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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 17, 2009


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • ANNOUNCEMENTS
    • The Department expresses its condolences regarding loss of lives in the recent earthquake in Afghanistan/PRT convoy is en route to the scene and should reach it soon
    • The Department wishes Lambros a speed recovery and a prompt return
  • CUBA
    • Have seen recent reports by Raul Castro that Cuba expresses willingness to conduct a dialogue/The U.S. is looking for the Cuban Government to reciprocate, following the bold steps taken by President Obama/The Cuban people must be allowed to gain more freedom before a serious dialogue can take place
  • SOMALIA/PIRACY
    • A working-level meeting of an interagency group regarding piracy is taking place today/This is an internal government meeting and details cannot be elaborated on /There is to be a meeting regarding this issue in Brussels on April 23/Planning to arrange a meeting with the Contact Group on Piracy Off the Coast of Somalia (CGPSC)
  • SRI LANKA
    • Statement issued on April 16 regarding the U.S. position on fighting in Sri Lanka/The U.S. calls for an end to violence and appeals to all parties to cease the attacks/Diplomatic efforts are underway/Major objective is to allow international organizations access to all areas/On-going pressure is being applied to bring violence to an end
  • NORTH KOREA
    • No update on the work of Ambassador Bosworth/American journalists still being held/A representative from the Swedish Embassy visited them on March 30/State Department officials have been in touch with their families and diplomatic efforts are on-going
  • PAKISTAN
    • Donors Conference in Tokyo (press release cited)/Issue of the "trust deficit" and the work being done to resolve it/Both governments are working on it because the stakes are so high
  • ZIMBABWE
    • Travel Warning in that country cancelled on April 8/Situation there still unpredictable/U.S. is continuing to monitor situation/Americans are still cautioned about traveling there and advised to carefully evaluate decisions to visit
  • IRAN
    • Question taken regarding arms smuggling


TRANSCRIPT:

10:58 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: All right. Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. We’re going to try to do this quickly as the Secretary’s going to have her digital town hall meeting.

I just want to say a couple of things. First and foremost, welcome a distinguished predecessor who’s sitting there in the back. I would also like to say a few words about the earthquake in Afghanistan earlier today.

We extend our condolences to the victims of the earthquake in Nangarhar province in Afghanistan, especially to the injured and the families of those who have lost their lives. A PRT convoy carrying humanitarian assistance and U.S. medical responders is heading to the earth – to the quake-damaged village of Koodoo Khan in Nangarhar province and is expected to reach the area soon.

I’d also like to make one other brief announcement. We – I think you all know our colleague, Lambros, who I understand has been hospitalized. And we wish him a very speedy recovery and our thoughts are with him and his family.

And with that, go to your questions. Matt.

QUESTION: Have you seen Raul Castro’s latest comments in Venezuela about willingness to engage? And if you have, what do you make of them?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’ve seen the reports. And if indeed those reports are true, I think that’s a positive step. But again, as the Secretary said, we urge Cuba to release political prisoners, to allow for free flow of information, and for freedom of assembly. And so we look for the Cuban Government to reciprocate those steps that President Obama just announced.

QUESTION: One of the things that he said was that they’d be willing to free political prisoners if you all freed these Cubans who have been jailed for spying. What are the chances of that happening?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t know anything about those comments. I haven’t heard about them. I would just say that the President, I think, took some very bold steps the other day. And we would like to see Cuba take some bold steps as well. We stand ready to have a dialogue with Cuba. But what’s important is that the Cuban people be allowed to express themselves freely and to assemble as they wish. And so again, we wait to see what steps the Cuban Government’s willing to take.

QUESTION: Do you – you say we stand ready to have a dialogue with the Cuban Government. Are you – is their taking some kind of concrete steps to reciprocate, as you put it, a condition for having a dialogue with them?

MR. WOOD: Look, we – as I said, the President just announced some steps that we think were bold. And we want to see the Cuban Government – if the Cuban Government’s interested in having a substantive, serious dialogue with the United States, it needs to address not just concerns of the United States and other countries, but of the Cuban people.

So again, if Fidel* Castro is welcoming the steps that we’ve taken, we think that’s a good – a good thing. But there needs to be some reciprocation on the side of the Cuban Government, so we await that.

QUESTION: So that is the condition, in other words, for a dialogue?

MR. WOOD: I think I’ve just spelled it out the best way I can.

Yes, Goyal.

QUESTION: New subject?

MR. WOOD: New subject?

QUESTION: New subject, yeah.

MR. WOOD: Okay, let me --

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MR. WOOD: Okay, that’s fine.

QUESTION: This meeting, this interagency meeting that’s taking place today on piracy, could you please enlarge on that, you know? Are you looking at specific proposals? Are you hoping to come up with one thing specific?

MR. WOOD: Sue, for one thing, I don’t want to make a habit of talking about internal U.S. Government meetings. But there’s a working-level meeting going on today that is going to deal with next steps with regard to the announcement the Secretary made with regard to our anti-piracy efforts. So let me just leave it at that. There’s a meeting going on, working level, to start to begin implementation of the initiative the Secretary announced.

QUESTION: Well, if you don’t want to make a habit of talking about it, then --

MR. WOOD: Not going to start here.

QUESTION: Well, but the Secretary announced that this meeting was happening two days ago, and last evening --

QUESTION: There was a number of --

QUESTION: -- there was an email, an on-the-record email comment, about the meeting coming out from your office.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm. And I think I gave you some of the details --

QUESTION: Actually it was one sentence that gave no details.

MR. WOOD: Well, I think I did better than one sentence, so --

QUESTION: And so, you’ve already made a habit of talking about this meeting, so why can’t you --

MR. WOOD: No, but in getting into the particulars from the podium about --

QUESTION: Can you tell us who’s going to be there?

MR. WOOD: I --

QUESTION: Not names, but what agencies are represented?

MR. WOOD: Well, for one thing, I don’t have that with me right here. But I don’t really want to make – get into the habit – I don’t even want to begin to talk about internal U.S. Government meetings. We just --

QUESTION: Okay, well, if you don’t want us to ask about them, then you shouldn’t announce them.

MR. WOOD: Look --

QUESTION: The Secretary said that it --

QUESTION: Is that fair enough?

QUESTION: -- was an interagency meeting.

MR. WOOD: Okay.

QUESTION: So can you say what agencies are there?

MR. WOOD: I’m just saying an interagency meeting. I don’t want to get into the specifics. I’ve just said that.

QUESTION: Well, what are the options for next steps then? You said you’re looking at next steps. I mean, what do you see as being, you know, possible?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think I outlined those the other day for – for all of you. I mean, we are looking to see what we can do in terms of coordinating our communication efforts, for trying to see how we can deal with tracking and seizing assets of pirates, looking to see how we can best prosecute these criminals. But I don’t have anything beyond what I said the other day.

Again, we’re starting – the process underway right now, we’re beginning the implementation of the Secretary’s initiative. As you know, there’s a meeting on the 23rd in Brussels that Acting Assistant Secretary Phillip Carter will be attending, so there is a lot of movement and activity going on. So when we have more to say, we certainly will. But these are our initial efforts to start to implement that initiative.

QUESTION: Is there some timetable associated with the work of the committee? In other words --

MR. WOOD: I don’t think there’s any timetable on this yet, James. But we clearly want to move forward as quickly as possible. We’re trying, as you know, to set up a contact group meeting very soon. So there’s a lot going on, and we’ll certainly provide you with updates as we have them.

Goyal.

QUESTION: A new subject?

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Robert, a lot is going on around the globe, but as far as South Asia, most of the countries are in trouble now and problems in Nepal and Bangladesh, and millions of people are demonstrating around the globe as far as stop bloodshed or bloodbaths in Sri Lanka. So what – I know there were some meetings took place here between Sri Lankan officials and also Under Secretary, Mr. -- Ambassador Bosworth. What is going on now? What role you think U.S. is laying as far as humanitarian aids or stopping this bloodshed or bloodbath?

MR. WOOD: Goyal, yesterday I spoke at length to this. And as you know, we issued a statement the other day on the situation in Sri Lanka, and we are encouraging both the government and the LTTE to cease – cease violence, cease attacks. We’ve very concerned about the civilian population in Tamil areas. It’s a concern not only of the United States but of a number of countries around the world.

It’s not an easy situation. We’ve been working diplomatically with others to try to bring about an end to the violence, but we haven’t achieved that yet. But we’re still working very hard. As I said, we’re appealing to both sides to, you know, limit any kind of danger to civilians. And we’ll just have to keep working the issue. It is of big concern to us, and the Secretary has spoken to this issue quite a bit. And we’ll just continue our diplomatic efforts, and call on others to use whatever leverage they have, on both sides, to use that leverage.

QUESTION: Is there any kind of international efforts are going on at the United Nations or (inaudible) level as like parties bringing (inaudible) in the area like India and others?

MR. WOOD: You know that there are efforts at the United Nations to try to do what that body can to, you know, end the violence in Sri Lanka. But it’s not going to be easy. You know, both sides are deeply dug in in their positions, and the only thing we can do is to try to work diplomatically and convince the two sides to refrain from further violence.

Yes, Charlie.

QUESTION: Can we go to North Korea? The –

QUESTION: Can we stay on this for one second?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just – you know, I noticed in yesterday’s statement, you said that you urged both the government and the military of Sri Lanka to – as well as the Tamil Tigers, to immediately stop hostilities. You know, normally you would just urge the government. I mean, do you feel like the military is not following the orders of the government here, and therefore you felt the need to refer to them?

MR. WOOD: No, I’m not saying that. I’m – what we’re saying is that the government has been engaged for this, you know, decades-long battle with the LTTE, and, you know, the violence has gotten very, very bad. And we want – you know, the international community is demanding action on the part of the government and the LTTE. And the basis of that is our concern, our deep concern about the civilian population, particularly in the Tamil areas.

And again, as I said, it’s not an easy situation. We’re trying to make sure that all of the different international organizations and aid organizations have access to the safe areas and, you know, we continue to work that.

QUESTION: Just one other thing on this. I mean, can you – I know that there have been a series of conference calls among the so-called Tokyo co-chairs. Do you foresee any others in the near term? And has this risen above the level of Assistant Secretary Boucher in terms of efforts to quell the violence and, in particular, to persuade the Sri Lankan Government to stop shelling into the so-called safe, you know, zone? I wonder if the Secretary, who I think met the foreign secretary about a week ago, gotten further involved in this or in talking to the Sri Lankan –

MR. WOOD: You know, as I said, the Secretary has been engaged in this. She has raised this with – this issue with a number of countries. And you know, this -- it’s already risen to a higher level.

QUESTION: In the last day or two, or --

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. The last day – she’s been travelling, so I don’t know that she’s had an opportunity to do that. But in terms of further efforts, diplomatic efforts, I’m not going to rule anything out. We’re trying to do what we can publicly with a number of other countries to put pressure on both sides to do what they can to, you know, halt this violence.

But I don’t want to give you the impression that this is something that we can achieve right away. We’re working hard, but as I said, both sides have dug in and it’s – you know, it’s very complicated.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Just kind of a short -- I don’t want to reprise all of this on North Korea –

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Is there any update from yesterday, especially on Ambassador Bosworth’s participation?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have any update on Ambassador Bosworth. He has been having discussions with a number of different U.S. Government entities about this. He has talked to the Secretary about the issue. I don’t have anything new, as I said, beyond what I said yesterday. But we’ll certainly keep you abreast of it.

QUESTION: How about on the detained journalists? Were you able to -- they’re still there, and there’s –

MR. WOOD: Yeah. They are still there, and we are working to see what we can do. They haven’t made any recent announcements about these two, but our ambassador to Sweden which is our protecting power, I think, visited the two journalists on March 30th.

QUESTION: Just that one visit?

MR. WOOD: That’s the only one that I’m aware of at this point.

QUESTION: Is he trying to seek another visit?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. Well, look, we’re looking through a number of different diplomatic channels to try to see what we can do to get these folks released. We’re also in contact with the families and – to provide as much support as we can. But, you know, out of respect for the privacy of the two individuals, I don’t really have much more than I have to say at this point.

QUESTION: But in – no, no, no. But in the – I mean, you said that the ambassador was able to seek one visit.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I mean –

QUESTION: Are you seeking another visit? I mean, is it –

MR. WOOD: Well, of course. Of course.

QUESTION: Is it basically that the ambassador saw these and – do you know if they have a lawyer? Do you know if they have any – or has it just been that one visit and that’s all that --

MR. WOOD: Well, I think this is at least the most recent visit. I don’t know if there was another visit. But as I said, there’s a lot of diplomatic activity going on with trying to get their release, and I just don’t want to go beyond that at this point other than to just give you the brief details that I have.

James.

QUESTION: Different subject, please. This donors conference in Tokyo –

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- to aid Pakistan. Could you speak broadly about what the U.S. goals for this conference are, and also address specifically whether this conference presents an opportunity for the United States to repair a bit of what has become known as the trust deficit between our country and Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Well, James, did you see the press release that we issued on the donor conference?

QUESTION: I did not.

MR. WOOD: Okay, yeah –

QUESTION: This morning, right?

MR. WOOD: Yeah


QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. WOOD: There’s one that spells it out in detail. But let me just say that our goals, obviously, are to do what we can to support the Government of Pakistan in its efforts to try to bring about, you know, economic development and further democracy in the country.

Sorry, what was the second part of your question?

QUESTION: Trust deficit.

MR. WOOD: Trust deficit. Look, there’s no question that there is a trust – some issues of trust, but that’s why we’re working hard to try to resolve them. And there’s a commitment on both sides to try to deal with that question. And we’ll continue to work with Pakistan. I’m not going to say that the issue of trust is going to be resolved overnight. It’s not. But it takes action on the part of both governments to try to deal fairly and squarely with a lot of these issues that confront us. And so it’s something we will continue to work on. But indeed there is that issue of trust.

But as I said, the stakes are very high. And we need to work with Pakistan on trying to prevent the Taliban from reeking more havoc on not only Pakistan, but Afghanistan in particular.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: New topic, on Zimbabwe.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Apparently, state media in Zimbabwe is --

MR. WOOD: Did you want to stay on --

QUESTION: Yeah, I want to quickly --

MR. WOOD: Okay. Because we – we’re running out of time.

QUESTION: Pakistan is seeking almost over $30 billion now and U.S. had given already almost $15 billion last – in the last five, six years. But most of the money went for the military, but not for the people or development. So now how this money will be going to the people, like President and Secretary both have spoken out?

MR. WOOD: Well, this is something we’re working on to make sure that all of the U.S. taxpayer money does get to the people of Pakistan. And we’re working with the government on that and we’ll continue. It’s something that the President and the Secretary want to make sure happens. And we’re going to continue to work that.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: On Zimbabwe. Apparently, state media in Zimbabwe has said that the U.S. is or has lifted travel restrictions, Travel Warnings, for Americans going to Zimbabwe. Is this true? And if that’s the case, what are the reasons why? And is there political concern about whether that would expand tourism in Zimbabwe?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, well, on April 8th we lifted the – or cancelled the Travel Warning, you know, that we’d issued on Zimbabwe. And, you know, the political, economic situation is still unpredictable. But we lifted the restrictions because, you know, there was a return of basic medical, food, and fuel services, and so we felt, you know, we could do that at this point.

We’re obviously going to continue to monitor the situation. And if we feel we need to, you know, provide another travel advisory or warning, we’ll certainly do so.

QUESTION: Is there any political downplay? Is this sort of an overture --

MR. WOOD: There’s no political downplay. We’re just gauging the situation as we see it on the ground and responding accordingly.

QUESTION: Well, was it lifted or did it just expire and it’s not renewed?

MR. WOOD: No, no, no. We cancelled the Travel Warning.

Dave, you can make this last question.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) what apparently is an effort by the United States up at the UN to censure Iran and Syria for the – basically the arms smuggling, as apparently evidenced by the capture of an Iranian ship --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’ll take a look at that, Dave, and get you a – you know, get you an answer on that.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:15 a.m.)



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