State Dept. Daily Press Briefing September 21, 200
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
September 21, 2006
Reported Ban on Political Activities by the Coup Leaders
US Calls for Swift Return to Democratic Rule
Timetable for Elections
Whereabouts of Thai Prime Minister
Review of US Assistance Programs
US Contacts with Thai Government and Coup Leaders
Canadian Government Commission's Report on Arar Case
Next Steps under Resolution 1696 / P5+1 Discussions
Visas for Iranian Delegation to Attend UNGA
President Musharraf's Visit to US
Pakistan's Counterterrorism Cooperation
President Karzai's Visit to US
US Assistance to Afghanistan
Reports Russian Government May Remove Operating Licenses for
Western Oil Companies
Reports Egypt Plans to Pursue Nuclear Program
President Chavez's Remarks at UNGA
12:55 p.m. EDT
MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Don't have any statements or announcements to start you off with this afternoon, so we'll go right to questions.
Arshad, you're up.
QUESTION: On Thailand.
MR. CASEY: Yes.
QUESTION: The coup leaders have now instituted a ban on political activities. What do you think about that?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think there are still some questions as to exactly what's being done. But we certainly have seen those reports and if these are, in fact true, then that would constitute a setback for democratic rule in Thailand and I think would go against some of the statements that the coup leaders themselves have made. Certainly one of the things I signaled to you yesterday in terms of our views on this situation is that as we move forward there must be a swift return to democratic rule. And as we move forward and move towards elections in Thailand, that also means that there's got to be unfettered participation for all the political parties and for the media in the democratic life of the country; that goes without saying. So this is disappointing and we do consider it a setback.
QUESTION: So -- you just said that it's disappointing and it is a setback and then you said "if true" at the beginning. I mean, do you have enough confidence that, you know, it doesn't seem like there's a whole lot of ambiguity about what you said.
MR. CASEY: All I'm saying, Arshad, is that we have not had a chance to actually study what has been put forward but we've seen the reports. We treat them as true. I just don't have a detailed analysis on the specific measures for you.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: The military dictator in Thailand, in Bangkok, said that democracy will be restored within two weeks and a prime minister or leader will be installed, but democracy itself is a long way to go and elections will be maybe next year and the new constitution will be written. Why they have to write a new constitution and democracy is going to be restored?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, some of the specifics of how the Thai people choose to develop their democratic system I'll leave up to them. And certainly we do want to see a handover to civilian authorities as quickly as possible. In terms of a timetable for elections, I have seen those statements saying that this may happen in a year. We'd like to see more rapid progress than that and think that, again, a swift return to democratic civilian government is in order and that includes a swift holding of elections.
QUESTION: A follow-up.
QUESTION: May I just follow this?
MR. CASEY: Sure. Why don't we go to you and then Barry and then in back.
QUESTION: As far as the Thai Prime Minister who was supposed to speak at the UN -- I was there (inaudible) his whereabouts and does the U.S. still support him if he chooses to return to Thailand?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I don't know his whereabouts. I believe and have seen press reports indicating that he's in London with family members, though I don't have any particular independent confirmation of that.
Barry, did you want to --
QUESTION: Further information about the review of assistance programs, elsewhere in the government they are talking about maybe this will jeopardize work on a new trade agreement. But I think you were talking about ongoing programs and I don't know what they're worth. I'm sure one day isn't time enough to make a decision, but could you bring us up to date?
MR. CASEY: Well, no, I do owe you and your colleagues answers on some of that from yesterday. First of all, what we talked about in terms of some of the legal requirements are things that would fall under Section 508 of the Foreign Operations Assistance Act, so let's start with that.
Under the Foreign Operations Assistance Act, this Fiscal Year -- Fiscal Year '06 – there is approximately $14 million in bilateral assistance to Thailand that's covered under that. As I said, we are undertaking a review of U.S. Government programs to determine what constitutes -- or which direct assistance to the Government of Thailand falls under these categories and whether there might be additional relevant programs as well.
In terms of military assistance under the Foreign Operations Assistance Act, the combination of Foreign Military Financing and IMET, International Military Education and Training, is approximately $4 million as I understand it. So that was another sort of fact that we wanted to make sure we got for you today.
QUESTION: And that, too, is under review?
MR. CASEY: That was part of the $14 million --
QUESTION: Part of the review.
QUESTION: That was part of the 14?
MR. CASEY: That 14 million -- again, since we're looking at programs that come under the Foreign Operations Assistance Act and under Section 508 of that law, that's very specifically part of what we're dealing with here.
QUESTION: So all of that -- of the 14 million is under review, is that correct?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think we're looking at everything under the act to determine what constitutes direct assistance to the government and as well as whether there are other relevant programs that are out there, so all of that material is being looked at in regard to Section 508.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. I don't mean to --
MR. CASEY: I'm being legalistic. I'm sorry. Let me try to clarify it for you.
QUESTION: No, no, I'm not trying to be -- so you don't know. You're not sure. Perhaps I'm being obtuse, but I don't get it. Is the 14 -- can we say that the 14 million is under review or is that not clear?
MR. CASEY: You can say that the 14 million is the assistance being provided under the act, under Section 508 of that act. What we are called upon to look at is what constitutes direct assistance to the Government of Thailand and we are looking at all 14 million of that under the terms of that particular part of the law.
QUESTION: And only direct assistance would be affected?
MR. CASEY: Again, I don't have the specific language from Section 508, but it generally refers to direct assistance to the Government of Thailand.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? Any comment that (inaudible) the King, who is acting as (inaudible) cooperated immediately with the coup against democracy in Thailand?
MR. CASEY: I'm sorry, I'm not sure what -- try that again on me, Mr. Lambros. I didn't quite understand the question.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) conduct of the King of Thailand, who acted as an idiot, cooperated deliberately with the coup (inaudible) against democracy in Thailand?
MR. CASEY: Again, Mr. Lambros, I think we talked about the King yesterday. I don't have any information about his specific role in the coup or events leading up to it, so I'll just leave it where I have yesterday.
QUESTION: But did you communicate with him as a U.S. Government? That's my question.
MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of any specific contacts that might have been made with the King. As I said yesterday, we have been in discussions with the relevant political actors, both in terms of those involved in this military leadership that has now taken over as well as with political parties and other major figures in Thailand.
QUESTION: Did you condemn the coup?
MR. CASEY: I did yesterday. I'd refer you back to what I said yesterday.
QUESTION: One more on Thailand. This Prime Minister was a friend of the United States and does U.S. support him?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I addressed the issues on this yesterday. Obviously what we want to see happen in light of this coup is a quick return to democracy and to democratic rule in Thailand and that's where our focus is now, not on any specific individuals.
Let's go back here.
QUESTION: Thank you. U.S. Embassy to South Korea Ambassador Vershbow had mentioned yesterday if North Korea comes to the six-party talks then United States will -- Assistant Secretary Hill will visit to Pyongyang. Can you comment on that?
MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of those comments. Look, what we've said and what we continue to point out to people is that we have met bilaterally with North Korean officials in the context of the six-party talks. If North Korea should return to the six-party talks, certainly I would expect that there would be additional contacts between Ambassador Hill and his counterpart as part of that six-party discussion. I'm certainly not aware of any proposal or any specific idea that Ambassador Hill would travel elsewhere, whether to Pyongyang or anywhere else in North Korea.
Yes, let's go back here.
QUESTION: On North Korea.
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: There was a meeting of the five – the so-called 5+5 and I was wondering, China and Russia did not attend. How does the U.S. feel about that?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think you've heard from Ambassador Hill about that already and, in fact, I know he gave a fairly extensive briefing in New York after that meeting. My understanding was that the reasoning for attendance or non-attendance of various people involved was a matter of scheduling. It certainly wasn't something where it indicated any kind of policy shift or change. All the participants in the six-party talks or all the participants, save North Korea, are very much in accord with one another as to how to proceed.
Let's go over here.
QUESTION: I have a question about Maher Arar. The Canadian Government issued a report this week about his case, documenting his detention and his torture in Syria. This is obviously an issue that has ramifications just beyond his individual case. From your point of view, which U.S. Government department bears responsibility for what happened to Maher Arar?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, with respect to the report, I know it got issued yesterday. I know there are people here looking at it, but I don't have an analysis for you of it. In terms of the case itself, my understanding is Mr. Arar was deported from the United States to Syria. That process is the responsibility of what was then the U.S. Immigration Service, now the Immigration and Customs Authority. I would have to go back and check the record as to whether at the time where that particular operation fell in the U.S. bureaucracy. But those would be questions you'd want to direct to the Department of Homeland Security which has that responsibility currently.
QUESTION: Is Mr. Arar owed an apology by the U.S. Government?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think we've spoken to this case before and I really don't have anything to add on it and I'd refer you over to the agencies involved it more directly for any other comment.
QUESTION: But haven't you been saying that the U.S. Government does not deport people to countries where there is a possibility of torture?
MR. CASEY: Well, George, as we've always said, too, whenever there are several different issues involved here and I can probably get John Bellinger down here to give you a full review of the legal issues involved. But my understanding was that this case was handled in accordance with our international obligations and that would certainly include obligations not to send individuals to countries where we have a reasonable expectation that they'd be subject to torture.
Yes, let's go over here.
QUESTION: Changing the subject. May I change the subject?
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Despite the continuation of the negotiation between Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani next week in Europe, is there any change to a position or a policy, meaning to pursue Security Council Resolution 1696 and prepare for the sanction?
MR. CASEY: There is no change in policy. I think you heard from the Secretary on this yesterday. The process that we're going through right now is the one outlined in 1696. That process set an August 31 deadline for an Iranian response. The Iranians did not choose to accept the opportunity that was presented to them to suspend uranium enrichment and to engage in negotiations with the P-5+1.
That said, as you heard from Ambassador Burns the other evening after the P-5+1 dinner, we certainly all continue to support the continued discussions between Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani. It would be wonderful if the Iranian Government had a change of heart and did decide to accept the very clear and very straightforward conditions laid out in 1696 and then proceeded to a path of negotiations. But that hasn't happened yet. And in the interim, while Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani are having conversations, we are also having conversations, including with the Ministers the other night in New York about next steps under 1696, which would be a further resolution, bringing about sanctions, Chapter 41 -- Article 41 -- Chapter 7 sanctions. Sorry about that. And that's where we're going and that's where we're continuing.
By the way, I also just want to -- since you raised the issue of Iran -- just point out something, I saw a couple of stories that appeared today, saying that the reason why Mr. Larijani had not traveled to New York and had not met with Mr. Solana was somehow based on the notion that the United States had not given visas to members of his party. I addressed this yesterday, but just let me point out again for the record that we received 150 applications for visas for the Iranian delegation in New York. We granted visas and processed them and gave them for 125 individuals. Those that have not yet been approved were ones that were turned in late on Friday night with request to travel on Monday and they were subsequently withdrawn by the Iranian Government. So there's simply no truth to the idea that Iranian officials in Mr. Larijani's party or others wishing to attend the UN were denied visas or otherwise prohibited from coming.
QUESTION: Larijani got a visa, right?
MR. CASEY: Yes.
QUESTION: Can we go to criticism -- your criticism of Thai -- or military rulers extends does it to their taking over the functions of parliament as well as their movement against political parties?
MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, look --
QUESTION: I mean, that seems to be the two main things they've done.
MR. CASEY: Well, I think it's pretty clear that when you have a coup, when you depose or have a break with democracy that whatever is included in that is something that neither we nor any other democratic country can support.
QUESTION: Tomorrow General Musharraf will be here and meeting with the U.S. officials including, I am sure, Secretary Rice and President Bush and also next week will be also the Afghan President. All three will meet. There is (inaudible) in Afghanistan as far as the President Karzai is concerned that Taliban are coming back and across the border from Pakistan. He had (inaudible) over and over and now I think this is what he is here -- already here for this problem. My question is that you think Secretary will have harsh words for General Musharraf as far as Usama bin Laden is concerned or Taliban are back or harbor terrorism? Pakistan now you must watching CNN and all (inaudible.) So where do we stand as far as this meeting is concerned -- his visit this time?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, in terms of the meetings, the Secretary will meet and has met in the past with both General Musharraf and with President Karzai. She'll be part of the President's meetings. But because this is essentially a head-of-state visit, head-of-government visit and deals with meetings with the President, in terms of the agenda for those discussions or readouts on them, I'm going to leave that to the White House for you.
What I can say certainly is that we continue to work with both the Government of Pakistan and the Government of Afghanistan to help deal with the security issues that are out there. Part of the reason why we meet in a trilateral format -- Afghanistan, Pakistan and the U.S. -- is an acknowledgement of the fact that what happens on one side of the border affects what happens on the other side of the border and that we need to all be working together in coordination with one another to deal with the problems out there. Those are discussions that we've had at a variety of levels and in a fairly continuous way. And the meeting at a head-of-state level is, in effect, part of a continuation of that dialogue and certainly something we encourage. But this isn't about pointing fingers at one another. What this is about is finding ways that we can all work together to be able to achieve our common objectives, which is a free, secure and independent Afghanistan and a secure Pakistan border area as well.
QUESTION: Is the agreement between Pakistan and what some of the press delicately refer to as "militant groups" in which they promise not to cross the border for ambush raids -- it was one of the subjects taken up by General Jones before Senate Foreign Relations this morning. He said it could be helpful. I don't know if the State Department has ever taken a position on the agreement whether you, too, bless the agreement and think it could be useful.
MR. CASEY: Well --
QUESTION: It's -- you know, it's a compromise.
MR. CASEY: Barry, look, we had spoken to this previously and I didn't see General Jones' comments before. Again, what we want to see the Government of Pakistan do, the Government of Afghanistan do and what we want to be able to help them do is take actions to ensure that there isn't cross-border traffic that no part of Pakistan or a part of Afghanistan are being used for raids across the way. I don't have a characterization for you of that agreement beyond what we've already said. We very much appreciate the efforts that the Pakistani Government is making to combat terrorism. They're a strong partner with us in it. And, you know, I'd see their actions basically in the context of that.
QUESTION: And on aid to Afghanistan, Senator Feingold complained today that in the last few years U.S. aid seems to go up and down. He's suggesting that maybe U.S. support of Afghanistan isn't as steadfast as it should be. Why would aid to Afghanistan -- and you know I think it was Kerry talked about Iraq being the distraction -- maybe it was Feingold -- along the same critical path -- is Afghanistan being short-changed in the interest of pursuing a war in Iraq?
MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, I didn't see any of the specific comments you're referring to, but I think in general it's very clear that we've got a strong and enduring commitment to Afghanistan and to the people of Afghanistan. We are making very strong efforts to support the government of that country, to help President Karzai as he moves forward with developing that country's democratic system. And we have a very strong and robust aid program to that country. It's working on a wide variety of issues, including the very important question of dealing with the narcotics problem. So certainly I think we are paying full attention to the needs of Afghanistan and our support for Afghanistan remains absolutely steadfast and strong. Obviously there are many other issues out there that we also need to focus on, including Iraq, but we certainly can manage to do both.
QUESTION: Tom, the reports out of Moscow that the Russian Government is suggesting that it might withdraw the operating licenses to some Western oil companies, including Exxon-Mobil for cost overruns and other alleged problems in their work in Russia. Do you -- are you concerned at all about the way the Russian Government is treating Western and particularly American oil companies?
MR. CASEY: You know, Arshad, I did try and look into this for you before I came out here and I didn't get enough of an answer to be able to confidently speak to you on it right now, so I'll work on getting something for you a little later today.
QUESTION: Something I wanted to ask you about yesterday -- didn't get a chance to. There were comments out of Cairo by Gamal Mubarak that Egypt plans to pursue a nuclear program. I was wondering if you had any comments on that or if that raised any concern in Washington?
MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen those comments. But, again, I think U.S. position worldwide is clear. We support the Nonproliferation Treaty. We certainly do not object to the rights of any country to have a peaceful nuclear program. I'm not aware of any specific activities or programs that the Egyptian Government is pursuing, no.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: We've got two more. Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Two quick one. One is death call for the Pope from some sections of the Muslim community.
MR. CASEY: I think I've dealt with that over the last couple of days. I mean, obviously what we want to promote is a culture of tolerance. We want to promote dialogue among religious leaders. There's certainly no excuse for calls for violence.
QUESTION: One more quick one, Venezuela please. As far as the U.S. is concerned -- I was there and listened to him -- don't you think this is a misuse of the global stage by the (inaudible) leader who came to -- the UN is for unity and not for this kind of words. Do you think you -- U.S. is not calling for an apology or –
MR. CASEY: Look, the Secretary has spoken to that. I spoke to it yesterday. I think it's up to the Venezuelan people to determine whether their President represented them well or not.
QUESTION: On Greece and Cyprus. Today the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis under the capacity of the President of the Security Council of the U.N., presided especially in New York City for the Middle East issue. May we have your comment, Mr. Spokesman, (inaudible) after the talks on this crucial problem yesterday between President Bush and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas?
MR. CASEY: I don't need to give you comments on the President's meeting with President Abbas because they spoke to it themselves right after the meeting and I'd just refer you back to their comments.
QUESTION: And on Cyprus, the Cypriot Foreign Minister George Lillikas initiated the talks in Paris, France, the ongoing (inaudible) process for a closer Cypriot-French rapprochement. According to Defense News, Cyprus and France concluded finally a new defense cooperation agreement. I'm wondering how this Cypriot plans military rapprochement affects Europe because for 33 years (inaudible) the final solution via UN in order to end the Turkish invasion and occupation of the Republic of Cyprus?
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, any agreements reached between the Government of France and the Government of Cyprus are matters for them to discuss, not us. Obviously our position on Cyprus remains unchanged.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Arshad, you have one last one.
QUESTION: One last one on Iran. President Ahmadi-Nejad is quoted today as having said at a news conference up in New York some fairly -- making some fairly positive sounds about negotiations on a suspension. Do you take those at face value? Do you think that's encouraging or do you think that they are just stalling and playing for time?
MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen the specific comments. I've seen some reporting on it. Again, the clear process that we have and the formal process that we have for dealing with this issue is through Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani. Certainly we would like to see Iran comply with 1696, to take up the opportunity for negotiations offered and go ahead and suspend their nuclear activities as called for in that resolution. But saying that we are considering, that we're thinking about or that -- or that we're interested in, aren't the same things as actually saying, yes, we're going to do it and then going ahead and doing it in a verifiable way. So very much what we're looking for is a real and firm commitment to do it and then actions taken that will allow us to verify that it's been done.
Okay. Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:21 p.m.)