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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for April 15

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing for April 15 -- Transcript

Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Director, Office of Press Relations
Washington, DC
April 15, 2005

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT
Secretary's Remarks to American Society of Newspaper Editors
Secretary's Travel / Russia / Lithuania
Under Secretary Bolton's Confirmation / Accusations

RUSSIA
Opportunity to Meet with an Important Partner
U.S. Relations with Russia

NATO
Secretary's Meeting with NATO Foreign Ministers
Training Mission for Iraq Security Forces
NATO's Mission in Afghanistan

UNITED NATIONS
Oil for Food Program / U.S. Record Supportive of Investigations
U.S. Commitment to Address Oil for Food Problems

SYRIA
U.S. Relations with Syria / Resolution 1559 / Iraq Border Issues

IRAQ
Investigation into the Shooting at the Italian Convoy

QATAR
Robot Camel Jockeys / U.S. Concern About Child Camel Jockeys


TRANSCRIPT:

12:35 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Well, good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department briefing. Glad we could come out and see you a little earlier today. I want to just point out to you that at 1:30 this afternoon the Secretary will be speaking to the Association of National Editors and hope you all will be tuning into that, if not attending yourselves.

I don't have any other announcements for you or other statements to begin with, so let's go right to your questions.

QUESTION: A quick thing on the appearance there. Are we getting any advanced text of it or anything available?

MR. CASEY: No, I don't have anything to share with you right now. As you know, she'll be making a broad presentation on foreign policy issues and then taking a number of questions.

Okay, Arshad.

QUESTION: Tom, can we look ahead to the Secretary's trip to Russia next week? To what extent in particular is she expected to raise the democracy, democratic reforms assaults on the media, et cetera, et cetera issues, that have featured both in former Secretary Powell and in President Bush's meetings with senior Russian officials over the last year, year and a half?

MR. CASEY: Okay, well, let me, rather than concentrate on that one issue, let me just try and give you an overview of the trip itself and then we can address some more of the specifics.

First of all, in terms of her trip to Moscow, I think this is an excellent opportunity for her to meet with representatives of an important partner country. They'll be reviewing all the major issues on our agenda as well as preparing for the NATO-Russia Council meeting in Vilnius a couple days later and the President's May 9th trip to Moscow.

Our relationship with Russia is an important one. There are important issues on which we have a good, broad strategic engagement, and I know that they will be taking the opportunity to discuss our differences as well as the areas in which we have agreement. And certainly concerns and issues involving democracy and democracy promotion are part of our agenda with Russia and certainly I expect will come up in a number of different ways during this trip.

In addition, as you know, after she goes from Moscow she'll go on to Vilnius for a meeting of the NATO foreign ministers and that set of meetings will also feature a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission to talk about increased cooperation between NATO and Ukraine as well as, as I mentioned, a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council that will be attended by Foreign Minister Lavrov. And while she's in Lithuania she's also going to have the opportunity to meet with Lithuanian President Adamkus and her foreign minister counterparts, and among the other things they'll be discussing there is Lithuania's support for our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, you said that the concerns about democracy would come up in a number of different ways. Does that mean that they will come up not just in her private meetings? Does she plan to speak publicly about this? Does she plan to publish a newspaper op-ed like Secretary Powell did a year and a half ago? What other ways were they going to come up besides her internal meetings?

MR. CASEY: Look, I really at this point don't have a lot of details on the exact schedule of her trip and I don't want to get too far ahead of it. What I will just say is there will be appropriate opportunities to discuss differences that we have on issues as well as common ground and I'd look for her to do that in a variety of ways.

QUESTION: One more on this. Can you point to any instance, whether it is rule of law, whether it is freedom of expression, whether it is press freedoms, whether it is the central government perhaps allowing the provinces to have slightly more power, in the last, say, even this year, can you point to a single instance where things have gone in the right direction on any of those issues in Russia?

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't think I've really got a comprehensive view of Russian activities to share with you right now. Again, I think President Putin has stated his commitment, as he did with his President -- with President Bush, excuse me, in Bratislava to having Russia be a democratic nation and to moving forward with democratic policies and reforms. The President has spoken to that as well and I think for right now I'll just leave it where they left it.

Peter.

QUESTION: Yeah, can I just follow up on the NATO part of it, Tom?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Two months ago when she visited NATO there, the big achievement that was hailed was the commitment by all 26 NATO members to provide some sort of help to training security forces in Iraq. Is that going to be discussed at the next meeting there and are you satisfied with the follow-up to all the pledges that were made two months ago; are actually allies doing something?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think, as you know, NATO made an important commitment to engage in a training mission for Iraqi security forces and that mission is being stood up now. NATO is making progress on it. I am sure that there will be discussions about NATO's commitment there as well as NATO's efforts in Afghanistan and the various other operations that NATO has going.

I think there is always an opportunity -- I think we all would like to see this operation get up to full steam as quickly as possible. I honestly don't have an exact status report for you on it, but this is an important issue, it's an important issue for NATO. It's one the allies are committed to and we certainly very much want to see it move forward.

Elise.

QUESTION: Will you be looking for -- will the Secretary be looking for NATO to take a role in the Sudan or any other African areas of conflict?

MR. CASEY: I know there have been discussions that have been held on a preliminary level in that way. I'm not sure if that features in the formal agenda right now but I'm sure inasmuch as we can help move things forward in Sudan through NATO, through our own bilateral efforts, through working with other partners, it will feature in the discussions.

QUESTION: Can we try something else?

MR. CASEY: Sure, Barry.

QUESTION: Can I finish this with one other?

MR. CASEY: Sorry. Go ahead, Peter.

QUESTION: Just to ask are there any other major themes that the U.S. wants to see taken up at the NATO meeting? Is there anything else you can tell us?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think, remember, this is an informal level meeting and, again, there will be important, and very important, meetings with the NATO-Russia Council and NATO-Ukraine Council that will be a focus of the efforts. Certainly the other activities that NATO is engaged in, in Afghanistan and Iraq, will be part of the background of the discussions there as well, but I don't have much more to share with you other than what I have right now.

Barry.

QUESTION: Do you have a State Department reaction to Kofi Annan saying that the U.S. and Britain are partly to blame for the scandalous way Saddam Hussein's people and others made a fortune on Oil-for-Food?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think, Barry, I actually don't have a lot to say specifically about the Secretary General's remarks. I think the issue of Oil-for-Food is something that has been spoken about and dealt with from this podium a number of times before.

I think what I'd just like to say about the specific issue that's raised in a general way by the Secretary General's comments is that it just points out what Secretary Rice said yesterday in one of her interviews, that the UN certainly is an institution that needs to have serious reforms taken up and that member-states have an obligation to be vigilant in how they go about supervising the activities of the organization.

QUESTION: That would include the United States, wouldn't it?

MR. CASEY: The United States is one of the founding members of the United Nations. We believe we have been playing a positive and important role in overseeing the activities of the United Nations as a member of the Security Council and we certainly, as the Secretary said yesterday, hope to be able to work with Ambassador Bolton when he is confirmed to help further the cause of UN reform.

QUESTION: Your remarks -- you know, put, at least I feel, in an awkward situation -- because, on the one hand, you may feel that a spokesman is not the person who should respond to the UN Secretary General, or a construction of what you're saying is that the State Department is ducking and is running away from responding to pretty serious accusations by a fellow who, himself, has a questionable involvement in this thing, according to some members of -- certainly, Senator Coleman and others. So what conclu -- and I'm not asking you to write whatever tiny story will come out of this, but what do you think the construction is here?

MR. CASEY: Barry, I think what the construction is, is that the United States has been at the forefront of ensuring that the UN moves forward with its reforms, that it moves forward in an effective way. I think our record on the Oil-for-Food program is very clear. We have been very supportive of the investigations into this issue to get to the bottom of it. As you know, Congress has been very active in terms of investigating these activities. The Justice Department brought a number of indictments related to that as well. So I think our record speaks for itself. I also know that on the issue of various concerns related to this, that there has been a substantial amount of Congressional testimony provided by administration officials over the last few months and I would stand by that. It's a very full record.

QUESTION: On a -- well, as whenever this subject has been addressed, you're speaking not of the period when there was banditry afoot, but you're speaking of trying to mop up afterward and how committed everybody is to cleaning -- reform and cleaning things up. You know, he's saying that the Americans and the British could have stopped the smuggling. He's talking about the period when the theft was going on, the criminal behavior was going on, and I don't find that the State Department is responding to that. I think I find the State Department saying we want to make things better, we're doing what we can to make things better, we're interested in reform, we're interested in a terrific UN, we like everybody, we're good-natured people. But how about his accusation that the United States and Britain could have stopped the smuggling? That's pretty serious.

MR. CASEY: Barry, you know, again, I think the United States' record on this issue is very clear. The Maritime Interdiction Force that was established to help prevent smuggling activities was very active. You can check with the Pentagon and they can give you chapter and verse on how many thousands of vessels were inspected, stopped, turned around, and moved forward. Again, I think the record on this speaks for itself and I really don't have a lot to add to it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CASEY: Please.

QUESTION: I'd like to turn to the confirmation process with John Bolton. There was a report out in The Washington Post this morning about another incident of a State Department employee having a run-in with Mr. Bolton, specifically, Rexon Ryu, who was a nonproliferation expert, the Post reports was transferred to another bureau after he failed to produce a document requested by Bolton's chief of staff. Do you have any comment on this? Did this incident actually happen?

MR. CASEY: You know -- I read that story and frankly, I really don't have a lot of comment on it. What I would do is reiterate for you what the Secretary said yesterday about Mr. Bolton, and what the President has said previously about him. You know, we believe that John Bolton is going to be a terrific ambassador for the United Nations -- to the United Nations from the United States. We believe he's going to represent this country very well there. As the Secretary said, he's an effective manager, an effective diplomat. He's proven that through his work on the Moscow Treaty, on the Proliferation Security Initiative, and throughout his career and I think at this point, we'll just leave it to the committee to do its work and we very much look forward to having him in New York serving the administration.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MR. CASEY: Yes, sure.

QUESTION: Are you aware, though, of efforts by Democratic staffers on the committee to look for other State Department employees who might have had similar incidents with Mr. Bolton?

MR. CASEY: You know, I'm not directly involved in the committee's work on this and I really am not aware of what they might or might not be doing. I would have to refer you to them for comment.

QUESTION: But do you think that the press reports on Mr. Bolton now have gotten so far to even -- you know, complain about his haircut and his moustache -- I mean, is this getting too personal?

MR. CASEY: You know, I'm going to stick to Richard's policy of not doing press reviews here. I'll leave it to people to do that. I do think it's important that as we move forward with these things, that the committee have the opportunity to ask all its questions and get all the answers that it wants. I know Mr. Bolton has been forthcoming in his testimony and very committed to responding to what he's being asked, but I think I'll stay away from doing media reviews today.

Peter?

QUESTION: Yeah. Tom, if I could just come back to Annan for a second.

QUESTION: Let me stick with Bolton and just finish off with that --

MR. CASEY: All right, let's work our way backward. We'll finish up with Undersecretary Bolton and then we'll move back to Secretary General Annan.

QUESTION: On Bolton, can you not address whether or not the Post story is accurate, whether the person in question was transferred after having not produced something for Bolton's office, and whether there is any accuracy to the idea that there was causality there, that the guy got transferred because of this? It may be a coincidence, it may have nothing to do with Bolton. You know, I'm giving you a chance to dispel -- you know, what might well be a false --

MR. CASEY: Again, this story's out there. The individuals who are mentioned in this story have chosen not to comment on it and I'm not going to get in the middle of that either. Okay, let's go back to you, Peter.

QUESTION: Okay. Tom, I just want to be very clear about what you're saying. I mean, are you saying that the charges made by Kofi Annan are without any merit whatsoever and do not deserve further investigation? The United States has been at the forefront of saying we want to get to the bottom of the entire thing. You seem to indicate in your response that the United States is totally comfortable with its record. We have charges by Mr. Annan. Are you, in essence, just rejecting them and saying they don't need to be further investigated?

MR. CASEY: What I'm trying to do, Peter, is -- I have not seen the full text of the Secretary General's comments and I, therefore, don't really want to respond to that. What I am telling you is that the United States has taken very seriously its responsibilities as a member of the United Nations, as a member of the Security Council -- that we have pushed forward and been -- in fact, helping to lead the charge in terms of the investigation and the very serious problems that have occurred not only with this particular issue, but with other areas of the UN. And we're committed to making sure that we not only find out anything that had happened related to wrongdoing in this circumstance, but also that appropriate actions be taken to address it. That's all I'm trying to say.

QUESTION: But you are rejecting the notion that the United States had any blame and Britain had any blame in the inadequacies of the Oil-for-Food program? Is that true?

MR. CASEY: I am saying that the United States record on this is very clear and has been addressed extensively in public testimony and I really don't want to go beyond that at this point.

QUESTION: Is it a good record?

MR. CASEY: I think the record speaks for itself, Barry.

QUESTION: Does it say, "Hooray for us"?

MR. CASEY: Again, I'll let you look at the testimony that's been given.

QUESTION: Mr. Annan is the world's number-one ranked diplomat. Didn't he take the diplomatic -- what should I say? -- stereotypical step of providing the State Department with a detailed statement of what he was accusing the United States and Britain of doing or not doing?

MR. CASEY: I'm just saying, Barry, that I haven't seen the full text of it yet and I just don't want to respond to it.

QUESTION: Well, but -- yeah, I don't mean to, you know, push you up against a wall, but I think if the State Department -- if he gave the State Department in detail a bill of accusations, I would think somebody would arm you with a response that would say it isn't true or it has to be looked into or it's mostly not true or whatever.

MR. CASEY: Well, again, Barry, I think --

QUESTION: I mean, the fact that you don't have it in front of you is understandable but it isn't understandable the State Department hasn't seen what he's saying and hasn't got something to say about it except that we want to reform the UN just like everybody else.

MR. CASEY: Barry, again, I think our track record on this does speak for itself. There's been congressional testimony given not only on the Oil-for-Food program but on various issues related to exemptions and other matters they've been given in the last couple weeks. And what I'm really trying to tell you is: that is an authoritative and comprehensive look at what we did when we did it and how we did it, and I, frankly, think it's just better to have people look at that testimony and refer to that rather than trying to make it up from here for you. Okay?

QUESTION: Okay, I hope I'm not coming off as the Grand Inquisitor, but don't people so far as Mr. Bolton is concerned -- don't people at the State Department or in the diplomatic community, the U.S. diplomatic community, often get transferred because they don't hit it off with the boss, with someone they work with? Why can't -- in fact, Mr. Silver has given the Foreign Relations Committee -- I don't know if it's a deposition but he was quizzed -- and he said that Bolton tried to get Westermann transferred. I mean, it's not a sin to transfer somebody that you don't get along with, is it?

MR. CASEY: Barry, again, I think Mr. Bolton pretty much adequately addressed this issue in his testimony. I don't have anything to add to it and I'm not going to start getting into it now.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CASEY: Thanks.

QUESTION: Michel.

MR. CASEY: Asharq al-Awsat newspaper said today that President Bush will not deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the U.S. is not pleased at all from the Syria's policies. How do you characterize the relations between the U.S. and Syria?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think our relations with Syria right now are very much focused on ensuring that Syria complies with all the terms and obligations of Resolution 1559. Beyond that, we have made clear, very clear, some of our other concerns about Syria, including its support for terrorism, including its housing of those involved or associated with terrorist groups in Damascus, including our concerns about what Syria is doing or, more importantly, isn't doing to shut off the flow of potential insurgents across the border with Iraq.

So, obviously, we have many, many concerns with Syria right now. The Syrians certainly know what they are. We've spoken to them about it on a regular basis and we're certainly looking for action not only on 1559 but on all those other issues.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. CASEY: Yeah. One more.

QUESTION: Japanese Emperor is expected to visit World War II site in Saipan in June as reconciliation on the 60th anniversary. Is the State Department working with Japan to arrange the trip and also how do you -- how would you like to see Japan commemorate the World War II history?

MR. CASEY: I actually don't have anything for you on a potential trip by the Emperor. Let me get something for you and I'll get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: In the back.

QUESTION: Do you have any idea when the conclusions of the -- of the --

MR. CASEY: Investigation?

QUESTION: -- the investigation into the friendly fire episode with the Italians, when it will be?

MR. CASEY: No. I know that the -- those involved in the investigation are working on it very actively right now but I don't have a timeframe to offer you.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. CASEY: Okay, Peter.

QUESTION: Yeah, Tom, there are reports out of Nairobi that the United States is planning or trying to seek the extradition of 2 of the 17 suspects in the 1998 bombing of the Embassy. Can you comment on that? Do you have any information on it?

MR. CASEY: I actually can't. I'd have to refer you over to the Justice Department for that one.

Arshad.

QUESTION: Tom, there was a report out earlier this week out of Qatar saying that the Qatari Government is considering using robots to serve as camel jockeys rather than the small boys, many of whom are believed to have been trafficked, sold into servitude, to do this. Do you take this seriously? If they're going to go to the trouble of getting a Swiss company to make robots to do this, why don't they just stop the racing entirely and leave these little boys alone and, you know --

QUESTION: And little girls, too.

QUESTION: Yeah. Girls, too. I think it's just boys.

MR. CASEY: It's mostly boys, yeah.

QUESTION: Well, it's a serious question.

MR. CASEY: Yeah. No, and it's a serious question that deserves a serious answer. I saw the story you're referring to and while I don't honestly know whether this company, in fact, has developed robot camel jockeys or not, what I do want to say is the issue of child camel jockeys is a very serious one and it's one we've worked with and we would welcome any and all efforts to end the practice of employing small children as jockeys in camel races.

I think you know that we've consistently worked with, and held the same position as, the International Labor Organization and a variety of human rights groups that this is incredibly hazardous and dangerous work and should be banned for children under the age of 18. That's something that's part of the ILO Child Labor Convention. It's been ratified by the governments of the countries in which these races are held. And the fact that in many cases these children are trafficked and brought from other countries to be part of this system is another violation of international standards. So I don't know whether the robot story is true or not, but we certainly support anything that would do it.

QUESTION: I just have one follow-up. Are you guys going to try to establish -- I mean, as you know, you do the Trafficking in Persons Report. Qatar was a tier two watch list country, which is just one above the basement. Are you going to try to establish the truth of this or whether it's just some sort of bizarre publicity stunt that they're doing? Just, you know, because you have to assess these efforts in making decisions on, you know, what tier you put them in.

MR. CASEY: Yeah. No, I do know that this is something that people will look into and see what can be done. Again, as I've said, this is an issue that we've raised with the countries involved regularly and if this, in fact, would be true and there was a way to find a way to get these children out of this incredibly hazardous and difficult labor that they're put into, we'd be all for it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:57 p.m.)

DPB #64

Released on April 15, 2005


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