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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Middle East Digest - March 12, 2009

March 12, 2009


1:20 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: In order to carry out President Obama’s commitment to close the detention facility at Guantanamo within one year, the Secretary has determined we need to intensify our efforts to facilitate the transfer of detainees. She therefore has asked Ambassador Dan Fried, a seasoned diplomat with a strong record of accomplishment, to lead a dedicated team to address this issue full-time. Ambassador Fried’s extensive experience will be an invaluable asset as we seek the assistance of foreign governments in moving toward the closure of the detention facility.

Over the last several years, the task of negotiating transfers of detainees from Guantanamo has fallen to the Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues and his staff, whose primary function, historically, has been war crimes matters, in itself a full time job. This shift provides the benefit of also ensuring that the ambassador-at-large and his team can devote their full attention to war crime matters, which are of critical importance to this Administration.

Assistant Secretary Fried will continue in his current position until a new Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasian Affairs is confirmed by the Senate.

QUESTION: And just one on Assistant Secretary Fried. Was he chosen because of his experience in Europe and the hope that that will help in persuading European nations to accept many of the remaining detainees?

MR. WOOD: I think if you look at Assistant Secretary Fried’s background, he’s got a great deal of experience in working with countries in Europe and other places around the globe. You know, the Secretary felt that in order to help facilitate this process, we need somebody who’s got the skills, the insight who can do this. And she felt that Dan, and others felt that Dan was the appropriate choice for this.

QUESTION: So it doesn’t have anything to do with – I mean, I did look at – his background up and most of it really has been Europe, Soviet Union --

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- Poland. It has nothing to do with the geographic --

MR. WOOD: Well, clearly, there are a number of countries in Europe that we have approached on this subject as – and we’ve approached countries from other parts of the world. So as I said, you know, the Secretary feels that Dan is the best candidate for this job, and I know he looks forward to taking on this assignment.

QUESTION: And Clint Williamson, what is he going to do now?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I don’t know yet. I haven’t talked to Clint about it.

QUESTION: Well, what is that job going to – I mean, is that just --

MR. WOOD: You’re talking about the war crimes, I assume?


MR. WOOD: We’ll continue to focus on those – you know, on war crimes issues.

QUESTION: But will no longer be involved at all and --

MR. WOOD: Well, I can’t say, you know, definitively that, no, that particular position, or the incumbent in that position will not have any role at all. I don’t want to say that. This is certainly an effort, you know, where we will draw on resources from other elements of the State Department and outside of the State Department.

QUESTION: On the issue of transferring detainees, the Secretary said in Brussels last week that she was encouraged by the European response. Has there been anything since then to get further encouragement or are you waiting for Dan Fried to get on board?

MR. WOOD: Well, we will continue to have discussions with European countries, even prior, you know, to when Dan takes over the job, so – but I don’t have anything to update you from her conversations in Brussels on that.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the case of Roxana Saberi?

MR. WOOD: I did check yesterday. We have no update at this point. As soon as there is an update, we’ll be happy to let you know, because we are following this case very – as you know, very closely.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you give me any indication of what avenues you’re exploring?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, we’ve been working, of course, through our Swiss protecting partner – power, excuse me. And we’re, you know, making pleas to the Iranian Government, and we will, you know, as I said, continue to work on this case. But I don’t have any further update right now on it.

The gentleman back here, please.

QUESTION: Robert, yesterday, the U.S. Ambassador to Russia said that a big international conference on Afghanistan will take place March 27. But he didn’t mention who will be representing U.S. side. He said high-ranking – a U.S. high-ranking official.

MR. WOOD: March 20 – are you talking about March 27 or --


MR. WOOD: -- March 31 conference?

QUESTION: Maybe I’m mistaken. It’s at the end of March.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, the March 31 conference is being hosted by the Government of the Netherlands. It’ll take place in The Hague.

QUESTION: Well, then it’s not correct, because Ambassador Beyrle said that it’s going to be Moscow.

MR. WOOD: Well, there – I’m not aware of, you know, a date for a Moscow conference. I just gave you what I had in terms of a conference on Afghanistan that will take place in The Hague.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: The Hague?

MR. WOOD: That’s The Hague. I checked. It is The Hague.

QUESTION: And that – and the conference is definitely happening?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. As far as I know, it is happening, yes.

QUESTION: And who will represent the U.S.? Will it be Secretary Clinton?

MR. WOOD: She – Secretary Clinton will represent us.

QUESTION: With Holbrooke?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen the actual list of delegation yet, but I would expect that Ambassador Holbrooke would be part of that delegation.

QUESTION: And has Iran accepted an invitation?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know yet. You might want to check with the Dutch Government on that.
QUESTION: Yeah, do you have anything to say about Ambassador – former Ambassador Charles Freeman’s allegations that the, quote/unquote, “Israel lobby” bought his nomination or appointment --

MR. WOOD: I have nothing.

QUESTION: -- and whether it influences American foreign policy more broadly?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything on that.

QUESTION: Yeah. The shoe thrower has been sentenced today, as I’m sure you’re aware. The incident involved the former President of the United States.

MR. WOOD: I do remember.

QUESTION: Yes. (Laughter.) Well, you just looked a little confused.

MR. WOOD: No, no, not at all.

QUESTION: What do you – well, do you think that the sentence is appropriate? What’s your reaction to it?

MR. WOOD: It’s a matter for the Iraqi judicial system, Matt. We’ve said that before. I can say it one more time, if you like.

QUESTION: Yeah, but do you think that three years in prison is an appropriate sentence for someone who threw a shoe at the President and missed? (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: Internal Iraqi matter, Matt.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:49 p.m.)

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