12:41 p.m. EDT
MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. We’ll start off with a couple of things, first some housekeeping.
Yesterday afternoon, the Press Office emailed to you all, the State Department Press Corps, with detailed instructions on how to obtain press credentials for the Pittsburgh Summit, which is scheduled, as you know, for September 24 and 25 at the Convention Center in Pittsburgh. You can apply for media credentials online beginning today. The final deadline to submit press credential applications is August 15, 2009 at midnight Eastern Daylight Time. So I strongly encourage you to apply right away. If you haven’t received instructions, let the Press Office know. We’ll send you the credentialing information package. There is an email address in the information package where you can write if you have additional questions.
I will – number two, I just want to run down the Secretary’s activities today in Nairobi. Before she started her formal schedule in Nairobi, she had the opportunity to reach out to her husband for a brief conversation with him about Euna Lee and Laura Ling. As she said later to your colleagues traveling with her, she’s enormously gratified they have been reunited with their families.
The Secretary then gave the keynote address at the 8th AGOA conference, at which she pledged that the U.S. would be a full partner, but also encouraged Africa to do more to fully exploit trade opportunities with the United States, but also within Africa itself. African nations do less trade with each other than any other region. She then had a bilateral with the president, vice president, prime minister of Kenya, and other members of the cabinet. She was very firm and candid in outlining what Kenya has to do to confront critical challenges it faces, particularly addressing the culture of corruption and impunity that continues to inhibit Kenya’s ability to fulfill the aspirations of its people. At the same time, she commended Kenya for its efforts to deal with the impact of the conflict next door in Somalia. She also thanked Kenya for its efforts regarding piracy.
Later in the day, she visited the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute along with Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack. She very forcefully encouraged all countries of Africa to provide additional support to women who form the backbone of the African agricultural sector. If Africa is going to become more productive and feed its people and develop a surplus that we can – that can increase trade, women will lead the way. Before attending the AGOA gala dinner, Secretary Clinton and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk announced the beginning of the bilateral investment treaty negotiations with Mauritius. We have a fact sheet on that announcement.
And with that, ready to take your questions. Barry.
QUESTION: Did you say she spoke to the two reporters too?
MR. WOOD: No, I said she spoke to --
QUESTION: Bill Clinton?
MR. WOOD: -- Bill Clinton, yes.
QUESTION: Right, okay. She has already said – and I don’t know if she said it before she spoke to him or afterward – that she doesn’t expect some huge – that’s not her word, but, you know, tremendous change based on what happened, on the release. But it’s a positive step, isn’t it? Is it a step in the direction of a better relationship?
MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t think we know yet, Barry. That’s something we don’t know. Again, as we’ve made very clear from the beginning, this private humanitarian mission is separate from our interaction with North Korea vis-à-vis its nuclear program. So, these two are not in any way linked. Whether or not we will get a better cooperation from the North in living up to its international obligations, we certainly hope so, but we’ll just have to see.
QUESTION: But officials have said that they thought that, you know, this could be the kind of catalyst, that this would give them a face-saving opportunity to back themselves out of a corner and engage if the journalists were freed.
MR. WOOD: Well, we’ll have to see, Elise. I think it’s too early to be able to judge that. I think what we’re going to be looking for, and what we have been looking for, is for the North to live up to its obligations. We’ve offered the North a path to get back into the good graces of the international community. We hope that the North will take up that offer. But we’ll have to see. The ball is really in the North’s court on this issue.
QUESTION: Can we talk a little bit more about Secretary Clinton’s involvement in President Clinton’s trip to the North? To – did she – was she involved in the discussions? Could you talk a little bit --
MR. WOOD: Well, I – the Secretary, I believe, said earlier today that there will be plenty of time to get into the details of all that transpired. But clearly, she had a role in this. There were lots of discussions. The State Department was very involved. But it’s not appropriate right now for me to get into the details of all that.
QUESTION: Well, why isn’t it appropriate? I mean, the girls are home safe. You know, the – one of the things that you had said over the last couple of days is you didn’t want to say anything because it was jeopardizing their safety. We saw them landing just a little while ago.
MR. WOOD: Yeah. As the Secretary said, there will be time for --
QUESTION: Well, I mean, why isn’t now the time, though?
MR. WOOD: Because now is not the time.
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. WOOD: Because my boss said it’s not the time.
QUESTION: Listen – Robert, you said they have to live up to their obligations and all. Do you agree with the proposition that each side has to make some – take some steps, that it’s not a one-way street? And couldn’t this be counted as a positive step? Or if it’s separate because it’s humanitarian, still, mustn’t the U.S. do something like ease up on its search for tougher sanctions to get the North Koreans to be more forthcoming? Or are you just going to wait for them?
MR. WOOD: Look, we – the Secretary and others have been very clear in saying that we are certainly willing to look at how we can bring the North back into the good graces of the international community. If you remember, we were engaged in the process with the North. We got as far as the North needing to give us some assurances about their commitments to verification that they were unwilling to do in written form.
And the North took a number of volatile, provocative steps that certainly didn’t improve their climate. It seems to have walked away from the Six-Party Talks. We have been encouraging the North – we and the other members of the international community that are interested in this issue have encouraged them to come back. They have yet to do that. We want to see them come back. And we have offered them a path. It’s really going to be up to the North to take it. I don’t see this as anything that the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia, China need to do at this point. This is really what the North needs to do.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, going back a bit, please, this brief conversation with Mrs. Clinton, did they get into substance? Or was it the sort of personal conversation one might expect – how did it go, how are you feeling?
MR. WOOD: I think it was more the latter, Barry. It was a brief conversation. The President was – former President Clinton was delighted that he was able to facilitate the departure of the two journalists, and how happy he was for that. And that was, in essence, the gist of the call, but it wasn’t really a discussion of substance. But clearly, there will be follow-up discussions that they will have about what transpired.
QUESTION: Can I go back to Elise’s question?
MR. WOOD: Sure.
QUESTION: You were essentially indicating the ball’s in North Korea’s court. Secretary Clinton said at ASEAN – and I don’t have the exact quote – but, you know, that – not going to be rewarded for just coming back to the talks.
MR. WOOD: And that’s correct.
QUESTION: So where is the ball exactly? I mean, what exactly is the U.S. Government position about what North Korea would have to do now, specifically, to get back in this – to extend the metaphor, this game?
MR. WOOD: The North Koreans need to recommit to the Six-Party framework, which means coming back to the table, showing us an indication that they’re willing to continue negotiating on – or should I say implementing the goals as outlined in the joint statement of 2005.
QUESTION: How so? What are you looking for? Something in writing? Some overt act?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know that we necessarily need something in writing. We just need to see a willingness. You know it when you see it. We need to see a willingness of the North to fulfill those obligations. And so we just await for the North to give us some kind of a response, whether it’s willing to come back and work with us through this framework that they agreed to. No one forced the North into joining the Six-Party framework. This was something the North decided to do, it committed to, and we want to see it live up to its commitments.
QUESTION: Is there any --
QUESTION: Did –
QUESTION: -- is there any role for bilateral contacts as a way of following up on this visit and exploring?
MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve said over and again that we’re willing to have conversations bilaterally with the North in the context of the Six-Party framework. And so remember, this is not just the United States calling on the North to adhere to its obligations. It’s all the other countries that are members of the Six-Party framework
QUESTION: So that would be only after the Six-Party Talks resume?
MR. WOOD: Well, just within the context of the Six-Party framework. That’s been our position for quite some time.
QUESTION: Yeah, just following up on that. You were talking about the need to see a willingness from the North Koreans to come back to the Six-Party Talks. Do you know whether in any of the conversations that President Bill Clinton had he sensed that willingness? I mean, we know that it was a humanitarian mission, but he did speak to Kim Jong-il for three hours, and presumably, they discussed more than the well-being of the two journalists. But also during the press conference upon arrival in Burbank, I can’t remember exactly who it was who mentioned, but I think it was President Bill Clinton, that there were State Department officials there – present at the arrival, and I was wondering who these officials were.
MR. WOOD: Yes. Kurt Tong from our East Asia and Pacific Affairs Bureau was there, and Linda McFadyen from the Office of Citizen Services. They were the two State Department officials.
QUESTION: The first one is Kurt --
MR. WOOD: Kurt Tong, T-o-n-g. Also the first part of your question again, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Were there in any of the conversations that President Bill Clinton had – he sensed a willingness from the North Koreans to return to the talks?
MR. WOOD: Well, I wasn’t privy to those conversations. I think that’s something I’d have to refer you to the former president’s office for.
QUESTION: Is the --
QUESTION: No, sir. Nothing’s been relayed back to the State Department?
MR. WOOD: Not at this point. I mean, they just arrived back in Los Angeles.
QUESTION: A couple more things. First of all, is this the kind of thing that the State Department or the Obama Administration is going to be looking for President Clinton to do more often, kind of a more of a Bill Richardson type role, perhaps to go to Iran and free these detainees?
MR. WOOD: If you recall from the briefing last night, and from I think what the Secretary said earlier today, I mean, this was a message that was communicated from the two journalists to their families, from their families to the vice president, former Vice President Gore, who then transmitted that message to the Administration. And obviously, after that, President Obama made a request to see if the former president would be willing to undertake this private humanitarian mission.
QUESTION: Well, obviously, the rest of the world sees him as someone that they’d like to deal with and –
MR. WOOD: You’re getting in the world of speculation. Now, I can’t tell you what plans the former president may have, what a future government may ask him to do. I just have no way of knowing that at this point.
QUESTION: And one more. The State Department was involved in kind of working with the Swedish, trying to talk to the North Koreans up until a certain point, and then it seems like the White House completely took this over. Over the last few days, we’ve heard from White House officials that – and there was a briefing, as you alluded to, that didn’t mention the State Department once. They said that President Clinton was going to be coming back and be briefing President Obama’s national security team. So what is the involvement of the State – what was the involvement of the State Department over the last couple of weeks? And is there a concern that when there’s a foreign policy success, that the White House is trying to take it for their own?
MR. WOOD: Well, look, let me just say very clearly that the State Department was involved in this. I think you understand and know that the Secretary is the President’s chief foreign policy advisor. So you can expect that the State Department has been involved, will be involved in debriefing. The national security team of this Administration is very in sync, works very closely together, as you know, Elise. And so I don’t subscribe to this view at all.
QUESTION: There’s no feeling that over the last couple of days – I mean, there has been a lot of talk about President Clinton going on this mission that was – and the White House handled all the press communiqué. Usually, this is something that the State Department handles. Why, all of a sudden, was this a White House mission?
MR. WOOD: Well, this wasn’t – this was a request that was made from President Obama to President – former President Clinton to go on this humanitarian – private humanitarian mission. And so it’s only natural that the White House was going to be involved, but the State Department was also involved as well. As I said, I don’t want to get into the details of the various meetings and the phone conversations that took place, but I can assure you the State Department was very involved.
QUESTION: Critics of sending former President Clinton to North Korea say that his visit bestows too much legitimacy on the regime. What response do you have to that?
MR. WOOD: Look, this was a humanitarian mission. Our primary interest was to try to win the release of these two journalists. This was something that both the President and the Secretary were very concerned about. And so as I said earlier, this was a message that was communicated – I’ve given you the path for that communication – and we wanted to do what we could. President Clinton was approached, agreed that he would undertake the mission. And we’re all, as I said, very pleased with the result. These two young women have been freed. And it’s been a very – I’m sure a very difficult ordeal for them. But in terms of whether we’re giving the North Koreans any legitimacy by having President Clinton go, this was purely humanitarian, and that’s all it was from the beginning.
QUESTION: But at the same point, you still have a very prominent American, a former president standing next to the smiling Kim Jong-il. I mean, how does that not play as some sort of concession to the North Koreans or bestowing some sort of legitimacy on his –
MR. WOOD: There were no concessions. This was a humanitarian mission, and that was clearly that. I mean, photos don’t necessarily reflect what went on there. We’re just very pleased that these two journalists have been released. And it was a – as I said, it was a humanitarian mission, plain and simple.
QUESTION: One final question.
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: Who will President Clinton be meeting with when he comes back here to debrief? Can you give some more details about who will be –
MR. WOOD: Honestly, I don’t know those details yet. I mean, it will at some point happen, but I don’t have them at this point.
QUESTION: Not to be picky, but this was a pardon the journalists got. Isn’t that a concession? It doesn’t erase the stain of a – of guilt. A pardon is granted to people who’ve done wrong things, but for various reasons – health, humanitarian, an ill relative – they’re freed. Did the president try to – do you happen to know, did the president try to get it put in more favorable terms than pardon?
MR. WOOD: I, again, wasn’t privy to these specific discussions that went on. But what I can tell you, Barry, is that we did our homework in terms – or due diligence to make sure that if President Clinton didn’t take this trip, that we would be able to get – win the freedom for these two. So indeed, we obviously received those assurances and we have them – they’re at home back in Los Angeles, I believe. So – but beyond that, I don’t really have any more information or details to give you on that.
QUESTION: So I guess you don’t –what’s the word – attach much meaning to the terminology to pardon? It’s the way they do it. And it’s – the main thing is getting them out. Is that the idea?
MR. WOOD: The important thing is winning their release. And we did that and we’re all very pleased. It’s a very, very great day for all of us here in the United States – getting these two young journalists back.
QUESTION: Can you just clarify something? The two people from the State Department, were they on the plane with the former president?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know the details. I’m not – I don’t know – honestly, don’t know.
QUESTION: But they were on the ground in Pyongyang?
MR. WOOD: They were certainly there.
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: And do you – are you aware of any support, logistical or otherwise, from the Embassy in Seoul that was provided for this visit?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know. It could have been, but I’m not aware of that. But again, as I said, more of these details will be coming forward later. I just don’t have them all, as you can imagine the –
QUESTION: And do you know – it came up in the phone briefing last night that the White House had provided some briefings to the former president over the phone and in person at his house in Washington. Were any State Department people involved in those briefings, do you know?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know. But as I said, they may not have been in a briefing or two. I’m not sure. But as I said, I stand by that very clearly. The State Department did play a very important role in this, so I just want to be – make --
QUESTION: Well, could you take the question?
MR. WOOD: Take what? What question?
QUESTION: Well, take the question. I mean, you keep saying that the State Department was involved in helping set up the mission, but you don’t – you can’t say whether he was going – whether the State Department officials were at the --
MR. WOOD: I said I couldn’t tell you that right now. I said I’m not going to get into the details right now. But at some point, we will obviously be able to provide you more details in terms of what the Department did specifically.
QUESTION: You also, as you mentioned, have detainees that kind of strayed – possibly strayed onto the Iranian border on Iraq. These journalists – Secretary Clinton even expressed kind of regret or remorse for what they did, suggesting – for these journalists, suggesting that perhaps that there was some wrongdoing.
Is there any thought to kind of your consular department sending out some kind of something to Americans to, you know, that they really need to be careful? I mean, obviously, your role is to provide safety for Americans that get into trouble. But isn’t it upon the responsibility of American citizens to know that they shouldn’t be crossing the border into a country where they shouldn’t be?
MR. WOOD: Well, Elise, as you know, we put out Travel Alerts, Advisories, Warnings worldwide --
QUESTION: Well, I mean something more robust, given that you have a lot of detainees around the world that have been straying into crazy borders?
QUESTION: Like a map.
QUESTION: Maybe. Something.
MR. WOOD: Well, what I can tell you is – and we always encourage Americans to read the materials we put out, go to our web pages, check our Travel Alerts, Warnings, and Advisories if they’re planning some kind of travel. We do that. We do it often. We reiterate that point at every opportunity we can. And it’s up to American citizens to follow that advice. But beyond that, I don’t think that there’s much more that we could do except to continue to do what we’ve been doing, and that’s to alert travelers to different situations in terms of travel.
QUESTION: But when you look at the incredible amount of resources of the U.S. Government and the political clout that the U.S. Government had to exert not only to get these women freed, but certainly there’s a lot of diplomacy going on with Iran where you could possibly use those chips somewhere else, like the nuclear program, I mean, don’t you think that these activities by Americans, doing what they shouldn’t do, provide a challenge for you in your diplomacy?
MR. WOOD: I’m not saying that they sometimes don’t provide a challenge to us. But our number one priority is the protection and safety of Americans when they travel overseas. It’s going to continue to be our priority. And again, we do what we think is prudent and responsible in terms of informing travelers about various situations in different countries and regions, and we’ll continue to do that, Elise. I don’t know that there’s much more that we can do on that.
QUESTION: Can I finish with my – because I didn’t get to finish my --
MR. WOOD: Sure.
QUESTION: Just one other question that came up a couple weeks ago, but I never heard an answer to it. And that was during the town hall meeting on the 10th of June, the question that was asked about the women in North Korea by an employee of the Department – some suggested it was planted – did we ever find out how the question was planted or otherwise so that – clearly, it was something that an employee at a town hall meeting wouldn’t ask. But this woman had a piece of paper and she read the question, so I wonder if --
MR. WOOD: Look, I mean, many employees and others for these types of town hall meetings have pieces of paper where they’re reading from and asking a question.
QUESTION: No, I understand. But I mean, you know what I’m saying, was this question planted or was – are you aware of anyone on behalf of the Secretary or her team asking the employee to ask the question?
MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of anyone particularly – not at all.
QUESTION: And just final one on this.
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is there any fear now that the Obama Administration okayed a prominent American, a former president, to go to retrieve detained Americans, this could set a precedent for a case like the three hikers in Iran that you would have to do this next time, that they can get a visit from a prominent American like this if they play hardball?
MR. WOOD: No, I appreciate your question, Kirit. Look, each situation has to be evaluated on its own merits. They all have their own peculiar circumstances. So I don’t think we can sit here and give you a cookie-cutter approach to how we deal with these various situations. So we have to take them, as I said, on their own merits. I don’t think there’s any talk about a precedent here. This is normal procedure when we’re dealing with a whole range of issues. There’s just no way that you should try to apply that type of approach because it doesn’t always work in --
QUESTION: Is it the normal --
QUESTION: No, but isn’t there some – hold on a second, hold on a second. Isn’t there some fear that the Iranians could see it that way, though? I mean, it’s not up to you to --
MR. WOOD: I can’t tell you how – the Iranians will view anything we do. All I can tell you is that you can’t judge – you can’t say about one particular case that you could solve another case in the same way. I just don’t think you can do that because they all have their own peculiar circumstances.
QUESTION: But it’s not about you solving it. It’s about how they are going to interpret your actions in this case, how your --
MR. WOOD: It’s hard for me to tell you how a government is going to interpret an action by the United States. We’ve said very clearly this was a humanitarian issue. The circumstances – I’ve already outlined for you as to how this came about. And I think this was, as I said, a peculiar case, and we’ll just have to leave it at that on that.
QUESTION: Is there anything new on the status of the Americans detained in Iran?
MR. WOOD: No. My understanding is that the ambassador went in yesterday from the Swiss Embassy to see if – he actually – I believe that the Swiss ambassador tried to contact the Iranian MFA yesterday, and no further information has been forthcoming. We’re still trying to confirm that these three individuals are indeed on Iranian territory. We’ve seen a lot of reports. We have no reason to doubt that those reports are true that these individuals are being held in Iran. But until we have official confirmation of that, we can’t go forth and seek consular access.
QUESTION: Is it – was there a conversation, or was he turned aside?
MR. WOOD: You mean the --
QUESTION: The ambassador.
MR. WOOD: No, I don’t think the ambassador was turned aside. It’s just the ambassador inquired. There was no further information, although officials of the Iranian ministry of foreign affairs have committed to try to get us some information on the whereabouts of these individuals.
QUESTION: That was yesterday. What about today? I mean, did he ask again today or --
MR. WOOD: I don’t know if there was a specific request today, but this was the latest information I received.
QUESTION: Can you – excuse me. Can you give any information on the role Dow Chemicals played in the – back on North Korea – in the mission to bring them back, and how the company was involved or how the plane was used?
MR. WOOD: I don’t have any information on it, sorry.
QUESTION: So has the U.S. paid money for any of the fuel or anything like that?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know the answer to that question.
QUESTION: A follow-up to --
MR. WOOD: On this subject?
QUESTION: On Iran.
QUESTION: Are we going back to Iran or --
MR. WOOD: Let’s finish on North Korea, and then we’ll go to Iran. Please.
QUESTION: This is a slightly different topic, though. Sung Kim’s meetings in Hawaii – do you have any readout?
MR. WOOD: No, I don’t. I believe he will be returning tomorrow. As you know, he had discussions in Hawaii with his counterparts to discuss issues with regard to North Korea’s nuclear program. But unfortunately, I don’t have a readout. I promise that we will get you something once we he returns.
MR. WOOD: Yes.
QUESTION: There are some reports that President Clinton asked North Korea to resolve the Japanese abductee issue while he was there. Can you confirm that or do you have any --
MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I’d have to refer you to President Clinton’s office on that. But we, as the U.S. Government, remain concerned about the fate of these abductees and want to see their cases resolved.
QUESTION: There is going to be some criticism here within the U.S. that this was rewarding North Korea for bad behavior. What – how are you going to counter that?
MR. WOOD: I don’t think that we’re rewarding them for any bad behavior. This was a humanitarian mission. We successfully got these two journalists out. I don’t see that there was – we’ve given the North Koreans anything.
QUESTION: But if there is no linkage – if former President Clinton wasn’t speaking about the nuclear issue at all, then this was simply sending a former president to release two American hostages. I mean, that’s surely giving the North Korean Government the kind of high-level American attention that it’s after.
MR. WOOD: Well, for one, I’m not saying that President Clinton did not have discussions about that issue. I wasn’t privy to those discussions, so I don’t know. But let’s be very clear. We –as I’ve said, we keep these – these two issues are indeed very – they are separate. And what was important – and I’ve already explained to you the tick-tock of how we got to where we are today, that what was important for us was trying to get – to win the freedom for these two journalists, and that was basically it. It was a humanitarian mission, plain and simple, and that’s all I can tell you. I’d have to refer you to the former president’s office for details of his conversation that he had with North Korean officials.
QUESTION: Was there --
QUESTION: Robert, you said that --
MR. WOOD: Wait a second, Barry.
QUESTION: -- you were interested in some action from the part of the North Koreans to determine their intention of how they want to proceed. Obviously, your Korean experts were looking at the meeting very closely even before you’ve had discussions with President Clinton. Is there anything that you can say about the attitude of Kim Jong-il, the people he brought in at the meetings, for instance, that Kim Kye Gwan was a part of that, who was the main negotiator? And also another fellow who had not been seen for some time, who is considered more of a moderate whose name I don’t recall, but apparently he was also brought in public view.
What is the overall reading of intent looking at the body language, if you want to put it that way?
MR. WOOD: Yeah. I’m sure there are people in our East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau and in other parts of the Department that are looking at this right now. I don’t have a sense for you right now, but that’s not to say that others are not looking at these issues. I’m sure they are. But I just don’t have a readout for you on what we’re thinking with regard to these officials and what the overall situation is with regard to the North Korean leadership.
QUESTION: Just a quickie. Was there any reporting – you said, you know, that substantive stuff wasn’t discussed. Was there any reporting of this to the others in the group of six?
MR. WOOD: Certainly we briefed, certainly, the Chinese and the Russians about this mission before it was undertaken. We did consult with others on the visit, so – we wanted to make sure that people understood very clearly that this was just a humanitarian --
QUESTION: And you’ve told them all?
MR. WOOD: When you say all of them, you mean the other parties in this --
QUESTION: Well, Japan and South Korea.
MR. WOOD: We’ve had discussions. They were all – we made them aware that this indeed was just a humanitarian mission, and we wanted to keep them abreast of what was happening.
Let me go back over to the front. Please, sir.
QUESTION: Yeah, on humanitarian side, is U.S. Government considering resuming any humanitarian effort to North Korea, any assistance as a reward or in response to North Korea’s humanitarian gesture?
MR. WOOD: No, nothing that I’m aware of at this point.
QUESTION: Well, Robert, how about just saying, “Thank you?” I mean, you know, everyone’s been thanking, kind of, President Clinton and President Obama and Secretary Clinton and everybody for all their diplomacy. But I haven’t heard anybody say, you know, kind of, “Thank you to the North Koreans for their gesture of pardon,” considering that Secretary Clinton a few weeks ago, as we said, did make some comment about how everyone was sorry that this happened.
MR. WOOD: Well, the Secretary’s words stood. Look, this was a humanitarian mission, plain and simple, and everything that --
QUESTION: Well, what about that it was a humanitarian gesture on the part of North Korea and that it was a positive sign?
MR. WOOD: We’re happy to have those two journalists back, Elise, and leave it at that.
QUESTION: Well, no, I’m sorry, why can’t you say that – why can’t you acknowledge – you know, it was a mission that President Clinton went to go have the North Koreans pardon them. So why can’t you acknowledge the gesture?
MR. WOOD: We’re very relieved to have them back.
Anything else? Michel.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. WOOD: Oh, I’m sorry, let Ghida go first. I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Thank you. On Iran, Ahmadinejad was sworn in again, so he’s going to be the guy that the U.S. is going to have to deal with in the future. At the same time, a lot of the opposition did not attend the ceremony today, so there is a great rift still among them. Is the U.S. going to go on and deal with Ahmadinejad once he gets his cabinet in place, or are you going to still wait out and see what happens between the opposition and Ahmadinejad?
MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say this, Ghida. Although Ahmadinejad has been inaugurated, clearly, the Iranian people have many questions about this election and his ability to lead. Obviously, we will deal with whatever government there is in Iran, should that government be willing to engage with the United States. And so the question of legitimacy is really going to be something that the Iranian people will have to decide, but clearly, there are a lot of questions with regard to the leadership.
QUESTION: So are you going to wait – are you waiting on something from Iran’s side, or are you going – is the U.S. going to make an overture again?
MR. WOOD: Well, one of the things we are waiting for is a response to Javier Solana’s invitation to the Iranian Government to attend the P-5+1 meetings with the United States being a full participant. That’s the one thing we are waiting on.
QUESTION: Yes. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has threatened Lebanon yesterday, saying that Israel will find itself extremely free to launch a military operation on Lebanon no matter what the consequences of this operation will be. And he added that Israel will not accept the current situation while Hezbollah is represented in the parliament and in the government, and has 40,000 rockets. How do you view this threat?
MR. WOOD: Well, I haven’t seen the comments by the Israeli defense minister, but we remain extremely concerned about Hezbollah’s – the role Hezbollah is playing in Lebanon, including its attempts to rearm in violation of UN Security Council resolutions. Hezbollah continues to pose a threat to peace and security in the region. But what’s important is that – here is that the United States fully supports the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
QUESTION: But how do you read that threat, or how do you view it?
MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen the remarks, so it’s unfair for me to really comment on them. But clearly, the Israelis as well as the United States and others are very concerned, as I said, about the type of activity that Hezbollah has been engaged in. And that – those concerns remain very strong.
QUESTION: Something related to that, to this issue too. The U.S. is trying to get Syria to demarcate the border with Lebanon, and Ha’aretz said that the goal is to get Israeli forces out of the Shebaa Farms area. Do you have anything on this?
MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything new to add on that besides what our position has been for some time on that question.
MR. WOOD: No, I don’t. I’m sorry. It’s the first I’ve heard of it.
QUESTION: Just on Iran, then, do you accept that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the elected president of Iran? Is that the official position?
MR. WOOD: It’s not for us to accept or not accept. That’s an issue for the Iranian people. But we will have to deal with whatever Iranian Government people decide. But again, we have offered to engage Iran directly. Iran has not responded. So that’s all I’ve got on the matter.
QUESTION: Will you engage with the Iranian opposition? Will you engage with the opposition, the reformers inside Iran?
MR. WOOD: Well, look, we are very supportive of the Iranian people’s efforts to have a democracy and to be able to have their country function as a democracy. We support those types of activities. But I don’t have anything specific for you on – in terms of engagement with the opposition at this point.
Anything else? Okay, thanks all. Thank you all for coming.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:16 p.m.)
DPB # 131
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