12:58 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon and happy post-Labor Day Tuesday, everyone here at the State Department. At the top I’d just like to start by announcing that following on recent U.S. Government meetings on economic assistance to Cairo, on September 8th, Deputy Secretary Tom Nides will join the Chamber of Commerce and more than a hundred U.S. company executives as part of a delegation to promote private sector development in Egypt. The trip will focus on the second part of the two-pronged economic diplomacy approach described by Secretary Clinton on her visit to Egypt in July and will identify new business opportunities and partnerships for U.S. companies, express U.S. business confidence in Egypt, and demonstrate a commitment to Egypt’s long-term economic development.
Having said that, I will turn it over to all of you.
QUESTION: Just to stay on that for a second, do you have a run-down of what companies will be included in the delegation?
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that there are 50 – upwards of 50 companies, but I don’t have a specific list. Let’s see if after the briefing we can get you a few more.
Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Speaking of that, can we get into some of the details of the assistance that the United States is giving to Egypt –
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: – including relieving the debt and other supporting loans from the IMF, et cetera?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, Jill – and this goes back to a ways back, even back to the President’s speech over a year ago, where we’ve been outlining that as Egypt and as other countries in the region go through these really historic transitions, getting these countries back on their feet economically is very important to their stability, to their security, to their forward progress – also, on the political side as well. And so the economic aspect of that is very important. And in terms of our assistance to Egypt, we are looking at ways that we can give direct financial assistance. We’re also – as you know, the Egyptians are in close dialogue with IMF – so my understanding is there was upwards of a $12 billion financing gap for Egypt.
We know when the Secretary was there that really at the top of her agenda was the economic situation. That was one of the key areas of discussion in all of her meetings with Egyptian officials. So we have, as I just announced, the Tom Nides and U.S. Commerce delegation – U.S. Chamber of Commerce delegation, as well as this other aspect, where we had Bob Hormats out in Egypt last week as well, talking about some of these financing options as they try to close this gap.
So that’s – the talks are ongoing and I don’t have anything to announce today in particular, but this isn’t anything – and you saw some of the news articles over the weekend – this is not new money, we’re not talking about some sort of new package. This is really reporting on what has been a long-term effort of ours to look at ways that we can assist the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: Is Tom Nides leading the delegation, or he’s –
MR. VENTRELL: It’s with the Chamber of Commerce. So I believe the co-leads of the delegation are Deputy Secretary Nides, Deputy National Security Adviser Mike Froman, as well as the Chamber of Commerce having leadership on that trip as well. So it’s sort of a public-private combination.
QUESTION: Just, on the debt relief, this is the $1 billion that I think the President mentioned – I don’t know, what – a year and some months back.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: That would be, what, transferred into job creation funds or something of the sort?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I think the discussions are ongoing. We don’t have anything to finalize and announce today, but it’s not any sort of new – newly budgeted money. This is the kind of thing that we’re working with, funds that we’ve had previously. Debt swaps are one of the options. There’s a few different options that are out there, but we don’t have anything finalized to announce today.
QUESTION: Why has this taken so long? It’s been promised and it’s been repeated several times, and you said it was at the top of the Secretary’s agenda two months ago. And, well, there’s been so many times it’s been reiterated, but nothing’s actually happened.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, you know, Brad, part of this is that we need to also meet the needs of the Egyptians. They’ve gone through what has been a number of months of significant change in their country. We want to be responsive to their needs. They had to get a government set up. They had historic elections. They have a new President who is in office. And so that piece of the transition has been going forward, and we want to be able to help on the economic side now. So it’s not a matter of anything other than trying to meet the Egyptian needs.
QUESTION: I just wanted to put the period after it. How important is it right now to the stability of Egypt to have this money, or this assistance?
MR. VENTRELL: Clearly, Egypt needs to get its feet back on the ground economically to push forward. It’s very important to the Egyptians, and I don’t want to classify one piece of the economic package over another as more important. Suffice it to say that economic recovery in general is at the top of their agenda. It’s something they think is very important, and so that’s why we want to be helpful to their needs, because we want them to prosper. And again, part of going back to the very beginning of the Arab Spring, economic prosperity is one of the key elements of that. What people want are more opportunities, and so we want to be helpful to our Egyptian partners to get their feet back on the ground.
QUESTION: Do you expect any deliverables, anything concrete from the business delegation? Do you expect companies to pledge new investments in Egypt or new partnerships?
MR. VENTRELL: We certainly hope that they are able to do business. And that’s part of why we’re leading this delegation, so that some of these key U.S. companies can get back on the ground and do more business in Egypt. And we think that’s a good thing. And it’s impossible to predict what may come from a trip, but I think this is a really positive thing and let’s see – let’s let it go forward and see if we have something to report back next week.
QUESTION: Other matters?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, yesterday, Brad, the Secretary condemned the heinous attack on our Consulate personnel in Peshawar, Pakistan. We pray for the safe recovery of both American and Pakistani victims of this attack. We deplore this cowardly act of suicide bombing and terrorism that is – that took the lives of Pakistanis and indeed injured two of our personnel. And so I don’t have an update other than to say that we’re absolutely investigating. The FBI is taking part in that investigation, is leading that investigation. Diplomatic security will assist as well. But to our knowledge, no one had claimed responsibility for the attack, and we’re not going to speculate at this period on who may be responsible.
QUESTION: The Pakistanis said that they themselves have launched – or are launching an investigation. Will the FBI be working with them, or how does that structure –
MR. VENTRELL: Absolutely. I mean, obviously, when you have U.S. personnel involved, we do our own investigation, but we’ll absolutely be collaborating with our Pakistani partners. And we really are thankful to the Pakistani Government and law enforcement authorities. We commend the bravery of Pakistani security officials who saved lives, including the lives of our two personnel. So we’re thankful to them, and I – if they have an investigation going forward, obviously we’ll work with them. But the FBI will lead an American piece of our own investigation.
Brad, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. A couple from the Middle East; there was a self-immolation, I believe, in Gaza. Do you have any comments on that? And also there was a monastery that was attacked – apparently attacked. It was defaced and damaged. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. VENTRELL: On Gaza, I’ve seen those reports, but I don’t have a lot of information. So beyond the news reports, on the monastery, the United States condemns today’s assault on the Latrun Monastery near Jerusalem. We agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu who called the attack reprehensible, and we believe that such hateful, dangerous, and provocative actions are never justified. And we note also that the Israeli Government has opened a special investigation into the incident. So we urge all parties to avoid the potential for further escalation.
QUESTION: Are you aware that there’s an uptick in these types of crimes? It seems like we’re doing this more and more recently in the last several months, attacks on different religious institutions and such.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know if we have a sort of rubric or framework to measure the statistics of it, but it’s something that’s concerning. And we’re pleased that the Israeli Government, in this instance for example, is investigating very quickly. I know that there was some other incidents in – fairly recently where the Israeli Government responded very swiftly to in terms of education and avoiding the sort of hateful reaction that we saw.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Secretary is in China, and –
MR. VENTRELL: She is.
QUESTION: -- the Chinese were not very happy with her comments about the South China Sea. They essentially said that the U.S. should keep its nose out of there. It’s a Chinese affair. And what they seem to be saying is they have their own kind of Monroe Doctrine. I mean, do you think that the Chinese have any rights – since the United States had a Monroe Doctrine – to some areas that are close to it that are of special interests?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, you’re right, Jill. The Secretary is in Beijing today. She already met with the Chinese Foreign Minister this evening their time. She’ll have meetings intensively all day tomorrow with senior Chinese officials. And you know what our bottom line is on this, that we want a collaborative, diplomatic solution to this. We don’t take any particular position on various competing claims, but we want a collaborative diplomatic process that avoids coercion, and you know that the Secretary has been clear about that. She said it in her stop in the Pacific Islands. She said it again in Indonesia. And I believe we’ll put out a transcript shortly that has her remarks right before her meeting with the Chinese Foreign Minister where they gave her a very warm welcome in Beijing. So her meetings there have started.
QUESTION: Yeah. But again, it kind of begs this question that they do consider it interference by the United States.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look. Right now the Secretary’s there on the ground meeting with senior Chinese officials. I don’t want to characterize things further, obviously, as she’s in the middle of meetings; I don’t think that would be productive from here. But she’s been very clear publicly what our message is, and I’m sure that in private that’s part of the message as well. You also know that, of course, the agenda is wider than that. They’ll be talking about Iran, Syria, DPRK, many of the other world – leading global issues, so as we do in all of our meetings with Chinese officials.
Go ahead, Guy.
QUESTION: Could you just take a moment to tell us what you mean by “coercion”? Because it’s a term that’s thrown around a lot in criticism of China’s bullying of other countries in the region. But what do you mean exactly? Are you talking about economic coercion or –
MR. VENTRELL: Economic coercion is certainly one instance of that, but the bottom line is that we want this to be diplomatic and collaborative, and we’ve also urged the – we think there needs to be a code of conduct. So we’ve urged our ASEAN partners to work in that direction so that they have a common position going forward. But I don’t think I’m going to define it further than that.
QUESTION: Further than economic coercion?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, that’s one example, but there are many other ways, too.
QUESTION: To coerce?
MR. VENTRELL: To coerce.
Anybody else? Different topic? In the back.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on yesterday attack – suicide attack on U.S. – officials from U.S. consulate in Peshawar?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I think we just did that a couple minutes ago.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. I joined you late.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: I’ll catch it up.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks.
MR. VENTRELL: Brad, we are very concerned. We’ve seen the reports that an American journalist, Austin Tice, is missing in Syria. We have, through our protecting power to the – the Government of the Czech Republic, relayed our message to the Syrian Government to try to get information on his welfare and whereabouts. We appreciate the efforts of the Czech mission on behalf of our citizens. We’ve seen news reports that Mr. Tice is in Syrian custody. However, the Syrian Government has yet to confirm these reports with our protecting power. So we urge the Syrian Government to respond to the Czech diplomatic note as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Any update on the Alhurra correspondent and the camera man, too?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update on them, but again, as with the instance of the American journalist and others, from the very beginning, we’ve expressed our concern about the safety of journalists in Syria. We note that freedom of press from going back to Joint Special Annan’s original six points is one of the key aspects of that. So we strongly urge all sides to ensure the safety of journalists in Syria.
QUESTION: Another Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Could you just give us an idea of how far down the road we are now in terms of having the international community to set up some type of refugee camps or help for people who are flooding over the border?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we remain, Jill, deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Syria and that has spilled over the borders. Record numbers of refugees have flooded into neighboring countries in recent days, starting to stretch host country capacity. There’s been nearly a 33 percent increase in the number of Syrians displaced to Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey just during the last two weeks, and nearly 240,000 Syrians have fled. So really a grave situation. As you know, we’re spending upwards of $82 million on humanitarian assistance to provide not only for Syrians inside of Syria who need housing and shelter and other assistance, but also, of course, to these many hundreds of thousands who have fled across the borders.
QUESTION: But how are you getting it to them inside of Syria, considering that most human rights groups have said that the access is really poor?
MR. VENTRELL: Access is an issue, Elise. We do have implementing partners who are able to get into Syria. We have food assistance, for example, that gets to Syrians who are in need. This, of course, in the context of the Syrian regime using aerial bombings to hit bread lines. So in the context of a regime that is slaughtering its people standing in line for bread, we’re able to get in and with U.S. assistance provide money to feed some of these people. So a really horrendous situation, but we’re doing all we can to provide for the needs of these suffering Syrians.
QUESTION: But specifically, let’s say for Turkey, which was a country that was kind of in the spotlight, where does it stand now? They felt very overwhelmed a week ago. Do they – are they at least getting enough promises of assistance from the international community?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. My understanding is they had to close the border very briefly, but now the border is back open. New camps are continuing to be – they’re continuing to construct new camps with international assistance. So the Turks themselves have provided significant assistance to help in their own territory, and there’s international assistance as well, so – and that’s true for Jordan and others. So we’re really grateful for their hospitality, their goodwill, the money they’re spending, and we’re providing money as well because we think it’s important.
QUESTION: Last week you were talking about we might get a briefing. Do you think we could get that?
MR. VENTRELL: Let’s talk afterward and see if we can find the right official who can give a little more granularity.
QUESTION: You said record numbers.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: You’re referring, I guess, to this crisis, right – not to – I mean --
MR. VENTRELL: Not in the history of the world. I’m talking about in --
QUESTION: Even in – there were like 2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria, right?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m talking about what we’ve seen is there’s been a steady flow of refugees across the border in this crisis in Syria over the past 17 months. What we’ve seen is a particular uptick in the last couple of weeks, record numbers of Syrians departing to other countries.
QUESTION: Just one more on a different topic.
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: I was wondering, Patrick, if you might be able to comment on the photograph that’s been circulating of Richard Morningstar, the new U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, bowing yesterday before a statue of Heydar Aliyev, the late president of Azerbaijan in Baku. Was that something that this Department advised him to do?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I talked to our Embassy, and our understanding is that he was just placing flowers there, as has been standard practice for ambassadors who are accepting their credentials. So I think they strongly --
QUESTION: Standard practice in Azerbaijan?
MR. VENTRELL: A practice there in that country. And our understanding is that there was no bow; he was simply placing flowers there, which is – has been done by his predecessors as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Anybody else? All right.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:19 p.m.)