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

INDEX:

DEPARTMENT

Under Secretary Glassman to Brief on “War of Ideas”

SYRIA

News Reports on Events in Syria / Flow of Foreign Fighters Across Border

IRAQ

Iraqi Government / Security Arrangement
Good Text that’s been Negotiated by Both Sides / Wide Range of Discussions Ongoing
Agenda for Secretary Rice’s Meeting with Mr. Barzani

JAPAN

Chris Hill’s Meeting with Japanese Director-General of the Foreign Ministry

MEXICO

Investigation into Spying on DEA operations Inside Embassy in Mexico City

AFGHANISTAN

Ongoing Strategic Review of Our Policy in Afghanistan
Important that Afghans come Together and Reconcile

SUDAN

Not Aware of Any U.S. Involvement in Arms Shipment Hijacked by Somali Pirates

SOMALIA

U.S. Supports Transitional National Government / Would Like to See Peace in Somalia


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

10:33 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good morning. Welcome back, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: I just wanted to remind you all of Under Secretary Glassman’s briefing at 1 o’clock today on the “War of Ideas,” so I hope you’ll be able to attend. That’s all I have.

QUESTION: What is the “War of Ideas”?

MR. WOOD: Come at 1 o’clock and you’ll find out.

QUESTION: I have some ideas for – (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: Yes. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. Let’s all see if we can go to war as some of – as some ideas right now. Can you -- excuse me.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I understand yesterday’s briefing was a flurry of no comments about what was going on – what happened in Syria over the weekend. But I’m wondering if you’ve had any more formal contact with the Syrians since they called in the Chargé.

MR. WOOD: Nothing that I’m aware of, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the closure of an American school and the American cultural center in Damascus?

MR. WOOD: I’ve seen – or actually heard about the reports. But we have not been officially notified by the Syrian Government. So until we do, I don’t have much further to say on it.

QUESTION: The Iraqi Government has denounced what it described as a U.S. airstrike on a Syrian border village. It’s not clear to me – I assume that they’re referring to whatever it is happened on Sunday that you haven’t commented about. But is this helpful to you that the Iraqis are protesting against something that they believe the U.S. (inaudible) did in one of its neighbors?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to comment on it, Arshad.

QUESTION: Well, there are some reports that the U.S. had Syrian, kind of, coordination and approval for this attack.

QUESTION: Tacit.

MR. WOOD: Nothing to add.

QUESTION: I have a question about --

QUESTION: Can I do a quick follow-up?

MR. WOOD: Sure, please.

QUESTION: There was – the Syrians were saying that they had planned on having some security meetings with the Iraqis to talk about border issues in the next couple weeks, and they were expecting the Iraqis to invite the U.S. as observers and they said that this might imperil those talks. Do you know anything about that or whether the U.S. had been invited?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t. But let me just say, as Sean said yesterday, with regard to, you know, the flow of foreign fighters across the border, the Syrians have made, in the past, some – taken some steps in the right direction. But there’s a lot that they need to do, and we have spoken to Syria about what they need to do.

One of those things that we’d like to see happen is for them to better screen individuals coming into Damascus airport, for them to better patrol their borders. And you know, we want them -- third and – on this third point, we want them to deny foreign fighters safe haven in Syria.

And so the Syrians know what they need to do. We want to see those things happen. And that’s just a general overview of what we would like the Syrians to do with regard to foreign fighters.

QUESTION: Why couldn’t you say that, you know, yesterday? Those are some pretty specific things, including better screening people at the Damascus --

MR. WOOD: Well, these are things we’ve been saying for some time to the Syrians, so --

QUESTION: But you didn’t say them yesterday. And the fact that you’re saying them today makes me wonder if, as the Post and the Times both report today, that you were trying to send a signal to the Syrians.

MR. WOOD: No, what I’ve basically stated here is what our general policy is with regard to the flow of foreign fighters across the border; nothing more than that.

QUESTION: Are there any --

MR. WOOD: Let me give – okay.

QUESTION: -- planned meetings between the foreign – the Syrian Foreign Minister and U.S. officials coming in London?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of. We can look into that and see if there is.

Yes.

QUESTION: A story from yesterday out of Mexico City --

QUESTION: Can I continue on this for a second?

QUESTION: No one wants me to ask this question. (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: At some point, we’ll let you get to it.

QUESTION: No, I want you to ask it, but I just want to mop up on the closure – the reported closing of the school and the cultural center. You say you haven’t been formally notified.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Does it take a formal notification to have a reaction? Would you – what would – if the report is true, I mean --

MR. WOOD: Well, the only thing I can say is that I’ve heard about the reports. That’s why I can’t confirm it. Once we have official notification from the Syrians, then we can say something about it.

QUESTION: But the Embassy has not told you that that’s been done or that the Government of Syria has indicated they’re going to.

MR. WOOD: Well, we haven’t received formal notification, Charlie. So until then, it’s hard for me to comment on something. You know, I’ve just heard about the reports.

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction on that?

MR. WOOD: On?

QUESTION: Do you have any reaction?

MR. WOOD: Let’s wait and get the formal notification, and then we’ll likely have something to say.

QUESTION: So speaking of formal notifications, I take it the Iraqis still haven’t come back with their proposal – proposed change to the SOFA?

MR. WOOD: Not to date. We --

QUESTION: And so you still await formal notification? Meanwhile, the clock ticks – ticks down.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, Matt, as we’ve said many times, as I said over and over again last week, that -- this is a good agreement. It was carefully negotiated by both sides. If the Iraqis have some concerns about the text, they can certainly compile those recommendations and forward them on to us officially.

That has not yet happened. There are lots of voices in Iraq. You know, that have problems with various aspects of the agreement. That’s understandable; Iraq’s a democracy. But until the Iraqi Government compiles these concerns into a – you know, on a piece of paper and forwards it to us officially, I can’t really respond.

QUESTION: But the U.S. --

QUESTION: Is it now the line from the State Department that you will not comment on anything until after you’ve gotten formal notification of it?

MR. WOOD: I’m referring to these two specific cases. And with regard to the SOFA in particular, we’ve been very consistent on this. And you know, I took quite a badgering from you guys last week, but it still remains the same. Until they provide us, you know, something on paper, we’re not going to respond.

QUESTION: But there are – while you’re not going to respond in public to something that’s not been given officially, there are informal conversations going on between U.S. and Iraqi officials on the ground about this.

MR. WOOD: I said that last time as well. That’s right.

QUESTION: So you are talking about proposed changes to the document, just not in a kind of official, structured way.

MR. WOOD: As I said --

QUESTION: I mean, the conversations on the ground aren’t like, you know, oh, the weather is nice.

MR. WOOD: No.

QUESTION: These conversations are about proposed changes to the agreement.

MR. WOOD: Look, we have discussions with Iraqis on a wide range of things with regard to our relationship. The SOFA is an important one. There’s no question about it. We’ve had discussions with them and continue to have discussions. But there are a wide variety of voices out there. And what we need to find out is exactly what it is that concerns the Iraqis about the text. And they need to forward to that – forward them to us officially, and then we will respond.

QUESTION: Have they given you a timeline for when they’re going to do so?

MR. WOOD: No, but I’d refer you to them for a timeline.

QUESTION: Do you have a absolute drop-dead deadline, at which point you won’t be able to make any changes?

MR. WOOD: I never talk about, you know, deadlines on anything. But we obviously have a December 31 deadline by which we need to reach an agreement, otherwise we will not have a legal basis in which to operate in Iraq. So that’s the real – only real deadline (inaudible).

QUESTION: Yeah. But I mean, you can’t give changes on, you know, December 30th and --they can’t give you changes on December 30th and you make – you implement and sign the agreement. I mean, at what point, you know, do the Iraqis have to give you these changes so that you can review them, talk about them, discuss them, make the changes and implement the agreement?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, it’s going to really be up to the Iraqis. They need to do – they need to give to us any concerns that they have on paper, and then we will respond. I can’t tell you by when. That’s going to be up to the Iraqis. They need to agree on what it is – what their concerns are about the task.

QUESTION: Just one thing on this.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: We have a report out of Baghdad quoting the government spokesman Mr. Dabbagh that -- saying that the cabinet did, in fact, agree on the proposed amendments and that it authorized Prime Minister Maliki to transmit those to the United States. Are you aware of this? Do you believe that they have actually agreed on it, and do you have any expectation of their forwarding them to you or do you just not know about that all?

MR. WOOD: No, I’ve seen the reports about that. But again, that’s fine. If they have agreed on these elements, then they need to forward them to us, and then we will obviously take a look at them.

Anything else on SOFA? Samir.

QUESTION: Can you give us a readout about the Secretary’s meeting today with Mr. Barzani?

MR. WOOD: I’m not – I’m trying to remember if that’s taken place yet. Is it – do we know if that’s --

QUESTION: This afternoon.

MR. WOOD: This afternoon, yeah. So – yeah, I’m sorry. Wasn’t sure of the time.

QUESTION: No, it’s in the morning.

QUESTION: It’ll happen at 1:15.

MR. WOOD: 1:15.

QUESTION: I mean, what’s the agenda?

MR. WOOD: Hold on one second -- one second. Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: I mean, what’s the purpose for this visit? Can you tell us any idea?

MR. WOOD: Well, obviously, they’re going to talk about the U.S.-Iraqi relationship, various aspects of it. I assume that the issue of the SOFA and the Strategic Framework Agreement will come up. But, you know, we have meetings with Iraqis quite regularly, so I don’t expect anything other than that.

Anything else on --

QUESTION: On the same issue. Do you know who invited Mr. Barzani in Washington, D.C.?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t know. Don’t know.

QUESTION: Do you know if in their agenda will be included the status of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan who is in Turkish prison since 1999?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know that that will come up, Mr. Lambros. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Do you consider the Turkish Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan as terrorist or as civil (inaudible).

MR. WOOD: Look, we’ve – our case -- look, the PKK is a terrorist group. We’ve said over and over and again that it needs to go out of business. Our position hasn’t changed on that.

QUESTION: Any comment on the ongoing demonstration in recent days all over Turkey for the release of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have any comment on that.

QUESTION: And the last one. According to reports, the Turkish forces, since October 24 to the present, are mistreating Abdullah Ocalan in violation of basic human rights for prisoners. Any comment?

MR. WOOD: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Sylvie.

QUESTION: Do you have anything about the meeting today between Chris Hill and his Japanese counterpart? Did it already happen or --

MR. WOOD: No, it’s – I believe it’s taking place later today. Chris Hill will have a meeting with the Japanese Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, Ambassador Saiki, and they’ll obviously talk about verification, as Sean pointed out yesterday. But I don’t have anything.

QUESTION: You will be able to give us a readout of the meeting?

MR. WOOD: We’ll certainly try.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

QUESTION: A question on Mexico City. The – apparently, a member of a Mexican drug cartel – this is according to Mexican prosecutors – was spying on DEA operations from inside the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. Do you have anything on that?

MR. WOOD: What I can tell you, Libby, is that there’s an ongoing investigation right now. And the fact that there is one ongoing, you know, precludes me from commenting.

QUESTION: Who’s leading the investigation?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not aware. But obviously, you know, DEA will certainly play a role. But I don’t know exactly – again, I haven’t been in touch with the Embassy.

QUESTION: Well, can you check on who’s leading the investigation?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Is it DEA? Is it the Department of Justice?

MR. WOOD: Sure, we’ll look into that.

QUESTION: Is it Mexican -- is it the Mexicans? Is it Diplomatic Security?

MR. WOOD: Well, certainly, the Mexican – look, there will be certainly – you know, we will have a clear role in the investigation, and the Mexicans will as well. The various elements on both sides, I don’t know. We can try to, you know, find out who’s taking the lead from our side on that.

QUESTION: Did – was the State Department notified when this supposed spy kind of went to the Mexican authorities?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say there’s an investigation going on, so I really don’t want to comment on it right now. When it’s appropriate, we will comment.

QUESTION: Do you know if this individual is under U.S. or Mexican protection?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to comment on it. There’s an investigation going on. When we can provide, you know, additional information, we will. But at this point, I can’t.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, Afghanistan. Petraeus came out a few weeks ago and he publicly backed this idea that’s floating around of bringing some elements of the Taliban back into the government and, you know, the U.S., you know, taking part in some semblance of talks with elements of the Taliban in a bid to bring the Afghan Government back together. Can you give any reaction to these reports?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say there’s an ongoing – as you know, there’s an ongoing strategic review of our Afghan policy. You know, in general, when you’re dealing with an insurgency, particularly like the one that, you know, international forces are dealing with in Afghanistan, you’ve got to try to bring together the various elements, in addition to military, political, economic, social, and try to sort of mesh them into a cohesive strategy. And that’s something that we want to try, you know, to do better in Afghanistan.

And what’s really important here is that the Afghans come together and reconcile. In the end, that’s what’s going to bring about a solution to the conflict in Afghanistan. And so--

Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Saudis hosted some talks over Ramadan in Mecca where some representatives of Mullah Omar attended. They said that he had broken with al-Qaida. Now, did the U.S. know about these talks? Were you backing them? Is this something you’ve been working with the Saudis?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, we’ve said all along that, you know, we support Afghanistan’s reconciliation program. And the Afghans themselves have laid out criteria that they believe have to form a basis of any kind of reconciliation process: basically, renouncing violence, renouncing ties to al-Qaida, and pledging allegiance to the Afghan constitution. So that’s what the Afghans have said themselves, and we obviously support that.

QUESTION: So you’re supporting this Saudi initiative to bring these two sides together?

MR. WOOD: No, what I’m saying is that we support the Afghan reconciliation process that, you know, President Karzai has been leading.

QUESTION: What about the spectacle of the U.S. perhaps sitting down with the Taliban at some point?

MR. WOOD: As I said, there’s a strategic review going on that’s looking at various elements of our Afghan policy, as I’ve said. That’s what’s happening. I’m not going to comment while that review is still underway.

QUESTION: But would it be fair to say that this is something that’s being actively considered?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not going to get into specifics of it, but I think I’ve outlined for you exactly the types of things that we’ve been talking about in terms of our Afghan policy.

QUESTION: But, Robert, I mean, this is a strategy that Ambassador Crocker and Petraeus pursued in Iraq, kind of engaging Sunnis on the kind of fringe of extremism, and it seemed to be kind of successful. So don’t you think a model like that could be applied to Afghanistan in a similar way?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’m not saying that that’s not a possibility. What I’m saying is that there is a review ongoing, and we’re looking at a wide range of aspects of our policy to try to improve our ability to battle extremism in Afghanistan and help the Afghans do their jobs as well. So --

QUESTION: Well, even Secretary Gates said a few weeks ago that it’s a kind of idea worth considering sitting down --

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not saying it’s not worth considering. I’m just saying I don’t really want to get into, you know, too focused a discussion on the strategic review while it’s still ongoing. But I’ve said basically what our position is with regard to reconciliation in Afghanistan; and in the end, it’s really going to have to be the Afghans that come together and reconcile.

QUESTION: Does Secretary Rice support the view of Gates and Petraeus that the U.S. might possibly consider engaging the Taliban at some level? Does she support their public pronouncements?

MR. WOOD: Look, the Secretary supports, as does Secretary Gates and other senior U.S. officials, an Afghan reconciliation process. It has to be something that the Afghans themselves take ownership of and lead. We all support that.

QUESTION: But U.S. involvement?

MR. WOOD: Look, as I said, there’s a strategic review underway, and I’d just like to leave it at that with regard to whether or not we may – you know, whether or not we play some kind of a role. But I really don’t want to get beyond what I’ve said.

Sue.

QUESTION: When you say – you keep talking about Afghan reconciliation. Do you support the Taliban being part of that reconciliation?

MR. WOOD: That is going to be up to the Afghans. They have laid out their criteria. And as I said, renouncing violence and renouncing ties to al-Qaida, those are two criteria that the Afghans themselves have laid out, as I said. So – and we would support – we support that process.

QUESTION: Don’t you talk – don’t you talk – don’t U.S. forces talk rather routinely to Taliban people at a lower level in Afghanistan?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of. We don’t – not that I’m aware of.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: Change of subject? Do you have any comment about these Chinese hostages killed in Sudan?

MR. WOOD: I don’t. I think we’ll try to have something to say on it. Let me just see if I – I don’t think I have anything on that at this point. I don’t believe so. I’ll see if we can get you something on that, if there is something to say on it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. WOOD: Anything else? Oh, I’m sorry. Please.

QUESTION: Two weeks ago, there was an arms shipment to southern Sudan that was intercepted. It was going via Kenya and it was secret, and we only found out about it because Somali pirates happened to attack this boat and it created this international incident. But it seems like the U.S. officials were watching closely.

What involvement, if any, has the – did the U.S. Government have in that arms shipment? And has the matter been resolved to your satisfaction?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware of any U.S. involvement in the shipment. What we’ve been trying to do, of course, is deal with this piracy case off the coast of Somalia, and that – I would refer you to the Pentagon for any further – or any update on that situation. But again, as I’ve said before from the podium, that piracy is a big concern of ours, not just the United States, but other countries, and we want to try to get together and work on a way to try to end piracy.

QUESTION: So you’re saying that the U.S. didn’t have special concerns with this shipment itself, but just the idea of piracy, but that the U.S. had no involvement whatsoever in --

MR. WOOD: I don’t know what you mean by involvement.

QUESTION: Well, were you aware that arms were going to southern Sudan? I mean, it seems like a lot of arms to go to, you know, a government entity in southern Sudan that’s --

MR. WOOD: I don’t believe we were aware of it. I mean, we obviously are aware of it now and we’re doing what we can to deal, as I said, with this particular incident.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s alarming that southern Sudan was getting these types of weapons?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, you know, arms in that part of the region is a concern. I mean, the growth of arms in that region. But you know, what we’ve said and we’ve supported all along is that reconciliation process in Sudan, and we continue to want to see that. Obviously, increased arms shipments are, you know, not necessarily helpful, but I don’t have anything further on the issue.

QUESTION: Can we stay on Somalia?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on this agreement between the transition government and the opposition in Somalia that led the Ethiopian Government to say they were considering withdrawing --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’ve seen the reports, but I don’t have any comment.

QUESTION: You don’t have a comment?

MR. WOOD: No.

QUESTION: No?

MR. WOOD: No comment on that.

QUESTION: Even if Ethiopia is an ally of U.S.?

MR. WOOD: No, I just don’t have any comment on the actual report.

QUESTION: But do you think that it’s safe for Ethiopia to be leaving Somalia right now?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, Somalia, you know, has been a problem for quite some time. We’ve been supporting the Transitional National Government, and what we’d like to see, as other players in the international community would like to see, is peace come to that war-torn region— that war-torn country. And we’re going to continue to work with others to try to improve the situation there, but you know, the situation is difficult; there is no question about it.

QUESTION: I’m sorry, just one more question on Sudan.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: You guys worked for years to help broker an agreement there, and it just seems like you’re pretty shy about – I mean, this is – it seems like a big sign that things are not going well that they should be receiving secret shipments of this type and this amount of arms.

MR. WOOD: Look, I’m not going to deny that the situation is difficult in Sudan. Nobody is trying to do that. It is a very difficult situation, and we’re doing what we can in terms of trying to encourage diplomacy, to encourage people to put down their weapons and negotiate peace. That’s been our policy and it’s going to continue to be our policy. But it’s not an easy situation, and we’re going to continue to work at it, as others will. But that’s just the way we see it.

QUESTION: But as far as you know, you had no idea those arms were going?

MR. WOOD: As far as I know, we had no idea those arms were going.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:54 a.m.)

DPB #182



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