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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 5, 2007


Appointment of Amb. Don Bandler as Quartet Representative Blair's Head of Mission in Jerusalem
Will be Helping Former PM Blair Carry Out Mandate / Other Quartet Members to Contribute Staff
Upcoming Travel Plans by Secretary Rice
U.S. Government's Relationship with George Soros' Organizations / Research
Assistant Secretary Welch's Meetings
President Calderon's Comments / Mexico's Concerns for Its Citizen's Abroad
No New Updates to Basic Guidance for Americans in Germany / Warden Message
German Authorities Conducting Investigation / U.S. Grateful to Germans for Taking This Step
Status of Taiwan / U.S. Policies Concerning China
Reports of North Korean Arrest of an Alleged Spy
U.S. Seeking Information about Status of Reportedly Detained Hmong
U.S. Pleased to See that Parnaz Azima Has Had Her Passport Returned and is Preparing to Leave
No Progress on Levinson Case
South Korean Government's Statements That They Did Not Pay for Release of Hostages
U.S. Continues to be Concerned about the Three Americans Held Hostage by the FARC
U.S. Would Also Like to See Colombians Being Held by the FARC to be Released as Well
U.S. Urges All Nations to Respect International Obligations Regarding Religious Freedom
U.S. Pleased to See Contacts Among Various Parties and Urges Resolution to Long-Running Disputes


12:45 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, good afternoon everybody. I actually do have a small personnel announcement to share with you as we start the briefing today.

The United States is pleased to support the mission of Quartet envoy Tony Blair by offering Ambassador Don Bandler, a senior retired U.S. diplomat of considerable experience, to serve as the Quartet Representative's Head of Mission in Jerusalem. He will, in fact, be based in Jerusalem and is taking part in former Prime Minister Blair's current visit to the region.

This is part of a commitment that the Quartet made at the time of Mr. Blair's appointment to have some officials seconded from the various Quartet governments to be based in Jerusalem to be able to support his mission. And so Mr. Bandler, former Ambassador Bandler, will be the U.S. representative in this effort, and we look forward to him continuing on with his work with former Prime Minister Blair now and in the future.

QUESTION: Where was he ambassador to?

MR. CASEY: He was Ambassador to Cyprus, as Mr. Lambros probably knows.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. CASEY: I could get you -- I can get you a -- the bio for him, in full and in complete. But among the other positions he's held, he's been Ambassador to Cyprus. He was Special Assistant to the President and Counselor at the National Security Advisor handling issues related to the NATO summit, Deputy Chief of Mission in Paris, has extensive experience elsewhere in Europe and the Middle East.


QUESTION: Will he -- will his mandate be limited, like Tony Blair's, to infrastructure building?

MR. CASEY: Well, he is, in effect, a staff support for former Prime Minister Blair and therefore will be helping Prime Minister Blair carry out his mandate. Yeah.

QUESTION: So no diplomacy here?

MR. CASEY: No. Again, he's there to support Prime Minister Blair, and the mandate for him is as given by the Quartet.

QUESTION: Sorry to get down into the weeds on this, but does he have a title and does he have colleagues from other countries who are also --

MR. CASEY: Well, he will be the Quartet Representative's Head of Mission, would be his title.

QUESTION: So he's like the chief of staff or something?

MR. CASEY: Effectively, yeah.


MR. CASEY: And yes, other -- the other members of the Quartet, as I understand it, either will have or will be very shortly announcing some of their contributions to this effort as well.

QUESTION: And then getting back to the whole thing about Blair's mission, so does he get paid by the U.S. to do this?

MR. CASEY: You know, I actually don't know whether he's compensated for this in any particular way. I'll have to find out.

QUESTION: You mean he might be a volunteer?

MR. CASEY: Well, he's a retired -- a distinguished retired diplomat, Matt. I am unaware of what forms of compensation he may have for this activity.

QUESTION: Will he report to the State Department on his own?

MR. CASEY: He will report to Prime -- former Prime Minister Blair. He is, again, the Head of Mission for Prime Minister Blair. And again, this is -- why are we doing this? We're doing this because at the time of Prime Minister Blair's appointment by the Quartet, it was agreed that understandably former Prime Minister Blair would require some staff to work with him and support his efforts. So he is, in effect, seconded to the Office of the Quartet Representative to the Office of Prime Minister Blair and will be heading that effort.

Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: I have a new topic.


MR. CASEY: Staying on this. Okay, sure.

QUESTION: The Middle East. Can you give us a readout of the meetings David Welch had in Middle East today and yesterday?

MR. CASEY: If I'd known he was there, I'd be happy to, but I don't. So I'll try and get something for you later.

QUESTION: Well, according to the Palestinians, he met with Abbas and he announced that the Secretary is going to visit the Palestinian territories on the 18th and the 19th.

MR. CASEY: Well, again, as I told you this morning, we certainly expect that the Secretary will have an opportunity to travel to the region in the near future, but we don't have any travel plans to announce for you and we'll certainly keep you updated as those plans develop.

QUESTION: You don't know that he's there?

MR. CASEY: I frankly had forgotten that he was there, Matt. Yeah, sorry.

QUESTION: Well, that's all right. I mean, he wasn't in the meeting this morning?

MR. CASEY: Didn't see him, no.


MR. CASEY: Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: This is on Mexico, to follow up on your comments yesterday on President Calderon's speech to the State of the Union. In the speech, he said that Mexico's borders don't end in Mexico, and wherever a Mexican is should be considered part of Mexico, meaning that Mexican citizens in the U.S. should be treated accordingly. Do you think that's -- those comments are a threat to U.S. sovereignty in any way?

MR. CASEY: I am not sure I read his remarks that closely. But look, I would think -- my interpretation of them, based on what you've said, is that that's the same thing as me standing here saying the United States cares very greatly about U.S. citizens living abroad and believes that it has an obligation to ensure that they receive appropriate treatment and protection under the laws of the countries where they reside. And frankly, based on my limited reading of his remarks, that's how I'd view those comments.

QUESTION: Can -- speaking of the safety of U.S. citizens abroad --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- can you bring us up to date on whether there is any change in the threat level or threat assessment in Germany, following the arrests that were made there?

MR. CASEY: Matt, the previous Warden Message on this subject has been in effect and remains in effect. I don't have any new updates to it. And I'm not aware of any plans at this point to change our basic guidance to American citizens in Germany.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the targets were American sites in Germany and what kind of --

MR. CASEY: Well, I believe that the German Government has said that they were looking at potentially attacking a number of targets, including some that had American interests involved in them. In terms of the specifics of the targeting, I'm going to leave that to the German authorities. They're the ones conducting this investigation. We very much appreciate the fact that the Government of Germany has taken this step. They have been close allies with us in combating extremism and combating terrorism. Certainly, in this case as well as many others, we have very close cooperation with them. But this is their law enforcement action. It is one that we are very pleased to see they've taken. We're very grateful for their efforts on this issue.


QUESTION: Thank you, Tom. Can you confirm that the U.S. sent a letter to the UN clarifying that the UN General Assembly Resolution 2758 does not address the question of whether Taiwan is part of the PRC? Can you confirm that?

MR. CASEY: Is this related to -- not that I'm aware of. Certainly, I think the UN including the Secretary General, is aware of our views on the status of Taiwan is aware of our policies concerning China, and there's nothing new in that.

QUESTION: Did you -- so you can't confirm whether there's a lattice into Secretary General's office?

MR. CASEY: Again, I -- this is an issue that I know has been discussed many times over the years and I think UN is fully aware of our views.

Yeah, let's go back here.

QUESTION: North Korea, but not six-party meeting. (Laughter.) North Korea announced that they arrested a spy and it's from an unidentified foreign intelligence unit. And I was just wondering if you had any information on that and if there's any indication that it might be an American?

MR. CASEY: No information about that issue at all. But certainly, wouldn't have anything to say related to any intelligence activities. But that's not a report that I've seen, nor do I think that there's any reason at this point to believe that there's any Americans involved.


QUESTION: Yeah, Tom, yesterday you said -- I think you said you were going to look into those reports of these missing Hmong in Laos. Do you know if you've gotten anything back about that?

MR. CASEY: I have not gotten anything new from the Embassy. My understanding is we're still trying to confirm their exact status with the Government of Laos. This is an issue of concern to us. If in fact as the reports indicate, they have been taken into custody, then first and foremost, we want to have consular access to them to be able to visit them and verify the circumstances of which they're being held and make sure they're being treated appropriately and then also provide whatever kind of assistance we can to try and resolve their case.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: I have one on George Soros/Balkan. Mr. Casey, what is the current relationship of the State Department with George Soros? Do you still coordinate your policies with him in the Balkans?

MR. CASEY: To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Lambros, the United States Government never has nor would I expect it ever would coordinate "policies" with Mr. Soros or any other private individual. Mr. Soros is a well known person. He runs and -- or under his auspices, has established a number of independent nongovernmental organizations, they -- and work in various places in the world doing different kinds of democracy promotion activities and other kinds of things.

Certainly, I know in the past, there has been some discussions with those groups and certainly, to the extent that they help support the kinds of development of civil society or the kinds of issues that the U.S. Government also is promoting, I'm sure there are any number of conversations with people affiliated with his organization.

QUESTION: And one follow-up. Are you aware that Soros, in a modern exercise, in raising -- is funding research in genetic origins of Balkans and that is including the Greek one, for which I'm concerned. Do you think that such research is something that the U.S. or U.S. citizens be involved?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, whatever Mr. Soros is doing, I'm sure he can explain it to you. Whatever research he chooses to pursue is his business.


QUESTION: Tom, is there anything new on the Parnaz Azima case in Iran? Also, the efforts of Levinson's family to go there?

MR. CASEY: Okay. In the case of Ms. Azima, we're pleased to see that her passport has, in fact, been returned to her and we understand she's making preparations now to leave Iran, though as far as I know, has not actually departed the country. We want to see her reunited with her family as soon as possible. We would hope that other Americans who remain detained or prevented from leaving the country will also be able to do so in the near future. Again, these are people who never should have been detained in the first place, but we are glad to see now that both Ms. Esfandiari as well as Ms. Azima have now had the opportunity to be able to depart.

In terms of the situation involving Mr. Levinson, unfortunately, we don't have any progress to report. We still continue to ask the Iranian Government for information about his whereabouts and welfare. They, again, still have not responded to our diplomatic note on this despite repeated inquiries from the Swiss on our behalf as our protecting power for a response to this and for information. And certainly, we're going to continue to pursue this matter, again, with the Swiss as well as trying to see if any other friendly countries that do have relations with Iran might be able to help us in finding out more information about his whereabouts.


QUESTION: This goes back to last week or even before I think. Were you ever able to find out or get any clarity from the South Korean Government as to whether there was any money exchanged for the release of the hostages in Afghanistan? And if you were able to determine whether that was or was not the case, do you have any reaction to it?

MR. CASEY: Matt, to the best of my knowledge, the South Korean Government has spoken to this. They have said that there were not payments made in exchange for the release of these individuals. I don't have any reason to contradict their statements.


QUESTION: Another subject. The Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is acting as a mediator in the hostages' situation with Colombia and Peru. Do you think it can be helpful, especially since there are some American citizens among the hostages?

MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of what role he or anyone else might or might not be playing in this. We continue to be concerned certainly about the three Americans who remain captive by the FARC. We continue to hold the FARC responsible for the conditions that they are held in as well as responsible for their safety. We want to see them released unharmed and released immediately. We continue to work with the Colombian Government on this issue. That is certainly the focus of our attention in terms of trying to have these people be released. We also certainly would like to see those Colombian citizens and the others who have been held illegally and without justification by the FARC be released as soon as possible.

I'm not aware, again, whether President Chavez has or has not any role in those discussions. But certainly we will be looking to the Colombian Government to ensure that we are continuing to work together to be able to resolve this case.

QUESTION: Well, he has and the French Government, since there is a French citizen, so the French Government has been approving this action by Chavez, so I was wondering if -- for U.S. it would be -- if Chavez allowed the release of one U.S. citizen it would be a good thing.

MR. CASEY: I will be delighted to comment on any involvement by President Chavez in actions that see the release of these three individuals who never should have been taken hostage in the first place. When that happens, let's talk about it.

Yeah, Mr. Lambros, one last one.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, since I did not get a clear answer yesterday regarding the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople in Istanbul, Turkey, could you please clarify for us the U.S. position vis-à-vis to the Turkish prosecution against Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I am not familiar with the specific case brought against him. We would expect that anything done would be in accordance with law and fully respecting of all countries international obligations to observe the religious freedom and religious rights of all individuals. As to the status of the Ecumenical Patriarch, the U.S. position on that is well known and hasn't changed.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: One last one for Sylvie. I was trying to get through it fast, before you could come up with something else. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It's about Cyprus. Sorry.

MR. CASEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Turkish and the Greek Cypriots are meeting today -- Cypriot presidents are meeting today for the first time in month and month. I want -- I was wondering if you had anything on that, any reaction.

MR. CASEY: Well, certainly, we're always pleased to see contacts among these individuals. The United States along with the rest of the international community would like to see a permanent resolution of the long-running disputes in Cyprus. Obviously, we're supportive of UN efforts to engage on that issue and we'll look forward to seeing what, if any, conclusions come out of these meetings.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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

DPB # 156

Released on September 5, 2007

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