Gordon Duguid
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 13, 2009


Index for Today's Briefing
  • MEXICO
    • Announcement of Secretary Clinton Travel to Mexico / March 25-26
    • Travel Alert / Violence is a Concern / Mexican Government Taking on the Problem
    • Americans Should be Aware, but Travel Does Not Need to be Hindered
    • Policy Dinner on Mexico Last Night / Useful Preparation for Secretary's Travel
    • Reasons for Travel to Monterrey / Security Issues / Summit of the Americas
    • Merida Initiative / 3-Year Plan / $300 Million This Year
  • SYRIA
    • No New Position in Hezbollah
    • U.S. Looking for Dialogue with Syria / Focus on Middle East Peace, Nonproliferation
  • MIDDLE EAST
    • Quartet Remains Resolved on Middle East Peace
    • U.S. Has Let Our Position on Hezbollah be Known Inside the Quartet
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Belligerent Statements, Actions Not Helpful to Six-Party Process
    • North Korea Should Come Back to the Table
    • Proposition of a Missile Launch is a Bad Idea / Violation of UNSCR 1718
  • PAKISTAN
    • Amb. Patterson, SR Holbrooke Meetings and Calls
  • CHINA
    • U.S. Policy to Engage Chinese Leadership / Successful Visit by FM Yang
  • IRAN
    • No Update on Roxana Saberi / Coordinating with Swiss
    • Saberi Allowed Legal Representation, But Still No Consular Access
  • FRANCE
    • U.S. Welcomes Announcement of Full French Integration into NATO
    • French Contributions Enhance NATO Military Capabilities
    • U.S. Stands Ready to Facilitate France's Reentry
  • EL SALVADOR
    • A/S Shannon Expressed U.S. Policy Fully / Congressmen Have Own Opinions
    • U.S. Will Work with Democratically Elected Government
  • IRAQ
    • Amb. Hill Looks Forward Addressing Senators' Concerns in Confirmation Hearings
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Policy Still Under Review / March 31st Meeting in The Hague


TRANSCRIPT:

11:52 a.m. EDT

MR. DUGUID: Okay, thank you. I would like to lead with a statement for your information and consideration.

At the invitation of Mexican Foreign Secretary Patricia Espinosa, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will travel to Mexico City and Monterrey, Mexico from March the 25th to the 26th. While in Mexico, Secretary Clinton will discuss a broad range of bilateral and international issues of mutual interest, including cooperation under the Merida Initiative.

And with that, I shall take your questions.

QUESTION: Yeah, on the trip, how concerned is the United States about the level of violence on the border and the spillover?

MR. DUGUID: I think you will notice that our Travel Alert is fairly comprehensive. The violence in certain areas along the borders is of concern. We have made our concerns known in our Travel Alert.

I would point out, however, that it is localized. I would also point out that the violence is a response to President Calderon’s strong action against drug cartels. These cartels wanted to have things their own way, and the president refused to accept that and has taken them on, and they have responded with violence. Some of the violence is between the gangs themselves, and some of it is against the police and the other law enforcement authorities.

So while we are concerned about the violence in these localized areas, we congratulate the Mexican Government for taking on the problem. And we note in our Travel Alert that American citizens should be aware of the problems in these areas, but that also the – their travel does not need to be hindered if they have the information that they need.

QUESTION: Do – does the U.S. believe that President Calderon is in full control of his country?

MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: Because there have been senior officials who have said --

MR. DUGUID: I understand. I speak for --

QUESTION: Testified --

MR. DUGUID: -- the State Department. The State Department’s opinion is that President Calderon is taking the necessary action to deal with the problem, and that a result of his strong action is the – some of the violence that is going on in those areas.

QUESTION: So the State Department disagrees with other – with other agencies in the Administration?

MR. DUGUID: I will let other agencies speak for themselves. I’ve just given you the State Department opinion.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: On (inaudible). Sorry.

MR. DUGUID: I’ll go behind you, and then I’ll come to you. Yeah.

QUESTION: On the same topic. Secretary Clinton will be visiting Monterrey and, as you know, there have been shootings around the General Consulate of the U.S. in Monterrey. Can we understand that this is some kind of signal of your assurance to U.S. citizens that Mexico’s safe to travel there? And second, can you describe yesterday’s meeting about Mexico?

MR. DUGUID: Well, on the second question, there was a policy dinner last night. The Secretary has the – and will have these dinners on occasion to discuss a broad range of issues regarding a region or perhaps a particular country, as was the case last night. I don’t have a readout of that for you. It included U.S. Government officials. It included academics. It included a wide range of opinions. I did speak with the Secretary this morning, who said she found it a very, very useful preparation for her travel to Mexico.

On the choice of Monterrey – Monterrey, as you know, is an important city, an industrial city with ties to the United States, not only economic but cultural, because of its proximity to our border. As to a decision on security, we take the Secretary where she wants to go and we make our decisions for a broad range of policy reasons. But I think that you can judge that if we did not feel somewhere was safe, that we would not take our Secretary there. So I think it does make that statement.

Yes, Lach, now, please.

QUESTION: Yeah. You said that the Secretary will discuss the Merida Initiative. Will she be discussing any new initiatives to help the Mexicans – to cooperate with the Mexicans in fighting the drug problem --

MR. DUGUID: The --

QUESTION: -- with U.S. military involvement?

MR. DUGUID: Well, the U.S. military involvement would be a Pentagon lead, and I would refer you to them. The Department of State has the Merida Initiative and has laid it down as a three-year plan, so it’s not simply this year that we have work to do on the plan. It’s also looking forward and how we’ll fulfill the remaining term of Merida. And she will certainly be talking about that, what is new coming in the next year or two. So ideas that the Mexicans have on how Merida can help them will be most welcome and I’m sure that she will speak of those. But Merida does already have ongoing programming in Mexico. We’ll be reviewing those, as well.

Yes.

QUESTION: Gordon, just in terms of the timing again, why specifically is she going at this moment, and is it designed to send some type of signal?

MR. DUGUID: Well, if you look at what’s coming up, we have debates going on in this country about the North American Free Trade Agreement. We’re going down to talk about economic issues. The financial crisis affects us and our NAFTA partners. The Summit of the Americas is approaching. And of our Latin American partners, Mexico is certainly one of the most important. It’s good to speak to them about the Summit, as well, and what we hope to achieve there. They are going through a period in which violence is affecting certain areas of their border. That is also something good to discuss with them.

So there are a number of reasons for going now, and I would say that the decision was that this is the right time in order to deal with the conjunction of all those issues.

I’ll go to the back and then I’ll come up. Yes, please.

QUESTION: A different subject.

MR. DUGUID: Oh, okay. We staying on Mexico for a while? Okay, I’ll do the Mexican – yes, please.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Following Lach’s question, earlier this week President Obama said that he’d like to overhaul some parts of Merida. Do you think that this is going to be the forum where that’s going to be discussed? And can you preview any of the ideas that you guys would like to bring up?

MR. DUGUID: Well, I wouldn’t preview anything here that may be discussed. We will be discussing Merida. It’s not a – you know, a U.S. decision alone on how we proceed. This is a partnership with Mexico. And the programs, the projects, the training that occur under Merida aren’t static. They can be adapted to the needs that both partners see on the ground. So without being able to preview it, precisely where we’ll go, that’s certainly a topic of discussion that we can follow.

QUESTION: Is there an aspect of Merida that you feel is inadequate at this point that needs revamping?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t know – I don’t think I have the information on the ground to deal with that question. Merida is really a new initiative. It’s not looking at negatives. It’s looking for the positives and where we can go from here, and it’s assessing the needs as we go forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: The omnibus bill cut out, I think, about $150 million for Merida. And I wonder if the Obama Administration will be looking for funds elsewhere to try to deal with that.

MR. DUGUID: Let me put it the other way: the omnibus bill put $300 million into Merida for this year. It is a three-year program. These are tough times for the U.S. budget. It’s tough times for the financial system. You put forward a budget request with the funding that you would like to see for a broad range of programs. Congress has the very difficult job to try and balance requests from one part of the government off against the part – other parts of the government, and then come up with a spending bill that makes sense for everyone. We understand that.

Will we be looking to do more? Yes, we will. As we can find where the effective means are in Merida, where we best can apply our resources, we will be doing that. We have an ample amount of funding for this year and we will move forward on that basis.

Still on Mexico? Change of subject.

QUESTION: Wait a second. Just --

MR. DUGUID: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Do you have any other stops to announce?

MR. DUGUID: No, I don’t. That is her foreign travel coming up to Mexico City and to Monterrey.

QUESTION: A very specific qualification on what you say about the Secretary visiting Monterrey, specifically. Is this an endorsement that Mexico is a safe country to travel to?

MR. DUGUID: We’ve said that Mexico is a safe country to travel to. I’ve said that from this podium and so has Robert Wood, my colleague. Our travel alert is information that we provide regularly for American travelers so that they know what the situation is on the ground not only in Mexico, but in a number of other countries. And when they have that information, they can best judge for themselves how they should undertake their travel.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Yes, please. Now we’ll go to --

QUESTION: A (inaudible) delegation is heading to Syria and will meet Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas, and might get in contact with Hezbollah, so – and as we know, London will have (inaudible) discussion with the political – with Hezbollah political wing. So how do you see this – these actions, and would the U.S. reconsider its position toward Hezbollah?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any new position for you on Hezbollah and contacts with Hezbollah. I addressed this question last week, and I haven’t anything new to share with you on that.

The United States right now is looking for a dialogue with Syria, and we want to work with Syria in the context of Middle East peace and nonproliferation. That’s where we see our efforts best placed and that’s what we’re focusing on at the moment.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: But how --

QUESTION: Is the United States pleased that the British are opening up contacts with Hezbollah?

MR. DUGUID: I’ve given you the U.S. position. I’m not going to characterize the positions of other governments at this time. We have a clear and defined position on both groups, Hamas and Hezbollah. Those haven’t changed. So I’m not going to belabor the point with you.

Yes, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Mrs. Hillary Clinton yesterday signed the Consular Information Sheet for Greece, saying that, quote, “The U.S. Government remains deeply concerned about the heightening threat of terrorist attacks against the U.S. citizens and interests abroad,” unquote, declaring Greece as a terrorist country. I would like to know if this is true.

MR. DUGUID: I have never heard of this before, at this very moment.

QUESTION: Will you take this question, because it’s very important?

MR. DUGUID: If it can be generated that we can find it somewhere, I’ll take it. But if we can’t find this particular quote anywhere –

QUESTION: Yes, I find that on the internet. It’s come to the Department --

MR. DUGUID: There are many things found on the internet. (Laughter.)

QUESTINO: Excuse me?

MR. DUGUID: This – Mr. Lambros, I will not take this question, and I’ll tell you why: because I do not believe that the quote itself has any merit or basis in policy, and we don’t need to discuss it further.

QUESTION: So you don’t believe this?

MR. DUGUID: I’ve given you my answer.

I – we had one more on Mexico. Jill, I’ll get to you. We had one more on Mexico, I think. Sorry –

QUESTION: No, this was on the British meeting in the – Hezbollah, there. I mean, is this a weakening of Quartet resolve?

MR. DUGUID: The Quartet remains resolved in its determination to achieve a lasting Middle East peace, and I’ve given you the U.S. position on that.

QUESTION: But as a member of the Quartet, does it not concern you to see another party to the Quartet, at least in a constituent sense, not insisting that Quartet principles be upheld?

MR. DUGUID: The Quartet will have its discussions and will be able to move forward on working on Middle East peace. The United Kingdom is taking a particular path. They’ve informed us prior to taking that decision, and we will move forward on our efforts to try and achieve the same goal.

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Hang on one second. So you’re saying that now that – has – Britain has been added to the Quartet?

MR. DUGUID: Sorry? No, I’m not saying that.

QUESTION: And does it – has the Quartet ever taken a stance on Hezbollah?

MR. DUGUID: The United States has shared with --

QUESTION: No, has the Quartet --

MR. DUGUID: No, the United States has shared with it --

QUESTION: -- which I don’t believe includes Britain --

MR. DUGUID: That is --

QUESTION: That includes the EU, so it doesn’t include Britain itself.

MR. DUGUID: Right.

QUESTION: Does – has the Quartet ever taken a position on Hezbollah? Or has it?

MR. DUGUID: Not to my knowledge. But the U.S. has, inside the Quartet, let its position on Hezbollah be known.

Jill.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about these reports about the Saudis taking a hundred Yemenis from Guantanamo?

MR. DUGUID: We do not, as a practice, discuss detainee transfers until those transfers have been made, so I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Has the State Department or the U.S. been discussing with the Saudis the possibility of taking --

MR. DUGUID: We have been in discussion with a number of our friends, allies, and partners around the world on the detainee issue. And when we have a result to announce, we do that after a transfer has been made, okay?

Yes, please.

QUESTION: On North Korea, other news reports that North Korea’s begun cancelling visas for American groups who have already received permission to travel to the country, to enter the country, can you comment on this?

And then to follow up, how do you view this measure, in light of some of the more recent, provocative language from the North about potential missile launches?

MR. DUGUID: I have not had any information or seen any reports that they are cancelling visas, so I’m not prepared, really, to make any comment on that.

We’ve said several times this week, we’ve said several times over the past month that North Korean belligerent statements and actions are not helpful to the Six-Party process. They are not part of what North Korea has committed to do under the Six-Party Talks, and that in the interest of moving forward to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, North Korea should live up to its agreements and come back to the table and start discussing where we go after that to make progress.

QUESTION: Can you – Gordon, could you take that question about whether North Korea has begun cancelling visas it had already issued? That would be interesting if it were the case.

MR. DUGUID: We will take it. I am not certain how we would confirm that, since they’re North Korean visas issued to individuals. We would have to refer you to individuals. They do not necessarily report the cancellation of their visas to us.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. DUGUID: But we will look and see what we can get for you, if we have had complaints through various channels.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Vice President Biden may be attending the Progressive Governance Conference in Chile this March. Can you say something about his agenda and if he’s going to meet with some president or if he’s going to have bilateral meetings?

MR. DUGUID: Sorry, this is the President going to Chile?

QUESTION: Vice President.

QUESTION: Vice President.

MR. DUGUID: Vice President, sorry. That’s – it threw me a bit.

I don’t have anything for you on that. I’d have to refer you to the Vice President’s office on his travel, and – yes, please.

QUESTION: On the (inaudible) in Pakistan, is – Ambassador Holbrooke has further contacted the leaders in Pakistan after yesterday’s talks with the president and the prime minister?

MR. DUGUID: There were some additional contacts yesterday. I don’t have anything for you today. As we mentioned yesterday, Ambassador Patterson had met with the Sharif brothers just outside Lahore, and then she had follow-up meetings and phone calls with senior government and opposition political leaders today. In addition to his phone conversation with President Zardari and Prime Minister Gillani, Special Representative Holbrooke spoke with Foreign Minister Qureshi and Nawaz Sharif yesterday.

The United States is continuing our dialogue with the main actors, the political figures in Pakistan. I don’t have details for you or a detailed readout of those conversations, but we’ve also been in touch with the UK on this subject.

Yes, Jill.

QUESTION: Can I just ask a little clarification on North Korea and the missile? It seems, at least in my mind, it’s unclear what the United States would do if they launched this. Is there a threat that the United States would actually shoot it down? Will the U.S. be monitoring it? If it’s – if they think it’s a satellite going into space, what would they do? In other words, is there a clear position what the United States would do if that missile is fired, as we expect, in April?

MR. DUGUID: Well, you’re asking me to do two things, both of which I can’t do. One is to speculate, and one is to get into intelligence matters.

The UN, all other five parties in the Six-Party Talks, a number of nations around the world have come out and said that the proposition of a missile launch, whatever is on top of it, by the North Koreans is a bad idea. Most interpret a launch, as well, as being a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1718. I think the isolation that North Korea feels on this issue is something that should be noted by us, if it’s not being taken to heart there.

But as to what will happen and when things happen, I’ll have to leave that for a future discussion.

QUESTION: Gordon, I don’t think it’s intelligence or speculation anymore. They have said that they’re going to do it. They’ve announced it and informed international bodies to which they’re a party.

MR. DUGUID: The question was what will we do in response.

QUESTION: Right, so what will you do in response to something they’ve said --

MR. DUGUID: And I will leave that for a future briefing.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?

MR. DUGUID: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Japan has said that they could shoot down the missile, if it was fired over Japan. Does the U.S. have any comment on that?

MR. DUGUID: I will leave Japan’s statement for the Japanese to further discuss.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s helpful --

MR. DUGUID: Yes, please. In the back.

QUESTION: Is your Chinese policy still under reviewing? And what’s the status? What’s the progress right now – Chinese policy?

MR. DUGUID: I’m sorry. I’m going to ask you to speak up a little bit louder.

QUESTION: Sure.

MR. DUGUID: This is the bad ear, here.

Yeah, okay.

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Is your Chinese policy still under reviewing? And what’s the status right now?

MR. DUGUID: I see. Well, our Chinese policy is, I think, very much to engage the Chinese leadership at the moment. You’ve seen a very successful visit by Foreign Minister Yang and the President, who is on his way[1] here. Yes, of course, we are reviewing broad ranges of our policy on a number of issues. But I think if you look at the parameters of what the Secretary has talked about during her visit, you will see where the China policy is headed and which direction.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the case of Roxana Saberi?

MR. DUGUID: No, we did check yesterday. And we do not have any update as of today. We continue to coordinate our discussion with the Swiss, our protecting power, to try and get more information out of the Iranian authorities. We continue to ask that the Swiss be allowed consular access. She has, of course, been allowed legal representation, which is a good thing and something that we had been asking for. We also want her to have consular access. That has not yet been granted, at least before coming in here this morning, and we will continue to do so until we find some satisfactory answer.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: President Sarkozy has made clear his intention to help France rejoin NATO. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. DUGUID: Des nouvelles merveilleuses – marvelous news. We welcome this wholeheartedly. France, as you know, has been one of the most active military members of the alliance. Even though not fully integrated into the alliance military structures, it helps enhance NATO military capabilities. It helps make coordination across the board on NATO military and political subjects that much more easy. And the United States stands ready to facilitate France’s reentry in any way that the French find helpful.

QUESTION: And how do you really about this?

MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: Really excited about that, Gordon. (Laughter.)

MR. DUGUID: I spent eight years at NATO. (Laughter.)

Yes, James.

QUESTION: Just to return us to El Salvador, and following on Assistant Secretary Shannon’s remarks that the U.S. has met with both presidential candidates and would stand ready to work with either one. Congressman Rohrabacher has disseminated a statement in which he expresses concerns about FMLN’s history, about the presence on the ticket of the vice presidential candidate who he says cheered the attacks of 9/11. And so I just wonder if the origins of FMLN or any of its current activities or associations or affiliations should rightly be of concern to America – American policymakers?

MR. DUGUID: I do think that Assistant Secretary Shannon has expressed U.S. policy very fully on this issue. Members of Congress, of course, have opinions on foreign policy issues and express those regularly. Those are a welcome part of the debate. As we move forward, we do want to work closely with El Salvador, and we want to have positive relations with the country of El Salvador. The congressman’s remarks, though, I’ll have to leave to him to further elaborate.

QUESTION: Well, leaving aside the congressman and just raising the issue independently with him, should American policymakers have any concerns about the presence on the FMLN ticket of somebody who cheered the attacks of 9/11 or about any other aspects of FMLN’s affiliations and association?

MR. DUGUID: The United States is going to work with a democratically elected Government of El Salvador. We will look to the El Salvadoran people to see who they choose to elect. And until the election takes place, I will leave our policy there.

QUESTION: Gordon, two influential Senators, McCain and Graham, have come out against the nomination of Chris Hill to be ambassador to Iraq. Do you have any reaction to that? They say he doesn’t have the adequate Middle East and counterinsurgency experience for the job.

MR. DUGUID: I know that Ambassador Hill looks forward to confirmation hearings in which he can address the Senators’ concerns and go into more detail about his record. He is ready for those hearings. And I do believe, and I know that the President and the Secretary also believe, that Ambassador Hill is qualified. I won’t go down the huge list of the achievements he’s had throughout his career, but simply point on his negotiating experience both in the Six-Party Talks and in the Dayton Accords as being particular high points. But again, Ambassador Hill is ready to meet with senators and discuss their concerns, and looks forward to his hearings.

QUESTION: Would he meet with the two senators?

MR. DUGUID: I won’t speak for him on that point, but he is ready to answer questions in hearings.

QUESTION: Is that something that’s come about today as – what you’ve just said is – was that generated by the statement from Graham and McCain?

MR. DUGUID: I do think that Ambassador Hill has been ready to --

QUESTION: No, I know, but I mean --

MR. DUGUID: -- go through his confirmation from the start.

QUESTION: And you’ve spoken to him today or someone has spoken to him today?

MR. DUGUID: Yes, indeed.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s – he’s aware.

MR. DUGUID: Oh, yes. Of course, he is.

QUESTION: And Senator Brownback as well?

MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: And Senators Graham and McCain actually asked the President to reconsider the nomination, suggesting that they might – one or both of them might actually block the nomination?

MR. DUGUID: That would be a question that you’ll have to direct to the White House. For the State Department, we have full confidence in Ambassador Hill. We feel that he is an excellent candidate.

QUESTION: How about – so the Administration stands behind his nomination?

MR. DUGUID: That is correct. Yes, that is correct.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Thanks, Gordon. Could you give us some update on the Afghan review? And is it going to be Secretary Clinton herself who’s going to role it out ahead of the NATO meeting what the Administration’s new Afghan policy is? Admiral Mullen had some comments about it last night, and I’d love to hear what you can tell us, and whether she, rather than the President, will be the one rolling it out?

MR. DUGUID: Well, I’m not sure you’re going to love to hear what I have to say about it. It’s – as it’s still under review. Some of these decisions have not yet been cemented. We are in the midst, as you know. It will be something that has to be finally set before the March 31st meeting in The Hague. But until that time, we will – we’ll not give out more details until it is firmly finished.

QUESTION: And whether she rolls it out or the President?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any information on either one of those for you. When there’s --

QUESTION: Do you have an end date for the agreement?

MR. DUGUID: Well, obviously, the end date was given, 60 days by the President. It depends on when you started. Of course, it’ll have to be done by the 31st.

QUESTION: Well, when do you start it?

MR. DUGUID: We start it from when Ambassador Holbrooke took his appointment, so that’s --

QUESTION: The day of the announcement?

MR. DUGUID: That’s the day of the announcement, or the day after, if you will, giving him a chance to get into his office.

Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:20 p.m.)

___________________________________

[1] Chinese President Hu will be coming to the G-20 Summit in London.

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - March 13]