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Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 14, 2008



SOFA / Good Agreement / Iraqis Government Taking it Through Political Process


Placing Missiles in Belarus / U.S. Missile Defense System Not Targeted at Russians / Prevent Rogue Threats from the Middle East / Nothing New to U.S. Policy


Deputy Assistant Secretary David Merkel Meetings / Improving Relations / Call to Adhere to International Commitments
Status of Embassy
Call to Release of Emanuel Zeltser / Concern about His Situation


Concerned about Arrests and Sentences / Raise Issue with Burma and our Allies / Look at Ways to Put Pressure on the Regime


Speculation on Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State
Received Notification from White House on Transition Team


Situation in Peshawar / Consulate is Open / Employees Keeping Abreast of Situation / Urge Employees to Minimize Movements


View Video

10:32 a.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone. Happy Friday. I don’t have anything, so why don’t we go to your questions.

QUESTION: Do you have anything new about the SOFA?

MR. WOOD: Nothing new. I checked with Baghdad this morning. Nothing new to report.

QUESTION: Do you have any sense that you’re going to get that deal soon and --

MR. WOOD: We certainly hope to get that deal. We think it’s a good agreement and the Iraqis will have to take it through their political process. And we’ll see what goes – you know, see where it goes from there.


QUESTION: Lukashenko has told The Wall Street Journal that he’s in talks with Moscow about placing Iskander missiles in Belarus that could hit targets in Europe. What’s your comment?

MR. WOOD: I’ve seen the reports. You know, look, as we have said over and again, this missile defense system is not targeted at the Russians, you know, Belarus or anybody. It’s basically designed to, you know, prevent and to deal with rogue threats, rogue missile threats from the Middle East region, particularly from Iran. So there’s nothing new with regard to our policy.

QUESTION: Do you have an answer on that question I asked yesterday about the meetings with the Belarusians?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. My understanding is that the week of October 27, Deputy Assistant Secretary David Merkel met with the Deputy Chief of Presidential Administration of Belarus Natalia Petkevich and they talked about the steps that Belarus can take to improve its relationship with the United States.

Now, we’ve said, you know, again – over and again, that we want to work closely and cooperate and have good relations with the Government of Belarus and the people of Belarus. And we continue to call on the Government of Belarus to adhere to its international commitments with regard to freedom of expression and human rights. And for our relationship to improve with Belarus, they’re going to need to adhere to those international obligations.

QUESTION: What’s the status of the Embassy right now and the Ambassador? What is the status of the Embassy and the Ambassador?

MR. WOOD: I’ll have to check and get you an update on that. I think we may -- I think our staffing is still at five at the Embassy, but we’ll check and get you an update on the staffing and the Ambassador.

QUESTION: So they -- the steps that he discussed with this guy are what you just outlined: they have to adhere to their international obligations?

MR. WOOD: That’s right, with regard to democratic freedoms and human rights.

QUESTION: Is there anything more specific than that?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything more specific at this point. But I mean, we have addressed the issue of Belarus and what it needs to do, you know, at various times from this podium.

QUESTION: Do they need to release Emanuel Zeltser? I mean, since that conversation was held there in October, he was moved to what his lawyer describes as a penal colony in Eastern Belarus.

MR. WOOD: Well, you’re right. He is still being held. And we have called on the Belarusian Government – the Government of Belarus to release him on humanitarian grounds. As you know, he’s very ill. And so – and we are concerned about his situation.

QUESTION: Is that a condition for better relations, if they release him?

MR. WOOD: Well, it certainly would be an important step.

QUESTION: Well, if they deployed Iskander missiles, would that improve relations with the United States?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, we have said about, you know, these types of – or reported attempts to or reported conversations about deploying missiles in Europe to respond to our missile defense system, you know, look we have said over and over again, this is – the system is of no threat. And you know, any of these threats to deploy missiles in the European theater, you know, would just not be helpful with regard to stability.

QUESTION: Switch to Burma/Myanmar?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Yeah, two days ago you condemned – strongly condemned the arrests and sentences there, and it’s fallen on deaf ears. There are more sentences – monks and 24 members of Aung San Sui Kyi’s party. Do you have anything more to add on that? Are you raising it at the UN?

MR. WOOD: Well, we are very concerned about what’s going on there. And we will take every opportunity that we can to raise this issue, not only with Burmese officials, but with our allies in the region, because we think we can all together bring additional pressure on the regime. But they haven’t been very cooperative. I will certainly admit that. And we need to look for ways that we can bring additional pressure on the regime. And we’ll be having those discussions, as I said, and we’ll go from there. But we are very concerned about what’s happening.

QUESTION: Would the United States support an arms embargo at some point?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t want to get ahead of, you know, discussions that we – you know, that will take place. But we’ll be looking at ways that we can increase the pressure on the regime.

Anything else? Nina.

QUESTION: Any response to all these Hillary rumors?

MR. WOOD: Nothing.

QUESTION: Do you think she’d make a good Secretary of State?

MR. WOOD: It’s not an – you’re not interested in my opinion. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Have you heard from the transition team yet?

MR. WOOD: Not yet. We are waiting for – I believe we have received notification from the White House with regard to the team. So --

QUESTION: From the White House or the President-elect’s office?

MR. WOOD: No, the White House informs us. I went through this whole process yesterday.

QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.

MR. WOOD: And – so we wait for the team to show up.

QUESTION: There’s no one working downstairs yet?

MR. WOOD: Not yet.


QUESTION: So you don’t even want to say, in general, that the Department will be happy to work with whoever the President’s nominee is?

MR. WOOD: Well, of course. I mean, but you know, I was asked for, you know, a comment on it. It hasn’t – there’s a lot of speculation on --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: Yeah, there’s a lot of speculation on – there’s a lot of speculation, and I’m not going to comment on speculation.

QUESTION: So it’s not correct that people in this building are waiting with bated breath to find out who their new boss is going to be?

MR. WOOD: Of course, people are waiting, as you are waiting, to find out who the new Secretary will be. We’ll just have to wait until that announcement is made.

QUESTION: And are you confident in President-elect Obama’s, you know, ability to select a good candidate?

MR. WOOD: I am absolutely confident in the President-elect’s ability to select a good candidate. I mean, it goes without saying.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the situation in Peshawar?

MR. WOOD: No, no updates. We’re obviously examining the security situation, and you know, we will obviously – we will take steps that we think are necessary to deal with the security situation. But I’m not going to go beyond that at this point.

QUESTION: Are the Embassy employees still being asked to stick close to – Consulate employees, sorry?

MR. WOOD: As far as I know, the situation hasn’t changed with regard to our employees since I provided that update the other day.

QUESTION: So, basically, they are kind of holed up in the Consulate?

MR. WOOD: Well, no, I didn’t say that they were held up in the Consulate. I think – first of all, the Consulate is open. It’s not open today because I believe today is a holiday. But look, our personnel are being kept abreast of the situation there. We’re telling them basically to minimize their movements and keep them primarily to, you know, their work. And that’s all I have on that at this point.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: You’re welcome.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:36 a.m.)

DPB # 193

Released on November 14, 2008

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