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Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
August 27, 2008



No Update on Secretary Rice’s Travel Schedule for New York
International Community Wants Russia to Live Up to Obligations
Reports of Atrocities in South Ossetia / U.S. Call for Credible Investigation
International Community Needs Russian Cooperation on Humanitarian Assistance
Status of Under Secretary Jeffrey’s Recommendations on Assistance to Georgia
Declaration Accepted by Russians Inconsistent with UN Security Council Resolutions
No Parallels in the Case of Kosovo and South Ossetia
Georgia is an Important Ally to US / A Democratically Elected Government


U.S. Troop Presence / Discussions Ongoing Between U.S. and Iraqi Government
Both Sides Working to Finalize an Agreement by December


Black Sea / Facilitation of U.S. Humanitarian Assistance to Georgia
Discussions Continue with Countries on Getting Assistance to People in Need


Important to Middle East Process for Peace Between Israel and its Neighbors


U.S. Interest with Pakistan Long-standing
Working with New Government to Defeat Taliban on Both Sides of Border


Discussions with Other Members of Six-Party Framework
Next Step is for North Korea to Produce Verification Package
All Parties Agreement on Basic Verification Principles
U.S. Has Taken Steps Required to Live Up to Obligations


U.S. Has a Number of Concerns on China’s Human Rights Violations


Tensions in Region / U.S. Encourages India and Pakistan to Negotiate Differences Peacefully


View Video

12:36 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. I have nothing to begin with, so we’ll go right to your questions.

Mr. Lambros was first.

QUESTION: Okay. On FYROM. Mr. Wood, it was reported extensively in Athens today that on September 23 in New York City Secretary Rice is going to present to the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and to the Skopjen Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki her plan called – quote, unquote – “Rice package” for a final solution on the name issue between Greece and FYROM. Do you have anything on that?

MR. WOOD: Mr. Lambros, I don’t have anything to update you on with regard to the Secretary’s schedule in New York. But when we do have something, we will certainly update you and the rest of the press corps. But I don’t have anything at this point.

QUESTION: Can you take this question, as far as for the package?

MR. WOOD: Well, what – I’ll take a look and see if I can get you anything. But I think, once we have something to say about her schedule, then we will do that.

QUESTION: May I go to South Ossetia?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: The leader of South Ossetia asked Moscow today to set up a military base on its territory. Any comment?

MR. WOOD: Could you repeat that last part?

QUESTION: The leader of South Ossetia asked Moscow today to set up a military base on its territory.

MR. WOOD: Well, I – this is the first I’ve heard of this. But let me just reiterate what we’ve said, and that we want to see Russia adhere to its obligations and we want to see Russia do what the international community has asked. And that’s for it to get its forces out of Georgia and – but again, this is the first I’ve heard of this report, so I really don’t have any detailed comment on it.


MR. WOOD: Arshad.

QUESTION: Iraqi President Talabani is quoted as having said in a TV interview with Al Hurra that the United States had asked Iraq for permission to maintain a U.S. troop presence there until 2015. Is that correct?

MR. WOOD: What I can say, Arshad, is that, as you know, there are discussions going on between the United States and Iraqi Government. We’re working to try to finalize an agreement by the end of December. I don’t have anything new to offer other than what we’ve said, and that we think this is an important agreement. And once we have an agreement, we will certainly make that known to the publics. But I’m not going to get into the details of anything that may or may not be part of the discussions right now.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Turkey. Mr. Wood, Turkish President Abdullah Gul opposed the changes in status quo in the Black Sea area, commenting on possible U.S. military involvement in rebalancing power in the region. Do you have anything on that or any comment?

MR. WOOD: No, I – the U.S. military is involved in trying to help get humanitarian supplies into Georgia to the people who need it. That’s what the U.S. military is involved in right now.

QUESTION: A follow-up. May we have your assessment on the ongoing (inaudible) on rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow on the situation in the Black Sea? Do you agree with that?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have any comment on that.

QUESTION: And the last – I’m wondering did you ask Ankara authorization for your warship to pass the Turkish Straits, or Dardanelles, on the way to Georgia’s ports?

MR. WOOD: Well, we have discussions with – we’ve had discussions with a number of countries in the region, but I don’t want to get into the substance of diplomatic conversations that we may have had. But look, it’s very important for humanitarian supplies to get to the people who need them in the region. And we’ll continue to have discussions with countries, including Russia, in terms of how to best facilitate getting that assistance into those areas where the needs are the greatest.

Please, Charley.

QUESTION: Can you be a little more specific about those humanitarian aid shipments? And aren’t Russian ships making it difficult for U.S. ships to gain access to Georgian ports?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve called on the Russians not to put up any impediments to the flow of humanitarian assistance going into the region. And that remains our position and I don’t have anything further on that.

QUESTION: The Georgian Embassy has just emailed out photos – satellite photos that they say show evidence of ethnic cleansing in South Ossetia. Does the U.S. believe there’s been ethnic cleansing?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve heard – we’ve seen reports that there were atrocities being committed against civilians. And we want to call on the Russians to allow a credible investigation to take place of reports that atrocities have been committed by both sides.


QUESTION: There was a report in the Washington Post today quoting Syrian Government officials, saying that Syria would like to start direct negotiations with Israel soon if they can get a clear signal of support from the Bush Administration to co-sponsor with the French such talks. What is your reaction to this?

MR. WOOD: Well, this is the first I’ve heard of this report. But obviously, we would like to see Syria have relations – establish relations with Israel. It’s important to the Middle East peace process that there eventually be peace between Israel and its neighbors. But in all fairness, I haven’t seen the report, so I would, you know, withhold further comment on it.


QUESTION: You just spoke about a credible investigation in South Ossetia. How would it be done? Who would do that? Who would conduct such an investigation?

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s something that will be discussed within the international community as to how best to conduct that type of credible, independent investigation. But I don’t have the modalities of that for you at the moment. But obviously, these types of reports are of serious concern, and we want to make sure that the international community is able to investigate these charges because we all take them very seriously. 


QUESTION: Robert, just to follow up on that, you said we want Russia to agree to this. Have you specifically asked the Russian Government to permit this, and what has been its – what have they said in response? 

MR. WOOD: The Russian Government is well aware of our position. And it’s not just our position, by the way. It’s the position of a number of countries in the international community, that Russia provide this access, because there are people in need and we need to be able to get the supplies to them. So I can’t tell you whether there was a specific discussion that led to that, but let me assure you, the Russian Government is well aware of this concern. 

QUESTION: And they have simply refused thus far, or they have not responded to your concern, or they have responded –

MR. WOOD: Well, obviously, the response has not been adequate enough in that we want to see the Russian Government do more in this area. And – because, again, there are people out there that have needs and they need to be met, and the international community wants to do the best job that it can to help get supplies to these people. And in order for that to happen, Russian cooperation is, you know, essential.

A follow-up?

QUESTION: Mr. – Under Secretary Reuben Jeffery, I believe, was supposed to be back today to present his conclusions on humanitarian and reconstruction needs in Georgia. Can you shed any light on what he has reported and on what kinds of resources, financial or otherwise, the United States Government may hope to put forward as a result of his recommendations? 

MR. WOOD: Arshad, I’m not going to get into, you know, what Under Secretary Jeffery is going to brief the Secretary and others on, but let me just say that he was out in the region, did a very thorough assessment. And you know, obviously, we’re going to take a look at what the Under Secretary reports on, and then base our response on that briefing. But I don’t believe it’s taken place, so it wouldn't be fair for me to, you know, obviously, get ahead of that. 


QUESTION: Has the United States observed any tangible actions by Russia or the authorities in South Ossetia or Abkhazia that would make this self-proclaimed independence more than just a verbal situation? 

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of any – anything in that area. But let me just say that, you know, this declaration that was accepted by the Russians, as far as we’re concerned, is unacceptable and it’s – as we’ve said all along, is a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, and is inconsistent with UN Security Council resolutions that Russia has agreed to.


QUESTION: Thank you, Robert. I know yesterday you made some comments as far as the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, Mr. Zal Khalilzad’s ties with Mr. Zardari, who is going to be next president of Pakistan. The criticism still goes on, but because in the past I have spoken with Ambassador and he did criticize Pakistan as far as supporting terrorism in Afghanistan and against the U.S. and all that. So how you are going to now control as far as terrorism into Afghanistan or U.S. interest in the region since the Ambassador has a tie with the – going to be the president of Pakistan? Is it going to help or hurt the U.S. interest?

MR. WOOD: No, our interests with Pakistan are longstanding, and, of course, our ability to be able to fight the war on terror effectively depends a great deal on Pakistani cooperation. Ambassador Khalilzad has relationships, as I mentioned, with a number of leaders in the region, and, you know, he provides good counsel to the Secretary of State and the President on various subjects. And so I don’t see that as an issue with regard to our relationship with Pakistan. 

We – we’re obviously working with the new government to try to do what we can to defeat the Taliban on both sides of the border. And it’s an important matter not just for the United States and Pakistan, but for the rest of the international community. So again, we’ll be working with the new government on ways we can more effectively counter extremism. But Ambassador Khalilzad is an important player in the U.S. Government, and the Secretary and the President, as I said, really respect his views greatly.


QUESTION: What does the United States expect to destinations of North Korean nuclear issue?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, we’re having discussions with other members of the Six-Party framework. It’s hard for me to tell you where things are going to go. As I said earlier at the gaggle, there are ups and downs in this process. There are likely to continue to be ups and downs. But the most important thing is that we not lose sight of our goal, and that’s the eventual dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear infrastructure. And again, the next step in this process is for the North Koreans to produce a verification package. And once we have that we can move forward to the next step of delisting North Korea from the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism, so –

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Korea declaration of nuclear facilities and lift North Korea from terrorist list must be done same time?

MR. WOOD: What we’ve said is, the next thing that North Korea needs to do as part of our
action-for-action program is to produce this verification package. And once North Korea does that, then we can, as I said, move forward on the delisting.


QUESTION: Also on North Korea, yesterday, you said that by halting disablement, they were in violation of their commitment through the Six-Party framework. North Korea, also through its official government media agency, said that the U.S. inaction was an outright violation of that agreement. So who is the doing the violating here?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re not doing any violation – violating here. The Six-Party Talks, as you know, are chaired by China. And there was an agreement with all of the parties on the basic principles in terms of guiding the verification process. All parties agreed on that. And it was understood that the North Koreans would need to produce a verification package before we go forward on the delisting. That is very clear. And I’m not sure what the North is getting at at this point, but it remains something that we’re waiting for, that verification package, and we call on North Korea to present that verification package to the Six Parties as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Can I change the topic?

MR. WOOD: Let me give one question –

QUESTION: Is Chris Hill planning any trips to the region or any meetings with other Six-Party members?

MR. WOOD: He will at some point, but I don’t have anything to say here from the podium at all.

QUESTION: Can I change the topic?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: On – again on North Korea. Since North – I know that the U.S. Government was informed of the North Korean decision prior to North Korea making public the decision about ceasing the disablement activities. Since it made public that decision, i.e., since yesterday, has the U.S. Government had any contacts via the New York channel or otherwise with the North Koreans?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: Just to follow on North Korea, Robert.

MR. WOOD: Please.

QUESTION: From the beginning, this agreement was not really fully implemented because many press reports and also think tanks were saying that North Korea cannot be trusted, including from the reports from South Korea. And what they did was only to show to the world that they have destroyed their nuclear arsenals and all that, but nothing was destroyed other than just the walls on the top, other than they already had everything underground, which was never destroyed. So how can you trust now North Koreans, which it has not been in the past, as long as China is not with you?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think China is with us. I mean, I think the other parties in the Six-Party framework very much want to see North Korea live up to its obligations. We are certainly living up to ours. To date, we have basically provided the North with 150,000 tons of heavy fuel oil that’s worth about $92 million. We are taking the steps – we’ve taken the steps that we’re required to do. But it’s the North that needs to come forward and take that next step, which is providing that verification package, as I mentioned.

We’ll get Mr. Lambros, and then David.

QUESTION: Mr. Wood, Kosovo-slash-South Ossetia. Is there any comparison between Kosovo and South Ossetia since you supported Kosovo to become an independent country February 17, 2008 and the Russians supported South Ossetia yesterday to become an independent country?

MR. WOOD: I see no parallels. They’re two very different cases.

QUESTION: One more question. Mikhail Gorbachev wrote to Washington Post, quote, “By declaring the Caucasus, a region that is thousands of miles from the American continent, a sphere of its national interest, the United States made a serious blunder. But it is simply common sense to recognize that Russia is rooted there by common geography and centuries of history,” unquote. Any comment on that?

MR. WOOD: The only thing I would say, Mr. Lambros, is that Georgia is an important ally of the United States and has a democratically elected government. And we have said time and again, the Russians have nothing to fear from having democracies on its borders. And I don’t know what more to say on it than that. We’ve made this point again and again to the Russians.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just one question on China.

MR. WOOD: I’ll get to you, mm-hmm. Did you want to focus on this? 

QUESTION: No, (inaudible).

MR. WOOD: Okay, I’ll come back to you, David. 

QUESTION: In China, Olympics are over and China (inaudible) image has gone up around the globe. But as far as U.S. is concerned, what do you think? Because many human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, Asia Watch, and also Tibetan groups are criticizing that everything that has been now under the rug because of this Olympics.

MR. WOOD: Well, again, we have called on the Chinese to use the Olympics as a way to, you know, put its best foot forward. We obviously have a number of concerns with regard to human rights violations in China, and we’ve not hesitated to raise those issues with the Chinese at various levels. And we will continue to do so. We think it’s in the interest of the world community that we tell China when we have a problem with regard to human rights. And as I said, we will continue to do so. And I think the Chinese need to know that we will continue to do that.


QUESTION: Yeah. Robert, there appears to be something of a resurgence of tensions in the Kashmir issue this week. India says that infiltrators from Pakistan killed a number of people, I think it was today. Is that anything you wish to comment on?

MR. WOOD: No. I saw the report, but, you know, obviously, we’re concerned when tensions rise in that region. And, you know, as our general policy, we’ve always encouraged the governments of India and Pakistan to negotiate their differences peacefully and – but I don’t have anything to add beyond that, David.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:55 p.m.)

DPB # 142

Released on August 27, 2008

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