11:47 a.m. EDTMR. WOOD:
Okay, good morning, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. Let me start off with a couple of things. I want to read you a statement on elections in
We salute the people of Ecuador for conducting peaceful and transparent elections on April 26, 2009 and congratulate President Correa on his victory. And the United States will continue to build on our cooperation with Ecuador, consistent with our commitment to supporting Ecuadorian democracy, prosperity, and security.
Last point, I know a number of you’ve asked some questions this past week about Ambassador Bosworth and what he’s been doing, so let me give you a few points here.
Special Representative for
North Korea Policy Ambassador Stephen Bosworth and Special Envoy for the Six-Party Talks Ambassador Sung Kim met with a delegation of North Korean defectors and advocacy organizations April 27 at the State Department. We remain deeply concerned about the human rights situation in North Korea. We will continue to press North Korea to improve its human rights record.
Also on April 27, Ambassador Bosworth and Ambassador Sung Kim met with Japanese abductee advocacy organizations and family members. The United States wholeheartedly supports Japan’s position on the abductee issue. We have not forgotten and will never forget the suffering of the abductees and their families. We strongly urge the DPRK to address Japan’s concerns without further delay. We appreciated the opportunity to exchange views with both delegations and hear their stories, and we look forward to continuing the discussion in the future.
A range of U.S. officials will have meetings on North Korea human rights in conjunction with North Korea Freedom Week. The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK will be at the State Department for meetings today.
And that’s what I have, so we can go to your questions. Yes.QUESTION:
On the North Korean thing, are you going to – are you looking into meeting the North Koreans to discuss the Six-Party process? Have there been any more contacts between the New York channel, or are you just focusing on the negatives here?MR. WOOD:
Well -- QUESTION:
Because you’re dealing with them on the Japan abductee issue, with human rights. It doesn't seem that you’re paying the same amount of attention, or maybe you are, partly.MR. WOOD:
Well, I wouldn't make – I wouldn't draw that conclusion, Sue. We’re obviously very focused on how we can bring the North back to the Six-Party discussions. And as I said yesterday, I believe, or the day before, that we are consulting with our allies to see what measures we can take to convince the North that it’s in their interest to – in its interest to return to the Six-Party framework. But we’ll have to see how those discussions go.
But what I was – the points that I made were, you know, in reference to North Korea Freedom Week, and so I wanted to point out – since a number of people are interested in what Ambassador Bosworth has been doing, I just thought I’d raise those.QUESTION:
So which allies are you speaking to, and are you planning on going to this five-party talks in Beijing soon, or, I mean, what are you actually doing when you’re consulting with the allies? Where are you speaking to them? Because you’ve got -- MR. WOOD:
Well, I mean, they’re – look, discussions happen on a number of levels. We have them between our missions. We have phone conversations that take place. And as I said, we’re consulting to see what’s the best way forward in terms of getting the North back to the Six-Party framework. QUESTION:
On that same subject, has Ambassador Bosworth been directly involved in the New York channel?MR. WOOD:
He’s been involved in trying to deal with the question of how do we get the North to live up to its obligations under the, you know, 2005 joint statement. He’s been working this issue. I don’t want to get into further details in terms of what he has been doing on that subject, but he’s been busily engaged.
Look, this is not an easy situation we have with regard to getting the North back to the negotiating table. The North, as I said a few days ago, agreed – gave us some assurances in private about verification but were unwilling to put them into a formal written document, and thus we weren’t able to move beyond where we were on the verification side of this. But this is clearly not only in the interest of North Korea and other countries in the region, but it’s in the interest of the United States that we get this process back on track. And as I said, we’ll be doing what we can to try to convince others to use whatever influence they have on the North to bring them back to the table. QUESTION:
Change of subject?MR. WOOD:
Let’s -- QUESTION:
Can you just elaborate? You said that they met with the advocates for the Japanese abductees. Does that mean family members, or does that mean -- MR. WOOD:
Family members. QUESTION:
Have you taken a look at this new
Iran sanctions legislation that’s been introduced in the Senate today?MR. WOOD:
No, I haven’t seen it. Maybe others in the building have, but I haven’t seen it, so I don’t have any comment on it.
Cuba, do you have anything new on the conversations between Mr. Shannon and the Cuban Interests Section?MR. WOOD:
You know, the only thing I can say is that Assistant Secretary Shannon met yesterday with the head of the Cuban Interests Section, Jorge Bolaños. And this, as I said yesterday, you know, was just part of, you know, our regular dialogue with the Cuban Interests Section on issues of concern either to us or to them or mutual concerns. And I’m not going to provide you with, you know, the details of, you know, a private diplomatic discussion, but, you know, there will likely – you know, there’ll be meetings in the future, should there be a need to meet. But I don’t have anything beyond that. QUESTION:
So they haven’t scheduled to restart these meetings they have every six months?MR. WOOD:
I’m not aware that they had meetings scheduled every six months.QUESTION:
Before this thing started.MR. WOOD:
No, they – look, they will obviously meet when they feel the need arises. But nothing beyond that.QUESTION:
Well, there is this contradiction between what Raul Castro said and Fidel Castro said, and Secretary Clinton (inaudible) in the hearing last week. Has this helped at all to clarify this apparent contradiction?MR. WOOD:
Well, look, I can’t speak for the internal processes within Cuba with regard to this issue, but we’ve made very clear that we wanted to take some steps in terms of remittances and travel of family members. We’ve done that. And we’d like to see some steps coming from the Cuban side in terms of, you know, releasing political prisoners, ending taxes on remittances, that sort of thing. We still await to see what the Cuban Government decides to do on that score.QUESTION:
Is it fair to say that that was brought up at the meeting yesterday?MR. WOOD:
I wasn’t in the meeting, so I don’t know. It could very well have come up. But as I said, I don’t want to get into the details of what was discussed.QUESTION:
Just out of curiosity, what was the mutually convenient location that you guys came up with?MR. WOOD:
Well, look, the important thing is they met. I mean, it wasn’t like having a meeting at some secret location.QUESTION:
Did they go for lunch or something? Did they go for a drink? Did they meet in an office? Did they meet in a hotel? Did they meet under a tree?MR. WOOD:
They met. They met.QUESTION:
The Rosslyn parking garage? (Laughter.)MR. WOOD:
I don’t think it was the Rosslyn parking garage, but -- QUESTION:
New topic? Can we talk about the swine flu -- MR. WOOD:
-- work that the building is doing and the meeting today by the monitoring group?MR. WOOD:
Yeah. We have established a monitoring group here in the Department that will help gather information, try to sort out fact from fiction, support the interagency process that’s being led by the Department of Homeland Security. Let me, just backing up just a little bit, give you a few of – the latest lay of the land here.
Yesterday, April 27th
, the Department of State released a Travel Alert, as I think you all know, to inform U.S. citizens about the potential health risks of travel to Mexico at this time due to an outbreak of H1N1 swine flu. And the State Department’s Travel Alert reflects the expert medical conclusions of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which issued an April 27 notice recommending that American citizens avoid essential – excuse me, non-essential travel to Mexico at this time.
The CDC’s notice also suggests precautions that travelers and U.S. citizens resident in Mexico can take to reduce the risk of infection while in Mexico. CDC provides recommendations for those who must travel to an area that has reported cases of swine flu and recommends measures to take following return from an area that has reported cases of swine flu.QUESTION:
Well, is --MR. WOOD:
Let me finish. CDC has sent experts to Mexico to work with health officials there. The U.S. Embassy and the nine consulates we have in Mexico have suspended all nonessential services to the public until May 6. So for U.S. citizens, only emergency assistance and citizenship applications will be dealt with until after that point. So that’s pretty much the latest that we have from here.QUESTION:
And this European warning from the European health organization that people should not travel to the United States, has there been any consultation with the United States about this?MR. WOOD:
I think I addressed that yesterday. As far as I know, there hasn’t been any official notification coming from the European Union. As far as I know, that was just a personal view of the EU health commissioner.QUESTION:
Robert, I know the WHO is handling kind of international coordination, but during the avian flu kind of scare, this building had to kind of work with the WHO and organized a meeting of all kind of health ministers and things like that. Are there any plans for this building to do anything of that nature? And could you talk about the coordination that this building is doing with other countries, or are you just leaving that to kind of CDC and WHO and stuff?MR. WOOD:
No. Well, with regard to some future meeting, I’m not going to rule anything out. I’m not aware that there’s any planned meeting at this point, but there are a number of conversations going on between officials in the Department, CDC, other foreign governments, the WHO. And everybody’s carefully monitoring the situation. But, you know, should the situation change, we’re obviously going to adjust our posture. And we have had discussions with other governments besides the governments of Mexico and Canada, obviously, and those --QUESTION:
Can you say which ones?MR. WOOD:
I don’t have a list in front of me.QUESTION:
Can you put out a list?MR. WOOD:
I’ll see. I’ll – I’m not going to promise anything, but I’ll see what I can get you on that.
Just on that subject, is the State Department considering an authorized departure of U.S. officials and family members?MR. WOOD:
We haven’t made any decision on that, Charlie. We’re obviously going to monitor the situation closely and, you know, should there be a need to do something like that, we will. But at this point, we’re not planning anything.
Have any State Department employees or embassy or consulate employees reported feeling any flu-like symptoms? Have you had any confirmed cases of swine flu among any State Department local or international employees?MR. WOOD:
None that I’m aware of.QUESTION:
And has the Secretary been tested? Because she was in Mexico along with the President.MR. WOOD:
The Secretary hasn’t shown any signs of any – she hasn’t shown any flu-like symptoms, so no need to worry. It’s only if you’re showing signs of that that you should go and see your – you know, consult a medical doctor.QUESTION:
Was the State Department aware of the swine flu outbreak before she went along with the President?MR. WOOD:
Not that I’m aware of.QUESTION:
New topic?MR. WOOD:
Anybody on this subject still? Okay, please.QUESTION:
Sri Lanka, the Colombo government declined to issue a visa for the foreign minister of Sweden, who had hoped to go with the British and French foreign ministers. How does the U.S. feel about this? Is this a bad sign in terms of reconciliation and in terms of the humanitarian aid?MR. WOOD:
Well, again, I’m not familiar with the circumstances surrounding this visa issue and have to refer you to the Sri Lankan Government or the Swedish Government for more details on that. But we’re still very concerned about, you know, unconfirmed reports that heavy shelling has continued in the conflict zone, and we want to make sure that the Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE do their utmost to protect civilians in the conflict area.
And I understand that there were some supplies that got into the conflict zone. We obviously welcome that. I guess – I believe there were some food supplies. And, you know, we’re calling on the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers to cease hostilities and to do what they can to protect civilians and to allow food and medicine and other things into that area to meet the needs of the Sri Lankan people who are affected by this conflict, so -- QUESTION:
Are there any plans for a U.S. envoy or anybody to go there after the British and French foreign ministers went?MR. WOOD:
Not that I’m aware of. I know Assistant Secretary Boucher has been heavily involved and he’s had a number of conversations with members of the – other co-chair members. But I’m not aware of any plans for any senior U.S. Government official to travel to the region at this point.
Two follow-up. Can you believe the Government of Sri Lanka? They’ve been saying that normal fighting and normal shelling is going on right now, as you said, but heavy fighting is going on. And victims are the innocent people which are not getting essentials. So are you planning any kind of regional conference, like involving India or something, or some planning and getting together and see how they can get to the people there as far as aid humanitarian?MR. WOOD:
Yeah, I’m not aware of any proposed conference on this issue. I know the Secretary, in recent days, spoke to the Indian foreign minister, Mukherjee. There have been lots of phone calls going on about the situation.
We’re very worried about the humanitarian situation on the ground. And we’ve called – you know, we have called on both the government and the LTTE to live up to their obligations. They’ve said certain things, in terms about not – the government saying they would not engage in further combat operations. The LTTE said it would not carry out other military operations. They need to live up to their word. But most importantly, they need to protect civilians who are clearly in harm’s way, who don’t have access to the food and medical supplies that they need. And we will continue to work diplomatically to try to get the two sides to cease military activities and allow the people caught up in this conflict to get the supplies that they need.QUESTION:
But also, Robert, do you worry – are you worried about -- as far as Chinese involvement, heavy Chinese involvement, as far as supporting Sri Lankan Government, supplying all heavy military equipment, and all that?MR. WOOD:
Well, I’m not aware of what the Chinese may or may not be supplying the Government of Sri Lanka. What I’m – what I’ve been saying and what others have been saying from here is that these military actions need to stop, and the civilians need to be protected. And that is our major concern right now, and it’s dealing with the humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka. And as I said to you before, we’re also thinking about post-conflict and how we can help Sri Lanka move forward after this conflict is over. And I know a number of other governments are concerned about the aftermath as well, and so we’re going to work with them as well. But as I said, our immediate focus is on the humanitarian situation.QUESTION:
And when was the phone call made by Secretary Clinton?MR. WOOD:
It was some time last week. I don’t have the date off the top of my head. Some time last week.
Robert, a different subject. Roxana Saberi, her parents are in fairly regular contact with her, visiting or talking to her. Has the U.S. Interests Section at the Swiss Embassy in Tehran been able to get any info to – also, maybe even talk to her or visit her, and what about her lawyer? Hasn’t her lawyer been able to provide any information?MR. WOOD:
Well, to start off with, I believe the Swedish ambassador last – I think --QUESTION:
Swedish or Swiss?QUESTION:
Swedish or Swiss?MR. WOOD:
I’m sorry, I meant Swiss, excuse me. Swiss last visit – or, I think it was March 30. That was the last time that he was able to pay a brief visit. I’ll have to check on that. But –QUESTION:
But since she’s been put in jail?MR. WOOD:
Yeah, look. She’s being – she needs to be released. And we’ve said this over and again. We believe the charges against her are baseless, without foundation. You know, the judicial process surrounding this case has been anything but transparent. And we’re going to continue to call on Iran to provide all the information that we request. Iran hasn’t been as forthcoming as we would like. You know, our protecting power has been working, trying to get information about this case. You know, they have not been very successful. But we’ll continue to push. And we’re very concerned about her mental state, about her physical being. But we’re going to continue to work this issue, and we want to see her come back home.QUESTION:
The Iranians today say that she’s in good health and she’s not on a hunger strike, whereas her father says that she’s been on a hunger strike for the last week. What is the information that you think --MR. WOOD:
Well, this is part of the problem. We don’t really – we’re not getting information from Iran about her case. And you can understand why there sometimes can be these types of conflicting information. That’s why we’re calling on Iran to provide very clear answers to the questions that we are asking. Now, we want more information about her. We want her released. And we’re going to continue diplomatically to do all we can. But as I’ve said, the Iranians have not been as forthcoming as we would like. QUESTION:
But you referred to her mental state. On what grounds are you saying that you’re concerned about her mental state? Is that from the Swiss ambassador or is that from her father? MR. WOOD:
Well, I don’t want to get into the specifics of conversations and other information that we’ve been able to obtain. But we believe, based on what we know, that, you know, her condition – her mental condition is something that we’re concerned about, and her physical health, and again, call on Iran to release her and to do so immediately. But you know, I’m – we’re under no illusions that this is going to happen right away, but we’re going to continue to work to bring her back home. We’ll use every tool in our diplomatic arsenal to bring her back, as the Secretary has said. QUESTION:
Robert, do you have anything on Levinson? MR. WOOD:
Nothing on Levinson. And again, we call on Iran to provide information on Mr. Levinson. His family is, as you can imagine, in a very terrible situation with no information about Mr. Levinson. And again, call on Iran to do the right thing and provide information on this case as well.
And on a related issue, the aforementioned Swedish ambassador, anything new on the two Americans held in North Korea? MR. WOOD:
No update, Charlie, on that. We’re working that diplomatically as well, as you know, and we hope to be able to get some additional information. But at this point, I don’t have anything for you. QUESTION:
Robert, can I take a different tack on the sanctions legislation? The sponsors are suggesting that the legislation is aimed at giving the Administration more authority to implement sanctions. Is that something that the Administration is seeking? MR. WOOD:
Look, I haven’t seen the legislation, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to comment on it. QUESTION:
Is – look, forget about the legislation. Is the Administration seeking more authority to implement sanctions against Iran, if necessary? MR. WOOD:
Well, look, if you would recall from the presidential statement that the UN approved, we want to do whatever we can to put additional pressure on the government. But you know, again, I haven’t seen this legislation, so I really don’t want to comment on it at this point.
Robert, yesterday the Secretary singled out the accomplishments that this Department has made on climate change in the nearly hundred days that she’s been in position. What else would she highlight as accomplishments in that time period? And if anything, is there something that she wished she had time to focus on that she didn’t get done? MR. WOOD:
Well, both the President and the Secretary will, of course, you know, talk about, you know, what accomplishments have been achieved over the first hundred days. But you know, again, from this Department, if you look at a number of areas where we have made significant changes to policy with regard to the Middle East, I mean, the – I think the Middle East,
Pakistan, Afghanistan – in the first couple of days, we had the appointment of special envoys – a special envoy and a special representative to deal with these issues. And we’ll be spelling out for you in more detail those accomplishments.
But I think what’s important here is to notice that there has been a fundamental change of direction in terms of our foreign policy. And when you look around the world at the reception, at what the President and the Secretary got on their travels in terms of the vocal support we’ve gotten from other governments, in terms of new policies that we’ve adopted, I think you’ll – I think it demonstrates that this Administration is doing a lot to improve America’s image abroad and to change policies that it feels were not effective in terms of trying to reach results in our – in foreign policy. So we’ll be speaking more to that in the coming days, so --QUESTION:
Any area that she felt that she didn’t get to focus on in the first hundred days?MR. WOOD:
Well, look, the Secretary’s schedule has been incredibly busy. It’s been incredibly packed. For those of you who have traveled with her, you know what her schedule has been like on the road. She’s busily at work. She works extremely hard, long hours. There’s a lot of work to be done. She’s not going to sit back after the first 100 days and say, oh, okay, this is what we’ve done in a hundred days. She knows there’s a lot of work still to do, and she’s looking forward to it. This morning she noted in her staff meeting about how important it is that we keep focused on our agenda in going forward. And you know, as I said, we’ll have more to say about, you know, what’s been achieved over the first hundred days, but I was just giving you a little flavor.
Let me go to --QUESTION:
On this – on the relevant hundred day theme, Amnesty has got a new report, which I’m guessing you haven’t read. But regardless -- MR. WOOD:
You need to tell me what it is, so I can --QUESTION:
(Laughter.) It’s on detainee policy, and it gives the Administration mixed reviews. And among the concerns raised are that they ask why the Administration has not reversed the Bush Administration’s policy that no Guantanamo detainees be released into the U.S., and also they cite progress at Guantanamo but ask why a similar – similar changes in policy have not been implemented.MR. WOOD:
Well, with regard to detainees, you know that the President issued an executive order. Each case is being reviewed. You know, the President has made very clear that the United States does not engage in torture. As I said, those cases are being reviewed. I think it’s too early to start drawing conclusions about, you know, the Administration’s policies on this subject. We’ve been very clear, however, that this Administration is taking a different approach to dealing with these extremists. And Guantanamo is scheduled to close.
We are having discussions with other governments about whether they can take some of these detainees, and we’re going to continue to go forward. But I think it’s too early for organizations to start, you know, criticizing the Administration on this. It inherited some very difficult and challenging problems and is trying to sort through them. And there are people in this building and across the government who are working hard to deal with some of these challenges that have been presented by Guantanamo and, you know, since, you know, 2001.
So as I said, what’s important here is to focus on the fact that the Administration is looking at each of these cases, and we’ll deal with them in the best way possible, and that we are committed to dealing with, you know, these cases in a fair and just manner. QUESTION:
One of the cases that people have viewed as the most egregious are the Uighurs, and they still have not been transferred onto the U.S. mainland. What is their situation? I know you’re painstakingly reviewing all these cases, but these are people who have been found not to have been involved in any form of terrorism, so -- MR. WOOD:
Well, again, these cases are being reviewed, Sue, so it would be premature for me to start commenting on them. Let’s let the review process run its course, and then we can provide, you know -- QUESTION:
But are you close to finding a solution to the Uighurs and resettling them?MR. WOOD:
We’re working on the issue. Let me just say that.
Robert, as far as global war on terrorism is concerned, do you believe that Usama bin Ladin is now dead? We’ve been hearing this tale for the last eight years from different Pakistani officials, and now recently the Pakistani president, Mr. Zardari, said that he is dead and no longer there. But now, if he’s dead, al-Qaida and Talibans are now getting more stronger and stronger maybe, in many ways stronger than the Pakistani Government. So you think that as far as aid to Pakistan is concerned, that will be affected in any way, because now Usama bin Ladin is not there, or who is running the al-Qaida now?MR. WOOD:
First of all, I have no way of knowing whether Usama bin Ladin is dead or alive. I have no way of knowing that.
With regard to the Government of Pakistan, as we’ve said, it faces some very serious challenges. And we have called on the Government of Pakistan and the military to take decisive action against the extremists. They realize the challenges that they face. It’s a very difficult situation for the Government of Pakistan. We will be with them as they continue to fight these extremists. But we’re under no illusions about the challenges, and this extends to Afghanistan as well. And, you know, we will be providing assistance to Pakistan to support them in their efforts. But, you know, as I said, we’re under no illusions about the difficulties that they face. But what Pakistan needs to do with these extremists is not to give in to them and to take forceful action. And as I said, we will be supporting them as best we can as they go forward.QUESTION:
One just quick follow-up?MR. WOOD:
Is it going to make any difference whether Usama bin Ladin is dead or not as far as war on terrorism is concerned?MR. WOOD:
Look, Usama bin Ladin is obviously a very important figure in al-Qaida. But, you know, one individual doesn’t make an organization. There are al-Qaida cells operating around the world. And what we have to do with other countries is to cooperate very closely in closing down these cells, in bringing these extremists to justice, and to do what we can to prevent further acts of terror.
Another related Pakistan question: Do you have any reaction to this new offensive that the Pakistani forces have begun in –I’m sorry for the pronunciation – Buner province?MR. WOOD:
Yeah. Do you have any reaction to that? Do you see that as goodwill on behalf of Zardari, President Zardari, that they’re moving ahead on the promises to, you know, curb the Taliban offensive?MR. WOOD:
I don’t think it’s a question of goodwill. This is something that’s in the interest of the Government of Pakistan. These Taliban and other extremists pose an existential threat to Pakistan. They’ve also caused problems for the Government of Afghanistan. So this is not the Government of Pakistan showing the United States goodwill. This is Pakistan taking action that it believes is in its own interest.
The Pakistani and the Iranian foreign ministers were in Kabul yesterday meeting with the Afghan foreign minister on stabilizing Afghanistan, so a regional sort of get-together. Has the State Department been – was it aware of such meetings arranging, or the U.S. Embassy been involved with any such meetings, whether be it with Pakistan, Iran, or any of the regional countries on this issue?MR. WOOD:
Not that I’m aware of, but I mean, it’s not unusual for countries of a particular region to meet to discuss issues of mutual concern. So there’s nothing new in that. What we have been working with countries in the region to try to do is to deal with the question of extremism and fundamentalism, and we’ll continue to work with countries of the region.
With regard to Iran, obviously an important country in that region, it needs to show that it’s going to be a good neighbor and cooperate in fighting extremism. And so there’s nothing new and there shouldn’t be anything surprising that countries of the regions have conversations about issues of mutual interest.
One last one in the back.QUESTION:
Do you have anything about the trip of Mr. Ross beside the statement that we got yesterday?MR. WOOD:
Yeah, I don’t have a lot of – a lot more detail except to say that, you know, Special Advisor Ross is going to be traveling to the Gulf countries and to Egypt beginning April 28. And the purpose is to advance, you know, the U.S. commitment to a renewed diplomacy in the region. And there will be no meetings with Iranian officials. I know a number of you have raised that issue over the last several weeks. There will not be any meetings, again, with Iranian officials. And that’s really all I have at this point. As we get more details on the trip, we’d be happy to make them available to you.QUESTION:
Just to follow up on that, do you think – when he’s in the UAE, do you think these torture allegations, this video, do you think that’ll come up?MR. WOOD:
So is this just a listening tour, sort of the – as Mitchell did?MR. WOOD:
It’s consultations and certainly listening.QUESTION:
But he’s not going with a specific plan or suggestions -- MR. WOOD:
-- as to where you’re going on all this?MR. WOOD:
Thank you. QUESTION:
Just a quick one: As far as elections in India is concerned, is any way U.S. is helping with any – directly or indirectly? MR. WOOD:
Elections in India, yeah.MR. WOOD:
Not that I’m aware of, no.QUESTION:
Okay. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:21 p.m.)