11:27 a.m. EDTMR. WOOD:
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. I’m going to start off with a few points on
Sri Lanka and the situation there.
It is a positive development that tens of thousands of civilians have left in recent days. However, many more civilians remain. The exact number is unclear, and we urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow international observers to ascertain a more precise figure. There continues to be firing from both sides into the no-fire zone, and we have credible reports of increasing casualties as a result of intensified military actions.
We call on both the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE to refrain from indiscriminate fire and shelling into and from the no-fire zone. We understand there have been incidents of the LTTE firing on and otherwise attacking civilians as they attempt to leave the no-fire zone. We call on the LTTE to allow civilians to leave the conflict area and respect their freedom of movement.
We also strongly support the UN secretary general’s call for UN staff to be allowed into the no-fire zone to facilitate relief operations and evacuation of civilians. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow the UN and the ICRC local and international staff access to all sites where internally displaced persons coming out of the no-fire zones are being processed and provided shelter and other services.
We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to pursue diplomacy, to advocate the release of the remaining civilians from the no-fire zone. Our Ambassador in Sri Lanka, Ambassador Blake, is in daily communication with senior Sri Lankan military and government officials, and is emphasizing the importance of demonstrating restraint and patience in these waning days of the conflict, in order to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff that will allow the release of the civilians trapped in the no-fire zone.
So that’s what I have, and I’m ready to take your questions.
Has this gone any further than the ambassador speaking to Sri Lankan Government and military officials and Assistant Secretary Boucher participating in the Tokyo Co-Chairs group’s conversations last week? I mean, have you done anything at a higher level to try to impress on the Sri Lankan Government to do more to ensure the safety of the civilians? MR. WOOD:
Yes, I mean, we have been engaged at very senior levels on this issue of the protection of civilians in the conflict zone. And you know, the Secretary is already thinking about, you know, how we go forward after this conflict is over and what we can do to help Sri Lanka rebuild and deal with the humanitarian situation that, you know, will certainly be a difficult one after this is all over. So there are a lot of discussions going on internally in the U.S. Government at senior levels. There have been communications with other interested parties and governments about what we can do not only to protect civilians right now, but also in the aftermath of this conflictQUESTION:
Has she been involved or has Assistant Secretary Boucher been involved directly in the last – I mean, the last time I’m aware that she did something on this was when she had a meeting with the permanent secretary of the Sri Lankan foreign ministry I think about ten days ago, right? And it’s just clear that whatever you are doing has not succeeded in persuading the Sri Lankan authorities to stop their offensive, or pause it, to let more of the people – I mean, there was this brief pause, I know, of 24 hours, but then they’ve resumed, you know, fighting immediately afterwards. So this isn’t working even though some people have gotten out. And I’m wondering if you are escalating it beyond just having the ambassador be in touch with the local authorities.MR. WOOD:
Well, look, the subject of the violence in Sri Lanka is something that’s come up quite a bit. I remember when the Secretary had a meeting with the Norwegian foreign minister, they discussed the issue. She’s touched on it in various meetings that she’s had with her counterparts. I can’t give an exact – I can’t remember exactly with whom she raised it, but I do know that she has raised it quite a bit. She’s very concerned.
Again, it’s not just the United States. It’s a number of other countries that have an interest in seeing this conflict end. And we’re all trying to marshal our resources, cooperate more closely to see what we can do. But you’re right, the government and the LTTE have not been heeding our calls. And we’re going to continue to push. This is an important foreign policy item that we have to deal with, and we’ll continue. We want to make sure, as I said yesterday, that civilians are not any further in harm’s way, and we’re going to continue to work the issue.QUESTION:
Well, two things here, if I may.MR. WOOD:
I mean, one, it just seems like there’s a disproportion between the level of effort on the part of the U.S. Government to try to put an end to this, and what the Red Cross, I think, has described as a catastrophe, which – strong words from them, or strong word. And so I just – I still don’t get what seems at least to me to be a disproportion between events on the ground and the level of U.S. Government effort. It’s all very well to talk about rebuilding the society afterwards, but that ain’t going to help anybody who – any civilian who dies in the next day or two or three.QUESTION:
Yeah, I agree with you. Like I said, there has been high-level U.S. Government involvement and attention being paid to this issue. The problem is – as I said, the parties are not heeding the call from not just the United States, but from the broader international community. And so we’re trying to figure out ways that we can apply more pressure on both the government and the LTTE to cease their activities.
And you know, there is a lot of diplomatic effort going on, Arshad. We’re just not talking about all of it, but there is a lot of high-level engagement on trying to end this conflict.QUESTION:
I’ve got one last one on this.MR. WOOD:
It seems to me that there is a presumption – I mean, you said twice “as the conflict comes to an end,” and you talked about preparations for after it’s over. You know, obviously this is an incredibly long insurgency. Insurgencies typically are not resolved, you know, militarily. And I wonder why you think that after the – it seems as if you assume that the Sri Lankan military is going to be able to extirpate every Tamil Tiger and every Tamil Tiger supporter, and then the conflict is over. And I don’t see why you make that assumption. Why is it not – is it not quite conceivable that the level of violence that is now occurring will simply sow the seeds for continuing or renewed conflict?MR. WOOD:
Well, I can’t make that kind of judgment, Arshad. I think none of us can really make that judgment at this point. Again, the violence is at an unacceptable level. There’s no question about it.
But the important thing to remember here is that the international community is very focused on trying to end this conflict, and trying to push the parties in a direction that is going to not only end the hostilities, but also protect the civilians because we are very concerned about the situation on the ground. And I’m – what I’m just saying to you is that we are working very hard with others in the international community to try to end the conflict. It’s not easy. If we were – this conflict – it’s been going on since 1983. And what we’re trying to do is marshal our diplomatic resources in a way that can bring about an end to this conflict, but at the same time protecting civilians who are clearly in harm’s way. So let me just leave it at that with regard to what we’re trying to do.QUESTION:
Thank you.MR. WOOD:
Is the humanitarian situation there one that extends beyond merely the exposure to potential killing of civilians? Are there food shortages or other things that you would identify?MR. WOOD:
Yeah, we’re very concerned about humanitarian supplies getting into the safe areas. And when you’ve got the fighting going on, it’s very difficult for groups like the ICRC and others to try to tend to, you know, the populations in those areas.
And so again, what we’re trying to do – and when I say we, I’m talking about others in the international community are working on this – is to try to get the government and the LTTE to desist their hostilities, protect those civilians in those areas so that we can get humanitarian supplies, food, in to those people. But it’s difficult. It’s very difficult to try to do that when you’ve got a conflict going on. So we’re trying to use all of our diplomatic tools to convince both sides of the need to protect civilians and to make sure that humanitarian supplies get in. It’s difficult.QUESTION:
You talk about a lot of diplomatic engagement and diplomatic activities, some of which you’re willing to discuss and some of which you’re not. Does any of that involve NGOs, and are you – is the United States working directly with NGOs?MR. WOOD:
Yeah, we’re talking to NGOs. We’re talking to a wide range of people, and not just the United States, but other governments that are involved in this – the United Kingdom, Norway, others. But like I said, James, this is not something that we can expect to resolve overnight, but we’re trying hard because we understand the humanitarian implications of what’s going on. And we’ll just continue with our efforts because we want to see this conflict end, and we want, as I said, to see civilians out of harm’s way.
Change of subject? Can we go back to
Russia? We spoke yesterday a little bit about the cancellation of this NATO-Russia meeting that was scheduled, a military meeting that was scheduled at the beginning of May. And you said you didn’t have confirmation. Do you have --MR. WOOD:
Yeah, I’d have to refer you to NATO for a response on that, Sylvie. I don’t have anything on it.QUESTION:
This was linked to the fact that there are some maneuvers in Georgia. Did the U.S. approve these maneuvers? Did – do you think it was a good idea to have maneuvers? MR. WOOD:
Well, first of all, I don’t think the two issues are linked, to be very frank. But the exercises are a normal part of – the NATO exercises are a normal part of NATO’s relationship with Russia – excuse me, with Georgia. And the purpose is to help – of these exercises is to help Georgia meet NATO standards. I know there have been reports about Russia being concerned about these exercises. Look, these exercises are no threat to Russia, to anybody else, and they’ve been in the planning stages for a long time, and so – that’s what I have.QUESTION:
Well, today, Russia is apparently pushing against these maneuvers, and they say that they – the U.S. Administration is intensifying rather than reviewing its missile defense plans. And they threaten again to deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad.MR. WOOD:
So do you – I mean, you don’t have any regret about these maneuvers?MR. WOOD:
No. As I said, these maneuvers are to try to prepare – to get Georgia up to NATO standards. They’ve been in the planning for a long time. I believe they’re annual exercises. With regard to the question of missile defense, I think we have had these discussions over and over again with Russia. Russia has nothing to fear from a missile defense system that is clearly designed to address, you know, a threat from
Iran. And we have spoken to the Russians about this. I’ve talked about this issue many times publicly, so I don’t really have anything more to add to that.
Just one more on that?MR. WOOD:
But the ambassador from Russia to NATO, Rogozin, is calling this provocative. And granted, they’ve been doing this for several years, but is it smart, advisable, wise for the United States, in the context of war that has been fought not so long ago, to carry out military exercises right on the border?MR. WOOD:
Well, I would just say, first and foremost, we don’t view this as provocative. I’ve explained to you why we are engaged in these exercises – NATO is engaged in these exercises with Georgia. It’s an important effort on the part of NATO to try to get Georgia up to, you know, NATO standards. And you know, I don’t know what more to say about it. This – these exercises are not a threat to Russia, they’re not a threat to anyone in the region. And we believe that they’re important to go forward, and we’re going to do so.QUESTION:
So what is new exactly in the U.S. diplomacy toward Russia?MR. WOOD:
Well, as you know, the Secretary had a --QUESTION:
-- very good conversation in Geneva with Foreign Minister Lavrov. There have been subsequent conversations that they’ve had. As you know, we’re going to be sending a team to Rome on the 24th
to start having a discussion on the issues of START, moving forward from the START treaty. And you know, we maintain good working relations with Russia. Our Embassy is in, you know, routine daily contact with the Russians on a wide range of issues.
So if there’s anything new here, Sylvie, I would just say that this Administration is committed to working with Russia to deal with a whole host of international problems that we face. And there’s a good working relationship between Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Lavrov. And as you also recall, that President Medvedev had a good conversation, good discussions with President Obama in London.
And so, you know, there’s – we have reason to be optimistic about the future relationship with Russia. But it’s not to say that we don’t have problems with Russia. We do, you know, and we’re going to continue to try to work through those issues with Moscow, and that’s what I have.
North Korea, the meetings that the North Korean and the South Korean representatives had today, have you heard back from – have you had any contact with South Korea, or North Korea, for that matter, on those discussions? Do you see any progress as a result of that and what do you see as the next step? MR. WOOD:
No, I – Viola, I haven’t heard back on – from – we haven’t heard back from the South Korean Government, as far as I know. Look, we’ve said for quite a long time that we’d like to see dialogue between North Korea and the Republic of Korea. And we hope that, you know, future discussions between both will be fruitful, and we urge the North to take a very positive and good-faith approach to a dialogue with the South, so I don’t really have much more at this point. But we’ll certainly – I’ll check and see. Maybe we’ll have something for you tomorrow. QUESTION:
Is there any further travel planned by Ambassador Bosworth? MR. WOOD:
Not that I’m aware of.
Any readout on the Secretary’s meeting with Mutassim Qadhafi today? MR. WOOD:
Yeah. They had a very – what I would call, you know, a productive meeting. They talked about a broad range of issues – you know, one being security cooperation, the second being expanding the broader relationship. And I don’t want to get into the details of what went on in the meeting, but it was a good discussion.
And you know, we’re trying to move forward with our relationship with
Libya and we’ve come a long way, as you all know, over the last couple of years. And so the Secretary looks forward to working with the Government of Libya on improving our bilateral relationship and dealing with some of these thorny issues where we disagree and where we can make further progress. QUESTION:
Have they discussed Fathi El-Jahmi’s issue? MR. WOOD:
I’m not going to get into the substance of the discussions, as I just said. QUESTION:
Did they discuss human rights at all? MR. WOOD:
I don’t want to get into the details of the discussion beyond what I’ve just given you. QUESTION:
Okay. Well, the only point that I would make is that – and I wasn’t asking for details – but it’d be interesting to know if generally the topic of human rights came up, because you talked about security cooperation generally, and you talked about expanding the broader relationship, but you don’t mention anything other than sort of moving – you know, making progress on the thorny issues where you disagree. And it just seems odd if all the public emphasis is on security cooperation and sort of moving on, but you don’t actually acknowledge the human rights issues or -MR. WOOD:
You know, as I said, I don’t want to go into any more specifics beyond what I’ve said. But of course, human rights is an important issue. We have raised human rights issues with Libya on numerous occasions. Let me just leave it at that, if I may. QUESTION:
One more on that, Robert, please. MR. WOOD:
The – there was a letter in The New York Times
just a week or two ago by the Libyan ambassador saying that Libya had given up its WMD, but it had not been rewarded as it should have been, and saying that the U.S. ought to send a stronger message that Libya has made the right decision, and that other countries were taking a message from what’s going on – namely, North Korea and Iran – to say, well, maybe it’s not worth giving up our weapons either.MR. WOOD:
Oh, I don’t think it’s fair to draw that kind of a parallel. What I would say is that, look, the relationship has come a long way. You know what the relationship was, you know, as recently as a year ago. There have been a lot of differences that we’ve had with the Government of Libya over the years. We have made tremendous progress in this relationship within the last, you know, six months or so.
And look, for the relationship to get – to become a normal relationship, a lot of things have to happen. A lot of the concerns that we have with the Libyans, with regard to human rights and other important elements, are going to have to be addressed. And – but again, we think we’re on a good path with Libya right now to dealing with a host of these issues and in trying to move the relationship forward.
But it’s going to take more time. It’s not something – you’re not going to expect a relationship to, you know, change dramatically overnight. It takes time. You know, resolving the Pan Am 103 issue was a very important event in this relationship. There’s still a lot – a long way to go in terms of getting that relationship to the point we’d like to see it. So – but it’s going to take time, and we understand that, and we’re willing to put in the hard work. And we certainly hope that the Libyans are willing to put in the hard work as well.
On what issues or fronts is there security cooperation between the United States and Libya? MR. WOOD:
Well, again, I don’t want to go beyond what I’ve said. But certainly, we want to see Libya play a positive role in the Middle East. We want to see Libya work with us to prevent the proliferation of weapons around the world. There are a range of issues. But again, we’re taking it step-by-step in trying to build this relationship. And it’s not to say that we won’t have, you know, ups and downs. We certainly will. But we’ve come a long way and I think that’s important to recognize. But we still have a long way to go as well. QUESTION:
Would you say that there is existing security cooperation between the two countries or the talks without getting into the specifics, or aimed at trying to establish the ground?MR. WOOD:
I think we’re trying to build that type of closer cooperation on security matters.
Anything new on Roxana Saberi?MR. WOOD:
I don’t have really much new on Roxana Saberi. We are still, obviously, trying to work for her release. We’re very concerned, as I said yesterday, about the whole – the transparency of this judicial process. We – the sentencing, of course, was of great concern to us. We’re working with our allies to try to press the government in Tehran to disclose fully, you know, the charges against Ms. Saberi and ensure, as I said yesterday, you know, that she’s being treated properly. And you know, we want to see a transparent appeals process. We think that’s critical here. And we expect, as outlined in the International Civil Covenant on Political and Human Rights, and as well as the Declaration on Human Rights, which Libya – excuse me, which Iran has, I believe Iran has ratified both of them, that they’ll follow through on those commitments. And so – but nothing further than that at this point.
Anything else on Roxana Saberi? Okay.QUESTION:
Robert, yesterday you were asked about the arrests of intellectuals, writers, and university professors in
Turkey. And you said that you didn’t see the reports and you will look into it. Have you anything more to say today?MR. WOOD:
I don’t really have anything more to say. We’ve seen the reports and we’re certainly confident that Turkey will handle this particular case, or these cases, in a manner that is in line with Turkey’s, you know, laws and constitution.
Do you have any update on the American journalists detained in North Korea?MR. WOOD:
No, I don’t, unfortunately. I’m trying to get more information, but I don’t have anything to update you on.QUESTION:
And have you heard back from Swedish – they were able to meet them for the second time or --MR. WOOD:
Not that I’m aware of.
Robert, the situation in
Pakistan, according to yesterday’s Washington Post
, the Taliban are cutting off the ears and noses of village elders who oppose them. Last week, I raised the issue of the little girl in Somalia who was stoned to death. What is the position on this extreme form of sharia law which seems to be spreading with the Taliban?MR. WOOD:
Well, I mean, it’s horrific, the practices that the Taliban are engaged in. This is why it’s so important for the international community to come together and to use all of our means to defeat these extremists.QUESTION:
But they seem to be spreading. I’m just looking at the map. You’ve got Islamic areas to the north of Pakistan, the Chinese are afraid of the Islamic extremists in Xinjiang, and then you have Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan. It looks as though they’re spreading all – I mean, rather than getting weaker, they seem to be taking over huger and huger areas.MR. WOOD:
Well, I – first of all, I don’t think we can make that kind of broad assessment. The Taliban are a very serious threat. There’s no question about that. And you know, we are working with the governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan to do what we can to counter these violent extremists. But you know, they’ve carried out horrific acts. They continue to do so. The international community needs to come together, and we are trying as are others to bring diplomatic, military, and other types of pressures on the Taliban to defeat them. It’s not going to be easy. It’s been very difficult the last seven years. And you know, as you’ve seen – as an outcome of our strategic review, that the Administration is very clear in terms of how we’re going to prioritize our efforts to defeat the Taliban, to strengthen both Afghan and Pakistan – Afghanistan and Pakistan. But it’s not going to be an easy thing.
But we think we have a strategy in place. We think we have buy-in from other partners in the international community. So we’re going to go forward and start implementing and – but under no illusions of how difficult this is. But these people need to be defeated, and we’re going to continue to work to do so.QUESTION:
Wouldn’t Russia be a very important ally in this because – MR. WOOD:
Russia is a very important ally in this, and Russia’s very committed to defeating the Taliban as well. And they’re working closely with the United States and other countries to try to do that.QUESTION:
How are these people able to spread so far?MR. WOOD:
You know, look, the Taliban take advantage – have taken advantage of very difficult situations in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. And what we have to do is try to strengthen civil society in these countries, governance – extend governance outward in these countries so that, you know, it can be shown that the Taliban just don’t have the support that, you know, they claim to have and that they do have in many cases. But it’s going to take a lot of effort. But we’re willing to make that effort.
The Secretary is going to testify tomorrow --MR. WOOD:
-- to the Congress. Could you give us a little preview of what she plans to highlight?MR. WOOD:
Yeah, she’s going to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee tomorrow on, you know, a number of foreign policy issues. I think the testimony is at 9:30 a.m. And then on Thursday she is going to testify before the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs of the House Appropriations Committee. This will be on the 2009 supplemental. And so the Secretary’s been preparing for her testimony and looks forward to it.QUESTION:
But is she planning to highlight something special or --MR. WOOD:
Well, you’ll just have to wait and see if she has anything to highlight. I’m not going to reveal it here.
Robert, yesterday, in fact, the President was saying we need to save some money and was asking members of his cabinet to do that. Has the Secretary defined exactly how she’s going to follow his orders?MR. WOOD:
The Secretary is very seized with this issue and we’re working now on looking at ways we can cut costs and save money through a wide range of activities, and we’ll be, you know, making those available once we have gotten them finalized. But this is something the Secretary is very committed to, and that’s making sure that we use our resources wisely. And where there is duplication or programs or processes that are not necessary, that we do away with them. And so, you know, we’ll have more details to give you once we’ve gotten all of that finalized.QUESTION:
But there is a formal process now in the State Department to analyze -- MR. WOOD:
She has tasked the State Department – she wants to take a good look at all of our operations across the board, looking at where we can cut costs, and that’s a priority for her. And as I said, when we have more details, we’ll be happy to make them available. QUESTION:
Is Pat Kennedy leading that review or is somebody else?MR. WOOD:
I don’t know the – look, I’m not sure I would call it a formal review. But certainly, Pat Kennedy is playing an important role here, and she’s looking for suggestions from, you know, all employees as to how we can better do our jobs in a more cost-effective manner.
Is it your understanding that all U.S. Government personnel have left North Korea at this point?MR. WOOD:
That’s my understanding, yes.QUESTION:
And can you give us any report on the status of our efforts to get this decision reversed, which you identified last week as the most urgent priority?MR. WOOD:
Yeah, we’re still working on trying to get that decision reversed. I don’t have an answer for you at this point. But our ultimate goal here, James, and it’s important to remember, is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And we are going to work to try to get the North back to the Six-Party framework. And we’re also, at the same time, as you know, working to come up with a list in the 1718 UN Sanctions Committee to deal with the question of what types of goods and entities we can further sanction. So you know, again, these were decisions that – this was a decision that the North took. And as I said before, the consequences will flow from that decision.
Omani foreign minister has several meetings in the building today, one of them with Secretary Clinton in the afternoon and the other one with Dennis Ross. Do you have anything on this meeting?MR. WOOD:
No. I do know that the Secretary is looking forward to meeting with the Omani foreign minister and they will be discussing a range of issues, both bilateral and regional. And she’s looking very forward to having that conversation. Oman is an important player in the region and she wants to, you know, talk with her counterpart about how we might be able to advance peace in the Middle East, a more stable Gulf region, and go from there. We’ll, you know, be able to provide you with a readout later, possibly tomorrow if we can’t get it by the end of the day.
Anything else? Last – please. QUESTION:
Next week, North Korea Freedom Week will be in Washington, D.C. But special envoy for the North Korea human rights doesn’t decide yet at this time. So what’s your current status and the processing of the North Korea human rights issue?MR. WOOD:
I don’t have any update for you on that, sir. I’m sorry.
Okay. Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 11:58 a.m.)