Robert Wood
Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
October 15, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Condolences to the victims of terrorist attacks in Lahore, Peshawar, and Kohat / U.S. will continue to support the Government of Pakistan
    • Akitaka Saiki, Japan's chief negotiator at the Six-Party Talks, will be meeting with A/S Campbell, Amb. Bosworth, Amb. Sung Kim. Amb. Goldberg to discuss North Korea issues
    • Senator Mitchell meeting today with Israeli delegation, Michael Herzog and Isaac Molho
    • Don't know exact date the Secretary will be reporting to President on status of talks
    • Pakistan has committed an enormous amount of resources to trying to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida / U.S. is going to support the Government of Pakistan in it efforts to fight terrorism
    • Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill signed by the President / important symbol of America's commitment / FM Qureshi speaking to representatives on the Hill / U.S. is not trying to impose conditions on Pakistan / Bill has to do with accountability requirements / U.S. is not trying to impinge on Pakistan's sovereignty / the issue still must go through the appropriations process
    • Pakistan has not sought any specific assistance from U.S. with respect to most recent terrorist attacks
  • CUBA
    • DAS Bisa Williams did not visit any American citizens detained in prisons in Cuba / by agreement, US is routinely given access (quarterly visits) to Americans who are incarcerated in Cuba, but it is the responsibility of consular officers
    • Status of talks / a moment of great opportunity for Hondurans / two sides have basically reached agreement on most aspects of the San Jose Accords, but now need to close the deal
    • U.S. remains concerned about human rights with the Chinese / U.S. has consistently raised our concerns about human rights with the Chinese / no official comment on the death sentences of Uighurs, although we have seen the reports
    • We have heard about UN report that over 3,000 small children have been conscripted into Maoist army / no specific comment because we have not seen the report
    • U.S. calls on President Mugabe to implement the Global Political Agreement / the prosecution of would-be deputy minister Roy Bennett for treason, is a blatant example of the absence of the rule of law in Zimbabwe / U.S. has some very serious concerns about the lack of democratic reforms in Zimbabwe / U.S. will continue to provide assistance to the Zimbabwean people / sanctions are targeted toward Mugabe regime members / our primary concern is the Zimbabwean people / that is why we will continue to provide humanitarian assistance
    • U.S. hopes Japan will not end its refueling mission in Afghanistan, but it is up to the Japanese Government / not sure if we've gotten formal notification


12:48 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR. WOOD: Welcome. Welcome to the briefing. I’m going to start off with a couple of items, and then take your questions.

The first has to do with the attacks in Pakistan. We extend our sympathy to the victims of today’s five terrorist attacks in Lahore, in which there were three attacks; Peshawar, where there was an attack; and Kohat, where there was also an attack; and the families and friends of those who lost their lives in these attacks. We honor those brave Pakistani military police and security personnel who are fully engaged in combating these extremists.

These terrorist attacks serve as a reminder that extremism still poses a threat to the people of Pakistan. We will continue to support the Government of Pakistan in its struggle against those who commit heinous acts of violence against the civilian population of Pakistan and the officials whose job it is to protect them.

These attacks, once again, highlight the vicious and inhuman nature of this enemy whose true target is the democratically elected Government of Pakistan and the security of all Pakistanis. These attacks show the lengths extremist elements are willing to go to as they attempt to force their agenda onto people who only wish to go about their daily lives in peace.

Second and last item, this is with regard to a visit by an official from Japan to discuss North Korean issues. Akitaka Saiki, the – Japan’s chief negotiator at the Six-Party Talks, will be meeting with State Department officials on October 15 and 16 to discuss North Korean issues.

Mr. Saiki will be meeting with Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell, Special Representative for North Korea Policy Ambassador Stephen Bosworth, Special Envoy for Six-Party Talks Ambassador Sung Kim, and Coordinator for Implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1874 Ambassador Phil Goldberg to discuss North Korean issues.

The meetings are part of our continuing consultations with our partners and allies to convince North Korea to live up to its international obligations, particularly under the joint statement of 2005, and to take the path of complete and verifiable denuclearization through irreversible steps.

And with that, ready to take your questions.

QUESTION: Has special – has Senator Mitchell met with the Israeli delegation?

MR. WOOD: Senator Mitchell is meeting today with the Israeli delegation, with Michael Herzog and Yitzhak Molcho. This is part of our continuing work to try to bring both sides to re-launch negotiations as soon as possible in an atmosphere that’s conducive to their success.

QUESTION: Is the meeting in the morning or in the afternoon?

MR. WOOD: I think the meetings may actually be going on now. I don’t have those details at this point.

QUESTION: And it’s here in Washington?

MR. WOOD: I’ll need to check on that. I think I had heard New York, but I’m not certain. I’ll – we’ll get you an answer to that.

QUESTION: Okay, that would be good. And then in her interview with the BBC yesterday, Secretary Clinton said, when asked about where things stood on the Israeli-Palestinian track, she said that her review – her report to the President was due on Friday and that she’d save her comments for that. And that’s certainly right; when the President announced this in New York, he said that he wanted a report by mid-October.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The other day, P.J. told us that, in fact, she was not going to report until after the meeting with the Palestinians on October the 20th. Which is it? Is she reporting by Friday or by – or after the 20th?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t know exactly which date, to be very honest with you, Arshad. But look, the Secretary looks forward to reporting to the President, and when she is comfortable with the material that she has to report to him on that. So I don’t know. I can’t say for certain, as I said, which date that will be. But she looks forward to doing that – doing it at the earliest opportunity.

QUESTION: Can you clarify that? Because obviously, it makes a difference in terms --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: -- of how you cover this. If you think that she’s going to report --

MR. WOOD: Absolutely.

QUESTION: -- tomorrow or --

MR. WOOD: Absolutely. We’ll try and get you some clarity on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Bob.

QUESTION: Going back to Pakistan, could you elaborate on your assessment of the extent to which this latest wave of violence threatens the stability of the government in Islamabad, and also the extent to which it represents a new level of sophistication or determination by the Taliban and their associates?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s hard for me to give you a good reading of – on that question, but I think – look, Pakistan has committed an enormous amount of resources to trying to fight the Taliban and al-Qaida. And these are, as we said, terrorists who will stop at nothing to try to bring about their agenda in the country. We’ve made very clear that we are going to support the Government of Pakistan in its efforts to fight terrorism.

I think you saw one very important sign today, earlier today, the signing of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill by the President, which frankly is, I think, an important symbol of America’s commitment, the American people’s commitment to supporting the people of Pakistan. And so we’re with Pakistan in this fight. It’s a very difficult fight. It’s an arduous fight. It’s likely to be a long fight. But the will is there, and we will work with them and support them as best we can.

I just can’t give you where things stand today with regard to – or to give you a good analysis of how that fight is going except that Pakistan has invested a lot in this fight and will continue to do so because it’s an important one.

QUESTION: Robert --

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: As far as more money for Pakistan and more troops in Afghanistan and also this – as far as this bill is concerned, there are many, many demonstrations going on in Pakistan because they are not very happy with the strings that bill comes – the ISI and the military is against this U.S. bill, which you are talking about. What do you think?

And also the foreign minister of Pakistan was again in Washington yesterday. I don’t know whether he met with anybody here or not, but he was trying to make somebody on the Hill to change the bill. So what do you think – more money? And also, this bill will bring any stability in Pakistan or in Afghanistan?

MR. WOOD: We certainly believe it will help. And we’ve said this over and again, that there is a debate going on in Pakistan, a very healthy one, with regard to its future. And when Minister Qureshi was here, he spoke with representatives on the Hill. He has spoken many times to officials of the Administration. And I think he went away reassured that in no way is the United States Government trying to impose conditions on Pakistan. We made very clear that some of the things in the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill have to do with accountability requirements that the Executive Branch needs to follow through on. And I think based on comments that I’ve seen that Foreign Minister Qureshi has made, that he was certainly – he went away satisfied.

And I’d also draw your attention to, I believe, a statement that was issued by Senators Kerry, Lugar, and Berman about reassuring Pakistan that the United States has no – is not trying to impinge on its sovereignty and that this bill is, in essence, what I said it was earlier, which is a vote of confidence of the American people in the Government of Pakistan and its people.

QUESTION: But not changing the bill?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The U.S. is not going to make any changes in the bill?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware – well, again --

QUESTION: It’s been signed into law.

MR. WOOD: It’s been signed into law.

QUESTION: I mean, there are still – I know. But there are still --

MR. WOOD: Well, it has to go through the appropriations process, but it’s – as Arshad just pointed out, it’s the law.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: On something else? On Cuba?

MR. WOOD: Anything else? Something --

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Please.

QUESTION: With respect to the terrorist attack in Lahore yesterday and today, has Pakistan sought any help of – with regard to the suspected terrorist attack there?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of. Not from – you mean, from the United States?


MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of.

On a new subject or – okay, why don’t we go here.

QUESTION: On Cuba, there has been a visit by U.S. consular officers to some people in jail who have dual citizenship, Cuban and American citizenship. Have you anything on this, or is it a new pattern, or is it a new agreement with Cuba, so that this could happen?

MR. WOOD: Well, I just – I want to make clear there were some reports that Deputy Assistant Secretary Bisa Williams visited an American citizen in prison. I just want to make clear that she did not visit American citizens detained in prisons in Cuba. U.S. consular officers in Havana have access to American citizens, as you know, incarcerated in Cuban jails. But prior to Deputy Assistant Secretary Williams’s visit, did not have access to dual nationals who are also Cuban citizens, so --

QUESTION: So is this a new revelation or it’s just a one-time thing? Do you know whether it’s a new agreement with the government, or it’s just --

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of any – any new agreement.

QUESTION: -- you don’t know?

MR. WOOD: I mean, we routinely try to get access to Americans who are incarcerated. I think there’s an agreement quarterly – that there can be quarterly visits, but I’m not aware of any new policy.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Robert, I didn’t follow that. You said that she did not visit any U.S. citizens?

MR. WOOD: She did not visit American citizens detained in prisons in Cuba, as had been reported.

QUESTION: Okay. And that – and you have consistently had access to U.S. citizens?

MR. WOOD: Arshad, I think there’s an agreement whereby we do see – our consular officers can visit incarcerated Americans, but it’s done on a quarterly basis. I mean, that’s the responsibility of the consular officers.

QUESTION: Sure. And then, lastly, I didn’t understand the thing about dual citizens who are, of course, American citizens regardless of what is their other nationality. You have access to those in the same way that you have access to American citizens who are not dual nationals?

MR. WOOD: Well, no. Basically, what I was saying, Arshad, is that U.S. consular officers have access to American citizens in Cuban jails, but prior to this visit, did not have access to dual nationals who are also Cuban citizens.


QUESTION: New topic?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: What’s the status of the talks in Honduras? I mean, there seems to be some movement perhaps. And where does the U.S. stand on President Zelaya’s return?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say at the beginning here, this is a moment of great opportunity for Hondurans. My understanding is that the two sides have basically reached agreement on most aspects of the San Jose Accords. And so right now, the bottom line is they need to close the deal. And we encourage them to roll up their sleeves, continue their efforts. They’re certainly making progress. But this is a great moment, and they need to seize it. And so that’s where our efforts will be with our other colleagues in the OAS – to encourage the two sides to, as I said, just get to work and make this happen.

QUESTION: But I mean, it doesn’t sound like – I mean, even if you have some interpretation of the San Jose Accords, it doesn’t sound like President Zelaya would return in any meaningful way as president for any length of time. Is that right?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, they’re in the midst of negotiations in dealing with elements such as this one. And they – basically, they’re pretty close to – as I said, to getting this deal closed. And we’re just trying to encourage them – just make the hard decisions and close the deal. But I – it’s really – it wouldn’t be good for me to get into the details of the negotiations while they’re ongoing.

QUESTION: But hasn’t the U.S. kind of backtracked on its demand that President Zelaya return for the remainder of his term?

MR. WOOD: We have not backtracked on our –

QUESTION: So you still think he should return and serve out the full remainder of his term as president?

MR. WOOD: All of those things are being worked out by the negotiators, Elise. And I don’t think it’s good for me right now to talk about – from the podium here about what we think. We want the negotiators – they’re close, let them close the deal so that we can move forward. The Honduran people deserve nothing less. And this has been going on for quite some time, as you well know. And we’ve made very clear what our policy has been with regard to –

QUESTION: Well, you haven’t been really clear about what your policy is --

MR. WOOD: I think we have.

QUESTION: -- because one day it’s one thing, and the other day it’s another thing. You said you wouldn’t accept the results of an election unless President Zelaya was returned for the remainder of his term. And now if he returns in some kind of way for, like, some small period of time and then hands over, that’s not really returning for the full length of his term.

MR. WOOD: Well, let’s see what is agreed by the negotiators. President Zelaya, and his designated negotiators are trying to work on these issues right now with the de facto regime. And I just don’t think it would be appropriate for me to start weighing in publicly on what we want to see and what we don’t want to see. Let them work it out, they’re close to a deal. Let’s try to help them make it happen.

QUESTION: On the same subject?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: How much involvement – how much American involvement is in these negotiations? In theories, the Arias people and the Zelaya people and the Micheletti people, but there must – there is probably some American involvement too. How much is it?

MR. WOOD: Look, when we’re called on to provide advice, that type of thing, from the two sides, we’re certainly there and willing to do that, but this is something that’s being led by the OAS. And the two sides, as I said, have been making great progress. And what we’re trying to do right now, from the U.S. side, is to encourage them to continue because, as I said, we’re close and we want to see this deal happen. And they need to just make those difficult decisions and close the deal, and that’s where we are.

So we’re obviously there to provide whatever type of assistance, advice that we can give right now. But the OAS has the lead on it. The two sides are sitting down trying to work this out. And it’s a positive thing, they’re making progress, and let’s just hope that they can reach the deal and reach it soon.


QUESTION: Robert, do you have any fresh concerns with China’s continued suppression of Uighurs through executions and death sentences? And also, is China ignoring the Department’s 2008 Human Rights Report? And recently, did China in any way pressure Washington against an official visit by the Dalai Lama? He was recently in the States.

MR. WOOD: Well, I think we have said previously with regard to our concern about some of the things that were happening in Xinjiang, and our position remains that we remain concerned about those types of activities that took place, but – what was the second part of your question – sorry – Charley.

QUESTION: Asking about – is China ignoring the 2008 Human Rights Report that went from the Department here to Congress?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s hard for me to make that – a big generalization about whether China is ignoring our 2008 Human Rights Report. We have consistently raised our concerns about human rights with the Chinese. We do it on every opportunity that we can. And our Human Rights Report makes very clear what our concerns are about a number of human rights issues in China. I can’t give you a scorecard right now on where they are, but the Chinese are certainly well aware of our concerns, and we will continue to push those issues where we are concerned about human rights violations and go from there.

QUESTION: Do you have a specific comment on the death sentences that have been inflicted today?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have an official comment on it. I saw some of the reports, but I don’t have anything. At some point, I’m sure we may have something to say and we’ll get that to you, but I don’t have anything official.

QUESTION: You mean after they already execute them? You can’t say anything if --

MR. WOOD: I haven’t – look, again, I’ve seen the reports.

QUESTION: -- you don’t think this is a good idea.

MR. WOOD: Look, I’ve only seen the reports and I always like to make sure --

QUESTION: Are you seeking clarification from the Chinese about it?

MR. WOOD: Again, I have – I’ve just seen the reports, haven’t been able to get any official word on it.

QUESTION: Well, aren’t the reports alarming to you?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t – I’ve only seen the reports. If the reports are true, yes, we obviously are concerned about those types of things. But before I can say more, I’d like to have some more details about what may or may not have taken place.

QUESTION: Will Secretary meet with the Dalai Lama at some point somewhere?

MR. WOOD: You’re asking me to speculate into the future. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Can I have one on Nepal, please?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: According to a UN report, over 3,000 small children are being – are in the Maoist army, they are fighting with the – alongside with the Maoist in Nepal. And also, some Nepali officials are in town here, whether they met somebody here or not, because the situation is not very good as far as rule of law and security in Nepal is concerned. They were talking yesterday at the USIP.

MR. WOOD: Yeah. I’m sorry, what is your actual question about?

QUESTION: That – are you aware of this UN report, a special representative went to Nepal where over 3,000 young children are in the Maoist army?

MR. WOOD: I have heard reports about that. I haven’t seen this particular report, but I’ve certainly heard about those reports, and we obviously are concerned whenever children are being conscripted into armies around the world. But I don’t have any specific comment to – with regards to that report because I haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: Wait, (inaudible)?

QUESTION: A couple more?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, sure, I’ll take more.

QUESTION: Go ahead, David.

MR. WOOD: Hi, David.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

MR. WOOD: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Zimbabwean Government is prosecuting a would-be deputy minister, a guy named Roy Bennett, for treason despite the sort of nominal existence of a unity government there. Do you have any response to that?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. What I would say, Dave, is that we call on President Mugabe to implement the Global Political Agreement. This particular case with regard to Roy Bennett is, frankly, a blatant example of the absence of the rule of law in Zimbabwe, and frankly, is a transparent attempt to prevent Mr. Bennett from taking up his position as deputy secretary for agriculture.

So prosecution has never, as far as I know, presented any credible evidence against him. He’s complied with all of the court’s requirements, so – and Mugabe needs to end his harassment of the opposition, including Mr. Bennett.

QUESTION: Just – to stick with Zimbabwe?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: The British Government today announced that it plans to give Zimbabwe a hundred million dollars in aid, notwithstanding what you described as the blatant absence of rule of law. What do you think of their decision?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, that’s a decision for the British Government. We’ve made very clear that we have some very serious concerns about the lack of democratic reforms in Zimbabwe and that we want to see changes on the ground before we can commit to supporting any type of development assistance program.

We will continue to provide assistance to the Zimbabwean people, but we’re certainly – in terms of our sanctions that are targeted against regime members – Mugabe regime members, we’re not going to in any way ease those sanctions until we see changes from that government. And we’re very concerned about the situation in Zimbabwe. And so we are not going to be able to make fundamental changes to our policies with regard to development assistance until we see real movement on the ground.

QUESTION: Just if I may, I’d like to read you the quote from the British ambassador --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: -- to Zimbabwe. “We thought the formation of the inclusive government was a significant step. The UK wants it to succeed. We are not holding back and will be supporting it to the tune of a hundred million dollars this year,” closed-quote. Do you think that – I mean, they seem to have come to a different conclusion. Their conclusion seems to be that the government is worthy of support and that giving it assistance may help it to succeed. Do you see any concern that by withholding development assistance, you may be undermining the government?

MR. WOOD: No, on the contrary. We have been very clear from the beginning, as you know, Arshad, about our views with regard to what needs to happen in Zimbabwe if we are to go forward with normal engagement on the development assistance side. Our primary concern is about the Zimbabwean people, and that’s why we continue to provide humanitarian assistance, that’s why we continue to call on the Mugabe regime to implement the necessary government reforms.

Look, at the time the unity government came into – was put in place, we certainly thought that that was a good thing, but we needed to see results and see where this government was going with regard to some of the concerns that we have. We still have a lot of those concerns, so as I said, we need to see more happen on the ground with regard to democratic and economic reform before we’re going to commit further.

QUESTION: One more?

MR. WOOD: We’ve got a couple back here. Please.

QUESTION: The Japanese defense minister recently announced that Japan would end its refueling mission in Afghanistan in January. What’s your reaction? And secondly, going forward, what type of assistance do you expect from Japan in Afghanistan, if any?

MR. WOOD: Well, first and foremost, we want to thank the Government of Japan for its contributions to our efforts to fight extremism in Afghanistan. Japan’s contributions have been very important, and we greatly appreciate everything that Japan has done in that regard. We hope that Japan will find a way to continue to support the operations in Afghanistan, but that will be up to the Japanese Government.

QUESTION: So they have informed you that they will cease as of January?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know if we’ve gotten the formal notification. That I’m not sure at this point, but again, what Japan decides to do in the future is really going to be up to Japan, and we greatly appreciated what they’ve done up until now. And hopefully, they’ll find a way to continue that support in one manner or another.


QUESTION: Just – sorry, just so we’re clear, because I’ve seen reports saying that the chief cabinet secretary, who I think is normally the sort of authorized spokesperson, saying it’s not clear to him what has been said. So do you think there’s been a decision or not?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think you have to go back to the Government of Japan and ask for a clarification of it. I’m just saying our general point about Japan and that we appreciate what they’ve done, and whatever assistance that they – whatever they decide to do in the future with regard to Afghanistan, we hope that they will continue to support what we’ve been trying to do there.

QUESTION: Can you check whether you guys were told this? Presumed that you would be told, right?

MR. WOOD: Well, of course we would be. But I mean, I think – again, it probably would be better to check with the Government of Japan, but – to make sure that indeed that that has happened. But I’m happy to look at it and see if they’ve informed us.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Well, we have a couple more and then we’ll – please.

QUESTION: Any decision on North Korea’s previous visa permission?

MR. WOOD: No update. No decision has been made yet to that.

Last one here.

QUESTION: Is there any special reason to have bilateral talks between U.S. and Japan about North Korea in a short period, in a short interval again? I mean, Assistant Secretary Kurt Campbell just returned from – yesterday from Asia trip, including Japan.

MR. WOOD: We talk with Japan all the time about a wide range of issues, particularly on, of course, North Korea. So there’s nothing new in that, and to have multiple discussions or discussions following each other’s is not unusual. It shows you the importance that we place on that relationship, particularly in dealing with the question of North Korea’s nuclear program.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:12 p.m.)