Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood
Acting Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 30, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAQ
    • Awaiting Further Details from Iraqi Government on Blackwater License / Blackwater Still Providing Protective Services
    • Want Free, Fair, and Transparent Elections / A Milestone in Iraq's Development / Situation Much Better Today / US Embassy and Reconstruction Team Representatives Will Observe
    • Rhetoric Is Distinctly Not Helpful / Will Not Speculate on Motivation of North Korean Leaders
    • US Committed to the Denuclearization of Korean Peninsula through Six-Party Talks
    • North Korea Knows what is Required
    • US Policy Is under Review / No Decision Yet on Envoy
    • Meeting with Former Secretary of State George Shultz Today
    • Judicial Watch Lawsuit / No Comment on Pending Litigation / Refer to Justice Department
    • Announcement of $20.3 Million in Humanitarian Aid to Gaza / Money Will Go through UNRWA, OCHA and ICRC
    • Special Envoy Mitchell's Meetings in Jerusalem / Trip to Turkey Cancelled
    • Unfortunate Incident between President Peres and PM Erdogan in Davos / Happy They Spoke Afterwards
    • Israel and Turkey Are Key Allies / Players in the Region
    • Have Seen Reports on an Agreement but Are Skeptical / Actions Are Important
    • Mugabe Has Abused Power / Brought Crisis to Zimbabwe
    • Serious Power Sharing by Mugabe Regime Is Required / Zimbabwe Needs a Government that Reflects the Will of the People
  • IRAN
    • Policy Is Under Review / Looking at a Wide Range of Issues
    • Great Respect for the Iranian People, Iran's Culture and History
    • Musharraf Visit to the US / Not Aware of Meetings with US Government Officials
    • Problems Are Serious / Want to Develop a Comprehensive Strategy
    • Policy Is Under Review
    • Many Elements to US-China Relationship / Can Play a Positive Role on International Issues / Would like to See a Greater Chinese Role in Darfur
    • Kashmir Not Part of Special Representative Holbrooke's Portfolio
    • Concerned with Current Situation / Especially Attacks on Media
    • Working with UN Organizations to Provide Assistance
    • US Representative Will Attend Gaza Donor Conference
    • Resignation of HIV/AIDS Global Coordinator Mark Dybul / Political Appointees Must Submit Resignations

January 30, 2009

View Video

11:17 a.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Happy Friday, everyone.

QUESTION: You bet.

QUESTION: Happy Friday.

MR. WOOD: Oh, I see the weekend coming up. Now, now. I don’t have anything.

QUESTION: What’s the situation with Blackwater now in Iraq? Have you gotten any clarification from the Iraqis on when exactly they’re going to have to leave? And have you made any further – or have you made any decision about what – how it is you’re going to proceed in terms of protecting the people over there?

MR. WOOD: Well, we have yet to receive further clarification and details in that regard from the Iraqis, but we are talking with them. To answer the question that was posed yesterday, yes, Blackwater is still providing protective services on the ground for us.

QUESTION: North Korea. North Korea today said that it was abrogating all agreements that it has with South Korea. It’s not clear to me what the practical import of that necessarily will be, but does the Administration have a position on that? Would it have preferred North Korea to continue to deal with South Korea as it has?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say this type of, you know, rhetoric is distinctly not helpful. But that’s not going to deter us from continuing our efforts to achieve denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula through the Six-Party framework. So again, I would just say that those comments are certainly not helpful.

QUESTION: Are you – I mean, we’re in a period where that diplomatic process, I think it’s fair to say, is in abeyance. You guys are conducting a review as the – you know, and – you know, eight years ago, the incoming administration also conducted a review, and the – you know, when they finally resumed talking to the North Koreans, it didn’t quite go as well. And I wonder what plans, if any, you are aware of to – regardless of how helpful or unhelpful this rhetoric is – to engage if not with North Korea, then with your regional partners on the North Korea issue, so that there is a sense that it’s not a vacuum from their point of view, but that you are actually moving forward on the diplomacy.

MR. WOOD: Well, Secretary Clinton will certainly be consulting with regional officials about the situation with regard to North Korea. But, you know, again, Arshad, I have to go back to the fact that we’re still looking at the various aspects of our policy and, you know, once that review is completed, we’ll have more to say to you about, you know, the next – you know, the way forward.

QUESTION: And just last one from me on this.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, she’s spoken to – already to a number of the foreign ministers’ concerns, right?

MR. WOOD: Uh-huh.

QUESTION: Has this not come up yet? Were those really just, you know, sort of congratulatory, introductory kinds of calls?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, for the most part, they were --

QUESTION: Perhaps they weren’t substantive?

MR. WOOD: -- you know, congratulatory calls. They were, shall I say, you know, initial conversations to sort of, you know, talk to them about how much she looks forward to working with them on various issues. You know, I want to stick to what I said before with regard to getting really into the substance of the conversations. As I said, she will be having additional conversations with regional leaders at some point, and North Korea is a priority for us. And, you know, we’re still – we still believe that the Six-Party framework has utility. We’re committed to that goal of denuclearization. And we’re going to work with our allies in the region and others to try to bring about that denuclearization that we all want to see happen.

QUESTION: Robert, just a question on a call. The White House has been pretty forthcoming in its descriptions and readouts of the President’s phone calls to foreign leaders in terms of substance. Is the reason you don’t want to go into substance because there wasn’t really much substance in the call, because they were these introductory things?

MR. WOOD: No, I’m not saying that there was not substance in these calls. We just traditionally have tried not to really get into the substance of phone conversations between the Secretary and other leaders.

QUESTION: It sounds like a general (inaudible) of topics.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, well, I mean, you know, it was – these were brief calls that she was making to say that, you know, I’m on seat, I look forward to working with you. She had a lot of calls to make, and if she were to have real detailed discussions in the first week or so, she’d get through them. She, of course, is going to have subsequent conversations with all of them to deal with some of these very thorny issues that we all confront. So that’s how I would characterize it now.

QUESTION: Speaking of those calls, do you have an updated list?

MR. WOOD: Charlie, I really – I think early on, we decided we would provide, for the first few days, a list of all of the folks that the Secretary had been in touch with. I really don’t want to get in the habit of doing that. We will certainly, you know, raise with you some calls that we think are important, or if you have questions about a particular conversation she may have had, we would certainly try to address it.

QUESTION: How far have you gotten in interviewing candidates for the North Korea envoy job? Are you moving along nicely with that?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, with regard to – our policy with regard to North Korea is, as I’ve said many times, under review. So the questions about whether we will nominate an envoy or not, that will have to come out of the review process. So I would just say to you, stay tuned.

QUESTION: I have more on North Korea.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: The decision to scrap these agreements seems to come part and parcel with this more bellicose rhetoric in the last two weeks. Do you see it aimed at the incoming Obama Administration?

MR. WOOD: It’s hard to --

QUESTION: Are they crying for attention?

MR. WOOD: You know, Lach, it’s hard to say what the motivation is on the part of North Korea. We’ve seen this happen before. We will – you’ll have this hostile rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang. Very hard to say what’s at work here. But again, the Secretary and the President are very committed to trying to deal with this North Korea denuclearization issue. And you know, the Secretary is going to have conversations with leaders of the region because, you know, time is of the essence. We want to deal with this issue. And again, in many ways, the north knows what the international community requires of it with regard to the Six-Party frameworks, and that verification protocol we’d like to see happen, because the Six-Party framework has utility. We want to see it go forward.

QUESTION: The Department – White House Spokeswoman Dana Perino did seem to say that the North Koreans are like a child in a high chair, trying to grab the attention of the incoming Administration, but you’re not ready to --

MR. WOOD: It’s just hard for me to get into the mindset of North Korean officials.

Let me just – Jill.

QUESTION: Why is the Secretary talking with George Shultz?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry. What?

QUESTION: George Shultz?

MR. WOOD: What was the question? Why?

QUESTION: Why are they talking?

MR. WOOD: Well, the Secretary wanted to have conversations with all of the previous living Secretaries of State, and this is just part of that, you know, attempt. She respects very much Secretary Shultz’s views. He’s a well-known, distinguished American figure, and it’s only natural that she’d want to seek out his advice with regard to a number of international issues.

QUESTION: A number – nothing specific, in other words?

MR. WOOD: Not that I am aware of – anything specific.

QUESTION: Another George – has she spoken to Senator Mitchell since he’s been out?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know if she’s actually had a chance to speak with him. It may be – I know that certainly there have been communications. I don’t know if they have been telephonic, but I know that there’s been some contact while he’s been out in the region, but I can’t say if they’ve actually spoken by phone.

QUESTION: One more on North Korea, actually.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Previously, their rhetoric has been accompanied by, you know, equipment being wheeled out in Yongbyon. Have you noticed any strange activity? I mean, is there anything that’s accompanying the rhetoric?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of. No, I haven’t seen any movement at all. Nothing from anything that I’ve read or heard from this morning or even yesterday.

QUESTION: Speaking about Mitchell, do you have any announcement on the aid for Gaza? (Inaudible) Mitchell announced it.

MR. WOOD: Yeah. I think Senator Mitchell made an announcement earlier today. Let me give you an update on his schedule. Senator Mitchell was in Jerusalem this morning. He had meetings with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Social Welfare Isaac Herzog. Senator Mitchell also held a roundtable with humanitarian agencies at UNRWA – at the UNRWA compound, in which he was briefed on the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Special Envoy Mitchell announced that President Obama has authorized the use of $20.3 million from the U.S. Emergency Refugee and Migration Assistance Fund to address critical post-conflict humanitarian needs in Gaza. U.S. Government support for humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees and conflict victims now totals nearly $120 million in FY 2009, including nearly $60 million in Gaza. And that’s what I have.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

QUESTION: So does – does it mean --

MR. WOOD: Please.

QUESTION: -- that from now on, this – the Middle East will be treated directly by Senator Mitchell, with the agreement of President Obama and not by the State Department?

MR. WOOD: No, no. Of course, the State Department is engaged daily on the Middle East through its various embassies. The Secretary, of course, has a great deal of interest in trying to bring about a two-state solution. So I think what you can say is that the Department is – to borrow an expression from the Secretary – firing on all cylinders in terms of dealing with, you know, the Middle East issue.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: A follow-up on Gaza. Yesterday, the Turkish Prime Minister and the Israeli President had a verbal fight in a panel in Davos, Switzerland about the Gaza conflicts. Do you have anything to say on this or, more generally, Turkey’s position on the Gaza crisis? And second, it seems George Mitchell is not going to Turkey, although earlier Turkish officials said he was expected there on Sunday. What’s the situation?

MR. WOOD: Well, what I would say is -- regarding the incident in Davos, it was unfortunate. But it was a very good sign to see that President Peres and Prime Minister Erdogan had a subsequent conversation. And so with regard to the issue of a visit, as I may have mentioned to many of you, that the reason why we weren’t able to – that Senator Mitchell was not able to go to Turkey was because of basically scheduling issues and nothing more than that.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Why was it – that it was unfortunate? What?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, apparently, just – they had, you know, some very sharp exchanges, and I believe that the Prime Minister walked out. But – and that type of thing, of course, is unfortunate. You don’t want to see that happen. But again, as I said, they had a subsequent conversation, and we’re very glad to see that because, you know, Turkey and Israel are important allies for the United States. And they’re key players in the region. And so it’s important that we have good cooperative relationships amongst all of the various key players in the region, and that’s how I would describe it.

QUESTION: Robert, on this – still on the Middle East. When the President was here last week introducing Senator Mitchell, he made some reference to – about how U.S. money – U.S. assistance to the Palestinians would go through the Palestinian Authority. This money, $20.3 million from today, is going to UNRWA and OCHA and ICRC.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Has there been a decision made not to funnel money through the Palestinian – not funding money for Gaza though the PA?

MR. WOOD: Well, right now, this particular amount of money that Senator Mitchell announced earlier today is going to UNRWA, ICRC, other organizations, because they are the primary conduits of assistance to the Palestinians. At some point, with regard to the Palestinian Authority, we hope to be able to do that. But at this point, with regard to this amount of money right now, that’s going through those organizations that I mentioned.

QUESTION: I asked you yesterday about the letter of the congressmen to Secretary Clinton. Did you receive – did the Secretary receive a letter from 60 members of the House of Representatives?

MR. WOOD: Sylvie, I’m sorry, I don’t remember that, but I’ll check for you. I apologize if you did raise that with me. I don’t remember. We’ll – I’ll look into that for you.


MR. WOOD: Let me --

QUESTION: Robert, what are --

MR. WOOD: Let me --

QUESTION: What are the hopes for the Iraqi elections?

MR. WOOD: Well, our hopes are that, basically, the Iraqis have a free, fair, transparent election, free of violence. We think this is a – this Iraqi election is a milestone in Iraq’s democratic development. We will have observers there from our Embassy in Baghdad and from our – members of our Provincial Reconstruction Teams.

And you know, again, we think this is a real important step on the way to Iraq becoming a very mature democracy, so I think it’s something that we should all applaud. When you look at the violence that took place in previous elections and compare it to what we’ve seen up until now, I think it’s a very positive sign. Iraq has a long way to go, there’s no mistake about it, but we think this is a very, very positive step.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR. WOOD: On this?

QUESTION: If I can follow up, the (inaudible) of the three Sunni politicians in Iraq, they have been killed – three yesterday, three Sunnis politicians in Iraq.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I was making a comparison. When you look back at the elections that took place a couple of years ago, there was a lot of violence. And I think the situation is much different today. There is still violence going on, there’s no question, and we don’t want to see that type of activity happen. But I think if you look at where we are today in Iraq as compared to where we were, the situation is much, much better on the ground for not only the possibility of carrying out a free and fair and democratic election, but for the overall well-being of the Iraqi people.

QUESTION: Zimbabwe’s opposition says that it’s now prepared to enter into a power-sharing agreement. First, your reaction to that?

And then secondly, the previous administration had said that once this power-sharing arrangement was in place that they would look at lifting sanctions, and also at implementing some sort of reconstruction plan for Zimbabwe to get out of this economic mess.

MR. WOOD: First of all, I’ve seen the reports about this agreement, but as you can understand, we are a bit skeptical. These types of things have been announced before. The key is always implementation. What’s important here is actions and not words. And we want to see real, serious power sharing by the Mugabe regime. So I think the jury is still out on this one.

QUESTION: Do you think it would have been preferable for Mugabe just to quit? There have been several political leaders who said that he should just, you know, gracefully leave. Do you think that that would be preferable to the current arrangement?

MR. WOOD: What Mugabe hasn’t done is pay attention to the needs of his people. He has abused power. He has brought on a serious economic crisis, a serious humanitarian crisis in that country. He has not been willing to share power up until now. What Robert Mugabe needs to do is to do what’s best for the people of Zimbabwe; and an effective power-sharing arrangement, one that is equitable, fair, and in line with the will of the Zimbabwean people, that’s what needs to happen.

QUESTION: Are you doing a review of assistance to Zimbabwe and looking further ahead to, you know, an economic plan or – I mean, where are you on that --

MR. WOOD: Well, obviously, the Administration will be looking at our policy toward Zimbabwe. We obviously – we want to see what, if anything, comes out of this recent agreement that was reached. If and when there is a government in place in Zimbabwe that reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people, the United States will then look to see what we can do to continue to help the Zimbabwean people. But let’s wait until we have a government that reflects the will of the people before we go forward.

QUESTION: So it would be safe to say that you’re waiting till the government is up and running before you look at lifting sanctions or implementing an economic recovery plan?

MR. WOOD: Well, one of the things we will continue to do is to try to help deal with the humanitarian situation on the ground that I described to you just moments ago. But the Administration is going to be looking to see, once there is, you know, a government in place that reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people, to see what more we can do with regard to giving a jump start, a boost to the economy. But let’s wait and see what happens before we go forward.

QUESTION: I have a question on Iran.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Robert Gibbs said that it wasn’t clear to the U.S. who the U.S. might engage with in the Iranian Government. Is part of the review taking a look at who might be in the Iranian Government as someone the U.S. could talk to? Are you identifying those individuals now?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t want to get into the substance of the review, but you can imagine we’re looking at a wide range of things with regard to engaging Iran. But I really don’t have more for you on that, Libby, at the moment. Let’s let the review run its course, and then we’ll have a lot more to say about it.

QUESTION: Is there – are you thinking of waiting until after the elections before announcing any big Iran policy?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have a timeframe for you on it.

Let me go to Goyal.

QUESTION: A couple questions, Robert. One, going back to Secretary Shultz, yesterday he was in the panel at the CSIS and you were talking about nuclear issues and Afghanistan and so forth, (inaudible) Afghanistan and the nuclear issues were going on in the region in Afghanistan. So today’s meeting with Secretary Clinton, you think those issues will come because he’s expert as far as Afghanistan and nuclear issues are concerned – and terrorism, of course? I’m sorry.

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s hard for me to say at this point. These issues could come up because, as I said, the Secretary very much respects the guidance – the wisdom of George Shultz, a very distinguished individual. But I just can’t give you with any certainty what topics are going to come up. But we’ll certainly try to let you know how that meeting went and what was covered.

QUESTION: And second, General Musharraf is in town. He has been here for some time, in the U.S., and with tight security. Who is paying for all his security and visits and all that, and whether he’s going to meet anybody, unofficial or with any officials?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not aware of meetings that he may have with officials of other departments of the U.S. Government. You know, maybe one place to start would be the Pentagon.

In terms of who’s paying for, you know, his security in town, he’s a former head of government, head of state, I guess, and I just – you know, I’m not sure of all the particulars. I’d first refer you to the Pakistani embassy. They can probably give you some more details on that. You know, again, I don’t know who he’s seeing within the U.S. Government, so that’s something you’ll probably have to check out, so –

QUESTION: And finally, Afghanistan is now – certainly has become a focus. And it was already before, but now, certainly, everybody talking about Afghanistan anywhere and everywhere you go, in think tanks and all that in the government. Something has happened now, or there’s major policy changes coming as far as U.S. in the region, or as far as role of Pakistan in the future under the new Administration?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, Afghanistan -- as the President has said and the Secretary of State has said, you know, Afghanistan is a very high priority for the Administration. The problems on the ground are very serious, and we want to come up with a comprehensive strategy that deals with all elements of the situation on the ground. And we want to get, as I’ve said before, the right mix of political, economic development, military, so that we can be effective.

The review is still underway, and once we have more to say about it, I’ll be more than happy to talk about it from here. And others will certainly be more than happy. But let’s give it a little time.

QUESTION: Do you have any more details on Holbrooke’s travel?

MR. WOOD: No, nothing. No further update than I had yesterday.


QUESTION: As far as the Shultz visit --

MR. WOOD: Can we just go back and then we’ll – yeah.

QUESTION: No changes in George Mitchell’s travel, as far as you know?

MR. WOOD: No, nothing. No changes that I’m aware of.

I’m sorry, Warren.

QUESTION: Robert, can you get us a list of other people from the private sector that Secretary Clinton is meeting with as she settles into the job? Other former secretaries of state, academics, foreign policy –

MR. WOOD: We’ll try to do this as best we can, with regard to her schedule. I can’t promise you we’ll be able to get everything for you, but we’ll certainly try to do what we can.

QUESTION: It would be interesting to know who she’s reaching out to.

MR. WOOD: Oh, sure, yeah. No, that’s certainly -- we’ll try to do that on a, you know, daily basis, with regard to her schedule. I mean, we’ve had a few issues to deal with on that, but we will make sure that we can do that.

Let me just – Jill had a question. I’ll get --

QUESTION: Robert, Jiabao made some very interesting strong comments about the United States at Davos. And when the Secretary was down in our little area here, she specifically said that the U.S. – that this Administration wants to shift the relationship, that it used to be geared more toward the economic relationship. Now, there is a broader perspective strategically. What specific steps is this Department taking to do that?

MR. WOOD: Well, this Department has been very engaged in dealing with a wide range of elements of our bilateral policy with China. And the Secretary, as you noted, is very interested in making sure that our relationship with China is not so over-focused on the economic side, because there’s so many other elements to that bilateral relationship, you know, the human rights issues, political, security, military issues. And so it’s a key relationship for the United States. And China can certainly play a very, very positive role in the world. And we want to try to help move China in a much more positive direction in terms of some of the issues that we are dealing with, as the international community is dealing with. And you know, certainly, we’d love to see China do more to help on the ground in Darfur, for example.

So the Secretary will have discussions with her counterpart at some point in the future, and it’s a high priority for her. So we’ll be able to let you know more once policies start to really develop.

QUESTION: So what would you like China to do in Darfur? And when you say, move in a more positive direction, maybe you could, you know, illuminate us more on that. Are you referring there to human rights, Darfur, Daro, and, you know, other parts of Africa and Zimbabwe, et cetera?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’ve raised those issues. But we -- you know, we’ve had a dialogue with China on a host of issues, and, you know, China is a very important strategic player. And it can bring a lot of influence to bear. And it’s been very helpful in many parts of the world, and there’s a lot that we can work on together. And so the Secretary wants to take a holistic approach to our bilateral relationship, strengthen it and deepen it. And as I said, once we have more to say with regard to the bilateral relationship, we’ll be happy to, you know, let you know.

QUESTION: But in terms of Darfur, would she like them – him to go and, you know, to speak to Bashir or – I mean, what specifically?

MR. WOOD: Well, we just would like to see China do more to try to influence the leadership in Khartoum to – you know, to do what it can to prevent further violence against the people of Darfur. You know, we’ve said that before. And, you know, China is certainly an influential player in the world, and specifically in Africa.

So let me go somewhere else here. Mark.

QUESTION: Can I go back to Iran for just a moment?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: One of my colleagues had an interview earlier today in Davos with the Iranian foreign minister. And he – this is what he said: “We want to see practical steps before we decide whether we want to talk. Regarding Iran, we have a long history of measures against Iran by the United States. We want to see what kind of changes President Obama is going to make in those areas.”

I guess it’s – I know it’s hard for you to react to something you haven’t read in print, but it does come a few days after Ahmadinejad’s remarks about the U.S. needing to apologize for things that had happened. And I guess what I’m wondering is whether there is a sense of disappointment that the initial response of the Iranians to President Obama and to Secretary Clinton the other day hasn’t been more positive.

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I can’t speak to, you know, what the Iranian leadership is thinking, what it’s trying to communicate. I can just say to you that what we’ve wanted to do is to try to find ways to engage the Iranian people. We have a great deal of respect for Iran – the Iranian people, Iran’s culture and history. You know, it’s an important regional player. But the review is underway. We’re working to formulate a policy on Iran. But with regard to the motives of Iranian leaders and their responses, I just can’t give you an answer on that.


QUESTION: A follow-up.

MR. WOOD: Oh, a follow-up? Hang on one second, Dave.

QUESTION: Yeah, forgive my ignorance because I haven’t covered this that specifically, but I know there was a democracy fund under the Bush Administration. Does that still continue for Iran?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t know, but what I can tell you is that our overall Iran policy is being reviewed. So, again, not speaking for the previous administration, but what we’re trying to do within this review with regard to Iran is to figure out the most appropriate framework for engaging the country. And so let’s just stay tuned and see how that review comes out, and we’ll – as I said previous times, we’ll have plenty to say about that when the time comes.

Let me go back here to Nina.

QUESTION: Robert, can I go back to Iraq, specifically on translators that have been working for the American Government, particularly people employed by Global Lingual Solutions. Now all their personal details (inaudible) are being handed over to the Iraqi Ministry of Finance. Are you concerned about the safety of these people? Have you been offering more visas? Can you give me an update on how many visas have gone to these people?

MR. WOOD: Unfortunately, Nina, I don’t have an update for you on that. Sorry.

QUESTION: Were you – but is this a source of concern?

MR. WOOD: I don’t – I’ll have to look at the issue on that in order --

QUESTION: Can you take it as a question?

MR. WOOD: Sure, we’ll take a look and see if we can get you something on that.


QUESTION: Yeah, there’s a story in the press this morning sort of quoting Indian diplomats as sort of proudly suggesting that they were able to wrest away the Kashmir issue from the portfolio of Holbrooke. I’m just wondering whether that sort of lines up with your impression of things.

MR. WOOD: Well, as we’ve said before, that Kashmir was not going to be a part of Ambassador Holbrooke’s portfolio. We’ve made that very clear. And I would just say to you that, of course, India has a lot of interests in Afghanistan. Ambassador Holbrooke, other officials will be consulting with India. But you know, that story in The Washington Post is not true. It was never being considered.

QUESTION: Robert, a quick one on Sri Lanka. There is a humanitarian issue in Sri Lanka, and hundreds of thousands of them are now homeless and without any food, shelter, and medicines. If anything – the U.S. is concerned or engaged?

MR. WOOD: You know, of course, we are very concerned about the situation on the ground in Sri Lanka, and we’re working through UN organizations to try to provide whatever help that we can. It’s a very, very sad situation, especially some of the attacks against the media. We’ve been very concerned about that. And it’s a longstanding conflict, you know, going on over 25 years. You know, we’d like to see just a better outcome. And hopefully, at some point, you know, this war will come to an end and, you know, the Sri Lankan people can, you know, begin to think about a better life for themselves and their children.

QUESTION: Robert, can I just go back to your – you said The Washington Post story is not true?

MR. WOOD: I’m saying that – well, that headline specifically is not true.

QUESTION: Well, what are you saying? Are you saying that the Indian people – the Indian officials who are quoted in there are not --

MR. WOOD: What I’m saying to you, Matt, is that in terms of Ambassador Holbrooke’s portfolio, Kashmir was not going to be a part of that portfolio. It’s been focused on Afghanistan, Pakistan. He’s coordinating our entire U.S. Government effort to try to improve the situation on the ground.

QUESTION: Was it, at some point, a broader portfolio?

MR. WOOD: It was always focused on, you know, Afghanistan-Pakistan.

QUESTION: Mr. Wood --

MR. WOOD: Let me go to Charley. He hasn’t asked.

QUESTION: Robert, the Dallas Morning News today has a story about new contacts between the Mexican and United States Government about joint exercises to control drug violence along the border centered around Juarez. Are there new diplomatic contacts with the U.S. and Mexico in this regard?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know, Charley, but I’d probably refer you to the Drug Enforcement Administration to follow up on that. That’s probably the best source.

QUESTION: Egypt announced that it plans to have a donor conference for Gaza in March. Will the Secretary attend? Is – and also, are you look – how much money do you think the U.S. will pony up for this?

MR. WOOD: Well, we were informed by the Egyptian Government of this conference. We certainly will have – we’ll send a representative to it. I don’t know who that person will be at this point. But we’re obviously very pleased and welcome very much the efforts of the international community to coordinate assistance to – assistance flows to the people of Gaza. You know, one example is what Senator Mitchell announced earlier today, the 20.3 million that we would provide.

Lambros, last question.

QUESTION: On Mark Dybul. Mr. Wood, The Washington Post reported January 28th that the day after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, your Global Coordinator on HIV/AIDS, Ambassador Mark Dybul, quote, “received a call asking him to submit his resignation and leave by the end of the day his office,” unquote. I am wondering why and what happened.

MR. WOOD: Well, very simple.

QUESTION: Excuse me?

MR. WOOD: It’s very simple. I’m going to explain.

As you know, at the end of an administration, on January 20, officials who are political appointees are required to submit their resignations and depart. And that’s all that was. It was for not just Mr. Dybul but other, you know, officials from the Bush Administration. They are required to submit their resignations and to depart. That was a part of it.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Do you have any idea, Mr. Wood, who is going to replace Mark Dybul, who never was in a position anyway to promote the existence of the so-called HIV virus that causes AIDS, and he was only the real promoter of the (inaudible) AIDS medication of pharmaceutical companies against (inaudible) people globally, the majority of them blacks here in the U.S. and in the continent of Africa?

MR. WOOD: Mr. Lambros, I promise you that when we have a name to announce --

QUESTION: Excuse me? What?

MR. WOOD: When we have a name to announce --

QUESTION: I’ve got one more. Do you have any --

QUESTION: Mr. Wood --

MR. WOOD: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Mr. Wood, excuse me. I have (inaudible) Greece alone. Any communication between Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni?

MR. WOOD: I believe they had a phone conversation, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Does the building have any comment about this lawsuit that was filed yesterday by Judicial Watch on behalf of the State – one of your colleagues here in the State Department saying that – (laughter) – saying that Mrs. Clinton is not constitutionally eligible to serve as Secretary of State?

MR. WOOD: Well, as you know, Matt, we don’t comment on pending litigation, and I’ll have to refer you to the Department of Justice. So let me leave it at that.

QUESTION: So who will defend --

MR. WOOD: It’s an ongoing --

QUESTION: DOJ will – DOJ will represent the Secretary in this?

MR. WOOD: For further details, I’ll have to refer you to the Department of Justice.

Thank you all.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:50 a.m.)

dpb # 14