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



Need for an Agreement on Capitol Hill on U.S.-India Civil Nuclear Agreement


A/S Hill Travel, Meeting Schedule / Travel to South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan
Efforts to Move Process Forward
Obligations of North Korea / Demands of the Other Five Parties
North Korea’s Presence on the State Sponsors of Terrorism List
Need for Verification Regime


Financial Crisis / Efforts by the Administration to Address
Suggestion by the French President of an International Summit to Address Financial Crisis


Comments by Russian FM Lavrov


Elections / U.S. Analyzing Situation / Election Fell Short of International Standards
U.S. Desire to See Democracy, Improvement in Human Rights in Belarus


Comments by FM Lavrov / Moving Forward in a Post-START Era


Visas for Two Cuban Journalists


New Pakistani Intelligence Chief / Decision of Pakistani Leadership
U.S. to Continue to Look for Ways to Cooperate on Counterterrorism


Reconciliation Program


View Video 

12:08 p.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Welcome back from New York. I don’t have anything, so we’ll go right to your questions.

QUESTION: Can you talk about the Indian nuclear deal, Robert? Senator Reid this morning said that he was sure that they could work out a deal in the Senate so that they could vote on it tomorrow. Do you share that optimism? Do you actually expect a vote on this tomorrow in the Senate?

MR. WOOD: Well, Senator Reid can speak to that better than I can. But we certainly hope that we’ll be able to have this agreement. And it’s important agreement for the U.S. and India. It’s got strong bipartisan support, so we hope to see it happen.

QUESTION: Can you --

MR. WOOD: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can you enlighten us a little bit more about what Chris Hill is going to be doing tomorrow if he makes it to Pyongyang as scheduled?

MR. WOOD: Well, he is in Seoul today. He met with Kim Sook and he’ll be heading off to North Korea, I believe, tomorrow. He’ll be going to Pyongyang. I don’t have any names of officials he’s going to meet with. I assume he will have a meeting with Kim Kye Gwan. But beyond that, in terms of what he’ll be doing in North Korea, I don’t know at this point.

And then I think on the third --


MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You must have some idea of what he’s going to be doing even if you don’t know who he’s going to --

MR. WOOD: Well, he’s obviously going --

QUESTION: He’s not going there to (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: No. He’s going to talk to officials. I don’t – he’s going to talk to officials. But I can’t tell you, beyond the person I just mentioned, who he’s going to speak with. And then he’ll go on to China from there, where he’ll meet with Chinese officials, I believe, on the third. And then he’ll go to Tokyo and then return to Washington on the 4th. At least that’s the plan right now. You know, that could change depending on his discussions. But at this point, he’s looking to come back to Washington on the 4th.

QUESTION: Do you think that could change depending on his discussions in Beijing or in Pyongyang?

MR. WOOD: With any of his discussions.

QUESTION: All right. Well, what’s the hope – is the hope that the North Koreans will just come out and say, all right, we accept this protocol?

MR. WOOD: Our hope is that they will submit to the Six-Party members the verification regime that we’ve asked for.


MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: When he visits Pyongyang, you have good reason to think that you could get that verification at that time?

MR. WOOD: Well, as I said yesterday, for those of you who weren’t here, he obviously wants to go and get a feel for the situation on the ground, talk to North Korean officials as to why they’ve taken these – you know, made this reversal in terms of disablement. And he’s coming with some ideas and he’s going to have discussions, of course with North Korean officials, but with others in the region and see where we go from there. But we have to let him do his diplomacy.

QUESTION: So on – he made reference, Chris did, in one of the availabilities he had, to a draft verification plan that the U.S. is bringing with it. Is that a new draft or is that the original verification plan (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: I didn’t see those particular remarks. He may have said them. I don’t remember that. Chris, as I said, is going with some ideas on how to move this process forward. And he’s obviously going to share those not only with, you know, the North, but with the other members of the Six-Party framework. And we’ll see where it goes.

QUESTION: What are some of the ideas?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to share those. Let’s -- let him do his work out there in the region and we’ll see what happens.

QUESTION: Good try.

MR. WOOD: David.

QUESTION: Secretary Rice said in a photo op yesterday that Hill was invited by North Korea. So this mission is entirely at the – is this – you said that this trip is at the impetus of North Korea. And have they – did they indicate that they had something to say to him, other than their stated positions?

MR. WOOD: Well, my understanding is that the North did indeed invite Chris Hill, and he obviously had discussions with the Secretary, and the Secretary instructed him to go and, as I said, to try to get a sense as to what’s going on on the ground. And we’re going to take some ideas to see how we can – as I said before, move this process forward.

QUESTION: But you’re not in any way scaling back your demands for the verification protocol? Your ideas don’t involve rolling back?

MR. WOOD: It’s not our demands, Arshad. It’s basically the demands of the Six Parties – the five other parties, to be exact. And so, you know, the North knows what it has to do. We’ve been down this road before in terms of ups and downs with regard to the process. But Chris is going to go out there and do the best he can to try to convince the North why it’s important to do this and why it’s important for them to live up to their obligations. And again, this is not an onerous task that we have asked the North Koreans to meet. So we want to see it happen.

QUESTION: Just – you know, to rephrase that correctly then, the five are not scaling back on their demands for the verification protocol?

MR. WOOD: We want to see a verification regime, which includes the verification protocol, meaning the details of how that verification would be done.


QUESTION: There’s been a lot of talk about provisionally delisting North Korea from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list. And Ambassador Hill indicated there might be some movement on that list. I’m wondering if the verification regime is not agreed upon and the U.S. could return the – North Korea to that list, what will that mean, especially since North Korea hasn’t actually committed any acts of terrorism since 1988? 

MR. WOOD: Well, again, it’s a lot of speculation. I don’t want to get into speculation here, except to say that, you know, we obviously have a problem with the North Koreans on this issue. And Chris wants to try to find a way to get this process back on track, move it forward. We want to get that verification regime, so that we can move forward on the delisting. And we have to let Chris do his work out there and have his meetings, and then we’ll go from there. But we are very concerned about the North’s steps. 

QUESTION: New subject? 

MR. WOOD: Oh, one more on North Korea? 

QUESTION: You’ve mentioned a few times now that he’s going over there with some ideas. Are these ideas to try to work out an arrangement and to strike a deal with the North Koreans or are they basically ideas to bounce off the North Koreans to get their reaction to some new process? 

MR. WOOD: Well, again, Chris wants to get the process back on track and he wants to, you know, take some ideas, present them to the other parties, present them to the North, in particular, and see if we can, you know, address the issue in an appropriate way. And that’s what he’s going to do. He really wants to get a sense of what the North is thinking, why they took the steps that they took and, you know, make the case again that they need to come up with this – they need to produce this verification regime, as we’ve been saying all along. 

QUESTION: Is the goal, though, to leave there with something in hand? Is that the goal? 

MR. WOOD: Our goal is to get the North to submit a verification regime. That is the goal, plain and simple. Any other questions on the North? 


QUESTION: I don’t know how much you can say about this, Robert, but now with the financial problems globally, how much is the State Department playing a part in this with other countries? You know, we have a statement of the European Commission today saying that the U.S. had a special role in global financial markets and the global economy. We’ve seen statements from the Australian Prime Minister, from the German Foreign Minister. How much is the State Department in touch with your counterparts on that issue? 

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re obviously in touch with our counterparts on this issue. I mean, it’s a huge issue that the world is trying to deal with right now. But again, the White House, Treasury, the Congress, they’re working to try to produce some kind of a package. And I – you know, of course, it’s a topic of interest and we certainly, you know, make the points that, you know, the Congress and the Administration are working very hard to try to produce a package that can be voted on and approved and can help, you know, move the economy in a much more positive direction. 

QUESTION: Are you aware of any requests from foreign governments about briefing them or consulting with them on any of the measures that are being considered internally in the U.S.?  There have been some complaints from the Europeans that they have been out of the loop and they haven’t been consulted on what’s going on. Have you heard anything about that? 

MR. WOOD: Well, no I haven’t. But again, this is obviously a very serious crisis and the Administration and Congress have got to work this through. Obviously, there will be time to consult with countries about what’s going on and what steps we – you know, we may take. But right now the work has to be done by, you know, the Administration and Congress. And we’re working very hard with the Congress right now to try to, you know, deal with this difficult crisis. 


QUESTION: So we asked before, have any special directives sent out to the --

MR. WOOD: As far as I know, no special directives – none that I’m aware of. 

QUESTION: And any update on your reaction to the suggestion by the French President and others for an international summit? 

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have any reaction. I’ll see if we can get you something on that, but I don’t have anything on that. 

QUESTION: And still, on the same topic, because of the financial uncertainty, has there been internal discussion about possible restrictions on State Department activities, embassy outreach programs, things like that? 

MR. WOOD: No, not that I’m aware of. Not at this point. 


QUESTION: Different topic? 

MR. WOOD: Anyone else on this topic? 


QUESTION: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said in New York “A representative of American leadership said that if someone attacks South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgians should forget and abandon their application for membership in NATO.” So do you have any comments or was there any conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov? 

MR. WOOD: Can you repeat that? I didn’t quite --

QUESTION: Yes. He said, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in New York that “A representative of American leadership said that if someone attacks South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgians should forget and abandon their application for membership in NATO.”

MR. WOOD: I have no idea who he’s referring to. Absolutely no idea. It’s the first I’ve heard of this. No idea. 

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. 

QUESTION: On Belarus, in light of our reaction to the election over the weekend, what are – what next steps can you comment on? For example, the sanctions that were suspended last month, can we expect that those will be reinstated? 

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t know. I mean, we’re still trying to analyze, you know, the situation there. And you know, as I spoke to you yesterday about the elections, they obviously fell short of international standards. But again, we – we’ll need to work with the government there on a number of issues. So I don’t have much more of an update from yesterday on that. 

QUESTION: Robert, there’s never been any hesitation from that podium in criticizing Belarus until recently. The reaction to elections falling short of international standards seems very moderate. Is there a reason for that? 

MR. WOOD: That’s your interpretation. I mean, our – we – still, we have a lot of very serious difficulties with the government there. And again, those elections fell short of international standards, as I said. And we obviously want the government there to take steps in a number of areas. You know those areas very well. But we also know that we have to work with this government, and we want to try to get it on the right path. 

QUESTION: And why do we have to work with the Government of Belarus? What are the issues? 

MR. WOOD: I don’t – why do we have to work with them? 

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you know --

MR. WOOD: Well, we’d obviously like to see democracy in that region, we’d like to see, you know, political prisoners released. We’d like to see an improvement in the human rights situation. There are a number of areas. So we’re going to work hard to try to get the government to move along a much more positive path; that’s why it’s important to us.

QUESTION: But in the past, the U.S. position in that regard has been more disengagement than engagement – I mean, to the extent of, you know, withdrawing an ambassador and so on and so forth. There does seem to have been a change in tone. So is this, in part, in response to the tensions with Russia?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We have, obviously, some very serious issues with, you know, Belarus. There’s no question about that. And as we said, those elections were going to be a key point in determining how we go forward. We’re obviously – we’re disappointed that they didn’t meet up to international standards. And we’re obviously having conversations with our European allies about how we can help move the process forward in terms of eventually getting Belarus to move on the democratic path. But there’s been really no change. We obviously – we need to work with the government if we are going to deal with some of these issues that I just outlined.

QUESTION: Okay, and when you say, we have to work with the government, you mean, specifically, dealing with the democratic shortfalls in the country? It doesn’t mean working with them on regional issues, working with them on energy and their relationship with Russia, say?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, there are a whole host of issues that we need to deal with, with regard to Belarus. And those other issues, the issues with regard to energy and whatnot -- those are key. But again, we’ve got some very serious human rights concerns, as you know, with Belarus. And one of our objectives is to move this country in a much more positive direction toward democracy, and that’s what we’re going to continue to try to do.

But having said that, I mean, we obviously, you know, are very concerned about the fact that there are lot of things happening there that we’re not, you know, pleased with. But beyond that, I don’t have anything more to add on that.

QUESTION: Change subject. Yesterday, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov essentially appeared to blame the United States for the absence of progress in replacing START I, which I believe expires in December of ’09.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And among other things, he said that the reason that the talks had stalled was that – quote – “our American colleagues do not want to keep limits on the delivery vehicles and on nuclear warheads in storage. They only want to keep some limits on the operationally deployed nuclear warheads.”

Do you have any comment on that, and if not, can you get back to me with one?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, unlike the – you know, distinguished Russian Foreign Minister, I’m not going to comment about negotiations and discussions we would have with the Russians on that subject. We obviously will be talking to the Russians about how we can move forward in the post-START era. But beyond that, I really don’t want to get into any level of substance of discussions that we have with them in a public forum, anyway.

Matt had his hand up first.

QUESTION: Different subject

MR. WOOD: Different subject?

QUESTION: Different subject, yeah.

MR. WOOD: Okay.

QUESTION: There’s two – two Cuba-related ones. First, do you know anything about some people who were arrested there in Cuba – I think for some kind of trafficking charges that you’re seeking extradition of?

MR. WOOD: No, but I’ll look and see what we can get you on it.

QUESTION: All right. And then another one, apparently this husband and wife team of journalists for Prensa Latina who were credited to cover the UN and have been covering it for ages were denied visas to return to New York from Cuba --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, we’re looking into that.

QUESTION: -- allegedly because they are a “threat” to the United States?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re looking into that. Let me get back to you on that, as well.


QUESTION: Different topic – Pakistan replacing its intelligence chief. Do you have any comments related to that and would this make the U.S. any more open to the idea of a joint border force with Afghanistan and Pakistan, that Afghanistan had suggested?

QUESTION: Well, I’m not – obviously, a decision to replace officials in Pakistan is a decision of the Pakistani leadership. It’s not for us to make here, so I don’t have any further comment on that. Again, we’re going to continue to look for ways that we can enhance our cooperation with the Pakistanis to fight extremism, particularly in the border area.

QUESTION: Okay. But a State Department official has commented directly on – a State Department and other American officials have commented directly on potential issues of Pakistan’s intelligence agency leaking information to militants in the border area. So why no comment on what might – would this potentially solve that problem?

MR. WOOD: Well, again, I don’t know what – you know, what it will mean. This is an internal Pakistani decision with regard to its military and intelligence leadership. All I know is that we have said to the Pakistanis – the Pakistani Foreign Minister was here yesterday to meet with Deputy Secretary Negroponte and he was also here for the strategic dialogue that we have with Pakistan. And our efforts are clearly aimed at trying to do what we can to counter that extremist threat, particularly from the tribal areas. And we’re going to continue to work with Pakistan to try to figure out how we can best fight this extremism that’s coming from that – you know, that part of it’s – of the country. And so – that’s clearly what we intend to do, and I don’t have anything more on that.


QUESTION: Just a question on Afghanistan: Do you have anything to say about President Karzai’s offering for reconciliation talks with Mullah Omar and encouraging the Taliban to come and talk and that kind of thing?

MR. WOOD: Well, as you know, Afghanistan has a reconciliation program in place, which we fully support. And one of the things that – some of the criteria that the Afghans have used themselves is that people who want to come into this process have to renounce violence and, of course, adhere to Afghan’s constitution. So we think that’s important. They’re – you know, these people have to have a place to go when they – coming out of the cold. And it’s important that they not have ties to al-Qaida, and that they accept Afghanistan’s constitution.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Thank you, sir. 

(The briefing was concluded at 12:27 p.m.)

DPB # 163

Released on September 30, 2008

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