State Dept. Daily Press Briefing October 20, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
October 20, 2006
The U.S. Continues to Seek Clarification on Procedures and Steps
Taken to Allow Free Passage of American Citizens into and Out of
West Bank Area
Proliferation Security Initiative / Use of Intelligence Resources
to Determine Where Nuclear Materials Might be
Security Council Resolution 1718 / Chapter 7 Mandate
Chinese Councilor Tang's Visit to North Korea / Secretary's
Discussions with the Chinese
Sudanese Government Determined UN Special Representative to the
Sudan Jan Pronck Persona Non Grata
Special Envoy Natsios's Travel and Meetings in the Region
Query on U.S. Reaction to Saudi Committee of Prince's to Vote on
Possible Referendum on Panama Canal Access and Expansion / Reports
of Nicaraguan Plan for Alternative Canal
Suspension of Operations of NGOs that Failed to Properly Register
Inquiry on American Celebrities' Decisions to Adopt
Query Regarding Readiness of Visa Waiver Countries to Meet
Biometric Passport Requirements
International Community Supports a Unified Country, No Indication
of Support for Partition
Militias / Sectarian Violence / Moving Forward on National
Reconciliation Program / Continued Development of Security Forces
and Cooperation with all Groups
12:48 p.m. EDT
MR. CASEY: Okay. Good afternoon, everyone. Happy Friday. Glad to be here with you. Don't have any opening states or announcements, so let's get right to your questions.
QUESTION: I thought you were going to say something about the Mets.
MR. CASEY: You know, I don't think even Endy Chavez could grow his arm long enough to catch that last one, Barry.
QUESTION: I know. It's too bad.
MR. CASEY: Good win for the Cardinals. We got to give them credit.
QUESTION: That's right. The State Department and maybe even Secretary Rice recently spoke critically not only on restrictions on Palestinians moving within the territories and all road blocks, et cetera, but Americans of -- U.S. citizens with a Palestinian background who want to go to territories being crimped in some serious ways by Israeli authorities. Now today I believe or maybe yesterday a prominent Israeli newspaper says the U.S. has gone a bit further, has filed a formal protest with the Israeli Government, a vigorous protest on that adjective that always goes before the usually reliable, Ha'aretz newspaper. They don't fly too much with the crazy stuff, so I wondered if you could get into that a little bit?
MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, I don't think I have much of an update to offer you beyond what we've already said about this. As you know, and as has been spoken to previously, we've heard about reports of American citizens who have managed to have some problems in terms of getting into or out of the West Bank and we have raised that issue with Israeli officials.
I think the most prominent occasion that that occurred on was during the Secretary's recent trip to the region when she did, in fact, raise this issue with Israeli officials. It's something that we continue to seek clarification on from the Israeli Government in terms of what their policy is concerning access to the West Bank so that we can provide the most accurate information to American citizens that's out there.
And certainly as I've said previously, I think a couple days ago, we're committed to ensuring that all American travelers receive fair and equal treatment. Beyond that, though, I did check right before I came out here and there has been no new action taken beyond our follow-up from the Secretary's conversation that would lead me to give you any kind of confirmation on that specific report. So certainly we have discussed this. It's been discussed at very high levels, including by the Secretary, but I'm not aware of any new formal action that's been taken in this regard.
QUESTION: Just to -- you know, I understand you. But it is -- the fact that she took it up, gives it a serious, special serious tone. But you -- but a formal protest is a special serious action and you know of none per se.
MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, I'm not sure --
QUESTION: I mean, protest in a legal sense.
MR. CASEY: Yeah, I'm not sure. Yeah, there's a number of different definitions on it. What I can say is this is an issue of sufficient seriousness that the Secretary thought it was important to raise with her Israeli interlocutors. I think that's an issue again where concerns have been raised with us by American citizens. She thought it was thought important enough to seek clarification from the Israelis as to what their policies are. That's something that we're continuing to follow up on with them, but I'd treat it as simply that -- an issue serious enough for her to raise, but don't really have anything to offer you in terms of any new specific actions.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied with the response you got from the Israelis?
MR. CASEY: Well, as I said, we're continuing to seek clarification from them on this issue.
QUESTION: And can you put on the record, Tom, whether or not this has to do with the question of renewals of what were previously automatically renewed or routinely renewed three-month visas?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think this deals with a number of things, as I said, what we have done is had concerns expressed to us from American citizens who'd attempted to enter the West Bank, but had been refused entry by Israeli border officials. I don't want to try and talk about any of the specific cases, but I think that's a clear indication that people that have gone in the past successfully into the West Bank had problems when they tried to enter again.
QUESTION: And you also said leaving, if I'm not mistaken.
MR. CASEY: My understanding at this point is the main concern that's been expressed to us is with entry, not with departure.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: It's on North Korea. There have been some reports about a North Korean ship, which is being tracked by the United States and other countries, which could have some suspicious cargo on it. Can you say anything about it and whether the U.S. is kind of putting the resolution to the test by asking other countries to perhaps stop it, inspect it and --
MR. CASEY: Well, I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint you on this specific case simply because I really can't talk about anything that might be an ongoing intelligence or other kind of operation.
Certainly, though, I think as most people know through the Proliferation Security Initiative we have been very active in terms of using our intelligence resources, using other resources available to us to try and determine where there might be, whether it's ships or aircraft or other kinds of transport of materials, either associated with weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missile programs. And certainly we are doing this as a matter of ongoing concern and have been for some time.
Now the passage of resolution 1718 I think gives renewed emphasis to that not only for us but to other countries because now there is a very specific Security Council mandate under Chapter 7 that requires all countries to do everything that they can to prevent this kind of proliferation activities from going on.
So certainly anything that we see that appears to fall into that category would be something we'd pursue and pursue vigorously not only with our existing partners in the Proliferation Security Initiative but with other countries that might be involved.
MR. CASEY: Same subject. Okay, let's go over to you.
QUESTION: What's your reaction to the wire reports today that Kim Jong-il told the Chinese that he regretted the nuclear tests and wouldn't conduct a second test?
MR. CASEY: Sorry to hit the mike on you. But I do have a draft of the transcript of what the Secretary said in response to that, which is that she didn't hear anything like that from Mr. Tang when she met with him. So that's what I'll have to go with for you. We certainly haven't heard anything from the Chinese that would indicate that.
QUESTION: Follow-up to the ship question.
MR. CASEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: There are reports that (inaudible) to register under other countries' flags. I think Mongolia was one that was mentioned in The New York Times. Has the U.S. made an effort to reach out to other countries that might registering North Korean ships?
MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of any specific initiatives on that. Again, one of the things that you can go back and look at some of the information we put out. But under the Proliferation Security Initiative one of the things that we have done is establish ship-boarding agreements with a number of countries that make it easer for us and for our partners in PSI to be able to have the ability to board and otherwise inspect vessels. And I think if you look at the statistics that are available through Bob Joseph's office that we've now signed agreements with countries that represent I think well over half the world's total gross shipping tonnage on it.
Again though, the importance here is that everyone do what they can to be able to stop these kinds of proliferation activities. This is not, as the Secretary said, about trying to quarantine or blockade North Korea or prevent North Korea from having ships registered in various places. What it's about is trying to make sure that no North Korean ships nor anyone else's are used to try and assist the North Korean WMD program or the North Korean ballistic missile program.
Yeah, let's go in the back.
QUESTION: What exactly do the Chinese say about Mr. Tang talked about with the North Koreans?
MR. CASEY: Well, I'll leave it up to the Chinese to give you a formal readout of his meetings. But I think as the Secretary has said in a couple of her press events including with Foreign Minister Li, an interview with a certain major news network that I've seen out there as well as in a general discussion that she had with the reporters on her trip, it's clear that Mr. Tang carried with him a strong message from the Government of China to North Korea; that North Korea should not engage in further testing; that they should do what they could to comply with the resolution; that they should come back as part of that; that they should come back to talks as soon as possible. She said that we feel it's a message that was fully consistent with Resolution 1718 and we appreciate that effort.
Yeah, let's go down here.
QUESTION: What is the U.S. understanding of how hard -- just how hard China is willing to press North Korea?
MR. CASEY: Well, again that the Secretary's been in discussions with the Chinese today. She's addressed that with them. The Chinese have said that they are fully aware of their obligations under Resolution 1718 and intend to comply with them. And beyond that I'd just leave it to her and the party to talk about it.
QUESTION: One more.
MR. CASEY: One more, okay.
QUESTION: Is North Korea -- is it your understanding or thought that North Korea is making moves towards getting ready to come back to the six-party talks?
MR. CASEY: Well, again and the Secretary addressed this as well, as far as we understand it, we haven't heard anything new from the North Koreans. They adhere to the same position they have on this, which is not what the international community has called for which is unconditional return to the talks.
QUESTION: Yeah. I had a question on Sudan.
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: The Sudanese military today declared the UN Special Envoy Jan Pronk persona non grata in Sudan because they think he's waging war against the armed forces and I wanted to have a comment on that.
MR. CASEY: Well, I've seen press statements about it. I'm not aware that the Sudanese Government has formally done anything on this.
QUESTION: Well, the foreign ministry kind of confirmed that and described the military statement as a natural reaction to the lies and provocations made by Pronk.
MR. CASEY: Look, I -- again I've seen these press reports. Mr. Pronk is the envoy for the UN out there. I fully expect he'll be continuing his duties and responsibilities.
QUESTION: But what can you do to support his work there?
MR. CASEY: I think what we're doing to support his work there is more importantly what we're doing to support a peaceful resolution of the Darfur conflict. As you know, Andrew Natsios, our special envoy, has been out in Sudan on his first visit. He's just departed. He's actually now in Cairo where he'll be having discussions with representatives of the Arab League. He had a useful series of meetings there with a number of senior government officials as well as NGOs. He did visit not only Khartoum but Juba in the south as well as Darfur itself. That trip included meetings with representatives of the Sudanese Government there as well as with the AU, NGO communities, and did include a stop in a refugee camp in Nyala.
So certainly we are doing everything we can to continue to push forward with what the international community has called for, which is an implementation, a full implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement. And also, of course, as part of that a transitioning from the AU force over into a UN force.
QUESTION: And did he meet with President Bashir?
MR. CASEY: No, he did not meet with President Bashir. And we're disappointed that there wasn't a possibility of doing that on this trip. Again, though, we think he did have useful meetings in his time in Sudan including with the Foreign Minister and many other senior officials.
QUESTION: Saudi Arabia today announced that it planned to create a committee that will -- a committee of Princes that will vote on succession. I wonder if you have any reaction to that?
MR. CASEY: Arshad, I did see that story shortly before I came out here, but I really haven't had a chance to get a look at it. I think in general we are appreciative of the efforts that the Saudi Government is making to try and reform its internal political process. I just don't have anything for you on this specific move, but I'll try and get you something for later.
Let's go back here.
QUESTION: On this Panama Canal initiative to broaden the canal and a referendum on Sunday, does the United States believe that this would be beneficial to international commerce?
MR. CASEY: Well, the United States believes that this really is a decision for the Panamanian people to make. As you know, we are the single largest user of the canal. We've been very appreciative of the fine efforts that the Panamanians have done in -- over the many years now since the canal came fully into control of the Panamanian people to run it and run it well and effectively. As I understand it, the canal is currently handling more ships both in terms of numbers as well as in terms of gross tonnage that it ever has before. So it's being very well run and very well managed. This is something we certainly want to see continue happen.
But in terms of decisions on how to continue with that and how to move forward, it's really something for the Panamanian people to decide. And we have every confidence that they'll decide this in an appropriate way.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: The canal is described as overloaded. We just had a story from Nicaragua that they're dusting off a dream that dates back centuries. Nicaragua wants to build an $18 billion alternative to the increasingly overloaded Panama Canal. Is that up to the Nicaraguans?
MR. CASEY: It certainly is. I don't think the --
QUESTION: I mean everybody has a right to build a canal, right?
MR. CASEY: I think if the Nicaraguans want to do something in Nicaraguan territory of a commercial nature, that's probably up to them.
QUESTION: There was a time they were kept from doing it.
MR. CASEY: Yeah, but it wasn't my time, Barry.
QUESTION: No. We created a country to build a canal.
MR. CASEY: Let's go over here.
QUESTION: I want to follow up on a question from Wednesday on -- regarding the Russian -- the NGOs in Russia.
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: And what is the United States doing? Or can you comment on any discussions that we're having right now with the Russian Government on this issue?
MR. CASEY: Well, I do think, as I said previously, that we want to see the NGO law implemented in a way that's transparent and that facilitates the work of NGOs in civil society rather than hinders it. Certainly we're continuing to discuss this situation with the Russian Government. Our embassy is certainly pursuing this with them.
My understanding of where this issue stands right now is that, of course, the deadline for re-registration ended effective October 18th, that there have been some 90 odd NGOs that have now formally been re-registered. There are a number of others whose applications are still pending but that no foreign NGO has actually been denied registration.
I'd also note that my understanding under the law is that they have 30 days -- they, meaning the Russian Government, have 30 days to process applications from the time they've filed. And I think at this point it is still within those 30 days for the Russian Government to consider it. But we definitely are continuing to encourage the Russian Government to move as fast as they can on these applications because we think it's important that the NGOs be allowed to continue their programs and continue their work.
QUESTION: Tom, change of subject. Do you have any guidance for various celebrities? They appear to be going to Africa and adopting youngsters, some of whom still have families, and some of those same NGOs are now criticizing, for instance, Madonna in Malawi. Do you give any guidance or do they have to follow those particular rules for each individual country?
MR. CASEY: Well, Joel, to the extent that the celebrities in question are American citizens, what we do is invite them to consult with the information that's available through a number of sources including the State Department's website, which has a rather extensive set of information for individuals wishing to adopt overseas. This is something that affects many, many Americans.
Many Americans have adopted children from overseas, but it's something where obviously one has to be careful in terms of procedures. One has to follow local laws and do that. And that's certainly why as a starting point before anyone does this we'd encourage them to consult with the information that we make publicly available to all American citizens.
Let's go over here.
QUESTION: Yeah, earlier today Tony Snow called the idea to support a partition of Iraq to be a "non-starter" -- his quote. Have any of Iraq's neighbors raised concern about the prospect of a partition in Iraq?
MR. CASEY: Well, I don't think any of them have raised concern about something that we've already said we're not supporting and that no one Iraq as far as I know is not supporting. But, look, our position, our views on this are very clear. I know Tony's expressed them. The longstanding view of the United States and as far as I know the longstanding view of all of Iraq's neighbors is that Iraq should remain a unified country. I don't see any support out there internationally for partition.
QUESTION: Also on Iraq, what do you think about this power grab with Moqtada al-Sadr today in Amara and what do you think that says about the kind of political hold or control that the Maliki Government has over the country?
MR. CASEY: Well, certainly I think what it does is just emphasize the fact that one of the most serious issues confronting the Iraqi Government as they try and move forward is militias and militia violence. There's still a number of factual questions concerning what is actually happening in the town, but we certainly encourage the Iraqi Government to make a strong and appropriate response to that to ensure that security is returned to the hands of government authorities and government forces.
QUESTION: Well, can I follow up on that?
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: But I mean even the U.S. military commanders on the ground are saying that, yes, the militias need to be controlled. But that it's also a question of political clout and political will of the government and what more can the government do to work towards political reconciliation so that some of the sectarian violence can end? Secretary Rice said that when a unity government came in, you know, that was really going to be the turning point for the sectarian violence to end and it's only increasing.
MR. CASEY: Well, look, first of all, I think that we want to see the prime minister and we want to see the rest of the Iraqi Government move forward with its national reconciliation program. And we've always said that because we recognize that this is not simply a military problem or a security problem, this is also a political problem. That's something that Prime Minister Maliki has made clear as well. He's recently had meetings, including yesterday I believe, with Ayatollah Sistani, with Moqtada al-Sadr and with others trying to work on some of these political issues in terms of moving forward with national reconciliation and defusing some of the tensions and working on the political angle of how one confronts and ends this kind of violence.
But you can't do either in isolation. This has to be both about continued development of Iraq security forces and continued use of those forces to confront those who do oppose the government or do oppose a reasoned political settlement as well as working with all of Iraq's political leaders: Shiite, Sunni and Kurd to defuse sectarian violence, to deal with the insurgency and to be able to move forward.
QUESTION: Well, but just to go back to the first question, I mean what kind of political control does Prime Minister Maliki have over the country when one day he's meeting with Moqtada al-Sadr and the next day militias loyal to Sadr are trying to take control of a city?
MR. CASEY: Well, again I think there are number of questions open about this specific incident. I know the prime minister sent senior officials down to Baghdad to assess the political situation there as well as sending addition army and police units there. Look, no one is pretending that this is going to be easy and no one is pretending that there aren't challenges there. I think the prime minister as well as other Iraqi Government officials recognize that this is not something that's going to be solved overnight. But again, I think they're taking the steps that they deem appropriate to do it and we want to be supportive of them and we're certainly encouraging them to act in a strong and decisive way in response to some of these challenges.
QUESTION: I'd like to go back to Natsios. I didn't think of it at the time.
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: Now, if you know that he is saying things in Cairo -- I won't delay all of us -- but if not, if he hasn't been speaking out, could you tell us why is he going to Cairo? Is it just to see the Egyptians? I mean, there was an angle to what is going on in Darfur. We know who's being killed and we know who's killing them. Is this an attempt to unite Muslim support for the black Christian victims of Darfur?
MR. CASEY: Well, as I thought I had said, his purpose in going to Egypt is not only to meet with the Egyptian Government officials --
MR. CASEY: -- but to consult with Arab League officials.
QUESTION: No, you did say that.
MR. CASEY: Yeah. And the Arab League has presented some ideas and had some discussions about how they might contribute to an expanded AU mission that might also lead into a UN mission. I know certainly he wants to do that. Also as you know the Secretary in her trip to the region, to the Middle East, spoke with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries plus Jordan and Egypt with the idea in part towards discussing and trying to engage them to be a little more forward leaning and to be -- and do what they could to help in terms of responding to the very serious situation in Darfur. And I'd look on Mr. Natsios's meetings there as a follow up to that.
Obviously once he's back here in the United States, he'll have an opportunity to report to the Secretary and over to the White House as well and we'll talk about what follow on actions might be required.
QUESTION: Would this be it so far as his stops are concerned?
MR. CASEY: Yes, my understanding is he'll be returning home after Cairo.
One in the back.
QUESTION: Next week is the deadline for the visa waiver program countries to have biometric passports. Do you have any information on which of the countries are ready, which aren't? And is the United States Customs Border Protection Services ready to read all these new biometric passports?
MR. CASEY: Well, as to what Customs Services is prepared to do and what Immigration Service is prepared to do, you can ask them. I know they feel confident that they're ready to meet the deadlines that we have available.
I don't have any updates for you in terms of countries that are or are not prepared. Frankly, I'd leave that up to them to talk about their own preparations. Certainly when the deadline occurs, we'll be in a position to formally say whether or not there are any countries that might not have been able to meet these terms.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:13 p.m.)
Released on October 20, 2006