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Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 20, 2008



Reports of a Major Announcement
Reversing the Reversal Continues
Status of Six-Party Talks
Reports Focusing on Kim Jong Il’s Health


Issue of Japan’s Heavy Fuel Allotment / Refer to Russians on the Issue


Consultations with U.S. on Meeting Requirements of Visa Program


Agreement with India is Good for Nuclear Nonproliferation Around the World


U.S. Support to Pakistan is Clear
Readout of Assistant Secretary Boucher’s Trip to Pakistan
IMF Discussions with Pakistani Officials
U.S. Will Look at Ways to Help Pakistan


U.S. Condemns Attack by Taliban on Innocent Civilians
Discussions Ongoing Over the Text in SOFA Agreement
U.S. is Focused on the SOFA / Working Hard to Reach an Agreement
U.S. Team in Iraq to Provide Clarifications on Aspects of Document


U.S. Encouraging Parties to Reach an Agreement
U.S. is Prepared to Impose Additional Sanctions
Committed to See Process Go Forth in a Positive Way
SADC Supportive in Helping to Push Agreement Forward
Jacob Zuma / Zimbabwe is an Important Topic of Discussion


Both U.S. and Mexico Working to Reach an Agreement on Merida Initiative
Tough Issues / Parties Want to Make Sure to Get the Right Agreement


U.S. Position on Macedonia’s Name is Well Known


View Video

11:26 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Okay. I don’t have any announcements, so why don’t we go straight to your questions. 

QUESTION: So on North Korea, there seems to have been a flurry of speculation over the weekend, or beginning on Friday and then over the weekend, that some kind of major announcement was going to be coming out of Pyongyang. Do you have any indication that there is some kind of an announcement coming? Or – and if you do, or even if you don’t, what do you think it might be? (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: Matt, I have no idea. I’ve seen the reports just like you have. I have no idea about any announcement coming up. We’ll just have to see if indeed something does come forward. But unfortunately, I can’t add to it.

QUESTION: Have you seen anything different happening there?

MR. WOOD: No. You know, reversing the reversal continues, but nothing more on North Korea over the weekend, anyway.

QUESTION: How far has the reversal been reversed?

MR. WOOD: I don’t think I have any update since Sean briefed you on Friday. Things are still moving in a positive direction, and we’ll just continue to see how things go.

QUESTION: Okay. So nothing more on uranium – on the – I’m sorry, reprocessing element of it? You said there is definitely some more work that needs to be done.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, nothing since Friday.


QUESTION: What about the timing of the Six-Party Talks? Why is it delaying and --

MR. WOOD: I don’t know that it’s delayed. The Chinese will make an announcement at some point as chair of the Six-Party Talks. But we expect that there will be a meeting soon, but I haven’t seen any dates yet.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication at all on the health of the Great Leader and whether he’s (a) alive, (b), you know, recovering from a stroke? I mean, there was a change in behavior which U.S. officials noted in terms of the nuclear program and attributed that possibly to him being kind of out of action. There has been a lot of change recently where they’ve gone back on board. So can you just give us any pointers? I mean, what are you picking up?

MR. WOOD: I wish I could point you in a specific direction. I mean, look, from our standpoint, what’s important is that the North has agreed on these verification measures. And it’s hard for us to speculate as to whether, you know, these reports about Kim Jong Il’s health had any impact on, you know, the talks that Assistant Secretary Hill and Sung Kim had; just no way of knowing.

But the important thing, as I said, from our standpoint, is that we’ve now got these verification measures in place and we want to go forward and codify them – codify the measures in the – at the Six-Party heads of delegation meeting when it takes place. 

QUESTION: Well, have you sought clarification through the New York channel --

MR. WOOD: Clarification --

QUESTION: -- on the leader’s health and what the big announcement is meant to be?

MR. WOOD: I have asked to see if anybody in the Department knew anything about it, and at this point, we don’t have any, you know, update on his health, where things are in that regard. Sorry.

North Korea?

QUESTION: Yes. How about this gentleman’s question about heavy fuel oil, who will make up for Japan’s allotment?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t – is there a report out about Japan’s allotment?

QUESTION: Ambassador Hill yesterday referenced some countries that might be willing to assist in the heavy fuel since Japan will not move forward on that until the abduction issue is resolved.

MR. WOOD: Well, that’ll be up to other countries who may decide to do that. But I don’t have anything on that. I haven’t seen Chris’s remarks from over the weekend, so I probably should go and take a look at them.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I know that this trouble of providing the oil is – Russia is on the -- Russia is preparing for the – providing oil to the North Korea now?

MR. WOOD: I believe its Russia’s turn to do that, but I’d, you know, refer you to the Russians to, you know, get an absolute –

QUESTION: (Coughs.)

MR. WOOD: You okay over there? Yeah, I’d refer you to the Russians to get an answer on that. 

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Greece. Mr. Wood, why the U.S. Government rejected the Visa Waiver Program for Greece? And according to a document in my possession, the Greek Ambassador Alexandros Mallias protested to President Bush in the presence of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff October 17th.

MR. WOOD: Lambros, the only thing I can say on that is that the Greek Government is in consultations with the U.S. Government on meeting the requirements of the visa program, so those discussions are ongoing. And so I’d just like to leave it there and see how they progress. As you know, the President made an announcement last week about new members to the Visa Waiver Program, and those consultations with Greece will continue. 

QUESTION: Do you have any idea when the inclusion of Greece in the Visa Waiver Program will be possible?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I don’t know. But we’re working hard to see that Greece can come into the program. But at this point, I couldn’t put, you know, a date certain on it for you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Good morning.

MR. WOOD: Good to see you.

QUESTION: Thank you. As far as the U.S.-India Civil Nuclear deal now is historic and is the talk of the town in India and also among the Indian American communities here, and the credit, of course, goes out to Condoleezza Rice and President Bush and the Prime Minister of India. Now Pakistan was angry at the U.S. and India because of this deal that they didn’t get, and now they are signing – or they have – they are receiving from China. If U.S. is aware of this in advance or now what U.S. thinks about --

MR. WOOD: They’re receiving what from China?

QUESTION: Nuclear pact with China. Now China is going to provide to Pakistan.

MR. WOOD: Well, I’ve seen reports on that. But again, this agreement with India is, as we’ve said previously, very good for nuclear nonproliferation efforts around the world. And we’re very pleased that this agreement was, you know, finalized. It’s now in fruition. We look forward to the implementation. You know, we obviously discuss nonproliferation issues with both Pakistan and China, but I’m not going to get into the substance of conversations we may have had with either country.

QUESTION: And also, on Fox 5 yesterday, for Senator Obama, he said that whatever use – aid – U.S. aid has gone to Pakistan was misused against preparing war against India. And do you think any of this aid U.S. has been giving are going to, like, buying this and any deals with China and nuclear deals and all that?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t know the specific – I can’t answer your question specifically. But in general, obviously, our support to Pakistan is very clear, and that we expect that any assistance that we provide Pakistan would be used for those things that we are providing them for. 

You know, in many cases, you will have situations where funds are not immediately accounted for. But, you know, we work very closely with Pakistan to make sure that our assistance is spent wisely and for those things that they’re supposed to be spent for. And the Pakistanis have – basically understand that point and work with us and have said to us over and again that they will investigate any misuse of funds or malfeasance that may come about. 

QUESTION: Speaking of Pakistan --

MR. WOOD: You want to stay on Pakistan? 

QUESTION: No, I wanted to move to Iraq. 

QUESTION: Pakistan. 

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm. 

QUESTION: Can you give us any kind of an update on Assistant Secretary Boucher’s visit? And also, do you have anything to say about this attack on a bus in Afghanistan? 

MR. WOOD: Yeah. With regard to Assistant Secretary Boucher’s trip to Pakistan, this is part of regional consultations that we have with Pakistani officials. Assistant Secretary Boucher met with a number of Pakistani officials and they talked about, of course, counterterrorism, the situation in the tribal areas, Pakistan’s economic situation, and how we can provide support to Pakistan as it goes through these difficult times. While he was there, he also participated in a Friends of Pakistan co-chairs meeting. And that’s the extent of the readout I have at this moment. 

QUESTION: So was that meeting – that was the meeting that they were talking about after they first met in New York? 

MR. WOOD: Well, this was a co-chairs meeting. So this was, I think, an ambassadorial level in Islamabad, where they had this meeting. 

QUESTION: Well, who – sorry, who met then? 

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, the U.S., UK, UAE, Saudi Arabia, and I think it was chaired by Prime Minister --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Saudis were there, at least at the first meeting. 

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I think they were, but I’ll double-check and make sure. I mean, the information I was given this morning was that the Saudis were there at this, you know, co-chairs meeting. So – but we can – I’ll have to check on that.

QUESTION: And Assistant Secretary Boucher attended that meeting? 

MR. WOOD: Yes. Mm-hmm. 

QUESTION: And you made reference to -- one of the topics that he discussed was the economic situation and how we can provide support.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: The head of the IMF’s Middle East department, Mohsin Khan, is quoted today as encouraging Pakistan to formally apply to the IMF for funding. And I believe he – well, I can’t remember if this was attributed to him or to someone else, but their, you know, funding shortfall is said to be at least $4 billion during their current fiscal year. 

Is the U.S. Government prepared to try to help Pakistan overcome that shortfall by providing direct assistance? And would it do so absent an IMF program which historically has been one of the markers that the U.S. Government has wanted in place before it would provide that kind of balance of payment support? 

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s hard for me to speculate on what we may or may not do. These discussions with the IMF – between the IMF and Pakistan are discussions between, you know, Pakistani officials and the IMF. These are discussions that --

QUESTION: (Laughter.) That was really enlightening. 

MR. WOOD: Well, we do what we can to enlighten you. And so I don’t really want to comment on those discussions. We obviously will try to see what we can do to help Pakistan get through its financial – you know, financial crisis. But I’m not here – you know, prepared to lay out specifics of what we may or may not do. 

But obviously, Assistant Secretary Boucher, while there, was taking a good look and talking to Pakistanis about how we might be able to support them.  But it would be premature for me to get ahead of what we, you know, may decide to do back here from Washington. But we are concerned about that situation. 

QUESTION: Is it fair to – I mean, you’ve been saying that, I think, for a number of months now, expressing your concern about the Pakistani financial situation and stating a willingness to support it. And I’m particularly interested in this question of whether you would do so absent an IMF agreement and therefore absent the IMF conditionality that might increase the chances that you would actually get repaid. 

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of these discussions and then what we may or may not do, as I said. But obviously, the situation there is of great concern, not just to us, but obviously to the Pakistanis. And so we will look at ways we can try to help Pakistan, you know, get through this crisis. But beyond that, I don’t have any specifics for you. 


QUESTION: Have you had any feedback yet from the Iraqis on the SOFA agreement? 

MR. WOOD: Oh, wait. Matthew, I’m sorry. Did I address that – the Taliban attack? 


MR. WOOD: You know, we want to strongly condemn this attack on innocent civilians. Apparently, there was a busload of 30 to 40 Afghan civilians in southern Afghanistan that was attacked by the Taliban. This was, again, as I said a heinous act. We condemn it strongly. And it just goes to show you that the Taliban are ruthless killers that will do anything they can to stop progress in Afghanistan. 

In fact, if you look at the situation here, we’ve been helping the Afghans build roads in the country and we have an attack by the Taliban on a vehicle that was on one of these roads. So, you know, it’s – the Taliban have no interest in helping Afghanistan recover economically and prosper. And so we can – as I said, we strongly condemn this and we hope to see others strongly condemn it as well. 

Sue, now, your question about Iraq? 

QUESTION: Yes. And whether you’ve had any feedback from the Iraqis, because they’ve been flogging this agreement around to the --

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have anything more. I mean, discussions are going on within Iraq over the text. Those discussions will likely continue. You know, it’s very good to see this healthy debate in Iraq. It’s becoming a vibrant democracy, and we obviously want to reach an agreement that, you know, fulfills the goals and objectives of both countries.

QUESTION: But have they come back to you and said can you please adjust this, adjust that? And are you looking at the suggested adjustments?

MR. WOOD: The Iraqis are still debating this document and, you know, I’m not going to comment on – too much on the back and forth, except to say that, you know, there is a text. You’re going to see a lot of back and forth within the Iraqi political system. And we’ll just have to see how it plays out.

QUESTION: You have no intent, at this point, and you’re not even considering going to the Security Council to try to extend the mandate? You’re focused solely on trying to get the SOFA done?

MR. WOOD: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Sorry if you just mentioned that, but are you – because of these calls for the expansion of the – reopening of negotiations, are you amenable, if the Iraqis cannot pass it through their parliament, are you amenable to reopening negotiations on this text?

MR. WOOD: Elise, where we are right now is we’re focused on the SOFA and trying to get that agreement.

QUESTION: I was talking about this – the text of the SOFA. You’ve – they’ve said that there’s a text and --

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- it has to pass the Iraqi parliament, obviously, for you to have a SOFA. So if the Iraqi parliament will not pass it, are you willing to reopen negotiations on the text?

MR. WOOD: Well, you’re asking me to speculate and I won’t – I don’t want to do that at this point. Let us just say we’re working hard and we will work with the Iraqis on reaching a SOFA agreement. But I don’t want to speculate about what may or may not happen.

QUESTION: Do you know – on the working hard bit, what this – what people in this building have been doing, if anything, in the last couple days to try and convince the Iraqi leadership or the Iraqi MPs or –

MR. WOOD: We have, you know, a team that’s out there in Iraq, you know, talking to Iraqi officials, providing clarifications should they be necessary on aspects of the document that both side’s negotiators worked on. You know, I don’t have anything specific for you like what happened over the weekend, but I can assure you that, you know, over the coming days and weeks we’re going to have discussions from here with Iraqi officials with regard to the text.


QUESTION: Robert, is there any U.S. engagement vis-à-vis trying to assist the Zimbabwe power-sharing process? It seems to be sputtering along and Mugabe seems rather reluctant to, one would think, you know, fill his end of the deal and yield some serious portfolios to the other side.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, well, Dave, we’ve been encouraging the parties to try to reach an agreement on allocation of cabinet positions, you know, reflecting the September 15 agreement as well as the will of the Zimbabwean people. But beyond that, I don’t have much more to offer you on that.

Go here. On Zimbabwe?

QUESTION: Yeah. The – Mugabe is still refusing – unless I’ve missed it – to give Morgan Tsvangirai a passport and is being very obstructive. What’s the U.S. doing to try and resolve this?

MR. WOOD: Well, we understand that Morgan Tsvangirai’s passport has not yet been returned to him, but I don’t believe that we’re playing any specific role in dealing with that issue. But let me just make a general point that, you know, should Mugabe renege on this power-sharing agreement, the United States, you know, is prepared to impose additional sanctions.

QUESTION: But what impact would imposing additional sanctions do? I mean, there are already sanctioned out the wazoo. I mean, what more can you do that would actually have a material, sort of, benefit in getting him to change his mind?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I’m not, you know, at liberty here to talk about what sanctions we may be planning. But let us just say, we are very committed to seeing this process go forward in a positive way that will reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people. And we’re obviously following these events very closely and we’re encouraging the parties to reach an agreement. And so we’ll – as I said, we’ll be watching it closely and encouraging both parties to, you know, bring this agreement to fruition. But again, should Mugabe not negotiate in good faith on a power-sharing agreement, then we will look at other options, including additional sanctions.

QUESTION: The Secretary was involved in trying to sort out Kenya’s issues after the election. Have you looked at sending any senior U.S. officials to try and help broker a deal, or do you just not have the leverage to do it?

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s not a question of leverage. You know, former South African President Mugabe – excuse me, Mbeki --


MR. WOOD: -- is obviously trying to see if he can help broker an agreement. And so – and SADC is very interested, obviously, in trying to help push an agreement forward. And you know, we always stand ready to assist where we can. But those parties have the lead and they should at this point.

QUESTION: But do you think SADC is doing enough? I mean, last week the U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe said that, you know, SADC really needed to do a lot more, the AU needed to do a lot more. What are you doing to try and push --

MR. WOOD: Well, SADC is – as I said, is very supportive of trying to bring about an agreement. And I have no reason to question, you know, their motives or objectives here. We all want the same thing and we want something – we want an agreement that reflects the will of the Zimbabweans. They’ve suffered a very long time. The suffering should come to an end, and we need to move forward with the political process. And so, you know, there are a lot of parties that are – that have an interest in seeing an agreement reached and implemented, and SADC is one of them.

QUESTION: Semi-related to that, Jacob Zuma is going to be in town or is in town already, maybe today. He’s seeing the Secretary tomorrow?

MR. WOOD: I’d have to check the schedule and see. I can let you know. I haven’t seen the schedule for tomorrow.

QUESTION: How big a topic of conversation will Zimbabwe be?

MR. WOOD: Well, Zimbabwe is an important topic of discussion. And any discussions between, you know, the United States and South Africa, apparently – you know, of course, recently, is going to be on that subject because it’s a situation of great concern to both countries. And I’ll get back to you on the question of when she may or may not be meeting.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Viola. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: On Mexico and the Secretary’s trip, especially regarding the Merida Initiative, these negotiations now between the U.S. and Mexico on getting an agreement related to this had been going on for months, I believe. I mean, is there – how close are you to resolving that? It seems like the situation in Mexico is really deteriorating rapidly in terms of the safety, just based on your own Travel Warnings, based on killings there, and even attacks on consulate offices. What – how soon do you expect that to be done? Is there any chance that the Secretary might be able to sign an agreement when she goes down there? And if not, why not? What’s the holdup? Is there a disagreement between the two sides?

MR. WOOD: Well, both countries are working on this agreement. And I don’t – I can’t tell you when it will be completed, but we’re working hard on it. With regard to the security concerns in Mexico, our Travel Advisories and Warnings speak to what those issues are. We’re confident that the Mexican authorities can do the necessary things to help, you know, restore security in those areas where there are problems. But you know, it’s no secret that there are these issues with regard to narcotics. And we’re concerned about them, and we talk to the Mexican Government about them regularly. And hopefully we’ll be able to reach an agreement on this Merida Initiative shortly, but I don’t want to put a timetable on it.

Did I answer your question?

QUESTION: But what is the delay? Is there a disagreement that is blocking finalizing the agreement?

MR. WOOD: No, I wouldn’t say there’s a disagreement. I mean, you know, with regard to --

QUESTION: This has been in the works for a long time. It was an Administration initiative.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, sure. I mean, some of these issues are very tough, and you want to make sure that you get the right agreement. And – but I wouldn’t attribute it to there being, you know, some kind of a problem or difficulty. It’s just you want to make sure that you get – get the right agreement that reflects the interests of both parties.

QUESTION: But, Robert --

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: -- isn’t it just that, at this point, that the Mexicans don’t want to sign on to some of the conditions that Congress would impose to approve the money?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t want to get into the substance of the discussions. But you know, as I said, both countries want to see an agreement. We want to work on an agreement that addresses the objectives that we both have. Sometimes you can reach an agreement in a short period of time, other times it takes a lot longer.

QUESTION: But there was – there was kind of tentative agreement, and then Congress imposed human rights and other conditions on the money.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, well, you know, as I said, I don’t want to really get into the substance. I don’t think that’s helpful in terms of trying to reach an agreement. It’s better for the diplomats to do their work in private, and we’ll see where it goes. We’re hopeful to reach an agreement as soon as we can.

Let me go to Lambros.

QUESTION: On FYROM. Mr. Wood, according to a letter October 9th by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to Secretary Condoleezza Rice, quote, “FYROM rejected the name, in quotation, ‘Macedonia’ if it was interpreted officially to refer only to the territory now within its borders. To do so, the government clearly demonstrated its continued desire to acquire the Macedonian territory of Northern Greece.” Any comment to that?

MR. WOOD: Mr. Lambros, first thing, I’m not going to comment on the substance of a – you know, a letter between Congressman Lehtinen and, you know, the Secretary. Our position on Macedonia’s name is well known, and I don’t have any further to add to that.

QUESTION: Following up on this --

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) U.S. foreign policy. The Congresswoman (inaudible) saying also to Secretary Rice, quote, “By recognizing FYROM by an unqualified name, in quotation ‘Macedonia,’ the U.S. four years ago unwittingly supported a destabilization of the volatile southern Balkan region. The U.S. must immediately reconsider its serious actions,” quote. Anything to say on that?

MR. WOOD: I don’t thing I’m not going to have anything to say on that, Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Anything else? Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:50 a.m.)

DPB # 176

Released on October 20, 2008

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