Daily Press Briefing - January 23

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • Introductory Calls with Foreign Officials
    • Senior Staff Meeting / Expressed Appreciation for Service / Challenges Ahead
    • Travel Schedule Is Under Review
    • US Commitment to Peace in the Middle East
    • The Administration's Middle East Policy Has Not Been Fully Enunciated
    • Some US Principles on the Middle East Will Not Change
    • The Secretary Has Been Clear on the US Position on Hamas
    • Special Envoy Mitchell Will Talk to All Players to Move Process Forward / Will Look at Entire Region / No Details on Travel
    • Recognize President Abbas as the President of the Palestinian Authority / An Important Interlocutor
    • Saudi Arabia is an Important Player in the Middle East
    • North Korea Must Agree to Verification Measures
    • US Commitment to the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula
    • US Policy on North Korea is Under Review
    • No Information on Kim Jong-il's Status
  • IRAN
    • US Policy on Iran is Under Review / Want to Engage the Iranian People
    • US Will Attend Upcoming P-5+1 Meeting in Germany
    • President Medvedev's Comments on Working with the US on Afghanistan
    • Special Representative Holbrooke Appointment Sends a Strong Signal / Will Travel to the Region As Soon As Possible
    • Security Climate for Presidential Elections
    • Reports that Rebel Leader Nkunda Is in Custody in Rwanda / A Welcome Step / Good Sign of Cooperation
    • US Commitment to Peace and Stability in Africa
    • Guantanamo Bay Detainee Resettlement
    • Special Envoy Mitchell and Special Representative Holbrooke Will Report through the Secretary to the President
Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood
Acting Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 23, 2009

January 23, 2009

View Video

2:47 p.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. If you like, I’d run down – I’ll run down some of the Secretary’s calls that she’s had over the last couple of days. Okay, let me start. Well, first we’ll start in the Middle East. She’s spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, Israeli Foreign Minister Livni, Israeli Defense Minister Barak, Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, the Jordanian King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen, Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad, and Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faysal.

We’ll go over to Europe. She’s spoken with UK Foreign Secretary Miliband, French Foreign Minister Kouchner, German Foreign Minister Steinmeier, Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg – Czechoslovakia holds the EU presidency, as I think most of you know.

QUESTION: Except that, I’m sorry, Czechoslovakia hasn’t existed for a while.

MR. WOOD: Did I say – excuse me, the Czech Republic. It’s just one of those things.

QUESTION: First day jitters, eh?

MR. WOOD: No, no, no. (Laughter.) You know, that is – that would be a good little story.

Let’s go to Asia. She’s spoken with Japanese Foreign Minister Nakasone, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu, Australian Foreign Minister Smith, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang. In South Asia, she’s spoken with President Karzai of Afghanistan, Pakistani President Zardari, and the Indian External Affairs Minister Mukherjee. And in the Western Hemisphere, she has spoken with Mexican Foreign Secretary Espinosa. And there will be other calls that she’s going to make. And some she hasn’t been able to make, and that’s been because of just scheduling. So we’ll try and report tomorrow on some of her other calls.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: One at a time.

QUESTION: On the Middle East, were these introductory calls or was she already --

MR. WOOD: These are all introductory –

QUESTION: But on – specifically on the Israeli and Palestinian and Egyptian calls, was she kind of diving into, you know, the issues surrounding the ceasefire and how the U.S. wants to see it implemented, or were these purely, like, looking forward to working with you type of calls?

MR. WOOD: As I was about to say, these were, you know, brief introductory calls where the Secretary basically introduced herself in those instances where she needed to, and spoke about how much she looks forward to working with them on some of the major foreign policy issues that confront all of us.

QUESTION: So they didn’t delve into – you know, heavily into –


QUESTION: – into substance and policy and what might be done? It was just a –

MR. WOOD: Not yet. There will be time for that.

QUESTION: The time range for the calls? These were all over the past –

MR. WOOD: Past two days –

QUESTION: Past two days –

MR. WOOD: – as I said at the top.

QUESTION: And were they all initiated by Secretary Clinton, or were some of them initiated by others, or –

MR. WOOD: I believe most of them were initiated by Secretary Clinton. There may have been some that were not. I’m not sure. But we can check on that.


QUESTION: Foreign Minister Kouchner said that they discussed border crossings and smuggling of weapons when he spoke to Secretary Clinton. Can you comment any further on that and what they said –

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to comment on the substance of their phone calls. But as I said, most of them were basically introductory calls, and the Secretary expressed her desires and – to work with them closely on the various foreign policy issues that we all face.

QUESTION: Robert –

QUESTION: Did she explain more about the role of George Mitchell and what he would be doing?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to get into the substance of the calls beyond what I’ve said.

QUESTION: She called the – were these calls before the Secretary’s announcement yesterday of appointing George Mitchell, or after?

MR. WOOD: It’s hard for me to say. I think, you know, she called, you know, leaders from various countries. I don’t have that kind of a timeline.

QUESTION: Okay, so you don’t know if she called to let them know about Mitchell or –

MR. WOOD: I’m sure that, certainly, the Secretary and others have been in touch just to, you know, inform people that this is going to happen. That would be normal under these types of circumstances.

QUESTION: So I noticed there wasn’t one call to one African leader. Is that next week?

MR. WOOD: No, they’re – again, a lot of this has to do with who’s available and a question of scheduling, so I wouldn't read anything more into that.


QUESTION: President Obama yesterday said that Mitchell would leave as soon as possible. Do you have any date?

MR. WOOD: No, I have nothing for you on that yet.

QUESTION: Well, can you explain to us, aside from the appointment of George Mitchell to be special envoy, exactly what is different about this current Administration’s Mideast policy, as opposed to the last one, which you also ably spoke for?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say that, look, the Secretary – this is her second day on the job. And as you can tell, the Secretary and the President are very interested in pursuing a Middle East peace. They’ve named, you know, a Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. And I think the Secretary made very clear in her testimony what our views are on the Middle East, particularly with regard to Hamas. And she reiterated the three points that I think are not just conditions that the U.S. will adhere to, but other countries have said that they adhere to.

QUESTION: Those conditions date back to the prior administration, though. With the exception of the appointment of George Mitchell and getting – and apparently delving into this on the second day in the job, what is different about the policy now as it was last – than what it was last week? It seems to me that you’re asking – you’re saying the same – exactly the same thing –

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just –

QUESTION: – or, they – the President has said exactly the same thing.

MR. WOOD: Well, let me say that –

QUESTION: The Secretary –

MR. WOOD: – the Administration hasn’t fully enunciated its Middle East policy. It will do so at an appropriate time. However, I think the Secretary in her testimony was, you know, making sure that it was understood how she views and how the Administration that was coming into being viewed the situation going on in Gaza. And she made very clear what Hamas needed to do if it was going to play a constructive role in the region.

QUESTION: And that is somehow different than what –

MR. WOOD: That’s just one element. There are going to be similarities in policies. There’s nothing unusual about that. There are certain principles that the United States stands for with regard to the Middle East, and those are not going to change. And with regard to Hamas, I think she was very clear on where we stand.

Let me get someone –

QUESTION: South Asia?

MR. WOOD: Let’s – we’ll move to South Asia. Please.

QUESTION: The Hamas – one of the Hamas leader yesterday was saying in the announcement of the Mr. Mitchell mission to the area as he described it to be that President Obama – as though if he put a stick in the wheel of the mission already, meaning that it won’t go on because what they see – not only them, but so many in the Middle East – that the new Administration’s announced policy so far actually vouch for exactly the conditions of Israel and how there is anything changed from that? They see only humanitarian aids for Gaza or building in Gaza, but they don’t talk about withdrawal, about occupation, about people want to be free from the Israeli brutality in there.

MR. WOOD: Well, first, let me just say that Senator Mitchell is going to be going to the region at some point. He will be talking to all of the players about how we move forward to try to bring about a two-state solution.

QUESTION: All of the players except Hamas.

MR. WOOD: Again, we’ve basically enunciated what our views are with regard to Hamas. And as I said, Senator Mitchell will be trying to see if we can find – all find common ground to try to move the process forward. So I don’t want to get out ahead of what his plans are, but let us just be very clear that Middle East peace is a priority, a very high priority, for this Administration.


QUESTION: But President Obama said yesterday that the aid would be funneled through – President Obama said yesterday that the aid would be funneled through President Abbas to reconstruction in Gaza. But given the fact that Hamas is running Gaza right now, don’t you think some kind of coordination or dealing with Hamas is going to be necessary to make sure that the aid – that the supplies get through, that they get delivered to those that need it? I mean, I understand what you say about no talks with Hamas, but given the realities on the ground, don’t you think some kind of accommodation with Hamas is going to have to be made through – even through a third party?

MR. WOOD: Look, as I’ve said, we’ve – I’ve outlined our views with regard to Hamas. What we’re trying to deal with right now on the ground in Gaza is getting a durable, sustainable ceasefire, and also getting humanitarian assistance delivered to those people who need it.

QUESTION: Well, how are you going to get it delivered without some kind of accommodation with the organization that’s running the territory?

MR. WOOD: We are working with our allies in the region to try to do what we can to help alleviate the humanitarian situation, and we’re going to continue to do that. And when Senator Mitchell goes to the region, he’s going to be looking at the entire Middle East picture, and try to see how we can best go forward.

QUESTION: Robert, the previous administration was decidedly cool to the Turkish-sponsored Israeli and Syrian peace talks. It was fine if they went ahead, but the previous administration was very clear that their focus was on the Israeli-Palestinian track. Given that you’ve just said that Senator Mitchell will be looking at the entire region, is the current Administration any more interested in the possibility of promoting, facilitating, assisting in Israeli-Syrian peace efforts?

MR. WOOD: Well, as I said, I think it’s a bit early to start talking about what the new Administration is going to be doing. Let’s let Senator Mitchell go to the region, have some discussions, and then – and let the Administration further review what policies it wants to take before, you know, answering those questions.

QUESTION: Is there a sign that he might go to Damascus?

QUESTION: Will he go to Syria?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know at this point. But when we have something to announce about his travel, we certainly will do that.

QUESTION: Robert, does the Administration regard President Abbas as still the president? Does it regard his continued occupancy of that office as legally legitimate or lawful?

MR. WOOD: Well, my understanding is that it’s been extended – his authority there. And he is, as far as we’re concerned, president of the Palestinian Authority. And he’s certainly an important interlocutor for us.

QUESTION: So you regard the means that were used to extend his authority as lawful?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to get into those questions. I’m not a lawyer. I can’t answer that question for you, specifically. But what I can say is that we recognize him as the leader of the Palestinian Authority.

QUESTION: One last question, if I might.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: How – does the Administration concede the control of Gaza to Hamas as something that’s going to exist for some time to come?

MR. WOOD: Look, we’ve – what we’re trying to do right now is, as I said, deal with the current situation on the ground. And what’s primary here is getting assistance to those who need it, and trying to see if we can get a sustainable and durable ceasefire. And we obviously will be – Senator Mitchell will be addressing a lot of these issues at some point. But again, with regard to Hamas, I think I’ve made pretty clear what our policy is.


QUESTION: On a related question, Egypt is planning on holding a donors conference early in February or maybe mid-February. Is this something the United States is going to attend? And then secondly, if Hamas attends – because they might be the people who would be distributing some aid from some quarters, not necessarily the Europeans or yourself – would you still be prepared to go? What would the situation be?

MR. WOOD: You’re asking me to speculate on, you know, what if, and I just –

QUESTION: Well, not what if. I mean, are you going to go to the conference?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I – this is the first I’ve heard about an Egyptian conference. I’ll have to look and see indeed – if this is indeed going to take place and when it’s going to take place. But I’m – to be very honest with you, I’m not aware that Egypt was, you know, putting forth an idea for a conference.

QUESTION: Mubarak announced it last weekend and said (inaudible).

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry. I must have missed it.

QUESTION: Well, you’re not aware – is this the first you’ve heard of it –

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: – in this Administration?

MR. WOOD: No, I’m just saying this is the first I’ve heard of it, period.

QUESTION: But would you attend such a conference if – I mean, it’s not a hypothetical – if Hamas were there?

MR. WOOD: Well, look –

QUESTION: No, that’s a hypothetical, actually. (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: You’re – again, you know – I just – I was very clear on that, Sue, that, you know, you’re asking hypotheticals here, and I’m not going to, you know, speculate.

QUESTION: Do you acknowledge, though, that you do possess memories that predate Tuesday?

MR. WOOD: This is a new administration. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That sounds like a no.

QUESTION: Any forthcoming foreign minister visits to the State Department from other –

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything that’s been confirmed. I know there have been a number of requests for meetings with the Secretary, but I don’t have anything that’s nailed down at this point to give you.

QUESTION: Can you tell me where we are on evidence that India was presenting or has presented to your Ambassador there about Pakistan (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have any update on that. And I – obviously, if there were some information, I wouldn’t reveal it here.

Let me give some – please.

QUESTION: Kim Jong-il has met with a Chinese official earlier today, and he said that he’s still committed to the Six-Party Talks, and what’s your reaction?

MR. WOOD: That’s a good thing. I mean, if you go back to September 2005, the North Koreans agreed to take a number of steps toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So we hope to see the North adhere to what it agreed to.

QUESTION: Okay, so this Administration continues to support the Six-Party Talks?

MR. WOOD: I think the Secretary said very clearly in her testimony, again, that the framework has merit. Again, you know, there’s going to be a review of our policy with regard to North Korea, but I think it’s safe to say that not only this Administration, but other governments, particularly those in the Six-Party framework, want to see a North – you know, a Korean Peninsula that’s denuclearized.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, you said that’s a good thing. What is a good thing – the fact that Kim Jong-il is quoted as having said that he favors the denuclearization of the peninsula?

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And I thought that you guys didn’t have a readout on the meeting that he had, nor did you have –

MR. WOOD: I don’t.

QUESTION: – sort of, confirmation of his quoted comments?

MR. WOOD: I never said that we had a readout yet.

QUESTION: Okay. And one last thing. The Secretary in her congressional – in her Senate confirmation hearing described the Six-Party process as a vehicle, which implied that there were potentially other vehicles. I realize that this is under review, but is it fair to read from her comment that you are looking at alternatives or to the Six-Party process, even if it has merit as a vehicle?

MR. WOOD: I would just say, as you just mentioned, that it’s certainly a framework that has merit. But again, as I said, it’s under review. So it wouldn’t be fair for me to comment on where we’re going at this point until that review is completed.

QUESTION: Two questions. Do you draw any conclusions about Kim Jong-il’s status or his control of his own government, by virtue of the fact that he did participate in this meeting?

MR. WOOD: I have no way of knowing anything about his status. You know, we hear lots of reports. And I haven’t gotten a readout from the Chinese, so I really – I don’t have much more for you on that.

QUESTION: And lastly, in her Senate testimony, Secretary Clinton stated that the highly enriched uranium program of North Korea has never been quite verified. Those were the words that she used. And Sean McCormack, from this very podium, stated on numerous occasions that it was the unanimous conclusion of all those who were present in the meeting where the North Koreans were originally confronted with evidence of HEU back in 2002, that the North Koreans, at that time and in that occasion, did indeed acknowledge the program; only subsequently later to recant it.

So I was curious about Secretary Clinton stating that the program has never been verified. Is that the view of this Department?

MR. WOOD: Well, one of the problems that we’ve had with the North is trying to get this verification protocol so that we can verify all of the documents, the 18,000 pages that were submitted. And we still would like to have the North agree – you know, we want to see the North agree to those types of verification measures. We think they’re important. You know, the whole concept of trust, but verify.

And you know, Secretary Clinton is very committed to trying to deal with this issue of North Korea’s nuclear program. And again, the Administration is reviewing its options with regard to North Korea. So I think it’s – it would be premature for me to stand up here and try to elaborate on it when the Administration –

QUESTION: But the implication of her remarks is that it is quite possible that there is no HEU program.

MR. WOOD: Well, we don’t know. We don’t know specifically, and that’s why we have been trying to get the North to adhere to its obligations under the Six-Party framework.

QUESTION: She said that – back to Arshad’s point, that the Six-Party Talks were a vehicle, but it also paved the way for more bilateral contacts between –

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: – the U.S. and North Korea. Do you see a kind of more robust bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Korea outside the Six-Party Talks, or does this Administration still believe that all contacts should be within the context of the Six-Party Talks?

MR. WOOD: Elise, what I’ve said, I’ll say it again. Our policy with regard to North Korea is being – it’s under review. Let us finish the review, and then we can answer a lot of those questions. But until that review has taken place, you know, I can’t comment further.

QUESTION: Can I ask you one thing just related to that? The Bush 43 Administration undertook a review of the previous administration’s North Korea policy, as you well recall. That essentially cut off the contacts with North Korea for a period of months. And there is, I think, a wide belief among, you know, people who follow matters in the Korean Peninsula that this ultimately made it harder to resume contacts when – with the North when the Bush Administration decided to do so. And I wonder if you, or if the current Administration, perceives any danger – I mean, it’s understandable that they’d want to review things. But on the other hand, I wonder if they see any danger to a review that will take some time, perhaps prejudicing the process that has been underway – with fits and starts – but underway for the last several years of bilateral and then multilateral contacts with the North?

MR. WOOD: Look, this Administration, through the Secretary and the President, are very interested in trying to bring about a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. And whatever steps that can be taken, and particularly those steps that the North Koreans have agreed to undertake, we’d like to see happen. The greater interest is, you know, getting rid of, you know, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

QUESTION: You seem to indicate that you’d be willing – that she’s eyeing imposing – re-imposing the sanctions on North Korea.

MR. WOOD: I didn’t say that at all.

QUESTION: She said so in her confirmation hearing. She said that there are certain sanctions that could be re-imposed, there are additional sanctions that could be imposed.

MR. WOOD: Yes, she – as I said, they’re looking at options. But again, let’s let the review finish, and then we’ll be able to state more clearly exactly where we’re going.

QUESTION: Just one thing, Robert –

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: – just so I understand it. Does the fact of the review preclude, from this Administration’s point of view, contacts with the North Koreans during the period of the review?

MR. WOOD: I can’t make that statement that – I would not preclude anything at this point. But again, we want to move forward with the review, and the Administration plans to do that as soon as it can. And that’s about all I can say on it.

QUESTION: Is this review an enormous archival undertaking?

MR. WOOD: Look, the Administration is only, you know, several days old. Let’s wait and give it some time.

QUESTION: But the Secretary said in her testimony that what was being undertaken was a full review –

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: – of the framework and the process. So is that an archival undertaking? Is it a review of documents? Is it a review of correspondence? Is it –

MR. WOOD: Of course, it will be a review of wide range of things: documents, speaking with, you know, experts, speaking to previous administration officials. That’s all part of a review, and I can’t put a timeline on it.

QUESTION: How many people are working on it, do you know?

MR. WOOD: I don’t.

Right here.

QUESTION: Robert, you’ve issued today a Media Note which is talking about the – your signatures to the Four Law of Treaties protocols, and it seems there is a defiance by terrorists to normal governments, to peoples, and to the rule of law. How will this strengthen those protocols and end this terrorist behavior?

MR. WOOD: I’m not sure I understand the question, Joel, if you could repeat it.

QUESTION: Well, you’ve put out these signatures –

MR. WOOD: Yeah, that I understand. But I’m not sure what you’re –

QUESTION: It’s concerning advanced weapons, as you know. These are being used now in both Middle East and South Asia.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is this review more a document or is it a signatory to do specific things to rid these weapons?

MR. WOOD: I’ll have to look into that for you and get back to you on it.

Okay, let me just – let me try some others here.

QUESTION: Did you – have you gotten any response or interaction with the Saudi Government? I don’t know if this – Prince Turki wrote a very sharp article in the FT today, basically saying U.S.-Saudi relations under the Obama Administration could be seriously in jeopardy if there’s not a sharp shift in U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Has – I mean, he was the ambassador here just a few years ago. Is there – have you gotten any readout on that or what’s going on with (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: No, but just let me say that, obviously, Saudi Arabia is an important player in the Middle East and can play an important role in helping bring about a two-state solution, so we’ll be working closely with the Saudis. But I don’t have any response to that piece at all.


QUESTION: Going back to North Korea, or actually, to the idea of a review, is there some review underway with regard to Iran? And if so – a formal review, I mean. And if so, who’s leading it for the Secretary, and does it include the question of an interests section, which the past administration –

MR. WOOD: I think the Secretary spoke to that in her confirmation hearing. Yes, indeed, our Iran policy is being reviewed. We’re looking for ways that we can engage the Iranian people. The interests section is something that’s under review as well. But I don’t have anything more for you on that.

QUESTION: Is there a timeline?

MR. WOOD: No timeline that I’m aware of. We’ll obviously try to get that done as quickly as we can, because Iran is a very important matter for us to deal with.

QUESTION: There’s talk of a political directors meeting of the P-5+1 coming up soon in Germany. Will the U.S. be there, or will that depend on the review, if it’s complete?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, the P-5+1 meeting – you know, we’ve had many of them over the past. It’s not unusual to have another one. But I’d refer you to the German Government for, you know, confirmation of whether the meeting is taking place or not.

QUESTION: Well, will the U.S. participate in the –

MR. WOOD: At the next P-5+1 meeting? Of course, we would participate.

QUESTION: Even if the review isn’t finished?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, that would be part of the review. We’d want to hear – and I think when we do have that next P-5+1 meeting, the U.S. representative – I’m assuming it will be Bill Burns – will want to hear from his counterparts about their ideas and bring them back to the new administration.

QUESTION: You don’t – seeing as he’s participated in the last several of those, don’t you think he probably already knows what their thoughts are?

MR. WOOD: Like I said, we have these meetings. They’re, you know, periodically. It’s not unusual. And the Secretary is very interested in hearing what these people have to say.

QUESTION: But, if he’s – if you’re having a review, why do you have to wait for the next meeting? Why can’t you call a special meeting of the P-5+1, or why can’t he go out there and start consulting with allies on –

MR. WOOD: As I said, Elise, we’ve had these P-5+1 meetings periodically. We’re going to continue to have them. They’re a useful channel for, you know, consulting on issues with regard to Iran. And that will be fed into the overall review.

QUESTION: Well, just a quick question on – Russian President Medvedev is quoted today as welcoming President Obama’s decision to review U.S. policy in Afghanistan, and as saying that Russia is ready to cooperate with the United States, including on supply routes for NATO forces. Do you have any comment on that? Are you heartened by that?

MR. WOOD: Well, we certainly look forward to working with Russia on Afghanistan. It’s in both of our countries’ interest to try to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan and bring about, you know, more economic development and security in the country. And it was a very, very strong signal that this Administration sent to the region when Ambassador Holbrooke was appointed to be the Special Representative for Pakistan and Afghanistan. So I think that, in itself, shows you how serious the Administration is about trying to work on these issues, and working with Russia will be a key component of that.

QUESTION: Do you know if the Russian Government has conveyed to the new Administration its interest in working together on Afghanistan, and notably on supply routes, which, as you know, is increasingly a concern because of the difficulty of the security challenge of getting supplies through from Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: I mean, we’ll be having conversations with the Russians at – and have had conversations with the Russians at a number of levels to talk about, you know, enhancing our cooperation in Afghanistan.


QUESTION: Robert, do you have anything on the nomination of Dennis Ross as the special envoy to Iran, and why this nomination didn’t happen yesterday?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have anything for you on that, Michel. Sorry.


QUESTION: Will Susan Rice be at the UN Monday?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. You might want to check with the mission up there. I don’t know when she’ll be up there.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything – the President mentioned when he was here at the State Department yesterday, he was referring to the Arab Peace Initiative, and he said that there are some elements of it that are constructive. Can you tell us which elements specifically he was talking about in that sense?

And then on a – sort of an unrelated note, but somewhat related, in the appointment of George Mitchell and Richard Holbrooke, have they made any statements or are they going to be going through any procedure in terms of conflict – potential conflicts of interest, anything like that?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of with regard to that, with the second part of your question. The first part of your question, the President spoke to it. We’re very early on in the Administration. I mean, he’s obviously seen some elements of it that he likes. Probably, for more details, I’d refer you to the White House to get clarification on what he said.

Let me go back here for a minute, because they’ve been very patient. Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: Yeah. My name is Nazira. I work for Ariana Television from Afghanistan.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: I need to ask you about upcoming presidential election in Afghanistan. Some people think that it not going to be happen. Some people say lack of – for the reason of the lack of security in Afghanistan, it not going to be holded. Do you have any comment about it?

MR. WOOD: Well, obviously, we would like to see elections in Afghanistan happen as soon as they can. We – obviously, it’s important that there be a good level of security so that these elections can take place. I know that President Karzai is working very hard to try to make sure that – he’s working with a number of partners to try to make sure that the security climate is one in which, you know, democratic and free elections can take place in as transparent a fashion as possible. But I don’t have any other comment beyond that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Sir, right next to you.

QUESTION: Yeah, well, when was the call between Secretary Clinton and Indian Foreign Minister Mr. Mukherjee was made? Was it yesterday and – or today? And secondly, what did the call – was the issue between – the tension between India and Pakistan after the Mumbai attack was discussed during the telephonic conversation?

MR. WOOD: Again, I’m just going to adhere to what I said about the substance of the phone calls. I really don’t want to get into that. But I’m sorry, what was the first part of the question?

QUESTION: When was the call made? Yesterday?

MR. WOOD: That I don’t know either. I’ll see if we – if we’re able to, you know, let you know what time the call took place and which day.

QUESTION: And do you have any idea when the special representative is going to Afghanistan and Pakistan?

MR. WOOD: Not at this point. I spoke to Ambassador Holbrooke just briefly after the President’s event here, and he said he was going to try to get out as soon as he could, but he didn’t have a timeframe on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about his meeting with General Petraeus yesterday?

MR. WOOD: President Obama’s?

QUESTION: No. Didn’t Holbrooke meet with Petraeus yesterday?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t – he may have had a meeting. I don’t know.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Presumably he is going to have – be working out of this building, yes? Or he’s going to have an office here, at least?

MR. WOOD: I think those things are still being worked out, so I can’t really give you any answers to that.

QUESTION: Alright. Well, should he be spending a serious amount of time here, I would hope that we would be – you would be able to have his office apprise you of details of what he will – of what he’s doing.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, he’s not just planning on being –

MR. WOOD: Absolutely.

QUESTION: – a lone freelancer out there.

MR. WOOD: No, of course, we’ll be able to let you know.

QUESTION: Can you tell us –

MR. WOOD: Let me try somebody –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the special representative title, how – I mean, why that title, as opposed to envoy or something else? Do you know?

MR. WOOD: Well, a special representative historically has been an individual who basically coordinates among various entities, and in this case with regard to Ambassador Holbrooke, coordinating amongst the various U.S. Government agencies that have equities with regard to Pakistan and Afghanistan. So that’s – that’s really what that – that’s what – the substance of that particular title.

QUESTION: So he’s a czar?

QUESTION: No, no, but – so he’ll be – I mean, he’ll then be coordinating, obviously, out of the Pentagon, given its vast expertise and –

MR. WOOD: That’s right.


MR. WOOD: That’s right.


QUESTION: You’ve mentioned the phone calls that the Secretary has made. Can you give us some flavor on – and color on what else she’s been keeping busy with the last few days?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think you all know what she did yesterday. Today, other than the USAID event, she will be basically doing in-house business, you know, just the usual things you would do when you’re just coming in as Secretary of State, meeting with various people in the building. But I don’t have anything else beyond that in terms of her schedule. That’s basically what she’s been doing and will be doing the rest of the day.

QUESTION: She met with some of her – I mean, senior staff. Can you give us a sense of – has she met with all of them –

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: – one-on-one, at this point, or what?

MR. WOOD: Sure. Yesterday, she had a senior staff meeting, and the Secretary was very clear about how – you know, how much she’s looking forward to working with everyone on the staff and appreciated all the great work that people have been doing, and that, you know, we’ve got some real challenges ahead, and that she looks forward to working with us on them. But she said it’s going to be tough. We’ve got a lot of very serious issues, and she’s very interested in getting insight from, you know, her senior team members. And that was pretty much the essence of her –

QUESTION: And when do you think we might hear about assistant secretary appointments?

MR. WOOD: When the Administration is ready to announce them, they’ll announce them. I don’t have anything for you beyond that.

QUESTION: How about the possibility of Secretary Clinton traveling? Does she have any near-term plans to travel?

MR. WOOD: I think certainly she is going to be traveling. I think this – you know, the travel schedule is still being looked at. When we do have something to say, we will. I asked yesterday about it, and there are still a number of decisions the Secretary needs to make about travel.

QUESTION: We’re good through the weekend?

MR. WOOD: I think so.


QUESTION: Do you have any reaction to the arrest of the leader of the rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Anything there?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. I saw – I’ve seen the reports on it.

QUESTION: His arrest?

MR. WOOD: I believe he’s in Rwandan custody.

QUESTION: Yeah, right.

MR. WOOD: And – but we don’t really have the details of it. But you know, his removal is a welcome step on the road to peace. I mean, he has caused nothing but havoc for the people of Congo, and, frankly, for the people of the region. So you know, he’s been causing havoc for far too long. So – and that’s basically my comment on it.

QUESTION: How significant do you think the cooperation is between Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda? I mean, how significant? Could this be a diplomatic breakthrough?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I think this was a good sign of cooperation among those governments to try to get at Mr. Nkunda – General Nkunda. And so – but I can’t give you a much broader assessment at this point. I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Do you – I mean, I know that they haven’t named an assistant secretary or anything like that, but do you think it’s something that this Administration could help foster that cooperation?

MR. WOOD: Oh, absolutely. I mean, Africa is going to be a priority for Secretary Clinton, and trying to foster cooperation by countries in the region, particularly in – you know, the region of Congo is very important. The violence has been going on there for much too long and the Secretary knows that and so does the President. And they’re going to take a very strong interest in trying to promote peace and stability on the continent in general.

QUESTION: Well, up until the Bush Administration left office, was there any kind of U.S. role in helping bring these three countries together?

MR. WOOD: Look, we’re here to talk about this Administration. I work for this Administration. So let’s –

QUESTION: Well, I mean, where does the policy stand right now?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, the Administration just came into office a few days ago.

QUESTION: I know, but I mean, obviously, there were efforts that kind of didn’t – obviously, the efforts didn’t stop last Monday, so –

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s right. But these were efforts that were – you’re talking about the efforts among the three countries of the region.

QUESTION: Well, it didn’t just start this –

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: I mean, obviously, they’ve been building up to this point.

MR. WOOD: That’s right. That’s right.

QUESTION: So what has been the U.S. hand in that?

MR. WOOD: Well, we have been providing, you know, any type of assistance that we thought was prudent to these countries in the region. We’ve been focused primarily on trying to help the refugees and IDPs of the region, who are very large in number. And that’s where a lot of our efforts have been focused. We’ve been trying to bring about a diplomatic solution to the situation in the Congo, as you know, and those efforts will continue. And as I said, it’s a high priority for the Administration.

QUESTION: (Inaudible). I’m not sure I – it’s a high priority for the Administration, but in 21 phone calls, the Secretary couldn’t make a single call to an African?

MR. WOOD: Matt –

QUESTION: It was a high priority after the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and South Asia.

MR. WOOD: These were not in priority lists. I mean, it’s a question of trying to schedule calls. So I wouldn’t read anything more into it than that.

QUESTION: And was the question of schedule also the explanation of why she didn’t call the Russian Foreign Minister?

MR. WOOD: My understanding, I think, is that the Russian – I think the Secretary tried to place a call, but I think he’s traveling for the weekend and wasn’t reachable.


QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Yesterday – yesterday morning –

MR. WOOD: We’ll take two more and then I’ll –

QUESTION: Yesterday morning, President Obama signed a bunch of executive orders, one of which related to Guantanamo Bay and its close, ordering it to close in a year. He’s obviously gotten an early start on this, so in the 24 hours since, what has the State Department been doing to help advance this? You guys have been – played a pretty major role in trying to resettle and get detainees out and resettled into third countries. How many calls have been made toward that end? What’s (inaudible) –

MR. WOOD: I couldn’t possibly give you an idea of how many calls have been made. But that’s been something we have been working on for quite some time, trying to find countries where we could send some of these individuals who are being held in Guantanamo. But I’m – the President and the White House Press Secretary spoke at this at length. I don’t have anything more to add on it.

Kirit, last one.

QUESTION: I just wanted to follow up on the Middle East. Secretary Clinton’s predecessor, obviously, was very personally involved in resolving that by traveling there. Do you expect Secretary Clinton to take a similar role on this sort of level, or is she going to leave most of that to her new envoy?

MR. WOOD: The Secretary is going to be very involved in bringing about, you know, Middle East peace. I would look at these envoys as, to be very honest, force multipliers. There’s a lot of work that can be done with regard to the Middle East and with regard to the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan. And so that’s how I would characterize the efforts of the envoys.

QUESTION: And so you would consider her – if she would travel with Mitchell or something like that?

MR. WOOD: I – it’s hard for me to say, at this point. But certainly, the Secretary will be, you know, traveling at some point to the region when it’s appropriate.

QUESTION: Isn’t force multiplier a military term?

MR. WOOD: Whatever term it is, I think you should look at it in those terms.

QUESTION: Where do they fit in in terms of the assistant secretaries of state? They are reporting directly to Secretary Clinton or to –

MR. WOOD: Assistant secretaries of state?

QUESTION: Yeah, where do they fit in, these special representatives, with respect to the assistant secretaries of state for those respective regions? What’s the, kind of, reporting line?

MR. WOOD: Well, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan and this – you know, the special envoy for the Middle East, those two individuals will report through the Secretary to the President. The assistant secretaries in the geographic regions cover a broad range of – a broad number of – a large number of countries. And so, all of those things will be worked out. The important thing here is that we have real high-level attention on these two parts of the world that require serious attention and that are key to U.S. national security interests.

Okay. Thank you everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:25 p.m.)

DPB # 9