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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 3, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • U.S. Calls on North to Desist from Launching Missile / Launch Counterproductive, Provocative
    • Launch Hasn't Taken Place / If It Does, U.S. Will Talk with Allies to Coordinate Response
    • Situation is Tense / Challenge Is to Get North Korea to Focus on Its Commitments
    • Issues Remain with Russia / Important Relationship / Want to Work with Russia on Many Issues
    • Department of Defense and Uzbekistan Ministry of Defense Exchanged Letters Establishing Commercial Transit Routes / Human Rights Concerns Remain / Agreement Supports Our Operations in Afghanistan Against the Taliban and al-Qaida
  • G-20
    • Meeting Is a Positive Sign the International Community Can Agree to Stabilize Financial Institutions
    • U.S. and India Have a Broad and Substantive Relationship / U.S. Has Very Good Counterterrorism Cooperation with India
    • U.S. Remains Focused on a Two-State Solution / No Dates Set for Meeting, Mitchell Travel
    • Conflict Is Difficult / Won't be Solved Overnight
    • Policy Is Under Review
    • Commend Transitional Government for a Number of Steps / Donor Community Stands Ready to Help When Further Reforms Occur
    • U.S. Hosts the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting Monday / High-Level Support for the Future of Polar Science
    • U.S. Seeks Election to the UN Human Rights Council / Important to Promote Human Rights
    • Reconciliation with the Taliban Must be Led by the Afghans / Afghan Government Has Made it Clear it Would Engage Taliban Elements That Renounce Violence and Adhere to the Constitution / U.S. Looks Forward to Working with Its Partners to Bring Stability to the Afghanistan and Pakistan Border Area


11:20 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone. Happy Friday. I don’t have anything to start off, so I’ll go right to your questions.


QUESTION: What’s the latest on North Korea and the missile launch?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have any update for you, Matt. We remain concerned about a possible launch. And as I said yesterday, we view that as a provocative act. We call on the North to refrain from inflaming tensions further in the region and, you know, we’re going to continue to make that point as clearly as we can. We are encouraging others to do so as well. And we’ll just have to see.

QUESTION: What are you looking at in terms of a response, if they do go ahead with it?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t want to preview what we may or may not do, Matt, as I said yesterday. But I can assure you that should that launch go forward, we will be working with our partners in the region and elsewhere to see what we can do to prevent the North from carrying out further launchings.

QUESTION: Robert, can I follow up on that?

MR. WOOD: Sure. Good to see you.

QUESTION: I know you’re trying – not trying to – it’s good to see you too. If the launch happens and Japan says, “We want to go to the Security Council,” will the U.S. back them?

MR. WOOD: Well, that will depend on the Security Council president. If a session is called, the United States will certainly be there.

QUESTION: Be there is one thing, but will you back the request to take the whole issue of the missile launch up in the Security Council?

MR. WOOD: If there is a meeting on the missile launch in the Security Council, the United States will be there. We – again, as we’ve spoken very clearly, we don’t want to see this missile launch go forward. And once again, we continue to call on the North to refrain from carrying out this type of provocative act. And we call on others in the international community to do so as well.

QUESTION: Including China?

MR. WOOD: Everyone in the international community.

QUESTION: And what signals have you received back to allow you to maintain hope that the North Koreans might heed your call?

MR. WOOD: Well, I haven’t seen any signals from the North publicly at all at this point. You know, there are lots of news reports out there that preparations are underway for this test. I’m not going to talk about what information we may have. But we remain concerned that this test may go forward, and this launch may go forward. And we want to see – we want the North to desist from doing this. So that’s about the best I can give you right now on that, Charley.

QUESTION: Any reaction from China?

MR. WOOD: In terms of?

QUESTION: As far as this launch is concerned?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think all of us are – particularly the Six-Party – the other five Six-Party partners are concerned about the North not getting back to the Six-Party framework so we can focus on the important issue, which is denuclearization.

You know, I’d refer you to the Chinese for their own views on this matter, but they’re a key partner in the Six-Party framework and they understand the importance of getting the North to focus on what it’s agreed to focus on. This launch, if it does take place, will obviously ratchet up tensions in an area that doesn’t need to see increased tensions.

Back here, please. Yes.

QUESTION: Robert, on the tensions, how concerned are you about possible proliferation stemming from this test, transfer of technology or equipment, beyond the region?

MR. WOOD: Well, that would obviously be a concern. And we have encouraged the North – we and our other partners in the Six-Party framework and beyond that framework – that the North needs to desist from proliferation activities, from conducting any type of ballistic missile launches. This is not what the region needs right now. What the region needs and wants to see is a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. And we’re going to continue to push that objective and we’ll just have to see what happens from there.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Do you know what kind of sanctions imposed to North Korea?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What kind of sanctions imposed to North Korea?

MR. WOOD: You mean beyond what exists?


MR. WOOD: Well, as I said to you just a few minutes ago, that should this launch go forward, we will be looking to see what we can do to prevent the North from conducting these types of launches in the future. But I don’t want to preview, as I said earlier, what we may or may not do at this point. I don’t think that would be helpful.

Same subject?

QUESTION: Same subject.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Considering the nervousness of the Japanese among other countries, is the United States treaty bound to come to the support of Japan if this is seen as an attack on Japan?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, Charley, this is – nothing has happened yet. We obviously have, you know, a defense treaty with Japan. But I don’t want to – you know, again, this launch has not taken place, so I don’t really want to get ahead of things and start speculating as to what we may or may not do in conjunction with one or more allies. So let me leave it at that.


QUESTION: A change of subject?


MR. WOOD: Change of subject or --


QUESTION: Yes, different subject?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, please, and then --

QUESTION: Today, President Obama talked about a core disagreement with Moscow. Are you aware of this latest --

MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen the actual latest remarks. I apologize. I’m not sure what you’re referring to exactly about a core disagreement. I mean, we have – there are issues that remain between the United States and Russia and, you know, our relationship is complex. And – but it’s an important relationship not only for us, but for the rest of the world.

And as the President has said, as Secretary Clinton has said, we want to work with Russia on a whole host of issues, you know, including cooperation on missile defense. And – but again, I haven’t seen those comments. So unless you can flesh them out for me, I’ll --

QUESTION: So what about missile defense? There are some disagreement on that regard, right?

MR. WOOD: There’s no question we have had a series of talks about missile defense with the Russians. But we have said we’re engaging in missile defense in Europe to protect us all from the threat of future Iranian missile threat. We’ve made that point clear to the Russians many times. We look forward to cooperating with them on missile defense. And the Secretary recently had a meeting, as you know, with Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva. They also met briefly in The Hague. We’re putting together a team that’s going to work on arms control issues with the Russians.

So, you know, it’s an important relationship. There are a lot of elements to it. We look forward to working with our Russian partners to deal with a lot of these challenges that we face.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Iranian nuclear program, like – not missile issue, but cooperating in – under UN --

MR. WOOD: The Russians --

QUESTION: They haven’t been that helpful.

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s your characterization. I mean, certainly, we have heard Russian officials speak to the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. They remain concerned about it. I’d have to refer you to the Government of the Federation – the Russian Federation for their specific views on it. But they have certainly made very clear that they remain concerned about what Iran is doing with regards to its nuclear program.


QUESTION: Same subject.

MR. WOOD: Please.

QUESTION: Were the Secretary’s conversations – did they touch upon the presence of Russian troops in Georgia? And what is the United States doing to voice its stand on that?

MR. WOOD: I don’t remember that that came up. It may have. I don’t recall. You know, our position remains very clear on the need for Russian troops to pull back to the pre-August 7 lines. We’ve made that very clear. We want to see that happen. But I don’t have anything beyond that for you, Charlie, on that.

QUESTION: Change of subject?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the U.S. is going to sign today bilateral agreement with Uzbekistan for the transit of U.S. troops through Uzbekistan toward Afghanistan?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, Sylvie. The Department – the U.S. Department of Defense and the Uzbekistan Ministry of Defense agreed through an exchange of letters earlier today to establish commercial shipping routes to – for nonlethal supplies across Uzbekistan territory to support our operations in Afghanistan. So --

QUESTION: If I – my memory’s good, there was such an agreement in 2005, 2006, which has been cancelled by U.S. because of the terrible human rights situation in Uzbekistan. The fact that there is a new agreement, does it mean that the U.S. thinks the human rights situation improved in Uzbekistan?

MR. WOOD: Look, we’ve said for some time now that there are some human rights concerns that we have with the Government of Uzbekistan. But I think, you know, it’s important that we look at this agreement that was reached earlier today, and what that agreement does for our ability to support our operations in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaida.

And so obviously, the United States and Uzbekistan have interests in trying to prevent the Taliban and al-Qaida from becoming more powerful in Afghanistan. So yes, we do have concerns with regard to human rights, but we also have other interests as well with Uzbekistan. And we’ll continue to raise our concerns on the human rights front.

QUESTION: But does it mean that human rights have been put on the backburner?

MR. WOOD: No, not at all, not at all, not at all.

QUESTION: What did you say it had to do with, the agreement?

MR. WOOD: No, I said --

QUESTION: Shipping routes?

MR. WOOD: Commercial routes. Did I say shipping? I don’t --

QUESTION: Yeah, you said shipping.

MR. WOOD: Did I say shipping? Well, commercial --

QUESTION: Since Uzbekistan is landlocked, it’s kind of like (inaudible) signed the maritime agreement with Mongolia.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I didn’t mean – commercial transit routes is what I meant to say. Shipping just was a word that popped up. I meant to say transit routes, so my apologies.

QUESTION: And nonlethal supplies, does that include personnel or --

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, nonlethal – food, medical supplies, you know, building materials, those types of items.


QUESTION: A new subject?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: In London, meetings of the minds between the biggest 20, what do you think it’ll bring new as far as fighting against terrorism, the Taliban or al-Qaida and also world economic situation, especially between the U.S. and India?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think – look, the G-20 meeting – the successful G-20 meeting, I think was a very positive sign for not only the international community’s ability to deal with this financial crisis, but to show that, you know, these 20 countries can sit down and agree to carry out measures that are important for not only stabilizing our financial institutions, but in terms of going forward in dealing with very serious international challenges that we face.

I think this was a very positive sign. I think you’ve seen all of the reporting that has come out of London with regard to the G-20, so I – this is a very positive sign. And now we all have to go forward and implement what was agreed, and hopefully wind down this financial crisis as quickly as we can. But it really showed a lot of solidarity amongst the 20 countries and other institutions that were a part of the Summit meeting. So it was a very positive sign.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) U.S.-India?

MR. WOOD: Well, U.S.-India – look, we have a very good, broad, substantive relationship with India on a wide range of fronts. India is an important partner for us, not only in terms of trade but in terms of our overall diplomatic agenda. And you know, I think you can look forward to much more fruitful days of cooperation between the United States and India. But we do have some challenges together that we have to face, and terrorism is one of them. And – but I think you’ll find that both the President and the Secretary are committed to this relationships very deeply and strongly, and go from there.

QUESTION: Can I just quick follow on --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: But as far as terrorism is concerned, India in a high alert now. And there is some reports that maybe dozens of terrorists are – they have entered India from Pakistan and they are ready to strike all the major landmarks, and maybe 9/11-style or beyond. What do you think? India is in touch with the U.S. as far as this threat is going on?

MR. WOOD: Look, we have very good counterterrorism cooperation with India and I’m not going to talk about from the podium here the types of things that we’re doing together. But certainly we want to work with India, as well as other countries want to work with India, to try to prevent any type of further attacks from taking place on Indian soil, as well as other places around the world. So again, I just want to reiterate, we have a very, very strong and fruitful counterterrorism cooperation with India.

QUESTION: New subject. Rumors in Brazil persist that President Lula da Silva is trying to broker a meeting between Chavez and Obama when he visits the region. True?

MR. WOOD: Haven’t heard anything about it. I have to refer you to the White House for anything to do with the President.

Any follow-up?

QUESTION: Different question.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Different subject. Europe is apparently refusing to work with the new Israeli Government until they talk about a two-state solution. What’s the U.S. prepared to do to sort of broker this or intervene or --

MR. WOOD: Well, the Secretary, as I mentioned yesterday, had a very brief conversation with Foreign Minister Lieberman. She had a conversation yesterday with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Israeli Government has just come into place. We are going to be working with that government and with our Palestinian partners to try to move toward this two-states solution I think we all want to see happen. We want to do this as quickly as possible.

I’m not going to kid you. There are a lot of challenges here to try to get toward that two-state solution. But we need commitments from both sides. That’s going to require a lot of hard work. It’s not going to be easy. But that is our goal. We think it’s in the best interest of not only the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians, but the rest of the world that we reach some kind of a two-state solution. So again, it’s a new Israeli Government, a relatively new Administration. Senator George Mitchell is going to be going to the region very soon, and continue the process of trying to get the parties to focus on this two-state solution.

QUESTION: But one thought, what about the whole European component that I --

MR. WOOD: I can’t speak to, you know, Europe’s concerns. You know, I can only tell you what the United States wants to see happen. But I will say this: the Europeans, like the United States, want to see a two-state solution to this Palestinian conflict. And we’ll be working as partners to try to get the parties moving in the right direction.

But it – you know, as I said, it’s going to be a challenge.

QUESTION: Is Ambassador Mitchell going to be there next week?

MR. WOOD: I’m not sure. When we have some details on his travel itinerary, we’ll certainly make them available.


MR. WOOD: Over here.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. proposed any Six-Party Talks on Burma, or a similar kind of multi-party talks on the issue of Burma?

MR. WOOD: No, there hasn’t been any – anything from our side in terms of a formal proposal. Our Burma policy, as I mentioned before, is under review. We remain concerned about the situation in Burma with regard to human rights and political prisoners, et cetera. We’re going to be – we’re going to have discussions with our partners in the region and elsewhere to try to see what kind of a mechanism we can set up to help advance our policy interests and goals in Burma. But we have not agreed on any kind of a mechanism at this point.

QUESTION: And do you have any readout on last week’s meeting between Mr. Blake and the Burmese foreign minister, and at whose request the meeting was held?

MR. WOOD: I don’t remember if we – did we –

Mr. DUGUID: We released this.

MR. WOOD: Maybe we released something. I would check with the press office. I think, as Gordon said, we’ve released something.

Yes, Dave.

QUESTION: Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister of Zimbabwe, made another appeal for outside assistance yesterday, basically urging the international community to see the cup half full rather than half empty. And I’m just wondering, is there any consideration of being receptive to that?

MR. WOOD: Well, Dave, as you know, March 20, we – there was a meeting here at the Department of the Zimbabwe – so-called like-minded countries, and the participants in this meeting commended the transitional government for a number of steps, for some of the reform efforts it’s undertaken. And provided we see further political and economic reforms, the donor community stands ready to help, you know, rebuild Zimbabwe with development assistance. But that hasn’t happened yet and there are a number of things that need to take place. And you know, until – as I said, until we see further reforms, I don’t think we can make any kind of a commitment right now to, you know, restore our development assistance.

However, as you know, we and others in the international community are very focused on the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, and that’s where our efforts are focused right now. So we’ll just have to see how this new government progresses in the area of – areas of political and economic reforms and then, you know, make our judgments from there.


QUESTION: On Monday, the U.S. is hosting the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting on the Arctic Council. Can you give me – explain to me what is the U.S. position on the new negotiations in the Antarctic, the limitations and, you know, the territories – the limitations in the Antarctic?

MR. WOOD: Well, Sylvie, I’m not an expert on --


MR. WOOD: -- that area, but I can tell you what our goal is for the conference that’s coming up, and that is to demonstrate high-level U.S. support for the future of polar science as an area of international scientific collaboration, especially in light of the attention on climate change. So the Secretary looks forward to this meeting. And I’m sure we will be able to provide you some type of readout of how things went after the meeting.

QUESTION: Yeah, but speaking of climate change, the climate change provoked some part of the Antarctic to melt, which means that the – there are new accesses to the continent and some countries are claiming some of those accesses. I wanted to know what is the U.S. position on those claims.

MR. WOOD: Well, I know that there are a lot of claims to various parts of the Antarctic, and there are lots of discussions that are – will be – that are going on with regard to these. We obviously have an interest in that area. And this conference that will take place on Monday, I think, will be – will give you a good sense – provided we can give you – we should be able to give you a readout.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I mean, you know, what is the position right now?

MR. WOOD: Well, I just basically have given you that. If you want more details, you know, I can, you know, follow up and try to get you some more later.

Let me try somebody new. Yes.

QUESTION: Recently, you announced U.S. is running for a seat on UN Human Rights Council, which Bush Administration opposed to.

MR. WOOD: Right.

QUESTION: Is that decision based on the policy review on Bush Administration’s human right policy?

MR. WOOD: Okay, our – the reason why we have decided to seek election to the Human Rights Council is because after this review – and it was a very thorough review that was undertaken by the Administration – we believe that it’s important to try to promote human rights by being in the council instead of outside. And as Secretary Clinton and President Obama have said, human rights is at the forefront of our foreign policy. And we believe that the only way that we can make the changes that we want to see in the Human Rights Council is to be in that council. And so that was the basis of the decision.

Anything else?

QUESTION: On Afghanistan.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yesterday at a seminar at a think tank, Dr. Jalal, she was the first Afghan woman president – in the last presidential election. She said the recent talks of reconciliation with Taliban is giving confusion inside – domestically inside the country, and giving a sense of victory among the Talibans. Can you give us a sense of what is your definition of reconciliation with Taliban, what are the broader parameters?

MR. WOOD: Consul --

QUESTION: Reconciliation, talks.

QUESTION: Oh, reconciliation, yeah. Look, we have said very clearly that any type of reconciliation that takes place in Afghanistan has to be Afghan led. And there, obviously, are differences of opinions in Afghanistan’s democracy about how to engage various elements of the Taliban. And I think the Afghan Government has been very clear that it would engage those elements that renounce violence, that are willing to adhere to Afghanistan’s constitution. But that is going to be a process that has to come out of Afghan society, you know, and be Afghan led.

So it’s not surprising that you’re going to have these differing views about how you approach this issue. But we’re confident that the Afghans will take the right approach and make decisions based on international interests.

QUESTION: Just follow, one quickly. As far as the terrorism and al-Qaida is concerned in Afghanistan, the Secretary and President both have spoken many times, has been a safe haven in Pakistan. Now both are victim now of the terrorism, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Do you think this new aid will change any – bring new results to Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Well, that is certainly the hope. Pakistan and Afghanistan face enormous challenges, as you know. And as you also know, we had a very thorough, exhaustive review of how best to go forward in Afghanistan. And again, we are not going to be wedded to a particular policy. We will see how things evolve, and if we need to, you know, make changes to our approach, we will do so. That’s the prudent thing to do.

But we think the policies that we’re now beginning to undertake and implement are going to be in the best interest of the United States, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and frankly, the rest of the global community. And so there’s a lot of work ahead. Ambassador Holbrooke, as you know, will be in the region shortly. And you know, we look forward to working with all of our partners to try to do what we can to bring some stability to not only Afghanistan, but the border area with Pakistan.

Okay, thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:44 a.m.)

DPB # 55

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