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Daily Press Briefing

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
March 17, 2008


U.S. Concerned About Situation in Tibet / Continue to Urge Restraint
Need for Dialogue Between Chinese Government and Dalai Lama
U.S. Activity / Embassy Engaged in Discussions at Various Levels
U.S. Consistent Concerns on China's Poor Record in Human Rights Report
Violence in Region / Not Aware of Any Amcit Injuries / New Travel Advisory
U.S. Position That Election Was Not Free and Fair
Hopeful That Iranian Government Will Decide to Change
Upcoming Meeting with Georgian President
Issue of NATO Membership
U.S. Has Had Interesting Recent Relations with Belarus
Status of Diplomatic Relations / Whereabouts of Ambassador
Belarus Free to Decide How to Manage Its Diplomatic Relations
U.S. Continues to Press for Release of Mr. Kozulin / Human Rights Concerns
Voters Determine the Country's Political Future
Strong U.S. Support for Turkish Democratic Secularism


12:47 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy St. Patrick’s Day. That’s what the flag pins are for, Charlie, since I don’t have a green tie with me right now. Anyway, I don’t have anything to start you guys off with, so why don’t we begin with –we got a problem with the microphone?

QUESTION: Yes, we do.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, let’s keep going and see if we can fix it. How’s that, guys? Anybody getting a feed on it? All right. Do we need to take a couple minutes to – okay. Well, let’s keep going and we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Let’s just ask questions and get answers.

MR. CASEY: I’ll keep trying to. Go ahead, Susan.

QUESTION: What would you say to some of the analysts who say the U.S. is pulling its punches with China because of its – over the Tibet issue because of China’s considerable economic and commercial clout?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think people ought to take a look at what the Secretary said over the weekend about this issue. We are very concerned about the situation in Tibet. We continue to urge restraint on the part of the Chinese Government in terms of how it responds to these protestors. And we have consistently called for engagement and dialogue and encouraged the Chinese Government to engage in a substantive conversation with the Dalai Lama directly or through representatives so that the issues involving Tibet can be resolved.

That’s been a consistent U.S. policy not only of this Administration, but of several others. So I think our views on this have been quite clear and we are going to do what we can to encourage that process to move forward and again, encourage restraint on the part of the Chinese. But I do think that this is an issue that is of longstanding in China and it’s one that’s going to have to be resolved internally between the parties.


QUESTION: Did anybody engage with the Chinese during the weekend or during the last hours?

MR. CASEY: I know – I do not have anything new to report to you in terms of the Secretary’s calls. I’ll keep you posted as things come up. Certainly, I know that our Ambassador and our Embassy have spoken about this to a variety of Chinese officials and continue to be in discussions with them about this. This certainly is a subject that comes up regularly in our broad conversations with the Chinese. Again, this is an issue that’s been out there for a while and that we have discussed with the Chinese over many years. So I know that the Embassy has been very actively engaged in discussing this.


QUESTION: Could an overly harsh reaction to this jeopardize President Bush’s trip to China or U.S. participation?

MR. CASEY: You’d have to talk to the White House in terms of the President’s travel schedule. Again, we are responding to this set of incidents in a way that we think is appropriate and consistent with longstanding U.S. policy.


QUESTION: What about those who say that the State Department Human Rights Report last week, which did not cite China as one of the worst violators, in a way, gives a green light to China to continue repressing dissent?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I would say that those people saying that unfortunately have a very poor understanding of what the report does, what its requirements are and how it moves forward. Let me make it as clear as possible. In the report that was released in 2007, we said that China had a poor record of human rights. In the report that was released in 2008, we said China has a poor record on human rights, so we aren’t pulling any punches. We’ve been very clear what our concerns are. There is no statutory list of worst offenders. There are illustratory examples given in a summary. China was mentioned there.

But again, I would encourage anyone that thinks that we were changing our views on China’s basic human rights policy, to actually go and read the report, because it makes it very clear that we are consistent in our concerns and consistent in stating them, and the language between the report that was released last year and the one that came out just recently are remarkably consistent.


QUESTION: Do you have any details on U.S. citizens in Tibet now? Are you recommending anything to people who are there?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not aware that there -- fortunately, I'm not aware that there have been any instances where American citizens have been injured or otherwise hurt in the incidents that are occurring there. I do note that we have put out a new travel advisory related to Tibet. It does encourage people to seek shelter if they're in the area and to refrain from travel to the area, should they not be there at the present time.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Do you have anything more to say about the Iranian election on Friday and any more determination whether it was free and fair or met any sort of standard?

MR. CASEY: Other than people in the current Iranian regime, I don’t think you'll find anyone that says that it was a free and fair election. It's pretty hard to have that when the basis for the election is candidates being determined based on predetermined religious and political qualifications. So, no, we don't think this was a free and fair election. We don't think that it afforded the Iranian people any real chance to choose their leadership. We think that's unfortunate, although it's also consistent with past practice.

We would, nonetheless, hope that the Iranian Government and that those reasonable elements in it would take a hard look at the very negative direction that the current leadership has been taking it and change its policies, particularly concerning our desire to see them cease their uranium-enrichment activities and join in negotiations with the P-5+1.


QUESTION: Tom, to follow up, do you have any hope that that part of the conservatives in Iran might take another look at the nuclear issue and actually perhaps even go back to the 2006 incentives that you offered them?

MR. CASEY: Well, we're hopeful that the Iranian Government will ultimately decide to change its views. And the whole basis of the P-5+1's policy is to simultaneously have this offer on the table for negotiations and for a resolution of this issue in a way that would allow the Iranians to be able to develop civilian nuclear power, while at the same time making sure that we can be assured that they're not using that program as a cover for nuclear weapons development.

And on the other hand, of course, when the response to that offer has been negative, ratcheting up pressure, both through UN sanctions as well as through bilateral measures that we've taken and those taken by other like-minded states. So, yeah, we certainly hope that the Iranian Government and elements of it would decide that the costs of maintaining their defiance of the international community are too high and would change their policy and enter into negotiations. That would be in the best interests, not only of the P-5+1, but the broader international community and ultimately, the Iranian people themselves.


QUESTION: Would you have anything additional to say to what Matt Bryza said about the court case that's been brought against the leading party in Turkey to shut it down with the Constitutional Court?

MR. CASEY: No. I think Matt's spoken about that and I really wouldn't have anything to add beyond that.


QUESTION: Just one question. Secretary Rice is going to discuss at the meeting with Georgian President on -- I think the meeting's scheduled on Thursday?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't -- haven't had a chance to look at the agenda for the meeting, though, but I'm sure that we'll have -- she'll have a good opportunity to talk with the President in advance of his meeting with President Bush. The subjects that we generally cover when we have an opportunity to speak with him or other senior Georgian Government officials, of course, include our restatement of our support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia. We usually talk about a variety of bilateral issues, including some of our efforts to help support political and economic development in the country. We also generally will talk about issues related to some of the other countries in the region, and certainly, Georgia-Russian relations is usually part of that conversation as well.

QUESTION: As you know, Georgian and the Ukrainian Government hope to get a membership action plan in NATO Bucharest summit in April. Do you think they will touch NATO -- offering membership action plan for Georgia and Ukraine as well?

MR. CASEY: Well, I’m sure that that would be a topic of conversation somewhere in the meetings here. In terms of what NATO decisions will be taken, obviously, that’s something that’s not determined by the United States but by all of the members of NATO. Certainly, those decisions will be made based on whether countries have met the qualifications and criteria either for membership, in some cases, or to engage in a closer relationship through a membership action plan and others.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Charlie.

QUESTION: There’s a report that Belarus is asking for a reduction in the size and operations of the U.S. Embassy. Do you have anything on that?

MR. CASEY: No, I don’t. I know certainly we’ve had some interesting relations with Belarus in recent weeks, and certainly, have our Ambassador now out of the country temporarily and expect her to go back shortly. But I hadn’t heard that they had asked for anything additional. I’m happy to check for you, though.

QUESTION: Do you have a date for when she’s headed back (inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: I don’t. I can say I know we’ve expected her to be out of the country for a few days, but I don’t know quite when she’s scheduled to return. I think -- believe she is still in Vilnius, has some plans to travel to Brussels, and then we’ll see from there.


QUESTION: Tom, are you preparing for the prospect of Belarus actually at some point down the road wanting to cut relations completely with the United States and close the Embassy? Is that at all on your screen?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don’t think anyone expects that to happen. But you know, obviously, Belarus, like any other country, is free to determine how it wishes to manage its diplomatic relations with us or with other countries. We, of course, have said that we believe it’s important and think it’s appropriate for us to have senior-level representation in Belarus, among other things, to continue to press for the release of Mr. Kozulin and work on other human rights issues there.

As you know, before this incident came up with our Ambassador, we had spoken positively about their release of several other political prisoners who had been -- something we had asked for and something the European Union had asked for as well. Why they might choose to change their approach to us or change their approach to this issue is something you’ll have to ask them about. We are certainly prepared, though, to continue to have full diplomatic representation in the capital and make sure that we are represented with a good and capable ambassador in Minsk.

One more.

QUESTION: Sorry, again.

MR. CASEY: It’s okay.

QUESTION: Back on the court case against the Turkish leading party. Could you state the State Department’s position -- U.S. position on such court cases, as if they are political issues or legal issues --

MR. CASEY: Well, I can tell you what Matt said, which is we’ve seen reports that the case has been filed, and we think all entities involved should respect democratic institutions and values as well as the rule of law. In any democracy, the voters determine the country’s political future. In Turkey the voters spoke in 2007. This approach reflects our strong support for Turkish democratic secularism.

How’s that? Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: You’re welcome.

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

DPB #48

Released on March 17, 2008

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