State Dept. Daily Press Briefing November 21, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
November 21, 2006
Assassination of Pierre Gemayel / Syrian Interference in
U.S Assistance and Support for Lebanese Government
Query on Timing of Next Quartet Meeting
Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill's Travel / Six Party Talks
12:35 p.m. EST
MR. CASEY: Okay, afternoon, everybody. Happy Tuesday. I don't have any statements or announcements for you so we'll go right to your questions.
QUESTION: Do you see a Syrian hand in the Gemayel assassination?
MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, I think as you heard Under Secretary Burns say this morning, we certainly view this as an act of terrorism and an act of political intimidation in Lebanon. Certainly there hasn't been an investigation into who is responsible for this incident and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to try and do that work for people. But I think in light of the history that we've seen in Lebanon with the Hariri assassination and with other acts of political violence, it's certainly I think clear to us and clear to everyone else that this was not just some random criminal act.
QUESTION: There's been increasing calls for the Bush Administration to engage Syria. Do you think that this will be a reason to wait and see the investigation before going forward with any type of change in policy?
MR. CASEY: Well, let's deal with what we've got. Certainly in terms of the Hariri assassination, as you know, there's ongoing discussions up in New York about establishing a tribunal to establish accountability for those responsible for that act of violence. We certainly want to see anyone responsible for this to be held accountable as well. In terms of broader implications for the U.S.-Syrian relationship, I just don't think I'm prepared at this point to speculate whether this will have an effect one way or the other.
QUESTION: A follow-up.
MR. CASEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: I wonder if President Bush believe that Syrian or Syria embedded its intelligence inside the Lebanese Government. Don't you be worried about any Syrian role on this violence in Lebanon?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think we've made our general views clear about Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. Certainly we wish to see Syria as well as all other actors comply with their obligations under a variety of UN resolutions, and that means to respect the sovereignty of the Lebanese Government and that means to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of the country.
QUESTION: Well, when you say it's an act of political intimidation, Ambassador Bolton said a few moments ago in an interview that he didn't think it was a coincidence that all the members of the Lebanese Government that are being assassinated are anti-Syrian forces or anti-Syrian politicians or journalists, so what is the opinion of the State Department? Do you think that these long list of acts of intimidation against members of the Lebanese Government and anti-Syrian forces are at Syria's behest or are from anti -- or from pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon?
MR. CASEY: Look, again, I don't want to speculate on where an investigation might go in this and certainly I'm not trying to lead you to the idea that we have specific conclusions about who specifically was responsible. But as you heard Nick say this morning, we definitely view this as an act of intimidation not generically against Lebanon, but generically against Lebanon and specifically against the March 14th Coalition. So clearly there are those who have spoken out for independence in Lebanon, who have spoken out in favor of a Lebanon free from outside interference from Syria or anyone else who appear to be those that have been intimidated and attacked over time. Certainly that's a disturbing pattern. Whether that leads to any conclusions in terms of who is responsible for this specific incident that's something I think we have to leave to Lebanon authorities to look at.
QUESTION: Just one more. This comes at a time as you know that the Lebanese Government is on the verge of collapse with Hezbollah making threats and asking its supporters to go out in the streets to destabilize the government, and you've said that you think that this tribunal investigating the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri would help the government. But, I mean, that's -- in the short term, what can the United States do, what is it doing to help prop up this government that's on the verge of collapse, beyond the tribunal?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all again, the important thing here is that the Lebanese people decide who is going to be running their country, who will be involved in this government. This isn't a choice for the United States to make. But there have been elections in Lebanon. Those elections have resulted in this government, led ably by Prime Minister Siniora, and we are supporting democratic process and this democratically elected government in Lebanon. And certainly if there's to be any adjustments to who participates in that government, who is in the cabinet, like in any other parliamentary system, that has to be done through a legitimate open political process, one of political negotiation among parties and among individuals, not as -- come about as a result of intimidation or come about as a result of terror tactics.
What are we doing in Lebanon? I think as you know, while certainly we are concerned about accountability in the case of the Hariri assassination, we were very actively working with the Siniora government to help it do what's most -- its most important job which is deliver on its promises and deliver on the needs of the Lebanese people and that includes helping with the reconstruction process, it includes helping with the implementation of Resolution 1701. It includes making sure that the government is able to fully exercise its sovereignty and it includes making sure that we do what we can to discourage others that are out there from interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs.
QUESTION: What is the impact of this event, do you think, on the Lebanese Government?
MR. CASEY: Barry, I think at this point, this has just happened. I'm really not in a position to speculate for you on what impact it might or might not have. Certainly, again, it's an act of terrorism. It's an act of intimidation. It is one that we want to see those responsible for this action held accountable for.
QUESTION: Has anyone from this building been in touch with Siniora today since the assassination?
MR. CASEY: I don't -- I'm not aware that anyone's been in touch with him, but I'll check for you and see whether any calls have been made. Certainly I know our Ambassador's been in touch. Jeff Felton's been in touch with a number of officials in the Lebanese Government, but I'll try and get a more specific idea of who for you.
QUESTION: About two weeks ago the White House released a statement, sort of a rare statement talking about how Syria was trying to bring about the collapse of a Lebanese Government. And are you prepared to say anything more about that statement or why -- what were the types of activities that were being conducted that --
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think that statement was pretty straightforward. I really don't have a lot to add to it in that regard. Certainly, over time we have talked about the long history both of Syrian occupation and domination of Lebanon. We've talked about the issues surrounding the Hariri assassination. We've talked about the issues surrounding continued intelligence operatives, intelligence presence by the Syrian Government in Lebanon. We talked about things like arbitrary closings of the border and other kinds of activities. This is all part of the public record and part of the longstanding history there.
I think it's clear that this isn't just the United States but the broader international community as has been reflected in UN resolutions that believe that Syria is certainly not playing the role of a good neighbor in Lebanon. It's certainly continuing to involve itself in the internal affairs of Lebanon, and that's something that we don't think is appropriate, and it's something the international community doesn't think is appropriate.
QUESTION: You had spoken, while not mentioning what those acts were or pieces of intelligence were, you spoke about specific pieces of information and intelligence which led you to believe that certain acts were going to occur to destabilize the government. Is the assassination one of those particular acts? Did you have any information that led you to believe that someone, specifically this gentleman or anybody in the Lebanese Government, was at threat?
MR. CASEY: Well, certainly even if I had specifics on intelligence information, I wouldn't be in a position to comment on it. I'm not aware that we had any specific information that would have been relevant to this case.
Let's go back here, and then let's go to Libby.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. When you are calling on certain countries to refrain from interfering in the Lebanese affair, do you include Israel into your call because there was certain spies and terrorists who were arrested a few months ago by the Lebanese Government and the investigation revealed their connection to Israel at that time.
Also I wondered, my second question is if you have had a chance to examine the statement by the Syrian Government concerning this event today? Since I came late, I don't know if you had a chance to discuss that yet.
MR. CASEY: First of all, I think in terms of the obligations of Lebanon's neighbors, I think the obligations are stated pretty clearly in UN Security Council resolutions and you can look them up in terms of who they apply to and under what conditions.
In terms of the Syrian Government's statement, no, I haven't seen it, but the -- I think the main principle for us continues to apply. We think it's very important that the Syrian Government follow through on the commitments that are required of it by the UN and by the international community. We think it's very important that Syria refrain from interfering in Lebanon's internal affairs. And as we've so often said, whether the case is Syria's relations with Lebanon or Syria's relations with Iraq, we see many fine statements coming out of the Syrian Government. What we often don't see is any action to back them up.
And again, what we continue to look for in the case of Syria's relations with Lebanon is that not just statements be made but that those statements be backed up with actions.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) if you would allow me to follow up?
MR. CASEY: Actually, I think we'll go on to other people and then we'll come back to you later.
QUESTION: Ambassador Burns said that the U.S. was shocked by the assassination. Following up on Farah and Elise, how much shock was there when you had put out a statement a few weeks ago saying that, you know, there was evidence pointing to the toppling of the Lebanese Government?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think it's always shocking when you have an unwarranted act of terror, act of violence, particularly one perpetrated against a member, a senior member of a foreign government. But again, I think the critical thing here is that this clearly is, from our light, an act of terror and an act of intimidation against the Lebanese Government, something that we all should be concerned about and I think we'll be looking to talk with our friends and allies as well as with the Lebanese Government today and in the coming days to see what we can all do to try and end these kinds of acts.
QUESTION: Are you worried about more assassinations?
MR. CASEY: Again, I think we've seen a pattern of intimidation and a pattern of violence in Lebanon that is longstanding. It's the reason -- part of the reasons why we've had so many UN Security Council resolutions related to the situation there. It's an ongoing concern for us. And again, we want to make sure that everyone is doing what they can to prevent any kinds of acts of political intimidation or violence.
Let's go over to Elise.
QUESTION: I'm not sure if you saw President Lahoud's condemnation of the attack. Given the fact that the Secretary has made no secret of the fact that she believes that President Lahoud is part of the pro-Syrian movement rather than part of democratic forces in Lebanon, do you think that this was a sincere or disingenuous statement?
MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen his specific comments, so I'll refrain from making remarks directly related to it.
Look, our positions on these issues are all longstanding and well known. I think what this incident does is simply reminds us that there are some very serious ongoing concerns about political violence, about intimidation, particularly from outside forces in Lebanon itself. That is something that the UN and the international community and the United States have all taken a very strong stand on, and it's something that we need to work with and move forward with as we seek to help the Lebanese people and the Lebanese Government.
QUESTION: Has Syria -- has the U.S. DCM or anybody in the U.S. Embassy in Damascus reached out to talk to the Syrian Government about this?
MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: What about here in Washington?
MR. CASEY: Again, Barry, I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to check on the exact number or who has talked to who on this specific issue.
QUESTION: Well --
MR. CASEY: Again, I know that we have had conversations between our Embassy in Beirut and the Lebanese Government, but I just simply don't have a list for you of who else in this building has contacted officials here in Washington or elsewhere, but I'll try to get that for you.
QUESTION: The embassy vigorously denied any involvement in the Hariri assassination. And when American officials are going around saying such -- I don't know the perfect adjective for this -- but such dramatic statements as draw your own conclusions without saying what their conclusions are, you would think that you would solicit Syria's account of what happened if it has one.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) and represented here (inaudible)?
MR. CASEY: Barry -- no, actually, I'll let the Syrian Government make statements on the Syrian Government's behalf. You're free to go ask them.
QUESTION: But your reaction to the other statement.
MR. CASEY: That's okay. Again, I think you've heard what our position is on this issue. I think, again, Under Secretary Burns stated it pretty clearly this morning. I know Ambassador Bolton did up in New York as well. Again, Barry, I think what's important and who we want to hear from most on this issue is the Lebanese Government and the Lebanese officials that will be investigating this particular incident. But I don't think it's particularly unique or unusual for us to be saying that there is a pattern of political violence and political intimidation in Lebanon, and that's certainly -- this particular incident fits in with that pattern. That's why we very clearly view this as an act of terror and an act of intimidation against the legitimate political leaders in Lebanon.
Let's go over here.
QUESTION: When you talk about the pattern, I know you're not jumping to conclusions about an investigation, but when you speak of a pattern of political violence, are you speaking of a pattern of political violence that, you know, is believed to be traced back to Syria or are you -- I mean would you say that not related to this incident?
QUESTION: Are you telling us to connect the dots?
MR. CASEY: Look, I think I've stated it about as clearly as I can. I'm not trying to give you guys specific conclusions on this case. This is going to have to be investigated. It is going to have to be looked at. There are a lot of different factors involved in Lebanese politics right now. But there are also, as part of those factors, known aspects of outside interference in Lebanese affairs. Whether there are connections between them, how they might be connected, in what degree and to what level are all things that require an investigation to move forward.
Again, the one thing that is clear to us, though, is that this was an act of terrorism, and it is something that we see as an act of terrorism that is designed to intimidate the March 14th Coalition and the will of the Lebanese people more broadly. And I think that's about as much as I can give you guys.
Let's do Joel over here, and then we'll go back to you.
QUESTION: Yes, this pattern as you describe --
MR. CASEY: Or let's not. We'll go to you first and then we'll go to Joel.
QUESTION: Well, it's just --
MR. CASEY: No, that's okay. Go ahead, you started.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) a political leader after another and I'm afraid one day all will be taken, the Siniora cabinet. Don't you think there is an urgent need for an action to be taken for this not to happen again, and how, if there is thought that way?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think we're going to do everything we can to support the Siniora government, to support the legitimate elected leaders of Lebanon, and to work with the broader international community to make sure that foreign interference and the kinds of violent acts that we've seen today end and don't happen again.
But again, you have to take a look in this specific instance at the facts. There will be an investigation. And I think before we start drawing any broader conclusions from it, we just need to see what happens there.
QUESTION: Today it's just come out in the news -- I believe his name is Ibrahim Hooper, he's with the American Muslim Council -- has criticized the detaining and questioning of Arab transit people on an airline in the Midwest. And does that have any link to what's gone on in Lebanon or did you have a heads up? Was that Homeland Security or at your behest?
MR. CASEY: Joel, anything involving domestic airline flights in the U.S. I'd refer you to DHS and talk to the Transportation Safety Administration. I honestly don't know anything about that case and I think they'd be in the best position to answer that for you.
QUESTION: The French Ambassador to the UN in remarks to the Security Council today talked about an imminent Quartet meeting. Do you have any information on that for us?
MR. CASEY: I'm afraid I'm going to have to disappoint you again on that. I don't have any specific information on it. Certainly we all want to see the peace process move forward, we all want to see ourselves get back onto the roadmap. The Quartet has a particularly important role to play in helping to bring international community attention and focus on it, but I don't have anything specific in terms of timing of the next meeting of the Quartet.
QUESTION: But as the Secretary is expected, although I don't know if there's been a formal announcement yet, to be at the Forum for the Future next week in Jordan, and there's been a lot of talk about a potential -- some kind of meeting examining the Middle East --
MR. CASEY: We'll try and get you a little more on her upcoming travel in the next day or so, or either I should say either Wednesday or Friday. But I don't have anything to offer you right now, in terms of her schedule for upcoming travel or any kind of meetings in that, but I don't have any -- again, I'm not aware of any specific plans for a Quartet meeting at this point, but we will keep you posted.
QUESTION: Just one more on Lebanon. Do you know if the Lebanese Government has sought or if you guys have offered any extra security assistance?
MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of any specific request, but certainly we'd look at any that came from the Lebanese Government with the desire to help them do whatever they'd need. I think they feel generally fairly comfortable that they have the resources available to do what they want. But again, if they give us a specific request, I'm sure we'll look at it.
QUESTION: What about on the investigation -- oh, sorry. What about on the investigation? Have you offered any U.S. forensic assistance or anything?
MR. CASEY: At this point, I'm not aware of any specific offer. But again, I think if they require any assistance from us, we'd certainly consider that request.
QUESTION: Do you know if we give any security assistance so far?
MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of any specific security assistance to -- by the U.S. to the Lebanese Government, not that I'm aware of.
Anything else? One last one in the back. Okay.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: Anything more on Christopher Hill, specifically about any possible carrots offered North Korea?
MR. CASEY: Well, as you know, Chris just finished up his trip to Beijing. I think he's headed on back, if not right now, should be employed on his way back shortly from Beijing. He's had some good consultations there with his Chinese counterparts. Main focus of that has been looking at the process of how we move ourselves back into the six-party talks. And I believe you heard from him today in Beijing that he's optimistic that we might, in fact, be able to have that next round take place somewhere in the middle of December.
In terms of specifics of the consultations, I think as he said there, he wants to come back here, have a chance to talk with the Secretary and talk with other officials back here in Washington. We feel we're making good progress in having good discussions. But I certainly don't have anything specific to talk to you about in terms of how we will be proceeding in those negations. I think we'll need to let them play out in private.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)
DPB #187 Released on November 21, 2006