Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 7, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Consultations Continue / Secretary Clinton Spoke to FMs Lavrov and Yang / US Wants a Strong and Effective Response from UNSC / Will Take Some Time, but Want to Get It Right / North Korea Violated International Law / Important to Halt Proliferation of Weapons / Must Send a Strong Message to the North
    • US Is Concerned about Piracy / Have Discussed the Issue with Many Partners / Will Continue to Work with International Partners to Prevent Hijackings and Bring Culprits to Justice
    • Secretary Clinton Has Stated that Demolitions, Evictions Are Unhelpful / Continue to Raise Concerns with Israel and Municipal Officials / Israel and Palestinians Both Have Obligations to Meet
    • Senator Mitchell Travels to the Region April 13 / Goal Is a Two-State Solution
    • Concerned about Violence / Adds Tension to the Region
    • OSCE Assessment on Elections - Generally Positive, with Some Concerns on Undue Administrative Influence on the Process / US Is Conducting Its Own Assessment
  • IRAN
    • U/S Burns Will Represent the US in P-5+1 Talks in London / Will Discuss the Way Forward on Dealing with Iran's Nuclear Program
  • IRAQ
    • President Obama's Visit
    • Violence in Iraq Is in Decline / Terrorists Will Continue to Try to Disrupt the Iraqi Government / US Wants to Help the Iraqis to Help Themselves / Give the People of Iraq Hope and a Better Future
    • Nomination of Assistant Secretary-designate Gordon / Working Its Way Through the Senate
  • CUBA
    • Travel of Members of Congress / Expect They Will Raise Issues of Concern to the US
    • No Information on Announcement on Easing of Travel Restrictions and Remittances
    • Wants Afghan Government to Review Law that Violates the Rights of Women / Law Sends the Wrong Message to the International Community / Important Issue to Secretary Clinton / US Will Watch Closely
    • President Obama Called PM Berlusconi Today to Express Condolences / US Stands Ready to Help / No Reports Of American Citizens Killed or Injured at this Time
    • Ambassador Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen Meetings in Pakistan


12:42 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. I don’t have anything. Matt.

QUESTION: What’s the latest on the North Korea diplomacy?

MR. WOOD: Well, consultations are continuing in New York. As I think I mentioned to you yesterday – and if I didn’t, I apologize – the Secretary spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov and Foreign Minister Yang. And we again are going to be working toward, as I said yesterday, a strong and effective response from the Security Council.

I would just – again, as I did yesterday – mention that, you know, this is not something you can expect that’s going to be solved, you know, immediately. This is going to take a little time. This is an important issue. We want to make sure that we get it right. We want to have the right response to what the North has done. And so we’re going to continue to work very hard on this track. But you need to understand and have some patience with this process. We want to make sure we get – as I said, we get it right.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a preference of whether it would like to see a resolution or a presidential statement?

MR. WOOD: As I said yesterday, Matt, we want a very strong and effective response from the Security Council and I’d like to just leave it at that at this point.


QUESTION: It is reported North Korea will expel IAEA inspectors from Pyongyang. Do you have anything on that?

MR. WOOD: I don’t. I have – that’s the first I’ve heard of that.


MR. WOOD: On this subject, North Korea?

QUESTION: Yeah – another subject.

MR. WOOD: Anything else on North – yes.

QUESTION: How do you go forward with this sort of bold disarmament plan that the President is talking about in the wake of a North Korean missile launch? How do you take that forward?

MR. WOOD: I don’t see any contradiction here. I think it’s important, worldwide, to do what we can to halt the proliferation of weapons. And we’re going to continue to pursue that with our allies. The launch from the North, as I said yesterday, is a problem for all of us. And we have to show the North, we have to send a strong message to the North that it cannot do this type of activity again. It’s in violation of international law. And you know, we’re working on, you know, an appropriate response in the Security Council and go from there.

But I don’t see how that in any way prohibits us from going forward in general on trying to do what we can in terms of reducing the number of arms, the proliferation of arms, and other weapons. I don’t see any problem with that at all.


QUESTION: Robert, the President right now is in Baghdad meeting with American troops. And also you have two Gulf states here today for talks with the Secretary. Also down in the eastern coast of Africa, there have been more ship hijackings into Somalia and some of these pirates are going way out to sea and it’s threatening, I guess, the shipping lanes. Is there any regard to further blockade of those, I guess, pirates coming off the African coast, and are you currently in talks concerning that?

MR. WOOD: Well, we are certainly discussing this issue with a number of partners. There is a contact group, as you know, on piracy issue. It is a great concern to us. I mean, you’re seeing an increased number of these attacks taking place, these hijackings. And it’s not an easy issue, but what we tried to do in joining this framework is to make sure that we can do everything that we can legally to prevent these types of things from happening, and if they do happen, that we’re able to limit the impact of these hijackings and also to make sure that the crews are safe and that we can do whatever we can to bring these culprits to justice.

So it’s a problem that’s – you know, that’s with us. It’s been with us for a long time, to be honest, and we’re going to work hard. There are no simple solutions, but we think together in the international community, we can, you know, do what we can to, you know, prevent or limit these types of incidents from happening.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

QUESTION: Other topic?

MR. WOOD: Anything thing else on this? Okay.

QUESTION: Middle East?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Today, Israeli police demolished a home in Jerusalem where the man who – the Palestinian who killed three Israelis in a bulldozer rampage last year had lived. I believe it’s the first time the Israelis have carried out such a demolition since 2005. And I wonder (a) what you think of, you know, that demolition and (b) what you think of the Israeli police’s killing of a Palestinian who drove a vehicle into the officers who were guarding the demolition.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, this is obviously a very difficult issue, but I’d point to what the Secretary said when she was in the region last time, that demolitions, evictions are unhelpful and that the ramifications of such actions, you know, go beyond just the individual families who are impacted by families directed – directly impacted by these actions. And we continue to raise these concerns with both the Government of Israel and the municipal officials about this.

I would say, just overall, Arshad, you know, both Israel and the Palestinians have obligations that they need to meet. And we want to make sure that both sides are not taking steps that are divisive and that are going to increase tensions in the region. I don’t think I have anything more to add to it than what I’ve just said. But it is – clearly, it’s one of those emotional issues and as I said, we’ve made our concerns known to both the Israeli Government and to the municipal government.

QUESTION: Today, with respect to this specific demolition?

MR. WOOD: No, I’m saying in general with regard to these types of issues.

QUESTION: Can you check whether you raised it today?

MR. WOOD: I’ll certainly take a look at that. Absolutely.

QUESTION: Okay. And then one other related thing, if I may.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: The new Israeli foreign minister today is quoted as saying that peace efforts with the Palestinians have reached a, quote, “dead end,” closed quote. His full quote is “There’s definitely a regression here and we must understand and admit that we are at a dead end,” closed quote. Is that helpful?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, we have a special envoy, Senator Mitchell, who will be going to the region beginning April 13 to continue discussions with how we can move back to a very positive track with the goal being a two-state solution. We are going to hear comments from various parties about how they assess things. The important objective for us is to get this process back on track so that we can get to this two-state solution that we think is in the best interests of not only the Israelis and the Palestinians, but the United States and the rest of the world.

You know, it’s difficult. It’s not easy. And the people on both sides want to see results. And this Administration, in appointing a special envoy so early on in its tenure, shows that it’s committed to trying to get – to jumpstart this process to get everybody focused on the bigger goal, which is trying to get to that two-state solution. So it’s a process and there are going to be ups and downs, but we’ve got to continue to work through them.


QUESTION: Speaking about the special envoy’s trip to the region, you posted a statement yesterday saying that he is going to meet people in the Gulf and also in the Maghreb.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you be more specific?

MR. WOOD: I’d like to be, Sylvie. I can’t because they’re still working out the actual stops on the trip. And as soon as we have all of that confirmed, we’ll certainly let you know. But that’s the reason why we weren’t able to be more specific, because we’re still working out the stops and the various states.

QUESTION: Okay. And I have another question --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: -- on another subject.

MR. WOOD: Oh, anybody else on this subject? Okay.

QUESTION: In Moldova, the opposition is contesting the results of the elections and there are violences. What is the U.S. position on that?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re obviously concerned about any violence taking part, and we want to see people refrain from further violence. We want calmer heads to prevail. And we’ll just have to see how things develop.

QUESTION: Do you think the elections were free and fair?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say that I believe the OSCE, its election monitoring mission, did an assessment which basically said that the – you know, the elections were generally positive, but there were some concerns, I think, about undue administrative influence on the process.

You know, I think – you know, we’re obviously doing our own assessment. You know, we haven’t completed it, but I think we would probably say that it’s – it was generally positive. But again, we haven’t completed our assessment and we share some of those concerns about undue administrative influence. But that, you know, that is – what we don’t want to see is continued violence as a result of these elections because that’s in no one’s interest.

QUESTION: Do you think the opposition is right to contest the victory of the communist party?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, I mean, what we’re for is a free and fair election. And you know, those who win, you know, that’s the result of an election. But again, what’s important here is that there be – that people desist from any type of violent activity. That doesn’t help anything. It only adds more tension to a region that doesn’t need any further tension.

But I’ve given you our – just our general assessment of the elections. And I’m sure we’ll have a, you know, further readout for you once we’ve completed that assessment.

Yes, Nina.

QUESTION: Just anything on the P-5+1 tomorrow in London?

MR. WOOD: Nothing beyond the fact that Bill Burns, our Under Secretary for Political Affairs, will represent us at this P-5+1 meeting, and it’s obviously to chart the way forward in terms of dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. Hopefully, I can provide you a better readout after the meeting tomorrow.


QUESTION: And does he plan to discuss any new sanctions or new resolution, or what is it exactly for?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say that we’re going to discuss the way forward. I don’t want to get ahead of the actual meeting itself.


QUESTION: On Iraq, as you know, the President is there right now and is apparently talking with Maliki by telephone rather than going in person. And it raises the question, I mean, is the government – is the U.S. Government specifically concerned about rising violence in Iraq? There have been, you know, recent reports about increasing suicide bombings and – are you – what are your concerns about increasing violence in Iraq, and is that why the President was doing it all by telephone?

MR. WOOD: No, my understanding is that he had to speak with Maliki by telephone because apparently there were some wet climate conditions --


MR. WOOD: Dust and what have you.

QUESTION: That actually changed.


MR. WOOD: Oh, did it change?

QUESTION: Maliki went to the --

MR. WOOD: Oh, okay. You got a further update than I have.

QUESTION: Oh, thank you.

MR. WOOD: So, look, violence in Iraq, I think, overall has been on the decline. You’re going to see terrorists continuing to try to disrupt the functioning of the Iraqi Government. What’s important is that we help Iraqis to be able to help themselves and provide their own security and help give the people of Iraq hope. And you know, as I said, violence in Iraq overall has been on the decline. And the Iraqi Government, with our help and the help of others in the international community, is going to – we’re going to do what we can to try to give the Iraqi people a much better future, something that they so truly deserve.


QUESTION: Yes. On Mr. Philip Gordon. Any comment on Mr. Philip Gordon to become Under Secretary for European Affairs at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee?

MR. WOOD: Well, Mr. Gordon has been nominated to be Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, and that – his nomination is still working its way through the Senate. But I don’t have anything beyond that except I think --

QUESTION: So far --

MR. WOOD: -- he’d be great assistant secretary.

QUESTION: So far you don’t have any disagreement at the Foreign Relations Committee?

MR. WOOD: You mean do I have any disagreement?


MR. WOOD: No. I mean, it’s working its way through the Senate. I’ll just leave it at that.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: On Cuba. Do you have anything further on the congressional delegation’s meeting with Raul Castro (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t.


MR. WOOD: Sorry, I don’t.

QUESTION: Any reaction to members of Congress sitting down with Raul Castro? Is that the right thing for members of Congress to do?

MR. WOOD: Members of Congress, you know, have the right to travel where they want and to discuss issues with whom they want. And I’m sure that the members of that delegation will be raising some of the concerns that the U.S. Government has with Cuba in terms of allowing Cubans to have the same rights and freedoms as other countries in the hemisphere.

QUESTION: It’s still on that. Can you say how the State Department is standing ready or already has altered its operations in Cuba to prepare for the easing of restrictions on travel?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not aware. The President hasn’t made an announcement, as you know, but has indicated that he wants to take some steps to, you know, ease restrictions on travel and remittances. And – but I don’t have anything to say in terms of how our interests section is preparing for some type of an announcement.


QUESTION: Karzai says that he is going to review this law on women’s rights -- that has caused some concern here and elsewhere. I’m just wondering what – particularly given the Secretary’s interest in this issue of women’s rights and things like that, what exactly would the U.S. like to see done, changed, or removed from this?

MR. WOOD: Well, first and foremost, we want to see – we want the Afghan Government to review this law so that there are no provisions in there that discriminate against women, that violate the rights of women. This is an important issue for the Secretary, as you mentioned, for the President as well. You know, women have had an unfortunate and very sad history in Afghanistan, and the international community is contributing a lot. We have a number of female soldiers who are serving in Afghanistan. You know, this type of a law shouldn’t have been enacted without regard to changing some of these provisions which send a very negative signal to the international community about where Afghanistan is going.

So we’re glad that President Karzai has agreed to review this law, and we’ll have to – we’ll be watching this closely to see how the process develops.

QUESTION: Were you able to find out – I think you were asked if the Secretary raised it with Karzai directly when they were in The Hague together. Did you ever get an answer to that?

MR. WOOD: I think we answered that, but I don’t recall. Check with the Press Office. If not, give me a call later and I’ll get you an answer on that.

Anything else? Charley.

QUESTION: Any update on the Italian earthquake?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, let me just give you a little bit of what I have. President Obama called Prime Minister Berlusconi earlier today to express his and the American people’s deepest condolences to the people of Italy and to the families of the victims and those injured in the April 6th earthquake.

Our chargé d'affaires today in our Embassy in Rome authorized the release of $50,000 in emergency relief funding to provide humanitarian assistance to earthquake victims. And the President assured the prime minister that the U.S. stands ready to help the Italian people in this time of need. And it’s just a very tragic time for the people of Italy, and we just want them to know that we’re with them at this really difficult time.

QUESTION: And still no word on Americans killed or injured?

MR. WOOD: The latest report I have is that there were no Americans killed or injured.

QUESTION: And any advice or restrictions on American travel to the region and --

MR. WOOD: None that I’m aware of. None that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Is the $50,000 the same 50 you talked about yesterday?

MR. WOOD: It’s the same I talked about yesterday, yeah.


QUESTION: Any update on Holbrooke’s visit, where he is now, who he met yesterday?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. Ambassador Holbrooke and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mullen are in Islamabad – in Pakistan today. Let me see what I’ve got.

Ambassador Holbrooke met with President Zardari, Prime Minister Gillani, Foreign Minister Qureshi, the head of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz faction, Nawaz Sharif. He met with Shahbaz Sharif, who is the chief minister of Punjab. He also met with some other government officials and representatives of civil society. And that’s what I have.

QUESTION: All the meetings were in Islamabad?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know if they were all in Islamabad. It could very well have been. I’m not sure, to be very honest.

QUESTION: And can you also give us a sense why Admiral Mullen is accompanying the ambassador this time?

MR. WOOD: Why Admiral Mullen is --


MR. WOOD: Well, there are a number of issues that the Department of Defense has with regard to Pakistan. Admiral Mullen has traveled there a number of times. I wouldn’t read anything into the fact that both he and Ambassador Holbrooke are there. We have – they’re briefing on – briefing officials on the outcome of the strategic review with regard to Afghanistan and Pakistan, so this kind of a visit only makes sense.

QUESTION: And when is the next trilateral meeting scheduled?

MR. WOOD: I think that’s scheduled – don’t hold me to this. We can check and get you an answer. I think it’s May. I think it’s sometime in May.

QUESTION: Did you have any dates?

MR. WOOD: I – we may have some dates on it. I just don’t have them off the top of my head.


MR. WOOD: Okay, thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:01 p.m.)

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