12:43 p.m. EDT
MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. I don’t have anything, so I’ll go right to your questions.
MR. WOOD: I don’t have the most up-to-date details. The situation is still very fluid, Matt. So I – what I’d prefer you to do is to talk to the Pentagon. The Pentagon is obviously following this very closely and will have the most up-to-date information. So I apologize, but it is fluid at the moment. I’ve seen contradictory reports.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what – I understand it was carrying food aid donated – you know, U.S. food aid.
MR. WOOD: That’s right. It was --
QUESTION: Can you --
MR. WOOD: -- food assistance bound for Africa.
QUESTION: Can you be more specific?
MR. WOOD: Yeah, I think I can probably give you some more details on it. The ship apparently was bound from Mombasa, Kenya. And the shipment included vegetable oil, corn soy – excuse me, corn-soy blend and other basic food commodities bound for people in countries including Somalia, Uganda, and Kenya.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that the crew took control of the ship?
MR. WOOD: I can’t, Sylvie. I just don’t know. There are a lot of contradictory reports out there, so I just couldn’t tell you.
QUESTION: Were there any U.S. diplomats onboard the ship?
MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of. They were all American citizens.
QUESTION: Because there was a report that --
MR. WOOD: I think there were 20 Americans.
QUESTION: -- there was one.
MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen that report. I can just confirm that I think there were 20 American citizens onboard.
On this subject, Mr. Lambros?
QUESTION: Yes, on the subject – anything on the U.S. bilateral talks? The first question is: Any bilateral talks between Secretary Hillary Clinton and the Kalfin – and Ivailo Kalfin, Deputy Prime Minister of --
MR. WOOD: I thought we were staying on this subject. I wanted to stay on this subject.
MR. WOOD: Yes.
QUESTION: Actually, I wanted to move to a P-5+1, but --
MR. WOOD: Okay. Well, then let me – well, let me do Lambros’ question and then we’ll – did you want --
QUESTION: Same question.
MR. WOOD: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. The question is on Bulgaria-U.S. relations. Number one is: Any bilateral talks between Secretary Hillary Clinton and the Bulgarian Ivailo Kalfin, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Bulgaria?
MR. WOOD: Yes. The Secretary met with the Bulgarian foreign minister just a short while ago. They had a very good discussion. They talked about energy issues. They talked about Afghanistan. They talked about cyber security. That was one of the issues. So --
QUESTION: Cyber security?
MR. WOOD: Cyber security, mm-hmm.
MR. WOOD: So it was a very good discussion, and that was basically it.
QUESTION: Any relation to the progress between the two? Any revelation to the progress?
MR. WOOD: Well, as I said, it was a very good meeting, a substantive meeting. That’s the best I can give you on that, Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: Do you have any details on the P-5+1 meeting? There’s been a statement from London. It appears that the – in a break from Bush Administration policy, the U.S. is now going to have a – sort of a permanent seat at any negotiations with Iran. Is this indeed the case?
MR. WOOD: Would you prefer to give it or would you like me to do it?
QUESTION: No, I’d like you to. (Laughter.)
MR. WOOD: Okay, since you asked.
The P-5+1 political directors discussed next steps in addressing international concerns about Iran’s pursuit of nuclear – of a nuclear weapons capability, and affirmed their unwavering commitment to a negotiated diplomatic solution to those concerns.
We, the United States, outlined the President’s and the Secretary’s goal on Iran, which is to explore diplomatic solutions to the very serious areas of concern. A diplomatic solution necessitates a willingness to engage directly with each other on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interest. We hope that the Government of Iran chooses to reciprocate.
On the nuclear issue, the U.S. remains committed to the P-5+1 process. What is different is that the U.S. will join P-5+1 discussions with Iran from now on. The P-5+1 has asked Dr. Javier Solana, EU High Representative for Common and Foreign Security Policy, to extend an invitation to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to meet with representatives of the P-5+1.
If Iran accepts, we hope this will be the occasion to seriously engage Iran on how to break the logjam of recent years and work in a cooperative manner to resolve the outstanding international concerns about its nuclear program. Any breakthrough will be the result of the collective efforts of all the parties, including Iran.
The P-5+1 strategy is a dual-track approach, as you all know. All P-5+1 members will be active in the engagement track. In addition, all will continue to hold Iran to international standards of conduct, including Iran’s compliance with its international nuclear obligations.
QUESTION: When you meet with the Iranian – well, if they come back to you and say, yes, we’d like to meet, do you plan to give them a new offer or an updated offer from the incentives package offered last June?
MR. WOOD: Well, that incentive package remains on the table. We hope that Iran will take up that package. But we’re certainly looking forward to engaging the Iranians in a discussion of their nuclear program. As I said, we will be – we will have a seat at the table from now on.
QUESTION: But why – why do you want to meet them? You must have something to offer them. Have you come up with something new to entice them?
MR. WOOD: Well, look, we will have those discussions at that meeting. I’m not going to preview what we may or may not do, except to say that we still have some outstanding concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, and not just the United States but the other members of the P-5+1. So we’ll see if Iran accepts the invitation. We look forward to that direct engagement.
QUESTION: Is Bill Burns going to meet one-to-one with Iranian representatives as well?
MR. WOOD: I think it’s a little early to talk about that right now. Let’s see where we go with regard to the invitation that Javier Solana is going to extend.
QUESTION: It can be a good platform for that. Is that what Washington --
MR. WOOD: I just gave you what I have.
QUESTION: Who will represent the U.S. at these talks?
MR. WOOD: Well, if it’s a P-5 directors-level meeting, it would normally be Under Secretary Bill Burns.
QUESTION: So he will meet on a regular basis with the Iranians if they wish to do so?
MR. WOOD: Well, let’s see what the Iranian response is to Javier Solana’s invitation.
Let me go to someone else. On the same subject?
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have the time and place for the next meeting, or you still discuss it with the Iranians and P-5+1 (inaudible)?
MR. WOOD: As far as I know, there hasn’t been a time or date scheduled yet for the next meeting. But we’ll certainly let you know.
QUESTION: Can you give us any more – any background about how this decision was made to extend the invitation?
MR. WOOD: Well, look, as you know, we have been engaged in a review of our Iran policy. Under Secretary Burns in London shared that – the outcome of that review with the P-5 – the other members of the P-5+1. And I think many of you have seen the statement that was issued by the British, who are hosting – who hosted the meeting. And I’ve just outlined for you where we are in terms of our willingness to be at the table for the next P-5+1 meeting when Iran is taking part.
QUESTION: Different subject?
MR. WOOD: Okay.
QUESTION: Same subject. Well, it’s linked. The Iranians – have the Iranians responded yet to the aide-memoire that you handed to them last week? It appears that they’re saying they didn’t get it from the people we’re speaking to in Tehran.
And do you have anything more to say on the Saberi case?
MR. WOOD: Well, with regard to the aide-memoire, I have not – I don’t believe there has been any response to this point. So let me leave it at that.
In terms of Roxana Saberi, I don’t have anything more other than what the Secretary said just a short while ago.
QUESTION: On Roxana Saberi, they charged her with espionage, actually, and the judge said that she accepted the charges.
MR. WOOD: Well, let me just – I have no way of confirming, first of all, whether or not she has been formally charged and, of course, you know, that she’s accepted those charges. We have asked the Swiss protecting power for us in Tehran to find out more information, see whether they can confirm whether she has indeed been charged, and go from there. So we’re following the situation very closely, as the Secretary said, but I don’t have anything more beyond what she said.
On this subject?
QUESTION: Can I go back to the P-5+1?
MR. WOOD: All right. Let’s stay on this subject.
QUESTION: It’s on Iran.
MR. WOOD: Okay, and then we’ll go to you, Mark.
QUESTION: Not on P-5+1 though. Is the U.S. still looking into an interests section in Tehran?
MR. WOOD: We have not completed our formal review policy yet, so I don’t have an answer to that question yet. But we’ll certainly let you know once we have completed that.
QUESTION: Just a clarification of what you said earlier about Ambassador Burns presenting – I think you said there was an out – the outcome of that process, which could imply that the process, the policy review, is sort of finished.
MR. WOOD: I --
QUESTION: But I don’t think it is.
MR. WOOD: No, it’s not finished. Like I said --
QUESTION: Is there a timetable on that?
MR. WOOD: No timetable at all. But you know, again, I think we’re making it very clear today with regard to our engagement with Iran how we would like to proceed with our other partners in the P-5+1.
QUESTION: I mean, could we view this as a milestone of the policy review? I’m just trying to get a sense of, you know --
MR. WOOD: Well, obviously, I don’t think it’s fair for me to characterize that right now because we haven’t completed the review. But I’ve again just outlined for you, you know, what the new Administration’s policy is with regard to engaging Iran on its nuclear program.
QUESTION: You seem to be reaching out a lot to Iran. You’re going to be – you’ve given them this aide-memoire, which is a big departure from your previous sort of policies on dealing with Iran. You’re going to be – have a permanent seat at the table of the P-5+1 meetings. But they don’t seem to be responding in kind, particularly with the Saberi case. They haven’t responded to your aide-memoire. They’re charging – they’ve charged her with spying. That doesn't seem to be the goodwill gesture that the Secretary was asking in the aide-memoire, or whoever signed it?
MR. WOOD: Well, Sue, I think you’re right. I mean, we have been reaching out to the Iranians. And we have said from the beginning of this Administration that we want to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran. And obviously, we need a partner with an outstretched hand as well. So for questions as to why the Iranians haven’t responded, I’d have to refer you to them. But we certainly are living up to our commitments to reach out to Iran and engage them directly on these issues that, you know, come between us. So --
QUESTION: But some of your critics say you’re going too fast with this, you know, that the train is moving too fast and that you’re going to miss it because you’re not taking it steadily enough. What’s your response to that?
MR. WOOD: I would disagree with that. We have been involved in a review process on Iran for a number of months now, and some of you have said, oh, you’re moving, you know, too slowly, some you’re moving too quickly. I think it was a very prudent review, what was done. We sought out a number of different views and voices in the international community about Iran. And as I said, we’re coming to – you know, toward the end of that review process. But we felt it was important to give you a sense following the conversations that Under Secretary Burns had with the other members of the P-5+1 where we’re all agreeing to head with regard to Iran’s nuclear program.
QUESTION: So can you be a bit more specific on this mechanism? How is it’s going to look? It will be a P-5+1+1 – will it be 7-Party Talks? It would be the U.S. -- would be at the table all the time with everybody?
MR. WOOD: That’s what we’ve said.
QUESTION: Is it that --
MR. WOOD: That’s what I said. You know, in terms of P-5+1 discussions with Iran, we will be at the table from now on.
MR. WOOD: Well --
QUESTION: Has it happened in the past?
MR. WOOD: You can’t call them P-5+1 meetings if they’re not at the table – those two countries that you mentioned. I think it’s a little early, Sylvie, to start looking at how that – the next meeting and following meetings are going to look except to say what I’ve said, which is that in future P-5+1 meetings where, you know, Iran is going to be at the table, the U.S. will be there as well.
QUESTION: Just back on Saberi, you mentioned the Swiss a lot in relation to this. Clearly, this is something that Secretary Clinton’s looking at because she’s made a statement on it today.
MR. WOOD: That’s correct.
QUESTION: Are there any other ways in which you’re trying to engage with the Iranians on this issue apart from the Swiss?
MR. WOOD: Well, I wouldn’t engage in discussions about other types of activities that – or other types of avenues we’re pursuing with regard to trying to get – win the freedom of Roxana Saberi. So it just wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment except to say what I said about the fact that we have reached out to our, you know, Swiss protecting power to find out more information and try to confirm these charges.
QUESTION: Have they not – I mean, the accusations are serious – I mean, espionage.
MR. WOOD: That’s why we’re looking into it.
QUESTION: A question on Iran. I’m not sure where I saw this, but I’m pretty sure it was with an Iranian official either in the parliament or elsewhere. In the Iranian Government, I think they mentioned that the reason they haven’t extended their hand, per se, is because the United States continues with their pursuing a nuclear weapon as opposed to just nuclear energy, and for that kind of language to continue would not, you know, bridge the gap of understanding, if you will, and they wouldn’t – you wouldn’t get anywhere unless you stopped that kind of rhetoric to them. Do you think that is what’s hindering your process?
MR. WOOD: I can’t speak for why – what the Iranians are saying. I can just tell you that this is – Iran’s nuclear program is not just a concern of the United States, a concern – it’s a concern for a number of countries around the world, most specifically, the P-5+1. And so as I said, we are looking to engage the Iranians directly. What I’ve outlined to you today with regard to going forward in terms of engagement with Iran I think was very clear. It’s an extension of what the Secretary and the President have said about our willingness to engage Iran. So we’ll have to see how the Iranians respond, particularly to the invitation of Javier Solana to attend the next P-5+1 meeting.
QUESTION: One more on the P-5+1.
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did the freeze-for-freeze come up again? Is that something you’re going to rebundle and offer them?
MR. WOOD: Sue, look, I’m not going to get into the details of the discussions. For one thing, I haven’t talked to Under Secretary Burns yet. I will once he returns. But it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to start talking about those types of issues here from the podium.
QUESTION: And this was at the instigation of the United States, this – the P-5+1 extended invitation?
MR. WOOD: This – no, this is something that was decided by the entire P-5+1. We all talked about this in London and it was agreed that a statement would be issued outlining what I’ve just outlined for you.
QUESTION: A different subject?
MR. WOOD: Nina, on this subject?
QUESTION: No, just – no, a different subject.
MR. WOOD: Okay. Well, we’ll go here.
QUESTION: In regards to the U.S. delegation that just returned from Cuba, they mentioned that they would talk to the State Department and the White House, at least when President Obama went to the Trinidad and Tobago summit, they’d have a better understanding about how to deal with Cuba or to lift travel restrictions. I was wondering if they were – if they got back to you or if you have any comments on their trip (inaudible)?
MR. WOOD: I’m not aware that they have had a meeting yet. I’m not sure that they’re back. They may be back. I’m not aware if they are, but I’m – it’s quite normal for members of a congressional delegation to return and brief, you know, representatives of the State Department and the White House on a particular trip. So we’ll have to see, but – as I said, but there hasn’t been – there’s not anything scheduled that I’m aware of at this point. So, you know, we look forward to talking to members of that delegation about the trip.
QUESTION: Has the State Department been looking at the possibility of lifting the travel ban or discussing their --
MR. WOOD: I think Senior Advisor Davidow spoke to a number of you about this issue. And, you know, the President has said this a few times during the campaign – that he looked forward to lifting some of the restrictions on remittances and travel for families to Cuba. But I have nothing beyond what’s been said by the President and others on this question.
QUESTION: Just on this – this --
MR. WOOD: On this subject, Charley?
QUESTION: Yes, please.
MR. WOOD: Sure.
QUESTION: The delegation said specifically that they wanted to sit down with Secretary Clinton about this.
MR. WOOD: Okay. Well, I haven’t seen that, and I’m sure the Secretary, her schedule permitting, will be certainly more than happy to sit down and talk about it.
QUESTION: And do you and Secretary Clinton agree with the comments that they made that the embargo should be ended and that the U.S. should talk directly with Cuba?
MR. WOOD: Well, I haven’t – and I apologize. I haven’t seen those comments about the lifting of the embargo. But I think we’ve been very clear that we don’t think the time is right for lifting the embargo. So – but again, the Secretary looks forward to hearing the views of members of Congress on not just Cuba, but on a wide range of issues, so –
QUESTION: Would the State Department support legislation passed on the Hill, if it was to be passed, regarding lifting that travel ban?
MR. WOOD: It’s certainly speculation. I don’t want to get ahead of the process.
Nina, did you have a –
MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have anything new, Nina, other than to say that Ambassador Rice had a number of meetings yesterday in New York. There was a P-5 plus Japan meeting to talk about how we deal with the situation with regard to the North. But I don’t have anything beyond that at this point.
QUESTION: Can you speculate at all about when we might see something?
MR. WOOD: I don’t speculate, as you know.
QUESTION: Were you saying something –
MR. WOOD: Oh, let me – there’s some --
QUESTION: Do you have anything about the North Korea bilateral talk to meet the United States very soon?
MR. WOOD: I don’t. I mean, what we’re focused on right now in New York is to try to get a – as I said for the last couple of days, a very strong collective response to the North Korean launch. So that’s where our activities are focused right now.
QUESTION: There seems to be a little apathy towards getting that strong, collective response, and it seems deadlocked at the moment. How are you going to break that?
MR. WOOD: Well, we’re engaged in diplomacy up in New York. And the Secretary’s been engaged, as you know, on this issue here in Washington.
As I said yesterday, this is a complicated issue. We’re not going to rush things. We want to get it right. We want to make sure we deliver that appropriate, strong response to the North’s action. And therefore, it’s going to take time, and I can’t put a timeframe on it.
QUESTION: But why do you think it’s taking this amount of time? Last time when they shot off a missile, you know, there was an immediate response. What’s going on here?
MR. WOOD: Well, look, there are some differences of opinion on this issue, and we’re going to be working in New York and – you know, amongst the various capitals to try to resolve some of these issues. But what we think is important is that we all speak with one voice, that we’re committed to sending a very strong response to the North for having conducted that launch. And we’ll go from there. But I just, you know, as I said, can’t put a timeframe on this for you.
QUESTION: And you say that the Secretary’s been involved here. Who has she spoken to today on this? You say she’s been very energetic, I think you said?
MR. WOOD: Well, she’s been working on this for several days now. I don’t think she has spoken to anyone on this issue today because she’s had a very full schedule. But obviously, she’s following it very closely. She has been in touch with Ambassador Rice in New York and others. So that’s what I have.
QUESTION: But she hasn’t picked up the phone and spoken to the Chinese or the Russian foreign ministers?
MR. WOOD: She spoke – I believe I said it was maybe yesterday or the day before, but she hasn’t been so far today. But again, she’s had a very full schedule so far this morning and has a full schedule for the rest of the afternoon. But as I said, Ambassador Rice is working this issue with other delegations in New York as well.
MR. WOOD: Which particular meeting?
QUESTION: The meeting between Holbrooke, Mullen, and the Pakistani Government, particularly, I think, Foreign Minister Qureshi. But there are emerging some particular tensions about security and intelligence issues there between the U.S. and Pakistan. Would you agree with that?
MR. WOOD: Well, for one thing, I don’t talk about intelligence issues from here. But certainly, in terms of dealing with extremism, extremist elements that are operating on Afghanistan’s border, in the FATA – look, this is a very complex issue.
You know, we want to work with Pakistan and we have been working with Pakistan as best we can to support them in their efforts to fight extremists. We’re going to continue to do so. Will there be differences of opinion from time to time on how we move forward? Yes. We do agree on a lot of the ways forward. But this is normal in this type of relationship, particularly when you’re dealing with very difficult, thorny issues.
So – but Ambassador Holbrooke, Admiral Mullen, they both had very, very good meetings in Pakistan with a number of officials. Despite what you read in the media about there not having been a meeting between Ambassador Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen and Director Pasha and General Kiyani. That was not true. They did meet. And so they were good, very constructive meetings.
Are these difficult issues? Yes. Are we going to try to do what we can to work them out? Absolutely. Because these are – this is a critical issue facing not just Pakistan and Afghanistan, but the rest of the international community, how we fight these extremists.
QUESTION: There is news reporting (inaudible) paper that a deputy to Ambassador Holbrooke met deputy leader of the terrorist organization Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Afghanistan.
MR. WOOD: I haven’t heard anything about that at all.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. planning to have directly engage the Talibans?
MR. WOOD: No, look, as we’ve said with regard to engaging – to this whole reconciliation process, this is something that has to be, you know, as we said, Afghan-led. You know, I think the Afghan Government has spoken to this much more clearly than certainly I have here, and that’s, you know, they want to talk to those elements that are willing to renounce violence, renounce any affiliation with al-Qaida, and who are willing to recognize Afghan’s – Afghanistan’s constitution. So you know, I think, the Government of Afghanistan has been very clear on that issue.
QUESTION: And did Ambassador Holbrooke had requested for a one-to-one meeting with ISA Chief General Pasha?
MR. WOOD: I believe that he had a separate meeting with Director Pasha, so – in addition to the meeting that he had with Admiral Mullen and Kiyani and Pasha.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. WOOD: Let me go to someone else back here. Yes, ma’am.
QUESTION: Back to North Korea. They said that – I think yesterday – that they are going to take strong steps if the UN Security Council takes actions against them. Do you have any response to that?
MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything beyond what we’ve said about North Korean rhetoric in the past: it’s not helpful. The North needs to focus on, as we’ve said from this podium and from others, that the North needs to focus on denuclearization. That’s what it committed to, and that’s in the interest of the entire international community. We will continue to call on the North to do that. And so --
QUESTION: But are you concerned that they might take more provocative actions?
MR. WOOD: We certainly hope not, and we would discourage the North from doing so. This was a very provocative act, and the international community is in the process, as I said, of trying to come up with an appropriate, strong response to the launch by the North.
QUESTION: But how are you going to get them back to the negotiation table?
MR. WOOD: Well, that’s what we’re involved in right now in terms of diplomacy, trying to get the North back to the table.
QUESTION: There has been some preliminary contacts between Russian and U.S. Government on the follow-on agreement to the START Treaty. Now you have the new chief negotiator and have new secretary for verification and compliance Gottemoeller. She spoke at length on those problems yesterday at the event organized by Carnegie Endowment. I was wondering if you could, you know, announce the formal date for those negotiations.
MR. WOOD: When we’re able to do that, we will certainly do that. I’m not able to do that at this moment from the podium.
MR. WOOD: I don’t have very much new. Look, we’re calling on the parties to refrain from further violence and resolve their differences peacefully and through peaceful means. We’re encouraged, frankly, that calm has returned to Chisinau. And we’re also happy to report that there were no reported injuries to American citizens. So that’s all I have on --
QUESTION: On the election, the way it was – it was handled, the way it happened, are you --
MR. WOOD: Well, were you here yesterday, Sylvie? Because I did respond.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you didn’t have the assessment. Do you have it now?
MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t have much further – a further update to that assessment, except to say that, you know, we basically shared the assessment of the OSCE’s –
QUESTION: You said you are still assessing.
MR. WOOD: That’s right. But again, I think we – as I said, we basically share that assessment that the OSCE gave. But we’ll be happy to provide you with a final assessment.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR. WOOD: Hang on. One last question.
QUESTION: Seventeen U.S. congressmen have written a letter to the Secretary of State on Burma last week and urged her to appoint a special coordinator for Burma as per the JADE Act. Has Secretary received the letter, and what’s her response to it?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know if she has received that letter. And certainly, she is always interested in hearing from members of Congress about, you know, important issues of the day. Certainly, Burma is one that she cares very deeply about. I’ll take the question and see what I can get you on that.
MR. WOOD: Yeah, sure. I’ll give you what I have on India, if you just bear with me a second. Let’s see, I know I have them here somewhere.
On the evening of April 7, U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Michael Mullen arrived in New Delhi for meetings with senior Indian Government officials, as well as civil society leaders. Ambassador Holbrooke met with National Security Advisor MK Narayanan and Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon for consultations on a variety of regional issues, including a discussion of India’s views on Afghanistan and regional security. Ambassador Holbrooke also met with Ambassador SK Lambah, Prime Minister Singh’s special envoy for Afghanistan.
This was Ambassador Holbrooke’s second visit to India as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and also Admiral Mullen’s second trip as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ambassador Holbrooke and Admiral Mullen departed New Delhi for Washington on the evening of April 8.
Okay. Thank you, all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)