyond what we've said about this in the past, but I'll check and see if there's anything new people have to offer on it.
QUESTION: Tom, I know this morning you weren't yet able to confirm if Nick Burns is going to be traveling to India, but at this point, are you not concerned that if he doesn't meet with his Indian counterparts any time soon, the process might stagnate even further, and he may be unable, you know, to make any progress when President Bush and Prime Minister Singh meet at the G-8?
MR. CASEY: Oh geez, since I can now confirm he's going, I guess that takes --
QUESTION: Can you now --
MR. CASEY: -- that hypothetical completely out the window.
QUESTION: Can you now confirm?
MR. CASEY: Yeah. He'll be arriving, I believe, some time tomorrow in India. He is going to leave today from Berlin. And this will be to continue the discussions on the 123 agreement; that's an important component of implementing the overall U.S.-India civil nuclear deal. Certainly, we believe that such a deal is in the interest of both countries. We want to see this move forward and again, we've talked about the civil nuclear arrangement for a number of months now, but it is something that we believe is beneficial to both nations. It represents a new level of cooperation between our countries and we also think it represents a strengthening of non-proliferation regimes. It certainly is something that's been endorsed by the IAEA as something they think will be helpful and beneficial and will provide greater surety to the world.
QUESTION: Do you -- are you familiar with what details still need to be hashed out?
MR. CASEY: That's something that I'll leave to the negotiators to do. Obviously, we've been talking about this for a while. There are some differences that remain, but we're looking forward to being able to work those out. We certainly don't think any of them are insurmountable. Obviously, as we've said in the past, we need to make sure that this arrangement does conform with the relevant U.S. legislation that this is under. So, there are limits to the kind of flexibility we can have, but the Indian Government understands that, and I think we're well on our way towards an agreement. I'm not trying to predict anything will come out of this particular trip, but we're making progress, and we look forward to eventually concluding the deal.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: No, Charlie, (inaudible). Thanks, Kirit.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:56 p.m.)
DPB # 96
Released on May 30, 2007
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