printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Robert Wood
Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 6, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Secretary is traveling to Johannesburg
    • President Clinton's meeting with Kim Jung Il
    • President Clinton was on a humanitarian mission and may have discussed various issues
    • President Clinton did not send any messages to North Korea on behalf of U.S.
    • No meeting has been confirmed for President Clinton to Debrief State Department Officials on details of trip
    • Ambassador Bosworth's role as Envoy to North Korea
    • Burmese Factory built with help from North Korea
    • State Department extends gratitude to Swedish Ambassador working to free journalists
  • Mexico
    • Senator Leahy holding up funding
    • Waiting on release of comprehensive report on Human Rights to go to Congress
    • Report is in draft Stages
    • U.S. robust in criticism of coup in Honduras
    • U.S. is trying to restore democratic order working with OAS
    • Reports that U.S. will not impose sanctions on Defacto Government
    • U.S. settlement policy is clear
    • Senator Mitchell to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu
    • U.S. has no plans to put U.S. bases in Colombia
    • U.S. is clear that Transitional Federal Government in Somalia best hope for stability
    • U.S. is committed to improving conditions in Somalia for the people and the government
    • U.S. is providing TFG with ammunition and weapons
    • U.S. may increase amount of Equipment supplied to Somalia
    • U.S. wants the Eritrean Government to stop proving support and weapons to al-Shabaab
    • Secretary is will continue to push Eritrea to cut off funds and weapons to al-Shabaab
    • U.S and ROK had productive Discussions Held in Hawaii
    • Meetings were part of ongoing consultations with ROK officials
    • Ambassador in Bosworth met with Ambassador Wi Sung-lac on the margins of the meetings
  • IRAN
    • Swiss Ambassador Continues to Seek Confirmation from Iran about the Detention of Three Americans


12:44 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. As you know, the Secretary is in Africa right now. She’s on her way to Johannesburg and she’ll be getting there in several hours, and she looks very much forward to her trip.

I don’t have anything else, so why don’t we go to your questions.


QUESTION: Well, we have a few things here. South Korean and Japanese officials are saying that Bill Clinton urged North Korea to free detained South Koreans and make progress on the issue of abducted Japanese citizens. Can you substantiate any of that?

MR. WOOD: I can’t, Barry. Again, the President was there on a private humanitarian mission. He may have had some discussions about various issues with the North Koreans, but I’d have to refer you to his office. I don’t have any details on any of those conversations.

QUESTION: Well, Robert, Administration officials who -- that briefed reporters the other evening did say that President Clinton did bring up the issue of Japanese abductees and South Korean detainees.

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not necessarily disputing that. I’m just saying I wasn’t privy to those conversations, and I think former President Clinton can best address those issues.

QUESTION: Roughly speaking, did he have license to – probably. He’s an experienced former president. Did he have license to discuss whatever he’d like with Kim Jong-il?

MR. WOOD: Listen, the important thing here, Barry, to understand is that this was, as I said many times yesterday, a humanitarian mission. And that was his brief; that was his mandate.

As you said, he is a very experienced individual, a former president. He is certainly capable and – of talking about those issues in detail. But I just want to be clear, he was not carrying any message or sending any message on the part of the U.S. Government.


QUESTION: On the matter of the two journalists, have they had any sort of debrief with State Department officials yet? Do you know when or where that might take place and who would do it? And who from the State Department has talked to them already from citizen services since they’ve arrived or since they left North Korea, I guess?

MR. WOOD: Well, as you know, we had a representative in Los Angeles from the office of citizen services who did, obviously, have conversations with the two journalists.

With regard to a briefing at the State Department, I don’t believe anything has been arranged at this point. And we’ll certainly let you know when – if and when those are taking place. But as far as I know right now, there --

QUESTION: Is there an intention to do that at some point?

MR. WOOD: I would imagine so, yes.


QUESTION: Robert, your office of Democracy and Global Affairs has put out this flyer and it’s examples of G/TIP funded programs to address human trafficking. Now, going back to the original mission, so to speak, of why the two journalists were photographing for Current TV. They were apparently looking at the human trafficking from North Korea perhaps into China. Have you spoken to the Chinese at all, and also, what can you say about this trafficking from North Korea? And in this flyer, they’re not even mentioned.

MR. WOOD: Well, I haven’t read that particular flyer that you’re referring to. And the details of what the journalists, the two journalists were doing, that’s something you’ll have to talk to them about, or the network that they are employed by. But our policy with regard to trafficking in persons is well known. The Secretary has spoken to that issue quite a bit, as have other people from this podium. And so we want to do what we can worldwide to cut down on the trafficking in persons. And as you know, our report that we issue annually spells out very clearly countries where we have concerns, countries that are making progress in trying to deal with the issue. So – but I don’t have anything further for you on that.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Robert, the Thai Government has said that it’s looking into that report that came out last week about the Burmese factory plant or the complex, whatever it might be, that supposedly was built with help from North Korea. Is it fair to say that without disclosing – without necessarily addressing any intelligence on this, is it fair to say that the U.S. Government is also looking into that report?

MR. WOOD: I said yesterday that we are looking into reports about military – the military cooperation between Burma and North Korea. And there is nothing I can really say here from the podium, but certainly we would be concerned about really close cooperation between the two. But beyond that, I don’t have anything more I can add to it.

QUESTION: So this report wasn’t serious enough or substantive enough for any branch of the U.S. Government to actually look into it seriously, or you just can’t address it?

MR. WOOD: I just can’t address it here.


MR. WOOD: Yes, Elise.

QUESTION: A new question on Mexico.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you talk about Senator Leahy holding up U.S. aid to Mexico until the State Department gets a more favorable report on Mexico’s human rights record?

MR. WOOD: Well, what I can tell you, Elise, is that the report is still in the draft stage. And we’re currently reviewing information that we’ve received over the last week for inclusion in the 15 percent report. I just want to be very clear here. Our goal is to try to produce as comprehensive a report as possible, so as – that Congress can fully understand the steps that the Mexican Government is taking to deal with protecting and expanding human rights in Mexico.

So for those of you who are not familiar with the Merida report, it’s a report that the Mexican Government is – that reports on progress the Mexican Government is making in the fields of rule of law, human rights, as they relate to the security forces in Mexico, so that’s what that report is about.

QUESTION: But I mean, what he’s complaining about is he feels that there’s an overemphasis on military strategy and not enough about the rule of law and human rights and the other things that make up into a counternarcotics strategy.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, we’ve had conversations with the senator and his staff. And I know that there are those concerns out there. But certainly, we believe President Calderon is doing everything he can to try to improve the situation in Mexico with regard to human rights, particularly as it concerns the security forces. What we’re trying to do is to, as I said, get as comprehensive a picture for Congress so they can understand the steps that the Mexicans are taking. We take this report very seriously, and we want to make sure, as I said, it’s comprehensive. And we will do what we can. And as I said, it’s still in the draft stages. And we hope to be able to roll that out at some point in the near future.

QUESTION: But don’t you think it presents a kind of problem or an embarrassment for President Obama? He’s going down to the Guadalajara to meet with leaders there and at this time, here he can’t even claim that the U.S. is delivering on its aid promises.

MR. WOOD: Look, we’re working to try to deliver aid as quickly as possible to Mexico. The Merida Initiative is a very important policy objective for the United States. And what goes on on our southern border is very important. There are some challenges that the Mexican Government is having to deal with, and we’re having to deal with those challenges as well. And we want to do everything we can to support our friend. We also have responsibilities in terms of reporting to Congress, and we take those very seriously. And we’ve certainly been, as I said, working with the senator and his staff to see what we can do. But again, I just want to re-emphasize the report is in its draft stages, and we’re going to make sure that we can provide as comprehensive a report as possible to show Congress exactly what the Mexican Government is doing with regard to the rule of law and human rights vis-à-vis the security forces.

MR. WOOD: Yes, Kirit.

QUESTION: There’s a similar report on Honduras, actually, about it this morning that a assistant secretary has written Senator Lugar to say that the U.S. is softening its stance on the Honduras coup and does not want to place any sort of lasting penalties on the Honduran Government – the interim government. Is that true? Or how would you best characterize the position --

MR. WOOD: The best way I can characterize this, Kirit, is that we are not softening on our position with regard to Zelaya. We have been – as you know, we have been working hard to try to get both parties to take up seriously the San Jose Accords. We think it’s the best way forward for resolving the political situation, political crisis in Honduras. We believe this is the best mechanism for it. And we’re going to continue to try to convince both parties and go from there. But a coup took place in the country, and –

QUESTION: Well, you haven’t officially legally declared it a coup yet.

MR. WOOD: We have called it a coup. What we have said is that we legally can’t determine it to be a military coup. That review is still ongoing.

QUESTION: Why does it take so long to review whether there’s a military coup or not?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, there are a lot of legal issues here that have to be carefully examined before we can make that determination, and it requires information being shared amongst a number of parties. We need to be able to take a look at that information and make our best legal judgment as to whether or not –

QUESTION: It seems to be taking a very long time.

MR. WOOD: Well, things take time when you’re dealing with these kinds of very sensitive legal issues. So we want to make sure that –

QUESTION: Have you made a decision on whether to impose additional sanctions on the de facto government?

MR. WOOD: No decision has been made to do anything right now, other than support the San Jose Accords and the mediation process.

QUESTION: No, I understand. But have you made a determination whether – whether – not to impose sanctions? I mean, this report and this letter to Senator Lugar suggests that you’ve made the decision not to impose sanctions.

MR. WOOD: Look, I’m certainly not going to talk about the details of the correspondence that we have had with a congressperson or senator. I’m not going to do that from here. I can – what I can tell you is that the United States is doing everything it can to try to support the return to constitutional democratic order in the country. And we’re going to do what we think is best to try to move that process forward.

QUESTION: But my question wasn’t about the letter. My question was whether you’ve made the decision not to impose new sanctions on Honduras?

MR. WOOD: And what I’m saying to you is that where we’re focused right now is on supporting that process and trying to get the two parties to come to some sort of a political settlement. But beyond that, I don’t have anything to add on that question.

QUESTION: Israeli newspaper is reporting that the U.S. has asked Israel to freeze settlements for a year to make to – as a way of pressuring or encouraging the Arabs to normalize relations with Israel. Do you know anything about – along those lines? Of course, you don’t like settlements on the West Bank, anyhow. But has there been a specific request to freeze settlements for a year, so that the trial effort –

MR. WOOD: I appreciate the question, Barry, but it wouldn’t be good for me to talk about those types of discussions with regard – that are going on.

We have discussions with our Israeli partner about the issue of settlements. Our settlement policy is very clear, but I’m not going to talk about private discussions that we had with the Israeli Government on the question of settlements.


QUESTION: Yeah. What about Senator Mitchell? Is he planning to travel to London to meet with the Israeli prime minister by the end of this month?

MR. WOOD: I know that he is planning to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Europe. I don’t think the details of that meeting have been confirmed yet, but once we have those details, Samir, we’re more than happy to share them with you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Let me go to someone – please.

QUESTION: What’s the reaction to President Zelaya’s statement in Mexico? He called the response to the U.S. weak. And also, the criticism in Latin America and by the presence of military bases in Colombia.

MR. WOOD: Well, first, to address your question on the U.S. response in Honduras, we have been (inaudible) I mean, I just don’t agree with that characterization. We have been very robust in our criticism of what took place on the ground in Honduras. It was clearly a coup. We condemn that. What we’re trying to do now is to restore democratic and constitutional order.

We’re working through the OAS, which is the appropriate mechanism to do that, also giving support to the Arias mediation effort. And that’s where we are focused. But I would take issue with that characterization of our response being weak.

The second part of your question, the United States has no plans to put bases in Colombia.

We’ll go over there.


QUESTION: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: New subject. The Secretary met with the President of the Somalian Transitional Government today. I saw what she said, and I’m trying to understand something. Hopefully you can help me.

MR. WOOD: I think I can.

QUESTION: During the campaign, both Secretary Clinton and President Obama criticized the previous administration’s Somalia policy, and I’m trying to see what the difference is now. She’s been talking about more support for the transitional government. She hasn’t been specific enough. There were things done in terms of peacekeeping, in terms of Eritrea and Ethiopia in the past several years. Former Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer has been criticized for what – some of the things that she did, some of the comments she made. So what is new about U.S. policy on Somalia that’s different from what it was in the previous administration?

MR. WOOD: Well, this Administration has made extremely clear that the Transitional Federal Government in Somalia is really the best hope that we have right now for restoring stability to not only Somalia, but to the Horn region. Much of the instability from the Horn – in the Horn region is because of what’s going on in Somalia. We’re providing the Transitional Federal Government with ammunition and weapons to support the efforts of the government to try to provide security.

I hate to get into comparing one government with the other, but this government has demonstrated by the Secretary’s meeting with President Sheikh Ahmed that the United States is committed to trying to improve the situation on the ground in Somalia, not just for the purpose of improving the life of Somalis in the region, but we’re very concerned about a number of problems that are flowing from Somalia, including the issue of piracy. And the Somali people have been without stable government, peace, and security for way too long, and so we and others in the international community are going to try to work to do what we can to support the government in Somalia.

It really is right now the best hope for Somalia, and we all need to give it as much support as we can.

QUESTION: Can you – can you update us on any efforts of the UN in terms of sanctions or any penalties for Eritrea if it continues to support the terrorist group there?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. I don’t have any update for you in terms of what may or may not be happening at the UN, but we have said over and again that we want to see the Eritrean Government stop providing support, weapons to al-Shabaab. And we’re going to continue to call on the Government of Eritrea to do that, and we encourage other governments to do that as well. Feeding weapons to al-Shabaab just furthers instability in the region, it furthers terrorism, and it’s important that we – that they cut off the supply of weapons to al-Shabaab.

QUESTION: Do you feel that other countries in the region have not been as helpful as they could be to – you can’t resolve this easily, but to address this issue? Because it seems that you’ve been saying all these things for months, if not years, and except for the Eritrea-Ethiopia involvement and the peacekeepers who are not authorized to do much in Somalia, not many African countries are involved in this.

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say, Nick, I think certainly there is a lot more that countries can do, including the United States. And I think we’re going to try to see what more we can do. We’re providing a certain amount, as I said, of weapons and ammunition. We may decide we may try to increase that number – that amount – at some point.

But look, it’s – the problems in Somalia are problematic for not just the region, but for the globe, frankly. And it’s incumbent upon all of us to reach down and see what more we can do.

QUESTION: On the ammunition and the arms –

QUESTION: Do you have anything – on the same change subject?

QUESTION: Just on the ammunition and the arms, real quick. The Secretary talked about increasing it today, and there was a line in an AP story saying that that’s going to be doubled from what an official told us a couple months ago was 40 tons – 40 million tons. Was it 40 tons? 40 tons.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, 40 tons.

QUESTION: 40 tons – I mixed up dollars and tons there.

MR. WOOD: That’s all right.

QUESTION: Forty tons to about 80 or so. Is that your understanding of what’s going to happen?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, we’re in the process of trying to make sure that we can get the 40 tons of equipment to the TFG. Obviously, should we feel the need, and we may indeed do that – but I don’t want to get ahead of where we are right now. We’re in the process of delivering that 40 million – excuse me, 40 million – 40 tons to the government.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible) million tons, and before you know it, you have a lot of tons.

MR. WOOD: Right, exactly.

QUESTION: Can you flesh out at all her threat on the trip to seek sanctions against Eritrea for supporting that group?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean --

QUESTION: Who’s doing it? What are they doing wrong with this –

MR. WOOD: Well, they’re funneling weapons and giving support to al-Shabaab. And we’ve said we want that to stop. And the Secretary is frustrated, as all of us in the government are, with what Eritrea’s been doing, and we want to see them stop and we’ll continue to push them to stop. Because it’s not only – as I said, not only in the interests of Somalia, but for the region. And we just don’t want to see terrorism spread further. We need to deal with the root causes of what’s going on in Somalia so that these issues like piracy and terrorism don’t continue. And Eritrea can contribute to stability by cutting off funds, weapons, et cetera, to al-Shabaab.

QUESTION: Do you have any -- well, that’s an answer, of course. Do you have any –

MR. WOOD: Thanks, Barry. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, can you provide any particulars?

MR. WOOD: Not beyond what I said.

QUESTION: -- of the assistance?

MR. WOOD: Not beyond what I’ve just said.

Let me – someone else.

QUESTION: On Somalia?

MR. WOOD: Still on Somalia? Please.

QUESTION: There was a report this week that Washington hosted a conference for former Somali generals to discuss the military situation there. Are you aware of this? Do you have a readout?

MR. WOOD: I heard reports about that, but you probably should check over at the Pentagon. The Pentagon might have had something to do with that. I’m not familiar.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Can I just go back to North Korea?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: One more --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: That same article that talked about doubling the aid, it also discusses that the U.S., which I assume would go through the State Department, has been quietly training some Somali forces near Djibouti. Is that true as well?

MR. WOOD: I don’t want to get into the actual details beyond what I’ve said about the type of support we’re providing to Somalia. But we are obviously going to look for ways that we can help support that government to eventually bring stability to that region, which is an important U.S. foreign policy goal.

QUESTION: Should we take that as a yes?

MR. WOOD: I gave you the answer that I have. Sorry.

QUESTION: Do you have any readout on Sung Kim’s meeting with his South Korean counterpart recently in Hawaii?

MR. WOOD: Yes, I do. And I just got this a few minutes ago, so let me read what I have.

The United States and the Republic of Korea had productive and constructive consultations on August 4 and 5 in Hawaii to follow up on North Korea-related issues discussed by Secretary Clinton and Foreign Minister Yu on the margins of the ASEAN Regional Forum Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. Ambassador Wi Sung-lac, the Republic of Korea special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, and Ambassador Sung Kim, who is our U.S. special envoy for the Six-Party Talks, participated in these consultations.

These meetings were part of our ongoing, regular, periodic consultations with officials from the Republic of Korea. These consultations reflect the close cooperation between the United States and the Republic of Korea.

That’s what I’ve got on that for you.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Did Ambassador Bosworth also meet with Wi Sung-lac?

MR. WOOD: My understanding is that Ambassador Bosworth – he was in Honolulu to attend this East-West Center conference that I referred to a couple days ago, but he did not participate in those consultations that Ambassador Sung Kim participated in. But he did have an opportunity to meet with Ambassador Lee on the margins of the meetings. But that was the extent of his engagement with these – in Hawaii.

QUESTION: Did they also discuss about Bill Clinton’s meeting with Kim Jong-il in Pyongyang and other issues, detained South Korean in Pyongyang – in North Korea and other --

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of that at all.

QUESTION: Could you explain the dichotomy between Ambassador Bosworth and Ambassador Sung Kim?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. Ambassador Bosworth is our overall envoy for North Korea. Ambassador Sung Kim deals – as I said, he is our envoy to the Six-Party Talks, and so that’s --

QUESTION: Why do we need both?

MR. WOOD: Well, we feel we need a number of envoys --

QUESTION: A number of envoys to deal with North Korea. I mean, you have --

MR. WOOD: No, no, no –

QUESTION: You have Phil Goldberg who deals with the sanctions.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: You have Sung Kim who deals with the Six-Party Talks.

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: I don’t understand what Ambassador Bosworth’s real role is in that case.

MR. WOOD: Ambassador Bosworth provides some very, very important guidance to the Secretary, on which he’s very experienced with the region, understands North Korean issues extremely well. She values his contributions, as does the President. The reason we have a number of people working on that portfolio is because it is a very complex portfolio. It’s one that’s very important to the United States. Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a high priority for the United States Government. And the fact that we have different people working on various parts of that portfolio makes a lot of sense. You can – we have individuals that are going to devote all of their time to working on these particular issues. And, of course, they work closely together and cooperate and consult so that we have a very good cohesive --

QUESTION: Bosworth isn’t even spending his whole time on one issue. He’s --

QUESTION: Well, I mean it sounds like Sung Kim is doing the kind of day-to-day working-level work on North Korea and the Six-Party Talks, and Bosworth provides kind of big picture strategic guidance to the Secretary?

MR. WOOD: Well, he does. He provides big picture strategic guidance to the Secretary. He also gets involved with some of the other issues. They’re a very good solid team that is working on these matters. And the fact that we have a few people working on them, shouldn’t lead you to draw any other conclusion, other than this demonstrates the importance that we place on dealing with the North Korean issue.

QUESTION: Was Bosworth in Hawaii as his official capacity or was he there as a private --

MR. WOOD: As far as I know, this was in connection with his work at Tufts.

QUESTION: So as a private citizen?

MR. WOOD: That’s right. He was attending this East-West Center conference.

Nicholas. Kirit.

QUESTION: One more actually on North Korea. Do you know when this meeting with Bill Clinton and the national security folks is supposed to happen, to kind of get his thoughts on things?

MR. WOOD: I checked a little earlier this afternoon about this. And they’re working to try and schedule that – some kind of a session, whether it be a meeting or a teleconference. So that’s yet to be determined.

One of the things I do want to mention that I did not mention yesterday, and it was my fault. We really want to thank the ambassador who had been working on this issue to help try to get the release of the two journalists. It was Mats Foyer, the Swedish Ambassador, played a very important role. We want to thank him and the Government of Sweden for all the effort that they put in that led to – led up to the release of the two journalists. So I just wanted to make sure that I mention that because his work was instrumental.

QUESTION: And then one follow-up for me. Anything on – from the Swiss on the three Americans yet?

MR. WOOD: No. I did check on that. We’re still trying to get – when I say – our protective power is trying to get more information. We have not been able to get that information up until now. We’re working hard to get it, but we’re unable to confirm that the three are in Iran. But we’ve seen many reports, have no reason to doubt the veracity of the reports that they are in Iran. And we just want to see that information – we want to have that information available to us.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Last question, okay.

QUESTION: With various people, such as what happened to two journalists in North Korea, that incident, of course, the three hikers going now into Iran. There’s now a technology that can perhaps designate borders. Are you thinking of implementing some of this new technology to go out, buy a Bluetooth and Blackberries and such when people are close to borders that they could go in and look on their internet, on their PDAs to actually make those inquiries? You’ve mentioned many times you put out all the warnings and paper, or telling people to go up on your internet site. We’re a little more sophisticated with this newer technology. Would that be something the State Department would want to next implement?

MR. WOOD: Well, certainly the Department is moving forward on utilizing a number of new technologies. With regard to being able to use those technologies to determine where people may or may not be, there are lots of improvements in the field of technology that will help our intelligence agencies and others as they go about trying to deal with issues like this. But beyond that, I don’t have anything more on that.

Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:12 p.m.)

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.