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State Dept. Daily Press Briefing September 25 2006

Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 25, 2006

INDEX:

IRAN
Iran needs to accept offer made by UN / U.S. Will Continue with UN
Security Council Discussions

THAILAND
U.S. Continues to Follow Developments / Concerns about Civil
Liberties Restrictions
U.S. Wants to See Handover to Civil Authority and Civil Elections
as Soon as Possible
U.S. Communicating with All Parties in the Country

AFGHANISTAN
Visit of President Karzai to the United States and United Nations
The U.S. is Pleased with Commitments of NATO Forces/ NATO Making
Progress in Southern Region / Lingering Threat from Taliban
Indications of Progress / Drug Cultivation Challenge

NORTH KOREA
All Agree that North Korea Needs to Return to the Six-Party Talks
based on the September 19 Agreement

TAIWAN
The United States does not Support Independence for Taiwan / U.S.
Does not Support Either Side's Attempts to Change the Status Quo
U.S. Takes President's Chen Commitment to the U.S. Seriously

GREECE
Secretary Rice's Upcoming Meeting with Foreign Minister Bakoyannis

SUDAN
U.S. is Unable to Confirm AU Troops Increases in Darfur / Welcomes
AU Commitment to Extend the Darfur Mission
An Expanded AU Force is not an Acceptable Substitute for a UN
Force

DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Query on Tariq Ramadan's Visa Application

VENEZUELA
The U.S. has had Long and Good Relations with Venezuela for Many
Years / U.S. Concerns about Venezuela are Well-known


TRANSCRIPT:

12:45 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay. Good afternoon, everybody. I don't have any opening statements or announcements for you so, George, over to you.

QUESTION: The Iranians are making positive noises again suggesting that a settlement may be possible. Do you have any response to that?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think we continue to see a variety of comments that are made, George. The main thing at this point isn't whether they're thinking about doing something or thinking about thinking about doing something, it's whether they actually do it. There's a clear decision that's put forward by the Security Council for the Iranians to make. They haven't made that decision yet and until they do, while there are discussions that are continuing between Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani, we will continue to move forward as well in terms of discussions within the Security Council and among various members about next steps and the resolution, which includes sanctions and other kinds of measures that might be taken in response.

So I'm glad to hear that they may be thinking about it, but what we need to see is an actual decision and then have that decision implemented in a verifiable way.

Arshad.

QUESTION: On Thailand. The coup leaders have taken over responsibility for investigating alleged corruption by former Prime Minister Thaksin and his cabinet. I wonder if you think this is a good thing for -- that the coup leaders having seized power should now take responsibility for investigating corruption by the people they have ousted.

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we're continuing to follow this situation very closely and we do remain concerned by a number of steps that the ruling council has taken, including its decisions to limit some issues regarding freedom of expression both in terms of political gatherings as well as media. These are things that remain part of our dialogue with military leaders in Thailand as well as with other political actors in the country. We certainly want to see them honor their commitment that they've made both to turn over control of Thailand over to civilian authorities as quickly as possible as well as to hold elections. And ultimately it's through holding the elections that we believe you can return Thailand to a situation where you clearly have a government that represents the will of the people.

Anything that happens in between that time needs to be done in accordance with Thai law. Certainly what we want to see happen, as this process moves forward, is a quick handover to civilian authorities and that any investigations or other activities that are done, again be done in accordance with the law rather than being done for political purposes.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that. I mean, when they initially seized power they said that they would turn it over to a civilian government within two weeks. You said you want to see them do it as soon as possible, which could be a very expansive period depending on their interpretation. Do you want them to see -- do you want to see power turned over to a civilian government within two weeks as you originally said?

MR. CASEY: Well, they said -- they committed to doing it within two weeks and we'd certainly like to see them honor that commitment. In terms of elections -- an election timetable -- as I said on Friday, we have seen comments from them saying that this may take as long as a year. We think that that should be accomplished more quickly than that.

QUESTION: And then on the specific question that I had asked, is the decision of the coup leaders to take over corruption investigations directly, is that one of the things you're concerned about?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think we're concerned, first and foremost, about restrictions on civil liberties. I don't have a specific comment to offer you in terms of them taking over possible investigations into corruption. Things that are done, again in accordance with Thai law and accordance with those procedures are things that should happen and will happen. What I think I was trying to rule out for you, though, is certainly we would not look favorably upon any kind of movement that was politically motivated rather than in accordance with the rules of law.

Let's go -- James, let's go to you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) continue, Arshad?

MR. CASEY: For a minute I thought he had another one.

QUESTION: Same subject or a different subject?

QUESTION: The same subject.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Mr. Lambros, please.

QUESTION: How do you communicate your concern you just expressed to us the government of democracy, because they banned the political parties, the political activities? They started to censor the press, et cetera. How do you communicate to the Thai authority the generals or to the idiot, the King?

MR. CASEY: Well, we again continue to be in contact with a variety of actors in Thailand, the various political parties, the military. I believe that there are ongoing contacts with members of the authorities in the palace, but I don't have anything specific for you. But again, we're making our views known to all the actors in the country.

James, did you want to --

QUESTION: I wanted to switch subjects --

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: -- to Afghanistan and to Senator Kerry's op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal. Is it true, for example, as he alleges, that a resurgent Taliban effectively controls entire swaths of southern Afghanistan?

MR. CASEY: Well, let me just talk a little bit about where I think we are in Afghanistan and it's important. President Karzai has, of course, been in New York at the UN General Assembly. He'll be here tomorrow for meetings with the President. He'll also be participating with President Musharraf and President Bush later in the week in a trilateral discussion, all of which is aimed in assuring that we can all work better together to deal with the security issues that are there on the ground.

With respect to Afghanistan, I think we've seen a tremendous amount of progress that's occurred under President Karzai's leadership. He is working very much to fulfill the pledges that he's made to the international community as well as to his own people to bring about security, to increase economic development and to really change the nature of that country. And that already has changed remarkably obviously since the Taliban were driven from office through the work of the U.S. military and the international Coalition there.

Certainly security remains a concern in Afghanistan and certainly there are issues out there for us to work on. That's why we're so pleased to see that NATO forces have now taken fully on the responsibility of dealing with security in the southern part of Afghanistan. And as you've heard from NATO commanders, including General Jones last week, they are making some serious progress against the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan. Certainly it's a misnomer, though, to say that large swaths of the country are somehow being overrun by the Taliban. I'm not trying to minimize the problem, James; it's certainly a serious one. But we do believe that we are making good progress with the forces that we have on the ground there, both U.S. and NATO. And again, I think the military commanders have spoken to this recently.

QUESTION: What are the indices by which you would be able to say that great progress is being made in Afghanistan? Should it be about who controls the territory? Should we measure it by the poppy cultivation or -- what are your indices?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think on a basic level, what you have since 2001 is the first-ever elected Government of Afghanistan representing the votes of the vast majority of people. You have a government in place that's working hard to develop the country economically as well as politically. You've made great progress in those areas. Certainly you've also made progress on the security front while we continue to see fighting that occurs involving the Taliban, again as the military commanders have spoken to previously. NATO forces in the south have taken on those challenges. They've made great strides in terms of combating the Taliban recently in the south. And we're going to continue to do this.

In terms of the drug cultivation, I think everyone recognizes that that is a challenge. President Karzai certainly does, we certainly do. He is dedicated to working on a resolution of that problem and working to combat it. We certainly are going to help him do that. We've got a plan in place to do so and we're actively engaged in this issue now.

QUESTION: When you say that NATO is making great progress in the battle against the Taliban, who actually has the upper hand?

MR. CASEY: I clearly think that NATO does. I certainly think our forces that are there in Afghanistan are doing the job required of them. And they are, again, helping the Afghan people to defeat the remnants of the Taliban that do exist there. NATO commanders have asked for additional troops to help in that fight. They are getting that additional support, as I understand it.

QUESTION: From whom?

MR. CASEY: From a variety of countries. General Jones again spoke to that last week and he identified several countries involved and I'd refer you to his comments on that. That's really an internal NATO issue. But the important thing is -- is that the fight is being taken to the Taliban there. There is success that is occurring as a result of NATO troop actions. And I think we need to make sure that while we certainly look at the efforts our own forces are making, that we don't denigrate the efforts that are being made by NATO troops on the ground, Canadians, Brits, many others who are doing the hard work of fighting the Taliban and helping do peacekeeping in southern Afghanistan.

QUESTION: One last one, if I could. You've been very patient.

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: Senator Kerry asserts in this op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today that 40 percent of the population in Afghanistan is unemployed and 90 percent lack regular electricity. Do those comport with our own figures?

MR. CASEY: Well, James, I don't have specific figures on --

QUESTION: Well, I should say -- excuse me, let me correct my -- do those comport with State Department figures or --

MR. CASEY: James, I don't have specific figures to offer you on that. I can try and get some for you later, if you want. But again, I think if you look at the situation in Afghanistan on any grounds in terms of employment, in terms of economic indicators, things are better now than they were before.

And more importantly let's again look at things like education. Under the Taliban women and girls couldn't even go to school, couldn't even be employed in the most sectors. We now have a vibrant participation in many areas by women. We have young girls going to school. We have the cultural life of the country being returned to it. We have children at least being allowed to fly kites and play soccer. There are basic human levels of activity that are going on that were banned under the Taliban.

Certainly Afghanistan after many, many years of civil war, after a terrible fight with the Taliban and after many years of the Taliban continuing to struggle against the efforts of the coalition and the international community, Afghanistan has many economic problems and issues to overcome. It's in many ways for the first time, in a long time, becoming a full and unified country again. But there has been major economic progress both with the help of the United States as well as with other members of the international community and we're committed to continuing that process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Let's go back here.

QUESTION: Thank you. The last time President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun have summit talks. The fundamental policy difference seems to exist between the United States and South Korea in dealing with North Korea nuclear standoff. Can you tell us what is the difference, if you have any?

QUESTION: Well, for any comments on the President's meeting with President Roh, I'd refer you over to my White House colleagues. In terms of basic policies of the United States and South Korea with respect to North Korea, I'd say that we're very much on the same page. We all agree that North Korea needs to return to the six-party talks and to do so as soon as possible. We're also -- all agree that the basis of those discussions should be on the September 19th agreements which North Korea signed, put their name to and agreed to carry forward. That is a good basis for discussion with North Korea.

Certainly were we to be able to move forward with the six-party talks from that position, we'd be in a place to both resolve North Korea's nuclear issue, to have them do what they said they wanted to see happen, which is to have a denuclearized peninsula. And then be able to move forward with a different relationship with North Korea with much of the international community. So I think there's very much common agreement between the United States and South Korea on how to proceed.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Do you have any update in UN about the six-party talks, where we are right now, where we stand?

MR. CASEY: I don't have anything new to offer you beyond what you heard in a very lengthy briefing, I think from Chris Hill at the end of last week after the meeting focused on security issues, including North Korea up at the UN last week.

Let's go back here.

QUESTION: Thank-you, Tom. Taiwan's leader Chen Shui-bian vowed yesterday to dramatically amend the constitution to reflect what he says the changes in Taiwan's status -- the proposed amendments making sure the definition of Taiwan's territory and official name. I'm just wondering is the U.S. concerned by Chen's move to unilaterally change the status quo.

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, let me just reiterate that the United States does not support independence for Taiwan and we continue to be opposed to unilateral changes in the status quo by either side. We also take very seriously President Chen's repeated commitments not to permit the constitutional reform process to touch on sovereignty issues, which includes territorial definition. And the fulfillment of President Chen's commitments is a test of his leadership as well as his ability to protect Taiwan's interests, its relations with others and to maintain peace and stability in the Straits.

So I think that's basically where we are on this issue. We again know about his commitments that he's repeatedly stated on this subject and we expect he would carry out them.

Yeah, let's go, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: One more on Pakistan.

MR. CASEY: Are we still on Taiwan? Okay, sure.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you find it troubling that, you know, when the leader of a foreign country makes a commitment, sometimes repeated commitment to the United States, and then deviates from that commitment? Do you find it troubling?

MR. CASEY: Well, again as I said, we take his commitment to us very seriously and we expect him to carry out those commitments and we'll see what happens.

Yeah, let's go, Mr. Lambros. I know you've been (inaudible) for a while.

QUESTION: Yes, on Greece and one on Pakistan, anything to say about the meeting between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis this coming Wednesday?

MR. CASEY: Well, certainly the Secretary looks forward to meeting her. They have met previously as you know. Greece is, I believe, currently the President of the UN Security Council so I'm certain they'll talk about those issues. I expect they'll touch on a number of other bilateral concerns. Certainly Greece is a good friend and NATO ally, has an important role to play in NATO as well as in the broader region in the Balkans. I know those issues will probably be things that will be on the agenda as well. Certainly she looks forward to seeing her.

QUESTION: On Pakistan. Anything to say on the reports for a coup d'état Pakistan's as there was a report that says by The Washington Post in today and calling the Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf in an extended trip to the United States and Canada?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'd refer you to the Government of Pakistan. I know they've already denied that there was anything more going on here than power outages caused by mechanical issues. But I don't really have any comment for you --

QUESTION: Besides that, are you concerned about for the coup d'état Pakistan in such a crucial period of time for the entire area?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, again, I'm not aware that -- other than speculation in the media, there's anything more to it than that, so I'd just leave it there.

Yeah, Arshad.

QUESTION: Recently, there were reports of a troop increase by the AU forces in Darfur?

MR. CASEY: I have seen reports of that, Arshad, but at this point, I don't have confirmation that they are actually moving ahead with that. Obviously we welcome the decision that the AU took in New York last week to extend the Darfur mission. We believe that's an important step forward. But of course, it's not a substitute for a transition to a larger UN force. And even if the AU is, in fact, expanding troops for the AU mission, again, that is not a substitute for the UN force either, though it would certainly be a welcome development.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. Government consider providing additional support either financial, logistical or any other to an expanded AU force?

MR. CASEY: Well, as you know, we've already provided a large portion of the funding to help support the current AU force in place and we have requested in the budget for this coming fiscal year that starts the end of this month or starts actually October 1, for additional funds that would support a UN force there. In this transition period, I'm sure we would be looking to try and devote some of that funding to support this mission and operation. It's a high priority for us and we want to do whatever we can to help it.

QUESTION: And one other one, I apologize, I didn't flag this to you. It just was drawn to my attention. Are you familiar with the case of Professor Ramadan who keeps trying to come to the United States and is having difficulty getting a visa? Do you know what I'm talking about?

MR. CASEY: I -- yes, I recall the case, but I don't have any particular updates for you on it. Are you looking for -- is there a new development that you've seen?

QUESTION: I'm told that there has been -- that the U.S. Government has given a new reason for not giving him a visa and it has to do with support to French and Swiss charitable groups who may, in turn, have supported Hamas. And I was wondering if you had anything on that and if not, if you could check on this?

MR. CASEY: No, I'm not familiar with those reports, Arshad. Let me check for you and see what we can get.

Okay. Joel.

QUESTION: Tom, over the weekend, the Foreign Minister of Venezuela, of course, when he was leaving the country or supposedly leaving the country, at the airport got in a flap with the security people there. Instead of leaving, he then returned to New York City and gave a lengthy press conference. In light of that, are you concerned that the behavior -- and we've spoken about this before -- of Hugo Chavez, the President of Venezuela, which is outlandish -- do we break diplomatic relations with Venezuela and what would President Chavez have to do to improve that situation? Is it his responsibility or is it ours?

MR. CASEY: Well, Joel, first of all, we have had long and good relations with the people of Venezuela for many, many years. Certainly we want to have good relations with Venezuela and I wouldn't expect any individual incidence of this kind would have any particular impact on the status of our diplomatic relations.

In terms of our concerns about Venezuela and Venezuelan actions, they're well known and we've covered them before and I really don't have anything to add to it.

Charlie.

QUESTION: We've got a thank you.

MR. CASEY: I'll take a thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)

DPB # 154

Released on September 25, 2006

ENDS

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