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Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
August 28, 2008



Reports of ICBM Test
Russia Isolating Itself / Aggression of Russian Against a Neighbor / Ceasefire
Secretary’s Conversations with Russian Foreign Minister / No Recent Calls
Priority for Civil-Nuclear Cooperation Agreements is the 1-2-3 Agreement with India
U.S. Working with Allies to Reduce Tensions in the Region / Ukraine / Moldova


Parliamentary Approval for a Break in Diplomatic Relations with Russia
Charges that U.S. Instigated Conflict Ludicrous / Russia in Violation of Obligations
U.S. Military Engaged in Getting Humanitarian Assistance to People Who Need It
Any Decision by Georgia to Break Relations with Moscow is a Decision for Georgia


Investigation by Pentagon Into Civilian Casualties from Air Strikes


Arrest of Activist Arash Alaei


Hunger Strike by Aung San Suu Kyi / U.S. Call for Release of Political Prisoners


U.S. Policy is to Stay Out of Pakistan’s Internal Affairs / U.S. Cooperating Closely


Statement by the Embassy / Efforts of UN Envoy Nimetz


No Requests for Assistance from Potentially Effected Countries


Readout of DAS Merkel’s Meetings in Belarus


View Video

12:39 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Happy Thursday, everyone. Let’s go right to your questions.

QUESTION: I think this room is too small.

MR. WOOD: Great observation, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Over here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Russia tested ICBM earlier today, and I wonder if you have any response to that.

MR. WOOD: That’s the first I’ve heard of it. We’ll have to take a look and – I haven’t seen anything on that.


MR. WOOD: Sorry.


QUESTION: Georgia’s parliament has approved a resolution calling on the government to cut diplomatic ties with Russia. Do you recommend that Georgia take this step?

MR. WOOD: That’s a decision that the sovereign Government of Georgia would have to make. It’s not for the United States to do that.


QUESTION: Still on Georgia, I would hope you could elaborate on your comments earlier today in response to Prime Minister Putin saying that Russia was not responsible for events in Georgia. And also a comment that he made that U.S. citizens were indeed in the area in conflict before military action took place.

MR. WOOD: Well, on the second part of the question, I’m not sure what he’s referring to. But, you know, I stand by what I said earlier that, you know, any charges that the U.S. instigated this conflict are ludicrous. What we need to focus on is what Russia has done. Russia still occupies parts of Georgia. It’s in violation of its obligations to – under the ceasefire agreement, and we want to see Russia comply with its obligations. And charges that the United States, you know, had anything to do with instigating this conflict, I mean, as I said, are just ludicrous.

QUESTION: But were there U.S. citizens in the area of conflict, as Mr. Putin describes it?

MR. WOOD: At the beginning? I mean, I have no way of knowing whether there were U.S. citizens there or not. But the point of the matter is, is that, you know, those types of charges that the United States was involved in instigating it, you know, just are without foundation and just, you know, as I said earlier, ludicrous, plain and simple.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Mr. Wood, on Russia, anything to say on Russia’s push at the UN Security Council to condemn U.S.-led airstrikes in Afghanistan, killing dozens of civilians?

MR. WOOD: My understanding, Mr. Lambros, is that there’s an investigation underway being led by the Pentagon. And the Pentagon is trying to, you know, make sure that this investigation proceeds expeditiously. I’m not going to have any further comment on this particular issue except to say that, you know, as I’ve said on other occasions, that the U.S. does not target civilians and that it can never be our policy to do something like that. And obviously, loss of life is regretted wherever that happens. But there’s really not much more I can say while there’s an ongoing investigation.

QUESTION: One more. How do you respond to Russia’s – how do you respond to Russia’s lash out at the West for creating tensions in the Black Sea with an increased NATO naval presence now and warn against isolated Moscow over the conflict in Georgia?

MR. WOOD: Russia is doing a great job on its own in isolating itself. And you know, as we’ve said over and over again, Russia knows what it needs to do. It needs to stop blaming others for the aggression that it carried out against a neighbor. And the international community has called on Russia to adhere to the ceasefire. Again, this is something that Russia signed on to. We want to see them do that. We want to see them get their forces out of Georgia and to do that quickly.

QUESTION: One more on this issue. It was reported that the U.S. Government assessing possible military aid to Georgia. And specifically, Mr. Wood, U.S. General John Craddock, NATO Supreme Allied Commander to Europe, said today that Washington would probably provide military help. Anything on that?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – again, I’m not going to respond to General Craddock’s points because I haven’t – haven’t seen them. But our military is involved in trying to support people who require humanitarian assistance throughout Georgia. That’s what the Pentagon is engaged in right now, trying to help get assistance to people who need it. And we certainly need Russian support to do that. And we don’t want to see any obstacles put in the way of getting humanitarian relief to the people who need it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: You’re welcome, sir.

Yes, please.

QUESTION: On Iran, are you guys saying anything about the arrest of HIV activist and Iranian doctor Arash Alaei? And what impact does his arrest have, if any, on the exchange program, the State Department exchange program with Iran that was reinstituted or instituted in 2006?

MR. WOOD: I’ll see if we can get you something on that.


QUESTION: Following up on my earlier question about Georgia cutting off relations or may be cutting off relations, have you had – have U.S. officials had conversations with them about this, about, you know, the advisability of this step?

And also, I was wondering – you said this morning that Secretary Rice hadn’t spoken with Lavrov for about ten days. I don’t suppose that’s changed, has it, this morning?

MR. WOOD: As far as I know, she hasn’t had a conversation with him --

QUESTION: Yeah. Before this crisis, how often would she talk to him? Frequently, eh?

MR. WOOD: She has spoken with the Russian Foreign Minister on – you know, on a regular basis.


MR. WOOD: Yeah. The first part of your question again?

QUESTION: Yeah. Are you talking to the Georgians about the possibility of taking this step, or have you had some discussions about it?

MR. WOOD: We’ve obviously had conversations with the Georgians on a wide range of issues. But you know, any decision to break relations with Moscow is – you know, that’s a decision that the Georgian Government will have to make on its own.

QUESTION: And what’s the status of your – you know, your ideas about the civilian nuclear agreement with Russia? You’re considering – the White House says you’re considering scrapping that deal. What’s the status of that consideration?

MR. WOOD: All I would say is that we’re looking at various options in terms of our response to Russia’s aggression in Georgia. But you know, with regard to, you know, civil nuclear cooperation, as I said a few days ago, the priority for the Administration right now is to try to bring into fruition the U.S. – the 123 Agreement with India and that civil nuclear cooperation agreement. That’s where our focus is right now. But I don’t have anything to say here about what steps we may or may not take at this point with regard to Russia’s aggression against Georgia.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Mr. Wood, on Russia again. Are you concerned on extensive reports that the Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula could be the next South Ossetia and Abkhazia?

MR. WOOD: I don’t want to speculate on such things, Mr. Lambros, at this point. But it’s very clear what our views are with regard to, you know, Ukraine and the Crimea.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Anything to say about Russian warns Moldova over separatist region, since the Russian Ambassador to Moldova warns leader today to avoid conflict over the pro-Russian region?

MR. WOOD: The only thing I would say, Mr. Lambros, is that we don’t want to see increased tensions in the region right now. The region is quite tense at the moment. And we’re working with our allies to try to reduce tensions throughout the area because, as I said, they are quite high at the moment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Charley. Sorry.

QUESTION: Please. Any reaction to the arrest by U.S. forces in Baghdad of a top Shiite official, Ali al-Lami?

MR. WOOD: I’ll see if I can get you something on that. I don’t have anything at this point. Please.

QUESTION: Again on Suu Kyi in Burma. There are signs that she is staging a hunger strike or is not accepting the food that is left at her compound. I wanted to see what your contact with her – I mean, do you have any details on whether she is doing this, and what’s your level of concern?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re obviously concerned about it. We’ve seen reports that she is not taking food deliveries. And one of the problems with our being able to confirm any of this information is that she is under house arrest. And we want to see her come out of house arrest. We want to see other political prisoners released in Burma. And we continue to call on the Burmese regime to do such things. But it’s very hard for us to be able to confirm that information, but obviously her situation is an ongoing concern to us.


QUESTION: Quickly on Pakistan. The new Pakistani Ambassador to the United States has publicly talked about the need for the United States to sort of stand back from Pakistani politics and let democracy run its course, even if it’s messy, even if it takes time. And I guess I’m wondering whether that is what the United States intends to do and how long the U.S. can afford to have political instability in Pakistan.

MR. WOOD: Well, for one, our policy is to stay out of Pakistan’s internal affairs. We’ve said that over and over again. Pakistan is a close ally. It has a new government. That government is trying to find its way. It’s sorting through a whole host of very difficult issues. We want to cooperate very closely with Pakistan, as we’ve said over and over again, on the war against extremism. And you can rest assured that the United States is there to support Pakistan as it tries to, you know, further consolidate its democracy. And I would just reject charges that we are trying to interfere in Pakistan’s internal affairs. It’s our policy to stay out of Pakistan’s internal affairs.

Mr. Lambros, and then Charley.

QUESTION: One on FYROM. Mr. Wood, your Embassy in Athens today issued a statement saying that the U.S. Government continues to give its full support to the UN mediation effort, and any reports that the U.S. is pursuing a different course have no basis in fact. Any additional comment, Mr. Wood, since the press insists for – quote, unquote – “a Rice package on the name issue between Athens and Skopje”?

MR. WOOD: Mr. Lambros, I would just stick with what the – our colleagues in the Embassy in Athens have said. We are obviously very supportive of the efforts of UN envoy Nimetz and we want to see, obviously, a resolution to the Cyprus issue [1] that – a satisfactory resolution to that situation.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: You’re welcome. Charley, did you have one?

QUESTION: Yes, please. Anything more on United States citizens in the path of the hurricane requiring assistance or any requests from other countries for humanitarian aid?

MR. WOOD: At this point, Charley, we haven’t received any requests for assistance from any of the governments that would be impacted by this tropical storm. To our knowledge, there aren’t any U.S. citizens who have been impacted so far.

USAID is going to be the lead player in terms of monitoring the situation. And we’ll obviously, you know, consider requests and look at what our options may be should we get those requests.


QUESTION: Did you get a readout on the talks that your envoy recently had in Belarus?

MR. WOOD: Let me see if we can you something later on. We’ve been working on trying to get that. We’ll see if we can get you something. You might want to just check with the Press Office a little bit later.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:51 p.m.)

[1] The name issue between Macedonia and Greece.


Released on August 28, 2008

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