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South and Central Asia Daily Press Briefing

South and Central Asia Daily Press Briefing

Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman

Washington, DC

November 25, 2008

INDEX:

YEMEN
Salim Hamdan / Transfer from Guantanamo to Yemen

THAILAND
U.S. Embassy in Thailand Watching Situation Closely
Encourage All Sides to Cease Violent Activity / Resolve Differences Peacefully

NORTH KOREA
Six Party Talks Heads of Delegation Meeting Dec. 8 / Chinese to Make Announcement
U.S. Working to Arrange Trilateral Before Heads of Delegation Meeting

VENEZUELA
Election / Want to See Venezuelans Stand Up and Express Themselves Freely
Encourage Government of Venezuela to Cut Ties with FARC

ISRAEL/PALESTINIANS
Secretary Rice Meeting with Prime Minister Olmert / Discussed Annapolis Process
Timing of Palestinian Election is an Internal Matter
U.S. Interested in Palestinian Partner Willing to Engage in the Peace Process

AFGHANISTAN
U.S. Continues to Work with Afghans / Root Out Extremism / Rebuild Civil Society

CYPRUS
U.S. Would Like to See A Bi-Communal, Bi-Zonal Federation / Solution to Cyprus Issue

SOMALIA
Hijacking of Yemeni Tanker by Somali Pirates
Piracy Issue Requires Stability / Stability Requires Long Term Commitment by the International Community

DEPARTMENT
Transition Team / Secretary Rice Available and Ready to Assist Transition Team
Secretary Rice Travel to Europe


TRANSCRIPT:

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10:35 a.m. EST

MR. WOOD: Good morning, everyone. I don’t have anything, so why don’t we go to your questions.

QUESTION: Well, is Salim Hamdan back in Yemen yet?

MR. WOOD: Well, we don’t comment on transfers from Guantanamo until they actually take place, so – but you’re aware of the Administration’s policy. The President has said, you know, time and again, we’d like to close Guantanamo. So we’ll do that as quickly as we can.

QUESTION: So is that implicitly a no, because you would comment on it if he were actually back there?

MR. WOOD: Well, you know, as I said, we don’t comment on these cases until they’ve actually taken place.

QUESTION: Do you know when the last time it was that you sent a delegation or a Yemeni delegation came here to discuss the term of –

MR. WOOD: No. I have to – I’ll have to look – take a look at that and see if we can get you an answer.

QUESTION: Could there be other Guantanamo prisoners who are Yemeni going back to Yemen? Is that in the cards? Is that being discussed?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know at this point. But we obviously – there are obviously a number of people in Guantanamo that we’d like to send back to their countries of origin or to countries – you know, third countries that’d be willing to take them. And so, as you know, discussions have been going on for quite some time on this issue, but I don’t have anything new to report at this point.

QUESTION: Do you feel assured that the Yemenis will have them fill out their sentences there rather than be released?

MR. WOOD: Well, in those cases where we turn people over to the Government of Yemen, we do so after having received assurances that these people will either – won’t return to the battlefield and certainly won’t be in any way, you know, tortured or receive, you know, inhumane treatment.

QUESTION: How’s the U.S. Embassy doing with the unrest in Thailand?

MR. WOOD: Well, the Embassy in Thailand is watching it very closely. We encourage all sides to, you know, cease any type of violent activity and try to resolve their differences peacefully. But I don’t have anything more to add on it. We’re watching it closely.

Please.

QUESTION: Do you know the timetable for the Six-Party Talks for next month? For – is that time settled yet?

MR. WOOD: Well, for the heads of delegation meeting?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. WOOD: The Chinese are, I believe, going to make the official announcement, but my understanding is that it’ll take place on December 8.

QUESTION: For how long?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. Don’t know yet. The Chinese will make that announcement.

Please.

QUESTION: Is there a possibility that the U.S. will plan a bilat before the Six-Party Talks somewhere?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. There aren’t any plans at this moment to have a bilat with North Korea. I know we are trying to arrange a trilat meeting, you know, before the Six-Party heads of delegation meeting. But you know, when we have something to announce on it, we certainly will.

QUESTION: Would that be in Beijing or –

MR. WOOD: The trilat meeting, you mean?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. WOOD: Don’t know at this point.

QUESTION: Just to be clear, the trilat that you’re trying to arrange is among which three countries?

MR. WOOD: Well, it would be the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United States.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. WOOD: I don’t think it’s clear yet on that, but we’ll let you know.

QUESTION: Can we move to –

MR. WOOD: Hang on, we’ve got another one over here. Please.

QUESTION: Following up on the conversation from yesterday, is the U.S. going to urge North Korea and the other parties to have the word “sampling” in a formal verification protocol?

MR. WOOD: Well, as you know, the issue of sampling is dealt with in the understandings of verification. And what we’re trying to do right now is to have those understandings, along with assurances and clarifications that Assistant Secretary Hill received in Pyongyang, have them put into the Six-Party – have them codified in the Six-Party framework. And again, that heads of delegation meeting will take place December 8, and we hope to see an agreement reached.

Dave.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the outcome of the Venezuelan election?

MR. WOOD: I think Sean spoke to that yesterday – the Venezuelan election, I believe. Look, we’re – we want to see Venezuelans stand up and express themselves freely in the democratic election. That is a good thing. We want to see that type of thing happen throughout the hemisphere as well as other places around the world. And so we obviously want to see how things develop in Venezuela because we think, you know, a free and democratic hemisphere is important not just for that region, but globally.

QUESTION: There’s a newspaper report this morning that two of the Colombian rebel groups, the FARC and the ELN, pretty much have carved out little areas within Venezuela on the border, and they pretty much hold sway there. Is that something that you have observed as well?

MR. WOOD: Well, we are concerned about FARC activity wherever it takes place. And we’ve encouraged, you know, the Government of Venezuela to do what it can to cut its ties, any ties that it may have, to the FARC. And I know the Colombian Government is very interested in that as well, and we want to see the FARC put out of business. And that’s our position.

Please.

QUESTION: Did the Secretary discuss with Prime Minister Olmert the report that General Jones is going to release soon on the Palestinian security situation?

MR. WOOD: Well, they discussed – there are a number of issues that Prime Minister Olmert and the Secretary discussed; obviously, the Annapolis process being the key element. They discussed a number of issues, so I don’t know if they specifically got into that report, but the overall, you know, Annapolis process was what they focused on.

QUESTION: When will that report be released, and will it be fully released? Or isn’t there some –

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. We’ll have to check and see if we have any –

QUESTION: – discussion about how much is going to be released?

MR. WOOD: We’ll have to check and see. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Are you pretty – are you even certain that General Jones is going to submit a report?

MR. WOOD: I don’t know. I said I’d take a look and see.

QUESTION: If you could get back to us on that –

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: – that’ll be interesting to know.

MR. WOOD: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Can we stay with Israel and the Palestinians for one second?

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: An aide to Palestinian President Abbas today said that they plan to hold both parliamentary and presidential elections this year in April, and that the formal announcement is called – excuse me, next year, forgive me – and that the call for the elections would come in January and then they would transpire in April.

Two questions: One, is this a good thing in the U.S. Government’s view for the Palestinians to call for an election early-ish next year? And secondly, there is a dispute among the Palestinians over when Abbas’s term itself ends. Hamas argues that it ends on January the 9th and they’re not going to recognize his legitimacy after that date. Abbas argues that it extends into 2010. I wonder if the U.S. Government has an opinion on that.

MR. WOOD: Well, look, that is very much an internal Palestinian matter with regard to when an election is held. What we’re interested in is making sure that we have a Palestinian partner. And we do believe, with President Abbas, we have that partner who is willing to engage the Israelis in a peace process to try to bring about a two-state solution. We will continue to work with the parties. But with regard to the timing of the Palestinian election and internal Palestinian politics, I’m just going to refrain from comment on them.

Charley.

QUESTION: Another topic, please.

MR. WOOD: Sure.

QUESTION: Any comment to statements by Afghanistan President Karzai asking the international community to set a timeline about withdrawal of troops?

MR. WOOD: I haven’t seen that report, and so I’d withhold comment on it. But we are working closely with the Afghan Government on trying to, you know, root out extremism and to try to help reconstruct Afghan society. And the international forces there are doing a very, very difficult job, but important work in trying to help Afghanistan rebuild itself and secure itself. But I haven’t seen those reports, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to comment on it.

QUESTION: One other thing he said, in speaking to a United Nations delegation, that he was critical of aerial bombardment and searches of civilian houses and asked that those stop. How much of a problem is that for the continuation of U.S. and NATO military activities?

MR. WOOD: Well, we’ve had discussions – when I say “we,” we the international community with the Government of Afghanistan – about what we can do to help them counter terrorism and extremism. And we’ll continue to work with them. It’s not an easy situation, as we’ve said many times. The Afghan Government has concerns about things that have happened in the country to civilians, and we take, you know, those issues very seriously. And we continue to work with the Afghans. And so our policy has been very clear on that score.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: On Cyprus, Mr. Wood, Turkey harassed Cyprus against its exploration from the exclusive economic zone it has right over under the International Law of the Sea of 1982. Cyprus PresidentDemetris Christofias stated yesterday, “We will decidedly defend the sovereign rights of the Republic of Cyprus and we have reported the provocative actions of Ankara to the UN and to the European Union.”

What is the U.S. position on this issue?

MR. WOOD: Mr. Lambros, on Cyprus, you know what our position is. We were trying – we’d like to see a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation. I haven’t seen those remarks that were made, so I don’t really have any comment. We just want to see a solution to the Cyprus issue.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR. WOOD: Yeah.

QUESTION: Since this new Turkish piracy is making a mockery of the International Law of the Sea of 1992 of Montego Bay, Jamaica, Mr. Wood, which has been signed by 117 countries, but not by Turkey, I’m wondering where the U.S. Government stands on this crucial issue of exclusive economic zone.

MR. WOOD: I think I’d have to refer you to the Government of Turkey for that one, Mr. Lambros.

Please.

QUESTION: Another ship has been hijacked by Somali pirates, and in this case it’s a Yemeni ship that was carrying steel. I know we’ve gone over this pretty endlessly over the last few days regarding the Saudi tanker, but is there anything that the Bush Administration thinks it can do to try to help prevent such acts of piracy?

And secondly, one of the conclusions I think that the Administration reached post-9/11 was that it was important that countries not be allowed to become essentially lawless and ungoverned zones. And in Somalia, it would seem that, seven years later, it is a largely ungoverned environment, and therefore, pirates like this are able to act with impunity and imperil trade and so on. But I wonder what, if anything, the Administration feels it might be able to do to try to strengthen the transitional government.

MR. WOOD: No, I mean, you raise a very valid point. Somalia is a very serious – the situation in Somalia is a very serious matter for the United States as well as other countries around the world. What we think is the best long-term solution to dealing with not only the piracy issue but also the issue of instability in Somalia is to deal with that particular element: stabilizing Somalia. It’s going to require, you know, a long-term commitment of the international community to try to bring that about. But you know, Somalia is indeed a very serious problem, and we are working with our partners within the UN framework to try to see what we can do to not only deal with this piracy issue effectively, but also with how we can go one step further and deal with the stabilization issue in Somalia. Because, as I said, in the long term, that’s going to be the only answer to the problems that we confront with, you know, the situation in Somalia.

We’re working to try to do what we can to help the transition national government, but it’s a difficult situation. And if it weren’t difficult, we would have solved it by now. But it’s going to take a long-term commitment on the part of the international community to solve it. And so, as I said, we’re working through the UN. We’ll continue to do that and see if we can come up with a long-term solution to that problem.

Yes, Charley.

QUESTION: Any update on the transition here at the State Department? Any incremental advances, people occupying offices, meetings?

MR. WOOD: Well, meetings are going on. That’s certainly happening. Papers are being requested. But I don’t have any update in terms of personnel or anything like that at this point.

QUESTION: And do you know whether Secretary Rice has reached out to anybody by telephone to –

MR. WOOD: I don’t believe so. Not at this point. But you know, she is available and ready to assist the transition team with whatever it needs.

Last one.

QUESTION: Mr. Wood, I am wondering on the exclusive economic zone, by treaty of 1982 which has been signed by the U.S. Government, do you not have a position?

MR. WOOD: Well, if we’ve signed it, we clearly have a position on it. But if you’re asking me what the Government of Turkey’s position is, I’m referring you to the Government of Turkey.

Okay. Oh, was there one last one?

QUESTION: Yeah, just on Secretary Rice’s trip to Europe. Do you have the dates for London and Rome and Copenhagen?

MR. WOOD: Yeah, I think we gave them yesterday, but let me see if I have them here.

QUESTION: I think they were just mentioned (inaudible).

MR. WOOD: Yeah. She’s traveling November 30 to December 5. I don’t have the specific dates, but we can get you that in the Press Office.

Thank you, all.

(The briefing was concluded at 10:48 a.m.)

ENDS

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