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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood
Acting Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 26, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Traveling to the Middle East during January-February
    • Meets with Senior Officials in Numerous Countries
    • To be Accompanied by Senior Department of State Officials
    • U.S. Commitment to Peace in the Middle East
    • Interest in Following Up on the Recently Signed MOU
    • Focus is on Getting the Peace Process Back on Track
    • Ensuring the Continuing Flow of Humanitarian Assistance and Supplies
    • New Threat Warning
    • U.S. Embassy is Open and All Persons Accounted For
    • Warden Message Issued
    • Threats by Mugabe Government to Exclude Opposition Party
    • U.S. Remains Concerned About the Cholera Crisis
    • Numerous Calls Made to Leaders in Several Countries
    • Interested in the Findings of Special Envoy Mitchell in the Middle East
    • Announcement this Afternoon re: Policy on Climate Change
    • U.S. Congratulates the Bolivian People for Their New Constitution
    • U.S. Commitment to Working with the Bolivian Government
    • Removal of MEK from its Terrorism List
    • U.S. has Reviewed its List and will not Remove MEK
    • Discussions with Several Countries re: Transfers of Detainees

January 26, 2009

View Video

11:09 a.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone. Happy Monday. Welcome to the briefing. Let’s see – why don’t I just go straight to your questions.

QUESTION: George Mitchell.


MR. WOOD: Yeah. Let me tell you from a statement here I’ll read and then I’ll fill in some more details for you.

Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell will travel to the Middle East and Europe from January 26 to February 3. On this trip, Special Envoy Mitchell will meet with senior officials to discuss the peace process and the situation in Gaza. Okay.

As part of this trip, he will be visiting Egypt, Israel, the West Bank, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Special Envoy Mitchell will be accompanied by other State Department officials, including Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs David Hale, as well as representatives from the National Security Council and the Department of Defense. In addition, the traveling party will be joined in Jerusalem in Ramallah by Acting Assistant Secretary for Population, Refugees, and Migration Sam Witten, and USAID Special Assistant to the Administrator George Laudato.

The Administration will actively and aggressively seek a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel and its neighbors. And in furtherance to these goals – or of these goals on this trip, Special Envoy Mitchell will work to consolidate the cease-fire in Gaza, establish an effective and credible anti-smuggling and interdiction regime to prevent the rearming of Hamas, facilitate the reopening of border crossings, and develop an effective response to the immediate humanitarian needs of the Palestinians in Gaza and eventual reconstruction and reinvigorate the peace process.

So that’s what I have for you on the trip.

QUESTION: Is that the sum total of the places that he will visit, or is there any possibility of his going to other places?

MR. WOOD: There are always possibilities that he may travel to other places. We’ll try and keep you posted if, indeed, there are any changes to the schedule.

QUESTION: And you remember, I had asked – I asked Syria last week. Is there any possibility of his going to Syria?

MR. WOOD: I don’t believe that’s planned at all, but I’m certainly not going to rule out anything because, again, they’re still looking at the travel itinerary and we may have some updates. But I haven’t heard Syria.

QUESTION: And just last one from me on this. Is there any possibility of his having any contact, even indirect, say via the Egyptians, with Hamas?

MR. WOOD: He will not have contact with Hamas.

QUESTION: Did -- there is no – no stopover planned in Turkey? Because Turkey -- the Turkish say they are going to --

MR. WOOD: Well, like I said, you know, there may be some refinement to the travel itinerary. But I don’t have anything more for you on that at this point.

QUESTION: You mentioned Europe as well, but you didn’t mention any stops in Europe. Is that just refueling?

MR. WOOD: No, I think that’s still being looked at. Again, I just – I’m giving you what I have at the moment. And we’ll certainly update you if there are any changes.

QUESTION: Is he likely to meet UN officials in Gaza, since he talks about the humanitarian situation, on the ground?

MR. WOOD: Well, he’s going to meet with officials of the region and talk about the overall situation on the ground and, of course, longer-term steps for trying to get us back on the road to peace.

QUESTION: But he’s not going to Gaza?


MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: He’s not going to Gaza?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’ve given you what I have here. And again, if we have any updates, I’ll certainly be happy to provide them.

QUESTION: But does he have permission to travel to Gaza? I mean, is that an option?

MR. WOOD: Again, like I said, this is what I have for you in terms of travel. We’ll see what else – if there are any updates, we’ll try and get them to you.

QUESTION: Robert, in more of a broader clarification of exactly what he’s going to do, is he in listening mode or is he in --

MR. WOOD: Absolutely. He is in a listening mode. He wants to talk to all of the – he wants to talk to regional leaders and try to get, as I said, back – get the peace process back on track. And he’ll obviously be discussing the humanitarian situation. And he’s eager to get out to the region and begin working.


QUESTION: On the long-term process, you’re talking about advancing the peace process in a broader sense.

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: Would you take into consideration his recommendation in 2001 that already talk about stopping violence, stopping Israeli settlement? Or is that past the point and you’re looking for a fresh start?

MR. WOOD: Look, he’s going out to listen. He wants to hear what the leaders have to say. And he’s going to report back to the Secretary and the President on his trip, and we’ll begin to continue formulating policy from there. But let’s let him to get to the region and have discussions, and then we’ll go from there.



QUESTION: Does he plan to pick up on the Annapolis process and where those negotiations were? Are you going to continue what the Bush Administration did? Is that your goal?

MR. WOOD: Well --

QUESTION: Or do you have a whole bag of new tricks?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, he’s going to go out to the region, do his own assessment, and then report back to, as I said, the Secretary and the President, and then go from there.

QUESTION: But how do you see the Annapolis process? Dead, alive, half-alive?

MR. WOOD: We have a new Administration. It’s taking a look at a number of different policies from the previous administration. It will be coming up with its own initiatives. And so why don’t we just give it a little time and let, you know, Senator Mitchell do this work.

QUESTION: Do you regard the program of helping to build up the PA’s defense and security forces that General Dayton worked on as continuing?

MR. WOOD: That was very good work that was being carried out. And again, what we’re about is trying to strengthen and build up these Palestinian institutions so that one day, the Palestinian Authority will be able to, you know, basically manage the affairs of a new state once we get to that two-state solution.

QUESTION: But in using the phrase “that was very good work,” it suggests that there has been a kind of finite end to that program.

MR. WOOD: No, I’m not suggesting that. I’m just saying that, you know, it’s been good work that has been done. It’s important for us to continue to try to strengthen these Palestinian institutions. And that kind of work will continue.


QUESTION: But what – but you didn’t say the same thing about the Annapolis process.

MR. WOOD: Well, like I said to you, the Annapolis process was something that the previous administration had been undertaking.

QUESTION: Well, but the previous administration also undertook all that stuff on the security (inaudible).

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’m just – what I’m saying is that was good work. Certainly, Annapolis was good work. But again, there’s a new Administration and it’s taking a look at overall Middle East policy, and the beginnings of that is Senator Mitchell’s trip to the region.


QUESTION: Yeah, do you have any current plans to announce for a special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Nothing yet.


MR. WOOD: Nothing yet. When we do, we’ll be happy to announce them.


QUESTION: Can I ask you about this new threat warning on the U.S. Embassy in Yemen?

QUESTION: Can I just ask you one other thing on Mitchell?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is he going to also be discussing Iran and how the region should approach Iran and its nuclear program?

MR. WOOD: Well, he’s going to be talking about the overall situation in the Middle East, and that obviously will have some – will in some way touch on the question of Iran. But I’m not going to get into any further details until he’s had a chance to go out to the region and have those discussions.

I’m just going to -- Nina, I think you had something.



MR. WOOD: On, Yemen, we’ve seen the – my understanding is we’ve seen the reports about this. There was – let me see if I can find that for you. I think I had a little something. I’m sorry. Yeah -- no, the Embassy is open and there was a Warden Message that was issued today, but I don’t have anything more on that.

QUESTION: Thought that it was supposedly a threat from al-Qaida?

MR. WOOD: Don’t know at all.

QUESTION: Are all personnel accounted for?

MR. WOOD: All personnel are accounted for.


QUESTION: Mr. Wood, last Friday, a grenade slammed into the barracks of the Kosovo security force, KSF, which replaced the Annan Kosovo Protection Corps. Any comment on that?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen that, Lambros. This is the first I’ve heard.

QUESTION: And also, how do you assess the fact that Belgrade see KSF as an instrument of pressure by the (inaudible) Albanian majority against the (inaudible) in Kosovo.

MR. WOOD: I don’t have any comment on that, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: And the last: What is the U.S. position on the Serbian proposal for a special status for the (inaudible) in Kosovo, which has been rejected by the so-called Prime Minister Hashim Thaci?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen that, Mr. Lambros. I’ll take a look and see if we have anything on it.

QUESTION: Can you take this question?

MR. WOOD: I’ll certainly take the question – see if there’s anything on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On Davos, do you know who from this building is going, if anyone, to the forum?

MR. WOOD: At this point, no. I think that’s still being worked out. But I do expect that we will be represented in Davos.

QUESTION: Do you expect the Secretary to be there?

MR. WOOD: I don’t think the Secretary will be going.

QUESTION: Just a couple on Zimbabwe. Has the – what do you think of the threats by Mugabe’s government to basically form a government that completely excludes the opposition?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re very troubled by the fact that the Mugabe regime refuses to negotiate seriously with the opposition, and it’s a big concern of ours. And I understand there is the SADC meeting taking place. And we’re just very concerned about the behavior of Mugabe. We have a horrible cholera crisis in Zimbabwe. And the regime has – it appears to us that the regime has no interest in its own people. It has no interest in trying to bring about good governance and democratic government, so we remain concerned. And --

QUESTION: And a quick follow-up, slightly double-barreled. First, the SADC – are you urging them in a particular direction to be more tough? And secondly, are you looking – is the U.S. Government looking at doing more and taking new strategies to try to put pressure on Mugabe?

MR. WOOD: Well, certainly, you know, Senator[1] Clinton is very focused on this issue. She’s very concerned about it. And we’re obviously going to be reviewing the situation in Southern Africa to see what we can do. Certainly the membership of SADC can do more. We encourage South Africa to do as much as it can to try to put pressure on Mugabe to do the right thing. But to date, Mugabe hasn’t seemed to have any interest whatsoever in bringing about an end to the crisis in this country.

QUESTION: So are you sort of realigning your strategy at all --

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ll be – obviously, the new Secretary will be taking a look at where we are with her advisors and go from there.

QUESTION: Are you looking at imposing another – more sanctions?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to get ahead of the process.

QUESTION: And are you – Secretary Rice when she was in power, was trying very hard to bring together the regional leaders to – are you looking to pull together the more regional pressure – I mean, you mention South Africa, but --

MR. WOOD: Well, as I said, the Administration is going to be taking a look at the overall situation in Southern Africa and specifically with regard to Zimbabwe, but I don’t want to get out ahead of the diplomacy.

QUESTION: Has she made any calls to the African leaders yet? Does that --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, she – Friday afternoon she had a call to Foreign Minister Zuma. And if you like, I can go through the list of calls she’s had since Friday afternoon, if you’re interested in that.

QUESTION: Yeah. Did she talk about Zimbabwe with Foreign Minister Zuma?

MR. WOOD: I really don’t want to get into the substance. But you know, I’m – again, it was an introductory call, so I’m not sure if indeed it did come up. But it is something that the Secretary is very focused on. These were calls the Secretary made since Friday afternoon: the Canadian Foreign Minister Cannon; Chinese Foreign Minister Yang; Czech Republic Foreign Minister Schwarzenberger.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: It was just a, you know, one of those things that happened. Egyptian President Mubarak; EU High Representative Solana, Indian Foreign Minister Mukherjee; the Italian Foreign Minister Frattini; Saudi King Abdallah; Turkish Foreign Minister Babacan; and as I said, South African Foreign Minister Zuma; and the UN Secretary General Ban.

QUESTION: Some of those are repeats from the last --

MR. WOOD: I apologize. These are just from Friday afternoon. I wanted to try and cover --

QUESTION: So there’s not a second call to Yang and to --

MR. WOOD: This – I’m not certain. This was since Friday afternoon. So it may have -- so if you really need the answer to that, I can --

QUESTION: Well, it would be helpful to know at least the days on which these calls happened, because it can get very confusing. Oftentimes, these calls are reported in the capital and then we don’t know if it’s the same call or a different call.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Okay, fair enough. We’ll try and get you – we’ll see if we can get you --

QUESTION: I know that the Ops Center tracks the day, and to the minute, of when these calls are, so --

MR. WOOD: They do, indeed.

QUESTION: Yeah, so.

MR. WOOD: I’ll see what I can get you on that.

QUESTION: Some of these, I mean, did she speak twice to the Czech?

MR. WOOD: I’ll have to --

QUESTION: And Mukherjee also, did she speak twice?

MR. WOOD: I will get that clarification for you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) call the Indian Foreign Minister twice?

MR. WOOD: As I just said, I will try to get some clarification for you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Any other – any other people want to raise the same question? (Laughter.)

Okay, James.


QUESTION: Without asking you to get ahead of any particular announcement by the Secretary, I wonder if you can speak in broad terms about the subject of climate change, what this Administration hopes to accomplish on that subject, and with an eye toward Copenhagen.

MR. WOOD: Well, the Administration – the new Administration is very focused on trying to formulate a very solid, constructive climate change policy. And again, those discussions within the Administration are going to be ongoing. We’re obviously thinking about Copenhagen and focused on that, and we’ll just go from there. As you probably know, there will be an announcement later this afternoon with regard to a special envoy for climate change, and the Secretary and that individual probably have some more to say on that, so why don’t we leave it until the announcement later this afternoon.

Do we see anybody – Dave, anything? All right.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the referendum that was held in Bolivia which is widely seen as a – kind of a polygraph by Evo Morales?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. Look, we congratulate the Bolivian people on the referendum. And you know, I don’t think the results are final at this point, but we look forward to working with the Bolivian Government in ways we can to further democracy and, you know, prosperity in the hemisphere.

QUESTION: Did this – and do you have an opinion on whether this referendum furthered democracy in Bolivia?

MR. WOOD: Well, a free, fair, you know, democratic process certainly does contribute positively. What I said was that I wanted to wait until we can see, you know, the final results. But we certainly congratulate the Bolivian people on that referendum.

Mr. Lambros.


QUESTION: Yes. On Cyprus, Mr. Wood, the UN Special Envoy to Cyprus Alexander Downer stated last Saturday, “There is a real possibility of reaching finally a settlement here.” Do you have anything to say about this optimism, since the U.S. Government is involved too on the talks between the two sides?

MR. WOOD: Look, we’re – we certainly are hopeful and we hope that there can be an agreement reached between the two parties, but I don’t have any further update for you on that, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: And one more question. Is the Cyprus issue among the priorities of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton?

MR. WOOD: Absolutely. It’s a priority for the Secretary. It’s a priority for President Obama. It’s also a priority for the international community.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, Robert. Where in the world exactly isn’t a priority for the Secretary? You said that she’s focused on Zimbabwe.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said that she’s focused on Cyprus.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: You said that she’s focused on Kosovo. You said that she’s – is there anyplace that she isn’t really focused?

MR. WOOD: As you know, the Secretary has global responsibilities. There are a number of countries and issues that are priorities. I see nothing wrong with what I’ve said.

QUESTION: Well, no, I’m not suggesting there isn’t anything wrong with what you’ve said. I’m just wondering if there is anyplace on the earth that she isn’t focused on.

MR. WOOD: Well, she’s just come into office. Give her some time.

QUESTION: The European Union took the Iranian anti-government group, the People's Mujahedin of Iran, off its list of terrorist organizations. Is there any similar action being considered here at the State Department?

MR. WOOD: No. Well, with regard to the European Union decision, that’s something you’ll have to address to them.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: I think you all know that – I’m sorry?

QUESTION: They’ve already done it, so I’m asking you if the U.S. is considering similar action.

MR. WOOD: We’ve already done a review and it was determined that there would not be a revocation of that status for the Mujahedin-e Khalq, so nothing has changed from our standpoint.

QUESTION: Well, wasn’t that just done like a week or two ago?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, it was about a week ago. That’s right, about two weeks ago.

QUESTION: So the new Administration doesn’t (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: To my knowledge, there has not been – there has not been any change at this point.

QUESTION: Are you going to review it every six months?

MR. WOOD: My understanding is that I think – don’t hold me to this – I think it’s a five-year review that’s done, but I’ll have to check and see.

QUESTION: The same meeting at the EU also looked at Guantanamo Bay. I wonder what is the – we touched on this last week briefly, but what is the State Department doing in terms of reaching out to other countries to take in Guantanamo Bay detainees? Maybe you could update us on what the new Administration is doing.

MR. WOOD: Well, those discussions continue with trying to figure out how we can best, you know, fulfill the President’s objectives of closing Guantanamo. And as you know, for some time, those discussions have been going on between the United States Government and other countries with regard to the disposition of detainees at Guantanamo, but I don’t have anything further to report to you from the podium on that.

QUESTION: And just to follow up on that, the Swiss have indicated that they’re interested in helping out with this issue.

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: What’s your response?

MR. WOOD: Well, obviously, that’s a good thing and we’re having discussions with other countries as well, as I mentioned, to try to finally, you know, dispose of these detainees that are in Guantanamo.

QUESTION: And do you have a sense of what that --

QUESTION: Well, what is the status, please?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to get into – those countries will have to speak for themselves, but I would just leave it at what I said.

QUESTION: To transfer them?

MR. WOOD: Transferring them, if you want to use that word. Yeah, I’ve never been comfortable, but that’s the word we’ve been using.

QUESTION: Are you discussing this with the EU, kind of as an EU issue because they’re taking it up as an EU-wide issue?

MR. WOOD: We’ve had discussions with the EU as well as --

QUESTION: And bilaterally?

MR. WOOD: And bilaterally, yes.


QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the collapse of the Government of Iceland and the riots in Eastern Europe related to the financial crisis?

MR. WOOD: I don’t. I saw some of the news reports on that, but unfortunately, I don’t have anything to say at this point. We may have something to say later on it, but I don’t – it just happened not that long ago. At least I only saw the reports just a short while ago.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Has the Administration taken the decision yet on the Durban – the next Durban II UN conference on --

MR. WOOD: I’ll have to take a look and see. I don’t think the new Administration has spoken to that issue yet, but I’ll take a look and see if we have any more we want to say on that.

Okay. Let me do Mark. Mark had his hand --

QUESTION: Just if I could come back to Gaza for a moment, there were some reports of U.S. Naval ships that had been stopping ships that might be suspected of bringing arms to Hamas. I mean, first of all, can you give us any guidance on that? And secondly, do you see any evidence that some of the elements of that memorandum of understanding that was signed, you know, are starting to really be put into force now?

MR. WOOD: Well, with regard to the ship, I’ll have to refer you to the Pentagon. In terms of the MOU, I mean, obviously, that’s an issue that Senator Mitchell will be discussing with, you know, countries in the region, and we’ll have to see where it goes from there, Mark. But he’s going, you know, to be traveling and then we’ll see what happens from there.

Okay. Thanks, everybody.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:27 a.m.) DPB # 10


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