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



INDEX:

NORTH KOREA

Reversing Disablement / Preparations for Disablement / U.S. is Discussing Issue with Allies
U.S. Working to Ensure that North Korea Continues Six-Party Path
Chris Hill’s Meeting with Counterpart Kim Sook
Question about U.S. Energy Assistance to North Korea
Verification Regime is Necessary / U.S. Concerned about Actions on Ground at Yongbyon

CHINA

U.S. Cooperation with China on N. Korea Denuclearization
President Bush’s meeting with Hu Jintao
Chinese Report on Human Rights in the United States
U.S. Continues to Raise Issue of Chinese Muslims in Western Region of Xinjiang

PAKISTAN

Bombing / U.S. Pakistan and Afghanistan Need to Redouble Efforts to Counter Extremism
Pakistan Ministry of Interior Does Not Request U.S. Assistance with Bombing Investigation
Deaths of Two DoD Employees / One State Department Contractor Unaccounted after Bombing
Question about Suspended Flights to Pakistan / Possible Security Procedures
Aid to Pakistan / Clear National Interest in Helping Pakistan Pursue Extremists
Biden-Lugar Legislation for Non-Military Aid to Pakistan

JAPAN

Secretary General Taro Aso Elected Party President / Japanese Prime Minister Elections


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

10:38 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone. Welcome. I don’t have any questions, so we’ll go right to – I don’t have the answers. (Laughter.) No, I don’t have any issues, so we’ll go right to your questions.

QUESTION: North Korea has asked to remove the IAEA seals and cameras from Yongbyon. I just wondered is there any sign that they would also try to boot out the U.S. inspectors that are there?

MR. WOOD: Sue, I’ve heard the reports. I don’t have anything more to add on it. I think we’re just where Sean characterized the situation last week. You know, there are obviously – you have three phases. First of which would be, you know, talks about reversing disablement. Second phase would be, in essence, preparations for disablement. The third would be, of course, actual disablement. And you know, again, we’re somewhere in phase two. But you know, we’re obviously -- we take this very seriously and we’re going to be discussing this issue with our allies over the coming days. President Bush yesterday spoke to President Hu Jintao about the issue and they both agreed they were going to work hard to try to make sure that the North continues on a path, as established by the Six-Party framework. So that’s, in essence, where we are right now and – but again, we’ll be looking at this issue further and we’ll be having discussions with our allies about it.

QUESTION: At what point would you – at what point would North Korea lose the rest of this heavy fuel oil that you pledged to send them?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re not there at this point, yet. But again, we are going to be having discussions with our allies in the Six-Party framework and see where we go from here. As you know – or as you may or may not know -- since Secretary Chris Hill had discussions yesterday with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Sook, on this issue – and I think they also spoke to the press or at least he spoke to the press afterward – so there are discussions ongoing. And as I said, we’re taking it very seriously. And we’ll see how we go forward from here.

Please.

QUESTION: Could you provide us just a readout on Ambassador Hill’s meeting with Ambassador Kim Sook?

MR. WOOD: Basically, again, they discussed the issue of North Korea and, you know, the steps that it’s taking toward reversing disablement. And again, Assistant Secretary Hill said that he believed it’s important that we do what we can to bring North Korea back along the path that was outlined by the Six-Party framework. And again, there’ll be further discussions going on. Assistant Secretary Hill will meet with others. The Secretary will be having discussions about the issue as well. And that’s about the best readout I can give you at this point.

QUESTION: And are they having any discussions on whether to suspend their energy assistance to North Korea if North Korea continues to speed up their actions in, I guess, making Yongbyon operational again?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t want to get into substance at this point of what they may or may not discuss, except to say that, you know, everyone views this issue with the utmost of concern and the discussions will be ongoing. The diplomacy will be ongoing over, you know, the coming days and weeks, and that’s where I’d leave it at the moment.

Yes.

QUESTION: Who will Ambassador Hill be meeting with in the coming days?

MR. WOOD: I don’t have his schedule. He’s up in New York right now. You might want to check with our press office up there. Maybe they can give you, you know, an updated meeting schedule.

QUESTION: Just one last thing on this.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Sean said last week about – that the North Koreans are still in phase two at Yongbyon, but moving towards that phase three. And I was just wondering if there was anything you can add to what he said in terms of what activities are being taken in Yongbyon.

MR. WOOD: I can’t get into the specifics of what activities are ongoing. But we obviously – we’re watching the situation very closely. And what we’re trying to do is, in our diplomatic discussions is try to get the North Koreans back on that path that was outlined in the Six-Party framework. So, in essence, I don’t have any specifics for you at this point.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: I just have two questions regarding China. First, you mentioned that the President spoke with Hu Jintao yesterday. Can you just – given that they be – (inaudible) drawing near to a close, can you just tell me briefly the status of cooperation between China and the U.S. on issues such as North Korea? Just a generic level, where diplomacy stands at the moment?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. Our cooperation with the Chinese on a wide range of issues is very good. This particular issue with regard to North Korea’s nuclear program is one that we’ve been cooperating very closely with the Chinese on. And the President – President Bush and President Hu had some very, very good discussions. They’re obviously seized with this issue right now. And we want very seriously to bring North Korea back on the path that was outlined, as I mentioned.

I can’t give you a better characterization that the one I’ve given you. We’ve had good discussions. We have good – we have good cooperation with the Chinese on these issues. And again, there will be further discussion at the UN this week, and we’ll see where we go from here.

QUESTION: And the second question: On an annual basis, the Chinese release a human rights record on the United States, obviously in response to the State Department’s report.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: In it, they criticize the U.S.’s treatment of the poor, of minority of groups, Guantanamo, and also, they’ve called the U.S. elections a game of the elite. How do you – being that the elections are close and – how do you respond to that kind of report, a sort of reflective report on the U.S?

MR. WOOD: The U.S. is a democracy and, you know, we have our faults. But we have a functioning, democratic system and I’m not going to respond to, you know, Chinese accusations in the report, other than to say what I‘ve just said.

Sir.

QUESTION: To go back to the IAEA and Yongbyon for one second –

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: So it’s been reported that they requested that they notify their intention to remove the seals and have the cameras taken out. Can you confirm, either from the Americans on the ground there or from any other source that it’s actually been done?

MR. WOOD: I can’t confirm that. But I mean, the North says a lot of things. And we’re concerned about this language coming out of Pyongyang, but what’s most important is that they stay on that path. And we’re going to work with our allies, the Chinese and the other members of the Six-Party framework, to keep the North on that path. This is an issue of great concern to all of us and we want to make sure that the North lives up to its obligations, one of which is providing a verification regime that we’re still waiting on.

QUESTION: You’ve said a couple times that you were trying to keep North Korea on the path. How exactly are you – through discussions, or –

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re, again, trying to encourage them through discussions, through our diplomatic activities, for them to do what they are committed – what they’ve committed to doing. And that, of course – the most important and most immediate is providing us with that verification regime. And as we’ve said over and over, that once the North does that, we can move toward delisting them from the State Department’s State Sponsors of Terrorism list.

QUESTION: So the number one priority for the U.S. is still the verification regime?

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s – in terms of the Six-Party Framework, yes. We obviously are concerned about what the North is doing on the ground at Yongbyon, and we’ve going to work with – as I said, with our allies to try to make sure that whatever steps they are taking, that we can see them reversed.

(Inaudible.)

QUESTION: I’ve been speaking to a few Pakistani analysts over the last few days, and some of them are of the opinion that current U.S. actions on the border territories and incursions into Pakistan are actually inflaming the situation. Given the context of the horrible events of the weekend, is the U.S. at all considering its strategy in the area?

MR. WOOD: Well, I – you know, we are -- I’m not going to comment on some of these reports that we’ve seen in the press over the last week. But just to say that, if you look at what happened on Saturday, this is an example of why we, the Pakistanis, the Afghans, need to work and redouble our efforts to counter extremism – extremism in this region. It’s a threat to stability. It’s a threat to democracy in the region, and we have to redouble our efforts. And we’ll continue to work with the Pakistanis on trying to deal with the Taliban and al-Qaida threat not only in the tribal areas, but in – over in Afghanistan. And so, you know, we’ll continue to do that.

This was a very – this was a heinous act that was committed by terrorists who have no interest in anything other than maiming and killing innocent civilians. And we’re going to step up our efforts and work with the Pakistanis to do what we can.

Go here. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: We’ve heard eye-witness reports of a major crackdown by the Chinese in the western province of Xinjiang of the Muslim leader population. There’s been 25,000 arrests since the – since the Olympics, since Bush’s visit to the Olympics. Is – and I’ve heard virtual, you know, silence from – from the Administration on this. Is the Administration overlooking alleged human rights abuses in China in exchange for cooperation with the Chinese?

MR. WOOD: Absolutely not. We have been – in all of our high-level meetings with the Chinese, we do bring up, over and over again, some of our concerns with regard to the human rights situation in China. We’ll continue to do that where we see a need for improvement in the human rights situation.

So, yeah, I reject that that we have not been raising these issues or have tried to exchange one thing for another. Not at all. We continue to raise these issues. And as I said, we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: And those issues come up on phone calls with leader Hu Jintao or are they specifically once-a-year issues?

MR. WOOD: Oh, we have our Embassy in Beijing and our Consulates throughout China. And when we hear these reports, we do try to investigate them and we raise them with Chinese officials at an appropriate level. And so I just want to assure you that we do not sit back and ignore these issues. We do bring them up with the Chinese at every level that we can.

Right here.

QUESTION: Going back to North Korea.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Do you have in mind any red line with respect to North Korea’s efforts to restore its nuclear facilities, for example, restarting its reprocessing plant to produce more plutonium or something like that there?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t want to speculate or outline red lines here. The North Koreans know what they need to do with regard to the verification regime. We’re very concerned, as I said, about what the North appears to be doing at the Yongbyon facility. And there really is no change in our policy.

But I don’t want to get into, you know, outlining what we may or may not do if North Korea does this or that. What we’re going to try to do is lead them back on the path that they agreed to go on toward denuclearization.

Charley.

QUESTION: Just back to Pakistan.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Is it correct that the United States will not be assisting the investigation in the Pakistan explosion? And do you have any new details about Americans wounded in the explosion?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, to your first question, the Ministry of Interior has told us that it does not at the moment need any outside assistance for the investigation; however, we stand ready to assist the Pakistanis with this investigation if they, you know, ask us for assistance.

In terms of Americans, I can confirm for you that two Department of Defense employees died of the injuries sustained in the bombing on Saturday. And we have one State Department contractor who is currently unaccounted for, and we are obviously looking to try to update the status of this individual. And I believe there were three U.S. Embassy employees who were injured and one contractor injured in the blast.

As far as I know, there aren’t any private American citizens who have been hurt. But again, there is still more work to be done in terms of identifying remains in the hotel. And we’ll update you, should there need to be an update on that.

QUESTION: And excuse me, so the – the missing contractor – is that an American citizen?

MR. WOOD: It’s a Department of State contractor.

QUESTION: No more details, though?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I don’t have any more detail at this point.

Here in --

QUESTION: Comment about the new Japanese Prime Minister?

MR. WOOD: Hold on. Let’s see – did you want to stay – did you want to --

QUESTION: On Pakistan, yeah --

MR. WOOD: Yeah. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- a couple of things. One, British Airways has suspended its flights to Pakistan out of security fears and -- after this bombing. I just wondered if you’re aware of any similar, sort of, American moves or related, sort of, moves to –

MR. WOOD: I’m not --

QUESTION: -- security.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I know that since the bombing, the embassy’s issued three travel warnings[1] and we’ll obviously be looking – we’ll obviously update our security posture, you know, should we need to do so.

What was the other part of your question?

QUESTION: Well, I was trying to think if there are any other security moves that you might make, but I think you’ve just, you know --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, we won’t – obviously, won’t discuss them here. But we’ll obviously – we’re reviewing our posture.

QUESTION: But more broadly, does this episode not make you rethink your relationship in terms of aid to the Pakistani Government on the military side, especially – and their commitment to fighting terrorism?

MR. WOOD: No. The Pakistanis have told us that they are committed to this fight. And it’s clearly in our national interests to help the Pakistanis pursue the Taliban and al-Qaida extremists. And I’m not aware of any plans or any thought being given to the idea of, you know, reducing military assistance.

This is a long-term process or project -- however you want to call it -- to root out extremism in this part of the world. It’s going to take time. But we’re going to be persistent in our efforts. We’ve pledged our cooperation to Pakistan and to the Government of Afghanistan to do what we can to help. And so, I can assure you, as I said earlier, we are going to redouble our efforts to try to counter this extremism that threatens stability in the region.

QUESTION: Just one more. There’s a bill in the Senate, the Biden-Lugar legislation, which would give them 15 billion in non-military aid over 10 years. I think the general thought is that the Bush Administration supports this. Do you know whether you do or whether you do (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: Well, I really don’t want to get into, you know, characterizing pending legislation, except that obviously we have conversations all the time with members of Congress and their staffs about how we can best support, you know, this effort to fight extremism. That’s clearly in our national interests. And we’ll continue to do so. But I think you’ll find on both sides of the aisle, certainly within the Administration, the understanding that we need to step up our efforts to counter extremism in this region.

And other questions? Charley.

QUESTION: Any update on the assistance to Americans evacuating Bolivia last week?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have any update, Charley, at this point.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) the Japanese Prime Minister?

MR. WOOD: Oh, yes. You did ask me about that. I have something for you. We’ve seen reports today that Japan’s Liberal Democratic Party elected LDP Secretary General Taro Aso as party president. Our understanding is that elections for Japan’s new Prime Minister will be held during the extraordinary session of the Diet, scheduled for Wednesday, September 24. Japan and the United States enjoy a close working relationship, and we look forward to working with the next Prime Minister.

Why don’t we go here? Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Let’s try one more on North Korea on the energy assistance. I asked, just to rephrase my previous question: Would the U.S. consider suspending energy assistance if North Korea kept going with these actions towards operating Yongbyon again?

MR. WOOD: Well, you’re asking me to speculate on what we may or may not do if North Korea does or doesn’t do something. I don’t want to do that except to say that we are going to have these discussions with our allies about how we go forward. I’m not going to take things off the table or put them on, but just to let you know that we’re obviously looking at ways in which we can encourage the North Koreans to continue on that path I spoke to earlier. And we’ll continue to try to do that.

Okay, thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:55 a.m.)


[1] Three Warden Messages

dpb # 157


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