Gordon Duguid
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
February 18, 2009


Index for Today's Briefing
  • INDONESIA
    • Secretary Clinton's Agenda Today in Jakarta
  • PAKISTAN
    • U.S. Concerns for American UN Employee Kidnapped in Quetta / UN is Lead Agency
    • Amb. Holbrooke Back in Washington / Preparing Briefings for S, POTUS
    • Watching Situation in Swat Valley
    • No New Information on Possible Extradition of Mumbai Attacker from India
    • Judicial Process Should be Fair and Transparent
  • IRAQ
    • Status of Pentagon Review on Draw Down of Troops
  • SWITZERLAND
    • U.S. Delegation in Geneva for Durban Conference
    • No Readout Yet / U.S. Concerned with Draft Text
  • KYRGYZSTAN
    • Discussions on Manas Air Base
    • Parliamentary Procedure Instituted in Kyrgyzstan / Refer to Kyrgyz for Status
    • Up to Kyrgyz Government to Let U.S. Know Where They Stand
  • CAMBODIA
    • U.S. Support for Khmer Rouge Tribunal / Current Funding >$1.5 Million
    • Court Should Proceed with Prosecutions in a Fair and Transparent Judicial Process
  • SYRIA
    • Policy Review is Ongoing
    • Syria Can Play a Positive Role in Bringing Peace to the Middle East
  • ALBANIA
    • World Bank Issue is a Court Matter / Own Investigation
    • Independent Judiciary in Albania Addressing Sentencing of Five Greek Citizens
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Deployment Demonstrates U.S. Commitment / Will Help Train Afghan National Army
    • Training for State Department Personnel Going to Afghanistan
  • SRI LANKA
    • U.S. Contact with Sri Lankan Government, NGOs / Concern for Civilians in Military Ops
    • Welcome ICRC Evacuation of 1,200 Civilians / 250,000 Civilians Still in Vanni Region
    • USAID has Provided >$28 Million in Food Assistance, Medicine
    • Encourage Non-Combatants to Leave Conflict Zone


TRANSCRIPT:

11:00 a.m. EST

MR. DUGUID: Good morning, everyone. I would like, if it’s useful to you, to lead off with just a summary of what Secretary Clinton did in Jakarta today. The day is nearly ended for them there. She arrived at what was 2:20 p.m. Jakarta time and then followed her arrival with meetings with the foreign minister, and then with the Secretary General for ASEAN, and then with the Indonesian president. Those were her main meetings for today. She also did a press conference in that time.

And with that, I’ll go right to your questions. Please. Hello, Mr. Lambros. Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. I have on human rights, Gordon. The kidnappers of an American UN worker, John Solecki, seized in Quetta, Pakistan, close to Kandahar, border of Afghanistan, have threatened to kill him unless 141 women prisoners are released. And I’m wondering if you have anything to say since his parents, in their eighties, (inaudible) something for the U.S. Government?

MR. DUGUID: Our sympathy goes out to his parents and to all of his family. The UN is the lead agency in this issue. We are in close contact with the UN. We are very concerned for his safety, and we urge his kidnappers to release him. He is, of course, innocent of any wrongdoing. He was in Pakistan to help the Pakistani people, and he should be released immediately and without condition.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Do you know if Secretary Hillary Clinton is going to do something concrete to release him?

MR. DUGUID: As I said, the UN is the lead agency in this matter. He was working for them at the time. We are in close consultation with the UN.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: You’re welcome. Other questions. Yes.

QUESTION: Is the State Department talking to Turkey and/or Jordan about using their – either airspace or territory to withdraw some of the equipment – equipment and material from Iraq when the time comes?

MR. DUGUID: I am not aware of any discussions on that. I know that the President has asked for a review from the Pentagon on just how you could draw down U.S. forces in Iraq. I am not aware that that review has been finalized, so I would have to refer you to the Pentagon for where that stands at the moment.

QUESTION: If there were an interest in using Turkey, then it would probably be something the Department would --

MR. DUGUID: That is correct. If the State Department were asked to lead negotiations, that would be here. I’m unaware that we are doing so at the moment.

Yes, please, Viola.

QUESTION: Do you have any update of the talks about the Durban conference in Geneva?

MR. DUGUID: The – I haven’t had a readout yet. Our group is there on the ground. It is made up of officials from our U.S.-UN – the U.S. Mission to the UN in Geneva as well as private partners in that. I don’t have a readout now. I do know that we remain concerned with the draft text and that we are working to try and get that text changed for the better, but I don’t have the full details for you at this point.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on where you are with the air base in Kyrgyzstan? They’re apparently – on their end, they’re coming to a vote. They feel like they’re close to a resolution, and they say they have had no new proposals from you guys.

MR. DUGUID: I believe I addressed this yesterday. We had – we have been in discussions with them, and we have talked about what, on our side, we believe is a proper way forward. They have instituted in Kyrgyzstan a parliamentary procedure. As of this morning, I’m unaware that that procedure has moved out of committee, and so I refer you to the Kyrgyz to find out where the motion is on their part. For our part, I believe we have talked to them, presented them with a way forward on this issue, and we’re waiting to see what the result of their parliamentary debate is.

QUESTION: You definitely have presented new proposals, because the foreign minister said --

MR. DUGUID: No, I’m not saying that we presented any new proposals. In our discussions, we have talked to them about the way forward about continuing to have a U.S. presence at the Manas air base. It is for the Kyrgyz now to respond to that. I have seen responses that were made public in press statements. I’ve also seen that the parliament has begun a process that is in committee, at least the last I understood the process, which was yesterday. I don’t have an update for you today. But it’s with the Kyrgyz Government now to let us know where they stand on the base.

Okay. Yes, please.

QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke is back, so do you know what the next plans are or when he’s going to brief the President or the Secretary? And secondly, do you have any further update on what we had on Swat Valley yesterday?

MR. DUGUID: On the first question, yes, Ambassador Holbrooke has returned. He is preparing for his briefings for the Secretary and the President, both of whom are traveling at the moment. So that’s, I believe, where it stands.

On the reaction to the agreement in Swat Valley, no, we leave it where we had it yesterday. We’re watching the situation. We are in discussions or we’re in contact with the Government of Pakistan. And you know, we’ll see what the results of their policy will be.

Yes.

QUESTION: A follow-up. There are press accounts saying that Pakistan is requesting that India pass – or give them the lone Mumbai attacker that they’ve captured. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR. DUGUID: The United States is working with both sides in order to help bring all of the attackers in – of – in Mumbai to justice. The Pakistanis have taken some steps to help the Indians in their investigations. But I don’t have any new information on a return of any of the people captured during the attack to Pakistan.

QUESTION: Well, there was only one that was captured. Do you think that he should be transferred to Pakistan per their request?

MR. DUGUID: I think that he should be put through a judicial process, and that that judicial process should be fair and transparent. But I don’t have an opinion on whether he should be extradited or not. That would be between India and Pakistan.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Yeah, a question that – I wanted to get your reaction to the opening of the trials of former Khmer Rouge officials in Cambodia yesterday.

MR. DUGUID: The trial is one that is supported by the United States. I do have a couple of figures for you here, if I can just find them. We strongly support bringing to justice senior leaders responsible for the atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge regime. The U.S. support for the tribunal currently stands at over $1.5 million, and we do believe that the court should proceed with the prosecutions, again, in a fair and transparent judicial process.

QUESTION: Just to follow – has that funding actually been – is it still in the pledge status, or has it actually been --

MR. DUGUID: I have “at current levels,” so it’s been dispensed, to my knowledge.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Syrian president has told The Guardian that he expects better relations with the U.S. and also expects an ambassador from Washington. Is the State Department anywhere close to that? And if not, what will it take?

MR. DUGUID: I’ve seen the article, and the – those people in the State Department who are conducting our review on our policy towards Syria have also seen the article. We’re not at the end of that review of policy yet, and so I don’t have an official reaction to those statements for you. However, Syria can play a role, and a positive role, in the region by trying to help bring peace and stability to the Middle East. And I think the Syrians understand that they can do that. That is what the U.S. would like to see all nations in that region do.

Yes, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Albania, the World Bank acknowledged yesterday serious errors by the Albanian Government against a Greek village in northern Epirus and presented an action plan for addressing this issue to a panel. I am wondering what is the U.S. position, since the European Union is involved, too.

MR. DUGUID: I would refer you to the World Bank for their action, and I believe that the – this matter is before the courts in Albania, so that would be – those would be the proper places to go for an opinion on this. It’s a court matter. The World Bank, I understand from press reports, has launched its own investigation. They would have many more details than I would be able to give you.

QUESTION: One more question. Any response by Mark Toner to my pending question of last week on the Sali Berisha supreme court in Albania regarding the sentence of five Greeks in Himara of northern Epirus for political reasons 25 years in prison who simply raised a Greek flag?

MR. DUGUID: I believe that the matter is a court matter for the Albanians, and they do have an independent judiciary that has worked through this.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Can you comment on reports out of South Korea that North Korea is operating a covert highly enriched uranium facility at the Yongbyon complex?

MR. DUGUID: The ability of anyone from this podium to respond to what would entail intelligence matters is limited. I’ve not heard these reports before coming in here this morning, and so I will have to see if I can get an answer for you on that if we have any information.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Following on from the President’s approval of 17,000 more troops, U.S. troops, into Afghanistan. Is there a (inaudible) the Department or a lack of faith that Hamid Karzai can and will do what’s necessary to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaida there?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t think that that was the motivation for the President’s authorization at all. The deployment demonstrates U.S. commitment to the future of Afghanistan and to the Afghan people. The additional forces will allow us not only to augment our counterinsurgency operations there, but will help us to mentor and train the Afghan National Army. And that move is essential for the Afghans to actually take control of their own security, which is the ultimate goal.

Meanwhile, at the State Department, we are also working on the number of our personnel who will be on the ground and the skills that they can deploy in order to help support those people that we deploy in PRTs who are also there to work with our military colleagues and help the Afghans reach that goal.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that?

MR. DUGUID: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Is there going to be increase in the State Department personnel in Afghanistan as a consequence to sending --

MR. DUGUID: This is part of our review. We are already working on augmenting the training of those people who are in the pipeline, so to speak, to be assigned to Afghanistan. And as part of our review, we are looking at the disposition of the numbers of State Department personnel there.

QUESTION: The foreign minister of Afghanistan is expected to be (inaudible) this weekend. Will he be meeting the Secretary next week or --

MR. DUGUID: I will have to ask what her schedule is like next week. I don’t – I don’t know that.

Yes.

QUESTION: A follow-up to that. What did you mean by augmenting training of the people in the pipeline? Is there already some change? Has there been some change made to the kind of training that State Department personnel are getting who are --

MR. DUGUID: I’ll try and get more details for you, but the types of training would be better language training, more training in the issues that are facing our PRT representatives on the ground.

QUESTION: How long has that been going on?

MR. DUGUID: Not everything that you learn in order to go in and work in a government-to-government sense in the capital is applicable when you go out into the field and work in a PRT, where you have to have a much broader range of skills in order to engage a number of groups, not only Afghans but PRTs who are on the ground, foreign troops who may be part of the coalition.

QUESTION: Is that a change that just occurred – I mean, the change in the training? Or is this something that’s been --

MR. DUGUID: It’s been something that we had been looking at. But it is a priority for the State Department to ensure that our presence on the ground matches the commitment and expertise of those who are there with the U.S. military and coalition forces.

QUESTION: So it’s already begun? If I didn’t repeat the same question, you already changed the way, or expanded or augmented --

MR. DUGUID: I’ll have to ask again from our training folks when the additions actually began. I don’t have a date for you, but this is something that the State Department is doing and is committed to do.

Okay. Yes, please.

QUESTION: The Sri Lankan ambassador in a statement day before yesterday urged the U.S. to influence upon LTT not to use the cap – civilian as a captives; whereas, tomorrow – day after tomorrow, there is going to be a demonstration by Genocide Against Tamils urging the U.S. to urge upon Sri Lankan Government not to – not to kill the civilians in the (inaudible) Sri Lanka. What’s the U.S. position on that?

MR. DUGUID: We have already been in touch with the Sri Lankan Government, and we have urged them to have consideration for civilians in their military operations. We have also tried to work with NGOs to help NGOs address the plight of the internally displaced people in Sri Lanka.

We are -- if I can just find it for you here a moment, please. We welcome today the evacuation of approximately 1,200 civilians. The ICRC assisted with their departure from the conflict zone, but we continue to be concerned about the lack of access to the remaining civilian population in the Vanni region, which numbers about 250,000 people. USAID’s Food for Peace Program has provided emergency food assistance, valued somewhere above $28 million, to the WFP in support of the internally displaced persons and the vulnerable populations in the north.

We are working through NGOs on the ground to try and make sure that food and medicine can get into the people in the Vanni region. We encourage both sides to allow civilians and noncombatants to leave the conflict zone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:16 a.m.)

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