US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 22, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
May 22, 2008
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 22, 2008
Observers Indicate Parliamentary Elections Proceeded in
U.S. Looks Forward to Seeing Results and to Working with New Government
Secretary General Concerned with Trying to Assist Cyclone
Lack of Opportunity for Independent Assessment by Experts Concerning
Another Five C-130 Fights Delivered Material Support Today
William Berger, Head of DART Team, Issued Visa, Allowed into Burma on 21st
Tour for Representatives of Foreign Missions, Sponsored by Burmese Government
U.S. Desire to Consign as Many Shipments of Aid as Possible Directly to NGOs
U.S. Wishes Regime Were More Cooperative in Facilitating Aid to Cyclone Victims
In the Last Few Days, A Greater Flow of Relief Being Allowed In
Not Aware of Additional UN Consultations Scheduled at this Time
Charge Shari Villarosa Raises DART Team Issue Often with Burmese Officials
Reports of IAEA Concern About Dirty Bomb Threat During Olympics
Concern for Well-Being of People Who Face High Food Prices
Administration Asked for Increase in Food-Assistance Programs
Most Important Thing is Dealing with Humanitarian, Not Political Policies
Relationship Between High Energy Costs and Commodity Prices
Important That U.S. and International Community Work to Ensure Food Security
Individual Countries Respond to Local Circumstances in Their Own Policies
Status of Civil Nuclear Deal / U.S. Would Like to See
Internal Political Considerations in India Still Not Resolved
Issue of Whether Agreement Responds to U.S. and
Pakistani Security Concerns
Track Record of Similar Agreements Not Positive
Would be Supportive if Agreement Leads to End to Terrorist Violence
1:00 p.m. EDT
MR. CASEY: Okay, gang's all here. (Laughter.) So, good afternoon, everyone. Happy Thursday. Don't have anything to start you out with, so what's on your minds? Go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) statement about the parliamentary elections in Georgia?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, of course, the results from the elections are not yet final. At least I certainly haven't seen anything. We've seen some comments by the observers, including those from the OSCE, that indicate that the elections, while having some procedural issues with them, did proceed in a positive manner. We do think these elections are an improvement over the January presidential vote. And we'll certainly look forward to seeing the results and look forward to working with the new government once formed.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Yeah. Go ahead, Kirit.
QUESTION: A question for you on Burma and the UN Secretary General's trip out there. It appeared from the press reports that he was taken on somewhat of a sanitized tour through the disaster zone, shown areas where there were troops more than victims themselves. And this was all done under the watchful eye of the propaganda cameras. Do you feel that his trip out there is in any way a propaganda tool for the Burmese regime?
MR. CASEY: Well, look, and I think, first of all, that the Secretary General, along with the rest of the international community, is concerned with trying to be able to offer assistance to the people that have been affected by the cyclone. I really haven't seen the coverage of or the reporting on the Secretary General's trip. I know we haven't heard from him directly on this. Certainly, you know, we only know at this point what we're allowed access to. And it does continue to concern us that there have not been possibilities for experts, like our DART team and like others from the UN, to be able to really go in and do a honest, independent assessment of what the needs are to be able to provide the kinds of support that's necessary.
Certainly, though, I don't think there's any question in our minds or in the minds of the rest of the international community that we need to do what we can to be able to support the people in need there. And I also don't think that, in terms of the politics of Burma, there's any particular question about where we stand on the regime.
I should note, just in terms of what we've been able to do additionally by way of support in Burma, that there were another five C-130 flights that delivered material support to Rangoon today, and that includes things like water, plastic sheeting, mosquito netting, as we've done in some of the other flights. Three of those were consigned directly to NGOs. So again, that's another way that we're trying to make sure that the relief that we do provide is placed in the hands of those who we can feel comfortable are able to get these relief supplies in.
We also have been given permission for William Berger, who's the head of the DART team, to go to Burma. He was issued a visa and arrived in Rangoon on the 21st -- today. And he'll be participating in a May 22 and 23 briefing and tour of the delta area that's going to be conducted by the regime for representatives of foreign governments.
Now, that's positive in the sense that he's been allowed in. I do want to point out, though, that he's not being given permission, and the rest of the team hasn't been given visas, and he has not been given permission to conduct his own assessment or the kinds of things he would normally do as team leader. He is just the person that will be representing the U.S. Government on this tour for foreign governments that the regime is sponsoring.
We thought it was important, though, to have him be the representative rather than someone else from the mission, simply because it will at least give us -- and someone with real expertise, at least some kind of overview of some of the area and what's going on.
QUESTION: Is he going to be staying in country after that? And you said that he arrived on the 21st, but you said today, and today's the 22nd. Did he arrive yesterday?
MR. CASEY: I'm sorry. He arrived yesterday and will be staying for the briefings today and tomorrow. I'm not sure what his ability to stay beyond that will be. Again, he's - no, we not have not been given permission for him or the other DART team members to do the kind of work that they might normally do under these circumstances.
QUESTION: So, I mean, are you still at the phase where you're trying to convince the government to let people in? Or is -- has it reached a point where there's a humanitarian disaster looming and you have to consider - the international community has to consider ulterior means, like, the United Nations, the responsibility to protect, or is it still trying to convince --
MR. CASEY: Well, look, I mean, the focus has been, and continues to be, on doing what we can in the best way possible to help those people who have been affected by the cyclone get the relief they need. And that's why we and others have been providing the kinds of assistance that we have to date.
Because we've not been allowed in to make our own assessment, because we have not been given permission to help in the transportation and management of this, and because that limits our ability to really understand what's going on, we have tried to emphasize providing our support directly to NGOs that are operating in the country, including things like making sure that we consign as many of these shipments as we can directly to the NGO community.
And again, whatever the limitations are in the Burmese regime's ability to get aid to these people, we still believe that this is a humanitarian disaster and one that requires us and others to provide support as allowed, even if it isn't perhaps flowing as effectively as we and others might like.
QUESTION: Do you have any more details on this tour that Berger is going to take and who else will be along on it?
MR. CASEY: This is sponsored by the Burmese Government. This is something the Burmese Government had said they were organizing for representatives of foreign missions, governments and others. You'd have to ask them who else is involved in terms of U.S. Government officials. He's it, as far as I know.
QUESTION: To follow, please. Why - (inaudible) humanitarian need. What's happening to the UN resolutions first to press the military dictatorship in Burma? But China said that they will block any resolution against the military dictatorship even for the human needs or foods flights?
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I just want to point out our goal here is to get support to the people that require it. We're endeavoring to do that to the best of our ability. Again, we wish the regime were more cooperative in this effort, but we are seeing relief get to people that need it, again, even if not as quickly as we would like. We think there's a lot more that we still could do and that others could offer. But we're going to continue to work the diplomacy on this and continue to work with others in the region, the ASEAN countries in particular, on their initiative to be able to continue to move this forward.
I'm not aware of any additional consultations scheduled at this point through the UN, but - and again, I think at this point, what we're - we are seeing is at least some aid getting through. We want to be able to continue to do that and we want to be able to continue to press the regime to allow us to be able to do more.
QUESTION: I'm sorry to say, but how long can the international community watch millions more die there? And you're talking about diplomacy will work, but how long can you wait for diplomacy to work?
MR. CASEY: Well, let's again focus on what has happened in the last few days and weeks since this event has occurred. We went from a position where no relief was being allowed in at all, to a position where relief was being allowed in in very limited quantities and had to be given directly to the government, to now a much greater flow of relief efforts, many of - much of which is being channeled directly through NGOs. We're seeing and hearing reports from our NGO community partners that aid is getting through; again, albeit not as fast or as quickly as we think it should or could, if we were allowed to do more.
But right now, I think the practical issue here is: How do you get support to those people? We have moved into a position where we and others in the international community are able to make some assistance in that effort. And I think that is what I'm referring to by continuing the diplomacy. We've gotten further along the road than we were at the beginning. We've certainly got opportunities to do more, and we're certainly going to continue to use countries like India and China and the ASEAN group to continue to urge them to push and put pressure where they can on the regime to allow us to be able to continue these efforts.
But the fundamental goal here isn't proving a political point. The fundamental goal is seeing that people who are in desperate need are helped. And again, while that is not happening as quickly as we'd like, it is happening and we are able to see positive impact from some of our relief getting through.
QUESTION: What is the head of the team's name, again?
MR. CASEY: William Berger, B-e-r-g-e-r.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: And he will be there to negotiate the terms of the team's entry?
MR. CASEY: No. He is there to be the U.S. representative on a Government of Burma-organized tour of the delta area for foreign government representatives. Certainly, in any opportunities he has to speak with Burmese officials, he will continue to push, as other representatives have, to have the team be allowed in. But I want to emphasize that the only reason he has been allowed in by the Burmese is to participate into this government-sponsored tour. So we're glad that he's able to at least go and make some small observations on the situation, but that certainly isn't the equivalent of him either being allowed in on his own or collectively with the DART team to do what they would normally do in a --
QUESTION: But his main interest, obviously, is to negotiate the entry of the team. I mean, it would involve some kind of negotiations on his part to convince them that they're going to do certain things and --
MR. CASEY: Well, look. We have a, I think, very good Embassy team out there. And Shari -- Shari Villarosa and her group have been -- in every conversation that they have had with every Burmese official raised this issue. So I want to make it clear that while certainly he will, I'm sure, discuss this with Burmese officials as well, I'm not sure how much opportunity, in a very limited government-orchestrated trip, he is going to have to really engage on that.
And the fact is that we've been engaging through our Embassy as well as through the efforts of ASEAN and others to try and get the Burmese to allow this to happen. So it's an important opportunity to at least have him get there and see a little bit of the circumstances, but it really isn't a substitute for broader action.
QUESTION: How big would the DART team be if it got in? I never knew exactly how many visas you were looking for. And --
MR. CASEY: It's a hand - it's a handful. I can't tell you whether - it's usually around half dozen - half dozen people as a starting point.
QUESTION: And the other question I had was: Will Shari Villarosa be going to this pledging conference on Sunday with the expectation that she's going to make some kind of pledge?
MR. CASEY: Well, she will be going to represent the U.S. at the conference, but I think, you know, before we can really offer any kind of additional assistance, we and other donors need some kind of independent assessment of the situation. And that's - again, I come back to where we started. This is why having a DART team, having the UN assessment teams and others in is so important because, you know, you can provide some basic supplies and support as we've been doing that meet, sort of, the fundamental basic humanitarian need. But really understanding what the full range of those needs are and being able to respond to them requires that you have some kind of actual understanding and assessment of what the situation is.
A lot of what - if you've looked at the history of some of these events, why are these teams critical? Well, you know, you need to have water for people or you need to have supply - medical supplies. How much of what quantity to treat what in which areas; how do you determine that? You determine that by having experts do an assessment and say, you know, what we really need is this kind of equipment in this area, and this kind of service in that, and these kinds of experts here and this kind of provision there. And then, when you have that kind of assessment, various donors in the international community can come forward and fill those - and fill those needs.
But it's a little bit like, you know, trying to, you know, find a set of objects in the dark. If you have the lights on and can see it and know what the room looks like, it's pretty easy to find. If you're groping around without a clear idea of what the real situation is, it's going to be much harder to make sure that you get what you intend.
QUESTION: So are you saying that although you're continuing to send in these plane loads of aid, you wouldn't expect her to make any pledges of aid unless, say, the DART team or a similar kind of expert team is let in?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think, you know, we're going to continue to provide these kinds of basic humanitarian supplies to the extent that we think we're able to - that the need exists and that we're able to be able to provide for it. But in terms of anything greater or broader than that, yeah, we do need to know what the requirements are before we can respond to them.
QUESTION: I don't know if you'd be able to comment on this, but the IAEA seemed very concerned that the Olympics in China might be the object of a dirty bomb attack. They're doing some training exercises in preparation. Have you spoken to the Chinese authorities about this? Do you happen to have any knowledge of this threat?
MR. CASEY: I'm not aware of any specific threats related to the Olympics. We've certainly put out some travel advisories associated with that. Look, the Olympics is a very high-level international event. It gets worldwide attention. And certainly, that means, like any other event of its kind, there certainly might be people out there that would want to disrupt it in some way, shape or form. I think we, though, are committed to working with the Chinese and with others to support, however we can, the security of the Olympics and make sure - and make sure that nothing untoward does happen and the kinds of preparatory exercises or other precautions that a whole series of international organizations are taking is just another way of making sure that we are prepared for any possible contingencies and that we all do what we can to make sure that they're safe and secure.
QUESTION: Several countries have experienced food riots as a result of high prices. Can you just, in general, speak about whether or not the U.S. is concerned about the political implications for foreign governments of high food prices?
MR. CASEY: Well, I think our greatest concern is for the well-being of people who may be being squeezed out of their ability to feed themselves and their family because of high prices. And we are concerned about that. We've asked for and the Administration has asked for a substantial increase in our food assistance programs to be able to support those in need. You've seen us put additional money specifically into places like Haiti and some other countries where there have been serious problems caused by food shortages. And we're going to continue to do what we can to help alleviate those kinds of problems.
In terms of what the political implications of this are, look, I think there's any number of analysts out there that will be happy to talk to you about that issue. But from our perspective, the most important thing is dealing with the humanitarian needs of this. Obviously, every country in the world will have to determine its own agricultural policies and determine how any of these issues, along with things like rising energy prices, affect the kind of policies they adopt.
QUESTION: There's a theory that - sort of internationally that as the U.S. converts from foreign sources of energy and to ethanol that in this fight against terrorism that, in effect, that is having the effect of high prices of energy, of food internationally. What would you comment about that?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I think you can talk to people at the Department of Energy and Agriculture, and the White House has commented on this, too. And that's something that, frankly, they're probably in a better position to address than I am. But I think if you look at the issues that are out there, we have some good news, and the good news comes with bad news. The good news is that in many parts of the world, their economies are developing and growing strongly and there's a growing demand worldwide. There's a growing population and there's a - and there are growing resources of people to be able to afford a variety of different commodities that they might not have in the past. And that places all kinds of demands on the world food market.
I'd also point out that rising energy costs do have a direct association with that since transportation of foods and foodstuffs is a large component of the ultimate price that consumers have to pay when something actually gets to their local market or to get it to their table. And the inputs that farmers have to use, whether that's fertilizer or gas products to run tractors or other equipment, inputs in terms of feeds and grains for livestock, are all the kinds of things that factor into the global price. Now, certainly, there is an impact that happens if people switch from one crop to another, and there's been a lot of reporting about some of the increased efforts to plant corn for use in production of ethanol here domestically. But I think if you look at the global agricultural market, the net impact of those relatively limited amounts of changes is pretty minor in terms of the overall picture.
QUESTION: Thanks. Just one last question.
MR. CASEY: You can try one more. I think you just about tapped me out on this one, but go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: In terms of the countries that are experiencing riots, do you think part of the reason to blame that is that perhaps on domestic policies of those countries or perhaps is it something in the international system which is led by the U.S.?
MR. CASEY: Well, look, there are differences in each situation and each country. There are some countries in which - are terribly poor and are suffering from a whole series of humanitarian problems that lead to food insecurity. Darfur would be a classic example of that. But there are other countries, certainly, where I'm sure individual national agricultural policies have played a role in where the price - where pricing structures are in that country and, you know, what kinds of access people may have to food or not. But again, individual countries have to be able to manage and respond to local circumstance in their own policies, and I don't want to try and, you know, provide advice to any individual country.
It is certainly important that the United States and that the international community, though, not just don't take note of the fact that there is a growing problem in terms of rising food costs, but that we all work together to see what we can do to deal not only with the short-term consequences of it, meaning the kinds of increased need for food aid that we've seen and that we're trying to respond to, but that we also look towards the long term of how to ensure that there is food security more broadly not only for our country but for the international system.
QUESTION: Tom, new subject, please. Do you have any comments - U.S. Ambassador Mulford in India, he said that before President Bush leaves office, this U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement will be finalized. And what do you think Secretary Rice is getting, what kind of messages? Because according to the experts here and traveling from India, and they don't - they told me they don't see anywhere it's going unless the lefts in India or the Communist Party in India is willing to go with the current government in India.
MR. CASEY: Well, look, I haven't seen any recent comments by Ambassador Mulford on this, but we all would like to see this arrangement be finalized. We do continue to believe it's in the best interests of the United States and India and the best interests of global nonproliferation regimes. But as you pointed out, there are internal political considerations in India that still have not been resolved, and that really is something for the Indian Government to do. But we continue to be hopeful, and we'd like to see it move forward.
QUESTION: If I may, one more quick, please, on --
MR. CASEY: We'll do one more quick, please, but Charlie may get you in the end.
QUESTION: I'm sorry. Charlie, thank you.
Any comments on these press reports as far as the deal by the new government in Pakistan with the Talibans or with the terrorists and all that? And this has been criticized in the U.S. Senate yesterday.
MR. CASEY: Well, we talked a little bit about this, or Sean talked a little bit about this, yesterday. Look, there is a performance standard for anything like this, and the standard isn't whether they've talked with tribal militants or whether they've talked with individual groups or not. The bottom line is does any agreement that is reached actually respond to our concerns and Pakistanis' concerns for providing additional security for ending terrorist violence, for ending cross-border violence between the FATA and Afghanistan, and for being able to address the kinds of concerns about international and domestic terrorism that we all have. So we have certainly - and you heard from Deputy Secretary Negroponte on this a couple days ago - we certainly have seen similar kinds of agreements or agreements of this type in the past. They have not worked out. That means that there's a track record there that is not particularly positive.
At the same time, though, you know, we're willing to see what results of any of these kinds of agreements are and certainly would be supportive if, in fact, it leads to an end to terrorist violence, the bringing in of individuals outside the political process into the political process, and support for the continued development of Pakistan and Pakistan's institutions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:24 p.m.)
DPB # 92
Released on May 22, 2008