1:05 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon, everyone. I don’t have anything at the top, so I’ll turn it over to you.
QUESTION: Patrick, the last couple days we got in a little of a pickle on where we are on the nonlethal aid.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Brad. You’re right. We did discuss some of our nonlethal assistance yesterday to the Syrian opposition. I did some additional research overnight, and so I do have to correct myself in the sense that there – as with all things concerning the budget in Washington, it’s always more complicated than you initially think – there is the $15 million pot of money, but in addition to that we have another $10 million that we have obligated and are spending to assist the Syrian opposition out of wider funds that we spend in the region. And so the $25 million number actually is the number we’re working from. And so I don’t have an exact number of the money that has been spent today and what’s been – is also in the pipeline to be spent momentarily, but the bottom line is we’ve already spent millions of dollars of this $25 million pot, and we will continue as the requests come in and as we get – as we continue to develop the plan with the opposition, spend that money as appropriately and continue to consult with Congress and keep them informed.
QUESTION: This 10 million – this was done, I guess, a while ago, right?
MR. VENTRELL: Right, so we have --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to 25?
MR. VENTRELL: So the 10 million plus the 15 million means there’s $25 million that we have obligated to assist Syrian opposition in nonlethal assistance. And we’ve already spent a significant portion of it, and we continue to spend it in consultation with the opposition and obviously with Congress as needs arise.
QUESTION: Okay, and just before I pass it over, do you have any comments today on President Assad’s remarks to the army in Syria, vowing to continue the fight or even to step it up, in his words? This must be an ominous sign considering what you have already described as a foolhardy fight.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we think it’s cowardly, quite frankly, to have a man who’s hiding out of sight be exhorting his armed forces to continue to slaughter the civilians of his own country. So we think it’s cowardly, we think it’s really despicable to be exhorting his armed forces to continue this slaughter and this bloodshed.
QUESTION: Going back to (inaudible).
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I believe I remember early on when this aid first came out, I asked: Is this aid in money – in actual money – or is it in equipment, or is it in food or medicine, how is it allocated?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, thanks again for the question, Said. In terms of – and I want to make this crystal clear, we talked about it a little bit yesterday – there is one pot of money that is humanitarian in nature, and that is $64 million, and that is wholly separate from the nonlethal aid to the opposition. That’s the kind of humanitarian aid that we spend through the UN, through NGOs, and that’s the kind of money that helps the refugees who are flowing across the borders.
Just to give you an idea, the most recent numbers we have from the UN are a million internally displaced people and a 130,000 people who have fled across the borders. So these are huge numbers. And so that’s the $64 million, given the grave humanitarian situation. Wholly apart from that, as we’ve mentioned on a separate track, in our efforts to help the opposition unite and to come around to greater consensus and to be able to communicate and strengthen their position, we’ve provided nonlethal assistance and that’s where we’re talking about $25 million. One pot of that money is 15 million, another pot of it is 10 million, and that’s being spent and is in track.
QUESTION: But no great amounts of cash was given, let’s say, to the opposition movement. They will get medicine, communications, and so on, because the Qataris and the Saudis are giving money, and some of that money goes for arms, for instance.
MR. VENTRELL: Our money tends to go through implementing partners. On the humanitarian side, we’ve been very transparent and are able to give great specificity to how we’re spending that money through our implementing partners. Obviously the nonlethal aid is a little bit more sensitive. And so for the safety and security of our partners, we’re – obviously have some caution in the specificity we give on that particular area. But suffice it to say, it tends to be through implementing partners and it tends to be goods delivered and other types of direct services that are of benefit in consultation with their needs.
QUESTION: Okay, and lastly, on the issue that – your last point on President Assad’s cowardly or not cowardly, would he be less cowardly if he was leading his troops in the field? Is that what you’re suggesting? Does he have to be there with the troops in the field? Or would he be perceived no differently by the United States had he done that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we don’t know where he is right now. What we do know is that his troops continue their onslaught. But despite this, the opposition continues to unite and continues to gain ground, and so his control is slipping away, wherever he is.
Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: There’s just been a hearing on the Hill, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at which they had three experts talking about what the United States should be doing in terms of its aid towards Syria. And all three of them seem to be in agreement that the United States actually needs to be doing more and should now be considering possibly arming the opposition, although there was some discussion about we need to know who we’re arming and also helping secure safe havens. And there was also discussion that the United States needs to be setting redlines to the Assad regime as to what would constitute or trigger a military intervention.
And John Kerry said that redlines already exist. What for you or what for the United States would constitute a redline and a warning to Syria that there should be – that there would be military intervention by the United States and its partners?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Jo, as you can imagine, I’m not going to get into our internal planning inside the Administration as we prepare a variety of potential scenarios, suffice it to say that our planning continues apace and that we continue to look at all potential scenarios. But obviously there are number of voices here in Washington with different proposals, we think that the decisions we’ve made so far to have extensive humanitarian funding, to assist those in need. and to provide this nonlethal support has been effective in helping the opposition as they continue to gain ground.
So we continue to look at all options in terms of where our funding can best be spent and how we can best support the opposition. We continue to look at it every day. But in terms of any new changes or something else I can readout that – we’re not at that position yet.
QUESTION: I think their argument was also that the longer this goes on, the greater the danger of militants coming in or the greater confusion and chaos that could ensue, and that later on the United States would actually have a harder time in having a partner in any future Syrian Government.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, no doubt that the sooner that Assad steps aside the better, because it will continue to create chaos as long as he’s still the leader of the Syrian regime. And so we’re doing everything that we can to accelerate – given the tracks that we’ve already been pursuing – to accelerate this transition.
QUESTION: Patrick, Turkey today has deployed a large number of tanks and armored vehicles and heavy artillery on the border with Syria. How do you view this military build-up?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we’re obviously in discussion with our Turkish ally constantly on Syria. We continue to think that we don’t want to further militarize the situation. We obviously understand that they have their national security interests as well, but we don’t think that further militarization right now is the way to go. But we continue to have a full and robust dialogue with our Turkish counterparts.
QUESTION: And what did you know from the Turks about this military build-up?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I can’t get into great specificity about what we’ve had in terms of our military-to-military and political-to-political kind of conversations, but suffice it to say that we’re in close and constant communication with our Turkish ally.
QUESTION: But do you expect any military operation from the Turks?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I refer you to the Turkish Government, but I think where we are right now is that the opposition continues to gain ground and start to hold greater territory, but I don’t think we’re at a point where we’re going to see – or we’re hearing greater calls for immediate external military operations into Syria.
QUESTION: Have you cautioned the Turkish Government not to do anything that could be construed as provocative?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I’m not going to characterize our discussions with the Turks in great detail, but obviously we’re very much on the same page with them in terms of assisting the rebels and providing the kind of support to their organizational capacity and otherwise. So I think we’re in close and constant communication with the Turks.
QUESTION: But in terms of the, sort of, every country do what you feel is appropriate strategy that’s being used right now on Syria, why wouldn’t that sort of advice be given whether to the Turks, to the Jordanians, to the Saudis, to the Qataris? Why not say don’t do anything that Assad could use as a pretext for retaliation?
MR. VENTRELL: The public message that I said here, that we don’t want and don’t think that further militarization is the way to go right now, is the same thing that we’re delivering in private.
QUESTION: Hi. I just wondered if what Kerry said was correct, that there are already redlines. And have you communicated these to the Syrian Government, that this is the line that you shouldn’t cross?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, as I said before, I’m not going to get into our internal planning within the Administration, but we’ve been clear for many days and weeks that we’re preparing for all scenarios, and indeed, our internal planning, of course, here in the State Department. We’re also very carefully planning for the day after when Assad steps aside. So we’re preparing for a range of different scenarios, but I’m just not going to get into what our assessments are.
QUESTION: What do you (inaudible) weapons, though? What do you --
QUESTION: Like chemical weapons.
QUESTION: The United States wouldn’t be prepared to intervene militarily if the Syrian regime started using chemical weapons?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve been very clear about where we are on chemical weapons --
QUESTION: Where is that?
MR. VENTRELL: -- that the regime should not be using chemical weapons in any fashion.
QUESTION: We’re speaking about a hypothetical here, of course.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, they should not be using chemical weapons in any fashion, and so we’ve been very clear on that message. And so, again, I’m not going to get into, as Brad points out, a long range of hypotheticals about this scenario or that scenario. But suffice it to say that we do stay prepared for all scenarios.
QUESTION: But it is not backed up with any kind of threat. Surely, that’s just like me telling my toddler don’t eat that chocolate because you’re going to have to go to bed early. I mean, he’s just not going to listen to it. So I mean, if you don’t sort of say don’t use those weapons because we are going to take this kind of action, surely it’s just an empty message to the regime.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, Jo, we don’t always show all of our cards in terms of what we’re planning. But we’ve been very clear where we stand on chemical weapons for instance, and I would just say that the point where we are right now is that the opposition continues to gain ground, they continue to have momentum on their side, and we’re continuing to ramp up our support to them, and so that’s where we are right now. And three or four steps down the road, we’re not there yet.
QUESTION: On that support, can you tell us who the implementing partners are? You talked about implementing partners for your nonlethal aid. And can you tell us some of the categories of that aid?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve been very specific on the humanitarian side where we can go into great detail about how many millions are going to what implementing partner.
QUESTION: On the nonlethal?
MR. VENTRELL: On the nonlethal side, given the safety and security of our implementing partners, and of course, those receiving the aid, we’re not able to get into greater – a greater degree of specificity.
QUESTION: But do you have more specifics? Or is it more like 50 guys with beards get this? You used the term “implementing partners” as if it’s a very formalistic thing. There’s no NGOs you’re working with to deliver this aid. You’re not working with accredited bodies, are you?
MR. VENTRELL: I think it’s absolutely vital that we not go into any greater detail on this topic given the safety and security of those involved, but suffice it to say that we are spending millions of dollars in nonlethal support. And we’ve been – we said communications equipment. We’ve talked about some of these, but –
QUESTION: Right. But you yourself are giving that directly, right? It’s not – an implementing partner suggests a buffer.
MR. VENTRELL: It’s a mix. I mean, some of them – it depends on who the venders are in particular. Again, we don’t want to get into great detail about how we’re going about this, but suffice it to say we are spending a significant amount of money.
Any more on Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: One more on Syria?
QUESTION: Yeah, a couple of quick ones on Syria. On the chemical weapons aspect, now I know you said that you warned the regime not to use them, but are you sure that these stockpiles are secure or are in secure places, and the veracity of that security can be actually determined?
MR. VENTRELL: We’re not in a point where we think that they’re outside the control of the Syrian Government. But again, we’re at a point where their control is slipping away of the country as a whole. And so that’s why it’s so important, as we watch as this transition continues, to keep our eye on this.
QUESTION: And lastly, are you, as we get closer – as the clock runs out on the monitors – it will run out in a few days – and you probably are fixing to sort of impose more sanctions, how do you assess the sanctions that are already in place? In other words, does the regime still have money to pay the officers or its employees and so on?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’m not going to obviously get into a great degree of detail on our intelligence or how we monitor activity in Syria, but we obviously see that – the financial pinch that this is having on the Syrian regime, and it continues to have that effect, our sanctions.
QUESTION: Going back to the chemical weapons matter --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- is the UN responsible for verifying what’s happening with Syria’s chemical weapons stores? And if so, how is it doing it at this point?
MR. VENTRELL: Ros, I really refer you to the UN in terms of their responsibilities and IAEA responsibilities and other responsibilities that have to do with Syria as a whole when it comes to not only chemical weapons, but any weapons of mass destruction. That’s a UN subject that I refer you to them on. I don’t have information on their responsibilities, but we’re obviously keeping a close eye on it.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. India.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. Half of the India world blacked out, and more than – close to 700 million people were out of power. And what Indians in India are blaming really, that U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement that never came true, that would have helped India. And also, at the same time, many experts are in India saying that India has part of the significant oil import from Iran, and that is all – is helping or help this blackout. But what I’m asking you – what they are saying is that U.S. supposed to help India alternative to this Iranian oil. So one, if India had asked any help during this blackout? And second, how about this agreement? Where do we stand also in the future so Indians will not suffer?
MR. VENTRELL: Thank you, Goyal. I don’t have any information on whether the Indians reached out to us. Obviously, we’re pleased that the lights are back on, that the power is back on to this vast – to this large amount of people who did not have electricity.
And in terms of the 123 Agreement, I’d be happy to take that question. I don’t have any information on that, but we’ll take that and get back to you.
QUESTION: And just quickly, there are no – any kind of call from India for any help during this blackout?
MR. VENTRELL: Not that I’m aware of. If there’s – if that’s not the case, we’ll get back to you, but not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: A follow-up on --
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is it the position of this Department that the Indian power outage was in no way related to India’s cutting of Iranian oil imports?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that that’s the case, but we can --
QUESTION: Is it your – are you in a position to take a stand and say that’s a ridiculous claim? Or is it possible that --
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I think it would be a little difficult for me here from the State Department podium to give a deep analysis of the internal energy environment in India in terms of how their electrical grids work. I think that would be a bit of a stretch. It sounds to me like it’s primarily an internal Indian issue, so, obviously, refer you to the Government of India about their reaction about the situation. I just don’t have anything from here.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Staying on India. Sorry.
MR. VENTRELL: Last one on India.
QUESTION: No, in fact, I have two or three small. This morning, there was a series of low-intensity blasts in the Indian city of Pune. Do you have any information on that? Do you think any terrorist groups were behind this?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve seen those initial reports and we’re obviously following up and looking at this very closely, but I don’t have any additional information about those – this incident.
QUESTION: And secondly, India today allowed foreign direct investment from Pakistan. How do you see this development in the broader context of improving India-Pakistan ties?
MR. VENTRELL: Can you repeat the question again?
QUESTION: India today allowed foreign direct investment from Pakistan. How do you see this in the broader context of improving India-Pakistan relationship?
MR. VENTRELL: We think anything that improves the relationship is good.
QUESTION: And finally, the ISI chief is in the town today. Is anyone from this building meeting him?
MR. VENTRELL: I will take that question. I’m not sure.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Sure. Sudan.
QUESTION: So now the deadline expires, set by the UN and the international community, for an agreement between South Sudan and Sudan on their various issues that are still to be negotiated. As you know, the Secretary’s going to be there this week. Do we know if this deadline’s likely to be extended to allow them to overcome some of these issues? And what is the U.S. trying to do to make sure the two sides come together?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. I don’t know, Jo, whether the deadline will be extended. I know the situation is very fluid here as we get up to this deadline. Suffice it say we’ve been calling on the parties to immediately fulfill their obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2046. And so we see a great urgency to this. Obviously, you’ve seen statements by Ambassador Rice and others about the U.S. position about the urgency concerning this. But in terms of what plays out here in the next day or two, I think it’s fluid, and so I don’t think we had a specific direction--
QUESTION: And what is the latest result in trying to bring the sides together? I mean, will this be part of what happens during the Secretary’s visit?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, the Secretary, obviously, as you mentioned, will be in South Sudan. She’ll meet with President Kiir and others. And so, obviously, these issues will be on the table. But the wider issue of the North and South meeting their obligations under this resolution – obviously Princeton Lyman is very engaged in diplomacy, and we have many other Africans who are involved as well in terms of the negotiations. But beyond saying that Ambassador Lyman is engaged, I don’t have anything further for you.
QUESTION: Have you had any contact with Mbeki? Because I believe he’s been leading the negotiations on this thing.
MR. VENTRELL: We’re absolutely in contact with him.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Iran?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Go ahead on Iran.
QUESTION: Have you heard anything about the death of Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei today?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve seen some of the internet rumors. Obviously, things inside of Iran are a little bit opaque, so I’m not sure that we would – we’d refer you to the Iranian authorities about their own supreme leader. But it appears that these are internet rumors at this stage. We don’t have any information otherwise.
QUESTION: So you guys didn’t kill him? (Laughter.)
MR. VENTRELL: Said.
MR. VENTRELL: Engaged with Iran about what?
QUESTION: Is there anything new in the engagement process with Iran on the nuclear program?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Well, as you know, Said, yesterday the White House announced an increase in pressure. As you know, in our two-track strategy the pressure will continue until the Iranian regime fundamentally decides to change their calculus. We’re not there yet. Where we are technically in the process is that we’ve had the deputies – both of the Iranian deputy and the EU deputy on behalf of the P-5+1 had discussions. The next step is for Lady Ashton and Jalili to be in touch, and then we’ll see if we’re at a place where we can have another meeting. But that’s sort of where we are from a technical standpoint.
But the wider issue is that Iran has not yet come in – made the strategic decision or come to the table with a proposal that is workable. What I would say is that as this pressure continues it’s all designed to get them to change their calculus. It’s had an impact on their economy. It’s obviously had an impact on their procurement of some of these sensitive items. So the sanctions are absolutely having an impact, and we’ll continue to ramp them up as we can – we’re all united in the – among the P-5+1 – to get the Iranians to the table. And there’s a window for diplomacy, but it’s just not indefinite.
QUESTION: Okay. On that particular point, on the window, the Israelis are saying that the window for a military action is closing. And it has been suggested that the United States is going to take some measures to widen that window, to assure the Israelis that the window for military action is a little bigger than it is going to be, so giving some sort of a calendar and so on. Could you share any information with us on that front?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, all I can say is that it’s – actually what’s narrowing is the window for diplomacy. We’re still at a point where we think there is room to make this diplomacy work. It’s not an indefinite window, but there is room for the diplomacy to work. Beyond that, obviously, the Israelis are in lockstep with us in terms of their desire to keep the pressure on to get the Iranians to change their behavior. So we’re in agreement on that.
QUESTION: Following up on that, the Chinese have reacted pretty angrily to the sanctions against their Bank of Kunlun and are actually calling for the sanctions to be revoked, and planning – and say that it violates the norms of international relations. What is the U.S. reaction to that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’d just say, Jo, first of all, that we made very clear yesterday that this action was taken in response to the conduct of one financial institution. It was not taken against China, nor does it change the fundamental nature of our cooperation with China or Iran – with China on Iran, excuse me. (Laughter.) And that’s because the U.S. and China, we’ve been on the same page in the P-5+1 about preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. So we’re very much on the same page in terms of that. And we had, obviously, beforehand were in a discussion with the Chinese both here and in Beijing about this and continue to coordinate closely and keep the channels of communication open with China on the Iran account.
QUESTION: Did they contact you directly, though, after the sanctions were announced yesterday?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that, other than their public statement, they’ve been in touch with us directly.
QUESTION: If you’re on the same page as China when it comes to countering a nuclear-armed Iran, why is it the responsibility of the United States to sanction Chinese banks? Why not let the Chinese Government take those actions against unhelpful institutions?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again – and the White House did a call yesterday that was lengthy and very precise about a lot of this, so of course refer you to that, but we’ve been clear that the financial institutions, wherever they are, when it comes to the CISADA sanctions in particular, we’ll apply U.S. law and that there are sanctionable activities from financial institutions in a number of different places. With China, we’re in the P-5+1 process, on the same page, in our unified presentation to the Iranians.
QUESTION: So you’re all on the same page, but it’s up to the United States to police everyone’s actions when it comes to Iran?
MR. VENTRELL: This was an action taken against a financial institution, not against any country.
QUESTION: But it --
MR. VENTRELL: Michel.
QUESTION: Is it good news or bad news to hear that Khamenei has died, for the U.S.?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I mean, I think what we’re talking about is internet rumors right now, so --
QUESTION: Yeah, but in general.
MR. VENTRELL: I would never speculate on something like that.
QUESTION: Bolivia – is there anything new that you can tell us about the case of Jacob Ostreicher, the American who’s in prison on suspicion of money laundering but has yet to be charged?
MR. VENTRELL: I know we have some deep concerns. It’s something we’ve raised with the Bolivian Government repeatedly, and I know that – but I want to take the question to get you the fullest response because we do have some more information. But I know that, broadly speaking, we’ve definitely raised this case repeatedly with Bolivian authorities, but let me take the question and get you the full response.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on Farah Pandith’s visit to Burma? Where all is she visiting? Is she also visiting the violence-hit areas where Rohingya Muslims have been affected?
MR. VENTRELL: On Farah Pandith’s travel, I don’t have anything about her travel to Burma, but I’m happy to look into it afterward.
QUESTION: On Afghanistan? Recently there have been dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan as far as cross-border terrorism is concerned, and Afghanistan’s president, Mr. Karzai, had been warning Pakistan to stop all these attacks by the Taliban in Afghanistan. What do you make out of this dispute between (inaudible) there?
MR. VENTRELL: Can you say that again, Goyal?
QUESTION: Afghanistan had been warning Pakistan stop cross-border terrorism into Afghanistan.
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve said this from – this question has come up a number of times at the podium, and obviously, in terms of cross-border relations, we obviously continue to encourage the Afghans and the Pakistanis to maintain open lines of communication about threats on both sides of the border.
QUESTION: And also today at the Pentagon, a general speaking live from Afghanistan also indicated that there is a problem of Taliban in the south and basically right now but some problems in the north also. So what are you doing about this south problem, which Afghanistanis are also calling on the U.S., unless you stop this terrorism in the south, you cannot have peace in Afghanistan?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, this really sounds like a question better directed at ISAF and our colleagues in the field. I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:33 p.m.)
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