State Dept. Daily Press Briefing July 25, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
July 25, 2006
Status of Americans in Southern Lebanon / Need to Ensure Safe
Transport out of Country
Departure Updates / Last Scheduled Ship to Depart Wednesday, July 26th
Casualties among American Citizens in Lebanon
Use of Military Assets in Evacuation of Americans
Role of Lebanese Government in Diplomacy
Rome Conference Participants / Expectations for Conference / Cease
Humanitarian Aid Corridors for Civilian Relief / U.S. Helicopters
deliver First Shipment of Medical Supplies to Lebanon / Future
Need for End to Violence and Long Term Settlement
Ongoing Israeli Operations
EU Proposal for an International Peacekeeping Force
NATO Role in Northern Iraq
U.S. - Turkey Committed to Iraqi Territorial Integrity
Pakistan's Nuclear Program / U.S. Commitment to Non-Proliferation
Visit of Hugo Chavez to Russia / Arms Purchases from Russia
Kosovo Talks in Vienna / U.S. Supports UN-led Efforts
U.S. Support for Negotiations to End Violence
Reaction to WTO Talks
12:30 p.m. EDT
MR. CASEY: Afternoon, everybody and welcome to State Department. I don't have any opening statements or announcements for you. So let's go right to your questions. Let's go back here.
QUESTION: The Americans who were at least were trapped in Southern Lebanon, they missed the boat, what's their status? Is it dire? And might the military have to get them out of there?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think, first of all, we have been able to assist 500 or more American citizens in Southern Lebanon to depart the country, and that is something we're certainly pleased to be able to have reported to you. However, there certainly are other American citizens who are still in Southern Lebanon. We remain in contact with a number of them, and we are looking at how we can help them to depart the region as well. Obviously, the situation is very difficult. We have, as you know, run some bus convoys and used some other means available to help them get out. But again, our focus on this is making sure that we do any transport of American citizens in a way that ensures that they can get to departure points safely.
QUESTION: I've heard 300 that actually were trying to reach that vessel that had to leave by a deadline. Does that include them?
MR. CASEY: It includes, to the best of my knowledge, all those citizens that we have focused on, been able to assist, and know of. Certainly, there are other American citizens that have moved individually. But again, we'll be working with all American citizens that are in port areas to try and assist them to leave.
QUESTION: Would you characterize any of them as being in dire straights right now, that are pinned down by the attacks that are underway?
MR. CASEY: You know, I certainly know that we're aware of a number of citizens that are there who are not in a position right now to be able to leave because of security considerations. We're looking at their situation very closely again, and we want to do everything we can to be able to assist them to depart.
As I said, we don't have any immediate plans I can share with you in terms of specific movements. Part of that, of course, is for Â– out of consideration for the security of the operations being able to move them.
QUESTION: Is that the total of American citizens that you've moved out of Southern Lebanon, or is it 500 plus some from earlier?
MR. CASEY: I understand Â– let me just check that for you. But as I understand it, 500 is the total from Southern Lebanon that we know of that have been assisted by us to move out of the region. Obviously, as we've said before, having a handle on the exact complete total number of citizens in the area is something that is a little bit hard to give you exact figures on. But we are in contact with a number of Americans who are still in the area and we will be doing everything we can to assist them to leave.
QUESTION: Is the remainder in the area -- is it dozens, is it hundreds, is it thousands? I mean, I know you can't say a precise number.
MR. CASEY: I really would not want to hazard a specific number for you, Saul, just because again the situation is pretty fluid and we also want to make sure that we do everything we can to ensure the safety of those individuals.
QUESTION: Mr. Schweid, can I follow on that? I mean, Saul didn't ask for any specific number. We know you can't give a specific number. Is there any way to quantify it? And an answer to -- as to the previous question, did any of them, at least, even if you can't say they're in dire circumstances, did any of them claim they're in dire circumstances?
MR. CASEY: Charlie, I don't have that kind of specific detail for you about the contacts between individual American citizens and the Embassy. Certainly, what I can tell you again is that we have assisted over 500 citizens, again, primarily by bus to get on ships to leave Lebanon. And again, there are others out there. Other than the estimates that you've heard people give who are more the experts on this subject than I am over the course of last week, I don't have any further numbers to offer you in terms of how many people might still be in the region. I'd leave it where they left it. But again, we are continuing to work with and be in contact with American citizens and principally through both USAID's efforts and through the efforts of a number of NGOs who we work with in the region and we are going to make sure that when we have an opportunity to move these people safely that we do so. And I certainly hope that we'll be able to report more to you in the coming days on this.
QUESTION: So when you say -- I had a question before you just said this, but now I'm not going to ask about that. You said that we're going to make sure that when we can move these people. So you're presuming that there are still going to be more people gathering after this?
MR. CASEY: I'm presuming that there are still more American citizens in southern Lebanon who do wish to depart and certainly again we're going to make every effort that we can to assist them in doing so.
QUESTION: Why take a break now?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, we've helped to move people fairly continuously over this period. As you've heard before, we do so when we believe we can arrange for their safe transportation out of the region. That requires a very careful calculus and monitoring on the ground and the Embassy is going to be making those calls based on their understanding of the situation and when it is safe and appropriate to be able to do this.
QUESTION: So you think the situation has deteriorated then in the last couple of days?
MR. CASEY: No. I think the situation is such that it's been fluid from the beginning and, as you know, you had reports from Maura Harty and from General Barbero several times last week talking about the fact that movements had either gone on or hadn't gone on based on an assessment that day of what was available on the ground and what was possible. And so that's something we're going to be continuing to look at, but I wouldn't say anything more on that other than it's an assessment that's made on a daily basis. And again, our primary concern is that when we do, do movements of people, we do so in a way that's coordinated, that's orderly and that is able to be done in the safest way possible.
QUESTION: Okay. And then --
QUESTION: You say that the embassy --
QUESTION: Sorry, can I just have one more, Saul? You've sent out an announcement yesterday also that the last ship will be leaving tomorrow, right?
MR. CASEY: No. We sent out an announcement saying the last scheduled department --
QUESTION: Okay, sorry. That's what --
MR. CASEY: -- will be on Wednesday.
QUESTION: -- I meant that.
MR. CASEY: And let me explain what that means a little bit, too, because I think that is important for people to understand.
The operation that we've been engaged in now for slightly more than a week has been able to get out of Lebanon more than 14,000 American citizens. We believe that, at this point, most of those American citizens, almost all of those American citizens who wish to depart, have now taken advantage of the opportunity to do so. That does not mean, however, that for example in the case of some of these American citizens who may not yet have been able to leave the areas where they're in, whether it's southern Lebanon or elsewhere, that we will not have on an ad hoc basis an ability to move some American citizens out who are in need.
But what we are doing is saying that the formal schedule of daily departures of scheduled ships will end on Wednesday. But again, there will be capacity available to move those individual American citizens who after that point may be able to be in a position to be taken from southern Lebanon or other places where they have not yet been able to depart from.
QUESTION: Do you have reports yet of Americans being killed or wounded?
MR. CASEY: No, not to this point.
QUESTION: Just one minor refinement. You said that the Embassy will determine when the situation is safe enough for transport. How closely are you consulting with U.S. military on the ground who might be called upon to evacuate?
MR. CASEY: Well, obviously, there is very close coordination between our Embassy on the ground and the U.S. military. As you'll recall, our efforts to help American citizens depart from the country began in earnest with the arrival of a specialized military team that helped plan this operation. And Ambassador Feltman has been in regular contact with General Jensen and with other members of the task force that have been assisting in this. And obviously there is very close coordination between them, including on when and if and how to use military assets in this operation.
Let's go Â– Kirit, did you -- same subject?
QUESTION: A similar subject.
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: If we're done with the evacuations.
MR. CASEY: Are you on that same subject, Mr. Lambros, or similar?
MR. CASEY: Okay, Kirit let's go to you first.
QUESTION: The U.S. Government has drawn a fine line between the Lebanese Government and Hezbollah. But in an interview yesterday on Al-jazeera, Hasan Nasrallah said that he had talked to Lebanese Government officials about the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers prior to doing so and that he didn't receive any instructions not to do that. Is that going to affect our relations with the Lebanese Government?
MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen those reports, but I think it's very clear that both Prime Minister Siniora, as well as other members of the Lebanese Government have said that they neither condoned, approved or supported the actions taken by Hezbollah. We're very much going to continue to work with that legitimate democratically elected government of Lebanon including on efforts to improve the humanitarian situation of the Lebanese people. And certainly we believe that that legitimate government is the one that ought to have sovereignty over all of Lebanon's territory not Hezbollah.
QUESTION: On the same subject.
MR. CASEY: Same subject, okay.
QUESTION: Mr. Casey, do you know the participants in the Rome conference coordinated by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and if Greece and Cyprus will participate?
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I actually do not have a complete list for you. We will try and get one for you a little bit later today. Whether Greece, Cyprus or other regional countries are in there, I honestly don't know, but we'll try and put out something for you guys this afternoon that gives you a complete list of attendees.
QUESTION: Same subject. Could you discuss your expectations for the Rome meeting, exactly what they're going to be talking about, for instance, mechanics of a ceasefire deal there possibly?
MR. CASEY: Well, David, I think, you know, the Secretary's spoken to this too. I think the objectives for this remain pretty clear. First and foremost, I think, we're looking at what we can do in the very immediate term to assist with the humanitarian situation in Lebanon. In that regard, I point you guys to a statement that's been released by the Israeli Government after the Secretary's meeting with the Prime Minister, which does note that Israel will be working to expand the humanitarian corridor not only to allow goods to get into Lebanon but to allow them to move within the country. And I think that's something that's very important and is clearly something that we want to see happen. There is a tremendous need on the part of the Lebanese people right now, and both through our contributions to some of the calls for assistance that have been made as well as through working this on a diplomatic channel, we're very pleased to see that that is moving forward. But implementing some of those issues and making sure that aid can get through and does get through to the people that need it in Lebanon is certainly one of the things that we're going to be discussing in Rome.
Obviously, the second part of that is the longer-term issue, which is how you establish the conditions for a meaningful end to the violence and a meaningful settlement of the problems there. That requires us, obviously to get to the conditions that the Secretary's talked about, so that we can have implementation of Resolution 1559, so that the Lebanese Government can assert its sovereignty over the entirety of the country. And there are a variety of options that people will be discussing as to how to do that. Certainly, you've heard from her and from other people about discussions that are ongoing on how we might be able to create and support an international force that would be able to assist the Lebanese army and security forces in taking control of the border region. So those kinds of discussions -- how we go about establishing a lasting and durable ceasefire, an end to the violence, are very much a part of the conversations there. But again, I think this is an opportunity for all the friends of Lebanon and the international community to come together and to be able to have an opportunity to have some serious discussions about how best to achieve that.
QUESTION: The Israelis have told -- Israeli officials in Jerusalem have told my colleagues that Secretary Rice assured them that they would have a 10- to 14-day window in which to wrap up their operations. Is that something that you can confirm?
MR. CASEY: No, that certainly isn't and it's not anything that I've heard coming out of the meetings. Again, of what we want to see is an end to the violence, an end to the fighting and one that happens as quickly as possible. As the Secretary said, there's an urgent need for that to occur. But again, for that to happen, you have to have the necessary conditions met and that includes something that is a sustainable end to the violence. And to do that you've got to be able to move forward with the terms of 1559, you've got to be able to put in place a system and a means of assuring that Lebanon has -- the Lebanese Government -- has sovereignty over the country and is in a position to prevent the kinds of attacks that we've seen that started a couple of weeks ago that prompted this crisis to begin with.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have its own assessment of how long it might take to root out Hezbollah on the ground? The Israelis have said that, you know, it's going to be very time-consuming because they're spread widely and thinly and really dug in deep.
MR. CASEY: Well, again, our focus, the diplomatic focus and the focus of her mission, is trying to work with the full range of actors in the international community on this to see what we can do to help establish those conditions. In terms of the specific detailed conditions on the ground, I'm sure there are people doing that. But that's not the focus of her trip.
Yeah, let's go down here. Sorry.
QUESTION: About the humanitarian aid.
MR. CASEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I know that the U.S. is dispatching medical supplies to Lebanon, but the UN humanitarian agencies have had trouble bringing them into the country, so how are we going to avoid that ourselves?
MR. CASEY: Well, actually what I can tell you is -- give you a little bit of an update on the information I provided for you yesterday about the humanitarian aid effort. A little bit earlier today we had medical kits -- these are the large-scale kits that can provide for the basic medical needs of about 10,000 people for about a three-month period of time -- and include medicines and medical supplies, IV fluids, other kinds of materials. The first delivery of that occurred today in Lebanon via U.S. helicopters. I know our Ambassador was on the ground there, along with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to receive this and to turn it over to the Red Cross, which will be helping to distribute it. And obviously, again, one of the things, as I said, that we're very pleased to see is that the Israel Government has said now that they will, in fact, expand the humanitarian corridors not only to allow these kinds of humanitarian goods and products into the country but to be able to allow them to be distributed over land to people in need. So we're very pleased that we've been able to put this initial part of our $30 million contribution into effect and have it delivered into the country. And we are looking to see that as things move forward here that there are expanded corridors for delivery of humanitarian supplies and support not only from us but from other international donors as well.
MR. CASEY: Anything else on Lebanon? Teri.
QUESTION: International Forces. We haven't gone there yet. Javier Solana says that he'll be bringing with him to Rome a proposal that would center a peacekeeping force on a handful of European countries. I don't have the list in front of me, but is this something that he's shared with you already or can you possibly have any reaction to it before you've seen him at Rome?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think we do want to wait until we get to Rome before we start trying to deal with individual proposals or ideas. I think there's a lot of discussion about how such a force would be structured and how it would operate. And we're very glad that there is a lot of interest in this and think it's important that we have those discussions about how to move forward. But at this point, I think I'll leave it to the Secretary and her counterparts in Rome to discuss those ideas and see where they come out on it.
QUESTION: So this is a fully EU-planned proposal? It was something that you just Â– as far as you know U.S. officials discussed with Solana as he was putting it together?
MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen the specific comments that High Representative Solana has made. There certainly have been a lot of discussions between us and the EU, between us and the UN, and a variety of other actors all looking at how we might be able to structure and organize such a force and who might be able to participate in it. But again, I'd caution you away from the idea that at least at this point there is any kind of agreed upon plan or any kind of specifics to it that I or anyone else could share with you.
Mr. Lambros, let's go to Turkey.
QUESTION: On Turkey, the Turkish prime minister rejected (inaudible) proposed today that NATO should deploy forces in northern Iraq to prevent PKK attacks against southeast of Turkey. Do you agree, since according to President Bush NATO is the pillar of the U.S. foreign policy?
MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, I haven't seen those statements. But of course, the coalition forces are very active in Iraq, including in the northern part of the country. Certainly, we welcome any and all contributions to the coalition effort. I'm not sure what this proposal would specifically be for.
Obviously, NATO is, in fact, involved in Iraq in terms of providing military training to the Iraqi forces, and we very much welcomed and appreciated that mission and that contribution from the alliance as well as those that are made by any other individual members of NATO to our efforts there. But certainly I think what we want to see happen is for, as the President talked about with Prime Minister Maliki today, to see the Iraqis increasingly take over responsibility for their own security as they now have in the Province of Muthanna and as we expect to see happen in many other parts of the country in the months to come.
QUESTION: And given the U.S. expressed understanding of Israel's invasion of Lebanon and stop Hezbollah attacks, what will the U.S. do and say when Turkey tries to stop the recent PKK attacks by invading northern Iraq? Other words, Mr. Casey, does Turkey has the right of self-defense in this case like the Israelis in Lebanon?
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I'm not going to speculate or engage in philosophical discussions. I think what's important is that the United States and Turkey are strong friends and allies. We're both working together both to ensure the territorial integrity of Iraq as well as to ensure that the PKK can't use the northern part of the country for attacks into Turkey or anyplace else.
Let's go to Goyal.
QUESTION: This is the season of demonstrations, protests, and meetings and conferences and are going on all over town. People from Kashmir, from both sides of Kashmir, Indian and Pakistan, they have been holding conferences in New Jersey and also here in Washington, Kashmir American Council. And also some of those people met here at the State Department officials. Where does the U.S. stand now as far as this Kashmir problem is concerned between India and Pakistan or these conferences that delegates that came here to meet with the U.S. officials at the State Department?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think you probably want to talk to some of our colleagues in the Bureau of South Central Asian Affairs about any meetings that they may have had. But I think where we stand on this issue is where we have a good relationship with Pakistan, we have a good relationship with India. We certainly support both our friends in their efforts to increase communications with one another, increase contacts with one another and their work to resolve this issue. But I don't have anything really new to offer you on that subject.
QUESTION: And the same thing Â–
MR. CASEY: Close but no cigar, Teri. Please, no, keep going.
QUESTION: Also as far as this Kashmir problem is concerned, the bombings in Bombay were related to the Kashmir problem. But -- that's what the Pakistanis saying, that these little things will continue unless -- until the Kashmir problem is solved. But India is saying and telling and asking Pakistan that they should hand over all these terrorists who were blamed and connected with the bombings in Bombay. Where does the U.S. position stands on India's denying from Pakistan to hand over these terrorists and -- or India has the same right to take action or go after these terrorists based in Pakistan?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, as you know and you saw from our statements, we obviously condemn the bombings and condemn those attacks. There's absolutely no justification for any reason for attacks on innocent civilians, for attacks on people simply trying to get to and from work, visit friends and family using public transportation and people in marketplaces and we certainly condemn that violence. In terms of the specifics of law enforcement, in terms of how people handle arrested terrorists or otherwise, these are obviously issues that every nation has to grapple with on their own. We certainly support both India and Pakistan in their respective efforts to deal with terrorism, whether it's in Kashmir or whether it's elsewhere.
QUESTION: One more finally, I'm sorry to add.
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: Yesterday The Washington Post front page story, I don't see anybody asking yesterday any question on this nuclear arsenal or nuclear expansion by Pakistan. Was there any surprise to the U.S. or that -- this story or this expansion by the Pakistanis of their nuclear arsenal? Also if there was any demonstration from India to the U.S. State Department or any connection or any discussions on this issue?
MR. CASEY: Well, my understanding and I can't remember whether we talked about this yesterday or not, I know -- I think Tony Snow did at his briefing. But, certainly, this is something that is an issue we've been aware of and we've been following for some time. Obviously, as you know, we have an ongoing discussion with the Pakistani Government about nonproliferation issues and certainly about nuclear issues. The United States obviously discourages any country from proliferation of nuclear weapons or expansion of nuclear capabilities. And certainly this is something that'll be part of our ongoing dialogue with Pakistan.
QUESTION: Do you consider it a nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan?
MR. CASEY: I certainly don't. I think that there are issues that the two countries have to deal with as friends and neighbors, and that's how we'd like to see to them deal with it.
QUESTION: Hugo Chavez is taking a tour of the FSU and is now in Moscow to sign some deals on military aircraft among other things. When he first announced that he was going to do this because the U.S. wasn't exceeding to his requests for parts, you said that you'd be talking to Russia about it and you'd see if the deal actually was going through. Now it has, so let's see what you see.
MR. CASEY: Well, what do we see?
QUESTION: Yeah, what do you think?
MR. CASEY: Teri, as you know, we've repeatedly talked to the Russian Government that the arms purchases planned by Venezuela exceeded its defensive needs and are not helpful in terms of regional stability. And certainly given the fact that this aircraft costs between 30 million and 45 million each, depending on which model you're talking about, kind of raises some questions about Venezuela's priorities. But we have, as you know, expressed our concern to the Russian Government about this and we've urged them to reconsider the sale. So we'll just have to see.
QUESTION: Sounds like the -- you'll have to see again. But sounds like the minutes are ticking down pretty quickly now, if Hugo's there to sign the deal doesn't it?
MR. CASEY: Well, you know, again, these are issues that the Russian Government is going to have to decide on, but they certainly know our views on this and we very much would like them to reconsider.
QUESTION: Are there any last-minute interventions that the Embassy is making or anyone from here making calls?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think, again this is something we've had a number of discussions with them on. I suspect we'll probably have more.
QUESTION: Well, what does this say about your relationship then?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think we have a very good and productive relationship with the Government of Russia. I think that was exemplified by the President's trip out there during the G-8. I think on this issue, we've got a very clear opinion and we certainly hope that the Russians will reconsider this sale because we don't think it's in the best interest of Russia or Venezuela.
QUESTION: On the Balkans.
MR. CASEY: Okay. Last one, Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: On the Balkans. Anything to say on the Kosovo talks in Vienna, since according to reports, so far there is no breakthrough and it's obvious will be a failure on the highest level for the participants on both sides plus with the foreign observers?
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I really don't have much new for you, other than what we said yesterday on that subject. We again, continue to support the efforts of Mr. Ahtisaari to be able to bring about a mutually agreeable resolution to the status issue for Kosovo. We do have our observers there at the talks. We know, as I said yesterday, that there's a lot of differences between the two sides on how to proceed, but we want to urge them and encourage them to continue working with one another because ultimately having a resolution of this issue is in the interest not only of the people in Kosovo, people in Serbia and the people in the broader Balkans as a whole, it's part of ending the crisis that began in the '90s and bringing the whole region fully into the Euro-Atlantic family.
QUESTION: According to the French newspaper, Le Monde, the Albanian Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj, once again stated, "If Kosovo is divided, we can no longer guarantee its borders with Albania, or the border of the Albania part of Macedonia," which means, Mr. Casey, clearly (inaudible) of the borders in the Balkans. Any comment in your mediation to find a solution?
MR. CASEY: Well, you know, I'm afraid I missed Le Monde today. But again, Mr. Lambros, I think our position and our views on this issue are very clear. We certainly support a negotiated, mutually agreeable settlement of this issue under the auspices of the UN as led by Mr. Ahtisaari. That's what we're working towards. That's what we want to see.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the breakdown of the WTO talks and any prospects for future talks?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think you've heard from Trade Representative on this as well as other U.S. Government officials. Obviously, we're very disappointed by this. We thought there was a real opportunity to be able to move forward. And we thought the United States had put forward some very credible alternatives on how to move that ball forward. And it's unfortunate that this process has not led to a successful agreement. But I'd, frankly, just refer you back to what Trade Representative Schwab said and other officials who were out there working this issue.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Real quick on Visetega. There were Indian officials here and the Trade Rep from India and he also met with U.S. Trade Rep Mrs. Schwab. There was some disagreement between India and U.S. also as the trade (inaudible). Is there some kind of trade dispute between the two countries now?
MR. CASEY: Well, look, again I'd refer you to what the negotiators said out there on this subject. Obviously there were differences among a variety of players and actors in this. But again, what's important is I think that the United States put forward a very strong and good proposal to move this forward, and it's unfortunate that we weren't able to get anywhere with it.
QUESTION: Somalia President Yusuf has told the UN Special Envoy that his government would attend a second round of talks with the Islamists who control Mogadishu. But this seems to be a change of position because before he said that he wouldn't meet with the Islamists because they expanded. Does the State Department have a position on this?
MR. CASEY: Well, we certainly believe that the way forward in Somalia is through diplomatic discussions not through military action. And we encourage the Transitional Federal authorities, the Transitional Government for Somalia to go forward and to engage in dialogue with the Islamic Courts Union.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)
DPB # 123
Released on July 25, 2006