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Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
September 29, 2008



Belarusian Elections / Initial Read Short of International Standards
U.S. Wants to Work with Belarusian Government


Assistant Secretary Hill’s Travel to Region /Seoul / Pyongyang / Beijing / Tokyo
Need for a Verification Package
Looking to Move the Six-Party Process Forward


Secretary Rice Meeting with President of Armenia in New York


Congratulate Ecuadorian People on Constitutional Referendum


Ukrainian Shipped Hijacked off the Coast of Somalia


View Video

10:48 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything for you, so why don’t we go right to your questions.


QUESTION: Could I ask for a reaction on the Belarus elections? Are you guys planning to recognize --

MR. WOOD: Well, what I have is an initial read and I think we found them to be well short of international standards. We certainly took note of the OSCE report. But again, this is an initial take. We obviously want to work with the Belarusian Government and we’ll be looking for ways to do that. But again, this is just an initial read, and hopefully, we’ll have some more details for you a bit later.

QUESTION: Can you go into why you think it’s well short of international standards?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think, there were some issues with regard to the vote count. But again, this is, as I said, an initial take. Let us get back to you with a more fuller readout a little bit later.

QUESTION: What is Assistant Secretary Hill going to do this week?

MR. WOOD: Well, he’s leaving today from New York and he is going to go to the region. He’ll be meeting with his counterparts in the Six-Party Talks. He’ll arrive in Seoul tomorrow, Tuesday evening, where he’ll meet with Kim Sook. Later in the week, he’ll visit Pyongyang before going to Beijing, where he’ll meet with the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei. He is also scheduled to visit Tokyo for consultations with the Japanese. I don’t have any more details on his schedule. Sung Kim will be traveling with him, but that’s all we have at the moment. So we’ll update you as we can.

QUESTION: So later in the week -- you said Pyongyang.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, later in the week.

QUESTION: No specific date.

MR. WOOD: No specific date.

QUESTION: And he’s (inaudible) for Seoul?

MR. WOOD: He’s in New York now. He’ll be leaving for Seoul later today.

QUESTION: And Tokyo follows his trip to Beijing?

MR. WOOD: To Beijing. That’s correct.

QUESTION: And just simply stated, can you tell us why he is making this trip?

MR. WOOD: Well, obviously, we’re very concerned about some of the reversal of disablement activities that the North has been in engaged in. And he obviously wants to consult with his counterparts in the region out there to see what our next steps are going to be with regard to a response to what the North is doing. Again, we encourage the North very strongly to submit that verification regime so that we can move forward on the other aspects, positive aspects of the Six-Party framework. And Assistant Secretary Hill will be obviously out in the region looking for ways to work with our allies to bring North Korea into compliance with its obligations.

QUESTION: Two things, Robert.

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: One, on all the things you just described, I think are all things that he could have done in New York this past week, or the Secretary could have done, in other words, consult with your allies and partners in this process. And I think the thing that is most interesting to us is that he’s going to Pyongyang. Can you flesh out at all what he hopes to do in Pyongyang? Is it to get a better feel for why they have begun to roll back on the denuclearization steps? Is it to see if there’s some kind of negotiating room on the nature of the verification mechanism? I mean, what – that’s probably the aspect that’s most striking about this trip, so if you could try to address that?

MR. WOOD: You know, I’ll do the best I can on that. The Secretary obviously believes it’s important for Chris to go out to the region, particularly to go to Pyongyang to get a sense on the ground as to what’s going on and obviously to talk with North Korean officials about why they’ve taken the steps they’ve taken. And obviously, as I said earlier, to encourage them, once again, to submit this verification package, which we have said is not an onerous task that we have asked the North Koreans to undertake. It’s a standard, you know, verification package that’s been done in other cases in the international community. And so that’s, in essence, is why the Secretary wants Chris to go to the region, so that we can get a firsthand look at what’s going on.

QUESTION: And, just one other related one. Forgive me, I wasn’t here on Friday, so I don’t know to what extent you addressed this. But the Post on Friday said it had obtained a copy of – a four-page copy of – that essentially laid out the verification procedures that the Bush Administration wanted to see. It quoted David – well, being a former weapons inspector David Albright as saying that this was a very extensive one. And The New York Times in an op-ed today says, I think – excuse me, an internet editorial says that it was so extensive that only a vanquished – a country vanquished in the war might submit to the verification measures that the United States is seeking of North Korea. One, are -- was The Washington Post report correct in terms of the verification document? And two, how would you – since I assume you would dispute the notion that this was, in fact, a very intrusive and extensive set of verification measures?

MR. WOOD: Well, for one I’m not going to comment on the Post story that referred to a document that wasn’t to be made public. But again, as I said on Friday, I believe it was July 10 – 12 – there was a heads of delegation meeting in which the verification principles were agreed to by the parties. And so again, this call from us and from others in the international community for the North to submit this verification package is not new and we have made the case over and over again that this needs to happen before we can take any steps with regard to delisting.

And as I said, we’re talking about a standard verification package. This is not onerous. It’s not unusual in terms of trying to verify activities that may have taken place. So you know, the North cannot expect that after submitting over 19,000 pages that, obviously, we, the other parties to the framework – we need to be able to verify what they’ve submitted. And so again, Chris Hill will be going to the region, trying to look for ways that we can encourage the North to live up to its obligations.


QUESTION: Just a follow-up on that: When you say that the Secretary wants Chris Hill to go and get a sense on the ground in Pyongyang with what’s going on over there, do you mean to say that you’re trying to understand who is calling the shots now with the reports or the indications that Kim Jong Il is sick? And given their turnaround since that time, is there an effort to find out who is in charge right now?

MR. WOOD: I think the effort is to find out why North Korea has taken the steps that it’s taken. And we want to see those steps reversed.

And again, Chris is not just going to Pyongyang, although that’s a very important stop, obviously, on the trip. He is going to meet with his counterparts in other capitols in the region to talk about how we can get the North back on the path to what it’s committed to doing. And so I think it’s more trying to get a sense as to why they took the steps that they took.

QUESTION: In a general sense, is it fair to say that you know that it’s partly because of the delisting issue and the verification issue? That they find it too stringent, the verification? Can you say that at this point?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, all I can say is that they haven’t submitted a verification package. Hopefully, we’ll be able to find out better why they have not done so. And again, in conversations with his counterparts, Chris Hill is going to try to see what ways we can work with our allies in the region to get the North to submit this verification package.

But again, I want to stress this is not something that’s out of the norm. It is a standard verification package. The North knows that it is supposed to present the Six-Party – the other members of the Six-Party framework with this verification package. And again, Chris will be making those points when he goes to the region.

QUESTION: Can I follow up with one more on this, Robert?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: You know, the North Koreans are known to be sticklers on written agreements. I don’t believe that any of the agreements -- any of the written agreements – flowing from the September 2005 agreement actually explicitly addresses verification or explicitly requires the North to submit a verification package. I think that the key document referred to their making a complete and correct declaration, but I don’t think it said anything of their nuclear programs – but I don’t think it said anything about submitting a verification package.

And the Singapore agreement – again, an agreement on verification principles – is different from a specific agreement to, sort of, produce a package or to accept the package that the United States has proposed. So from the North Koreans point of view, they may feel that they gave you a declaration. They may regard it as complete and correct, and they may not feel obliged to accept your definition of a verification regime.

MR. WOOD: Well, all I can say is that the North knows exactly what it has to do. The verification package – they’re quite aware that we need to have that in place, a verifiable one, so that we can move forward on other aspects of denuclearization. I can’t tell you why the North is saying what it’s saying, but let me just again reiterate the fact that this is not new. The North Koreans know exactly what’s required of them. And you know, the idea that they couldn’t possibly – or a verification package is not something that they believe that they needed to submit. That’s just not the case.

All the other members agree that we need to be able to verify the declaration that the North submitted. And in order to do that we need a verification package.

Let me try to – go ahead, Kirit.

QUESTION: This is follow up on Arshad’s question. Is there a – can you say whether Chris Hill is leaving the U.S. with any sort of idea or compromise in mind to try to break the logjam?

MR. WOOD: Well, if he is, I’m not going to reveal anything here.

QUESTION: Could you say if he has – I mean, is there something – he’s had a lot of meetings -- the Secretary has, as well -- over the past week in New York. Can you say whether in those conversations – the consultations with the other four members, whether they’ve been able to come up with some sort of proposal that they’re going to present at Pyongyang?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I’m not going to go into the substance of any message or proposal that Chris may be carrying to the region, except to say that we are going – he is going to the region to try to look for a way to move this process forward. And obviously, Chris will have some ideas about how to do that. And we’ll just have to wait and see where we go from there.


QUESTION: The process has been going precipitously backward for a few weeks now. And going to the region is pretty much standard operation for Chris Hill, but going to Pyongyang is not. Is this a -- an effort to try to salvage the process? Because he’s only gone to Pyongyang at critical moments of the process. Is this an effort to try to salvage the process right now?

MR. WOOD: Well, we want to get the process back on track. You know, the fact that the North has taken these steps at reversing disablement is of concern, major concern to us and the other members of the Six-Party framework. So obviously, this is an important visit. And as I said, Assistant Secretary Hill is looking to see what the reasons are that the North took – or what the reasons are for the North taking these steps to reverse disablement. So that’s about the best I can say on that at this moment.

QUESTION: If he comes away empty handed, is that very damaging for this process?

MR. WOOD: Well, let’s not speculate. Let’s let him get to the region and have him begin his diplomacy there.


QUESTION: Thank you. Very recently there was a meeting between Armenian President and --

MR. WOOD: Can we stay North Korea and then we can come back to that?



QUESTION: Just briefly, you said he’s going at the direction of Secretary Rice. Did he receive an invitation from the North Koreans? Did he seek an invitation? Is there anything you can give us about the timing of that?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know the details of that. I just know that he is going to the region, and he’s going to obviously meet with representatives of the North Korean Government. But I don’t know the background of that, Charley, as to --

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the activities in Yongbyon? Like, do you have any information?

MR. WOOD: No, no new information.

QUESTION: What’s going on?

MR. WOOD: No new information, but again, Chris will be going there and hopefully will be able to get a better read on what’s happening there.

QUESTION: The (inaudible) are still there?

MR. WOOD: Yes, our monitors are still there.

QUESTION: He’s not going to go to (inaudible) -- he’ll stay in Pyongyang, right?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I just know that he’s going to Pyongyang. His schedule isn’t, you know, finalized yet and there’ll obviously be more details and we’ll try to fill you in on those as they become available.

QUESTION: Do you know how long he will be – his trip to North Korea?

MR. WOOD: Don’t know. Don’t know. Anything else on North Korea?

QUESTION: Did you --

MR. WOOD: Oh, I’m sorry, was there one more? Okay. Please, go.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Did you say that – who he’s going to meet in Pyongyang?


QUESTION: You don’t have that information?

MR. WOOD: We don’t have the information.

Okay, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yeah, there was a meeting between President of Armenia in New York with Condoleezza Rice, the United States Secretary. I’d like to ask if you can provide any information how the meeting passed? And maybe we can broaden the topic of how you estimate U.S.-Armenia relations during the last period, especially after the Ossetian crisis when there was cooperation between Armenia and the United States concerning U.S. citizens who were coming from Georgia to Armenia for – leaving the region? Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, our cooperation with the Government of Armenia is very good. I’ll have to refer you to the – our people up in New York for a more detailed readout of the Secretary’s meeting, because I don’t have them here. Sorry.


MR. WOOD: Anything else?


QUESTION: Did you have anything on the Ecuador election that passed, the constitutional changes that would sort of solidify the position of the president there?

MR. WOOD: Yeah. We offer our congratulations to the people of Ecuador on the successful referendum and we reaffirm our commitment to build on our successful cooperation with Ecuador, consistent with our commitment to supporting Ecuadorian efforts to strengthen democratic institutions and the prosperity of its people.

QUESTION: You’re not at all concerned about the provisions there that would allow the incumbent president to stay in office?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, this referendum is something that was decided on – or the results of the referendum were decided on by the Ecuadorian people and it’s a decision for them to make.

Charley, were you going to ask some more? No, okay.

QUESTION: This – the weapons on this Ukrainian ship that was hijacked by Somali pirates on its way to Sudan, apparently -- does the U.S. interpret this sort of arms shipment as a violation of the UN arms embargo?

MR. WOOD: Well, right now, I understand the Pentagon has a ship that’s monitoring the situation out there right now. I don’t have any other details about it, other than to say that, obviously, we’ve been concerned about piracy in this part of the world for a very long time. We’ve had travel warnings in the past about the situation off the coast there. And – but beyond that, I don’t have anything for you on that. I’d probably refer you to the Pentagon for more details on that.

QUESTION: Do you have lawyers who are examining whether this was a violation of the UN --

MR. WOOD: I’m sure people will be looking at those aspects of it. But right now, they’re obviously trying to resolve a standoff in the area, first and foremost.

QUESTION: Could you say whether the U.S. is concerned or welcomes a Russian ship that is also heading towards this, apparently, hijacked ship?

MR. WOOD: Well, the Russians, I believe, are trying to lend their support to the ship that was hijacked. So I don’t have anything to say beyond that on it. They’re obviously concerned about it as we are.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Okay, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:04 a.m.)

dpb # 162

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