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Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 7, 2009

INDEX:

ISRAEL/GAZA

Egyptian-French Cease-fire Plan
Situation in New York is Fluid / Looking at a Number of Diplomatic Options
Secretary Working Around the Clock to End Conflict
Need Durable Lasting Solution to which Both Sides Will Adhere
Hamas Has Not Played a Constructive Role in the Region
Secretary Rice’s Meetings while in New York
U.S. Welcomes Opening of Humanitarian Corridor / Humanitarian Situation is Dire
Question About Call for Retaliatory Attacks Against Americans in Iraq
Secretary’s Telephone Calls Regarding Conflict in Gaza
Hamas Needs to Play a Constructive Role in the Region

NORTH KOREA

Want to See Verification Protocol from North Korea

RUSSIA

Russia-Ukraine Gas Dispute
Turning off Gas Supplies to Vulnerable Populations is Not Acceptable


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

11:04 a.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Well, good morning, everyone. Welcome, happy new year to those I haven’t said happy new year to. I don’t have anything, so why don’t we go right to your questions.

QUESTION: Well, what exactly is your position on this Egyptian-French proposal?

MR. WOOD: Well, as the Secretary said last night, we welcome and commend the Egyptian statement last night regarding the cease-fire proposal. And look, we’re working with all interested parties to try to do what we can to bring about, you know, an effective resolution to the conflict. So there are other diplomatic tracks that we’re working on right now. The situation in New York is quite fluid and, you know, changing almost minute by minute. So that’s really where we are at the moment.

QUESTION: Well, what do you mean, there are other diplomatic tracks? Something other than the Egyptian-French one?

MR. WOOD: Well, there are – let me just say that there are a number of diplomatic tracks that are being worked, and we’re going to work to see what we can do, as I said, in line with our principles that have been outlined, to bring about an effective, long-term, and as you’ve heard before, durable cease-fire.

QUESTION: Well, that suggests that you’re not particularly supportive of the Egyptian-French plan if you’re talking about other diplomatic tracks.

MR. WOOD: No, what I’m saying is, as the Secretary said last night, and you saw her remarks, that we basically welcomed and commended what --

QUESTION: Well, she said that you were pleased by and commended.

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re pleased and commended by the statement that the Egyptians made last night about their cease-fire plan. But as I said, the situation is very fluid. We’re looking at a number of diplomatic options. There are various options on the table. The Secretary, as you know, is going to be extending her visit up in New York, having discussions with a number of ministers and other important diplomatic figures. And we’ll just have to see where it goes from there.

QUESTION: Robert, to go to this --

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: How do you square the Egyptian proposal, which, as I understand it, calls for an immediate truce and then for a longer-term dialogue on some of the issues – you know, smuggling, et cetera – with your position that a cease-fire has to have those elements right from the start?

MR. WOOD: Well, like I said, Arshad, we’re looking at a number of different diplomatic tracks by which we can try to reach the overall goal that everyone in the international community wants to see, and that’s an end to the fighting that’s durable and lasting. And so, you know, we’re obviously looking – we’ve looked at the – we are looking at the Egyptian proposal, we’re looking at other ideas to see what we can do to be, as I said, effective in terms of resolving this conflict. So that’s about all I can offer you on the Egyptian proposal at this point.

QUESTION: Yeah, so what are the other ideas? Can you elaborate more?

MR. WOOD: I can’t. It would be, frankly, fruitless for me to try to do that because there’s a – there are a lot of discussions going on. Things are being modified. Other things are likely being proposed. So it wouldn’t be fair of me to do that here.

But let me just say that one of the things that we want to see happen is that in line with our principles, that we reach something that is not going to recur – we’re going to reach – we’re going to come up with a solution to this crisis that allows us not to have to go back and deal with this issue of, you know, hostilities again. And that’s what the Secretary is trying to do. She’s been working around the clock, as have others in the international system, to try to see what we can do to really end this conflict and – so that we don’t have to revisit this type of situation again.

QUESTION: Are you hoping to do that within days, end the conflict within days?

MR. WOOD: You know, I couldn’t put a timeframe on it for you, but we’re obviously trying to do this as soon as possible. But what’s important here is that we come up with something that’s effective, and that, as I said, both parties will adhere to, and that allows us to eventually start to move forward, back on the Annapolis process. Because in the end, that’s really going to be the key to resolving this conflict in the region, and that’s having a political process that suits the needs of both parties.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Well, now what both parties are you talking about here? Are you talking about Hamas as one of the parties?

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m talking about the Israelis and Palestinians overall.

QUESTION: But Hamas is the – is the problem.

MR. WOOD: Hamas is definitely the problem. And you know, Hamas needs to do a number of things, one of which is to cease the rocket fire, as we’ve said. Hamas needs to play a constructive role in the region. Up until now, it has not done so. It’s fired missiles intentionally targeting civilians. We’re very concerned about what’s happening to the Palestinian people on the ground there. And you know, again, as we said throughout the duration of this conflict, that Hamas needs to choose a different path. And until it does so, we’re going to continue to have these problems in the region. But you’re right, Hamas is the problem.

QUESTION: Well, and in that regard, if for whatever set of reasons Hamas decided to stop and go to a cease-fire, does that mean you’d be willing to include them or talk to them or change your position on them in any way?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, our position with – about – our position in relation to Hamas has been very clear: It’s a terrorist organization; it needs to stop that type of activity. As I said, it can choose another path. So far it hasn’t chosen a path that the international community has been trying to encourage Hamas go down. So Hamas knows what it needs to do.

QUESTION: Well, but is it -- you seem to be suggesting that unless Hamas accepts Israel’s right to exist and accepts the agreements that the Palestinian Authority has made with Israel in terms of the Roadmap and the Annapolis process, that anything less than that is not going to work in a cease-fire for you guys.

MR. WOOD: No, no. I was talking about overall in terms of trying to --

QUESTION: So Hamas does not have to abandon its reason for being, or stated reason for being, right now in order for there to be a cease-fire; is that what you’re saying?

MR. WOOD: Look, we’ve outlined what our position is with regard to what needs to happen in order for there to be a durable and lasting cease-fire. That – I think we’ve been very clear about. What I was also talking about was in terms of trying to bring about a two-state solution and an overall end to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, I’m saying Hamas needs to basically change its stripes.

QUESTION: So then, you mentioned that both -- earlier that you’re looking at modification – that things were very fluid in New York. You’re looking at modifications to what?

MR. WOOD: Well, to various ideas and plans that are being put forward. And as I said, there are a lot of diplomatic discussions going on in New York right now. And as I said, it doesn’t make any sense for me to stand here and go into details of various ideas and plans that are evolving. And -- but my central point has been that what we want to try to do is to come up with something, in whatever form it is, in terms of something that is going to last, that the two sides are going to respect, and that eventually gets us down the road back to the Annapolis process.

QUESTION: Who – can you just, you know, tell us who the Secretary is planning to meet with at --

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I can go through that for you and tell you what her meetings are. She met this morning with Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit. She also had a meeting with Arab foreign ministers. She had a pull-aside with the Libyan foreign minister. And then she was attending a French-hosted meeting with the P-3 foreign ministers. And I think right now there is a French-hosted meeting with the P-3 plus Arab foreign ministers. And then later this morning, she’ll be meeting with UN Secretary General Ban. And then there’s a period of time in the afternoon which she will use to have consultations and other meetings to try, again, to bring about this lasting cease-fire.

QUESTION: Do you know with who?

MR. WOOD: At this point it’s, again, very fluid so we don’t have any names yet of whom she will be meeting with.

QUESTION: Is she staying in New York today?

MR. WOOD: She will be New York. She’ll be leaving – at least the plan is right now, she’ll probably be leaving sometime this evening.

QUESTION: Can you put out a list of Arab foreign ministers who were at the meeting with her this morning?

MR. WOOD: Let me see if I have that anywhere. Yeah. Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, the Emirati Foreign Minister Al Nahyan, Jordanian Foreign Minister Al-Bashir, Lebanese Foreign Minister Salloukh, the Libyan Foreign Minister Shalgam, the Moroccan Foreign Minister Fassi-Fihri, Saudi Perm Rep, Permanent Representative Majid Shubukshi, and the Arab League Secretary General Moussa. I’m not sure who the Palestinian rep was at that meeting, at this point.

QUESTION: Do you expect a resolution in New York to be offered today, to be voted on today or not?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know, at this point, if there will be a resolution that will be tabled and, you know, voted on at all. But as I said, we’re looking at a number of different ways to try to resolve this conflict. So whether that comes in a form of a resolution, a statement, some other kind of text, I don’t know, at this point.

QUESTION: Can I talk about the humanitarian corridor?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: So the Israelis yesterday said that they would open up the crossings and halt to the fighting for three hours a day --

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- to bring in a food. Now, that seems to be closed. Before, it seems that it’s going to be more of a two-hour window every other day. So (a) do you think that that’s enough time for aid workers to not only cross the border, but get in and distribute aid to all Palestinians in need for two to three hours every other day?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, I mean, we’re in the midst of a conflict zone so, I mean, we’re obviously pleased that the Israelis have made this decision to open up a humanitarian corridor. I’m not on the ground. I’m not in a position to be able to say that or not. We’re just very pleased that --

QUESTION: Well – but you’re obviously very concerned about the dire situation of the Palestinians on the ground.

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: So is that really – is that just a symbolic gesture, or is that really enough time to distribute aid to all the Palestinians that you’re getting reports are in need of it?

MR. WOOD: Well, mind you, a conflict is still going on. And so again, we have been encouraging and we’ve been having discussions with the Israelis and others and to try to see what we could do to open up some kind of a humanitarian corridor. The Israelis have done so. You know, of course, the longer the better. But remember, we are in a conflict -- they’re in a conflict zone right now. And the fact that it’s open for two or three hours, I think we have to try to take advantage of that as best we can.

Michel.

QUESTION: Robert, Muqtada. Al-Sadr, the Iraqi leader, has called the --

MR. WOOD: Can we – let’s – is this on --

QUESTION: Yes, on Gaza --

MR. WOOD: Okay. Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- has called his followers in Iraq to launch military operations against the Americans in Iraq to revenge what’s going on in Gaza. Do you have any reaction on that?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, obviously -- I mean, any call for attacks against Americans is outrageous and, frankly, not worthy of much more comment. Look, what we’re trying to do, as I’ve said and as Sean has said, is to try to see what we can do diplomatically to reach a long-term solution to this problem. And the Secretary’s been working very hard on this, others have been, and these type of efforts take time. They’re not easy, obviously. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners -- and the Secretary has got a full schedule of meetings, as you can see -- and try to do what we can. But outside calls to attack Americans for what’s going on in the region are outrageous.

Sir. I’ll get back to you, Charlie.

QUESTION: How do you assess the urgency of a need for a cessation of hostilities? I mean, yesterday we saw severe civilian casualties at the UN school in Gaza. I mean, you were talking about discussing various diplomatic tracks. What’s your assessment of the urgency of the need for this conflict to stop?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, as we have said, the situation, the humanitarian situation on the ground, is dire, and we’re working it very hard to try and see what we can do to help alleviate the situation. There are a lot of – that piece of this discussion is being dealt with up in New York. As I said, I’d go back to my comments about the Israeli initiative to open a humanitarian corridor. That is certainly something that we welcome, and we want to see that we can try to build on that as best we can. And we want to see a resolution as soon as possible, and we’ve said that. And we’re working hard toward that effort. But it’s not an easy situation, as you can imagine. But whatever solution that we do reach has got to be – you know, has got to be durable, and it’s also got to be something that both sides are going to adhere to.

Charlie.

QUESTION: Can you bring us up to date on whether or not the Secretary has had any calls, aside from her meetings in New York, with Israelis, Palestinians, or anyone else on this?

MR. WOOD: Sure. Let’s see. I – this morning, it would be kind of a difficult for me to tell you about any calls she may have had. She’s having a lot of meetings. But yesterday she had a number of calls. She had one, two, three, four calls with Israeli Foreign Minister Livni, looks like two calls with Prime Minister Olmert, one call with Quartet Representative Blair, and one with the Dutch Foreign Minister Verhagen.

QUESTION: How about with the transition?

MR. WOOD: The transition? I’m not aware of any updates in terms of calls that the Secretary may have had. I’ll check and see if there have been any since Sean briefed yesterday.

QUESTION: Can we go back to – obviously, we know you’re calling for a long – a durable kind of long-term solution.

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: But I mean, isn’t there a tipping point at which this military campaign is not sustainable? I mean, is the only criteria for this being over that you find a long-term, sustainable solution? I mean, at some point, isn’t the campaign so devastating that you say enough is enough?

MR. WOOD: Look, this campaign has been a very difficult one for all of us, you know, and a number of lives have been lost. What the Secretary has been trying to do from the beginning is to try to bring about something that is going to --

QUESTION: No, I’m stipulating to that. But I’m just saying, like, isn’t at some point the amount of damage and casualties so extensive that you say this has to stop? Or is the only criteria for you, you know, agreeing that this should be over is that there’s a long-term, sustainable solution?

MR. WOOD: Elise, the only thing I can tell you is that we obviously want to have some type of an end to this conflict going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza, and we’re working hard toward that effort. And again, we want whatever solution that we come up with to be something that is going to sustain – is going to be sustainable, not something that is going to allow us to go back to another series of --

QUESTION: I’m agreeing to that. But I’m saying, isn’t there – you know, the damage, the casualties, continue to mount. The territory of Gaza, regardless of what Hamas is doing – I mean, there are other people that live there and are going to need to continue to live there.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: So, I mean, at what point is the damage too much that you – that it’s not sustainable anymore?

MR. WOOD: Elise, I can’t give you that type – or give you an answer to that type of question, except to say that we want to end it as soon as possible. That’s why the Secretary and others are working around the clock to try to end it. That’s the best I can do for you on that.

Yes.

QUESTION: Only two weeks left of President Bush’s administration. Has the North Korea ever sent any (inaudible)?

MR. WOOD: Before we go to North – any other questions on Gaza? Okay, I’m sorry, please repeat your question.

QUESTION: Yes. Only two weeks left of President Bush’s administration. Has the North Korea ever sent any positive (inaudible) for the Six-Party Talks?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of. We obviously want to see the North agree to a verification protocol. That’s – still the ball is in the North’s court. We want to see that happen. Whether or not that’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks – you know, probably not. But it’s an issue that the new administration will be dealing with, and we’ll have to see where it goes from there. But I don’t have anything new to report to you on, you know, the Six-Party process.

QUESTION: So this issue will be handled by the incoming administration to take care of --

MR. WOOD: Well, the North Korean issue remains a challenge, and the new administration will have to deal with that.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Yeah, more on North Korea. They’re planning to hold parliamentary elections in March.

MR. WOOD: In North Korea?

QUESTION: In North Korea. Do you know what is happening there on --

MR. WOOD: Don’t know anything about it.

David.

QUESTION: Robert, what do you think of Russia pursuing its gas dispute with Ukraine by shutting off the gas to half of Europe?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, Dave, cutting off supplies, natural gas supplies to vulnerable populations, is unacceptable. What we want to see is that this situation be resolved in a transparent, commercial manner, and we want to see that happen as soon as possible. But as I said, you know, cutting off these supplies during winter to vulnerable populations is just something that is unacceptable to us.

QUESTION: Well, what exactly does that mean? You’re not really a party to this --

MR. WOOD: Well, but we just think that --

QUESTION: Why does your calling it unacceptable make any difference? Are you planning to do anything other than call it unacceptable?

MR. WOOD: It’s unacceptable, Matt, and we’re just calling the situation as we see it. And we want to see this – you know, this issue dealt with in a transparent and commercial manner, as we’ve said time and time --

QUESTION: You don’t have any plans to get involved, though?

MR. WOOD: I’ve heard nothing about any plans for the United States to get involved in the matter.

Yes, Samir.

QUESTION: Yeah, I understand from what you said earlier that the only solution for the current conflict is for Hamas to join the Annapolis process?

MR. WOOD: No, no, no, no, no. I’m sorry, I should have made myself clearer. The solution right now to ending this conflict, as we’ve said, needs to be based on the principles that we have spoken to.

What I was also referring to in response to Arshad’s question was that in – I think it was Arshad’s question, it may have been Charlie’s – that in the long term, you know, what Hamas needs to do if it wants to play a productive role in the region is to, you know, recognize Israel, you know, recognize the agreements that have been signed, and end the violence so that we can eventually get to that two-state solution with both states living side by side in peace.

So I was talking about what needs to be done in terms of ending this current conflict between, you know, Hamas and Israel, and then, of course, trying to get us to the longer-term vision that we’ve outlined.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, after 40-something years, do you really think that there’s a military solution to this conflict?

MR. WOOD: No. We’ve never said that there’s a military solution to this conflict.

QUESTION: So no, but I’m saying – I mean, this conflict is going to continue to go on until whatever time Israel decides that it’s time to stop, and do you really think that this is going to stop Hamas? I mean, I’m just --

MR. WOOD: Are you talking about the current hostilities going on between --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. WOOD: Look --

QUESTION: I’m – just practically, do you really think that – I mean, at the end of the day the campaign stops. Do you really think that this particular military conflict is going to stop Hamas or Hezbollah or any of the – I mean, hasn’t history shown you that these type of campaigns, you know, last, there’s destruction, there’s rebuilding, and you’re destined to repeat this cycle of violence?

MR. WOOD: Well, Elise this is – look – the Secretary and others have been trying to do --

QUESTION: We know what they’re trying to do.

MR. WOOD: Okay.

QUESTION: But I mean, do you think that this military campaign is going to stop Hamas?

MR. WOOD: No, look, Israel took these steps because it felt it was in its national interest; it had to stop these rockets from being fired on its population. That, it felt it needed to do. What we are all trying to do now is to bring about a diplomatic solution to this so that we don’t have to go back to these types of hostilities again. And so – and that’s what’s going on in New York right now. So you’re right. I mean --

QUESTION: But how can you have a diplomatic solution without Hamas?

MR. WOOD: Hamas is clearly a party to this conflict and there are interlocutors with Hamas that are trying to get Hamas to stop firing rockets and to play a constructive role in the region. But Hamas is a problem, and we have been encouraging Hamas to show – you know, to go down a different path, as I said earlier. It’s chosen not to do that. It’s firing rockets at innocent civilians. It’s using civilians as human shields. That’s unacceptable, and you can’t play a positive role in trying to bring about peace in the region if that’s what your agenda is.

QUESTION: Isn’t it fair to say that Hamas is a problem not just because you call it a terrorist organization, but because it is a political organization that won elections, that has a big base of support, and that after this conflict, its political base may be just as strong as ever?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, that’s speculative, Lach. I mean --

QUESTION: You don’t think Hamas is getting stronger in the Palestinian territories from this conflict?

MR. WOOD: Hamas – look, Hamas’s military efforts is being – their efforts are being degraded by Israel. Hamas is not serving the interests of the Palestinian people. It’s very clear. We’ll have to see what happens after the end of this conflict, whether Hamas is strengthened or not. We don’t believe it will be.

QUESTION: Really?

MR. WOOD: Well, when you look at the --

QUESTION: This government doesn't believe that Hamas is going to be stronger after this conflict?

MR. WOOD: Why would we believe that Hamas --

QUESTION: I think that this government does believe that.

MR. WOOD: No, absolutely not. Hamas is a threat to people in the region. It’s a terrorist organization. And you know, it needs to change its stripes if it wants to play a productive role in the region. The death and destruction that Hamas has been responsible for throughout the time of its existence is basically shameful, and they’re not interested in peace. And until they change their stripes, we have no reason to change our views of Hamas.

Any other --

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:27 a.m.)

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