Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 23, 2009


Index for Today's Briefing
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Civilian Staffing in Afghanistan / Working With Other Government Agencies to Fill Positions
  • ARMENIA / TURKEY
    • Agreement to Normalize Relations
  • SERBIA
    • Deputy Secretary Steinberg Meeting with Serbian Foreign Minister
    • Meeting will Cover Kosovo, U.S.-Serbian Bilateral Relationship, War Crimes Tribunal
  • UAE
    • Torture Video / Reported in 2008 Human Rights Reports
    • Status of 123 Agreement
  • PAKISTAN
    • Pakistani Government and Military Need to Take Aggressive Action Against Violent Extremists
  • MIDDLE EAST
    • U.S. will Not Deal with a Hamas Government / Hamas is Not a Partner for Peace
  • SYRIA
    • Status of 13338 Executive Order
  • NORWAY
    • U.S. will Send Representative to Upcoming Conference on the Arctic
  • ZIMBABWE
    • Visit of Zimbabwe's Finance Minister to Washington, DC


TRANSCRIPT:

12:35 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. Let’s go to your questions.


QUESTION: There have been some reports today about the Administration not being able to get as many civilians needed to staff the civilian surge in Afghanistan. I’m just wondering what – first of all, how many are needed, where are they coming from, and what’s the Department doing to get its part of this --


MR. WOOD: Well, Matt, I don’t have numbers for you at this point. But the President is basically taking what we’re calling, you know, a whole of government approach to meeting the critical needs for civilian staffing in Afghanistan. We’ll be using all authorities, temporary appointments if necessary, curtailing assignments of individuals if necessary to fill these positions. We plan to fill all the civilian positions on schedule. We will be working closely with other government agencies, including the military, to make sure we have the right mix of both civilian and military staffing.


But at this point, I don’t have any further details to give you other than we are working very hard right now to establish those numbers and fulfill the requirements.

QUESTION: You said that you intend to fill all these positions on time. What does that mean?


MR. WOOD: On schedule.


QUESTION: What’s on schedule?


MR. WOOD: Well --


QUESTION: What’s the schedule?


MR. WOOD: I don’t have the schedule for you, but --


QUESTION: Well, if you don’t have the schedule, how do you know that you’re – how can you say that you’re --


MR. WOOD: I’m just saying – I’m saying I don’t have the schedule in front of me, but certainly, the people who are responsible for putting together our staffing have an understanding of what a particular timeline --


QUESTION: Right.


MR. WOOD: -- the timeline is going to be. And from everything I understand, they’re going to be able to fill the positions within that timeframe.


QUESTION: Does that mean you’re going to rely on the military, then, for a lot of this, even if they are civilian employees of the Pentagon?


MR. WOOD: Well, in some cases, we may have to because they have the expertise and are able to deploy relatively quickly. On the civilian side, of course, there are bureaucratic hurdles that one has to go through. But the Administration is very committed right now to moving very quickly to fill these civilian positions. And as I said, I’ve given you the details of – in terms of what mechanisms, you know, we would be willing to use to do that. So – but regarding numbers, I just don’t have those at this point. But once we have more details, I’ll be happy to share them.


QUESTION: Wasn’t the original idea, though, to rely less on the military --


MR. WOOD: That’s certainly – absolutely.


QUESTION: Even if they are civilians? So that’s a bit disappointing?


MR. WOOD: No, I wouldn’t characterize it in that way. I would just say, look, we’ve got some really difficult challenges to meet in Afghanistan, and we want to make sure that we’ve got the right mix of civilian and military personnel to do the jobs that are required. We are going to take some steps to make sure that we can fill the civilian positions on time, from the State Department side. There will be other government agencies that will be providing civilian expertise, and they’re going to be doing – taking the steps necessary to do that as well because this is a high priority for the Administration.


So I wouldn’t characterize it in the way you did. I would just say we are working very hard now to try to make sure that we can staff up accordingly, so that we can get on with confronting the challenges we face.

Yes.

QUESTION: Tomorrow is Armenian Remembrance Day. Where does the Obama Administration stand on the G-word, as in the genocide issue?


MR. WOOD: Well, Sue, look, I don’t have anything to add to what the President said in Turkey. I think what’s important here is the fact that Turkey and Armenia have basically decided to normalize their relationship. To us, that is a huge step. They’re basically saying that we’ve got to move on from the past; we need to reconcile. While there are still going to be differences of opinion, it’s clear that these two governments have taken the very difficult step to move that relationship forward.


And I think we should not underestimate the importance of this agreement. And, you know, we will work with both governments to help them as they move to try to strengthen that relationship over time. But again, it’s really – it was great to see that agreement, and it just shows you that if you work hard and you’re willing to overcome some of the challenges of your past and to reconcile, you can reach these types of agreements.

QUESTION: But where do you stand on – do you think that genocide was committed? I mean, the – but the – President Obama said during the campaign that this is what he believed. Secretary Clinton has said it previously. Vice President Biden has said it. I mean, you all have a fairly, you know, solid track record on using that word. Is this (inaudible) that you have now to avoid using the genocide word?


MR. WOOD: Sue, I’m going to just repeat what I’ve said, that the President spoke to this issue in Turkey, and I don’t have anything to add to that.


Sir.

QUESTION: Can you comment on the – I’m from Voice of America (inaudible). Can you comment on the visit of Serbian foreign minister – he’s meeting today with Deputy Secretary Steinberg – and maybe the current state of the relations between two countries?


MR. WOOD: Well, Deputy Secretary Steinberg is meeting with the Serbian foreign minister this afternoon, and they’re going to talk about a number of issues, including, of course, Kosovo. They’re going to talk about how we can improve the U.S.-Serbian bilateral relationship. And they’ll touch on the subject of the war crimes tribunal and the importance for Serbia to live up to its requirements in terms of turning over suspects to the court. So – but beyond that, I don’t have anything further to add.


Yes.

QUESTION: New topic?


MR. WOOD: New topic.


QUESTION: On the UAE?


MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.


QUESTION: Could you speak to reports that one of the members of the royal family tortured an American citizen? And, allegedly, the person said that he showed the tape of the torture to a member of the U.S. Embassy – official at the U.S. Embassy who only told him to, you know, get his family out of the country.


MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t know anything about those particular comments. But, Elise, we have seen the video of this alleged act. And if you go back to our Human Rights Report of 2008 --


QUESTION: Well, how can you see in a video of an alleged act? I mean, you saw the video of the act, right?


MR. WOOD: We – I said we have seen a video of it.


QUESTION: But you called it alleged. I mean, if you’re seeing it on video, it’s not exactly alleged, is it?


MR. WOOD: Well, again, I don’t have all of the circumstances surrounding the creation of the video, so I’m just giving you our assessment of it. And we reported on this in our 2008 Human Rights Report. And, you know, again, as we always do, we urge all governments to fully investigate allegations of criminal acts. So – but I don’t have anything on that for you.


QUESTION: Did this come up when Secretary Clinton met with the UAE foreign minister?


MR. WOOD: I don’t remember that it did. But again, we’ve spoken to this very clearly through our Human Rights Report.


QUESTION: Well, actually, it’s not very clearly. You just said that – you just mentioned the alleged act, so that’s not really very clearly. But have you specifically asked the UAE Government to look into this?


MR. WOOD: I just said to you --


QUESTION: No, you just said you urge all governments, but did Secretary Clinton or someone else from the building --


MR. WOOD: Certainly, our --


QUESTION: -- specifically ask the UAE Government to look into --


MR. WOOD: Well, we have an Embassy in the UAE, and the Embassy obviously goes out, talks to government officials, does its own analysis and reports back through our Human Rights Report on various issues with regard to the human rights situation in the UAE. So certainly, UAE officials --


QUESTION: Well, you’re speaking in generalities, though. I’m speaking about this particular case. Have you asked the government to look into it?


MR. WOOD: I don’t know specifically the answer to that question. But the government is certainly aware of our position. It’s certainly read the section in our Human Rights Report with regard to the situation in the UAE. I just can’t tell you whether it was raised in the meeting. I don’t recall. It was some time ago.


QUESTION: Well, again, this gentleman alleges that he showed the video to an official at the U.S. Embassy. Could you please check whether the U.S. Embassy – what the conversations were with this gentleman that he --


MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not going to necessarily – I’m not going to take the question to get – give you a response to what – to a conversation that may have happened. I don’t – I’m not going to do that. I’m just telling you that the government is aware of our concerns. And we – and others are aware of our concerns through our Human Rights Report. So --


QUESTION: Well, supposedly, this gentleman sent a copy of the video to every member of Congress.


MR. WOOD: Okay.


QUESTION: Do you think that this could hurt your pending 123 agreement with the UAE?


MR. WOOD: Look, I’m not going to get into a characterization of, you know, what Congress should or should not do. I just prefer to leave it at that.


QUESTION: What’s the status of the 123 agreement with the UAE?


MR. WOOD: Well, it’s something that we are looking at. We hope to be able to put that forth, and we will so – we will do so in due course. But I don’t have anything beyond that for you at the moment.


QUESTION: Just one more on the tape, you know, on it.


MR. WOOD: Sure.


QUESTION: You call it an alleged incident and you said you’re not familiar with the kind of production of the tape. Are you suggesting that perhaps the video is manufactured?


MR. WOOD: Nope, didn’t say that.


QUESTION: So then why are you calling it an alleged incident?


MR. WOOD: Well, because --


QUESTION: I mean, the sheikh is on the video. He’s beating the crap out of some guy. How could that be an alleged incident?


MR. WOOD: I’ve given you my position on this.


Sir.

QUESTION: Robert, with these various groups such as the Taliban and the other Islamists that seem to have a jaundiced view of the world and their societies, with this brutality, with Sharia law and what Elise has just mentioned, this torture, it probably goes to the extent of what we’ve seen at, for instance, Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo, what they’re screaming about. Here it’s on their side. Because these are so-called religious groups that are taking over in such areas of Pakistan, now even in Somalia as of today, has the Secretary and the White House spoken to this? Is there a group meeting, for instance, with the AU for Africa, and also with the Pakistan Government? This is ongoing. It’s happening right before our eyes. And you’ve mentioned it over the last number of days, if not weeks, and the Secretary yesterday was talking with Congress and again there this morning.


MR. WOOD: Well, one thing I don’t want to do is start generalizing about various countries. We deal with each country where these types of problems exist on their own merit. The Secretary spoke very clearly, I think, and very frankly yesterday to the concerns that we in the international community have with regard to Pakistan. And as we’ve said, and not just in Pakistan but in other places around the world, violent extremists need to be confronted. And with regard to Pakistan, in our view, the government and the military need to take very decisive and aggressive action against these extremists. And we’re going to work – continue to work with Pakistan and with the Government of Afghanistan and our other allies to try to do what we can to prevent these extremists from, you know, obtaining their objectives.


And again, as I said, I think the Secretary spoke very clearly to the Pakistan side of this. Others have spoken to – including myself, to issues of terrorism around the world and the things that we in the international community must do to counter them. And it’s going to be a very difficult challenge. It’s the challenge of the 21st century dealing with international terrorism. And we’re going to continue to do what we can. And that’s going to require resources. It’s going to require close cooperation, close intelligence sharing. But we have to meet this challenge. And as I said, we are going to be working with other governments around the world to do what we can.

Yes.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton said today that she thinks that the Pakistani Government realizes the severity of the threat of the advance of the Taliban into this district. And we see that the Pakistani military – Pakistani Government has dispatched some military into the area. Were there any discussions yesterday or overnight from this building – Ambassador Holbrooke or Secretary Clinton – to the Pakistanis that possibly pushed this along?


MR. WOOD: I’m not aware that Secretary Clinton spoke to the Pakistanis. I know Ambassador Holbrooke has been very busy working on, you know, trying to get the implementation of our strategic review going. Look, Pakistan understands the threat that these extremists pose to its society, its way of life.


QUESTION: Well, yesterday she said they didn’t understand, and today she said they did. So I’m just asking if there’s anything – I understand Ambassador Holbrooke is implementing the strategy. But given the specific, you know, kind of advance of the Taliban yesterday and the warnings that Secretary Clinton said that, you know, that they’re 60 miles from the capital, that that poses an existential threat, was there anything that this Administration tried to do over the last 24 hours that made them see the light?


MR. WOOD: Well, look, we have been talking with the Government of Pakistan at various levels for quite some time. We’ve made very clear our concerns about the Taliban and al-Qaida. And the government there is well aware. We don’t need to tell the Government of Pakistan what a threat these extremists are. What I’m saying is we have regular conversations at various levels, and I’m sure some conversations have taken place over the last day or so. But I don’t have a list of those conversations that have taken place.


QUESTION: Well, can you check? Because yesterday, Secretary Clinton very pointedly said that they didn’t understand. And today, she said they did. So what happened in the last 24 hours that made them see the light? Was there something that this U.S. – could you check it and see if Ambassador Holbrooke made some calls?


MR. WOOD: I’m not going to get into – try to get you a list of, you know, every conversation that takes place with regard to a certain issue. I can tell you, very authoritatively, that we are very focused on this issue and have been for quite some time. And the Pakistani Government, it understands the difficulties it faces. We have said, as I – in fact, I just said, what the Pakistani Government and the military needs to do is to take very decisive and aggressive action against these extremists. There is great concern in this building and in other government agencies here in Washington about the danger that these extremists pose.


So let me just say to you very clearly, Elise, we are working very hard, and we understand the threat, and we’re going to do everything that we can. And that’s why we launched into the strategic review. We now have an outcome of that. We’re into implementation. And there’s going to be a lot of activity going on. But you can be assured that this has high-level attention and we’ll continue to work the issue because we don’t have a choice. We can’t let these extremists win.

Yes.

QUESTION: In her testimony today, the Secretary seemed to indicate that there would be some flexibility in dealing with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. She referred to the – to Lebanon’s government which includes Hezbollah, saying – and also the Northern Ireland situation.


What kind of flexibility are you thinking of? And the supplemental language can be read in many different ways, so maybe if you could just explain how flexible you plan to be when it comes to the national interests of the U.S.?

MR. WOOD: Look, we’ve been very clear, this is not an issue of being flexible. This is an issue of what Hamas needs to do. We’ve outlined those conditions for Hamas if it wants to be a partner for peace. It’s been very clear. We will not deal with a Hamas government. We – the Secretary has made that very clear and --


QUESTION: But it’s not actually that clear. I mean, today she seemed to indicate some --


MR. WOOD: Well, it may not be to you, but it’s very clear to us.


QUESTION: She’s saying on the one hand, she doesn’t want to deal with them. But then on the other, she’s used – the other hand, she’s using examples where you are dealing with governments that include people you don’t like. So it’s not clear to me.


MR. WOOD: Well, it should be very clear that we have those three principles. And the Secretary’s made clear, she made clear yesterday, what Hamas needed to do. And our position has not changed. What we’re trying to do is to get a process going, at some point, so that we can move forward on our vision of a two-state solution. And nothing has changed with regard to our principles.


So I think what the Secretary was trying to show you was that there have been cases where we have dealt with various groups. She used the issue of Lebanon.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)


MR. WOOD: Yeah. Well, but again, there are some very strong solid principles that we have to see adhered to before we can deal with Hamas.


QUESTION: Well, but you’re not – but you’re not dealing with Hamas. I mean, the question is --


MR. WOOD: I didn’t say we were dealing with them.


QUESTION: Okay, but the question is not whether you’re going to deal with Hamas. We know you’re not going to deal with Hamas. The question is: Will you deal with a government that is kind of led by the – or a unity government? Will you deal with PA members of that unity government?


MR. WOOD: Well, look, first of all, there isn’t a unity government.


QUESTION: As in Lebanon, you deal with members of the March 14 Movement, but you don’t deal with members of Hezbollah?


MR. WOOD: Look, what I’m saying to you is that there is not a unity government. We have principles, conditions that we have put on Hamas in order for us to engage – in order for Hamas to become part of the solution instead of being what they are, which is the problem, and – you know, so it’s premature to start talking about what we would --


QUESTION: But Secretary Clinton was talking about it today, so it’s not premature.


MR. WOOD: Well, I’m just – no, no, what I’m saying is it’s premature to talk about what a unity government is going to look like. What I’m saying to you is that our principles, we stand behind them with regard to what Hamas needs to do if it wants to become a partner for peace. Hamas is not a partner for peace. It rejects Israel’s right to exist. It rejects previous agreements that have been agreed to by the Palestinian Authority, and it continues to perpetrate violence against its own people.


Our principles remain the same. They haven’t changed. I’m not going to start speculating about what we might do, what might be, or what kind of engagement we might have with some future unity government that doesn’t exist. The only thing I can tell you is that our principles remain the same with regard to Hamas.

Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, last year, former President Bush renewed Executive Order 13338, which created a state of emergency with respect to Syria and imposed some sanctions. This expires early next month. I’m wondering if you can tell me what the status of the discussion is about whether it will be renewed or not.


MR. WOOD: Matt, I don’t have --


QUESTION: Can you take that question to see what the status is?


MR. WOOD: I’d be happy to do that.


QUESTION: Thank you.


MR. WOOD: Yes, ma’am.


QUESTION: Robert, do you know if anyone from the U.S. will be attending an upcoming conference in Norway on the Arctic?


MR. WOOD: Yes, we will have someone from the U.S. Government attending. It’s going to be, I believe, Deputy Secretary Steinberg. But I don’t have anything more in terms of the details.


Yes.

QUESTION: Zimbabwe’s finance minister is in town this week. The Secretary had some rather nice comments on Zimbabwe’s independence celebrations last weekend, saying there had been some progress. Has the finance minister met anyone in this building while he’s here? I mean, he’s somebody who you tend to support and --


MR. WOOD: No, not that I’m aware of.


QUESTION: Oh, okay.


MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of.


QUESTION: Or any other members of his delegation?


MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of. But I’ll take a look and see.


QUESTION: Okay.


MR. WOOD: That’s it?


QUESTION: Thank you.


MR. WOOD: Okay, thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:00 p.m.)

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - April 23]