US State Dept Press Briefing
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
January 23, 2008
Canada’s Military Mission in Afghanistan
Situation Along Egyptian Border and Gaza
Concern Hamas Will Take Advantage of Situation
Visit of Greek Prime Minister to Turkey
Special Immigrant Visa Program Different from Iraqi Refugees Program
Completion of United States Embassy in Baghdad
Resolving Final Status of Kosovo
Diplomacy Ongoing Between Serbia and Kosovo/ Implementation of Ahtisaari Plan
CRS Report/US-Greek Bilateral Relations
12:47 p.m. EST
MR. CASEY: Okay, guys. Good afternoon. I don't have anything to start you out with so - Arshad, anything? This could be a quick briefing.
QUESTION: If you want to go chapter and verse through the Iran sanctions resolution?
MR. CASEY: Well, you know, I don't think I really have that text available to do that kind of analysis with today, so I'm good to go.
MR. CASEY: All right, fine. Anybody else? Yeah, sure, sir.
QUESTION: Yesterday the Canadian Government released a report from an independent commission that recommended that Canada's military mission in Afghanistan continue beyond February 2009 if certain conditions are met, including that NATO or other countries provide 1,000 more troops to help with the fighting. What is the reaction of the U.S. Government to that report -- out of that recommendation?
MR. CASEY: Well, I'm afraid I'm not familiar with the report of and by itself. But look, we all of us -- the United States, Canada and all NATO members have an obligation to meet the commitments that we've made for Afghanistan. As you know, the United States - Secretary Gates has just recently recommended the addition of over 3,000 Marine forces to reinforce U.S. efforts there. And we continue to believe that it's imperative that all NATO allies do what they can and make the commitments that they can to support the mission in Afghanistan. As you certainly know, Canada has been a leading player in the efforts there. The United States very much appreciates the contributions that Canada's made and we know that Canadian soldiers are fighting and dying in that effort to help move Afghanistan forward. So certainly we are appreciative of the efforts Canada's made We'd like to see those efforts continue. But we do recognize the fact that all of us in the NATO alliance have more that we can do.
QUESTION: If those conditions were met would you welcome Canada staying in Afghanistan indefinitely, beyond 2009?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, the decision on whether to remain and to what extent and level are really decisions for the Canadian Government and the Canadian people to make. Certainly, we believe it's important, though, that all of us as NATO allies do our part, and we'd encourage Canada as well as all other NATO members to make whatever contributions they're able to this mission.
QUESTION: Update with the conversations between the State Department and the Egyptians on the situation on Gaza, also maybe with the Israelis and Palestinians as well and what you're talking about.
MR. CASEY: Well, I don't have a lot to add beyond what I said this morning at the gaggle. Again, we are concerned and the Egyptians are concerned about the situation along the border. Assistant Secretary for Near East Asian Affairs David Welch has spoken to the Egyptian Ambassador here in Washington on this subject. I know our Embassy in Cairo has done so as well. We all believe that it's important that there be security along the border and that the Egyptians are able to adequately control and police their border. That's something that's in their interest as well as in the interests of all parties involved
In terms of discussions between Israelis and Palestinians, again I'm not aware that this particular incident has had any impact on those discussions. Certainly, it's an area of concern for all parties involved. And again, it just goes to point out the fact that Hamas continues to take steps that are frankly not in the interests of anyone. And one of our concerns and one of the Egyptians concerns as well, is that Hamas will use this action and take advantage of it as a cover for additional activities designed not to bring in consumer goods but to allow fighters and others to get weapons and other kinds of supplies. And that's something that we've been working with the Egyptians and Israelis and others to try and prevent it.
QUESTION: Mr. Casey, on Greece/Turkey. Today the Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis started an official visit to Turkey and met in Ankara with his Turkish counterpart Recep Erdogan. Since, Mr. Casey, this is the first visit in 49 years when his uncle, the late Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis, in 1959 visited Turkey, I'm wondering if you have to offer any comment.
MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, we have always believed it's very important for our two good friends and NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, to be able to work with one another and to be able to work through some of the differences, historical and otherwise, that they've had. So certainly we welcome any and all diplomatic contacts and certainly view this visit as an opportunity for our two good friends to be able to get together and continue their dialogue and discussion.
QUESTION: May I go to the Balkans?
MR. CASEY: Why don't we go back here to Charlie first and then we'll come back to the Balkans.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary met with Mr. Musharraf and if not will she still do so?
MR. CASEY: That's a nice try, Charlie. I don't have an update for you from the party. As you know, she was scheduled to meet with President Musharraf as well as President Karzai and a number of other individuals today. But I can't tell you right now whether that meeting's taken place. I think it probably has. In any event, though, I'd leave it to the party itself to give you an update on the meetings and any readout on them.
QUESTION: What is the update on the programs for the Iraqi refugees?
MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, let's talk a little bit about - well, I know Gonzo spoke to this a little bit, I guess it was yesterday when he briefed you. First of all, what he was speaking about was, of course, the special immigrant visa program, which is something that's run by our Bureau of Consular Affairs and provides specific visa opportunities for individuals who have worked directly for the U.S. Government. And he gave you some figures that are related to that. I think that I'll leave that there.
One thing I wanted to clarify, though, I think in his remarks is, of course, that program is separate from the efforts that are led by our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration to work with the UN Commissioner - High Commissioner for Refugees to help provide relocation for those Iraqi refugees that require resettlement in a third country. And again, we are processing applications for that program, that distinct program in accordance with the recommendations that are made to us from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees office. That's, of course, a program under which we admitted a little over 1,600 refugees, the last fiscal year. My understanding is right now; we are over a thousand, in the 1,000-1,100 range, for admissions this year. And of course, our goal for the year is to have accepted 12,000 Iraqi refugees under that program by the end of the fiscal year.
As you know too, one of the reasons why we've been hampered in those efforts is that until after the successful conclusion of our Special Envoy Jim Foley's trip to Syria, we were unable to have representatives from the Department of Homeland Security allowed to go to Syria to be able to conduct the necessary kinds of interviews and investigations that are an essential part of the refugee process for us.
So we are continuing to work on both of these programs, both the special immigrant visa program, which again is designed specifically for those who have worked for the United States Government as translators, interpreters, or other kinds of services and then the refugee program. It is an issue that we are going to continue to work on and move forward. We're very pleased now that DHS representatives have been able to get to Syria that that process is moving forward. And we hope to be able to have increased numbers here in the coming months because again, we are committed to trying to meet our goal of having 12,000 refugee admissions by the end of the fiscal year. We're also going to try to give you a much more detailed version of this probably in the next week or so and I'll get Jim Foley down here to talk to all of you about what's been going on in this issue and some of the progress that's been made.
QUESTION: What will be the final figure for the other program, the special immigrant visas? How many - I mean, its translators and interpreters. It can't be that many.
MR. CASEY: Well, there is a legislative ceiling sealing for that. It initially was 50. It then went up to 500. And as I understand it, and I can check for you, but that 500 does not - is 500 individuals plus family members. I think it's - it goes beyond that. I forget whatever figure Gonzo gave you yesterday. I'd just refer back to his numbers in terms of the admissions for fiscal year 2007. I would expect that those numbers would remain steady, again, simply because it's a legislative ceiling and so we're admitting up to the full amount.
MR. CASEY: Okay, Mr. Lambros, now you wanted to go to the Balkans.
QUESTION: Yes. On Serbia, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, upon the conclusion of his talks with the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in Athens called for renewed internationally supervised talks with Albanians in Kosovo. How do you respond to his new proposal?
MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, I'm not familiar with his new proposal But again, U.S. policy is clear on this. And we along with many of the members of the international community believe that it's time to move forward with resolving the final status of Kosovo, in addition to the extensive talks that, of course, Mr. Ahtisaari, the UN Special Envoy had with the parties. The troika, of course, conducted several additional months of discussions with them. At this point, as you know, since the parties are unable to reach an agreement, we believe it's appropriate and time to move forward with implementation of the Ahtisaari, including supervised independence for Kosovo.
QUESTION: The Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis again stated, "We maintain very high reservation at the prospect of unilateral acts that could lead to a crisis and believe the potential for effective diplomacy has not been exhausted." Any comment?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think we're pleased that both the Serbian Government, as well as officials in Kosovo have stressed their willingness not to resort to violence. We certainly don't think that's in anyone's interest. And of course the diplomacy on this is ongoing. We're having ongoing discussions with all the parties and we continue to work in the UN and elsewhere on exactly how the best means would be to implement the Ahtisaari plan. So certainly we want to see continued discussions and we wouldn't want to see anyone take actions that would lead to violence.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) detail to your comments earlier today about the completion of the United States Embassy in Baghdad.
MR. CASEY: You know, I did have a chance to talk to Pat Kennedy about this a little while ago. Basically what I gave you this morning is where the process stands. We have yet to issue a certificate of occupancy for the building. That's the last step before people can actually start to move in. There is still a number of items that are on the so-called punch list, the list of things that you go through to check and inspect before a certificate of occupancy can be issued. I know, as well, Pat reminded me that our fire team is en route to Baghdad. This is a group of people who have not been involved in the construction of the Embassy itself who are going to do a inspection of the fire safety elements of the new building which, of course, had been an issue and that I think people discussed before. So we are moving forward with this process. Again, I just want to reiterate what I did say this morning, is we don't intend to issue that certificate of occupancy or take possession of this building until we're sure that it meets all the standards that we set out for it in the process.
QUESTION: And what's your latest prediction for completion, punch list, moving in?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, we want this to happen as soon as possible, but I'm not going to try and offer you a date right now.
QUESTION: What do you make (inaudible) anything about the reported resignation of the Libyan Foreign Minister?
MR. CASEY: You know, I didn't, Samir, and I - we'll try and get you an answer for that a little later this afternoon.
Okay, Mr. Lambros. One last shot.
QUESTION: Mr. Casey, for the CRS report against Greece, written last September, October and November, by Mrs. Carol Migdalovitz released, however, on January 16th, Edward Derwinski, former Secretary, in a letter to the Library Congress, James Billington, the other day said, "inaccurate information about Greece in the past has unnecessarily injured America's bilateral relation." Therefore, I'm wondering how seriously the Department of State is taking her report, which constitutes a peaceful (inaudible)?
MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, first of all, you can talk to the Library of Congress and the Congressional Research Service. They are part of the Legislative Branch. They're independent of the State Department or the Executive Branch. So I'll leave them to comment on any letters that were sent to them or any reports. The report, as I understand it is supposed to contain basic information about Greece, including about its foreign domestic policies and they can - CRS, again, can talk to you about their methodology. But the limited scan that people have had of it here, it says the report characterizes U.S.-Greek bilateral relations as good and notes they're based on historical, political, cultural, military, economic and personal ties, including with an active Greek American community. I think you can look back at the testimony that Nick gave when he talked to the House Foreign Affairs Committee back in November. But I think the relevant quote that our friends in the European Bureau would like to point you to is, "The relationship between our two countries is the best it's been in decades and we have excellent relations with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and are grateful to both for their strong support of a closer US.-Greece alliance during their time in office.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Casey.
MR. CASEY: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:01 p.m.)