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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Robert Wood
Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 17, 2009


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • INDONESIA
    • Bombings in Jakarta / No American Casualties / Secretary Clinton's Statement / Local Authorities Investigating / Still Confirming Details / Offered Assistance / No Request for Assistance / Important Global Player / U.S. Support for Indonesian Government
  • IRAN
    • Demonstrations in Iran / Division within Iran / Crisis of Confidence with Citizens / Determination Needs to be Made by Iranian People / Problems with Freedom of Speech and Assembly / U.S. Does Not Want to Interfere
    • Engaging with Iran / No Response from Iran
    • Development of Nuclear Weapons
    • Concern about Human Rights
  • IRAQ
    • Prisoner Transfer in Iraq / Concern about Treatment of Prisoners / Assurances from Iraqis
  • HONDURAS
    • Arias' Mediation Efforts / Return to Constitutional and Democratic Order / Process Needs to Play Out / Tensions in the Region / Encouragement of Parties to Support / Motivations of President Chavez / Contact by U.S. Officials
  • LEBANON
    • Explosions in Southern Lebanon / Ongoing Investigation
  • ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
    • Special Envoy Mitchell Travel to the Region / Itinerary to be Determined
  • AFGHANISTAN/PAKISTAN
    • Ambassador Holbrooke Travel / Preparatory Work for Trip


TRANSCRIPT:

1:09 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Well, welcome, everybody. Happy Friday.

Let me just give you a brief rundown about what we know that happened in Indonesia earlier this morning. I think many of you know explosions took place at two major international hotels in Jakarta this morning, July 17. The total number of casualties is still undetermined. I think you have seen the statement that Secretary Clinton issued in Prague, which condemned these senseless acts of violence, and extended our sympathies to the victims and families in this tragic attack and to the people and Government of Indonesia.

At least eight American citizens are among the injured. We are unaware of any American fatalities at this moment. None of the American victims of this attack sustained life-threatening injuries. All have received medical treatment and some have been medically evacuated to Singapore for additional medical attention.

The U.S. Embassy sent consular officers to the scene of the explosions, as well as to Jakarta area hospitals to assist U.S. citizen victims. The Embassy issued Warden Messages to all registered U.S. citizens in Indonesia, informing them of the incident and encouraging them to inform interested parties of their well-being and to avoid the area where the explosions took place. We have offered assistance – we have offered to provide assistance, if desired, by the Government of Indonesia. And local authorities are currently investigating the explosions.

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

QUESTION: Do you have any thoughts as to who might have been behind this?

MR. WOOD: We don’t as this moment. As I said, the investigation is underway. There have been a lot of reports about Jemaah Islamiya being behind it, but we don’t have any way of confirming that at this point.

Yes, Sue.

QUESTION: Any U.S. diplomats among the injured?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of at this point.

QUESTION: So they were all private citizens?

MR. WOOD: As far as I know. But again, we are still trying to determine all of the information about the attacks and whether or not there are any additional Americans who were injured or who may have lost their lives. We’re still trying to gather that information.

QUESTION: Do you know if there’s been any request yet for assistance made by the government?

MR. WOOD: As far as I know, there hasn’t been. We have offered assistance. I know that the Government of Indonesia expressed its appreciation for that offer. But as of now, we haven’t had any requests for assistance.

QUESTION: Robert?

MR. WOOD: Yes, Jill.

QUESTION: What kind of assistance would that be? Are we talking about, like, FBI, or what?

MR. WOOD: Well, I really don’t want to get into the level of assistance. But whatever kind of requests that we get, whether it be with the investigation, providing forensics, forensic-type of assistance, we’ll certainly take a look at that request and provide whatever we can.

QUESTION: And then just one other thing. We remember the trip that the Secretary had to Indonesia in February, I think.

MR. WOOD: In February, yeah.

QUESTION: At that point, the story that she was talking about was a very positive one. Democracy in the world’s largest Muslim – majority Muslim country, a place where people could get along, et cetera. Does this change that message? In other words, what’s the significance for Indonesia and its democracy?

MR. WOOD: Certainly, that message has not changed. Indonesia is a democracy. It’s an important global player.

Look, these were acts of terrorism. These acts are committed by people who don’t want to see Indonesia succeed. They want to see democracy disappear from Indonesia. But we’re there, we’re going to support the Indonesian Government in its efforts to find out who carried out this – these attacks, and we want to see these people brought to justice. But indeed, it – this in no way impacts our view of Indonesia.

It’s, as I said, an important democracy. It’s made a lot of progress over the years. If you look at where Indonesia was and where it is now, it’s a totally different situation. And we look forward to continuing our cooperation with that government on a whole host of issues. And as I said, we want to see this investigation go forward and we want to see the culprits brought to justice.

Warren.

QUESTION: Robert, there hadn’t been a bombing in Indonesia since 2005 as far as I know. And generally, throughout Southeast Asia, people said that counterterrorism has worked pretty well. Do you see this as a setback or as a sign that the Islamists are on the rise again in Southeast Asia?

MR. WOOD: I’m not able to make that judgment, Warren. I would just look at it in this light: Indonesia has made an awful lot of progress over the last several years. And there are a number of groups, organizations that are threatened by a democracy in that – another democracy in that part of the world. I have no reason to believe that these extremists are on the rise in the region. Again, I don’t believe that to be the case.

But these types of incidents happen all too often, and what we’ve got to try to do is make sure that these types of incidents don’t take place in the future. But undoubtedly they will, but we just have to cooperate – not only the U.S. and Indonesia, but other countries in the region and throughout the world – to do what we can to make it very difficult for terrorists to commit these types of attacks. But in democracies, unfortunately, these things happen. And that’s why it’s incumbent on all of us to cooperate very closely in trying to deal with this scourge.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Robert, a different subject?

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The case of – the trial of Mr. Hamdan is coming up shortly in the UAE. I know I’ve asked about it before, perhaps to another briefer, but I’d like to know whether the U.S. is assisting – if you could say whether the U.S. is assisting the UAE in the prosecution of Mr. Hamdan, or, perhaps, are you assisting Mr. Hamdan in his defense? Are you taking any role?

MR. WOOD: I don’t really have any update for you on that, Charlie. I’ll see if I can get you something, but I can’t promise you I’ll be able to get something on that particular issue.

Here, and then we’ll go to --

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the demonstrations in Iran today and whether it’s going --

MR. WOOD: I’ve seen some of the footage from the demonstrations and certainly saw a number of press reports, but I think this is just another example of how divided Iran is right now. This is just another example, as I’ve said, of Iran needing to – the Iranian Government needing to come to grips with the reality it faces within its borders. And I don’t think I have very much more to add than – to what we’ve said all along.

QUESTION: And what is the reality that Iran faces? I mean, how do you see that reality?

MR. WOOD: Well, clearly, the people of Iran are not happy with the current situation. Of course, we are all familiar with the aftermath of the Iranian elections. The Iranian Government is – has a crisis of confidence with its people. And so it needs to address that crisis of confidence. And until it does, it’s going to be very hard for that government to gain legitimacy in the eyes of its people.

QUESTION: So are you saying that the government is not legitimate, then, in the eyes of its --

MR. WOOD: It’s not for me to say whether it’s legitimate or not. I think we’ve said this over and again. This is something that has to be determined by the Iranian people. It’s only a decision that the Iranian people can make, not any outside government.

QUESTION: Today, Mr. Rafsanjani was – well, spoke openly about, and with – and critically about the election. And he said that the media should be more open in Iran. Do you consider this comment as significant, or is it for you something, you know, as usual?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, the fact that you have a major clerical figure, a former president, making those types of comments is clearly something that one has to pay attention to. It’s no secret that there have been problems with freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, in Iran, and we’ve been mostly concerned, of course, about the violence that has taken place in the aftermath of the election.

But again, this is something that the Iranian Government is going to have to square with its own people. As I said, there’s a crisis of confidence, and we’ve said from the beginning we in no way want to interfere with what’s going on in Iran. But the world is concerned about – particularly in the aftermath of the violence and where Iran seems to be heading.

QUESTION: Next door – can I go next door?

MR. WOOD: Let me just – Samir’s been waiting.

QUESTION: On Iran, would the --

MR. WOOD: On Iran?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. WOOD: Okay.

QUESTION: Would the offer for engagement with Iran go ahead before the government in Iran settled this confidence problem with its people? I mean, do you condition that or you are willing to negotiate with this situation?

MR. WOOD: Well, Samir, as you know, there has been an invitation out to the Iranian Government to engage in a dialogue with the United States. There was an invitation sent by Javier Solana, if you remember, for Iran to attend a P-5+1 meeting. Iran has not responded to these overtures. It’s hard for us to say what kind of a dialogue we’re going to be able to have with Iran if Iran is not willing to engage back.

But as I said, going forward, the Iranian leadership is going to have to deal with the crisis of confidence that the people of Iran have with its leaders – with their leaders. So it’s really up to the Iranian Government as to whether it wants to go down the path that we, the United States, and others in the international community have offered it. And again, our main interests are seeing that Iran not develop a nuclear weapon.

And it’s in our interests, as we’ve said many times, to have this type of direct diplomacy with Iran so that Iran can address some of the concerns that we and others in the international community have, not only about their nuclear program, but other activities around the region.

Yes.

QUESTION: Robert, the (inaudible) president has been reelected. He has reacted very sharply to Secretary Clinton’s speech the other day this week. She talked about Iran, told her – said that, you know, time for Iran to accept the offer, it’s not indefinite, it’s not unlimited. Do you think this is a sign of what you’re to expect in the future? And any reactions to what he has said?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t know what to expect from Iran’s – the Iranian leadership in the future. We’ll have to see. But again, the Secretary is very clear: We want to engage Iran and we want to do that. But that offer is not going to be out there forever. Iran needs to take advantage of the opportunities that the international community has put forward to engage.

So far, they haven’t chosen to do that, and it’s really – it’s up to Iran whether it wants to pursue a path of engagement or a path of isolation. It’s really up to Iran, but we have been very clear in terms of where our national interests lie, and that direct engagement is the method that we would like to pursue in terms of dealing with these problems that we face with Iran.

Matt had a – you had something?

QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to ask you, but go to someone else first and I think --

MR. WOOD: Okay. Please.

QUESTION: In that same vein, I was just wondering, at that same speech at CFR, she said that the U.S. is standing up for human rights everywhere, but when the U.S. makes statements that it’s going to sit down at the negotiating table, considering the government treatment of protestors in Iran, isn’t the U.S. sending mixed signals? Are we concerned about that? I mean – or is it just that we put keeping nuclear weapons out of Iran as a higher priority over human rights?

MR. WOOD: No. The Secretary spoke very clearly in her speech about human rights. And we’re very concerned, as we’ve said many times, about human rights violations in Iran. But we’ve also said at the same time that Iran’s nuclear program is something of great concern to not only the United States, but other countries of the world. And we’re going to do what we’ve can. We’ve said that we want to engage Iran on not only the nuclear issue, but other issues, as I mentioned. Human rights would certainly be one of those issues, and I don’t see them as separate. I mean, they’re all important. That’s why we want to have this dialogue with Iran, so that we can try to get to the bottom of some of these differences that we have.

But again, Iran needs to respond to our offers of engagement. And we still await their response.

QUESTION: Can I go to Iraq for a second?

MR. WOOD: Anything else on Iran? One more.

QUESTION: I just had a question on a statement you made previously. You said that the offer is not going to be on the table forever. What’s the next step that the U.S. makes after – if Iran fails to accept our offer of engagement?

MR. WOOD: Well, let’s see. I mean, it’s still on the table. We’re not putting a timeline on it, obviously, but we need to see if Iran is going to engage. But we’re not going to keep that offer out there indefinitely.

Yes.

QUESTION: There are going to be some prisoner exchanges in Iraq. You’re going to be turning over detainees that you have, or the military is, to the Iraqis. And I’m just wondering if you’re confident that these prisoners, once they’re transferred, will be well treated or not mistreated.

MR. WOOD: Well, Matt, I’m not aware of any additional transfers of prisoners. You might want to check with the Pentagon. But clearly, should there be that type of a transfer, we wouldn’t do so unless we were confident that the rights of these individuals were respected and that they would be treated humanely. But that’s about the best I can tell you because I’m not familiar with this particular group of prisoners.

QUESTION: On that subject, is that required in the agreement with Iraq, that they guarantee that those prisoners will be treated humanely?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know that that’s necessarily in the agreement, but we certainly had assurances from the Iraqis that people that are turned over will be dealt with humanely. That’s what we would expect, and I’m sure the Iraqi leadership feels the same way in terms of how it will deal with individuals. But I don’t remember exactly in the agreement. You might want to go back and check, but certainly we’ve been given those assurances from the Government of Iraq about the transfer of individuals to their custody.

Charlie.

QUESTION: On a different area, to Honduras, reports of Zelaya’s return this afternoon, a deal – can you just bring us up-to-date and tell us what the U.S. knows?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t really have much of an update. I know that the Arias mediation discussions are going to take place tomorrow. And our goal continues to be the restoration of constitutional and democratic order in Honduras, and that’s our top priority. We want to see that happen.

To address some of the issues that many of you have raised over the last several weeks about what comes next, what’s going to happen, we have to give this process some time to play out. President Arias is an experienced negotiator, a Nobel laureate. He’s got great expertise in this area. We would encourage both sides to commit themselves to working through this process so that we can get back to the democratic and constitutional order that we all want to see restored in Honduras. But I don’t have anything much beyond that.

QUESTION: President Chavez has offered to kindly help Zelaya to get back into Honduras, which is going to happen sort of as Charlie said, this afternoon, or may even have happened. Do you think President Chavez has been helpful here? Do you think that he’s interjecting himself into the situation? How do you see his role?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s not for me to say how we see his role. President Chavez is going to make decisions and take actions that he wants to take. What we’re saying, and I think other -- our other partners in the hemisphere don’t want to see actions that are in any way going to inflame tensions in the region, tensions which are already pretty high. And we continue to encourage all the players to engage with President Arias so that we can get back to that democratic and constitutional order that I just spoke of.

QUESTION: But do you think its helpful having him go back there sort of this afternoon and –

MR. WOOD: Look, I think it would be helpful for all players to support the Arias process. I think that’s about the best way I can characterize it.

Nina and then Jill.

QUESTION: Different topic --

MR. WOOD: Oh, the same topic?

QUESTION: The same topic.

MR. WOOD: Please.

QUESTION: Is it correct that Mr. Micheletti is willing to step aside for a third party?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. You’ll have to go to Mr. Micheletti to find out exactly what – I’ve seen reports to that extent. But I’d have to refer you to him as to what his plans are.

QUESTION: And then just – you know, the constant message from the United States is that we have to give this time and everybody should cooperate, et cetera. But it looks as if President Zelaya is the one who’s really pushing it. He is the one who flies down there, continues to say that he’ll accept nothing but returning. He is the one who seems to be emerging as the least stable element in this. Isn’t that correct?

MR. WOOD: Well, the best thing I can tell you about this, Jill, is that clearly, tensions are very high. And what we’re trying to do is to get people to really focus on how we can bring about that peaceful – that return to democratic and constitutional order. We believe the Arias mediation process is the best way to do this. And taking steps, by any other players, to increase tensions in the region are not useful.

But what’s important is that we eventually get to that point of a return to that democratic and constitutional order. And look, the Arias peace talks haven’t been – I mean, this is recent. We need to give it some time. As I said, he’s committed to this process, we are, others in the hemisphere are. We need to allow it to work. We need to allow it to go forward. And so we’re going to continue to encourage the parties to support this process, because we think it’s the best way to get back to where we want to get to.

Warren.

QUESTION: Following on that, has the U.S. Government specifically asked or urged President Zelaya not to try to make another contested attempt to enter Honduras?

MR. WOOD: I don’t want to get into discussions we may or may not have had with President Zelaya on a host of issues. Let us just say that we don’t – as I had said earlier, we don’t want people to take steps that in any way conflict or don’t contribute positively to the Arias mediation efforts.

QUESTION: So then would his return not contribute positively to it? Is that what you’re saying?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything more to add to it than I’ve given you, Sue.

QUESTION: Because it sounds to me like you’re saying that that would really inflame tensions and would not be useful for the mediation process starting tomorrow.

MR. WOOD: Well, the mediation process has been ongoing for just a short period of time.

QUESTION: Yes, but I mean, it’s resuming now.

MR. WOOD: And we’re very committed to it and others in the hemisphere are as well. And we just don’t want to see actions that in any way don’t contribute positively to that effort.

QUESTION: Such as his early return without having gone through the --

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything to add on that now.

QUESTION: -- negotiations? Okay.

MR. WOOD: Jill.

QUESTION: And how does the U.S. interpret the actions by Mr. Chavez? Is he being – trying to be helpful or is he fomenting revolution?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, I’m not here to characterize another government’s --

QUESTION: You do it all the time.

MR. WOOD: Well, let me – you didn’t let me finish.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: You didn’t let me finish. I was going to finish. I can’t possibly tell you what the motivations are from President Chavez.

QUESTION: What are your concerns? Maybe I should put it that way, as far --

MR. WOOD: Well, our concerns have been very clear all along, and I’ve just gone over them again and again, about the need to support the Arias efforts to try to get back to that constitutional order. President Chavez – I’d refer you to him for his motivation and reasoning behind the steps that he and his government take.

What I think we all want to see is a return to that constitutional and democratic order. And we believe – the United States believes, and we believe that others in the region feel that way as well, that we need to support the Arias mediation effort because it’s the best way to go forward.

QUESTION: Has Secretary Clinton or anyone else called Mr. Zelaya about this new plan he has to go back? I mean, is it --

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware that the Secretary has spoken to President Zelaya. I don’t know if Tom Shannon has or not.

QUESTION: Tom Shannon --

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware. But we’re in contact with representatives of the president and, from time to time, the president himself, so – but I don’t know if there’s been a conversation recently on what you just referred to.

QUESTION: Like today, you don’t know whether anyone has sent him a Blackberry note, “Don’t go?”

MR. WOOD: Well, Blackberry notes, that’s hard for me to say. But I’m not aware of any conversations today by senior officials.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. WOOD: Michel.

QUESTION: Robert, have you got any information regarding the explosions that occurred in the south of Lebanon two or three days ago?

MR. WOOD: I’ve seen the reports about them, but I don’t have anything to give you on that, any confirmation of that. But I do understand – my understanding is that the Government of Lebanon and UNIFIL are conducting a joint investigation of these reported explosions of munitions. And for us, we again want to see the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, and we’re committed to that. But there’s an investigation going on, as I said, so I – but I don’t have anything more on that.

Nina.

QUESTION: Robert, any plans for George Mitchell to go to Israel?

MR. WOOD: My understanding is that Senator Mitchell plans to go fairly soon. They’re still working out the itinerary, so I don’t have any dates or locations to announce. But he is planning to go very soon to the region.

QUESTION: Is Fred Hoff still in Syria or what will –

MR. WOOD: I don’t know if he has left at this point. He may still be in Syria, I believe, but I’m not certain. You might just want to check with the NEA folks and see.

QUESTION: So where does he plan to go? Is he going to Israel, Palestinian territories, Egypt, Middle East, any –

MR. WOOD: I just said that itinerary is still working out – being worked out, so I really don’t have that information for you at this point.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. WOOD: Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Just a quick question on China. Recently, President Erdogan of Turkey has been calling the Uighur treatment in China a genocide. Is there any change in the position of the United States on the uprisings or any new information?

MR. WOOD: No. I mean, I don’t have any update for you. Our policy remains the same in terms of what we’d like to see happen.

QUESTION: Another travel question.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: P.J. earlier announced that Holbrooke is going to be off to his region soon, and –

MR. WOOD: And Brussels, I believe.

QUESTION: Yeah. And then he’s also going to India. So why isn’t he with the Secretary in India?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, Holbrooke’s itinerary is still being worked out, although he’s planning to travel to the countries that P.J. referred to earlier. But he’s – remember, he is very focused on Pakistan and Afghanistan. And you know, there’s a lot of work to be done there. He’s preparing – doing a lot of preparatory work for this visit. So that’s the best answer I can give you on that.

QUESTION: But why would he not accompany – if he was going to go to India, why would he – I mean, the Secretary just landed in India about an hour ago.

MR. WOOD: Well, look –

QUESTION: Not enough room on the plane? (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: We can always find room for Ambassador Holbrooke. That’s not an issue. It’s just there is a lot of work that he’s doing to prepare for his trip. The Secretary is not going to Pakistan and Afghanistan on this trip. She looks forward to going to Pakistan, I know, in the fall. So Ambassador Holbrooke is preparing for his visit. He’s got a lot of challenging work to do. And he felt that being back here and preparing for this visit was the best thing to do.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 p.m.)



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