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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing July 8, 2005

State Dept. Daily Press Briefing July 8, 2005

Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Acting Spokesman
Washington, DC
July 8, 2005

INDEX:

UNITED KINGDOM
American Citizens Injured in London Bombings
Status of American Embassy
Enhancement of Embassy's Legal Attaché's Office with Additional Personnel

DEPARTMENT
Additional Security at Diplomatic Posts in Light of London
Bombings
Status of John Bolton Nomination
Number of Inquiries about American Citizens who may have been
Affected by London Bombings

IRAQ
Reports that Iraq signed Military Agreement with Iran / Iraq's
Relations with Iran
U.S. Statement on Killing of Egyptian Ambassador Ihab al-Sherif

ITALY
Reports Citing Italy's Plans on Troop Withdrawals from Iraq in September

VENEZUELA
U.S. Response to Trial of Four Leaders of Sumate

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
U.S. Policy on Gaza Withdrawal

SYRIA
Requests that Syria Shut Down Offices of Militant Groups


TRANSCRIPT:

12:47 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the State Department briefing. I don't have any announcements for you. I do want to call your attention to the statement we released a little earlier this morning on the killing of Egypt's Envoy in Iraq. But other than that, go right to your questions.

Barry.

QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on any American casualties in the London bombings, please?

MR. CASEY: Sure. Where we are right now is that we've confirmed that there were four American citizens who were injured in the various blasts in London yesterday. And officials from our Embassy in London have been in touch with those individuals and are providing them and their families with all possible assistance. Of the four people who we've confirmed injured: two of them were treated at local hospitals for their injuries and released; two of them remain hospitalized. We don't have Privacy Act Waivers for any of the individuals, so I'm afraid I'm limited in terms of providing you with any other kinds of information on it. But that's where we have things at present.

QUESTION: Could you just elaborate on whether they were in the subway or on the bus or whatever?

MR. CASEY: I actually don't have information on their specific whereabouts at the time.

QUESTION: Were they visiting London?

MR. CASEY: My understanding was they were tourists, but I don't have sort of detailed information on how long they'd been there for.

Tammy.

QUESTION: Could I ask about if the U.S. is taking any additional security precautions around its Rome and Copenhagen Embassies in light of the claim that was posted yesterday that threatened attacks there?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think as we discussed yesterday, one of the first things we did after finding out that the bombings had taken place was to arrange for a call -- conference call with all our embassies in the Western European or European area to talk about their security requirements and needs and make sure that effective action was taking place. I really don't have anything specific to share with you in terms of those individual embassies.

What I can say is that our embassy in London today is open for business and operating on a normal schedule and all our other embassies in the region are as well. Obviously, when any kind of incident like this takes place, our embassies take a very close look at their individual security postures and take what actions they think are necessary under the circumstances. But again, I just don't have anything in terms of specifics on those two places.

QUESTION: Does that include the ConsularOffice because you remember yesterday the embassy remained opened, but some services were --

MR. CASEY: Yeah. And as we've pointed out in the public announcement we issued yesterday evening, the Embassy is fully open for business today including for Consular services.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Tom, I have a question concerning Iraq. Apparently, they've met with the Iranians in Tehran and have signed a military agreement between the two for military training. Is that -- certainly is going to annoy the Sunnis and is that wise?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think we need to step back and look at what's actually there. I think what we've seen are some competing statements or contradictory statements, both from Defense Ministry officials in Iran and as well as Iraqi Defense officials, as well, that denied the claims that the Iranians made. So, I think it's fairly uncertain as to what may or may not have happened.

I think in general what I'd just like to say is -- remind you that, you know, as we've said in the past, it's important, we think, for Iraq to have good relations with all its neighbors, including Iran. And we certainly would encourage Iran to play a positive and productive role in helping the Iraqis, as we are trying to do, establish a free democratic system and to build a prosperous and peaceful country.

Yeah, you want to go, Barry?

QUESTION: Yeah, Mr. Berlusconi is -- I don't know if this is a surprise particularly, but there's just the barest report now that he is going to begin withdrawing Italian forces in September. Do you happen to have an instant reaction?

MR. CASEY: I actually don't, Barry. I haven't seen that report. I think again, as we've said before, we very much appreciate the firm and steadfast support that the Italians and Italian Government has provided to the operation in Iraq, to the cause of building a more free and prosperous country, and in helping the Iraqis move forward. I'm sure that whatever the Italians do in terms of future movements or changes in terms of their fullest force posture will be done fully in coordination with the multinational force. But I don't have anything specific in terms of that statement.

Let's go down here.

QUESTION: Further to the Egypt announcement you made a few hours ago --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- Egypt has said it's going to start withdrawing some of its diplomats from Iraq or lowering the personnel that it has there. Are you concerned that actions of this type, particularly against Arab or Muslim countries, could convince those countries that perhaps it may be not such a good idea to send their diplomats to Iraq? And are you concerned that could, you know, harm the procedure of Iraq getting good relations with its neighbors?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Well, I mean, first of all, as long as you've raised it, I might as well and we'll be happy to just put into the record, first of all, the fact that the United States condemns the brutal murder of Ambassador Ihab al-Sherif, who is their Charges d'Affaires of the Arab Republic of Egypt to Iraq. Secretary Rice did speak with Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit and expressed our condolences and sympathies, both to the Egyptian people and Government, as well as obviously to the Ambassador's friends, family and colleagues.

We don't think that these kinds of attacks are going to deter us or the Government of Egypt or other countries from working together to build a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq. And we're going to continue to work with the Iraqi Government and certainly with the Iraqi security forces to try and ensure that we do everything we can to make it easier and more possible for people to not only continue the diplomatic relations that they have, but to expand them and to make this operation, make this relationship a deeper and more lasting one.

I think it's important, too, to take a look at what happened in Iraq and perhaps take a look at it in light of what happened in London as well. Ambassador al-Sherif was working on behalf of his country and on behalf of the international community to help the Iraqis establish a peaceful democratic country. He was working in a positive way, and like the President said, there's a tremendous contrast between the positive agenda that we have all had working in Iraq, that the G-8 leaders had working in Gleneagles, versus the kind of horrible, nihilistic terrorist acts that are the hallmark of the people opposed to this process.

So we do expect that the Egyptians will continue to have a positive relationship with the Iraqi Government and we look forward to being able to move forward with them in that.

QUESTION: I'm wondering about that phone call. I know she called a few days ago, didn't she, when --

MR. CASEY: She actually spoke with the Egyptian Foreign Minister yesterday as well, and that call was basically just to convey our condolences to him on behalf of the United States.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Any update on the investigation surrounding the allegations of the President-elect of Iran?

MR. CASEY: No, I don't have anything new to offer you on that.

QUESTION: Can you shed some light on why that's such a difficult process to investigate, since I assume they have dossiers on that whole incident and since it last 444 days, it's almost historic and it was huge at the time?

MR. CASEY: I guess the dossiers would be stored elsewhere. But no, I really don't have anything further to say on the process. Sean's addressed this for a number of days. It's something we're looking at carefully and methodically and the whole government's involved in it, and I think I'll just leave it where we had it.

QUESTION: How about the Bolton nomination? Anything new on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, Congress, as you know, is in recess. I take it they'll be -- I think they're coming back into session Monday or Tuesday of next week. I haven't checked the calendar.

Obviously, we continue to believe that Mr. Bolton deserves an up-or-down nomination -- up-or-down vote -- excuse me -- and deserves one as soon as possible. There's critical work to be done at the UN. Our reform agenda needs to move forward. And we're looking forward very much to having him there to lead the charge.

QUESTION: Can you comment on whether a recess appointment would be likely at this stage?

MR. CASEY: I have nothing for you on that. And of course, recess appointments wouldn't be something done out of this building.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On the Iran thing, Sean was going to check on interviews, I believe. He had said that there were going to be interviews with the hostages and that he didn't know whether they'd started or not. Have you guys (inaudible) on it?

MR. CASEY: You got me, Teri. I don't know. I will have to still check on it for you, but I promise I'll get back to you on it today.

QUESTION: Okay, that's all right.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: New York channel? And speaking of -- (laughter) --

MR. CASEY: Speaking of things left over from previous days, yeah.

QUESTION: Have there been any substantive contacts?

MR. CASEY: I don't think you'll be surprised to know that we still don't have a date for six-party talks.

QUESTION: But what about New York channel?

MR. CASEY: No, I don't have anything new to offer you on it. Sorry.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Tom, in Venezuela, some leaders of the Sumate opposition group are apparently going to be put on trial for overthrowing the -- or trying to overthrow the Chavez government and, apparently, the provocation for this is their acceptance of National Endowment for Democracy funds, this being a subversive act. Do you have any response to that?

MR. CASEY: Actually, we do and I will have, I suspect a little later today, a formal statement that we'll be putting out on this. But let me just say now that we're very disappointed by the July 7 decision of a Venezuelan judge to try the four leaders of the civic nongovernmental organization Sumate on charges of conspiracy for accepting a $31,000 grant from the National Endowment for Democracy to carry out voter education activities.

Simply put, the Venezuelan Government's charges are without merit and foundation. The NED activities that they were involved in were aimed at strengthening citizen participation in the democratic constitutional process of their country. Sumate is an internationally respected civic organization. It's committed to promoting free and fair electoral processes and respect for basic rights. And the judicial actions that are being taken here are, from our perspective, simply part of a Venezuelan Government campaign that's designed to intimidate members of civil society and prevent them from exercising their democratic rights.

QUESTION: Are you following this up with any kind of diplomatic protest or --

MR. CASEY: Well, this is something that we, obviously, remain seriously concerned about, we've spoken with a number of people in the region about. I don't know what conversations have gone on at the Embassy today, but obviously it's something we will be following up with the Venezuelan Government on.

QUESTION: Have you called in the Ambassador or you don't know whether we've gone in --

MR. CASEY: I don't actually know what communications have happened at this point.

Yeah. Joel.

QUESTION: Tom, President Abbas is today visiting -- or yesterday has visited Damascus and he's failed again to meet with the various militant groups. He wanted them to form a unity government in light of the Gaza withdrawal. What are your feelings towards that? And I know in the past you've rejected talk with any of the particular militant groups.

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not sure I know exactly the circumstances you're talking about, Joel. I think our policy on this is all pretty well known. We believe that Gaza withdrawal represents a real opportunity for the parties to move forward. We're working through General Ward, with Mr. Wolfensohn, with our Quartet partners in trying to help that process forward and look forward to seeing the disengagement begin in August.

In terms of the various militant groups, you know, our positions on all of them are well known and I really don't have anything new for you on it.

QUESTION: And didn't you ask in the recent past that Damascus shut down those headquarter offices?

MR. CASEY: Well, we've been asking the Syrian Government for some time to take a number of steps to end its support for terrorism, including closing down offices of militant groups that are opposed to the peace process. Yeah.

Anybody else? Yeah.

QUESTION: There was one thing -- I'm sorry, back to London?

MR. CASEY: Oh, okay, sure.

QUESTION: I forgot to ask. Do you have an update on numbers of inquiries and cases resolved?

MR. CASEY: I think I do. Hold on a minute.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. CASEY: Yeah. First of all, our 24-hour task force is continuing to respond to inquiries that are made. So far, we've received approximately 25,000 total calls on the situation in London. And again, I just want to caution, those inquiries cover a full spectrum of issues related to security and travel to the UK. And only a small amount of them are actually dealing with concerns or welfare and whereabouts inquiries about Americans who might be affected.

So in total, as of about an hour ago, there were 483 total welfare and whereabouts inquiries that had come in over the course of the day -- yesterday and this morning -- and approximately 100 of those had been successfully answered, so there are about 375 that remain, at this point. Now, obviously, we'll be working both here with the Bureau of Consular Affairs as well as the Embassy in London to resolve those remaining ones.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Louie.

QUESTION: Has the Legal Attaché's Office in London been increased or augmented with additional FBI?

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Let me see what I've got for you on that. Yes, as I understand, a small group of individuals were sent to Embassy London to enhance the legal attaché's staff. The main purpose for that was so that they'd be able to operate on a 24-hour basis during the crisis.

QUESTION: Will they be involved in with the British in the investigation process or what's their actual purpose?

MR. CASEY: Their purpose is to allow the Legal Attaché's Office to be able to have a 24-hour function, which they would normally want to do in a crisis situation. There's obviously close cooperation between U.S. and British law enforcement, as well as cooperation in political, intelligence and other areas as well. And again, we've made it very clear that we'd be willing to assist the British in any way that would be helpful to them. I'm not aware of any formal specific requests that have been made at this point though, obviously, there's a lot of ongoing cooperation and discussions. It's just a natural part of our relationship.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information regarding that Italian court order for the arrest of the 13 CIA agents? Is there any information on whether Italian intelligence was involved or wasn't involved? And either way, doesn't it look bad for Berlusconi?

MR. CASEY: I'll have to let the Italian Government speak to what looks good or bad for their Prime Minister. On the subject of arrest warrants, I don't have anything new to offer on it, sorry.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thank you.

(This briefing was concluded at 1:04 p.m.)

DPB #117

ENDS

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