UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 4, 2007


Secretary Rice's Schedule
Steps for Removal from State Sponsors of Terrorism List / US-North Korea Working Group
Japanese Abductees Issue / Japan-North Korea Working Group
Heinz Decision to Sell Stake in Cooking Oil Company
Mugabe Government's Policies Cause Serious Economic Hardship
No Update on New Sanctions or Aid Programs / Involvement of Neighboring Countries
Constitutional Convention a Sham / Opposition Parties Excluded / Aung San Suu Kyi
Discussion in UN Security Council / Mr. Gambari's Efforts
Egyptian Student Indicted in Florida / Criminal Charges in Egypt
Post-9/11 Visa Screening Procedures
Release of Detained American Citizens / Haleh Esfandiari
Update on Levinson Case / Contact via the Swiss
No Change in U.S. Policy on Iran's Nuclear Program / IAEA Role in Monitoring
Bombings in Rawalpindi / Impact of Terrorism on Elections
Call for Inclusive Democratic Elections / Support for a Moderate Pakistan
Syria's Comments on U.S. Activities in Lebanon / U.S. Support for Lebanese People and Leaders
Discussions on Missile Defense / Missile Defense Poses No Strategic Challenge / Postol Testimony
Reports of Arrest of American Citizens
Resettlement of Hmong Refugees / U.S. Supports the Process of Reconciliation
Reports of Chinese Hacking Pentagon Computers
President Calderon's Comments on U.S. Immigration Policy
Efforts to Assist Countries Affected by Hurricane Felix / Public Announcement Issued
Support for U.S. Businesses Abroad
Internal Political Conflicts / Parties Should Work Within the Political System to Resolve Differences
Respect for Patriarch and Religious Freedom


12:43 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay. Happy Back-to-School Day, everybody. Glad to be here with you. Don't have any opening statements or announcements, so.

QUESTION: Yeah, Tom. Start with the most important thing of the day, which is what can you tell us about the Secretary's canceled golf game with Foreign Minister Downer in Australia? (Laughter.)

MR. CASEY: I can't. I'm sure she missed the opportunity to do so. I'm sure she regrets having to. But I don't have any updates on her schedule for you, Matt.

QUESTION: Okay. On -- can you give us a little more clarity as to where this situation stands with North Korea?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'll go through a little bit of what we discussed this morning. Basically, in the February 13th agreement, it was stated that the United States would begin the process of removing or looking at removing North Korea from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism and will also continue the process of doing so for the Trading with the Enemy Act. What has happened is there's been discussions in the working group about those issues. As Chris said, he feels they made some progress on them. But of course, how this will be done and any timing under which it will be done is something that is yet to be determined and would obviously have to be part of the discussion that the working groups would have in their report to the envoys on ultimately part of any discussion about a agreement that the envoys would reach for the overall next phase of nuclear disarmament. That was easy. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: Change of subject?


MR. CASEY: I knew I couldn't get away with just one on that.

QUESTION: Was there anything --

QUESTION: Do you have a better sense of when that envoy level meeting could take place?

MR. CASEY: No, I don't have a date for you on that, Kirit. The Japan-North Korea bilateral working group is, I believe, meeting today and tomorrow in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. That is the last working group to meet. Certainly, I think, we would hope to have a envoys-level meeting fairly soon thereafter, but at this point, a date hasn't been set, though I certainly know we'd like to see some progress made on that this month.


QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: Same subject.

MR. CASEY: Same subject. Let's go back here.

QUESTION: Yeah. As you say that everything comes out of the working group goes to the six-party envoy meeting and it's released out of there, is there any consideration coming out of this working group, this meeting this weekend between North Korea and the U.S., is there any consideration by the U.S. to present a plan to the six-party envoy group coming -- upcoming that will remove North Korea off of the terrorism list?

MR. CASEY: The plan is to do what everyone's always said we're going to do. The working groups will meet. They will present their recommendations to the envoys. Based on those recommendations, the envoys will create an overall plan.

Certainly, progress on some of these bilateral issues, actions taken to move forward on some of them, I'm sure will be part of that discussion. But I think it would be wrong to say based on the meeting of this working group that anything has been decided because, again, this is not a matter of the working groups acting in isolation. All of what each of the working groups has done needs to be put together into a coherent package and a coherent agreement among all six parties as to the specific steps that will be taken as well as to the sequencing of them when they put together the next formal agreement on what will now be the disablement phase.

QUESTION: Right. But what I'm asking is, is the United States at the next six-part plenary considering presenting a plan there for discussion about taking North Korea off of the terrorism list.

MR. CASEY: No, I'm sure there will be an opportunity for the working group to report on their recommendations, but there is no separate U.S. plan involved. There are working groups. The working groups make recommendations. The envoys evaluate them and come up with a coherent framework or a coherent agreement to move forward. And that's how I expect we'll be continuing.

Yeah, Joel.

QUESTION: Tom, this morning at the White House, they're reading off a group of 83,000-plus names of abductees by the North Koreans. These involve abduct -- not just from South Korea but from eight other countries. And there are two groups involved, the Rescuing Abductee Center of Hope -- for Hope and the Citizens Coalition for Human Rights of Abductees and North Korean Refugees. Has this been brought to the attention of the North Koreans by Chris Hill and his talks, and what are you going to do along with members of Congress to facilitate the release of these individuals?

MR. CASEY: Joel, I am unfamiliar with either of those groups or any of their information. I simply have to refer you to them. However, there is certainly a longstanding issue, and one that we've discussed many times before from here, which is the question of abductees, Japanese abductees, to North Korea. This is one of the primary concerns and issues being discussed in the Japan-North Korea Working Group. It is also something that people have heard as recently as last week from the President on that the United States is very concerned about. It is something that Chris Hill discusses in his conversations with the North Koreans. It is a subject of discussion more broadly at the six-party talks. And it is, of course, one of the issues that we need to see progress on as well as we go forward with the overall six-party process and nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Tom, sorry to go back on this, but could you --

MR. CASEY: Oh, no you're not. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Could you please tell us what North Korea should do to get away from this terror list?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, I'm not going to try and give you any kind of detailed listing on this. North Korea is on the list of state sponsors of terror because of actions that it took that were determined a long time ago to have met the legal requirements for this. It -- as we move forward with the review process, those questions will have to be answered. Certainly, there is also a series of legal standards both for getting on the list in the first place as well as getting off. And as we've seen in other instances where this has occurred, there'll be some, I'm sure, fairly detailed discussions on those issues so that if this in fact does happen, everyone can be satisfied that U.S. laws and regulations have been fully met.

But these are things that I think will be under continued discussion over time. If you go to the annual report we put out on this issue, you can see the listing of what concerns there are about North Korea, and I think that probably would give you the best idea of what kinds of issues might be subject to discussion.

QUESTION: But based on the state terror -- based on the State Department website, the last terrorist act by North Korea was in 1987 in relation to the bombing of the Korean airline flight?

MR. CASEY: Mm-hmm. If that's what it says on our website, I assume that's the latest information that we have that's publicly available. Obviously, there are other issues and concerns that may be there that are not part of the public dialogue, but I expect that there'll be some serious discussions about this issue as people move forward with the group meetings.

QUESTION: Do you consider its nuclear weapons program as terrorism?

MR. CASEY: I don't believe the definition in the law talks about nuclear weapons, no.

QUESTION: So denuclearization is not linked to removal from the terrorism list?

MR. CASEY: The standards for getting on and off the list of state sponsors of terror are in U.S. law. I don't want to try and interpret it for you. The law is there and I think the terms are pretty clear.

Yeah, Libby.

QUESTION: I'm going to switch topics, if that's okay.

MR. CASEY: Oh, I think Sue's got --


MR. CASEY: We've got one more on North Korea and one to go.

QUESTION: Okay. On -- I wondered if you had any comment on Heinz. It sold its stake in -- in its cooking oil maker to President Mugabe's government --

MR. CASEY: I thought we were still on North Korea. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Oh, sorry, are we still on North Korea?

MR. CASEY: All right, we do have -- well, I think we got one more North Korea one and then we'll do Heinz's stake in, yeah, Zimbabwe.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I just wanted to say that --

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Daniel Ryntjes, from Feature Story News.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: That you would characterize some forward movement in the discussions wouldn’t you because, you know, North Koreans are saying they are going to declare --

MR. CASEY: Well, more important than my characterization of it is Chris Hill, who's our negotiator, who is out there in the talks. And Chris said that there was -- this was a good session; that they made some progress on the issues in the bilateral working group. So definitely, I do think there is -- there's progress and there's forward movement. But again, the only caution I want to hold out for people is that having these working group sessions, while important, is not an agreement of and by itself, and that we got a long way to go in this game to ultimately achieve what everyone agreed to back in September of '05, which is the complete ending, disablement, and dismantling of North Korea's nuclear program.

Okay, now.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Heinz's decision to sell its stakes and its cooking oil maker to President Mugabe? And in general, can you comment on the Zimbabwean Government's move to transfer majority ownership of foreign-owned firms to locals?

MR. CASEY: Well, my understanding is Heinz has held a 51 percent stake in something called Olivine Industries, which is a prime purveyor of cooking oil in the country. I'd leave it to the company to talk about their decision to sell. My understanding is this was made based on economic considerations rather than in response to particular legislation or other kinds of government activities.

But one of the reasons why I'm sure Heinz is making those economic decisions is because of the misguided policies of the Zimbabwean Government. And we've talked here many times about how the policies the Mugabe government is pursuing have led to a steep decline in the economy, they've taken Zimbabwe from being a food exporter to being a net food importer, they've caused serious economic hardship for the Zimbabwean people. And I think the business decision by Heinz to divest itself of this is symbolic of the -- what, for all other terms, you might just call Zimbabwe's economic meltdown.

QUESTION: What would you advise other U.S. companies with business investments in Zimbabwe? Would you advise them to stick doing it or would you advise them to pull out and follow the Zimbabwean Government's lead?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, the individual companies involved are going to have to make their own assessments based on the circumstances they find themselves in, whether any of these requirements for ownership -- ownership percentages are something that does affect their operations or not. But I think it's very clear that whether it's Heinz or any other international companies operating in Zimbabwe, describing the investment climate as poor would be a gross understatement and saying that the economy has been on a steep and steady decline for a number of years is no secret. So it's pretty hard to see what motivates any international company that might be considering looking for new business or even staying in business in Zimbabwe because I think for a lot of them, just on pure economic factors alone, there is a decreasing desire to be there.

QUESTION: There have been plans within the U.S. Government to take further actions against Mugabe's government, which would include more targeted travel sanctions and other sanctions. Is there any movement on that?

MR. CASEY: I don't have anything new to report for you on that, Sue. Certainly, we're always looking for ways to try and encourage this regime to do the right thing. But at this point, we have, as you note, a number of existing sanctions in place. We're constantly looking at that to see if there might be other things we can do. But at this point, I don't have anything new to tell you.

QUESTION: Are there any new aid plans to help people who are obviously struggling under --

MR. CASEY: Nothing beyond the existing donations that we've already talked about, World Food Program and other agencies. Certainly though, we will keep a very close eye on the situation in Zimbabwe. One of the things, as with any other country, we want to make sure of is that if there are humanitarian needs that are unfulfilled that we take what actions we can to help alleviate them.

QUESTION: Sorry, just one more. One more on that.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you encouraging the SADC countries and other neighbors to do more to put pressure on Mugabe?

MR. CASEY: Well, certainly, one of the things that's important is to have the neighboring countries play a role in this, and we've been encouraged in the past by some of the efforts that have been made. But unfortunately, I think there's still a lot more that can be done, and we certainly would like to see the other countries in the region continue to press and increase the pressure that they put on the Mugabe regime to not only deal with some of the negative economic policies they've adopted but to also allow for freedom of expression and basic human rights in that country.

Yeah, Matt.

QUESTION: Tom, after that, can I take Foreign Rogue Governments for 200? (Laughter.)

MR. CASEY: Well, you know, personally I was hoping you could give me a harder one.

QUESTION: You have some pithy comments you'd like to make about the new constitution and the constitutional convention in Burma, I understand.

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm glad you asked, Matt. And we will, in fact, be putting out a written statement on this subject a little bit later today.

I think most of you know the national convention -- so-called national convention that the Burmese Government has been working on for a while concluded today. I think our simplest response to it is we view it as a total sham. The delegates to this convention were hand-picked by the regime. They haven't been allowed to engage in any open debate. And of course, they also excluded the National League for Democracy, which is Burma's largest political party.

It's also somewhat ironic that the conclusions of this supposed open political process coincide with a crackdown on citizens for peacefully protesting and trying to exercise their freedom of expression.

So this is not at all a step forward for Burma. It's not at all a step towards democracy. And I think the international community and certainly the United States is going to continue to call for a genuine and real and inclusive dialogue between the regime and the legitimate forces of democracy in the country.

QUESTION: So how do you really feel about it? Total sham? That's pretty harsh.

MR. CASEY: Well, I think that's pretty harsh. I think, unfortunately, it's a justifiable characterization of the process, though.

QUESTION: Is there any way that this can be -- that your criticism can be toned -- well, is there any way you might take a different opinion of this if the -- unless -- let me start again. Does the government have to completely start over -- do they have to completely start over and do this again to -- or is it -- can this --

MR. CASEY: Well, I think --

QUESTION: Can this somehow be salvaged in the view of the United States?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think that this document or this process, to have any legitimacy, it would have had to have had participation from the legitimate political forces in the country, including Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy. It's hard to see how this kind of document is salvageable unless you actually have free and open participation on the part of all the various political players involved and you actually have an honest debate and discussion. At the moment, this is a “of, by and for” the junta document.


QUESTION: Tom, almost a year ago now, the U.S. tried to get a resolution through the UN Security Council on Burma. We're coming around to UNGA again. Do you think that this -- the Administration will revisit this now?

MR. CASEY: Well, I expect that there will be a lot of discussion about Burma in the Security Council in the coming weeks. Certainly, it's an issue that the U.S. brought to the Security Council and we had our first ever discussion and debate about it, as well as a proposed resolution, because we believe that the actions of the Burmese regime are something the international community needs to be concerned about and should want to take action on. Now unfortunately, we did not get that resolution passed last year, but we continue to follow this and we continue to believe it's important that the Security Council and the UN system generally focus on this. We are also, of course, supportive of the efforts of Mr. Gambari, the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Burma and want to be able to see him be able to continue his efforts and continue to push the Burmese regime to do the right thing.

Yeah, Libby.

QUESTION: Off Burma?

MR. CASEY: I think we're off Burma.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up from the gaggle about the Egyptian national University of South Florida student that was indicted last week.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: He was here on a student visa and apparently had had arrest charges; he had been arrested before ever getting a student visa to the U.S. Do you have any more information on that, how he might have been able to obtain a visa?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm still having people look into that for me. I can't confirm any of the facts of the case other than what's in the Justice Department statement that came out, I guess, on Friday. I can't tell you whether or not, in fact, he had any charges ever filed against him in Egypt. We'll try and see what we can get for you on it. Either way, though, I think there's going to be a limited amount that any of us can say about a matter that's pending before a criminal court.

QUESTION: Can you say just generally how the Egyptian Government cooperates with visa applications and giving you background on certain Egyptian nationals that you may have concerns about?

MR. CASEY: Well, we rely largely on our own resources to be able to determine who is or isn't eligible for visas. Certainly, we have good cooperation on a variety of issues with the Government of Egypt. I honestly, though, couldn't speak to the circumstances of this case simply because I don't have information on it and I also have to deal with the limitations under law and policy concerning the confidentiality of visa records. So I'll see what other information I can get for you on it, but I don't have anything really to offer you on this case.

QUESTION: Well, can I --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- follow up on that? I mean, specifically, since 9/11, you've put a lot of new visa procedures in place to try and avoid someone who had any kind of links to terrorism or terrorism connections to get a visa to the United States. So if you could look into how, if true, that this person did have specific terrorism charges against him, how they could have possibly gotten through the system?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, there is no higher priority for us than ensuring the safety of the homeland. And since September 11th, we have, working with the Department of Homeland Security and others, instituted a number of procedures, many of which, as many of you know, are not always very popular overseas to ensure that there is proper and adequate screening of anyone who applies for a visa. Certainly, in a number of countries, we also have representatives of Homeland Security on site to be able to help with that process and that's an important change that has occurred as well.

We do everything we can to ensure that the only people that get visas to come to the United States are legitimate travelers or those with legitimate business here. And we'll certainly do anything we can to strengthen that system because, again, there's no higher obligation that we have than the protection of U.S. citizens, whether that's citizen -- the American citizens living and working overseas or people here back home. And if there is any reason to believe that that system has failed, then certainly we would want to know about it and we would want to fully explore why that happened and take any corrective steps necessary. But again, at this point, I have no information that would confirm these stories that have been circulating around about this individual, and we'll try and see what more we can get for you.

QUESTION: Do you have -- you mention DHS agents in particular countries. Do you know if there's one in Egypt?

MR. CASEY: You know, I'd refer you to them in terms of where they've got their people positioned. I know they have a number of people in larger embassies in the Middle East. I don't honestly know if Cairo's one of those locations though.


QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: The Iranian Government released the passports of two Iranian Americans, which one of them -- those -- already has been -- left Iran. My question is, do you have any information regarding the behind-scene negotiation or -- by the Switzerland Embassy or maybe by the third channel with the Government of Iran regarding these specific things?

MR. CASEY: Well, as you know, first of all, we welcome the fact that Haleh Esfandiari has now left Iran, has been permitted to return home. I’m sure her family and her many friends and admirers here at home as well as in other parts of the world are glad to see this happen. As we said, neither she nor any of the other American citizens who have been detained should have been detained in the first place. These are innocent people simply trying to go about normal kinds of activities, including, most importantly, visiting their families.

We hope to see positive movement in one of the other cases that you mentioned and we'd like to see all these people be allowed to depart the country and return home to their families. Certainly, that's something that we've been following and we've been trying to do what we can to encourage the Iranian Government to move in the right direction on.

In terms of the thinking of the Iranian Government on this issue or why they chose to do this now, I honestly do not have any insights to offer you. I'd leave it to those in Iran to try and explain the motives both for taking this action in the first place, in terms of detaining these individuals, or why they've chosen now to let them go. The simple fact is we're glad that Ms. Esfandiari is on her way home and we certainly hope we'll see the other American citizens who've been detained in the same circumstances as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: There are some reports that there's been a hacking into the Pentagon computer by the Czech --

QUESTION: One more.

MR. CASEY: Oh, okay, can we --

QUESTION: Also Iran here.

QUESTION: Also Iran.

MR. CASEY: All right, let's do a couple more on Iran and then I'll come back to you, Elise. Sorry.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information or any information on Mr. Levinson? And are you planning to send another message to the Iranians via the Swiss?

MR. CASEY: Well, we continue to have the Swiss raise this subject with the Iranians on a regular basis. As you know, in terms of formal diplomatic correspondence, they have yet to respond to the last formal diplomatic note that we sent them, despite numerous discussions of this issue between the Swiss and Iranian authorities.

Unfortunately, we don't have information that gives us an understanding of the welfare and whereabouts of Mr. Levinson. And we are going to continue to pursue this both through the Swiss as well as through other friendly nations who may have some insights or may be able to give us some help in trying to encourage the Iranians to answer the questions about his location and whereabouts.

QUESTION: Does Ms. Esfandiari's case give you some optimism that this might be -- there might be a change in behavior and they might start releasing information about Mr. Levinson, if he is indeed alive and --

MR. CASEY: Well, I think in the case of Mr. Levinson, what's unfortunate is that we haven't been able to get any information out of the Government of Iran about this. Again, we all know that he arrived in Iran. No one has any indication or reason to believe that he left the country. And certainly, that would mean to us that there ought to be some information available to the Iranian Government that might aid us in locating him and finding out his status. So I would like to believe that the Iranian Government would be forthcoming in the future with information. Unfortunately, we just haven't seen that to date.


QUESTION: The fact that they -- the fact that they've not --

MR. CASEY: One more and then we'll go back. Well, go ahead, Sue.

QUESTION: The fact that they have not responded to the last note that you sent them, is that an indication to you that they are not cooperating here and that they are hiding something, or -- what does it tell you?

MR. CASEY: Well, it's hard to say. What it tells us is that they aren't being forthcoming with whatever information they might have. Again, their stated position, which is that they have no information about him, seems pretty hard to believe, given the close scrutiny that most foreigners, and particularly most Americans, would face while traveling to Iran. And as the example of some of these other American citizens shows, there's a pretty high level of attention paid to American citizens when they travel to Iran.

QUESTION: Yeah, Tom, on Iran --

QUESTION: Just on -- is this on Levinson? Is this on Levinson?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, Levinson? Sorry --

QUESTION: I mean, it's believed that he went to Iran through Kish Island and didn't have a visa with him. So is it possible that something else happened to him outside of the government that they don't know?

MR. CASEY: Again, I don't think we have any clear answers, but it would seem to me that, again, American citizens, being on Iranian soil, whether that's in the somewhat exceptional area of Kish Island or in the main part of the country, were certainly individuals that the Iranian Government would be aware of and ought to be able to provide us with some information about.

All right, sorry, I know you --

QUESTION: That's okay.

MR. CASEY: Sorry to try and change (inaudible) --

QUESTION: That's okay, and hence for the new question. Tom, there's reports from Pentagon planning that much of what's going on with regard to the various scenarios over an attack on Iran which goes on the whole time as a part of general planning is becoming more intense, more focused. Some -- one person indicated that it's scary, is how he commented on it.

We've also had the statements from the President, from others, talking about the danger of nuclear holocaust with Iran. The rhetoric has been increasing. And I was wondering, are we moving from the diplomatic track towards something more serious or is that diplomatic track with regard particularly to the uranium nuclear weapons still on, still fully on?

MR. CASEY: I'm not sure where that interpretation is coming from, but certainly there's been no change in U.S. policy. The President has made it clear, the Secretary has and others as well, we are dealing with Iran's nuclear program through a diplomatic process, working with our colleagues in the Security Council as well as the Germans. Certainly, as you know, no President ever takes any options off the table, but I can't point you to any information that would lead me or anyone else to conclude that there has been any decision or change made or any decision made to change U.S. policy with regards to Iran's nuclear program.

And that means what we're looking for right now is continued discussions with our friends and allies in the Security Council, moving towards another sanctions resolution on Iran, all the while continuing, again, to hold out the prospect for the Iranians that they have an opportunity to take a different course, engage in negotiations with us if they suspend the uranium enrichment programs and activities, and achieve what they say their stated desire is, which is a civilian nuclear program, even while being able to assure the rest of us that they aren't using that as cover to build a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: To follow, are we singing essentially from the same song sheet as the IAEA or we have obviously concerns with how they've been dealing with this, or are we happy with them?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, the IAEA has a very important role to play in terms of monitoring and providing information on Iran's nuclear program. Part of why we find ourselves in the position we're in is that for several years Iran has steadfastly refused to answer the outstanding questions posed by the IAEA about their nuclear program.

And while we've welcomed the so-called plan of action that's been agreed to between the IAEA and Iran, the fact of the matter is they shouldn't need a plan of action to answer these long outstanding questions. They ought to have been able to answer them some time ago. And the fact that they have been unable or unwilling to do so for several years about a program that they tried to hide from the world for more than two decades certainly leaves open a lot of reason for concern. And I think that's why you've seen some of the actions taken in the Security Council and elsewhere to try and pressure Iran to come clean and to stop what it's doing and engage with the international community in some serious negotiations.

Let's go over here.

QUESTION: Yeah, regarding the two bombings in Pakistan today, some of the political leaders --

MR. CASEY: We'll come back to you.

QUESTION: Some of the political leaders in Pakistan have warned that the increasing violence and terrorism could affect the forthcoming elections in Pakistan. So what is -- how do you view it? Do you expect the rise in violence to have an impact or delay the elections or harm the progress towards democratization?

And secondly, yesterday there was a statement also made that the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Benazir would be allowed back into the country but not allowed to participate in the elections. So do you think that elections minus these two former leaders would be considered free and fair by U.S.?

MR. CASEY: Okay, there were a lot of parts to that. Let me see if I can tick off each of them for you.

Concerning the attacks in Rawalpindi, first of all, we condemn these attacks. There's no justification, political or otherwise, for attacking civilians, for endangering human life. We certainly want to continue to work with the Government of Pakistan to confront extremism and to be able to help Pakistan develop its own democracy and be able to help Pakistan move forward with what is President Musharraf's stated intentions and what we expect to see happen, which is the holding of elections that are free, fair and transparent and that allow the Pakistani people to have a choice among all the various legitimate political factions in that country.

In terms of the decisions by the Pakistani Supreme Court concerning the former leaders, these again are decisions that need to be made within the context of Pakistani law and in Pakistan's political system. And it's really most appropriate for the Pakistani institutions that are dealing with this issue to do so.

What we want to see, though, is that all of the legitimate political parties, all of the legitimate political actors in that country have an opportunity to be able to express themselves; that Pakistani people, when it comes time to vote, do have a real choice among legitimate political parties that do not espouse violence, that do not support extremism, and that are willing to help achieve what President Musharraf has said his stated goal is, which is a moderate Islamic Pakistan that is a good partner for the international community not only in terms of counterterrorism, but in terms of the full range of other issues, including the economic development of the country, which is so critical to addressing the needs of everyone there.

QUESTION: Secretary -- Under Secretary Negroponte is also probably due to visit Pakistan next week and interestingly, that coincides with the return of the former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Any particular items on his agenda?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't have announcements in terms of the Deputy Secretary's travel for you right now; though I know he would like to and would hope to be able to visit the region very soon. Certainly, whenever he or any other officials, including Ambassador Boucher, speak with Pakistani political leaders, whether in the government or those with other political parties, we continue to stress that for us, the important thing is, again, seeing that these elections move forward and that they move forward in a credible way.

QUESTION: Can I go ahead?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Well, some people in Pakistan are surmising that these attacks today and further violence in Pakistan is a message to President Musharraf that because he's been cracking down a lot more on terrorism ever since the Red Mosque incident, that this is a warning that if he goes after extremists, he can expect more violence, especially directed at him.

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't think it took the crackdown on the Red Mosque for President Musharraf to be subject to attacks from violent extremists in Pakistan. He's been the subject of assassination attempts several times, including by al-Qaida in Iraq.

Look, do we expect anywhere in the world, whether it's Pakistan or anyplace else, that those who are committed to violence and extremism will try and fight back against our efforts against them? Certainly; I think that goes without saying, but it's also clear, too, that Pakistan, under President Musharraf, has made a clear choice to stand with the forces of tolerance and moderation against extremism.

And there is a broad political consensus in Pakistan to support a moderate vision of Pakistan's future, one that allows for economic development and one that allows for education for all its children, one that allows for the people to express themselves through democratic elections. And so I don't think, regardless of what the intentions are from the extremists in Pakistan that it's going to have an impact on the broader goals of that country in terms of its own development. And that applies to President Musharraf as well as other political leaders in the country.


QUESTION: Another subject, Lebanon.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: The Syrian Foreign Minister today accused U.S. of playing an unconstructive role in Lebanon, especially with the election of the president of the country. Do you have any comment?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think if the country that occupied Lebanon for decades and continues to oppose the efforts of the Lebanese people to develop their democracy thinks we're doing something wrong, then we're probably doing something right.

I am not sure what his specific accusations are against the United States, but what our policy is is to support the will of the Lebanese people, to support the legitimately elected government of that country, and to see the Lebanese people have an opportunity not only to choose their President but to choose all their political leaders free from outside interference or domination from Syria or from any other actors.

Yeah, let's go over here.

QUESTION: Can we switch off to favorite U.S.-Russian subject, missile defense system?

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Because you comment a lot of time about it. Last week, very -- like, famous missile defense system expert Ted Postol -- he's also professor at Massachusetts Technology Institution -- testified at Capitol Hill. And he warned Russian officials in Moscow that if the missile defense plans in Europe will be constructed as it was designed not in the nearest future, but in perspective of 10, 15 years, it can cause real problems for Russian ballistic missiles.

And among his arguments were that missile defense system agency doesn't present their data properly. For example, they overestimated Russian missile's speed and underestimate Americans'. And also that one of his arguments was that in the nearest future, nobody -- I mean, now can guarantee an American government that in the nearest future these small plans in Europe will not be bigger, will not be -- you know, will just go bigger and stronger and something more important, and except of like now 10 missile -- anti-missiles which you plan to have in Poland, it will not be growing in something like a hundred or more. So Moscow takes this statement very seriously and a lot of questions now there. So can you comment?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm very glad that in a country like the United States, various academic experts are free to offer their critiques of U.S. policy and have an opportunity to have their say. I'm not familiar with the individual nor his background, though I'm sure if he is testifying on Congress that he certainly has the proper credentials to do so.

Look, what's important here, though -- what's important is the United States and its European partners, including the Czech Republic and Poland, are trying to do something to provide a little bit of extra security for all our people against the possibility of a rogue attack from Iran or from any other country in the region. It is simply untrue and incredible to say that the prospect of a radar site and ten interceptors poses a strategic challenge for Russia or frankly for any of the other major nuclear powers.

And I would also point out, too, that there are opportunities that have been presented by the United States to have the Russian Government work with us on missile defense because frankly this is a threat that is not unique to the United States and not unique to the NATO-European allies, but it's one that potentially affects Russia as well. And I think we should all have an interest in assuring that if there's a possibility to defend ourselves against these kinds of individual missile or rogue attacks, that we do what we can to make that happen.

And we've had tremendous opportunity to speak with Russian Government officials, directly through bilateral channels as well as through the NATO-Russia Council and elsewhere to answer these kinds of questions. But I think it is fairly unreasonable for anyone to be able to assert that somehow, through some weird process of osmosis, that this very small and limited system could ever pose a direct threat to Russia's strategic defenses. And the main thing that to me is important is that we do have an opportunity to confront these challenges together, and certainly we're going to continue to work with the Russian Government on this issue and we want to be able to engage with Russia to deal with, again, what we view as a common threat to both our countries.

QUESTION: Same topic.

MR. CASEY: Same topic in the back, okay.

QUESTION: The Postol's argument was not that the system itself now would threaten Russians, but that any follow-up, which is a part of the space doctrine enunciated by the Administration, would pose such a threat. So it's not the missiles that are going to be placed there, but the fact that there are missiles -- a missile base there that can be modernized, which would present a problem. This was the concern of Postol.

But that wasn't my question. My question is what is the status of the discussions now with the Russians on this proposal that Putin put forward. As I understand it, there was supposed to be and will be a meeting in Moscow, but also there is something in Azerbaijan which involves both Russia, the U.S. and the Azeris. And could you say where we stand with that and what is the tick-tock, please?

QUESTION: Well, I probably don't have the latest, greatest on that, but let me give you a couple of points on that.

First of all, we have in the follow-up to the discussions that President Bush and President Putin held, including in Kennebunkport, have had meetings at the working level between Russian and U.S. officials on missile defense here in Washington. I believe it was either in late July or early August.

We also are continuing to look forward to having an opportunity to have the so-called 2+2 talks with Russia -- Secretary Rice and Secretary Gates and their counterparts -- and I'm sure missile defense will be a primary focus of discussion there.

Certainly, there have been discussions with the Azeri Government by the Russian Government individually and I think by us individually in terms of getting their sense of some of the ideas out there as well. But this is going to be an issue that we're going to continue to talk with and work with the Russian Government on, but the basic facts are, again, as I stated them. This is a program that's designed to confront the possibility of an attack from a rogue state. It's a very limited system and there are probably -- no, not probably. There are many, many smarter people than I working on science and technology issues. I'm sure there are many different things that might potentially, possibly, sometime in the future happen or occur.

But I think what all of us, and certainly what political leaders, need to do is base their discussions and base their thinking on what's here, what's now, and what a realistic assessment of the threats and challenges we face are. And that's what I think we're trying to do.


QUESTION: Change of topic?

MR. CASEY: Okay with me.

QUESTION: Can you please comment on reports that three U.S. citizens of Hmong descent have been arrested in Laos on unknown charges while on a sightseeing and business trip in the country?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, and thanks. I did get a chance to look into this from this morning. We've seen those reports. We can't confirm them as of yet, but we are talking to the Laotian Government to see what has occurred. If, in fact, these individuals have been arrested or taken into custody in some way, we'll certainly be seeking consular access from the Laotian Government.

We've also gone to the family members of those who have been reported detained to make sure that we have contact with them. At this point as well, since I can't confirm the actual facts of their detention and we don't have a Privacy Act waiver, I really wouldn't be in a position to provide any more information. But this is something we're concerned about and we're looking into it to try and confirm the facts.

QUESTION: What about the ongoing efforts by Thai and Lao military officials to continue with this repatriation of almost 8,000 ethnic Hmongs?

MR. CASEY: Well, I know there were a number of ongoing programs, some of which include refugee resettlement programs that have been long ongoing with the United States as well as providing opportunities for some of these individuals, many of whom have been in refugee status for many, many years, to be able to return back home, which, of course, is always the first objective when it comes to dealing with any kind of refugee situation.

But I don't have any broader updates for you with it. Certainly, we support the process of reconciliation and support the process of people being able to either ultimately return home or find a place to settle elsewhere.

QUESTION: Has Washington discussed or protested the Thai Government on this repatriation move?

MR. CASEY: I, again, don't have the latest for you on that. I'm sure our friends in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration could give you a pretty full update on the exact status of any of those discussions.


QUESTION: There are some reports that the Chinese military hacked into Pentagon computers. I was wondering if there were any concerns about similar incidents with the State Department system or whether you formally protested this issue about the Pentagon to the government.

MR. CASEY: I've seen those press reports, Elise, but I have to refer you out to the Pentagon for what the facts are. I'm not aware that there's been any attempt related to that incident that would affect State Department computers.

We do, as you know, have a very serious ongoing computer security effort to try and make sure that our systems, which are out there worldwide and many of which have internet portals or other opportunities for the public to get access from us, that they don't wind up being subject to these kinds of attacks. Certainly, though, I'm sure if there is any reason to believe that there was a incident that was sponsored by the Chinese Government or any other government in terms of computer hacking or attacks on U.S. Government systems, that we would certainly raise that with them.

Yeah, back here.

QUESTION: Yes, on Mexico. This weekend during his first official state of the union address, President Calderon was very critical of what he called the unilateral measures taken by the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Government that he said exacerbate the persecution and abusive treatment against Mexican undocumented workers in the U.S. Any comments?

MR. CASEY: I'm not sure necessarily what he was referring to, but look, certainly, immigration is a very sensitive issue for us as well as for Mexico. We do want to continue working with the government of President Calderon as well as more broadly with the Mexican Government to ensure that even as we implement our laws, we do so in a way that respects the dignity of those involved and that doesn't put anyone under any kind of undue pressure.

Certainly, if President Calderon has ideas or concerns that he wishes to raise with us, I'm sure we'll be happy to hear from him about them because again, the important thing for us is that we recognize that issues involving immigration affect both our countries and we need to be able to work together to deal with them.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that this perception from the leadership of Mexico that there's a persecution against Mexican undocumented workers actually hampers your cooperation with Mexico in other areas; for example, security?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, I think we're all aware of the importance of immigration for the Government of Mexico as well as for our government. It's an issue that has been there for a long time. It's one that we continue to work with Mexico on. And again, I don't think that anything that's occurred recently is going to affect our basic good cooperation with our Mexican friends on a broad range of issues.

But certainly, we have many channels and opportunities to talk about this and other issues with the Mexican Government. And any specific concerns that the president may have are things I am sure we will be able to discuss and address in the future.


QUESTION: Anything on aid to countries affected by Hurricane Felix?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, let me talk to you about what we have right now. First of all, the U.S. Agency for International Development has pre-positioned some disaster relief teams in several countries. That includes Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Belize. These teams are there so that they can make a very quick assessment and cooperation with the host government of what specific needs are in those countries and so we can quickly bring in whatever assistance might be required to help people deal with this.

USAID has already had, and for some time, has several warehouses in Florida where they have pre-positioned supplies and some of the basic kinds of items that one would need to respond to these kinds of incidents. And our embassies, of course, are also prepared to provide what kinds of financial assistance they have within their authority to do.

We are very concerned about the situation. As you know, we, as well, issued over the weekend a travel advisory, a public announcement to warn American citizens about the potential dangers posed by this hurricane so that they could make their travel plans appropriately. And again, we're going to make sure that whatever damage the storm causes, we're in a position to provide a response quickly and one that, most importantly, meets the needs of the countries involved.

Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: That's all right.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I'm sorry.


MR. CASEY: You've had your hand up for a while.

QUESTION: On FYROM, Mr. Casey, any answer to my pending question of August 30th regarding the Negotino power plant in FYROM?

MR. CASEY: Well, this was a question that you -- which you raised in terms of whether we had raised this issue with the Macedonian Government of the contracting process. What I -- basically, Mr. Lambros, the answer is what I gave you on Friday. We regularly engage in advocacy on behalf of U.S. firms with foreign governments, and the main reason for that is to ask when to meet international standards of transparency and fairness.

We did in fact raise this specific case with the Government of Macedonia and we have continued to do so in order to be able to resolve some of the open questions that are there about the tender process. But I would think that we should be seen in light of our general policy of providing support for U.S. businesses anywhere in the world to make sure that they are treated fairly and in accordance with national standards in the countries involved as well as with the broader international standards for contracting transparency and openness.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Mr. Casey, how do you implement and enforce your policy in such cases?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, Mr. Lambros, I think there have been questions raised about this. We're raising them with the Macedonian Government. I think let's see what the answers are before we talk about what any follow-up actions might be.

QUESTION: May I go to Turkey?

MR. CASEY: Well, let's go around here and see what else we got. Actually, you know, what? Okay, Joel, you and then Mr. Lambros can do Turkey.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. CASEY: And then I think I'll get a turkey sandwich. No.


QUESTION: Tom, last week, on August 28th, the -- what was Eastern Nigeria, the Biafrans have declared that they are entering into a formal movement, a government in exile, and we know that Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer has looked to the Nigerians to help especially with Darfur issues. What is your stance concerning this? Should they be looking to create their own independent government? And their leaders have been jailed for two years without trial.

MR. CASEY: Look, I think what's important is, in terms of Nigeria, is that everyone work within the political system there to resolve any outstanding differences. There are many concerns that people in the various regions in Nigeria have about how revenue is shared, about how the government operates, how the security forces operate, but these are things that need to be resolved within the existing political structure.

Mr. Lambros, you get one shot at Turkey.

QUESTION: Yes, on Turkey. Mr. Casey, a Turkish public prosecutor started an investigation against the ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, focused on (inaudible) in Istanbul, Turkey, and demanded that (inaudible) should be taken "for the crime of abusing religious services during his duty" defined in Article 219 of the Turkish Criminal Code; could stipulate a jail sentence of one month to a year on the basis that Patriarch Bartholomew said, "Our patriarchate is ecumenical since sixth century. The entire world knows this historical title." Any comment?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, being unfamiliar with Section 219 of the Turkish penal code, I may not be able to offer you a detailed assessment of it. (Laughter.) What I can say is, as you know, we have tremendous respect to the patriarch. We speak with him on a regular basis. We certainly would want to see no actions taken that would affect the religious freedom of the patriarch himself or of any member of the church.

QUESTION: But the question is about the title, the title.

MR. CASEY: The questions about the title, our views on that haven't changed.

QUESTION: Wait, Tom. We've got two more here. You may not know too much about the Turkish --

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: -- penal code, but what about the Belgian penal code? There's a -- looks like there's charges may be brought against the Church of Scientology in Belgium according to the prosecutor there. Do you guys have -- are you guys aware of this case or these cases, and do you have any comment on that?

MR. CASEY: I'm not -- Matt, I'll have to look into it for you.

QUESTION: And then my last one is on, do you have any reaction to the GAO report, which is being presented to the Hill right now?

MR. CASEY: No, I'll let it get presented to the Hill first.

(The briefing concluded at 1:36 p.m.)

DPB # 155

Released on September 4, 2007

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list