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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Robert Wood
Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 21, 2009

Index for Today's Briefing
    • Secretary Met with Thai Prime Minister
    • Special Representative Holbrooke is Traveling to Afghanistan and Pakistan
    • No Truth to Rumor Special Envoy Mitchell is Retiring
    • No Change in US Policy
    • Israel Must Stop Settlements
    • Special Envoy Mitchell Will Travel to the Region Soon/Creating Conditions for an Agreement
    • US is Asking Israelis and Palestinians to Fulfill Their Roadmap Obligations
    • The US Wants the Immediate Release of the Two Imprisoned American Journalists
    • American Citizens Quarantined in China Due to H1N1 Virus
    • Consulate is Working with the Citizens
    • US Works with Many Countries to Build a Broad Network to Confront Violent Extremism
    • US Shares Intelligence When We Can With Bangladesh and India When Appropriate
    • Costa Rica Talks to Resume Wednesday
    • US Call on all Parties in the Hemisphere to Cooperate on a Peaceful Resolution
    • President Arias' Plan is the Best Way Forward
    • Venezuelan Opposition Leader in the US
    • Food Security in Africa is a Priority to Secretary Clinton
    • US Will Work with the Current and Future Governments After the Election
  • NATO
    • US Wishes Secretary General a Speedy Recovery
    • US Has Concerns about the Restrictions of Social Media Sites


1:21 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. Sorry we got delayed a little bit, but had some things I had to take care of around the office.

So let me just lead off with the Secretary and what she’s doing. As I think you all know, the Secretary arrived in Bangkok, Thailand earlier today. She met with Thai Prime Minister Abhisit and took part in a press availability with Deputy Prime Minister Korbsak. Tomorrow she flies to Phuket to lead the U.S. delegation to the ASEAN post-ministerial conference and the ASEAN Regional Forum.

And I’d like to give you one other item about travel from Ambassador Holbrooke. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, is traveling to Pakistan July 21 through 23 and then subsequently to Afghanistan. We’re still trying to work through his schedule in Afghanistan and to a couple of the other stops, and we’ll get that information to you as soon as we have it available.

While he’s in Islamabad, Ambassador Holbrooke will focus on a range of economic and security issues, in particular the situation of the internal refugees and reconstruction plans for their return to their homes. He is scheduled to meet with President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani, General Ashfaq Kayani, and General Ahmad Pasha. Also in Islamabad, he will have breakfast with citizens from Swat, Buner, Malakand, Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan, and South Waziristan.

And that’s all I’ve got. We’ll go to your questions.

QUESTION: Is he going to India, to – is he – or is he in Bangkok now?

MR. WOOD: Who’s that?

QUESTION: Is he with the Secretary?

MR. WOOD: No, he’s not with the Secretary.

QUESTION: He’s here in Washington?

MR. WOOD: I believe he is on his way actually to Pakistan right now.

QUESTION: From Washington?

MR. WOOD: I believe so, yeah.

QUESTION: And what about Mitchell?

MR. WOOD: We will do our best to get that information to you. As P.J. said yesterday, Senator Mitchell’s going to be leaving fairly shortly to travel. We’re still working out the last-minute details of that itinerary. I will try to get it to you all as soon as possible. We expect he’ll be leaving soon, but I just don’t have much more in the way of detail at this point.

QUESTION: And what about these rumors about Mitchell – Senator Mitchell would be ready to or would be willing to retire before the end of the year? Did you hear about that?

MR. WOOD: That’s the first I’ve heard. No, not at all. I don’t think any truth to that at all.

QUESTION: Could I ask a North Korea question, then?

QUESTION: Still on this.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah, Israel Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor has said today that U.S. calls for a freeze on West Bank settlement construction run counter to past agreement between the two nations and could undermine the U.S. credibility. Do you have any reaction?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything beyond what we’ve said. Our policy has been very clear on the issue of settlements, and there’s been no change.

QUESTION: But are you --

QUESTION: What about the agreements between the U.S. and Israel?

MR. WOOD: I think Secretary Clinton has spoken to that issue in quite a bit of detail. And I just really don’t have anything more to add. I think you all well know our policy on settlements in Israel (inaudible). I mean, I could go through it again, but I think you’ve all heard it many times.

QUESTION: Yeah, we know your policy. But what are you going to do to convince Israel to go your way on settlements?

MR. WOOD: Well, as you know, this is what Senator Mitchell is trying to do. He is traveling – he’s been to the region a few times, as you know. He is planning to travel again. And what he’s trying to do, and what the Secretary has been pushing for, is to try to create conditions on the ground, conditions that will allow us to resume negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

QUESTION: Yeah, but obviously Israel doesn’t want to do that. Because today, the Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that Israel acts and will act in line with its national interests, our rights in Jerusalem, including its development cannot be challenged.

MR. WOOD: Nobody --

QUESTION: So this is obviously – they just reject all calls from U.S., from Europeans, from the Russians, from everybody.

MR. WOOD: Well, certainly no one is asking Israel to act outside its national security interests. What we’re asking both parties to do is to fulfill the Roadmap obligations. Both sides have committed to do that. We are working with the parties to try to help them fulfill those commitments. And as I said, Senator Mitchell is trying to help create the conditions on which we can begin negotiations again between the two parties and eventually lead to discussions on the other tracks.

Look, Sylvie, this stuff isn’t easy. If it were easy, it would have been – we would have solved this problem a long time ago. But the Secretary – Senator Mitchell is very committed to this process. And we’re going to work very hard with the parties. We expect there to be ups and downs, but we’re going to continue to push because this is in not only the interest of the parties, but in the interest of the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: Would U.S. be ready to exert some financial pressures on Israel to convince the government to stop settlements?

MR. WOOD: Well, Sylvie, it’s premature to talk about that. What we’re trying to do, as I said, right now is to create an environment which makes it conducive for talks to go forward. And as I said, Senator Mitchell is working very hard on this. And what we all need to do in the international community is support this effort, and that means Americans, that means Arabs and Israelis, to do what they can to kind of foster a climate in which the two sides can come together and negotiate their differences peacefully so that we can get to that two-state solution.

QUESTION: But Robert --

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Dan Meridor has said – that the agreement we had with the Americans is binding on us and them. And he added that they should keep to the agreement. He’s calling the U.S. to keep to the agreement.

MR. WOOD: I think we’ve been very clear with regard to settlements. They need to stop, and that includes natural growth. I don’t have anything more to add to that. The Israelis are well aware of our position. And we’ll obviously continue to have talks with the Israelis on this subject and other issues, but our policy remains the same.

QUESTION: But they are continuing building in --

MR. WOOD: Well, I said, we’re having --

QUESTION: -- Jerusalem.

MR. WOOD: -- discussions with our Israeli partners about this issue and a whole host of other issues related to the Middle East – Middle East peace. So that’s about the best I can offer for you right now.

Go ahead. Yes, sorry --

QUESTION: Change of subject? North Korea?

MR. WOOD: Change of subject?


MR. WOOD: Still on this subject?


MR. WOOD: Okay, I’ll get back to you in a second.


QUESTION: North Korea. There is a report that U.S. and North Korean negotiators are in talks that are meant to win the release of these two reporters. Can you describe or characterize what the efforts are to try to get these women out besides calling for amnesty?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I don’t want to talk about things that may or may not be going on diplomatically to resolve this issue, except that we want to see these two journalists released, and we’re doing everything that we can to make that happen, but I just don’t really want to go into --

QUESTION: Is it fair to say that you’re talking with the North about this?

MR. WOOD: We have had – we have been able to communicate with the North and can communicate with the North when we have to, but I just prefer to leave it –

QUESTION: Is this through New York or is it some other --

MR. WOOD: There are various channels, including New York, through which we communicate with the North.


QUESTION: There were reports of some Maryland school children being detained in China, because of a scare about swine flu. Have you got any reaction to that, or the facts?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I have seen some reports. In fact, we can confirm that some American citizens were quarantined. And we’ve noted in the Travel Alert that we issued earlier this month that warns travelers of the potential for quarantine of unaccompanied minors by Chinese officials if they’re suspected of having the HIN1 virus. And our consular officials are working to try to provide assistance, but I don’t have anything beyond that at this point.

QUESTION: Can you confirm that it’s this particular group that are being --

MR. WOOD: I can’t confirm a particular group. I’ve seen those reports, and there are obviously Privacy Act waiver issues that prohibit me from going further.


MR. WOOD: But let me just say that our consular staff is working on trying to deal with this particular issue.

Let me go to the gentleman here.

QUESTION: Thank you. This is Golam Arshad of the Telegraph newspaper from Bangladesh, and it’s a question on Bangladesh. India and Bangladesh agreed in principle to share intelligence to combat radicals in that part of the world. Will the United States support this initiative, and how?

MR. WOOD: Well, the United States works with a host of countries around the world in terms of fighting – countering extremism, violent extremism. And we’ve had discussions with both governments, as well as others, about how we can enhance that cooperation. And I’d have to refer you to the specific governments in terms of types of activities that they’re undertaking.

But we certainly will provide support and have provided support to both governments when requested. So what we’re trying to build is a broad network of cooperation among states to fight violent extremism. And both India and Bangladesh have had to face this type of extremism in the past, and both countries know they count on us for support. And that’s what I’ve got.

QUESTION: And if I may, another follow-up on that.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: You know, will there be any special, you know, support, financial support in order to pursue this ongoing dialogue with India and Bangladesh on intelligence? And will the United States also share its intelligence in the region in order to help the process?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. Certainly – to answer the second part of your question first, we certainly share intelligence where we can with both countries. In terms of what type of assistance we might provide to both countries, we’ll have to see how that develops. I know that we have assisted both countries in fighting violent extremism, but we’ll have to see with regard to – if in the future, there’s going to be some other additional financial assistance that we can provide.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Jill.

QUESTION: On Honduras, I believe Harold Koh and Tom Shannon met with some legislators today, like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to brief them on Honduras. Can you give us a readout of that?

MR. WOOD: I don’t. I haven’t spoken to Tom at all today on that issue. But let me just tell you what I do know about what’s going on there. My understanding is that talks are supposed to restart tomorrow. And I also want to reemphasize what we’ve said, and that’s our commending President Arias’ efforts. And we want to call on all the parties in the region to commit themselves to the success of this process.

We’re in constant contact with a number of countries in the hemisphere regarding the situation in Honduras. And we believe that the Arias mediation is the right way to go, and we believe the time is now to deal with this issue, to resolve this issue. And we’re going to be providing all the support that we can to help this process.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up: Is a Venezuelan opposition group in town as well, I think? Maybe the mayor of – people who opposed to Chavez. Is anybody from the Department meeting with them?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of that, but I’ll take the question.


MR. WOOD: Let me see.

QUESTION: A quick question --

MR. WOOD: Yes, please.

QUESTION: -- on the worsening food situation in East Africa. The World Food Program has said that something has to be done. I was wondering if you have any comments on what the United States is trying to do?

MR. WOOD: Well, we are obviously very concerned as well about the food security situation in all of Africa, to be very frank. And we’re trying to provide as much as we can in the way of resources, not just in our own direct bilateral commitments, but in supporting international organizations that are dealing with this question.

It’s a major concern. Food security, as you know, is a big priority for Secretary Clinton. And we’re going to be doing all that we can, given the resources that we have, to try to help address this issue. But it’s going to take more than resources from the United States. It’s going to take the assistance of other countries around the world who can help. But it is a very, very serious situation, and we need to all act together to see what we can do to kind of – to improve it.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Thanks, Robert. Japan earlier today dissolved its lower house of parliament. There’s going to be a national election held next month with the strong possibility of significant change in the governing party. And I’m just wondering how closely are you guys following this? Any specific reaction to today’s developments?

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s an internal Japanese matter. We obviously will work with the current Japanese Government and with the future Government of Japan. We have a lot of important interests that we cooperate on. And Japan is a strong and important ally. We depend on Japan to deal with – to help us deal with a number of crises around the world, particularly with regard to North Korea. So I really don’t have anything to say with regard to North Korea. It’s an internal Japanese matter.

Sylvie and then I’ll come back here.

QUESTION: I had a small question about NATO. Did you see that Jaap de Hoop, the chief of NATO, has been admitted in hospital?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. The only thing I can say is we’ve heard that he was admitted. My understanding is that he is okay. We’re very relieved that he is okay. And we send him our best wishes and hope that he will have a very speedy recovery.

I’ll go back here and here, then – please.

QUESTION: Hi, thanks. It was reported today that China has just recently been cracking down on social networking sites within the country. Do you have any reports from expats or diplomats or anyone on the ground having any trouble giving information or getting information out?

MR. WOOD: We do hear these reports from time to time, particularly of late, about restrictions on social – access to social media and on social media sites. I don’t have anything new to add to that. You know our position with regard to freedom of expression. And we obviously express our concerns about those issues when they do arise, but I don’t have anything – any comment on anything. I haven’t heard any new reports about that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Sir.

QUESTION: Going back to Honduras, when you say we have to act now, yesterday, the Secretary here – Clinton said that the Government, you know, of Honduras, that is working by de facto, should comply with some of the UN resolutions. And Micheletti said, okay, we invite Hillary Clinton to come to Honduras and see the situation here. Do you think that somebody from the U.S. is going to go to Honduras? What you mean by acting now, or the reason you have a new proposal coming from the U.S.?

MR. WOOD: Now, what I meant by acting now is we have a process that’s in place that’s being headed by President Arias. He has put forth a seven-point plan, as you know, to try to help resolve the crisis. He has given the parties 72 hours in which to respond. I believe one side has responded and has been willing to accept. We await the de facto regime’s reply to this. And we think that this is the best way to achieve stability, restore democratic and constitutional order in the country, and we want to see that happen now. I believe the 72 hours expires --

QUESTION: Tomorrow.

MR. WOOD: -- tomorrow. And we’ll have to see what happens. But right now, our diplomatic efforts are focused on getting all the parties and others in the hemisphere to support and give full backing to the Arias effort. And that’s what we’re going to be doing, and we’ll just have to see what happens come tomorrow.


MR. WOOD: Nina, please.

QUESTION: Al-Sadr met with President Assad in Syria today.

MR. WOOD: Who met with President Assad?

QUESTION: Muqtada al-Sadr.

MR. WOOD: Oh, Muqtada al-Sadr.

QUESTION: Any reaction to that? Are you concerned about that meeting?

MR. WOOD: No, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. No, I’m sorry. I don’t have reaction to it at all.

Any other question? Okay. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:39 p.m.)

DPB # 121

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