State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for August 16 -
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Director, Office of Press Relations
August 16, 2004
- Referendum Results
- Query on the Credibility of the Process
- Allegations of Voter Harassment
- Election Observers/OAS Secretary General Gaviria and Former
- Bilateral Relationship with United States
- Absence of Statement from OAS and Carter Center
- Ceasefire Agreement/Violations
- Comments/Statement by Foreign Ministry Spokesman Regarding
- Six-Party Talks
- Exchange of Greetings between US Special Envoy DeTrani and Mr. Li
- Bobby Fischer/Attempt to Renounce Citizenship
- Privacy Act Waiver/Process
- Query on Whether Renouncing Citizenship Allows for Avoiding
q- Reports of American Citizen Who has
- Reports of Threats to Kill Journalists in Najaf
- Comment by Ambassador Vincent Battle Regarding Syrian Withdrawal
- Visit by Congressional Delegation/Meeting with President Asad
1:00 p.m. EDT
MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to another fine Monday morning and Monday afternoon here at the State Department. I don't have any announcements for you, so why don't we just go right ahead with your questions.
QUESTION: I was wondering if the State Department is pleased that the President of Venezuela has survived a recall petition, stabilized oil prices, helped bring them down a little bit. How do y'all feel about what's going on and about corruption charges?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think, first of all, we want to congratulate the Venezuelan people for the extraordinary civic spirit they demonstrated during yesterday's referendum. Their peaceful behavior and their patient determination to cast their votes certainly underscores their strong commitment to democracy.
As you know, we're following the developments closely, and while the preliminary results have been put forward, they haven't been verified by the National Electoral Council yet. So I think it's a little too early for us at this point to be making any final judgments.
We're also looking forward to hearing from -- definitive statements from the observer teams, from the Carter Center and the Organization of American States. And as you know, their presence, we believe, has been critical to the credibility of the process. We're going to continue to work with the Venezuelans and hope that we'll see those results soon. But I think I'd really like to refrain from making any final comments or definitive judgments on the elections till we hear from those folks.
QUESTION: The process is credible, and you used "on a preliminary basis." Do you think the process was credible? The opposition says it was marked by massive fraud.
MR. CASEY: Well, I think, first of all, that the importance of this process is ensuring that the will of the Venezuelan people be heard. The idea behind the referendum process and the referendum was to provide for a solution to Venezuela's political crisis that all parties could live with. So I'm not prepared to, again, make judgments on the process yet. We do want to hear from the folks on the ground who have been observing it.
Certainly, though, it's essential for this process to be positive that there be full transparency in addressing any of the concerns that might arise concerning the referendum process because the vote is part of the larger process of national reconciliation, and certainly any allegations of fraud, including those that are being raised now by the opposition, need to be fully investigated and looked at by the proper authorities in Venezuela. And we'll certainly be looking for that to happen.
QUESTION: So your congratulations to the Venezuelan people just simply goes to the turnout? That's it?
MR. CASEY: Yeah, I think it's reflect --
QUESTION: You don't want to extend beyond that?
MR. CASEY: At this point, it's reflective of the fact that there was a tremendous level of participation, that people waited for hours in line to be able to cast their votes because they understood and believed the importance of this process for their country. And certainly, what we saw in the initial voting is at least a process that was relatively calm, relatively peaceful. But, again, we're not prepared at this point, I think, to make any judgments about the actual results, certainly until we hear from the National Electoral Council, as well as from the monitors on the ground.
QUESTION: Ahead of the referendum, you said that you had concerns when they arose about things like intimidation. Are there any concerns that United States has about the way that the vote was conducted, not just the turnout but any problems with certain counting or areas, in certain areas of Caracas?
MR. CASEY: Well, I mean, I'd refer you back to some of the statements we made on Wednesday, both the Secretary's statement, as well as comments that Adam made here for you during the briefing then.
We have been concerned in the run-up to the referendum about certain allegations concerning harassment of people who had signed petitions in favor of the recall and a number of other things. I think for the moment, as I said, we haven't gotten a good readout from the observer groups. I have seen press reports on it that I'm sure you have as well about a couple of individual incidents that occurred, but I don't have anything at this point that I can point to that would talk about a broader pattern or problem of abuse.
But, again, I think we need to hear from the observers on the ground as well as see the final vote count before we can really get beyond that.
Ev, why don't we go back to you.
QUESTION: Are you aware of the fact that exit polls and tracking projections exist, some of them commissioned by American firms, which show very clearly that the results were exactly the opposite of what had been announced?
MR. CASEY: Well, I've seen a number of press reports. I really don't have any --
QUESTION: They're not press reports. They are not put out to the press. But they should be available to the American Embassy and the Department of State.
MR. CASEY: Well, I can tell you right now that what we have at this point is some preliminary results from the National Electoral Council and a general overview of what happened that day in terms of what was seen publicly. But again, I don't think we're in a position to talk about anything beyond that, in terms of results, until we hear from the people that were there doing the monitoring, doing the work on the ground, and who, frankly, are the folks that we've been relying on throughout this process to ensure its credibility.
QUESTION: Well, I can tell you, it was a very ugly mood in Caracas, despite the heavy rain. Chavez has declared a national holiday. Is the United States Government prepared for all eventualities down there?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think, first of all, let me, again, refer you back to the statement we made before the election, which applies today as well. The important thing about this process is that it helps achieve a peaceful, democratic constitutional solution to Venezuela's ongoing political crisis. That's the starting point that we went into this with, that's where we are now.
Before, as this process has moved along, we've continually called on all sides, both the opposition and the government, to refrain from violence, to act in a way that is appropriate and that respects the wishes of the people, and certainly, at this point, we wouldn't want to see and certainly wouldn't support any kind of violent reaction in response to the referendum.
Let me go back here to this gentleman.
QUESTION: New subject. Georgia.
MR. CASEY: I think we're still on Venezuela. Go ahead, Saul. Well, let me go to Saul, then we'll get back, Ev.
QUESTION: I've forgotten what I was going to say, I'm sorry.
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: I'll remember.
MR. CASEY: Let me go over to you, and then, Ev, I'll come back. Please.
QUESTION: Yes, I was wondering, then, is there a specific schedule as to when these observers are going to meet with either Secretary Powell or Secretary Armitage to talk about their findings?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think at this point they are on the ground, as both OAS Secretary General Gaviria and former President Carter are both on the ground in Venezuela now. I understand they may be having something to say. I'm not sure whether later this afternoon or later on in the process. But, again, I think we'll wait and hear what they have to say before we see at what point they might be coming here to Washington or speaking directly to people.
QUESTION: So, U.S.-Venezuelan relationship have been strained and you've obviously criticized the Chavez Government for several things, such as: links with -- alleged links with terrorism, and not win the drug war. If the preliminary results are held up, will you be looking for reconciliation with the Chavez Government?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think, first and foremost, I don't want to get ahead of myself and I don't want to speculate about either the final results of what they'll mean. Obviously, Venezuela is and continues to be a very important country in the hemisphere. It's one that, historically, we've had very strong relationships with. I think the main thing for us, in terms of how we evaluate this process is, again, whether it's fair and transparent or credible. But I really don't think, at this point, I'm prepared to speculate about what the outcome of it might or might not mean for our bilateral relations.
QUESTION: Did you at least recognize his gesture when he first -- when he took his victory speech, saying, you know, he wants respect in the relationship?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think it's important as a generic principle that there's respect in our bilateral relations, but I don't think I have anything particular to add to his comments.
Ev, do you want to go?
QUESTION: Yes. Well, you're repeating, again, the policy which has been given out time and time again that we should allow the democratic process to work. But it appears very clearly that it is not working, a confrontation is developing. And my question is, what is the U.S. Government prepared to do if this situation deteriorates rapidly, as it is likely to do, because Venezuela is a prime supplier of oil, it's a key to a lot of other situations in Latin America? Whole regional policy would seem to be at stake.
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I'm not going to speculate about the possibility for violence or what the reaction to the final decision might be. Let's wait. Let's see what the OAS and Carter Center has to say. Let's see what the final results are, and then we can talk about what the next steps will be.
Let me -- any more on Venezuela?
MR. CASEY: Okay, one more on Venezuela, and, I guess, move over to you.
QUESTION: Yes, the fact that neither the Carter Center and the OAS has said anything so far about any irregularities in the process, I mean, in the voting process. Doesn't tell you or doesn't give you that, I mean, that give you any proof that maybe the process was, you know, despite all this accusation, was a good process and maybe there may be some irregularities but those are minimal? I mean, what does this silence from the Carter and the OAS tell you so far?
MR. CASEY: I think you'd have to go ask them that. Obviously, the election just took place yesterday. Voting lasted well into the night. I'll leave it to them to describe what they saw in their views. Again, we've been extremely supportive of their activities, believe that their actions in monitoring both this referendum and in working throughout the process, that's as it's evolved, has been important to its credibility, and that's why I think we want to wait and hear what they have to say themselves before we go reacting any further to this.
Let's move over to Georgia.
QUESTION: The situation in Georgia is still difficult, two Georgian soldiers dead and seven have been injured last night by Ossetian military forces. Do you have any statement or commentary about that problem?
Thank you, sir.
MR. CASEY: I don't think I have a lot to offer you in terms of a short-term update. I do know that a Joint Control Commission meeting is scheduled for 2 o'clock for tomorrow afternoon, on the 17th, in Tbilisi, and I understand all the parties will be attending there.
As you know, we, despite that action and despite that violation, we've been pleased to see that the parties had reached a ceasefire agreement on Saturday. But, obviously, actions such as this and other violations are something that are concerning us, and we certainly regret the casualties and the deaths that have occurred over the last several days. And, obviously, we want all sides in this to exercise restraint and to implement the agreement as it's been given.
We should let you know, too, that we've been continuing our discussions with both the Georgian and Russian governments on the subject. Our Ambassador in Tbilisi, Ambassador Miles, talked to Georgian Prime Minister Zhvania today, and I know Department officials, both through the Embassy and here in Washington, have been in touch with folks in Russia about the same subject.
QUESTION: According to the Georgian Government agreement on ceasefire has been violated by Ossetian side, so what can you say about that?
MR. CASEY: Look, I don't think I want to stand here and try and interpret who shot first where on the ground in any of these individual incidents. The point of the matter is that there are continuing violations of the ceasefire that's being reported and that needs to stop, the ceasefire agreement needs to be implemented and we need to get forward with political dialogue and discussion through the Joint Control Commission.
Arshad. Let's go to Arshad first.
QUESTION: North Korea. There's a statement by a North Korea Foreign Ministry spokesman on KCNA, which says that it would be impossible for North Korea to attend the next round of working party talks. Do you have any reason to believe that North Korea is trying to say it won't come, or do you think this is sort of bluster and you'll wait and see whether they actually show up?
MR. CASEY: I know we could probably start a small industry in interpreting comments from various sources on this subject, but where we are today is pretty much where we've been in the past. Yeah, at the last round of six-party talks, everyone agreed in principle that we would hold a plenary before the end of September and we'd hold a working group meeting, presumably, sometime before then. We haven't heard anything from the North Koreans at this point that would change our assumption about holding those talks and at this point we're working with the Chinese, with the other parties, and think that we'll be moving forward on this shortly.
QUESTION: Can I ask about Bobby Fischer?
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, Tom?
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: In that statement by the DPRK, they make a specific reference to a meeting in New York, and last week Adam said that there was only time for an exchange of greetings and dinner. Was there anything else that happened?
MR. CASEY: I think we've covered that about as much as we can. As far as I know, and I will also refer you to the comments the Secretary made on Friday in his meeting with a number of Japanese news organizations. It basically was, you know, an exchange of greetings. They did attend a dinner together as part of the conference. But, you know, I don't have anything that would indicate there was any kind of substantive exchange or anything beyond what we've already said on that.
Sorry, Barry. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Bobby Fischer's attempt to renounce his citizenship and looking for help from Secretary of State Powell?
MR. CASEY: Not much, I'm afraid, Barry, simply because, as we've said throughout this case, and Mr. Fischer, while he is certainly free to make comments, has not granted the Department of State a Privacy Act Waiver, and so I'm, frankly, really constrained in what I can say on that.
QUESTION: Quick follow-up?
MR. CASEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just on the off chance that he might be reading a transcript of this or watching on television, what exactly does he have to do to sign a Privacy Act Waiver and would it involve him actually having to show up at the embassy or a consulate somewhere, a place where he might, presumably, be placed under arrest or be put in jeopardy of losing his liberty?
MR. CASEY: Well, actually, as you know, we usually get Privacy Act waivers without having people come necessarily to the embassy to do it. If they're visited by a consular official, they have the opportunity and usually are given a form. As you know, it's kind of a checkbox system. So, no, it would not be a situation where he would have to, in effect, put himself in U.S. custody and sign a Privacy Act Waiver.
QUESTION: The initial question was his effort, his appeal to Powell to help him renounce U.S. citizenship. Do you need a Privacy Act Waiver to say whether he's asked for help from the Secretary of State?
MR. CASEY: I, basically, need a Privacy Act Waiver to discuss just about anything relevant to this case.
QUESTION: One question. Would -- renouncing his citizenship would not, surely, cease to make him liable for crimes that he might have committed while he was a U.S. citizen, right?
MR. CASEY: No, and that's actually true. I can -- frankly, I'd refer you to the information that's on our website that is rather extensive as to how one goes about renuncing -- renouncing citizenship -- sorry about that. But what I can tell you is that taking an oath of renunciation or formally renouncing your citizenship does not necessarily allow one to escape the possibility of persecution for crimes they might have committed in the United States or --
MR. CASEY: Prosecuted, sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. CASEY: It is Monday. Yeah.
QUESTION: Well I'm sure that Mr. Fischer wouldn't present it just like you did.
MR. CASEY: I'll allow him to comment on his own case and I'll try to extricate myself simply by saying -- (laughter) -- as noted in the Bureau of Consular Affairs Notes, that renunciation does not allow a person to escape possible prosecution -- thank you, Matt -- for crimes that they may have committed in the United States, or repayment of financial obligations previously incurred in the United States.
QUESTION: What does he need to do to actually renounce his citizenship? Doesn't that require a face-to-face meeting with a U.S. official, or can he do that by fax or phone?
MR. CASEY: It's a fairly extensive process. And, let's see. If you want, I can walk you through it. Do you really want that?
QUESTION: No, no. We don't all want it. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: It's available online.
QUESTION: Is it? Okay. I'll find it.
MR. CASEY: Yeah, it is.
QUESTION: In the past, when you have not had a Privacy Act Waiver for -- people haven't signed Privacy Act waivers, you've still been able to say whether they've been visited by -- or specifically, there have been all -- several Chinese-Americans held in China and you have been able to say, even without waivers, whether they've been visited by a consular official.
So I'm just wondering, in this case, do you know if there have been any meetings that have happened, one? And two, do you know if he has been approached by anyone from the U.S. and refused to sign a Privacy Act Waiver, thereby kind of tying your hands in being unable to present -- to discuss the U.S. Government's view of the case?
MR. CASEY: Well, I believe some discussions have taken place, but let me check for you and find out, okay?
QUESTION: Why do you have to go to the embassy to begin this process? That's what the U.S. Embassy is saying. They won't send a consular official to Fischer, but Fischer has to come to the Embassy. Is this some -- is that some -- is that some snare, or is it just the way things are done?
MR. CASEY: I mean, basically, the process that Mr. Fischer or anyone else would have to follow is the same, and again, I'd refer you back to the information we've already got out there on it.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Iraq. Do you have any information that there's a journalist with American citizenship who's been kidnapped? And also, do you have anything to say about Iraqi police threatening to kill journalists in Najaf if they leave their hotel?
MR. CASEY: Well, let's see. On the first subject, we've seen the reports of an American citizen being kidnapped in Iraq. We don't have confirmation of it at this point. We are following up on it and trying to determine whether that's, in fact, true or not.
In terms of the situation involving journalists in Najaf, let me tell you where I think this is, but I think mostly I'd refer you back to the Iraqis on this subject.
QUESTION: Well, we already heard from them. They say they're going to kill him.
MR. CASEY: Okay, well, I haven't seen those reports. What I have seen, and what I do understand to be the situation is that journalists that are embedded with various units, both American, other coalition forces and Iraqis, are being allowed to stay in Najaf; that those that are there in a freelance capacity are being asked to leave, largely due to concerns for their safety.
Certainly, it's our view that journalists need to have access to information and that appropriate accommodations can be made. Again, I haven't seen reports of anyone threatening to kill journalists in Iraq. Obviously, that would be completely out of bounds and totally condemnable if it were true.
QUESTION: They, apparently, according to wires, they've said that there will be snipers on the hotel, and correspondents who leave the hotel --
QUESTION: They've also -- sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead -- will be shot.
QUESTION: They've -- I mean, the quote in our story is, "'We will kill you if you leave the hotel. I will put four snipers on the roof to shoot anyone who leaves," an Iraqi police lieutenant said. Police then fired into the air and pointed their guns at the hotel, witnesses said. One police officer -- and I'm not going to name the news organizations, but they're represented in this room -- one officer said that they're looking specifically for correspondents from news organizations in this room.
So I think it would behoove you to check this story out and then not just state it in the conditional, but state it maybe in the affirmative that you don't want journalists to be threatened by being shot with snipers.
MR. CASEY: Well, we certainly don't want journalists being threatened, being shot by snipers. I haven't seen the report. I'll take a look into it, and if we have anything more to say, I'll let you know.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Yeah. Michel.
QUESTION: Change subject?
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: The American Ambassador in Lebanon, Vincent Battle, said today it's time for Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon. Do you have something new regarding this issue?
MR. CASEY: No, I honestly don't. I've seen those reports and we've been looking into them, but I don't have anything new for you on it.
QUESTION: Bipartisan delegation from the Congress has visited with President Asad and high officials and they sure had -- they seemed to have much more positive tone -- their visit had much more positive tone than they did in Lebanon concerning the Lebanese-Syrian politics. Do you have any elaboration of their visit in Syria?
MR. CASEY: No, and I'd refer you to the members of the congressional delegation for comments on their visit. Certainly, our policy in Syria hasn't changed and while we certainly welcome the opportunities for dialogue, including by members of Congress, that doesn't indicate that we've changed our views.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Thanks, great.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)