Robert Wood
Acting Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
February 23, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • The Secretary's Future Travel Plans are Yet to be Announced
    • Meetings This Week with Delegations from Pakistan and Afghanistan
    • Upcoming Trilateral Meeting and Dinner with Pakistan and Afghanistan Delegations
    • All Meetings are in Connection with the Ongoing Policy Reviews
    • Terrorist Attack in Cairo Condemned by the U.S.
    • No American Citizens Harmed/No Claims of Responsibility by any Group
    • U.S. Embassy Cairo Open for Business
    • Review of U.S. Policy not yet Completed/Sanctions Have Not Worked
    • The U.S. Welcomes the Release of Political Prisoners
    • The Government of Burma is Urged to Set Free all Remaining Prisoners, Including Aung San Suu Kyi
    • UN Security Council Resolution 1718 Prohibits North Korea from Engaging in Missile Related Activities
    • Regarding Press Reports About Deployment of Forces by the DPRK, the U.S. Discusses Neither Intelligence Matters nor Contingency Plans
    • Regarding the Future Closure of Manas Air Base to U.S. Forces/Other Possible Options Exist
    • The U.S. Remains Deeply Concerned About the Humanitarian Situation and the Plight of Thousands of Internally Displaced Persons
    • The Government of Sri Lanka and Tamil Tigers are Called Upon to Discuss a Way to End the Hostilities
    • Serbian Officials Have Assured the U.S. That They Will Pursue This Case Vigorously
    • The U.S. Continues to Work Toward the Extradition of Miladin Kovacevic to New York Where he Would Face Justice
    • Concern by the U.S. Regarding Situation in Mindanao


11:46 a.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Welcome. I don’t have anything.

QUESTION: Israeli officials are saying that Secretary Clinton is going to be traveling to Jerusalem and also to the West Bank following her already announced visit to Sharm el-Sheikh. So I just wondered whether you could confirm that and provide us any details on her future travel plans.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, as – you know our standard policy. Once we have a trip announcement and some details to give you on an upcoming trip, we’ll announce them. But I don’t have anything until, you know, we make an announcement at some point on her travel.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the meetings this week with the Afghan and Pakistan delegations as to where, when, that sort of thing?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. I believe that the Secretary is going to meet with Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi – I think it’s on Thursday. Let me just double check, I have some – and meet with Foreign Minister Spanta on Tuesday. Is it – have I got it mixed up?

STAFF: Tuesday.

MR. WOOD: It’s Tuesday with Qureshi. Tuesday with Qureshi and Thursday with Spanta. And I believe there is a trilateral meeting that is supposed to take place on Thursday, and then a trilateral dinner on Wednesday.

QUESTION: Is this all going to be at the State Department?

MR. WOOD: I believe so. We’ll let you know if there’s some change of schedule. I believe it’s supposed to be here.

QUESTION: The trilateral dinner will be here in the State Department?

MR. WOOD: I believe so, but we’ll double check on that for you.

QUESTION: And why are you doing this? Is this part of – is this as a result of Ambassador Holbrooke’s visit? He thought it would be a good idea to bring them together to meet or --

MR. WOOD: Well, look, this is all in connection with our review. And we obviously want to hear from a wide variety of voices about the situation on – with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan. And the Secretary looks forward to meeting with both ministers, hearing their views, and of course, sharing our views on what we believe is going on, on the ground. And as I said, that will all feed into our overall review.

QUESTION: Why this trilateral? Does she think there is some room for improvement in their relations?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think it’s just a desire to – you know, for us to sit down – for her to sit down with the two leaders and talk about shared concerns, shared problems, how all of us can work together to try to improve the situation in Afghanistan and on the border – and on Pakistan’s – excuse me, the tribal areas. So she believes it’s an important opportunity to sit down and discuss these very serious issues, because you know how concerned she is about – and other government officials are about the situation on the ground in the region.

QUESTION: I thought these are separate meetings, Robert. Is that --

MR. WOOD: There are separate meetings and then there is, as I said, the trilateral dinner and then the trilateral meeting.

QUESTION: But can you say who asked – who requested these meetings? Was it the Afghans and the Pakistanis who asked to --

MR. WOOD: I don’t --

QUESTION: -- come and to have some input into that policy review?

MR. WOOD: What I can tell you is that we think it’s important that Pakistan and Afghanistan – the governments feed into that review. Their views, obviously, are very important. They will be taken into account with the Secretary, the President. Others are going to be talking with experts in the region to figure out how we can best go forward, because we are concerned about the situation in that region, and we want to do what we can to try to make things better. And it’s important to have a wide variety of views going into it.

QUESTION: Well, will she also have other counterpart visits here in Washington along the same lines later?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. It’s hard for me to say. I don’t think we’ve gotten that far along, but we certainly will keep you abreast of any types of meetings like those.


QUESTION: Who all will be participating in this meeting from the U.S. side beside the Secretary of State?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t had time to focus on that. We’re just getting back from Asia. We’ll see if there’s something we can get you in terms of who will be participating. But I don’t have anything right now.

QUESTION: Will there be any joint statement at the end of the meeting?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. Don’t know at this point. I don’t want to rule it out and don’t want to rule it in, actually. So we’ll just see how that develops.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. WOOD: Change the subject?

QUESTION: No, it’s the same subject.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Could you say something specifically about the U.S. attitude towards the peace agreement or the negotiations toward some kind of agreement in the Swat area? These are a concern to the U.S. side and --

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything to add. I mean, I’m not sure it’s very clear in terms of what’s actually happening with regard to the situation in Swat. I’d have to refer you to the Pakistanis, who can give you a better sense of what the – has been agreed to or not been agreed to. I just don’t have any way of knowing at this point.


QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any reaction about this attack in Cairo? There were some tourists killed – and one was killed in --

MR. WOOD: Yeah. Look, we strongly condemn this terrorist attack in Cairo. My understanding is that there weren’t any American citizens who were hurt at all. No claims of responsibility yet. Our Embassy is open for business. And we obviously express our sympathies to the families of the victims. And we will continue to work closely with the Government of Egypt to do what we can to support them in their efforts to fight terrorism.

Anything else?

QUESTION: On Myanmar. How far have you got with your review on Myanmar? When do you think it will be complete? And what aspects, in particular, are you looking at?

MR. WOOD: Well, the review isn’t completed. We’re trying to figure out a way to better influence the behavior of the regime, particularly with regard to political prisoners. You know, as the Secretary has said, you know, sanctions really haven’t worked. And there are other aspects of previous government’s approach to Burma that -- the international community’s approach to Burma in general that haven’t worked.

And we need to find a way to make our policy effective, and we’re going to be looking for ways to try to do that. And we’re going to do them in consultation with our allies, the UN, and others, because nothing has really moved. And we’ve got to try to figure out a way to move the Burmese Government in the direction that we want them to move in. And it’s – you know, it’s something the Secretary cares very deeply about. And she’s frustrated, as we all are, that, you know, things have not progressed the way we’d like to have seen them progress. So – but that review is still ongoing.

QUESTION: Same subject.


QUESTION: Do you have any specific response to this release of prisoners? Is that half a loaf, as far as you’re concerned?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, it’s a step. We obviously welcome the release of any political prisoners. But we call on the Burmese to release all political prisoners, including Aung San Suu Kyi. And – but we’ll have to see if indeed this leads to more releases. But you know, obviously, the release of any political prisoners is something we would welcome, but a lot more needs to be done.


WOOD: On this subject?

QUESTION: Same subject, yes.

MR. WOOD: Okay.

QUESTION: In the State Department is a new team which is reviewing the policy on Burma. Is there a definite timeline for this review policy?

MR. WOOD: I just answered that question a moment ago. A review is still undergoing – is still being – is still ongoing. And once we’re able to, you know, give you more details about where we’re going on Burma, we’ll be happy to do that.


QUESTION: On North Korea. There is a report today that the North Korea seems to be ready to fire Taepodong missile very soon. And also this morning, they announced the 60,000 North Korean troops new deployment nearby (inaudible) currently. What contingence plan does the U.S. have?

MR. WOOD: Well, in regard to the second point of your question, I haven’t heard that. And I wouldn’t talk to you here at the podium about any contingency plans we would make or not make. I mean, that’s just not what we would do from here.

Now the first part of your question had to do with the missile. We (inaudible) plenty of reports about the North planning to launch these types of missiles. Look, we’ve been very clear from here about where we stand on – with regard to those missiles. It certainly would be a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 that prohibits North Korea from, you know, engaging in ballistic missile activities. So – but I don’t have anything new to update you with regard to North Korea, other than what we have said previously.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the – to Kyrgyzstan? After the decision of the parliament and the president to close the base in Manas, do you – can you confirm that U.S. is discussing with Turkey about the use of Turkey to transfer people and logistics --

MR. WOOD: Well –

QUESTION: -- to Iraq and from Iraq.

MR. WOOD: Well, Sylvie, I’m not going to go into specific discussions we may be having with – may or may not be having with other countries, except to say that, you know, we understand that the president signed the law. That was not unexpected. We have other options. We’ll be looking at other options.

QUESTION: Well, what are your other options?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to talk about what those options are.

QUESTION: Well, but how do we know you have options? If you just say you have options, then we’re supposed to take –

MR. WOOD: I’m saying we have options.

QUESTION: Okay, so what – so tell us what some of the options are.

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to talk about them from here. I’m just telling you we have options, and we’ll be looking at those options.

QUESTION: So but – so, you’re examining possible options. But if you have another option, you would say it already, wouldn’t you?

MR. WOOD: We’re looking at a number of options. That’s about the best I can do for you.


QUESTION: Sri Lanka.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: In a couple of days, the Sri Lankan Government said it will completely eliminate the Tamil Tigers in a matter of days. The Tamils in the U.S. are freaking out and asking Hillary Clinton to call for a ceasefire. What do you say?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, with regard to Sri Lanka, one of our primary concerns is the humanitarian situation. We’re worried about IDPs, what happens to them, we are worried about civilians that are caught up in the hostilities that are going on. And we want to see both governments talk about a way to end the hostility – excuse me, the government and the LTTE discuss ways to end the hostilities.

QUESTION: So you want a negotiated solution. You don’t think that this should end militarily?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, eventually you need to have a political framework that deals with some of the questions that are being put forth by various parties in the country. We just want to see, again, an end to hostilities. We want to see civilians protected – you know, as protected as best they can be protected in this conflict. And we want to be able to deal effectively with the humanitarian situation that we’re very concerned about.

QUESTION: Well, when you say you want to see an end to the hostilities, does that mean you’re calling for a ceasefire?

MR. WOOD: I’m saying we want to see an end to the hostilities.

QUESTION: But how do you get into a negotiated solution, though, if one side wins a total military victory?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, again, we’re getting ahead of the game here. What we’re trying to do with this, as I said first off, is to deal with the concerns we have about IDPs and the humanitarian situation. That’s our foremost objective, to deal with those issues.

But we obviously want to see an end to that conflict, and for that to happen, there has to be a discussion of the issues that are – you know, that are coming between the two sides.

QUESTION: Are you guys just communicating through the ambassador, or is there any, you know – you know (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: Our ambassador is very much involved, also our South Central Asia Bureau, in trying to deal with this conflict. There are other parties in the international community that are engaged in trying to do this.

QUESTION: Is the Sri Lankan Government listening to your concerns about --

MR. WOOD: We make our concerns known to the Sri Lankan Government and to others. We hope that they will listen to us, but it’s not just the United States here we’re talking about. We’re talking about others in the international community that are interested in seeing this conflict ended.

QUESTION: Have they been responsive to what you’ve been saying?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think we have to see how things go in terms of how this conflict either continues or discontinues. I can’t give you a better assessment than that at this point.

QUESTION: It seems like you’re leaving open the possibility of a military victory and then some discussions about how to go forward from there. You’re not mentioning --

MR. WOOD: I’m not leaving open any possibilities of anything. I’m just stating to you what our policy is.

QUESTION: You’re not calling for a ceasefire. You’re saying --

MR. WOOD: We want to see an end to hostilities.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. offer to negotiate between the LTTE and the government – Sri Lankan Government?

MR. WOOD: As far as I know, we have not been asked to do that. This is something – there is a process that has been put forward to try to help end this conflict. We will do what we can to support efforts to end the conflict. But in the end, the two sides have got to, as I said, discuss ways of ending this conflict and bring a cessation to hostilities.

QUESTION: What process are you talking about? I’m sorry.

MR. WOOD: There are – there is a process underway within the international community to try to resolve this crisis, and we will do what we can, as the United States, to try to bring about an end to the hostilities, but also to try to deal with the question of IDPs and the humanitarian situation on the ground, and those are the things that we are trying very much to deal with.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: This is about the refusal of the Serbian Government to extradite Mr. Miladin Kovacevic, who beat up a Brooklyn man at a kind of college brawl, if you will. Could you talk about efforts to expatriate him for trial?

And then also, reports that Secretary Clinton, starting with her – as a senator in New York and then finishing up when she took the job as Secretary of State brokering a deal with the Serbian Government for a million dollars for the victim, for his medical bills.

MR. WOOD: Well, I’ll have to look into the second part of that issue. I’m not aware of what exactly was going on. But certainly, the Serbian authorities have assured us that they will continue to pursue this case vigorously, and we’ll continue to work with them to seek his return to the United States to face justice. I don’t have anything beyond that at this point, but we obviously remain concerned about the fact that he has not yet been returned, and we want to see that happen.

QUESTION: But what about – it doesn’t seem as if there have been any efforts not only to return him, but to – even to try him within – within Serbia.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, we have expressed our concerns to the Serbians about this case. You know, our concerns are well known, and we’re going to work with the Serbian Government to try, as I said, to bring this gentleman to justice here in the United States. And that’s where our efforts are focused right now.

QUESTION: Could you – can you also take the question about the reports that the Serbian Government paid $900,000 for this gentleman’s medical bills, plus forfeited the $100,000 that they paid for his bail?

MR. WOOD: I’ll certainly look into that for you, absolutely.

QUESTION: Because apparently, the Serbian Government got him papers to get out of the country, and so he skipped bail.

MR. WOOD: I’ll definitely look into that for you.


QUESTION: Did former Senator Mitchell leave to the Middle East today?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I’ll have to check, Samir. I apologize. I am just getting back and trying to read up everything. I’ll look into that for you and see if he has.

QUESTION: Is he due to leave early this week? Is he --

MR. WOOD: Let me look into it. I haven’t had a chance to do that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: We’ll go to – last question. Please, yes.

QUESTION: On the Philippines, there has been the conflict between the government – the Philippines Government and the MILF in Mindanao, and the (inaudible) in Mindanao island is getting worse and worse. Do you take any actions to get over this condition after the Government of the Philippines visited the official (inaudible) --

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry, I’m not – I didn’t quite understand the question. Could you just repeat the last part of it?

QUESTION: Do you take any action to confront this humanitarian situation?

MR. WOOD: In Mindanao, you mean?


MR. WOOD: Well, look, the Philippine Government – we’ve had talks with the Philippine Government about the situation there. We think there’s – a lot of progress has been made in terms of dealing with the situation there. But I don’t have any further update on that for you.

Okay. Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:03 p.m.)

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