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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Dec 28, 2007


Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 28, 2007

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: December 28, 2007

INDEX:

PAKISTAN

Embassy Islamabad in Touch with Political Representatives in Pakistan
Condolences for Loss of Former Prime Minister Bhutto's Life
U.S. Encourages Calm / Reiterates Importance of Development of Democracy
International Community and Others Consulting with Pakistan
Encourage Moderate Forces in Pakistan to Cooperate / Fight Extremism
Discussions with Sharif and His Political Party
No Requests for Assistance from Pakistan
Understanding Circumstances Surrounding Bhutto Assassination
U.S. Would Not want to See Re-imposition of Emergency Law
Pakistan Elections
No Confirmation of al-Qaida Involvement
U.S. Does Not Pick Leaders for Any Country / Goal is to Support Political Process

KOSOVO

Ahtisaari Plan is in Accord with Resolution 1244 and International Law

RUSSIA

Possible Closing of British Councils in St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg

IRAQ

Defense Authorization Bill / Provision to Seize Iraqi Government Assets Not Helpful
Iraq Provinces Turning Against al-Qaida

NORTH KOREA

Sung Kim Visit to Pyongyang
Nuclear Declaration / Encourage North Korea to Meet Commitments

TURKEY/IRAQ

PKK is Common Enemy of Turkey, Iraq and U.S.
Actions Should Respect Civilian Life and Well-being in Northern Iraq

MISCELLANEOUS

Possible Usama bin Laden Recording


TRANSCRIPT:

MR. CASEY: Good afternoon. I don't have anything to start you guys off with, so Matt.

QUESTION: Tom, yeah, can you bring us up to date on any contacts the Secretary or others of her ilk have had with people in Pakistan?

MR. CASEY: I don't have any new calls to report on the part of the Secretary. What I can tell you is both our embassy in Islamabad as well as our various consulates in the country have been keeping in close touch with representatives of the broad political spectrum in Pakistan. That certainly includes representatives of former Prime Minister Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party as well as representatives of the political parties back -- President Musharraf as well as former Prime Minister Sharif.

Our basic message to them is the one that you heard from the Secretary yesterday. We certainly, again, continue to express our condolences for the loss of former Prime Minister Bhutto's life. We continue to encourage calm and we have, of course, also reiterated the point that we believe that it's important that the political process, the process of developing Pakistan's democracy, continue. So there have been a number of contacts along the way there. I also know that Richard Boucher and Under Secretary Nick Burns have been consulting with a number of other countries on this issue; certainly, the British, the Canadians, French, Russians, the other countries that certainly have all had a interest in promoting peace and stability and the development of the political system in Pakistan.

As you know, the UN Security Council also discussed this issue yesterday and Ambassador Khalilzad and his colleagues did issue a statement again on that. So we have been trying to make sure that we do consult as well with a range of people in the international community and we're all interested in seeing that in light of this tragic incident, that things still are able to move forward and that Pakistan is able to continue down a democratic path.

QUESTION: You said the Canadians, the French, and the Brits?

MR. CASEY: Canadians, French, British, Russians, among others. That's certainly not an exhaustive list, but that's just a few that were mentioned today.

QUESTION: Has anyone felt that it might be appropriate to speak with the Indians?

MR. CASEY: I believe the Indians have been talked -- have been -- had discussions as well. I think Sharif -- also been in contact with the Afghan Government, some of the other neighbors of Pakistan.

QUESTION: Tom.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: In the conversations with Sharif and his party, has the United States urged him to reconsider his boycott to the elections?

MR. CASEY: Again, where we are on that issue is where I discussed it with you yesterday. We encourage all moderate forces in Pakistan to work together and to cooperate in what is a common fight against extremism and a common desire to see Pakistan move forward as a moderate, modern Islamic country. But former Prime Minister Sharif as well as other political leaders are going to have to make their own calculation and their own decisions as to what to do. Certainly, we would encourage him and all others in Pakistan to participate in the political process and to help ensure and help work to see that the elections and that that process are more and open and fair and transparent.

QUESTION: But in those discussions specifically do they urge him to reconsider the boycott?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, let me make clear that I'm not aware of any conversations between former Prime Minister Sharif and U.S. officials. Our discussions with members of his political party, however, both before -- since I would note that his declaration yesterday that he intended to boycott the elections is merely a reiteration of previous statements that he's made. So our ongoing position on this with him and with others is that it's important, again, that moderate forces in Pakistan agree to work together. And we would certainly encourage him as well as all others, as well as all political parties, to participate in the process and, again, with an eye towards ensuring that there is the broadest possible opportunity for the Pakistani people to choose among a variety of legitimate political actors in the country.

James.

QUESTION: Is it still the case that the United States has not received any requests of any kind of assistance from the Pakistani Government?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, that's correct, James. We have not at this point received any request for assistance.

QUESTION: And is there anything that you can say regarding the new claims as to the way in which Madame Bhutto died?

MR. CASEY: Well, I've seen, as you have and I'm sure everyone else has as well, the information that's been put forward by the Pakistani Interior Ministry. Certainly, these are issues that need to be fully investigated and reviewed. I can't offer you any independent assessment or confirmation of the information provided. Certainly, we expect that there will be a full investigation of this. And I think it's important for Pakistan that everyone feel that there is closure and that there is an understanding of the exact circumstances surrounding her assassination as well as who was responsible for it.

QUESTION: Tom, was there anything further from yesterday as to what U.S. security presence might have been at hand either beyond discussions or actual --

MR. CASEY: Again, beyond what I told yesterday, certainly we discussed with Pakistani Government officials as well as with former Prime Minister Bhutto's party members and herself our concerns for her safety. But I don't have anything to offer you in terms of anything that the U.S. would have done outside of that.

James.

QUESTION: What is the reading of analysts here whose job it is to assess these things as to whether or not stability in Pakistan today or since the assassination is worse or if the situation is dying down a bit, is cooling down a bit? Is there any reading of that?

MR. CASEY: Well, given that I believe in a healthy U.S. economy, I'm glad that there are analysts that are employed to do that kind of work. I'm not going to try here from the podium, James, to give you some kind of instant assessment as to what the long-term impact of this is going to be on Pakistan.

QUESTION: That's not what I asked. And in fact, my question didn't contain the words "long- term impact." I asked if it's possible to say since the assassination whether the situation on the ground in Pakistan in major cities seems to be more inflamed or it seems to be cooling down. What is your assessment?

MR. CASEY: James, certainly we've seen that there have been some sporadic incidents of violence associated with this. That's unfortunate. We certainly would continue to call for calm. But I don't think that anything that's happened in terms of reaction to this assassination calls into question our fundamental understanding of the situation in Pakistan.

Yeah.

QUESTION: One analysis you'll hear both here and in Pakistan is that the events of the last 36 hours have weakened President Musharraf. Does U.S. views of Musharraf change at all by this -- U.S. support has it --

MR. CASEY: Well, you know, I know we're in a electoral campaign here in the United States, and maybe that means when people look at foreign events we tend to focus on the personalities and horserace aspects of this as well.

I think what's important to remember, though, is U.S. policy is not to support any individuals in this. What we want to see happen is the development of a democratic system in Pakistan, a development of democratic institutions. And one of the key ways to ensure that the Pakistani people have a government that reflects their will and has a government that is capable of fighting extremism, both in the interest of Pakistan as well as the broader international community, is to have elections take place in which that will can be expressed and have a government emerge from that that does have popular support and legitimacy. That's a political process that's going to be for Pakistanis to develop and to decide.

Who's up, who's down on any given day in Pakistan or any other country, there are a number of analysts that you can have give you predictions and make assertions on that. But from our perspective, the fundamental position of the United States, our fundamental strategy is to help Pakistan develop these institutions, to help Pakistan develop its economy, to help Pakistan deal with some of the underlying problems in places like the Fattah, which are not only related to security, but related to and need to promote economic reform and development that give opportunities to people there.

So we are going to continue to work with President Musharraf and the Government of Pakistan with the various political players in that country to promote those goals. And I'll leave it to others to make assertions as to whether, you know, this incident or any other things that happen along the way on that road are more favorable or less favorable to President Musharraf or any of the other actors out there.

James.

QUESTION: At any level of the dialogue between the U.S. Government and the Pakistani Government since the assassination, has the United States Government received any form of assurances from the Pakistani Government that there will not be a re-imposition of emergency law?

MR. CASEY: James, certainly, we wouldn't want to see a re-imposition of emergency law and I am not aware that in any of our conversations with Pakistani officials anyone has suggested that emergency law or emergency rule might be re-imposed.

QUESTION: But the question is whether we've received any assurances.

MR. CASEY: Well, your question was: At any point in any time with anybody in the Pakistani Government have we asked for or received such assurances. Not that I'm aware of, James.

QUESTION: Not at any time -- since --

MR. CASEY: Oh, okay. Well, since the assassination. James, it's quite -- our views on this are quite clear. We've made them quite clear to the Pakistanis. I have no indication that any Pakistani official in any of those conversations has suggested that there is any desire or will or interest in re-imposing any kind of emergency rule.

Yeah, Dave.

QUESTION: Tom, yesterday you were quite specific about how the United States would like to see the election go ahead on the 8th of January. A lot of analysts who support an election there say that that's -- with the political chaos, that's, you know, pretty much impossible. I was wondering whether --

MR. CASEY: Well, I don't think and I certainly wasn't trying to convey that there's something magic about January 8th, or if there's something magic about it, it's because it's the date that the Pakistani Government and political parties have agreed on for an election. We believe that if an election can be held smoothly and safely on January 8th, as currently scheduled, then by all means it should move forward. If political parties and actors in the country come to some different conclusion, then certainly we'll take a look at it then.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that one, do you still believe that they could be held smoothly and fairly by the 8th, given all that's happened, you know, in the three weeks between the end of martial law and then everything else?

MR. CASEY: Right. I think what matters is not what we think, but what the Pakistanis think. And at this point, you've heard from the interim prime minister that there is an intention to proceed with elections on the 8th. I have not heard any individual party leaders or others suggest that that is impossible to do.

Certainly though, I do think we also have to be sensitive to the fact that this tragic assassination happened yesterday. Former Prime Minister Bhutto was just buried today. I think we all ought to probably be willing to give not only her -- members of her party but other political leaders in Pakistan maybe perhaps a day or two, despite the 24-hour news cycle, to consider what this means and where this leaves them and makes them more consider judgments about whether there's any need to make changes.

QUESTION: And then what has been the U.S. counsel in that regard?

MR. CASEY: Pretty much what I just told you here; if we believe that if elections can proceed as scheduled, smoothly and safely, then we would certainly encourage that happening. I think regardless of whether they happen on the 8th or some date shortly thereafter, what's important is that there is a certainty on the part of not only Pakistan's political leadership, but the Pakistani people that there will be a date certain that they will be choosing their new government and new leadership.

QUESTION: And then the last thing was whether you had any -- regard with any credibility the Pakistani claims that they received intelligence from al-Qaida or an al-Qaida responsibility --

MR. CASEY: Yeah, I thought I talked about that a little earlier in the context of some of the other things that the interior ministry has said. I don't have any independent confirmation to offer you on that. Certainly, we are aware of the fact that elements that are related to the Taliban and al-Qaida as well as homegrown extremist groups are active in Pakistan. They have committed acts of violence before and certainly, they would be on anybody's list of suspects as to who would potentially be responsible for this assassination. But I don't have anything that I could offer you as an independent assessment by the U.S. that would be able to verify that information.

Libby.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask more broadly, there's been a lot of discussion in the last 24 hours about U.S. efforts to put together Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto in a coalition government and there's been some criticism that the U.S. took a huge gamble trying to push Bhutto back onto the scene in Pakistan. What do you make of that criticism?

MR. CASEY: I make that it's a story that people feel the need to do a lot of analysis on. Look, I don't know how many more ways I can say it, but U.S. policy isn't to anoint candidates or pick leaders for Pakistan or for any other country. Our goal in Pakistan is to support a political process, to support the development of democracy, to support a government that has the broadest possible support from all that country's people.

Pakistanis themselves are going to choose who is going to be the leaders of any given party, which parties are going to get support, and what level of support that's going to be. After an election takes place, we'll see what parties have achieved what level of support and like in most parliamentary systems, I think the expectation is there will probably have to be coalition-building done and there will have to be an agreement among at least two parties to form a government.

And whether those parties include ones that back President Musharraf or not will be a decision for the people involved at that time and whether that new government then is including representatives of parties that back President Musharraf or not, that government will still, to be able to govern effectively, have to work with the president of the country, who is President Musharraf. But these are decisions that the Pakistanis themselves are going to have to make.

The U.S. isn't in the business, in Pakistan or anywhere else, of anointing leaders or picking and choosing among political leadership. We do, however, have -- and we have been vocal and continuously supportive of the idea of having all moderate forces in the country, regardless of who their individual leaders are, work together to confront a common enemy and a common set of problems. And that's still our goal and that's what we're going to continue to pursue.

James.

QUESTION: Tom, are any personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad conducting any kind of investigation into the assassination?

MR. CASEY: Certainly, I am sure that to the extent that any of our staff at the Embassy have information or have an opportunity to look into these issues, they will. Certainly, we have an interest in understanding exactly what happened. But if you're asking is there any formal investigation by U.S. Embassy officials going on, no, that's not the case, not that I'm aware of.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Another issue.

MR. CASEY: Are we done with Pakistan?

QUESTION: One more?

MR. CASEY: One more on Pakistan.

QUESTION: There was some worry that Benazir Bhutto had drawn up a list of possible assassins in the event that she was assassinated. Do you know anything about that or --

MR. CASEY: Sorry, I don't have any information about that. Obviously, if there -- you know, if there's any information that would be relevant to the investigation or determining who might have been responsible for this, I am sure that that will be material that will be looked at by the investigators, and rightly should be.

Okay, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Mr. Casey, on Kosovo, Russia's Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin stated, "Any move towards unilateral independence would clearly be outside the limits of international law." How do you respond since you are supporting unilateral independence too for Kosovo?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, you know our position on Kosovo quite well. I think you can speak to any numbers of lawyers at the United Nations or with any of the individual countries there that will tell you that proceeding as we have suggested and as we believe is appropriate with the implementation of the Ahtisaari plan is perfectly in accord with Resolution 1244 and international law.

QUESTION: How do you respond to the British Ambassador to the UN (inaudible) statement on Kosovo against (inaudible) U.S. interests, "The principle of territorial integrity is qualified by the principle of self-determination." Do you agree with it?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I'm not sure what that quote means, but you know our position on Kosovo and we're quite clear on it and that's the lines we intend to follow.

QUESTION: And the last one, Mr. Casey. According to reports, British Councils in Russia have been shut down for unknown reasons. I am wondering if your government is aware about that and if that is related with the difference on Kosovo issue between Moscow and London.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I understand that there was some discussion of possibly closing the British Councils operations in, I believe it was St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg. My understanding is that this was a dispute between the two parties that had an unknown basis, and I'd leave it to the Russian Government to explain why they would consider closing organizations that have played a very important role over time in promoting peaceful cooperation between countries, promoting cultural exchange and promoting the kinds of discussions among civil society and among individuals that I think everyone ought to support.

QUESTION: What is your position?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, we believe that these are valuable organizations and would certainly hope that they be allowed to continue to operate in Russia.

Yeah, Charlie.

QUESTION: No, it's Paul today. Charlie's out.

MR. CASEY: Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: A question on Iraq, please, and the defense reauthorization bill. There's a section in there, 1083, that apparently has Iraq upset. It has to do with strengthening the ability to seek reparations during the Saddam regime. If Bush vetoes that, the congressional Democrats say this provision is partly to blame for it. Does the State Department have any readout on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, in terms of what the President will or won't do with the defense authorization bill, I'll leave that to the White House. And as far as discussions then as to reasons why he might take that action, again, I would, you know, leave it to the White House to talk about.

In terms of the provision in that legislation, I do believe that we have, at least at the level of the State Department, expressed concerns about that provision, which would make it possible for, as I understand it, large amounts of Iraqi Government assets to be frozen, seized or otherwise held in judgment as a result of actions taken in the courts here in the U.S. because of things that occurred under the Saddam dictatorship. And I don't think that we would ever see it as helpful to have at a time when Iraq is trying to rebuild and overcome the terrible legacy of Saddam's misrule to have its national assets be seized or otherwise diverted for these kinds of purposes.

Yeah, in the back.

QUESTION: Were you able to find anything out about Sung Kim's meetings in North Korea?

MR. CASEY: A little. Here, okay. During his visit to Pyongyang, Sung Kim received an update on the progress of the disablement team from team members. He also met with officials from the DPRK Foreign Ministry and the General Department of Atomic Energy for discussions on the DPRK's declaration of its nuclear programs, activities, materials and facilities. Certainly, we want to see that declaration be received so that the six-party process can move forward. He did not during this visit go to the Yongbyon nuclear facility.

So that's my sum total of readout on Sung Kim's visit for you. I would also note, since someone will then ask the next question of where do we stand on the declaration, obviously, we are one day closer to the end of the month when it was hoped that North Korea would turn in a declaration, a full and complete declaration of all its nuclear activities. And certainly, there's still time for that declaration to be received, but at the same time, we have noted the comments by the South Korean Foreign Minister and others. And while we would encourage the North Koreans to continue to meet the commitment and turn in that declaration by the end of the month, I would also note that as the Secretary told you last week, what is important to us is that when we do get the declaration, whatever day it is, it needs to be full and complete. And certainly we will continue to work towards that end as we continue down the six-party process.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Tom, on December 18th, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution, 62/142 stating the inadmissibility of certain practices that contribute to racism, xenophobia and the glorification of Nazism and part two expresses deep concern about the glorification of the Nazi movement and former members of the Waffen SS organization, including by erecting monuments and memorials as well as holding public demonstrations in the name of the glorification of the Nazi past, the Nazi movement and neo-Nazism. Now, the Russian Delegation made a statement prior to the vote, but they don't provide an English translation, so I can't quote it. But the question is: Why did the United States vote against a resolution which prohibits the glorification of Nazism, especially since former Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Stuart Eizenstat spent years trying to get compensation for victims of Nazi atrocities?

MR. CASEY: If had any familiarity with the resolution, with how we voted on it, or any aspect of it, I might be able to answer the question. But we'll be happy to post something for you on it later this afternoon. Just not familiar with it. Sorry.

Yeah, Sylvie.

QUESTION: I have a small question. Do you have any news about the nomination of a special envoy of the UN in Afghanistan? Apparently, he's supposed to replace Tom Koenigs whose mandate is ending at the end of the month.

MR. CASEY: Sorry. You got me on that one, Sylvie, but we can check for you. But I haven't heard anything on that subject.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Turkey, Mr. Casey, for fourth time, the Turkish military forces attacked Kurdish PKK rebels in Northern Iraq with U.S. approval as Ankara is claiming now publicly. Any comment?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I'm unfamiliar with any new military action along the Turkish-Iraq border. But again, you know our position on this. We have a common enemy -- Turkey, Iraq and the United States -- in the form of the PKK. It's a terrorist organization. We want to see it put out of business. We believe, though, that it's important that any actions that are taken are done in a coordinated fashion and we certainly have worked to encourage discussions between the Iraqis and the Turkish Government on this. We also wish to see that any actions that are taken give all due consideration for respect for civilian life and well-being in Northern Iraq.

QUESTION: Since Ankara on the highest level is saying that simply is it amended the agreement reached between President Bush and the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan at the White House November 5th. I'm wondering, Mr. Casey, if you could say anything about the limits of this U.S.-Turkish agreement which created an outcry in the (inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: Mr. Lambros, I think the President has spoken repeatedly on this subject and I'd just refer you back to his comments when he and the Prime Minister were together.

Yeah, James.

QUESTION: Islamist websites are apparently touting the imminent release of a new recording from Usama bin Laden. Is the United States Government in possession of this recording to your knowledge?

MR. CASEY: I'm not. Seriously, James, I don't know what other agencies of government may or may not have in their possession. I'm certainly not aware that any copy of this tape that's supposed to be coming out is in ours. Certainly, you're free to check with our friends in the intelligence community, though. They sometimes have a few better sources than we do. But, look --

QUESTION: And they're notoriously forthcoming.

MR. CASEY: Well, of course, they are. It's their job to be. Seriously, I think that regardless of -- one thing that's clear is that the people of Iraq have stood up to confront the challenge posed by al-Qaida there. You've seen in Anbar Province, in Diyala and elsewhere, a real sea change in the last few months of people in those communities standing up and turning against al-Qaida, working with the United States, working with the coalition and working with the Iraqi Government in order to defeat them and their activities. So to the extent that Usama bin Laden or any others of his group want to threaten and rant and rave in their usual fashion about the things that are happening in Iraq, all I can say is if it's upsetting to Usama bin Laden, it's probably good for the rest of the world.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:31 p.m.)

DPB # 221
Released on December 28, 2007

ENDS

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