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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Dec 27, 2007


Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 27, 2007

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: December 27, 2007

INDEX:

PAKISTAN

Death of Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto
Secretary Rice Gave Condolences to Zardari and Amin Fahim
Pakistan People Will Make Decision on Scheduling Elections
Extremist Terrorists Are Clear Threat to Pakistan
We Will Continue Working With President Musharraf
A/S Boucher Testified To Congress On Changes To Ways U.S. Aid is Used

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

Secretary Rice Called President Olmert and Prime Minister Abbas
Both Sides Need to Comply With All Aspects of Roadmap

NORTH KOREA

Six Party Agreement Calls For North Korea to Provide Full Declaration by Dec. 31

EGYPT/SAUDI ARABIA

Foreign Assistance and Military Sales

KENYA

Kenyan Elections

KOSOVO

Move Forward With Ahtisaari Plan

TRANSCRIPT:

12:56 p.m. EST

MR. CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry for being a little late to get out here but did want to make sure I had the following statement from Secretary Rice to read to you.

"On behalf of the United States, I want to express our deepest sympathy on the tragic death of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. We extend our sincere condolences to the Bhutto family and to the family -- families of others who were killed and wounded in this attack. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this cowardly and murderous attack.

Ms. Bhutto's passing is a great loss for Pakistan. I knew her as a woman of great courage and had been impressed by her dedication and commitment to democracy and the future of Pakistan itself.

As President Bush said earlier today, the perpetrators of this crime must be brought to justice.

The deadly results of this attack will no doubt test the will and patience of the people of Pakistan. We urge the Pakistani people, political leaders and civil society to maintain calm and to work together to build a more moderate, peaceful and democratic future."

And with that I'll take your questions.

QUESTION: Do you know, Tom, has the Secretary spoken to anyone to -- in Pakistan to express similar sentiments?

MR. CASEY: She has, Matt. In the last hour or so she's had the opportunity to call Mr. Zardari, former Prime Minister Bhutto's husband, as well as Amin Fahim, who is her successor now as the head of the Pakistani People's Party, and those calls were to express her sympathy and condolences in light of this attack.

QUESTION: Do you know if -- what the situation at the Embassy is like? Has there been any change in status there? Is there any -- I understand there's at least one congressional delegation that's in --

MR. CASEY: There is. You can check with his office, but I understand Congressman -- or excuse me, Senator Specter is there on a previously scheduled visit. In terms of the Embassy, it's -- there is no change in its status at present. Certainly, they will be looking at their own security posture in light of this incident to see if there's any changes warranted.

QUESTION: And are you aware if there's been any request for any U.S. assistance on --

MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of any request for assistance at this time, Matt. Certainly, we stand ready to provide whatever kind of support the Pakistanis might need.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary call Nawaz Sharif this morning?

MR. CASEY: No, not that I'm aware.

QUESTION: And President Musharraf?

MR. CASEY: Well, I believe if you check with my colleagues at the White House, I believe Scott Stanzel just said a few minutes ago that President Bush intended to call President Musharraf. I don't believe that call's happened yet, but they'll be able to let you know when it has.

Kirit.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the elections that were scheduled to take place in a couple weeks are still able to be done in a free and fair manner? Would you call on them to push them back?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think the scheduling with the elections is something that's a decision for the Pakistanis to take. But we very much believe that the best way, as the President said, to honor former Prime Minister Bhutto's memory is for the democratic process in that country to continue. I do think that it would be a victory for no one but the extremists responsible for this attack to have some kind of postponement or a delay directly related to it in the democratic process.

Yeah, Glenn.

QUESTION: Yeah. The U.S. played a very important role in getting Benazir Bhutto back into Pakistan and having Musharraf drop corruption charges against her. Could you just lay out what the U.S. did in order to try to help bring her to the point where she was the leading possibility for prime minister?

MR. CASEY: Well, Glenn, look, I think the role of former Prime Minister Bhutto in Pakistan's political system and political life has been commented on quite a bit by any number of people. I think what we have always said and what I could really offer you on this is that we've always encouraged all moderate forces in Pakistan to be able to work together to confront the problems of that country and to help build democracy there. But let's be clear that the people that were going to choose Pakistan's next government and next leadership were and are the Pakistani people.

QUESTION: And do you believe that Sharif should, in some ways, be considered a potential successor to her in terms of running for prime minister?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I'll leave it up to the Pakistanis, I'll leave it up to Mr. Amin Fahir --Fahim as the new head of the Pakistani People's Party to determine how that party is going to participate in the electoral process and make determinations of what kind of electoral coalitions or what kind of arrangements they want to make with others in the Pakistani political system.

QUESTION: Well, if I could maybe then take another tact here?


MR. CASEY: Sure. You can try.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any confidence in the ability of the Pakistani army to confront terrorism in this country, when this attack took place right, you know, around the corner from where ISI and the army is located?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, I think it's clear to all of us that there's a serious extremist threat in Pakistan. It's been there for some time. And as you know, President Musharraf has had assassination attempts on his life that were made in -- not too far from the same general area where this occurred. This is a clear threat to Pakistan and we are going to do everything we can to help the Pakistanis confront it.

I do think, though, we need to recognize that the Pakistani armed forces have been actively trying to confront this problem. There have been hundreds of deaths on the part of the Pakistani military in trying to deal with the extremist challenge particularly in the territories as well as in the settled areas. So certainly it's an ongoing challenge, it's a threat and as is clear today, these are people who do not believe in the political process and who are dedicated to using violence to try and thwart the ambitions of all Pakistanis.

Really, when you have -- whether it's here or any other place -- an attack on the political leadership of a country, those trying to work for peaceful change and democratic development, it's an attack not only on that individual and not only on the party, but really on the entire population and on all those who are dedicated to peaceful pursuit of change. So it's something that needs to continue to be worked on. We need to see the Pakistani Government as well as the Pakistani security forces do everything they can to confront this challenge. But certainly we're going to be working with them as they try and do so.

QUESTION: So just to clarify, do you have confidence in the military to actually confront this at this point or do you -- when you say you need to work with them, are you saying you don't really have --

MR. CASEY: Look, Glenn, let me try and answer it for you as best I can. There's no change in our assessment of the capabilities or qualifications of the Pakistani military. They are the right people to take this challenge on. They certainly need help and support from us and from others in the international community. That's what we've been doing and that's what we intend to continue to do.

James.

QUESTION: Tom, because Pakistan is so crucial an ally in the war on terror and therefore, so critical to American interests, can you tell us whether or not the United States, in assessing who is responsible for this act, is going to be simply relying on Pakistani authorities for its information or whether, in fact, the U.S. Government is trying to make its own determinations?

MR. CASEY: Well, James, certainly, we'll do whatever we can to get a complete picture of what happened here and who is responsible. I know the Pakistani Government has said there will be a full investigation of this. We expect that investigation would have participation from all the relevant agencies and certainly would involve people from her political organization as well. Obviously, the United States will look not only to what information comes through that investigation, but certainly, to the extent that we have an ability to develop any kind of independent assessment or understanding, we will. I'm not predicting that we necessarily will have things that the Pakistanis won't and certainly, if we have any information that's relevant to that investigation, we would share it with them.

QUESTION: Can you tell us how and when Secretary Rice was informed of this?

MR. CASEY: I honestly can't give you a exact timing on it, James. She got news of it fairly soon after the incident happened through channels here. She is back here in Washington, though. She has been working from her home rather than here in the office.

QUESTION: Is she expected to pay any kind of condolence call to the Pakistani Embassy here in Washington or sign a book or something like that?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think at this point, those kinds of arrangements on the part of the Pakistanis, in terms of setting up condolence books or establishing funeral arrangements, haven't been made yet. Certainly, I think we'll respond appropriately and we'll try and keep you up to date on what she may be doing in terms of calls or other activities related to this.

QUESTION: And just one more if I might, just -- last one. It sounds like from your answer to Glenn that horrific though this incident may be, it doesn't occasion any change in U.S. policy whatsoever with regard to Pakistan, with regard to the war on terror. In essence, Musharraf is still the only viable force that the United States can even hope to count on to serve as an ally in the fight against extremism, so basically, nothing changes; is that correct?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, I'm not going to try and tell you what impact this event will or won't have on Pakistan's political system. It is a loss --

QUESTION: I asked about U.S. policy.

MR. CASEY: I'll get there. It's a loss for the Pakistani people and it's a loss for her party and I think our focus right now is on offering condolences to them. In terms of U.S. policy, though, U.S. policy has always been based on promoting a peaceful, democratic development of Pakistan, to see Pakistan emerge as a moderate, modern Islamic country. And our efforts have not been focused on any individuals, but on efforts to achieve that goal and on making sure that in doing so, that we have good partners for the United States and the broader international community in the war on terror.

So, we are going to continue to work with President Musharraf. We're also going to continue to work with the Pakistan People's Party and other moderate, democratic elements in Pakistan to try and bring us all together to achieve those common goals.

QUESTION: So no change in U.S. policy?

MR. CASEY: Nothing that I can announce for you right now, James. I certainly think that we intend to move forward with the basis of our current policy. And as tragic as this incident is, I don't think that it would be of service to the United States or to the goals that Prime Minister -- former Prime Minister Bhutto stood for and gave her life for, to try and move away from our general support for Pakistan's democratic development as well as for Pakistan's efforts in the war on terror.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Tom, what did the U.S. do, if anything, to help ensure Benazir Bhutto's safety, especially after the attack after she returned? My understanding is that Senator Kerry, for one, spoke to Condoleezza Rice, and -- after meeting with Benazir Bhutto in the recent months to ask about what the U.S. could do to help ensure her safety. What specifically did the U.S. try to do?

MR. CASEY: Well, I really don't have any details that I can offer you on security arrangements for former Prime Minister Bhutto. I certainly know that this is a subject that we raised on a regular basis, both with Pakistani Government officials as well as with former Prime Minister Bhutto herself and members of her party. We had expressed concern after the attack on the rally upon a return to Pakistan about her safety. And so this obviously was a concern of ours and it's something we did discuss with the Pakistanis.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Tom.

MR. CASEY: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. As far as the U.S. interest is concerned in Pakistan, you think it will hurt in any way directly or indirectly because of this murder? And second, there are news coming from Pakistan that the only person is going to benefit from this critical murder is Mr. Musharraf and there might be again emergency in Pakistan and no more elections because of this going on situation in Pakistan.

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't think anybody benefits from this assassination save those extremists who perpetrated it. It's not of benefit to the goals that President Musharraf has stated and that other political leaders in Pakistan have expressed their support for which, again, is movement ahead with democratic elections, with the development of Pakistan as a moderate and peaceful Islamic country. So I don't think at this point it would be fair to try and say that there is any political advantage to anyone in this. And we certainly would not think it appropriate to have any kind of return to emergency rule or other kinds of measures taken in response to this. What is important is that the democratic process move forward. And again, as the President said earlier today, that's what we believe is the best way to honor the legacy of former Prime Minister Bhutto.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a follow-on -- a quick one?

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: Since this was a terrorist attack -- a suicide attack on her life which happened before also, you think -- what the U.S. believes now after almost seven years and billions of dollars to Mr. Musharraf and to Pakistan to control terrorism there, but now it has become really a harbor of terrorism, according to Newsweek magazine also that not Iraq, but Pakistan is a dangerous place to be in or to follow. Where do we stand or go from here that you think the General -- Mr. Musharraf has control? He's doing his best to control terrorism, which is also not -- become part of life there?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think it's unfortunate that we have seen extremism take action in Pakistan, not only in this instance, but in others, including the assassination attempts on President Musharraf's life in the past, including the activities that the Pakistani army has been trying to confront in the federally administered territories as well as in other places. But we've known that this kind of terrorism extremism has been a threat in Pakistan for a long time. And certainly what we need to do, and what the lesson I think we need to take from this, is that it's important for us to continue our efforts to confront this problem, to work with the Pakistanis and others in the international community to do so. And also that perhaps the best anecdote to extremism is a continuation of the democratic process -- is giving Pakistanis an opportunity to choose their own leadership and to be able to know that they have a voice in the running of their country and that's why again we're emphasizing the importance of continuing with the democratic process.

Matt.

QUESTION: Tom, when you talked about wanting to encourage all moderate parties, does that include - politicians -- does that include Sharif, who apparently has just said that he's going to boycott the election?

MR. CASEY: Matt, you know, we would encourage anyone that believes in democracy and that believes that Pakistan's future lies in peaceful democratic expression rather than in violence to work together. And so that would certainly include him and his party.

QUESTION: Right, it would, okay. But will you be making the same kind of direct outreach to him as there was done with Bhutto in the months leading up to her return?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, Matt, we've maintained contact with representatives of all the various political parties including, as I understand it, those associated with him and his movement. I'm not aware of any particular new or specific contacts directly with him. But our message to all moderate players, moderate forces in Pakistan's political system is the same and has been consistent and I expect will be in the coming days.

Vi.

QUESTION: Is there any -- are there any plans for U.S. officials to travel to the region in the --

MR. CASEY: Not right -- not right now. I certainly don't have anything to announce for you. Certainly, I would expect that whatever funeral arrangements are made, there will be an appropriate U.S. delegation in attendance. But Anne Patterson, our Ambassador, is obviously in country right now. She's been engaged in conversations with Pakistani Government officials as well as those from former Prime Minister Bhutto's party and certainly, we will look to her to continue to be our main person on the ground in responding to this. But, you know, I'll certainly let you know if we have any travel plans to announce.

James.

QUESTION: Tom, does this event or an event like this occasion any added concern on the part of the United States Government about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal?

MR. CASEY: Well, James, I think the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to that recently and frankly, I don't have anything new to offer beyond that. We all understand how critically important it is that there be proper safeguards over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal, but I don't believe that this incident, as far as I know, changes the assessment that the Pentagon and others have made of it.

Glenn.

QUESTION: Yeah, there's a report this week, I believe, in the New York Times about a lack of accountability for billions of dollars of U.S. funds given to the Pakistani military in fighting the war on terror over the last few years. I was wondering, do you have any comment on that report and will the U.S. insist on a full accounting of the funds it gives to Pakistan in the future?

MR. CASEY: Well, it must be a good story if the Washington Post is citing the New York Times. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Rather than say a report, I would (inaudible).

MR. CASEY: That's very generous of you.

QUESTION: I found it extremely -- I found it a fascinating (inaudible).

MR. CASEY: I don't see any colleagues from the Times here, but we'll make sure, for the record, it's noted that Glenn Kessler said that for you. Glenn, look, we've always been concerned to make sure that all U.S. funds that are used in Pakistan or anyplace else are properly accounted for. As you know, Assistant Secretary Boucher, when he testified before Congress on this issue, talked about some changes that we were going to make to the program to move away from some more generalized cash support for economic -- what we call economic support funds, which as you know, are basically balance of payment supports to allow people to meet some of their financial obligations, to a more project-based support which we think will ultimately be a more efficient use of resources and also one that will better ensure that we can have full and complete accountability.

I am not aware at this point that anyone is asserting that we do not have a good understanding of how those funds have been used in the past, but we do believe that this will offer everyone a even clearer assessment and understanding of how things are being (inaudible) to make sure that they are going to the purposes that they were intended.

QUESTION: Yeah, they're actually -- the program that you're talking about is different than what that newspaper report talked about, which was specifically the five billion or so ten -- yeah, I guess it's about $5 billion of money that was reimbursement money for invoices that they had submitted that apparently there's very little accountability of what that money was spent on or where it's going. Would you have any specific comment on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, in terms of -- if you're looking -- if you're talking about some of the Pentagon programs for reimbursement of essentially coalition support funds, I know Geoff Morrell's spoken to that recently and I'll leave it where he did. But again, I think, we believe we've got an effective system in place to be able to monitor our aid and we think, at least from the State Department side, that we've made some changes and adjustments to it that will ensure that we have even greater clarity in what we're looking at.

Farah. It's a two hand wave. How could I miss that? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I don't know. Two questions. When was the last time that Bhutto had contact with senior U.S. officials, either Rice or Negroponte?

MR. CASEY: Well, let's see. I know that Deputy Secretary Negroponte did speak to her when he traveled to the region. I know that Anne Patterson was in regular contact with her and with people around her. I'm not sure when the last contact might have been between the Secretary and her. I know they have spoken in the past obviously.

QUESTION: Did the Deputy Secretary speak to her or meet with her?

MR. CASEY: My recollection of his trip is that he spoke with her because he was in Islamabad and she was in Karachi at that point, so I believe they spoke by phone.

QUESTION: And the second question is that her aides seem to be accusing Musharraf's security apparatus of negligence at best and complicity at worst. I mean, they seem to be, you know, citing many instances where they've complained that the bomb-jammers that they were given by the Pakistani Government to ward off IEDs or whatever were not working and, you know, there's a lot of complaints on that end -- are those ludicrous allegations?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think before I or anyone else try and offer an opinion on what happened in this incident there really does need to be an investigation of it. Certainly, you know, no one has claimed responsibility for this. But as we all know there's a rather serious extremist threat out there. This is again something that we discussed with members of the Pakistani Government to ensure that they understood our concerns for her safety. It's also something we talked with her about as well.

But I think, for right now, I'm not going to try and second guess the Pakistani's security forces or their efforts or really try and offer you an analysis of what occurred here. I think it's just way too early to do that.

QUESTION: But you said that you have discussed with Pakistan's Government your concerns for Bhutto's security. In what ways? Just to say, you know, is everything being done or, you know, what was the nature of those concerns?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I really don't have any details that I can go into about those discussions. But I think the best way I could describe it is to say that certainly in light of the threats that existed against her, including that -- the one which was clearly, visible as a result of the attack on the rally that coincided with her return to Pakistan, we certainly wanted to make sure that we conveyed to the Pakistani Government officials our strong concerns about her safety and our desire to see them do everything that they could to ensure that she was protected. Obviously, unfortunately, the fact remains that despite efforts that were made, she was killed and was, you know, something that I think she was aware of the risks of and spoke rather eloquently about the fact that she was confronting these kinds of risks. But what's most important now I think is that there is an investigation of this, that that investigation be credible and transparent and that anyone who is responsible for this gets brought to justice.

QUESTION: But you -- you seem to say the forces of extremism did this, that they benefit -- no one else benefits besides the forces of extremism. It seems like you -- okay, we'll have an investigation, but there doesn't seem to be a doubt in your mind that the forces of extremism did this, rather than some rogue apparatus or some --

MR. CASEY: Farah, I'm not trying to make judgments about who was or wasn't responsible for this attack. I don't know and I don't think anyone does and that's why an investigation is important. I think, though, that it's a pretty easy thing to describe as extremism the suicide bombing and assassination that not only kills a major political leader in a country, but a hundred other innocent people besides.

Libby.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on --

MR. CASEY: Welcome back, Sylvie. Sorry.

QUESTION: Did you after the rally where the bombing happened, and you guys expressed your concern about her security, did you see any improvements upon that security in that timeframe up until now?

MR. CASEY: I really can't offer you an assessment of her personal security. I actually think that's a question that's better left to people in Pakistan, including those in her own party. Certainly, though, again it goes without saying, she arrived back in Pakistan. There had been threats to her before that arrival. We saw the first attempt to carry out those threats with the attack on her rally upon return. And certainly this is something that we were concerned about, again, not only because of her standing as a major political figure, but because of the importance we place on seeing Pakistan's democratic system move forward and develop. And obviously any threats of violence or any acts of violence against political leaders or against any kind of peaceful political demonstrations are something we'd be concerned with.

Glenn.

QUESTION: Can you just get back to us with an answer to the question as to whether or not the United States provided anything in terms of helping her with her security beyond having the discussions about her security? I mean, it --

MR. CASEY: Are you asking whether there were U.S. officials present with her or --

QUESTION: Well, U.S. assistance in technology or expertise or something in the wake of the Karachi attack.

MR. CASEY: Glenn, I will try and get you the best answer I can on that subject. I'm not sure how much I will be able to offer you on that. But to the extent that there's information available, I'll try and get something to you guys.

QUESTION: Okay. But the question that you're not addressing that Farah raised, it seems to me, is that you keep saying that there is an extremist threat in Pakistan. What I think we want you to address is the extent to which the U.S. Government believes that that threat exists in Pakistan, not only outside the government but within the government.

MR. CASEY: James, I don't think -- I'm certainly not in a position to try and offer you any kind of detailed assessment on the nature of the extremist threat in Pakistan. I do think it goes without saying that there are Taliban elements that operate in the FATA and in other areas. We've all talked about the problem of cross-border activity between Afghanistan and Pakistan. It's also clear from incidents like the Red Mosque situation that there are homegrown extremist elements in Pakistan who may not be members of al-Qaida, but perhaps follow bin Laden's basic philosophy of violence and extremist ideology.

It's certainly true as well that again, as I've said, we've seen assassination attempts on President Musharraf's life, we saw a previous attempt on former Prime Minister Bhutto's life, and now unfortunately a successful one here. So it's very clear that there are active individuals out there, groups out there that are perpetuating a violent view of Pakistan's future and one we think is rejected by the vast majority of the people. But they are a threat to anyone who is out there, who's trying to work on behalf of a more moderate democratic vision for their country. I can't give you an assessment of whether any of those individuals have any affiliation with Pakistan's officialdom of one kind or another. The security forces or otherwise. And I'd frankly leave it to those that are expert in this field to do so, but again, what I think is clear to us is that President Musharraf and other political leaders in Pakistan, other members of Pakistan's government, its military and security forces, are committed to working with us to fight extremism. And I certainly would expect that would include rooting out any individuals who somehow might have infiltrated government security forces or other government apparatus.

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: How confident are you in the ability of President Musharraf to create a condition of democratic elections in 12 days?

MR. CASEY: Well, we're going to see what happens. We're going to see what happens both moving forward after this tragic incident today and we'll see what happens on Election Day and we'll see what happens afterwards. What we do believe is important is that President Musharraf and others in the Pakistani Government do everything they can to create the conditions on the ground to have as free and fair and transparent an election as possible.

No political system can last long without having legitimacy in the eyes of its people and certainly, one of the key elements for legitimacy for Pakistan's government, as for any other government, is to be able to hold credible elections that allow the people of that country to have a real say and a real voice in who their leaders are.

Yeah, let's go back here.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR. CASEY: We're still on Pakistan?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. CASEY: Somehow, I figured that. Okay.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the investigation will be fair and credible? Has the United States been asked -- to involve -- the investigation by the Pakistan Government? And will the United States offer anything specifically to investigation?

MR. CASEY: At this point, I'm not aware of any specific requests for assistance, but as I said earlier, we stand ready to offer any assistance that the Pakistanis might need with this investigation or with other activities associated with it.

Vi.

QUESTION: Were you asked to participate at all or to help at all with the investigation of the previous attack on Benazir Bhutto and her convoy when she returned? And secondly, a different question is, have there been any high-level contacts with either -- other Western governments or governments in the region, neighbors of Pakistan in relation to this assassination and if so, what's been the nature of those contacts?

MR. CASEY: I'm not sure what kind of conversations we may have had with others outside of Pakistan. Certainly, we've seen comments that have been made from Gordon Brown in the U.K. to Secretary General Ban at the UN. I know that the Security Council is going to be considering this issue in a council session that I think is happening right now and I think you may see a statement or a resolution of some kind emerge from that.

So it's clear that there is broad international concern on this and broad international outrage at this terrible act and certainly, I expect we'll have opportunities to discuss this issue further in coming days. I think that it does represent a clear understanding as well on the part of the international community that this assassination was not only a act of violence against an individual and against an individual political party, but against Pakistan's democratic system as a whole.

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Other subject.

QUESTION: No.

MR. CASEY: No, not there yet. All right. Let's go Matt, Farah, go back here.

QUESTION: Well, I just wondered -- maybe I missed it in the first 33 minutes of this, but did you, at some point --

MR. CASEY: You know, Matt, we have had short briefings up until now.

QUESTION: Did you, at some point, say that this complicated yours and others' efforts to promote reconciliation or do you not see it as a complicating factor?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think it's an unfortunate incident, it's a tragic incident, and it's a blow to Pakistan's democratic development to have any kind of attack like this on a prominent political leader. That said, we do believe it's important, and again, the best way to honor her memory, to move forward with that process. She does have a strong political party and we hope that it will continue to move forward and be able to participate in the democratic process in Pakistan under its new leadership and again, we think that is what she would have wanted.

Yeah, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On the same subject, Mr. Casey, are you afraid that this political turmoil in Pakistan of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto is going to affect your role in the neighboring country, Afghanistan?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, we've always seen it as being important to have good cooperation and strong cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan. As I said a little earlier, one of the obvious concerns that both countries have is to deal with those extremists who have been operating in the border area and we have a tripartite process, tripartite commission, Americans, Afghans, and Pakistanis to try and coordinate military and political actions in response to that. And that is certainly something that needs to continue. Obviously, one of our longstanding concerns about Pakistan is that it does develop a peaceful democratic future because we believe that democracy is the best alternative to extremism and extremist ideologies. I think it's pretty clear from the actions taken by those responsible for this assassination today that they also see democracy and democratic development in Pakistan as a threat to them.

QUESTION: Do you see any connection with the Talibans?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, again, we don't know who is responsible for this attack. We need to have that be investigated. But it is clear that whoever is responsible is someone who opposes peaceful democratic development and change in Pakistan.

Farah.

QUESTION: Is it even possible for elections on January 8th to confer much needed legitimacy on Pakistan's Government, given now that this frontrunner candidate is dead? I mean, we had all hoped that this election would bring that kind of legitimacy back to Pakistan's Government. Is it even possible for that to happen now?

MR. CASEY: Well, I think we need to see this process move forward. We believe that it's important that it move forward and that elections take place. I hope that not only Pakistan's political system but any political system is able to withstand and be stronger than any one individual and as --

QUESTION: But January 8th is like a week away. (Laughter.)

MR. CASEY: And I appreciate that. But again, we are dealing with a parliamentary system. We're dealing with a strong party that will have and does have new leadership. The Secretary has already spoken to them. I don't think that it would do any justice or service to the goals that Prime Minister Bhutto laid out for herself and her party. I don't think it would do any justice to her memory to have an election postponed or canceled simply as a result of this tragic incident. And again I think that that -- the only people that win through such a course of action are the people who perpetrated this attack.

Libby.

QUESTION: I don't know if this was asked. I missed the beginning a little bit. But do you have any particular concern about President Musharraf's safety? I know you've been concerned in the past -- assassination attempts. But anything in light of this incident that causes greater concern for Musharraf?

MR. CASEY: No, I can't point to anything specific, Libby. Obviously, we've had ongoing concerns about that simply because there have also been assassination attempts on his life.

QUESTION: Could I (inaudible) about Sharif?

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: He -- his party's -- he said that his party's going to boycott the election. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, individual parties are going to have to make their own choices on whether to participate and how to participate. You know again, what our advice is, which is to encourage everyone to work together.

QUESTION: Secretary Boucher -- is he in the building today? Is he working phones? Can you tell us about his activity?

MR. CASEY: Richard Boucher, our Assistant Secretary for South Central Asian Affairs, is here in the building today. He's been actively engaged in this issue, participating both in some internal discussions both here in the Department and within the government as a whole, as well as talking with our Ambassador Anne Patterson and some Pakistani officials and I believe some members of the Pakistan People's Party. Certainly, he's going to continue to be in close touch with individuals both at our Embassy as well as in Pakistan as well as things move forward.

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Can we go to the Middle East?

QUESTION: One more --


MR. CASEY: Okay, Goyal, one more.

QUESTION: One more, a little -- different but related. Tom, as far as this political assassination is concerned, in Pakistan, enabling Afghanistan violence are ongoing and there's a talk between President Karzai and Mr. Musharraf to cooperate on curbing terrorism between the two borders. But Canadian Defense Minister is saying that Pakistan and Iran is supporting and supplying arms to the Taliban in Afghanistan. So how can they have peace when all these things are going on?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, certainly there are lots of issues along the border. That's why it's important that they -- the Pakistanis and Afghanis do talk and cooperate with one another. I think, in light of today's incident -- I've seen statements by President Karzai, part of those statements reiterate his commitment to working with Pakistan to assure a peaceful and democratic future for both those countries. Certainly, we want to see that continue.

In terms of Iranian support for the Taliban, I'd leave it where some of our commanders in the field have spoken to. I just don't have anything new to offer you on it.

Sylvie, you want to go to Middle East?

QUESTION: Yes, Middle East. Can you confirm that the Secretary called Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas yesterday before their meeting? And also that she asked Mr. Olmert to suspend all settlement activity during the negotiation with the Palestinians including in Jerusalem?

MR. CASEY: Well, Sylvie, I can confirm that she spoke with both President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert yesterday, on the 26th. The main purpose of that call was to encourage them to move forward with the negotiations. It's certainly to also get their assessment of where the process stood. I expect that she would, of course, reiterated our belief that both sides need to comply with all aspects of the roadmap and need to be able to do so not only as this negotiation moves forward but, in part, as a way of helping to stimulate good faith and confidence on both sides that will allow the negotiations to go forward.

QUESTION: Well, apparently, she was very specific on the demand that the Israelis wouldn't go ahead with any settlement activity even scheduled in Jerusalem -- anything on --

MR. CASEY: Well, look, no, I really don't and can't offer you any more detailed assessment on these conversations, suffice it to say that the Secretary, I'm sure, was clear in reiterating our longstanding belief that both sides need to honor their obligations on the Roadmap and the Roadmap's very clear on what needs to be done vis-à-vis settlements.

QUESTION: What's the -- oh.

MR. CASEY: Okay. Is it the same Middle East or is it a different Middle East? (Laughter.) Well, I'll tell you what, let's go to North Korea and then we'll go back to the Middle East.

Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: The latest out of Seoul was that North Korea has cited delays in aid for -- as a reason why it will not be able to make its declaration or may not be able to make its declaration. Have you confirmed these North Korean statements and what is the state of play as far as the aid pipeline that you know of, as well as North Korea's progress ahead of December 31st?

MR. CASEY: Well, a couple things. First of all, the agreement that the six parties reached called for North Korea to provide a full and complete declaration by December 31st. And we certainly think that they are capable of meeting that deadline. We encourage them to do so and we'll see what happens over the next few days.

In terms of questions about aid shipments, as you know, there's been sort of a rotating schedule of heavy fuel oil equivalent that's been provided. I am not certain, to be honest with you, what the exact status of the last -- you know, latest shipment is, whether there have been any delays or not. Certainly, there's been no policy decision on the part of our government or any of the other six parties to change our basic approach to that, so I'm not aware that there is any substantive problem with those deliveries. As to what the North Koreans will or will not do, it's the obligation of all parties to honor their commitments and we intend to honor ours and we certainly hope they'd honor theirs as well.

Glenn.

QUESTION: Yeah. The South Korean Foreign Minister was actually quoted today as saying that the big hitch in this was North Korea admitting to the uranium enrichment program that the U.S. has said that they have maintained. Would you agree with that assessment? Is that your understanding as well that this is really the thing holding up the declaration?

MR. CASEY: Certainly, don't want to try and get myself into a public argument with the South Korean Foreign Minister, but I'll let him speak to his understanding of it.

QUESTION: Well, what is your understanding of it?

MR. CASEY: Well, my understanding of it is they have an obligation to provide us with a full and complete declaration by the 31st. We'd hope they'd honor it. We've had numerous discussions with them about what such a declaration should include. You've heard from Chris Hill repeatedly that that does need to include any accounting for the highly enriched uranium activities that they've pursued in the past and may be pursuing currently. It certainly also includes dealing with things like proliferation and the other concerns that we've raised. Full and complete is probably the best way to describe it. There can't be fudging around the edges here. We need to really understand the full extent of the program and the full extent of the activities because that's the only way that you can guarantee that when we get to the end of this process, we've actually achieved our goal, which is full denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: And do you have any readout of Sung Kim's visit last week to Pyongyang?

MR. CASEY: I don't, but let's see if we can get you something.

QUESTION: There's only three days left for this year. How are you going to guarantee for the -- by the end of this year for the declaration?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, I'm not going to guarantee the North Korean Government's going to do anything. That's up for them -- up to them to do. What I did say and what I will repeat is that we believe they're certainly capable of meeting the deadline and providing the declaration by the 31st. We encourage them to do so and we'll see what happens in the next couple of days.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Two movements in the Congress by the Israeli friends in there -- are working out in a way that they're going to upset the Egyptians, your allies the Egyptians, or the moderate allies in the Middle East, the Egyptians and the Saudis. These efforts are targeting the American in the U.S. aid to Egypt and the sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. I would like to hear from you your position here in the State Department and how -- what you -- how much you think that such attempts would actually target the credibility of the U.S. friendship with its allies in the Middle East should these efforts succeed?

MR. CASEY: Well, we have extensive and longstanding good relations with both the governments of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. They are important partners for us, standing against extremist forces like Hamas, Hezbollah and their state sponsor in Iran. Certainly, we expect that we will be able to work with Congress to ensure that we're able to meet the objectives of our policies, both in terms of foreign assistance for Egypt, for which we've been long the largest international donor, as well as in terms of military sales, not only to Saudi Arabia, but to other partners in the region, which is part of a broader regional initiative to ensure that our friends and allies have the kinds of defensive equipment that they need to be able to provide for their own security.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thanks.

One more.

QUESTION: Do you have or can you get anything for us on the Kenyan elections?

MR. CASEY: Don't really have much to offer you right now, Matt. You know, as I understand it, the elections have proceeded with only some small, individual incidents of violence. There have been a couple of reports as well of pushing and shoving and other kinds of things at polling stations. The votes are being tallied tonight and tomorrow and I expect we'll see at least some preliminary results in a couple of days. The Election Commission of Kenya, as I understand it, has responded well to the reports of problems and certainly appears to be acting in good faith and voter turnout's been high, as we understand it. There were something on the order of 160 embassy officials in 56 different observer teams that were deployed throughout the country, so we'll be getting some additional feedback from them. But at this point, we certainly don't have any results, though the basic mechanics of the elections so far look to be fairly good.

David.

QUESTION: Tom, can you comment on the rather tough line the Serbian Government has taken the last couple days about the Kosovo issue? Kostunica has talked about the United States trying for the destruction of the international order. Their parliament passed a measure that would provide for cutting off relations, apparently, with countries that support an independent Kosovo. What do you think about all that?

MR. CASEY: Look, just -- David, simply, to reiterate our policy, this is an issue that's of longstanding importance not only to the United States, but to the broader international community. We all agree that it is time to establish a final status agreement for Kosovo. The Troika has been engaged in a series of negotiations to try and help bring the parties closer. And as you know, those negotiations did not result in any final agreement among them. Based on that, we and most others in the international community believe that what we now need to do is move forward in accordance with the Ahtisaari plan. That's the direction we intend to move in.

Certainly, Serbia as well as others are going to face a choice as we move forward in that development, but I would simply say that the United States wishes to have good and strong relations with Serbia and wishes the people of Serbia to be able to achieve some of their Euro-Atlantic objectives, none of which would be advanced or served by the kind of actions that you're talking about.

QUESTION: Anything to say about the failure of the talks at the UN December 19th on Kosovo?

MR. CASEY: No, Mr. Lambros, other than to say we intend to move forward with implementation of the Ahtisaari plan as you heard from our representative there. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:47 p.m.)

DPB # 220
Released on December 27, 2007

ENDS

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