State Dept. Daily Press Briefing Sept. 12, 2006
State Dept. Daily Press Briefing September 12, 2006
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
September 12, 2006
Formation of National Unity Government / US Commends President
Quartet Call for a Palestinian Authority Government that Meets
Specific Criteria / US Mindful of Humanitarian Needs of
Palestinian People / Issue of US Assistance to Government /
Quartet Criteria Clear on Evaluating Palestinian Government
Terrorist Attack on US Embassy / Response by Syrian Authorities
Use of Improvised Explosives / Attacker in Syrian Custody
Status of US Embassy in Damascus / Security at Facility
Terrorism Worldwide Problem / Violence in Region / Syria is State
US Concern for Syrian Continued Support of Terrorism
US at Forefront of Bringing Peace to Region
General Ralston's Mission as Special Envoy / Combating the PKK
Mohammed Ali Hamadi in Lebanon / Issue of Extradition
Query on Deployment of US Soldiers in Lebanon
US Welcomes Statements of Support for Iraq's Government and
Read-out of Under Secretary Burns' Meeting in Berlin with P5+1
Broader Consultations in Security Council / Alleged Iranian Offer
on Suspension of Uranium Activity
Closure of Newspapers By Iranian Government
Use of Term "Islamo-fascist" / Under Secretary Karen Hughes / US
Believes Islam is a Religion of Peace
Chris Hill's Meetings / Six-Party Talks / Look at Ways to
Implement UN Security Council Resolution / Ongoing Discussions
Secretary Rice's Meeting with Sudanese Foreign Minister Lam Akol
Trial of Bulgarian Nurses and Palestinian Doctor in HIV Case / US
New Rules for Foreign Media / US Reaction / Issue of Freedom of
12:47 p.m. EDT
MR. CASEY: Okay, good afternoon, everyone. Pleasure to be here. Please to see all of you. I don't have any opening statements, so why don't we go right to your questions.
QUESTION: Tom, there's several things. But one that's interesting certainly is efforts are proceeding apparently positively to form a unity government between the various -- among the various Palestinian factions. And I wondered if the U.S. must be watching this carefully. Do you have any, you know, interim appraisal, assessment of what's going on? Evidently, according to the Hamas spokesman, it leaves -- it would make room not only for Hamas but the popular Fund for the Liberation of Palestine, Islamic Jihad and several other groups that are listed by the State Department unfavorably. Do you have any comment on this development?
MR. CASEY: Well, let me talk to you a little bit about what we know and also what we don't know about this plan.
First of all, we want to commend Palestinian President Abbas for the efforts he's made to break the impasse that have been presented by the Hamas Government, which certainly has failed to govern responsibly and failed to fulfill the aspirations of the Palestinian people.
We haven't yet, Barry, seen the details of the agreement on the formation of the Government of National Unity or equally importantly the political platform which that government's going to be charged with implementing.
However, what I can say is from what we've seen so far, we are certainly concerned that the National Unity Government does not appear to meet the Quartet's call for a Palestinian Authority Government that meets specific criteria that we've outlined before which includes renouncing terrorism and violence, recognizing Israel, and accepting all the previous agreements between the parties, and certainly that would include the roadmap. And it's important, obviously, that those criteria be met so that there can be a Palestinian partner for peace.
As you know, too, we're continuing to be mindful of the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people, and that's why we are continuing to work despite the concerns that we've had about how this particular Hamas-led Government has acted to maintain and, in fact, increase our assistance to the Palestinian people. And by present count, we are at $468 million in direct assistance this year. So we're going to continue to look at this, but I think that's our initial view at this point.
QUESTION: Some of the accounts of the reporting is cast in terms of, you know, an effort to resume, to re-open full blown U.S. assistance. I mean, you know, there's economic problems in the Palestinian territories, heavens knows, and this has been cast as that kind of an effort. Can you say anything about restoration of U.S. aid? Does it depend, as apparently political recognition does, on their meeting the conditions the Quartet roadmap conditions?
MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, let's be clear about --
QUESTION: I mean, aid to the Authority.
MR. CASEY: Well, we're doing it where we are. Yeah, again, we have an extensive aid package for the humanitarian and economic needs of the Palestinian people that has been increased over time in this year as you've seen.
In terms of assistance to the government itself, I -- obviously, the United States has made it clear, as has the Quartet, what kind of actions we want to see the government take. I just mentioned the specific conditions for you and, obviously, nothing can move forward until such time is there's a government in place that does meet that criteria and that would, therefore, be a reasonable partner for peace for Israel.
QUESTION: Does the possibility of Hamas belonging to a government that accepts the idea of a state in Gaza and the West Bank and, therefore, implicitly recognizes Israel, is that enough for the United States to judge the conditions have been met?
MR. CASEY: Look, I -- you know, I think what we need to do is deal with what's actually in the platform that that government is charged with implementing. Once we see that, then we can make an evaluation. But at this point I really don't want to play a speculation game on what if this, what if that. We need to see the full package. We need to see what's there. We'll evaluate it based on the Quartet criteria and then we'll be able to respond in a more definitive way.
QUESTION: Can we change the subject?
MR. CASEY: Guess that's a no. Go ahead, Sue.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on what's -- anyway, do you have any comment on the Israeli court's decision to call for the release of the Hamas leaders who were arrested after the soldiers were kidnapped?
MR. CASEY: I actually hadn't seen reporting on that decision, Sue, so we'll try and get you something for that later.
QUESTION: Do you have any inside knowledge whether the release by Israel of some -- several of Hamas people, I guess, is the beginning of some exchange that would bring the Israeli -- the kidnapped Israeli home?
MR. CASEY: Barry, again, I really don't have anything for you on it. In terms of the motivations of the Israeli courts, I'd leave it to them to them to tell you about it.
QUESTION: I just wondered.
MR. CASEY: Yeah. Sue, do you want to --
QUESTION: Yeah, one more thing. Hamas --
MR. CASEY: Same subject?
QUESTION: Same subject. Hamas indicated that they were willing to accept previous agreements. And I just wonder whether that was, as far as you see it, the sort of beginning of their possible sort of acceptance of Israel? Do you see that as a positive thing or how do you view that?
MR. CASEY: Look, I think --
QUESTION: Is it an opening?
MR. CASEY: The best way I can characterize it is the Quartet's made the criteria clear on which we're evaluating any Palestinian Authority government. Obviously, any movement in that direction is positive, but we need to see all those criteria met before you can really talk about having a valid partner for peace in the region.
Nicholas, do we want to move over to you and then --
QUESTION: Yeah. Can you tell us what you know about the attack in Syria and more specifically in addition to what we know about what the Syrian authorities did, was DS at all involved with this at the Embassy, the Regional Security Office, at all?
MR. CASEY: Well, let me -- I think there is still a lot of questions unanswered about this attack this morning, but let me try and walk you through what we do know at this point. At approximately 10:10 local time -- that would be about 3: 10 our time here in Washington -- you had at least four attackers in two vehicles proceed with this attack on the Embassy. They were using improvised explosives and gunfire.
In terms of casualties, we certainly have no American personnel at the Embassy who were injured and there was no breach of the security perimeter of the Embassy either. All our personnel at this point have been accounted for as well as all their family members and are safe.
We did unfortunately have one of our local Embassy guards, who was outside the building who was checking vehicles as part of his duties, suffer a gunshot wound. He is in stable condition in the hospital and we'll be checking in on him. We had another one of our guards that also suffered a minor injury but has not been hospitalized.
The attackers, from what we know at this point, as I said, were driving in two vehicles with explosives, coming one at the front entrance of the Embassy and one towards the rear of the compound. The vehicle near the front of the compound did in fact explode. The other wasn't detonated and that was ultimately a -- the explosive materials in it were defused by Syrian authorities.
Three of the attackers were killed. One was injured and I understand is in Syrian custody now. And there are reports of additional civilian casualties at the scene but, unfortunately, I don't have any kind of numbers to offer you on that. And that's something I think the Syrian authorities would be in the best position to report on.
At the moment, they are in a position where the Embassy is closed to the public and will be on reduced staffing for today and tomorrow. I think you've seen there's a Warden Message that's gone out to the American community as well talking about what we think appropriate responses for the American community ought to be.
Following the attack, I should also note that there were some small unexploded improvised explosive devices that were found in the area around the Embassy in addition to those that were inside the second vehicle. They were also successfully removed and defused by the Syrian authorities.
So I think that's the basics of what we know at this point. Again, yes, Syrian authorities did respond to this attack and I think you've heard from Secretary Rice saying we're appreciative of their professional response in this effort. Obviously, the Embassy security personnel both local contract guards, Marine security guards and the Diplomatic Security representatives there, our Regional Security Officer were all in responding to this incident. In terms of actual, you know, specific steps or actions, I really don't have that level of detail to share with you.
QUESTION: It is being said that the vehicle out front did not breach the security parameters and you said that that car actually did explode.
MR. CASEY: Right.
QUESTION: So then do you attribute the fact that it didn't really do any damage to the Embassy itself because of these new regulations DS has in terms of where the barriers are and how far from the Embassy they are?
MR. CASEY: Well, look, again I think we're too early in the sort of investigation and after action report of this to start drawing conclusions about it. Obviously, we spend a tremendous amount of effort, and we spend a good deal of our resources, too, in trying to make sure our diplomatic facilities are as secure as can possibly be. And one thing that this attack does is, I think, serves as a reminder of the fact that terrorism is a worldwide problem, that it does strike places where you wouldn't necessarily think are the most obvious or logical places for it to occur.
And it also puts into perspective, Nicholas, the fact that so many of our officials working overseas, both our Foreign Service Officers and Specialists, our Foreign Service Nationals, really are placing themselves in potential danger to represent the American people and to carry out the important diplomatic assignments that we have. And I know everyone from the Secretary on down truly appreciates the work they're doing under often dangerous circumstances, and that's why we spend so much time and energy and effort trying to make sure that our facilities and our people are secure.
QUESTION: Tom, you talked about local authorities. These -- the Syrian police or whoever they were who got involved and actually in the shootout, is your understanding that they have policemen, police people in the area all the time, or how did they happen to just be there at the same time?
MR. CASEY: I -- the response, as I understand it, was not instantaneous, that the word was received of the attack and then they responded as quickly as possible. I don't know. I assume, as if often the case, that there are some security measures taken by local authorities and, therefore, might have been some security personnel in the area. But given the nature of this attack, it required something of a larger response to deal with. We do believe that they did respond quickly and appropriately to this attack once word came out of if.
QUESTION: Tom, I want to ask to see if you can clarify some of the things you've said about this just now.
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: You made reference to improvised explosives. Are you distinguishing -- are you making a distinction between improvised explosives and grenades, per se?
MR. CASEY: Yeah, I know there have been reports about grenades versus IEDs. In point of fact, I used improvised explosives, James, simply because I think it's still unclear. We know that there were improvised explosives both involved in the vehicle that did explode as well as the one that didn't. We know that there were, as I mentioned, some small improvised explosive devices that were found in the area, not in either of the vehicles. I can't confirm for you at this point that there were in fact grenades used in this attack. That's something there have been shifting reports on, and I'd like to make sure that we have it absolutely right before I tell you definitively one way or the other.
QUESTION: But you are certain, then, that these were improvised explosives, the ones you are referring to?
MR. CASEY: Yes.
QUESTION: And by improvised explosives, do you care to tell us kind of what you mean, like Molotov cocktails or home made bomb devices of some kind?
MR. CASEY: You know, I think my understanding is we're looking at the kind of things that were explosives and designed to create damage either the facilities or to individuals in the area. The exact nature or composition of them I just don't have.
QUESTION: Two last ones if you would, please.
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you -- do you have any information about the nature of sidearms or firearms that the attackers had on their possession?
MR. CASEY: Got me on that one, James. No, I don't know. I'm sure as we continue with our investigation on this and as we hear additionally from Syrian authorities we'll get a better idea. But I just don't have that level of detail right now.
QUESTION: I only ask because you mentioned gunfire earlier.
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: And lastly, you mentioned that three of the attackers were killed, one of them was injured and you said is in Syrian custody.
MR. CASEY: That's correct.
QUESTION: Do we have any assessment of the condition that that detainee is in?
MR. CASEY: No, I don't. I do not know the extent of the individual's injuries, and I don't know at this point whether they are detained in hospital or in a broader facility. That's, again, just a level of detail at this point that I don't have for you.
QUESTION: Do you have a notion of who did this?
MR. CASEY: No, Barry. And I think you probably heard from the Secretary on this as well up in Canada this morning.
QUESTION: Right. Well, that was a few hours ago.
MR. CASEY: At this point, we're still where she left it. The attack's under investigation, and I don't think it's appropriate at this point to speculate on it. Clearly, it was an organized terrorist attack on our Embassy, but exactly who was responsible for it and, you know, who they might be affiliated with, what their motives are, are things that we'll just have to look at as the days go on.
QUESTION: Could I ask you, and it may be far too early for this, do you have any sense that this is as much an attack on the Syrian Government? There have been -- there's speculation that this is an Islamic group and the Syrian Government is aggressively secular or it has been for many years.
MR. CASEY: Yeah, Barry, at this point I don't just have any information that would confirm that or would move you away from it either.
QUESTION: Yes. Do you know if the Syrians are looking for any other people who might have been involved in the attack? Do they think they have everybody who was involved? And also can you describe the Embassy and whether or not it met the Inman requirements or meets the Inman requirements?
MR. CASEY: Okay. First one. First pieces first. The -- in terms of the number of attackers, we're only aware of those four individuals being directly involved in the attack at this point. However, again, we're at a very early stage in the investigation on this. I'm certainly not ruling out for you that there were others involved in this and certainly think that one of the important questions as well is in addition to those who actually carried out this attack, what other individuals might have been involved in the organization and planning of it. But again, I don't have any real information to share with you. These are all things that are important for us to look at as we investigate it.
On -- in terms of your second question on Inman building requirements, I have to say I'm not up on the details of the specific structure that our embassy's in there. I will find out for you if it in fact is a new or more new embassy that was put in place after those standards were done.
The one thing that I think, though, is important for you and everyone else to remember is that even in those instances where we have not had the opportunity yet to construct a new embassy that is in accordance with those particular standards, which include things like a 100-foot setback and others that you're familiar with, we have obviously taken measures throughout the world, but certainly in countries or in regions where we have security concerns -- and ongoing security concerns -- to strengthen and harden our security means. And we're looking at it every day in terms of what we can do to ensure better protection of our officials. I will find out for you that specific question. Let me --
QUESTION: As a corollary to finding out the other -- because I doubt you would know this -- can you find out specifically if, without being specific, whether these measures to harden this embassy had been taken?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think, you know, I can certainly assure that we have upgraded our security not only at the Embassy in Damascus, but at all embassies since 9/11. That's an obvious one. Certainly, we don't talk about the specifics involved there. But, you know, I can guarantee you that that embassy's done things over the past few years to improve its security as all our embassies have.
QUESTION: After the attacks, Syria's Embassy in Washington just recently released a statement. I'm not sure if you saw it. But it accused the United States of fueling extremism, terrorism and anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East; suggesting, if you will, that the U.S. is kind of responsible for incurring this attack. I mean, what's your response to that?
MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen -- I haven't seen the statement. What I do think is true is what the President talked about last night and what we've been talking about for some time, particularly in the lead up to yesterday's anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. We are very much in an ongoing conflict with terrorists, with those who espouse an ideology of hate, an ideology that is antithetical and that believes that a open, democratic system is absolutely the opposite of what they want to see happen. That's why they are so adamantly opposed to efforts to bring democracy to the Middle East. That's why they are so adamantly opposed to efforts to reform countries within the Middle East or elsewhere.
You know, I'd want to point out too, when you look at what is it that these people stand for. If you look at the message that came from al-Qaida, that came from Zawahiri a couple of days ago, who is it that he is citing as the enemy? I don't 'think there was anyone that wasn't cited as the enemy -- all governments in the region, all governments in the Gulf, UNIFIL, you know. I think you have to take a look at who is really responsible for the violence in the region. The violence is the responsibility of those who do believe that the only response to any questions or concerns is to throw bombs, is to shoot bullets, is to assassinate people.
We've got, I think, a real change in some of the reactions that we are seeing to the kind of comments that al-Qaida's made over the last few days and weeks and I think we'll expect to. I don't think there is anyone in the Middle East who you will talk to, among honest good-willed people that support this kind of rhetoric, that support this kind of violence. And I would certainly reject the notion that the United States, the international community or anyone working to help bring prosperity, to help bring peace and to help bring democracy to the Middle East is the cause of violence. It's clearly the opposite way.
QUESTION: A quick follow-up. On the other hand, while you say that the U.S. isn't responsible for incurring it, do you think that the Syrian Government bears any responsibility for tolerating an atmosphere where Islamic extremism is encouraged?
MR. CASEY: Well, look, I think one thing that's clear -- first of all, again, I want to acknowledge the fact that in this instance, Syrian security forces did respond appropriately and professionally, and we do appreciate that as the Secretary said.
Certainly, though, in terms of our concerns about Syria, they're well known and I don't think need much elaboration, but we continue to be concerned about the fact that Syria is a state sponsor of terror, that it has allowed radical groups to find a haven and find a home in terms of their leadership inside the country. That is something that they bear responsibility for. I certainly am not trying to link it directly to this incident or to anything else specific but, again, our concerns about Syria's support for terrorist groups are well known.
Let's go over here to Michele, and then I'll come back down to you, Sue.
QUESTION: How will this affect U.S.-Syrian relations?
MR. CASEY: It's hard to say, Michele. I don't think I have any particular judgment to offer you on it. Again, we very much appreciate that Syrian forces responded professionally and appropriately to this incident. In terms of our broader relationship with Syria, again, I think we've spoken to that. There are many issues that are out there that we want to see the Syrian Government take action on including issues related to their support to terror. Certainly, those broader concerns haven't changed as a result of this particular incident.
QUESTION: Can we expect the return of the American Ambassador to Syria soon?
MR. CASEY: I have nothing new to offer you on that subject, sorry.
QUESTION: An Annapolis based security company, which provided supplies and various security to the Embassy in Damascus, is saying that up to 50 people were -- tried to attack the Embassy today. That's the figure that they're giving. They also say that the attackers were -- had pipe bombs strapped to propane tanks. Have you heard any of that?
MR. CASEY: No, I honestly haven't. Again, what we have, and I think it's important not only with this incident but with anything like this that we deal with the facts that we know. And at this point, all we can say for certain is that we had four attackers and two vehicles. And I think as we go forward and look at this we'll get more details later. But I certainly don't have anything to bear that out.
QUESTION: I'm just trying to clarify two more details on the attack itself. Can you tell us the types of vehicles that were used and then also any timeline on the attacks? Were they simultaneous that they drove up at the same or was there a delay?
MR. CASEY: I don't think that would be a good ad for a car company to say your vehicles were used in a terrorist attack. No, honestly I do not have specifics on the, you know, make or model or types of vehicles involved.
Let's go --
QUESTION: On the timeline? Do you have anything on the timeline? If they drove up at the same time, was there a delay of a half-hour or --
MR. CASEY: Again, my understanding was the two vehicles approached the Embassy at approximately the same time and that the, you know, events started at approximately 10:10 local, which would be 3:10 eastern standard. But in terms of a timeline of how this was carried out, no, I don't have that, and I think that's something that's not only part of the investigation but part of an overall after-action assessment that I think will take some time to produce.
QUESTION: Were they vans or cars, is I think what Kirit wanted to know.
QUESTION: Right. I mean --
QUESTION: It's not a case of brand names.
MR. CASEY: Yeah. No, I don't, James. I honestly don't have sort of size and type of the vehicle at this point.
QUESTION: Was there any damage done to the building as far as you know?
MR. CASEY: Nothing major and nothing significant enough to breach the perimeter. I'm sure there is some peripheral damage, but I don't have a full assessment of that at this point.
QUESTION: And just another one. Do you know if the four individuals have been identified?
MR. CASEY: Not to the best of my knowledge. I think that's something that the Syrians are still looking at.
QUESTION: Okay. And the fourth one, who was not killed but was arrested, is the U.S. seeking access to him?
MR. CASEY: I'm sure we'll be talking to the Syrian Government about this. I'm not sure at this point what specific plans are. Again, I think our primary response at this point was to make sure we'd secured the facility and our people. And then again as the investigation proceeds, we'll determine what an appropriate response is in terms of getting information from the individual involved.
Let's go to you, sir.
QUESTION: If you can explain to me the objectivity of mentioning Syria being a state sponsor of terrorism when Syria has been exposed to so many attacks, terrorist attacks since the years of 1980s through this attack and many others before that. I mean, this is a country that is suffering -- has been suffering from terrorism and has called for, you know, a definition of what terrorism is.
And also I hear the statement from the Syrian Embassy that my colleague has referred to as blaming actually the United States for what's been happening in Iraq and Lebanon recently, for -- that these acts are exacerbating the terrorism in the area, making it much worse situation and has asked the Syrian Embassy's release -- press release here is talking about that the U.S., if you'll allow me to read just a couple of lines: The U.S. should take this opportunity to review the policies in the Middle East, its policies in the Middle East and start looking at the root causes of terrorism and broker a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.
MR. CASEY: Yeah, thanks. And I appreciate that word from our sponsor. But let me make a couple of things clear. First of all, our concerns about Syrian support for terrorism are again longstanding and well known. Syria allows the leaders of radical groups to base themselves out of Damascus. Syria provides and helps provide a pathway for weapons and material and other support down into Hezbollah. Syria has been responsible for some rather tragic incidents in Lebanon in addition to its occupation of Lebanon over the years. I think my response to that press release would be to invite the Syrian Government to once again, as we have so often in the past, evaluate its policies and determine whether in fact its continued support for terrorism is, in fact, an appropriate way to proceed.
Again, as this incident shows today, there is no boundary in terms of terrorist action. Terrorists can strike anyone anywhere. We've seen it happen in many countries throughout the world. I think what we would like to do is see the Syrian Government, and all those who have had relationships with terrorist groups, to end those relationships and to join with us and the rest of the international community in opposing these terrorists and in helping to bring about a peaceful resolution of any of the conflicts that are there in the region.
I would also again say that the United States has been at the forefront of trying to bring peace to the Middle East certainly to try and help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian situation. It was through the successful diplomatic efforts of Secretary Rice and others that we were also able to achieve a ceasefire and achieve a settlement exemplified in Resolution 1701 of the fighting in Lebanon. And again, I think what we are doing is trying to promote a positive agenda, an agenda that helps support the interests of the people in the region. And if we're looking for Syria to take actions or looking for Syria to do an evaluation of its policies, I'd against ask them to consider changing their behavior before they start talking about having us do so.
Let's go over here and then we'll go down to Sue.
QUESTION: As you know, (inaudible) in Ankara and he will have some meetings with top officials. What kind of --
MR. CASEY: Just one thing, are we still -- are we done with this? Can we move over to Turkey? Joel, I'll get back to you in a second. Let's -- okay-- let's let him finish. Sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. What kind of mission and agenda does he have?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think we've talked about this a little bit before. General Ralston has been named as a special envoy to help coordinate actions with the United States, Government of Turkey and Iraq in terms of combating the PKK and ensuring that the PKK is not in a position to use territory anywhere, including in northern Iraq to carry out terrorist activities to conduct attacks on Turkey. We certainly very much appreciate the fact that he has accepted this role.
General Ralston, as you know, is rather uniquely qualified to carry out this mission. He has had an extensive experience in the U.S. military. He's also been a former supreme allied commander in Europe for NATO and so is very well known, I think, to Turkish authorities and we very much look forward to having him begin this process of his mission and hope that this will lead to better cooperation among all our countries to be able to combat the PKK.
MR. CASEY: Sure, Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: Any update about his activities in Ankara?
MR. CASEY: No, I don't. I'd leave it to the Embassy out there to give you an update on his specific activities.
QUESTION: And another question. You're former Ambassador to Croatia and self-appointed special advisor to both Massoud Barzani, Jalal Talabani and even to PKK, Peter Galbraith, according to press reports all through the U.S. Government to deploy immediately American forces in northern Iraq in order to protect the independence of a Kurdistan state which exists already de facto, as he said specifically. Any comment, Mr. Casey, on his idea since a bunch of political experts are calling Peter Galbraith's (inaudible) make it from (inaudible) own agenda and nothing else?
MR. CASEY: Mr. Galbraith's a private citizen. He's entitled to his own opinions. I think U.S. policy regarding both the PKK and Iraq is pretty clear.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Well --
MR. CASEY: Okay, Joel. What?
QUESTION: Okay. Returning to your first subject of Syria, there was this cargo ship detained. It's at the Limassol port in Cyprus this morning, detained with armaments bound for Syria. Was the UNIFIL blockade, the naval blockade, instrumental in detaining that ship? And also, what will happen with the ship's crew and will they be brought for investigation or maybe detained to one of the facilities that you're running in either Europe or in Guantanamo?
MR. CASEY: Let's see. (A) I have no information about a ship being stopped; (b) I'd refer you to UNIFIL as to whether they were involved in it; (c) unless these people were engaged in terrorism and were picked up on the battlefield and were determined to be enemy combatants, I can't conceive of why they would be in U.S. custody.
QUESTION: Change of subject. I'm wondering if you have any update on the case of Mohammed Ali Hamadi, whom you recall was one of the most infamous terrorists of the 1980s, deported by German authorities to Lebanon in December of '05 and somebody still wanted by the United States presumably for his role in the killing of a U.S. Navy diver in the 1980s. Any update on where that case stands?
MR. CASEY: I really don't have. I tried to look into this a little bit for you, James, before I came out here. Obviously, as you know, when he was released by German authorities in 2005, we did rather strongly protest that action to the German Government. I know we have been in contact with Lebanese authorities since that time, but I don't have an immediate update for you on any specific contacts on it.
Obviously this man is wanted for killing a U.S. Navy diver in connection with the hijacking of a TWA flight back in 1985. The United States still believes that he and anyone else who is responsible for such heinous acts should face justice and we do continue to wish to see him be brought to the United States to face trial here.
QUESTION: Is there -- two questions about this, if you would. Is there any reason to believe that Hamadi has resumed terrorist activities since he has returned to Lebanon?
MR. CASEY: James, I honestly don't have an evaluation for you on that. I'll try and get you an answer and look into that.
QUESTION: And lastly, has the Israeli-Hezbollah war of this summer complicated our efforts to extradite Hamadi?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think at this point, again I think it's our longstanding position that he be brought to justice and face accountability here in the United States for his crimes, but I don't have an update for you in terms of, again, what specific contacts we have. So I'll try and defer that for you as well and get you an answer a little later.
QUESTION: Iran today -- change of subject. Iran today offered to help establish security and stability in Iraq. I just wondered whether you found this to be a useful offer of assistance.
MR. CASEY: Well, look, I think as we've said all along, we want Iraq to have good relations with all its neighbors and that certainly includes Iran. As you know though, we've repeatedly expressed our concerns, as have others, about Iranian interference in Iraq's internal affairs. That is something that we remain concerned about. And while certainly we would welcome any statements of support for Iraq's Government and democracy and any pledges to act in a responsible way that does not interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq, we certainly want to make sure that any statements made were followed up by real concrete actions to address some of the concerns that are out there.
QUESTION: Could you describe their interference?
MR. CASEY: I think, George, I would leave it where it's been left both by Ambassador Khalilzad and General Chiarelli and others who have briefed on it. I don't have anything new to add to that.
QUESTION: Tom, could you bring us up to date on some of these Iranian nuclear issues? Number one, I understand that the political directors were going to have another talk today by telephone. The U.S. was planning to try to have some sanctions discussions at the UN this week.
Then there's the second issue of the kind of vague Iranian proposal about a two-month suspension of enrichment. What is the state of play with those issues?
MR. CASEY: Well, okay, let me try and give you a rundown of some activities and then we'll see where -- what else this leads to. First of all, as you know, Ambassador Nicholas Burns, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs, met in Berlin last Thursday with his P-5+1 counterparts to begin a discussion of next steps and specific items that could be included or specific elements that could be included in a sanctions resolution at the UN. Those conversations continued in teleconferences, phone conversations, among the group both yesterday and again today.
Obviously we are all committed at this point to moving forward, as agreed to both by the P-5+1 and as stated in Resolution 1696, with measures under Article 41, Chapter 7, meaning specifically sanctions, against Iran for its failure to comply with the requirements of the international community. Ambassador Burns is continuing those discussions. I expect he'll have more with this counterparts throughout this week.
As the Secretary said in Canada this morning, she and her counterparts will all be in New York next week for the UN General Assembly and she expects there will be an opportunity there for them to get together and discuss this as well. Certainly we also look forward to having some broader consultations in the Security Council and I know there have been some informal discussions that have been going on in New York as well on that subject.
In terms of some press reports that appeared, I believe over the weekend, about some alleged Iranian offer for a suspension or partial suspension, I'm afraid that whoever was the source of those stories didn't seem to have an accurate read of the situation. To the best of my knowledge, there's been no Iranian proposal, there's been no change in the Iranian position, meaning they have not agreed to suspend uranium enrichment activities for any length of time that I'm aware of. And of course having that kind of suspension is the basic requirement laid out by the P-5+1 and in Resolution 1696 for us to be able to begin negotiations with Iran on the incentives package that was laid out for them.
QUESTION: But the Secretary is actually reported to have expressed some interest in this concept. I mean, is there a contradiction there?
MR. CASEY: Well, first -- yeah, first of all, there's no contradiction. I think our policy has been clear: Iran needs to suspend and suspend in a verifiable way and then discussions can begin. That's what the Secretary said yesterday and that's where we are. Unfortunately, what we haven't seen is any indication from the Iranian Government that they would be willing to in fact suspend their uranium enrichment activities so that we could in fact move on to this positive package of -- and proposal that's been put forward.
QUESTION: Change of subject. Sudan?
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: I just wondered whether you had any details of the letter that the Sudanese Foreign Minister has brought President Bush.
MR. CASEY: Well, as the Secretary said yesterday, she hadn't reviewed the letter. She had transmitted it over to the White House and I'd leave it to the White House at this point to comment on the specific contents of it.
Let's go to you. Let's go to you first and then we'll go to the back. Sorry.
QUESTION: Two questions, please. First, do you know -- do you have any confirmation or denial to a report from Lebanon that the U.S. intelligence and military people were surveying an area on the Syrian-Lebanese borders to create a small -- or military base, American military base on that area to check out the borders?
MR. CASEY: That's a very strange report. There certainly are no plans for the U.S. to deploy soldiers to Lebanon or to establish a military base there.
QUESTION: The second one, sir. There has been lots of controversy and maybe anger in the Middle East about the usage of the term "Islamo-fascist." I wonder if Madame Karen Hughes has been involved in any discussion with the American Government about the usage of this term and whether it is serving the American interest to promote this kind of language in the Middle East or here or not?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think one of the things that Karen is doing and has been doing the entire time she's been here in her capacity as Under Secretary of State for Public Affairs and Public Diplomacy is emphasize the respect that the United States has for the religion of the vast majority of the people in the region, for Islam, for the Muslim populations. The President and the Secretary and I think everyone in this Administration has made it clear that the United States believes that Islam is a religion of peace, that it is one of the great religions of the world and that we have tremendous respect for that religion and for its practitioners, including our own American Muslim community here.
What we are facing, and again referring back to what I said earlier, what we are confronting is a group of individuals who wish to twist and pervert a beautiful religion and one of the world's great religions, to turn it into something that supports violence as the first, last, and only response to any perceived grievances. So certainly I know Karen, as she's spoken to audiences both here in the United States and overseas, has emphasized those points. And I think it's pretty clear from what the President said as well as others that what we consider to be our enemy in this conflict that we're facing is a small group of people who are twisting and perverting Islam, certainly not the practitioners of Islam or any other religion.
QUESTION: Mr. Casey, but this expression has a generalization about the Muslims in there. And we as observers, who watch people every day and follow the news in there, I can tell you it is not doing -- it's not serving the purpose and the program of Mrs. Hughes that much. Do you -- that usage of that term. Just -- I was wondering if there was any procedure that you all look back at, you know, these kind of things and if you modify them or see how much they are serving, you know, the American interests.
MR. CASEY: Well, again, there are discussions all the time about how we can do our job of helping to convey our ideas and our views, not only to the American public but to publics throughout the world, including in the Middle East. Those conversations go on all the time. And again, Karen's been very active I think in trying to help make clear what U.S. views are on this subject.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Let me go back to you. Sorry, yeah.
QUESTION: According to the New York Times on Sunday in Kazakhstan, "Five nations in Central Asia signed a nuclear free zone treaty on Friday that commits the region's rich uranium deposits to peaceful uses, but leaves open loopholes that could allow Russia to transport nuclear weapons into Central Asia." And then it says the treaty does not cancel an agreement that the Central Asian nations signed in 1992 that allows Russia to transport and deploy nuclear weapons in Central Asia under certain circumstances. Do you know what those circumstances are?
MR. CASEY: I guess I need to read the New York Times on Sunday more carefully. Didn't see the article and I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the subject.
QUESTION: Oh, okay, page 18.
MR. CASEY: Let's go -- Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: Yes. Another question, today in Baltimore the telephone organization, ATIS, A-T-I-S, is suing the directors of IFAST, I-F-A-S-T. It is true that the outcome of this case could affect the ability of several phone companies outside the United States to provide international roaming to their customers. In the past you dealt with this issue, and I was wondering if you said anything?
MR. CASEY: In the past we may have dealt with this issue, but no, I don't have any specific comment on that case. In terms of what impact it might have on telecommunications policies more broadly in the region, obviously that's something that would be determined by the outcome of the case. And since it's an ongoing legal matter, I'm really not in a position to comment on it.
QUESTION: We will go to another issue.
MR. CASEY: Well, let me go -- let's go back around and I'll come back around to you.
MR. CASEY: So let's go back in the back here.
QUESTION: Yeah, a brand new question. Posada Carriles --Venezuela. There is a petition that Texas judge allowed freeing Mr. Posada Carriles. I have -- I wonder what is your position about it.
MR. CASEY: Basically my position about that is I'd refer you to both the judicial authorities in Texas as well as the immigration and customs service at the Department of Homeland Security. Again, this is an ongoing procedure in that legal system and I don't want to comment on it and risk prejudicing any of the decisions that might be made. So I'd refer you to those specific authorities on it.
Let's go over here. David.
QUESTION: Tom, a South Korea news agency is quoting sources as saying that Ambassador Hill -- Assistant Secretary Hill has offered to meet with the North Korean nuclear negotiators. Is there anything to that that you know of?
MR. CASEY: I think Chris has said publicly that certainly the United States would meet with North Korean officials in the context of six-party talks. He neither did nor had any plans to meet with any North Korean officials outside of that on his current trip or in any other capacity.
QUESTION: Ancillary to that, there's another South Korean report that there will be sort of a five-party-talks meeting on the sidelines of the UN, i.e., all the participants without the North Koreans. Is that -- is that a prospect?
MR. CASEY: Well, certainly as you know, we've made it clear that we don't think just because the North Koreans have not returned to the Six-Party Talks that that should prevent people from talking about security issues in North Asia during the -- around the margins of the ASEAN meeting earlier this year. We, in fact, did have a meeting not only with the five parties to the Six-Party Talks, but with five other concerned nations to talk about North Korean nuclear issues as well as some other things. Certainly, I wouldn't preclude that from happening sometime on the margin of the UN General Assembly, but there's nothing scheduled at this point for me to really talk about.
Yeah, let's go here. Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: The South Korean -- they are also reporting that the U.S. Administration relayed to them that because North Korea have no intentions of returning to talks that the U.S. would like to push forward with like comprehensive sanctions. Can you confirm that kind of message has been relayed?
MR. CASEY: I think we've talked about this issue before, and I don't think I have much new to offer you on that. Very clearly, we all want to look at the ways that we can implement the recent UN Security Council resolution that was in response to North Korea's missile tests. That certainly called on all member-states to do everything they could to assure that no support was going to help North Korea develop either its nuclear program or its weapons of mass destruction program. But I certainly don't have any specifics to offer you on that. These are discussions that are ongoing and I expect to continue for some time.
Okay, Joel, and then Mr. Lambros and I think we're --
QUESTION: Yes. Any news from John Bolton or the UN as well as from your Departments here in the State Department, Kofi Annan today has castigated President Bashir, calling his military actions illegal and has given a stark message to the Security Council with regard to President Bashir and his policies in Sudan with regard to Darfur. And again, there will be a worldwide demonstration on Sunday over that whole situation, the genocide there.
MR. CASEY: Well, I think again the Secretary made clear in her comments yesterday about her meeting with the Sudanese Foreign Minister what our views are. We believe it's important not only for the Sudanese Government to facilitate but accept the UN force in Darfur. That's important and critical element in being able to implement the Darfur peace agreement and help bring about a resolution of that conflict. I don't have a readout on what the Secretary General's presentation was today. I'd leave that to Ambassador Bolton, who was in the meeting, and I know will probably address your colleagues up there in New York. Again, this is an issue that the United States is very concerned with. We're continuing to push forward for this and we definitely need to see progress made.
Mr. Lambros, you've got the last shot.
QUESTION: Yes. On the Bulgarian nurses, Mr. Casey. It's very important. The court in Tripoli, Libya today has started the retrial of the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian doctor who have been charged that they infected 426 children with the deadly HIV virus using pills a kind of substance, according to a bunch of witnesses, for the first time in the 25-year history of this disease. May we have your reaction on the trial for a case which is pending for many years now?
MR. CASEY: Well, in terms of the actual status of the legal proceedings at this point, I'd refer to the Libyan authorities. But I think you know our position on this subject.
MR. CASEY: The tragic infection of the children in Benghazi is a humanitarian issue. It's something that the members of the international community are trying to address with the Libyans. We're certainly sympathetic to the suffering of those children and the families and are going to continue to support assisting them, including through the international fund that's been created.
That said, our position on this specific case hasn't changed. We do believe that a way should be found to allow these individuals to return home. And that does involve not only the Bulgarians involved but, of course, we also need to remember that there is a Palestinian doctor involved as well. And we are going to continue to work with the international community to try and work with Libya to find a solution that does allow for this kind of result to occur.
QUESTION: Mr. Casey, a follow-up. Since the Bulgarian medics were on the humanitarian mission by a government I'm not going to mention any pharmaceutical company, and until a French doctor acted at the initiative of the French Government upon request from Libya confirmed scientifically that the 426 children have been infected within 48 hours, and I am wondering if your government monitored the case due to the point that U.S. supporting the nurses as you said a few minutes ago, from the beginning of this tragedy up to the present and above all, HIV is considered today almost a biological weapon of mass destruction. It's a very serious matter.
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I think there are a number of false assertions there. Again, our interest in this case is pretty straightforward and simple. We wish to see humanitarian support provided for those individuals and for the families that were infected in this specific incident. But again, this was a tragic incident. It is one where we believe that the situation is such that the medics who were involved, that the nurses involved, should be allowed to be able to be returned home. And again, I think we're all working towards that objective.
QUESTION: One more.
MR. CASEY: One more. Okay.
QUESTION: China. Do you have any comment on the new restrictions on the media that China -- on foreign media that China imposed yesterday?
MR. CASEY: Somehow I knew that was coming. Well, first of all, I think we would view any attempt to restrict the free flow of information in China or any place else, with great concern and we certainly would view it as incompatible with China's aspirations to build a modern information-based economy. We're concerned by this announcement by the China News Agency of these regulations. Certainly, we need to study them and we understand that news organizations are doing the same. But ultimately freedom of the press is a fundamental right and it's one that's recognized in China's constitution and we certainly would opposed to any steps that would restrict it.
QUESTION: Tom, what are they saying? Do they mean the same thing? Iranian media crackdown, do you have -- did you come prepared with anything on that?
MR. CASEY: I don't have a lot of detail on that, Dave. But I think it's certainly well known that we're concerned about the harassment of all parts of civil society in Iran, including journalists. Yesterday there were reported closures of two reformist periodicals, the daily Shargh and the monthly Nameh. Certainly while I understand that there's at least a possibility that these closures may only be temporary, we certainly condemn the systematic restrictions on freedom of speech and press that are occurring in Iran and we'd urge the regime to respect the rights of its citizens. Again, rights that are supposedly guaranteed not only by international agreement, but also by the governing laws of the country.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11 in which the State Department officials were repeatedly depicted as more interested in preserving good relations with countries rather than helping catch terror suspects?
MR. CASEY: I think there's been a lot of ink spent on that. Haven't seen it and I don't do movie reviews.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:44 p.m.)
DPB # 147
Released on September 12, 2006