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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 22, 2006


Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Acting Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 22, 2006

INDEX:

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Acts of Violence Against Officials / Hamas-led Government Refusal
to Renounce Terrorism / President Abbas' Meetings with Foreign
Minister Livini and Deputy Secretary Zoellick
Query on Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's Meetings with US
Officials

DEPARTMENT
Schedule/Travels for Under Secretary Nick Burns / Discussions with
EU-3 And P-5+1

SERBIA & MONTENEGRO
Montenegro Referendum / OSCE Monitors

SUDAN
Reports of Militia Attacks / Continuing Acts of Violence in Darfur
/ Honoring of Peace Agreement
Issue of Donations to World Food Program for Darfur
Active Discussions to Increase Size of AU Force / Talks with NATO
/ UN Assessment Teams / US Discussions with Sudanese Government /
Abuja Agreement

IRAN
Banking Regulations / Iran's Trade / Business Concerns from
Financial Institutions
Status of UN Security Council Resolution / ElBaradei Visit / Issue
of Security Guarantees

SAUDI ARABIA
Upcoming Release of Freedom House Report / Subject of Hostile
Presentations of Different Religious or Ethnic Groups in Textbooks

CYPRUS
Parliamentary Elections / US Policy Towards Cyprus


TRANSCRIPT:

12:49 p.m. EST


MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the start of another week. I don't have any statements or announcements for you, so let's go right to questions.

QUESTION: Will the Palestinian infighting and besides everything else, its possible impact on Mr. Olmert's visit, the U.S. clearly supports Mahmoud Abbas. Where is this situation going? I mean, there's talk of civil war, even. How do you expect to pursue your peace goals in this kind of chaotic environment or is it just you're on hold for a while?

MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, I think in part what you're referring to is some of the incidents of violence against officials from the Palestinian Authority security forces this weekend. Certainly, you know, we condemn all acts of violence regardless of who's perpetrating them. And we're troubled by this kind of escalation in intra-Palestinian violence and it certainly is having an impact on the lives of the Palestinian people. And they have the right to expect that their leaders will take actions to prevent that violence to provide for their basic security, which is part of the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority.

I do think it's pretty clear that the Hamas-led government's refusal to renounce terrorism does harm to the interests of the Palestinian people and certainly makes it so that they are risking further isolation as they move forward. You did mention President Abbas in the context of this. I should mention that in addition to the meetings that he had with Foreign Minister Livni at Sharm el-Sheikh at the World Economic Forum, he also did meet with Deputy Secretary Zoellick there. And that is part of our belief that President Abbas does have a important role to play still as the President of the Palestinian people. And we certainly believe that he is someone that we can have contacts with.

We believe he certainly believes in the President's vision of a two-state solution and supports it. And certainly in respect to contacts between him and us and the Israelis, we welcome those kinds of contacts because we believe that this is something that is useful to be able to help the parties in terms of talking about the prospects for peace, based on a non-violent partnership. But unfortunately, I think what we're seeing here is just the consequences of a Hamas-led government that fails to do the basic requirements mandated by the international community, refuses to renounce terror, refuses to recognize Israel and refuses to agree on the possibility of honoring those commitments already made and moving forward on the roadmap.

QUESTION: I don't mean to extend it, but I have trouble understanding how it's useful. I understand why you want to do this and why the Israelis want to do this, but it's a Hamas government and, try as he might, Mr. Abbas or President Abbas is not in charge. It's like dealing with a shadow government because you prefer the people who would be the government, no?

MR. CASEY: Well, he is the elected President of the Palestinian Authority. He certainly does have a role to play in there and we certainly encourage all contacts between parties that can advance the prospects for peace. Obviously, the biggest obstacle to that process being able to move forward is that there is not a true Palestinian partner so long as the Hamas-led government does not accept the basic conditions laid down in the Quartet back in January. But I think the idea of contacts between people that do believe in the process, like President Abbas and Israeli officials and U.S. officials, is a positive thing.

QUESTION: All right. I don't want to jump too far ahead in this. The last question. We'll be hearing more, I'm sure, tomorrow. But are you still committed to what today would seem to be a fanciful notion of a two-sided agreement? I mean, Israel hasn't got a partner. Israel has notions of moving ahead of on its own. And what does the U.S. say to that? Don't move ahead? Wait for a change of things? Deal with Abbas?

MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, look, I think our basic policies remain the same here in terms of what kinds of discussions we'll be having with Prime Minister Olmert. I'll leave that to him and the President and I know there will be ample opportunity for them to talk with members of the press after their meeting tomorrow.

Let's go to Sue.

QUESTION: Do you have -- it's a change of subject.

MR. CASEY: Anything else on this? Sylvie.

QUESTION: Yeah, can we stay -- still stay with Olmert?

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that Prime Minister Olmert will meet with Secretary Rice tonight?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, there will be a meeting this evening at Blair House between Secretary Rice and Prime Minister Olmert. This is basically a preparatory session for the President's meeting tomorrow and I'd expect they'd obviously discuss issues related to Israeli-Palestinian concerns as well as some of the other regional issues that are out there.

QUESTION: Any comment on what Mr. Olmert said about Abbas on CNN?

MR. CASEY: I didn't see what he said about President Abbas on CNN, but I think in terms of issues related to the Prime Minister's visit, again, I'll defer over to the White House.

QUESTION: He doesn't consider Abbas a representative of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and so on?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I didn't see his comments. I've already told you what we think of the meetings between Foreign Minister Livni and President Abbas and already told you our reaction to -- or our involvement with Deputy Secretary Zoellick with him and I just don't have anything additional on that.

Sue, you wanted to change subjects?

QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to ask you about Montenegro and the referendum. Do you have any comment on that? Do you think it's a good thing, a bad thing, or --

MR. CASEY: Well, a little bit. First of all, let me say that we applaud the peaceful democratic and transparent manner in which the referendum was carried out and we congratulate the people of Montenegro on both sides of the vote for acting in a responsible manner on this. Since the actual final decisions, as far as I know, have not been reached -- the actual final vote count has not been formally announced, I think we're going to withhold comment on this issue until we see it then. But obviously, this was an issue for the Montenegrins to decide and we've supported the work of the Referendum Commission as they've moved this process forward.

Joel.

QUESTION: Change of subject. Did Sudan break their peace deal? Of course in Darfur, once again, they bombed another village using extensive helicopters and other extensive military equipment.

MR. CASEY: Well, I hadn't seen reports of engagement by the Sudanese military. What we have seen are some reports of militia attacks in Northern Darfur and we're consulting with the African Union to learn what's happened there. But we really don't have any additional information on that other than what's in the press reports on this at the moment. Obviously, though, this does raise the issue of continuing acts of violence that are occurring in Darfur and it's critical for us that all parties keep themselves focused on honoring the Darfur peace agreement, on moving forward and implementing it, and certainly for those groups that have not signed onto it, we're continuing to encourage them to do so. It also highlights the fact that we need to do everything we can to help support the expansion of the African Union force in Darfur as well as help move forward the transition from that force to a UN-led one.

QUESTION: Tom, when you say you've seen reports of militias and not the government, hasn't it been pretty well established that the government was backing up if not (inaudible) this?

MR. CASEY: Let me clarify, Teri, what I have not seen reports of, at least on our end, are of helicopter or aerial bombardment, which was specifically what Joel is referring to.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. CASEY: That's, yeah, I wasn't trying to disassociate the groups.

QUESTION: Okay. Good.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Sudanese Government accept the deployment of UN force in Sudan --

MR. CASEY: I actually don't have --

QUESTION: -- formally.

MR. CASEY: I don't have an update for you beyond what we have said and I believe we posted an answer on that a few days ago. I'll check again and just see if there's anything new to report, and if there is I'll let you know.

Yeah, Sue.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication that more countries are going to be donating money to the World Food Program to feed people in Darfur because as you know it's been difficult to get enough funding? Are you hearing anything more on that? Is the U.S. going to be putting more than you've already pledged?

MR. CASEY: Well, as you know, and we've talked about this last week, the U.S. has requested additional funding to help support the needs of the people at Darfur. We're already responsible for the vast majority of food aid that is being given there and we are talking with our friends and allies and encouraging them to provide additional contributions. I don't have anything new today that I have to announce to you, no.

Yeah.

QUESTION: And also, Bob Zoellick said about two weeks ago that Rwanda was offering to send, I think it was another 1,500 or so troops? Have you heard anything more on that? He apparently was dealing with Rwanda on that, and are any other countries coming forward and offering troops for this force when it goes in?

MR. CASEY: Well, there are certainly a number of discussions going on, both from the AU side as well as elsewhere. As you know, we're talking at NATO about logistical support for the operation as well. I'd certainly leave it to the individual countries, though, to announce any specific additional contributions. But there are active discussions going on and active efforts both to increase the size of the AU force, and again to work through the UN process, to get a UN-hatted mission in there.

Teri.

QUESTION: As of Friday, the government still had not accepted a UN assessment team even to go in and look at the aid problem. And today Jan Egeland says that it could be just a matter of a very few number of weeks before the whole process collapses. Given that the U.S. is so invested in the peace process and in now approving the situation there, is this something that the U.S. itself is following up on?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, we're in very active and regular consultations with all parties involved, through the UN at the Security Council and through the various agencies involved. Obviously, Cameron Hume, our chargé in Khartoum, is actively engaged in discussions with the Sudanese Government. People here in Washington are as well. And Deputy Secretary Zoellick, as you know, is very actively and personally involved in this and has remained so since his participation in the negotiations in Abuja. But we do believe that these assessment teams should move forward as quickly as possible and that's what we're encouraging the Sudanese Government to do.

QUESTION: Exactly what (inaudible) on acceptance or --

MR. CASEY: I don't. I don't. I actually didn't check for you before I came out and I probably should have. But at this point I don't and if I have anything I'll let you know.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yes.

MR. CASEY: Has the Sudanese Government told you why they would not like to have this international force come in? I mean, you say that you're in regular contact with these people. They must be giving you an indication as to why they're stalling or --

MR. CASEY: Well, I think we've seen a number of different things said by individuals in Khartoum. I think what we'd obviously be looking for is a very clear statement of acceptance. But again, I'll leave it to the Sudanese Government to explain their own motives. What's clear to us, and I think is what's clear to the international community and what's been called for by people in the African Union and at the UN and elsewhere, is that we do need to strengthen this force now that the AU has in place. And then we do need to move quickly to a UN force, not only to be able to monitor the existing ceasefire, but more importantly to be able to help implement the Abuja agreement, which we really do believe holds the key to leading to a comprehensive settlement. Just as the Comprehensive Peace Agreement with southern Sudan created a model for that and allowed us to be able to have something in place that's going to help not only deal with the immediate issues of violence, but allows for a long-term addressing of the underlying grievances and problems that helped cause this in the first place.

QUESTION: Is one of the problems here that the other two haven't yet signed on, so --

MR. CASEY: Well --

QUESTION: Is that going -- I mean, I know that you keep arguing that they're just small, little groups and they're not that significant, but it doesn't really seem to be going terribly far.

MR. CASEY: Well, certainly, we are still encouraging both remaining groups, both the Abdulwahid faction of the SLA as well as the Justice and Equality Movement to sign onto the agreement. We do believe that it is important to have all those groups involved, despite the fact that as you said, the vast majority of fighting forces that are there on the ground from the rebel side in Sudan have already signed onto the agreement.

QUESTION: Tom, could you check on a few different things?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: They both rejected an assessment team for humanitarian aid as well as rejecting, you know, the international force -- proposed international force.

MR. CASEY: Teri, I'll check with you and see what kind of update we have on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, Dave.

QUESTION: Tom, new subject. There's a report today that the United States is using its leverage with banking regulations to sort of put the screws to Iran's trade and I'm wondering what you can say about that. And also, how does that square with the idea of, at some point, offering Iran a choice between incentives and disincentives when it seems like they're getting the disincentives up front?

MR. CASEY: Well, let me take the liberty of your question to provide you answers to one you didn't ask, but I know other people are interested in and then I will answer your question. How about that? For starters, I know there was some questions about the schedule for Under Secretary Nick Burns and his travels, so let me give you the latest and greatest. The latest, at this point, is he will be leaving today from Boston, where he's been with the Secretary at the Boston College commencement address. He'll be arriving in London and then on Tuesday, will be having consultations with individual members of the P-5+1 group. And then as I understand it, the full P-5+1 meeting will, in fact, take place on Wednesday. So there is the latest schedule update for you and I hope that --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: He's good for 10 minutes, maybe.

MR. CASEY: You said it, Barry. In terms of the question you raised, Dave, I think what you're seeing here is a very clear indication that financial institutions are starting to reevaluate their dealings with Iran. And I think that there's ample reason to believe that these kind of financial institutions certainly monitor what's going on in the international community, they're following what's happening in the process not only from the U.S. side, but from the other groups.

But you know, I think they're making some pretty clear decisions on their own that are based on their business concerns and based on an assessment of whether they really want to be associated with a country and doing business with a country that's engaged in actively seeking a nuclear weapon, that's actively defying the international community. And so I think what we're seeing is an example of how Iran is, in fact, isolating itself.

QUESTION: But clearly, this is at the encouragement of the U.S. Government that they're taking this look, correct?

MR. CASEY: Well, I would leave it to folks at Treasury to talk to you about financial measures or individual issues involved, but I do think that what's being -- happening here is in response to real business decisions and real business concerns, rather than any specific pressure from the United States or anyone else. I mean, people are going to decide for themselves who they want to do business with. And I think Iran has created for itself a record that's going to make not only financial institutions but other kinds of private enterprise think seriously about whether they want to engage with them.

QUESTION: Do you remember when Mr. Burns's schedule was up in the air again and again? The idea of -- we were told was that we're looking for a package to fall into place, and when it does it'll be appropriate for him to go there and talk to his counterparts on this new strategy. So should we assume, since he's getting on an airplane, that you now have a package in place to be tidied up in London?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think you should assume that what he's going to be doing in London is talking with all of his colleagues about that package. I'll leave it to them to talk to you about any details of it or to make any announcements as to what's included in it.

QUESTION: I understand. Of course he's going to be talking about it. The question is, he was not to go -- that's putting it a little strong, but he was not to go until the package was in hand.

MR. CASEY: Well, I think it's safe to say that the EU-3 has something that they'd like to discuss with us and the other members of the P-5+1, and that's certainly what we're interested in seeing while we're out there.

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Yesterday the Secretary said that Europeans didn't ask any security guarantee for Iran, but today Europeans say just the opposite. The spokesman of the French Foreign Ministry said that security question will be indeed discussed in London. So aren't you concerned that these obvious differences will hamper the importance or the weight of this package?

MR. CASEY: I haven't seen comments from the French Foreign Ministry. I stick, obviously, 100 percent and completely behind what the Secretary said and I'd just refer you to her comments on that.

Yeah, Libby.

QUESTION: What is the latest on the UN Security Council resolution? Is the goal to finish that this week when Nick is in London, to finish up a text?

MR. CASEY: I don't actually have a timetable to share with you. Obviously, the consultations on that are continuing in New York. But you know, I think we'll put that into place as sort of part of the overall effort, but I'm not offering any predictions today.

QUESTION: Mohamed ElBaradei is coming this week and the issue of security guarantees is definitely on his agenda. So will the Secretary tell him that this is something that the U.S. just cannot support and that all options have to stay on the table? Will she just reiterate that?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not going to predict what's going to happen in meetings that she has. But again, I think on this issue, Sue, we've made it about as clear as we possibly can. She has spoken to it. Sean has spoken to it from here. I think Nick has in his various engagements either. This is not something that's on the table, as she said, and I don't expect there to be any change in that.

QUESTION: So are the French lying then when they say that this is a big issue and that it's been brought up?

MR. CASEY: Sue, all I can tell you is what she said to this subject. I am unfamiliar with the comments made that Sylvie is referring to. But again, I'd just refer you back to what she said on it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the same table?

QUESTION: Is the question too formal? In other words, the Administration has made clear that it has no plans, blah, blah, blah, but the option, blah, blah, blah, the table, the chair, you know, the blackboard. Well, you know the rote of this.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: It could be you're talking of the difference, the disagreement here or the distinction may be whether you have a formal guarantee or not, and the U.S. is not in favor of a formal guarantee. Could that be it?

MR. CASEY: No, that's not -- again, I think her comments were about as explicit as you could make it, Barry, and I don't want to try and slice the salami here.

QUESTION: But how can even the French get it so wrong?

MR. CASEY: I'll leave it to them to describe it.

Yeah.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. CASEY: Yep.

QUESTION: This is about Saudi Arabia. Freedom House has a new report that says that despite their claims that they're removing hate ideology and language from their textbooks, they've failed to do so. Obviously, the United States has been working very closely with the Saudis on this issue, so what is your understanding of what the Saudis have done?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I understand the report is actually going to be released on Wednesday and don't have a copy of it yet, so I think we'll obviously take a good look at it and we'll welcome the opportunity to look at it and review its findings.

But on the general subject -- and you're right, this certainly has been an issue that we've raised with the Government of Saudi Arabia as well as with other governments too -- about any kind of presentations, hostile presentations of different religious or ethnic groups, this was something that was spoken about and is spoken about in our Religious Freedom Reports and obviously Saudi Arabia has been a Country of Particular Concern on that issue as well and it's something we have an ongoing dialogue with them with.

This issue is something that the Saudis have made progress on but where it's clear that there still are concerns out there, and it's something that we raise with them on a regular basis. I know it came up in the context of the meetings that were held here with various Department officials. With the Saudi Foreign Minister, though, I believe it was a passing reference rather than a major topic of discussion. So certainly, you know, we appreciate the fact that there are efforts underway to work on this, but certainly, it still is an ongoing concern and something we'll continue to be discussing with them.

QUESTION: I understand that the Ambassador for Religious Freedom was just there recently. Do you have a readout of his discussions with the Saudis on this matter and any progress or lack thereof that he found?

MR. CASEY: I didn't get a chance to talk with John before I came out here, but I will try and get you an update on his travels and conversations with the Saudis.

QUESTION: Are you doing that -- aren't Countries of Particular Concern subject to sanctions unless they move forward and make progress within a certain timeframe? And I think this is where the Saudis were last year and I haven't heard about it since then and the timeframe in which they were supposed to make progress has long since expired.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I think, George, I'll get you -- as part of the update of the discussions with Ambassador Hanford, since that's obviously his role, we'll see what we can come up for you on that.

Let's go back here.

QUESTION: On Montenegro again, if I may?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you expect that the results of the referendum -- although I understand you don't want to comment, but could they affect negotiations in Kosovo and the region as a whole?

MR. CASEY: I wouldn't want to predict any linkages between them. Obviously, this is an issue for the people of Montenegro to decide for themselves. Again, we thought that the process in this was to be applauded. There was a high voter turnout. The OSCE monitors have said that it met the standards set by them for elections and we'll just wait and see the results, but again, I wouldn't want to predict any particular linkage between the results there and anything else.

Let's go way in the back here.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Cyprus had parliamentary elections and it seems the political forces that opposed the Annan plan came out strengthened. Will this reality on the ground influence any new effort to salvation? In other words, should we move beyond the Annan plan?

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen -- similar to the situation in Montenegro, I haven't seen any final voting results announced, so I don't want to get ahead of myself in terms of reacting to results that haven't been formalized by the country. In terms of our policy towards Cyprus, though, U.S. policy remains the same on that. We continue to believe that there should be a peaceful resolution to the disputes on the island using the Annan plan's basis.

Yeah, let's go over here.

QUESTION: A question about consultation on Iran in London. I heard the Japanese Vice Foreign Minister is going to London to meet with Mr. Burns over there. And then I understand that now, a consultation could be expanded beyond P-5, plus Germany and Japan is going to participate in that consultation?

MR. CASEY: That's not anything I've heard and in terms of the Japanese Vice Foreign Minister's travels, I'd refer you to them.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: We've got one -- Dave, one in the back. Your thank you just isn't fast enough today, Charlie. Sorry. Dave.

QUESTION: Left over from the weekend, apparently the Zimbabwe Government has swept up a number of dissident political figures and I'm just wondering if you had anything on that.

MR. CASEY: I think I would have if you'd asked me on Friday, but I don't have anything for you today, Dave. I'll try and see if I can find something for you later. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:15 p.m.)

DPB # 85

Released on May 22, 2006

ENDS


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