State Dept. Daily Press Briefing July 26, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
July 26, 2006
U.S. Calls for Islamic Courts Union and Transitional Federal
Institutions to Commit to Dialogue and Establish Legitimate
Government for Somalia
Somalia's Neighbors Must Not Support Violence
Welch and Abrams to Stay in Region
Conditions Must Be in Place for Ceasefire
U.S. Providing $30 Million in Immediate Humanitarian Assistance to
U.S. Working with International Community to Help Lebanon Gain
Secretary's Efforts Must be Sustained
Iran, Syria Must End Support of Hezbollah
UN Appeals for Humanitarian Assistance / Reconstruction of
Update on Americans in Southern Lebanon / Investigating Reports of
Remaining Americans / Last Scheduled Ship Departure Today
Death of UN Peacekeepers / Investigation Necessary
Discussions of Possible UNIFIL Force in Lebanon Ongoing
Bank of China Actions to Freeze Assets / U.S. Supports Efforts to
Fight Counterfeiting and Other Illicit Activities
12:55 p.m. EDT
MR. CASEY: Okay. Afternoon, everybody. Welcome to the State Department. Don't have any statements or announcements to start you out with, so let's go right to your questions.
QUESTION: Let's try something that isn't Iraq or Lebanon. The Somalia Government, which is pretty much, quite weak, is reporting the cargo plane landing with weapons that suspect it'll be for Islamic militants. That situation doesn't seem to be calming down; it's getting more precarious. Does the State Department have a view? Is this a new battleground for Islamic militants?
MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, first of all, I saw that report briefly, but I certainly don't have anything that confirms that information or can back it up for you. But I would refer you to the statement that we put out yesterday on this subject. You know, we call for both the Islamic Courts Union and the Somalia Transitional Federal Institutions to move forward and recommit to a process of dialogue and discussion to resolve the issues between them, and to work to build and establish a legitimate government for that country. We certainly support the creation of -- and it's long been our goal to have the establishment of a functioning government that incorporates all elements of Somali society. And we definitely want to see that happen. But that is -- the way forward is for the Courts Union, for the Federal Transitional Institutions and for other actors in the process to work together to come up with and create that kind of government that really can represent all the factions and all the interests in that country.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) has no notion -- you know, Eritrea suspected Kazakhstan, it suspected -- who's sending in these weapons?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, what we said yesterday is -- and what we believe is that it's important that Somalia's neighbors avoid any kind of actions that would prevent these groups from getting together and being able to talk through their differences. We certainly don't want to see, whether it's Eritrea or Ethiopia or Kazakhstan, or any other country engage or get involved in efforts to support any violence in that country. Again, this is -- and Somalia's problems over the years have been caused by a resort to arms and a resort to violence. We need to get away from that in order to be able to create and establish a government that functions, a government that works, and a government that can serve the Somali people.
QUESTION: Do you mean to include Ethiopia in that suspect group?
MR. CASEY: I include all of the neighboring countries. I thought you'd refer to them.
QUESTION: No, I thought Ethiopia was doing -- was having a positive role, but alright.
MR. CASEY: David.
QUESTION: Tom, I was just wondering if you have been in diplomatic contact with the Ethiopians about this. I mean, they -- their government seems to deny having a presence in Somalia that's been verified by any number of observers.
MR. CASEY: Well, David, I think, first of all, the facts are unclear as to exactly what has or hasn't happened militarily on the ground. But again, the message that we've sent to all the different factions in Somalia and in conversations we've had with all of Somalia's neighbors is that what we want to see them do is work with the parties to engage in a diplomatic process, to engage in discussions, and to try and work out an arrangement so that we can move forward and establish a functioning working government in that country.
Let's go over here. Yeah.
QUESTION: Jonathan Rugman, ITN London. The British Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, has told us she is very unhappy about the use of a British airport as a transit point for American munitions traveling to Israel. And she has told us that she is considering making a formal diplomatic protest to the United States. Has this protest been received and what's your response to this?
MR. CASEY: I haven't seen her comments and I'm not aware of any protest that's been made. Obviously, the Foreign Secretary has been with Secretary Rice in Rome, so I'm not aware if they've had any particular conversations there. On the general subject, I think this has been spoken to before and in fact, the President addressed it -- the issue yesterday in terms of U.S. sales to Israel in his press conference yesterday. And I really don't have any information beyond that.
Let's go on back here.
QUESTION: I thought you had said that there would be a couple of envoys -- I think I had the names somewhere -- who would stay behind after Rice left.
MR. CASEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Welch and Elliott. Is there enough really for them to do that?
MR. CASEY: Well, yeah. David Welch and Elliott Abrams, as the Secretary said on Friday before she left, will be staying on in the region. And we do think there is a lot of important work for them to be doing, following up on the Rome conference. I think that conference made it very clear that there's a broad consensus in the international community to have and develop the conditions for an urgent ceasefire that allows us to move forward with the terms of Resolution 1559, the Taif Accords, and with, as well, the conditions laid out by the G-8. We all want to see the fighting stop as soon as possible. But as the Secretary said repeatedly, and as the statements by the group makes clear, there needs to be the conditions in place for that ceasefire and for that halt in the violence to be enduring and sustainable.
In addition to that, we certainly need to do everything we can now, and as the U.S. has already started to do and as others have started to do, to provide for the immediate humanitarian needs of the Lebanese people. As you know, we've provided $30 million in assistance as our initial contribution in response to the urgent appeals by the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross. My understanding is, in addition to the two large-scale medical kits -- these are the ones that can support 10,000 people's needs for about a three-month period -- two of those had arrived in Beirut as of yesterday and were turned over to the International Committee of the Red Cross for distribution. A third one has arrived today. We've been working with the UN to try and assist them as they move forward in helping to distribute these materials into Lebanon to get them to the people who need them most.
And certainly, what Mr. Abrams and Assistant Secretary Welch will be doing while they're there is continuing to work with others in the international community on ensuring that humanitarian assistance gets in and that it can, in fact, be distributed, working with the international community on how we can best support Lebanon to take full sovereignty over the country and to be able to deploy its armed forces to the South. And that includes talking about the possibilities for the international force, which was also discussed at the conference. So I think there's a lot of work for them to do out there and they certainly will be continuing to do it.
It's important that we sustain the efforts that the Secretary's made over the last few days. And part of the reason why she told you on Friday before she left that David and Elliott Abrams would be staying out there is so that we could ensure that after the Rome conference, there was a continuous high-level effort on the part of the United States to try and move forward towards our common goals and objectives.
Let's go over here, Samir. Yeah.
QUESTION: Where in the region will they stay? You say they're staying in the region?
MR. CASEY: Currently, they are in Rome and they will be continuing consultations with the representatives there. I do not have a specific itinerary for them. They will be visiting other parts of the region. Tomorrow, I will try and give you an update on specifically where they are at that point and what other places they will be visiting, but I anticipate that they will be moving back and forth between some of the different parties involved.
QUESTION: A preliminary question, Assistant Secretary Welch, in a briefing on his way to Rome, said the U.S. is considering taking some measures against Syria and Iran to behave -- so they'll behave in a responsible way regarding the future of Lebanon. Do you have any information about such measures?
MR. CASEY: Well, I don't have anything specific I can offer you right now, Samir. I think the Secretary has been very clear on the responsibility that Syria has -- the responsibility that Syria has that was laid out for it in 1559 with regard to Lebanon and with regard to ceasing its support for destabilizing forces there, including Hezbollah. And we've said all along that we're very concerned about Iranian support for Hezbollah as well. Both those countries are standing very much on the outside of the rest of the international community.
There's a clear agreement that we saw exemplified in Rome today that everyone believes that Lebanon must be a free and independent state, that there must be a Lebanese Government that truly does have control over its whole territory and that's what we're all working towards. And Syria and Iran have a very clear choice presented to them. They can take actions that will continue to support terror, that will continue to support instability, and that will continue to undermine the aspirations of the Lebanese people and the will of the international community, or they can turn the other way and help us help the Lebanese people do what they wish and do what they so rightly deserve, which is to have a country that they are in control of exclusively and without the interference of outside parties.
QUESTION: I'm trying -- a clarification.
MR. CASEY: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: Welch and Abrams. Rome and then be in the region, being the Middle East?
MR. CASEY: Yes. In the Middle East, rather than Europe, Barry. Yes.
MR. CASEY: Teri.
QUESTION: Just a clarification. Is the $30 million that the U.S. has pledged so far, is that coming under the UN appeal or is that $30 million bilateral dollars and then you will be making an additional contribution under the -- well, like the UN appeal?
MR. CASEY: That $30 million is a direct response to the UN and ICRC appeals. It'll be going in various means and various ways. Some of it will be in-kind support, including medicines, plastic sheeting, blankets and other things. It will also be some in-kind contributions. I believe we have already given, I think it's two or three million dollars -- I'll see if I've got the figure here for you -- to the ICRC as a direct cash contribution -- excuse me, yeah, this is coming from our Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. The initial contribution that's part of our 30 million effort was 3.4 million to the International Committee of the Red Cross in support of the Emergency Appeal for Lebanon and 1 million to the International Organization for Migration as well.
So -- what that 30 million is, again, something that's our initial contribution. We're going to continue to look at the situation, see where the needs are, and make determinations about other support beyond that. USAID has a Disaster Assistant Response Team that is both based out of Cyprus, but is going in and out of Lebanon. They're making some of those assessments now and then we'll be in a better position to talk about a further response beyond that 30 million.
QUESTION: Okay. Just one more. Is this -- the UN plans to have a pledging conference or something, doesn't it? The UN is going to ask for a certain amount. I'm just wondering if this -- if you are going to count this toward the UN request or if this is in response to the entire world saying Lebanon needs help, the U.S. is giving us bilateral.
MR. CASEY: There's two separate things. There's been a specific UN appeal in conjunction with the ICRC for $150 million. This $30 million was an immediate response to that specific appeal. In addition to that, though, I do want to point out that one of the other aspects of the decisions made and the statements made by the group in Rome is that at a future date, we will also be participating in a broader reconstruction conference for Lebanon. And that's something else that's very much on people's minds, because of course, in addition to stopping the fighting, once that's done, we all agree that we need to work together in the international community to support the reconstruction of Lebanon, including repair to the infrastructure that's been damaged in the fighting.
Let's go back here and then let's go down -- sorry, Sylvie, I've been looking back instead of looking at you. We'll go to you next.
QUESTION: Mine's on the American evacuees, the status of that. We had an anecdotal report that there was an isolated town in the Beqaa Valley who not only was not contacted by the U.S. embassy, but also these people couldn't reach the embassy to learn how they're supposed to leave. With the deaths of the UN observers, despite some communications that "Hey, we're here, look out," are you still confident that Americans can safely transit the area?
MR. CASEY: Well, let me talk a little bit about Southern Lebanon and then about, sort of, the overall relief activity and give you a bit of an update there and then we'll get into some more specifics. First of all, on Southern Lebanon, there's a group of approximately 200 American citizens who have -- we have been able to get out of Southern Lebanon who departed Tyre today. This was aboard a Canadian-chartered ship. We are still looking into additional reports of remaining American citizens in Southern Lebanon to try and assist them. Obviously, it is a very difficult situation and as I said to you yesterday, in terms of our ability to convoy people out or otherwise move them out, we are looking and evaluating the situation very carefully on a day-to-day basis, really on an hour-to-hour basis to see when and how we can help people move out.
I do know, in addition to those 200, there were a small number of other American citizens who were able to get passage on other ships out of Tyre on their own in recent days. I don't have a specific number on that, but we do know that there were some folks, handfuls, that have gone out that way. We are, of course, continuing our efforts to try and locate and get to any American citizens, in addition, in the South, who may wish to depart. Obviously, again, the situation is very difficult, but we are doing all we can.
If -- and I should just point this out, as always -- if there are any information that comes to any of you or any of your organizations, any individual American citizens out there who know of someone in the South or who's heard from someone in the South who is trying to make contact with us or has been unable to, again, please call our hotline number, 1-888-407-4747, and pass that information along to us. Because again, we have people working all out in our embassy in Beirut to try and assist those people that are there. If, for some reason, we haven't gotten in touch with someone or they have been unable to contact us and you have a contact or anyone else does, please, please let us know, because we will try and reach out to them. And we are doing so not just through phone and email and those other kinds of electronic efforts, many of which are not exactly viable options right now in Southern Lebanon, but also by directly trying to reach out and get to those individuals, as Maura has spoken to and as others have here.
QUESTION: Tom, do you know if the U.S. military has actively gone to -- rescue may not be the right word -- gone to help Americans in distress get to a safe place? Are the Americans who have gotten out in Southern Lebanon and other places all gotten to this safe place on their own?
MR. CASEY: Fortunately, again, what we have been able to do is organize bus convoys and other transportation from various staging areas in Southern Lebanon to help get people up to the ports area, either to Beirut or to Tyre, wherever, sort of, the nearest ship is available and the easiest way to facilitate that is. There are some American citizens, as I said, who have independently been able to get out of Southern Lebanon and make their way to Tyre and get on some ships from there, just as there were other American citizens who independently, earlier on, were able to go to Syria across the land border from other parts of Lebanon.
So it's a combination of both. To the best of my knowledge, Charlie, there has not been U.S. military participation in those efforts in the South. Obviously, if the folks making these decisions on the ground thought that was an appropriate way to go, I'm sure they would do that. The military, I know, stands ready to make efforts as needed. Again, though, under current circumstances, what we have been doing is working with our aid mission and through NGOs that we know in the region to try and coordinate this. So far, that has been the way that we've thought most appropriate to be able to reach out to people and to be able to, when the circumstances are right, organize departures for them. And we do believe that we've gotten to the majority -- the overwhelming majority of Americans in the South who still want to get out.
That said, I do want to make it clear that this is an imperfect situation. We do not -- as we said at the start, we estimate that there are 25,000 Americans in all of Lebanon at the start of this activity. We have now, through our efforts, assisted approximately 14,000 of them to leave. There are several other hundred that we know of who have been able to leave of their own means and devices, but we are concerned and certainly will continue to look into any and all reports of Americans in Southern Lebanon or elsewhere who may not have been able to contact us and who may wish to depart, because this is going to be an ongoing effort. It's part of the responsibility not only of our embassy in Lebanon, but our embassies all over the world to do what they can to support American citizens.
I should also note too that as we said yesterday, that today is the last scheduled ship departure from Beirut in the effort that's been ongoing to help American citizens depart. There were a little over 700 Americans who were expected to leave and were boarding ships today. Again, this does not mean that if there is an American citizen or American citizens in the South or anyplace else who present themselves for departure, that we will not make every effort to assist them. But in terms of the formal daily scheduled departures of ships, today will be the last day for that. I should also note too that the resources that we have had available, both commercial and military to assist in these kinds of efforts, does remain in the area and there hasn't been a change in that status.
QUESTION: After the death of four UN peacekeeper in South Lebanon, the Israelis still bombing the area and still bombing near the UN positions? I wanted to know if you were speaking to Israel to ask their restraint or to ask them not to bomb in this zone?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we are deeply saddened by the death of the UN peacekeepers in Lebanon. I believe the Secretary General as well as the Secretary have spoken to that. But certainly, we believe that it's appropriate and are pleased that the Israelis have said that they're going to do and conduct a full investigation of this tragic incident. There are circumstances to this that, you know, certainly the UN has raised questions about. Obviously, Israel has said it did not intend to attack UN observers, but we definitely do want to see a full investigation of this go forward.
In terms of our messages to Israel, I would just say that, you know, as with all other incidents related to this, we have asked the Israeli Government and continue to ask the Israeli Government to be careful in terms of its activities to not do things that would undermine the Siniora government, that do not worsen the humanitarian situation of the Lebanese people. And certainly we would urge them as well to refrain from any activities that would potentially affect or cause harm to United Nations personnel or other international organization personnel.
QUESTION: On the assembling of a international force for Lebanon sort of begs to question of what's going to -- what would be the future of UNIFIL for the United States? Does the United States support its continuation now?
MR. CASEY: Well, David, I think the question that's really before us right now is how do we use all the resources that are available to us to help the Lebanese move into southern Lebanon -- let the Lebanese army move into southern Lebanon -- and assert its authority and sovereignty over the region. How the international force helps do that, again, as the Secretary said today, we're looking at something that's going to be a robust force and that's going to be able to assist them in that effort. But the specifics of how that is going to work and again the specifics of when and how UNIFIL plays into that is something that's still under discussion and we'll have to see move forward.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that the U.S. has to wait and negotiate with other countries what the force would look like, but what is the U.S. viewpoint right now on what kind of force the multinational troops would be able to have? Would you want it to be an aggressive force where they could physically disarm Lebanese guerillas for example, or would it be more of just a defensive use of force?
MR. CASEY: Now, look, I am going to let the diplomacy take place out there and let people discuss some of those questions which are very important in terms of the exact mission, the exact rules of engagement for any forces established. I think we've laid out pretty clearly what that force has to be able to do in political terms, which is it has to be something that is robust that can help assure that the conditions for a lasting ceasefire are met which means it has to be able to support the Lebanese army's efforts to really control that border region to assure that the kinds of attacks perpetrated by Hezbollah that prompted this round of military action don't happen in the future. But how we get from here to there are part of the things that David Welch and Elliot Abrams and many, many other people are going to be working on in the days and weeks ahead.
QUESTION: And you're not even willing to say the position that you enter those negotiations with?
MR. CASEY: I'm going to say that there's negotiations ongoing and that I'm going to leave it for those people and those conversations to happen and when we've got an agreement, we'll be able to then brief you on the details of it.
QUESTION: The Israeli press says -- actually, the newspaper Ha'aretz quoting the Israeli military, says that U.S. gave to Israel 11 to 15 days -- a delay of 11 to 15 days before calling for an immediate ceasefire. Is it true?
MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of. Look; I think our position on this is pretty clear and the Secretary has reiterated it. And if you go to the -- and I'll just quote it for you so that it can be absolutely clear, what the co-chairman's statement says is, "The conference participants express their determination to work immediately to reach, with the utmost urgency, a ceasefire that puts an end to the current violence and hostilities. And that ceasefire must be lasting, permanent, and sustainable."
The Secretary has said that we need this urgently. I think all of us wish that we could achieve it at this very moment, but again, those conditions have to be met. But there are no discussions that I am aware of in which anyone has said we want anything other than those conditions to be met in an urgent and immediate fashion.
Let's go -- I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Eleven days is not urgent, it's not urgent enough?
MR. CASEY: Today would be urgent enough. Yesterday would be urgent enough. Tomorrow would be urgent enough. As soon as we can create the conditions on the ground to allow it -- to allow for a sustainable ceasefire, that is how soon we want this to occur and that's what everybody is working to achieve.
Let's go back here.
QUESTION: So North Korea -- can you confirm the reports that the Bank of China has frozen North Korea-related assets and also explain how that might be related to the U.S. sanctions against Banco Delta Asia and Macau?
MR. CASEY: Well, frankly, I would refer you to the Bank of China for why they took actions that they took. I've seen the same reports you have. I understand that they've frozen some assets in the Macau branch from the DPRK. Why did they do it? My understanding why they did it is the same reason any country takes actions against illicit financial activity, whether that's counterfeiting or money laundering or anything of its kind, but frankly, their decision. We certainly support their efforts as well as any country's efforts to protect the international financial system from counterfeiting and other illicit activities.
Okay. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:20 p.m.)
DPB # 124
Released on July 26, 2006