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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 31, 2007


Retirement of AP State Department Correspondent George Gedda
Two Missing Iraqi National Employees from Embassy Baghdad
Detention of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari
Reported Freezing of Dr. Esfandiari's Bank Accounts
Ambassador Crocker's meeting with Iranian Counterpart in Iraq
Number of American Citizens Detained in Iran
Decision by Constitutional Tribunal Regarding the Democrat Party and Thai Rak Thai Party
Status of Draft UN Security Council Resolution
U.S. Base Realignment
US Congressional Resolution to Move US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem


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12:35 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. I don't have statements or formal announcements. But I do want to note that it probably doesn't matter anyway because it must be the end of the world since this is George Gedda's last briefing after more than 30 years of covering the State Department, a record that shall probably not be matched or beaten anytime soon. And George, in your honor, since you're heard a lot of phrases from this building over time, I just want to say that the United States and the State Department deplore, condemn, are deeply troubled by, are extremely saddened, regret, and are extremely concerned about the fact that you will no longer be here with us. And with that, if you have any real questions, I'd be happy to take them or we can just say thank you and move on to champagne.

MR. GEDDA: Let's see --

MR. CASEY: (Laughter.) Or if you wish to have a rebuttal.

MR. GEDDA: I want you to know that it strains credulity for you folks to describe the last 175 diplomatic meetings as being fruitful and useful. They couldn't possibly have all been fruitful and useful.

MR. CASEY: You forgot productive. (Laughter.)

MR. GEDDA: Productive. What is your response to that?

MR. CASEY: Well, George, I think as a great former spokesman once said on his last day at the podium, all the relationships are special, all the meetings are unique and all our allies are valuable. And I think we'll stick with that. (Laughter.)

Anybody else?

QUESTION: (Inaudible?)

MR. CASEY: There could be. Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: I have no questions.

MR. CASEY: You could, you can't.

QUESTION: I have no questions. I would like to say something at the very end about George, though.

MR. CASEY: All right. We may be getting there.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Arshad, thank you for --

QUESTION: Leave it to Reuters to --

MR. CASEY: -- breaking this, yeah. Well, you know, these guys are always working hard over at Reuters, I don't know.

QUESTION: I've got to do something assuage my grief at George's departure, so I will work instead.

MR. CASEY: We'll help you work through the grieving process, yes.

QUESTION: One -- do you have any more information about the two Iraqi nationals that work at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad who apparently have gone missing? Do you have any idea what has happened to them?

MR. CASEY: Well, nothing that I'm in a position to share with you right now, Arshad. We, again, can confirm that we have two of our local Iraqi national employees in the Embassy in Baghdad that are missing. We do have concerns about their welfare. The Embassy is working along with Iraqi security forces and coalition forces as well to be able to try and determine their whereabouts and be able to figure out exactly what's happened. But because this is an ongoing investigation, I think we'll just have to leave it for that for now.

QUESTION: Then one other one on Iran. Former Congressman Lee Hamilton at a news conference this morning regarding the case of Dr. Haleh Esfandiari said that he hopes the U.S. Government will raise her case in any future discussions that it has with the Iranian Government. Do you plan to do so, and if not, why not?

MR. CASEY: Well, certainly what we do plan on doing is continuing to work through the Swiss to be able to try and get consular access to her. And again, we call on the Iranian Government to let her and the other Americans that they're holding go free. I mean, these are people that don't pose a threat or a challenge to the regime. They're there on family business; they're on personal matters; they're conducting research -- they've been doing so for a long time -- and it's simply absurd to be charging them with espionage or other kinds of activities that are supposedly a threat or a challenge to the Iranian Government.

In terms of how we go about discussing this, again, I think what we've said and where I expect we will continue to be is that we believe the proper channel for this is through our diplomatic representatives in Tehran, meaning the Swiss in this case. I'm not trying to preclude this coming up in other fora, but at least with specific reference to the conversation that Ambassador Crocker had with his Iranian counterpart in Baghdad, those meetings were focused exclusively on Iraqi issues. And we've said that we would expect any kind of follow-on meetings, although there's none planned at this moment, will focus on that as well. But, you know, I'm not trying to preclude that someone might find an opportunity in some other forum to be able to raise these cases. I just can't give you any specifics that would indicate that'll happen at this point.

QUESTION: I understand, but can you, for the benefit or ordinary people, explain why you are -- you do not wish to raise a matter like this in what are your extremely rare direct, bilateral face-to-face contacts with the Iranians? Why would you not raise such a case? I know you have a reason, but what is it?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, in the case of the one instance that we can talk about, we stuck specifically to Iraq because we don't wish this to be a forum for the Iranians, for example, to try and engage in discussions of their nuclear program. We've made it quite clear that the international community has a specific mechanism for that, and that's through the P-5+1, and that those conversations can take place once Iran has met the criteria laid out by the international community.

We have a diplomatic representation in Tehran that's designed to make clear and be able to handle our diplomatic relations such as they are with the Iranian Government. We don't wish to provide the Iranian Government with a forum to be able to bring in extraneous issues or otherwise cloud the waters or make it more difficult for us to deal with the kinds of issues like their nuclear program, like the problems that we have with them related to terrorism, like the issues that stem out of the hostage crisis, which is partly the reason why we don't have diplomatic relations with them in the first place.

I will make it clear though, Arshad, that I don't think there's any doubt in our minds that the Iranian Government has a very clear and direct understanding of what our views are on these cases. We've stated it publicly. We've stated it in formal diplomatic channels through the Swiss. And we will continue to make sure that these issues are known.

What I can tell you though is I expect that a very specific and limited forum focused on Iraq is likely to stay focused on Iraq.


QUESTION: Same issue, specifically the bank accounts that were frozen, Esfandiari's bank accounts at Citibank. Apparently, her husband received a letter yesterday saying that they were being frozen because she was no longer considered a resident of the U.S. and she was an Iranian
-- now resident in Iran and she was subject to sanctions. Are you doing anything to help with this issue, to amend this?

MR. CASEY: I really don't have any information I can share with you on it. I'm sure we will do whatever we can to clear up any questions that people have. But she's an American citizen and I'm not aware that there's any sanctions or regulations that would apply to American citizens other than --

QUESTION: Her accounts have been frozen though and her salary --

MR. CASEY: I can't confirm that for you. You'd have to check with banking officials and with Department of Treasury.

QUESTION: The State Department has no -- played no role whatsoever in seeking to unfreeze those accounts?

MR. CASEY: My understanding is we've had some communications about that, but I can't really go any further than that.

QUESTION: Communications with whom?

MR. CASEY: With family members of an American citizen about financial issues.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the situation in Thailand, the banning of the (inaudible) party?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, we've looked into this a little bit. Frankly, I think this really is a matter for the constitutional tribunal and the Thai people to work out. I'd note that the leaders of political parties from across the spectrum, including the one affected here, have been calling for calm in wake of the tribunal's decision and asking that it be respected.

The Thai interim authorities, from our point of view, really need to remain focused on the most important task at hand here, which is building consensus on a new constitution and doing that so that we can pave the way for democratic elections before the year's end, which is what they've committed themselves to do. It is essential for the Thai Government to go forward with that and to be able to restore fully civil liberties there.

But in terms of the decision made, this is one that is really for the tribunal to decide and we'll leave it up to them and to the Thai people to make any -- or draw any further conclusions about it.

QUESTION: Why isn't it appropriate to criticize the dissolution of a party that I guess won the last election?

MR. CASEY: Well, this is -- the tribunal and the laws that were governing this decision were established before the interim government came into effect. At this point, our understanding is that the tribunal proceeded in accordance with Thai law and, again, the reaction that we've seen from the Thai political parties themselves is to call on their followers to respect this decision. So at this point, I think we'll leave it with the tribunal and with the legal process in Thailand and Thailand's political leaders.


QUESTION: Could you bring us up to date on the Kosovo goings-on up at the UN? There are reports that there's a new draft resolution which seems to imply that there might be concessions to try to get the Russians on board.

MR. CASEY: Well, I understand -- I'm not sure if it's happened yet, but I understand there was a new draft of a resolution on Kosovo that was going to be circulated today. I think this reflects the consensus that is generally shared that now is the time to move forward with a debate on that resolution, and to ultimately resolve this issue in accordance with the basic outlines of the Ahtisaari plan. We do think that it is time to be able to bring this to a conclusion. Obviously there are a lot of different opinions about this subject, including differences that have been raised by the Russians and by others with this. And so I certainly expect there'll be a healthy debate and discussion on it. But we think we are at a point now where we've got a resolution that reflects the Ahtisaari plan and is something that we are in a position now to be able to put forward, and we'll see how the debate goes. I wouldn't try and predict for you, from the fact that this was being circulated today, a timetable for when a resolution might actually be voted upon. And obviously I'm sure there'll be a number of comments that we'll get on this from different member-states and different Security Council members. So I wouldn't either try and tell you that this is necessarily going to be the version that gets put in the blue.

QUESTION: Well, do you think it is a resolution that will not be vetoed by anybody?

MR. CASEY: Well, what we would like to see is a resolution supported by everyone because we think it is important that we do get a strong resolution that reflects the Ahtisaari plan, that allows for this initially supervised independence for Kosovo as he's called for. It is something that we believe is essential for the stability of the region, and ultimately for the people in Serbia as well as Kosovars as well as others in the region to be able to meet their own objectives for involvement more closely and deeply in Euro-Atlantic institutions, from the EU to NATO to other organizations as well.

Let's go in the back here.

QUESTION: On the issue of American citizens detained in Iran, do you have any exact number that is confirmed? Some reports say there are more than five people.

MR. CASEY: Well, again, we've talked about that in the past. We have the three citizens that we've publicly talked about. We also have a missing American who is, as far as we know, is still in Iran, which is the case of Mr. Levinson. I have seen, and I think we've seen, some scattered reporting that indicates there may be others that are out there; I'm not ruling that out. But at this point, I'm not aware of any others.


QUESTION: On U.S. base realignment in Japan, since the middle of this month, Japanese Government has just started the initial phase of the environmental survey. Are you concerned about the pace of this going on since that was the thing that was agreed on last year's 2+2 agreement?

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't gotten an update on the progress on that. Certainly we want to see base realignment move forward. We think this is an important issue for us. But I think my friends at the Pentagon would be in a better position to tell you whether the timing of this review has had any impact on their planning for the overall move. Certainly we're committed to working with the Government of Japan to be able to resolve any outstanding issues that are there and be able to allow us to go forward with realignment, which I think is in the best interest of -- and defensive needs of both the United States and Japan and the security of the broader region.

Yeah, Charlie.

QUESTION: Any comments of the -- on the votes pending in Congress next week? The resolution's calling for the embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

MR. CASEY: I don't have anything -- I wasn't aware that things were pending, but I think our views on that are well known and there is no change in U.S. policy on it.


QUESTION: Oh, just -- I won't say, "Thank you" yet --

MR. CASEY: Not yet.

QUESTION: -- a few other people may have something to say, but as someone who -- preparing to end the briefing, and he usually says "Thank you" first, I'd just like to say thanks to George for being a great mentor to myself and I'm sure many others. I'm not quite sure what we're going to do without the instant memory bank that we've all gotten used to going to.

But, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wonder if I can say something as George's AP partner today. Right here is the -- you know, today really is truly the end of an era, not only in the State Department briefing room and in the bullpen, but also for the AP. And for me personally, for the last eight years, with a small interruption there, you've really been a tremendous mentor/friend/competitor and now finally a colleague. You've been really a font of institutional knowledge, as Charlie said, of the Department, of U.S. foreign policy, and I think that you're going to -- your departure will leave a lot of us missing something, not just at the AP but also among the entire press corps. So I'd just like to say, George, thank you, congratulations, enjoy retirement, and Godspeed.

MR. GEDDA: I very much appreciate the kind words from both Matt and Charlie, and I guess there are obviously some things that I will miss and obviously the companionship of colleagues. And the AP has succeeded in keeping me busy enough so that there were not enough conversations with these fine people out here, you know to talk about just how things are going. I have for the most part been stuck at that computer wishing I had more free time to get to know some of these people better. And I also want to say I admire the work of my colleagues. It's a very high-caliber group and I will miss you folks. But on the whole, I am looking forward to a new day and I will be heading out in about a week for other pastures. And I want to thank you, Tom, and Sean for all of your hard work. It's not easy facing this crowd every day and you have shown great patience and wisdom and skill in carrying out your duties. And I want to thank Gonzo and all the folks in the press office for the kindnesses and hard work that they have shown over the years -- more than 30, to be exact.

MR. CASEY: Now, I didn't want to get into specifics, George, because, you know, none of us want to be dated. Well, George, I'm going to raise a glass of water to you here and we'll raise a glass to you later, but thank you. Thank all of you. And, Charlie, can I get a thank you?

QUESTION: Thank you.

(Applause, cheers and a standing ovation.)

(The briefing was concluded at 12:53 p.m.)

DPB # 97

Released on May 31, 2007

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