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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 16, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Hostilities in Mullaittivu / Concern about Danger to Civilian Lives and Humanitarian Situation / Call to Stop Hostilities / Return to Humanitarian Pause / Call to Halt Shelling of Safe Zone / Enforce International Humanitarian Standards / Sri Lankan Government Has Opportunity to End Conflict / Power-Sharing Arrangements / U.S. Working the Issues Diplomatically
    • Expulsion of Inspectors / Four U.S. Personnel in Yongbyon Preparing to Leave / Discussions Among Various Parties / Denuclearized Peninsula / Security Council Presidential Statement / Communications with North Korea / 1718 Sanctions Committee / Flow of Goods / Addition Rounds of Consultations / Dealing with the Consequences / Working Closely with Russia and China / Six-Party Framework
  • CHAD
    • Mohammad al-Qurani Case / Allegations and Internal Discussions
    • Strategic Arms Talks to be Held on April 24
    • President Obama's Decision to Close Guantanamo Bay / Cases Being Reviewed
    • Spanish Decision Regarding Prosecution of Six Bush-Era Officials / Internal Matter
    • Jurisdiction Laws
  • IRAN
    • Roxana Saberi / Trial / Verdict Expected Soon / In Regular Contact with the Swiss / Working Hard to Secure Her Release / Call on Iranian
    • Engaging with Iran
    • Special Envoy Mitchell Travel Meeting with Foreign Minister Lieberman / Reiteration of U.S. Policy / Two-State Solution
    • Annapolis Process / Roadmap Obligations / Working with Israel and the Palestinians
    • Representation at the Brussels Conference


11:49 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Okay. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. I’ve got one brief statement I’d like to read, and this is with regard to the hostilities going on in Sri Lanka.

The United States Government is deeply concerned about the current danger to civilian lives and a dire humanitarian situation created by the fighting in the Mullaittivu area of Sri Lanka. We call upon the government and military of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers to immediately stop hostilities until the more than 140,000 civilians in the conflict are safely out. Both sides must immediately return to a humanitarian pause and both must respect the right of free movement of those civilian men, women, and children trapped by the fighting.

The United States calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to assist its Tamil citizens by halting shelling of the safe zone, permitting international monitors to ensure the safe exit of the civilians. The Government of Sri Lanka should also enforce international humanitarian standards in IDP camps, grant visas to international aid groups, and permit entry into Sri Lanka of international monitors and media access to those camps.

The Sri Lankan Government, as the legitimate sovereign power, has before it an opportunity to put an end to this lengthy conflict. A durable and lasting peace will only be achieved through a political solution that addresses the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankan communities. Further killing, particularly killing of civilians, will not end the conflict and will stain any eventual peace. We urge the Sri Lankan Government to employ diplomacy to permit a peaceful outcome of this conflict. We call on the Sri Lankan Government to put forward a proposal now to engage Tamils who do not espouse violence or terrorism, and to develop power-sharing arrangements so that lasting peace and reconciliation can be achieved.

And with that, I’m ready to take your questions. On this?


MR. WOOD: On this?

QUESTION: Yesterday, the UN human rights coordinator – humanitarian coordinator Mr. John Holmes at the UN said that the LTT is preventing the civilians to come out of the (inaudible). What do you have to say on that? And what will the (inaudible) do under those circumstances?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, I’ve just, basically through the statement, told you that we’re calling on both sides to basically prevent any further harm to civilians, allow them to get access. Yeah, I don’t have anything more than I have in the statement. That is --

QUESTION: The statement is mostly on Sri Lankan Government, not on LTT.

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve called on the LTT to take actions as well. So this is not just the United States calling on the Sri Lankan Government to do something. The LTT has responsibilities, and they need to protect civilians.


QUESTION: And the political solution is within the Sri Lankan constitution’s – what do you mean?

MR. WOOD: Look, we have been working this issue diplomatically with the Government of Sri Lanka, and other partners have been involved. And that work continues. And what we want to try to do, first and foremost, is to protect civilians, to make sure that they have access to food, water, and medicine, and finally, bring an end to this conflict.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: But you’re not saying it should be solved through the constitution?

MR. WOOD: Look, I’m just saying we’re – we’ve been working this diplomatically --

QUESTION: I mean, usually when you want a political solution, you say – you very deliberately say that it should be solved within a country’s constitutional law.

MR. WOOD: Well, I --

QUESTION: But why won’t you say that now?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, I can say that.


MR. WOOD: But what I’m saying right now is our immediate objective is to try to make sure that civilians are protected and get the access to food and humanitarian supplies that they need.

QUESTION: But when you call for a political solution – sorry. When you call for a political solution, what does that mean?

MR. WOOD: Just what it means. Calling for a political solution.


QUESTION: North Korea?

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Have your experts left yet? Or what’s the latest on trying to get them back to the Six-Party Talks?

MR. WOOD: Well, we have currently four U.S. personnel who are in Yongbyon and they are preparing to leave and they should be leaving over the next several days.

QUESTION: So – but they’re still there, as far as you know?

MR. WOOD: As far as I know, they’re there making preparations to leave. I don’t know if they’re actually on the site, still working, packing up. I don’t know. But they will be leaving over the next several days.

QUESTION: And has there been any further communication with the North Koreans or with your other – the other five parties to the talks – the four parties to the talks?

MR. WOOD: There may have been some communications, but I’m not aware of any formal meetings or anything like that.

Yes, Sue.

QUESTION: When you said they’re preparing to leave, how are they doing that? Are they – I mean, you said they’re gathering up their equipment. Is there anything else that they have to do? Do they have to shut anything down, turn off other –

MR. WOOD: Well --

QUESTION: What does that entail?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not on the ground, so I’m not able to tell you exactly what’s going on. But obviously, moving equipment, maybe putting seals on things. You know, I don’t know. It’s just that they’re making preparations to leave.

QUESTION: Would they put seals on things, or wouldn't the IAEA put seals on things?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, the IAEA would be doing that sort of thing itself. Again, I’m not on the ground, so I’m just giving you, you know, a possibility of something that they might have to do. But I mean, whatever the normal preparations are for leaving after doing that kind of work, that’s what they’re engaged in.

QUESTION: I may be setting myself up for possible embarrassment here, but whatever happened with the two --

MR. WOOD: I won’t embarrass you.

QUESTION: -- journalists who were detained? Did you ever hear anything back from the Swedes on them?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t recall. I’ll look into that, Matt.

QUESTION: They seem to have gotten forgotten about after the --

MR. WOOD: No, the efforts are – let me get you an update on that.

QUESTION: But they’re still there, though, right?

MR. WOOD: As far as I know. Let me get you an update.


QUESTION: A few things, Robert. You said yesterday – you called this a step backwards.

MR. WOOD: Right.

QUESTION: So, presumably, you would like to see this reversed somehow. All of the remarks we’re hearing from you are in the direction of simple compliance with the expulsion order. So what efforts are being made to reverse this situation and get it back moving in a direction you’d like to see it moving in?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, as you know, James, discussions have been going on amongst various parties who have equities in the North Korean situation. And you know, the North Koreans took a decision. They wanted these monitors out. As I said, it’s a step backwards. We want to see the Korean Peninsula denuclearized. This clearly is not taking us in the right direction. But the North made a decision. As I mentioned to you many times the other day, the Security Council has spoken through that presidential statement, made very clear what is required of the North. Should the North not comply, then they will have to deal with the consequences of that decision.

QUESTION: Well, can you tell us about these discussions that are going on between the various parties with equity?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything to tell you about it right now, but at some point, you know, we’ll be able to talk more about it.

QUESTION: Have you talked to the North Koreans since this all – since they brought the inspectors? Have there been any communications through the New York channel? Has Ambassador Bosworth called the North Koreans?

MR. WOOD: There may have been communications with the North, but I’m not going to elaborate further than that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, just to James’ point, I mean, you seem to just be like, okay, well, we’ll leave. But why aren’t there direct communications with the North Koreans in an effort to reverse this decision?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, we have, as I said, personnel on the ground who have been in touch with the North with regard to the modalities of the departure. As I said, you know, discussions have – we have had discussions with the North on this, on the question of their decision. But I don’t have anything further for you on it. They are going to have the face the consequences of, you know, kicking these personnel out.

QUESTION: What consequences are they?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ll have to see what those consequences are. But they’re going to have to face consequences for, you know, disobeying the rule of the international community.

QUESTION: Well, is that unilateral consequences? Because you weren’t able to impose any consequences at the UN Security Council.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, there is a 1718 Sanctions Committee that met yesterday to deal with the question of next steps with regard to implementing the presidential statement, so – and they agreed on, you know, two categories – one of goods, the other being entities. Goods meaning trying to be – you know, make sure that we prevent the flow of goods that could be used to support the North’s program. And entities, those entities involved in supporting and supplying the North with various technologies for its nuclear program.

So – let me finish – so the committee met yesterday. There will be, you know, additional rounds of consultations, and then they will agree on a list of those goods and entities. And that will be made public, as you know, and then member-states will be required to prevent the North from getting access to these goods and from – entities from supplying the types of material that we don’t want to see get to the North.

QUESTION: It seems to me, that answer you could have given a little while ago and would have saved us – (laughter) --

MR. WOOD: Well --

QUESTION: -- some time here, right?

MR. WOOD: How much time?

QUESTION: I don’t know. I mean, it was just a – I mean, there – something has happened, there was a meeting. They talked about this, the process is moving forward.

MR. WOOD: She asked a question about, you know, measures, so I followed up on that.

QUESTION: Well, I mean (inaudible) last question for what – anyway, it doesn’t matter.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that in that meeting, the United States, with or without other countries joining in, proposed entities for sanction?

MR. WOOD: Absolutely. I’m not going to get into those at this point for, as you can understand, obvious reasons. But yes indeed, we did come with our own --

QUESTION: And what other countries also proposed entities for sanction?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m – you’ll have to talk to the Sanctions Committee. I’m not going to get into that.

QUESTION: One other – a couple of other things, Robert, please. As you just specified, this Sanctions Committee was meeting pursuant to the presidential statement.

MR. WOOD: That’s correct.

QUESTION: The presidential statement was a response to the launch of the rocket. The question that you were asked before was about potential consequences as a result of the expulsion of the inspectors and the technicians.

MR. WOOD: Right.

QUESTION: Do you mean to tell us that the rocket launch and the expulsion are jointly being dealt with through the Sanctions Committee? Those are the consequences for each or for both?

MR. WOOD: Look, when I talk about overall consequences, I’m talking about – I was referring specifically to the decision to – of the North to, you know, kick out IAEA and, you know, American monitors. There will be, I’m sure, additional measures and additional consequences on the North. But right now, we’re working through the Sanctions Committee at the UN pursuant, as you said, to the presidential statement. And that’s where we are right now. And again, what we want to see is the North come back to the Six-Party framework. But clearly, it seems to be heading in the wrong direction, and that’s something that the North will have to face consequences for.

QUESTION: Two final questions, and I appreciate your indulgence and that of my colleagues here. Prior to the rocket launch, you and Secretary Clinton were very specific in telling us that the consequences for the rocket launch, if it went forward, which it did, would come within the framework of the Security Council. Can you tell us whether – now – whether the consequences for the expulsion order will also come within the Security Council or in some other form?

MR. WOOD: James, let me just put it to you very broadly. The international community has required that the North take certain actions and not take certain actions. The North has not listened to the will of the international community, and therefore it’s going to have to face the consequences from its unwillingness to meet the international community’s requirements. So however you want to put it together, the North is going to have to deal with the fact that the international community is not happy with the decisions it’s taken. And it’s going to have to deal with the consequences that flow, whether that be national measures, whether that be international measures, as I just spoke to, with regard to the Sanctions Committee. There’s been a pattern of, you know, bad behavior on the part of the North. And this has been going on for quite some time.

As you know, the Six-Party framework has had a lot of ups and downs. And we’re very concerned about what decisions that the North has recently taken with regard to the launch and, of course, with regard to American and international personnel that have been asked to leave. And so we are going to continue to work with our partners, both on the Security Council and outside of the Security Council, to bring consequences upon the North for the actions that it’s taken. And that’s the best way I’d like to leave it now.

QUESTION: And do you still maintain that UN Security Council presidential statements are legally binding?

MR. WOOD: James, for you, we’re going to post an answer to that question. And we’ll post that later today and you’ll have an answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

WOOD: Sue.

QUESTION: Okay, you said that, you know, you’ve had discussions with the North on this issue was that --

MR. WOOD: Which issue are we talking about?

QUESTION: Well, just generally in terms of throwing out the inspectors and also the launch. I think you’re referring to the inspectors there. Was that through the New York channel?

MR. WOOD: I don’t want to get into which, you know, channel we have, you know, had discussions with the North, but just to say that we have, you know, relayed our views to the North.

QUESTION: But why not? Why not, though? I mean, do you know? Why can’t you tell us which channel you’ve been working through?

MR. WOOD: Obviously, I don’t want to tell you which channel we’re working through.

QUESTION: But why not? I’m a bit perplexed as to why not.

MR. WOOD: Well, just – let me just say that we have had conversations with the North.

QUESTION: Directly or through the Chinese?

MR. WOOD: Conversations.

QUESTION: Direct conversations?

MR. WOOD: Conversations. I don’t want to get into the specifics, nor the substance.

QUESTION: So these are specific conversations then?

MR. WOOD: That – it could be your characterization, but I’m just giving you what I have.

QUESTION: Not, but, I mean, you can tell us whether there have been direct conversations between the U.S. and North Korea.

MR. WOOD: We have had conversations. Let me just – let me just put it that way.

QUESTION: Sorry. And then just to follow up on another thing that you said, you said that, you know, whether these would be international or national measures. So are you looking independently at taking your own list of – set of sanctions?

MR. WOOD: Well, Sue. I don’t want to, you know, talk about what we may or may not do. But I think what’s important is in the Sanctions Committee, there’s the clear will of the international community to pursue additional measures against – you know, to prevent entities from supporting North Korea’s nuclear program as well as goods getting to the North that can support that program as well.

QUESTION: So this Committee met yesterday. Is it meeting again today?

MR. WOOD: They will – I don’t know if it’s meeting again today, but there will be several rounds of discussions before there’s an agreement on the list of entities and goods.

QUESTION: So how many entities are you looking at: 10s, 20, 30, 50?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I don’t want to put a number on it. But we’re obviously going to look very closely at those entities that have been providing support, that could provide support to the North’s program, and those goods that would in any way contribute to a continuation of the North’s program.

QUESTION: And how many countries are on that Sanctions Committee?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have the number. I don’t have the number off the top of my head.


MR. WOOD: Yes, Charlie.

QUESTION: Could you tell us who was the U.S. representative, and if there was one, at the Sanctions Committee? And also, a related question. Could you inform us about Ambassador Bosworth’s participation, if at all, in any of this? To use a word we often hear about North Korea, at least, to me, it’s opaque, to know whether Ambassador Bosworth is actively involved, partly involved? What’s going on?

MR. WOOD: Well, to go to your first question about the Sanctions Committee, that’s usually headed by an expert who deals with those questions at the UN. I don’t know who it is up there at the moment – who is on that committee. It’s not normally at an ambassadorial level. It’s usually an expert that sits on that committee.

With regard –

QUESTION: As the U.S. participant or as a –

MR. WOOD: As a U.S. participant, yes.


MR. WOOD: What I need to check, Charlie, is I have to check and make sure that we are actually on that committee. We probably are, but I need to check and make sure of that. But usually that committee is headed by an expert.

With regard to Ambassador Bosworth, he has certainly been involved. He’s had discussions with the Secretary and others. And he’s engaged on the issue. I don’t want to get into the specifics of what he’s doing, but I can assure you that he is following this issue very closely, having meetings within the government, has talked to the Secretary about this and others. And, you know, if we have anything further to say about his activities, we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: And just one follow-up.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Has he been operating from Washington, or is he in Boston or New York or --

MR. WOOD: I don’t know where he is at the moment. But, as I said, he’s been in close touch on this issue and will continue to be.


QUESTION: You said he’s having conversations with the Secretary and others. Is that exclusive to the U.S. Government or is he talking to the other parties in the Six-Party Talks?

QUESTION: The North?

MR. WOOD: Well, he --

QUESTION: The North?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know that he has talked to the North. I don’t believe so. But he’s talked to other – the other parties.

Let’s see. Who else?

QUESTION: Do you know if the U.S. liaison who is based in a hotel in Pyongyang is still there?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I honestly don’t know.

QUESTION: One more on Bosworth?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: He said kind of just days before the launch that after an acceptable cooling-off period he was prepared to go back to Pyongyang and begin talks again on how to get this all started. Are there any plans for him to travel?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of any at this point. I’m not going to rule out the fact that he may at some point travel, but I don’t have anything right now in terms of travel schedule.


QUESTION: Robert, is the United States satisfied with the efforts that Russia and China are doing to pressure on North Korea in this issue? And what practical steps would you expect from Russia and China to make to solve this problem?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve worked – obviously, we have worked very closely with the Chinese and the Russians up in New York to try to agree on a presidential statement, which we were able to do. And we’ve had good conversations with both governments. We’ve worked very closely, as I said, with them on this issue and we’ll continue to be.

Both parties have an interest in seeing the North go back to the Six-Party framework, as we do. And what we need to find a way is to – we need to find a way to get them back to the Six-Party framework. But clearly, the North doesn’t seem to be interested in doing that, and therefore it has to deal with the consequences that – as I said, that will flow from that decision that they’ve made. But we’ve had – we’re not looking for anything specific from Russia and China. As I said, we have good working relations with them on this issue and a host of other issues. So, you know, we’ll continue to work with them as we all try to figure out the way forward with regard to the North.

James, you’ve had a whole bunch. Let me go to some –

QUESTION: North Korea said they will not return at Six-Party Talks anymore. Do you expect North Korea come back to table in near future?

MR. WOOD: Well, we certainly hope so. It’s a decision for the North to make.


QUESTION: Just as the – your monitors leave, can you give us – and I realize this number might not have changed since the last time you gave – given it. But how much of the disablement had been completed?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything beyond what we said last time.

QUESTION: So – but can you just give us the number of steps that have been finished, or the number of rods --

MR. WOOD: The number of steps? I don’t know what you mean by that. You mean in terms of where we are?

QUESTION: In terms of the disablement of Yongbyon that was --

MR. WOOD: I’ll check and see if we have any update to it, but I don’t think we do.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Do you have any statement today to make on allegations of mistreatment by Mohammad al-Qurani, who’s Chad --

MR. WOOD: Same to – well, just to answer it, no, I don’t.

QUESTION: Well, can I – we’ve – you referred us yesterday to the Department of Justice. They categorically said it was not their jurisdiction and referred us back to you. And we’ve also spoken to the Chadian ambassador, who says that he’s had conversations with the State Department about al-Qurani and his allegations. Can you confirm that that’s taken place?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not going to get into any, you know, discussions that we may have had on this particular case at all.

QUESTION: Do you know the allegations I’m talking about?

MR. WOOD: Yes, I’m aware of the allegations that you’re talking about, and I’ve given you my answer.

QUESTION: Well, what does that say about the Administration --

MR. WOOD: I’ve given you my answer.

QUESTION: I’m just curious. The IAEA inspectors – monitors have already left North Korea, and the U.S. are still on the ground there. I’m just wondering if we should read into this if you are negotiating with the North Koreans or talking with the North Koreans for extra time. I assume the IAEA inspectors had the same administrative duties to complete before they left North Korea. So I’m wondering why the U.S. is still there. Are you asking them for more time for the U.S. inspectors?

MR. WOOD: It’s not a question of asking them for more time. The North made a decision. It’s asked our people to leave, as it did ask the IAEA to leave. We are in the process – we are having talks with the North on the ground in terms of the modalities of that departure.

But I’m not aware that we are seeking additional time. If we do – if our people feel they need additional time, they’ll request it. But I’m not aware that there was any type of request of that nature.


QUESTION: You’ve said many times that North Korea knows what the international community is asking it to do. This expulsion of inspectors and technical personnel obviously changes materially the facts on the ground. So I wonder what the U.S. Government regards as the most urgent action that the North Koreans need to take in order for things to be moving in the right direction. Is it a rescission of this order, or a return to the Six-Party Talks? What is the most urgent thing, now that this – these changes have happened, that we are asking North Korea to do?

MR. WOOD: Well, reversing this decision would be the most immediate that we would like to see happen, and then, of course, getting back to the Six-Party framework. I mean, if we don’t have our people on the ground, they’re not able to monitor and observe what’s happening. And that’s deeply troubling to not only the United States, but other members of the Six-Party Talks and others in the international community. So that would be the ultimate priority right now. And then, of course, moving them back to the Six-Party framework.

Okay. Oh, please, ask --

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the – the Russians announced today they’re pulling out – or yesterday that they’re pulling some troops out of Chechnya, saying that the situation has stabilized. So does the United States has anything to say about that? I mean, do you welcome that as a sign, or do you share the same assessment?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I haven’t seen these reports about it, so I’d prefer to hold comment until we’ve had a chance to look at them.


QUESTION: Russian officials are saying that there will be strategic arms talks next week in Rome. Can you confirm that? I think it’s April 24th.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, that’s correct. I’ve heard that as well. I don’t have any more details. I just heard about that before coming down that that was the date.

QUESTION: April 24th?

MR. WOOD: April 24, yes.


QUESTION: Sorry. Can you tell us why you’re not willing to talk about what – (inaudible) the conversations --

MR. WOOD: I’ve given you the answer to the question.

QUESTION: But what does it say about the Obama Administration and the President’s promise to shut down Guantanamo Bay --

MR. WOOD: That decision has not changed.

QUESTION: -- and no one from his department will even acknowledge --

MR. WOOD: That has not changed. The President has made a decision --

QUESTION: -- those allegations – that it’s --

MR. WOOD: Are you going to let me talk, or do you want to continue?

QUESTION: Well, I was trying to finish my question.

MR. WOOD: Well, I’ve given you the answer to the question.


QUESTION: The Spanish attorney general says that they’re not going to move – that he won’t move ahead on the possible prosecution of the six Bush Administration-era officials. The President in an interview yesterday, the transcript of which was released today, said that he had not been in contact with the Spanish about this, but that his team – my team – has been. Can you elaborate on what that contact was?

MR. WOOD: No, I can’t.

QUESTION: Do you know – do you have any position on the – what is the Administration’s position on universal jurisdiction laws in general?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, I think – well, let me talk specifically to the Spanish case. That is – really is an internal matter. And from my understanding, the Spanish haven’t made a decision as to whether to go forward. So I don’t really have anything more to say on that particular issue.

QUESTION: Well, I’d like, if I could – can you get an answer about what the Administration’s position is on universal jurisdiction laws, or universal jurisdiction, in general, and also find out what the contact that the President was talking about was?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, again, I’d have to refer you to the White House for that particular part of this in terms of what the President – you know, what the President said.

QUESTION: Well, the President said “my team” has been in contact. Now, his team, in dealing with foreign governments, is the State Department.

MR. WOOD: Absolutely. Yeah. I just --

QUESTION: So that’s --

MR. WOOD: I’ll look into that.


QUESTION: Sorry, just to follow up on the Guantanamo detainee issue. I mean, is the State Department looking into these allegations that he made on Al Jazeera?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, I haven’t seen these allegations. I’ve heard about them. But you know, I’ve spoken to this issue many times here about, you know, these cases in – with regard to Guantanamo. And the President’s made that decision to close Guantanamo. A number of cases are being reviewed. You know that we’re having discussions with a number of countries in terms of taking some of these detainees. But I don’t have anything further to say about it, and I’m not going to go beyond that.

QUESTION: But isn’t this a concern for you that – I mean, the U.S. image was very seriously affected by, you know, claims of torture.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Guantanamo Bay is a blemish on the U.S. image, and these kinds of stories are emerging again. So why is the Obama Administration not actively coming out and saying, you know, we’re looking into this, we’re doing something about it?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think it’s very clear that we’re looking into this. We’re dealing with the whole Guantanamo question, and there are a number of parts to this. I just don’t want to get into specific cases. Believe me, the Administration is very focused on this. As I said, we’re having discussions with foreign governments about taking detainees.

QUESTION: But I mean --

QUESTION: But this is a case that has been broadcast in the Arab world. It incenses people when the Administration does not publicly come out and say, “We’re looking into this, we’re doing something about it.”

MR. WOOD: Look, as I said, this Administration has taken a fundamentally different approach to dealing with this particular issue. The President made a decision that we’re going to close Guantanamo, and obviously, in order to do that, you have to deal with a number of questions with regard to the people who were in Guantanamo, what happened there.

All of this is being looked at, and I don’t – I think it’s an unfair conclusion to draw that we are not concerned or looking into various cases. All I’m saying is, I don’t want to go into details of it, but I can assure you that we are focused on dealing with a number of these cases. We’re going to continue to do so. And the President’s ultimate objective of closing Guantanamo is what we’re focused on.

QUESTION: Does the ultimate – Robert, does the ultimate objective of closing Guantanamo preclude you looking into allegations of mistreatment of detainees?

MR. WOOD: Look, we certainly have been looking into a number of these issues. I just don’t want to get into specifics --

QUESTION: We’re not – I mean, we’re not even, at this point, asking you to get into specifics.

MR. WOOD: Well, yes, I’ve been asked to --

QUESTION: We’re asking you to say whether you look into cases – into allegations, in general, of mistreatment.

MR. WOOD: Of course we do, of course we do. What more do you want me to say than that?

QUESTION: That’s what we wanted you to say.

MR. WOOD: Well, you got it.


MR. WOOD: Okay.

(Inaudible), mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Change of subject.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: An Iranian news source has reported that four American banks have applied for permits to open branches on Iranian soil. Have you heard anything about this?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know anything about it.

QUESTION: Can you confirm?

MR. WOOD: You might want to check with Treasury, see if Treasury knows anything. I don’t know anything about it.

QUESTION: It specifically cites Citibank and Goldman Sachs as two of those four, and that a Saudi prince has been following this up and has made this --

MR. WOOD: Well, then I – (inaudible) about it, but I would check with Treasury to see if Treasury is aware.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Iran, have they, to your knowledge, responded to the invitation yet?

MR. WOOD: I think the Secretary spoke to that yesterday. Certainly in --

QUESTION: I know, but that was yesterday, and today is today --

MR. WOOD: I don’t think there’s --

QUESTION: -- and there’s been 24 hours that have passed and --

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: -- things can happen and --

MR. WOOD: Very true, but I’m not aware that anything has happened.

QUESTION: All right. Have you heard back from the Swiss yet about Roxana Saberi?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. We’ve been informed by our Swiss protecting power that – and obviously, able to confirm that Roxana Saberi --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, you are able to confirm?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, we’re able to confirm that Roxana Saberi went on trial in Iran earlier this week, and we understand that a verdict is expected soon. We’re in regular contact with our Swiss protecting power, and – but we’re unable to go beyond what we’ve said about this case unless we get, you know, written permission from Roxana Saberi to talk further about it.

But our concerns remain. We want to see her released. We’re working hard to secure that release. These charges, as I said yesterday, are baseless, without foundation. And we’ve been very concerned about the transparency of this judicial process. And you know, just to emphasize again, we’re going to work to try to get her released, and we call on the Iranians to provide as much information as they can to us about Roxana Saberi, and go from there.

QUESTION: Did – were the Swiss – presumably, since they didn’t know until today or late yesterday, was there a Swiss representative in the courtroom for the trial? Was there any --

MR. WOOD: I don’t know, Matt, if there was someone from the Swiss Embassy there in the courtroom. I don’t know that. I don’t know the answer to that question.

QUESTION: Well, apparently, she had met with her lawyer.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’m hearing that and no, they were not, so --

QUESTION: Do you think that this trial will have any impact on your efforts to engage with Iran? I mean, the President has said that he wants a better (inaudible) – the Secretary has said that they want – you want a better relationship with Iran. Yet Iran is trying an American citizen for charges that you say are baseless and continue to do it with a host of American citizens. So at what point does this affect your kind of goodwill towards trying to forge a new relationship with Iran?

MR. WOOD: Well, I can’t give you a good answer to that right now, Elise. But this is certainly not helpful, you know, and we think responding in a positive way to the Saberi case would be helpful in terms of winning goodwill on the part of the United States and the American people. But we’ve made a strategic decision to engage Iran directly in dialogue. We’re committed to that. We have yet to see that Iran is interested in reciprocating. So we’ll have to see.

We don’t want to see more of these cases. We – as I said, we want to see Roxana Saberi released, and the Swiss are working very hard to try to help achieve that. But you know, again, as we’ve said many times, our hand is stretched out to Iran. We’d like to see Iran reciprocate.

QUESTION: Well, at what point do you take away your hand? I mean, if your hand is out there for a long time and Iran doesn’t take you up on it, I mean, is your patience unlimited here? And have you heard any reaction back to the letter that – or the aide-memoire or whatever you call it that Secretary Clinton sent?

MR. WOOD: To answer the second part of your question, no, we have not heard back yet. But you know, the first part – you know, that’s a judgment we’ll have to make at some point. Obviously, our outreach to Iran is relatively new, and we’ll have to see how it goes. But these types of cases where, you know, someone has – an American is brought to trial on, you know, basically baseless charges is not helpful. And we’ll just have to see. I just can’t give you an answer to that right now in terms of, you know, your question.

Okay? Thank you all.

QUESTION: Mideast, Mitchell and – met with Lieberman today, after which Lieberman’s office said that going back to Oslo, none of the peace efforts had worked and that a new approach was needed. You know, what does that say for your efforts there?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, what I can tell you is Senator Mitchell had a very good and candid discussion with Foreign Minister Lieberman. Senator Mitchell reiterated what U.S. policy is with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And by that, I mean our pursuit of a two-state solution with the two countries living side-by-side in peace. With regard to Foreign Minister Lieberman’s comments, I’d have to refer you to him or his office. But Senator Mitchell, you know, made it clear what the U.S. position is with regard to --

QUESTION: That – with regard to two-state solution?

MR. WOOD: Two-state solution, yes.

QUESTION: And following on Annapolis?

MR. WOOD: It’s been very clear that out of Annapolis, there were a number of different elements that the U.S. Government and the other parties were committed to. And certainly, Roadmap obligations are important, making sure that we don’t take steps that further inflame tensions in the region, taking steps that don’t contribute to a positive atmosphere. So the foreign minister is well aware, as is the rest of the Israeli Government, about what the United States wants to see happen in the region.

It’s a new government. There are going to be comments coming from various officials in terms of their views. Senator Mitchell looks forward to working with the new government, and of course with the Palestinians and others, to try to reach that two-state solution, Matt. It’s not going to be easy and there are going to be ups and downs in this process, as we have them in the North Korea – the Six-Party process. So you know, we just have to dig in, roll up our sleeves, and continue to go to work, because that’s what the people of the region – they would expect no less from us.

QUESTION: Okay. I got one more unrelated. On Somalia and the Secretary’s announcement yesterday, do you know who will be representing the U.S. at this conference in Brussels?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, that’ll be Acting Assistant Secretary for African Affairs Phillip Carter. And I think there’ll also be a representative from USAID going, but we don’t have that name yet.

QUESTION: Do you know if there’s anyone from PM going, Political --

MR. WOOD: I don’t think so.

QUESTION: Because I mean, they have taken the lead on the piracy issue.

MR. WOOD: I know they’ve been very involved in it.

QUESTION: Well, I guess that’s it.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:25 p.m.)

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