Robert Wood
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 5, 2009


Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Special Representative Bosworth's Travel / Six-Party Talks
    • Secretary Clinton's Meeting with Christine Levinson
    • Secretary Clinton's Meetings with Pakistani and Afghan Delegations
    • Secretary Clinton's Meeting with Armenian Foreign Minister
  • CHINA
    • Visas for U.S. Citizens
  • PAKISTAN
    • Confrontation with Extremists in Swat
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • UN Report and Inquiry Board on Israel
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Upcoming Elections
    • Bombing In Herat
  • ZIMBABWE
    • Rule of Law / Financial Aid / Democratic Process / Viability of Government
  • GEORGIA
    • Military Uprising
  • NORTH KOREA
    • No Update on Two Reporters Held In North Korea
  • BRAZIL
    • Custody Case of Sean Goldman
  • IRAN
    • Status of Roxana Saberi
  • UAE
    • Status of Civil Nuclear Agreement


TRANSCRIPT:

12:49 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. I’m going to start out with some points on the travel of Special Representative Bosworth.

An interagency delegation will travel to Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo and Moscow for consultations with counterparts from China, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Russia on nuclear – excuse me, on North Korea issues. The delegation will be led by Special Representative for North Korea Policy Ambassador Steven Bosworth.

The delegation is scheduled to depart Washington for Beijing on Wednesday, May 6, arriving on May 7. They will proceed to Seoul on Friday, May 8 and will arrive in Tokyo on Monday, May 11. The delegation will proceed to Moscow on Tuesday, May 12, returning to Washington on May 14. And Ambassador Sung Kim, Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks, is also a member of that delegation. The delegation has no current plans to visit North Korea. The delegation’s meeting schedule is still being arranged.

And with that, happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: So then what is the reason for the trip? Are you hoping to come up with a plan to encourage the North to come back to talks or --

MR. WOOD: Well, I --

QUESTION: -- are you looking at punitive measures?

MR. WOOD: I think we’re looking, first and foremost, to try to convince the North to come back to the negotiating table. The Six-Party Talks, as we’ve said, are a viable framework. The North has some obligations under that Six-Party framework. We all, in the international community, have an interest in seeing a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. So the purpose of this trip is to work with our allies to find a way forward in convincing the North to come back to the negotiating table.

Desmond, you have anything?

QUESTION: Yeah. China has tightened its visa rules for U.S. citizens. Do you have any --

MR. WOOD: No, I --

QUESTION: Does it have anything to do with the swine flu?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen anything on that. I may have seen a report, but I don’t have anything to confirm on that. I’ll check and see if we’ve got something on it, but I hadn’t heard --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. WOOD: -- anything beyond a media report.

On this question?

QUESTION: No.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Lach, did you have --

QUESTION: Yeah, on the incident with the ship, has the U.S. delivered a protest to China? There’s more harassment of a --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’ll have to – I’m not aware that we have delivered a protest at this point. But we’re following the issue. I know the Pentagon is. But I don’t have anything further to say at this point on it. We will certainly, I assume, have more to say tomorrow or maybe later today.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any readout of the Secretary’s meeting with Christine Levinson? Was the Secretary able to provide any new information to Mrs. Levinson? If you could give us a rundown.

MR. WOOD: Well, the Secretary wanted to have this meeting so that she could express her concerns about the lack of information coming out of Iran with regard to Bob Levinson. This case is obviously a very heart-wrenching humanitarian one. We continue to call on Iran to provide information about Mr. Levinson. It has not been forthcoming and we’re going to continue to press this issue. And the Secretary wanted to also inform Mrs. Levinson about the Department’s efforts to try to gain information from Iran on her husband. I don’t have anything more for you on that at this point.

QUESTION: You don’t have any new information? When was the last time you heard from the Iranians on this?

MR. WOOD: Well, they have not responded as far as I know to that note that --

QUESTION: Aide-memoire?

MR. WOOD: That’s right. We haven’t gotten a response at this point. We’re still pressing and we’ll continue to press.

Yes.

QUESTION: There appears to be a new offensive going on in Swat. We’re reporting that 500,000 civilians are fleeing. Do you have any comment?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t. I haven’t seen these latest reports, but it’s very clear that the Pakistani Government is concerned about, you know, this agreement. And what I’m talking about specifically is the fact that the militants appear to have violated this agreement.

From our standpoint, it’s very clear that these extremists, these violent extremists need to be confronted head-on. And the Pakistani Government has expressed its intent to take on these militants. And as I’ve said previously, we will be supportive. Others in the international community will be supportive of Pakistan as it goes about trying to deal with these militant elements. But I haven’t heard about – I haven’t seen the reports about this new offensive. But from what we’ve heard from the Government of Pakistan, it’s very committed to doing what it can. And we’ll – I’ll look into those and see what more we can say if there’s anything more.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Nick Spicer, Al Jazeera. Would you be able to make any comment on the UN report – press reports alleging that it claims Israel deliberately targeted a UN – UN sites during the war on Gaza? Is there any reaction to that? Have you seen the report?

MR. WOOD: I think we have just seen the report and its summary. And I think there was a cover letter from the Secretary General about the board of inquiry. We would just note the Secretary General’s reminder that this board of inquiry, for one, is not a court of law. It is not a judiciary body. Also, I think in his cover letter, he reminded everyone that the mission of this board of inquiry was to develop a clear record of the facts. And, in fact, I believe he noted that two of the board’s recommendations were basically outside the terms of reference that applied to the board.

So, you know, one of the things that we have said from the beginning is that these types of inquiries need – they need to refrain from politicization, and we still believe that to be important. So we’ll need a little bit more time. We just, as I said, received the report and we’ll take a look at it. But those are my – our initial comments on that.

QUESTION: And just – if it is politicized, and the UN is not doing its job, would the United States support an international inquiry --

MR. WOOD: Well, I think we’re getting beyond that. Let us take a look fully at this report and then we’ll be able to have further comment.

QUESTION: It is – there’s a feeling that it is somewhat politicized to begin with?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re just saying that, you know, based on these two recommendations that I was referring to, they seem to be outside the bounds of the terms of reference. So let us, as I said, take a further look at it and we’ll have more to say.

Let me just go – Samir had his hand up for a while. Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout on the Secretary’s meeting with President Peres today?

MR. WOOD: Yes. She had a very good meeting with President Shimon Peres. The Secretary and the president talked about the need to move forward as quickly as we can on trying to bring about peace between the Palestinians and Israelis. The Secretary reiterated our support and backing for a two-state solution. And it was a very warm conversation as it always is between the two. And the Secretary looks forward to further discussions with the Israeli Government on how we go forward. And that’s all I’ve got on that.

Let’s see – Charley had his hand up.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, please. CNN has interviewed a spokesman for the Taliban, an aide to Mullah Omar, where he’s very critical of the upcoming elections and says that it’s not an election, it’s a selection by the White House, urging Afghanistan not to participate. I was wondering what your reaction was.

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, it’s – I mean, it’s just a ridiculous comment, and you expect that kind of thing from the Taliban. Look, these are terrorists. They’re extremists. They have no interest in a democratic process. We certainly support Afghanistan as it’s trying to become a much more stable democracy. And, you know, it’s just – comments like those are just not worthy of a response, to be very frank.

Let me see, we got some – this gentleman had his hand up in the back, and then I’ll come back up here. Yes, please.

QUESTION: Have you – in terms of Zimbabwe, you have been insisting that there should be a rule of law in the country before you can give financial aid. This morning, they just arrested 17 activists. Can I, first of all, ask you for a general response to that?

And secondly, last week, Tendai Biti, the minister of finance, was here in Washington and he met people from the State Department, from the Treasury, and, you know, gave an impression that things are going smoothly in Zimbabwe. On the basis of what happened today, do you think that you basically don’t have the government of national unity there, but one authority on the one hand controlled by President Mugabe, and the other by the MDC?

MR. WOOD: Well, in response to Sue’s questions yesterday, which, you know, asked whether we thought the Zimbabwean Government was making progress and, you know, this is just another example of our concern about the lack of democracy, democratic processes in Zimbabwe.

Our position remains that we are not going to be able to provide development assistance to the Government of Zimbabwe until we see some steps toward real, true power sharing, toward democratic reforms, economic reforms. And, you know, these reports that these leading – I think 18 leading Zimbabwean activists were ordered back to jail is troubling.

And so we’re going to need to see a lot more in the way of reforms and basically a change of operation of the Zimbabwean authorities before we can make any kind of a long-term commitment to supporting the development of the country. We’ve got a lot of concerns about what’s going on there. And so until we see changes, our position is going to remain. We will continue to take care of the humanitarian needs of the people of Zimbabwe who are having to suffer under an extraordinary financial and economic situation. So that’s all I have.

QUESTION: Can –

MR. WOOD: You want to follow up on that?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Just a very – a brief follow-up. In your, you know, in your own assessment of the situation, do you think that this government of national unity is still viable if President Mugabe is the president?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s really not for me to be able to state. That’s up to the Zimbabwean people. We want what the Zimbabwean people want. And what they want is an open, democratic, transparent government that can provide a sense of hope and provide the levers for which the Zimbabwean people can improve their lives, the financial situation of the country.

So there’s a lot that this government needs to do, and it needs to focus on those areas that I just spoke to. But we remain very concerned about the plight of the Zimbabwean people. And the Government of Zimbabwe has a lot to do to win back the confidence of its people. But, you know, I’m not able to make that kind of a – you know, I’m not able to say that, you know, that government is not able to take measures. It certainly can take measures. It just needs to do those – take those measures.

Yes, Sue.

QUESTION: Following on from whether the new government is viable or not, the former Secretary of State, Secretary Rice, said that Robert Mugabe should go and that he shouldn’t be a part of the government, and that it was time for him to step aside to give Zimbabwe a chance. What’s the Obama Administration’s position on President Mugabe? Do you think that he has a spot within the government, or should he step aside to give his – to give the new government a chance?

MR. WOOD: Look, I think in going back to what I said, Sue, this is a decision that the Zimbabwean people will have to make. There was a decision, agreement to form a national unity government. We have said we want to take and see how this government goes forward. We’ve, of course, you know, noted our concerns about Robert Mugabe and his policies and how this Administration wants what’s best for the Zimbabwean people. And that’s for them to be able to determine their future in a democratic and transparent way, free from all the harassment and violence that’s been perpetrated upon them. And we will continue to observe this government as it goes forward. But as I said earlier, we remained very, very concerned about the plight of the people, and we’re going to do what we can, as I said, to deal with their humanitarian needs.

QUESTION: Just to turn it around another way then.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: As long as Robert Mugabe is in power, will the U.S. provide aid – substantial aid? I don’t mean humanitarian aid. I mean a substantial aid package.

MR. WOOD: Like I said, Sue, I mean, we want to see this national unity government – we want to see how this national unity government goes forward. And until we see some movement in those areas that I spoke to earlier, we are not going to make any kind of a commitment to development assistance or any other type of economic assistance beyond the humanitarian side.

James, you’ve been very --

QUESTION: A follow-up on this --

MR. WOOD: No, you’ve had enough questions.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I mean, (inaudible) today. Are you going to communicate your concerns to the SADC leaders who are very much involved in the Zimbabwe --

MR. WOOD: Oh, certainly. You know, we will have discussions with representatives of SADC about these latest incidents. I mean, this is a concern to not only people of the region, but of course, to others in the international community, including the United States. So we will be having those discussions, and you can count on that.

James.

QUESTION: To return us to Pakistan, Secretary Clinton is supposed to meet individually tomorrow with each of the two delegations, the Afghan delegation and the Pakistani delegation, prior to everyone relocating to the White House later in the day. Is it your understanding that her meetings with those delegations are to conclude with some kind of formal agreements of any kind?

MR. WOOD: Well, James, let’s let those meetings take place before we, you know, we talk about, you know, what may come out of them. Look, Pakistan and Afghanistan are two very high priority issues for this Administration. And we want to take advantage of the fact that both President Karzai and President Zardari are going to be here.

And the purpose of this – of these meetings is to work with these two leaders on how the United States and others in the international community can support them as they go forward in trying to redevelop their countries and take on these violent extremists. But you know, we’ll have to see how – what comes out of the meetings. I don’t want to prejudge or get ahead of the diplomacy here.

But as I said, they’re – dealing with this issue as we are, the – what we call AFPAK, is a high priority. And it’s going to take not only the support of the United States but others in the international community to help these two countries get back on a very sustained path to democracy and, you know, some element of prosperity. We’ve got a long way to go, and these are difficult and challenging issues. And it’s a good sign that these two leaders are able to come here, and we expect a very frank, straightforward discussion, and we’ll go from there. We’ll certainly be reporting to you on the outcomes.

QUESTION: How stringent, in the Administration’s view, should the conditions be that are attached, if any at all, to U.S. aid to Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think it’s very clear when you speak to members of Congress, their staffs, when you think about the sacrifice that the American people are being asked to make, that it’s clear that we’re going to want to make sure that every dollar that is spent in terms of support for Afghanistan and Pakistan is well spent and goes directly to the activities that they’re designated for. And, you know, clearly we’re going to want to see movement in various areas. I don’t want to get into the specifics of what we’re going to be requiring, but you can rest assured that we take this issue very, very seriously in terms of making sure that every taxpayer dollar is wisely spent and gets to – and it goes to those activities that we designate it for.

QUESTION: Has that been a problem in the past with Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s been a – look, we’ve had a problem with corruption in Afghanistan. There’s certainly corruption in Pakistan. We want to make sure, as members of Congress want to make sure, that our money is going to those areas that it’s intended. And we’re going to work with the Congress, work with the two governments, to ensure that this money is allocated and dealt with properly.

So that is also a high priority for the Administration. In these tough economic times, we have to make sure, and the American people deserve no less, than a government that’s committed to spending their resources the way the resources are intended to be spent.

Yes, Sue.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, Richard Holbrooke said today that after the meetings at the State Department you’re hoping to come up with some sort of cooperation agreement. What’s he referring to? I mean, what does this cooperation agreement entail?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, what he was getting at is – what we’re trying to do is set forth a set of principles --

QUESTION: Benchmarks?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know if I’d call them benchmarks, but certainly a set of principles that’s going to guide our joint cooperation as we go forward in dealing with these tremendous challenges that both Pakistan and Afghanistan face. I don’t want to get beyond that. And let’s just see how things play out. But that’s certainly the – that is certainly what’s behind the concept.

QUESTION: And when you say set forth, that means in writing?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t know that it’ll be in writing. I would assume it would be in writing. But again, we’re getting a little ahead of things here. Let’s let those meetings take place, and we’ll see. But that is certainly the intent is to come up with some – what I would call guiding principles for moving forward in terms of our cooperation.

Yes.

QUESTION: Guiding principles just being a euphemism for benchmark, right?

MR. WOOD: I said what I said.

QUESTION: I mean, that could be the light. You know, you could be seeing the light – guiding principles, light. I mean, it’s a benchmark, isn’t it?

MR. WOOD: Very creative work, Sue. I’ll just leave it at what I said.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: The Afghan Government is alleging that dozens of civilians have died in the U.S. bombing raid in Herat province. Have you seen those reports?

MR. WOOD: I’ve seen reports. Obviously, we send our condolences to the families of those who may have been killed and injured. We obviously try to do what we can to prevent any loss of civilian life. I don’t have much more in the way of details, Desmond, but I would refer you to the Pentagon.

Dave’s been --

QUESTION: Do you have a take on what occurred today in Georgia? There have been some reports of a military uprising, some reports suggest Russian-inspired.

MR. WOOD: Well, what I can say, Dave, is that we’re in close contact with the Georgian authorities, and we call on all parties to respect the constitutional order in Georgia and democratic processes. And my understanding is that there weren’t any injuries or anything like that, but I don’t have anything more on that.

QUESTION: Well, how serious (inaudible) is this, do you think?

MR. WOOD: I don’t really know. I’d have to refer you to the Georgians. You know, as I said, it seems to have ended peacefully and there weren’t any injuries. But they would be in a better position. What I’m saying here is that we just want to see all Georgians adhere to the constitutional order in the country and support their democratic processes.

QUESTION: Are you troubled by it?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, you know, of course we’re troubled by any instability or potential instability in the region. But I have no way of knowing, you know, who was behind this or anything. I just don’t have those details at this point. I know that there will likely be an investigation by the Georgians, and we’ll have to see where that goes.

QUESTION: Is this something the Secretary’s going to raise with Foreign Minister Lavrov when she meets him on Thursday?

MR. WOOD: I mean, it could come up. I don’t know, Sue. Really, it just depends. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Because are you seeing a rise of instability in the – because eight – no, ten months ago, you know, there was a big problem in Georgia and in the breakaway regions. So is it your sense that it might be leading up to something bigger?

MR. WOOD: I’m not able to make that assessment, Sue. But clearly, you know, we’ve expressed our concerns about Russian violations of the August 12 ceasefire agreement, and certainly I suspect that that issue will likely come up. But beyond that, I don’t know.

Sir.

QUESTION: Can I go back to North Korea?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: You just said that Ambassador Bosworth doesn't have any plan to visit North Korea. But is it still possible that U.S. delegation meet with North Korean counterparts in Beijing or other cities?

MR. WOOD: As I said, there are no plans to – for that delegation to travel to North Korea.

QUESTION: And my second question: Is there any update on U.S. – two U.S. reporters in North Korea?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have an update. We remain very concerned about, you know, their well-being, and we’re working diplomatically to try to get them released. And I will check and see, you know, if tomorrow we have an update, but I don’t have a further update at this point.

Let me go here. Please.

QUESTION: Yes. Recent statements in the press by top officials in the Administration suggest the President plans to resume the system of military commission trials for some Guantanamo detainees. This is something he often criticized during the campaign. Why the change of heart? And what would be the difference?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t have anything to add beyond what we’ve said about, you know, the President’s desire to close Guantanamo and to deal with all of these – the cases of the detainees. I don’t have anything for you. And with regard to his comments, you probably should direct them at the White House.

Charley.

QUESTION: Any update to – on U.S. efforts to resolve the Brazilian custody case involving eight-year-old Sean Goldman from New Jersey?

MR. WOOD: No. As I understand, this is in the – this case is in the Brazilian courts. I think it’s at the federal level. And I don’t have an update, Charley. I’m happy to look into it and see if there is an update. But the last thing I recall was that it was in the court system in Brazil. As you know, the Secretary raised that in her meeting several weeks ago with the Brazilian foreign minister, but I don’t have anything further on that.

Let me go back here and then we’ll --

QUESTION: Do you have an update on Roxana Saberi? She was – may have been hospitalized?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. I’ve seen these reports about Roxana Saberi and, you know, this is – it remains of great concern to us, you know, and we’re worried about her health. And we call – we’re working through our Swiss protecting power to try to, you know, get more information on this case. It’s very troubling, and we’re working hard and to try to do what we can. You know, as I said, we are concerned about, you know, her – state of her health, and – but no further update on that.

QUESTION: Could you provide a readout of the Secretary’s meeting with the Levinson family?

MR. WOOD: I think I just – I did before you came in, yeah.

QUESTION: You did? I apologize.

MR. WOOD: That’s okay. Dave.

QUESTION: In the readout department, the Armenian foreign minister was here. Also, I – the Secretary is seeing the Azerbaijani as well. So can we assume she’s brokering a Nagorno-Karabakh accord or --

MR. WOOD: Well, as you know, the Secretary is very supportive of the efforts that are ongoing to try to deal with the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, and she looks forward to meeting with the foreign minister later this afternoon. That subject, of course, will be one of the key issues on the agenda; cooperation on Afghanistan is another, energy security and energy diversification as well as democratic reforms. So we’ll be providing a readout following that meeting.

QUESTION: How about the Armenian which occurred about --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, let me see what I’ve got on that for you. She met with the Armenian foreign minister this morning and they discussed, of course, the Nagorno-Karabakh issue, Armenia’s relations with Turkey. And it was a very, very good meeting and constructive. We have a lot of interests with Armenia, and we look forward to improving and strengthening the bilateral relationship as we go forward.

Desmond and Sue.

QUESTION: Any news to report on Ambassador Feltman’s movements?

MR. WOOD: I don’t, but I suspect that I’m going to have something for you a little bit later today, so stay tuned.

QUESTION: Anything more on the UAE nuclear deal? It appears that in Congress, there’s still come concern over this awful video of a royal family member.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I don’t have anything more than what I said yesterday, and I think maybe the day before, Sue. It’s – you know, it’s a holdover agreement. We’re reviewing it. I understand that the UAE Government is launching a full – it’s taking a very close look at the circumstances surrounding this incident, but I don’t have anything beyond that at the moment, Sue.

QUESTION: But are you speaking to Congress about it, about the video? And are you finding that the video is a stumbling block to getting it through Congress?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, this video we reported on, as I mentioned before, in our 2008 Human Rights Report. Certainly, we have discussions with Congress about this agreement. Members and their staffers will certainly raise issues. I don’t know if this specifically has come up in any conversations. It could well have. I’m just not privy to conversations that we may have had with Congress on the subject, and that’s the best I can offer you.

QUESTION: But it’s not very helpful, is it, to have such a video? I mean, the --

MR. WOOD: Well, that video is very troubling, very problematic. But as I said, the Government of the UAE is looking into this very closely. It wants to get all the facts and understand the circumstances. And we would obviously – you know, any kind of criminal act needs to be investigated and dealt with by the UAE authorities.

QUESTION: But do you think that the video should be handled separately from the 123 deal?

MR. WOOD: Yes, and we’ve said that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Okay, thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:18 p.m.)

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