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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 24, 2009


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Welcome to African Union Visitors Attending the Daily Press Briefing
    • Special Envoy Stern Travel to Bonn for U.S. Climate Change Conference / Working with Our Partners in the International Community to Come Up with a Framework / Working Toward Copenhagen / Dealing with the Question of Global Warming
  • MEXICO
    • Coordination of New Drug Policy Revealed by President Obama / Secretary Working with Counterparts in U.S. Government to Try to Help Mexico / Deal with Issue Very Seriously / Securing Our Borders / Dealing with Serious Drug Problem / We Consult with Mexican Government on a Range of Issues
  • EGYPT
    • Arrest of American Couple over Adoption / Legal Matter / Protecting the Most Vulnerable in Our Society
  • GREECE
    • Secretary Clinton Meeting with Greek Archbishop Demetrios / Request Came from the Archbishop / Discussion of Ecumenical Patriarchate / Support for the Reopening of Halki Seminary in Turkey / Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew Important Religious Leader of Global Standing / Commitment to Human Rights and Religious Freedom Worldwide
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • EU Caution Against Israeli Demolition of Buildings in East Jerusalem / In Touch with European Colleagues / Demolitions and Evictions are Unhelpful / Secretary Clinton's Previous Discussions with Israeli Leaders
  • IRAN
    • Roxana Saberi Case and Phone Call to Family / Have not Heard of Phone Call / No Cookie Cutter Approach to Dealing with These Types of Issues / We Take Them on Their Own Merit / Issue is Extremely Sensitive
  • NORTH KOREA
    • Two American Journalists Detained / Seen Reports and Aware of Charges / U.S. Formally Requested Through Swedish Embassy They be Provided with Consular Access / North Assured Detainees will be Well Treated / Trying to Work this Issue Diplomatically / U.S. Does Not Have Presence in Pyongyang
    • UN Sanctions Following Planned So-Called Satellite Launch Test / Seen Reports / Viewed as Provocative and Unhelpful / Want to See North Focus on Denuclearization of Korean Peninsula / Type of Rhetoric Unhelpful and Counterproductive
    • Six-Party Talks / Viable Framework / Want to See the North Come Back to the Table / Still a lot to do / U.S. Subscribes to Action-for -Action / North Korea Knows What it Needs to do /
  • SUDAN
    • Those Who Commit Atrocities Should be Held Accountable / We Are Under No Obligation to the ICC to Arrest Bashir / Not Party to the Rome Statute / Special Envoy Has a Difficult Job / We Remain Concerned about the Plight of the People in Darfur / Continue to Work with Partners in International Community / We Need President Bashir to Reverse Decision to Kick Out International Aid Workers / Secretary Clinton and Other U.S. Government Officials Calls on Reversal of Decision


TRANSCRIPT:

11:15 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone.

QUESTION: Good morning.

MR. WOOD: I’d like to welcome some visitors from the African Union who are here. Welcome to the daily briefing. I don’t have anything else, so we can go right to your questions.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything – (laughter) – surprising as that may sound.

MR. WOOD: Lach.

QUESTION: How will Secretary Clinton coordinate this new drug policy that’s being revealed by President Obama this morning?

MR. WOOD: Well, obviously, the Secretary is going to be working with other counterparts in the government to do what we can to try to help Mexico as it confronts this crisis. And of course, the United States is going to have to deal with this issue very seriously. And I understand that the – I think the press conference just completed or it may still be going on, so I don’t really have the latest information on it. But the Secretary, as I said, will be working closely with her counterparts in the government to do what we can to make sure that, first and foremost, we can secure our borders, and secondly, that we can help Mexico as it deals with this very serious drug problem, and go from there.

QUESTION: Do you have any initial reactions from the Mexicans? Did you consult with the Mexicans on –

MR. WOOD: Of course, we talk to the Mexican Government all the time on a whole range of issues. And so that’s about all I have, Lach.

Yes, Kirit.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information for us today about this American couple in Cairo that was arrested on adoption fraud?

MR. WOOD: No, Kirit. We are working to try to get an answer to the question that was raised yesterday. This is a legal matter. But one of the points I do want to make is that we will do, and always do, our utmost to try to protect the most vulnerable people in our society, meaning children. So as soon as we’re able to get more information, we’ll be happy to get that to you. We’re working on it right now.

QUESTION: Okay. Was it confirmed at this point that they were, in fact, caught by the American Embassy (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: I just don’t have that information at this point. But as I said, we’re working on it and we’ll try to get you something.

Lambros.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you have any readout on the meeting yesterday between Mrs. Clinton and the Greek Archbishop Demetrios?

MR. WOOD: Lambros, for you, I do. I actually have something, and I will read it for you.

The Secretary and Archbishop Demetrios met yesterday here at the State Department. The Archbishop requested the meeting. They discussed the status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Secretary expressed our support for reopening the Halki seminary in Turkey. The United States respects Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew as an important religious leader of global standing. Our ongoing support for the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Halki seminary is part of our commitment to human rights and religious freedom worldwide.

QUESTION: Do you know who were present from the American side?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: Who were present?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have the list of who was in attendance at the meeting.

QUESTION: And the last question: Since the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat is arriving tomorrow, do you know if he is going to see Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?

MR. WOOD: Well, as you know, Mr. Lambros, the Secretary is traveling tomorrow morning to Mexico, so there will not be a meeting.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Okay.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. The EU has cautioned Israel against demolition of some 90 buildings in East Jerusalem, warning it would deprive more than 1,000 Palestinians of their homes. How do you see this statement? And do you agree on it?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve seen the statement, and we are in touch with several European colleagues about this issue. As the Secretary has said before, demolitions and evictions are unhelpful and they go – they have an impact beyond those individuals and families that have been evicted. So you know – as you know, the Secretary has spoken with Israeli leaders, particularly when she was in the region a few weeks ago. And as I said, they’re unhelpful, and we’re in touch with our European colleagues on the matter.

Yes.

QUESTION: But are you – have you been in contact with this – since this latest prospect directly with the Israelis to reiterate (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know that we have been directly in touch with the Israelis since this particular incident, but – yeah, I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Have you heard from the Iranians or from the organizers of the conference yet whether the Iranians are going to be coming? Are you –

MR. WOOD: I haven’t. Have you had a chance to check with the –

QUESTION: I have. And I haven’t heard yet either, but –

MR. WOOD: And what did they say?

QUESTION: – I thought maybe you may –

MR. WOOD: Well, I think the host would be better positioned to answer that question than I.

QUESTION: A new topic?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: North Korea, the journalists. There were some reports – I think it might have just been yesterday, but anyway, there were some new reports that they’ve been charged with espionage. And I was wondering if you’ve seen those reports, have you heard that directly from the North Koreans? What are – what is the state of communications between the North Koreans and the Chinese? Are you trying to seek consular access?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’ve seen those reports, but let me just say that we have formally requested through our protecting power in Pyongyang, the Swedish Embassy, that the Swedish Government be provided with consular access to these two Americans. The North has assured us the detainees will be well-treated. And I’d like to keep to what I said yesterday, that I really don’t want to go into much more detail because we’re trying to work this issue diplomatically, and the less said from here, the better.

QUESTION: Well, you would be –

QUESTION: So the North assured them –

QUESTION: Go ahead. Have you been made aware of the charges?

MR. WOOD: We’re certainly aware of the charges.

QUESTION: Have you – are you saying that you’ve seen the reports or did the North Koreans –

MR. WOOD: We’ve seen the reports and are aware of the charges.

QUESTION: Through the North Koreans or the Chinese?

MR. WOOD: I’m just saying I’m aware of the charges and just want to leave it at that.

QUESTION: So when you – but when you say – are you –

MR. WOOD: Like I said, I’m just going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: No, no, no. But there’s a difference –

MR. WOOD: Yes, yes, yes.

QUESTION: – between – there is a difference between aware of reports of the charges, or that you’re aware that these charges have been made.

MR. WOOD: Aware of the charges.

QUESTION: Have you –

QUESTION: Just a clarification. Yeah, you said the North has assured us that the detainees will be well-treated.

MR. WOOD: That –

QUESTION: That was indirectly through the Swedes?

MR. WOOD: We have – you know, we have – let me just leave it where I’ve left it. I think that’s best.

QUESTION: Well, have the Swedes gotten back to you?

MR. WOOD: We haven’t heard back yet, but again –

QUESTION: Do you know if they –

MR. WOOD: – that could be taking place while I’m standing here. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Fair enough. Well, I doubt it, given the hour. But do you know if the Swedes have actually gone in and made the representation yet?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything more than what I have, Matt, on that issue.

Yes, James.

QUESTION: Have you examined the charges?

MR. WOOD: I’m going to leave it where I’ve left it. I think it’s just best right now in terms of our interest in trying to, you know, make sure that we can get these people released, and I’m just not going to say any more.

QUESTION: Let me just explain my rationale in asking, which –

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: – is to verify – has the United States Government verified that charges have indeed been filed?

MR. WOOD: I’m going to leave it right where I left it, James.

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re confirming that you know that the charges have been made.

MR. WOOD: I’m just – I said exactly what I said, Elise. I don’t have anything more to add on it. You guys can try and go at it –

QUESTION: Well, one more on just –

MR. WOOD: Go for it.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the charges have any merit?

MR. WOOD: Look, as I’ve said, we’re trying to work this issue diplomatically. For me to stand up here and talk about it in detail is not helpful. So I’m just going to limit my comments to what I’ve given you today. I mentioned that to you yesterday. I think the less said from here, the better in terms of trying to win the release of these two Americans.

QUESTION: Can you say when you asked the Swedes? I mean, is that a new development or is that something that you (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s certainly new since yesterday. I mean, I didn’t say that to you yesterday, so –

QUESTION: So that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. You know, did it happen –

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t know specifically when it actually happened, but what I’m giving you is what I have right now, and that’s certainly different than what I had for you yesterday, so I think you can take that as an update. But I don’t have a specific time.

QUESTION: One more for North Korea?

MR. WOOD: Absolutely.

QUESTION: The North Koreans are warning that if there are UN sanctions that follow their planned missile test or satellite launch that the Six-Party Talks will be derailed. Any reaction to that?

MR. WOOD: Well, I haven’t seen or heard these reports. But look, we’ve said over and again that any missile launch by the North would be – we would view it as provocative, unhelpful. We want to see the North focus on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, as it’s dedicated itself to doing. This type of rhetoric isn’t helpful, and in fact, can be counterproductive. But I don’t have anything more to add.

QUESTION: But it’s – you’re – you want to try your utmost to keep the Six-Party Talks going, correct?

MR. WOOD: Absolutely. We want to – we believe it’s a viable framework. We want to see the North come back to the table so we can make further progress. We’ve made a lot of progress, as you know, over the last few years. There’s still a lot more to do. But again, as we’ve spoken many times, you know, we subscribe to action-for-action. The North knows what it needs to do. This type of, you know, rhetoric just doesn’t promote the cause of peace on the Korean Peninsula. It raises tensions. We want to see them come back to the table.

QUESTION: Hey, Robert –

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: You’ve said that you’ve – asking the Swedes to seek consular access and that the North Koreans have assured you that they’ll be treated well. Have you been – have the Swedes made an official request? Has it been accepted or denied?

MR. WOOD: As I said, I don’t know. Matt, I think, tried to ask the same question. I just don’t have that detail and I really don’t want to go beyond what I’ve said.

QUESTION: Have you sought a lawyer? Have you asked for a lawyer for that?

MR. WOOD: One more time, I don’t want to go beyond what I’ve said.

QUESTION: Robert, you –

MR. WOOD: Let me take this one.

QUESTION: Is there a list of – for lawyers in North Korea that one –

QUESTION: Robert, you said that this issue, trying to working it diplomatically –

MR. WOOD: Right.

QUESTION: This should be optimistic resolved? Do you think optimistic this – resolved this issues or –

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry – optimistic?

QUESTION: Yeah, optimistic.

MR. WOOD: It’s hard to say in dealing with the North whether we can be optimistic or not. We’re just – we’re trying to work this diplomatically because it’s a very sensitive issue. But I just don’t want to go beyond that.

QUESTION: What if North Korea using this issue for the – I mean, not diplomatically, it’s politically using that?

MR. WOOD: Look, as I’ve said many times, I’m not able to get into the mindset of North Korea. But let me just leave – you know, leave it where I left it.

QUESTION: Just to clarify your earlier statement, though, you have asked the Swedish Embassy to provide or undertake consular access to these individuals?

MR. WOOD: We’ve asked that they be allowed to have consular access.

QUESTION: That – so that who should be enabled – allowed to visit them, Swedish diplomats or Americans?

MR. WOOD: Well, obviously Swedish diplomats. They’re our protecting power. We don’t have a presence in Pyongyang for – you know, bilateral presence. So that’s where we are.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Robert?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Can you confirm a trilateral meeting between Japanese, Koreans, and U.S. officials in D.C. this Friday?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of one. I can look and see if that’s planned, but I haven’t heard that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Back to Iran, on Roxana Saberi. We understand that she was allowed a brief phone call to her father in which she was told – she related to her father in a very distraught tone that the Iranian authorities have told her she’s going to be detained for two years; there will not be a trial. And then she said she was considering a hunger strike and then the line was cut off.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I – this is the first I’ve heard of that. I’m at least, you know, glad that she was allowed to make a phone call. But I don’t know anything more about this. I’ll see if we can find out anything. I’m not promising that we have any more, but we’ll look into that.

Yes.

QUESTION: So when was the last time that you heard from the Swiss on this?

MR. WOOD: On which –

QUESTION: On the Saberi case. When was the last time you heard from the Swiss?

MR. WOOD: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t – Gordon, do you know?

MR. DUGUID: We can get you an update.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, we can get you that.

Anything else?

QUESTION: On a separate issue.

QUESTION: Well, wait a second. If you can get us an update on that, why can’t you be more specific on the North Koreans? I mean, here you’ve got two – you know, they’re both axis of evil members. And what’s the difference between – you know, they both have suspect nuclear programs with missiles.

MR. WOOD: Matt, as I’ve said to you many times from this podium, we don’t look – we don’t have a, you know – a cookie cutter approach to dealing with issues. We have to take them on their own merit. This particular one with North Korea, for obvious reasons, is extremely sensitive. The Saberi case, of course, is a very difficult one and also serious. But I’m not going to stand up here and try to justify why we’re taking one particular action over another or not. I just don’t want to go there.

QUESTION: Well, Robert, when you say that the North Koreans have assured you they’ll be treated well, is that through communications through the New York channel?

MR. WOOD: Elise, I’ve answered this question I don’t know how many times already. I’m not going to say more and go beyond what I’ve said.

QUESTION: Well, but how did they assure you that they’d be treated well, I mean, through osmosis?

MR. WOOD: No, it’s not a point of osmosis. We – believe me, as I’ve said, we have been assured by the North, and I’m not going to go beyond that at this point.

Sue.

QUESTION: Following on from yesterday on the Sudan issue, have you approached the Eritreans on Bashir’s visit? Has there been any follow-on from that?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of any.

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, Andrew Natsios, the former U.S. special envoy, wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine yesterday that he thought it was – you know, the outcome of the ICC warrant was a pretty bad one and that it was a bad idea.

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, that’s his personal opinion. There are others who feel differently, and I don’t have anything more to say about it.

QUESTION: So you still think there are merits in the ICC?

MR. WOOD: Sue, I spoke to this yesterday. We have said over and again that those who commit atrocities need to be held accountable, and that’s where we stand on it. We are under no obligation to the ICC to arrest President Bashir. We’re not a party to the Rome Statute. Let’s leave it at that.

QUESTION: But are you concerned that the ICC warrant is going to make the job of your own special envoy difficult?

MR. WOOD: Look, our special envoy has a difficult job to begin with in terms of dealing with Sudan. We remain concerned about the plight of the people in Darfur, and we’re going to continue to work with our partners in the international community to do what we can to try to alleviate the situation. But first and foremost, we need President Bashir to reverse that decision he made to kick out international aid workers. And we call on other governments, the African Union, the Arab League, to do what they can, should President Bashir decide not to reverse that decision, to try to help fill the humanitarian aid gaps that so clearly exist following this decision.

QUESTION: And how is that campaign going, trying to convince Arab and some African governments to –

MR. WOOD: Well, we continue to work the diplomatic channels on this, but I don’t have an assessment for you at this point.

QUESTION: Because Natsios said one of the problems with this was that many of those governments think this is a kind of a – you know, smacked of kind of neo-colonialism by putting this kind of pressure on Bashir, and that it had backfired and that it had actually encouraged them to support Bashir even more.

MR. WOOD: Well, my hope is that they would consider more the plight of the people of Darfur who are under – you know, experience extreme suffering. And you know, it’s just a tragedy what’s unfolding in Darfur, and this all can be addressed if President Bashir would reverse his decision. He’s refused to do so. We continue to call on him to reverse that decision. We call on others who have influence with President Bashir to get him to reverse this decision.

QUESTION: And has Secretary Clinton made direct calls to African leaders and Arab leaders on this in recent days?

MR. WOOD: She has – I don’t know in the last couple of days, but there have been other U.S. officials that have – senior officials who have been making these calls and been in touch with other governments about trying to get Bashir to reverse this decision.

QUESTION: So if this is a priority then, why has she not been making calls herself?

MR. WOOD: Well, the Secretary has been in touch with officials. I can’t recall any in the last couple of days, but she has been fully engaged on this issue. She has spoken to this issue quite a bit. Right now, the onus is on President Bashir to reverse this decision and for others who have influence, as I’ve said, to use that influence to try to get Bashir to change his position.

Anything else? Oh, one here. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Also following on yesterday’s appointment of Jonathan Pershing as deputy special envoy for climate change and head of delegation for the U.S. climate change conference. Is he also, just for clarification, going to be the chief negotiator at the UN working session in Bonn next week?

MR. WOOD: I believe Special Envoy Stern is going to be in Bonn. But – yeah, I believe he is going to Bonn. So whether the new deputy envoy goes with him as well, that may be. I’m not sure.

QUESTION: And can you also say sort of what the primary objective is for the United States at this conference, in the meeting, in the first international negotiation meeting under the Obama Administration?

MR. WOOD: Oh, sure. What we’re trying to do is to work with our partners in the international community to do what we can to come up with a framework for dealing effectively with climate change. And we’re going to be working toward Copenhagen. There’s a lot of work to do. Special Envoy Stern is going to be going out to Germany and he’s going to be having discussions, and we’re going to see if we can come – you know, to see if we can come together on some kind of an effective framework. And that’s the real important word is “effective,” so that we can deal with the question of, you know, global warming. And we’ll see how that goes.

Okay? Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:33 a.m.)

DPB # 48
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