Daily Press Briefing - May 1

Index for Today's Briefing:

  • H1N1 VIRUS
    • The President Is Monitoring the Situation Closely / Requested Additional $1.5 Billion in Funding / Purchase More Supplies / Move Them Where Needed / Discussions with Government of Mexico on Further Assistance / US Embassy and Consulates in Mexico Closed / Emergency Services Only / Reviewing Situation / Following the Lead of Mexican Government / Conversations with Mexican Government, WHO, CDC, PAHO, Other Governments / Coordinate Response
  • IRAN
    • Continue to Call for Roxana Saberi's Release
    • Pakistan Needs to Take Action Against Extremists / US Will Provide Assistance Where Possible / International Community Cooperation Needed to Rid Region of Extremists / Will Take Time / 110 Percent Effort
    • Evaluating Actions of the Government / Wants to See Real Power Sharing and Commitment to Human Rights and Democracy / US and Other Countries Concerned / Still Providing Humanitarian Assistance
    • Not Productive to Comment on Internal Political Developments / Goal Is to Bring the North Back to the Six-Party Framework
    • Administration Is Reviewing 123 Agreement / Discussions with Congress / Video and Agreement Are Separate Issues
    • Policy Is Under Review / Consulting with Partners on the Best Way Forward
Robert Wood
Acting Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 1, 2009


11:51 a.m. EDT

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone. Happy Friday and welcome to the briefing. I don’t have anything, so go right to your questions.

QUESTION: This is slightly odd, but the Secretary, in her two appearances this morning, appeared to be a little ill. Is she suffering from a cold or something? And I ask only because of the whole swine flu thing and the fact that she was in Mexico in March and the fact that a member of the – one member of the President’s delegation did come down with it.

MR. WOOD: Matt, you’ll be happy to know it’s just mild allergies. She suffers from mild allergies. That’s all it is.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR. WOOD: You’re welcome, sir.

QUESTION: How about yourself, Robert? Are you feeling all right? (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: I’ll check in with you later. I’ll let you know.

QUESTION: A taken question? (Laughter.)

MR. WOOD: I’ll take the question. Anything else?


QUESTION: Still on flu, can you give us any fresh details about what assistance the United States is giving to Mexico either in money or antiviral medicine?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’ll give you an update. Just give me a second here. I just got handed an update, so let me just walk you through where we are.

First of all, the President is closely and continuously monitoring the emerging cases of the H1N1 virus throughout the United States, and he’ll be discussing the latest developments and coordination of a government response at a meeting of the cabinet today. You know, the U.S. Government is prepared. It’s exactly why we issued an emergency declaration last weekend and why the President requested an additional $1.5 billion in funding so that we could purchase more supplies and moving them where they’re needed.

In terms of our embassy footprint, as I think I mentioned to you a couple of days ago, the Embassy, is closed today as well as the consulates, and will be on May 5th as well. We’re continually evaluating the situation. We are having conversations with the Government of Mexico to see how we can provide further assistance.

So I don’t have much more beyond what I gave to you over the last couple of days, but we’re, as I said, monitoring things very closely, talking with the Mexican Government and other governments. We’re trying to coordinate our responses, obviously, as best we can. We’re obviously working very closely with the CDC, WHO, Pan American Health Organization, and that’s really where we are at the moment.

QUESTION: There was a very specific report that the United States is providing $400,000 worth of antiviral --

MR. WOOD: That’s correct. We are providing 400,000. I will – if you check back with me a little bit later, I can get you some more details on it. I don’t have them available with me right now. I did yesterday, but I don’t have them with me right now.

QUESTION: Is it --

MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: -- contemplated as of right now that the Embassy in Mexico City will reopen after Cinco de Mayo?

MR. WOOD: We’ll take a look at the situation and see how things develop over the next few days. I don’t think a determination has been made yet whether we will reopen after Cinco de Mayo, but we’ll – you know, just stay in touch with us and we’ll let you know. At this point, I can’t tell you whether – when we’re going to reopen.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if, to put it a different way, we are proceeding from a posture of “The Embassy is generally open, but it was closed on the date specified,” or are we proceeding from a posture that “The Embassy is now closed and won’t reopen until further notice?”

MR. WOOD: Well, let me make it clear. We’re monitoring the situation very closely. We are only providing emergency services, as I mentioned to you the other day. Again, we’re following the lead of the Mexican Government in terms of what it is asking its citizens to do. We have obviously evaluated our posture there and what we need to do. And right now, we’re closed, only providing those essential emergency services that we talked about, and we’re continuing to evaluate the situation. And that’s about the best I can give you at this point, James.

QUESTION: But you’re closed only for a specified period of time. That was – when the Embassy was closed, it was stated that it would only be closed for a certain period of time.

MR. WOOD: That’s right, but again, we’re not there yet. We’re still looking at it day by day to see how things develop.

Yes, Michel.

QUESTION: Yes, Robert, do you have anything new on Assistant Secretary Feltman’s trip to Damascus next week?

MR. WOOD: Well, I don’t have anything on any scheduled trip. I mean, at some point, Assistant Secretary – Acting Assistant Secretary Feltman will travel to the region, but I don’t have anything in terms of any announcement to make with regard to that trip.

Yes, Raghida.

QUESTION: Anything new on Roxana Saberi and a possible P-5+1 meeting?

MR. WOOD: No, I have nothing new on Roxana Saberi today other than, again, we continue to call for her release. P-5+1 meeting, nothing – nothing new on that at this point.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Wait. Please.

QUESTION: Have you responded to a letter by Human Rights Watch? They sent a letter to Secretary Clinton yesterday unsatisfied with her comments on the 22nd regarding Israel’s policy on – in the Gaza Strip and they had criticized her, saying that she is downplaying the consequences of the Israeli blockade on Gaza. The letter was sent from Human Rights to Secretary Clinton yesterday. Have you been able to react to the letter?

MR. WOOD: Not that I’m aware of. I don’t know if the Secretary has actually seen it yet, so I’m – I don’t know. Don’t know.

QUESTION: Do you agree that the Secretary was downplaying the consequences of the blockade?

MR. WOOD: Absolutely not. Our policy has been very clear with regard to this issue. But again, I’d have to check with the Secretary to, you know, see if indeed she’s had an opportunity to read the letter.

Let me just – please.

QUESTION: In Pakistan, the military is taking action against the Taliban. Has the U.S. asked Pakistan to take action against – within the two – next two weeks, as reported in the U.S. media?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know where this two-week timeframe came from. But look, we have said very clearly that we believe the Pakistanis need to take action against these extremist elements. And clearly, the Pakistanis are, you know, trying to do that. We’re going to be working with them, providing assistance where we can, as well as other countries around the world who believe that it’s critical to international security that we deal with the Taliban, and those extremists that are operating not only in Pakistan, but in Afghanistan as well. So obviously, Pakistan is doing this out of its own – in its own national security interests.

And as I said, we will be there to help them, but it is important that they not let extremists – let me put it this way, it’s important that these extremists be dealt with. And we’re going to continue, as I said, to work with them and others. And this has been, I think, a positive last couple of days in terms of Pakistan taking action against these militants. And so – but we’re under no illusions. It’s going to take more than two days worth of actions. It’s going to take consistent, determined, and forceful action. And Pakistan seems committed to that, and we’re willing to be as helpful as we can in terms of dealing with the militants.

QUESTION: So – but is there a two-week timeline to --

MR. WOOD: As I just said, I’m not aware of any two-week timeline. This is not something you can put into a timeline in terms of taking action. As I said, it has to be consistent, decisive. And we just need to understand that this is not something we’re going to be able to deal with in two days, two weeks, two months. This is going to take time. But what’s important is, as I said the other day, a hundred and ten percent effort. And Pakistan seems willing to go in that direction, and we’ll continue to try to help them, as they move in that direction.

QUESTION: And in parts of the Pakistan tribal areas, the minority communities have been asked to pay some sort of a jizya, the security tax by the Talibans. And when they didn’t pay it, their house had burned up and had been forced to leave their places. Are you aware of all those incidents?

MR. WOOD: I’ve heard reports about that. It doesn’t surprise me. I mean, these are ruthless killers, the Taliban. And they’ll do anything they can to upset Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s fragile democracies. And so as I said, I’ve heard these reports. They’re not surprising. This is why it’s important that we, the international community, cooperate in trying to rid this region of these extremists. And the sooner we can accomplish that mission, the better.

QUESTION: Has there been any movement on Zimbabwe and whether you were going to provide any substantial aid? Morgan – Prime Minister Tsvangirai said today that the government is broke, they can’t, you know, pay salaries, and it’s a pretty dire situation. I just wondered where you were progressing on this --

MR. WOOD: Well, we’re still evaluating the actions and activities of the government. And I’ve said before, what we are looking for from the Government of Zimbabwe, we want to see real power-sharing, we want to see real commitment to human rights and democracy. We think that it’s important that these particular issues be dealt with.

It’s not just a concern of the United States; it’s a concern of a number of countries around the world. And I want to point out to you that we continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Zimbabwe who are suffering, as you know, from the horrible impact of some very, very destructive economic policies by the Mugabe regime.

So no change really to report to you at this point, Sue, but we are following the actions and activities of the government and we will be looking to see whether these things that we’re calling for are finally implemented. And only then will we re-evaluate what kind of assistance we can provide to the government.

QUESTION: But they’re arguing that without this international aid, they’re not going to be able to, you know, reach some of those benchmarks that you’re probably looking for.

MR. WOOD: Well, there are a number of things that they can do, as I’ve said. You know, you don’t need development assistance to deal with questions of human rights, a democratic and transparent government. Those things you can deal with. And we need to see some action in those areas before we, reassess whether we can provide development assistance to the Government of Zimbabwe.


QUESTION: North Korea published this month for the first time a group of images of the top 12 officers at the National Defense Commission. And some of these men are longtime powerbrokers inside North Korea, and this marks the first time ever that their faces have been glimpsed by outsiders. I wonder what the State Department makes of this development among a number of other sort of personnel and organizational changes that the regime has announced that seem to indicate a strengthening of the military over the Workers’ Party.

MR. WOOD: James, look, we don’t believe it would be productive or useful to comment on internal political developments in North Korea. Our focus is trying, as I’ve said to you before, is to get the North back to the Six-Party framework. I’m sorry I don’t have anything more for – more than that on it.

QUESTION: Do you regard the publication of those photos – can you agree at least, as a matter of fact, that the publication of the photos is unusual and rare and new?

MR. WOOD: I’m just not able to make that assessment.

QUESTION: Have you ever seen – before seen any photos of the top 12 officers of the NDC?

MR. WOOD: I certainly haven’t. I would agree, I haven’t seen them. But I’m not an expert on the internal political situation in North Korea. So that’s about the best I can offer you.


QUESTION: An update on Mr. Bosworth’s travel plans?

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t have anything to announce on Ambassador Bosworth’s travel. At some point, he will travel out to the region, but I don’t have anything for you at this point.

QUESTION: I know you touched on this yesterday, but is there anything moving on the UAE 123 deal? The – is that their – well, you know about the disturbing video. Is that holding it up?

MR. WOOD: Sue, as I said yesterday, we are reviewing this agreement. As you know, it’s a holdover from the previous administration. That review, as I mentioned to you, is ongoing. But I don’t have anything further to offer you at this point.

QUESTION: Are you talking to members of Congress about the videotape and how that might impact whether they’re going to support the deal?

MR. WOOD: Well, they’re two separate issues, as I’ve said.

QUESTION: Well, some people are looking at them as one issue, actually.

MR. WOOD: Well, we do talk to Congress about a number of issues. We certainly have had conversations about this agreement with representatives on the Hill. But again, we’re still reviewing it. So you know, I can’t really go into very much detail in terms of, you know, where we go with this agreement at this point. We still need to review it and then we’ll go from there. I’ll be happy to let you know.


QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: No other questions?

QUESTION: Yes, on Burma.

MR. WOOD: Oh, one last one.

QUESTION: On Burma, yesterday you said that the review is still going on and all this hasn’t taken yet. But a Senior State Department Official wrote to Congressman Peter King, according to AFP reports, that sanctions against Burma will not be lifted by the U.S.

MR. WOOD: Well, all I can tell you is, as I said yesterday, is that they’re still reviewing our Burma policy. The Secretary hasn’t been happy with the way we have moved forward – the way we have dealt with this in the past. We’re going to be consulting with our partners in terms of what’s the best way forward in dealing with Burma. But we’re still in the process of a review, so I don’t have anything definitive for you at this point.

QUESTION: So – but any decision has been taken --

MR. WOOD: No decision has been taken.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 12:05 p.m.)