12:23 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon, and welcome to the State Department.
At the top, I’d just like to say that the United States is deeply concerned by the Russian Duma’s consideration of legislation that would potentially limit the activities of Russian nongovernmental organizations receiving foreign financing. The legislation would require NGOs engaged in civil society activities broadly defined as political to register as foreign agents. It differs from U.S. foreign agent – it differs from the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, because registration would be required regardless of whether an NGO works directly on behalf of a foreign entity or not.
We have clearly communicated our views to the Russian authorities. We also note that the Russian Presidential Council on Civil Society and Human Rights has expressed its concerns with the draft law.
And with that, I will turn it over to you.
QUESTION: Well, actually, sticking with the Russian Duma, yesterday or the day before, when this adoption agreement was ratified by the Duma --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you guys welcomed it.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: But you said it still needed to be finalized. I am wondering why the text of this agreement cannot be found anywhere.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, at this point, I believe – well, again, this is a matter of Russian legislation. So you’re looking for the text of the agreement between the U.S. and Russia?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to look into it after the briefing. I don’t know if we have a copy of it, but I’ll look into that.
QUESTION: Okay. Because I’m told that there is a text, but you can’t release it because it’s not finalized. But I don’t understand why, if it’s not been finalized, how you can have a whole list of frequently asked questions about what’s in the agreement that gives answers to all sorts of questions if it’s not been finalized. So as you know, we’ve been going back and forth all morning on this. Anyway, I’d just like to get that out there, and then if you can look --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, my understanding – here’s what I can tell you, Matt.
MR. VENTRELL: We’ll get you some more information after the briefing if we don’t have enough, but – right here. But my understanding is that the agreement – it’s passed through the Duma. Now it has to go through to the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, and once approved, will be sent to President Putin.
QUESTION: Well, I --
MR. VENTRELL: So the process isn’t done. What we’re doing is welcoming that this first step was taken. We think that the bilateral adoption agreement that was signed by Secretary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov is important. We think it’s a milestone that when we get to the entry into force of the agreement that would provide additional safeguards to better protect the welfare and interests of children and all parties involved in inter-country adoptions.
QUESTION: I understand that. But the Russian Duma must have adopted something. There must have been a text there. And if you don’t know – if you don’t have it or don’t know what it is, how do you know it’s the same thing that – how do you know like it or not? So that. And conversely, how do people who are potential adoptive parents of Russian children – how are they going to know? So – and I’m not trying to be obtuse here --
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. We’ll follow up after the briefing.
QUESTION: I want to see a copy of the agreement, at least.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. We’ll follow up after the briefing. Let’s see what we can get you.
QUESTION: Could you clarify --
MR. VENTRELL: Said.
QUESTION: -- what you said about NGO? You are not opposed to having American-based – it’s American-based NGOs – properly registered, whether in Russia or Egypt, correct?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, of course we want our NGOs around the world – first of all, our NGOs work around the world to promote democracy and good governance.
QUESTION: I understand.
MR. VENTRELL: They work with parties from all different stripes and colors in a number of different countries. Our concern with the Russian legislation is that, unlike our legislation, where we do have people who are actively working on behalf of a certain government register as foreign agents, which means that they disclose their funding source, NGOs that may be nonpartisan and receive funding from all sorts of different sources and are working in a transparent and nonpartisan manner are being asked to register all as foreign agents. So it’s a different standard, and that’s our concern.
QUESTION: Actually, Patrick, still on Russia, what would it mean specifically for the United States if this legislation passes in Russia?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t want to interpret – it’s pending legislation, so I don’t want to interpret exactly the impact. But we believe that people everywhere should enjoy the same fundamental freedoms and universal human rights. The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve the right to be heard and have a voice in government. That’s why we’re raising our concern about the passage of this (inaudible) – or excuse me, sorry. That’s why we’ve raised our concerns about the potential passage of this new NGO legislation. And we think that our NGOs should be allowed to work in a nonpartisan fashion and work with members across the political spectrum in a number of different countries.
QUESTION: Patrick, do you have any information on how many NGOs – U.S.-funded either in part or whole – would be affected?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t, Jill. But what I can say is our support of Russian NGOs is public. It is intended to help Russians strengthen their own institutions and processes. We will continue to support those citizens and NGOs working to strengthen civil society in Russia, as we do globally.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: Specifically, firstly, on those two outstanding questions that Ambassador McFaul had in with the Russians on the ship deployment and the arms sales issue, I was wondering if you’d got any clarification from them on either of those two.
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve raised both. On the first part, on the arms sales, I refer you to the Russians to see if they have any further public comment on where they stand on it. And on the second, I don’t have a readout at this point, but it is something we’ve raised. And we do think that – excuse me one second. We do think that obviously it’s one thing if they’re going to refuel and this is a routine operation; it’s obviously another thing if they were going to resupply arms. But at this point, I don’t have any further information to share for you.
QUESTION: Okay. So you haven’t received any sort of direct communication from the Russians on what their plans are for these ships, if indeed they’re moving in that direction?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything further that I can read out for you right now.
QUESTION: Okay. Also on Russia, they’ve apparently circulated a draft resolution on the Syria issue, which has been greeted, at least by the French, with some disquiet. I’m wondering if you guys have seen that and if you have any reaction to it. Do you think that’s a viable alternative path now?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, we don’t publicly read out our opinion on draft resolutions. We’re obviously – as you know, right now up at the Security Council, Kofi Annan is briefing the Council as we’re speaking right now. And so we’re getting a chance to hear not only from the Joint Special Envoy about his travels, but obviously it’s a chance to discuss the Secretary General’s (inaudible), which as of last Friday he presented back – the Secretary General presented back to the Security Council a list of options that could be used to potentially – about potential ways forward for the observers. And so at this point, what we know is that that’s being read out right now, and we don’t have anything further on the resolution.
QUESTION: Okay. Just sort of as a planning note, are we likely – I mean, there’s a lot of interest, obviously, in what the U.S. reaction will be to Kofi’s report. Is that likely to come from Ambassador Rice at the United Nations, or is that –
MR. VENTRELL: I think that she’ll have a chance to read that out a little bit later today. Hopefully, she’ll have a chance to go to the stakeout after the meeting is over, so I obviously point you to that.
QUESTION: Can I just – in the answer to the first on the ships, we do think – this is what you said yesterday, but I want to clarify something. One thing if they’re going to refuel and another thing if they’re going to resupply arms. So one thing is okay, and another thing is not okay, right? When you say it’s one thing if they’re going to refuel, that’s okay with you; it’s another thing if they’re going to supply arms, and that’s not okay with you. Correct?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Let me clarify for you, Matt.
QUESTION: I mean, of course it is one thing and another thing. But one thing is okay –
MR. VENTRELL: We know that Russia maintains –
QUESTION: -- another thing is bad. Is that right?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. We know that Russia maintains a naval supply and maintenance base in the Syrian port of Tartus. We have no reason to believe that this move is anything out of the ordinary. But obviously, we refer you to the Russian Government for more details.
QUESTION: I know. But I just want to make sure that I understand that it’s okay with you guys if they’re just going to a supply and it’s a routine thing, but it’s not okay with you guys if they’re going to drop off a whole (inaudible) of weapons.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. We’ve been very clear where we are on Russian arms.
QUESTION: Is that correct? Is that right?
MR. VENTRELL: That’s correct. We’re very clear on Russian arms to Syria.
QUESTION: Okay. And the second thing, what do you mean you don’t read out your opinion of UN draft resolutions? You do that all the time.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, broadly speaking, Matt, we, on a number of different issues, may have an opinion one way or another about what we think should be in a resolution or how it should come out. It’s a multilateral setting. We don’t know, obviously, what we’re going to get in different resolutions, so we can broadly speak about what we’re looking for. And the Secretary has been clear what we’re looking for in terms of an endorsement of the Annan plan, in terms of getting a chance to endorse the Geneva (inaudible), the Geneva document. But we don’t necessarily, when drafts are on the table, go back and forth and debate every single line by line or every version. Sometimes there’s competing versions. And so we don’t think it’s useful to necessarily, in a public setting, debate the merits of every single draft or every single version, because they go through a number of versions and a number of drafts. That’s what we do behind closed doors in the Security Council –
QUESTION: I understand. But does the Russian draft right now – does that meet your requirements? Apparently, Ambassador Rice has said that it’s insufficient. Is that not correct?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Ambassador Rice hasn’t yet had a chance to read out the meeting from this morning. You know, broadly speaking, where we are in terms of wanting an endorsement of Kofi Annan’s plan and what the action group agreed on --
QUESTION: Does this do this?
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that they’re looking at it right now in New York. They’re discussing it. I don’t want to get ahead of the process.
QUESTION: Patrick –
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary of State spoke – has she spoken to Mr. Annan last night?
MR. VENTRELL: Indeed the Secretary did have a chance to speak to the Joint Special Envoy. That was a chance for her to get some feedback and some readout directly from him in advance of the Security Council meeting. I’m not here in a position to read it out, but they did indeed have a chance to discuss the – his meetings and his travel.
QUESTION: So is it your feeling that we will have today, after the discussion, a new set of plans or a new assessment? What are we likely to have after the (inaudible)?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, right now Kofi Annan is reading out his travel to the entire Security Council, all 15 members. The Secretary had a chance to have a private conversation with him. I’m not going to read out that conversation. But what we did have – what we are having right now in the Security Council is a chance for him to read it out to the entire membership.
MR. VENTRELL: Yes, we have heard that. We’ve seen the news reports that the Syrian Ambassador to Iraq has defected but cannot confirm them. If true, this would be the first senior diplomat from the regime to defect and is just further proof that the regime is getting weaker and losing its grip on power. There have been countless defections from the Syrian military and security forces who have courageously rejected the horrific actions of the Assad regime. So if true, we welcome it.
QUESTION: You said you will continue to endorse the Annan plan?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, yes. We do endorse the Annan plan.
QUESTION: Yeah. The leaders of the Syrian National Council, they are launching a huge criticism of Annan and his plan, and they said it’s finished. They no longer will support it.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, the process that we had was, as you know, first we were in Geneva where we had the action group. They met. And then the Syrian opposition, which was in Cairo, met and broadly endorsed a way forward that was – corresponds to Kofi Annan’s plan. And so I don’t want to parse every reaction we have from the opposition, but broadly speaking, we’re on the same path forward that we want a transition. And so that’s what the opposition wants and continues to move to support.
QUESTION: But what’s your reaction to the campaign of criticism from Syrian opposition against Annan?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, he’s had a chance to meet with the Syrian leadership. His team has had a chance to discuss some of the elements with the opposition. He’s reading out the meeting actively right now to the 15 members of the Security Council. Let’s let him speak. Let’s let Ambassador Rice speak up in New York and see where this goes.
QUESTION: Just staying with the Russian ships, don’t you think that in this building – I mean, I don’t know what your assessment is – but these ships, these Russian ships and the shooting down of a Turkish airplane, they all sort of put back or put a damper on any kind of future plans for a no-fly zone and maybe a safe haven?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure –
QUESTION: How much do you sort of assess --
MR. VENTRELL: Again, they maintain a naval supply and maintenance base in the port, and we have no reason to believe that this is anything out of the ordinary.
QUESTION: On Japan?
MR. VENTRELL: Yes.
QUESTION: So there was a background briefing I mentioned two days ago, which a senior official said that Secretary Clinton had discussed the Senkaku Island dispute with her Japanese counterpart. But however, yesterday the Japanese foreign minister said neither him or prime minister spoke with Secretary Clinton on this issue. My question is: Did Secretary discuss Senkaku Islands issue with her counterpart?
MR. VENTRELL: The Secretary did not have a chance to raise this with Foreign Minister Gemba, but our team in a bilateral setting, the traveling party was able to raise it with the Japanese Government in the meetings they had.
QUESTION: In follow-up on that, yesterday while a senior U.S. State Department official has told the island fell within U.S. and Japan security treaty. Can you confirm this? Is this the case?
MR. VENTRELL: Can you repeat your question, please? I couldn’t hear you.
QUESTION: So one of the U.S. State Department official said the Senkaku Island dispute fell in – fell within into the U.S. and Japan security treaty. Is that the case? Can you confirm it?
QUESTION: Falls within.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay, falls within. Thank you. First of all, broadly speaking on the Senkakus, our policy is longstanding and has not changed. The U.S. policy does not take a position on the question of the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands, and we expect the claimants to resolve the issue through peaceful means among themselves.
In terms of whether they fall under the scope, as you asked, of the treaty, they would fall within the scope of the Article 5 of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, because the islands have been under the administrative control of the Government of Japan since they were returned as part of the reversion of Okinawa in 1972. Thank you.
QUESTION: Palestinian issue?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: No, no, no. I’ve answered my own question.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: The position of the State Department on the settlements or on the commission in response, they said that we do not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity and we oppose any effort to legalize settlement outposts. Now, will the Secretary of State actually say this to Mr. Netanyahu when she meets with him? I asked this yesterday --
MR. VENTRELL: Said, you know that we can’t predict what’s going to happen in a bilateral meeting between the Secretary of State and a foreign leader a week in advance. We’re going to raise all the comprehensive issues, as we always do. You know that we want to get the parties sitting down with each other, talking face to face. That is the focus of our diplomacy.
I do have a readout for you of Deputy Secretary Burns’s travel. He’s in the region, as you know. Deputy Secretary Burns was in Ramallah today, where he met with Palestinian Authority President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad. Deputy Secretary Burns emphasized the U.S. commitment to the goal of a comprehensive peace in the Middle East based on two states for two peoples living side by side in peace and security.
They also discussed the Secretary’s upcoming visit to the region. Deputy Burns later met with Israeli National Security Advisor Amidror and Deputy Prime Minister Mofaz in Jerusalem. Tomorrow he will lead the U.S. delegation for the U.S.-Israel Strategic Dialogue, an opportunity to consult on bilateral and regional issues of mutual interest.
Yesterday Deputy Secretary Burns wrapped up a visit to Sana’a, where he met with President Hadi, Prime Minister Ba Sindwah, Finance Minister Wajih, and a range of senior political figures, business leaders, and youth activists. In all these meetings, Deputy Secretary Burns emphasized the U.S. commitment to supporting Yemen’s political transition, economic development, and security, and encouraged progress in all three areas.
QUESTION: Okay, just one quick follow-up. Also the Palestinian Authority is sounding the alarm that their coffers are running out of money, and they are seeking some aid and help from the Arab countries. Are you also putting in your weight behind that effort to make sure that they meet their payroll and the security forces continue to function?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, you know how important we think it is that the Palestinian institutions are built up and are effective and have the appropriate funding so that these institutions can deliver for the people, and so we do support that broadly, not only to the extent we can through U.S. funds bilaterally but to encourage partners as well to contribute to the Palestinian Authority.
In the back.
QUESTION: Mr. Burns will be in Beirut. You said yesterday you may have something today on what he is going to do there.
MR. VENTRELL: His next stop is Beirut. I’d be happy to provide some fuller details as he gets there and provide a readout after his meetings, but I don’t have anything for you today.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 12:43 p.m.)
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