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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 18, 2007


Proposed Legislation on Divesting Holdings in Sudan / Legal Concerns
Secretary's Plans to Accompany President Bush on Visit Announced Today
Castro's Comments Repetitive / No Agreement to Allow Free and Fair Elections
Rice, Zebari Press Conference / Common Threat from PKK Terrorism
Efforts to Ensure No Undue Impact on Civilian Populations
Rice Meeting in Iraq Today with President Talibani, FM Zebari, PM Maliki
U.S. Efforts to Help Turkish, Iraqi Governments Cooperate in a Tripartite Way
No Linkage between Secretary's Trip and Recent Attacks
Importance of Kirkuk / National Reconciliation / Future Referendum
Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative / Increased Passport Processing Capacity
Assumption of New Legislation / Passport Requirements
Eric Volz / Appeals Court Revoked Conviction, Ordered Release Yesterday
U.S. Urging Quick Implementation of Court's Decision
2-3 Day Delay Part of Nicaraguan Judicial System / No Immediate Concern
PM Tymoshenko's Appointment Welcomed /
Having Government in Place is a Positive Step Forward
Secretary's Briefings on NIE / NIE Process
Intelligence as a Guide for Policy, Not Policy Itself / Consensus View
Report Raises Level of Concern about Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program
Iran Still Has Active Missile Program, Fuel Cycle Development
Russian Decision to Supply Fuel to Bushehr / Questioning Iran's Motives
7-Member Disablement Team in Yongbyon / Overseeing Fuel Rod Discharging
Song Kim in Seoul Dec. 18-19, Pyongyang Dec. 19-23
Importance of Minority Rights and Religious Freedom
Kosovo Final Status / Support for Ahtisaari Plan


12:34 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, good afternoon guys. Don't have anything to start you out with so --

QUESTION: Nothing.

MR. CASEY: Paul.

QUESTION: I did e-mail you in advance yesterday. It was about this debate underway in Congress about passing a bill that would allow a pension firm -- it was pension management firms and others to divest holdings in companies that deal with Saddam. Do you take a view on it at all? I mean -- it's not wanting to pass or --

MR. CASEY: No. I think this is legislation that's been pending before Congress for some time. And I know we've spoken to members of Congress, both on the House and Senate side about some of our concerns about the legislation. But you know, certainly we’ll continue to work with members as the House considers this legislation. I think in general the position has been that while we very much appreciate the sentiment and the desire to make sure that people are able to do things to respond to the ongoing situation and violence in Darfur, there have been a number of legal issues related to this that have raised some concerns. So I'm sure this is something we'll continue to talk with members of Congress about as the House considers it. Certainly, I wouldn't try and speak on behalf of the White House in terms of what actions would be taken in terms of implementation of such legislation if it does pass, but obviously we'll be working with Congress on it as it moves forward.

QUESTION: Are those legal issues treaty related obligations?

MR. CASEY: I'm certainly not an expert on this. My understanding is part of it is consideration of assuring that the federal government maintains the ability to fully manage foreign policy, rather than having some of this be done at the state and local levels.

QUESTION: The President's trip to the Middle East has just been announced. Can you give us details on what the Secretary of State will be doing? I suppose she'll be trying to drum up more support from Saudi Arabia and the peace process?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'll let -- I do know that my colleagues at the White House were going to announce the trip and I guess just did about 15 minutes ago. And I'll leave it to them to talk about the President's agenda there. Certainly expect the Secretary will be traveling with the President and accompanying him on this. Part of his -- as part of his team there. But in terms of the details and the issues that they'll be discussing, I really do just want to leave that to the White House.


QUESTION: How do you interpret their statements by Fidel Castro yesterday that he may retire or he has nice people who are working when they're a hundred?

MR. CASEY: Well, I said to some of your colleagues this morning that comments by Fidel like this you know, remind me of the old country song, "How can we ever miss you, if you won't ever leave?" There is unfortunately, a repetitiveness to some of these comments. We've seen Fidel Castro make similar ones in the past. What we unfortunately haven't seen then or now is a agreement by the Castro regime to allow the Cuban people to choose their leaders in free and fair elections. And so certainly I don't think unfortunately these remarks represent any kind of fundamental change in the views of the Cuban regime.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Turkey, Mr. Casey. How do you respond to the frustration expressed by the Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi courts, vis-à-vis to the Turkish military action against PKK, Kurdish rebels in Northern Iraq, holding responsible the United States of America?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not sure what comments you're referring to, Mr. Lambros. I do know that many of you may have seen Secretary Rice's press conference with Foreign Minister Zebari of Iraq in which both the Secretary and the Foreign Minister made clear that we all understand that we face a common threat from PKK terrorism and we certainly want to see all of us be able to work together to respond to it. Certainly, as the Secretary noted, we want to make sure that as any actions are taken that all efforts are made to ensure that there are not civilian casualties or an undue impact on civilian populations. But we all understand the potential destabilizing effect of the PKK in Northern Iraq and all of us -- Turks, Iraqis and the United States -- are agreed that we need to continue to work together on this problem.

QUESTION: But to be more specific, Mr. Casey, the Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani continued the Turkish military operation stated, "the Americans are responsible because the Iraqi sky is under their full control." Any comment on this charge?

MR. CASEY: Well again, I haven't seen his remarks. I can tell you that the Secretary is in Iraq today and that she is meeting with President Talabani, Foreign Minister Zebari, as well as Prime Minister Maliki and certainly we'll be happy to discuss this issue as they see fit. We also, as the Secretary noted in her comments earlier today, have taken efforts to try and help both the Turkish and Iraqi Governments cooperate with one another on this, as well as working with them in a tripartite way.

And the Secretary noted in Istanbul recently at the neighbors conference, they all got together at the ministerial level, in fact, to discuss this. And certainly, this has also been a matter of discussion bilaterally with the parties. The President had discussions that in part, focused on this with Prime Minister Erdogan about a month and a half ago as well.

QUESTION: Still on the same subject.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Why did her visit to northern Iraq coincide with the Turkish attacks inside northern Iraq?

MR. CASEY: There's no linkage to this. This is a trip that's been planned for some time. I would note that Deputy Secretary Negroponte during his last visit through Iraq, met with a number of our PRTs and with a number of regional leaders. You know, one of the things that's important that's going on in Iraq now is this on-the-ground or grassroots efforts at national reconciliation and at national development. It's a key part of what our provincial reconstruction teams are doing. It's a key part of the efforts that the Iraqis are doing to help bring better services and better life to the people there.

So certainly, this was an opportunity for the Secretary to go to talk with our PRT leadership in Kirkuk as well as with local government officials there. And of course, Kirkuk is something of a very significant and important area in Iraq because it is a place where there are differences and disputes among some of the different actors and different ethnic groups in the country and is a place where national reconciliation needs to move forward and we've been pleased to see some of the progress that has been made there, including increased participation in the political process and the political life of the city. There will ultimately be a referendum there in Kirkuk to help decide that region's future and that's something that's very important to all the parties involved.

So I think this was an opportunity for her to, again visit in the -- in one of the regions, see the work that's being done by our provincial reconstruction teams, among others and also take an opportunity to meet with some of the local leadership. But I wouldn't draw any connection between this trip, which again, as my understanding, was planned rather well in advance, with any of the recent actions along the border.

QUESTION: Was there a concern that the actions along the border overshadowed her trip?

MR. CASEY: Look, I think it is important for her to have this opportunity to visit not only Kirkuk, but also in Baghdad to meet with the national leadership there and I think it's important that that trip take forward. I don't think that there's any particular problem with it occurring at this time.


QUESTION: Going back to the Hill and proposals for legislation, the Administration is opposing this effort to put off the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative passport requirement for land -- for a type of passport for land borders crossing; is that correct?

MR. CASEY: I honestly don't know, Matt. I'd have to check for you. I'm not sure what the current status of it is, but I'm happy to do so.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering; if in fact it does go ahead and this -- the Administration wins, is the State Department going to be able to meet the demand, the huge surge and demand for passports that will come from it? Can you-- maybe you can look into it?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. I mean, I'm happy to look into it. I do know that, as you know, we made some rather great efforts here to deal with the backlog of passports and deal with the overwhelming number of applications that were received from American citizens, in part, in an effort to comply with the first stage of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, but also as part of what we've seen increasingly as the desirability for many people of having a passport just as an identity document.

We have as you know, in addition to dealing with the temporary problem that was created over the course of the summer, ramped up capacity so that we are able to handle a increasing load of passports. I think we have always worked on the assumption that this legislation was going to be implemented. And certainly we’ll make every effort to be able to give people the kind of service that we've given them reason to expect that they'll get in terms of passport turnaround.

But let me take a look for you and see, Matt, what -- where we are right now in terms of the legislative process and if we have anything new to add in terms of our capacity or capability of handling passport applications.

QUESTION: And then one more completely unrelated. Are you following at all the situation with this -- in Nicaragua with the young man who is accused of murdering his girlfriend who -- apparently, the Appeals Court yesterday overturned his conviction, but he's still not been released?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. This is the case of an American citizen by the name of Eric Volz. And my understanding is on the 17th, yesterday, the Appeals Court did revoke his conviction for murder and ordered him to be released, as well as return of his passport and return of the bond that he posted as part of this process.

We are continuing to be in contact with the Nicaraguan authorities on this and urging them to implement the court's decision without delay. And certainly we hold them responsible for ensuring his safety in the interim period. I understand that the way the Nicaraguan judicial system works, it sometimes does take two or three days for court decisions to be implemented. But again, our message to the Nicaraguan Government is we want to see this decision implemented as quickly as possible, we want to see him be able to depart the country and return to his family and are continuing to make sure that we're also provided, as we have been during his incarceration with consular access and that he has also the ability to see his attorney and other rights that should be granted to him.

QUESTION: Okay. So it -- given that there is sometimes a two to three delay -- at the moment there's not any cause, other than the fact that you want him released immediately, but there's no particular cause for concern at the moment.

MR. CASEY: At the moment, you know, we believe that there's not an immediate cause for concern. But of course, we're going to remain interested in this case and follow it very closely and urge the Nicaraguans to implement this decision as quickly as possible.


QUESTION: Tom, do you have any thoughts on the fact that the Ukraine, the Ukrainian parliament has finally elected a prime minister after a long dispute and the fact also that the opposition refused to take part in the ultimate vote there?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we welcome the appointment of Prime Minister Tymoshenko and we look forward to working with her and the new Ukrainian Government. As you've said, it's been awhile since the election, so it's a good thing that there is now a government in place. And we certainly hope that that government will continue the work that the President and others have set out for Ukraine, which is to strengthen its democratic institutions and also proceed with the process of economic reform. Certainly, it's a positive step forward to have a government in place now. And again, we look forward to working with the new Prime Minister and her team.


QUESTION: First, I want the record to show that the overhead lights dimmed briefly during one of your previous answers, which only happens in instances of dissembling from the podium, as you know.

MR. CASEY: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I want to revisit some ancient history, by which I mean about two weeks ago. The NIE on Iran and its nuclear program, as I understand it, senior officials including at least the President and the Vice President had a chance to get kind of a preview of the conclusions and to give their input to the intelligence community prior to the issuance of the final report. Was Secretary Rice among those officials?

MR. CASEY: You know, James, I'm honestly not sure when and at what points in time she was briefed on this process. Certainly, she maintains a close interest in the situation in Iran and particularly with our efforts to respond to Iran's nuclear program, but I don't and can't offer you a timeline on what input, if any, she might have had into the process. Certainly, I know she wasn't briefed on the NIE itself until a day or two before the public version of it was released.

QUESTION: And to your knowledge, does she have any views on it other than to simply accept the conclusions?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think all of us understand that this represents the consensus view of the 19 intelligence agencies that participated in it. I think one thing that people do need to remember and I know folks in the intelligence community have said this as well is that these are snapshots. This is a best understanding of where we view Iran's nuclear program to be at present time and certainly, these kinds of assessments do change over time based on new information, based on the activities of the countries involved. So intelligence and intelligence assessments are a guide for policymakers. They're not policy of and by itself.

I also think she's been quite clear in her own remarks in saying that this assessment should not only maintain, but in some ways ought to raise the level of concern of the international community about Iran's program. It is clear by the assessment that's been made that there has been or was an active nuclear weapons program that Iran was engaged in. The fact that it has been set aside in terms of the effort to make a warhead or make a specific nuclear device does nothing to take away from the fact that they continue to work full-tilt towards two of the other key components necessary for having a weapon.

That's -- it's very active and continuing to advance a missile program and efforts to master the fuel cycle. We've seen, again, just in this past week, a clear indication of the fact that Iran really doesn't need to have fuel cycle development in country and that's the decision by the Russian Government to provide fuel to the Bushehr plan. The fact that Iran has a guaranteed source of fuel that's economically viable, that would allow it to achieve its supposed objectives through its civilian nuclear program makes it pretty clear to most of us that there really isn't a need for them to be moving forward with these kinds of activities, again, unless their ultimate intention is to use it to build a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: To your knowledge, is this NIE the product, to some extent, of personal antagonisms within the intelligence community or within senior policymaking strata between those who favor a more aggressive policy toward Iran and those who perhaps didn't?

MR. CASEY: James, I think all it represents, no more and no less, than the honest assessment of the 18 or 19 agencies that participated and the analysts that produced it. I think that when you're dealing with these kinds of documents, again, intelligence isn't policy. It's a guide for policy. It's an attempt to give you as clear a picture as possible as what the facts are. But I certainly don't see it as a product of anybody's particular ideological approach to an issue or anybody's particular policy view. I see it from our perspective as it's billed as, the best assessment and the best judgment of the intelligence experts on what they know and what they don't know about Iran's nuclear program.


QUESTION: Do you have any details on Sung Kim's trip to North Korea such as his schedule or the purpose of the trip?

MR. CASEY: You guys asked about that a little earlier. First of all, we do have a seven-member disablement team that's currently at work in Yongbyon and is expected to remain there till the end of the year. That team, and someone asked me about this yesterday, recently began -- recently, my understanding, meaning in the past week, began overseeing the process of discharging fuel rods at the Yongbyon complex. And that, as you know, is expected to continue on through the end of the year and beyond that, just so that we can assure that this is done in a way that ensures the health and safety of all the personnel that are working there. Sung Kim, let's see, is visiting Seoul from December 18th and 19th, so today and tomorrow, and then Pyongyang from December 19th to 23rd. He will be reviewing the progress on disablement and will be meeting with officials there in order to continue to move the six-party process forward. Yeah.

QUESTION: Just a -- will he be meeting -- Wu Dawei is also going to be there on the 19th? Is he going to have a meeting with Wu Dawei at the same time?

MR. CASEY: Well, I understand he'll still -- I don't think their paths are going to cross.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Albania, Mr. Casey, what is the U.S. policy between the Greek minority of Northern Epirus in Albania since in the most recent days, the entire Chimara area is under attack by Albania destroying 35 Greek churches and terrorizing the Greeks?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I don't have anything new to offer you in terms of the, you know, issues related to the territorial integrity of any of the countries in the region. Certainly, we believe it's important for all the countries in the Balkans to ensure protection of minority rights and religious freedom. So that's a general principle that we certainly adhere to and promote. I don't have anything specific for you, though, on any of these individual incidents.

QUESTION: One more on Kosovo. Tomorrow is the discussion at the UN on the final status of Kosovo. And I'm wondering, Mr. Casey, if you care to make any statement.

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, you know our position on Kosovo and I fully expect that you will hear that from Ambassador Khalilzad and other officials there. Certainly, we all believe that the time has come to deal with the final status of Kosovo. And as you know, we strongly believe that the way forward lies with implementation of the basic outlines of the Ahtisaari plan, including in the short term, supervised independence for Kosovo.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: We got one more.

QUESTION: On Turkey, the -- since this morning, did you receive any intelligence confirming the reports that Turkish soldiers crossed the border?

MR. CASEY: I don't have any specifics to offer you on that. Again, I'd refer you to Turkish authorities.

QUESTION: Yeah, one more.

MR. CASEY: All right.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) thinking about Iraq neighbors talks. They seem to have a (inaudible) including the United States (inaudible)

MR. CASEY: No, I don't. Sorry.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:55 p.m.)

DPB #218

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