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US State Dept Daily Press Briefing: 02 August 2007

Tom Casey, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
August 2, 2007
12:55 p.m. EDT

U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing: 02 August 2007



Executive Order to Freeze Assets of Those Posing a Threat to Lebanese Government
Treasury Timetable for Actions Taken Against Those Supporting Negative Activity


Russia Conducting Scientific Expedition by the Sea Bed in the North Pole
Russian Government Pursuing Claim under the Law of the Sea Convention


U.S. Looking for Russia and Belarus to Settle the Gazprom Issue
Settlement Needs to be Made so as not to Call into Question the Viability Gas Supplies
In St. Petersburg, U.S. and Russia Committed to Ensuring Predictable Energy Flows


Fewer Iraqi Refugees Were Admitted Last Month than Previous Months
Several Hundred More Refugees Coming Out in the Next Few Weeks
U.S. to Date has Interviewed Approximately 3,000 Refugees to Come to U.S.


12:55 p.m. EDT

MR. CASEY: All right. Well, good afternoon, everybody. Don't have anything to start you out with, so let's go to what you’ve got.

QUESTION: I don't have any questions.

MR. CASEY: You don't have anything? Oh.

QUESTION: Can you amplify or expand upon this order that came out of the White House on freezing assets of those accused of harassing Lebanon?

MR. CASEY: Well, I can talk a little bit about this and this comes out of our desire to make sure that we're doing what we can to support the forces of democracy in Lebanon, including Prime Minister Siniora and his government.

And what this order that the President has announced does is makes it clear that there is now a vehicle, basically through the Treasury Department, to be able to freeze and seize property and other assets that are owned or controlled or in the hands of those individuals that are actively seeking to undermine Lebanon's democratic government and/or try and re-promote Syrian influence and domination of the country. And this is building on existing tools that are out there and that we've used against terrorist groups and other kinds of individuals, but what this does is expands the President's authority to be able to do this specifically to focus on those who pose a direct challenge or a direct threat to democracy in Lebanon.

Now in terms of -- you'll note that the order was put out without an annex listing any individual names. That's something, though, that I know the Treasury Department is speaking to and I suspect you'll see some designations under this order in a fairly short amount of time. But that is something that will come directly out of the Treasury Department as this is primarily their responsibility to enforce.

QUESTION: You mean today?

MR. CASEY: I don't have a timetable for you, Matt. I'd refer to them in terms of exactly when they would look to do this, but I know that they are actively looking at individuals and entities in light of the executive order today and I suspect you'll see something from them very shortly.

QUESTION: In light of the order today, meaning they weren't -- they didn't have anyone in mind when the President signed this (inaudible).

MR. CASEY: I would never imply that.


MR. CASEY: It has now been issued and so now it's formally --


MR. CASEY: -- there on the books for people.

QUESTION: In the last, I think, month, the President signed two -- this is second of the (inaudible) one that had to do with Iraq as well.

MR. CASEY: Yeah, there was previously -- which was enabling people to take -- Treasury to take similar kinds of actions against, again, individuals or entities that were involved in promoting violence or trying to subvert the political process there.

QUESTION: Both of these seem to be aimed at Iran and Syria. Would you quibble with that?

MR. CASEY: Well, they're aimed at trying to help solve a serious problem for both those countries. What's certainly -- Iran and Syria are the principle sponsors, I would say, of both efforts to undermine the government in Lebanon and efforts to promote militia violence, EFP networks, and the other things we've talked about in Iraq. So to the extent that those countries are engaged in supporting those kinds of negative activities, then yes, it's very much directed against them and their --

QUESTION: Well, is there --

MR. CASEY: -- unhelpful efforts.

QUESTION: So -- okay.

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: So if they are directed against those countries and those unhelpful efforts, is there some thinking in the U.S. Government that there are entities and people in Iran who -- or Syria who would not be covered by both of these, and so you need to have the --

MR. CASEY: Well, again, Matt, I think there are certainly -- there's an overlapping and existing series of executive orders out there, some of which deal specifically with terrorist groups, some of which are sanctions that are applied directly to the Iranian Government, related to proliferation matters, related to other kinds of things.

What we're trying to do with both of these executive orders is make sure we have as many tools in the toolbox as possible to be able to comprehensively deal with the threats that are out there. And I think the feeling was that by putting orders out that specifically focus on, for example, militia violence and negative activities in Iraq, or those that are seeking to subvert democracy in Lebanon, that we were going to make sure that in a comprehensive way, we'd be able to deal with any individuals or groups out there.

So it wouldn't surprise me that some of the people who might be determined to be eligible under this executive order might be eligible under other kinds of orders as well. But what we do, again, want to make sure of, is that we can specifically go after those people who are playing this kind of negative role irregardless of what other kinds of things they might be involved in.

Yeah, Nina.

QUESTION: A different topic. The Russians have planted their flag at the North Pole in a seabed. What do you make of this?

MR. CASEY: Well, what I think you're referring to is that the Russians are conducting a scientific expedition in the seabed area by the North Pole. My understanding is back in 2001, they submitted to a technical body, under the Law of the Sea Convention, a claim to try and extend their continental shelf under the terms of the Law of Sea Convention, beyond the, sort of, 200 nautical miles that's generally traditional. There are some fairly technical arguments that they've made in that. I believe that in 2003, the committee determined that there wasn't sufficient material available to support that claim or to make a technical ruling on it, so the Russian expedition is designed to help conduct research in support of that claim.

One thing I would note about this, of course, is that the Russian Government is pursuing a claim under their right to do so as members of the Law of the Sea Convention. This is something that unfortunately, the United States is not in a position to do because we have yet to ratify that convention and it's one of the reasons why we are interested and supportive of having that treaty be ratified by the U.S. Senate and certainly hopeful that when Congress comes back in session, they'll give it due consideration.

But this is a long, ongoing issue for the Russian Government. It's a technical one. We certainly are skeptical about the claims made and did have an opportunity in 2002 to present a comment to this technical commission that basically called into question the claims the Russians were making. Now they have submitted additional evidence since that time and this expedition is designed to look at it as well, but again, since we're not members of the Law of the Sea convention and can't have a member on that commission, we've not yet had an opportunity to look at that technical data which is, of course, another reason why we'd like to be engaged and be fully represented on these kinds of bodies.

QUESTION: Well, wouldn't it -- I mean, they've sent a couple of mini subs down there and they've planted a metal flag -- the Russian flag. Don't you think this is -- they're making a symbolic claim? Isn't this kind of really stirring things up?

MR. CASEY: Look, you know, we cooperate regularly with the Russians on all kinds of scientific matters. I'm not sure whether they've -- you know, put a metal flag, a rubber flag, or a bed sheet on the ocean floor. Either way, it doesn't have any legal standing or effect on this claim. This is a claim that I understand that is based on their attempt to prove that certain underwater ridges really represent the outline of their continental shelf. It's an issue that's going to be decided based on those technical merits, not on any kind of particular markers laid down.

And again, this is an issue that's been going on since 2001, but I'd again point out that one of the important things to take from this is that the Russians are doing this because they're members of a treaty that allows them to do so in an international regime that sets up a process for adjudicating those claims. And we unfortunately aren't in that ballgame because we haven't ratified the treaty yet.

QUESTION: On this?

MR. CASEY: Yeah.

QUESTION: It sounds suspiciously like the guidance that I got yesterday on this that was dated July 31st, I think. Do you know -- since the flags have actually been put down, do you have anything to --

MR. CASEY: No, but again, I --

QUESTION: Has anything changed in your mind?

MR. CASEY: No, not as far as I'm aware, Matt. And again, the claim that the Russians are making is based on a scientific argument. I don't think that under the Law of the Sea Treaty and certainly, not under the commission that's reviewing this, you know, whether they went and spray-painted a flag of Russia on those particular ridges is going to make one iota of difference in terms of the technical evaluation. It certainly, to us, doesn't represent any kind of substantive claim, and I certainly haven't heard anyone else make the argument that it does.

QUESTION: Belarus and Gazprom?

MR. CASEY: Belarus and Gazprom. Yeah, you asked about that this morning. There is some conflicting information that's out there on this. But basically, what we'd like to see happen is the Russians and the Belarusian Government work out a reasonable settlement of this issue; to do so in a way that doesn't call into question the viability of the supplies of gas, whether to Belarus or to any of the other countries that are further on down the pipeline.

Part of what the Russians committed themselves to and what we committed ourselves to at the G-8 back in St. Petersburg was to help ensure predictable flows of energy. And, again, we also want to make sure that any of these disputes, of course, are resolved in keeping with market principles, because this is not an area where we'd like to see energy resources or other kinds of vital supplies being subject to political considerations rather than basic economic ones.


QUESTION: Do you have any better idea about why the number of Iraqi refugees admitted to the United States dropped last month --

MR. CASEY: Well --

QUESTION: -- instead of going up, as you guys had been trying to ensure?

MR. CASEY: Well, Matt -- look, I think, as you know, this is a pretty complicated process. It's one that involves a lot of different agencies and compliance with some fairly strict requirements under U.S. law. Bottom line is: We basically admitted several fewer refugees this past month than the month before. Part of the issues with that not only involve the screening process that we've talked about but also some of the issues with other countries, including the problems and some technical issues, in terms of getting exit permits and visas for some of the refugees to leave the countries where they have found themselves. In many cases, particularly in Syria, but even to a lesser extent in Jordan, there really wasn't a strong infrastructure available to be able to process these cases either.

And, certainly, we'd like to move this faster, and we're working to do so. We expect there'll be several hundred more refugees that will be coming out in the next few weeks, including many from Turkey, where the latest group just came from and where there had been some technical questions that had come up. We've interviewed, to date, as I understand it, approximately 300 -- or sorry, 3,000 Iraqi refugees. And basically, I think we've approved almost all of those preliminarily to come to the United States. But it is going to take time to have them go through the security and health screening processes that are part of U.S. law and also to make sure that they've met whatever requirements there are in the countries where they find themselves.

So we are trying to move on this. I certainly expect that we will have, again, many hundreds brought in, in the next few weeks. But the numbers are what they are and we all understand that we need to do what we can to meet our commitments to the UNHCR as well as to those Iraqi refugees that need resettlement.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. CASEY: Thank you.

(This briefing concluded at 1:09 p.m.)


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