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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 6, 2007


Reports of Israeli Incursion over Syrian Airspace
Warden Message Issued Yesterday / No Double Standard Rule
Assistant Secretary Welch in Region
Comments by Serbia's State Secretary on Kosovo Independence
U.S. Seeking Clarification from Serbian Government
US and Contact Group Partners Continuing to Engage Officials from Kosovo and Belgrade
Foreign Minister's Statements to EU Officials
Russian Concerns
U.S.-Chinese Discussions in Sydney, Australia / President Bush's Remarks
Japan-North Korea Bilateral Working Group Meeting
Meeting between Tassos Papadopoulos and Mehmet Ali Talat


12:46 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, good afternoon, everybody. I don't have anything to open you up with, so let's go right to your questions.


QUESTION: Have you -- obviously, I was not at the gaggle this morning, but have you been able to figure out what happened in -- over Syrian airspace?

MR. CASEY: Matt, I'm where we were on this, this morning, I've seen press reports. Those stories conflict with one another so really I just don't have anything for you on it.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the Nigeria situation, what's --

MR. CASEY: Yeah, let me tell you what I've been able to find out about that. Yesterday, the U.S. Embassy and the Consulate in Lagos did issue a Warden Message that alerted Americans to the possibilities for attacks on commercial and/or official installations, Western commercial or official installations, in the country. My understanding of this is that the information that we had was not specific in terms of either a target or any particular timing. But as we always do when we have any kind of information, particularly when we feel it appropriate to share it with our own staff and employees, we also have an obligation to make sure that that is shared as well with the broader American community. And of course, along with this general concern, we provided or the Embassy provided to folks on the ground there, some general security awareness tips and encouraged them to take an active role in their personal security and review the kinds of security practices they are doing for themselves. And certainly, given some of the other known problems in Nigeria in terms of criminality and kidnappings and other things, I think that's frankly just good advice regardless of circumstances.

QUESTION: Okay. So you don't know if this was occasion to buy any specific inventory.

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think there is always a stream of information coming in and we certainly know that there are various kinds of extremist groups that are active in Africa as well as in other parts of the world. But this was not occasioned because we had information about a specific threat to a specific location or specific -- or timed to a specific event. It's more of a general set of information out there.

QUESTION: So it could have been put out last week or the week before or --

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think we make these assessments based on the total amount of information available, and the information that we had at this point made us think it'd be an appropriate time to do this.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria for a second?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: The media reports -- you know, I mean, I think that there are officials hearing government statements about this, if I'm not mistaken.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you not believe those statements? It's not like people are citing unnamed sources about it or, you know --

MR. CASEY: No, but Arshad there have been statements made by the -- there have been contradictory statements made by Syrian and Israeli officials. What I can't do is try and tell you that we have any information that would be able to substantiate any of the charges that have been made.

QUESTION: So you don't have information that would substantiate the charge of some kind of bombing of Syria by Israel?

MR. CASEY: Again, I'd leave it up to the parties to describe what happened. I don't have anything beyond the press reports and, you know, we'll leave it to them to try and sort this out.

QUESTION: Do you know if people are trying to find out on the ground that your people in Damascus are --

MR. CASEY: I'm sure that our embassies, as always, both in Damascus and in Israel, will be following this as well as other issues closely. I'm not aware that anyone's making any specific focus on this at this time.

QUESTION: Is Welch still there?

MR. CASEY: I believe, David, yes, is still in the region. He's still in Israel. He's been consulting with Israeli and Palestinian officials. That's part of his regular ongoing consultations with them and also will certainly, I'm sure, touch on issues related to the Secretary's future travel.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Serbia. Mr. Casey, according to reports, Serbia is ready to use force to prevent western states from recognizing Kosovo as independent state, Dusan Prorokovic, Serbia's state Secretary for Kosovo said yesterday. He outlined tough measures against Albanians and (inaudible) possible deployment of forces, sealing the borders and impose an embargo.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Any comment?

MR. CASEY: We had talked about this this morning a little bit, Mr. Lambros. Certainly, those are unfortunate remarks and they're not at all helpful. More importantly, though, we believe those statements don’t represent the views of the Government of Serbia. And in fact, we understand that yesterday the Serbian Foreign Minister told EU officials in Brussels that the use of force was not an option for Serbia in dealing with the issue of Kosovo's status. So we are going to see clarification from the Government of Serbia on this, but we would certainly hope that the Foreign Minister's statements are reflective of Serbia's real views. This is an issue that needs to be resolved through diplomatic means. It is why we are continuing with our Contact Group partners to engage the officials from Kosovo and from the Government in Belgrade in discussions about the future of the province. And again, our position on Kosovo's status remains clear. We want to see an agreement reached in these talks, but if that does not occur, the Contact Group has said that it is prepared to move forward with future status decisions, based on the Ahtisaari plan.

QUESTION: And also, "In case of self-proclamation, it is not an active paper anymore," Mr. Prorokovic said, and referring to the agreement known, Mr. Casey, as Kumanovo military accord. "Without Kumanovo our army can go back without any legal limits," he said. "It can cross the border and go everywhere in Kosovo without any legal problems."

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros --

QUESTION: How do you respond to that?

MR. CASEY: Again, Mr. Lambros, I respond to that with what I just said. We do not believe this individual's views are reflective of the position, the actual position of the Government of Serbia. The Foreign Minister's statements to EU officials yesterday directly contradict those statements. And we'll certainly see clarity from the Serbian Government. But again, we want to see this issue resolved through diplomatic discussions, and I don't think there's anyone out there that is seriously thinking that a resort to violence or force would be a resolution.

QUESTION: And the follow up. Any communication between (inaudible) Belgrade to this effect?

MR. CASEY: As I just said, we're seeking clarification, so through our Embassy.

QUESTION: Can I -- just a technical --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- question? If the Foreign Minister has already said that this isn't the position, why do you need to seek --

MR. CASEY: Well, because we have two contradictory statements out there by two officials from the government and we think it's important, given how unhelpful and unfortunate (inaudible) is.

QUESTION: So you want something, like, in writing?

MR. CASEY: No. I'm sure that the Government in Belgrade will be able to clarify this issue for us and make clear what its actual position is.

QUESTION: In other words --

MR. CASEY: But I'm sure we can get that --

QUESTION: -- you want them to tell you directly, not go through the EU; is that --

MR. CASEY: Well, the Foreign Minister happened to be meeting with EU officials in Brussels yesterday. He made statements to them. This individual made other statements, I believe, yesterday as well. They're clearly in conflict. We believe, based on everything else that we have previously heard, that the Foreign Minister's position is the one that represents the views of his government.

But given that these are inflammatory remarks and they are unfortunate, it certainly is appropriate for us to go to the Serbian Government and ask them for clarification just to verify that the Foreign Minister's views are, in fact, the ones that are represented in --

QUESTION: Can you say how you have asked that? Has someone gone to the Foreign Ministry and --

MR. CASEY: The Embassy is making those inquiries. I am not sure whether that was done via phone call or personal visit.

QUESTION: But Mr. Prorokovic is the minister in charge of Kosovo for the Serbian Government, so it's -- don't you think there is a risk of -- the risk that it's -- he's more -- he has more influence? That's what you would like to think?

MR. CASEY: Well, I would hope that the Foreign Minister, in formal meetings with EU officials, would accurately be reflecting the views of the Serbian Government. I would personally put more stock in that than comments made to the press by someone who is not engaged in formal diplomatic discussions. But again, that's why we should seek clarification just to make sure we all understand that the Serbian Government does not, in fact, have any intentions to deal with this issue through the use of force.


QUESTION: Tom, in Australia, President Bush has met with Hu Jintao. And can you tell us whether Secretary Rice is meeting with other of their Chinese delegation? And they're discussing a whole variety from the food to environment and apparently, as well, human freedoms. Now, does this include such subjects as Darfur as well as the maligned group -- they say they're maligned -- that's the Falun Gong -- and what are the priorities and discussions?

MR. CASEY: Joel, first of all, you're correct. The President met with President Hu and I would expect that the -- in addition to his own statements, which did mention that the subjects covered included Sudan, that the White House would be happy to talk to you about the contents of that meeting. I would suspect Secretary Rice was probably in any meeting that was there that was beyond a one-on-one session, but again, the White House could tell you exactly who was in attendance.

As the President's remarks indicated, they did cover a wide range of issues and I think that's reflective of the broader kinds of concerns we have with China, both on the positive side in terms of our cooperation with them on subjects like North Korea, as well as our concerns about religious liberty and freedom and some of the other issues that are very important for American consumers like food safety.

Let's go back here.

QUESTION: The Euro -- North -- sorry, Japan-North Korea working groups concluded. Do you -- what is your understanding of how the talks went and do you have any updates on Ambassador Hill's schedule?

MR. CASEY: Well, it's always important to keep our working groups straight. Yeah, in this case, the Japan-North Korea Working Group has concluded its meetings in Ulaanbaatar. I understand that those discussions were held in a businesslike atmosphere, and I think both sides have described them as useful. I'll leave it to the representatives of both those countries to give you a more detailed readout. Certainly, we would hope that progress would be made in all these working groups. As I've said before, each of these working groups is going to contribute something to the development of the overall disablement phase of the six-party talks, and we look forward to hearing reports from this particular working group as well as all the others when the envoys do convene.

If that's what you're referring to in terms of Chris' schedule, I don't have a date as of yet for an envoys level meeting. I suspect, as usual, the Chinese as host would make any announcement in that regard. He is currently still in Australia as part of the party that is accompanying the President.


QUESTION: The Russians have been backing Serbia's opposition to the independence of Kosovo. Do you have any word from Russia on this statement about the use of force? And in the event that it actually became a reality, how would the U.S. deal with it if --

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I'm not going to speculate on something that we don't, in fact, believe to be true.

In terms of Russia's policy on this, the Russian Government has spoken to this. They've made their concerns about this clear. And we continue to work with our Russian partners in the Contact Group on this. They are party to the discussions that the Contact Group is coordinating with the Serbians and the Kosovars. Certainly, we'd all like to see a resolution of this come to -- come about as a result of an agreement among the parties, and that's why we're having these discussions. In part, the desire to hold them, or the decision to hold them, rather, was reflective of our desire to help meet some of Russia's concerns about the negotiating process.

So I think that's where our focus is. And again, we'll see clarity from the Serbian Government about the remarks of this minister. Again, I don't think the Serbian Government would tell you that they take instructions from Moscow, and we don't assume they do, either.

Elise, did you have something?


MR. CASEY: No, okay. Mr. Lambros, last shot.

QUESTION: On Cyprus. Mr. Casey, anything to say about the yesterday's meeting in the divided island of Cyprus between Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos and the Turkish Cypriot leader Ali Mehmet Talat for a solution to this daunting problem and under the UN auspice and now whatever you stated yesterday, however prior to the meetings?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't have much to add except putting in the past tense what I said yesterday in the present, which is simply that we welcomed the meeting between these two leaders. It's important, of course, for there to be dialogue on this issue to achieve a resolution of the longstanding conflict in Cyprus. I'm not aware that we've received any kind of formal readout on their discussions, but certainly, we would hope that this would be the first of any number of additional contacts that would help lead to a resolution of this longstanding conflict. It's certainly something that the people of Cyprus deserve.

QUESTION: And one more. Any update for the upcoming trip to Cyprus by Secretary Nicholas Burns?

MR. CASEY: No, I don't have anything to tell you about Nick's travel plans. And I'm sure he always enjoys traveling to the region, but when we have something to tell you, we'll put out the announcement.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: All right, thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)

DPB # 157

Released on September 6, 2007

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