12:48 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon and welcome to the State Department. At the top, I wanted to draw your attention to a Media Note that we put out earlier this morning.
As you know, because of our – we have very deep concerns about the effects of the violence in Syria and the continuing humanitarian crisis. And as a result, this morning, U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Raj Shah announced in Jordan that the U.S. is providing an additional $21 million to the UN World Food Program. Of this new funding, 14.3 million will provide food assistance to conflict-affected people inside Syria, and 6.7 million to support Syrians displaced in neighboring countries. So that brings our total spending on humanitarian assistance to over $100 million for this crisis.
Having said that, I will turn it over to all of you.
QUESTION: Can I ask you, since there’s been various reports and some U.S. senators have spoken about it, could you kind of outline exactly what your suspicions are concerning Iranian weapons, deliveries to Syria, and Iraqi airspace?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Brad, we think it’s – that the Iranians have been very clear, and they’ll stop at nothing to continue to support the Syrian regime. And they’ve been very open about that. It’s doing little – the Iranians are doing little to hide their hand. And so we’ve expressed some concerns to our Iraqi partners, and Iraq has taken steps in the past to meet their international obligations. Just to go over those, all states have a responsibility under UN Security Council Resolution 1747 to seek to prevent the export of Iranian arms. Moreover, under Resolution 1929, passed in 2010, all states need to inspect all cargo that – to and from Iran in their territory if they have information that provides reasonable grounds to believe the cargo contains prohibited items.
So we’ve been pretty clear in communicating that to the Iraqis, and it’s something that’s a matter of ongoing discussion between us and our Iraqi partners.
QUESTION: So you feel that – you are convinced that Iran is sending weapons via Iraqi airspace?
MR. VENTRELL: Beyond saying that this is an issue we’ve raised with our Iraqi partners, I’m not going to go beyond that.
QUESTION: And then what have you provided – you said, even in the sanctions language, you have to have some sort of belief that this is occurring. Have you helped provide evidence to the Iraqis? They say they’re waiting for evidence from you.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’m not going to get into our private diplomatic discussions in great detail with the Iraqis, but suffice it to say it’s something we’ve raised in the past, it’s something that they took steps to address in the past, and they have a responsibility to continue to do so.
QUESTION: When did the relapse occur?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to get into characterizing it beyond that.
QUESTION: What has been the response from Baghdad to your request for things such as searching cargo shipments and things like that? Have they said that they would comply? Will they --
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I’m not going to get into our private diplomatic discussions with the Iraqis. Obviously, we have a robust partnership with them. It’s a country that we have a Strategic Framework Agreement with, and so we have intensive and ongoing discussions with Iraqis – with the Iraqis about a wide range of subjects, and this is certainly one that we’ve raised very directly with them and at senior levels.
QUESTION: What kind of recourse do you have if it’s not met? Is there something you can do? Can you go to the UN and sort of say to them, “We believe this is happening; we want some kind of enforcement?”
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we expect Iraq as a member in good standing of the international community and as a strategic partner of the United States to meet its international obligations.
QUESTION: When is the last time you brought this issue up with them?
MR. VENTRELL: It’s something that we continue to raise with them.
QUESTION: So since the meeting with senators, you’ve – today, has it been brought up?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I mean, the senators have raised it, but obviously, in terms of us as a government, the U.S. as the Administration, I can tell you that Assistant Secretary Beth Jones was in Iraq and just left because of the Media Note we put out about her talks. And so she had a wide range of discussions with her Iraqi interlocutors. And so this is something that we’ve raised and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: But – sorry.
MR. VENTRELL: Dana, go ahead.
QUESTION: But a spokesman for the Iraqi Prime Minister is publicly saying that they would like evidence; if someone could bring them evidence, then they would take the necessary actions.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I’m not going to get into our private discussions with the Iraqis. Suffice it to say that --
QUESTION: But they’re publicly saying that – they’re saying that no one’s brought them the evidence publicly.
MR. VENTRELL: I’m telling you it’s something we’ve raised with the Iraqis in great detail, but I’m not going to go further than that.
QUESTION: What do you want Iraq to do? You want them to send up their air force?
MR. VENTRELL: Actually, the easiest way, we think, is for them to require these aircraft to land and be inspected in Iraqi territory.
QUESTION: And how would they require that? What force do they have? Do they have any aerial assets that would be able to enforce that requirement?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, my understanding is that there are international agreements in terms of how aircraft transiting airspace are required to comply with local requirements. So --
QUESTION: Are you offering help to the Iraqis to enforce control over their airspace?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, the strategic partnership agreement, which set forth our – the Strategic Framework Agreement, which set forth our partnership, had a number of elements to it. But Iraq has full control of its sovereignty and its airspace since we handed that back to the Iraqis.
QUESTION: I’m just curious. If this --
MR. VENTRELL: Jo, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry. This was an issue that was actually raised a couple of months ago already. I’m just wondering if there’s been a specific incident, why it has suddenly come back to the fore again.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, this is something that we’ve been raising. I think you all are asking because there was a news report, there was an article in the newspaper overnight --
QUESTION: And the senators have been talking about it, but I just wanted – it seems strange that it kind of went away and then it’s come back again. I’m just wondering if there must be – what was the trigger for this sudden increase and interest, if you like.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, suffice it to say that the Iranians have been so explicit and so clear about their unyielding support for the murderous Assad regime that it continues to be an item of concern for the international community.
QUESTION: How important are these over-flights? I mean, what effect are they having for Assad in the war in (inaudible) Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I don’t want to sort of characterize one piece of Iranian assistance over another, but suffice it to say that the Iranian – the destructive Iranian role continues to have an impact, and we think that they need to stop.
QUESTION: Has this been a critical form of assistance for Assad in the fight?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we think all of this destructive assistance should stop, whether it’s materiel or whether it’s sort of direct training and assistance to help sort of stage-manage the repression or whether it’s technical means. There’s a lot of different things the Iranians are doing, and they should stop all of it.
QUESTION: And what particularly on the over-flights are you concerned about? What are they actually doing?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t think I’m going to get into it any further than to say it’s a subject we’re in discussion with the Iraqis about.
Next topic. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On China.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I wonder if you just could just give a summary of Secretary Clinton’s engagements there with Hu Jintao and the leadership there. And also I have a specific question. I’m just wondering what the State Department’s view is on the sort of domestic and political forces and factors and institution forces that are driving China’s statements and actions around the South China Sea.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, thanks. As you know, Secretary Clinton finished her visit to Beijing earlier today, about a 36-hour stop, where last night she began meetings with the Foreign Minister and then today had another series of intensive engagements, including with the President, the Premier, State Councilor, Vice Premier, so another robust set of meetings with senior Chinese leadership today.
She had a press conference with her counterpart, the Foreign Minister, which I really refer you to the transcript. I can’t improve on her words, but there was a very lengthy transcript there that talked about how we’ve got our relationship on the right track to building a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship for the 21st century, as the Secretary said. So that’s really the context. She had good and intensive meetings with her interlocutors, and she’s now wheels-up en route to Timor-Leste.
QUESTION: So just on that question of what – how the State Department views what’s driving China’s actions in the South China Sea?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, that’s a – sort of an internal analysis that I don’t think we’d get into from the podium here. Thanks.
QUESTION: Does the State Department --
MR. VENTRELL: Nicole.
QUESTION: -- have any comment on the charges against the police chief, Wang Lijun, who was, I think, charged even before the Secretary had left China, and one of the charges being attempted defection?
MR. VENTRELL: No, I don’t have a specific reaction for you.
QUESTION: Do you find the timing interesting that they did this while she was in the country?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think we have any particular reaction to that. My understanding is that it is something that was announced after her meetings were already over, but I don’t think we’re going to read into it beyond that.
QUESTION: Libya. Do you have any reaction at all to the news that the former spy chief Abdullah al-Senussi was extradited back to Libya today? I believe he’s wanted by the ICC. The ICC say they don’t actually have any information yet about this, so I just wondered what the U.S. position was on it.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks, Jo. Well, we understand that al-Senussi is now in Libyan custody. Obviously, I refer you to the Libyan Government for further details. But he’s been accused of crimes against humanity, and the international community has been very clear that he should be held accountable for his actions. And it would be critical that Libya take all necessary steps to ensure that he is held securely, treated humanely, and tried fairly in full compliance with Libya’s international obligations. So the fair administration of justice in accordance with its international obligations – this is where Libya can mark another important milestone in its democratic transition and help expose the crimes of the Qadhafi regime.
QUESTION: But you’re not absolutely insisting he has to be handed over to the ICC, then? He could be tried in Libya?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we continue to encourage the Government of Libya to maintain its cooperation with the International Criminal Court in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1970.
QUESTION: Do you have confidence in the Libyan authorities’ ability to properly hold and care for their prisoner?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we think it’s important that he’s held to account. Whether that’s in a Libyan setting or otherwise, we think it’s --
QUESTION: I’m talking about safe – about fair treatment and --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re calling on our Libyan counterparts to hold him securely, treat him humanely, and try him fairly in full compliance with their international obligations. So that’s our message to our Libyan counterparts, and we fully expect that they’ll comply with that.
QUESTION: After over a year, did this government ever get kind of a clear set of answers as to how Muammar Qadhafi was killed and how he was treated?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know what the answer is to the investigations that the Libyans had conducted, but I’d be happy to look into it and see if we have an update.
In the back.
QUESTION: Patrick, can we go back to Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: One of the defected general yesterday said that the (inaudible) forces are forming what they call the national army, the Syrian National Army, which will unify all the fighting groups. Do you have a reaction to that? And do you think this is a step in terms of – in the right direction of getting all the military kind of working under one command?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that specific report, but suffice it to say whether we’re talking about the armed opposition or we’re talking about the political track, we think that greater unity, greater communication, a greater ability to come around – not only a plan for transition, but make some of the steps that they’re going to need to take when the Assad regime falls so that we’re – they’re planning for the day after – we think that’s very important. And obviously anything that – the U.S. policy is that we want to do everything we can to hasten the end of bloodshed and hasten the end of the Assad regime, so to the extent that the opposition is more unified, that’s a good thing.
QUESTION: Do you see this new structure excluding like the jihadists or some Salafi groups who’s fighting in Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: Absolutely. We’ve been very clear to our interlocutors within the opposition that there’s no place for extremists like that. And really, it’s the Assad regime’s brutality and the chaos they’ve created that’s opened some of the space for extremist elements. And we’ve been encouraged that they’ve made some statements, the FSA and others, about – that there’s no room for these extremists and so we’ll continue to make that point.
QUESTION: Back to the Haqqani Network. If the U.S. decides by Sunday to blacklist the Haqqani Network as a terrorist organization, don’t you feel that it could have a negative impact on the U.S.–Pakistani relationship?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know – and the Secretary, I believe, in her press availability in Indonesia was asked about the Haqqani Network and she does have a Congressional requirement to report to Congress, which she’ll meet. I don’t want to preview or prejudge what that might be. We’ve been pretty clear for a long time that we’ve – that the U.S. policy is to put pressure on the Haqqani Network. That includes both the sanctions that we’ve put on individuals, but also military pressure as well. And so we’ll continue to target the Haqqani Network, but beyond that I don’t have anything to announce or preview at this time.
QUESTION: Are you talking to Pakistan about this, ahead of the Secretary’s decision at the end of the week?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, ultimately this –
QUESTION: Are you consulting – yeah –
MR. VENTRELL: – is a decision that we’ll make, but routinely when we make significant decisions, we’re in touch both with Congress and with international partners as appropriate, but I just don’t have anything to preview.
QUESTION: Are you talking to the Haqqani Network about your decision?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think so, Brad. (Laughter.)
Go ahead, (inaudible).
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, it turns out that there was some sort of potential security threat. It turned out not to be. Our embassy continues its operations. We’re thankful to our Belgian counterparts and – for their quick response, but Embassy operations have resumed and are – they’re back at normal procedures.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: All right. Thank you, all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:04 p.m.)
DPB # 156