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Near East Daily Press Briefing

Near East Daily Press Briefing

Robert Wood, Deputy Spokesman
Washington, DC
December 17, 2008



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

QUESTION: Can you give us an update on this – these envelopes with the white powder that have been delivered to the numerous embassies?

MR. WOOD: Sure. At the moment, we have – the number we have is 15 embassies have received envelopes containing white powder. There have been some initial tests that have been done, and all of them have proved negative.

Let me just run down the list of embassies for you: That includes our embassies in Berlin, Bern, Brussels, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Luxembourg, Madrid, Oslo, Paris, Riga, Rome, Stockholm, and Tallinn, and The Hague.

We’re not quite sure, though, about the test results from the powder in The Hague. We’re still waiting for that. But from all the others, all the tests so far have proven negative.

QUESTION: What were the tests?

MR. WOOD: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What kind of tests?

MR. WOOD: Well, these are – I’m not familiar with the types of tests, but all of our embassies overseas have received extensive training on how to deal with these types of powder incidents, and so they run through, you know, a variety of tests. I’m not familiar with them because I haven’t experienced one of those.

QUESTION: You were testing for biological --

MR. WOOD: We were testing for a wide range of things.

QUESTION: Well, it appears that someone has gone down the alphabetical list of European embassies. Is there any rhyme or reason to – that you know of, to which embassies --

MR. WOOD: No idea what the motive is of these --

QUESTION: Did you put them in alphabetical order for – just so that they would be in alphabetical order, or did – was that --

MR. WOOD: No, I don’t know if indeed this is the, you know, rank order of when they were received. I don’t think so. I think it was just alphabetical order.


MR. WOOD: Yes.

QUESTION: Has it been determined what the substance was? There have been reports from Madrid that it was flour. But I don’t know, I mean --

MR. WOOD: I can’t confirm that it was flour. We’re just – for the moment, we’re – what I can say is that it’s white powder.

QUESTION: So, 14 of the 15 have tested negative?

MR. WOOD: Negative, that’s right. We’re still waiting for the results from The Hague.


MR. WOOD: Dave.

QUESTION: Robert, was there any documentation with these envelopes that would suggest some sort of ideological thing or political --

MR. WOOD: Nothing I’m aware of. I’d probably have to refer you to the FBI. You know, the FBI is conducting an investigation. The only thing I can say is that apparently a number of these letters were postmarked from Texas, and that was according to the FBI’s --


MR. WOOD: From Texas.


MR. WOOD: And the FBI reported that yesterday in its press release.

Anything else on – okay. Any other questions?


MR. WOOD: On Pakistan. There is some concern in India that Pakistan is not taking enough action against Jamaat-ud-Dawa, which is described as the front group to Lashkar e-Tayyiba. What’s your reaction to that? Do you think that they are being sincere about their reaction to Jamaat-ud-Dawa?

MR. WOOD: I think they’re – the Pakistani Government is being very sincere. Look, they’re on the front lines of terrorism, as we’ve said many times before. We’ve learned from our own experience about how some of these charitable organizations are tied into terrorist groups. This is something that they’re going to have to disentangle.

But they’ve given us a very solemn commitment. They’ve told the Indians that they’re going to do everything they can to help with the investigation in terms of trying to find out who did this and to prevent future attacks from happening. So we don’t have any doubt that Pakistan is committed to trying to get to the bottom of this.

QUESTION: You said the Pakistan Government is being very sincere. Do you think the Pakistan army is being sincere?

MR. WOOD: I have no reason to doubt that. I mean, the Pakistani civilian government, you know – well, the Pakistani military submits to civilian government control, so we deal with the Pakistani Government. And we believe that they’re, as I said, committed to trying to get to the bottom of this investigation and make sure these attacks don’t happen So I have no reason to think that the Pakistani army feels otherwise.

QUESTION: The – in Iraq, the shoe-throwing incident seems to have taken on some political ramifications now in parliament, with a speaker saying that he’s going to resign and all this kind of stuff. Is there anything – does the United States have any position on whether this guy should be charged or released?

MR. WOOD: That’s – look, this all happened in the context of Iraq’s democracy, and that will be a decision for the Iraqis as to whether or not this person is charged. And the fact that a member of parliament has threatened to resign or is going to resign over the incident, that’s clearly something that that individual – that’s a decision that individual has taken. But look, Iraq’s a democracy, these types of things happen in a democracy, and that’s all I can say about it.

QUESTION: You don’t have a position on whether he should be released right now? Apparently, he’s still in custody. There’s been claims that he’s been beaten up.

MR. WOOD: Well, that’s going to have to work – that situation is going to have to work itself through the Iraqi, you know, judicial process. I’m not going to comment on it. It’s an internal Iraqi matter.

QUESTION: It sounds like you’re ducking the question.

MR. WOOD: I’m not ducking anything. It’s an Iraqi matter so it should be left to the Iraqis to deal with.

Yes, ma’am.

QUESTION: And on another subject, after the passing of the UN resolution on piracy and sanction, what do you – what is the U.S. planning to do exactly, concretely, to fight pirates?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think it was a wonderful day at the UN yesterday passing that resolution 15-0, and it’s very clear now we have a framework with which to deal with the piracy issue, particularly the question about pursuing pirates on land. We’re going to be having further discussions with our counterparts in the Security Council and other countries, particularly in that region, to talk about what other types of effective steps we can take. Clearly, we have a framework in place now to deal with this issue, but it’s not going to be a very easy one. In fact, I heard this morning that there may have been one or two more ships that were, you know, hijacked. So this is clearly a serious problem, but yesterday, I think, the international community took – you know, took a very important step in terms of trying to deal with this issue, which, as I said, is a very challenging one.

QUESTION: The resolution doesn't mention the possibility of an airstrike. Does it forbid it?

MR. WOOD: Well, I think I’d have to go back and take a look at the resolution. I read the text in the last several hours. But I think it refers to the fact that countries will have the ability to pursue these pirates within Somali territory, and I believe including airspace, but I need to check. I believe that that was indeed the case, but --

QUESTION: It’s not mentioned (inaudible), so I wanted to know if it’s – if it’s implied or if it’s --

MR. WOOD: I would certainly think it’s implied, at a minimum.


MR. WOOD: Yeah. Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. WOOD: Thank you.


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