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Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 22, 2008

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT

Secretary Rice Attending Women’s Conference in California
Arrest of Iranian Esha Momeni
Historical Background on Department Transition

IRAQ

SOFA Process Continues / SOFA Text with the Iraqi Government
Iran’s Role in Region Has Not Been Positive
Time for Iraqi Government to Step Up to the Plate to Make a Decision

MACEDONIA

U.S. Position on Macedonia is Well Known

IRAN

P5+1 and the Way Forward

MISCELLANEOUS

White House to Host G20 Finance Meeting
Role of the Department in the White House Meeting


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

12:05 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. Just a couple of things I’d like to point out. Did you see our montage this morning?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. WOOD: Well, very good. Good. Yeah, as you know, the Secretary is participating in this Women’s Conference in Long Beach today, and she will participate in a luncheon conversation with PepsiCo’s chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi, moderated by CNN’s anchor Campbell Brown. And so you know, the Secretary during her time at the Department, has worked to ensure that women’s empowerment issues such as education, political and economic empowerment, and access to justice are international priorities. And so I just wanted to point that out to you.

And you know, at a time when the Secretary is in California attending this conference, you know, we have become aware of press reports about a women’s rights activist, Esha Momeni, who has been arrested, apparently, and we’re seeking additional information about this case. But you know, we stand with all those in Iran who are working for universal human rights and justice in their countries. So I just wanted to raise that issue with you.

Yes.

QUESTION: Can you give us the spelling on her, please?

MR. WOOD: Sure. First name is Esha, E-s-h-a; last name, M-o-m-e-n-i.

And just one last issue. There were some questions yesterday about the 2000 transition here at the Department, and I just wanted to mention to you that Grant Green, who you remember is Under Secretary for Management, he headed the State Department’s transition team for the incoming administration at that time. Under Secretary for --

QUESTION: For 2000?

MR. WOOD: 2000, right. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Thomas Pickering and Under Secretary for Management Bonnie Cohen were co-chairs of the transition – the Department’s transition team. And Crissy Kinney, whom I think many of you know, she was the Department’s transition coordinator. So we just wanted to get that information to you. We also have a list that we can make available to you of the principal deputy assistant secretaries.

QUESTION: Who is the actual coordinator? Who is the big cheese in this, this time around? Or is it really split three ways?

MR. WOOD: I think it’s – well, I mean, you have Under Secretary Bill Burns and Under Secretary Pat Kennedy along with Dan Smith.

QUESTION: There’s not one? It’s between the three of them?

MR. WOOD: Yes. Among the three, yeah.

Okay. I don’t have any – did you want to follow up on that?

QUESTION: No, not on that.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the SOFA.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: And Secretary Gates’ comments yesterday, Dana Perino’s comments this morning about the door being not shut completely but pretty much only ajar by a little bit. Is that – can you expand at all on what that means?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, as we said yesterday, this text is in front of the Iraqi Government right now. And as we’ve said previously, we believe this is a good text. It’s a text that promotes Iraqi sovereignty as well as allows a legal basis for our troops to operate in Iraq. And we think the Iraqis need to take a decision on this now.

And I don’t have anything really to add from – to what Dana said this morning. But you know, it’s – the Iraqis need to make a decision. The door is not slammed shut, but it’s closing.

QUESTION: But they have made a decision. They’ve asked you for revisions. Or have you – are you still claiming that you – not to have heard back from the Iraqis on what they --

MR. WOOD: As far as I know, we haven’t formally heard back from the Iraqis on this text. But --

QUESTION: Even though it’s now been more than 24 hours since the spokesman for Maliki said that – I mean, you know, publicly said that they wanted to make revisions?

MR. WOOD: Well, all I can tell you is we haven’t received any proposed amendments to that text.

QUESTION: Well, no, I don’t think that they proposed any specific amendments, but they said there were things that they would like to change. Have they not told you that there are things in there that they want changed?

MR. WOOD: Well, as I said, Matt, this is a good text; it’s time for the Iraqis to take a decision on it.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, you said that. But that doesn't answer the question. Are you trying to say that the Iraqis have not come to you and said we would like to make some changes, and that the only --

MR. WOOD: We have not --

QUESTION: You’re only basing your comments now on press reports of what the spokesman said?

MR. WOOD: We have not been officially informed.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

QUESTION: You keep saying formally and officially. I mean, do you truly have no intelligence whatsoever on what they’re interested in trying to do?

MR. WOOD: It’s not a question of that. It’s just until – if and until we get something formal, we’re not going to act on anything. And so what I’m say is, is that we have – there is a text that was worked out by both sides’ negotiators. This is a text that the Iraqi leadership has certainly been aware of, and they’ve been following the progress of it. And we think the time to act on this is now. And we’re running out of time, and that’s why we said that the door is closing. It’s not completely shut, but it’s closing, because December 31 is coming up and we need to have a legal basis in order for our forces to operate.

QUESTION: But there are still two months left. Agreements often get done late in the day. And there is another option, which is to extend the mandate. And therefore, it’s not clear to me why your tone should have shifted so dramatically in insisting that it’s time for them to make up their minds on this. There is still two months to go.

MR. WOOD: Well --

QUESTION: More than, in fact.

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s not a lot of time. This agreement has been negotiated for quite some time, and we think we’ve arrived at a text that protects, as I said, Iraqi sovereignty and also allows us to have a legal basis on which to operate.

QUESTION: Do you see the influence of Iran in the Iraqi refusal to approve this text?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, the Iranians have not been playing a real positive role in Iraq for quite some time. I’m not going to make a direct linkage there. But what I’m talking about here right now on this text, it’s a good one. And as I’ve said before, we’re running out of time. Yes, there is – you know, there are two months left, really, before that deadline. But it’s a good agreement. And both sides have worked on this for quite some time, so there are no secrets about what’s in the text. And so the Iraqis need to make a decision.

QUESTION: You are not --

QUESTION: But they have made a decision. This is what I – I’m sorry to harp on this, but I don’t get why you’re pretending not to know that the Iraqis haven’t made a decision. They have. They’ve told you that they can’t – they can’t accept this as it is and they want changes made.

MR. WOOD: Well, a lot of Iraqis have said many things. What we need to have --

QUESTION: This is the spokesman – the cabinet --

MR. WOOD: I understand – I understand what you’re saying, Matt. I clearly understand what you’re saying.

QUESTION: Well --

MR. WOOD: But we have to have something in order to act on, and we have not been provided with any suggested amendments.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that if they want changes, they have to come up with what the changes are –

MR. WOOD: No --

QUESTION: -- and give them to you and say is this okay?

MR. WOOD: No, what I’m saying is, is that if there are amendments or changes they want to make to the text, we haven’t seen them. And what we’re saying to the Iraqis and what I’m saying to you here is that we believe the text that the negotiators agreed on is the text that we’re working from, and we want to see the Iraqis take a decision.

QUESTION: Yeah, but I’m sorry. They have taken a decision.

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, Matt.

QUESTION: You want them to change their mind? You want them to change their decision and accept it? And the decision that – you think that the Iraqis need to take a decision now, and their decision has to be yes --

MR. WOOD: Matt, I’m just --

QUESTION: -- we agree?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything more to add on it than I’ve already said.

QUESTION: You said you don’t see any direct linkage with Iran, but do you see even an indirect linkage? Do you see something?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, as I’ve said, the Iranians have not been playing a positive role in Iraq. That’s well known. And we’ve encouraged them, as have others, for the Iranians to play a positive role. And you know, if there are Iranians who are playing a negative role in terms of encouraging Iraqis not to reach an agreement with the United States, that’s not a good thing.

But our negotiators, as I’ve said, have worked on a text. We believe it’s a good one. And it’s with the Iraqis. And what we want the Iraqis to do is make a decision, and it’s what they need to do.

QUESTION: Can I ask you one other thing?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: You know, is there any – is your sense of urgency over this in any way whatsoever related to the fact that there – you know, assuming a clear election here – will be a president-elect in less than two weeks now and that you want to try to buckle this down now rather than after November the 4th?

MR. WOOD: No, this has nothing to do with the election. It has to do with the fact that we have negotiated for quite some time on this document. And December 31 is – you know, will soon be upon us. And as I said, we’ve got a good agreement. The Iraqis have been well aware of what’s in this agreement. You know, there were senior negotiations of this agreement who were close to Prime Minister Maliki, so there are no secrets here. And what we want to see is the Iraqis take a decision on this text. It’s a good one. I’m sorry for repeating myself, but I need to make that point very strongly.

QUESTION: So the Administration will feel no compunction about negotiating, securing, signing a text after – from November the 5th on? In other words, it’s not something that you’re going to feel should – you should, therefore, consult with the new president and his team on?
MR. WOOD: What this is about is it’s a text that we have negotiated on. We’ve briefed Congress on this. We’re running out of time. As others have said, the door is closing. And you know, it’s time for the Iraqis to step up to the plate and make a decision.

Anything else on Iraq?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. WOOD: Please.

QUESTION: Do you think the Iraqi Prime Minister is catering to the Iranians’ pressures or playing politics against the Administration?

MR. WOOD: I don’t believe so. But I – you know, can’t speak for Prime Minister Maliki or any of the people in his administration. I can only tell you what our view is with regard to Iran’s role in Iraq and in that region, and it hasn’t been a positive one. And so – yeah, I don’t have anything more to add on Iran’s role.

Anything else on the SOFA?

QUESTION: No. New subject.

MR. WOOD: Lambros, sure.

QUESTION: On Albania. Mr. Wood, numerous American citizen of Northern Epirus origin attempted, in accordance with Albania law, to reclaim their properties. They followed the DOS advice and existing Albania law. Up to the present and (inaudible) U.S. effort, not a single person succeeded in getting the properties back. Is the Department of State prepared to request the Albanian Government to respect its own law?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I’ll have to look into that for you, Mr. Lambros. I’ll have to look into it.

QUESTION: You don’t have anything on it?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have anything on that at the moment.

QUESTION: Another issue?

MR. WOOD: Another issue? Sure.

QUESTION: Yes, FYROM. A classified DOS document published in Athens proves a secret cooperation between U.S. and FYROM on the name issue. The submitted proposal by Ambassador Nimetz have been suggested by Department of State and was mentioned in a letter sent here at the State Department by your Ambassador to Skopje. Your diplomat has said that the so-called language and nationality would be dealt without participation of Greece. Any (inaudible), Mr. Wood, for what language they are talking about for the Bulgarians – they speak one?

MR. WOOD: Well, Mr. Lambros, I’m not going to comment on an internal State Department cable. But our position on the Macedonia name issue is well known.

QUESTION: May I have a follow-up?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: The last proposal was rejected once again by Skopje. I’m wondering if Secretary Condoleezza Rice is concerned since U.S. want FYROM to become a NATO member in December and another Greek (inaudible) is waiting in the corner?

MR. WOOD: Mr. Lambros, I think we’ve spoken on that issue many times here from the podium.

Samir.

QUESTION: What is the update on the P-5+1? Did they respond to Jalili’s letter, you know, that --

MR. WOOD: Well, the P-5+1 had a conference call last week, I think. And it was basically to follow up on – was it two days ago? Yeah, I’m sorry. I’m losing track of time. I’ve been here such a long time. And it was to talk about the way forward with regard to the P-5+1. Look, and sure the subject of the Jalili letter came up, but I don’t have any further readout for you on it, Samir.

Anything else? Kirit.

QUESTION: Apparently, there was some special forces raid to free an American who was kidnapped in Kabul. Do you know anything about that?

MR. WOOD: No. That’s the first I’d heard of this, sorry.

Let me get someone else. Matt.

QUESTION: This morning, the White House announced that the President’s going to be hosting this – the G-20 leaders. Do you know what the State Department’s involvement in arranging this or --

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve obviously been in discussions with the White House about this conference.

QUESTION: Well, not with the White House, but I mean, with the people who are coming.

MR. WOOD: I don’t know about specific discussions. I mean, I don’t have that information available, Matt. But look, I mean, we obviously have talked to other governments about this, and so we think it’s going to be a good conference, November 15. And as you know, the night before there’s a dinner. And it just shows how serious we are and others are about dealing with this financial crisis.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Will Secretary Rice – I’m guessing that this will be for Treasury secretaries and, you know, finance ministers and, obviously presidents and prime ministers. Is Secretary Rice going to have any role in this at all?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know at this point if she will have a role in it. But we’ll let you know at the time.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Okay, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:20 p.m.)

dpb # 178



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