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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 29, 2008

Daily Press Briefing
Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
May 29, 2008

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: May 29, 2008

INDEX:

NORTH KOREA

U.S. Expectations for Declaration
Anticipated Results of Discussions in Beijing
Chris Hill Remarks in Beijing
Expectations of Chris Hill's Latest Discussions in Beijing
Possible Congressional Delegation / Staff Delegation

MISCELLANEOUS

U.S. Reaction to Dublin Conference on Cluster Munitions
PSI 5th Anniversary Senior-Level Meeting / National Security Advisor Hadley Remarks / U.S. Policy on Retaliation for WMD Attack

MACEDONIA

Name Issue / U.S. Policy

FRANCE/SYRIA/LEBANON

French President Sarkozy's Call to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syria's Role in Doha Process

SYRIA

IAEA's Investigation of Possible Additional Nuclear Facilities

KUWAIT

New Cabinet

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS

Prime Minster Olmert's Schedule for U.S. Visit
Possible Travel by Secretary Rice to the Region
Possibility of Agreement by End of the Year

TRANSCRIPT:

12:31 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: Okay. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Pleasure to be here with you. I don't have anything to start you out with, so?

QUESTION: (Inaudible) quotes Assistant Secretary Hill as saying on arrival in Moscow that he expects North Korea to produce its declaration soon. He doesn't usually say things like that, like "soon." And there's many a slip between (inaudible). Do you know whether he said "soon"? And is that the Department's expectation?

MR. CASEY: Well, the Department's expectation is what Chris Hill said prior to departure from Beijing, which is that we would certainly like to see the declaration be produced as soon as possible. But Chris was unwilling at that point, after concluding his meetings with the North Koreans, to try and put a timeline on it. And unless something has happened in the last three or four hours, that's where we are. So no, I don't believe that that's actually an accurate quote of his.

Again, we'd like to see the declaration be produced as soon as possible, but I don't have an expectation. And as far as I know, Chris doesn't have an expectation that we can share in terms of when that might actually occur.

QUESTION: And just so we're clear, is it that you think it's implausible that he said that or you've actually been unable to track that down?

MR. CASEY: I've not had a chance to check - to talk to him specifically. But again, I would point you to the now-released transcript of his remarks immediately prior to departure this morning, which very explicitly say that he does not have a timetable and cannot offer a timetable for when that declaration would occur. And I am simply making the logical leap that in his commercial plane flight between Beijing and Moscow, the North Koreans did not provide him with additional information to change his mind on that.

QUESTION: Can you talk a moment about that earlier exchange? It's a little unclear, but I thought I understood him to say that he thinks there could be two meetings before the declaration, right?

MR. CASEY: Well --

QUESTION: A technical level and then one at (inaudible)?

MR. CASEY: Well, my understanding is there is a couple of things that we're anticipating or that he is anticipating as a result of his discussions in Beijing. One would be a technical-level discussion that would be a bilateral one between North Korean experts and U.S. experts that would take place sometime in - I think he was saying the early part of June - to be able to look at a variety of issues and details that relate to both the declaration and the follow-on steps afterwards.

The second is he had said that he - that based on his conversations with the Chinese, that the Chinese were looking for a way to also hold a heads of delegation meeting somewhere, again, in the next - you know, next two or three weeks.

QUESTION: But prior to the turning over of - the possible turning over of a declaration? Because that's what he seems to say.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, and that's - my understanding was that yes, he was saying that there would be a heads of delegation meeting, and that the heads of delegation meeting was not required to be after the declaration was, and in fact, he was anticipating it happening before then.

QUESTION: Would that heads of delegation - I mean, he doesn't address this, but would the heads of delegation meeting be for the North Koreans to hand over the declaration?

MR. CASEY: You know, again, I don't have a timetable for when they'll do it. I don't get the impression that that's the specific purpose of it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. CASEY: But again, I think - you know, any time the North Koreans would like to hand over a declaration that meets our requirements, we would be delighted to see it go to the Chinese and be shared with everyone else.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, he just made a round of seeing everybody individually. What's the value, purpose of having everybody in one room before the North Koreans hand it over?

MR. CASEY: Well, I mean, first of all, his - I guess Moscow is his last stop in this round of consultations. And, you know, again, I think it's really up to the parties to determine at which point it makes sense to continue bilateral consultations versus at which point it makes sense to get all the parties together. I haven't talked with Chris in the level of detail where I've said, "So, gee, why do the Chinese and you think that a heads of delegation meeting right now would be good this week as opposed to last week?"

But, you know, it's part of an ongoing process. They haven't actually met for some time now. There have been discussions about having a heads of delegation meeting for the last couple of months. And, you know, I think it would be a good opportunity to take stock of where they are, but I wouldn't try and signal to you that we're expecting it to be a harbinger of any particular action.

QUESTION: Does it, in any way, indicate that these round of -- this round of individual consultations hasn't produced a desired result?

MR. CASEY: Well, look, the desired result is a declaration. And we will have the desired result when the declaration is turned in. Until that point, you know, I don't think I'm in a position, and I don't even think Chris would want to be in a position, of trying to say: Are we 82.5 percent there or 83.5 percent there today versus yesterday? The bottom line is we do feel that we're making progress. But ultimately, the real proof of that will be getting a declaration that meets our conditions and those of the other six parties.

QUESTION: Still on North Korea?

MR. CASEY: Still on North Korea.

Okay, go ahead, Anne, and then we'll go back.

QUESTION: Do you know anything about a U.S. congressional delegation, a CODEL trip, staff trip, in North Korea?

MR. CASEY: I haven't. I'm happy to check for you. There are, you know, from time to time, staff delegations that have gone to North Korea. I'm not aware that there's any one scheduled at this point, but I'm happy to look into it for you.

QUESTION: KCNA has reported that the delegation, which it said included staff members from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had given - had brought a gift for Kim Jong Il. I'd be interested to know if that's true and --

MR. CASEY: I - you know, look, in terms of - let me at least verify whether there's actually a staff DEL, for starters. I'm not aware that there's -- there is one. And then we can look at what details are provided. As you know, generally, we would defer to the delegation themselves in terms of giving any details on it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that there was somebody from the State Department on the plane, so --

MR. CASEY: Well, we would normally, and as has been in the past, have someone available to, you know, help provide assistance. And that, you know, is, again, in keeping with past practice. But, you know, the Congress is on recess. This is the season when members and staff members often take advantage to try and do travel related to official business. Again, it's not something that I've been made aware of, but I'm more than happy to look into it for you.

QUESTION: Well, while you're looking into it, the other question that would interest me, because, you know, a lot of - a certain number of people in Congress tend to go to places like Paris and Milan and, you know -- and going to Pyongyang is an interesting - I mean, some staffers have done this for years.

MR. CASEY: Yes.

QUESTION: The question is, like, why now? I mean, this is a fairly sensitive time in your negotiations. Your negotiator is out there in the region.

MR. CASEY: Well, look, again, I think what I will promise you is to look into this. And the answers I can promise you are: yes, there is a delegation; no, there is not; yes, it covered which days and whatever. But in terms of the -- why they chose to go, what they did while they were there, I think I would strongly expect we'll be in keeping with normal practices for CODELs and staff DELs, which is to let them speak for themselves in terms of their - you know, their motivations and what they've gotten out of the trip. But I'm happy to look into it.

QUESTION: I'm just wondering if you guys might have had a view on whether this was an opportune time or not.

MR. CASEY: I'll tell you what, here's my pledge to you all. I will actually ascertain whether such a delegation exists, who's on it, and I will tell you absolutely to the -nth detail everything that I am allowed to tell you about it. But right now, for the moment, I'm standing here, unfortunately, unable to even confirm for you that such a delegation exists. So why don't we - let me look into it for you rather than ask me five more questions that, I promise you, I won't have any better answers for.

QUESTION: Can I --

MR. CASEY: You can ask one more, though. That's less than five.

QUESTION: In general, though - I mean, for instance, like when Speaker Pelosi went to Syria (inaudible) said, you know, obviously not a good idea. Just in general, do you think - I mean, you've increased your engagement with North Korea. Do you think that it would help Congress - I mean, to have more engagement with North Korea just on a general level?

MR. CASEY: In general, I think I need to - in general, these things are handled on a case-by-case basis, and I need to find out whether there's a congressional delegation that actually went before I can tell you what recommendation we might have made to them about whether or not it was a good idea for them to go in the first place or not.

There you go. Sylvie.

QUESTION: Cluster bombs?

MR. CASEY: Yes.

QUESTION: There was an agreement on a new treaty banning cluster bombs. I wanted to know if it put the pressure on U.S. to join this treaty.

MR. CASEY: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: The UK has already joined and Germany has joined.

MR. CASEY: Basically, the United States' position on this issue is as described to you by Acting Assistant Secretary Steve Mull. Nothing that's occurred in the last couple of days has changed that view. Certainly, I expect that people in the Department of Defense and elsewhere will closely take a look at the text of this Dublin agreement once it's available to see how it might affect interoperability or other U.S. interests. But people still need to do that review, I think, before they can give you any kind of detailed analysis of what this might do in terms of affecting U.S. operations.

QUESTION: Well, the treaty, the text that was published, specifies that the people - countries that are part of this treaty don't - still can have relations with the U.S. or other non-signatory countries. So it shouldn't have any impact. It's only a question of does U.S. want to ban --

MR. CASEY: Yeah. Well, no, I think you'll forgive us if we let the officials and lawyers at the Pentagon and elsewhere make a determination as to what impact the agreement has or hasn't on U.S. interests. I can assure you that Ambassador Mull gave you, you know, U.S. opinion on this document and on this particular meeting going into it and that there's - the results of that meeting have not resulted in any change in U.S. policy.

QUESTION: But as a diplomat, does it -- don't you think it affects the image of U.S. not to be a signatory of this treaty?

MR. CASEY: You know, people will draw their own conclusions about this. I can only tell you what U.S. policy is and tell you that we told you going into this meeting what U.S. policy was. And we told you that this meeting was not something we were participating in and not something that was going to affect U.S. policy in terms of our overall views. And you know, I don't have anything more to offer you than that, Sylvie.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, I have a few questions regarding the high-level meeting on PSI yesterday. My first question is: Can you tell us what happened and resulted to the withdrawal from the meeting of Greece and Cyprus?

MR. CASEY: Well, I'm not really sure. I think I'd have to refer you to the parties on that one. My understanding was that we had a meeting of the Proliferation Security Initiative. This is, of course, the occasion of the fifth anniversary on it. Greece had some objections to the seating of the Macedonian delegation. And I would, frankly, refer you to both those parties for an explanation as to why they - they chose to depart the meeting.

QUESTION: And my follow-up question, in the morning, since you have said what happened, the U.S. decided to go with a name tag for the country, name FYROM. And then a few hours after that, you changed, if I'm not mistaken, to the official name recognized this country, the Republic of Macedonia. But a move like thus -- like this, we had the result of two big maritime powers, if not the biggest, Greece and Cyprus, to withdraw from the meeting and don't sign the declaration. We have problems right now to an upcoming initiative by Ambassador Nimetz after the elections in Skopje to resolve the name issue that created problems in the last NATO summit. And some people say that this unexpected move yesterday by changing name tags every other hour resulted to sending mixed messages and put those two countries - all the parties, actually - on a difficult position. Any explanation of why this happened, and who decided to change the name and then change it again?

MR. CASEY: Well, let me try - why don't you hold on a second. First of all, you'll forgive me; I realize how significant and important the name issue is for individuals, but you know, frankly, what piece of paper was in front of which delegate at which time, I don't know and I don't actually think that that's particularly relevant here.

I think what is relevant is two things. First of all, longstanding United States policy as enunciated by Secretary - then Secretary of State Powell is to recognize the Republic of Macedonia by its constitutional name. So I don't think it's any surprise to anyone, including our friends in Greece and Cyprus, that that is the name under which the U.S. Government recognizes Macedonia and that that is the way that they are generally referred to in all U.S. Government-led meetings and activities.

Now, that said, again, we very much respect and understand that there is a significant disagreement between Greece and Macedonia over the name issue, and we have been strong advocates both before, during and after the NATO summit in terms of trying to support Mr. Nimetz, Ambassador Nimetz and his efforts to reach a mutually agreeable conclusion to this issue. And that continues to be where we are.

So certainly, I'm not sure, you know, what the mechanics were at this meeting. But basically, U.S. policy on this issue is consistent. And certainly, we think it's very important and really appreciate the role that Greece and Cyprus as well as other members of the Proliferation Security Initiative have played in trying to help support this really now global effort to help limit and thwart proliferation of nuclear and other dangerous technologies.

So certainly, we understand that the name issue is something that comes up on a regular basis and is something that is a difficult one and a sensitive one for people in Greece as well as for people in the Republic of Macedonia. But I certainly would hope that whatever technical problems or issues that occurred with some of the logistics in this meeting would not undermine the broad overall support that the initiative has in Greece and in Cyprus, as well as not confuse anyone in terms of the U.S. desire to see a mutually agreeable resolution of this conflict get reached.

QUESTION: My final question, that you just spoke about mechanics on the meeting. In your answer, many times you said that the official policy - and I know that - is to recognize this country as the Republic of Macedonia. Who decided to put at the start of the meeting the name FYROM in front of this country - FYROM - and then change it and create all this mess on a very important initiative like PSI?

MR. CASEY: I'm not sure --

QUESTION: With all respect, it's not mechanics.

MR. CASEY: Well, look, what you're asking me is which administrative staff person put a nameplate in front of a delegation. And I'm telling you that I don't know and I'm telling you that, frankly, it doesn't matter in terms of broader U.S. policy, and that I would hope that while I would understand why that would be disturbing and cause an issue and did cause an issue with the Greek delegation and they've spoken to it, that, again, that that not be interpreted - that administrative issue not be interpreted as anything that was either trying to signal a change in U.S. policy or represent a change in U.S. policy or be done with a deliberate attempt to either offend or otherwise undermine the views and positions which we're all well aware of and know are very strongly held by our friends in Greece.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Arshad.

QUESTION: I'd like to take you very deep into the weeds of --

MR. CASEY: Oh, good.

QUESTION: -- nuclear policy.

MR. CASEY: Not the assignments process?

QUESTION: Nope.

MR. CASEY: Oh, okay.

QUESTION: And if you would take this question, I'd be grateful.

MR. CASEY: Sounds like I'm probably going to have to.

QUESTION: Yesterday, National Security Advisor Hadley gave a speech at the PSI conference in which he said - he repeated the longstanding U.S. position that it reserved the right to respond with overwhelming force to anyone - to a state that used WMD against the United States or its allies, partners, friends, et cetera. Longstanding position. He also said that the United States reserved the right to - or rather, that the United States would hold fully accountable people who did not necessarily perpetrate the use of WMD against the U.S. but financed, facilitated or otherwise enabled such an attack.

And the question that I have is, one, does that phrase, "overwhelming force," - is it meant to include the possibility of a nuclear strike in response? And secondly - or do you rule that out? If it does, if it is meant to capture the possibility of a nuclear response, is that not a violation of the so-called negative security assurances that the United States and other nuclear powers have given to non-nuclear powers that are signatories of the NPT that they would not strike them with nuclear weapons?

I think the last time this came up in this fine briefing room was February of 2002 with your esteemed predecessor Richard Boucher, if that helps you decide what your policy is on this.

MR. CASEY: Well, Arshad, I must admit I did read National Security Advisor Hadley's remarks. I did not find the phrasing in there particularly unique. I'm happy to look into this issue for you. I would also suggest, though, that the answer I may provide you may suggest that you speak to Mr. Hadley's press office at the White House in terms of clarification on his remarks.

I do not - I personally do not interpret and don't think that one should interpret anything in his remarks as trying to establish a new U.S. policy or one that is different than what has at least been the approach to these issues throughout this Administration. But I'm happy to look into it for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yes, Sylvie.

QUESTION: The French President Sarkozy called today the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to thank him for helping resolving the Lebanese crisis. Do you think it's something useful or do you think it's good to thank him --

MR. CASEY: Well, I presume President Sarkozy thought it was useful to do; otherwise, he wouldn't have done it. I'll leave it to him to describe both the call and the motivation to it. Certainly, we have diplomatic relations with Syria. Other countries do as well. It's certainly up to each individual state to determine for itself how best to conduct those diplomatic relations, and I'm not going to try and second-guess President Sarkozy's motives in doing it.

I think U.S. policy with respect to Syria, of course, is quite clear. And whatever role they may or may not have played in the Doha process, we and the Government of France and others are still concerned about Syria's activities in Lebanon and about Syria's rather unhelpful role historically. Syria, I don't think, can be said to have fully complied with the various UN Security Council resolutions on Lebanon which require it not only to remove troops, which it's done, but also to cease its interference in internal affairs in the country.

QUESTION: But do you think that - I mean, you say whatever role Syria might or might not have played, do you - does the United States think that they played a helpful role in the Doha process? I mean, obviously, you were in touch with --

MR. CASEY: You know, frankly, if they did, I'm not aware of what it might be.

Yeah.

QUESTION: There's a published report today about Syria that the United States is encouraging the IAEA to press the Syrians about the existence of additional nuclear facilities beyond the suspected one that was hit by the Israelis a year ago. Can you say anything about that?

MR. CASEY: Well, at the time that the announcement was made, or the discussion was held with members of Congress about Syria's nuclear activities, we also talked to the IAEA, asking them to look into this and investigate this issue to the extent that they were able to. And I know the IAEA has been in conversations with the Syrian Government, as yet unsuccessfully, to try and gain access to various locations that they are interested in and have been interested in for some time.

I can't tell you what specific information the IAEA may be working from, either from us or other member-states. But we would certainly encourage a full and rigorous look at any activities in Syria that might be or have been part of a nuclear program there. And certainly, I don't think we've ever said that that should be limited only to access and only to looking at the one site that we've talked about in the context of the nuclear plant.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. offered the IAEA information recommending places that they might look? Is that --

MR. CASEY: Well, again, I think we continue to provide information to the IAEA not only about this, but about Iran and about all other kinds of countries. I'm certainly not in a position to elaborate on any of the specifics of that. I know other member-states, of course, do so as well. And we believe it's important that member-states come forward and provide the IAEA with what information they do have available. But certainly, the activities of Syria raise concern - raise concerns for us and we would hope to see the IAEA be able to have unfettered access to any locations that they might want to review in Syria.

Samir.

QUESTION: Kuwait formed a new cabinet. Do you have any reaction to the composition of it?

MR. CASEY: Samir, I haven't really had a chance to look into that in detail. Certainly, we are pleased by the continued development of Kuwaiti democratic practices and look forward to working with the new cabinet and look forward to working with the Kuwaiti Government to continue our mutual efforts in terms of both our bilateral relations as well as supporting regional initiatives like the developments in Iraq.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, Elise.

QUESTION: Bahrain just announced a new ambassador believed to be the first Jewish ambassador by an Arab country. Have you been notified? Have you been sent the papers of this woman, Ms. Houda?

MR. CASEY: I'm - not that I'm aware of, but let me look into it for you, okay?

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, Arshad.

QUESTION: I know this has been raised repeatedly in recent days, but do the political uncertainties in Israel regarding Mr. Olmert have any effect on: (a) his plans to come to the United States next week; (b) whether or not he may meet with officials, including Secretary Rice, when he's here; and (c) any plans that the Secretary might have - I'm not saying that she does have any - but she goes pretty regularly, to go to the region to work on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process?

MR. CASEY: Yeah, in terms of the Prime Minister's schedule, I'm not aware of any changes in it, but you might want to check with his office or the White House, for that matter, since it's a head of government level visit. And in terms of the Secretary's plans, she does intend to go back to the region in the not-too-distant future, we're still, you know, obviously looking at the right time to do that. But certainly, I'm not aware that anything that's occurred in Israeli politics in the last few days has made any change in our plans necessary.

QUESTION: And does this not make the task that the President has set himself of trying to bring about a peace agreement of some sort by the end of this year significantly more challenging?

MR. CASEY: Well, we'll see. I mean, ultimately, when we get to the end of the year, we'll know whether any of the challenges that were out there were met and overcome or not. Right now, we do, though, have a Israeli Government and a Palestinian Authority Government that are committed to working with one another. We have the Prime Minister and President Abbas who are both committed to achieving that agreement. And certainly, there are all kinds of ups and downs and twists and turns in this process, and we've seen them already since the Annapolis conference. But I don't think anything has changed the fundamental agreement of both parties to move forward with this, nor our desire to see what happened and our continued desire to help and assist in that process in whatever way we can.

Thanks, guys.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:59 p.m.)

DPB # 95
Released on May 29, 2008

ENDS

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