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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
July 19, 2007


Date for Meeting of Ambassador Crocker with Iranian Counterpart on Iraq Issues
Americans Held in Iran / Diplomatic Channels Used to Communicate with Iran
Meeting to Discuss Israel/Palestinians and Other Middle East Issues / No Date or Venue Set / No Formal Invitations Issued
Regional Support for a U.S.-Hosted Meeting / Hamas Participation
Secretary to Travel to Region at End of July
Russia Should Respond Favorably to Extradition Request in Litvinenko Case
Cooperation with Russia will Continue in Many Areas / Overall Relationship is Constructive
Impact on Bilateral US-Russia Issues
Release of Young Attacker who was Coerced by Taliban
A/S Hill Comments on Discussions / Negotiations Generally Positive / Chairman's Statement Expected Tomorrow


12:35 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Well, good afternoon, everybody. I'm glad to be here with you. I don't have anything to start you out with so anybody want to begin?

QUESTION: Yeah, I wonder is there any date yet for the talks, the next round or the next meeting for the Iranians?

MR. CASEY: No, Barry, we don't have anything new on that. As you know, we've said that we expect there'll probably be another meeting that will take place between Ambassador Crocker and his counterpart in Iran and this would be another opportunity with a conversation focused specifically on issues in Iraq for us to convey our concerns about Iranian behavior in Iraq to them directly with the hope that we will see them actually live up to the words they've said, which is that they want to see Iraq be stable, that they want to be a good neighbor to that country and that they want to help improve the situation there. To date, unfortunately, we haven't seen any actions that would actually back up that language. But this would be another opportunity to speak with them and convey our concerns and see whether they have anything new to tell us.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on that?

QUESTION: Well, it's related to that.

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Or it would be related to that if you would expand the conversation in the next meeting with Ambassador Crocker to the Americans, which I know you don't plan to do. But do you have any update on the Americans the Iranians are holding?

MR. CASEY: I don't, Charlie. Again, we put out a statement on the fact that the Iranian Government had taken a somewhat outrageous step of showing these people, we presume against their will, on national television. Again, these are people we want to see allowed to return home as quickly as possible. They pose no threat to the Iranian regime and it is just unfathomable that the Iranian Government continues to detain them under this ridiculous pretense that they are somehow engaged in actions or somehow pose some kind of threat to that government.

QUESTION: If it's so outrageous and unfathomable, why don't you bend your rule and let Ambassador Crocker bring it up to an Iranian official?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, Charlie, we have always said and we believe that the appropriate forum for addressing issues related to Iraq is through this channel. This is not a broader negotiation or a diplomatic discussion on other kinds of concerns. We have very clearly both publicly and privately through the Swiss as well as through some of our other friends who have diplomatic representation in Tehran conveyed our views to the Iranians on this subject. I don't think there's a lack of clarity on their part.


QUESTION: Egypt's Foreign Minister says that the Middle East peace conference called by President Bush will be held in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

MR. CASEY: Oh, is this like the reports out of similar sources that there was going to be a Quartet meeting two weeks ago in Sharm el-Sheikh? Look, we've said that we intend -- as the President said in his speech for there to be a meeting in the fall of the various parties, Israelis and Palestinians as well as relevant countries from the region, to discuss what we can all do to help advance the cause of peace. But there certainly hasn't been any date set and I wouldn't steer you particularly towards those dates at this point. I think we're still a little too early on to be able to have nailed down the dates with that kind of precision.

QUESTION: What about the venue?

MR. CASEY: Again, we'll see what happens. I don't think there's -- there also hasn't been a venue settled on it. We do certainly want to see, as the President said, steps taken and things move forward diplomatically before that meeting takes place. But as we move forward we'll keep you updated as we get more details about venue and timing for it.

QUESTION: Are there any prerequisites or is it too early to talk about them?

MR. CASEY: In terms of --

QUESTION: In terms of to be there and to play this role do the parties have to have diplomatic recognition of each other, have ambassadors present in each other's capitals?

MR. CASEY: Barry, I can't --

QUESTION: Or soon to lose capitals, whatever --

MR. CASEY: I can't give you any more clarity at this point than the President laid out in his speech. We certainly want this to be a meeting of those that are committed to seeing a negotiated two-state solution and that are on the side of a peaceful resolution of this conflict. Beyond that at this point in terms of specifics of who's going to be invited and what -- under sort of what terms and conditions that's all TBD at this point and I'll -- we'll get you updates as we have them. But this is still at a very preliminary stage.

QUESTION: I don't want to split hairs. I promise this is the last hair I'll split on this today. Invited -- who does the inviting? Who's meeting is this?

MR. CASEY: This is the United States' meeting. It's being hosted by Secretary Rice.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Have you received any assurances from anybody that they would attend the meeting at this point?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, this is a preliminary conversation that we're having with people. I know that the President and the Secretary and others have made calls about this. And we certainly haven't, again, without a venue or a specific timeframe, haven't issued invitations to people. I think if you look around the region, though, and you look at the reactions that have been given from President Abbas, from some of the other friendly states in the region, you know, there does seem to be a good deal of support for this idea. It's certainly one that we've talked about and I think has been generally endorsed by the individual members of the Quartet. I know it's something that'll be part of the discussions today with the Secretary and her counterparts, so I certainly haven't heard anyone out there save Hamas. And I think perhaps the Syrian Government express any objections to this.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that. Can you have a viable meeting without the Syrians and Hamas present?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, our focus is -- and I think you heard in the press conference with Secretary Rice and her Portuguese counterpart a very clear statement that Hamas has been given an opportunity to engage with the international community. Unfortunately, it's failed to take that opportunity by not being willing to meet the very basic criteria that the Quartet's laid out. But our focus is on working with President Abbas, with Prime Minister Fayyad and his government, as well as, of course, with the Israelis to see how we can progress this conversation and see what we can accomplish.

QUESTION: But if the Syrians don't attend, is that -- would you still consider this a meeting of --

MR. CASEY: I think that we will have a very good meeting that will help advance the cause of peace. And in terms of who is going to actually be there and what date it'll happen and what the agenda will be, again, we'll keep you posted. But I think it's pretty clear that we will have the important and relevant actors in the room necessary to help advance the cause of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

QUESTION: If I could just -- as you just said, the focus -- every time there's a reference to this meeting, it's the Palestinian issue. Doesn't the U.S. have ambitions larger than that so far as -- I mean, there are other disputes to settle in the region. Could this be the -- gosh, this is only July, why am I asking what might happen in November or something. But can this be the basis, the starting point to resolving other conflicts between Israel and Arab countries that don't recognize them?

MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, I think, as you've heard the Secretary say, there needs to be progress on both tracks, both on the actual discussions and negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.


MR. CASEY: But of course, part of our discussions with some of the Arab countries and part of the reason why we welcomed the re-initiation of the Arab League proposal is because there also has to be a discussion between Israelis and Arab states about as they move forward in the Israeli-Palestinian track, what kind of changes and relationships will occur with their neighbors. Clearly, you can't have a real settlement in the region unless you do ultimately deal not just with the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, but have and develop normal, regular relations between Israel and the other states of the region as well.

QUESTION: One more on this.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, sure, Kirit.

QUESTION: The Foreign Minister also said that Secretary Rice will discuss the agenda of the meeting with Arab foreign ministers on July 31st in Sharm el-Skeikh. Can you confirm that?

MR. CASEY: Boy, he's got a lot of news out there for you. No, look, we'll keep you posted on the plans for her travel to the region at the end of the month. At the moment, the schedule is still being worked through and I don't have anything that I can offer you by way of confirmation on that, suffice to say that she looks forward to having an opportunity to travel to the region again to meet with Israeli officials as well as President Abbas and others in his government and various Arab officials as well, including a number of the states that you would expect. But in terms of the, you know, what specifically -- where we're going specifically, when, and the schedule of meetings, we'll get something to you shortly on that. But I can't confirm anything for you on it right now.


QUESTION: Tom, what is your take on this tit-for-tat expulsion dispute between -- that Russia and Britain have going over the Litvinenko case? Are you concerned about a free fall in relations between a couple of countries that you're friendly with?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, let me just reiterate, David, what the Secretary already said today in Lisbon, both in her interview with major British media as well as in the press conference with Portuguese Foreign Minister, and that's that, you know, we believe Russia needs to honor the UK's extradition request and to cooperate fully with the investigation.

The murder of Mr. Litvinenko was a horrible crime. It was perpetrated on British soil. And the perpetrators of that crime should be brought to justice. And this is something that we believe is not only in the interest of justice in the broader sense and in the interest of the UK, but also in the interest of Russia. Nobody wants to see murderers get away with their crime. And it's important for Britain to be able to learn the truth about what happened in this case. But it is important as well for Russia to see that justice is served. And so the Secretary again stressed that we support the UK's extradition request and believe strongly that the Russians should do the right thing here and respond to it favorably and comply with it.

In terms of the expulsions of the diplomats, you know, unfortunately, that kind of political tit-for-tat kind of debate doesn't deal with this real question here, which is ensuring what the UK has a right to, what Mr. Litvinenko's family has a right to, which is justice for the crime perpetrated against him. And so what we would again call on the Russian Government to do is not to engage in these kinds of political gestures, but to follow the rule of law and provide a positive response to the UK's extradition request.

QUESTION: Have you been involved diplomatically with them or one or the other?

MR. CASEY: Well, fundamentally, this is something that's a bilateral issue between the UK and Russia. But certainly, in our conversations with Russian officials, we have again encouraged them to do in private what I'm saying here publicly, which is to give a favorable response and respond positively to the UK's extradition request.



MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: -- a report I read this morning mentioned that they have also -- the Russians have also suspended counterterrorism operation with the Brits. Does that not, you know, worry us even more than just the diplomatic tit-for-tat?

MR. CASEY: Well, I can't confirm for you what the Russian Government may or may not have done with respect to cooperation with the British. I'd refer you to both of them -- both of their governments for that. But look, I think it's very clear that while this is a difficult issue and it's one where the British very much need to see that justice is done -- and again, we encourage the Russians to do the right thing and respond favorably to their request -- it's also clear, too, that Russia, which is under threat of terrorism as much as any other country in the world, needs to be a full and cooperative partner with the United States, with the United Kingdom and with other international actors in that fight. And I don't think that it would be helpful or positive for them to take such a step, but you know, I'd leave it to them to describe whether they've taken any actions there.

In terms of the broader relationship, we talked a little bit about this this morning. Certainly, there are issues where the United States and Russia, where the UK and Russia, where other countries will have their differences. And we've talked about them on any number of occasions from here. But fundamentally, the relationship between Russia and the United States, and I think Russia and the broader West, is certainly very different than it was during the time of the Soviet Union. And there are many areas where we do cooperate and where I expect we will continue to cooperate, whether that is in the Security Council working to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, whether that's with us and the Russians and the other members of the six-party talks working to end North Korea's nuclear program, whether that's in areas like counterterrorism where we all share or are all under a common threat from extremists in various parts of the world and where we have a common interest in working together.

So I think while these are important individual disputes and I'm not trying to make light of them, I do think that there is a fundamentally constructive relationship overall between the United States and Russia and more broadly between Russia and Europe.

Yeah, David.

QUESTION: Would you say that this case has now had a negative impact on the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't think at this point I could tell you that it's had a particular impact on our bilateral relations. Again though, we've -- as I've just done here -- made our views on this case quite clear, and I suspect we'll have other opportunities to do so as well.

But the important thing is is that we will continue to engage and talk to the Russian Government on all these kinds of areas, not only the ones where we agree but on the ones where we disagree, too. Because we do have the kind of relationship with the Government of Russia, both at the highest levels between President Bush and President Putin as well as at working levels, where we can air our differences and where we can discuss them. And frankly, the only way to resolve these things over the long term is to have an opportunity to talk, to discuss and to be able to make progress.


QUESTION: Afghanistan. Does the United States feel that President Karzai's pardon of a would-be child suicide bomber was an appropriate measure?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, you -- this is the question that you had raised with me this morning. What our understanding is is that President Karzai authorized the release of a 14-year-old would-be attacker both in view of his age and also, importantly, based on the judgment of Afghan authorities that he had been coerced by his Taliban handlers. And I'd refer you to them for a more detailed explanation of their decision, but it's certainly clear that the Taliban targets Afghan civilians, including children, in its campaigns of terror. They've engaged in all kinds of heinous behavior from beheadings and suicide bombings and abductions. And certainly, these kinds of stories of children being coerced into working for the Taliban or, in fact, even being tried to coerced to becoming suicide bombers is not unheard of or unusual. And in fact, my understanding is there was a similar case in June involving a six-year-old where the Taliban made him wear a bomb. So I think this action ought to be seen in light of the coercive nature of the Taliban and what it's done.

Yeah, one more.

QUESTION: On North Korea.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have anything since this morning about these reports that the talks are going to end without a firm deadline in place for --

MR. CASEY: Well, you'll see -- and I think my friend Ken Bailes will probably have a transcript out fairly shortly in terms of the full context of Chris's comments. And I think the point that Chris made was not that there is some disagreement. In fact, he says the sessions have gone quite well and that he expects by the time the chairman's statement will be released tomorrow that there will -- they will have in place and it will be recognized and there a clear work plan on some of the sequencing and what needs to be done in the next step.

What Chris's point was, however, was it's awfully hard to put a specific deadline or timeline on a number of those steps since those of us in the diplomatic profession don't have the kind of expertise on some of the things that will be required here to really do so.

So what he has said -- and again, I'd refer you to his remarks for real clarity on this -- is that they look to have the working groups meet to then establish some of what the clear options are for meeting the objectives that will be laid out in the chairman's statement. And based on that, in August, they should then be at a point where there's enough clarity on what's required to set some more clear and specific deadlines.

But certainly, he feels they've made progress in this session and that the extension of the meeting until tomorrow is, in part, to be done not only to make sure the chairman's statement is finalized but also to give all the parties the chance to meet with the Chinese Foreign Minister as well. So I think the bottom line from this is that it's been a generally positive negotiation and we look forward to seeing the results tomorrow in the form of the chairman's statement.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:55 p.m.)

DPB # 128

Released on July 19, 2007

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