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Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
October 30, 2008



Secretary Rice Upcoming Travel to Israel, Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Egypt


Received Amendments from Iraqi Government on Status of Forces Agreement
U.S. To Give A Thorough Review and Respond to Iraqi Government


Temporary Closure of U.S. Embassy in Damascus Due to Protests
Protests Went Forward Today
Cultural Center and American School Closures
Charge’ d’Affaires Maura Connelly Meeting with Syrian Foreign Ministry


U.S. Encourages China to Engage the Dalai Lama’s Representatives


Reviewing Earthquake Damage / Possible Assistance


U.S. Supports Nimetz Process on Name Issue


Looking to Next Heads of Delegation Meeting


Secretary Rice Calls to Rawandan President Kagame, Belgian FM De Gucht
Assistant Secretary Jendayi Frazer’s Travel / Kinshasa
Trying to Bring About a Resolution / Situation on the Ground Very Fluid
Four U.S. Government Employees Moved To Rwanda


U.S. Committed to Peace Process / Two Sides Want To Reach Agreement
Upcoming Visit of Prime Minister Olmert


Andean Trade Preference s Act / Consultation Period Ends October 31st


View Video

10:45 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone. Let me start off by reading a statement. Secretary of State Rice will travel to Israel and the Palestinian territories, Jordan, and Egypt, from November 5 to 9. While in the region, she will meet with her Quartet counterparts and senior government officials to discuss efforts to achieve positive and lasting peace in the region, consistent with the Annapolis process and the shared goal of a two-state solution.

As soon as we have some more details on the trip, we’ll get them to you. But I don’t have anything further on it right now.

QUESTION: You cannot tell us if this Quartet meeting will be the meeting they announced in the margin of the UN General Assembly?

MR. WOOD: I said she’s going to meet with her Quartet counterparts.

QUESTION: But they were supposed to get some informations about where the parties are in the negotiation, right? Yes?

MR. WOOD: Well, when we have some more details, Sylvie, we’ll get them to you. But I don’t really have anything more than that at the moment. So we can go to your questions.

QUESTION: Yeah. How does – how goes the consideration of the Iraqi amendments to the SOFA?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve received the amendments and we’re going to give them, as Sean said yesterday, a thorough review. And I don’t have anything else for you on that at the moment.

Any other questions on SOFA?

QUESTION: Can you give us some detail on what the amendments are?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to talk about what’s – what the amendments are at this point.

QUESTION: Well, how – are they – would you consider them – how would you describe them, more fine-tuning, or is it sort of a bigger challenge ahead? Is it –

MR. WOOD: Well, Libby, I really don’t want to comment until we’ve had a chance to really review them. But you know, as we said, we think we have a good agreement, and the window for any kind of discussions, negotiations, is, you know, rapidly coming to a close. So I’ll just leave it at that. Once we have something to say on it, we will. But for the moment, we’re just taking our time in reviewing it to make sure that, you know, we’ve got a good sense of what it is the Iraqis have put forward.


QUESTION: A question on Syria. I’m just wondering if there was anything more you can say about the status of your Embassy. I know it was closed today and you were expecting protests around – maybe around this time.

MR. WOOD: Well, I think the protest –

QUESTION: And also –

MR. WOOD: Sorry.

QUESTION: – have you had any updates on anything they have (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: I would just say I think the protests went forward. They were peaceful. And you know, as you said, the Embassy is going to be closed today. I believe the school is closed as well. And we’ll go from there.

QUESTION: Will they be opening tomorrow?

MR. WOOD: I think tomorrow is a holiday. But again, it all depends on the situation on the ground. That will be a decision made by, you know, our folks at the Embassy as to whether or not they feel they want to –

QUESTION: But the cultural center will remain closed?

MR. WOOD: My understanding is that the cultural center – the Syrians requested that we close it immediately. So for how long that will be, I don’t know.

QUESTION: Was that until – did they say until further notice?

MR. WOOD: They just said that they wanted it to close immediately. So we don’t have any idea as to –

QUESTION: And the American school?

MR. WOOD: The American school, I understand –

QUESTION: – closes the 6th?

MR. WOOD: – is supposed to close on the 6th. That’s correct.

QUESTION: And are you taking efforts to kind of stop that closure?

MR. WOOD: Well, let me just say that we’re going to – we’re examining as to what steps we may take, but I don’t have anything for you on that at this point.

QUESTION: Was that then –

QUESTION: When you say you’re examining what steps to take, does that mean you’re actually examining whether or not to go ahead with the closure?

MR. WOOD: No, what I’m saying is we’re going to – we’re basically looking at how we’re going to respond. That’s all I can say.


QUESTION: So that involves sort of reciprocal action?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know at this point. I don’t want to tie anybody’s hands standing here at the podium. We will – we’re taking a look to see how we’re going to respond, and – but I don’t have anything for you.

QUESTION: And then two other questions if I could.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, sure.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything more about the Ambassador – or the Chargé’s meeting yesterday at the foreign ministry? And then did all of this come out of that? And then are you taking – are you considering drawing down your Embassy any further in Damascus?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not aware of any plans to draw down our Embassy at this point. As you know, our Chargé d'Affaires Maura Connelly was called in to the Syrian foreign ministry and was informed of the fact that the cultural center was to close immediately and that the American – the Damascus community school was going to have to close on November 6. So – but that’s the extent of the readout I have for that session.

QUESTION: I have a couple on China. Can we change the subject?

MR. WOOD: On China, okay.

QUESTION: First of all, what are you – do you have any comment about the talks between the Chinese and the representatives of the Dalai Lama?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t. I’ve – is there some new –

QUESTION: Yeah, they’re going to be having an eighth round, I think, of talks.

MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen that. But again, we have encouraged for quite some time for the Chinese Government to engage with the Dalai Lama’s representatives, so that obviously is something we would support. But I don’t have any update on particular –

QUESTION: Can you check? Because the British issued a very strong statement in favor of the talks and looking to the Chinese to kind of stop the human rights abuses.

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, that doesn't differ with our policy in that regard. Again, as I said, we’ve encouraged the Chinese to engage the Dalai Lama’s representatives. And of course, we’ve said time and time again from the podium that we want to see China improve its human rights situation. So I don’t see any difference here.

QUESTION: And then also on China, there’s a piece in USA Today that the Chinese were very concerned about certain athletes that might pose a security threat, so much so that they made a list and submitted it to the United States, which I think they kind of blew off. But can you say anything about that?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t heard anything about that.

QUESTION: Can you check, though?

MR. WOOD: Sure, we can take a look and see if we have anything for you.

QUESTION: Anything more on aid to Pakistan? Have you decided what kind of aid to –

MR. WOOD: No, we’re still in the midst of a review, and we’ll be obviously having discussions with the Pakistanis and try to provide whatever appropriate assistance we can.


QUESTION: Yes, on FYROM, on the name issue. Mr. Wood, the new set of proposals presented yesterday by Ambassador Matthew Nimetz in New York – quote – “It is not satisfactory on a series of points, which are rejected”– unquote – stated clearly the Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis. Any comment, since the U.S. Government is very concerned for a solution?

MR. WOOD: Well, we obviously, Mr. Lambros, want to see a solution to the Macedonian name issue. And I know that representative Nimetz is working to try to bridge the differences. And that process will continue, and we need to support it, and we will support it.

QUESTION: Minister Bakoyannis also ruled out any negotiation outside of the framework outlined at the UN Security Council resolution, saying specifically that it’s another attempt to weaken or to undermine the talks directly or indirectly. Any comment from the Department of State?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen those points, so I don’t have any comment.


QUESTION: On North Korea, the Six Parties had agreed that they would get to the end of the second phase of disablement by the end of the month, and they have not. Do you – how would you assess the current situation, and when do you expect to get to the end of the second phase?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, what we’re looking to next is the heads of delegation meeting, and the Chinese will schedule that. We don’t have a date for you at this point. And again, there’s a lot of work left to do, you know, until we get to phase three. And as we – you know, as Sean and others have said, we need to codify those verification – the verification protocol, or “Six-Partyize” it, as the Secretary said. And we’ll go from there once that – we have that heads of delegation meeting. But I don’t have any update for you.

QUESTION: Robert, do you –

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: – have any update on Assistant Secretary Frazer’s trip?

MR. WOOD: Sure. Let me tell you a couple of things about what the Secretary’s been doing on the diplomatic front here. She had calls yesterday with President Kagame of Rwanda and the Belgian Foreign Minister De Gucht.

QUESTION: This is Rice?

MR. WOOD: Yes, Secretary Rice. Today, she plans to have a conversation – a phone call with UN Secretary General Ban. The Secretary has been following this issue very closely over the last – you know, last several weeks and, as a result, decided to send Jendayi Frazer to the region.

Jendayi is in Kinshasa today. She is going to meet with President Kabila as well as other Congolese officials. And then she will also meet with the UN Secretary General’s Special Rep Alan Doss. And there are plans for her to travel to Rwanda to meet with President Kagame, but her schedule is kind of fluid at the moment, so I don’t know whether that’s actually going to happen. But that’s –

QUESTION: Can you tell us a little bit about what she’s – what her mission is? What is she doing?

MR. WOOD: Oh, yeah. Oh, absolutely. She is there to try to promote, you know, a peaceful solution to the conflict, to try to get the parties to, you know, implement the Goma agreements and the Nairobi communiqué, and obviously trying to bring about a resolution to the situation in, you know, eastern Congo.

And so the situation there on the ground is very fluid, and we’re watching it, as I said, very closely. And Assistant Secretary Frazer is going to do, you know, what she can on this trip to try to reduce the level of violence and tension in the region.

QUESTION: And exactly how is she going to do that? Exactly how is she going to try and reduce it –

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, as I said –

QUESTION: – especially if she’s not planning to talk to the other side?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, there – all of the parties know what their obligations are, particularly under, you know, the Goma agreements. And it’s basically to get all of the parties to agree to respect international law and human rights.

QUESTION: But you (inaudible), she’s not speaking to all the parties, though.

MR. WOOD: Well, she’s going to speak to the people she feels is necessary and the people she feels she needs to speak to in order to try to bring about a reduction in tensions in the region. And so, you know, that’s the purpose of her visit.

QUESTION: What’s the latest on any help the U.S. is providing the UN mission there for their security?

MR. WOOD: With regard to security?


MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, we have discussions with the UN on a wide range of issues in the DRC. And I’m not going to get into specifics of what we are, you know, talking to the UN about with regard to security. But it’s something we obviously are very concerned about, the situation on the ground. And where we can take steps to help the UN, we will. But I’m not going to get into the details of that here.

QUESTION: I think Sean had talked about an aid package that you guys might be getting ready.

MR. WOOD: Well, if we have something to announce, we will. I mean, we’re looking at various ways we can help support the process there and help the people of Congo, because we are very concerned about the situation there.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. support, in general, an increased troop presence of the UN force in Goma?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, I’d like to withhold comment on that for the moment. I mean, we want to have continued discussions with the UN and – you know, and let those discussions take place before, you know, making that kind of a commitment.

QUESTION: Yesterday, the four U.S. Government employees that were in Goma were taken out of Goma?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: How long do they intend to remain outside of – or in Rwanda, I guess, which is where they –

MR. WOOD: Well, they – there were four U.S. Government employees who were on temporary duty in Goma, I think through midday Wednesday, and at which point they were relocated across the border to Gisenyi.

QUESTION: How did they get there, because the UN evacuation yesterday, kind of, failed?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I don’t know how they did, Matt. I really don’t know how they got there. But that’s – they’re in Gisenyi at this time. And we’ll continue to reassess their status before – you know, as events warrant.

QUESTION: And do you know who exactly they work for?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know, sorry.

QUESTION: I mean, you don’t know if they were State Department, AID, other government agencies or –

MR. WOOD: Well, these are the four U.S. Government – I’m sorry, what was your question, Matt, again? I’m sorry, yeah, U.S. Government personnel.

QUESTION: Yes, but you don’t know which agency (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t – sorry – at this point.

Let me go here.

QUESTION: Back to North Korea. Do you have any update on the situation in Yongbyon, what’s happening there?

MR. WOOD: No, I haven’t gotten any readout, no update. Sorry.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Another one on FYROM. Mr. Wood, I’m wondering how concerned is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the name issue since a solution is a precondition for FYROM to become a NATO member in December, and NATO is the pillar of the U.S. foreign policy.

MR. WOOD: Mr. Lambros, our position hasn’t changed. The Secretary has been trying to work with the parties to try to bring about a solution to the name issue, and we’ll continue to do what we can. But you have Envoy Nimetz, who is working this issue, and we’ll just go from there.

QUESTION: And a follow-up. Minister Bakoyannis criticized the Prime Minister of FYROM Nikolas Gruevski for intransigence over his country’s and his people’s European and Euro-Atlantic path. I’m wondering, Mr. Wood, how seriously the Department of State is taking Mister Gruevski to meet FYROM into NATO under the present circumstances.

MR. WOOD: I think I’ve spoken to the question of Macedonia, Mr. Lambros, already. Any other questions?

Yeah, Susan. Sorry.

QUESTION: Back on Middle East –

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there anything different about the situation this time that would make it any more likely that Secretary Rice could clinch some kind of a peace deal? It seems it’d be even less likely because of the difficulties with the Israeli Government.

MR. WOOD: Well, the situation – you know, obviously, the political situation in Israel does complicate this somewhat. But again, what we’ve said over and over is that what we’ve got is a commitment from the two parties to reach an agreement. And, you know, it’s a process. We’re committed to the process. They’re committed to the process. We’re going to do what we can to try to help bring about an agreement.

But, you know, I’m not going to kid you. Of course, you know, the Israeli political situation does complicate this a bit. But what’s important is that the two sides want to see an agreement and are willing to work hard to do it, and that’s what’s critical here: the will to try to reach an agreement.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what we can expect out of Olmert’s visit? He’s supposed to come in the next couple of weeks, I think the White House announced yesterday.

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, obviously, a visit by Prime Minister Olmert, you know, is important for trying to move this process that I described forward. And, you know, this is not an easy one. It’s not an easy process. And the situation in the Middle East is complicated. But again, I’d go back to the question – or to the issue of will. And we’ve got two sides that are quite willing to do what’s necessary to reach an agreement. They’re going to have to make the hard decisions. There’s no question about that. If you’re going to get to peace, both sides are going to have to compromise on some of the difficult issues. And we’re there to try to do what we can to help the parties get to where they want to go.

QUESTION: Is it – so is your goal to come up with any sort of concrete – you know, outcome out of this – out of his visit or –

MR. WOOD: Well, it’s hard to say. We obviously are going to do what we can. The discussions that Prime Minister Olmert and the President will have will be substantive, and they will try to figure out, you know, how best – yes.

QUESTION: With all due respect, how could they be substantive? I mean, he’s – they’re – the Israelis are going for elections and this President is leaving. So will – like, what beyond being, like, a place-marker or putting together some kind of exit strategy could possibly be accomplished at this late stage in the game?

MR. WOOD: Well, President Bush is still in power. Prime Minister Olmert is still in power. They’ve been working on these issues for quite some time. Again, we’re focused on a process. We’re trying to move the process forward so that the parties can –

QUESTION: Well, how can you move the process forward at this point?

MR. WOOD: Through diplomacy, through hard work. That’s how you do it.


MR. WOOD: Got something against hard work?

QUESTION: (Laughter.) No, I don’t like it.

QUESTION: Yesterday, I was waiting with baited breath for the answers to the Bolivia questions, and I was waiting in vain because I never saw them. Do you have answers for them? Why has the Administration basically decided what it’s going to do in suspending Bolivia from the Andean Trade Preferences before the comment period has run?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, Matt, I’ll just try to take you through the process as I understand it. The President called on USTR to take steps that would basically suspend Bolivia’s participation under the Andean – as a beneficiary country under the Andean Trade Preferences Act.

There’s a 30-day period, as you know, that’s required for review and for there to be further discussions on that issue. That period ends, I believe, on the 31st of October. I believe there was a hearing that was set up on the 23rd of October to address those issues. The President will make the final decision. No decision has yet been made, but the President, under the law, will be the final determinant on that subject. I hope that answers some of your questions.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice, though, during the trip to Mexico, made it sound like the decision had been made. She said, so we will have to suspend Bolivia from the Trade Preferences, and – you know, it had been building up for a long time and that was it.

MR. WOOD: Well, Sue, you’ve heard the Secretary’s comments and Sean addressed it yesterday. I don’t have anything further to add on it.

QUESTION: So, can I just say then, is there anything that the Bolivians can do in the next day and a half to prevent them from being suspended?

MR. WOOD: Look, the process is going forward, as I outlined the process to you. That’s the one we have in place. And you understand why we took – why the President decided to take these steps, and that’s because over the last year, the Bolivians have not done what they needed to do on the counternarcotics front.

QUESTION: Well, I guess the question is: What is the point of the comment period and people who are opposed to this move coming in and saying anything if they disagree? I mean, what is the point? If there’s nothing that the Bolivians can do to change this, why is it that you even bother to have a comment period?

MR. WOOD: Matt, we have a process, and I’ve just outlined that process for you, and we’ll go from there. The period – that period of consultation discussion ends on the 31st.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:06 a.m.)

dpb # 184

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