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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Gordon Duguid
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 1, 2009


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • ARGENTINA
    • Condolences on the Death of Former President Raul Alfonsin / Former President Alfonsin Worked to Restore Democracy and Respect for Human Rights in Argentina
  • UNITED NATIONS
    • U.S. To Seek Seat on Human Rights Council / By Engaging U.S. Can Advance Cause of Human Rights Around the Globe
    • U.S. Discussed with our Counterparts Our Intention to Run
    • U.S. Intention to Work to Improve the Council and the Status of Human Rights Around the World / To Try and Depoliticize Some of the Discussions / To Focus on Human Rights Abuses We Can All Try and Help Resolve
    • Durban II Process An Attempt to Change Document Being Produced / Became Evident Our Intervention Would Not Make That Change / Decision Was Made Not to Engage Further
  • IRAN
    • Brief Handshake between Ambassador Holbrooke and Iranian Official on the Edge of the Conference / U.S. Passed a Message to the Iranians about Americans Detained in Iran
    • U.S. Heard Swiss Were in Touch with Ministry of Foreign Affairs Regarding Roxana Saberi
  • ISRAEL
    • U.S. Welcomes Formation of New Israeli Government / Looks Forward to Working With It to Advance Bilateral Relationship
    • Israel Is a Close Friend and Ally / U.S. Committed to Israel's Security
    • U.S. Will Work Closely with Prime Minister Netenyahu's Government to Advance Peace and Stability in the Middle East / Have Confidence in Government of Israel / Will Work Together for Durable and Lasting Peace in the Region
    • U.S. Has Not Yet Heard Israeli Government's Proposals / Secretary Clinton Will Be in Touch with Counterparts and Will Issue Official Welcome
    • Many Policies Under Review / Senator Mitchell in Touch with Parties on the Ground
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Secretary Clinton a Full Party to Deciding on Nomination of Legal Advisor / Dean Koh Universally Respected For Legal Scholarship / Previously Served as Assistant Secretary of State / Praised by Both Democrats and Republicans / Criticisms Not Accurate / Has Full Backing of Secretary of State / Ask That Mr. Koh Be Given Time in His Senate Hearing to Respond to Questions
  • IRAQ
    • Department Awarded Triple Canopy Ground Task Order for Protective Security Details in Baghdad on March 31st / Will Begin Transition Process Immediately / Xe (formerly Blackwater) Will Continue to Provide Security Services Until End of Current Task Order in May
    • Decision Not Made on Who Will Perform New Air Order / Department Has Notified Xe Air Task Order Not Renewed
  • NORTH KOREA
    • North Korean Obligation Not to Engage in Missile Tests Not Related to Detention of Two Americans / U.S. Not Formally Informed of Charges Pending Against Two Americans / U.S. Last in Contact with Swedes in Last Few Days / Working This Diplomatically / Has Secretary's Full Attention
    • Secretary Clinton Engaged in Six-Party Talks / Meets with Sung Kim and Ambassador Bosworth to Discuss Strategy / Working at Highest Levels With Six-Party Partners
    • Engaged in Dialogue with Japanese and South Korean Diplomats / Continued Discussions with Six-Party Partners
  • NATO
    • Open Door Policy Remains in Place / Georgia and Ukraine Will Someday Become Members / Morning Event Focused on Albania, Croatia, Macedonia / Albania, Croatia No Officially NATO Allies / Continuing Support for Macedonia's Aspirations / Pending Resolution of Constitutional Name Issue / Neighbors in Region Share Similar Goals


TRANSCRIPT:

11:55 a.m. EDT

MR. DUGUID: Good morning, all. I’d like to begin by sending condolences to the people of Argentina on the death of former President Raul Alfonsin. Former President Alfonsin worked to restore democracy and respect for human rights in Argentina in the aftermath of the military dictatorship. We would like to express our condolences to his family, to the people of Argentina, and to the Government of Argentina.

Thank you. And with that, I’ll stand for your questions. Okay, we’ll go.

QUESTION: According to The Washington Post, the Obama Administration has decided to seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council, reversing a decision by the Bush Administration to shun the UN’s premier rights body to protest the repressive states among its membership.

Do you have anything on that?

MR. DUGUID: We released a statement on this yesterday. I trust that you have seen that.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. DUGUID: The statement was fairly extensive. And yes, we are going to seek a seat on the Human Rights Council. We believe that by engaging in the council that we can advance the cause of human rights around the globe. This is a part of the active engagement by the Obama Administration, and we look forward to participating in this forum.

QUESTION: Susan Rice, the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, said that this decision was a part of engagement in U.S. foreign policy. Any response to this effect?

MR. DUGUID: I think Ambassador Rice speaks for the Department on this issue, as it is a UN forum. I don’t have anything to add to earlier remarks.

QUESTION: And the last. Any response to the decision which was criticized by the U.S. conservatives who regarded the council as fatally flawed?

MR. DUGUID: I think I’ve explained earlier that we feel that by engaging we can improve the record of the Human Rights Council and we can try and improve human rights around the world by this engagement.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you.

QUESTION: An Iranian official told --

QUESTION: Hold on , hold on, hold on.

MR. DUGUID: Yes. Same subject?

QUESTION: Same subject, yes. Can you give us some details on your contacts with the New Zealanders in regard to this decision?

MR. DUGUID: I believe the New Zealand Government has released a statement on their decision on whether or not to run for a seat. I think that is self-explanatory.

QUESTION: Well, that’s great. I’m asking about U.S. contact with --

MR. DUGUID: Well, you know we normally talk to a wide range of nations about our intentions and about those plans that we have, particularly with close allies like New Zealand. And I don’t have a detailed list of any meetings for you, but I’m sure that we spoke to them about it. But the New Zealanders have issued a statement which explains their position, I think quite accurately.

QUESTION: And their position is?

MR. DUGUID: That they have decided not to seek a seat. Yes.

QUESTION: Yes. And there was no – you’re saying that you’re not – that there was no contact between the U.S. and New Zealand on this?

MR. DUGUID: I’m not saying there was no contact. I said that we have discussed with our counterparts our intention to run. Of course, we did.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, Gordon, there’s some criticism that by doing this that the U.S. has given up any leverage it might have to change the council.

MR. DUGUID: I’ve heard this criticism. I think that if you follow the course of the Administration, the President and the Secretary believe that by engaging in international fora, by engaging different parties around the world, you can try and move your agenda.

We are going into the Human Rights Council – or we are standing, I should say, for election for the Human Rights Council with no illusions about its past practice, with no illusions about some of the flaws that were there. But our intent is to work to improve the council and to work to help that council improve the status of human rights around the world.

QUESTION: Gordon --

MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: On the same subject.

MR. DUGUID: Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: You did try the engagement strategy with the Durban review committee, and that didn’t seem to produce the results that you were looking for there. What makes you think this is any different?

MR. DUGUID: The Durban II process was an attempt to try and change the document that was being produced. It was evident while we were there, and we were there observing, that our intervention or any subsequent intervention would not make that change. And therefore, it was our decision not to engage further.

In this case, it is different. We are looking to engage, we are looking to take an active part, and we are looking to be full members in order to help improve both the record of the council and human rights around the world.

Yes, Arshad.

QUESTION: Gordon, the U.S. Government has publicly criticized the council for its – what his and the last administration regarded its undue focus on Israel. I think five of the ten special sessions that they’ve held have been devoted to such matters. Is it your intent to try to reduce the council’s heavy focus on Israel?

MR. DUGUID: It is our intent to try and depoliticize some of the discussions, if that is possible, and to focus on human rights abuses that we can all take action on and try and help resolve. For a detailed plan of action, I would have to refer you to the U.S. Mission to Geneva, which has the lead on this and will be looking at a possible U.S. agenda in the coming months.

QUESTION: Don’t you have to get elected first?

MR. DUGUID: I said possible U.S. agenda in the coming months.

Yes.

QUESTION: Different subject. The Iranian officials denied any meeting with Mr. Holbrooke and also denied any letter handed to them. What’s your reaction to that denial?

MR. DUGUID: I think that the Secretary addressed this yesterday and the Secretary’s words stand. There was a brief handshake, if you will, or a meeting on the edge of the conference, if you will. To describe it as substantive or even, you know, lengthy would be inaccurate; that is true. It was an engagement for Mr. Holbrooke. So no, it was not a meeting. We agree with that.

QUESTION: But they denied any letter handed to them.

MR. DUGUID: We passed a message on to the Iranians, the substance of which was the same as we have transmitted through the Swiss in the past about American citizens who are currently detained and under detention in Iran or, in the case of Mr. Levinson, an American citizen for whom we have no information at all.

QUESTION: So there’s no update on them – Roxana Saberi or Mr. Esha Momeni?

MR. DUGUID: Not in the case of the other two. In regards to Ms. Saberi, we have heard from the Swiss that they were in touch with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I believe it was the 25th of March was their last contact asking for consular access.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: On the Middle East, the new Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman said that Israel will not be bound to the Annapolis peace process. Your reaction and where you stand on the Annapolis process yourselves?

MR. DUGUID: Well, first let me welcome the formation of a new Israeli Government and look – we look forward to working with it to advance the bilateral relationship shared by the United States and Israel.

Israel is a close friend and ally, and we remain unalterably committed to Israel’s security. We will work closely with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government to advance the cause of peace and stability in the Middle East and move the parties in the direction of a two-state solution. We have full confidence in and will continue to support the Government of Israel, and we work together – we will work together for a durable and lasting peace in the region.

As for statements made or comments made, I’d point you to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments that he will work for peace with the Palestinians and peace in the region.

QUESTION: That gives you no pause at all?

MR. DUGUID: I just said we support the two-state solution, and we will continue to work for that.

QUESTION: But the foreign minister apparently doesn’t.

MR. DUGUID: I’ve given you our statement. I’ve directed you to what the prime minister of Israel has just said. Whether or not the final position of the Israeli Government as they come into discussions with us is one way or another – we haven’t heard their proposals yet. We haven’t sat down with them.

QUESTION: But no public division between the prime minister and the foreign minister gives you any pause either?

MR. DUGUID: I’m letting you know that we’re going to work with the Israeli Government. We welcome the formation of a new Israeli Government. And we have – or will shortly – the Secretary will be in touch with her counterparts and will issue a U.S. official welcome to the new government.

QUESTION: Is the Obama Administration committed to the Annapolis process since it was launched by the previous administration?

MR. DUGUID: As you know, the Annapolis process does call for a two-state solution. The Obama Administration is committed to seeking a two-state solution for the resolution between – the differences between Israel and the Palestinians.

QUESTION: That’s not really a full commitment for the process that was launched at Annapolis.

MR. DUGUID: Our processes are – many of our policies are under review. The two-state solution, however, is not one that is under review. We’re committed to that solution.

QUESTION: Is the Administration reviewing the Annapolis process?

MR. DUGUID: Not in particular. We are reviewing most of our policies. As you well know, we are looking at things. Senator Mitchell has been to the region. Senator Mitchell is in touch with the parties on the ground looking for ways that we can move all parties in the direction of the two-state solution.

QUESTION: The last administration made – took – went to great lengths to enshrine Annapolis as like – as the bedrock of the peace process, of the whole effort. Is this Administration – does this Administration stick by those – what the Quartet agreed to in the – at the end of --

MR. DUGUID: Yes, we do.

QUESTION: -- last year, what the Security Council did?

MR. DUGUID: Yes, we do.

QUESTION: So that you do want (inaudible) the Annapolis process --

MR. DUGUID: And Senator Mitchell is now – and Senator Mitchell is now moving forward from that point.

Yes, James.

QUESTION: Different subject. Are you --

MR. DUGUID: Anybody else on Israel? Thank you. Yes.

QUESTION: Are you more prepared today to say something about the nominee to be the legal advisor to the Department of State?

MR. DUGUID: Yes, I am. Would you like to ask the specific question?

(Cell phone beeps.)

QUESTION: After you get your message. Maybe that’s a warning that I should not.

MR. DUGUID: Yeah, the editor faxing in.

QUESTION: Does – was – as I asked yesterday, was Secretary of State Clinton consulted on this nomination?

MR. DUGUID: She was not only consulted; she was a full party to deciding on the nomination.

QUESTION: And do – should we infer from his nomination that the Administration has effectively endorsed all of the many controversial opinions and comments that Dean Koh has issued over the years?

MR. DUGUID: Well, Dean Koh is universally respected for his legal scholarship, and as you know, previously served as an assistant secretary of state, for which he was praised for his work by both Democrats and Republicans alike. Some of the statements that I have seen attributed to him are not accurate. Some of those statements raised in this room are not accurate. And therefore, I would ask those making criticisms to actually produce the texts that they claim he has said, and that would be something I can react to. But those criticisms I have heard so far through our research I have seen are not accurate. And yes, we do support him and the Secretary gives him his – her full backing.

QUESTION: What was inaccurate?

MR. DUGUID: Well, I believe that it was suggested yesterday that at some point he had described the former president as a “torturer in chief.” That is inaccurate. I can send to you the legal article in which this was reportedly to have appeared and it does not appear.

QUESTION: The phrase appears in there, does it not?

MR. DUGUID: It does not, according to the article that I have.

QUESTION: But it’s in the title of the article, is it not?

MR. DUGUID: The article does not call the former president the “torturer in chief.”

QUESTION: Are there any other statements that you regard as inaccurate?

MR. DUGUID: Well, there are a lot of statements out there. I’m not going to stand here and bat down each one. I would ask that Mr. Koh be given his time on the Senate floor in his hearing to respond to these questions, should the senators have them, as he will.

Yes, please. Charley.

QUESTION: Gordon, what can youdetails can you give us about Triple Canopy being awarded the remainder of the Blackwater security contract in Baghdad, please?

MR. DUGUID: I can, if I can – I need to find the date, excuse me. I believe the Triple Kennedy – excuse me, Triple Canopy was awarded the contract on March 31st. And I am going to search to make sure that I have that correct, if you’ll excuse me for just a moment.

Yes, indeed, March, the 31st, the Department awarded Triple Canopy the ground task order for protective security details in Baghdad after a thorough evaluation of proposals from each company that had submitted bids. They will begin the transition process to – just to anticipate, if I may – between the current company, which is called Xe – formerly Blackwater – immediately, although Blackwater will continue to provide security services until the end of its current task order which finishes in May.

QUESTION: A quick follow-up on that.

MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: Who’s going to do the air assets that Blackwater provided, namely the helicopters?

MR. DUGUID: Air assets is currently being performed by – as you said, by Presidential Airways, which is a part of Blackwater. The decision has not been made yet on who will perform the new air order, although we recognize that based on the Government of Iraq’s decision, the Department has had to notify Xe in writing that it did not renew the company’s task order for the air order.

QUESTION: And when is that task order up?

MR. DUGUID: I’ll have to find out for you.

QUESTION: Could you?

MR. DUGUID: Yes, I will.

QUESTION: And the award for Triple Canopy, what’s the duration of that? And do you have a price tag on that?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have either one of those two things. We’ll try and find out for you.

Yes.

QUESTION: Actually, if I – quick, one more. You are going to try to find someone else to replace the air assets? You’re not just getting rid of that? It has to be --

MR. DUGUID: No decision has been made on who will replace. Yes, that’s correct.

QUESTION: All right. Well – but whether you will replace it, whether you’ll – you still require those air assets, do you?

MR. DUGUID: I believe that we still require air assets. No decision has been made on who will do that job.

Yes, James.

QUESTION: Any updates on the two Americans detained in North Korea?

MR. DUGUID: Not at this point. I have nothing further for you than I did have yesterday.

QUESTION: Do we know physically where they are?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any information I can share with you on their disposition at this time.

QUESTION: I – because I assume from the fact that consular access was granted to them, that part of the reporting to the United States following that access would involve some disclosure of their whereabouts.

MR. DUGUID: Your assumptions are quite logical. I’m afraid I don’t have any information about them that I can share with you at this time.

QUESTION: And yesterday, I asked you whether or not, at least in the calculus of the North Korean regime which admittedly can be inscrutable at times, the matter of the imminent launch of a missile and the matter of these two American citizens could potentially be related. You said they should not be. Can you explain for me why they should not be?

MR. DUGUID: The North Korean commitment, the North Korean obligation not to engage in ballistic missile tests is no – in no sense related to a case in which two American citizens are being detained by the North for reasons that, as far as I can tell, have absolutely nothing to do with their commitments to the Six-Party Talks or UN Security Council resolutions. It is a completely different issue as to what our citizens were doing when the North Koreans detained them, and it is a wholly other matter on whether or not the North launches a ballistic missile, which is in contravention of the UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: Is the United States formally aware of any charges pending against the two?

MR. DUGUID: Not formally. No, we are not. We have seen these press reports and we have seen the same ones that you have. But formally, we are not aware of any charges.

QUESTION: And when was the last time the U.S. Government was in contact with our --

MR. DUGUID: With The Swedes?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. DUGUID: I’m going to have to rely on my memory for this. It was within the last few days, over this past weekend.

QUESTION: And lastly, could you describe Secretary of State Clinton’s engagement on this issue?

MR. DUGUID: Secretary Clinton has been engaged in the issue from the start in the Six-Party Talks, certainly in consultations with both Sung Kim and Ambassador Bosworth. As they have had their meetings, she has been working with them to lay out our strategy, or a strategy, that we can share with our partners on how we move the process forward. She meets with them regularly. When they return from their trips, they, of course, fully debrief her.

She has as well – and I don’t know what timeframe you’d like me to check on, but she has, of course, been on the telephone with some of our Six-Party partners. She is in – excuse me. She was in the President’s meeting today with President Medvedev, and I can’t guarantee that Six-Party Talks came up in there, but she is working at the highest levels on this.

QUESTION: I meant on the detention issue. My apologies.

MR. DUGUID: I beg your pardon. We are working this diplomatically, and it does have the Secretary’s full attention.

QUESTION: Gordon.

MR. DUGUID: Yes.

QUESTION: This morning when the Albanian and Croatian ambassadors to the United States handed over their instruments of accession to the North Atlantic Treaty, I noticed that in Deputy Secretary Steinberg’s remarks about Article 10 and the door being open for additional members, he cited an expectation that Macedonia would join once the name issue has been resolved and talked about Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina. But he made no reference that I heard to the aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine to become members of NATO.

Was that a deliberate omission? Are you less sanguine about either of those two countries ultimately achieving their goals of NATO membership?

MR. DUGUID: Not at all. We are fully confident that NATO’s open door policy remains in place and that both Georgia and Ukraine, should they choose to become NATO members and meet NATO’s membership criteria, will someday become members of the alliance.

This morning’s event was primarily focused on what were known in NATO acronyms as the MAP 3, those three countries that had applied to join NATO together – Albania, Croatia and Macedonia. Two of them are now officially NATO allies. It was a time to congratulate them and celebrate with them.

I think we wanted to make known our continuing support for Macedonia and its aspirations, and that once a resolution to the issue of their constitutional name is reached that they too will become members of the alliance.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, of course, are neighbors in the region who also share similar goals. So we were pretty much focused on these three countries and their region. Today was a chance to celebrate with them and the remarks were detailed and directed in that sense.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: Can I go back to James’ question? Your comment that missile launching and journalists are in completely different issue, that comment is based on your assumption or based on information that you get from the Swedish Embassy or the New York channel?

MR. DUGUID: Speaking for the State Department and therefore for the U.S. Government on this issue, we see no connection between these two.

QUESTION: Right. My question is that’s your assumption or information?

MR. DUGUID: It is our policy and it is our firm held belief that there is no connection between the two.

QUESTION: Have the --

MR. DUGUID: I do not have to assume that.

QUESTION: Have the North Koreans told you they believe the same thing?

MR. DUGUID: I don’t have any readout for you from our contacts through the Swedes on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that the North Koreans do see the two issues as related?

MR. DUGUID: As I said, we are working this issue diplomatically. We are working through our protecting power, the Swedes, in North Korea. They are relaying our views and requests to the North Koreans, and we are going to continue to work it that way until we can achieve the release of our citizens.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: On the potential North Korean missile launch, I know you’ve said in the past that there is diplomatic dialogue going on between the U.S. and North Korea through the New York channel trying to convince them not to go through with that launch. Is that dialogue still occurring, or is basically the U.S. resigned to the fact that this launch is going to happen? Is there – has there been any response from the North Koreans through the New York channel? Is there currently still today some dialogue going on on this --

MR. DUGUID: Well, I’m not at liberty to talk about various channels. Yes, of course, there is dialogue. We had Japanese and South Korean – Republic of Korea diplomats here last Friday, and we have continued on from those discussions with at least five of – four of our other Six-Party partners.

QUESTION: I meant between the four – the U.S. and North Korea, or the four parties and North Korea. Is there – are they still trying to --

MR. DUGUID: I’ll leave other nations to describe what they will do or have done with North Korea. The U.S., as you know, is not in direct contact with them, but we are working with our other – the other partners other than North Korea in the Six-Party Talks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. DUGUID: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:22 p.m.)



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