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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 11, 2007


Passage of House Resolution 106 in Committee
Reasons for Department's Opposition to Resolution / Matter for Historical Inquiry
Department Engaged with Members of Congress
U.S. Has Tried to Foster Discussion Between Turkey and Armenia
Reports that Turkey has Recalled Ambassador to U.S. / Bilateral Relations
Secretary's Travel Plans
U.S Efforts with Turkey and Iraq Continue Against PKK
Status of General Ralston
Query on Timeline for Proposed U.S-North Korea Bilateral
Confronting Extremism in Tribal Areas
Pakistan's Political Future
Secretary's Contact with President Musharraf
Japanese Student Kidnapped in Iran
Possible Declaration of Independence / Contact Group Discussions
Query on Russian Position on Kosovo Independence


12:52 p.m. EDT

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

QUESTION: Any update on U.S. contact with Turkish officials, whether the Secretary's made calls or anyone else?

MR. CASEY: Well, Secretary Rice does plan to speak with the Turkish Foreign Minister a little later today. And she's also requested calls with Prime Minister Erdogan and President Gul. Those calls have not yet taken place. As you know, she's en route right now to Moscow for the 2+2 talks and I expect that we'll try and make those happen over the course of the day. But they have not as of yet occurred.

Again, Under Secretary Burns did speak last night with the Turkish Ambassador. Our Ambassador Ross Wilson in Ankara has spoken with counterparts at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as well, and the basic message, and the one I expect the Secretary to convey in her calls to Turkish authorities as well, is the regret that the Administration has over the passage of this resolution by the committee, our continued opposition to it and our commitment to work with Congress on this to see that the full House, in fact, votes to defeat this resolution as we move forward.

QUESTION: Is that another way of saying damage control?

MR. CASEY: Well, it's a way of saying that this is an issue where the Turkish officials have made clear their very strong concerns about this and have raised questions about potential consequences in the event that this resolution passes. We certainly want to make sure that they understand that we also don't support this resolution and that we're going to do everything we can to ensure that it does not receive approval by the full House. And I think at this point, we respect and understand Turkish views on this.

As you've heard from Dan Fried and from others and Nick Burns yesterday, we just don't think that this resolution is the right response to the mass killings at the beginning of the last century. We recognize that this was a great tragedy and we're not trying to minimize or deny the enormous significance of this. But the determination of whether these events constitute genocide is something that we believe should be a matter for historical inquiry not for political debate.


QUESTION: Have you been in contact with the Hill today, reaching out to them and asking them to vote differently when it gets to the floor?

MR. CASEY: Well, as you know, we've been engaging before the vote with members, and that includes the Secretary and Under Secretary Burns, Assistant Secretary Fried, among others, as well as our legislative affairs staff. That is continuing today. I expect that we will have additional outreach to members by all of those officials as this moves forward. I'm not sure the White House can talk to you. I know that my counterparts over there have talked about the continued desire on the part of the White House to engage with members of Congress on this. But we do intend to talk with various members, certainly now with the range of the full House involved, to explain to them our views and again, to reiterate that we don't think that this is the right response. And we don't believe that passage of such a resolution is helpful either to the cause of Turkish-Armenian reconciliation or to U.S. national security interests.

QUESTION: So you haven't directly approached Nancy Pelosi, for example? Or the Secretary hasn't?

MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of any new contacts with the Speaker on this, no.


MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is there any possibility for the United States to take forward steps against PKK in the near future, (inaudible) people?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think what we have been doing is trying to work with Turkey and the Government of Iraq to take steps to deal with the problem that’s posed by the PKK. And those efforts are going to continue. And they're going to continue regardless of what happens with this vote because the PKK is a terrorist organization, and all of us want to see the PKK put out of business, whether that's in terms of their operations in Turkey or Iraq or anyplace else.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On the resolution again.

MR. CASEY: I knew -- I sort of assumed. I thought you were probably on the same subject.

QUESTION: Thank you. Mr. Casey, the Turkish President Abdullah Gul stated, quote, "This unacceptable decision of the committee has no validity and respectability for the Turkish people. Unfortunately, some politicians in the United States ignore appeals for common sense and once again in order to sacrifice big issues to petty games of domestic politics." Unquote. Do you agree?

MR. CASEY: Well look, again this is an issue that we know has great emotional resonance in Turkey and elsewhere. And we certainly believe that it's not the right response to trying to deal with the facts of what occurred and the mass killings that occurred at the beginning of the last century. I'll let the Turkish Government and its officials speak to their views on it. But from our perspective, it's the wrong resolution at the wrong time and we oppose it and we're going to continue to do so.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. position on the Armenia genocide in any way linked to Turkey's denial of this crime?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, we think that the determination of whether the events that happened to ethnic Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire should be a matter for historical inquiry. It's not something that's going to be fostered or resolved or furthered by this resolution. And I think, as you well know, there is a tremendous amount of debate in Turkey and in elsewhere about the facts, about what happened, about accountability for it and about how people move forward. There's been real efforts on the part of this Turkish Government to engage the Government of Armenia and have a dialogue about a variety of things, including the historical record that's there.

But those are the ways for people to pursue their understanding and establishing a historical record. Again, this action by the committee doesn't foster any of those goals and, therefore, is another one of the reasons why we oppose it.

QUESTION: And the last one, Mr. Casey. If Turkey recognized the genocide would the U.S. also recognize this atrocity as genocide?

MR. CASEY: Look, Mr. Lambros, we think that there is an ample amount of discussion on this issue, among historians, among people in Turkey, among Armenians and among people here in the United States. And again, no one is trying to deny or minimize the enormous significance of the tragedy that was suffered by Armenians at the end of the Ottoman Empire. I think we're all aware of the record. Dan Fried, I think, spoke as eloquently as anyone has on this last week when he addressed this subject. But there's a difference between talking about and acknowledging historical facts, realizing the tragedy they represent and passage of a resolution that, as we have discussed, does nothing to foster reconciliation, does nothing to foster an establishment of the historical record and undermines U.S. national security and relations between our countries.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: Did you find out where General Ralston is and what his status is? Is he still in the employ of the State Department? Has he moved on?

MR. CASEY: Well, he's never been in the employ of the State Department. Unfortunately as a special envoy --

QUESTION: Helping you.

MR. CASEY: -- he was not receiving a salary for those efforts. Sue, I don't know. He is not in Turkey or in the region as far as I know. I actually don't have clarity on his exact status.

QUESTION: So is he no longer the special envoy?

MR. CASEY: Again, my understanding is he submitted a letter to the Secretary. I just don't know whether there was ever a final outcome from that.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary say that she would prefer for him to stay on or?

MR. CASEY: I haven't spoken to her about it.

QUESTION: Could you find out?

MR. CASEY: I was attempting to this morning. I'll continue to attempt to do so.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: On North Korea.

QUESTION: One on Turkey.

MR. CASEY: Okay, stay on Turkey.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering if you've had any similar conversations with your Armenian counterparts and if there's anything kind of different in your message to them -- might be if you're emphasizing the national security concerns in any of those conversations?

MR. CASEY: You know, that's an interesting question. I am sure that we have had our Ambassador and folks in the Embassy have had conversations with Armenian Government officials. I'm not sure what conversations might have occurred with folks here in Washington. But again I think the Armenian Government knows well that we have tried to encourage and foster discussions between the Government of Armenia and the Government of Turkey, and foster a process of reconciliation among those two countries. So I think they're fairly clear on our rationale and our reasoning behind this. And I think they're also fairly clear in understanding that again nothing in our opposition to this resolution is an attempt to deny the facts of history.

Yeah, okay. Sorry, Mio.

QUESTION: Thank you. Is there any update on the proposed U.S.-North Korea bilateral in New York? Any date?

MR. CASEY: No. At some point, we may have an opportunity to discuss some of the implementation issues related to the agreement that was reached at the beginning of the month. But I don't have anything scheduled. And as far as I know this is something that will take place at a future date but not any time that I have specifically for you right now.


QUESTION: Pakistan. Is there a sense here that the Pakistani army is losing the war in the tribal region?

MR. CASEY: That's a pretty broad question. Look, I think there is a clear sense that the Government of Pakistan is committed to working with the United States and with other partners to confront extremism, including in the FATA. We appreciate the fact that neither the Turkish Government -- I'm sorry, Turkish Government, we've been talking a lot about Turkey -- neither the Pakistani Government, excuse me, or any Pakistani Government has ever really had full authority over the FATA. So this is not simply a case of lack of will or lack of desire to confront extremism, but it's a difficult situation. It's also one of the reasons why, as you've heard from Assistant Secretary Boucher, we are working with the Government of Pakistan on their plans for broader economic and political and social development in the tribal areas because that is ultimately one of the ways that you help keep people from turning towards extremism. But in terms of the operations of the Pakistani military, certainly we recognize and respect the fact that the Pakistani military is making real efforts against extremism. And if you look at the number of Pakistani soldiers who have been killed or injured in some of this fighting it's clear that this is a real, live conflict and one that they're actively fighting and actively engaged in. And we're certainly going to do what we can to help support and encourage those efforts.

We also need to make sure as well that we continue to work not just with the Government of Pakistan but also with the Government of Afghanistan through our trilateral mechanism to make sure that on both sides of the border countries are doing everything they can to eliminate this threat and to respond to it appropriately.

QUESTION: But in terms of the recent mission, how do you rate the success? How do you see it?

MR. CASEY: Until I -- till someone gives me an appropriate level of military experience, I think I'll leave it up to the folks in the field running the military operations to comment on it. Certainly, we believe it's important that we all do everything we can to deal with this problem and we want to see everybody do that. And to the extent that it's possible to do more, we'd like to see that done as well.

QUESTION: One more on Pakistan?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: More and more reports in the Pakistani media they are saying that about U.S. State Department trying to micromanage things in Pakistan. There is a report recently about Secretary Rice calling Benazir and President Musharraf to talk about the deal, Deputy Secretary Boucher* exchanging SMS notes with Tariq Aziz to discuss the deal. Is it true?

MR. CASEY: Let's see. I don't know. I don't know how Richard's thumbs work. Let’s see if he can do instant messaging or not. Look, the thing that's important for people to remember is that the decisions on Pakistan's political future are going to made by Pakistanis. We certainly have a clear and consistent message in our conversations, whether it's with government officials or opposition officials, and that's that we share the vision for Pakistan's future that's been laid out by President Musharraf and others, which is Pakistan as a peaceful, democratic, moderate Islamic state and one that works with us to be able to fight extremism and terrorism. That is something that's free advice, offered freely among friends.

I would certainly take exception to the idea that the United States is somehow stage-managing, guiding or otherwise telling Pakistanis how to run their own internal affairs. And I don't think -- my limited knowledge of both the President of Pakistan as well as with key opposition figures is I don't think we'd be particularly successful if we tried to somehow impose a decision on either of them.

QUESTION: And did Secretary Rice have a conversation with Benazir Bhutto or Musharraf this week?

MR. CASEY: Well, you know, I'm not sure when the last time was she spoke with President Musharraf. But certainly, she has in the past and she always conveys to him our understanding of what we'd like to see happen and encourages him to move forward in terms of the democratic developments of the country.


QUESTION: A Japanese student was kidnapped in Iran. Is the U.S. working at all in helping assist his release?

MR. CASEY: I simply have to refer you over to the Government of Japan on that. As you know, we don't have diplomatic relations with Iran, so I'm not sure how, if in any way, we would be engaged. Certainly, if the Japanese Government would want to approach us or ask us for any kind of assistance, I'm sure we would do whatever we could to help them out. But I'm not aware that such a request has been made.

Okay, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. Mr. Casey, according to reports from the Albanians, Kosovo authorities are planning to declare final independence November 28th, the day of Albanian independence. Are you aware about that?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, what I am aware of is that the Contact Group and the troika are still engaged in negotiations and diplomatic conversations between Kosovars and the Government of Serbia to try and come up with a solution acceptable to all parties. And that, as you know, is the mandate that the Contact Group gave them. Those discussions are slated to conclude in early December, but one of the things that I think is important is they have been making some progress in those discussions. I can't predict for you what the outcome of those will be. But certainly, what we want to see happen is people focus on those discussions, on those negotiations, to try and see if we can reach an acceptable conclusion to it. If not, as you know, U.S. policy is very clear on this. We would believe that it would then be appropriate, if an agreement can't be reached, to move forward with the implementation of independence, supervised at first, for Kosovo along the outlines that the Ahtisaari plan calls for.

QUESTION: One more question. Since the crucial day of December 10th is approaching, as the U.S. Government, did you to succeed to convince finally the Serbians and the Russians that Kosovo should be become independent?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, the purpose of the negotiations that the Contact Group is having with the Serbs and the Kosovars is to work out the details of what an arrangement might be. Again, since those haven't concluded, I think you can safely conclude that there isn't an agreement at this point, though we're going to keep working on it and we're certainly hopeful of being able to move this process forward and come to some clearer understandings, clearer mutual agreement, among the parties.

In terms of the Russian position on this, I think that the Russians have made their views known on this subject, and you can ask them if it's changed any.


QUESTION: This is just something that we're hearing just now is that there are reports that Turkey has just recalled its Ambassador to Washington. Was there any indication that that could happen or can you even confirm that?

MR. CASEY: I can't confirm that for you, Zain. It's not something that I've heard. As I mentioned, Nick did speak with the Ambassador last night and, as far as I know, he did not convey that he had received any kind of instruction like that.

QUESTION: But that surely is a blow to what you're trying to do, if these reports are indeed accurate.

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think -- I'll let the Turkish Government speak for itself in terms of its plans or its ideas or how it intends to respond to this vote by the committee. But I think the Turkish Government has telegraphed for some time, been very vocal and very public about its concerns about this, and has said that they did intend to react in a fairly forceful way if this happens. So I would leave it to them to tell you whether, in fact, they've made this decision and, if so, whether that's the specific reason for it.

The point that I made earlier and that I'll just make again for you, though, is that we are going to engage with the Turkish Government on this. The Secretary will be making calls later today on this subject. And again, our clear message is that this is a resolution that we don't think is the right response; it's the wrong resolution at the wrong time. It's one that the Administration opposes and will continue to oppose, and we're going to actively work with Congress to ensure that it ultimately is defeated when and if it comes to the House floor.

QUESTION: And there was no indication in the meetings or conversations that Nick Burns had that this would -- that it would happen or --

MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of. Certainly, it wasn't any part of the readout that I received.

QUESTION: What are the implications of this, though?

MR. CASEY: I think, Zain, I'd need to confirm that it happened before I'd try and tell you what the implications are. And it also, of course, always depends on, you know, there are ways -- people are sometimes called back for consultations, sometimes they're called back for other reasons without knowing what -- whether this is true or not and what the specifics are. I really don't want to speculate on it.

What's important to us, though, is that we continue to work with the Turkish Government on the broad range of issues where we have a common interest in cooperating. We recognize the difficulties for them that are presented by this resolution. They have certainly again been vocal in sharing their concerns. And we have been equally vocal in explaining our position on this resolution and in telling their officials, as Nick did last night and as Ambassador Wilson has done and as the Secretary will do, that the Administration does continue to oppose this resolution and that we are going to make every effort we can with Congress to see that it's defeated.


MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Presumably, if it is -- we have the same report -- if it has happened and the Turkish Ambassador is called, presumably, you don't plan any reciprocal action.

MR. CASEY: Certainly, nothing that anyone's told me.

QUESTION: But it is disappointing, though, if it is indeed true -- would you -- how would you characterize --

MR. CASEY: Look, I hesitate to try and categorize something, even if it's reported by AP or CNN, let me be fair.

QUESTION: AP -- (laughter.)

MR. CASEY: I'm sorry.

QUESTION: To be fair.

MR. CASEY: To be fair. And you proffered it first. No. Even if it's true, I think we'd need to see what it is. We certainly want to continue to have good positive relationship with the Government of Turkey, to continue to work with them on the broad range of issues. But again, if they wanted to bring their ambassador back for consultations or do something else then that is their decision. I think that it certainly will not do anything to limit our efforts to continue to reach out to Turkish officials, to explain our views, to engage them on this issue and again to make clear that we intend to work on this with Congress.

QUESTION: One follow-up?

MR. CASEY: Okay, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes. Mr. Casey, are you planning also to block the efforts of the Armenian resolution not to go to the floor of the House of Representatives?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, the -- I leave it to the parliamentarians and the folks that understand the rules and procedures in the House. The Administration, the Executive Branch, can't block bills from reaching the floor any more than we can block a vote in committee on them. But our main point would be that we do not think this resolution is appropriate. We would encourage those who are thinking about it and who will have to vote on it eventually to vote against it. We'll be reaching out to them at a variety of different levels over time. If the resolution were withdrawn, I think that would be wonderful, but I don't think anyone's expecting that to happen at this point.


QUESTION: Is there any change on Secretary Rice planned visit at the end of this month to Turkey?

MR. CASEY: In terms of --

QUESTION: (inaudible) the neighbors meeting.

MR. CASEY: Yeah. I don't -- we don't have any particular travel plans to announce, but I'm not aware of any changes in her schedule at this point.

Okay. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)

DPB # 179

* Assistant Secretary Boucher

Released on October 11, 2007

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