US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 28, 2008
Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
May 28, 2008
US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 28, 2008
Book by Former White House Press Secretary Scott
US Policy on Cluster Munitions
Amnesty International’s Report / Detainee Policies / US Human Rights Policies
CIA Director’s Reported Comments Regarding Usama bin Ladin
Government’s Decision to Extend House Arrest of Aung San
Disaster Relief Assistance / 5 US Relief Flights Arrive in Rangoon Today
Status of Access / Visas for Relief Workers
Pakistan Government’s Discussions/Agreements with Militant Groups
Political Situation in Israel /
Prime Minister Olmert’s Status
US Contact with Israeli Government
Impact on Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
Status of Formation of New Government
Reported Request for Asylum by
Former Iraqi Anti-Corruption Official
Issue of Corruption in Iraqi Government
Reported Increase in Violence in Nepal
Foreign Service Assignments / Filling Vacancies in Iraq and Afghanistan First
US-China Human Rights Dialogue
12:45 p.m. EDT
MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Don’t have anything to start you off with on this fine day, so do any of you have anything? Anne is looking like she’s taking notes, so that’s definitely a no.
QUESTION: I was – yeah, looking down so as not to confuse you.
MR. CASEY: Oh, looking down to –
QUESTION: So I had nothing to add. (Laughter.)
MR. CASEY: I hate when that happens. Well, she does, so let me go back here.
QUESTION: Any comments on Scott McClellan’s book coming out on Monday?
MR. CASEY: Scott McClellan has got a book coming out on Monday. Yes, and?
QUESTION: Just any comment on his harsh accusations against Secretary Rice?
MR. CASEY: You mean the accusations that are in a book that hasn’t been published yet, so therefore, at least I haven’t seen it. No, I think – I understand the White House has made a comment about it. I’d really refer to them for any comment. That’s where Scott worked and, you know, hey, everybody’s got to make a living after they leave government, so I guess he’s doing it, too.
QUESTION: Just to be a bit more specific on that, his specific comments were that no matter – that Secretary Rice was deft at protecting her reputation, he has – you know, he said, even when there were problems relating to matters under her direct purview, including, you know, weapons of mass destruction, rationale for the war in Iraq, the decision to invade Iraq, and post-war planning and implementation of the strategy in Iraq. And he also predicts that there will be a harsh, sort of, historical view or a view of Secretary Rice’s actions both as Secretary of State and of National Security Advisor. I wonder if you had any comment on this.
MR. CASEY: Gee, I’m glad he didn’t, you know, decide to take a view of how, you know, history will judge his fellow spokespeople or himself for that matter. Look, Scott’s trying to sell a book. I’m glad he’s trying to sell a book. I haven’t seen it. I don’t have any comment on it except to refer you to the White House. And they’ve already spoken to it, I think, twice today, so I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Can I just --
MR. CASEY: You can try, sure. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, it’s just that, you know, you’d be surprised how the newspapers in southern part of Africa has picked up the story. And, you know, some commentators said this is the modus operandi of this government to base such serious decision on propaganda, lies and rumors. Is that what we are getting here?
MR. CASEY: Look, again, I think that you have a very clear record in terms of this Administration’s views on Iraq and on other issues that are supposed to be addressed in this book. You know, like I said, I appreciate the fact that people do leave government and they have to find a way to make a living after that. You know, I’m not here to help Scott sell his book. I think the record that the Administration has in terms of our policy – our policies and our views are quite clear. They’ve been made by the President, the Secretary and many others. And I would think that the policymakers’ views on this probably ought to hold sway over those of us that are up here to talk to you guys about them.
QUESTION: Another subject, Tom. As far as Burma is concerned, situation – on one hand, thousands of people are dying and millions are now still not receiving any necessities (inaudible). But on the other hand, the military dictatorship are arresting democracy – or democratic activists or who believes in human rights and democracy now. So you think there is some kind of diplomacy or a failure or lack of some kind of politics there, or what’s going on? What’s happening in --
MR. CASEY: Well – well, Goyal, first of all, I think we all wish that there were a change in policies of the Burmese regime with respect to Aung San Suu Kyi and with respect to others of her party and others who just simply wish to try and promote peaceful democratic change in Burma.
And the United States’ views on this issue are quite clear: We just reiterate our deep disappointment with the Burmese Government over the extension of the house arrest and continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi. We believe that she should be released immediately, along with all other political prisoners. And as you know, this is something that we have continually stressed, not only in our conversations through our Embassy with Burmese officials, but through efforts, including those at the UN Security Council, to call attention to this. But it’s a difficult problem. This is a government that has, on a regular basis, continued to thwart the will of the people of that country through its actions.
That said, we all understand as well that the serious humanitarian situation caused by the cyclone is one that the international community needs to address and address simply as that, as a concern for the individuals who are affected by this disaster, to try and see that we can do what we can to help them. I’d note that we had five more relief flights go into Rangoon today, again with some basic supplies. These were all consigned over to NGOs, and we’re appreciative of the fact that we’re more consistently able to do that kind of consignment rather than through the government directly.
We still wish that we could get some of our disaster relief officials into the country. To date, other than the head of our DART team, our Disaster Assistance Relief Team, who was able to go in for a government-sponsored tour overflight of the area, we have not been able to secure visas for any of our other officials. We know that a limited number of international aid workers have now been allowed into the region. But we again would call on the regime to allow a full access to that region from any and all interested parties. We’d very much like to be able to do more to help, but under the restrictions we are only able to do a certain amount and are going to continue to provide those relief supplies we can. But there is, I think, a lot more that the international community would offer, and we would hope that the regime would allow that kind of opening to go forward.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. One, do you believe that military dictatorship is not allowing the U.S. and other countries who believes and they are supporting the democracy in Burma or the freedom for those who believe in human rights and democracy? And second, even the UN General Secretary Ban-moon’s visit or other UN pressures and all that have not still or yet worked against or military dictatorship have not changed their minds, so what’s the future?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I can’t ascribe motivations to the regime. The fact is that there are people who could provide valuable support to those who have been affected by the cyclone who could go in and could be of help. Unfortunately, the regime has chosen not to allow them to do so, so that restricts our ability to be able to get the relief to the people who need it most as quickly as I think everyone would like. But in terms of their motivations or what direction they’re going in on this, that’s something that I think only they can speak to.
QUESTION: Nazira Karimi, correspondent for Ariana Television from Afghanistan. Sir, my question relates to a new agreement between new government in Pakistan with some faction of the Taliban. Some officials, including the British Prime Minister and Deputy of U.S. Ambassador in Kabul, they expressed their concern about the result or conclusion of this agreement to Afghanistan and they said that’s not will be good for Afghanistan, for future in Afghanistan. And the question is: Why do United States does not use its influence to Pakistan to stop this action, because really people in Afghanistan, including the government, they are really concerned about it?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, I’d leave it to the Government of Pakistan to describe the motivations of their policies or the specific actions that they’ve taken. Certainly, there are a number of reports of discussions that have gone on between the Pakistani Government and a variety of militant groups. Again, you’ve heard from Deputy Secretary Negroponte in congressional testimony last week, as well as from Sean and me over the last couple of weeks on this as well. Basically, the Government of Pakistan says that their intention is to bring into the political process those that are outside of it and to bring a halt to terrorist activities. We’ve seen similar kinds of agreements reached in the past that have not been successful. Certainly, while we are open to any kind of agreement that would, in fact, end terrorist violence and bring those outside the political process into it, I think there’s a healthy degree of skepticism as to exactly how effective these kinds of agreements can be.
But this is something that we will just have to see as the process moves forward, whether, in fact, the government has found a way to be able to achieve those objectives or not. But in the end, we want to make sure that nothing is done that would undermine the security either of Pakistan or of Afghanistan. And certainly, anything that would allow groups that are bent on taking violent action against either of the governments is something that we would oppose.
QUESTION: Authorities of Pakistan said that they increased their attacks to Afghanistan –
MR. CASEY: Again, I’d refer you – I haven’t heard – seen those comments and I’d refer you to Pakistani officials about them. My understanding is that the government has been in a number of conversations but there is no specific agreements that we at least have been briefed on or can point to that would, you know, allow me to give you a more detailed analysis of it.
The bottom line, though, is any agreement needs to be judged by whether it achieves its objectives. And the objectives, again, as stated to us by the Pakistanis and by themselves, is to reduce violence, to bring those into the political system who have been standing outside of it, and ultimately to bring greater peace and security to the region as a whole.
QUESTION: Anything new on the Olmert situation in Israel as far as any U.S. contact with any of the players or --
MR. CASEY: Not that I’m aware of. There’s not been any calls from the Secretary to any of the individuals involved. I honestly didn’t, Anne, get a chance to see whether anyone in the Embassy or Consulate had specific contact with members of the Israeli cabinet today.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate any contact by the Secretary? I mean, you sort of imagine that it might be a good time for her to check in with Livni.
MR. CASEY: Well, I think, you know, usually she is in contact with both the parties on a regular basis. I don’t know whether she might happen to speak with them while she’s on this trip now to work on the Iraq Compact meeting. But again, I think-- I can assure you that one thing the United States won’t do is try and make political decisions for the people of Israel. That’s – this is an internal matter and who is in the Government of Israel, who’s outside the Government of Israel, is an entirely – a concern that will have to be addressed by them. That’s a democratic country, and governments will change and shift and rise and fall in accordance with their democratic process.
QUESTION: But are you not concerned that political instability of this nature is going to affect the peace process? I mean, you’ve put a lot of capital into Olmert and his negotiations with Abbas, and if there is a change of personality or even if because of all the political uncertainty surrounding him, doesn't that somehow affect the pace of negotiations?
MR. CASEY: Well, if it does, it’s not anything that we’ve seen. The negotiations are continuing. They’re ongoing. We continue to support the efforts that are being made by both sides to achieve an agreement by the end of the year, which is the commitment that they made to themselves.
Again, though, there are always going to be – I defy anyone to tell me a moment when there was not some kind of internal political turmoil either in the Palestinian community or in the Israeli political process. And as the Secretary said, if you want to wait for a perfect moment to begin discussions or to continue the discussions or further them along, you’ll be waiting an awfully long time. Because I don’t think anyone’s seen a moment like that yet.
So our goal here is not to achieve an agreement based on the personalities of President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert. Our goal here is to achieve an agreement that serves the interests of the Palestinian people and of the Israeli people. And these two leaders have shown a firm commitment to achieving those objectives. They are legitimate partners for peace, and we certainly expect to continue to work with them. And I’m certainly not going to sit here and try and hypothesize for you about what might or might not happen in Israeli politics or in Palestinian politics between now and the end of the year.
QUESTION: That said, there’s been an assumption that you all have spoken to in the past that these two leaders have a personal bond and it -- that extends sort of beyond the purely political; that they understand one another, they work well together, that’s something you’ve fostered, and that that has a weight of its own, which helps this process. If he goes, what do you do? I mean, where does that leave this whole --
MR. CASEY: I’ll tell you what – for right now, there’s a guy who’s the Prime Minister of Israel and a guy who is the President of the Palestinian Authority, and they are leading a series of negotiations that have made progress and we hope to see continued progress on. What will happen a year from now, two years from now, five years from now, I don’t know. Who will be in charge of either of those political entities at that point, you know, we’ll have to see. But right now, we can only deal with the facts as we have them. And the facts as we have them is we have two leaders that are committed to a peace process, that are leading negotiating teams that are making progress. And that’s what we’re going to continue to do.
QUESTION: But you say two years or five years, I mean, right now is the balance of President Bush’s term on the deadline he set for himself to try to make progress with these two guys. I mean, what – where do you think that’s going in the next few months?
MR. CASEY: Where we think that’s going in the next two months? We firmly believe and are fully committed to helping the Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peace agreement by the end of the year. We have committed to supporting their efforts. They have committed to reaching that agreement. That is where we were yesterday, that’s where we were today, and I expect that’s where we’ll be tomorrow.
QUESTION: Yes. The President of Lebanon asked today the former Prime Minister Siniora to form the new cabinet. Do you have any reaction to this?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, again, you’ve seen our statements on the election of the new Lebanese President. And certainly, we’re appreciative that that long delayed election has finally taken place, glad to see that now the political process is moving forward and that the President has asked Prime Minister Siniora to again try and form a new government under his leadership. We certainly hope that that process concludes soon in accordance with the appropriate constitutional procedures in Lebanon. Certainly, there’s a lot of work to be done in the country on behalf of the Lebanese people, and we very much want to see a new government in place and look forward to working with it.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) BBC News. Even the United Kingdom has now signed onto this treaty to ban the use of cluster munitions and destroy its arsenal. As the largest producer and stockpiler and user of these weapons, doesn’t the U.S. have a moral obligation to follow suit?
MR. CASEY: I would simply refer you back to the rather extensive and lengthy briefing that our Acting Assistant Secretary for Political-Military Affairs gave on the rationale behind our policies and the details of it. I’m not aware that anything that has been said today in the UK or elsewhere changes those policies.
Keep going. Try again. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: What effect do you think this treaty will have on the CCW process?
MR. CASEY: Honestly don’t know. And that’s a question that I think I’d have to refer to the policymakers on. Again, I think, you know, Steve pretty much gave you as much detail as anyone could have on it. He’s the person in this building that’s responsible for oversight and management of these policies. And as far as I know, the analysis that he gave you last week still stands.
QUESTION: Tom, have you had a chance to review the Amnesty International report? It’s very critical of the United States, in fact, in particular on its treatment of detainees at Guantanamo. And in fact, there’s more written about the U.S. in length than any other country in the report. What is your response?
MR. CASEY: Well, I know, I’ve seen the press reports about this and I’m sure people will take a look at the report, as they have with previous documents from Amnesty International as well as from other independent groups out there. Certainly, I understand that they’ve spent a good deal of time, as they have in the past, talking about detainee policy issues. I don’t think that there’s really anything new there. These are policies that are designed to deal with a very difficult problem. They are ones that I think have been spoken about rather lengthily from all kinds of levels in this Administration. I don’t think I really have much new to add to that.
I would simply note, though, that the United States remains at the forefront of promoting human rights not only in this hemisphere, but also in the rest of the world. David Kramer, our Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, just concluded a series of meetings of renewed human rights dialogue with the Government of China.
Now we, of course, have been outspoken in promoting the cause of human rights, promoting basic freedoms for people and throughout the world, and continue to work in places like Burma and Sudan and elsewhere to try and help allow people to achieve them. So certainly, we understand that there are many people who disagree with our policies with respect to detainees, but I don’t think that that individual political disagreement should in any way shortchange the role that the United States traditionally has played and continues to play in promoting human rights.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, it recognizes that the U.S. does, you know, promote human rights around the world. But on the issue of Guantanamo, it says that, you know, the world looks to the U.S. for leadership and in this case, is just not setting a good example for the rest of the world on the human rights issues that it tries to promote around the world.
MR. CASEY: Well, look, again, I don’t think it’s any surprise to us or to anyone else that there are people that disagree with U.S. policy concerning detainees. And again, this is a tough issue. We have people who are in Guantanamo Bay who have actively supported and actively participated in some of the worst terrorist acts against the United States in our history. You have people there who have been released and transferred back to their home countries, or otherwise released who have then wound up attacking U.S. forces on the battlefield. I think you’re all familiar with the case of one of the former detainees who recently met his end as a suicide bomber in Mosul.
So these are people who do pose a threat and there is a real challenge in a different kind of war, in a different kind of environment as to how you manage and deal with those issues. And we’ve been very upfront about the fact that these are controversial issues and these are difficult ones to deal with. This is a group of people and this is a policy that I think has been more scrutinized, more litigated, and more looked at than just about anyone there.
But again, while people are certainly free to criticize it, and I think just about everyone who’s wanted to has, and we’re happy to try and address those criticisms, the fact remains that the United States does stand at the forefront of efforts to promote international human rights. And I don’t think that any of the political disputes that exist over detainee policy should detract from that.
QUESTION: But you --
MR. CASEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you make that a political dispute. It’s a dispute about principle. It’s not the same. It’s not – you are not criticized because of the policy. You are criticized because you don’t respect the principle you want the other countries to respect.
MR. CASEY: Well, again, I would disagree with that characterization. I think that the United States has gone to great lengths to provide humane treatment for those in detention. There are people that disagree over the legalities of that. There are people that disagree over how one should try those who may have committed offenses. There are people that disagree with the system under which we have tried to deal with these very difficult cases in the war on terror. But I would strongly dispute the notion that the United States is not doing everything it can to honor the principles that it supports. And I think you’ve heard that from the President and you’ve heard it from the Secretary and others.
QUESTION: The Bush Administration has consistently or in recent years argued that you’ve tried to improve conditions for detainees, and that you’ve taken various steps in response to – especially from criticism from your close allies, especially those in Europe. Are you disappointed that despite these apparent efforts, you’re still depicted as a kind of a pariah state when it comes to human rights?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, again, I’d dispute that characterization. I think the United States is at the forefront promotion of international human rights and I don’t think anybody, even Amnesty International, is trying to place us in a category different from that. But again, in terms of this issue, I think we’ve been upfront about the fact that we were confronted with a very difficult situation after 9/11. And we developed a system in response to that. We did so in accordance with our international legal obligations and the standards of U.S. law.
But that said, no one has ever said that we are perfect. And no one has ever said that that system was perfect from the start. And there have been many changes and many developments made to try and make sure that we are fully meeting all our international obligations as well as all our national ones as well. We’ve also made extensive efforts to be able to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay to home countries, and we have done so in several hundred cases already.
We also, though, have been very upfront about the fact that, in many cases, we have asked literally over a hundred countries to take certain detainees, those who we determined were all right to be able to release and did not pose the kind of immediate threat to the United States that required them to remain in detention at Guantanamo Bay, and that, in some cases, over a hundred countries have said no to that. Many countries that we would want to transfer people back to, I think if you asked an organization like Amnesty International whether they’d want us to transfer them back to those countries, would have some serious concerns about that.
So again, this is not something where it’s just a matter of snapping your fingers and saying, “Let’s just make the problem go away.” There’s a serious problem here. It’s one that not only the United States has to confront, but many countries have to confront in terms of how you deal with and manage those who are dangerous individuals, who have committed acts of terror, and who would again commit acts of terror either against the United States, or against our friends and allies, or against other countries around the world.
And I don’t think anyone has said there is a perfect solution there, but if you believe that the best thing would be to close Guantanamo Bay, then the best thing you could do would be to help work with the United States to find solutions that address these very real and serious problems.
QUESTION: Tom, are you familiar with someone named Judge Hamza al-Radhi?
MR. CASEY: There are – it’s not an uncommon name in Iraq and there was a Judge Radhi who was involved – was the leader of some of the anti --
MR. CASEY: – anti-corruption efforts there. Is that the one you’re referring to?
QUESTION: Yes. That’s the one I’m referring to.
MR. CASEY: Okay. Okay. I got – I got the first question. Let’s raise the Jeopardy level and see if I can get the next. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Okay. He recently requested asylum in the United States. And he said that the State Department, on numerous – numerous occasions, ignored that request. And even three former State Department officials testified saying that – if I could just find what they said exactly – the State Department retroactively classified the report to prevent it from being made a subject of public knowledge and concern. And those same officials said that the State Department is responsible for taking Judge Radhi out of the CPI because he was well aware about the State Department’s performance or nonperformance --
MR. CASEY: Can I just stop you there? Because what you’re referring to are allegations that have been raised several months ago. They’ve been addressed --
QUESTION: They’re doing an investigation into the --
MR. CASEY: They’ve been addressed in public testimony.
QUESTION: DOD just released a report about it.
MR. CASEY: They’ve been addressed in public testimony repeatedly. In terms of asylum issues, obviously, as is standard U.S. policy, I’m not in a position to be able to confirm or deny any requests for asylum or any individual cases on it.
Let me just make one thing clear. The United States, starting first and foremost with Ambassador Crocker and our Embassy in Iraq, acknowledge the very serious problem that corruption in Iraq represents. We have been very open and transparent about the fact that this is a serious issue. We – in fact, Ambassador Crocker recently named a senior official to be able to help coordinate anti-corruption efforts in the country, because we do believe that this is a concern, much as it is in many other developing countries around the world.
So I categorically dispute the idea that the United States Government or this Department has ever tried to deny that there was an issue or problem, or otherwise prevent people from discussing it, or prevent people from trying to take action on it; in fact, quite the contrary.
QUESTION: There have been a couple of reports that say that they have been trying to cover this up because Judge Hamza al-Radhi was one of the leading investigators there that was trying to, you know, fix the corruption problem there that not only dealt with the Iraqi Government, but also officials in the United States Government, most of it from contractors employed under the State Department. And that’s why they didn’t want this to come out, but it’s been coming out --
MR. CASEY: Well --
QUESTION: -- and he is seeking asylum in the country that he hoped would help him. You know, and he was helping us in fixing these corruption problems, and now, the State Department will not --
MR. CASEY: First of all, I have no idea where that’s coming from because the State Department --
QUESTION: It’s coming from the Senate, actually. There are lots of reports here.
MR. CASEY: Yeah, I know. It’s a congressional report that cites a number of former officials, all of whom’s testimony has been responded to both in writing and in other testimony by U.S. officials, and former officials who, quite frankly, you know, were in Iraq for a few months and not exactly engaged in a very serious way on some of these questions.
But again, let me just make it clear that we are very concerned about the issue of corruption in Iraq. The Secretary has spoken to this. And we are very active in combating it. We certainly would not support any kind of efforts to either permit corruption to go unchecked either on the Iraqi side or, more particularly, on the U.S. side. And certainly, anyone that would be accusing officials in this Department of ignoring corruption by those contracted with us would basically be saying that not only had those officials violated the general practices, but also that they had engaged in criminal behavior. And I don’t think anyone’s doing that.
QUESTION: Well, I’d also – last comment – refer you to the Inspector General’s report on that that states that billions of dollars are missing in both Iraq oil funds and taxpayer money that the Department of Defense and Justice and State Department can’t account for. So if you wanted to look through that information, it’s – and the Inspector General is DOD.
MR. CASEY: Yeah, I’m fully aware of that and I’m not saying that there haven’t been problems in terms of contracting in Iraq. Again, I think that’s all well known. But that’s why we have inspector generals and that’s why we have the Department of Justice, and it’s why we spend a lot of time and energy and effort at oversight of our contractors and of our officials to make sure that the taxpayers’ money gets spent wisely. And in instances where that hasn’t happened, then we fully expect those cases to be investigated and anyone found to be violating the law to be prosecuted because that’s what’s supposed to happen.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Goyal.
QUESTION: Do you have any comments or any worries about ongoing violence and also a few bombings in Nepal, if anybody is in touch with the State Department? What’s now happening?
MR. CASEY: Goyal, I’ll have to check for you. I wasn’t aware of any particular bombings or other kinds of violent actions today. In terms of Nepal in general, I think you’re familiar with our views on this. There’s been a political transition. There have been elections. The new government is in place and moving forward. We have had some conversations with those officials in part to verify that some of the efforts that we can make in terms of being able to provide humanitarian assistance and other programs are going to be able to move forward. Certainly, it’s a situation we continue to watch and we continue to urge forward political developments in that country. But I’m not aware that there has been anything particularly new in terms of an upsurge or a change in violent activity. Happy to look into it for you, though.
MR. CASEY: Nina.
QUESTION: Tom, this recruitment drive for Iraq and Afghanistan 2009, can you characterize what this call is? Is it for volunteers? Could these be called directed assignments? Some reports have called them forced assignments. Can you elaborate, please?
MR. CASEY: Ah, yes. All right, well, let me – as I said this morning, let me delve to the roots of the weeds and see if I can bore you to death with this, and try not – but I’ll try not to get – you guys sit back, relax, put your feet up, it’s going to be a while. (Laughter.)
Let me try and do – I will try and do it in a more succinct fashion than I did this morning. Look, every year we go through an annual assignment process that is to fill all the Foreign Service jobs that are available worldwide during the course of that year. And so the process that we’ve just begun this week is to fill jobs that are going to be open starting in the summer of 2009.
As with the last few years, we’ve placed a priority on filling our jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan first. That’s given the critical priority that they represent for United States foreign policy and our commitment to make sure that we have the very best people available to fill those positions. So those jobs are going to be filled first and foremost.
Now, every year since our Embassy has been established in 2005, we have had volunteers step forward to fill all those positions, and we’re very proud of the record of the United States Foreign Service and our Civil Service colleagues in being willing to volunteer for what at times has been very dangerous duty and certainly in difficult circumstances trying to help the Iraqi people and the Afghanistan people move forward.
But at the same time, we do believe at this point we can help encourage that process by being able to really get out there and try and recruit individuals to serve. And Ryan Crocker has been very involved. Ambassador Ryan Crocker has been very involved in helping to encourage senior-level officials to come forward, and our Human Resources division is working actively to identify people who would be qualified candidates and is trying to let them know early on in this process that we’d like them to very much consider volunteering for assignment in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
So the process has just started. We, again, fully expect that we will be able to fill these positions with volunteers, and we’re trying to be a little more proactive and a little more coordinated in our approach to it than we have in the past.
QUESTION: A follow-up. But a few months ago, a lot of public – a lot of Foreign Service Officers were publicly very, very angry at this callout. They felt they were being forced into a very dangerous situation. Have you had any of this kind of reaction?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, this is just the start of a process. But no. And you know, I just – as an aside, I really strongly object to and have a very serious problem with how some of the media reporting on this process last year was handled. You know, every organization has individuals that disagree with its policies or disagree with decisions that are made. But I think it does a tremendous disservice to the hundreds, in fact, actually thousands, of my colleagues in the Foreign Service and Civil Service to say that the loudest and squeakiest wheels in objecting to the way the assignments process was handled last year represents the Foreign Service.
We have had over 20 percent of our Foreign Service Officers now serve either in Afghanistan or Iraq. That is as high a percentage as you’re going to find in any agency out there. These people have served well and with distinction, again, also under dangerous circumstances. And again, we fully expect that this year, just like last year when people got excited about this issue, that we’re going to be able to have enough qualified volunteers step forward to be able to fill these jobs. And that’s the tradition of the Foreign Service and that’s what we have done over the years and, again, what we fully expect to have happen this year as well.
So I’d hate to think that however vociferously expressed, the objections of a limited number of individuals was treated as somehow to be the opinion of the length and breadth of the Foreign Service.
QUESTION: But what happens to people career-wise in this first wave, the people who have been identified now and approached to go serve in these places. What happens if they refuse those assignments? Can they refuse?
MR. CASEY: Well, first of all, the way our assignment process works is, again, by volunteering. You can’t be forced to bid on a position. You know, ultimately, if we ever got to a point where we couldn't fill positions with volunteers, then we would have to look at alternatives to do that.
The Foreign Service Act does allow for people to be assigned to places even if they have not requested an assignment there, or have not, as we say in our system, bid on it. But we certainly haven’t gotten to that point in any of the last five years in terms of filling embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan. And we don’t expect we’ll have to get to that point this year either.
QUESTION: And just one last thing.
MR. CASEY: Sure.
QUESTION: The last time this kind of cable went out, people had ten days to respond either way. Is that the same process this time?
MR. CASEY: No, I think we’re – you’re doing apples and oranges. I mean, this really is the start of our overall assignment season and our overall assignment process worldwide. Right now, what we’re looking at is for people to step forward. Within two weeks, anyone that’s volunteered can be formally assigned into a position. But the process of doing those assignments is going to take – is going to take several months. And again, we started the process a little earlier this year than last in order to give ourselves more time to be able to have an orderly process and be able to have one where we can complete this first phase of our overall assignment cycle. And then in a timely fashion, move on and fill the rest of the positions that are out there around the world.
QUESTION: Yeah, one more question. I read a report that the CIA Director in United States said that the United States wants to push (inaudible) killing Usama bin Ladin. How much -- it will be possible and also he was concerned about – for somebody that – who will work for a future Usama bin Ladin’s position. What do you think? Do you have any special comment about it?
MR. CASEY: I hadn’t seen those remarks. Look, I think it’s pretty clear that both the United States and many other countries around the world would sleep better knowing that Usama bin Ladin was in a jail cell somewhere. But, you know, we are going to continue to do what’s appropriate to be able to respond not only to Usama bin Ladin but also to terrorism around the world. But, I don’t think I really have anything specific to say to his comments.
QUESTION: Tom, I’m sorry --
MR. CASEY: Yeah, that’s okay.
QUESTION: You mentioned briefly the U.S.-China Human Rights Dialogue.
MR. CASEY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout of those meetings yet?
MR. CASEY: A limited one. I got a chance to get a bit of a readout on it. First of all, we’re pleased that after a rather extended delay, we were able to have a re-launching of this very important human rights dialogue with China. The meetings, as described to me, were substantive and were positive in nature. We certainly raised a number of our concerns both about individual cases as well as about general issues. There was a – I think a generally positive atmosphere for the talks. And again, it was agreed that we would hold a follow-up session, I believe some time in a few months. I think it will probably be after the Olympics are done.
QUESTION: Can you say if those cases that were brought up included the recent – the crackdown in Tibet from a few months ago (inaudible) case of Hu Jia?
MR. CASEY: Well, I wouldn’t want to get into details on some of the specifics. Certainly, we did discuss the situation in Tibet during the course of the dialogue. It was – we used that as opportunity to encourage a movement forward with the discussions between Chinese Government officials and representatives of the Dalai Lama. I believe they have another meeting that is scheduled in the next couple of weeks. And certainly we would want to see that dialogue produce some additional conversations, and ultimately be a vehicle for resolving the larger issues between China and its citizens in Tibet.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. CASEY: Thanks, guys.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:24 p.m.)