|Daily Press Briefing|
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
November 3, 2008
|SOFA / Reviewing Comments|
|A/S Boucher in Pakistan / No Schedule Available|
|U.S. Examining All Aspects of Policy|
|November 9 Quartet Meeting|
|Abbas Comments on Peace Agreement This Year / Two Parties Committed to the Process / Trying to Reach a Two-State Solution|
|American Cultural Center Closed to the Syrian Public|
|Damascus Community School Teachers Visas to be Revoked on November 6|
|U.S. Embassy Reopened / Not Considering Further Draw Down|
|Refer to Syrian Government for Specifics|
|First Tranche of Briefing Books for Transition Team to be Completed Soon|
|A/S Frazer in Khartoum|
|Meetings with Sudanese Officials / Comprehensive Peace Agreement / Darfur|
10:56 a.m. EST
MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone. I don’t have anything for you, so why don’t we go right to your questions.
QUESTION: What’s the latest on the SOFA?
MR. WOOD: Nothing new to report. We’re taking a look at the material we got from the Iraqis last week, and we’ll be replying in due course. But I don’t have anything further than that.
QUESTION: Well, when would – anytime soon? You going to wait until January?
MR. WOOD: Due course.
QUESTION: In due course? All right. Well, is a response being – a response is being prepared? Is that what you’re saying, or you –
MR. WOOD: We are reviewing the material and –
QUESTION: Yes, but has a response begun being prepared, or are you still reviewing?
MR. WOOD: Well, we’re still reviewing.
QUESTION: All right. I can tell that we’re going to get nowhere on that. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can I ask you about Secretary Boucher’s trip to Pakistan with General Petraeus?
MR. WOOD: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout of their meetings or who they’re meeting with? And also, when do you expect the Afghanistan review? You know, that sort of tweak with Pakistan?
MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: When will that strategy review come in?
MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t have anything on Assistant Secretary Boucher’s schedule, but he obviously is in Pakistan. He did a press availability, I believe, a short while ago. And hopefully, we’ll be able to get a transcript of that around to everyone. And he’s obviously having discussions with, you know, Pakistani officials about, you know, the way forward. Nothing more on that.
QUESTION: The way forward?
MR. WOOD: The way forward.
QUESTION: What about the Afghanistan policy review that was supposed – it’s supposed to come sometime after the election. Do you have any update on –
MR. WOOD: I have no update on it –
QUESTION: – how that’s going?
MR. WOOD: – but that’s obviously going forward, and we’re examining all aspects of our Afghan policy. And when we are finished with it, we will certainly let everyone know. And that’s about all I can add.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. WOOD: You’re welcome.
QUESTION: There’s been some talk out of the Middle East that the Quartet meeting for November 9th might be postponed. Do you have any indication that that’s true?
MR. WOOD: At this point, no. I believe the Quartet meeting is still supposed to take place. I haven’t heard that it would be postponed. I’ll look into that to see if – where we are on that, but I believe it’s still going forward.
QUESTION: If we can stay in the Middle East. Mahmoud Abbas is in Bucharest today, and he just said that he doesn’t think it’s possible to get a peace agreement this year – think it’s absolutely impossible, actually. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t have anything further to say to what we have said already, that, you know, the two parties are working hard on this. And what’s really important here is that there’s a process in place. And the two parties are committed to that process, and to try to reach a two-state solution. And we’re going to continue to work with them to try to achieve that.
QUESTION: But he says that before elections – the elections in Israel, it’s impossible to reach any agreement. So are you trying to get at least a document that could be the basis of an agreement; or you really wish to reach an agreement?
MR. WOOD: Well, we really want to try to reach an agreement. As I said last week, the Israeli election does complicate things but, you know, it’s always been complicated in the Middle East. We’re going to work hard. It’s a process. Both sides – and that’s – this is what’s really critical here is that both sides are committed to trying to reach an agreement. And as I said, we will support them in every way possible, and that’s what we’re going to do.
QUESTION: Staying in the region?
MR. WOOD: Yeah.
QUESTION: Your Embassy in Damascus has an interesting notice out, which says – quote – “In response to the Syrian Government’s request, the American Cultural Center is unavailable to the Syrian public as of October 30th, until further notice, and classes at the American Language Center have been cancelled until further notice.”
This strikes me as a rather novel interpretation of the order to close the Cultural Center. Your – is this – does this mean that it’s only closed to Syrians and that the Cultural Center continues to operate?
MR. WOOD: Well, that’s right. It is closed to the Syrian public. But we still – we have, you know, officers – officials there.
QUESTION: What if you’re not Syrian? What if you’re – if you’re not a Syrian citizen and you happen to be living in Damascus, can you still go to the American Cultural Center?
MR. WOOD: Well, if – it’s closed to the general – the Syrian general public, and so –
QUESTION: Yeah, but I – you know, I’m sorry. When the Syrian Government came to you, they didn’t just say to close it to the Syrian public, did they? They said to close it down.
MR. WOOD: Well, it’s – let me just say, Matt, it is closed to the Syrian general public, as far as I know, to the general public at large. But our work continues. We have people who are there who work at the Cultural Center, and they’ll continue to do their business. But it is closed to the public.
QUESTION: So your interpretation of their request is not that they told you to close the thing down, but rather they just told you to close it to the public?
MR. WOOD: The only thing I can say, Matt, is it is closed to the public.
QUESTION: And what about the school?
MR. WOOD: The school, I believe, where the situation is at the moment is that the Syrian Government has asked – or has made a decision to – has made a decision that administrative employees and teachers will not – will have their visas revoked on November 6. So we will obviously, as we have been, having discussions with the Syrian officials about this issue. The Embassy has reopened – I’d just make that point. And we’re not considering any further draw down at this time. And that’s really the latest I have on the situation.
QUESTION: So did you have discussions about the visa revocation? And you tried to suspend that to –
MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve talked to the Syrians about it, as have other embassies in Damascus, because people are concerned about what this means for, you know, educating their children in English in the country. So there are not a lot of other options – good options for students. So there’s obviously concern. And other embassies will, of course, continue their efforts to try to have these teachers and administrative personnel be allowed back so that they can continue their work. But the Syrians, you know, made that request, and as far as I know, it’s being complied with.
QUESTION: Can you – on the – can you maybe find out what the – when it says classes at the American Language Center have been cancelled until further notice, does that mean classes for only Syrians have been cancelled, or is it –
MR. WOOD: We can look into that. We can look into that and get you an answer.
QUESTION: And about the school, does it mean that the classes could be given by teachers from another nationality than the U.S.?
MR. WOOD: I don’t know the answer to that question, Sylvie. We’ll look and see if we can get you an answer to that question. But actually, what I would do is, you know, refer you to the Syrians for, you know, specificity because they’re the ones who have made this request.
QUESTION: But the school is closed?
MR. WOOD: As far as I know, yes.
QUESTION: A question about the transition?
MR. WOOD: Sure.
QUESTION: Are the briefing books finished that you intend to pass over to the next transition team, or the new transition team?
MR. WOOD: I think the first tranche of briefing books are soon to be completed. I don’t actually know if they have been, but I assume that they will be in time for when the transition arrives – the transition team does arrive.
QUESTION: Jendayi Frazer is at – apparently in Khartoum today? What is she doing there?
MR. WOOD: That’s correct. She is in Khartoum. She’s meeting with Sudanese Government officials, talking about the Comprehensive Peace Agreement as well as Darfur.
MR. WOOD: Why? Because they’re important issues and we want to see the situation improve on the ground.
QUESTION: And is there, you know, some hope or there are some discussions right now or –
MR. WOOD: Well, she’s going to have discussions with officials –
QUESTION: Was there something scheduled or –
MR. WOOD: This was an update in the schedule. I just found out about it this morning that that’s where she is, so once we get a little bit more detail, we’ll be happy to provide that.
MR. WOOD: Yes.
QUESTION: On North Korea, do you have any more details about State Department officials that will be meeting with the North Korean delegation in New York later this week?
MR. WOOD: Nothing, no update from when Sean last briefed on it.
QUESTION: And related to that, do you have any – is the State Department involved at all in reports that Henry Kissinger and William Perry will be going to North Korea in January?
MR. WOOD: It’s the first I’ve heard of it. I’m not aware of it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. WOOD: You’re welcome.
(The briefing was concluded at 11:05 a.m.)
dpb # 186
Released on November 3, 2008