Daily Press Briefing - February 24

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Details on Package for Gaza Conference / Announcement Monday on Aid
    • Potential Channels for Distribution of Aid to Palestinians
    • Disposition of Letter Relayed From Hamas Through Senator Kerry
    • Role and Specific Areas of Special Advisor Dennis Ross
    • Special Envoy Mitchell's Travel Schedule to Europe and Middle East
    • Secretary Clinton's Meeting with Vice President Joe Biden
    • George Clooney's Visit to White House, Calling for Special Envoy to Darfur
    • Details on Wednesday's Meeting Between Secretary Clinton and Greek Foreign Minister
    • New Travel Warning for Students on Spring Break
    • Topics on Today's Meeting Between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister of Pakistan
    • Reports on Capture of U.S. Citizen In Pakistan
    • Thursday's Meeting Between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan
    • Waiting for Syrian Ambassador's Return From Damascus for Potential Discussions
    • Possible Launch of Space-Launch Vehicle / UNSC Resolution 1718 Prohibits this Activity
    • United States will Continue Special Relationship with Israel
Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
February 24, 2009


11:37 a.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Matt, welcome back. I hope you got some sleep.

QUESTION: Yes, but have you?

MR. WOOD: No, but that’s okay. I still managed to come in here yesterday.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. WOOD: I have nothing.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything – well, except for the Secretary talked a little bit this morning about your plans, or planning for the Gaza conference. She didn’t have any details, but I’m wondering are you in a position to provide any more?

MR. WOOD: No, not at this point. No – I don’t have anything more than what she said. We’re still working on the package. And once it’s done, then we’ll have something to say, but it’s still being put together. It’ll be, you know, several hundred million. But I don’t have much more than that at this point.

QUESTION: And do you know if this is going to be old money, new money? And if it’s new money, where exactly is it coming from?

MR. WOOD: Those details are still being worked out, Matt. And we’ll try to get information to you guys as soon as we can, once that package is complete. I don’t want to speculate as to what’s old, what’s new. I just don’t know at this point.

QUESTION: It will be a mix then, correct?

MR. WOOD: It’s likely to be a mix, yes.

QUESTION: Dennis Ross?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: What is he in charge exactly of?

MR. WOOD: Well, Dennis is –

QUESTION: Is it Iran? And if it’s not Iran – if it’s Iran, why is it not written in the statement?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just start off by saying, the Secretary is very happy that Dennis Ross agreed to serve as her special advisor for the Gulf and Southwest Asia. What Dennis is going to be charged with doing is trying to integrate policy development and implementation across a number of offices and officials in the State Department. And, you know, he is going to be providing the Secretary with strategic advice. He will be also trying to ensure that there’s a coherence in our policies and strategies across the region.

Let me be clear, he’s not an envoy. He will not be negotiating. He’ll be working on regional issues. He will not be – in terms of negotiating, will not be involved in the peace process. But again, he is going to be advising the Secretary on long-term strategic issues across the region.

QUESTION: Can you give us – well, what is the State Department’s definition geographically of Southwest Asia? What countries does that include?

MR. WOOD: Matt, I didn’t --

QUESTION: No, you guys named an envoy for Southwest Asia. I presume that you know what countries that includes.

MR. WOOD: Yes. Of course, we know. I just – I don’t have the list to run off – you know, right off the top of my head here. But obviously, that’s going to encompass – that region encompasses Iran. It will – you know, it’ll deal with --

QUESTION: Does it include Iraq?

MR. WOOD: Indeed, it does. He is going to be, again, as I said, providing her with advice – strategic advice, looking at the long term, the bigger picture and how we can make sure that our policies are coherent across the board in the region. And as I said, the Secretary is very pleased that Dennis has agreed to do this. He’s got years of experience in the region. And, you know, it’s a daunting task, but it’s one that she felt was necessary.

QUESTION: And so, does it include parts of the Middle East?

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: It does? Does it include Syria, and it includes Israel and it includes Jordan?

MR. WOOD: Well, he’ll be looking at the entire region that will include, you know –

QUESTION: Where does that stop? I mean, you know, you have NEA which, you know, runs all the way to Morocco. So does it include –

MR. WOOD: Well, he’s going to be in touch with a number of officials who work on issues throughout this region.

QUESTION: Does it include Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, countries that are within the – within the Middle East or within the Near Eastern Affairs Bureau, but are not necessarily technically part of Southwest Asia?

MR. WOOD: He will be providing advice to the Secretary on a – across that entire region, where appropriate, where she needs it, and that’s the position he will serve.

QUESTION: So he’s going to meet with the leaders in the region as well, so you said he is going to offer an assessment --

MR. WOOD: That’s right. At some point, he will.

QUESTION: -- including the Iranians?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not sure at this point. But again, our policy with regard to Iran is under review, so once that review is completed, we’ll be able to go forward vis-à-vis Iran. But until that time --

QUESTION: Well, was there a consideration at some point that you would have a special envoy for Iran? And why didn’t you now go in that direction?

MR. WOOD: Well, a decision was made by the Secretary that she needed broad strategic advice to look at a range of issues across the entire region that we just talked about. And it was felt that his skills could be better used to do that type of work, given the years of experience that he’s had dealing with the Middle East, other parts of the world. And so, again, as I said, Iran will be one of those countries that he will be, you know, looking at in his portfolio. But --

QUESTION: The military sometimes refer to parts of the -stans, Central Asia, as Southwest Asia. Are those included in your --

MR. WOOD: Well, look --

QUESTION: Can you find out? Because, I mean, this is --

MR. WOOD: We can get you that. Yeah, we can get you a breakdown of --

QUESTION: I mean, does this – is there a geographic limit to his portfolio, or is it really an issues-based thing so that he could be dealing with Morocco and Algeria --

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and Tunisia --

MR. WOOD: I would look at it, Matt, as more of a regional --

QUESTION: -- and Kyrgyzstan, and the -stans that are not covered by Ambassador Holbrooke? And does it include Turkey? Does it – you know, there are a lot of unanswered questions from – from the statement last night as to exactly what he’s going to be doing. I mean, I presume it’s all of the Gulf – Saudi Arabia, that makes sense. But does it include Somalia, which is – you know, that there is – does it include – I don’t know --

QUESTION: Or is it (inaudible) Iran?

MR. WOOD: Your question is – you know, let me answer your --

QUESTION: It could be anything. Or is he limited by the geographic --

QUESTION: Or did you just not want to put Iran in the name, and so this is your clever way of doing that?

MR. WOOD: Can I speak now?


MR. WOOD: Thank you, and thank you. Look, it’s more – he’s going to be providing advice to the Secretary on a number of regional issues, and I would not try to limit Dennis’s advice to, you know, just those regions. He may have other – you know, he may have advice that he wants to give the Secretary on other issues. I don’t think we’re trying to narrow it here. If you’re looking for a geographical breakdown of those countries that he will be looking --

QUESTION: It would be nice to find out what the State Department considers to be Southwest Asia.

MR. WOOD: We can certainly do that for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: And why Iran was not mentioned in the statement? And why was it published at 9:00 p.m.?

MR. WOOD: Well, it was published at 9:00 p.m. because we – that was the time when we had it ready to go. And so there was no – somebody had said to me in an email or something that we were trying to hide something, and that’s absolutely not the case. That’s when it was ready to go, and that’s when we – the Secretary wanted that announcement to go out at some point yesterday, and it did.

QUESTION: Yeah, but when she --

MR. WOOD: We just couldn’t get it out until late.

QUESTION: When she wants to announce the nomination of Richard Holbrooke, the President comes for announcing that. So it’s not the same kind of announcement. It’s very different. Why?

MR. WOOD: It’s different because the duties are different here. He is serving as an advisor to the Secretary. And the reason why we didn’t mention Iran specifically is because his duties are going to engage the entire region, as I mentioned. So it’s not just Iran. It’s other countries in the region, other issues.

QUESTION: Robert, does he have a specific role in the Iran review? And when you talk about the Afghanistan review, you’ve got Holbrooke and Bruce Riedel and others. Is there a similar structure for the Iran review? And would he have a certain status in that review?

MR. WOOD: Well, he will certainly – the Secretary will certainly seek out his advice with regard to, you know, Iran. There’s no question about that. There’s not a similar structure in place, you know, for this type of review. You know, we don’t have a cookie – you know, what do you call it, a cookie-cutter approach to, you know, doing reviews. You involve the people who you think are necessary and can provide you with the appropriate expertise and advice, and that’s how you conduct them.


QUESTION: Can I talk about Sudan, the Clooney visit, this special envoy he’s pushing for? Is that in the works now?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know anything about it. I mean, I understand he was at the White House yesterday, but you might want to refer the questions to the White House. I haven’t had --

QUESTION: But as a what? A special – sorry.

QUESTION: The question was special – sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: He’s pushing his – the idea of a special envoy along with other Darfur advocates, like Save Darfur – I mean, this has been a long, you know, kind of standing thing since – I think since the day the President was elected that Darfur advocates have been calling for a special envoy. So is Secretary Clinton considering something like that?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, the idea of an envoy for Sudan is something that the Administration will have to consider. No decisions have been made with regard to whether we want to go with that approach, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

QUESTION: Is there any reason to doubt that the Administration wouldn’t follow the lead of the Bush Administration, which appointed several envoys – special envoys, beginning with John Danforth, to – and then ending with Rich Williamson, who was in the job, apparently, you know, up until January 20th?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to make comparisons here, but the Administration will make a decision at some point as to whether it wants to go that route or not. I’m not going to, you know, speculate on it, and I don’t think you should speculate about what it’s going to do or not going to do.

QUESTION: Well, I’m just curious as to why people think that this might be a big deal, when in fact, the last administration had special envoys.

MR. WOOD: I can’t speak for other people, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you have any detail about the schedule of Special Envoy Mitchell?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I can --

QUESTION: Turkey is saying that he is expected in –

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I just got some details on his schedule this morning. Special Envoy Mitchell will travel to the Middle East and Europe from February 23 to March 4. Currently confirmed stops include London, Ankara, Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, Sharm el-Sheikh, Jerusalem, and Ramallah. As part of his trip, he will join Secretary Clinton in Egypt for the March 2 donors’ conference on Gaza. He will be accompanied by other State Department and National Security Council officials, including Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Hale. He’ll meet with government officials on – at all of his stops. And yeah, that’s what I have.

Lambros, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: On Greece. Mr. Wood, anything to say about tomorrow’s meeting between Secretary Hillary Clinton and the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis here at the State Department?

MR. WOOD: The only thing I can say at this point, Lambros, is that the Secretary looks forward to meeting with the Greek foreign minister. Of course, Greece is an important ally. There are a number of issues that the Secretary will want to discuss with the Greek foreign minister, and we’ll try and get you a readout after that meeting.

QUESTION: One more. Do you know if U.S. and Greece have unresolved problems to be discussed during this meeting?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, there are lots of problems in the world where Greece and the United States need to work together to try to bring about, you know, peaceful conclusions. But I don’t have anything more beyond that.

QUESTION: And the topics of this meeting?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – the Greek foreign minister wants to meet with Secretary Clinton and hopefully establish a good working relationship, because as I said, Greece is an important partner for the United States.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: The State Department issued a fresh Travel Warning for Mexico, kind of urging American students on spring break and stuff to take extra precautions and maintain contacts with home and things like that. Can you talk about the concern that you have about this particular spring break. As we know there’s been a lot of violence in Mexico, a lot of drug-related crime that’s been on an uptick over the last year? And I mean, this particular spring break for students – what’s different this year?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think you’ve just pointed out a number of the concerns about, you know, some of the violence related to drugs in Mexico. And you know, this is something that the Mexican Government has been trying to work on for quite some time, to tamp down this violence. We thought it was prudent to advise Americans who may be traveling to Mexico to take extra precautions. And you know, we work closely with the Mexican Government to try to see what we can do to help stem some of this violence. It’s of great concern to the Mexican Government. And we’re a key partner for Mexico, so we’ll work together and try to do what we can. But we felt it was a prudent step to take at this time.

QUESTION: Do you think that this year maybe they should consider another destination or not so close to the border?

MR. WOOD: Not at all. Mexico is a wonderful place to travel. I travel there quite a bit myself and see no reason to try to tell Americans that they shouldn’t travel to Mexico. Not at all.

QUESTION: Do you have any readout on the visiting Pakistani and Afghanistan foreign ministers and their meetings in the State Department?

MR. WOOD: Well, their meetings haven’t taken place yet. The Secretary is going to meet, as you know, later this afternoon with the Pakistani Foreign Minister Qureshi, and that will be part of the overall strategic review that we’re having with regard to Pakistan and Afghanistan. So she looks forward to sitting down and talking with the minister.

QUESTION: So today, the meeting with Pakistani foreign minister?

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: And what about Afghanistan?

MR. WOOD: That one, I believe – Gordon, do you remember – is --

MR. DUGUID: Thursday.

MR. WOOD: It’s Thursday. I just couldn’t remember off the top of my head.

Let’s see, this gentleman has his hand up here.

QUESTION: When do you think the meeting between the Secretary and Minister Lavrov will be announced?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, the Secretary wants to meet with Minister Lavrov as soon as she can. You know, she hopes to be able to do it at some point soon, but I don’t have anything more for you at this point on when that will happen.


QUESTION: Do you have any news about the discussions the Syrian ambassador is supposed to have in this building? Do you know if he’s coming, or when?

MR. WOOD: No, I think that we were waiting until the Syrian ambassador returned from Damascus in order to have that meeting, so I’m not – I don’t think he’s returned yet. So as soon as that meeting can happen, it will take place.

QUESTION: Did he accept to come to the meeting – the Syrian ambassador?

MR. WOOD: I – honestly, I don’t know. We’ll have to look into that. I’ll see if I can find something on that for you. I’m not sure.


QUESTION: Robert, do you know anything about the fate of the letter that John Kerry brought from Hamas? Is it in the building? Will there be a U.S. response to it?

MR. WOOD: Well, my understanding is that Senator Kerry turned over that letter to our Consulate in Jerusalem, and it’s being handled through appropriate channels. But I don’t have anything more at this point to tell you on – to tell you about it.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to Gaza for a second?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: When this aid – excuse me, when this aid package is announced next Monday or Tuesday or whenever it is --

MR. WOOD: Monday.

QUESTION: -- how is it that this money is going to be channeled to the Palestinians in Gaza? Who actually will get this money to do the work?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t have those specifics right now, Matt, but I can assure you that that money will not be going through Hamas.

QUESTION: Well, so does that mean it’ll go through UNRWA, or does it go through --

MR. WOOD: It could very well --

QUESTION: -- ICRC, NGOs, what?

MR. WOOD: It could very well. I just don’t have that specific breakdown for you as to how the money will be channeled and through whom.

QUESTION: Well, will it go to the PA? Will some of it go to the PA?

MR. WOOD: That’s certainly – I could conceive that happening, but I don’t have those details yet, Matt. So let’s wait until the package is done and we’ve got all of those things sorted out, and we’ll be happy to let you know.

Let me go here.

QUESTION: Yes. Yesterday, the North Korea say they are ready for the firing of satellite and not of missile. What’s your comment or the reaction about that?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, we’re aware of the press reports about a possible launch of a missile or a space-launch vehicle. And you know, our view is that the North needs to spend its time working on and focusing on denuclearization.

As you know, UN Security Council Resolution 1718 prohibits the North from engaging in ballistic missile-related activities. And whether it’s a space-launch vehicle or a missile, some of the building blocks for, you know, developing a space-launch vehicle and for, you know, producing long-range missiles are similar.

So as I said, the North needs to focus on denuclearization, living up to its commitments they have made as part of the Six-Party framework, and go from there. You know, intimidation and threats are not helpful to try to bring about, you know, regional stability, so the North needs to desist from that type of behavior.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Just to clarify that 1718 does prohibit North Korea from engaging in any satellite launch activity?

MR. WOOD: Ballistic missile related activities.

QUESTION: So that includes --

MR. WOOD: In this particular case, yes.


MR. WOOD: Let me go back here, please.

QUESTION: I believe that in Indonesia Secretary Clinton said that there will be no pigeonholing, no exclusivity. Does it mean anything about special relations that U.S. is considered to have with some countries, specifically Israel?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the question.

QUESTION: Secretary Clinton said in Indonesia that there will be no exclusivity, there will be no – we will reach to the entire world. So does it mean anything, you know, regarding the special relations that U.S. holds with a couple of countries, including Israel?

MR. WOOD: You know, the U.S. has a special relationship with Israel. That will continue. It’s strong, without question.


QUESTION: Yes, on USA and Pakistan. Anything to say about the capture in Pakistan of U.S. citizen John Solecki?

MR. WOOD: I don’t --

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say?

MR. WOOD: You know, we had some guidance on that yesterday. There were a number of reports, contradictory reports about, you know, this individual’s case. But our – my understanding, at least as of yesterday, with – at least the reports are that he’s still alive. But we’re providing, you know, support services to the family, and we want to see him released and unharmed. That’s all I have.


QUESTION: Going back to Darfur, do you know if Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden discussed that matter this morning at breakfast? Because --

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I saw her after the breakfast, but didn’t have a chance to raise the issue.

QUESTION: Well, what was on the agenda then, this morning? What was – what did they discuss?

MR. WOOD: Well, they talk about a wide range of foreign policy issues. As you know, Secretary Clinton and Vice President Biden have a longstanding relationship. They work very closely together. They have deep respect for each other, and they talk about a wide range of issues. I couldn’t tell you --

QUESTION: Not Darfur, though?

MR. WOOD: They may have. I just don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to talk to her about the discussion this morning.

Anything else? Okay, thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:56 a.m.)

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