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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing September 18 2006


Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 18, 2006

INDEX:

IRAN
Iran's Nuclear Program / P-5+1 Discussions / Next Steps at UN
Security Council

NORTH KOREA
Six-Party Talks

SUDAN
Strengthening the African Union / Transitioning to a UN Force / UN
Security Council / Implementing the Darfur Peace Agreement

INDIA/PAKISTAN
Kashmir

VATICAN CITY/TURKEY
Pope's Comments on Islam / Planned Trip to Turkey

SAUDI ARABIA
International Religious Freedom Report

IRAQ
Detained Associated Press Photographer

CYPRUS
U.S. Policy

TURKEY/IRAQ
General Ralston / U.S. Policy Toward the PKK

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Secretary Rice's Meeting with Foreign Minister Livni
Kidnapped Israeli Soldier

MEXICO
Post Presidential Election Situation

VENEZUELA
Narcotics Issue / U.S. Relationship

BOLIVIA
Narcotics Issue / U.S. Relationship

IRAN
Delegation's Visas to Attend UN General Assembly


TRANSCRIPT:

MR. CASEY: I don't have any statements for you or any announcements to begin with. So, we want to transition into other issues.

QUESTION: President Chirac has raised several points about dealing with Iran. He thinks you all ought to get together and plan an agenda for talking to them. And you know, he says that we should -- we all should stop threatening them with sanctions. And if they agree to suspend enrichment during negotiations, I thought that's what the proposal is. But in any event, there are a few thoughts he expressed and I wondered if you've had a chance to see it and can you talk about if it is time to compose an agenda to deal with Iran?

MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, first of all, I didn't see his comments, though I've certainly seen some press reporting on them. And my understanding is that he reiterated what is expressed in Resolution 1696 which is what we all want to see happen, which is Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities. And at which point have us then begin to have negotiations with Iran based on the proposals put forward by the P-5+1.

Obviously that's the preferred track for everyone. Unfortunately, as you know, Iran has not made any steps in that direction. It continues to enrich uranium. It has not given any indication that it has changed its views regarding a suspension. And so we continue to have discussions among both the P-5+1 as well as more broadly with the Security Council about next steps in this process.

And as you know, the resolution pretty clearly called for those next steps to be a resolution on sanctions in the UN Security Council. But again, I'd view his comments largely as in keeping with where all the rest of us are. We certainly would like to see Iran make a choice that would not only be in the interest of the P-5+1, not only would have it meet its requirements to the international community, but would in fact be in the best interests of the Iranian people.

QUESTION: Yesterday the United States Embassy to South Korea was quoted to have mentioned the United States can come to the bilateral talks provided North Korea could return to the six-party talks. Do you have anything on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, I certainly haven't seen anything that Sandy might have said, but from your description of it -- as Chris Hill has said repeatedly and as we have said repeatedly -- we are happy to meet with the North Koreans in the context of the six-party talks. That's been done by the United States in every round of six-party talks held and that continues to be our position. But the most important thing is that North Korea has to make that decision. They have to come back to the talks to work on implementing the September 19th agreement which is something that again would provide benefits for everyone involved, for the international community as a whole and for North Korea as well.

Kirit.

QUESTION: On Darfur, actually. I believe the Sudanese Government has said that it would agree to extend the AU mandate, also that it would probably welcome an AU-plus force with Western aid for helicopters and technological support. Can you tell us anything about that, that the U.S. is --

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen the comments. But again, what we want to see happen and what's required in the UN Security Council resolution on Sudan is that we move first to strengthen the AU force that is there and that we ultimately move forward with transitioning that to a UN peacekeeping force. That's something we believe has to happen as quickly as possible. And I think you've heard both from the President last week as well as from the Secretary about our view that that needs to happen and happen as soon as possible. That's what we're working for at the UN. It is what we have expressed to the Government of Sudan and it is what we have encouraged other governments to make the case to them as well.

QUESTION: But in the interim, would the U.S. accept an extended mandate for the AU force and provide support on the technological side for an AU-plus force?

MR. CASEY: Well, we've always said that what we need to do as the transition moves forward is strengthen the AU force. And again, the AU force is going to be the backbone of the UN-mandated force as well. So certainly we want to see those troops that are there continue to do their job. We want to see them strengthened and supported to the best extent possible. And we, though, therefore believe it is also important to transition as quickly as possible over to a UN force. And again, that's what's required in the Security Council resolution.

QUESTION: Just one last thing. I believe that President Bashir said quite clearly and forcefully the other day that he would never accept a UN force. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. CASEY: Again, the Security Council has made its views clear. We've made our views clear. We think it's not only appropriate but incredibly vital for Sudan and for its own people as it tries to arrange for a lasting peace in that country that we move ahead with implementing the Darfur Peace Agreement. And implementing the Darfur Peace Agreement is going to require the support of this UN-mandated force. It's something that the Sudanese Government accepted when they signed on to that agreement and we're looking for them to honor that commitment.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Tom, just to pursue it. If President Bashir says he won't accept a UN force, but will accept an enhanced AU force, and you say that it's always been our policy that as the transition moves forward, what if there isn't going to be a transition? And you know, is the U.S. in favor of the international community going in with the UN force against President Bashir's government's wishes?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think you've heard from Jendayi Frazier and from Kristen Silverberg, I think as recently as Friday on that subject. The resolution requests but does not require Sudanese Government cooperation with the transition and with implementing the UN force. Obviously it is something we want to have. We think it's important to have that force not only be acquiesced to, but welcomed by the Sudanese Government again because it is part of the long-term solution to the violence and the problems in Darfur. Again in terms of how we make the transition and how the military specifics of that goes, I'll leave that to the UN peacekeeping office and the other military planners involved. But clearly, we need to strengthen the existing AU force as we move forward in the transition.

QUESTION: So you said there will be a U.N. force with or without Sudanese support.

MR. CASEY: We fully expect that there will be a peacekeeping force in Sudan. The resolution calls for that force to be blue-helmeted, to be under a UN mandate, and that's what we expect to see happen.

Let's go over here.

QUESTION: Can you have any comment on reports that the leaders of India and Pakistan agreed to talks in New Delhi to discuss outstanding issues such as Kashmir?

MR. CASEY: I don't. I haven't seen those reports. Certainly as we've said, we welcome discussions between the two parties on issues of mutual concern. We have a good and important relationship with India. We have a good and important relationship with Pakistan. And we certainly welcome any efforts on the parts of leaders of both those countries to engage with one another and discuss any outstanding concerns.

Let's go to Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes, on the Pope. Despite several apologies, Pope Benedict continues to face threats to his personal life and safety from Islamic extremists around the world. In November, the Pope will visit officially Turkey where the Prime Minister Recep Erdogan yesterday has not accepted the Pope's apology and the Minister of Religious Affairs is still publicly criticizing the (inaudible) Turkey. Given, Mr. Casey, past violence by extremists against the Ecumenical Patriarch, head of Constantinople in Istanbul, will the U.S. Government ask its NATO ally, namely Turkey, to take protective measures for the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople during the Pope's visit there?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, obviously what we want to see is that all religious groups act with tolerance of one another. You saw Ambassador Hanford here on Friday when he talked about and rolled out our annual report on International Religious Freedom. And as he expressed to you then, one of the most important values for us in the United States is religious tolerance and religious freedom. It's a fundamental value. It's a fundamental issue that is right up there with any other human right or any other human value -- the freedom to be able to worship as one chooses.

Certainly we understand that individuals will have concerns about remarks made by all kinds of people. But the most important thing is that in our actions, both from the United States' part as well for many of our friends overseas, that what we try and do is develop a culture of tolerance, develop dialogue and that we show respect for one another's religion. As Ambassador Hanford told you on Friday, we of course, continue to be engaged with the Government of Turkey on issues related the Ecumenical Patriarch. I believe that's actually covered in some of the sections of the report on Turkey and I'd really just refer you again back to his comments and what's in the report on that issue.

QUESTION: One more (inaudible.)

MR. CASEY: Can we -- hold on, one second, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: A follow-up on that one.

MR. CASEY: Yes.

QUESTION: I mean, do you think -- do you want to call on groups or individuals that are making threats against the Pope to cease and desist? Do you think that the Pope should himself be -- come up with an apology or a statement that would more satisfy some of his critics?

MR. CASEY: Well, Arshad, first of all, I think I'll let the Vatican speak for the pope. And I'm probably not in a good position to be giving advice to the leader of any major religion. So all I would say simply is obviously when I talk about the need for there to be a culture of tolerance and a culture of respect for everyone's religion, obviously respect for religion and religious tolerance does not see any room for threats or for violence or for any kinds of actions, whether that's against mosques, churches, synagogues, temples or any other kind of religious establishment.

Part of what we have stood for in the United States, part of what the United States was founded upon was in the notion of tolerance for different religious views and tolerance for people's right to worship as they see fit or not to worship at all as they see fit. Clearly anyone responding to words with calls for violence or with actual violence itself are acting outside the scope of anything we support.

QUESTION: Follow up.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, Samir.

QUESTION: What's your reaction to the criticism -- after the publishing of the International Religion Report -- that the State Department was soft on Saudi Arabia?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think Ambassador Hanford talked with you a little bit about that. We've had an extensive dialogue with Saudi Arabia on religious freedom issues. Part of an agreement that Ambassador Hanford helped work out earlier this year included dealing with the many concerns that we had about textbooks that had been produced not only for use in Saudi Arabia but also that had been disseminated to other parts of the world, including here in the United States. So I think we've had a very frank and honest dialogue with the Government of Saudi Arabia about religious freedom issues. I think the report itself conveys a very accurate description of how we view the situation there.

And this is certainly an issue that we will continue to be discussing with the government there. But I think the report and I think our policies accurately reflect our concerns about them.

Yes, Barry.

QUESTION: An AP photographer, Iraqi by nationality, has been detained without charges. And the AP is asking that the charges be placed against him or he be released. Of course you've got many thousands of people in that position. Do you know anything about whether -- do you have a response to whether there's -- whether he should be tried or released? Can he be just held forever?

MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, my understanding is that he is being held by Coalition authorities in Iraq. I'd frankly refer you to them or to the Pentagon for the specifics on that since they're the agency involved. Obviously though, when the Coalition authorities -- when the Coalition military authorities in Iraq detain individuals, they do so because they believe they represent a threat to security, either because they've been actively engaged in terrorist activities or actively engaged in hostilities against the Coalition or because they have suspensions of other kinds of activities.

In the case of this individual, I honestly don't know any of the specifics. But I'd refer you to them as to what the nature of the reasons for his detention is and what the possibilities are for some change in his status.

QUESTION: So in this case you really don't know if he's a victim of guilt by association or suspicion by association. Of course, as a photographer he's in, you know, contact with all sorts of people. And I don't know if that raised suspicions.

MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, I'd certainly -- we respect the tough job that your colleagues have in Iraq. I appreciate the fact that many of them put their lives on the line to be able to report and to be able to try and inform the American public and publics overseas as well about what's going on in that country. In terms of the specifics of this individual's case and the reasons for his detention as well as the other circumstances surrounding it, I just simply don't have any information on it. And I'd have to refer you over to DOD.

Let's go, Mr. Lambros, I promised I'd get back to you.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, on Cyprus. Do you -- tomorrow's meeting in New York City between the President of the Republic of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, and the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, could you please clarify the U.S. position vis-Ã -vis to the Annan plan? Otherwise it's still on the table of negotiations as it was specifically by DAS Matt Bryza during his last special briefing at the Foreign Press Center?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, whatever Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Matt Bryza said, I'm sure is correct and fully reflects U.S. policy towards the region. But just to clarify, U.S. policy hasn't changed. We continue to seek a -- wish to see a solution to the situation on Cyprus. We wish to see that be done in accordance with a result that would be acceptable to both communities. That's where it's been and that's where I'd leave it. We certainly welcome discussions by the Secretary General with all communities in Cyprus. Again, we'd like to see this issue resolved sooner rather than later.

QUESTION: On PKK, on PKK.

MR. CASEY: All right. One on PKK.

QUESTION: On PKK. I'm wondering if your special envoy on the PKK issue, General Joseph Ralston, who met yesterday with Massoud Barzani in Iraq, is going to discuss the religious, cultural, political and other rights of the Kurdish minorities southeast of Turkey which number about 15 millions. And may we have a readout, Mr. Casey, about his efforts so far to find a solution on the PKK issue?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, what I expect General Ralston to be doing in all his meetings is what he's done in his meetings with Turkish officials, which is talk about how we can all work together -- Iraqis, Americans and Turks to be able to deal with the threat represented by the PKK. As you know, the United States considers the PKK to be a terrorist organization. We do not wish the PKK to be able to operate from any region, whether that's northern Iraq or elsewhere. We recognize that there are concerns on the part of the Turkish Government as well as concerns on the part of the Iraqi Government about these activities. We certainly share them. And what we're all doing and what General Ralston is doing in all of his meetings is talking in this initial round of consultations about how we can all work more closely together to deal with this very serious problem.

Kirit.

QUESTION: A quick question about some comments by Foreign Minister Livni this morning regarding her meeting last week with Secretary Rice. She apparently said that she had hoped for more to come out of the meeting. She said that they -- she and the Secretary share the same objectives but that the meeting was a bit disappointing. And I was just wondering if you -- if Secretary Rice shared this disappointment about the productivity of her meeting last week?

MR. CASEY: I'd say that what Secretary Rice thought about the meeting she shared with you guys right after it. Certainly we have a very important and strong relationship with Israel. I think they had a good meeting here the other week. They met again today, I believe, yes, a little earlier today up in New York. This is part of our continuing conversation both about how we go about achieving the ultimate goal of the President's two state solution, as well as talking about issues related to the implementation of Resolution 1701 on Lebanon.

So I think they've had a good meeting here last week. I'm sure they had a good meeting today as well and I expect they'll continue to do so.

QUESTION: The Israeli corporal who was kidnapped, there have been any reports that maybe an exchange -- not exchange -- but the release of some 800 Palestinians might precipitate his release. Do you have anything? Do you expect him to be released or do you have any information you want to share with us?

MR. CASEY: Barry, I don't have any particular information related to that case. Obviously, as we've said all along and as is called for in Resolution 1701, we believe that he should be released immediately and unconditionally by those people that are holding him.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: I think we've got a couple more. Let's go over here.

QUESTION: Yes, on Mexico. I'm wondering if you have a comment on the latest announcement by Mr. Lopez Obrador the he will be forming a parallel government. And also do you worry that the fact that the opposition, you know, maintain his insistence that there was -- the election was fraudulent. That will keep in some way the cloud of legitimacy over the Calderon administration, which seems to be (inaudible) also by the comments of President Chavez of Venezuela, who in the week -- two days ago say that he's going to be rethinking his relationship with the new Government of Mexico.

MR. CASEY: Well, obviously these are all issues that are for the Mexican people to decide and look at. What I will say is what we've said previously: We have great respect for Mexico's democratic institutions. We respect the work and the decision done by the Electoral Tribunal. We look forward to working with the administration of President-elect Calderon on the huge array of issues that are before the United States and Mexico. As to how the internal politics of Mexico works out and what the ultimate decisions of various political players are in that system, that's obviously for Mexico to decide.

Let's go back here. This gentleman has been waiting a long time.

QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Casey. I want to go back to the drug report and I was wondering if you could give us a Spanish language reply if possible. The question is: With Venezuela, how does this announcement fall into the whole -- these diplomatic tensions between both countries, a meeting Mr. Chavez and Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad? And with Bolivia, do you sense that Bolivia is willing or is there an indication that they're willing to work under this framework that is being spelled out today?

MR. CASEY: Well, if I give you a reply in Spanish, Julie will hit me, so I don't want to do that. But we'll work on that for you later. In terms of our broader relationship with Venezuela, obviously, the narcotics issue is a very important part of our relationship. But the decisions made this year reflect exactly where we were last year as well which is unfortunately an inability to work out a cooperative arrangement with the Government of Venezuela on some of the key issues, including an agreement with the DEA as we've been working towards.

In terms of how we place it, in the broader relationship with Venezuela, well, obviously this is an important bilateral concern. But our other issues concerning Venezuela are separate from this and I wouldn't try and lump either of the two together. Certainly, we've expressed our concerns about the internal development of democracy in Venezuela and some of the problems that we see there. But this decision is not related to those concerns. They are separate issues even though they are both important to us.

In terms of Bolivia, again I think as you heard a little earlier, the Bolivian Government will be looking at this issue with us. We do think that we've got a good basis for cooperation on the broad range of our issues with Bolivia. And we are looking forward to moving ahead with them on it. Clearly, this is an area where we've expressed some concerns. We've done so both privately and publicly. But I think there's goodwill on both sides to move forward with advancing our relationship.

Joel.

QUESTION: Prior to the UN session this week, there was the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations held in Cuba. And as you've just mentioned, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, is the government or the presidency of Venezuela so out of control that we may even yet further downgrade our relations with Venezuela? And do you think that threat with roughly 50 countries in attendance -- is that a precursor or a marker of instability of these countries coming to the UN to further erode the reform type measures that we're seeking there?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I haven't seen the actual communiqué or the conclusions that were released by the NAM. Obviously the NAM was created in a very different time in history and for purposes that may or may not have much relevance anymore. In terms of President Chavez, again, I think President Chavez makes his views known pretty clearly. We've made ours known with respect to our concerns about the situation in terms of development of democracy in Venezuela. We've talked about our concerns on the narcotics front today and certainly I expect we will in the future, but I don't have anything in particular to add to it.

Kirit.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. I want to ask you if you could tell us if President Ahmadi-Nejad's visa had been issued and if his -- anybody in his entourage had those denied?

MR. CASEY: My understanding is that his visa has been issued. I'm not exactly sure what his speaking schedule is at the UN. You'd have to check with UN officials on that or with Iranian Government officials. To the best of my knowledge, no one in his party has had their visa denied. I do understand there were some late applications that were put in as recently as today. And clearly we will have to work through those. There is a procedure that we have to go through to comply with U.S. law in terms of approving visas for Iranians as well for nationals of other countries with which we don't have diplomatic relations. But again, I think everything's moving forward in accordance with our obligations under the Headquarters Agreement.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: We have one last one. Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Greece, Mr. Casey, it was announced officially in Athens that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is going to meet the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis September 27th, here at the State Department. May we know the reason of the meeting and if you could say something about their agenda?

MR. CASEY: If I had her schedule for next week, Mr. Lambros, I might be able to tell you. Certainly we enjoy a very strong and substantial relationship with Greece. I'm sure that whenever the next opportunity is for them to meet, that the Secretary looks forward to having an opportunity to discuss a wide variety of both bilateral and regional issues with her.

Thanks, everyone.

DPB # 150

ENDS


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