Robert Wood
Acting Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
February 11, 2009


Index for Today's Briefing
  • ISRAEL
    • Official Elections Results Not Yet In
    • U.S. Looks Forward to Working with New Government Once Formed
    • Two-State Solution Remains the Desired Objective
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • U.S. Condemns Recent Attack in Kabul
    • Investigation is Underway
    • Talks in Moscow / Transit Agreement with Russia of Non-Lethal Supplies to ISAF
  • PAKISTAN
    • S/R Holbrooke Visit / Meetings with Military, Civilian Leaders
    • Bruce Riedel to Chair Afghanistan Review in White House / Holbrooke, Flournoy will Co-Chair
    • General Petraeus's Review will Feed into Overall Review
    • Assurances from Pakistani Government on A.Q. Khan / Proliferation Threat
  • ZIMBABWE
    • U.S. Congratulates Morgan Tsvangirai / New Prime Minister
    • No New Developmental Assistance Until U.S. Sees Effective Governance, True Power-Sharing by Robert Mugabe
    • Government will be Judged by its Actions
  • SOMALIA
    • U.S. Congratulates New Leader / See January 31 Statement
    • Willing to Work with New President in Efforts to Combat Piracy
  • ETHIOPIA
    • Suspect Arrested in Death of FSO Case / Still Don't Know if there was Foul Play
    • Condolences to Family of Officer
  • IRAN
    • Look Forward to Direct Engagement with Iranian People
    • More Information Available Once Review is Completed
  • CHINA
    • U.S. Concerns over Tibet / Secretary's Involvement in Human Rights Issues
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Six-Party Working Group Meeting in Moscow, February 19-20 / Alex Arvizu to Lead U.S. Interagency Team
    • Refer to Russian Government for Agenda


TRANSCRIPT:

11:08 a.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone.

QUESTION: Good morning.

MR. WOOD: That sounded like “good morning, class.” (Laughter.) I don’t have anything, so why don’t we go right to your questions.

QUESTION: There was an election yesterday in Israel. It doesn’t look like we know what exactly is going to emerge out of it, but what are your thoughts about what happened?

MR. WOOD: Well, the official results are not in, so we’re not going to speculate on what kind of a government may be formed. But Israel’s a thriving democracy and it’s in a middle of a constitutional process for selecting a government. And we look forward to working with that new government once it’s formed. We have a robust agenda with the Government of Israel, as you know. And so we’re looking forward to getting down to business with the new government, with –

QUESTION: But that robust agenda may not be able to be satisfied with a center-right government, don’t you think?

MR. WOOD: Why don’t we let a new government come into being, and then we can talk about, you know, the agenda going forward.

QUESTION: Well, maybe you could talk about your robust agenda, and then we can analyze how it won’t work with this government.

MR. WOOD: You had a question?

QUESTION: Yeah. So you’re – once the government is in place, you’re ready to – ready and willing and able to work with it no matter who is leading the government and what the government’s policies might be.

MR. WOOD: The government needs to be formed. It’s obviously – it has to look at what types of policies it’s going to undertake with regard to a number of areas. And we will have discussions with that new government once – as I said, once it’s in place and go forward. But I’m not going to speculate on what type of government’s going to be formed. But the important thing here is that we look forward to working with that new government.

QUESTION: Whoever is leading it?

MR. WOOD: Whoever is leading it. That’s a decision for the Israeli people, not for the United States Government.

QUESTION: But getting it in place could take a while. I mean, how badly is this going to delay and complicate their development –

MR. WOOD: Well, you’re speculating. Look, it’s very hard to say right now as to how long it’s going to take before that government is formed. The government will be formed when the government is formed. And I can’t say anything more about it than that.

QUESTION: Would you share some of the concern expressed by U.S.-Arab allies in Egypt and other places about Avigdor Lieberman if he enters a new government?

MR. WOOD: Look, it’s not for the United States to make that kind of a characterization. This is a choice that the Israeli people will have to make. Once that new government is formed, regardless of who is in that government, we will work with that government. As I said, we have a very full, robust agenda with the Government of Israel. And that’s about all I can say on it.

QUESTION: Even with the uncertainty that there is right now, can you say if former Senator Mitchell still intends to make a trip, as announced, toward the end of this month?

MR. WOOD: I have heard nothing to indicate that he plans to, you know, change his plans.

QUESTION: Robert?

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: The Palestinians are saying that any future Israeli government, no matter who it may be, needs to honor Israel’s past agreements with the Palestinians, freeze all settlement activity, deal seriously with some of the Arab peace initiatives that have been out there for a comprehensive peace between Arabs and Israelis, and needs to believe and promote a two-state solution. Do you think that the new Israeli government, no matter who it should be, should stick to those principles?

MR. WOOD: Look, we’ve been working over the years with governments in Israel on trying to bring about – or trying to affect a peace process, and that’s still going to be our goal. And I believe that, you know, once a government is formed, we’ll be able to sit down with that government and talk about the various issues involved in the Middle East. But I’m not going to get ahead of the formation of a new Israeli government.

QUESTION: No, but would you expect that any Israeli government would continue on the idea of a two-state solution?

MR. WOOD: Certainly, that’s what we have been pursuing. And you know, again, let’s let a government be formed. We certainly hope that a new government will continue to pursue a path to peace. I see no reason to think that a new government would do something otherwise. But again, let’s wait for a new government to be formed, and then we can talk more about the issue.

QUESTION: Yes. Nazira Karimi for Ariana Television from Afghanistan. As you know this morning, five suicidal attack happen in Kabul and too many people died and injured. What’s the State Department reaction? And also, these attacks come the time that Mr. Holbrooke expect to visit Kabul. What do you think about these attacks? And also, do you think that Mr. Holbrooke is still planning to visit Kabul?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say we condemn this attack. It’s a heinous attack of terrorism. I know that the Afghan Government is going to investigate this. We hope that the culprits of this attack are brought to justice.

With regard to Ambassador Holbrooke’s visit, I can give you a readout right now of what we have in terms of what he’s done, if you all are interested in that. Want me to go forward and do that?

QUESTION: Yeah, sure.

MR. WOOD: Ambassador Holbrooke continued his visit in Pakistan. He visited tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan earlier today. He met with government and military officials, as well as leaders from civil society. In the tribal areas, Special Representative Holbrooke visited the Khyber Pass and the Bajaur Agency, where Pakistani security forces have been fighting insurgent extremists.

Ambassador Holbrooke met with local military commanders and the political agent of Mohmand Agency, and in Peshawar he met with Northwest Frontier Province Governor Ghani, the Army and Frontier Corps commanders, and NGO representatives from the Swat district, the Waziristan Agency, and the Northwest Frontier Province.

This was Ambassador Holbrooke’s second trip to Peshawar and the tribal areas in the past 10 months.

QUESTION: Do you think these attacks has a connection between – to this events, Mr. Holbrooke’s trip to Kabul?

MR. WOOD: I have no reason to be able to draw that kind of a conclusion. We just don’t know. That – those attacks are being investigated by the Afghan authorities. I cannot –

QUESTION: Robert, while Holbrooke was in the region, there was an attack actually there in Pakistan. Can you – was he anywhere near where that happened?

MR. WOOD: I don’t believe so, no.

QUESTION: Can I just follow on that?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Robert, as far as Mr. Holbrooke’s appointment, and also now I heard yesterday that Mr. Bruce Riedel also in the game, you think somebody didn’t like Mr. Holbrooke or his mission already, or what will be the mission, or how do they divide between the two?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, as was announced by the White House yesterday, by Spokesman Gibbs, that Bruce Riedel is going to chair this Afghan review and – this policy review on U.S. policy toward Afghan and Pakistan, I should be more specific.

QUESTION: Both?

MR. WOOD: Yes. And Ambassador Holbrooke is going to be one of the co-chairs. Michelle Flournoy, who is the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, is the other co-chair. And they’re looking to conduct an expeditious review of our overall policy toward those two countries. Ambassador Holbrooke, being a co-chair, will have a very active role in this. And you know, we look forward to seeing a review completed, you know, as quickly as possible.

QUESTION: How is that going to fit into the review that’s being done by General Petraeus?

MR. WOOD: Well, look –

QUESTION: Are they parallel? Are they going to be working together to come up with, you know, one strategy or –

MR. WOOD: Well, the overall review with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan that we’re very focused on right now is a much broader review than the one being conducted by General Petraeus, although that will feed in overall to this review being undertaken by Bruce Riedel, Ambassador Holbrooke and Michelle Flournoy. So that’s my description.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Much broader in what sense? I mean –

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s looking at it, again, across the various elements that we’re working on: political, military, economic, development. And so that’s what the overall review that’s being conducted will –

QUESTION: So who will be –

QUESTION: And – just one more. I mean, do you expect General Petraeus just to confine himself to making, sort of, military recommendations with no sort of –

MR. WOOD: You know, look, General Petraeus will make recommendations across – on various issues, should he choose to. You know, his advice is well-respected by all senior officials in the U.S. Government. So I would, you know, expect that he would make other types of recommendations outside of the military arena.

QUESTION: So then who will be the boss between the two and who will report to whom?

MR. WOOD: I don’t understand the question.

QUESTION: The two of them. I mean, are they going to report directly to the President or to the Secretary?

MR. WOOD: Which two are you talking about?

QUESTION: Mr. Holbrooke and Mr. Riedel.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, this is a review. And once that review is done, that review will be presented by the three to the President. And so that’s the best way I can describe it to you.

QUESTION: And one more, finally.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: As far as A.Q. Khan’s mission or network is concerned, as we know in the past already, now he’s a free man to travel anywhere and then – and now we have (inaudible) direct threat from Iranians on which he was the source to give technology to Iran. What surety or assurance you have now from the new government or from the military government or from the both in Pakistan that he will not continue his network or he will not deliver all this technology to the al-Qaida or Usama bin Ladin, which they had been seeking?

MR. WOOD: Well, as I mentioned yesterday, Deputy Secretary Steinberg met with the Pakistani foreign minister in Munich and expressed our concern about the court decision. And we were looking – you know, Deputy Secretary Steinberg was looking for assurances from the Pakistani Government that Mr. Khan would not continue to be a proliferation threat. We were given those assurances. We’ll have to see how things go. We certainly don’t want to see that black market up and operating, and we’ll continue to follow the issue very closely. But we’ve – you know, the Deputy Secretary received assurances from the Pakistani Government, so –

QUESTION: And can you say definitively whether Holbrooke raised this or not in his meetings?

MR. WOOD: I think he certainly raised this issue.

QUESTION: And was given the same assurances?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t gotten a readout from Ambassador Holbrooke, you know, on that.

QUESTION: But, Robert, how can they stop him when they couldn’t do it in the past? When he’s a free man now, I mean, of course, the assurance has been given, but –

MR. WOOD: Well, as I said, we were concerned by the court’s decision, and that’s why, you know, Deputy Secretary Steinberg wanted to make sure that the Pakistanis understood how seriously we take this and wanted assurances, and was given verbal assurances. And we’ll just have to see how that plays out.

QUESTION: Robert –

MR. WOOD: Let me go to someone else for just a –

QUESTION: Apparently, Russia agreed to allow shipment of U.S. goods through its territories to Afghanistan (inaudible). U.S. officials are there in Russia these days?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, there was a team led by Deputy Assistant Secretary Pat Moon that recently was – I think was in Moscow for talks with Russian officials on a wide range of matters concerning Afghanistan. Of course, one of those issues was the transit agreement which the Russians have said that they would support, and that’s basically allowing us to ship – to transport nonlethal supplies to ISAF forces through Russian territory into Afghanistan. So they had meetings yesterday and today. I don’t have a further readout on that, other than they were very good discussions.

QUESTION: You can’t say what the Russians are offering?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t gotten a readout yet, as I said.

QUESTION: Is Kazakhstan now providing transport for nonlethal aid as well?

MR. WOOD: Well, I have to look at that. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Another subject?

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Zimbabwe. Do you have any reaction to the fact that Tsvangirai is now prime minister? And does it change something in the U.S. policy toward Zimbabwe?

MR. WOOD: Well, we certainly congratulate Morgan Tsvangirai on assuming the position of prime minister; however, we will reserve our judgment on the new government until we see what types of actions it takes. You know, we will not consider providing additional development assistance or even easing sanctions until we see effective governments – governance in the country. And that’s going to be key.

QUESTION: But don’t you think Tsvangirai needs all the helps – the help he can right now that he has to rebuild completely the economy?

MR. WOOD: Well, certainly, he does. But we need to see evidence of good governance, and particularly real, true power-sharing on the part of Robert Mugabe before we are going to make any kind of commitment, as I said, to further development assistance or to easing sanctions.

QUESTION: So you are mostly concerned about what Mugabe could do with that aid than what Tsvangirai could do?

MR. WOOD: No, what we have said is that what the United States Government wanted to see was a government that truly reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people. Morgan Tsvangirai has now been – he’s now in office as prime minister. We’ll have to see exactly what happens with regard to the question of power – true power-sharing and good governance. And then we’ll see what additional development assistance and the possibility of easing sanctions that we can do. But we’ll just have to wait and see.

Kirit.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on –

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Are you still going to consider working with a government which is led by President Mugabe? Because he’s still the president. He’s still the head of state.

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ll judge it on its actions. We’ll have to see how this government – what it does, how truly there is a power-sharing arrangement, before seeing if we can really work with the government.

Kirit.

QUESTION: Just a couple more on Africa. We did an interview with the new Somali leader, who says that he wants to increase ties and cooperation with the United States. I was wondering if you had any sort of reaction to that.

MR. WOOD: Well, I think the Embassy in Nairobi a few days ago issued – or maybe it was even a couple of weeks ago, I think.

QUESTION: The 31st.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, 31st, issued a statement. So I’d refer you to that. But we obviously congratulate the new president of the Somali – you know, Transitional Federal Government. So I’d refer you to the statement.

QUESTION: He – in the interview, he also says that – well, in 2006 when he was also in power, he did a lot to curb piracy off the coast, and he said that that’s going to be one of his main focuses now. Is the United States willing to work with him? Do you support his efforts to curb –

MR. WOOD: We’ll certainly look. There’s an international effort underway to try to combat piracy, and so we look forward to working with, you know, the new president on what we can do along with others to try to combat piracy off the coast.

QUESTION: And then one more on Africa real quick.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on – I guess there’s some – or update on Ethiopia, on this guy – they’ve apparently arrested somebody in the north?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, my understanding is that Ethiopian authorities have arrested a suspect, but I don’t have much more in the way of details yet. There’s still, as you know, an investigation underway. And again, want to send out my condolences to the family of the officer who was – who died.

QUESTION: Does that – now that someone has been arrested, it appears that it definitely was foul play, so that –

MR. WOOD: Well –

QUESTION: When does the accountability review board get triggered?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – again, first of all, we don’t know if there was foul play. There was a suspect taken – who is under arrest, but I don’t know more than that, so I don’t want to jump to conclusions on what may have happened. But that issue with regard to the accountability board is still – that issue is still being looked at, so I don’t have a final answer for you on that yet.

Let me go to someone else, please.

QUESTION: I have a question on Iran. The U.S. has been sending signals to the Iranian Government that it’s ready for talks. The Iranian president yesterday sent the same signal that it’s ready for talks with the U.S. on mutual respect basis. What’s next? Who’s going to have to take the next step?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, the President and the Secretary were very clear in terms of what we want to do with regard to Iran in terms of engagement. We will be spelling out more specifics, of course, once that review is completed. But certainly, we look forward to having direct engagement with Iran. And we’ve said that we want to reach out to the Iranian people. The Iranians are a proud people. It is a very important nation. There are a lot of regional issues where Iran could play a helpful role. We want to see Iran play a much more positive role in the Middle East, in South Asia, and, you know, our hand is extended to Iran. So –

QUESTION: So basically, are you going to wait until the review is done to make any decisions on –

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, the review is important to our going forward with regard to our policy vis-à-vis Iran. So we hope to complete that review, you know, as quickly as we can and go forward. But again, as the President and the Secretary have said, we really do want to engage Iran and – but we still remain concerned, of course, by Iranian behavior around the world, so – I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR. WOOD: Yes, Michelle.

QUESTION: Last week, the Treasury Department put an Iranian Kurdish group on a terrorism sanctions list, PJAK, and a lot of Iran watchers saw that as an overture. Was it?

MR. WOOD: Look, I can’t tell you what Iran watchers are thinking or saying, but as I’ve said, we remain concerned about a number of things that Iran has been doing. But we want to reach out to Iran, and we will be outlining, as I said, those steps once that review is completed.

Lach.

QUESTION: Yeah, the review – can you give us any ideas how long it will take? Will it be before the Iranian elections? Can you give us any idea?

MR. WOOD: It’s hard for me to give you that kind of an idea, but it’s going to be a very thorough review, and we’re going to be looking at all aspects of our policies toward Iran, and try to do what we think makes best sense in terms of reaching out to Iran. But I couldn’t put a timeframe on it for you at this point.

Sir.

QUESTION: The Dalai Lama said today in India that the situation in Tibet is very tense and there could be uprising anytime in that part of – in Tibet. What is the State Department assessment of the situation in Tibet right now? And the Secretary plans to take up this issue when she visits China later this month?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, the situation in Tibet is something the U.S. Government’s been concerned about for some time. We’ve raised, you know, that issue with the Chinese in the past. The Secretary will be having a wide-ranging discussion with the Chinese once she is in China. I am not going to get beyond what we have said publicly about our engagement with China. But human rights issues are something that will be at the top of the Secretary’s agenda no matter where she goes.

QUESTION: You can’t say that the Secretary’s going to talk about Tibet on the trip? I mean, wouldn’t you say that that’s a pretty safe bet that that issue is going to come up?

MR. WOOD: It could very well come up. I just don’t want to get into specific subject areas at this point. But you can expect that the Secretary is going to be bringing up human rights issues throughout the trip where she deems it necessary to do so.

Kirit.

QUESTION: Staying in the region, I think Yonhap reported this morning that there is a possible Six-Party meeting in Moscow next week. Is – do you know anything about that?

MR. WOOD: I’d have to refer you to the Russians because they are chair of this Six-Party working group on – I think it’s peace and security in North Asia. But I believe it’s supposed to take place February 19 and 20, but I – we’ll be sending a team.

QUESTION: Do you know who is going to represent the U.S.?

MR. WOOD: Let me see if I’ve got anything on this. Looks like we’re sending Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Alex Arvizu, who will lead – it’s an interagency delegation. And that’s all I have.

QUESTION: And what’s on the agenda?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I’ll refer you to the Russian Government. But again, it has to do with the Six-Party framework.

Please.

QUESTION: The Secretary said yesterday that she’s hopeful that recent behavior from North Korea is not any indication that it’s going to try to threaten peace and stability in the region. Does that change with the reported U.S. spy satellite images that they’re moving around some equipment at a satellite launch pad?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, we’ve said over and again we remain concerned about some of North Korea’s behavior in the international community, and we’ve encouraged the North not to take any steps that will, you know, create any kind of tensions in the region. And so we don’t want to see provocative acts on the part of the North that will raise tensions.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to the – my question real quick about the working group meeting?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, you’re sending a team, but your review is apparently not over yet. Are they going to have anything to say at all?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, the review will give us a comprehensive sense of our policy. So the Russians are going to host this meeting, and we’ll send a delegation. But you’re absolutely right, we’re going to have this review, and that will give everyone a better sense of what our overall policy is going to be.

QUESTION: So then what’s the U.S. participation going to look like if they don’t really have a policy to –

MR. WOOD: Well, you can go to meetings and, you know, offer, you know, preliminary views, hear from others. I don’t see anything unusual about that.

Yeah.

QUESTION: What – anything update on Sri Lanka as far as humanitarian or ceasefire, what role U.S. is playing now?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have an update for you at this moment. I’ll see if I can get you something on that.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:31 a.m.)

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