State Dept. Daily Press Briefing May 14, 2007
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
May 14, 2007
Parliamentary Elections / Improved Election Infrastructure /
Allegations of Electoral Wrongdoing
Refugee Resettlements in U.S. / U.S Commitment to Take 7, 000
Refugees / Screening Process Moving Forward / Request for
Legislative Changes / Staffing to Handle Referrals
Status of U.S. Ambassador Charles Reis
Detained American Citizens / Department in Contact w/ Family
IRAN / IRAQ
Upcoming Discussions Between U.S. and Iran / U.S. Goals and
NORTH KOREA / JAPAN
U.S. Policy on Abductee Issue
U.S. Fully Supports Turkish Democracy
U.S Strongly Supports Turkish Candidacy for Membership into
Request for Repatriation of Two Spanish Nationals at Guantanamo
RUSSIA / TURKMENISTAN / KAZAKHSTAN
Gas Pipeline Agreement
12:35 p.m. EDT
MR. CASEY: Okay. Good afternoon, everybody. Happy Monday. I don't have anything to start you off with, so go right to your questions.
QUESTION: All of my questions are too sensitive to ask in an open briefing. (Laughter.)
MR. CASEY: Oh, okay -- (laughter) -- well, maybe we can have a closed briefing for you. Let's go --
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the elections in Armenia?
MR. CASEY: Anything on the elections in Armenia? Well, I've got a little bit on that, I think. Basically, we do congratulate the Armenian people on their parliamentary elections and share with the international observers who were present the view that the election infrastructure has been greatly improved and that this is a step in the right direction towards meeting international standards. We do hope, however, that the Government of Armenia will aggressively investigate allegations that are there of electoral wrongdoing and prosecute people in accordance with Armenian law. So all and all, I think this is an improvement over past elections; though certainly if you look at what the observers said, it did not fully meet international standards.
QUESTION: So you essentially disagree with the European Union statement, on the whole meeting the standards --
MR. CASEY: We, again I'd note that the comments that have been made by the various observers that this was an improvement, just not if you look at what the OSCE observers have said. There's still some ways to go before you would have an election that fully meets all the international standards.
QUESTION: If I could ask you just real quick about Iraq refugees. There's reports out that there's only been one resettled in the U.S. since April and only 69 since October of last year. I'm just wondering if you had sort of comments or explanation for that?
MR. CASEY: Well, let me -- let's talk about where we've been and where we are. Back in February of this past year, you had a briefing among other things from a couple of people -- Under Secretary Dobriansky; the UN High Commissioner for Refugees; Ellen Sauerbrey, the Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees and Migration. At that point, it was noted that the U.S. was committed to taking 7,000 Iraqi refugees in accordance with referrals from the High Commissioner's office. Since that time there have been a little over 3,000 referrals that have been made, and we expect more to come in. As noted, though at the time of the briefing in February, there's a very lengthy process that includes security screening among other factors involved. And at the time, I believe Assistant Secretary Sauerbrey said she expected it would be several months long for the process from when we got the first referrals to when the first people would be travel ready to take place. So it's true; we have not accepted a large number of refugees here into the country as of yet. However, we have now screened and interviewed approximately 3,000 and that process of getting them here to the United States is moving forward, and we certainly expect to honor fully our commitment to take 7,000 refugees under the terms of this current fiscal year.
QUESTION: When do -- and when do you expect this process to pick up and expect more of them to be coming in?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think the interview process, which is the first part of the idea of moving forward, has been taking place now. I think we are now at the point where some of the final regulations are being put in place with DHS and cooperation with other agencies. And certainly I think the projection that was made at the time back in February was that by the end of this fiscal year -- by the end of September -- you'd have approximately half of that 7,000 total travel ready, meaning able to come to the United States. And as far as I know, we're still on track for that.
QUESTION: In that screening and interview process, have we detected any terrorists or anybody that we wouldn't want trying to come to the United States, trying to use this avenue to come here?
MR. CASEY: Well, James, I'm not -- I'm honestly not familiar with all the individual cases. Certainly, though --
QUESTION: You not familiar with all 3,000? (Laughter.)
MR. CASEY: Certainly, though this is one of the primary concerns under U.S. law that we make sure that people coming here as refugees and under other kinds of immigration provisions don't represent any kind of threat to the homeland. That's certainly a primary concern for all of us. And I'm not aware that anyone has been detected that falls into that category. Certainly, in their initial screening for referral to us, the UN High Commission for Refugees certainly wants to make referrals of people that are not going to cause any kind of harm to the United States. But it is a process that's required under law for us to conduct this screening. We want to make sure that it is done effectively, because obviously there are concerns that this would be an avenue that potential threats to security could exploit.
QUESTION: Where are the bulk of these -- the people being screened and how many have been turned down so far?
MR. CASEY: My understanding is that most of this screening has been done in Jordan, but I think there are several other places that have gone forward. In terms of denials, again, I think some of the procedures for making those determinations are still being finalized, so at this point I'm not aware that anyone's been turned down.
QUESTION: Is preference --
MR. CASEY: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Is preference given still to former employees of, say, the embassy or wherever, where you have a certain responsibility?
MR. CASEY: Well, those are apples and oranges, okay. The referrals we're getting from the Department of Homeland Security concern individuals that they've determined are in need of resettlement and that process does not take into account particular work status for us. There is, however, as we announced back in February, plans to make some legislative changes -- okay, ask for some legislative changes, I should say -- to allow us to be able to more effectively handle requests from Iraqis and from others who have worked for us. And I think you've heard that our proposal basically is to give the Secretary discretion to reduce the amount of time that an individual would have to work for us in order to be eligible for a special immigrant visa program. But that is something that will require legislative action from Congress.
QUESTION: And where is that at the moment? Is that in the committee stage at the moment or --
MR. CASEY: There are discussions ongoing with a couple of the different committees involved. I am not sure what stage draft legislation may be in.
QUESTION: Do you have a consular staff and is the structure in place to handle these requests? I know your guys were trying to increase that a few months ago.
MR. CASEY: Yeah. There have been teams of officials out from DHS to conduct these interviews and they are the focal point for them since, again, refugee admissions is something that we help process, but it also has a large DHS component for it. But we do believe there's staff in place to be able to adequately handle this. We've certainly been able to keep up with the referrals as they've come to us from the UN High Commission for Refugees.
QUESTION: Yes, Mr. Casey, on Greece, what is the status of your excellent Ambassador to Greece Charles Ries? According to today's Washington Times, Mr. Ries is leaving Athens by June 30th and Mr. McCormack, who was present the other day -- last Friday -- told me the opposite, that he is still Ambassador to Greece.
MR. CASEY: He's still Ambassador to Greece and decisions about changing his status will be made by the White House and by the Department of State, not the Washington Times.
Yeah, let's go back here.
QUESTION: Anything on the Iranian American scholar who is being detained in Iran?
MR. CASEY: Well, we've talked about this case before and I don't have anything new to offer you on her situation today. Certainly, as we've said, she and other individuals that have been discussed pose no threat to the Iranian regime. They're individuals who have family connections back in Iran. They're scholars. They're journalists. They're other kinds of people who are members of civil society. And we'd certainly hope that the Iranian Government would do the right thing and release her and release others that they're holding who certainly don't pose any kind of hazard or problem for the regime.
QUESTION: But will that have any impact on the pending talks in Baghdad between the two ambassadors?
MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: Would you say whether you've put in any requests or tried to contact the Iranians or the Swiss or anyone else about this case?
MR. CASEY: Again, I think I'll leave this where we've left it before. We've been in contact with family members here, but -- you know, we're certainly concerned about these cases. We want these people to be able to be returned home. Again, these are people who are members of civil society. They have nothing to do with the difficulties in U.S. and Iranian Government relations. And again, as we've always said, we think one thing that's important is that even while our governments have great tensions between them, that people-to-people contacts are something that should be moved forward and something that everyone should welcome.
QUESTION: Well, I'm confused and I forget what the language was last week. So you've made no official inquiry through the Swiss or anyone else about this or you have?
MR. CASEY: Charlie, again, I think where Sean left it is we're concerned about this and we're seeing what we can do to help assist the situation, but I just don't have anything more to offer you.
QUESTION: On these talks between U.S. and Iranian officials to take place in Baghdad, can you just describe for us the genesis of this and what you hope to come out of it?
MR. CASEY: Sure. We talked about this a little bit this morning. But as we've noted, since the late 2005 really, there has been authority for the Ambassador in Baghdad, for Zal Khalilzad, now Ryan Crocker, to be able to engage Iranians in Baghdad, specifically about Iraq issues. We have not had that channel acted upon for a variety of reasons -- I know folks have commented on previously. But what's happened recently, of course, is that we've had two now -- neighbors conferences, one at the envoy level, one at the ministerial level. And the efforts of those conferences were to try and get Iraq's neighbors, including Iran, to play a positive role in helping the Iraqis build a peaceful, stable society and government. And we believe that, as part of that effort, and as in many ways a follow-up to those discussions at the neighbors conference, it was appropriate to activate this channel and to try and put to the test the rhetoric that Iran continues to use with respect to Iraq.
They continue to say that they wish to be a positive force; that they wish to help Prime Minister Maliki and his government to achieve their objectives. Unfortunately, the rhetoric has never been matched by actions. So we'll see. We'll have an opportunity to discuss the various issues that are out there -- with respect to Iran's interference in Iraq, from the provision of IEDs and other weaponry, from their support for militias and other kinds of interference in Iraq's internal affairs. But ultimately, the test will be not whether people meet and have a discussion, the test will be whether there's any change in Iranian behavior.
QUESTION: What can you tell us, to use the dreaded term, about the modalities that will be involved here?
MR. CASEY: I'm delightfully "modality-free" today, James. (Laughter.) We don't have -- we don't yet have a venue or a specific sense of who will be representing the Iranian side on this. Obviously, on the American side, it'll be Ambassador Crocker who -- again, continuing in the tradition of Zal Khalilzad, has the opportunity to do this. But one thing I do want to make clear again though, is that this will be a discussion about Iraq and about how to help Iraq move forward. That has been the focus of our efforts in this channel and through the neighbors conference.
And we want to see whether the Iranians are willing to make any kind of change in their behavior. Again, certainly, there's been a complete gap between their rhetoric and their actions when it comes to Iraq, but as they've -- given an opportunity -- and as they've again made these rhetorical commitments at the neighbors conference, we want to take this opportunity to follow-up with them and see if there's something positive that can be achieved from it.
QUESTION: If the goal is to await some demonstration through action, I'm unclear as to why this meeting should be necessary and why you wouldn't respond as President Bush and Secretary Rice have many times, that the Iranians know what they need to do and therefore another meeting shouldn't necessarily be necessary.
MR. CASEY: Well, I certainly think they're clear on what our concerns are and they certainly have heard from both Ambassador Khalilzad and Mr. Satterfield at the envoy level conference as well as from the Secretary and the general discussion among the neighbors conference about some of those concerns from us. But again we believe that it's important with this initiative moving forward through the neighbors conference to try and help move Iraq's neighbors in a positive direction, to take this chance to again reiterate some of our concerns and see whether the Iranians are willing to again live up to the commitments that they've made rhetorically.
QUESTION: How will this meeting help you do that?
MR. CASEY: One would hope that we'd see not only an indication of a repeat of this rhetoric, but that we'd see the Iranians prepared to discuss how they intend to address some of these concerns which again are not just U.S. concerns, but concerns that the Iraqis have and concerns that the broader international community has about their behavior in Iraq.
QUESTION: One last one, if I might.
MR. CASEY: Okay.
QUESTION: In -- the whole crux of this meeting is basically implicitly saying to Iran, you have not been behaving the way that serves your own interests by destabilizing Iraq, by providing this kind of ordnance, by training these kinds of militants and so forth, it's only hurting yourself. Obviously Iran makes its own calculations about what's in their own interests. So what gives you any confidence that you can change that calculation?
MR. CASEY: Well, James, I think what's important here is that we have the opportunity to see whether they've changed that calculation or not. Again, they continue to indicate in their statements that they want to have a stable Iraq; that they understand that it's contrary to their own interests to have an Iraq that's beset by violence or in which various sects are competing with one another. But when you look at what they actually do, there is a pretty strong gap there. So we'll see if they are really prepared to bring anything forward that indicates that it's not just their rhetoric, but it is the reality of how they view things. Certainly we're prepared to see what can be done to have them take those kinds of actions. We're certainly happy to reiterate for them our view that this is not a healthier, helpful way for them to proceed. But it will be their choice ultimately whether to change their behavior or not. That's always part of diplomacy, though, as you try and make sure that people understand where you are, you try and make sure that people have an opportunity to understand perhaps in a better way what their own interests are and hopefully you get them to act on it.
QUESTION: Are you hoping that these talks are going to be more substantive than the sort of fleeting encounters -- more previous that the Secretary had in -- at the previous neighbors meeting with the Foreign Minister and that Khalilzad had and that Ryan Crocker also had. They were very brief encounters with the Iranians. And secondly to get them to move beyond the rhetoric, are you going to be going in with a set list that would indicate whether they're going to act on their promises, for example, you know foreign fighters? I mean, it's a --
MR. CASEY: Well, I think in terms of, you know, what actions we're looking for on the ground, I think it's pretty obvious and it's addressing those concerns that you've already heard the Secretary and Ryan and other people speak about how these talks progress and what they produce. You know, we'll just have to see. Again, we thought this was an opportunity to activate this Baghdad channel that's been around for some time, to see whether there was any progress to be made based on the commitments that not only the Iranians, but that everyone made to Iraq at the neighbors conference.
QUESTION: So who asked for this meeting and are you going in with a set list of demands?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, this is the product of back and forth over some time through the neighbors conference. I'm honestly not sure who is the last person, as I said, this morning to bat the ball over the net to other side.
QUESTION: How about the list?
MR. CASEY: The list of?
QUESTION: Demands, a list of, you know, what you hope they will achieve?
MR. CASEY: Look, again, I think in terms of the issues involved, we've made it pretty clear what the concerns are. I don't as -- to use my friend James' phrase, I don't have the modalities in terms of whether someone will be handing over pieces of paper or not.
Let's go --
QUESTION: It is not my phrase. (Laughter.)
MR. CASEY: Well, but James, you love it so --
QUESTION: It's a State Department phrase --
MR. CASEY: -- but you love it so much, James.
QUESTION: I do, I do.
MR. CASEY: We could name it the "James Rosen memorial modalities phase," if you really want --
QUESTION: I'm honored.
MR. CASEY: Well, let's go in the back here.
QUESTION: On North Korea and the state sponsors of terrorism list. During U.S.-Japan summit talks last month Secretary Rice conveyed to Prime Minister Abe about resolving the Japanese abduction issue wouldn't be part of the precondition to drop North Korea from the terrorism list since no U.S. citizens have been abducted. But President Bush reassured Prime Minister Abe today in a phone call that it would indeed be considered whether -- in deciding whether to remove North Korea from the list. And I just wanted to -- there seems to be a disconnect here and I just wanted to clarify.
MR. CASEY: No. Look, I don't think there's any disconnect on this. The U.S. policy on this issue is well known and it hasn't changed. And we've supported Japan on this issue. We've repeatedly told North Korea that it needs to address Japan's concerns about the abductee issue. And while I'm sure this issue -- I know this issue was discussed during the Prime Minister's recent visit, there certainly was no change in our policy signaled or discussed by either the Secretary or the President.
And again, let's remember too that the six-party talks are something that does move forward only with the agreement and support of all the parties there. And certainly, there needs to be progress in the U.S.-Japan working group just as in -- or sorry, in the North Korea-Japan working group, just as in the U.S.-North Korea working group and all the other ones.
Right now, I certainly think our main concern is to see that the BDA issue gets in everybody's rearview mirror, as Sean likes to say, and then have the opportunity to really start moving forward on the main issue of nuclear disarmament and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, which is at the core of it. And all these other issues certainly are part of this process and need to be addressed in order for us to get to the end of full implementation of the September 15th agreement. And we expect that Japan's concerns, just like the U.S. concerns, are going to be addressed as this process moves forward.
Okay, Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: Okay, Mr. Casey. Last Thursday at the Wilson Center in Southeastern European program, the distinguished Turkish scholar, Dr. Henri Barkey, with whom Mr. Richard Holbrooke* worked with here at the State Department, called the Turkish army's successful (inaudible) as virtual coup-de-tat via the internet by (inaudible) of February 27th sent by the real dictator, General Yasar Buyukanit for the first time in modern history.
Do you agree with Dr. Barkey's statement that a new (inaudible) coup attack is being -- taken place already via internet electronically?
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, we've talked about this before. We fully support Turkish democracy. We believe that the choice of leaders for the Turkish -- by -- for the Turkish people ought to be made by the Turkish people. We're confident in Turkey's democratic institutions and you've heard me say that before.
QUESTION: One more. Nicolas Sarkozy of France will visit German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week in Berlin. Sarkozy and Merkel are very (inaudible), united for clearer ties with the United States Government and both strongly oppose for the Turkish accession into the European Union. How you are going to convince them to reverse their position since you are in favor for full Turkish accession to the European Union?
MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I'm not going to try and jump into European Union politics. As we've always said, the choices of who belongs to the European Union are up to the members of the European Union to decide. As you know though, we do have and continue to strongly support Turkey's candidacy for membership in the EU. That's certainly a position that we've conveyed to Chancellor Merkel. I'm sure it's a position that we will have the opportunity to convey to President-elect Sarkozy.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Speaking of Sarkozy, did you have the opportunity to check if John Negroponte's going to meet with him?
MR. CASEY: I didn't. Did we ever --
Okay, I'm getting a real nasty headshake too -- boy, Gonzo. No, I'm sorry, we didn't get a chance to check. I'll look into it for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: George.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Spanish request for the repatriation of two Spanish inmates in Guantanamo?
MR. CASEY: No, I don't, George. You might want to check with the Department of Defense on that. We certainly do work with and talk to a number of countries about the goal of repatriating their nationals. And as the President said we don't want to be the world's jailer, but obviously, we need to make sure that anyone that's transferred back has appropriate arrangements -- both so that we can deal with our legal requirements as well as making sure that dangerous people don't wind up back out in the street.
Let's go one more here.
QUESTION: Russian President was in Central Asia this weekend, or last week. There were a couple of deals sealed, particularly with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. I understand there was bit of a competition going on over Turkmen gas; which way to take it out of there and -- wanted to see if there was any comment on the agreement reached there.
MR. CASEY: Yeah. Well, we haven't seen the details of this agreement, so I don't really have any comments specifically on that. I think though that the way we would view this or any other kind of deal is in keeping with our longstanding view that our goal ought to be, as the G-8 described it, to be a diversification both of sources and routes of transport for energy, not only in Europe but throughout the world. And certainly, we also want to see deals made, based on what are commercially viable means and methods rather than for any kind of political considerations, and I'm sure that's how we'll look at this one.
QUESTION: And on Turkmenistan, the position of the ambassador, I understand, has been vacant there, or there's been a chargé there for some time. Is there any immediate plans, or plans to fill that position?
MR. CASEY: You'd have to check with the White House on that. They do ambassadorial announcements.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Okay. Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:02 p.m.)
DPB # 86
Released on May 14, 2007