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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: Feb 7, 2008

Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
February 7, 2008

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: February 7, 2008

INDEX:

KENYA
U.S. Visa Review of Eight Kenyans Suspected of Violence
Deputy Secretary Negroponte Met With Kenyan Vice President
Review of Aid

SAUDI ARABIA
American Woman Arrested By Police

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

Have Not Seen Decision on Power Delivery to Gaza Strip

CHAD
Uncertainty on Ground / Rotation of Embassy Staff at Airport

RUSSIA

Access and Freedom of OSCE Election Monitors
Imprisonment of Vasily Aleksanyan

NORTH KOREA
Six Party Talks / Declaration of Nuclear Activities
Readout of Ambassador Rakhmanin’s Discussions with State Officials

IRAN
Possible Closing of a Woman’s Magazine
Bushehr Nuclear Facility Funding

ZIMBABWE
Upcoming Elections / Sanctions

TRANSCRIPT:

2:00 p.m. EST

MR.CASEY: Good afternoon, everyone. I don't have anything to start you off with, apologize for being a little late but let's go right to your questions.

QUESTION: Do you have details on the U.S. review of -- visa review of prominent Kenyans who are suspected of violence?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, yeah, let me talk to you a little bit about what's going on. On February 5th, we -- actually on Tuesday we delivered eight letters -- our Embassy in Nairobi delivered eight letters that were signed by the Ambassador to a number of Kenyan politicians and businessmen suspected of supporting or inciting violence in the aftermath of the election in that country. And these letters basically said that the U.S. visa status of these individuals was under review pertinent to the relative parts of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. This doesn't mean that their visas have, in fact, been revoked. But it's a very clear warning to them that their actions have put them in jeopardy of losing their visas and we're going to continue to evaluate these cases over the next few days here to see whether, in fact, they ought to have their visas revoked.

QUESTION: How many people is that involved?

MR. CASEY: It's eight individuals. It's eight letters to eight individuals.

QUESTION: Okay. It's not one letter for more than one person?

MR. CASEY: No. It's eight individuals that are covered by this.

QUESTION: Would you say they're on probation if they --

MR. CASEY: Well, they still -- if they currently possess a valid visa, those visas are still valid. But it's a clear warning to them that we do not look favorably on their -- what we understand to be their efforts to promote or incite violence in the aftermath of the elections. What we want to see happy, again, is a political settlement that is implemented along the lines of the agreement that former Secretary General Kofi Annan helped to broker last week. We certainly want to see things move in a more peaceful direction and not towards any additional violent activities.

On that note, too, I should also just point out that Deputy Secretary Negroponte did meet this morning with the Kenyan Vice President. The Kenyan Vice President was here on a private visit to attend the National Prayer Breakfast, but we took the opportunity to meet with him again to underline our concern for the situation in Kenya, to push for continued implementation of the political agreement and to stress the importance we place on seeing that agreement move forward. There was also a representative here in town for the same purposes from Mr. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement and the Deputy will be meeting with him tomorrow and again, I think the message will be consistent to both parties.

QUESTION: Who met with him?

MR. CASEY: Deputy Secretary Negroponte.

QUESTION: Can you say who requested the meeting with -- was it their side that requested it?

MR. CASEY: I believe their side requested it, but in any event we were happy to have the meeting.

QUESTION: But also these eight business -- I don't know --

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: They're all business people or some of them are members of the movement or --

MR. CASEY: No, it's mixed.

QUESTION: -- a combination?

MR. CASEY: There is a mixture of politicians and businessmen.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CASEY: I can't elaborate on the names simply because of legal and privacy considerations of visa records. But, you know, it's a mix of individuals who have been seen in our eyes as potentially promoting violence in Kenya.

QUESTION: Do all these individuals actually have U.S. visas now or it's just a --

MR. CASEY: I believe all of them -- like I said, I can't tell you for sure that all of them have a currently valid U.S. visa. I believe all of them have in the past, whether they currently hold one that's valid or merely have had them in the past. Either way, the purpose of this action is to put them on notice that their actions place them under suspicion of promoting these kinds of violent acts and send a clear signal to them that they will not, in fact, be welcome in the United States if we determine that those actions have crossed that line.

QUESTION: How long will the review take, do you know?

MR. CASEY: It' a case-by-case basis, but I would suspect that it will take place over the next few days.

QUESTION: So just to clarify --

MR. CASEY: Sure.

QUESTION: They still could have their visa status revoked -- you know, they could still be back. It's not as if you're waiting for something else to happen. You're actually reviewing what they've been doing up until today.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, that's correct. That's correct. Basically what we've done is we've identified some individuals who we have reason to believe were involved in inciting violence in the aftermath of the election. What these letters do is put them on notice that because of these suspicions, they are now having their visa status reviewed. And if, in fact, we can validate these claims to our satisfaction, their visas will be revoked if they currently possess U.S. visas. If not and they ever tried to apply for one, they would be prohibited from entering the country.

QUESTION: What about any assets that they have in the country? Are you considering these particular individuals as part of the review?

MR. CASEY: This issue is specifically related to visas for right now. We're certainly considering other ranges of actions to deal with this problem, but at the moment I don't have anything to offer you on that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you tell us - you said several politicians, are they members of parliament, national politicians?

MR. CASEY: I really can't go beyond that general description just because of the confidentiality of visa records.

QUESTION: Tom -

MR. CASEY: Kirit - I'm sorry, go ahead, David.

QUESTION: Is there any upshot to the idea of reviewing some of the U.S. aid to Kenya?

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think we'll continue to look at that issue. But as you've heard us say before, the one thing we want to make clear since the vast majority of our assistance is humanitarian aid, things designed to help those suffering with HIV/AIDS, basic agricultural kinds of support, those kinds of programs, certainly we are not because of the failure of the political leadership in Kenya to reach an agreement going to cut off those kinds of people from things like necessary medical treatments. So we certainly are keeping a close look on the situation and will be continuing to review our aid, but again, I want to make clear that we're not talking about cutting off direct humanitarian assistance.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: There are already speculations by the media in Kenya that Mwai Kibaki is in that list and Raila Odinga. Don't you think it's just fair to just name those people and avoid those speculations, one?

MR. CASEY: Well -

QUESTION: And secondly, would you describe what is going on there as ethnic cleansing?

MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, whether it would be fair or not to name the people on the list, in accordance with U.S. law, I can't. So I won't be able to help you on that one. In terms of the situation and the violence there, clearly, there's been some terrible violence that's occurred. There've been any number of deaths, particularly in the Rift Valley as we all know. Jendayi Frazer has described that in her terms. Either way, it's a series of violent acts, some of which has been driven by ethnic ties or ethnic reasons. We want to see it stopped. That's why we're pleased that there's been the basic political agreement reached through the auspices of the AU and former Secretary General Annan. But the important thing now is to see that implemented and not only see that implemented, but to make sure that there aren't other individuals, not just President Kibaki and Mr. Odinga, who are not still, despite this agreement, trying to push forward and incite violence.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject? Do you have anything to say about this case of an American woman in Saudi Arabia who was arrested by the religious police for having coffee with a male colleague at a Starbucks?

MR. CASEY: Unfortunately, I don't know anything about it, so we'll have to look into it for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. CASEY: Sue. Sorry, Sylvie. You didn't see (inaudible.)

QUESTION: Israel today announced that they are going to reduce their delivery of power to the Gaza Strip from tonight. Do you have any reaction to that since I know you - U.S. intervened several times to convince Israel not to do that?

MR. CASEY: Well, I haven't seen those reports. Certainly, we continue to be concerned about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. And as you know, we respect Israel's right to defend itself against these rocket attacks and against other violent actions that are occurring and are based in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, we don't want to see Israel do anything that would worsen the humanitarian situation for the people of Gaza and I'm sure we'll continue to convey that position to them. But again, I have not seen anything officially from the Israeli Government indicating that they've changed their basic view.

QUESTION: Well, but at the same time, I mean, a couple of weeks ago, we talked about a Supreme Court decision that upheld their right to do that. I mean, it's clear through their public statements over the last week or two that that's what they've been planning to do, so the fact that they made the announcement, I mean, is beside the point. I mean, do you think that this particular act, cutting fuel supplies to Gaza, is - falls into the category of self-defense or falls into the category of aggravating the humanitarian --

MR. CASEY: Elise, I think that without any comment on a specific decision that I haven't seen and am not familiar with, again, our view has been pretty clear and consistent on this. We understand Israel's right to defend itself, but we do not think that actions should be taken that would infringe upon or worsen the humanitarian situation for the civilian population in Gaza.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can I stay with that humanitarian theme, but on the other continent? I understand the situation in Chad is getting worse, it's deteriorating, the humanitarian situation outside the towns - outside in N'Djamena. And even this morning, the Chadians continued to blame Sudan for that situation. Do you have a comment on that?

MR. CASEY: Well, in terms of Sudan's role in the situation in Chad, I'd just refer you back to what National Security Advisor Hadley said a couple of days ago. There are people in Chad who are promoting violence in Sudan and people in Sudan promoting violence in Chad and it ought to stop on both sides. In terms of the situation in N'Djamena and in Chad itself, there's certainly, from our part, still some uncertainty as to exactly what is going on. But the Chadian National Army does appear to be expanding its area of control.

Our embassy does continue to operate out of the N'Djamena airport. I think some of you may have seen, but I'll just repeat it if you haven't, that we did, in fact, rotate out our staff there. So Ambassador Nigro and the other three embassy officials who had been with him at the airport have rotated out, replaced by the DCM, now Chargé and five other colleagues who will be on hand, again, to continue to assist American citizens who wish to depart the country to leave and also conduct our other embassy business from the airport. There were seven more American citizens who were evacuated yesterday, so our total is roughly 90 Americans that have left since the beginning of this event. We do know of a number of others that are still interested in departing the country and we're going to continue to operate out of the embassy to try and assist them.

Yeah, Kirit.

QUESTION: So why have they not gone back into the embassy at this point? I mean, it's - assuming that the rebels are out of the city and the army is willing to expand its control, why they haven't gone back to (inaudible) the embassy and its --

MR. CASEY: Well, those are decisions that the ambassador makes in consultation with the best views of the security situation from his staff, as well as in consultations with Washington. And the best I can tell you right now is they don't think the security situation would permit that to happen.

Yeah, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On FYROM, Mr. Casey. In response to an obvious fabricated front page story regarding FYROM parties yesterday in Athens by the Greek daily Kathimerini, discussed also by the Athens news agency, DOS officer in charge for European Affairs says (inaudible) stated, "There is no State Department plan as suggested in some press reports. We continue to encourage both sides to seek agreement on the name dispute under the auspices of UN-led talks. We support UN mediator Nimitz's efforts. We will support any compromise agreed by the parties." Any additional comment?

MR. CASEY: No, that sounds about right to me.

QUESTION: One follow-up.

MR. CASEY: Okay.

QUESTION: What do you mean - what do you mean with the compromises? You mentioned that too the other day, answer to a question of mine, (inaudible) in the UN or out of the UN?

MR. CASEY: Well, Mr. Lambros, basically, as you know, this is an issue that has a great deal of emotion attached to it both in Macedonia and in Greece. The main point is there is this negotiation process underway. I know Mr. Nimitz has put forward a new proposal of his own to the group. Hopefully, that can be the basis for the two of them to reach an agreement. But in terms of our view, as long as there is an outcome, and as long as there is an agreement that is acceptable to both parties, we will be pleased and happy to support that when and if it occurs.

QUESTION: May I go to another issue?

MR. CASEY: Well, let's go down - I think Sylvie had something first, then we'll come back to you in a little bit.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the decision of the OSCE to boycott the elections in Russia?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, sure. Well, first of all, as you know, the OSCE had wanted to send monitors to the upcoming elections in Russia. Unfortunately, the Russian Government placed a series of restrictions on their ability to do that. And while I understand they made some concessions towards meeting the OSCE's requirements, ultimately, what the OSCE determined is that they still did not have the kind of access and freedom of movement that would be necessary for them to effectively monitor the election. And that is their decision to make and certainly we support their judgment that they are not in a position to be able to do so under the conditions ascribed by the Russian Government.

And it's unfortunate because we believe that the OSCE plays a very important role not only in countries in Europe, but also here in the United States in terms of conducting election monitoring. We welcome outside observers to view our elections here in the United States. We would have hoped that the Russian Government would have done the same and hopefully, we will come to a point in the future where this won't be the case, but I think it's a missed opportunity for Russia to not have the presence of these outside independent monitors to observe their process.

Ma'am.

QUESTION: Thank you. What is the U.S. prospect of current situation about the declaration of complete disablement of North Korean nuclear facilities according to six-party talk?

MR. CASEY: You mean you didn't have enough on this issue from the multiple hours of testimony that Chris Hill gave yesterday? I thought he said it all. Look, I will just repeat for you what he did say in that testimony yesterday which is that we continue to believe that North Korea needs to fully meet its obligations and that does mean a full and complete declaration of all its nuclear activities. That's what they agreed to and that's what we need to see happen. I can't offer you any prediction in terms of the timing on that, but we're going to be continuing to talk to the North Koreans about this, to talk to our other parties in the six-party talks and we believe it's important that this move forward. This is a very key piece of the puzzle in terms of the implementation of the overall September 2005 agreement and we certainly hope to see it sooner, rather than later.

QUESTION: Do you think it will be optimistic or either pessimistic?

MR. CASEY: Well, you know, again, I don't have anything new to offer you in terms of when we might expect to see it coming. It's an issue that we're going to continue to be in discussions with them about and we'll just have to see what happens.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did you get anything on Ambassador Rakhmanin's meetings?

MR. CASEY: I did. Let's see what we can do for you here. Okay. So Russian Ambassador Rakhmanin who is the Deputy head of delegation for the six-party talks and share the six-party working group on Northeast Asia Peace and Security had a courtesy call to Secretary Rice on February 5th then she met yesterday with Deputy Secretary Negroponte. I think as you'd expect, the discussion covered the important role of the six-party process and the importance of Russia's participation in it. We had a good general conversation about the issues before the six-party talks, but I think it's fair to say that it was more of an opportunity simply to share views on the current state of the process, rather than anything that broke new ground. And I know that he has also met as well with Chris Hill and I believe he was going to be meeting with some officials in EUR as well.

QUESTION: So there's no discussions about any possible security architecture?

MR. CASEY: Not that I'm aware of. I don't believe there was any new subjects of discussion there that we haven't already talked about.

David.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on the Iranians closing a women's magazine that was supposedly in business for quite a while?

MR. CASEY: I'm sorry. I haven't. We can look into that for you, but I haven't seen anything on that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CASEY: Elise.

QUESTION: Can you say anything about this Russian institute that the U.S. funded which inevitably money goes also to work on the Bushehr nuclear plant?

MR. CASEY: Sure. Well, we talked a little bit about this this morning. First of all, I think you'd want to talk to the Department of Energy since it specifically is a program that they run and manage. And I know that Secretary Bodman was doing some testimony today on general issues related to their upcoming budget, but I suspect they were going to touch on this as well. Let me make a couple of things clear, though. First of all, the United States Government does not fund activities of any kind on behalf of the Iranian Government? I'm not aware that any of the programs that the Department of Energy is supporting have any connection with the development of Bushehr nuclear plant.

But let me also make a point, as well, as I did this morning about the Bushehr facility itself. The Bushehr facility is the perfect example of why Iran doesn't need to pursue uranium enrichment or its current efforts to master the fuel cycle. Through the Bushehr arrangement, which the United States has supported in the past and will continue to support, the needs in terms of nuclear fuel of a civilian nuclear plant in Iran are being provided by the Russian Government. They're being provided, though, through a closed fuel cycle in which we and the rest of the international community can be assured that none of that nuclear material is going to be diverted to produce a nuclear weapon. And that was also an arrangement that was a model for the Russian proposal that was offered a couple of years ago to Iran as a solution to international community concerns about what they've been doing in the nuclear field.

So again, it's just a reminder that, in fact, there is a real alternative for Iran with real guarantees that could meet any possible civilian need that they have for nuclear power. And it just points out, again, the strangeness of their behavior if their real goal is, as they've stated, simply to have a civilian nuclear power program to meet future energy needs in the country.

QUESTION: So if that's the case, then why would it matter if some U.S. money went to this institute, also ended up in the hands of the Bushehr?

MR. CASEY: Well, certainly, U.S. bilateral relations with Iran generally aren't supportive of trade or other kinds of economic relations. And we've got a host of regulations and laws on the books that prevent us from doing anything that would offer assistance to Iran in a variety of areas, including in its nuclear programs right now. But I think if you talk with the Department of Energy, they will make it clear to you that none of their funding has, in any way, supported the development of the Bushehr facility.

QUESTION: But if Iran were to come into compliance with the demands of the international community and you say that you're happy to allow it to have a fuel cycle, is -- not a fuel cycle, a civil nuclear program, is this something that the U.S. could be involved in funding, like along the lines of what you're doing with North Korea?

MR. CASEY: Well, I hope certainly that Iran would choose the course of negotiations and then we could talk about those kinds of issues. But one of the things that we want to see happen is for Iran to accept that offer and then I think there would be an opportunity to discuss what, if any, role the U.S. Government might be able to play in a civilian nuclear program that met the concerns of the international community.

Obviously, just as we've seen with examples of other countries, what Iran can do, were it to come into compliance with the demands of the Security Council, is sit down with the United States, as the Secretary's offered, and discuss any issues that it would like to have on the table. And resolution of this very significant nuclear issue is something that would potentially lead to a very different kind of relationship with the United States.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Let me now ask you a very important question. Zimbabwe will be holding elections on the 29th of March. First, are you -- (inaudible) saying they will be holding free and fair elections. First, are you going to send observers to ensure that they are free and fair? And secondly, will you now lift the sanctions against the members of President Mugabe's government?

MR. CASEY: Well, in terms of Zimbabwe, we have very serious concerns about the upcoming elections. Certainly, the record of the Mugabe government and its continued repression of political opposition in that country doesn't leave us with a lot of hope that these upcoming elections are going to be free and fair. In terms of observers, I certainly know our embassy will be watching the elections there closely. To the extent that they are allowed and able to get out, I'm sure that they will. I'm not aware at this point what plans there are for private groups or other groups from the United States to observe the election, but certainly, we would want to see international observers there not only just a matter of general principle, but because there have been so many problems and concerns with the political system in Zimbabwe and with the actions of President Mugabe.

In terms of the sanctions, I think it's way too early to be talking about that. Certainly, if the political situation changed in Zimbabwe and we were able to see the kinds of changes in the behavior of the political system in that country that caused those sanctions to be implemented in the first place, there might be something to talk about but certainly, not right now.

Okay, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Russia, from the human rights point of view, Mr. Casey, any update on your position vis-à-vis to the continued imprisonment for hundred of days in Russian prison of Vasily Aleksanyan, former Yukos vice president on trial for embezzlement charges, who according to a report, is very ill - seriously very ill, set in motion by the so-called HIV virus?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, we have - we're certainly aware of this case and we've called on the Russian Government to ensure that Mr. Aleksanyan has access to the civilian medical attention that he needs and we have seen some reports that the Russian authorities are going to grant him access to treatment in a Moscow hospital and if that's, in fact, true, we'd welcome that development. I just simply haven't been able to confirm that as of yet.

In terms of the other principles involved, I think we've spoken about the Yukos case repeatedly and again, it remains our concern that this and any other cases that are handled through the Russian system be done with respect for the rule of law and due process that aren't influenced by political considerations.

QUESTION: And the message - the communication with Russian authorities on this issue?

MR. CASEY: There have been communications with Russian authorities on this. I know we have spoken about it on a number of occasions. Basically, that communication's been handled through our embassy.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:25 p.m.)

DPB # 24

Released on February 7, 2008

ENDS

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