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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
August 28, 2007


New Diplomatic and Consular License Plates
Comments by Ahmadi-Nejad / More of the Same Rhetoric
Importance for All of Iraq's Neighbors to Play Positive Role in Region
Reports of Possible Terrorist Designation of Iranian Groups / Iranian Response
U.S., International Community Will Take Necessary Steps to Deal with Iran
Problems and Challenges Posed by Iran's Nuclear Program / Opportunity for Iran
Consequences of a Rapid U.S. Military Withdrawal / Hopes for Positive Changes in Iraq
Upcoming Report by Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus / Free and Open Debate
Executive Order Issued to Sanction Entities that Were Providing Support for Terror in Iraq
Miami Judge's Approval of Former Manuel Noriega's Extradition to France
Reports that Russia May Base Ballistic Missiles in Belarus / U.S. Missile Defense Efforts
Arrest in Politkovskaya Case / U.S. Urges Russia to Bring Perpetrators to Justice
Statements by the ROK that an Agreement to Release Hostages Has Been Reached
Secretary Rice's Discussions With Olmert, Abbas / Upcoming Middle East Meeting
U.S. Looks Forward to Further Discussions Between Olmert and Abbas


12:35 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Good afternoon everybody. Before we get on to your questions, I just wanted to call your attention to that small, unobtrusive poster over there in the corner of the room. We'll be putting out a press release a little bit later today, but this, my friends, is an example below and above of the current and soon-to-be new diplomatic and consular license plates that foreign diplomats in the United States are going to have.

For those of you who, like me, have driven down I-95 and been confused by the ones of other states, including Ohio, with the current ones, you will now have an easy way to distinguish diplomats from others. This is, by the way, the first time that we've changed the format for the license plates for diplomats in 23 years, and the reason for doing so is, in part, in keeping with standard practice of other kinds of motor vehicle agencies to try and change the design periodically and, in part, to make sure that we can distinguish the plates issued by the Department of State from those of other jurisdictions.

So we'll have a little more information about this for you later, but there is something for you on a Tuesday in August.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about comments by Iranian President Ahmadi-Nejad, notably about the U.S. presence in Iraq. Among other things, he says that the power of the United States is rapidly collapsing in Iraq and that Iran is ready to step in and fill the vacuum there. What is your comment to that?

MR. CASEY: Well, I've seen the press reports on his remarks. I guess one thing I could say is, unfortunately, there's no shortage of support for terrorism or militias or violence or instability in Iraq right now from the Iranian Government, and I certainly don't think that the people or Government of Iraq are well served by Iran's current policies towards that country, nor are the people in the region well served by Iran's continued support for terrorism and for rejectionist groups in the Palestinian territories, for example.

Certainly as well, the Iranian people aren't well served by a government that seems more interested in promoting this kind of agenda throughout the region rather than in promoting the well-being of its own people. So I think, unfortunately, these are just more of the same kinds of things that we've seen from the Government of Iran.

We very much hope to see that government play a positive role in Iraq. And as you know, we have had conversations involving Iranian officials, not only between Ambassador Crocker and his counterpart in Iraq, but also through the broader group setting of the neighbors conferences because we do believe it's important that all of Iraq's neighbors play a positive role in that country. But the way to do that isn't with this kind of rhetoric or with any kind of rhetoric, but through real concrete steps to help the Iraqi people and help the Iraqi Government achieve stability and security and ultimately see that country move forward. So, you know, unfortunately what I think we're seeing here with President Ahmadi-Nejad's comments is just more of the same Iranian rhetoric that claims to hold out support and friendship for the people of Iraq while actions, unfortunately, take them in the opposite direction.

QUESTION: Do you -- there is obviously a debate in this country about the duration and extent of the American military commitment in Iraq and obviously some major politicians have called for withdrawals and dates certain and so on. Amid a debate over how and when the United States should withdraw its troops, there is also a fear that there could be, indeed, a vacuum if the U.S. Government were to withdraw too far or too fast. Do you not -- are you -- is the U.S. Government not concerned that any withdrawal would leave, or could leave, a vacuum that Iran might, indeed, seek to fill because it is a neighbor, has large numbers of troops, considerable influence?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, well, first of all, I think you've heard from the President, from Ambassador Crocker, General Petraeus and others about what we would think of the consequences of a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces and U.S. support. And certainly it's this Administration's policy to continue to support and continue to work with the Iraqi Government to see the kind of positive changes that we all want to see take place, to see security be established throughout the country, to see political reforms happen, to see economic development happen. Certainly, it would be one of the potential consequences as Ambassador Crocker has said of a precipitous U.S. withdrawal that other countries in the region, not only Iran but others, might see a need to engage in a negative way in the activities in that country.

But fortunately, I think from our perspective, what we intend to do is continue to work with and support the Iraqi Government to be able to help them establish their security forces so that ultimately we can have a withdrawal of U.S. troops in a way that allows for stability and security in that country. But I think the main thing, though, that I see in the comments that President Ahmadi-Nejad made is an unfortunate continuation of this sort of unhelpful rhetoric and rhetoric that claims to, in some way, support and care about the needs of the Iraqi people, while simultaneously having actions go on in the name of that government that undermine the Iraqi people and undermine the Iraqi Government.

Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: Also on President Ahmadi-Nejad, he was talking about reports that you're going to label the IRGC as a terrorist group and he said that the Iranian nation would be faced with a proper response. I'm just wondering if you have any --

MR. CASEY: Well, the story's talking about a possible designation of a number of Iranian groups who have been out there for some time. I don't have anything new to add on that subject. I'm -- I'd leave it to him to explain what a proper response to something like that would be. I'm not sure he even knows what that means, but look, we are going to do what is appropriate and necessary to protect U.S. forces in Iraq.

That's why, even while we do have these conversations with Iranian officials through Ambassador Crocker's auspices, that our forces there are going after these EFP networks and going after the militias that are trying to undermine Iraqi security that Iran has been supporting. It's also why we're working in the Security Council with our friends and allies there to step up pressure on Iran to comply with its obligations concerning its nuclear program. So you know, the United States and the rest of the international community is going to do what it thinks is appropriate and necessary to be able to counter unhelpful Iranian behavior. And the Iranian Government will have to make its decisions as to how it wants to respond.

QUESTION: Just one more.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: President Sarkozy has recently said that Iran can be attacked militarily if it doesn't slow down its nuclear program. And given that you talked about, even yesterday, that you're following a diplomatic path, do you think those kind of comments are helpful?

MR. CASEY: Well, I didn't see President Sarkozy's comments, but look, we are all agreed in what I think is clear from those kinds of remarks, is that the international community treats very seriously the problem and the challenge posed by Iran's nuclear program. And we are working and have been working for some time now to try and convince the Iranian Government to change its behavior. Again, we've talked a lot about sanctions and we continue to do so.

But I also think it's important to remind people as well that this isn't just about a negative pathway of sanctions for Iran. This is also about giving the Iranian Government an opportunity to do the right thing by its people; to accept suspension of uranium enrichment, to engage in negotiations with the P-5+1, and to then be able to work out something wherein Iran can help meet the kinds of energy needs it says it may have in the future for its people while, at the same time, providing the international community with the kinds of assurances we all want to see -- that Iran is not, in fact, working full-out to try and develop a nuclear weapon.

So there are lots of possibilities here for Iran to choose a different pathway. And certainly we all want to see them do it. But at this point the ball's in their court and they haven't been real good about doing anything in response, other than producing this kind of unhelpful rhetoric.

QUESTION: Can I come back to -- actually, the answer to your question earlier.

MR. CASEY: You want to go -- same thing or back to it. Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: You had mentioned that there's a concern that a precipitous withdrawal would encourage countries like Iran to step up their role in Iraq? Would you go a step further to say that the debate that is -- that some ideas -- political figures encouraging such a withdrawal would, in fact, encourage countries like Iran to step up their role as well?

MR. CASEY: Kirit, look, I am trying very hard to simply do as Ambassador Crocker and others have done -- point out that there are consequences for whatever policy options the United States takes. There is going to be certainly when Ambassador Crocker and General Petraeus come up here in September and give their report, testify before Congress, there's going to be a lot of debate and a lot of discussion in the American political system about the course that we will pursue in Iraq and that is a debate in which all voices can and should be heard. This is the most important issue before the United States in terms of its foreign policy right now. And we want there to be and there should be, for the benefit of the American people and for our country, a free and open debate about that.

But we will, I think, hear from the General and hear from the Ambassador as well from others in the Administration what we have said in the past as well, which is any withdrawal, precipitous of American forces, will have consequences and that part of those consequences include some of these possibilities that we've been discussing.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Can I change topic?

MR. CASEY: Are we on the same thing?

QUESTION: Can we go back on the subject of Iran?

MR. CASEY: Okay. Sorry.

QUESTION: The -- is there actually a -- has there actually been a decision on whether or not to designate either the Iranian Revolutionary Guard or some subset of that group or any other Iranian group?

MR. CASEY: Well, in terms of designations under a variety of sanctions measures, I've got nothing to announce for you or add to what's already been said on that subject at this time. Certainly, as you know, these are decisions that are made after a lot of very thorough review, including a fairly substantial legal review to make sure that we're meeting the requirements of the various laws and executive orders. If we have anything new to add to that, I will make sure to let you guys know.

But at this point, I think what is fair to say is that we certainly are concerned about the activities of a number of entities and organizations in Iran on a variety of different levels, whether that's about their involvement in proliferation -- and we already have a number of sanctions, both national U.S. sanctions as well as UN sanctions imposed related to that issue, or things like support for terrorism or things like support for the militias or some of the other violent and extremist groups in Iraq. We saw recently an executive order put forward that allowed us very specifically to sanction and target individuals and entities that are providing support for extremist groups in Iraq.

So this is a great concern, and certainly to the extent that Iranian entities -- whether they are wholly, partly or otherwise -- associated with the Iranian Government, are engaged in these kinds of behaviors, they certainly are making themselves liable for sanctioning under a variety of different measures.

QUESTION: Can you say that there has been no decision, however, such additional --

MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of any decisions being made on that issue. Certainly, when we make those decisions, they are usually announced in a very quick manner.

Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. CASEY: Are we still on Iran?

QUESTION: Yeah, we were.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you comment on or confirm a report that Iranian agents in the city of Karaj have surrounded the Sufi temple and are threatening to destroy it?

MR. CASEY: This is déjà vu. Yeah, you did ask this this morning. Did we get anything on that? No, I'm sorry. I will make sure we keep pursuing that.


MR. CASEY: But at least at this point, I have no information that could substantiate that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Sylvie.

QUESTION: Another subject, about Noriega. A judge in Miami approved today the extradition of Noriega to France. I wanted to know -- apparently, the State Department has the last word on that. I wanted to know if the State agrees with that.

MR. CASEY: I'd have to check on the specifics of the law, but usually once a extradition decision is rendered by a judge there is some kind of final review done here in this building. I was, frankly, unaware that that decision had been made. Certainly though, the Administration has been supportive of this request from the Government of France for extradition; so if, in fact, that is the decision the judge has rendered, I would not expect that this building or any other part of the Executive Branch would oppose it.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: There's some discrepancy as to whether he would be afforded the rights under the Geneva Convention of being treated as a POW. Apparently, the U.S. Government lawyers in Miami have said that they've received written assurances that he would, but now his attorney is saying that the French are telling him that -- and the Ambassador in Washington is saying that he will not be afforded --

MR. CASEY: Elise, I'd just have to defer to the Justice Department and to the lawyers involved in that process. I'm honestly not aware of what arrangements, if any, are made or whether that had any bearing on the judge's decision.

QUESTION: Well, is it your belief that he should be afforded rights under the Geneva Convention as a POW?

MR. CASEY: It's my belief that whatever the Justice Department tells you are his legal rights, those should be his legal rights. I don't think there's a separate view of it in this building, and I'm unfamiliar with what the specific Justice Department findings are on that.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: Can I move on to Russia, please? Missile defense.

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: It seems that Russia is considering using Belarus as some kind of base for missiles or nuclear facilities. How concerned is the U.S. about this prospect?

MR. CASEY: I hadn't seen more than just a couple of preliminary stories on this. Look, let's be clear about what our missile defense programs are or aren't. This is a very limited capability system. It's designed to counter a limited threat posed by nations like Iran or others in the Middle East that might, at some point, develop a nuclear weapon. It poses absolutely no challenge, threat, or degradation of the strategic nuclear capabilities of Russia. And it's simply untrue to try and assert that the placement of a radar installation and 10 interceptors requires any kind of strategic counter on the part of Russia or any other government that has a substantial nuclear arsenal.

So whether these reports are true or are not, I don't think that they fundamentally alter any of the strategic balances that already exist. And again, I think when you look at the information that is there, when you look at the amount of discussion that's gone on on this issue, it's pretty hard to see how anyone could make the case that this very limited system poses a strategic challenge or a strategic threat.

QUESTION: May I follow up? Belarus disposed of all its nuclear weapons under START-1. Does this not suggest if something like this were to happen, that START-1 is now kind of redundant? Is it time to review it?

MR. CASEY: Well --

QUESTION: Is it a sign?

MR. CASEY: Again, you're asking me what the implications for a longstanding arms control agreement would be if a hypothetical situation occurred. I just don't have any way of speculating on that for you.

Yeah, Arshad.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Russia. Did you ever get us a comment -- I don't know if you have one yet -- on the arrest in the case of the Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya? I think four of the people have now been charged.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I talked a little bit about this this morning, but let me just recap it for those who weren't there.

QUESTION: I wasn't there.

MR. CASEY: Well, that's okay. And first of all, we're glad that the Russian Government is continuing with this investigation and that progress has been made. We know that law enforcement authorities are continuing to seek additional information and do some additional investigating on this case as well as the case of Paul Klebnikov. And as I said this morning, we consistently urged Russian authorities to pursue all leads in these cases and to ultimately hold accountable and bring to justice those responsible for these crimes.

Not only in any society do you want to make sure that no one can get away with murder, but certainly, any acts that appear to be designed to intimidate journalists, limit freedom of expression, limit freedom of the press are of particular concern. And so we hope that the Russians will continue to pursue these cases and hope to see more information and more details about this go -- come through as the days and weeks move forward.


QUESTION: The Taliban in Afghanistan has alluded to free Korean hostages. Can you comment on that? And the second question is did United States have any role in bringing out the agreement?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I am -- on this issue, we are where we were this morning on this. We've certainly seen the statements that have been made by the Korean Government saying that an agreement has been reached to release those hostages. It's our fond hope that these innocent individuals are released and are allowed to return home to their families as soon as possible. We haven't, however, seen any details of the agreement and certainly weren't involved in these discussions, though we are grateful if, in fact, this is the case and we look forward to seeing these individuals released as soon as possible.


QUESTION: Tom, did you have any chance to check on this story about USAID, which decided to postpone the implementation of new regulations and screening the NGOs?

MR. CASEY: We are still pulling taffy out of the bureaucracy on that one, so I do owe you an answer on that and I'll try and get something for you later this afternoon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, one more.

QUESTION: Can you say anything more Secretary Rice's discussions with Abbas and Olmert before their meetings yesterday? Specifically, I understand that President Abbas was asking for specifics related to the Middle East conference: where it will be, when it will be, that kind of thing. What was her response to that question?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I'm going to let the players involved have a certain amount of privacy in their discussions. But again, let me just repeat a little bit of what I said this morning. These were opportunities for her to talk with the Prime Minister and the President about their upcoming meeting, to also encourage them to move forward and to make progress not only in dealing with some of the day-to-day issues that are out there, but again with issues that are on the political horizon. It's important that we do see progress made between the parties as we head towards a meeting later this fall with a variety of international players involved. And we think it's very positive and welcome that the President and Prime Minister have again had an opportunity to meet. I understand they will be doing so again a little bit later in September, so we look forward to those discussions continuing.

In terms of the specifics of what they discussed, what the Prime Minister and President discussed during their meetings, I -- at this point, I'll leave it to them to give you a fuller readout of it.

QUESTION: And there are no further details about the conference?

MR. CASEY: No, in terms of the international meeting itself, we are still working on specific dates and venue for it. Again, I think we are continuing consultations with not only the Israelis and Palestinians, but with a variety of other players in the region, including some of our friends and allies in neighboring states.

Okay, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:59 p.m.)

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DPB # 152

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