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Near East Daily Press Briefing

Near East Daily Press Briefing

Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman

Washington, DC

October 23, 2008

INDEX:

IRAQ
SOFA Agreement / Discussions on Text

NORTH KOREA
Question about Health of Kim Jong-il
Scheduling of Meeting of Heads of Delegation / Chinese
Question about Reports of Defected North Korean Diplomat

GEORGIA/RUSSIA
Russian Forces Remain in Akhal-Gori and the Kodori Valley

ALBANIA
Claims for Property in Albania

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Israelis and Palestinians Working to Reach Solution
Secretary’s Plans to Return to Middle East

CYPRUS
U.S. Supports Solution to Cyprus Issue

BOLIVIA
Andean Trade Preference / No Change in U.S. Position


TRANSCRIPT:

View Video

10:38 a.m. EDT

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

QUESTION: Well --

MR. WOOD: Well, hello. Anything?

QUESTION: You’re announcing that it’s a good text, it’s a good text, it’s a good text, and that it’s a good text. Have you heard anything back from the Iraqis yet about what they would like changed to your good text?

MR. WOOD: The only thing I would say, Matt, is that it’s a good text. (Laughter.) No, Matt. No update on the SOFA for you today. But again, it is a good text.

QUESTION: Can we go to another subject?

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Let’s cut this out.

MR. WOOD: It’s up to you. Another subject?

QUESTION: Any other subject. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I don’t know if you can be let off the hook that easily, Robert. What is going on? I mean, have there been discussions between Crocker or Satterfield with the Iraqis – or the Secretary?

MR. WOOD: I’m sure there are discussions going on. There’s no question about that. I’m not privy to them because I’m here. But you know, I don’t really have anything more to add to what I said yesterday. We’ve still not yet received any proposed amendments, so that’s where we are.

QUESTION: But as far as you’re aware, are there other amendments? Are you expecting them?

MR. WOOD: I’m – it’s not a question of expecting --

QUESTION: It’s a good text. A good text.

MR. WOOD: It’s not a question of expecting anything. We have a good text, and we have worked with the Iraqis on this, and that’s where we are at this point. Sorry I don’t have much more of an update, but that’s really where we are.

QUESTION: Can we change the subject now?

MR. WOOD: You’re more than welcome to.

QUESTION: The European parliament gave the Sakharov prize to the Chinese dissident Hu Jia. Do you have any (inaudible) –

MR. WOOD: No, it’s the first I’ve heard of it. First I’ve heard.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on Kim Jong-il’s health – in North Korea’s state media says that he’s doing really well and that he wasn’t sick and that the reports were false. Do you have any updates at all?

MR. WOOD: No, no updates to provide you on that. Unfortunately, no. We’ve looked into it, but haven’t been able to find out anything.

QUESTION: And any timing for the senior – for the meeting of senior officials to discuss the deal?

MR. WOOD: No. I’ve asked. We don’t have a meeting scheduled yet. We’re waiting for the Chinese to get back to us on that.

QUESTION: Is that – are the Chinese miffed over the Taiwan issue still? I mean, is that the reason for the holdup?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t heard that raised at all. But I – you know, I’d refer you to the Chinese to find out exactly when they’re likely to want to schedule this.

QUESTION: According to Georgia, the Russians put 2,000 more new Russian troops in South Ossetia. Can you confirm that? Do you have any confirmation?

MR. WOOD: You know, I can’t confirm it, but you know, I do know that Russian forces do remain in Akhal-Gori in South Ossetia and in the Kodori Valley, you know, in Abkhazia. And we want to see these areas demilitarized immediately, but I don’t have a way of confirming the numbers.

QUESTION: So you said you can’t confirm it?

MR. WOOD: Can’t confirm it. No.

QUESTION: Cannot.

MR. WOOD: That’s right.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Albania. Mr. Wood, in response to my yesterday question regarding property rights of the Greeks in Northern Epirus, I got the following message over the phone from the Department of State: “This is a matter between the Government of Albania and people with interest in pursuing these claims. For information on this, Mr. Lambros, we will refer you direct to the Government of Albania.” I’m wondering why you are not involved in the framework of property and human rights for which the U.S. Government is very concerned, preparing, actually, an annual report.

MR. WOOD: Mr. Lambros, again, as the press guidance mentioned, this is a government between – this is an issue between the Government of Albania and those who have an interest or claims to this issue. I don’t have anything more on it for you.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: I’m wondering why it’s so difficult to discuss the matter with Sali Berisha government, who is not (inaudible) to begin with and is not acting until (inaudible) an elected democratic leader, very loyal to President Bush.

MR. WOOD: I don’t have anything further for you on it, Lambros. Sorry.

Samir.

QUESTION: New topic? The President of Israel said in Egypt that Israel now recognizes or accepts the Arab League peace initiative. What does this mean to the U.S.?

MR. WOOD: Well, I haven’t – I heard about the report. I haven’t actually seen it. But I don’t really have any further comment on it. Obviously, the Israelis and the Palestinians are working hard at trying to reach an agreement on a two-state solution. And those efforts continue. But I don’t have anything beyond that.

Sylvie.

QUESTION: Does the Secretary plan to go to the Middle East to advance the peace process?

MR. WOOD: She certainly does plan to do that. I don’t have a travel schedule for you. But she has said that she would – she is going to go back to the region, but we just don’t have the schedule yet.

QUESTION: Not yet?

MR. WOOD: Not yet, but when we do have something, we’ll certainly make that information available to you.

QUESTION: Does she wait for Tzipi Livni to have a government or – it’s independent of the government?

MR. WOOD: We’ve said that, you know, we’re going to work with whichever Israeli Government there is and with the Palestinian Authority to try to move this process along. So I don’t think it’s contingent on, you know, whether Ms. Livni is able to form a government or not. We will work with whatever government is in place in Israel.

Somebody else? Please.

QUESTION: There’s a report that a North Korean diplomat defected via Macau. Do you have anything on that?

MR. WOOD: Defected to Macau or –

QUESTION: No, I think via Macau.

MR. WOOD: Via Macau.

QUESTION: I don’t think they know where he is or what has happened.

MR. WOOD: We’ll look – I’ll take a look and see what I can find on that for you.

QUESTION: Please.

MR. WOOD: Anybody else?

QUESTION: I’m not sure it’s possible to defect to Macau. You have to defect to China to defect to (inaudible).

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I’m sorry. I just didn’t hear. I just wanted – anything else?

Samir.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) high-level contacts with the Iraqi Prime Minister?

MR. WOOD: With the Iraqi Prime Minister?

QUESTION: Did the Secretary or anybody at the senior level calling him or –

MR. WOOD: The Secretary hasn’t made any calls in the last few days that I’m aware of to anybody in the Iraqi leadership, but that could change at – you know, at any time.

Yes, one last one.

QUESTION: On Cyprus, Mr. Wood, UN Secretary General Special Advisor Alexander Downer stated that the last meeting between the President of the Republic of Cyprus Demetris Christofias and the Turkish Cypriot leaderMehmet Ali Talat was very productive. I’m wondering, do you have anything to say, since the U.S. Government is involved, too, behind the scenes?

MR. WOOD: Well, we obviously support a solution to the Cyprus issue. It’s been going on for too long. We want to see both parties cooperate and reach a productive agreement, but I don’t have anything beyond that.

QUESTION: May I have a follow-up?

MR. WOOD: You’ve had like, three or four.

QUESTION: The Cypriot President Demetris Christofias announced yesterday the cancellation of the military exercise into Cyprus, expecting a similar move from the Turkish Cypriot side. What is the U.S. position on this specific development, and the total demilitarization of the Republic of Cyprus?

MR. WOOD: Mr. Lambros, we have spoken time and again about our position on Cyprus, so I’d just like to leave it where we’ve always left it. Thank you.

Sure. Viola, please.

QUESTION: One on Bolivia. There was – Senator Lugar put a statement out today that seemed to endorse the idea of applying the Andean trade preference agreement again to Bolivia. Any potential change in the Administration’s policy on that –

MR. WOOD: Our policy hasn’t changed on that.

QUESTION: -- right now? Okay.

MR. WOOD: Okay. Thank you all.

ENDS

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