Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 30, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • US Offers Condolences on Shootings at the State Oil Academy / Stands in Solidarity with People of Azerbaijan / Embassy Monitoring Situation / No Reports of Americans Affected
    • Country Report on Terrorism Briefing at 1:30 Today
    • 123 Agreement / Carryover from Previous Administration / Don't Discuss Internal Deliberations / Administration Is Reviewing the Agreement
    • Policy Is Under Review / US Is Deeply Concerned / Work with International Community to Address Major Concerns / Humanitarian Situation
    • The Secretary's Position Is Clear / North Korea Doesn't Appear to Want to Return to Six-Party Framework / Behavior Erratic / Goal Is a Denuclearized Peninsula / US Will Use Every Diplomatic Tool to Achieve Goal / Will Continue Conversations with Partners and Allies
    • US Is Willing to Engage Syria / Syria Can Play a Positive Role in the Region / Would Welcome Syrian Promotion of a Two-State Solution
    • No Travel to Announce at this Time
    • Interfaith Dialogue November 2008 / No Bilateral Meeting between King Abdullah and President Peres


12:48 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, all. All who are here. Welcome to the briefing. I’m going to start off with a couple of items. This is about the shooting at the State Oil Academy in Azerbaijan.

We express our deep – our deepest condolences to the people of Azerbaijan in this tragic hour, and especially with the loved ones of those killed or wounded in this tragic incident. The United States is standing in solidarity with Azerbaijan, our friend and strategic partner, in this time of shock and sadness.

Our Embassy in Baku is closely monitoring the situation. The latest information that we have is that no American citizens were affected by the incident.

The next and last item, I just want to remind you all about the special briefing coming up at 1:30 today on the Country Reports on Terrorism 2008. So I hope you will all be in attendance.

And with that, I’m ready to go to your questions.

Okay, thank you. (Laughter.) Thought I could get away with it.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) with BBC Arabic.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Could you please let us know about this debate going on with the abuse tape that came out of the UAE? Would you let us know, is the U.S. going to delay the nuclear energy deal that was supposed to be signed? I understand Secretary Clinton has already signed it, sent it to the President, but there has been delays into ratifying it. And there’s already been reports of officials saying that it’s been delayed because of that tape.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, first of all, we don’t discuss internal deliberations within the Administration. But, you know, I would remind you this is an agreement that was a carryover from the previous administration, so we are still – this agreement is still being reviewed. And I don’t have anything further at this point to give you on that. So it’s under review. And that’s all I have at the moment.

QUESTION: Does the tape have any effect at all on --

MR. WOOD: These are two separate issues.

Yes, Charlie.

QUESTION: Just to clarify, has the Secretary actually signed the agreement?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to talk about --

QUESTION: Because that wouldn't mean it was under review necessarily.

MR. WOOD: It is still under review in the Administration, Charlie. I’d like to leave it at that, if I may.

QUESTION: Well, is it under review by the State Department or elsewhere?

MR. WOOD: It is under review by the Administration.

Did you have --

QUESTION: Anything further on that? (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: Okay, next subject. On this?


MR. WOOD: Okay.

QUESTION: Has there been a review of Burma policy, and is there any update on that?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have an update for you, but we are still engaged in a review of Burma policy. We are trying to figure out the best way forward to try to bring about the changes we want to see in Burma. And this is something, as you know, the Secretary is very concerned about. She has not been happy with policies that we’ve had up until now and, as a result of the Administration’s concern about what’s going on in Burma, decided to engage in a very thorough review.

I don’t have anything for you because that review is still ongoing. But it remains a topic of deep concern in the Administration, and we’re looking to try to find a way, in working with our other partners in the international community, to address the major concerns that we have, particularly in the humanitarian sphere, with regard to Burma.

QUESTION: And when – and the frustration is that these sanctions have not apparently been doing anything.

MR. WOOD: Well, they haven’t brought about the desired effect that we’ve wanted. But we’re looking, as I said, just to see what further we can do, and we’re going to work with other partners in the international community to try to figure out a way forward, because it hasn’t – we haven’t gotten the changes in terms of behavior that we want to see from the Burmese Government. So we’ll continue to see what we can – look to see what we can do.

Yes, Elise.

QUESTION: This is on the child bride in Saudi Arabia. Supposedly, she’s been granted a divorce. I was wondering if you knew anything about it, if you had kind of petitioned the Saudis for any action on this case, and whether you think that there should be some kind of legislation --

MR. WOOD: Well, I think, Elise, we spoke to that a couple of weeks ago about that case. I’ll take a look again and see if we’ve got any update to it, because I haven’t heard this especially. I’ll take a look at it for you.


QUESTION: Secretary Clinton just stated during her testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee that she regards it as implausible, if not impossible – her words, implausible, if not impossible – that North Korea will return to the Six-Party Talks and resume the disablement of its nuclear reactor. So should we infer from that statement that the Administration, as she said, regards it as implausible, if not impossible, that the whole thrust of our efforts thus far that you’ve been telling us about from the podium, which was to get them to return to the Six-Party Talks, is now moot?

MR. WOOD: No, I think certainly the Secretary made very clear where we are and what we believe about the way North Korea has been behaving. We’re concerned. It doesn’t appear that they have any interest in returning to the Six-Party framework. But our major objective here is to achieve a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we believe, still believe, that the Six-Party framework is the best vehicle for getting us to that goal. But as I’ve said before, we’re under no illusions about how difficult this situation is. The North – its behavior has been, at best, extremely erratic. We are looking to try to see if there are other countries that can use whatever influence and leverage they have over the North to bring them back to the table. But it’s obviously – we haven’t been able to do that up until now. And I think the Secretary is expressing, you know, our concern and our – you know, about this process and about the behavior of the North.

What we want to do is try to figure out how we can get them back to the table so that we can continue this process. But as I said, under no illusions about the challenge that we face in trying to do that. The North has taken steps that have basically been on the outside of what the international community wants to see. If it ever wants to have a good relationship with the international community, it needs to take those steps that the international community wants the North to take. But I share her – of course, I share her concerns, and we are skeptical about the North’s intentions.

QUESTION: So if you regard the Six-Party Talks as the best vehicle through which to get – to achieve denuclearization, and we have the Secretary of State stating openly that it is implausible, if not impossible, to get the North Koreans to use that vehicle, then what’s Plan B?

MR. WOOD: Well, Plan B – first and foremost, we’re going to continue to work this track to try to get them back. But if – you know, I don’t want to speculate as to what we may do. But we have, as you know, regular routine conversations with other partners, excluding the North, with – in the Six-Party framework, others who have an interest, like the United States, in seeing a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. And we continue to try to see – maybe if there are better ways of achieving our overall objective.

But right now, the focus has been on the Six-Party framework. But I can’t tell you what the future is going to hold if the North should not come back to the table. We will, you know, use every tool in our diplomatic arsenal to try to achieve that objective. But it would be premature for me to state, you know, what a Plan B might be right now. We are focused on trying to get them back to the table.

QUESTION: One other way of approaching this, Robert, is to ask you if, in attempting still to get the North Koreans to return to the Six-Party Talks, you are not spending good energy after bad, because the Secretary herself has told us that such a goal is implausible, if not impossible.

MR. WOOD: The Secretary is expressing a very strong view within the Administration. There’s no question of that, James. I’m not, you know, trying to, you know --

QUESTION: What I’m saying is if you – if the Secretary regards it as implausible, if not impossible, that they’re going to return to the Six-Party Talks, why are you telling us that you’re still attempting to do that?

MR. WOOD: Well, because that is still the framework that we have right now. But the Secretary is making it very clear it doesn’t seem likely that the North Koreans are willing to come to the table. But also to follow on what I said about wanting to continue to have discussions with our other partners who have an interest in the denuclearization of the peninsula, we’re going to try to look for ways. I just told you that the Six-Party framework was the framework that we’ve been working with up until now.

And this is a challenge for those of us in the international community that are trying to get the North to live up to its obligations. And what the Secretary said was very straightforward – it’s very implausible, it’s unlikely. But right now, what we want to do is focus on how best to get to that eventual goal. And we will be having conversations with others in the international community about how best to go forward.

QUESTION: Well, can I follow up on that?

MR. WOOD: You may indeed.

QUESTION: Are you continuing to show your willingness to talk and continuing to show your desire to have these Six-Party Talks as a way to maintain unity in the Six-Party Talks, so if the North Koreans don’t come to the table, you have more kind of legitimacy to go – to, you know, impose other measures like sanctions or things like that?

MR. WOOD: We have been pushing and trying to promote the Six-Party framework for one basic reason: because we believe this is the best mechanism, up until now, for getting the North to live up to its obligations in terms of denuclearizing. And, you know, as I said, it’s a challenging issue for us. If we were able to deal with it quickly, we would have.

QUESTION: No, but I mean, if you’re saying it’s implausible and impossible and kind of pretty much saying it’s a lost cause, then why would you continue to say that that’s what you want to do, if not to just kind of show the stark difference between yourselves and North Korea in order to impose some measures against them?

MR. WOOD: What I’m saying is up until now, that has been the framework that we have been – the existing framework that the United States and others who were parties to the Six-Party framework and countries outside of that framework were pursuing. And you know, if we have to look at other options, diplomatic options, we certainly will. I’m just saying to you that what the Secretary said is very clearly what this Department believes, that there is skepticism about the North’s intentions and it doesn’t appear likely that the North, at least from the signs we have seen so far, is willing to return to the negotiating table.

So, you know, you’re asking me to predict the future. I can’t do that from here at this point. I can only tell you that we continue to have conversations with our partners and allies to see – to find the best way forward with regard to achieving that goal that I’ve stated, which is denuclearization of the peninsula – Korean Peninsula.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: You keep on saying “up until now.” Does that mean that you’ve – does that imply that you’ve made some kind of decision?

MR. WOOD: I’m just saying right up until now. I can’t speak for tomorrow. I can’t speak for the day after. I can only tell you right now what our policy has been.

QUESTION: And is the State Department looking at other vehicles or frameworks?

MR. WOOD: I’ve just said to you – I’ve just – already addressed that issue. You know, we have discussions, routine discussions with other governments who have an interest in a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula about the best way forward. And as I’ve said before, up until now, we have been working with that existing framework that we believe is viable. But I can’t tell you what we’re going to do in the future should the North not return to the table. I don’t think I can be any clearer about that.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. WOOD: Change of subject? Please.

QUESTION: The Wall Street today has an article about the possibility of a U.S. delegation traveling to Syria for official talks, and this is – well, part of my question. The second one is that --

MR. WOOD: Well, I have no – you know, one – as I said yesterday, if we have any, you know, thing to announce with regard to travel, we’ll let you know. So – and the second part of your question?

QUESTION: The second question is that President of Syria Bashar Asad has been traveling to Austria and Slovakia the last couple of days and emphasizing very much on the need of exploitation of the positive atmosphere for peace that is existing right now across the world, but they need also to move from headlines to a tangible plan – American, European and Arab plan to implement that plan, actually, and not to just keep hoping and expression – expressing hope for the peace, taking into account their appreciation of a Administration – the Obama Administration, what he calls a hopeful policy in the Middle East.

Do you have any comment about tangible steps that could be taken in the light of the new policy of – the Israeli policy with the new government that has not accepted the Arab peace plans so far, or the American initiative of two-state solution?

MR. WOOD: Look, we’ve said all along that our policy is based on a two-state solution, a two-state formula. And what Syria and other countries around the world can do is to try to use their influence on the parties to help move them in that direction. So if Syria is willing to play a positive role in helping to, you know, promote the two-state solution, then that’s welcome. But what we need to see are actions, and we hope that Syria will indeed engage and play a positive role in the region. It’s an important country in the Middle East. But that remains our policy. And, you know, I don’t have anything more to add.

QUESTION: Is the time right for additional U.S. talks directly in Damascus?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, we’ve said that we would be willing to engage Syria in a dialogue and, as I said before, after the previous meetings that were held between Acting Assistant Secretary Feltman and the NSC’s Dan Shapiro, that there could very well be additional meetings, you know, future meetings. And so I’m certainly not going to rule that out at this point. I don’t have anything more to add in terms of travel, but we’ll be happy to let you know should there be a visit coming up in the near future.

But what’s important from our standpoint is that Syria play a positive role in this region, and up until now, it hasn’t. But this Administration has said it’s willing to engage. And if the Syrians are willing to engage as well, hopefully, we’ll be able to make some progress. But we’ll have to see how things go. But if indeed they are willing to contribute to helping promote a two-state solution, that’s something definitely to be welcomed.


QUESTION: There’s a report saying that Under Secretary Burns revealed on Monday that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia spoke with the Israeli President Peres during the Interfaith Conference at the UN last November.

MR. WOOD: The only thing I can tell you is that I know at that Interfaith Dialogue, there were a number of world leaders, including King Abdullah and Israeli President Shimon Peres. Former President Bush was there, I believe, as well, and they participated in that session. I think they both attended a dinner and a UN meeting, but my understanding is that no bilateral meeting took place.


MR. WOOD: Yes, Sir.

QUESTION: Have you had since yesterday the chance to look at the second preliminary investigation from a Spanish judge over the creation of Guantanamo or – and has there been any contact between you guys and the Spanish Government?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’m not – I think – I’m not aware that I had said I would follow up on it. I’m happy to take a look at it. If indeed I agreed to do that that, I’ll take a look again and see if there’s anything on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Anything else? Okay. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:05 p.m.)