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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 24, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Discussion of reports regarding the Taliban forces in Buner District
    • President Obama's meeting yesterday with Secretary Clinton and Special Rep. Holbrooke concerning situation in Pakistan
    • International community must take a strong stance against violent extremists and Pakistan needs to demonstrate decisive actions to meet the threat within its nation
    • Both the Government and Military need to take appropriate steps to rid the country of such extremist factions
    • The State Dept. has seen the reports indicating that DPRK intends to place the two American journalists on trial and calls on North Korean to immediately release them
    • The U.S. is working through diplomatic channels to gain their release, and is receiving assistance from the Swedish Embassy in North Korea
    • The DPRK is urged to return to the Six-Party Talks/The best hope in gaining the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula lies in the Six-Party Framework
  • IRAN
    • Iran must deal with the outstanding issues, its uranium enrichment program being one of them
    • There are two separate and distinct issues to be dealt with—the call for a Two-State Solution (Israel and the Palestinians) and Iran's nuclear program
    • The U.S. supports talks between Syria and Israel for the resolution of differences
    • Plans are going well in preparation for the new START Treaty meeting/Negotiation sessions are planned for May and June
    • The Secretary and Thailand's Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya discussed Burma during their meeting this past week/Among the issues discussed were a desired improvement in human rights and the strengthening of our relationship
    • The U.S. remains deeply concerned for the thousands of civilians still trapped in the No-Fire Zone and calls once again on the LTTE to lay down its arms
    • The U.S. supports efforts by both the Government of India and the United Nations to end the fighting/The Co-Chairs in Tokyo fully support the UN Secretary-General's call for UN staff to be allowed into the conflict zone
    • Question regarding the banning the export of certain types of firearms to Canada referred to DHS (BATF)


12:44 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, all. Happy Friday. I don’t have anything, so we can go right to your questions.

QUESTION: Robert, have you confirmed or can you elaborate any details on reports of the Taliban pulling back from the Buner area --

MR. WOOD: To be honest --

QUESTION: The circumstances --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, to be honest, Bob, we’ve seen the media reports. We’re trying to confirm, you know, the status of events in Buner. But let me just say yesterday President Obama had a meeting with Secretary Clinton and Special Representative Holbrooke. We are in close touch with the Government of Pakistan. We’re going to work with the Government of Pakistan to halt the advances of the Taliban. And, you know, as I said, we’re trying to get more details about what actually is going on there.

QUESTION: Can you say more broadly how concerned you are about their advances at this point?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, I think the Secretary spoke to it very clearly the other day. We’re very concerned about what’s going on in Pakistan, and we call on the government and the military to take strong and aggressive and decisive action to deal with the extremists that threaten the country and, frankly, the region.

QUESTION: And would you say today whether you are still concerned that they are ready to take those steps, or is this a sign that they’ve gone back around the other way or –

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, Kirit, it’s a very difficult situation on the ground. We have – we, the international community, have to help Pakistan meet these threats. But what’s important is that Pakistan take the measures necessary to deal with the threat it faces. And as I said yesterday, they need to take very decisive action to deal with these elements. These elements are a threat to not only Pakistan’s internal security, but to its neighbors. And I’m focusing specifically on Afghanistan.

And so, you know, we’re going to continue to push and we’re going to continue to work with the government. But I think that the government realizes the threat that it’s under, the challenges that it faces, and, as I said, needs to take very strong, decisive action right now to deal with that threat.

QUESTION: And this – is it the Administration’s judgment that they’re prepared to take any steps? You said that they recognize the threat.

MR. WOOD: As I said, they recognize the threat. What we now need to see are steps from the government and the military to deal with that threat, and we’ll just have to see as the days go by.

QUESTION: Robert, do you think that actions means military action against them? Or what do you mean by --

MR. WOOD: What I’m saying is the government and the military need to take the steps necessary to deal with that threat. You know, Pakistan’s a sovereign government. It’s dealing with, as I said, a very strong, internal threat. It needs to take the measures that it feels is necessary to deal with that threat. And --

QUESTION: So it means even another peace agreement with the Taliban?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: It means, another peace agreement could be or the military action? What do you --

MR. WOOD: Look, the way I respond to that question is what we’ve said all along, and that’s violent extremists need to be confronted. And that’s not just in Pakistan, but that’s in other places around the world. So that will be a decision on the part of the Pakistani Government to make. But we are strongly encouraging Pakistan to take these – to take steps necessary to deal with the threat. So – yes.

QUESTION: Same one. Do you have any confidence in their ability – in their willingness to take those steps?

MR. WOOD: Look, the government realizes what it’s up against. And we’ve had very good conversations with the Government of Pakistan over the last several weeks. But obviously, in recent days, there has been an increased threat. We’ve seen what the Taliban has been doing. The government needs to take action. And we’ll have to see in the coming days what the government actually does to deal with the problem.

QUESTION: So that’s a no on the confidence matter, then?

MR. WOOD: It’s not a question of our confidence or anybody else’s confidence. It’s a question of the Pakistani Government dealing with the threat that it faces, a very strong internal threat. And this threat, as the Secretary said, is also one that impacts our security interests. So what’s important is what the government does, not about whether one country or another has trust or not. That’s really not the issue here.

QUESTION: Well, one point. You’re about to give them – you’re requesting half a billion dollars to give them in your supplemental. Wouldn't you want to be confident in their ability to fight back?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, absolutely. And Congress is going to weigh in on this issue as well. What the government has said is that it understands the threat, it’s committed to dealing with it. What’s important are actions. We want to see actions, as I said. The Congress will as well. And again, what’s really important here, Kirit, is that this is a huge threat to the Government of Pakistan and its society, and it needs to be dealt with. And I think the Pakistanis realize that. And, you know, we are going to work with them. We’ve said that. Other countries have said they’re willing to work hard with the government. And we’ll do the – you know, everything we can to help stem the advances of the Taliban. But those advances are very concerning to all of us.

QUESTION: There is one media report coming from Pakistan that Islamabad has given 48 hours ultimatum to the Taliban to clear the Swat Valley. Are you aware about that?

MR. WOOD: I am not aware of that. That’s the first I’ve heard of it.

Yes, ma’am. Oh, I’m sorry. Let me go to Charlie. He had his hand up for a while.

QUESTION: Robert, can you be any more specific about the – what happened in the wake of the meeting between the President and the Secretary and Holbrooke? Who made what calls? Did anybody make any calls? You know, rather than the proverbial “the Embassy is in touch.”

MR. WOOD: Well, I really don’t want to go beyond that, but I can assure you that Special Representative Holbrooke has been in touch with the government. Our Embassy has been in close touch. Others have been. I just don’t want to get more specific than that at this point, Charlie, if you don’t mind.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) closed meeting yesterday?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have a tick-tock, but certainly within the last couple of days there have been contacts.

QUESTION: Is the President sending Holbrooke back?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of any plan to do that at this point. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: There are reports that one of the reasons why the Taliban are pulling out is because the Pakistani Government threatened that if they don’t, then they might withdraw from the agreement to impose Sharia law in Swat Valley. Is that an example of dealing with the problem?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have the details on that. I don’t know if that indeed is the case. You know, as I said, what’s really important here is that, you know, not just the Government of Pakistan but other governments not – that they deal with these extremists and deal with them appropriately. The Taliban are – you know, they have no interest in democracy, women’s rights, freedom of expression. They’re interested in totalitarian rule. Countries around the world need to act in order to help support Pakistan in this, you know, time of crisis. We will be there to help Pakistan, but Pakistan also needs to take steps necessary to deal with these violent extremists. They need to be confronted, as I said.


QUESTION: Different subject?

MR. WOOD: Are we still on this? Different subject? Dave.

QUESTION: It appears that the North Korean authorities are going to put the two young American women journalists on trial. Any response to that? Have you been told that by the – say, the interlocutors there?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, Dave, the best I can tell you is we’ve seen these reports. And, again, we continue to call on the North Koreans to release the two Americans so they can be returned to their families. We’ll continue to work this issue through diplomatic channels. As I’ve said, we are trying to work this quietly, but – and we’re going to continue to work it. But I don’t have much to say beyond that right now.

QUESTION: And also, the Russian foreign minister was in North Korea, and he says that the North Koreans are disinclined to go back to the Six-Party negotiations anytime soon. Any response?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen the comments from the Russian foreign minister. But, look, it’s the objective of the five other parties in the Six-Party framework to get the North back to the negotiating table so that we can move toward that goal eventually of eventually denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. And, you know, that may be. The North says lots of things. But it’s in our interest. We think it’s a viable framework. And we continue to call on them to live up to their obligations. They committed to the Six-Party framework, and they need to adhere to it.

QUESTION: Can you just say whether you’ve heard anything similar from your interlocutors, the Swedes, on whether – about the trial, whether they confirmed that to you?

MR. WOOD: We’re still trying to get confirmation about this issue. I know that the Swedish ambassador last – he had a brief visit with the two journalists on March 30th. You know, it’s obviously very difficult trying to get information out of the North. The Swedes are trying to get as much information as we can.

The central point here is that the North release these two Americans and release them now. And, you know, we’ve made this call to the North Koreans. We continue to do that. And we will try to get more information about this case. But we’re working it quietly through diplomatic channels to do as much as we can. And we’ll keep you apprised.


QUESTION: On a different topic.

MR. WOOD: Oh, same subject?

QUESTION: Just to follow up, did you say that the Swedish ambassador met with the two on the 30th?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I believe it was March 30, yes.


QUESTION: New subject.

MR. WOOD: Oh, a different subject?

QUESTION: Different subject.

MR. WOOD: Same subject?

QUESTION: Yes. I mean North Korea. So what are you going to do to get the North Koreans back to the Six-Party process? Do you have any plans for a meeting, you know, bilateral or (inaudible) meeting, or do you have any plans for a trip, Ambassador Bosworth or anyone else?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, I’m certainly not going to rule out future travel. Ambassador Bosworth is very engaged in this issue. We’re talking to our allies to try to see what leverage we can bring to getting the North back to the table. But, again, this is something that the North committed to, as you know, back in the joint statement of 2005. We made a lot of progress up until, you know, the fall, as you know, when we – the North agreed – gave us some assurances with regard to verification. They were unwilling to put them in writing, and that put a hold on the process.

The Six-Party framework is our best hope for getting the North to denuclearize. And we are going to work hard to get them back to the table. But it’s a challenge; there’s no question about it. And we’re going to continue to work it because it’s in everyone’s interest that we denuclearize the Korean Peninsula. But I don’t have any further steps for you at this point with regard to travel or anything else.

I’m sorry, on the same subject?

QUESTION: North Korea and the UN, the Sanctions Committee – do you have any update on what they’re doing?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have an update. We’ll hopefully have an update later. I think there may have been some news breaking right before I came, but I don’t have anything at this point.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Iranian foreign minister said that Tehran welcomes new negotiation, new talks with the world power. But he emphasized again that Iran’s not going to halt its uranium enrichment program. Any comment on that?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything more to say beyond what we’ve said about Iran. Iran has obligations to the international community. There remain a lot of suspicions about its nuclear program, and we want to see them fulfill those obligations. Same time, we’ve said we’re willing to engage Iran directly in diplomacy, but Iran needs to deal with these outstanding issues that not only the United States but other members of the international community have about its nuclear program. But nothing more to add than what we’ve said.

QUESTION: Any specific dates set for P-5+1?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of, not at this point.

QUESTION: And Israeli foreign minister actually again said that there’s no way to resolve the situation – sorry, crisis in the Middle East, but first resolve this Iranian problem. So since it’s – there’s a disagreement between Washington and Tel Aviv in this regard, has Secretary Clinton talked to her Israeli counterpart or addressed this disagreement?

MR. WOOD: Look, we’ve been very clear about this. What we need to – these are two separate issues, and we believe they can be dealt with simultaneously. You know, bringing about a peace in the Middle East, a two-state solution, is paramount for us. It’s in our national security interest. So is dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. And we can and must deal with these issues, these separate issues, very seriously.

And I don’t have anything more to offer to you other than our commitment, which we have reiterated to, you know, Israel and to others, is to this two-state solution. And we’re going to continue to work on this. The Secretary and Senator Mitchell are spending a lot of effort, trying to see what we can do to get this process going. And we’re also working with our Arab partners to try to reach this goal that we all have. But they’re two separate issues as far as we’re concerned.


QUESTION: In that same interview, Avigdor Lieberman said that the talks between – indirect talks between Syria and Israel should not go on. What is the U.S. position on talks between --

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, at some point, there need to be – there needs to be peace between Israel and Syria. The question on when talks go forward, that’s going to really be up to the parties. We have an interest in seeing peace in the region, and we think it’s important that all the parties work toward that goal. But I don’t have anything further.

QUESTION: You don’t – do you support talks between Syria --

MR. WOOD: Well, of course we – I think that’s the point I made. We want to – obviously, at some point, the two parties need to sit down and resolve their differences. That’s in the interest of the international community. We want to see that happen. In terms of when they sit down actually, that’s something that’s going to have to be worked out. But certainly, we would support a peace between Israel and Syria. That goes without question.

Yeah, please.

QUESTION: On a different subject, do you have any sort of readout about the talks in Rome on the new START treaty?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. The talks between Assistant Secretary Gottemoeller and the Russian Ambassador Antonov went very well. It was an initial meeting of the negotiators. It was a very productive discussion. They’ve gotten off to a very fast start. And there are going to be further negotiating sessions that’ll take place in May and June. But I don’t have anything further on that.


QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the meeting yesterday with Thailand’s foreign minister? And was Burma discussed during that meeting?

MR. WOOD: Yes. Burma did come up in the discussion. It’s an interest that both the Secretary and the Thai foreign minister expressed. They also – the Secretary got a readout from the Thai foreign minister on his efforts to foster political reconciliation in the country. And the Secretary reaffirmed our commitment to strengthening the relationship with Thailand. But they did – indeed, Burma did come up and they had a good discussion of it, and both countries are interested in trying to bring about an improvement of the human rights situation in Burma and are committed to working toward that end.

QUESTION: And I had a question on Sri Lanka if you would.

MR. WOOD: Yeah. Let me give you the latest details that I have on Sri Lanka.

You know, again, we remain extremely concerned for the safety of the remaining civilians in the no-fire zone. Although tens of thousands of people have fled the area, numerous people have been killed, and tens of thousands of additional civilians remain in the conflict area. We call on the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers to end hostilities. We understand that two Indian Government special emissaries arrived in Sri Lanka today. They are there to convey their government’s concerns about the conflict to the Government of Sri Lanka. We support Indian efforts to stop the fighting.

The co-chair countries in the G-8 are working together closely to find a way to end the fighting. The Tamil Tigers must stop holding civilians and stop putting them in harm’s way. We call on the Tamil Tigers to lay down their arms and surrender to a third party. The international community needs to provide assistance to a large number of displaced persons. The international community should be prepared to play a role to end the fighting.

I just want to add a couple of points. We fully support the UN Secretary General’s decision to send a UN humanitarian team to the no-fire zone, as the Secretary General’s envoy Vijay Nambiar and President Rajapaksa discussed and agreed to last week.

We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow the team into the no-fire zone as soon as possible. We also urge the Government of Sri Lanka to allow critical supplies to pass more rapidly through military checkpoints, share its registration information of internally displaced persons with the UN, identify additional shelter sites, and authorize continued medical evacuations from the no-fire zone.

Assistant Secretary Boucher and Ambassador Blake participated in a conference with the Tokyo co-chair yesterday. And the co-chairs are the U.S., EU, Japan, and Norway.

So that’s the latest readout I have.

QUESTION: And is the State Department in touch with officials with the Sri Lankan Government?

MR. WOOD: Yes, we are routinely in discussions with the Government of Sri Lanka.

QUESTION: And the Indian Government, too? And with the Indian Government, too?

MR. WOOD: Well, the – I’d have to refer you to the Indian Government for their specific conversation. I gave you just --

QUESTION: No, you are in touch with the Government of India?

MR. WOOD: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: And are you sending any team, any officials to Colombo as –

MR. WOOD: At this point, no.

David, did you have --

QUESTION: Robert, there’s a concern in certain political circles in the United States that the State Department might be intending to ban commercial imports of certain ammunition, sizes of ammunition – these are imports into the United States – and also, possibly banning the export of certain types of firearms to Canada. I just wonder if you have anything on either of those points.

MR. WOOD: Yeah. You know, one thing, Dave, the State Department doesn’t regulate the import of defense items, as you know. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Homeland – the Department of Homeland Security, you know, has the primary responsibility for controlling imports of firearms. So I’d have to refer you to DHS for further info on that.

Anything else? Kirit.

QUESTION: Just wondering if you had any sort of comment on these detainee photos that are expected to be released in the next couple weeks. I was wondering whether you could say if you’re concerned about a backlash in the region, in the Muslim world, and whether you’re beginning to put any of your facilities on defensive notice.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, Kirit, I certainly wouldn’t talk about any types of security precautions we may or may not take. But I really don’t have any comment on, you know, possible release of photos at this point.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:04 p.m.)

DPB #68

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