Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 10, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Statement on the 50th Anniversary of the Uprising in Tibet
    • Secretaries and Presidents Have Spoken about the Situation in Tibet / We Remain Concerned about the Situation / Working Hard to Encourage Improvement of Situation / Not Anything New / Will Continue to Raise the Issue with the Chinese / U.S. Wants to See Dialogue Between Chinese Government and Dalai Lama Representatives
    • Naval Incident in South China Sea / Chinese Aware of Our Position / U.S. Operating in International Waters / Refer to the Pentagon
    • Secretary Clinton Meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang / Yang to Meet with Treasury Secretary Geithner and Attend Meetings at the White House / G-20, Financial Crisis, North Korea and Naval Incident Likely to Come Up in Meeting Between Secretary and Foreign Minister
    • Madagascar and Sudan Travel Warnings / Release Process
    • American Society of International Law Annual Conference / Secretary Clinton Has Spoken Out and Fought Very Hard on Human Rights / Ambassador Rice Feels Strongly About the Issue / No Plans Thus Far for Them to Attend Annual Conference
    • Secretary Clinton's Meeting with Secretary Napolitano / Possible Discussion on Mexico
    • Policy Review on North Korea / Secretary Meeting with Ambassador Bosworth / Brief the Secretary on Visit to Asia / Getting a Sense of Players in the Region In Order to Move Forward
    • Giving Commanders the Flexibility That They Need / Nations to Determine How They Want to Contribute to Our Efforts in Afghanistan / Not Going to Dictate to Countries What They Should Contribute / Tremendous Efforts Needs to Be Undertaken
    • Afghanistan Conference / Details Being Worked Out / Some Receptivity to the Idea
    • NGOs Operating in Darfur / U.S. Having Discussions with Countries in the Area on How to Get Sudan to Reverse Decision / Situation is Very Serious / We Want to See These Groups Return
    • Darfur is One Issue That is At the Top of President's and Secretary's Agenda / Will Be Rolling Out a Strategy on How We Are Going to Deal with the Situation in Darfur
    • Travel Warning / Possible U.S. Passports Seized / Authorized Departure for Embassy Personnel
    • Secretary Clinton's Meeting with Foreign Secretary Menon / Ramping Up Our Cooperation in a Number of Areas / Host of Issues the U.S. and India Can Work Together On / Discussion on Afghanistan / Civilian Nuclear Deal / Climate Change / Attacks in Mumbai
    • Violence in Northern Ireland / Encouraging the Forces of Peace / U.S. Concerned / Secretary Clinton Expressed Concern / Will Be Following Closely / Encourage All Parties to Remain Calm
    • Japanese Assistance in Afghanistan / Decision of the Japanese Government


11:05 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Okay. Good morning, everyone. I just want to make just a brief announcement. Later today, the Secretary will be issuing a statement on the 50th anniversary of the uprising in Tibet. So with that, I’ll take your questions.

QUESTION: Would you care to preview that statement?

MR. WOOD: I would care not to preview it. We will be issuing a statement later.

QUESTION: Could I ask – I just have a housekeeping question, please.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: You put out two travel warnings last night at midnight, both of which had authorized departure – Madagascar and Sudan. Did it really take until midnight to get all the – to get everyone to sign off on these things?

MR. WOOD: Well, we issued them when we were able to issue them. That’s all I can tell you, Matt. I don’t know – I don’t have a tick-tock for you in terms of, you know, when the statement went through the process. And all I know is that I cleared on it late yesterday and we issued it when we did.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I would make a plea to try to get these things out a little bit earlier because it’s --

MR. WOOD: As you know, we try to do that.

QUESTION: If any of these things have been – you know, were in the works all day yesterday --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I take your point. We try to get them out as quickly as we can.

QUESTION: The other point I would make is that in terms of the no-double standard rule, if it comes out at midnight and those of us who normally cover the Department don’t know about it, in a sense, it’s not clear to me that you’re meeting your obligation to letting the wider public know about it, and therefore, I personally wouldn’t mind a phone call even if it’s at midnight to say, “Look, this is out there,” because otherwise, there’s like, seven, eight hours until somebody notices it.

MR. WOOD: I don’t think I would characterize it as we’re not meeting our obligations. When we get those statements as quickly as we can, there is a process that we have to go through. You’re well aware of those – of that process, and we try to get them out as quickly as we can. Sometimes it’s not always that easy, but you know, we do. I wouldn’t characterize it as we’re not living up to our obligations. We --

QUESTION: As I said, one could make that argument because --

MR. WOOD: I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t make that argument.

QUESTION: On China, Secretary’s statement of 50th uprising of Tibet, does she realize when she visited China, and now in her statement, that basic human rights, God-given human rights of the Tibetans for the last 50 years, China is one of the worst violators of human rights and getting away with everything, and nobody bothers? And because China doesn’t care because they think then they are (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: Look, many secretaries of state, presidents have spoken about the situation in Tibet over the years. We remain concerned about the situation in Tibet, and we have been working hard to try to encourage an improvement of the situation for those who live in Tibet. I don’t have anything further to add. The Secretary, as I said, will be issuing a statement a little bit later today and I urge you to take a look at it.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up.

QUESTION: Hold on. The more pressing matter with China: Chinese say that you – your ship was violating international and Chinese laws when it was operating in the South China Sea. I’m wondering how you – what your reaction to that claim is, and also, if there has been any further diplomatic exchanges with the Chinese about this incident.

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of any further exchanges with the Chinese on this. They’re certainly well aware of our position. We were – it is our view that we were operating in international waters. I don’t have anything further for you on it, except just to refer to the Pentagon for more details.

QUESTION: Just going back to my question --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: That Dalai Lama has said that in India, where he fled with over 100,000 of his followers, what he’s saying, that China is destroying their culture and they are trying to destabilize their people there in this age-old part of China, rather than Tibetans can keep their culture, religion, or worship and all that. So it may be too late for what the world is crying for or what the Tibetans are crying for, for their freedom or basic human rights.

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve – look, we’ve been concerned for quite some time, as I mentioned, about the situation in Tibet. This is not something – this is not new. You know, we’re going to continue to raise this issue with the Chinese and do what we can to improve the situation on the ground. I don’t think I have anything more to say to you than that. I think you’re well aware that this is something that previous governments, U.S. administrations have taken up with the Chinese. We’re going to continue to do that, because it is an important issue for us.

QUESTION: But one and the same (inaudible) for the last 50 years.

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything more to add than that, Goyal.

QUESTION: Sir, I’m actually continuing with what this gentleman had just asked, because today, March 10th, is the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan rising against the Chinese Government or Chinese occupation of Tibet, and also, the 50th year since the Dalai Lama has been forced in exile. And so we were just wondering what is your reaction to what the Chinese are doing these days, (inaudible) really hard in all areas of Tibet. So thank you for saying that you’ll be issuing a statement on this.

MR. WOOD: Right.

QUESTION: But we are just wondering what sort of statement would that be, just saying we – that sort of we agree with “one China” policy and that – you know, the (inaudible) kind of thing, or will there be a really clear statement about what’s happening in Tibet, especially the clamping down? And yesterday, in the newspaper, one of the Dalai Lama’s envoys say that this is a – Tibet’s a giant prison and nobody really knows what’s happening inside that prison.

MR. WOOD: As I said earlier, I think you should wait for the statement and see it and judge it for yourself.

QUESTION: One more.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Will the Secretary be sending a statement of support to the Dalai Lama or --

MR. WOOD: Let’s wait --

QUESTION: -- to mark the anniversary?

MR. WOOD: Well, let’s wait for the statement. I think I’ve spoken to this, I think, quite a bit already in terms of our concern about the situation in Tibet. I know previous spokespeople have, as well previous secretaries and presidents, as I’ve said. I don’t really have anything more to add to it right now, but I do encourage you to read the statement when it does come out.

Yes, Kim.

QUESTION: I may have missed it, but do we know yet when the Secretary is meeting with the Chinese foreign minister?

MR. WOOD: It’s – yeah, let me give you a little of the details on that. He arrives – Foreign Minister Yang arrives today. He is going to have a meeting and lunch with the Secretary tomorrow. He is also scheduled to meet with the – Treasury Secretary Geithner tomorrow as well. And then I believe on the 12th, he has – the minister has some meetings at the White House and I believe is departing later in the day on the 12th.


QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The same question was whether Tibet would come up in the Secretary’s discussions.

MR. WOOD: It’s certainly possible that it will come up. I would expect – I would be surprised if it didn’t.

QUESTION: Do you think that she would urge them to, I guess, loosen up some of their policy in Tibet?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, what we have said over and again with regard to Tibet is that we want to see a dialogue between the Chinese Government – a substantive dialogue between the Chinese Government and representatives of the Dalai Lama. We think it’s the best way to address some of these longstanding issues. And as I said, I would be surprised if the subject didn’t come up in the meeting.

QUESTION: Can I have just – more details? So the G-20 will be on the agenda --

MR. WOOD: The G-20, the financial crisis, North Korea. And there could be some others, but those are the three --

QUESTION: The naval incident?

MR. WOOD: It’s likely that will come up as well, yes.

QUESTION: Can we skip to North Korea for one sec?

QUESTION: Just one last question on this. Will the Secretary be part of the meeting with Mr. Geithner?

MR. WOOD: I don’t believe so, but I can double-check on that for you.

Let me go here. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The Secretary is meeting Ambassador Bosworth today following his trip. Can you tell us what is the purpose of that meeting, if it’s anything other than just sort of an update on his travels? And in, I think, his last news conference, although maybe I missed a transcript, he said that you were very close to completing the policy review on North Korea. Can you give us a sense of how close you are to being done with that?

MR. WOOD: You know, I’m not sure how close we are to completing that review. The purpose of the meeting today, of course, is for Ambassador Bosworth to brief the Secretary on his recent visit to Asia. And of course, the objective of that visit was to get a sense from various players in the region as to the best way to go forward with regard to getting North Korea to comply with its international obligations. We will try to get you – we will try to see if we can – I’ll try and talk to Ambassador Bosworth and see if there is something I can, you know, give you in terms of a readout.

QUESTION: Back to the incident with the ship, do you think that happened spontaneously or has the endorsement of the central leaders in Beijing?

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

QUESTION: Do you think that the leaders in Beijing have really planned that incident of the five ships and the naval vessel of the United States?

MR. WOOD: I have no way of knowing why the Chinese did what they did. I really don’t know. I can only tell you, as I’ve said earlier, that we believe we were operating in international waters, and we have protested to the Chinese about this harassment of our vessel.

QUESTION: What did the ship do there?

MR. WOOD: Again, I would have to refer you for, you know, those types of details to the Pentagon.


QUESTION: It’s quite a broad question – Afghanistan-NATO. But focusing in on the various member-states that contribute troops have individual national caveats about their movements, whether they’re peacekeepers, whether they can go to certain areas. Is this something that’s being reviewed? Is this something – are there conversations going on in the State Department and approaching various heads of state about it?

MR. WOOD: Well, our policy all along has been to give commanders all the flexibility that they need. But it’s really going to be up to every individual nation to decide how it wants to contribute to our efforts in Afghanistan. And we’re certainly not going to in any way dictate to countries what we think they should do. But we all know we have a tremendous job, a tremendous effort that needs to be undertaken in Afghanistan beyond what we’ve already done, in order to turn things around. But as I said, yes, caveats have been something we’ve had to deal with, and we still maintain that it’s best for commanders on the ground to have as much flexibility as they can to move resources and troops where they need to go.

QUESTION: But is it fair to say that these caveats really have hindered some operations and hindered coordination? Is this something that you’re seeking to change?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, we’re not able to dictate to other governments how they contribute to the overall effort. You know, we have periodic discussions with our allies about how best to carry out certain operations. But again, our point of view is we need to make sure that all the commanders on the ground have the flexibility that they need to be able to carry out their mission.

Please. My friend right here, go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s on Afghanistan.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Afghanistan conference that Secretary Clinton proposed in Brussels, do you have any updates on that? Is it going to happen? Where – the venue? Do we know any additional information at all?

MR. WOOD: At this point, all those details are still being worked out. As soon as we are able to give you more details in terms of, you know, first and foremost, when it’s going to – if it’s going to happen, when, and where. I just don’t have those details right now.

QUESTION: So there’s an if?

MR. WOOD: Well, it was a proposal.


MR. WOOD: The Secretary put forth a proposal. And we believe that there has been some receptivity to the idea. But we want to make sure that we’ve got everything nailed down. And then once we’ve been able to do that, certainly there will be an announcement about it.

QUESTION: It’s not that --

QUESTION: So March --

MR. WOOD: Nothing’s confirmed yet.


QUESTION: Robert, yesterday, you expect – you expressed having concerns with regard to human rights and international law, humanitarian concerns. You’ve expressed them again here today. March 25th starts the American Society of International Law’s annual conference here in Washington. Last year, Ambassador Khalilzad delivered his speech to the group; many of them are jurists, NGOs, academics, the whole scope. And what will the concerns be of Secretary Clinton this year and UN Ambassador Rice? Is it more of the same or are they going to end up getting into some very precise discussions with that group so they could go on and help solve some of the world’s situations?

MR. WOOD: Well, the Secretary, as you know, has spoken out quite a bit on the subject of human rights. This issue keeps coming up time and again. The Secretary has fought very, very hard throughout her career to deal with children’s rights, women’s rights, the rights of the disadvantaged. And it’s something she is going to continue to speak to.

And with regard to Ambassador Rice, I know that she feels very strongly about these issues as well. With regard to this particular meeting, I’m not aware at this point whether one or both of them plan to attend. I don’t know. We’ll keep you posted if indeed there is a decision for them – one of them or both of them to attend.


QUESTION: New topic? On Darfur. I see you had an authorized departure from Sudan today. And obviously, the situation is getting pretty dire now that it looks like aid groups might have to leave. What is the U.S. considering doing to ensure that the government allows the aid groups to stay?

MR. WOOD: Well, what we’re doing is we’re having discussions with a number of countries in the region, with our allies, to try to figure out how best we can get the Sudanese to reverse this decision and to allow NGOs to operate in Darfur. The situation is very serious. It’s indeed very troubling for us. We want to see these groups be able to return and continue to do the work that they need to do, because the people of Darfur are suffering greatly, and this will only exacerbate an already bad situation by expelling these, you know, NGO workers and other aid workers.

We’re going to – I can assure you we are working hard diplomatically to try to get the Sudanese to reverse this decision.

QUESTION: During the campaign, President Obama spoke very tough about the situation in Darfur. He said he was going to rally the international community for a no fly zone, talk possibly about more sanctions, talked about appointing an envoy. Where does U.S. policy stand on making good on President Obama’s campaign pledges? The Darfur advocates are very strongly looking for him to take early and immediate action.

MR. WOOD: Well, this Administration plans to take some action with regard to Darfur. I’m not prepared here to spell out what those actions will be, but I can assure you that Darfur is one of those issues that’s at the top of the President and the Secretary’s agenda. And you’ll see in the coming weeks and months, we will be rolling out a strategy in terms of how we’re going to deal with – overall with the situation in Darfur.

But what’s critical right now is trying to get the Sudanese Government to reverse the steps that it’s taken. And as I said, we’re going to work with our partners in the international community to try to persuade the Sudanese that this is in the best interest of the people of Sudan to allow these aid workers to return and to, you know, basically operate without restrictions. So that’s where we are.


QUESTION: To follow up on that real quickly --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: In your Travel Warning, you sort of revealed some of the details of what’s happening with the group’s passports being seized and assets and that kind of thing. You have a $6 billion aid package to Sudan, much of it which goes through these groups. Has any U.S.-provided funds been seized by the Sudanese Government?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you know if any U.S. citizens have had their passports seized that work for these groups?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – you know, I don’t know. I haven’t heard any specific cases. There may have been. I just don’t know, and I don’t know that I can get you an accurate answer on that at this point unless these people who, you know, have registered with the Consulate, you know, unless they’ve done that, it’ll be hard for us to know. You know, they would need to report that to us.


QUESTION: Robert, can you just explain exactly what you’re doing with the U.S. workers there and with – some who are leaving or --

MR. WOOD: You’re talking about --

QUESTION: -- out of --

MR. WOOD: Embassy workers, you’re talking about?


MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve gone to – in Sudan, we’ve gone to authorized departure, and so non-emergency personnel as well as family members can leave. And that’s where we are. I’m not going to get into numbers of personnel that we have. There are obvious security reasons why I won’t do that. But you know, we are concerned about the aftermath of the expulsions of these NGO workers, and we want to make sure that we’re taking the prudent steps necessary to make sure that, you know, our personnel are, you know, out of any potential harm’s way. And our Travel Warning, I think, was very specific in terms of what we’re advising Americans to do in terms of not traveling to Sudan.

Let me go --


MR. WOOD: Did you want to follow up on --

QUESTION: No, it’s totally different.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Please.

QUESTION: Thank you, Robert. Yesterday, closed-door meeting between Secretary Hillary Clinton and Indian foreign minister, and so the issue of Afghanistan and the regional security problems were, like in Pakistan and Afghanistan, must have been an issue. Can you explain it to me what --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I was in the meeting --

QUESTION: -- what she asked India to do more?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t think it was a question of asking India to do more. I think the Secretary certainly made the point to Foreign Secretary Menon that we really want to ramp up our cooperation in a number of areas, whether that be climate change, whether it be counterterrorism. There are just a whole host of issues where the United States and India can work together, have been working together, and that, you know, some of these issues are going to require not just U.S. and Indian cooperation, but cooperation of others. They talked a bit about Afghanistan and what needs to be done. And the Secretary was very interested in hearing Foreign Secretary Menon’s views on this subject as well as a host of others.

QUESTION: The issue of finalizing of this nuclear – civil nuclear came up anywhere from either side?

MR. WOOD: I think it was raised in the meeting, and I think there was a bit of a discussion on the additional protocol that was just worked out with the IAEA. Yeah, that’s off the top of my head; that’s what I can remember from the meeting. It was a very, very good meeting, a very warm meeting.



QUESTION: Totally different – oh, I’m sorry.

MR. WOOD: Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: On India. Well, was Sri Lanka also discussed during the meeting?

MR. WOOD: Yes, it was, just in general.

QUESTION: And what else U.S. wants India to do in Afghanistan or on climate change? You said U.S. needs to --

MR. WOOD: They talked in general about, you know, cooperation on climate change. I don’t remember them getting into a lot of specifics on that, but they did talk in general about the importance of working together to try to deal with the issue of climate – you know, climate change, global warming.

QUESTION: And on Afghanistan, what the U.S. wants India to do in Afghanistan?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, it wasn’t so much that we were asking India to do anything specific – specifically, but the Secretary wanted to hear the foreign secretary’s views on the best way forward in Afghanistan from the Indian point of view. And that was, in essence, the basis of the discussion.

QUESTION: Is there going to be any follow-up meeting, or Secretary going to India sometime?

MR. WOOD: At some point, the Secretary will be going to India, but there isn’t any plan at this moment of her travel. But you know, when there is, we’ll certainly let you know.

QUESTION: Not in the next few months before the elections?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t know. I don’t want to rule anything out, but there was no discussion of a particular timetable for a visit.


QUESTION: Sorry – on Northern Ireland, actually. Is there any reaction, any comments, any concerns about the situation in the aftermath of the killing of the two British soldiers?

MR. WOOD: Sure, we’re very concerned about this violence and condemn it. You know, we want to try to encourage, you know, the forces of peace. It’s a sad situation. Northern Ireland has had such a tragic history of violence; we certainly don’t want to see any type of recurrence like this. We are concerned about it. The Secretary expressed her concern about it yesterday. And we’re going to be following it closely, and we’re encouraging all the parties involved to, you know, remain calm and desist from any kind of violence.

QUESTION: There was a police officer who was killed as well, I believe.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Robert, who is the Administration’s – I don’t know what the exact title is, but special envoy or representative on Northern Ireland issues? It was --

MR. WOOD: It was Paula Dobriansky.


MR. WOOD: I don’t think that there’s been – I don’t think anybody has been named to replace that person. So --

QUESTION: Do you need to take Senator Mitchell off his Middle Eastern beat and put him back on it? (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: Senator Mitchell has his hands filled – you know, his hands filled with, you know, his current portfolio.

Yes, Kirit.

QUESTION: I just want to know if you could enlighten us to the agenda for the Napolitano meeting this afternoon.

MR. WOOD: Unfortunately, I don’t, but I think it’s safe to say that, you know, immigration issues are going to be the core of that meeting. But I really don’t have a --


MR. WOOD: I would be surprised if Mexico didn’t come up.


QUESTION: Yesterday in Islamabad, Ambassador Patterson met with the Pakistani prime minister and later on, she had a meeting with the opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif because opposition has announced a long march in Islamabad. And there are reports that Americans are trying to bring some sort of reconciliation between the ruling party and the opposition. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. WOOD: I don’t. It’s not unusual for Ambassador – for any of our ambassadors to meet with opposition and government officials. I really don’t have anything to add to that. I haven’t talked to Ambassador Patterson about it, so – yeah, I really don’t have anything more to add to that.

QUESTION: And the second --

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- on yesterday’s meeting of Secretary Clinton with Secretary Menon, was Indian relations with Pakistan was – were discussed – anything related to Mumbai attacks?

MR. WOOD: The subject of the Mumbai attacks did come up in the meeting, and again, I think the way it was – the way they discussed the issue was the fact that we’ve got to do what we can to try to prevent these types of attacks from happening again. And I think you can view it in the overall level of cooperation that both the United States and India are involved in. And I think it shows that, you know, this is an issue that is not just an issue for the U.S. and India; it’s really a global – it requires a global effort to counter terrorism in the region, but of course, it was an issue that did come up in the meeting.

QUESTION: Robert, is – do you think the Secretary is planning anytime soon any visit in the region – India, Pakistan or Afghanistan region?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of, not at this point.

QUESTION: About North Korea, the --

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: North Korea reopened its border to South Koreans working at a joint industrial area. Any reaction to that? Is that a sign of ease of tension?

MR. WOOD: This is the first I’ve heard of it. I mean, that obviously would be a good sign, but again, I haven’t seen the report, so that would be my initial reaction to it.

Anything else? One last one in the back.

QUESTION: Yes, on Afghanistan, Japan also agreed on paying salaries for police in Afghanistan. So as the State Department, would you be content with support from Japan, or would you like to ask for more?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the first part of it. You were asking me about?

QUESTION: Yeah, in – Japan agreed on paying salaries for police officers in Afghanistan. So as a U.S. Department, are you content with the support from Japan, or would you like to ask for more assistance?

MR. WOOD: Look, whatever type of assistance is provided to Afghanistan by the Japanese, that’s clearly a decision for the Japanese Government. And again, we can use all the contributions we can get. So we’re very pleased that the Japanese are willing to make that type of a contribution, so – but again, we all need to do more and we all have to figure out a way to be more effective in Afghanistan.

Thank you all.

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