State Dept. Daily Press Briefing December 1, 2006
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
December 1, 2006
Demonstrations in Beirut / Stability and Situation in Lebanon
US Contacts with Lebanese Government Officials
US Committed to Supporting Lebanon’s Democratic Government
Update on UN Security Council Resolution on Iran
Prospects for P5+1 Political Directors Meetings / Under Secretary
US Policy on Engagement and Involvement with Iraq’s Different
Iraqi Party Leader’s Visit to US / Meetings with US Officials
Dismantlement of Iraqi Militias
Dismissal of Cabinet Members
US Visit by Ukraine Prime Minister / Meeting with Secretary Rice /
Other US Officials
Status of Investigation Regarding Air Crash / Status of US Pilots
Mexican Presidential Inauguration
Upcoming Venezuelan Elections
Elections in Ecuador
Signing of Civil Nuclear Power Agreement
Status of Kendall Myers
Policies and Procedures Governing Employees
International Flights and Emissions
FBI to Provide Technical Assistance to New Scotland Yard in
12:41 p.m. EST
MR. CASEY: Okay. Good afternoon, everyone. TGIF, happy Friday. Don't have any opening statements or announcements for you, so I guess we can go right to your questions.
QUESTION: Well, let me try you on the massive, hundreds of thousands of protestors in Beirut calling for the resignation of the Western-backed government. I don't see any indication yet of violence, but it's a very strong turnout. Does this meet the U.S. test of peaceful assembly?
MR. CASEY: Well, Barry, certainly we'll be watching these events closely throughout the day, but we do remain very concerned that Hezbollah and its allies with support from Syria and the Iranian Government are continuing to work to destabilize Lebanon. That's a point that we've made before and continue to be concerned about. The demonstrations, as you know, are aimed at toppling Lebanon's legitimate and democratically elected government. And certainly threats of intimidation or violence isn't something that I think anyone would consider democratic or a constitutional mechanism for changing government.
We, as you know, are committed to supporting Lebanon's democratic government. Prime Minister Siniora and his team as it rebuilds and establishes Lebanon's sovereignty. That includes through the implementation of resolution 1701 and other measures, 1559, as well. But again, I think what we want to see is things proceed in a way that is peaceful, that is democratic and that doesn't resort to threats of intimidation or threats of violence. And certainly with things like the assassination of Pierre Gemayel and other kinds of events, it's clear that there is a pattern of intimidation and efforts at intimidation of those forces aligned with Lebanon's democratically elected government.
QUESTION: Has the U.S. been in touch with the beleaguered Prime Minister with some expression of support or whatever?
MR. CASEY: Well, I know we've had a number of conversations with Lebanese Government officials certainly today on the part of our ambassador. I'm not aware of any phone calls the Secretary might or might not have made simply because she's not here in town. But our support for him, for his government and more importantly, for the Lebanese people and their efforts to overcome the legacy of 30 years of Syrian domination and occupation are firm and well known and we think that's not just a U.S. position, but that's a position broadly at the international community.
QUESTION: A quick question. That conversation, was the ambassador able to get through this crowd or you mean a telephone conversation?
MR. CASEY: I know the ambassador has called members of the government today. I'm not aware that they've had any actual physical meetings.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Arshad.
QUESTION: A couple things. The progress of efforts to get a Security Council resolution on Iran, do you have expectations that there will be a P-5+1 either meeting or conference call on this next week?
MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not aware that anything's been scheduled, Arshad. I think some of you know that Under Secretary Burns will be in Brussels next week. He'll be attending the OSCE ministerial there that's scheduled, I believe, from Monday to Wednesday of next week. And certainly there will be an opportunity while he's there for more consultations on a variety of issues with his colleagues. I'm sure that Iran will be a subject of discussion with them, but I'm not aware at this point of any formal plans for a P-5+1 political directors meeting or any sort of broader reform or formal kind of discussion amongst them.
QUESTION: Okay. We had heard that there might be one on Wednesday. And so would you discourage us from that belief or are you just saying nothing's formally scheduled?
MR. CASEY: I'm just saying I don't have anything scheduled. I am sure that Nick will have the opportunity to consult with his colleagues from the P-5+1 governments during that OSCE meeting simply because they're all going to be there. But whether they actually sit down collectively and discuss this or not, I've just -- as far as I know and I did check with his office before I came out here, there's nothing that's been scheduled at this point.
QUESTION: Secretary Rice yesterday suggested that she was losing patience with efforts to achieve consensus on an Iran resolution. And I'm sure you saw her quotes about preferring consensus, but that at some point you have to just go to action. Do you think that the Russians might -- I mean, it's your bet that they won't veto?
MR. CASEY: Well, let's talk about where we are. We are still having discussions among the P-5+1 about the resolution. Certainly we want to see this resolution move forward as soon as possible. We believe, as the Secretary has also said previously, that it's important that there be consequences for Iran's defiance of the international community. And we do remain confident as well that at the end of the day we will see a Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Certainly though we do want to see this, again, and I think time is important here. We do want to see there'd be a timely response. And as the Secretary said yesterday, we also want to see that timely response be done and be kept in terms of unity of the P-5+1; but unity as she said is not an end of itself. The goal is to get a resolution that makes sense and that makes sense in terms of convincing the Iranians that their behavior isn't acceptable to the international community. So inaction is not acceptable; we do have to do something. And again, I think we look forward to being able to move forward with this resolution in the near future.
QUESTION: There was a report in the Washington Post today quoting senior administration officials that the Administration or the State Department is considering abandoning the outreach to the Sunni insurgencies in Iraq. Do you have a readout or can you comment on this?
MR. CASEY: Well, that story purports to discuss a variety of things in terms of the internal deliberation to the Administration related to the policy review, and I'm certainly not going to comment on any of our interagency discussions or our internal review of issues here.
The one thing that I can make clear, though, is what U.S. policy is concerning engagement and involvement with Iraq's different communities. And any story that's claiming that the United States has decided to back or support one side or another or one faction or another in Iraq, or is abandoning its efforts to promote broad national reconciliation, aren't correct. We do remain committed, the Administration, the Secretary, Mr. Zelikow, among others, remain committed to an inclusive Iraqi political process and that means representation from all of Iraq's communities. This is something you heard from the President. He reaffirmed that in the comments he made with Prime Minister Maliki in his press briefing and certainly in his meetings with him yesterday. We support a political process in Iraq that includes all groups and all individuals who are committed to renounce violence and to work with the democratically elected government to resolve differences. And certainly also continue to support the Prime Minister's efforts and the efforts of others in the Iraqi Government to promote national reconciliation, because it's a vital element in being able to end violence and bring stability to the country.
QUESTION: But will the U.S. continue to be involved in this process or will it just delegate it to the Iraqis?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, our policy has been to support this process. These are Iraqi-led efforts and they have been Iraqi-led efforts but they are efforts that we support because, again, we believe that President Maliki -- Prime Minister Maliki and his government are correct in saying that the solution to achieving peace and to achieving stability in a democratic government that is fully functioning in Iraq is to have broad-based national reconciliation. All communities in Iraq, Sunni, Shia, Kurds, others, all have to have a voice in a unitary and federal Iraq. That's been our policy; that continues to be our policy.
MR. MCCORMACK: Yeah, Kirit.
QUESTION: Reports about these Brazilian pilots who --
QUESTION: Are we still on --
MR. CASEY: Oh, okay. Sure.
QUESTION: Mr. Hakim the leader of the main Shia party in Iraq announced -- well, one of his close advisers announced that he's coming next week to Washington. Is it one of the signs that you are starting to speak more to the Shia and less to the Sunni?
MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of what his travel plans are. I've heard something about him coming here, but I don't think there are any official arrangements that I'm aware of connected with his visit. Look, again, we are and have been engaged with a variety of actors in Iraq. We want to talk to, work with, and have been talking and working with all those who are committed to the democratic political process in the country. Certainly Mr. Hakim is the leader of a major party in Iraq, is someone who we know well and someone who I know Ambassador Khalilzad as spoken with on numerous occasions and I know he's met with other U.S. officials over time. So certainly he is one of many individuals in Iraq who are trying to work for positive change, who are working with the government -- his party is part of the government. So certainly he is someone who we've had interactions with and I expect we'll continue to do so as we look to achieve our objectives there.
QUESTION: Would it be his first visit to Washington?
MR. CASEY: I'm honestly not sure whether he's been here before or not.
QUESTION: Tom, we've reported and I know other news organizations are reporting that he's going to meet Bush next week. Do you have any sense of what message the Administration wants to convey to him?
MR. CASEY: Well, I'd leave it to the White House to talk about the President's schedule or his meetings. Again, I think in general if you look at all of the conversations that the President had with the Prime Minister yesterday as well as what the Secretary has said in her meetings with Iraqi officials, the message is the same and the message is clear. We want to do what we can to support the Iraqi Government. We want to do what we can to support Iraqi efforts at national reconciliation. And we certainly want to hear Iraqi views on how we can move forward to achieve our common goals which is to see an Iraq that is at peace, that is in a position to have its government fully control the security situation, fully be responsible for all activities and to have Iraq become a country that is a positive force in the region and operates in the same way as in any other country in the world.
QUESTION: Can I --
MR. CASEY: Yeah. Sure, Elise.
QUESTION: Also on this whole idea of more outreach to the Shia, I mean, in the beginning in the political process when the government came onboard, you really pushed the Shia-led government to include the Sunnis in the writing of the constitution, more political participation from the Sunnis. And some say that in the process, you alienated the Shia to the extent that you haven't kind of given them the respect that they deserve as the majority in the country. Do you feel that the government -- that the Shia in general as a block has been alienated by the U.S.?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I don't want to basically try and assert that all Shia think one particular way or all Sunni think one particular way or all Kurds think one particular way. I also think that it's important to remember that these are all Iraqis and that Sunni, Shia and Kurd, despite their ethnic or religious beliefs are bases or involvement in those -- their communities. All among the political leadership of Iraq see themselves as Iraqis, support a single Iraqi state, believe that they are stronger together than separately.
Certainly as we look at how we move forward and how we help the Prime Minister move forward, we need to make sure as I had said earlier, that there is an inclusive Iraqi political process that involves all of these individuals. Prime Minister's talked about national reconciliation. He's talked also about the need to ensure that there is the rule of law in Iraq and that no party or no individual regardless of their sectarian or ethnic affiliation is above the law and is allowed to run militias outside of the armed forces. So again, I think for us this is not a matter of favoring one group over another or disfavoring one group over another. It's about helping the Iraqis themselves move forward to develop the kind of political consensus and develop the kind of participatory process that allows everyone in Iraq to have a voice in the country.
QUESTION: Just one more. You've pulled out a priority on disbanding the militias, getting the al-Maliki government to crack down on the militias. So far that hasn't happened. You haven't been able to kind of disband the militias. And do you think that there needs to be a kind of different approach in terms of trying to get some kind of political buy-in from these militias? Is -- can they be reasoned with in the sense that they can be brought more into the political process than treated as outlaws?
MR. CASEY: Look, I think, you know, the President and the Prime Minister spoke to this yesterday. I really don't have anything to add on to that. Ultimately, there in Iraq, as well as in any other country, there needs to be one authority in the country and one of the hallmarks of any stable and prosperous country is that the government holds the monopoly on the use of force. So certainly we don't see any role in the future in Iraq, nor does the Prime Minister see any role in the future for Iraq for militias or outside military organizations that are not part of the security structures of the country.
Let's go to Samir.
QUESTION: Yes. Back in Lebanon, is the U.S. doing anything extra regarding the situation in Lebanon, any measures or things are as usual?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, Samir, I think as you've heard us say before, we are supportive of the efforts of Prime Minister Siniora to help develop Lebanon's democratic institutions on behalf of its people. We are working with the international community to see that UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and 1701 are implemented. We are doing what we can to make sure that a clear message is sent to outside actors that intimidation and the use of violence is not acceptable. And we will continue to be working with our partners in the international community to be able to support the Lebanese Government again as they move forward not only to carry out their plans and their actions, but to do that for the benefit of the Lebanese people who elected them and put them in office in the first place.
QUESTION: Tom, on the eve of a visit to Washington by the Prime Minister of the Ukraine, Mr. Yanukovych, he seems to have engineered via parliament the ouster of a couple of ministers who were considered pro-NATO, pro-Western. I was just wondering whether that's something that concerns the United States or whether it will be taken up or have an effect on Yanukovych's talks here very early next week.
MR. CASEY: Yeah. This is an internal political matter within the Ukrainian system. Certainly, as in other parliamentary systems, there are ministers who are dismissed or ministers who are changed for a variety of different reasons; but this really is something for the political leaders in Ukraine to work out.
In terms of the Prime Minister's trip here next week, that trip as I understand it, is on schedule and moving forward. I think we'll have a variety of issues that will be discussed with him here; certainly, including the relationship between Ukraine and Euro-Atlantic institutions as well as their efforts at continued political and economic reform.
QUESTION: Do you have any kind of a message to him? I mean, he's quoted, for example, for saying that his duty was to "ensure by order by whatever name you wish to call it. If that is usurpation, let it be usurpation." Do you have any kind of message for him in terms of respecting what are the constitutional and legal norms or rules in Ukraine?
MR. CASEY: I hadn't seen those comments, Arshad. Look, certainly with respect to Ukraine, as with respect to any other country, we certainly want to see those that are elected democratically, govern democratically. And we certainly want to see the constitutional order and whatever the legal norms are in that political system be followed. But certainly that's a message that would not only go to him but would go to any political leaders anywhere in the world.
QUESTION: And is he going to see -- can you confirm that he's going to see Secretary Rice?
MR. CASEY: Yeah, I believe that is on the schedule. Gonzo, what's --
MR. GALLEGOS: Monday.
MR. CASEY: Okay. It's on the schedule for Monday and we'll give you some more specific details a little later.
QUESTION: And do you know if he's going to see other U.S. officials?
MR. CASEY: I don't understand exactly what his plans are. I think there may be some other meetings around town. I think the White House might have more information for you about it.
QUESTION: Do you have any update for us on the condition of these U.S. pilots that are in Brazil that were part of that crash a couple of months ago? Any update on their condition and what the U.S. might be doing to expedite their release or assist them in any way?
MR. CASEY: Well, I don't think that there is a lot new that I have to offer you on this. This is the case of several U.S. pilots that are not charged with anything and not under arrest but have been asked to remain in Brazil while Brazilian aviation officials look at the circumstances surrounding the collision of a couple of aircraft. We have continued to be in touch through our consular officers with the individuals themselves and with their family members. We're certainly in regular contact with the Brazilian Government about that case. We do want to see them conclude the investigation in a way that certainly respects their normal legal and regulatory procedures. But in terms of movement on that, I'd have to refer you to the Brazilian authorities.
QUESTION: Do you have information about the U.S. attempts to get them sent over to the United States?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, this is something that's proceeding in accordance with Brazilian laws and practices and our main message to the Brazilian Government is we want to make sure that they are treated in accordance with the laws and the standards that Brazil has.
QUESTION: And just one final follow-up? Do you feel that they are being treated within their norms of international and Brazilian law at this point?
MR. CASEY: My understanding at this is point is that this investigation and the activities surrounding it are proceeding as we would expect them to, but again I don't have any real specifics to offer you. You really have to talk to the Brazilians about the details of that investigation.
MR. CASEY: George, sure.
QUESTION: Did you notice the tumult in the Mexican congress this morning on what was supposed to be, you know, a solemn and decorous occasion -- the inauguration of a new president -- and do you have any thoughts on that?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, we are -- welcome the inauguration of President Calderon. We look forward to being able to work with him and his administration on the broad range issues that are before the U.S. and Mexico. We certainly had and enjoyed a good relationship with his predecessor's government and we look forward to continuing that under his leadership.
As you know, George, there have been a number of internal political controversies in the aftermath of the election. We'll just say again what we've seen before, which is that we have confidence in Mexico's democratic institutions and we believe that these issues are best resolved and can be resolved by Mexican political leaders themselves.
QUESTION: And while we're in the general area, Venezuelans will go to the polls on Sunday, and this is your last shot at offering a comment.
MR. CASEY: That's my -- gee, that makes it sound so ominous, George. (Laughter.) Look, I think in terms of the Venezuelan elections, as you know, there will be elections December 3 -- this coming Sunday. Like in any other country, this will offer Venezuelans an opportunity to exercise their rights to elect a government of their choice and determine the path they want to take for their country.
What's important to us in Venezuela, as in other places, is that that electoral process be free, fair and transparent not only on election day, but during the campaign period. And certainly that's what's required to guarantee the rights of all Venezuelans and to ensure that their choice and their opinions can be heard. So we -- but we also want to make sure that Venezuelans have that kind of confidence in their electoral institutions and are comfortable to fully participate in the process. I know we've seen a variety of different reports about potential intimidation and voter harassment that have appeared in the media. Certainly we would oppose any kind of efforts that would infringe on people's democratic rights. But ultimately we're going to hear from the Venezuelan people on Sunday and we'll see what they say.
QUESTION: But you know, the campaign is over. It's been on for months. You have no evaluation of how it's been conducted so far?
MR. CASEY: George, I think as before, we'll wait and see what the results of the election are and how the process goes and then we'll comment more fully on our overall view of it. But I think we want to see the full event take place before we offer any further observations on it.
QUESTION: Yeah, a couple of things. First of all, the polls indicate hands down that President Chavez is going to win and that his popularity has kind of grown over recent months, not necessarily attributed to, but some people think it's because of his rhetoric about President Bush. Do you think that he's kind of struck a chord in the region and Venezuela in particular about U.S. policy?
MR. CASEY: I assume Venezuelans will vote according to what they view is in the best interest of their country and their own political beliefs and views. In terms of the broader issues out there, I think we have a very positive policy for the hemisphere. Certainly we have good relations with most of our friends in the region. We just welcomed the election of a new President in Ecuador. I understand President Bush called President-Elect Correa to welcome him and to express our hope that we'll be able to have a long and positive relationship with him. We certainly look forward to working with him and his new government as he moves forward. So the elections happen, elections are good things, elections give people a chance to decide who they want and for whatever reason they want. But we'll leave it up to the Venezuelan people to determine their motivations for voting and let's see what they actually choose before we make any comments on it.
QUESTION: Just one more. President Chavez has said that he has this kind of alternative view to the region that the Washington view of free markets of your exclusive, but not inclusive democratic participatory process is not working and that's why he has gained popularity in the country because he poses an alternative to the United States. What do you think?
MR. CASEY: Well, look, again, I'll leave President Chavez to talk about what he believes or thinks. Certainly again we have a view of the hemisphere that we believe is shared by the people of the hemisphere and by the vast majority of countries out there. We want to see prosperity. We want to see prosperity grow not only as a result of free trade, but as efforts to make sure that as economies grow, that all members of the society benefit from it. That means not only supporting economic reform, but it means supporting the rule of law. It means supporting the kinds of programs in the hemisphere that give all people a chance to participate in the life of their country, that gives them assurances that if their rights are violated there's a legal system in place that'll respect them. It also means doing what we can to strengthen democratic institutions and to respect the will of individual countries and respect their right to choose their leaders and to run their affairs and run their country as they see fit. So I certainly think there's a great convergence of opinion in the hemisphere and I think that we are very much part of that.
QUESTION: And you don't think President Chavez adheres to that positive vision?
MR. CASEY: Well, look, I think our views on some of the actions that have been taken by the Venezuelan Government both in terms of its internal democratic procedures as well as its actions in the hemisphere have been spoken to before and I just really don't have anything to add to that.
QUESTION: Yeah. China and Russia signed an agreement to adhere to the international -- the Generation IV International Forum which is a nuclear forum for civilian users. And I understand that the U.S. is a member of this association. I wanted to know if you have any comment on that and --
MR. CASEY: While I've only -- I just saw a couple of press reports on it, but we certainly would welcome the participation of both those governments in these efforts.
QUESTION: Could it help to find a solution to nuclear -- military nuclear programs like North Korea and Iran --
MR. CASEY: Well --
QUESTION: -- to give them some civilian nuclear use, with that type of -- in that kind of organization?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think you're doing apples and oranges in terms of individual countries' rights to civilian nuclear power, these United States fully supports the right of all nations in good standing, with the Nonproliferation Treaty to develop civilian nuclear power. A large portion of the proposals that the P-5+1 has put forward for Iran are all about allowing them to have civilian nuclear power. We have no objection to Iran or any other country having civilian nuclear power. However, we do have an objection to countries using a civilian nuclear power program as a cover for developing nuclear weapons. That's what the discussion with the P-5+1 and the Iranians has been all about. We want to make sure that we certainly allow Iran to have the opportunity to develop a peaceful nuclear powered program, but the international community because of Iranian behavior over the years requires guarantees that that civilian nuclear program is not going to be used as cover to build nuclear weapons.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on Mr. Kendall Myers. Yesterday you said that you were sort of gathering information about what happened and then you would see what additional steps might be taken. Do you foresee any additional steps being taken on this?
MR. CASEY: I think we're still too early in that process for me to be able to give you an answer and I really don't have any update to where I left that yesterday.
QUESTION: And one other thing, what Mr. Kendall is reported to have said clearly did not involve any kind of classified information. It was essentially the -- you know, opinion being voiced by someone who happens to both be an employee of the Department and an adjunct professor at an educational institution. And I wonder if under the first amendment, there's any basis for -- under which the State Department could have a rule that would bar him from expressing non-classified opinion --
MR. CASEY: Well --
QUESTION: -- or punish him for having done so.
MR. CASEY: -- well, without getting to the specifics of this case and certainly treading lightly and with great fear on anything involving the law, John Bellinger has certainly taught me to do that. Let me just point out that most of us in our lives -- our professional lives in particular -- have a number of voluntary restrictions placed on us as terms of our employment. I think most corporations do not allow people to divulge proprietary information. I think there are a number of situations in which individuals, while certainly free to express their views in private, certainly would perhaps not be well viewed by their employers if they, in a public forum, stood up and made comments that were contrary to the policies of the company involved.
So, you know, look, I think our position on this, and this has been longstanding practice, we certainly welcome internally within discussions here opportunities for people to express their views. As you know, Arshad, there is something in the system here called the dissent channel, which specifically is created to allow officials who disagree with the policies of the Administration on any level to be able to express themselves freely. But at the same time, I said this to you yesterday in discussing this case, the only reason why this was a news story was because the individual in question was a State Department official, was a government official and was seen as speaking as a government official in that capacity. So I think the plans and procedures we have in place certainly allow people to exercise their First Amendment rights. But again, I think the restrictions that are in place are simply designed to ensure that there is a clear and consistent and coherent presentation of U.S. foreign policy views by those individuals.
QUESTION: But is that a condition of his employment? I mean, is that like -- I don't know necessarily the rule --
MR. CASEY: Well, there -- again, I don't want -- this is why I repeat, I am not an expert on our human resource policies and there are many people that have spent many years becoming them, and I don't want to try and do it from the podium. But again, we all -- I think when most of us sign on to a contract to come to work anywhere there are some clear policies and procedures that we need to follow. There are those for thus and that ranges with everything from not divulging classified information, locking our safes up at night and also making sure that if we go and speak in public forums that we do so with appropriate permission to do so and that when we express our views publicly as Department officials that we do so in the context of our foreign policy.
Let's go back here.
QUESTION: The European Union is thinking of extending its carbon dioxide -- emission training program to air travel aviation sector and particular international flights. I've heard that the U.S. is very unhappy about this and might launch a legal challenge if this goes ahead. Can you talk a little bit about that?
MR. CASEY: I really can't. I'm not familiar with that. I think you might want to check either with the U.S. Trade Representatives Office or with the Federal Aviation Administration since it involves aircraft.
QUESTION: Any comment from State on the FBI's announcement that they have accepted a request from New Scotland Yard to provide technical assistance for the Litvinenko investigation?
MR. CASEY: Other than to say that we're always pleased to cooperate and assist the UK or any of our friends and allies where we can. No, I'd leave it to them to talk about it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:16 p.m.)
DPB # 193
Released on December 1, 2006