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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: July 24, 2008

Daily Press Briefing
Gonzalo R. Gallegos, Acting Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
July 24, 2008

US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: July 24, 2008

INDEX:

RUSSIA

Izvestiya report on Russian bombers

MACEDONIA

Status of U.S. Ambassador-designate to Macedonia

PAKISTAN

Mid-life Update Package / Funds to Upgrade F-16s
U.S Shifted Funds to Help Pakistanis Fight Common Foe

TAIWAN

Transit Considered on Case-by-Case Basis

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. Working with Afghan Government to Root Out Corruption
Five Pillar Strategy to Combat Drugs

SUDAN

Deeply Concerned About Deteriorating Situation in Darfur
U.S. Supports Rapid Strengthening of UNAMID

ISRAEL / PALESTINIANS

General Jones Has Full Support of Secretary Rice

IRAQ

Expansion of Visas for Iraqis Who Have Worked for the USG

TRANSCRIPT:

1:05 p.m. EDT

MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t have anything for you. Anne.

QUESTION: There’s a denial out of the Russian Defense Ministry today of this – the Izvestiya report on Russian bombers. Have you all seen that? Can you update us on whether there were any direct assurances from the Russian Government that this wasn’t true or any other --

MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah, I actually saw the report a few minutes ago, Anne. I think over the last couple of days I’ve made note that we hadn’t seen any confirmation of what was, my understanding always has been, an unnamed individual who purportedly made those statements. That’s where it stands.

QUESTION: So you’re satisfied that this isn’t going to happen?

MR. GALLEGOS: We’ve seen a report from a senior official from Washington – excuse me, senior official from Russia saying that they aren’t going to be doing that. That’s – I believe that’s where we are right now.

QUESTION: So you think that’s a good thing?

MR. GALLEGOS: I think that’s a very good thing, yes.

Lambros, how may I help you today?

QUESTION: Okay. Mr. Gallegos, on FYROM, any update on the appointment of Philip Reeker as the new U.S. Ambassador to Greece (sic), which has been on hold in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee almost for a month, I would say?

MR. GALLEGOS: My understanding is that there’s still a hold on his nomination. We would hope that at some point in the very near future he would be allowed to move forward – his nomination will be allowed to move forward. We believe that the best way that we can clearly communicate our policies to the government there, is with a representative, with an ambassador there in country. So --

QUESTION: One more question on the same issue. According to reports, Senator Olympia Snowe, in a letter to Secretary Condoleezza Rice, seeking information that the U.S. Administration will encourage FYROM to stop the violations of the UN interim agreement and to recognize FYROM by the name which will be agreed upon by the two sides, Athens and Skopje. Any comment on that?

MR. GALLEGOS: I haven’t seen this letter; however, I would say that our policy on Macedonia and its name is well known and has not changed.

Yes.

QUESTION: There’s a report in The New York Times that the U.S. will give Pakistan about $230 million to upgrade its F-16s. Now, these are supposed to be antiterrorism funds.

MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.

QUESTION: And how will the F-16s be used against terrorists?

MR. GALLEGOS: Well, Pakistan is a key partner in the war on terror. It plays a critical role in our long-term efforts to build a stable and prosperous South Asia. Shifting Foreign Military Financing that was already allocated to Pakistan for other military equipment allows Pakistan’s F-16 program, a tangible symbol of the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, to continue on track. Pakistan is currently undergoing economic turmoil, including rising food and fuel prices, and this is a daunting challenge to the new civilian government. This $226-227 million funds is – was already allocated for other updates on different airframes in Pakistan. The government came to us, asked us if we could assist them, and we decided that this would be a good option for them. It would help to relieve the government, allow them to use that amount of funds for different projects of their own while providing an update that had already been – that we had already approved in 2006. So basically, what we did was we shifted funds from one set of antiterrorism projects, one set of airframes, to a different set.

In terms of what the benefits are to us, what we’re looking at is advanced avionics and radar upgrades, and communications and targeting systems that will enable real-time communication with ground forces that will generate ground position data that can be used to direct guided munitions to a target. We believe that these updates will effectively employ the F-16s. We’ll – they’ll be able to use them during nighttime operations.

The bottom line here is that we’ve shifted money to help the democratically elected Government of Pakistan to fight a common foe, a common enemy that we have. We believe that these upgrades that had already been approved will help the Pakistanis – us – will help the Pakistanis help us fight this common foe, and that we believe that this is a positive way to help a friend.

QUESTION: About two weeks ago when Senator Joe Biden said Pakistan should be paid for performance, that it should receive a democratic dividend – right? – the Administration seemed to agree with him. But now we see that money is being spent on upgrades which will, to quote the New York Times, improve the survivability in a hostile environment.

Now, I don’t think the Taliban have the wherewithal to make the, you know, (inaudible) there (inaudible) difficult to survive.

MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I’ll tell you, these mid-life update enhancements are going to provide Pakistan’s air force with the technological capability to conduct precision close airstrikes against al-Qaida, Taliban and associated terrorist targets who exploit the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas, as well as providing nontraditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The effectiveness and accuracy of real-time intelligence is central to winning counterinsurgency and counterterrorism battles. In addition, these mid-life update enhancements will allow Pakistan’s F-16s to operate safely in all weather and to perform day and night missions. We’re going to be training the Pakistani forces to develop their capabilities, effectively employing these aircraft in support of ground operations against terrorist groups that threaten the security of Pakistan and the United States.

QUESTION: One last question on this. How many times has Pakistan conducted air strikes against the Taliban and other militants in that area?

MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I’ll tell you what, unfortunately, I’m not with the DOD and couldn’t tell you that number. I’d refer you to them to discuss.

QUESTION: Have they always done that?

MR. GALLEGOS: I do not know, simply because I work for the State Department, not the DOD, and I would refer you to the DOD.

Yes.

QUESTION: Were you able to find out of if the U.S. had consulted India before this shift in --

MR. GALLEGOS: No, we did not. Like I said, this is a package that had been agreed – this is a mid-life update package that had been decided upon in 2006. And we’ve just made a decision to shift funds from one set of upgrades for a couple of different airframes, let me be specific about that. I’m not going to go into any more detail about that, other than to say then a couple of different airframes -- to these F-16s. And one thing I said earlier that I want to make very clear is that we have recently agreed to sell Pakistan some F-16s and that this midlife update of these aircraft will provide these older aircraft with the same level of technology that the current models that we are selling them have.

QUESTION: How many planes will be –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the latest shift in the F-16 money was the subject of the President’s call to the Indian Prime Minister?

MR. GALLEGOS: I’d have to send you to the White House for that. I don’t know.

Yes.

QUESTION: How many planes are we talking about? How many new planes and how many will be upgraded?

MR. GALLEGOS: Oh, I just said – I’m not going to get into the numbers. I think I’ll send you to the Pakistan Government, if they’d care to describe the number and amount.

Yes.

QUESTION: On Taiwan.

MR. GALLEGOS: Yes.

QUESTION: Taiwan’s President Ma is going to make transit stops on the west coast during his way in and back from Latin America. Do you have any information?

MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t have any announcements at this time regarding any possible transit by the Taiwan President. Our consistent position concerning transits by Taiwan’s senior leaders is that, in keeping with the official nature [1] of our relations and with longstanding policies and practice, we are prepared to consider on a case-by-case basis requests for transits based on the criteria of safety, comfort, convenience, and dignity of the traveler.

QUESTION: The following: Would the -- any federal government official plan to go to west coast to welcome or meet with President Ma?

MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I have no announcement at this time. I’ve got no information to provide on that.

QUESTION: Okay. One last -- yes. Yes, one more. Because Taiwan’s Foreign Minister has announced that Ma – President Ma is going to fly a regularly scheduled commercial flight instead of a chartered flight. Will that be a burden to the U.S. regarding to the security or convenience criteria you just mentioned? You --

MR. GALLEGOS: Oh, I would say I’d be prepared to field questions on this issue if and when I make an announcement about that. I don’t have one for you today.

Yes.

QUESTION: Will there be a formal announcement during Prime Minister Gilani’s visit to the White House on this? And this visit, is it being seen as sort of – will it bring the focus on the trouble in the tribal area on cross-border operations by the Taliban and al-Qaida or is it also an opportunity for the United States to tell the Pakistanis that they are with the particular government to support the democratic process. I mean, how do you see the visit?

MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I’ll leave the announcements for the visit to the White House.

Param.

QUESTION: Have you seen the opinion piece by the former State Department official in charge of drugs, anti-drug campaign in Afghanistan? And have you seen the --

MR. GALLEGOS: I’ve seen the op-ed.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. GALLEGOS: Specific question?

QUESTION: Yeah. What will be – how do you view his proposals and criticism on the Karzai government and Karzai himself?

MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I think – look, corruption remains a problem in Afghanistan. We’re working with the Afghan Government to root it out through training and development of rule of law. Ultimately, you know, development of democratic institutions and a more solid democracy in Pakistan isn’t about one person, isn’t about several, isn’t about many. It’s about Afghanistan and all Afghanis. You know, we’re working with the democratically elected leader who has shown to us he’s committed to developing democratic institutions in Afghanistan. We’re going to continue that effort with him. We look forward to his support as we work to support the Afghani people.

QUESTION: Any concentration to any – to a change in the current strategy, anti-drug strategy in Afghanistan?

MR. GALLEGOS: Well, I think – no, there isn’t. Right now, we’re working on a five-pillar strategy to combat drugs in Afghanistan, based on, first, alternative development, based on eradication, interdiction, and law enforcement operations, and justice reform. This is a plan that, I believe, was announced to you all several months ago. It’s something that we’re committed to. And we believe ultimately that we will have – our greatest – we believe our greatest successes have been in those areas where we’ve been able to provide security, where security has led to development, and where development has led to stability. And we believe that it’s important that we use this multi-pronged approach to provide security, which allows for development, which creates stability, which allows for the strengthening of democratic institutions. And so we’re going to continue that effort.

Yes. David.

QUESTION: I asked you earlier – Rwanda is threatening to leave the peace force in Sudan if one of its generals who was implicated in war crimes about a decade ago is forced to leave his post. I just wonder where the – given the interest that the U.S. has in this force, where do you stand on the issue of this individual?

MR. GALLEGOS: Well, bringing peace to Darfur is the priority for the international community and the UN. We’re deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Darfur. We support the rapid strengthening of UNAMID through the provision of experienced commanders and the deployment of additional troops. While the peacekeepers in Darfur are noted for their professionalism and courage -- five of them were recently killed in the line of duty – losing four Rwandan battalions would devastate the operation. It’s in the interest of a strong UNAMID that this general continue as Deputy Force Commander, given his strong record of performance over the last year.

QUESTION: Does that – does that mean that you’re not interested in what he may have done in the war?

MR. GALLEGOS: Well, prior to his appointment, we were able to examine allegations associated with the general. We have not found grounds to object to his candidacy.

Yes. Samir.

QUESTION: There’s a report in the Middle East that General James Jones presented a report to Secretary Rice about the security situation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and it was very critical to Israel. Do you have anything about this?

MR. GALLEGOS: Yeah. My understanding is that he is yet to publish a report. There are stories about drafts that have been released. The bottom line is the general has been there. He’s taken a look at the situation. He has the full support of the Secretary. We’re going to continue working through him and with him and we’ll see – ultimately see what is published.

QUESTION: Does the President have a decision made on whether the full report will be published and public?

MR. GALLEGOS: I don’t have any information on that (inaudible).

QUESTION: Is that under discussion at the moment?

MR. GALLEGOS: I’ll have to check. I don’t have anything on that.

QUESTION: Does the State Department have a position on whether it should be?

MR. GALLEGOS: I’ll have to check.

Yes.

QUESTION: On this decision to significantly expand Iraqi visas for Iraqis who have worked for the U.S. Government, why has that come at this particular time? And what, if anything, will the Embassy have to do to step up its processing of those visas?

MR. GALLEGOS: I think it probably – in terms of the visas, I don’t have information on this – this most recent – was there a report on a recent increase?

QUESTION: Right. About 5,000.

MR. GALLEGOS: About 5,000? I tell you what – let me – I’ll have to get somebody to get back to you on that specific issue. I think, you know, the issue with – one of the things is that we have been working to allow for a greater number of those Iraqis who did work for us to be able to come back – to be able to, excuse me –to be able to come to the United States. We’re going to continue that process. We’ve been ramping up our resources in recent months. Ambassador Jim Foley has been the lead in those efforts. I know his efforts are ongoing. We continue to do as much as we can to help those who helped us.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can I go back to the F-16?

MR. GALLEGOS: Sure.

QUESTION: This offer to upgrade and provide new F-16 to Pakistan –

MR. GALLEGOS: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does it aid you to enhance Pakistan’s capability to fight al-Qaida or also to enhance its conventional weapon capability?

MR. GALLEGOS: Its – excuse me?

QUESTION: Also enhance its conventional weapon capability.

MR. GALLEGOS: Oh, its conventional? No. (Inaudible) are a strong ally and friend who came to us in a tough situation financially. We have a package program that had already been approved a couple years ago. Basically, we were looking at ways to assist this ally and friend of ours. We saw this as an opportunity to do that, and we decided this would be a great opportunity and we would take it.

Anything else? Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 p.m.)

[1] unofficial nature

DPB # 132
Released on July 24, 2008

ENDS

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