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Daily Press Briefing
Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
January 8, 2009

INDEX:

ISRAEL/GAZA

Secretary Rice Meetings in New York with P-3, Arab Representatives
Working Toward Consensus on a Sustainable, Durable Cease-fire
Form of Agreement Less Important Than Function / Must be Effective
Humanitarian Situation is Dire / Working to Build on Humanitarian Corridor, Expand Access to Humanitarian Supplies
U.S. Condemns Attack into Israel from Lebanon / Lebanese Have Also Condemned Attack
Hamas Started This Conflict / Not Operating in Best Interests Palestinian People
Palestinians Want Peace / Important to Return to the Annapolis Process
Iran, Syria Supporting Hamas / U.S. Has Called on Them to Stop Their Support
Rice Phone Calls with FM Livni, PM Olmert, Others
Israel Interested in Diplomatic Solution / Hamas Rockets Must Stop

SOUTH ASIA

Not Aware if Senator Biden Consulted with Secretary Rice on Trip

INDIA

Not Aware of FM Mukherjee’s Visit
India and Pakistan Cooperating on Investigation / Cooperation Must be Enhanced

BANGLADESH

U.S. Congratulated Bangladeshi People on Elections
These Types of Elections Important for Democracy in South Asia

GEORGIA

U.S. and Georgia to Sign Bilateral Charter / More Information Forthcoming


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

11:06 a.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to the briefing. I don’t have anything.

Matt.

QUESTION: Yeah, what’s going on in New York?

MR. WOOD: Well, diplomacy, obviously. The Secretary is –

QUESTION: Is that what it is?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, that’s what it’s called. The Secretary had a meeting – participated in the P-3 meeting this morning, followed by a P-3 meeting with ministers from some of the Arab countries. And that meeting may still be going on. I’m not quire sure at this point.

But what the Secretary has been trying to do over the last couple of days is to work with her counterparts on trying to reach some kind of consensus on elements of a durable – elements that would contribute to a sustainable and durable cease-fire. And what’s really important here is not whether it comes in the form of, say, a Security Council resolution or a presidential statement. It’s really whatever is going to be effective in terms of trying to end this conflict. So that’s what she is working on and we’ll go from there. The situation is still very fluid, obviously, up in New York, so –

QUESTION: Well, hold on a second.

QUESTION: What is her expectation, a presidential statement?

MR. WOOD: It’s hard to say at this point. But again, I want to emphasize it’s not really the form that something comes in. It’s just the key element is that we reach something, you know, and that we come up with some kind of document initiative that allows us to end this conflict in a sustainable and durable fashion.

QUESTION: What are the –

QUESTION: Well, that’s a pretty substantial difference from what – where you all were yesterday, where the form did matter and you didn’t want a resolution. You were going – you were prepared to veto a resolution.

MR. WOOD: I’m not saying that there is going to be a resolution. Again –

QUESTION: Well, I know. But I mean, I don’t understand. What has – what’s changed between now – between then and now to make you say that, oh, it doesn’t really matter what the form is?

MR. WOOD: I don’t think that’s any change from what I said yesterday, in the sense that we’re looking at a number of different options in terms of trying to bring about, you know, a satisfactory resolution to this conflict. And that hasn’t – that position hasn’t changed. We’re still looking at a number of ways. It could be that we are able to reach some kind of an agreement on a resolution. I don’t know. Could be a presidential statement. We’re obviously supporting the Mubarak initiative.

What I’m saying to you is that it really doesn’t matter what form it comes in. What’s important here is that we, you know, bring about an effective solution to ending this conflict in a durable and sustainable way.

QUESTION: Well, if it doesn’t matter what form it’s in, why was there all this hullabaloo yesterday and the day before about the Libyan resolution? And the intent why – you know, why did you and the Brits and the French come forward with a presidential statement instead –

MR. WOOD: Well, look –

QUESTION: – instead of a resolution?

QUESTION: Do you still prefer not to have a resolution?

MR. WOOD: Look, what we prefer to have, as I said, is some kind of agreement, some kind of an initiative that does what I’ve asked -- what I’ve said. I don’t think anything has really changed at all, Matt.

Yes, there was a lot of diplomacy going on, still going on in terms of trying to find a way forward on this. So the fact that a resolution was circulated, the fact that a presidential statement was circulated, that’s not unusual. That happens up at the UN, particularly on the Middle East situation.

QUESTION: Have you seen – I presume you have – the Libyan – the new Libyan draft? And assuming that have –

MR. WOOD: You’re asking have I seen it or –

QUESTION: Well, I mean –

MR. WOOD: I, personally?

QUESTION: Not you personally. But what’s the U.S. position on this new Libyan draft?

MR. WOOD: Look, there are discussions going on up there, Matt, right now, so I’m not really at liberty to talk about, you know, how we view this particular text or this or that text. But what I can tell you is, is that the Secretary and her counterparts are working, as I said, very hard trying to see if we can find a way forward, a consensus position on trying to bring about a sustainable and durable end to this conflict.

QUESTION: So could we talk about this – you say you support the Egyptian initiative.

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: Are you endorsing the initiative, or you’re saying that it’s good that Egypt put forward an initiative, it has some elements that you like and you’re trying to work with something –

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I think – look, we think the initiative is a good one, and there are elements in there that we do like.

QUESTION: And there are elements in there that you don’t like?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, you know, you can have initiatives where there are elements that you like entirely but some –

QUESTION: But you’re not taking this Egyptian initiative as a piece of paper and saying this is good?

MR. WOOD: Look –

QUESTION: You’re saying that there are elements of it that you can work with?

MR. WOOD: Look, this is an initiative that the Egyptian president came forward with. He is working very hard himself to try to bring about, you know, an end to this conflict. It’s one of – as I said yesterday, it’s one of a series of diplomatic options that are being looked at to try to resolve the conflict. And we – you know, we obviously welcomed and support this initiative, but there are other options that are being looked at. There’s a lot of diplomacy going on. As I said, it’s very fluid. So what I’m trying to steer you away from is looking at – or focusing on one specific means for ending this conflict. But what’s important is however we – you know, however you reach that agreement, what’s important is that it be effective and durable.

QUESTION: Now, on the humanitarian situation, over the last 24 hours there have been complaints from several organizations, starting with the ICRC yesterday that came out with a pretty chilling report about its making a site visit and seeing victims, both corpses and, you know, children that were injured in the streets, that the Israelis weren’t letting them pick them up or do anything with them. Have you heard about this? Can you respond to this? This morning, UNRWA’s – one of its drivers was killed by Israeli forces that UNRWA claims that the Israelis shot on the truck despite the fact that it was clearly marked. So can you respond to those two charges?

And on the whole, do you think that Israel is adhering to international regulations and standards regarding conflict? I know it’s a war zone, but I’m saying there are certain international standards that one – that a country is supposed to adhere to. Are the Israelis adhering to –

MR. WOOD: Well, look, I mean, that’s quite a bit you’ve given me here. But look, the Secretary – one of the other things the Secretary is working very hard on is to try to, with her counterparts, to build on that humanitarian corridor that the Israelis agreed to open. And we think it needs to be opened further. We think the hours need to be increased. This is something we’re working with the Israelis and others on.

Again, I remind you, it is a conflict zone. It’s a very difficult situation. We obviously believe the humanitarian situation to be a dire one. We’re very concerned about what’s going on on the ground. But what we’re all trying – what the Secretary is trying to do up in New York right now is, one, to try to bring about, as we’ve said over and again, some kind of a durable solution to the conflict, but at the same time, also trying to deal with the humanitarian situation which is concerning to everyone.

I’ve seen the reports that you’re talking about. We’re obviously going to be looking at a number of these reports. But the Secretary is focused on these two elements right now, and so that’s really where we are.

QUESTION: Well, no, but obviously the Secretary is focused on the diplomacy, but there’s USAID –

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: – other organizations that are dealing solely with the humanitarian situation.

MR. WOOD: That’s correct.

QUESTION: What is your assessment of Israel’s treating – allowing aid workers to treat the wounded and the dead?

MR. WOOD: Look, I’m not capable or able to give you that kind of assessment from the podium here. I know that Israel is having discussions with a number of international organizations, NGOs, with USAID, on trying to, you know, as I said, open up this corridor –humanitarian corridor, further. But I’m not able to, you know, give you some kind of an assessment.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. WOOD: The Israelis have said over and again that they are as equally concerned about the humanitarian situation and are doing their utmost to try to protect civilians from harm. And so that’s the best that I can give you from here.

QUESTION: Well, yesterday, the Secretary –

QUESTION: Well, maybe we could get some kind of briefing from USAID.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I think when – at an appropriate time, we’ll do that at some point.

QUESTION: The Secretary said yesterday that she’d gotten a briefing from Henrietta Fore.

MR. WOOD: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: You’re not aware of what was in that briefing?

MR. WOOD: Well, I haven’t had a chance to talk to the Secretary –

QUESTION: – or whether or not AID can –

MR. WOOD: – or Henrietta about that. But obviously –

QUESTION: – whether they believe that Israel is doing – doing enough or is – is acting properly?

MR. WOOD: I think what –

QUESTION: Was that not something that would have been in that session?

MR. WOOD: I think the Secretary and Henrietta Fore are focused on this situation and realize that it is a difficult one. But what’s important is to try to expand that access to humanitarian supplies for the population of Gaza. It’s a difficult situation, as I said, when you have conflict going on. The Secretary is well aware of what the situation is on the ground.

QUESTION: Well, what is more important to the United States: the form of, you know, a presidential statement or a Security Council resolution, or the humanitarian situation? I mean –

MR. WOOD: I don’t think it’s a question of which is more important. They’re obviously –

QUESTION: Well, it seems like people are spending an awful lot of time in New York haggling over, you know, words and the format of how – whatever statement is going to happen. In the meantime, things are deteriorating. I mean, the UN has shut off its – has now had to stop its convoys.

MR. WOOD: I can’t speak for, you know, other delegations, Matt. But certainly, what we’ve been trying to do, as I’ve said, as Sean has said, is to try to find an effective way to end this conflict.

QUESTION: Yeah, but do you – I’m sorry, but UNRWA is one of your partners on the ground.

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

QUESTION: You don’t have aid workers on the ground, so your eyes and ears on the ground and the people that are delivering your aid are groups like UNRWA and other organizations. If they can’t deliver their aid, they’re not delivering your aid.

MR. WOOD: I’m not arguing that. What I’m saying is, is that it’s a conflict area, and the Israelis have now established a humanitarian corridor. We are working with the Israelis and others to try to expand that corridor, the duration of the opening of it, and that’s what we’re working on right now. And as I said, it’s a very difficult situation, but everybody is aware of how dire the humanitarian situation is. And people are working hard – not just the Secretary, but other officials in the U.S. Government, along with other officials from other governments, because everybody understands equally how serious the situation is and we want to do something about it.

QUESTION: Well, but going back to this idea of a resolution, if this new Libyan draft mentions Hamas and mentions Israel in the resolution calling for a cease-fire, is this something that the U.S. would support?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, it’s hard for me to –

QUESTION: Even if it’s not this durable cease-fire, would you go for --

MR. WOOD: We would have to look at the resolution in its totality. And again, the diplomacy is going on up in New York. It’s hard for me to comment on, you know, where we are with regard to a particular draft of it. But as I said, what we need to focus on here is what’s the best way to bring about a solution to this conflict that won’t – that will prevent us from having to go back and deal with this issue again. And that’s what the Secretary and her counterparts are focused on right now.

QUESTION: But if your hand is forced and you’re put in the position where Rice is at the Security Council and put in the position of voting for a resolution, whether it’s for a temporary cease-fire or for a longer-lasting one, what would be the U.S. position? Can you say?

MR. WOOD: I’m not going to speculate. It would be – I’d be getting ahead of the diplomacy, and I really don’t want to do that, Nina.

QUESTION: Well, is there a concern that a resolution that does – that in some way puts Hamas on an equal footing with Israel, is there a concern that – are there any concerns about the fact that this might confer some legitimacy on Hamas, which you believe is a terrorist organization?

MR. WOOD: Hamas is a terrorist organization, and –

QUESTION: So do they –

QUESTION: Can their name be in a UN resolution?

MR. WOOD: Look, I’m not up there in New York. People up there who are working on –

QUESTION: You’ve been in New York. I mean, you obviously have –

MR. WOOD: Yes, I know I’ve been in New York.

QUESTION: – some opinions on these types of processes.

MR. WOOD: But this is not – it doesn't serve any purpose for me to stand up here and talk publicly about it. There are discussions going on on the ground in New York, and I think it’s best for me to let them stay right there.

QUESTION: How much concern is there that this conflict could widen into Lebanon? Do you know if the Secretary has been in touch with Prime Minister Siniora or the Lebanese Government about the situation?

MR. WOOD: She may have been in touch with Lebanese officials in New York. I don’t know. Obviously, you know, we condemn the attack that took place into Israel. As far as I know, there hasn’t been any claim of responsibility, and it’s clearly a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. I would point you to the fact that the Lebanese have condemned this attack, and we definitely do not want to see this conflict widened.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

MR. WOOD: Still on Gaza?

QUESTION: Yeah. Yeah, on Gaza.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: What went wrong? They were ready to have a Palestinian state side by side with Israel, ready to go and to shake hands. Everything was on tap. Suddenly, again, fights and rockets and all of these terrorist activities and all that goes on. What went wrong, actually? This conflict has been going on for a long, long, long time. I understand – I covered at Camp David when Jimmy – President Carter and President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin was there.

MR. WOOD: Well, I can tell you in this particular instance, Hamas is what went wrong. Hamas started this conflict and Hamas has played a negative role in the region. And as I said yesterday, Hamas needs to take a different path. It’s not operating in the best interests of the Palestinian people. And until they do, until they change their stripes, we’re going to continue to have these problems. But Hamas right now in this latest series of events is clearly to blame for it.

QUESTION: Where do the people of Palestine stand, sir? Are they with Hamas, or are the modern – moderate democrats or people who used to run – or rule Palestine? Where are they?

MR. WOOD: I think the Palestinians, in general, want to have peace and they want to be able to have their own country. They want to be able to live in peace. And what’s going on right now certainly doesn’t help that vision that Palestinians have for themselves, and that vision that others, including the U.S., have for the region. So, you know, it’s unfortunate that this has happened.

But what’s important is that we solve this present conflict and we go back to the Annapolis process and try to move forward. But this clearly doesn’t help matters at all. And the Secretary has been working hard on the long-term issues that we’ve talked about, but also, as you know right now, on trying to bring about some kind of a durable solution to what’s going on right now in Gaza.

QUESTION: Do you see that rocket fire is still continuing into Israel even deeper than when the campaign started?

MR. WOOD: Well –

QUESTION: Does that mean that Israel just hasn’t done enough damage to Hamas, or that this military campaign just isn’t working?

MR. WOOD: Well, I would put it this way. I think it shows you that Hamas is still – Hamas has no interest in the future of the Palestinian people. They continue to fire these missiles wantonly into Israeli territory. After all that’s been going on, all the diplomacy, all the efforts being made to try to bring about a solution for the benefit of the Palestinian people, Hamas continues to fire these rockets. That’s the best way I think I could put it.

QUESTION: No, that wasn’t the question, though.

MR. WOOD: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought that was your –

QUESTION: The question is, has Israel just not done enough damage to their capability, it needs to continue to do more, or is this a signal that the campaign is not working?

MR. WOOD: I’m not a defense analyst. I can’t possibly give you an answer to that right now. I think, you know, we’ll have to see once all of this is over, and there will be plenty of people who will be looking at this and, you know, analyzing it thoroughly, but I’m not in a position to be able to do that, Elise.

QUESTION: Who is helping and supporting Hamas with all these rockets and financing them?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry. Say it –

QUESTION: Hamas – who is helping them or supporting them with the rockets and financing and all that?

MR. WOOD: Well, I mean, clearly, one of the countries that’s been doing that is Iran, and Syria has as well been a supporter. And we’ve called on both of them to stop supporting Hamas, and they continue to do so, and it’s a problem.

Samir.

QUESTION: Yes, the Israelis returned fire back on Lebanon today because of these missiles that unknown elements shot toward Israel. Are you talking to the Israelis so they will take it easy on the border with Lebanon?

MR. WOOD: Look, the Secretary is talking to the Israelis on a regular basis. I think yesterday she had – don’t quote me on this – but about seven calls with Foreign Minister Livni, and she had a couple of calls with Prime Minister Olmert, other Israeli officials. I’m sure, at some point during one of those conversations – maybe I’m wrong, but the issue of these – this latest attack in Lebanon may have come up. May not have; I may have my timing off, but you know, it’s a problem.

I think Israel showed some restraint. It normally responds, I think, to those types of – it has responded to those types of attacks in Lebanon in the past with much more force. So I think Israel is obviously interested in trying to bring about some kind of a diplomatic solution to this, but those rockets being fired by Hamas have to stop.

Please.

QUESTION: Would the U.S. consider a UN resolution that includes Hamas?

MR. WOOD: Well, look, I think we addressed that already. You know, there are various options being looked at. There’s discussions going on about a UN resolution, but I don’t want to get ahead of the diplomacy at this point.

QUESTION: Just for the –

MR. WOOD: Charlie.

QUESTION: – record, would you double check and let us know who she talked to and how many times?

MR. WOOD: Well, yeah, I can –

QUESTION: You gave some numbers and then you said, “Don’t quote me on that.”

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I can – I can run that down. I was just doing it off the top of my head here.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. WOOD: She spoke – just give me a second here – one, two – seven times yesterday with Foreign Minister Livni. She spoke twice with Prime Minister Olmert. She spoke twice with the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Meridor. And she spoke to Israel’s Diplomatic Advisor to the Prime Minister Turgeman, the Brazilian Foreign Minister Amorim, the UAE Foreign Minister Al Nuhayyan. And I think that’s – that’s the number of calls that she had yesterday.

QUESTION: Do you have much more about what’s happening in Taba?

MR. WOOD: No, I haven’t gotten any update on that. I’d probably refer you to the Egyptians who are hosting, I believe, some talks.

Any other questions?

QUESTION: Another subject?

MR. WOOD: Are we finished on Gaza? Okay, please.

QUESTION: Indian Prime Minister said yesterday that now they had enough evidence as far as Mumbai attacks are concerned. There was a clear Pakistani hand. And I understand the foreign minister of India may be on his way to this building with all those evidence. What will he do here? And also, President-elect and Senator Biden’s trip to South Asia – in any way, a connection, or if he had any consultation with the Secretary on his trip to South Asia?

MR. WOOD: I’m not aware that Senator Biden did. I’d refer you to his office to – for more details on his trip. I’m not aware that Foreign Minister Mukherjee is on his way here. I’ll take a look and see. I’m not aware of that.

But what’s important, and I think we have seen this, is that India and Pakistan are cooperating on trying to find out who actually carried out these attacks in Mumbai. The cooperation needs to be enhanced. We’ve made that point to both sides. And we’ll continue to encourage both of them to work not only on trying to find out who the culprits were about this, but also to cooperate much more closely on fighting other – you know, on fighting terrorism.

QUESTION: I have one more quickly on Bangladesh elections. So the former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was the victor in the elections. What’s your role there?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think we certainly congratulated the Bangladeshi people on the elections, and – and we think it’s important for democracy in South Asia that you have these types of elections, and we want to see that type of thing continue to happen in South Asia, which as you know, is – unfortunately has some problems with stability. So that’s how I’d characterize it.

Dave.

QUESTION: Can you discuss the agreement the United States is going to sign, apparently, with Georgia tomorrow, some sort of a framework agreement? I presume it’s less than the treaty of mutual defense.

MR. WOOD: Well, I’m not sure we’ve actually got or can confirm a signing date, but we will certainly do that as soon as we can. But I believe the U.S. and Georgia are signing a bilateral charter that basically encompasses cooperation on a wide – you know, a wide range of – on a number of fronts: defense, economics, culture. So as I said, when we have a little something more to say with regard to, you know, a signing – you know, ceremony, we’ll let you know.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 11:28 a.m.)

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