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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Gordon Duguid
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
March 26, 2009


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • BURMA
    • U.S. Policy on Burma Remains Unchanged
  • NORTH KOREA
    • U.S. Would Consider a Launch of Any Vehicle Would be a Provocative Action in Violation of UNSC Resolutions/ Will Not Predict Reaction to an Event that Has Not Taken Place/ The Missile Launch is Not a Bi-lateral Issue/ Six-Party Talks the Best Path to a Denuclearized Korean Peninsula/ U.S. Satisfied with the Efforts of our Six-Party Partners/ Missile Defense Must Protect the U.S. and our Allies/ North Korea's Pursuit of Nuclear Weapons is Real and Immediate/ Secretary's Comments Reflect our Firm Commitment to our Regional Allies
    • No Update on the Two American Journalists Detained
  • IRAN
    • Welcome Iranian Attendance at the Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague/ No Substantive Meetings Planned with Iranian Officials/ The Conference is about Afghanistan Not a Forum for U.S./Iranian Talks/ The U.S. Will Listen to Learn if Iran Has Positive Views to Offer Regarding Afghanistan/ Iranian Cooperation Did Not Continue After our Intervention in Afghanistan/ Pentagon Has Contingency Plans to Supply U.S. and NATO Troops in Afghanistan/ No Reaction to Iranian Comments on President Obama's Overture to Iran
    • No Update on Roxana Saberi
  • SUDAN
    • Unaware of U.S. Involvement in Reported January Airstrike in Sudan
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Completion of Afghanistan Review Will Determine the Number of Department Personnel in Afghanistan
  • ISRAEL
    • U.S. Looks to All Nations to Respect International Norms Regarding the Use of Weapons


TRANSCRIPT:

11:38 a.m. EDT

MR. DUGUID: Good morning, everyone. I have no announcements to lead with, so I’m happy to start with your questions.

Yes, Sylvie, please.

QUESTION: I would like to go back to Burma, to Myanmar.

MR. DUGUID: Please.

QUESTION: You said yesterday that – well, you issued a statement yesterday saying that there is no change in policy?

MR. DUGUID: Correct.

QUESTION: Although there were contacts – high-level contacts between Burma and U.S. But a newspaper – Burmese newspaper written by an exiled Burmese in Thailand says that actually, Mr. Blake told the opposition – yes, Stephen Blake --

MR. DUGUID: Thank you.

QUESTION: -- told the – told the opposition that some existing economic sanctions could be withdrawn by the new Administration. Can you confirm that? This is a change of policy, by the way.

MR. DUGUID: I can’t confirm this particular quote from a newspaper in Thailand quoting on discussions that were going on in Burma, because I have not seen it, nor have I been briefed on the particular discussions that may have gone on there. However, as to the main point as to whether or not the – an official at the office director level traveling to Burma is a change of policy, I believe our statement was clear that that is not.

It has happened in the past. As new office directors come into their position, they do visit the embassies that are under their charge, and in this case, Mr. Blake did visit the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, and did have contact with Burmese officials. However, his discussion with those officials is not something that I have anything for you on.

QUESTION: But is the Administration considering removing some existing economic sanctions?

MR. DUGUID: I have no indication that any decisions have been made at this point. As you know, our policy on several areas, wide-ranging areas, are under review. When we have finished a policy review, we will be happy at that time to give a fuller explanation, but again, I cannot confirm this particular report that comes out of Thailand based on meetings elsewhere.

QUESTION: And when was the last meeting between a U.S. official and the foreign minister?

MR. DUGUID: I would have to research that, and we will see if we can get you an answer.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: Change of topic?

QUESTION: Stay on Burma?

MR. DUGUID: Staying on Burma. Please.

QUESTION: The NLD, National League of Democracy in Burma, yesterday in a statement requested U.S. to talk to the junta directly on democratic issues in the country. Is the U.S. considering the request? What’s the response?

MR. DUGUID: I haven’t seen this request nor do I know that it was made to us through official channels, so I don’t have a response for them at this particular time.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication what the North Koreans are planning in terms of the missile launch? There are some U.S. officials who are saying that their equipment is – they’re rolling out their equipment, they’re getting ready to roll. And then secondly, is there a meeting planned tomorrow between the U.S. envoy and the South Korean envoys on the Six-Party process?

MR. DUGUID: On a meeting, I was not made aware of one before coming in. I will double check after the briefing and try and get back to you on that. On any particular information that may be available on North Korean plans, I don’t have anything that I can share with you.

I can, however, repeat what the Secretary has said in Mexico yesterday, that a launch of any type of vehicle we would consider to be in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, and that this provocative type of action would be in violation of those and would not, as the Secretary said, go unnoticed.

QUESTION: But – on the same subject or --

QUESTION: Yeah. You say it won’t go unnoticed, but I mean, that’s a bit flimsy. Are you saying that you’re prepared to implement another round of sanctions? Would that be the course that you’re going to take?

MR. DUGUID: I’m not going to preview what reaction might occur upon a possible launch by North Korea. However, if we are talking about the facts of a launch, it would be in violation, in our view, of UN Security Council resolutions. Therefore, the place to pursue a reaction would be through the UN Security Council.

QUESTION: And --

QUESTION: But the North Koreans – sorry, one more. The North Koreans are also saying that, you know, if the U.S. prevents a missile – you know, prevents this launch or interferes with it and then takes actions, then they’ll definitely pull out of the Six-Party process and they’ll also start up their plant.

MR. DUGUID: The attempt – yes, the attempt to make this a bilateral issue does not work. This is not a bilateral issue. There is no nation that thinks a launch by the North Koreans is a good idea. And most nations, as far as I’m aware, interpret the UN Security Council resolutions the way we do, that it is a use of dual-use technology that North Korea has been instructed not to engage in. So the idea that somehow this rests on America’s shoulders is false. This is the position of the international community and it is one that we firmly uphold.

QUESTION: Yeah, but actually, the North Koreans say that if the UN takes sanctions, it would be an hostile action, and then they would withdraw from the Six-Party Talks, which is not bilateral. It’s a more general problem.

MR. DUGUID: I leave it – I will – I will not try and interpret North Korean statements about the UN being a hostile organization.

QUESTION: But what – no, they said it would be a hostile act. But what would be the most important? Would it be to sanction validation of UN Security Council resolutions, or preserve the Six-Party Talks and try to control this North Korean --

MR. DUGUID: What is most important --

QUESTION: -- nuclear program?

MR. DUGUID: What is most important is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That is what’s most important. The United States continues to believe that the Six-Party Talks are the best vehicle to achieve that goal that other actions apart from fulfilling the commitments made by North Korea to the other members of the Six Parties to provide a validation protocol are not productive, are not working towards that goal are a distraction from the real task at hand, which is to provide peace, stability, and some measure of future prosperity to the entire Korean Peninsula.

Discussions of this particular declaration by – or the declaration we have through North Korean media of the intentions, possible intentions of the government are not working towards our goal for peace and stability. It is maintaining a positive – sorry, a provocative posture that is simply not helpful for the goal that in the Six-Party Talks all parties agreed that they wanted.

Same subject? (Inaudible.) Yes. James, please.

QUESTION: I have a few aspects of this I’d like to pursue with you. First, one of the reasons why this issue could conceivably be cast in the minds of some as a bilateral issue is because we see, for example, Secretary of State Clinton in Mexico City speaking very firmly about the potential consequences for a launch, but we don’t see some of the equivalents of the Secretary in the other Six-Party nations making similarly strong statements publicly. So the first question I have for you is whether you are satisfied with the efforts of your Six-Party partners in what they are doing to prevent this event from taking place.

MR. DUGUID: I am able to say we are satisfied with the efforts of our Six-Party partners. There is a place for speaking out, and there is also a place for quiet diplomacy. And all members of the – all other five members of the Six-Party Talks have been engaged in trying to get North Korea to live up to its commitments, to end provocative statements, and to get back in to the discussions that we all know are necessary.

QUESTION: Has the Secretary herself had any phone calls on this subject that you can disclose to us?

MR. DUGUID: Not that I’m aware of in the last couple of days.

QUESTION: Another aspect of this is that it arises at a time when the United States has been very public in disclosing that it is considering scrapping its plans for missile defense. And I wonder if an event like this causes those who were making those statements and those judgments to reevaluate, and whether or not an event like this doesn’t make you think that a missile defense system might not be a pretty good thing to have.

MR. DUGUID: The idea that we are scrapping missile defense is not an accurate portrayal of U.S. policy. The accurate portrayal of U.S. policy on missile defense is that it is being looked at for placement in two sites in Europe, in order to counter what we see as an active and growing threat emanating from Iran and the region in the Middle East. It is also the Administration’s policy that we will deploy this system as it is proven to be effective both tactically and physically and cost-effective. We have said that should the threat and the assessment of the threat change, at that time, we would look and see if missile defense, as we see it now, still meets our needs.

The thing that missile defense must do is protect us and our allies. That is the goal of missile defense. The missile defense deployment that you’re referring to is the one in Europe, and we do not see that changing as long as the threat remains the same.

QUESTION: Well, last question. Does – do the events in North Korea that have provoked such concern here and elsewhere, at all affect the threat assessment that plays into our decisions about missile defense?

MR. DUGUID: The threat assessment for missile defense as is currently being looked at is one that is based in Europe to protect us and our NATO allies from a threat from a specific region. The threats that we see in North – in the Korean – on the Korean Peninsula stem from North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. That is real and immediate. The way that we are addressing North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is through the Six-Party Talks. This is a different method from the one that we are currently talking about with missile defense in Europe. We are engaging the North Koreans. We have worked to try and get the North to abandon its nuclear program. We are daily working with our other five partners – sorry, other four partners in the Six-Party Talks on how to best engage the North and convince them to step back from their provocative stance and return to the discussions.

QUESTION: So just the way I understand your answer is what’s taking place on this launch pad doesn’t play into our considerations about missile defense.

MR. DUGUID: No, that’s not what I said. I said that the threat that we have deployed – that we are looking at to deploy missile defense emanates from one region; that the threat on the Korean Peninsula is a real threat of a nuclear-armed North Korea that we are dealing with through the Six-Party Talks.

QUESTION: So you’re not concerned about North Korea’s ballistic missiles is what you’re saying? You’re apparently concerned with their nuclear program.

MR. DUGUID: The ballistic missiles – we’re getting – we’re getting very far down into the theology on this. You deliver nuclear weapons, for the most part, with ballistic missiles. They are part of the same program.

(Inaudible) same subject?

QUESTION: Same subject.

MR. DUGUID: Yes, please.

QUESTION: So clearly, the most anxiety is coming from the region and U.S. allies there. And how are you, behind the scenes, sort of dealing with the anxieties that this proposed launch is causing?

MR. DUGUID: Behind the scenes discussion, diplomatic exchanges, of course, are privileged. I can point you, again, to the Secretary’s comments yesterday in Mexico as our firm commitment on where we stand on this – on this issue.

QUESTION: Okay. But then, de facto to the public, say in Japan and Korea, there’s a lot of – there’s a lot of noise at the moment. So in terms of what the U.S. message is to that region, do you have anything to say about that?

MR. DUGUID: Well, again, I think that the Secretary’s comments are a demonstration of our determination on this issue. I can understand that North Korea’s neighbors are very worried about a missile launch emanating from the North. Yes, and we are, too. And the Secretary has commented on that directly.

Same subject?

QUESTION: Different subject.

MR. DUGUID: Same subject?

QUESTION: Same subject.

MR. DUGUID: Same subject.

QUESTION: Any update on the status of the two journalists detained by North Korea?

MR. DUGUID: I have nothing new for you today.

QUESTION: And has their status become a bargaining chip in U.S.-North Korea --

MR. DUGUID: I have nothing new for you today on the status of our two citizens.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: The Iranians today said that they would be sending somebody to the Afghanistan conference, and the Dutch organizers have also confirmed this. Is the Secretary planning on meeting with the Iranians on the sidelines at this conference? And then more generally, what is your response to Iran’s acceptance of going to the conference? Do you see this as a positive overture towards the United States?

MR. DUGUID: Well, we welcome an Iranian participation in the conference in The Hague. We have not yet been officially notified by the organizers that they have accepted. But I am speaking from the press accounts that we have both seen – you and I – that if this is indeed the case, and I’m sure that the organizers will communicate that to us at some point shortly, then it is a welcome move, because we do want this conference to be a regional conference. A regional conference would be incomplete without Iran. Iran does share a border with Afghanistan and that border is strategic. The Iranians have not always played a helpful role in Afghanistan. We are hoping that their attendance here is a demonstration that they are planning to play a positive role in regards to Afghanistan.

On your question about meetings. No substantive meetings are planned with Iranian officials at this time.

QUESTION: When you say no substantive meetings, are you – is the Secretary planning on having a chit-chat over coffee, you know --

MR. DUGUID: A chit-chat over coffee is --

QUESTION: -- on the sidelines of the meeting?

MR. DUGUID: -- is a substantive meeting. And a non-substantive meeting is a meeting in the way in and on the way out. So the answer is we had plans for no substantive meetings at this time.

QUESTION: Well, my question then is, why not? You have a lot of issues between you and consular issues these – the case of Roxana Saberi – I mean, and many other issues. Why not break the ice?

MR. DUGUID: And my answer to you is that this conference is about Afghanistan. It’s about reaching a regional consensus about Afghanistan. It is not a conference about U.S.-Iranian relations, as much as everyone would like to try and report that. It is an attempt to try and get all of Afghanistan’s neighbors engaged in a process of trying to help stabilize Afghanistan, so that is why there are none planned.

QUESTION: But since Iran is part of the conference and Afghanistan is the topic, why wouldn’t she talk to the Iranians about Afghanistan?

MR. DUGUID: Well, we will in the multilateral setting. Of course, the Iranians will be around the table. They will speak. We will listen to them. We will hear their points of view. And they will also hear our points of view in a discussion about Afghanistan. That is not, I think, the particular question. The particular question, as Sue defined it, was the U.S. and Iran using this particular meeting to sit down and talk about other things. There are no plans for that at this time.

QUESTION: Gordon, the Iranian foreign minister --

MR. DUGUID: Yes, please. You’ve been waiting.

QUESTION: The Iranian foreign minister said that Afghanistan’s crisis has a regional solution. And when Iranians say regional solution, kind of indicating – including Afghanistan’s neighbors, but excluding the U.S. and NATO. How do U.S. officials address that (inaudible)?

MR. DUGUID: Well, I haven’t heard these particular comments.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. DUGUID: Perhaps at the conference they will elaborate more. I would see – I would find it hard to see how you could have a solution in Afghanistan absent the very real efforts that the U.S., NATO allies and the non-NATO allies who have been present in Afghanistan for the – you know, the past years have been engaged in. The amount of developmental aid that NATO and its allies provide, the stability in the PRTs, the training of the police forces, the training of the Afghan National Army are all things being done by the very people that you’ve just mentioned. But we will hear their viewpoint, I suspect, at the conference.

Kirit’s been waiting. We’ll go to him.

QUESTION: Could you say, as a neighbor of Afghanistan, how you would like Iran to play a helpful role? What specifically would you like them to do to fulfill that role of a helpful neighbor?

MR. DUGUID: I think what we will do is we will listen to Iran’s view of how it can play a positive role and see what they have to offer to the process before we start making any generalizations about where we will go. We will see if they are ready to play a positive process, and then we’ll work on from there, but we’ll see what they have to say.

QUESTION: So you don’t have any ideas how they can do this?

MR. DUGUID: I have no ideas to share with you at the moment. We’ll hear what they have to say at The Hague, and then we’ll carry on from there.

I’ll come back to you. There’s one back there.

QUESTION: Why isn’t Ambassador Holbrooke talking to Iran when he’s handling Afghanistan? He has been talking to India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Why he’s missing Iran on these dialogues?

MR. DUGUID: The travels of Ambassador Holbrooke have taken him to those areas for which the President has tasked him specifically. The President has not specifically tasked him to do anything with Iran; however, Ambassador Holbrooke will be in The Hague, he will hear the Iranians when they make their interventions there, and he will gain, I suspect, some knowledge of their positions at that time.

QUESTION: What has Iran done that’s been unhelpful in Afghanistan?

MR. DUGUID: The early part of our involvement in Afghanistan has been, as you know, focused or was focused on the border areas. We did have some early cooperation with Iran. I know that we’ve said that before. And then our cooperation ended and we did not enjoy that cooperation furthermore.

QUESTION: So the unhelpfulness consists of the withdrawal of that cooperation, or has there been some active frustration of our efforts by the Iranians?

MR. DUGUID: I think that I’ll just leave it that their cooperation did not continue after the early days for our intervention in Afghanistan. Leave it at that.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: The Iranians haven’t said at what level they’re going to be sending their representative. Would you like them to send the foreign minister because this is a ministerial meeting?

And then secondly, you said that the Secretary has no plans for any substantive meetings. What about at a lower level, and what about Holbrooke, or is Dennis Ross going, for example?

MR. DUGUID: There are no plans for U.S. officials to have substantive meetings with Iranians at the conference.

QUESTION: So nothing at a working group level; for example, Holbrooke or one of his assistants?

MR. DUGUID: I think my statement is fairly definitive.

Yes.

QUESTION: I would like to follow up on Kirit’s question. Kyrgyzstan today confirmed that they are going to close the base in Bishkek. Would U.S. want Iran to – or ask Iran to allow passage through the Iranian territory toward Afghanistan to help the efforts in Afghanistan?

MR. DUGUID: I have no indication that that is one of the options that would be pursued. I’ve only just heard now from you that the Kyrgyz have made this statement. We did have an ongoing negotiation with them, so I had not heard before just now that somehow that that has not progressed to a successful conclusion.

The Pentagon, as you know, has contingency plans for all sorts of outcomes. We have been working to maintain our position at the Manas air base, and the last information I had was that we were continuing to do that. But we do have contingency supply routes. The Pentagon will, of course, be looking at all of those. We will make sure that U.S. and NATO forces receive the supplies that they need in order to carry out their mission.

QUESTION: Still on Iran.

MR. DUGUID: Still on Iran, please.

QUESTION: Just wondering if there have been any updates on the Roxana Saberi case.

MR. DUGUID: I have nothing new for you today on that case.

QUESTION: On Sudan?

QUESTION: On Iran.

MR. DUGUID: On Iran, please.

QUESTION: The Iranian parliament speaker yesterday had some harsh words regarding President Obama’s videotape, and he said it’s not a sentimental issue can be resolved by just celebrating – congratulating Iranian and so – and before that, the Iranian leader also had, you know, some reactions. Is a U.S. official planning to address the issue again and clarifying the --

MR. DUGUID: Sorry, I’m not following. Which particular issue addressed?

QUESTION: That they have already official – Iranian official, supreme leader, and now Iranian parliament speaker reacted to President Obama’s videotape.

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any reactions to their comments. The President made his address. He addressed the Iranian people. It was a gesture of goodwill and it stands as a gesture of goodwill.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: On Sudan. If you could just please comment on reports about an alleged weapons convoy that was destroyed in Sudan, with weapons supposedly headed for Gaza. I believe the attack happened in January. Was the U.S. aware of this attack? Reports are saying that it was either carried out by the U.S., others are saying that it may have been carried out by Israel.

MR. DUGUID: I’ve seen no reports that suggested U.S. involvement in this particular case. I’m aware of the media reports. I don’t have any information on that for you. It would be a defense issue, in any event. But I am unaware that there is any suggestion of U.S. involvement.

QUESTION: Sudan’s – I believe it was the transport minister – has acknowledged that his country in the past has sent weapons to Hamas but says that is no longer the case. Is there a U.S. concern that Sudan is still providing weapons assistance to – through Gaza or to Hamas?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any information for you on that. We are concerned that weapons are being sent to Hamas, that smuggling has been a problem in the Gaza Strip, and that is one of the things that everyone is working to resolve, particularly the Egyptians are working to resolve, in order to help bring peace back to the Gaza.

QUESTION: Can I just clarify something?

MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: Your remarks were a little unclear. Are you saying the U.S. did not have any involvement in that at all, just flat out?

MR. DUGUID: I am unaware of any suggestion that the U.S. did.

QUESTION: But there is a suggestion. There’s a Sudanese report saying that.

MR. DUGUID: I am unaware of the report. I haven’t seen it and I don’t have any information on that.

QUESTION: But Kirit isn’t asking whether you’re aware of any suggestions. He’s asking whether there was any involvement, to your knowledge.

MR. DUGUID: But I am – and what I am telling you is that because I was unaware that there was any suggestion, I have not been informed that there was any sort of U.S. involvement. I will be happy to refer you to the Pentagon if this is something that would involve military action, but nothing I have seen indicates any U.S. involvement in this incident at all.

QUESTION: And just on the same point then, do you have any indication of Israeli involvement?

MR. DUGUID: I would refer you to the Israelis about their involvement in any particular military action.

Anything else? Charley.

QUESTION: As the Administration prepares to roll out the results of its review on Afghanistan, can you bring us up to date how many State Department officials are in Afghanistan now and how that’s set to increase?

MR. DUGUID: We have had some statements earlier about what we’re looking at by way of increases. I don’t have the number for you. I’ll ask that we take that question and post that for you on the numbers of Americans. Now, the actual numbers of the increase depends on several things: It, first of all, depends on the completion of the report, which should be very soon, and the strategy that it lays out; and then the – obtaining the adequate resources to deploy a number of people. The number of State Department officers, both Foreign Service, Civil Service, will increase, but I don’t have the exact number of the increase for you at this particular time.

QUESTION: Can you do a briefing here tomorrow to lay out what the State Department’s role is in the new strategy?

MR. DUGUID: We normally do a briefing every day.

QUESTION: I mean a special briefing on this.

MR. DUGUID: A special briefing? When we have word that the strategy will be rolled out, we will, of course, let you know what all of the events in that rollout are and where.

QUESTION: Is Holbrooke holding forth on this?

MR. DUGUID: As soon as we have word that the rollout is going to happen, we will let you know which media events are available for you.

And – yes.

QUESTION: Just quick on – going back to Israel, the Human Rights – Human Rights Watch’s report saying that Israel has absolutely used white phosphorous against civilians during its incursion into Gaza, do you have any reaction to the report or any concerns over the use of phosphorous by Israel?

MR. DUGUID: I have seen the media reports of this report. I haven’t seen the detailed description of it. The United States looks to all nations to respect international norms in the use of arms and munitions, and abide by international laws in these cases.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:08 p.m.)



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