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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 16, 2009


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • PAKISTAN
    • Secretary Clinton's Phone Calls to Leaders / Secretary Made No Demands / Secretary Emphasized Need for Political Dialogue, Importance of Nonviolence / U.S. Officials Very Involved in Trying to Calm Tensions, Urged Dialogue, Reconciliation
    • Political Situation a Concern to U.S. and Others / Implications of Further Political Instability / Still More Work To Do
    • Pakistanis Deserve Credit / Decisions Had to Be Taken by Pakistanis / Solutions Were Pakistani Solutions / Parties Acted in Best Interests of Pakistani People / Important for Moving Reconciliation Forward
    • Buildup of Political Tensions / Tensions Diverting Government of Pakistan from Its Principal Enemies / Pakistani Leadership Moving Country Back on Path Towards Reconciliation
  • MADAGASCAR
    • Concerned About Situation on the Ground / Calling on Actors to Exercise Restraint / Resolve Differences Through Dialogue / Want to Help Bring About Conflict Resolution
    • Outside Parties Interested in What's Going On / Will Decide Whether or Not to Increase Efforts / Dialogue Between Leaders and Opposition Is Critical
  • CHINA
    • Special Envoy Stern Met With Vice Chairman Xie / Substantive Discussion on U.S.-China Cooperation on Fighting Global Warming / Chinese Commitment to Work With U.S. / Discussion Touched on Copenhagen and Wide Variety of Issues / Welcome Chinese Willingness to Engage on Climate Change / Beginning of a Process
  • SUDAN
    • Condemn Decision to Expel Foreign Aid Organizations / Responsibility for Humanitarian Suffering That Results Falls on Sudanese / Call on Sudanese Government to Reverse Decision / Decision a Mistake and Will Lead to Further Harm and Suffering
    • Charge Alberto Fernandez Will Assess Situation on the Ground
    • Decision by Sudanese Government Not Connected to Indictment of Bashir / Sudanese Government Responsible for Decision and Results
    • No Decision Yet on Special Envoy for Sudan
  • ISRAEL
    • New Government Not Yet Formed / Will Not Speculate on New Government's Actions / U.S. Supports Two-State Solution / Important for Israelis and Palestinians to Work Together Toward This Goal
  • EL SALVADOR
    • Congratulate People of El Salvador on Free, Fair, Democratic Election / Congratulate Funes as Winner and Opponent for Respecting Results / Look Forward to Working with New Government on Bilateral Agenda
  • CYPRUS
    • Secretary Clinton Discussed Cyprus Issue with Turkish Leadership
  • IRAN
    • Refer Questions on Iran's Participation in Afghanistan Conference to Government of Netherlands / UN Chairing Conference With Afghanistan and Netherlands As Co-Chairs / Secretary Clinton Proposed Conference / U.S. a Key Participant / U.S. and Others Helping Set Agenda
    • Want to See Change in Iranian Behavior on a Host of Issues
    • No Update on Roxana Saberi / Want to See Her Case Resolved / Growing Concern
  • UNITED KINGDOM
    • Concerned About Violence / Secretary To Meet With Irish Foreign Minister Martin / U.S. Will Continue to Work with Other Parties / In Best Interest of People in Northern Ireland that Violence Cease


TRANSCRIPT:

11:32 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Okay. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. Happy Monday. Go to your questions.

QUESTION: Yeah, what exactly was the Secretary’s involvement in phone calls over the weekend to the Pakistani leadership?

MR. WOOD: Well, the Secretary wanted to make sure that Pakistani officials understood what our views were on the current situation and the importance of there not being any violence and the need for political dialogue. And that was the purpose of her phone calls. Frankly, what brought Pakistan back from the brink was, basically, decisions made by the Pakistani leadership. So this was basically decisions made by Pakistanis for Pakistanis. And they deserve all the credit.

QUESTION: Robert, were there any specific --

MR. WOOD: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Were there any specific demands that the U.S. made on Pakistan or any threats, like withdrawing U.S. aid or stepping up attacks with drones?

MR. WOOD: The Secretary made no demands at all.

QUESTION: Any subtle threats?

MR. WOOD: No threats at all. The Secretary was expressing the views of the U.S. Government on how we wanted to see the crisis resolved, and that’s exactly what happened.

QUESTION: Well, threatening advice?

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on that?

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. It’s a matter of --

QUESTION: Can you elaborate on what that was? Because we were never clear last week what exactly --

MR. WOOD: Well, basically, what the Secretary said to both Gillani[1]and Zardari is basically that the United States was very concerned about how the situation was developing. And she wanted to make clear that nonviolence was the way forward, that the Pakistani people need to be assured that the leadership was taking their interests, you know, first and foremost, and want – as I said, wanted to emphasize the importance of nonviolence, and that there not be any impediments to peaceful democratic assembly. And that was the essence of the Secretary’s phone call.

QUESTION: She spoke to Gillani and Zardari but not with Sharif, ever?

MR. WOOD: I don’t believe she – did she speak – she spoke with Sharif, I’m sorry, yes.

QUESTION: So all three of them in separate phone calls?

MR. WOOD: I believe so, yes.

QUESTION: Robert?

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: During her confirmation hearing, the Secretary did kind of – not threaten to withhold U.S. aid, but said that if a government wasn’t delivering on some of the things that the U.S. wanted to do, that aid would have to be looked at. And there is a lot of concern that these kind of political crises are diverting the government from what the U.S. hopes it would do, which is fight the extremists on the border. So could you put that into context for us, please?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, it’s very clear. The situation – the political situation in Pakistan has been a concern to the United States and other governments around the world. And what we have tried to encourage the Pakistanis to do is to, you know, take a look at the situation, understand what the implications are of further political instability, and to take steps necessary to move the country away from the brink. And I think the decisions that were taken over the weekend were very important steps in that direction.

And as I said, you know, all of the credit goes to the Pakistanis for this. This was not something that the U.S. helped bring about. This was something that the Pakistanis decided needed to be done in order to move the country away, as I said, from the brink.

QUESTION: Robert, may I just follow up, please?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Two things. One, this may not be the end of bringing Mr. Chaudhry or Justice Chaudhry back because it may be too late, because months have passed by. And second, many people may think that military rule may come back because Mr. Zardari or President Zardari was given warning by General Kiyani that if this violence doesn’t stop, then I may have to take action.

Second, as far as Secretary’s call to Pakistani leaders are concerned, is she also making any calls that may be encouraging India, also maybe very much concerned about the situation in Pakistan, what role India should play or will be playing?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of any calls that the Secretary made to Indian leaders. I don’t believe she made any over this weekend. You know, it’s hard to speculate as to what’s going to come next in Pakistan.

And what we’ve tried to do – and it wasn’t just the Secretary, but also Ambassador Holbrooke, Ambassador Patterson on the ground in Islamabad – what they’ve tried to do is to make the Pakistan leadership understand that this crisis can’t continue the way it’s been going on and that there needs to be political dialogue, there needs to be a reconciliation. Peaceful assembly is important. We want to see that happen.

And – but in the end, these were decisions that were taken by the Pakistani leadership, and I think it’s important to recognize that. And only the Pakistanis could bring themselves back from the brink. It’s not anything the United States could have done.

QUESTION: You don’t think that --

QUESTION: The Secretary --

QUESTION: -- there’s any connection between the Secretary’s phone calls and then the decision to reinstate the Supreme Court justice just a couple hours later?

MR. WOOD: In the end, the decisions had to be taken by Pakistanis.

QUESTION: Did she suggest that that might be a way --

MR. WOOD: Well, look, I don’t want to get into the specifics of her conversations with Pakistani leaders. But what I’m saying to you is in the end, this was something – the solutions were Pakistani solutions to the problems that the country faced. And you know, we welcome those decisions. They’re important for moving the process of reconciliation forward in Pakistan. There’s still a lot more work to do, but this, again, was something that was done by the Pakistanis.

QUESTION: Does this --

QUESTION: You’ve used the term “on the brink” several times and being – back from being on the brink. Do you see them – the current, sort of, Pakistani leadership as being on the brink? And what are they on the brink of?

And then secondly, could you give me a little ticktock of, you know, when the calls were made, who she spoke to and how long for?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’ll see about getting you a ticktock on, you know, the Secretary’s calls. But in terms of brink, I’m talking about from – potential of any political violence. And I know there was some over the weekend but it certainly could have been a lot worse were it not for the leadership of the Pakistani Government and the willingness of its people to, you know, take the steps necessary to back down from this crisis. And so, you know, it was a very difficult weekend. It was very politically charged. We’re all aware of that.

But the important thing is that these steps were taken. The justices were reinstated. And the important thing now is to move forward, bringing about further reconciliation amongst Pakistanis and getting back to a real substantive political dialogue.

QUESTION: So are you disappointed that it took so long for the president to make the decision to reinstate the chief justice, that they got so close to the brink, to use your terminology?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, the important thing is that these decisions were taken. You know, you always want to see resolutions to crises happen sooner than – you know, sooner than you think they’re going to happen. But the important thing is that these decisions were taken. And now we have to try – the Pakistanis need to move forward in terms of further political reconciliation.

QUESTION: One more?

QUESTION: Robert, just --

MR. WOOD: Let me go to Kirit and --

QUESTION: To follow up on that, I mean, you’ve been very careful today to put all the credit on the Pakistanis, and last week you said much the same, that you would leave it up to them. But that’s led to quite a bit of criticism inside Pakistan that the U.S. stood by and allowed a lot of the violence and political tension to continue. Do you discount any of those – that criticism that the U.S. stood by and allowed this to happen?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – you know, I take issue with the fact that we stood by. I mean, the Secretary, as I said, and Richard Holbrooke and Anne Patterson were very involved in trying to calm tensions in Pakistan. So the U.S. was involved in that regard. But as I’ve said, this was – these were decisions that had to be taken by the Pakistani leadership. And in the end, I believe they acted in the best interests of the Pakistani people, and that’s what’s important here.

QUESTION: Can you specify what you mean by further political reconciliation in Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, clearly, as I said, there was a charged atmosphere over the weekend. There’s been a buildup of political tensions for quite some time. As I said, these decisions were good steps that were taken. But clearly, more has to be done in terms of getting a real substantive political dialogue back on track in Pakistan.

I’m not going to be more specific than that. I think I would refer you to, you know, the Pakistani Government in terms of steps that it thinks it needs to take. And you know, with regard to the opposition, in terms of how Pakistan – Pakistanis can move closer to each other instead of further away from each other.

QUESTION: Yes, two questions.

MR. WOOD: Okay, go ahead, please.

QUESTION: If the Secretary or anybody have spoken to any of the opposition leaders, please?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: The opposition leaders.

MR. WOOD: I believe – yeah, she spoke to, you know, Sharif – Nawaz Shariff.

QUESTION: Only now recently after this reconciliation --

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware that she has.

Yes.

QUESTION: What advice or suggestions are the United States giving to Pakistan in terms of the barring of the Sharif brothers from seeking elective office? Has the U.S. said anything about we would like that bar to be lifted because now the government has said it’s filing a petition to review that decision?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, that’s the decision that’s going to be left to Pakistani authorities. That’s not an issue for the United States to decide.

QUESTION: So the U.S. hasn’t expressed any opinion on that?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve expressed our opinion with regard to the importance of there being reconciliation in Pakistan and the importance of taking the necessary steps to move the country toward further reconciliation. But that’s about as specific as I can get.

QUESTION: And the Governor’s rule in Punjab?

MR. WOOD: That’s – again, you know, that’s something that’s going to have to be decided by the --

QUESTION: So the U.S. hasn’t made a statement on that or expressed its views to the parties involved?

MR. WOOD: Not beyond what I’ve said.

QUESTION: But I mean, Robert – but, you know, given the fact, okay, that you’re leaving the Pakistanis to figure out their own political, you know, machinations, why is – why did Secretary Clinton feel it so important to call them and try and, kind of, ease the tensions?

I mean, how much of this has to do with the fact that you’re concerned that this is diverting the government from the urgent needs of fighting terrorism, fixing the economy, and stopping the country from collapsing where President Obama called it the central front on the war on terror?

MR. WOOD: Well, it is. And you know, for the reasons – some of the reasons you just stated was why the Secretary felt she had to make these phone calls over the weekend. And Foreign Secretary Miliband was also involved in making calls to Pakistani leaders. And it – our concern clearly was that tensions were heating up and that they needed to calm down. And that, indeed, these tensions were diverting the Government of Pakistan away from, you know, its principal enemy, which is al-Qaida – its principal enemies, al-Qaida and the Taliban.

And so as I said, the Secretary felt that she needed to make these phone calls. We’re very pleased to see that the Pakistani leadership has taken some decisions that are moving, you know, the country at least back on a path towards reconciliation.

QUESTION: Did part of that concern involve that perhaps Pakistan is moving towards military rule if the situation gets out of control?

MR. WOOD: I have no way of knowing whether, you know, that was a possibility or not. But what the Secretary was concerned about was the fact that political tensions in the country were heating up quite a bit, and that she wanted to make sure that the Pakistani leadership understood where the United States was on what was going on, and simply to try to reduce tensions. And that’s – that was the purpose.

QUESTION: In terms of the reinstatement of the Supreme Court justice, you must have told the Pakistani interlocutors that you support the rule of law, so you must have, at least indirectly, referred to the importance of having reinstated --

MR. WOOD: No, absolutely. Rule of law is something that we have been pressing in Pakistan. I did that last week. I’m sure Gordon touched on that on Friday. And that’s about as specific as I want to get on the subject.

Yes.

QUESTION: Fathi al-Jahmi, the Libyan dissident, is still being held in a hospital room in Tripoli in very difficult conditions – cockroaches in his room and it’s – apparently, his situation is deteriorating rapidly. Has this Administration reached out to the – or spoken to the Libyans recently about this case? And what is the position in terms of the new team?

MR. WOOD: Well, as I mentioned in an email to you, I’ll have to take a look and see. I don’t have anything for you here.

QUESTION: Is Gene Kretz still there?

MR. WOOD: Yes, mm-hmm.

Yes, please, you had your hand up.

QUESTION: Another dangerous situation is developing in Madagascar with the military threatening to take over power due to the current political crisis. Have you been in touch with the people there, and what’s your view about the military taking over government?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, our – we are concerned about the situation on the ground in Madagascar, and what we’ve been doing for over – I think over a week now, is calling on all of the actors to exercise restraint, to commit to nonviolence, and to resolve differences through dialogue. It’s a very troubling situation on the ground, and we are monitoring it very closely. And what we want to see in the end is true political reconciliation and dialogue in accordance with Madagascar’s constitution.

So as I said, we’ll be following this issue closely, and we want to see the parties have a dialogue that, you know, gets them out of this crisis that they find themselves in.

QUESTION: Do you think there’s any need for interference by maybe the SADC or African Union, or the United Nations, for that matter?

MR. WOOD: Well, you use the word “interference.” I think there are a number of parties that are – outside parties that are very interested in what’s going on on the ground in Madagascar and are going to decide for themselves as to whether or not they think they need to increase their efforts. But that’s really going to be up to those institutions.

QUESTION: “Interference” is not the right word, not the word you would use?

MR. WOOD: No.

QUESTION: Would you use something like – what word would you use?

MR. WOOD: Well, give me a word.

QUESTION: I don’t know. What does the U.S. call interference? Engagement?

MR. WOOD: No.

QUESTION: Speaking to – friendly talk with – what do you call it?

MR. WOOD: What we want to try to do is help bring about conflict resolution. Is that the term you may be looking for? And look --

QUESTION: Mediating?

MR. WOOD: You can use that word if you like.

QUESTION: Intervention.

MR. WOOD: Very good. (Laughter.) Look, the important thing here is trying to get all the parties back to some type of dialogue. We speak about dialogue over and over again, but it really is critical here. It’s the only thing that’s going to prevent the country from, you know, going down the path to further violence, and none of us wants to see that happen. But in essence, the leadership – the leaders, the opposition – need to sit down and have a dialogue. And that’s the only thing that’s going to lead them away from, you know, the situation that they’re in right now.

Oh, so many hands, so little time. Right here.

QUESTION: Robert, do you have any more information on why the United States voted against the United Nations resolution prohibiting the glorification of Nazism and the redefinition of Nazi collaborators as national liberation --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, you raised that question, I think, a couple weeks ago --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. WOOD: -- and we posted an answer for you. And I would just check with the Press Office, and they can get you that answer.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MR. WOOD: The lady right behind you.

QUESTION: On climate change, Todd Stern has a few meetings today and had at least one last week. Can you give us an overview on how those meetings are going and what the Administration’s goals are in those meetings?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, the meetings have been very productive. This morning, I know envoy Stern had a meeting with Chinese – I think it was Chinese Vice Chairman – I think his name is Xie.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: Yeah. And a very good substantive discussion on how the United States and China can cooperate more closely on fighting global warming. And clearly, we see on the – from the – you know, from our side, a commitment on the Chinese to try to take additional steps and to work with us in terms of combating climate change.

It’s going to take time. From what I understand, the meetings went extremely well this morning, but there’s a lot of work to do. And we’ll be having further conversations with Chinese and other countries’ officials about how we can work together to try to combat climate change. But this is the beginning of a process, and there’ll be further meetings and steps along the way, and we’ll be happy to keep you posted.

QUESTION: So it’s --

QUESTION: Were the talks focused on Copenhagen?

MR. WOOD: Well, they touched on Copenhagen and they’ve touched on a wide variety of issues. I know there’s been a lot of interest in cap-and-trade, a host of other issues. But in essence, my understanding was that the meetings were very productive and, as I said, a beginning. And we’ll see where it leads. But there seems to be very good – there’s a willingness, particularly on the Chinese side, to really engage on the subject of climate change, and we welcome that.

QUESTION: Sudan’s president said today that he wanted foreign aid groups to stop distributing aid within Sudan within the next year, and passing on that responsibility to local aid organizations. I just wondered, number one, what your response was to that. And also, does this raise concerns as to where U.S. dollars are going in terms of distribution of aid?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, well, Sue, we’ve seen these reports, and we’re reviewing this alleged development closely. First and foremost, we condemn the Sudanese decision to expel, you know, foreign aid organizations. And any responsibility for the humanitarian suffering that flows out of this decision falls squarely on the shoulders of the Sudanese. And we’ve called on the Sudanese Government to reverse this decision. We believe it was a mistake. And the only result will be further harm, further suffering by the people of Sudan.

One of the things I do want to mention is that our Chargé in Khartoum, Alberto Fernandez, is on his way to Darfur, and he’s going to do an assessment for us and find – and give us some more details on what’s actually going on on the ground. And again, we call on the Sudanese Government to reverse this decision and to do so forthwith.

QUESTION: Can I – just to clarify --

QUESTION: The decision you’re talking about, the expulsion --

QUESTION: Yes, the –

MR. WOOD: The (inaudible) decision. That’s right.

QUESTION: No, but --

QUESTION: Not the decision – okay.

MR. WOOD: Well, that as well, of course.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. WOOD: But we’re reviewing that, as I said at the beginning.

QUESTION: Well, you made a big point of calling it an alleged development.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. WOOD: Well, because we’ve seen the reports. So if indeed these reports are true --

QUESTION: So the Embassy hasn’t heard anything there?

MR. WOOD: No, but again, as I said, Alberto Fernandez, our Chargé, is on his way and will be giving us a further readout.

QUESTION: Could you please find out, or maybe you have this information in front of you, what the current aid efforts are – U.S. aid figures are in Darfur, and also in --

MR. WOOD: Let’s see if I have those. I don’t have them for you. I know we have them available, so if you want to check with the Press Office, I’m sure we will – we have them.

QUESTION: Okay. That’ll be great. Thank you.

MR. WOOD: I just don’t have them in front of me.

Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, El Salvador has joined the --

QUESTION: Can I stay on Darfur for a moment, please?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Robert, isn’t this another example of how this ICC indictment could have – could, in fact, have backfired? Isn’t that (inaudible) these expulsions --

MR. WOOD: I think – look, I don’t make any connection to the indictment. I think unfortunately, what you’re seeing is the product of a decision made by the Government of Sudan to expel these foreign aid organizations.

QUESTION: But isn’t that a direct result of this indictment? I mean, Bashir has said he’s --

MR. WOOD: I’m not able to draw that link. I’m – basically, the link I am able to draw is clearly from this decision that the Sudanese Government took to expel these foreign aid workers. It had nothing to do with what was going on in The Hague. The Sudanese Government is responsible for any results that flow out of this.

QUESTION: Can I just ask one thing? Are you on the verge at all of appointing a special envoy yet to Darfur? Has that decision been taken?

MR. WOOD: No decision has been made yet. I expect that we will indeed, at some point, name an envoy for Sudan, but we haven’t done so at this time.

QUESTION: Is that under review – Sudan policy?

MR. WOOD: Well, yeah, we’re taking a look at a number of things with regard to our Sudan policy.

Let me – let me go right here to Kim, and I’ll get back to you, Matt.

QUESTION: The EU Foreign Relations Chief Javier Solana today made some comments about the fact that the EU would have to reconsider the way it relates to Israel if Netanyahu doesn’t endorse the idea of a two-state solution. What’s your reaction? And you know, how would you deal with an Israeli government that does not endorse a two-state solution?

MR. WOOD: Well, for one thing, a new Israeli government hasn’t been formed yet. And so I don’t want to speculate on what this new government may or may not do. But certainly, we have made the point over and over again to the Israeli Government, most recently by the Secretary’s trip to Israel, that we, the United States, support a two-state solution. And we want to see that happen. And it’s going to be important for Israelis and Palestinians to work together toward this goal. So let’s wait for the new government to be formed and to enunciate its policies, and then we’ll be able to say more about it.

Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, there’s the El Salvador joining the ranks of leftist governments in Latin America.

MR. WOOD: Well, first and foremost, I want to congratulate the people of El Salvador for, you know, a very free, fair, and democratic election. I want to specifically congratulate Mauricio Funes as the winner of the presidential election, and also his opponent, Rodrigo Avila, for participating in the election and for respecting the election results. So we look forward to working with the new government of El Salvador, you know, on our bilateral agenda. And you know, and that’s what I have.

QUESTION: Do you expect the history of past ties with El Salvador by U.S. governments and, say, right-wing elements in Latin America to hurt chances for working with this new government?

MR. WOOD: I certainly hope that that isn’t the case. You know, this is a democratically elected government. The people of El Salvador made a decision and that – the will of the people needs to be respected. As I said, it was a very free, fair, and democratic election. This is something we’d like to see throughout the hemisphere. And the people of El Salvador deserve congratulations.

Let me go to Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes, on Greece and Cyprus. Mr. Wood, according to your press officer, Laura Tischler, answer to my pending question regarding Mrs. Clinton visit in Ankara said, quote, “Mrs. Clinton and the Turkish officials agree for a solution to the Cyprus problem and support the UN process talks. Mrs. Clinton never discussed any Greek-Turkish dispute,” unquote. I am wondering if this is the answer, since you were present too.

MR. WOOD: I know that they spoke about Cyprus. I think we’ve posted an answer for you, or at least had that answer available to you, Mr. Lambros. So --

QUESTION: Do you know how – how much time Mrs. Clinton spent in Ankara to discuss the Cyprus issue with the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan or the Foreign Minister Ali Babacan?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I don’t – I didn’t carry a stopwatch at the time.

QUESTION: Approximately.

MR. WOOD: I – the best I can do for --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) no, it is a big issue. If she discussed (inaudible), I would like (inaudible).

MR. WOOD: It was an issue that was discussed, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: What?

MR. WOOD: It was an issue that was discussed.

QUESTION: Robert, Venezuela – a reaction to Chavez’s comments that Russian bombers would be able to make strategic stops on its territory if they needed to?

QUESTION: Or Cuba.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’ve seen reports with regard to Russian and Venezuelan statements. They appear to be walking back from what was said previously, so I don’t see it as much of a story.

QUESTION: Well, he stopped short of saying that there would be a base there, but he’s still saying that --

MR. WOOD: Well, look, I have to refer you to, you know, the Government of Venezuela on that subject. But the statements I have seen since the original story, since the earlier stories that ran, seem – that they seem to be backing away from --

QUESTION: Well, actually, Robert, the head of the Cuban air force, I think, just said today that there is interest – I’m sorry, the head of the Russian air force today just said that there was interest in having their strategic bombers on Cuban airfields. So I mean, does the idea of having Russian bombers in this hemisphere concern the United States? I mean, this came up a few months ago. I can’t remember exactly when, but I know that the Administration spoke out very forcefully at the time that it would not be taken well.

MR. WOOD: There have been a lot of news reports about what some people have said, and then reports saying that, well, that’s not exactly what they said. I just don’t have a way of saying anything beyond what I’ve given you already.

QUESTION: But – okay, but the Russians and the Cubans, for instance, I mean, regardless of Venezuela, have been talking for some time about putting strategic bombers in Cuba. I mean, would that concern the United States?

MR. WOOD: You’re asking me to speculate. I am not going to speculate on press reports.

QUESTION: It’s not really speculation. These talks have been out there for at least six months.

MR. WOOD: Talks are talks. I’m just not going to speculate on something that hasn’t happened.

QUESTION: In Iran, the former president Khatami has withdrawn from his presidential bid, which will probably boost the chances of Ahmadinejad. I wondered whether you had any response to that, number one. And then secondly, do you have any more details on the Afghanistan conference, and has Iran official – I’m sorry if you covered this last week, but has Iran officially responded to your invitation to attend?

MR. WOOD: Well, to answer your second question first, I believe you’ll have to check with the Government of the Netherlands. I believe Iran – I believe was invited, but you – you’ll have to confirm that with them.

The first part of your question again?

QUESTION: Was on Khatami. He’s pulled out and – which would probably make it easier for Ahmadinejad to be reelected.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, that’s a decision that Khatami made himself. What’s important for us is Iranian behavior, and we want to see a change in Iranian behavior on a whole host of issues. And that’s what’s important for us and for others in the international community concerned about, you know, Iran’s nuclear program, its behavior in Iraq and elsewhere. So that’s my response.

QUESTION: Can I -- just on the conference for a second?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: The – who is doing the inviting?

MR. WOOD: Well, my understanding is that Afghanistan and the Netherlands are the co-chairs, and the UN is the chair, so it would probably be one of the three. I would assume the UN. But I – again, I would check with the Government of the Netherlands --

QUESTION: Well, so who’s conference is this?

QUESTION: Is this a joint one?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s a conference that’s being organized by the United Nations as the chair, and co-chairs, as I said, Afghanistan and the Government of the Netherlands. And that’s the best I can do for you on that.

QUESTION: But wasn’t – this was something that the Secretary proposed in her speech at NATO, so I thought that the U.S. was sort of helping organize it. Has the U.S. now been pushed aside so that the UN’s taken over?

MR. WOOD: Did we get pushed aside? Nobody’s pushed aside here. This is just a conference that the Secretary had proposed, she had spoken about to others, and it was decided by the UN that it would sponsor the conference, working with the Government of the Netherlands and the Government of Afghanistan. That’s the best I can do for you on that.

QUESTION: So is the U.S. playing any kind of a leadership role in this?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know what you mean by leadership role in terms of --

QUESTION: In terms of the conference.

MR. WOOD: We will be a key participant in the conference.

QUESTION: Yes, a participant.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: You’re not planning on – that’s it? Just a – just as a participant?

QUESTION: Well --

MR. WOOD: I said a key participant.

QUESTION: But there was much ballyhoo about this in Brussels when the Secretary, you know – when the Secretary put this forward to the NATO foreign ministers. So was she encouraged to let the UN take the lead and to take a back seat so it wouldn't look embarrassing when the Iranians didn’t turn up or something?

MR. WOOD: No, no. The UN – this was something that she raised. That’s right. It was something that was raised in Brussels. But this is something that the UN decided it wanted to take on in terms of sponsorship, and we welcome that. And what’s important now is making sure that we have a successful conference. And the U.S. will be a key participant, and we look forward to, you know, having a very good conference that’s productive and results-oriented.

QUESTION: But are you – but is the United States helping kind of plan the agenda and all those things, or are they just like taking --

MR. WOOD: No, the United States and other countries are helping plan the agenda. That’s quite normal. Not unusual at all. Certainly, we will have a role in helping set the --

QUESTION: But a major role? I mean, the Dutch are hosting it, but I mean, how involved is the United States in planning the agenda? Obviously, the invites have already gone out – in terms of setting the invite list, in terms of the goals? I mean --

MR. WOOD: Let me just say that --

QUESTION: -- is this a U.S. conference that’s being hosted in the Netherlands, or is this a Dutch conference that the United States is taking part of?

MR. WOOD: I think I’ve already given you my description of how this conference is being organized, but you can certainly expect that we are going to be involved, as with other countries, in terms of setting the agenda for the conference.

Sir.

QUESTION: On Roxana Saberi, she’s been in prison for about six weeks, and we’re coming up to, I believe, the festival of Nowruz, which usually takes officials out of Tehran for a couple of weeks, so we’ve got a very small window of opportunity to get some progress on this case.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I would agree with you. I mean, we want to see this issue – we want to see her case resolved, and we want to see it happen as soon as possible. I don’t have any further update than what I think was given to you maybe on Friday or what I gave you on Thursday. But it’s a case of great concern to us. And we want Iran to provide more information. We want to see her back in the United States.

QUESTION: In your communication via the Swiss, do you sense that the Iranians are dragging their feet on this issue?

MR. WOOD: Well, I certainly hope they’re not dragging their feet. But obviously, there’s growing concern about why this is taking so long to resolve. And you know, we want to do what we can to bring her back home.

QUESTION: The Iranians, though, did say ten days ago that she was just about to be released. What – have you got any indication what the holdup is?

MR. WOOD: No, I haven’t. But we want to see this resolved and quickly. And you know, I’ll check and see if we have any further update to provide you with tomorrow.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about this bombing in Yemen?

MR. WOOD: No. I’ve seen the reports. We’re obviously looking into – you’re talking about the South --

QUESTION: Koreans.

MR. WOOD: Koreans? Yeah – no, I don’t have anything more for you. We’re looking at it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: (Inaudible) the Secretary’s – just one more?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, please.

QUESTION: How concerned are you about the violence over the weekend? I mean, is it – and then will the U.S. have a role to play or at least to offer the foreign minister when he comes here?

MR. WOOD: Well, very concerned about the violence that took place over the weekend. And you know, we want to see this type of thing not happen again. It’s – there’s been a lot of effort made to try to resolve the situation in Northern Ireland. We’re going to continue to work as best we can with the other parties. As you know, the Secretary is going to see Foreign Minister Martin a little later this afternoon. It will be – clearly, that will be a subject of discussion. And you know, we’re going to continue to try to make sure that all the parties understand that this type of violence cannot, should not take place. It’s in the best interest of the people in Northern Ireland that this violence cease, and go forward from there.

QUESTION: One more real quick.

MR. WOOD: Kirit wants one more.

QUESTION: One more just quick. Since we asked about Madagascar it looks like a coup may have already taken place. The latest wire here says that there’s a – tanks seen forcing their way into the presidential palace. Do you want to revise what you said about Madagascar earlier?

MR. WOOD: You know, you’re reading something off the wires that I haven’t seen. It’s not fair for me to comment on it.

QUESTION: Well, do you – you don’t want to urge them to stand down?

MR. WOOD: Let me see the reports and then we will – I will respond.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:05 p.m.)

[1]The Secretary spoke with President Asif Zadari and opposition leader, Nawaz Sharif.



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