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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
April 29, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Taiwan's Invitation to World Health Assembly / Chinese Taipei / Taiwan's Participation in the World Health Organization / Benefits to Public Health / U.S. Welcomes Inclusion
    • Recent Comments on Nuclear Program / Threats Further Isolate North Korea / Joint Statement of Denuclearization / UN Security Council Statement / Adhering to Commitments / Influence of Countries / Return to the Six-Party Framework / IAEA Inspectors / Transparency / Verification
    • No Update on the Two Detained Journalists
    • Working with Governments to Take Detainees / Work in Progress / President Obama's Decision to Close Guantanamo
    • Conversations with Spanish Government on Torture Inquiry
  • H1N1 VIRUS
    • Well-Being of Embassy Mexico City Employees / Discussion with Governments / Centers for Disease Control
    • Action by Military against Taliban / Threat to Pakistan / U.S. Call for Pakistan to Take Actions / Working with the Pakistani Government / Cooperation among International Community
    • Emergency Aid to Pakistan / Expediting Assistance / Troubling Situation / Help from the International Community
    • UN Special Tribunal / Four Generals under Investigation / Ongoing / Support for the Tribunal / Monetary Support
    • U.S. Foreign Assistance / Working with Congressman Berman
    • Secretary Clinton's Meeting on Food Security / Deeply Concerned / Best Ways to Help / International Community
  • CUBA
    • Raul Castro's Comments / Remittances / Travel / Call on Cuban Government / Political Prisoners / Dialogue / No Plans to Lift U.S. Embargo / Support for the Cuban People
  • IRAN
    • No Update on Roxana Saberi / No Update on Silva Harotonian


11:17 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good morning. Welcome to the briefing. Sylvie, good to see you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: What’s so funny this morning?

QUESTION: Nothing (inaudible).

MR. WOOD: Nothing? Okay. Well, I just want to start off with a statement here on Taiwan’s participation in the World Health Assembly.

The United States welcomes the announcement that the World Health Organization has invited Taiwan to attend this year’s World Health Assembly, the supreme governing body of the World Health Organization, as an observer under the name Chinese Taipei. We have long supported Taiwan’s meaningful participation in the WHO, including observer status at the WHA. We look forward to the participation of Taiwan at the WHA, and the benefits Taiwan’s public health expertise will bring to the international community.

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

QUESTION: On that?

MR. WOOD: On this issue?


MR. WOOD: Please.

QUESTION: Sir, Taiwan had tried to participate in the World Health Assembly in the World Health Organization for past 12 years, but it failed. But this year, WHO formally invited Taiwan. Can you elaborate the reason, the difference why this year’s WHO made its new decision?

MR. WOOD: I think you’d have to address that issue to the WHO. But obviously, we welcome this step, as I mentioned. And I think the WHO can best address that question.

QUESTION: Nearby? Well, not nearby. Not either nearby Geneva not Taiwan, really, but North Korea.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The latest bombast coming out of Pyongyang suggests that they are going to start launching more missiles, conducting more nuclear tests, and starting to enrich – and start enriching uranium. What do you – unless the Security Council apologizes and rescinds these –

MR. WOOD: I don’t think you’ll see an apology from the Security Council.

Let me just say very clearly that these threats only further isolate the North. And as I mentioned I think yesterday or the day before, the North needs to come back to the table. And we are working with our partners to try to convince the North to do that.

The North’s policies have done nothing, as I said, but isolate the country and, unfortunately, its people. And we encourage those who have influence with the regime and Pyongyang to use that influence to convince the North to live up to its obligations, focusing specifically on the 2005 joint statement in which it agreed to a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

So the UN Security Council’s statement that was passed unanimously made very clear what the North needs to do. And we, again, call on the North Koreans to come back to the table and adhere to the commitments that it made.

So I have nothing beyond that, Matt. I mean, we’ve heard these types of threats before, so –

Yes, Charlie.

QUESTION: Are you referring to China when you call upon those with influence?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to –

QUESTION: Is it not one that --

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to specify countries. But there are a number of countries that have influence with regard to North Korea, and they need to use that influence.

QUESTION: New subject?

QUESTION: Wait a second. There are a number of countries? How many?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to stand here and count them. There are countries that have influence.

QUESTION: There might be one. And then can I just go back to this? Every time that they do some – do or say something like this, you say, this only further isolates them. And I keep – I just wonder how much further isolated North Korea can be. It doesn’t seem like they have anything to lose here.

MR. WOOD: Well, again, as I’ve said before, I can’t get in the mindset of this regime. But it made a set of commitments to the international community, and the international community agreed that if the North abided by these commitments, it would supply it with heavy fuel oil and it would take other measures to try to bring the North back into the good graces of the international community.

So far, the North has chosen not to pursue this path. We made great progress in terms of getting the North to disclose all the information that it had about its program. Where we got hung up was on verification. I talked about this yesterday. We were making very good progress. You’ll have to ask the North why it did not want to provide these assurances in written form for the other members of the Six-Party Talks. And we again call on them to do the responsible thing, and that’s return to the Six-Party framework so we can get on with the business of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.

QUESTION: Would you describe the situation in our efforts to get North Korea to do what you’re saying, which is to come back to the negotiating table, as static right now?

MR. WOOD: It’s certainly static. There hasn’t been movement. You know, we’re not seeing progress here. The North is making threats. It’s not living up to its commitments. And we need to do everything we can to get them back to the table. And that’s why I said those who have influence with the North use that influence to bring them back to the table.

QUESTION: Two other quick points on this. The specification by the North Koreans that among their threats that they would enrich uranium, does that give the United States additional confidence that there is, in fact, an HEU program in North Korea?

MR. WOOD: Well, part of the problem that we have is that our people who were on the ground are no longer there. The IAEA is no longer there. You know, we need the North to be transparent. We have asked the North to be transparent in terms of disclosing all of the information that it has with regard to its activities. But as I said, we got hung up on verification, and the North could not expect that we were going to agree to – you know, we were just going to take the documents that they presented us with and, you know, assume they were gospel. We need to be able to verify. And for some reason, the North, as I said, wasn’t willing to come forward and put some of the assurances that they gave us in private, you know, on paper.

But what we’ve got now is a different situation. We’ve got the North, you know, having kicked out IAEA inspectors, American monitors at Yongbyon, making – continually making threats. What we’re trying to do – and our policy is focused on trying to get the North back to the Six-Party framework. And this is not just something in the interests of the United States. It’s in the interests of the other parties to the framework and others in the international community.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. confirmed that North Korea has, as it has claimed this week, begun – or resumed the reprocessing of spent fuel at Yongbyon?

MR. WOOD: I’m not able to confirm that for you, James. But our concern here, basically, is that the North reverse its decision, come back to the table so that we can get on with the business of denuclearizing the peninsula.


QUESTION: New topic.

MR. WOOD: Anybody?

QUESTION: One last one?

MR. WOOD: Sure, we can – go ahead, James, and then we’ll go over here.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. observed any organizational or personnel changes announced by the regime in Pyongyang that would suggest a newfound strengthened hand for the military vis-à-vis the Workers Party there?

MR. WOOD: I’m not able to make that determination, James. I’m sorry.

QUESTION: Is there any update on the case of the two journalists?

MR. WOOD: No, no update. Sorry, Matt.

QUESTION: On North Korea?

MR. WOOD: North Korea?


MR. WOOD: Please.

QUESTION: You just said yourself that this is not the first time North Korea has made such a threat. Before, we’ve seen them act on it, but – and what they’ve said that they would do. Don’t you think that now such threats should be taken seriously and the negotiating countries have a contingency plan?

MR. WOOD: Well, I never said that we don’t take threats seriously. What we’re saying is that the North needs to stop making these threats and adhere to the commitments that it made. And, you know, the North made some decisions with regard to launching this missile recently, and the UN Security Council responded and made very clear what the international community’s views were toward that launch. And what we’ve got to do – and as I said, what our policy is focused on is trying to get the North back to the Six-Party framework. We think it’s a viable framework for bringing about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But the North seems – the North is being obstinate, and we’ve got to work with our partners in the international community to try to convince them that it’s in their interest to come back to the table and continue negotiating.

Kirit, did you want to stay on this subject or --

QUESTION: Different subject.

MR. WOOD: Same subject? North --

QUESTION: No, on --

MR. WOOD: Let me go to Kirit first because he’s been waiting.

QUESTION: The attorney general was in Berlin giving a speech today, and he says that the – that there were 30 detainees in Guantanamo that have been cleared for release. How close are you to finding places to put them at this point?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, as I’ve said before, Kirit, we are working with a number of governments to try to see – to gauge interest in taking some of these detainees. This is very much a work in progress. And I’m not going to get into the specifics for obvious reasons, but the President made a very clear decision that we want to close Guantanamo and that we’re going to look at each of these cases individually. And we’re going to talk to a number of countries around the world about, you know, possibly taking some of these detainees. A number of countries have wanted us to close Guantanamo. They’ve wanted – they’ve stated they wanted to be a part of the solution to this. Well, Guantanamo is going to be closed. We’re trying to deal with these detainees. And so we’re hoping that countries will come forward and take some of these detainees.

And so, as I said, it’s a work in progress, but I don’t want to get into the specifics of conversations that --

QUESTION: It’s been over three months since he made that announcement. Are you any closer to finding places for them?

MR. WOOD: We are working on it. I don’t want to give you an assessment at this point because I’m just not able to make that kind of an assessment. But we are having these conversations with other governments. And, you know, hopefully, we will make some good progress in terms of getting countries to take these detainees.

QUESTION: Same subject?

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: A Spanish judge decided today to launch an inquiry in – on the possible cases of torture in Guantanamo. Does it concern you?

MR. WOOD: Well, we have had conversations with the Spanish Government about this issue, but I’m not going to go beyond that at this point, Sylvie.

QUESTION: Well, I think the conversations that you had was on a different case, which actually names six Bush Administration officials. This is a different probe.

MR. WOOD: Oh, this is a different --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: This is new? I’m sorry, I haven’t --

QUESTION: The other was on the anti-terror judge.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I haven’t seen these reports at all, so I’m not able to comment on them Matt. Sorry.

QUESTION: Can you – you know, back when the first case was going on, I asked a general question which was never answered, which was just how the Administration feels about universal jurisdiction.

MR. WOOD: I think we posted an answer to that, Matt. Yeah, I don’t have that. Check with the Press Office. I think we did.

On this subject?

QUESTION: No, different.

QUESTION: Go ahead, Charlie.

MR. WOOD: Go ahead, Charlie. Yeah.

QUESTION: On swine flu. Can you give us an update on Mexico? Anything new at the Embassy or the consulates or other official offices? Were there any U.S. officials or family members have turned up ill? Anything that’s new?

MR. WOOD: You know, Charlie, I don’t have anything new. I have looked into the issue of whether or not any, you know, Embassy or consulate employees or family members have, you know, contracted the flu. I’m not aware of any. I don’t really have any update beyond what I mentioned to you yesterday. We are continuing to have discussions with governments about this. We are monitoring the situation very closely, not only here but abroad. And the CDC, I think, will probably later today provide an update on the situation. But I don’t have anything beyond what I said yesterday.


QUESTION: Different subject, on Pakistan. Apparently, there was a successful action by the military against Taliban fighters in an important location. I wonder what your comment is and what lessons we derive from it.

MR. WOOD: Well, as I said yesterday, Pakistan understands the threat that it faces. And we have called on the government to take actions – decisive, strong actions against extremists. They’re not just a threat to Pakistan. They’re a threat to other countries in the region. And the Pakistanis are doing this because it’s in their national interest, and that’s important. We are going to work with Pakistan, as well as with Afghanistan and other countries that are trying to root out extremists, and give them the support – the best support that we can. But this is a long struggle. And it’s going to require, you know, 110 percent cooperation on the part of the international community to defeat these extremists.

But as I said, Pakistan realizes, you know, that this – these extremists pose an existential threat to the state of Pakistan and the well-being of its people. So we’re happy to see Pakistan taking these types of steps. They need to continue to confront these violent extremists. And we will be there as a partner to try to help them.

QUESTION: Do you have something more specific to say about this operation? Would you call it a success or --

MR. WOOD: I’m not able to make that assessment, James. I think we’ll just have to see how things play out. But at this point, I can’t give you an assessment.

QUESTION: Is it a step in the right direction?

MR. WOOD: Certainly, taking on extremists is a step in the right direction, no question about it.

QUESTION: You’re setting the bar awfully high demanding 110 percent cooperation.

MR. WOOD: From everyone, including the United States.


MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you think that people can actually do 110 percent?

MR. WOOD: Effort’s important.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: The UN special tribunal for Lebanon – a judge at the tribunal today in The Hague ordered the release of four Lebanese officers who were jailed since four years suspected of assassination – assassinating former Prime Minister Hariri. And the judge said they were innocent. What is your reaction to this?

MR. WOOD: Well, my understanding, Samir, is that – you know, these four generals are still under investigation by the tribunal prosecutors. So the prosecutors indicated that the investigation is ongoing. But I think the Secretary when she was in Lebanon expressed her support for the tribunal, including, you know, additional monetary support. So it wouldn’t be good for me to comment beyond that with regard to these generals because the investigation is still going on.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Yesterday, there was some reports about giving emergency aid to Pakistan. Are you aware of that, to some sort of aid going to Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: I know that there are conversations going on on Capitol Hill about trying to expedite assistance to Pakistan. We obviously want to try to do what we can to deliver assistance as quickly as we can to Pakistan. The situation in Pakistan is very troubling. And the Pakistani Government is doing all it can, but it needs help from the international community. And we need to provide that help – assistance, and do it as quickly as we can. But I don’t have anything to say beyond that.


QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the Berman bill from – that was introduced last night about revitalizing U.S. foreign assistance? Is this something the State Department’s working with him on?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, we’re talking to Congressman Berman about that, but I don’t have any specific details at this point to offer you on it.

QUESTION: And how about the Secretary’s food security meeting this morning? What was that all about?

MR. WOOD: Well, the topic of – she had a breakfast, of course, with a number of members of Congress and others about the importance of food security. It’s an issue that she cares very deeply about. It’s an issue that a number of people on the Hill care about. And we’re trying to talk about the best ways we can help provide food security around the globe, how we, the international community, can best provide – get food security, particularly in areas where it’s so desperately needed. But I wasn’t at the breakfast, so I don’t have much more of a readout for you on that.

Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Cuba. Raul Castro has said today that the steps that the Administration has taken so far are minimal and that the ball is in your court, not in their court. What’s – what is your reaction to this?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think we’ve made very clear – I think the President made very clear by the steps that he took with regard to remittances and travel that we certainly want to take a different approach to dealing with Cuba. But we’ve all called for the Cuban Government to take some steps to show that it’s serious about dialogue with the international community – you know, releasing political prisoners, stopping – you know, the halting of taxing remittances that come back into the country.

Look, we’re interested in a dialogue with Cuba, but I think the international community wants to see some steps from Havana to see, to gauge how serious the government there is willing to have a dialogue about these – this range of issues that we’re all concerned about.

QUESTION: Is it that the international community wants it or the United States wants it?

MR. WOOD: Well, there are other countries in the international community besides the United States that want to see the people of Cuba --

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but the United States --

MR. WOOD: -- have the freedoms that others in the hemisphere have.

QUESTION: Well, fair enough. But the United States is the only country with an embargo on Cuba.

MR. WOOD: Well, we do have an embargo, and there is no plan at this point to lift that embargo. But we do want to do what we can to support the Cuban people.

QUESTION: All right. Is this something that came up in the meeting between Tom Shannon and the Cuban –

MR. WOOD: Yeah, the head of the Interests Section.

QUESTION: Does it have a – does that position have a name?

MR. WOOD: Oh, yeah. It’s Jorge --

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, the title.

MR. WOOD: The head of the Cuban Interests Section.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. So – okay, does that –

MR. WOOD: If you were here yesterday, you would have heard my answer, which was that I didn’t want to get into the substance of that conversation.

QUESTION: Well, I read the transcript from yesterday.

MR. WOOD: Oh, good.

QUESTION: And so I know that you didn’t want to get into it then. But I thought that perhaps --

MR. WOOD: Not going to do it today either.

QUESTION: Well, perhaps, Raul Castro was responding to something that he heard from his top diplomat here, after the meeting with Tom Shannon.

MR. WOOD: Well, nothing has changed in terms of what we’d like to see come from the Cuban Government with regard to some – you know, taking some steps to assure not only the United States but other countries that it’s serious about having a dialogue and dealing with some of these issues that concern us all.

QUESTION: Have you heard anything more from the Swiss on Roxana? I know yesterday you hadn’t heard back --

MR. WOOD: Yeah. No, update. I check every morning. I haven’t gotten any update.

QUESTION: And do you have anything on – there’s another woman, Silva Harotonian, who worked for ARIX[1]. Anything on her health?

MR. WOOD: No update at this at this point. Sorry. Okay. Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:36 a.m.)

[1] IREX

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