Robert Wood
Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
December 17, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Met with U.S. negotiating team in Copenhagen / Announced that U.S. will work with other countries toward goal of $100 billion a year by 2020 to address climate change needs of developing countries
    • Met with Australian Prime Minister Rudd / United Kingdom Prime Minister Brown / Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim / Leaders of 30 island nations / Call with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov
    • Meetings scheduled with Danish Prime Minister / Ethiopian President / Chinese Premier / Attend gala dinner hosted by the Queen of Denmark
    • U.S. - UAE Agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation / Exchange of Diplomatic Notes
    • U.S. and Russia continue to work hard to reach an agreement / Verification is a main issue
    • Hundreds of visa applications and renewals for U.S. officials and contractors awaiting issuance by the Government of Pakistan / Cause of delays unclear / Working with Pakistani counterparts to resolve /Could impact our work to help people of Pakistan / Wouldn't call it deliberate / Raised issue with senior officials in Pakistan
    • Supreme Court ruling on NRO is an internal Pakistani matter / U.S. expects Pakistani leaders will act in accordance with their constitution
    • Pakistan faces many challenges / U.S. and international community want to help Pakistan move forward on issues such as development, fighting terrorism / Bring economic stability and prosperity
    • American citizens detained received a consular visit today
    • Congratulate Mexico on well-executed operation / Significant blow to drug cartels / Cartel leader Arturo Beltran Leyva and several associates killed
    • U.S. supports the Afghan constitutional process / Discouraged any alternative discussions on any other type of situation / Moving Afghanistan to a better future
    • Access to American Citizen Arrested in Burma / Hunger strike since December 4
    • U.S. cooperates with Yemen to fight al-Qaida and others practicing terrorism / Separate from effort by Government of Yemen to counter Houthi rebels
  • IRAN
    • No date set for next P-5+1 meeting
    • Major challenges for Nepal / Important for U.S. and other countries in the region to help
    • Deputy Spokesman Wood thanks State Department Press Corp / Assistant Secretary Crowley / Spokesman Kelly / Gordon Duguid / Sean McCormack


12:36 p.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Welcome, everybody, to the briefing. I’ve got a couple of things I want to read at the top. I want to give you a read of Secretary Clinton’s schedule in Copenhagen. As you know, the Secretary landed at 3 a.m. in Copenhagen and has been on the go all day. She had a pre-brief this morning with the U.S. negotiating team and then held a press availability, where she announced that the U.S. is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing a hundred billion U.S. dollars a year by 2020 to address climate change needs of developing countries. I would just note the Secretary’s announcement helped energize the Copenhagen discussions today.

The Secretary held meetings earlier today with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia, Prime Minister Gordon Brown of the UK, and the Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim. She met as well with leaders of 30 island nations. She also had a telephone call with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to discuss START issues. The Secretary has scheduled meetings with the Danish Prime Minister, the Ethiopian President Meles, and Chinese Premier Wen.

As schedules permit, she hopes to have meetings with other officials. Secretary Clinton will also give a high-level statement at the conference at some point later today. Finally, she will attend a gala dinner that is being hosted by the Queen of Denmark.

And announcement number two, I think you all know about the United States-United Arab Emirates agreement for peaceful nuclear cooperation. There will be an exchange of diplomatic notes between Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher. And this will be at 2 p.m. in the Department of State Treaty Room and the event is open for press coverage.

Finally, I just would like to mention that at 2 o'clock in this briefing room, we’re going to have a special briefing on 21st Century Statecraft.

And with that, I will take your questions.

QUESTION: 2 o'clock?

MR. WOOD: 2 o'clock.

QUESTION: At the same time?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. We apologize. It’s just schedules, trying to get various people in the same place at the same time is what resulted. So I apologize for that.

QUESTION: On Copenhagen, can you give us an idea of what the U.S. contribution is going to be to this 100 billion?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t think we’ve worked out all the details, Matt, because, again, as the Secretary said this morning, in the context of a strong accord backed by meaningful actions by the major economies and with – and full transparency in implementation, the U.S. would then work jointly with others to come up with that money. But we have not indeed worked out how much that’s going to come to. There are still a whole lot – a number of issues that need to be resolved before we --

QUESTION: All right. And secondly, related to Copenhagen or her activities in Copenhagen, can you give us a readout of what her call with Lavrov was like?

MR. WOOD: I don’t – hopefully, we can get some more information about that. I haven’t had a chance to get a readout on what they discussed within the conversation on START. We’ll see if we can get you something on that.

QUESTION: Well, was there any sense of any progress?

MR. WOOD: They’re still working very hard to try to reach an agreement, and that’s really where we are.

QUESTION: He seemed to be blaming the United States for slowing down negotiations today.

MR. WOOD: We’re just working very hard with our Russian colleagues to try to reach this agreement. This is important that we do this, and they’re hard at work. And I’d just leave it at that.

QUESTION: You can’t say that the agreement will be decided by the end of the year?

MR. WOOD: I can’t – we just don’t know how long it’s going to take. I’d hate to put a timeframe on it and – at this point. But they’re working hard. We’ve been making progress, as you know, and we’re going to try to get there as quickly as we can. But I just, as I said, can’t put a timetable on it for you.

QUESTION: Do you have details on what’s causing the delay? Is it still verification issues?

MR. WOOD: Verification issues are one of the main issues.

QUESTION: Is it because they don’t want as strict a verification regime as the U.S. wants?

MR. WOOD: Well, it wouldn't be appropriate for me to go beyond that. I mean, the negotiations are ongoing, so I don’t want in any way to get in the middle of that.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Can you confirm reports that more than 100 diplomats in Pakistan have been denied visas? And if so, what impact is this having on aid disbursements and counterterrorism operations there?

MR. WOOD: Well, it is true hundreds of visa applications and renewals for U.S. officials and contractors are awaiting issuance by the Pakistani Government. The cause of the delays are unclear, but we are working with our Pakistani counterparts to try to resolve these issues and we’re working very hard. In terms of what kind of an impact it may have, I would suspect if this continues it will indeed have an impact on our ability to do the work that we want to do to help the Pakistani people in terms of fighting terrorism, in terms of economic development, and a whole range of issues. So we’re trying to work these issues with the Government of Pakistan, but indeed there are these cases that are – that we’re concerned about.

QUESTION: But do you think it’s a deliberate campaign to harass U.S. officials and U.S. operations in Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: I don’t think I can call it a deliberate campaign. Certainly, if any of our officials feel that they’re being harassed, there are appropriate channels to go through in order to file complaints about that sort of thing. But I don’t think you can make a general comment that there’s an official harassment campaign.

QUESTION: Well, when you say that you’re working with the Pakistanis, have you – are these isolated incidents that you’re trying to work through, or have you gone to the Pakistanis and said, listen, we’re having a whole litany of problems that are affecting our operations here?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, we have raised these issues with Pakistani officials at very senior levels, and we’ve expressed our concern about the delays and the impact that this could very well have on our programs and activities. So, look, they’re well aware of these concerns. As I said, we don’t have – I have no reason – I can’t give you any reason why they’re being delayed. But this issue is – these issues are important. We’re going to work with them, and as I --

QUESTION: What reason did the Pakistanis give?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m saying --

QUESTION: No, I know you said you can’t give any reason why they’re delayed. Have the Pakistanis given you any legitimate reason why they’ve been delayed?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, all I want to say on it, Elise, is that we’ve had very serious concerns about these visa issues and --

QUESTION: Well, what’s the Pakistani reason for that?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’d – you’d have to – let you talk to the Pakistanis and let them give you their reasons for it. But all I can tell you is that this is a big concern to us. We’ve raised it at very senior levels. But we’re committed to try and work with Pakistan to make sure that we can get these visas and get on with the business of what we’re trying to do in Pakistan.

Yes, Charlie.

QUESTION: In terms of raising it at senior levels, how far does this go back, and is Secretary Clinton one of the – did she raise it on her recent trip?

MR. WOOD: Let me just say that we’ve raised it at very senior levels, Charlie. I don’t really want to get more specific than that.

QUESTION: How long has the issue been out there?

MR. WOOD: It’s been out there for a while.


MR. WOOD: I think you could say months, yes.

QUESTION: You said that if it continues, it will have an impact. Is it having an impact now?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s hard for me to characterize how – whether I’d want to stand here at the podium and say it’s having a real impact right now, I don’t – I can’t really say that. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Well, then if you can say that --

MR. WOOD: But I think should this continue, it indeed will have an impact.

QUESTION: Well, if you can say that it will have an impact, why can’t you say whether it’s having an impact now or not?

MR. WOOD: Well, because I’m not – I don’t think I can say that right now that it is having a real impact. But certainly, if it continues to go forward and we are not able to get these visa applications and renewals processed, then it will become --

QUESTION: It’s a bit hard for me to understand if this has been going on for months how it’s not had an impact already.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, it’s hard – like I said, it’s hard for me to stand up here and say it’s having a very – okay, it’s having a small impact. I’m not sure what a small impact would mean. But what I can tell you is that if it continues, then it will have an impact on our ability to do what we’re trying to do. But I’m not sure we’re at that point yet.

QUESTION: What’s the figure again for how many visas are being held up?

MR. WOOD: I think there are hundreds. I don’t have an exact amount, Lach, but let me just say several hundred.

QUESTION: And where --

QUESTION: What kind of officials would they be? What – can you give us a range?

MR. WOOD: It’s officials and contractors --

QUESTION: Officials and --

MR. WOOD: -- across a wide range of activities.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

MR. WOOD: Anybody else on – we’ve got two more on this. Yes.

QUESTION: Can we continue with Pakistan and can I ask about the situation after the NRO was withdrawn by the supreme court? Is it going to have any impact on the war on terror in Pakistan, or is there any comments from the State Department?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, that is an internal Pakistani matter and we respect the decision of the supreme court. But look, regardless of the fallout from the decision, we expect Pakistan’s leaders will act in accordance with their constitution.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the detainees --

MR. WOOD: On the same subject?

QUESTION: -- in Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Let me go to Lalit and I’ll come right back to you.

QUESTION: You are working hard for to bring stability inside Pakistan. What is the assessment of the current situation there in view of the NRO order, because that has come up yesterday? It calls for demanding the resignation of Zardari because corruption cases are being opened against him.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, my assessment of the situation in Pakistan right now is Pakistan is – has some major challenges that it’s confronting. I don’t want to get into a discussion about internal Pakistani matters. But we, our Pakistan partners, and others in the international community are trying to do what we can, based on the announcement of the President’s strategy, to help Pakistan move forward in terms of dealing with issues such as development, fighting terrorism, and bringing some economic stability and prosperity to the country. It’s a major, major effort, and it’s going to take time.

And I think Pakistanis will admit to you that the situation is serious. And they – what they do know is that we, the United States, and other countries around the world want to try to help Pakistan because a stable Pakistan is in the interest of everyone, particularly its neighbor next door, Afghanistan. So – and that’s about the best assessment I can give you beyond what you already know.

Yes. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: The detainees?

MR. WOOD: Oh, the detainees. What I can tell you, Matt, is they received a consular visit today. I can’t really go into the details of the visit. It was a routine consular visit. But because of Privacy Act concerns, I really can’t say much more than that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: I’m not sure exactly where it is, but it was a routine visit. I just – I don’t know exactly where it took --

QUESTION: Routine for consular --

MR. WOOD: That’s correct.

QUESTION: -- like there wasn’t any kind of FBI or this wasn’t an interrogation by any U.S. officials. This was purely for consular services.

MR. WOOD: That’s right, routine consular visit.

QUESTION: Can I change the subject?

QUESTION: Well, what’s your understanding of what the Pakistanis are going to do with them?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know at this point. We’ll just have to see, Matt. I really don’t want to go into this any further than what we’ve said over the last few days. But I just wanted to give you an update and let you know that there was indeed a consular visit today.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: On Mexico. Do you have anything on this very big drug bust or cartel, anti-cartel operation in Mexico? I think one of the biggest drug cartel leaders was killed by the Mexican – by the Mexican military.

MR. WOOD: We congratulate the Mexican navy and the Mexican Government on a well executed operation that was a significant blow against drug cartels in the country. We understand Arturo Beltran Leyva, a major cartel leader, and a number of his associates were killed in the city of Cuernavaca, south of Mexico City, on December 16. That’s what I know about it.


QUESTION: There was an article in New York Times talking about Peter Galbraith, I think, before he was dismissed from his post at the UN, had been pushing a plan for replacing Hamid Karzai because of corruption in the Afghan elections. And that apparently was discussed with officials at the Embassy, but was it discussed with officials back here at the State Department as well?

MR. WOOD: In terms of – from what I know, there wasn’t any – certainly any discussions or any plans that the United States Government had with regard to Afghanistan, other than support for Afghanistan’s constitutional processes. That’s the extent of any kind of discussion. We’ve discouraged any kinds of alternative discussions with regard to any other types of situations. But we have been, from the beginning, very supportive of making sure that we follow the constitutional processes, because we believe that was important.

QUESTION: So there was never any discussion of his plan or his idea that perhaps Karzai should be --

MR. WOOD: Certainly, I know that the White House has not had any discussions with Mr. Galbraith. Like I said, there are lots of discussions that have been going on in Afghanistan for quite some time about the best way to help Pakistan go forward.

QUESTION: Afghanistan.

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I apologize. Afghanistan. And we have from the beginning said that we were going to support everything in line with the constitution, and that hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Right, but the article – I mean, this is before he left, presumably, and it was that he came to you with this plan, not necessarily that you accepted the plan. So did he come to the White House with this plan to get rid of Karzai, and the White House said no, we need to go through the constitutional process?

MR. WOOD: Well, I have just said what I can in terms of the White House. For more details about any discussions that may or may not have taken place, I would obviously steer you to the White House. But as I’ve said from the beginning, U.S. officials have been very clear as to how we’d like to have seen the situation go forward, and that’s been from the beginning up until now, and that’s to support Afghanistan’s constitutional processes.


MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Embassy said that it was raised with Ricciardone at some point.

MR. WOOD: With who?

QUESTION: With Frank Ricciardone.


QUESTION: And that it was basically – the idea was shot down there. The question is: Did it get back here? Did it get into Holbrooke’s office at all? Did it get into SCA? Did it – I’m not asking about the White House. I’m asking about the State Department.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, there are lots of conversations, lots of ideas. Lots of officials from the State Department have had conversations with others in the UN community, the international community, much broader. Could it have come up? It’s certainly possible. I don’t know. I’m not aware that it has come up in any discussions with officials back here, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t. But like I said, the real key point here is that we have, from the beginning, said it’s important to follow that constitutional process in terms of moving Afghanistan to a better future.

Anything else? Oh, I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Another American national who has been detained, arrested in Burma, he is on hunger strike for last 12 or 13 days. Have you any access to him, consular access to him, or do you know what his health condition is?

MR. WOOD: The only thing I can say, Lalit, is we’ve heard reports that this individual has been on a hunger strike since December 4, but we continue to press for his – for immediate consular access. But I don’t have anything beyond that at this point.

QUESTION: So after December 3rd, you haven’t got any consular access to him?

MR. WOOD: We have been pressing since for consular access and have not received it.


QUESTION: There’s an opposition website in Yemen saying that the U.S. is involved with the Yemeni Government in an attack on al-Qaida operatives there that killed al-Qaida and civilians. Was the U.S. involved in any way in the operations in Yemen?

MR. WOOD: Without regard to this particular case, I can tell you that we have been – we cooperate with the Government of Yemen and other governments around the world in fighting al-Qaida and others practicing terrorism. But I don’t have anything for you with that specific case.

I also want to make sure people understand that this particular case is separate from the whole effort that the Yemeni Government has underway in trying to counter the Houthi rebels. So I just wanted to make sure that was clear, because some people had the two kind of mixed up, and I just wanted to make sure that we clarified that.

QUESTION: One more on Russia?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Has the bilateral agreement on legal transit to Afghanistan been finalized? What’s the status of the document?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. We’ll – I’ll take the question and see where we are on that.


MR. WOOD: I don’t really know.

QUESTION: What’s the latest in terms of a P-5+1 meeting or conference call?

MR. WOOD: We don’t have a date set. I know that there’s been some discussion about possibly having a phone conversation among the P-5+1 at some time in the near future, but I don’t think anything has been scheduled yet.


MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Nepal. Yesterday, around 5,000 Maoists laid a siege on Kathmandu and declared Kathmandu as an independent province. And they’re also running – in eight or nine provinces independent (inaudible) government. Do you have any assessment of the situation in this Himalayan state – country?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have a great assessment for you. I’m just hearing about this for the first time. But obviously, Nepal is going through some major challenges as well. And it’s important for the countries of the region, the United States, and others to try to do what we can to help Nepal where we can. But they are, as I said, going through some – a very difficult moment. But I don’t have a much broader assessment at this point.

Okay. Well --

QUESTION: No, no, no. Hold on a second.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: I would be remiss if we did not --

MR. WOOD: I was going to say something.

QUESTION: -- point out that today is your last briefing --

MR. WOOD: You took the words out of my mouth.

QUESTION: -- before moving on to bigger – greener pastures. And so I just wanted to say, on behalf of the Correspondents Association, thank you. It’s been a great year and a half, a pleasure to work with you, from the crisis in Georgia to the crisis in Copenhagen now. (Laughter.) The highs and lows all the way along, particularly at the beginning when you ably handled the transition and the fact that absolutely every single policy that the U.S. Government had was under review and you weren’t able to answer any questions. So anyway --

MR. WOOD: I think we finished a few of the reviews, though, since. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So anyway, thank you on behalf of the – on behalf of us, and good luck in Vienna.

MR. WOOD: Matt, thank you very much. I really appreciate the good words. And I really want to thank all of you. It’s been a great experience. I’ve enjoyed working with all of you. You’re a great group of professionals. And I would also be remiss if I don’t thank some people who – some of whom are sitting here. P.J. Crowley, Assistant Secretary, has been great; Spokesman Ian Kelly, who has really been a great spokesman, a great friend – I’ll hopefully see him in Vienna should he be confirmed by the Senate; Gordon Duguid, who is here and helped me through the transition, and I greatly appreciate all your support, Gordon, over this time. I also want to say thank you to Sean McCormack, who was responsible for bringing me back here, and I’ve enjoyed it greatly. And when you’re coming through Vienna, come and see me. Thanks very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:56 p.m.)