The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:05 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Good afternoon, everyone. I do have a couple things at the top before I turn it over to all of you. Just, first of all, as you know, we had a very sad weekend here in the Department of State. We’re grieving the loss of one of our own. As you heard the Secretary talk about in his statement and in his press availability in Istanbul, we mourn the loss of Anne Smedinghoff, a very bright and young diplomat who was tragically killed in a horrific attack in Afghanistan over the weekend. In addition, as you know, we had four additional Department of State employees who were injured. In addition to Anne’s death, there was a DOD civilian death, as well as Afghan colleagues and three members of the U.S. Armed Forces.
So, just to reiterate that our employees in Afghanistan are working hard to help strengthen the country and support the Afghan people’s aspirations for a more stable and secure future. Anne and her colleagues' worked delivering books to a school is just one example of how her people in the field are committed to this mission. Obviously, we’re investigating the incident and continue to work to support our injured colleagues at this difficult time.
Moving on to Ukraine. The United States welcomes Ukrainian President Yanukovych’s decision to pardon former Interior Minister Lutsenko and former Environment Minister Filipchuk. This is an important first step toward addressing the international community’s concern about the Government of Ukraine’s commitment to democracy and the rule of law. We join the European Union in calling on the Ukrainian Government to end the politically motivated prosecution of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and to release her from prison.
Having said that, I’ll go ahead and turn it over to all of you. Matt.
QUESTION: I’m going to defer to Elise.
QUESTION: I have a couple. First of all, on the death of Margaret Thatcher, we saw the Secretary’s statement, but WikiLeaks is putting forward a cable, a 1975 cable that is describing her as decisive, competent, disciplined, and intelligent. It’s a glowing cable. I was wondering if you have seen this on WikiLeaks or if you can authenticate that this cable is (inaudible)?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, first of all, just to say, as you mentioned, the United States – we did put out messages from – President Obama released a message and Secretary Kerry has released a message on the death of Margaret Thatcher. And we reiterate our condolences to the people of the United Kingdom.
QUESTION: Well –
MR. VENTRELL: Hold on, let me finish. Our understanding is that there are some very old documents here. We’re still looking to see what all of this may be, but there is a process through which – and in fact, it’s in our Bureau of Public Affairs, the Historian’s Office – through which material is properly declassified and released to the public.
I’m not sure if this particular document you’re referring to may be one of those documents. But in general, we have a process to do this, and it’s done very carefully and appropriately. And so I really can’t comment on documents that may have been leaked that are not declassified. But obviously, we work here in the Department of State through our Office of the Historian to properly declassify historical documents.
QUESTION: Well, my understanding is the documents that are being talked about today have – were already declassified through the – they’re not new, they weren’t leaked at all. They’ve just been put together in a searchable database for the first time.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have more details on it. The bottom line is we do, in the Department of State, work through a process to declassify material, to publish material of historical documents and make those available to the public. So – but again, I don’t have any more information if there were, indeed, documents that had not been declassified. So if there were --
QUESTION: So you don’t know whether these cables about Margaret Thatcher were actually declassified?
MR. VENTRELL: I can’t comment on neither their authenticity nor their status of classification.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Did this come through the State Department? Did they have some kind of program or any kind of cultural exchange that they’re working for? Do you know anything about the trip?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, just to say, Elise, that you know under the Obama Administration there had been regulatory changes made to travel regulations both in April 2009 and January 2011 that were designed to increase people-to-people contact. The bottom line, though – and the goal and intent of those is to promote people-to-people travel for greater engagement between Cubans and Americans. But the bottom line is it’s Treasury that implements some of those specific travel regulations, and so I really refer you to them on this travel of private U.S. citizens.
QUESTION: But you don’t know specifically whether there was some kind of – Treasury would give the license, but about the people-to-people contacts, that would fall under the domain of the State Department, so --
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we certainly consult in the interagency to make sure --
QUESTION: Did you consult in this case?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that we did.
QUESTION: Change topics? First, I regret missing Ms. Nuland’s last briefing.
MR. VENTRELL: You missed some delicious cupcakes.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) Exactly. On the Secretary’s trip, today, Tzipi Livni, the Minister of Justice in Israel, told (inaudible) that the Israelis are dropping the demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and in exchange, they will demand that – two states for two people. Is that something that the Secretary of State sort of negotiated with the Israelis?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, I’m going to disappoint you here a little bit because, obviously, as you know, the Secretary continues his travel and continues his consultations with both Israelis and Palestinians, ongoing, including today and tomorrow. So a lot of issues are being discussed on both sides. I’m simply not going to get into any of the specifics as this diplomacy is playing out.
QUESTION: But this was deemed as something that Mr. Netanyahu came up with actually to sort of put obstacles in the way of the negotiation, so a hurdle would have been moved, so that would be a feather in the Secretary’s cap if he did that.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m just not going to comment on the ongoing diplomacy. He’s in the region. His meetings continue.
QUESTION: Okay. So the last question on this trip: What is expected? I mean, some people are talking about two months, three months, or a few weeks before some sort of a proposal coming out of this building. Could you comment on that?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, sorry to disappoint, Said. You know the Secretary’s travel is ongoing, and Toria did lay out some of the broad framework of the Secretary’s travel last week, but I just don’t have any updates for you.
MR. VENTRELL: Michel.
QUESTION: Clashes in Egypt between Christians and Muslims, any State Department officials talked to the Egyptian Government about its responsibility to protect Copts?
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks for the question, Michel. Let me just say that we condemn all the recent violence we’ve seen in Egypt, including the sectarian violence that has taken the lives of seven Egyptians and injured many more over the past few days. We call for restraint on all sides. We extend our deepest condolences to the friends and family of those Egyptians, both Christian and Muslim, who were killed or injured in the recent violence in and around Cairo. And we do welcome President Morsy’s promise over the weekend to conduct a full and transparent investigation. As you heard Toria say last week, we think it’s very important for them to expeditiously investigate all acts of violence regardless of the situation in which it came about.
QUESTION: But has anybody talked to the government about protecting the minorities in Egypt?
MR. VENTRELL: It’s something that we consistently raise with our Egyptian counterparts, certainly at the level of the Embassy, but additionally from Washington as appropriate. And so we’re very clearly here, condemning any sectarian violence, and we want the rights of Egyptians – of all Egyptians to be respected. Clearly, that’s one of the – was one of the primary goals of the revolution indeed, was to ensure that a new Egypt would respect the rights of all Egyptians.
QUESTION: Can we move on to North Korea?
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: I got – on Egypt?
MR. VENTRELL: One last one on Egypt. Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: I have one very quickly. There are accusations that are – people closely tied to the government or to the Muslim Brotherhood that are actually fanning the flames of anti-Coptic, anti-Christian elements in Syria. Do you have any information on that?
MR. VENTRELL: Just to say that we have seen some of these claims. We’re looking into them. But we’ve seen some of the rumors, for instance, that some of the security forces were aiding or at least standing aside while these attacks occurred. We’re looking into it. We don’t have further information. But we’re certainly looking into it.
MR. VENTRELL: Elise.
QUESTION: The South Koreans are making some noise that they think the North Koreans might be preparing another nuclear test. Do you have any information that would indicate that they are?
Also, the – they told all foreign embassies to try and – that their employees or their diplomats should leave by April 10th, which kind of would indicate that they feel that there would be some violence on that day. Do you have anything on that?
MR. VENTRELL: Elise, just to say, of course we can’t comment on matters of intelligence and what we may or may not be seeing, but any future nuclear test or missile launch would be in direct violation of UN Security Council resolutions and would lead to further pressure and isolation. So we would strongly discourage against that course of action, of course.
In terms of – Toria talked a little bit on Friday about some of these actions that the D.P.R.K. took with respect for their foreign embassies in their capital. I don’t have anything to add, but I would say one thing about this industrial complex, the joint industrial complex at Kaesong, that we do remain in close consultation with our Republic of Korea counterparts on this. Closing it would be regrettable, given that more than 50,000 North Korean people are employed there, and it would not help them achieve their stated desire to improve their economy and better the lives of their people. So that would be a regrettable action if they continue in that direction.
We have a couple more. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have any information how many Americans are in North Korea right now?
MR. VENTRELL: This question came up, I believe it was on either Thursday or Friday. The bottom line is that, as you know, we don’t require U.S. citizens to register or come to us when they travel abroad, so it’s not possible for us to have exact numbers. We encourage all American citizens when they’re traveling overseas to register with us so we can keep them with the most updated information.
In the case of going to the D.P.R.K., we do not have an embassy in Pyongyang. All of our affairs, especially concerning citizens, are handled by the Swedish protecting power. So we don’t have sort of a reliable statistic, but we do indeed encourage all people to register.
QUESTION: Right. So are you saying that the only – you are only aware of one American in North Korea right now, and that’s the detainee?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not saying that at all. I’m just saying it would be disingenuous to say that we have an exact count on how many American citizens.
QUESTION: No one’s asking you for an exact count. We were just trying to get an idea, however inexact. That was the whole point of the question.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: Has anybody registered with the Swedes?
MR. VENTRELL: Yes, we do have citizens who register. There are humanitarian workers that come in and out --
QUESTION: Yeah. So roughly how many?
MR. VENTRELL: We are taking a look at seeing how much of that we can capture for you, but the bottom line is it’s a little bit hard to give you a reliable estimate of there are 100 or 200 or 300.
QUESTION: I’m not asking for an estimate of the total number of people there. Just ask – or just – I am just asking, at least, for the number who have registered with the Swedes. I don’t see how giving that information out has – would be a problem.
MR. VENTRELL: All right.
QUESTION: I’m not asking for their names and their addresses.
MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to further look into the specific instance of those who have registered with our Swedish protecting power.
QUESTION: But you know that there are some who have?
MR. VENTRELL: There are American citizens who specifically --
QUESTION: Who have registered?
MR. VENTRELL: -- humanitarian. My understanding is yes.
QUESTION: Yes. Okay. And so, since Friday, 72 hours later, no one has that number?
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, we did look into the broader picture of registering and capturing the number of citizens.
MR. VENTRELL: This is a bit more complicated than --
QUESTION: Okay, hold on. And then – and when you were looking into the broader picture, no one thought, hmm, it might be nice to know how many?
MR. VENTRELL: Part of it is --
QUESTION: Or they just left it as, okay, there are some, so you don’t --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: No one bothered to ask the question of how many? You’re not interested in knowing how many?
MR. VENTRELL: Part of the challenge here, Matt, is that a lot of these folks come in and out frequently --
QUESTION: I totally understand that.
MR. VENTRELL: -- and so, if --
QUESTION: I’m just asking for the number of people --
MR. VENTRELL: Let me go back to our experts --
QUESTION: -- the number of Americans who have registered with the Swedish Embassy --
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: -- in Pyongyang as being in North Korea.
MR. VENTRELL: Let me go back to our experts and see. The issue is that many of these folks come in and out of the country, and it’s a little bit unreliable to say this captures how many Americans are in the country.
QUESTION: You don’t --
MR. VENTRELL: The matter of – let me finish, Matt. The matter of registering --
MR. VENTRELL: -- people who are frequent travelers or folks who have frequent humanitarian business in the D.P.R.K. or other reasons to travel there is a different matter. I’m happy to look into it.
QUESTION: That’s the question.
MR. VENTRELL: I’m happy to look at that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: I think we have some follow-ups on D.P.R.K. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I want to ask about your view on China’s stance on North Korea. Yesterday, Chinese President Xi Jinping said no one should be allowed to throw the region or even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain. What’s your reading to this?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, the bottom line is – and this is true for both Beijing as well as our counterparts in Moscow, the Russians – we encourage the Chinese to make their case to Pyongyang that they have to refrain from provocative rhetoric and threats. So we’ll continue to work with the Chinese, we’ll continue to work with the Russians and other partners, to get North Korea to abide by its obligations.
QUESTION: Are you pleased to see China now is taking a harder stance on this issue?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve talked about this last week at some length, and you know that they’re a vital Six-Party Talk partner. They have a unique role to play, given their economic, diplomatic, and historical ties with the D.P.R.K. So as you know, the Secretary will be raising this when he meets with his Chinese counterparts (inaudible) in just a few days, and it’s something we certainly raise with them. So anything they can do to continue to put pressure on the D.P.R.K. to change course is welcome.
QUESTION: So, do you think that the speech was, in fact, putting pressure on? I mean, you said that you’re encouraging the Chinese to use whatever influence they have to get the North. So, do you see the speech, the President’s speech, as something that was – I mean, he didn’t mention North Korea by name, but it was pretty clear who he was talking about, so is that a positive thing that you – from your point of view?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I think we’ll let the Chinese clarify --
QUESTION: Is – was it --
MR. VENTRELL: -- their remarks and further parse them.
QUESTION: Understood, but – yes, but are you encouraged? Are you pleased with the fact that the speech was given, that he said what he said in the speech?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, any signals that the Chinese are going to --
QUESTION: And you regard this as a signal to the North Koreans?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I hesitate to speak for the Chinese. That’s for the Chinese to --
QUESTION: I’m not asking you to speak for the Chinese. I’m asking you to speak for your boss. Your boss is the U.S. Government, the State Department.
MR. VENTRELL: We certainly --
QUESTION: So do you think that – do you view what the Chinese President said as being a – as being encouragement or warning to the North Koreans to stop going down the path that they’re going down?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. We certainly took note, Matt, and clearly are paying attention to the Chinese public statements as well as what they tell us in private.
QUESTION: You took note, but --
QUESTION: Well, if you took note of it, then what does that mean? What did you note?
MR. VENTRELL: We took note that they made this declaration. And again, you all as analysts will interpret it.
QUESTION: And how do you interpret it?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I think I’ve done what I can on this. We’re --
QUESTION: Why? I mean, you obviously have an opinion of it, so why – if you – to say that you find it notable, that you took note of it, would indicate that you find it significant.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, you guys know that it wouldn’t be appropriate for me as a spokesperson for the U.S. Government to try to put words in the mouth of the Chinese. They made their statement. I’ll let them clarify their President’s remark. But suffice it to say we’re encouraged by anything that signals that Beijing will continue to get tough with the D.P.R.K.
QUESTION: And this is something that you’re encouraged by? Patrick, this is something --
MR. VENTRELL: Can we let another colleague in?
QUESTION: No, because you need to answer this question. Is this something that you’re encouraged by, the speech?
MR. VENTRELL: All aspects of the speech? Look, Matt, I haven’t seen the whole speech.
QUESTION: No, the stuff about --
MR. VENTRELL: I’ve seen the reporting on the specific line.
QUESTION: Yes. Is this something that you’re pleased with? Do you think this a good thing? Do you think that the Chinese did the right thing – the Chinese President did the right thing in saying this, or is it just something that you think is going to go – that you don’t care about and go --
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, I think the thrust of the comment was about security and stability in Asia.
MR. VENTRELL: That’s something we certainly agree with --
QUESTION: Well, you just said --
MR. VENTRELL: -- on China, and so of course we welcome something in that direction.
QUESTION: So the answer is yes. It was very easy to get to that one-word answer.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, the bottom line is yes, we share with the Chinese the same goals of peace and security and stability in Northeast Asia.
QUESTION: But you said that you were encouraged by anything that suggests that the Chinese are getting tougher on North Korea. Do you see this statement as the Chinese getting tough on North Korea?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I think it wouldn’t be appropriate for us here from the podium to sort of take the Chinese viewpoint and try to parse it.
In the back.
QUESTION: My question actually is kind of the same, because the Chinese Foreign Minister had said the same thing. And actually, he was more clear about the China stance on North Korea. He said China wouldn’t allow that any chaos happen next to China’s border.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: So --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, let’s take a step back. The Chinese have been very helpful and cooperate with us in the Security Council in terms of the resolution, in terms of the follow-on sanctions. So we’re working constructively and collaboratively with the Chinese, encouraged by it, and the Secretary will continue his discussion directly with them. And so rather than me sort of interpreting it one way or another here, he’ll have a chance to directly address this issue with the Chinese when he’s in Beijing in just a few days.
QUESTION: What Chinese actions would you deem tough in this case? What do they need to do?
MR. VENTRELL: Said, the bottom line is we need the D.P.R.K. to come in line with its international obligations and take a different course. And so persuading them to take a different course is the right action.
In the back.
QUESTION: The Swiss have offered to mediate discussions between North Korea and other parties. What are your thoughts on this proposal? And have the Swiss contacted you directly to propose meetings between the U.S. and North Korea?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to check on that. I’m not aware of a potential Swiss role. I’ll check on that.
QUESTION: On North Korea?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: If they are going to launch the missile again, so what is your next step? Are you going to UN again, and are you going to pressure?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I wouldn’t speculate on further action, other than to say that this would be not only provocative but clear – a clear violation of their UN Security Council obligations.
MR. VENTRELL: Said, go ahead. Syria.
QUESTION: Yes. There was an explosion today in one of the major squares of Damascus. It’s like Dupont Circle, Sabaa Bahrat, and like 20 people were killed, dozens other were wounded. This action would be characterized as terrorist anywhere else in the world. How do you characterize it?
MR. VENTRELL: So let me see if I have a ground update for you on Syria. Just to say – now, this is an attack this morning that you’re referring to. We have seen the news reports of that attack and are seeking more information. In terms of some of the violence we saw over the weekend, we do have information that the Assad regime turned its weapons against its own citizens by launching a barrage of rockets into the Barzeh district of Damascus. And so according to our contacts, several rockets hit residential areas of Barzeh Thursday night and Friday morning, killing a number of people. We strongly condemn these attacks.
Certainly any other attacks that kill civilians in Damascus, we strongly condemn as well. And we’ve been clear about condemning that kind of violence on both sides throughout the conflict, Said.
QUESTION: But this was – apparently was a suicide bombing similar to what happens in Iraq and elsewhere, and it has the trademark of al-Qaida affiliates and so on. But don’t you condemn such – I mean, don’t you term it as a terrorist action?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, Said, we’ve seen the news reports. We’re looking into this for more information. We have consistently in the past condemned events that target civilians and perpetrate this kind of violence. And let me add to that and just say there clearly are some elements – like we’ve been very clear about al-Nusrah and some extremists elements – who perpetrate a vision and perpetration violence that is directly at odds with the well-being of the Syrian people. And so we roundly condemn that.
But again, on the specific event, other than the media reports, I don’t have additional information.
QUESTION: Lastly, Mr. Ghassan Hitto, the prime minister of the transitional government, toward certain areas in Syria, and it was alleged that he met with American officials representing different agencies and so on, to talk about aid and help and logistics. Could you comment on that?
MR. VENTRELL: We don’t have any American personnel inside of Syria. It’s possible that we had a meeting in Turkey about aid. Certainly going back, Mr. Hitto’s been somebody we’ve worked with consistently over time on aid delivery. So I’d have to look into the specifics, but he’s somebody who has been a primary interlocutor on those issues.
Michel, you’ve been patient.
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait, hold on.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: “We don’t have any American personnel inside of Syria” – you’re speaking on behalf of the entire government, all agencies?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, you know we --
QUESTION: Are you speaking on behalf of the State Department?
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, you know we closed our Embassy and withdrew our personnel.
QUESTION: You’re talking about the State Department.
MR. VENTRELL: And so we do not have State Department personnel.
QUESTION: I’m just – right, exactly. But – so when you say “we don’t have any American personnel,” you’re talking about your agency, your branch of government. You’re not speaking categorically but --
MR. VENTRELL: You know, Matt, that I speak for the Department of State. So I’m very clearly saying that we don’t have State Department personnel inside of Syria.
Go ahead, Michel.
QUESTION: Yeah. Iraqi authorities forced an Iranian airplane today to land for searching for weapons bound for Syrian regime fighters. And – but they found only humanitarian aid and medical supplies. Was there any coordination between the U.S. and Iraq about this action, and how do you view it?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Michel, we’re encouraged by reports that the Government of Iraq may have conducted an inspection of an Iranian aircraft. So if it’s true, that’s a very positive step that needs to be followed up consistently with unannounced, credible inspections to ensure that Iraqi airspace is not used to rearm Assad and facilitate his assault upon the Syrian people.
So we urge Iraq to be diligent in fulfilling its obligations and commitments, and requiring that all flights – either all flights to Syria land in Iraqi territory for credible inspection, or by denying entirely over-flight requests for aircraft going to Syria.
QUESTION: Was there any coordination between the U.S. and Iraq? Have you provided any information to the Iraqi Government?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware on the specific case, but suffice it to say the Secretary was clear that we’re looking what more we can do to make sure that we’re in contact, in collaboration with our Iraqi counterparts so that they can stop this activity.
QUESTION: So are you – is this the third flight that’s been inspected since last September?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think I can speak to the whole historical breadth of this.
QUESTION: Is this the first since the Secretary’s visit to Iraq where he secured – or allegedly – or spoke to (inaudible) --
MR. VENTRELL: As far as I know, this is the first, Matt.
QUESTION: So this would be number three?
MR. VENTRELL: I believe that’s correct.
QUESTION: And you believe that there are still, what, a significant amount of flights per week that are going?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, without providing specifics, I can say that we’ve been very concerned about the steady flow of this route between Iran and Syria.
QUESTION: All right. So, I mean, is this – this is the first one since the Secretary was there about ten days ago or so; you would think that more than just this one flight had gone, judging by what you’ve said in the past, you think that more than just this one – there were at least several flights that did not get inspected.
MR. VENTRELL: So, what – and you heard me say this in the second part of what I said here a couple minutes ago, is that it needs to be followed up consistently with unannounced, credible inspections to ensure Iraqi airspace is not abused.
QUESTION: I understand that totally. But what I’m getting at is: Do you believe that there were a number of flights that, since the Secretary’s visit, have gone uninspected?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I can’t – I don’t have any intelligence to provide in that regard other than to say this is something that had been consistent and persistent and at an unacceptable volume. And so again, I can’t sort of provide a number one way or another. But we’re very clear about what we want the Iraqis to do going forward.
You’ve been patient; go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Tell me your name and who you’re with?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Azerbaijan (inaudible) Television.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: On trip to Turkey, Secretary also discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with Mr. Davutoglu. Do you have anything on that, and are there any plans to somehow give impetus to the peace talks, and as to what to do with the occupation of Azerbaijan’s territories?
MR. VENTRELL: To – just to say that, again, I’m not aware exactly in what context in might have come up in the Secretary’s visit to Turkey, but to reiterate, the U.S. – and you know that we’re a co-chair of the Minsk Group – we remain deeply committed to working with the sides to achieve a peaceful settlement of the conflict. So we believe that the use of force will not resolve the conflict, and we call upon all parties to refrain from the use or threat of use of force. But I don’t have any more information about in what context it may have come up in the Secretary’s diplomacy in Turkey.
QUESTION: How about the Turkey-Armenia relations? Any developments in that regard?
MR. VENTRELL: That’s something that we consistently raise with our Turkish counterparts, but I don’t have any information one way or another.
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, the terminology that you are using to (inaudible) the Turkish people living in Turkey – the people living in Turkey. First, Victoria Nuland used this term, the “Turkish citizens” instead of “Turkish nation.” And last – and yesterday, Secretary Kerry also used the term of “Turkey’s nation.” This is a very controversial issue in Turkey, actually. And while the political parties are working on a draft of a new constitution, this question is – the word of Turkish will stay on the constitution or not. So if I could get a comment on your preference that – to use this term and your mention (inaudible) Kurdish (inaudible).
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Tolga, you’re addressing this constitutional issue which indeed the Secretary did raise, and I’ll refer you to the exact line that he said in his press availability, which is that “our hope is that the constitution will respect and reflect the country’s remarkable diversity, which is a part of its great strength”. So that’s our position; the Secretary was clear about that.
QUESTION: So it’s a deliberate choice that he – to use the “Turkish citizens” since last month?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I think the Secretary spoke clearly that we want any of these constitutional changes to ensure that the country’s diversity is respected. I’m not going to sort of parse the Secretary’s words beyond that.
QUESTION: But just to clarify: Sometimes, when you mention about, for example, humanitarian aid to Syria, you are using the term of “Turkish nation.” But in the Kurdish (inaudible) issues, you are preferring this “Turkey citizens.” I mean, that’s why I’m trying to understand; is it deliberate choice or not? I mean, you’re going keep – use this term on all the Turkish issues, all the Turkey-related Turkey stories or just for the Kurdish issues?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, this is something that’s being worked through in a constitutional process. And I can’t sort of take a position one way or another about how it’s been used historically, but we’ve said Turkish before, but the bottom line is that this is something that’s being worked through for the constitution.
QUESTION: Are you aware of a change in the – regardless of what reason, has there been some change in your terminology?
MR. VENTRELL: No, because this is something that’s being worked through by --
QUESTION: No, no, no.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: But in the way you refer to it. I mean --
MR. VENTRELL: No.
QUESTION: -- there hasn’t been – there is no policy shift in talking – I mean, it’s not like when you decided recognize Macedonia as Macedonia, and --
MR. VENTRELL: No. There’s no policy shift here. Thanks.
QUESTION: I have another question, just about Turkey stuff.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: And that is: The Secretary also said that he was – he felt the Turks were handling the Israel rapprochement sensitively and thoughtfully. I’m just wondering if since he has left, have you seen anything to – that would make you either doubt or question or back up those comments? Anything between the Turks and the Israelis over the past 48 hours?
MR. VENTRELL: And are you referring to something in specific, something that happened in Turkey or --
QUESTION: Anything involving the rapprochement. Have you seen any progress, or regression --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Matt --
QUESTION: -- since he’s been there?
MR. VENTRELL: First of all, to say, just to reiterate for everybody, that you know, and you heard the Secretary talk about this, that we deeply value our partnership with both countries, and as the Secretary said, we want them to get their relationship back on track in full measure. And I don’t think we’re going to sort of step-by-step, day-by-day take an assessment every day of how that’s going, but it’s something that we’ve worked very hard on, and want to see them continue through until they finish. So I don’t think I’m going to characterize it beyond that.
QUESTION: So when they – so when something happens that’s good, you’re not going to say that you’re pleased by it? I’ll remember that when they do something that you think is good and you do say it, and I’ll remind you that you said that you’re not going to talk about anything about --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, you haven’t been very specific about what exactly are you referring to.
QUESTION: I’m looking for anything that would make you think that this either going in the right direction or it’s going in the wrong direction since the Secretary was there.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Well, the Secretary still is in Israel, and --
QUESTION: Well, no, since he was in Turkey.
MR. VENTRELL: Since he was in Turkey? Again, I’m not aware. I’d be happy to look into it, but --
MR. VENTRELL: Scott, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks, Scott. We congratulate the people of Montenegro on their recent presidential elections. We look forward to seeing the official results when they are released. And we understand that there were ODIHR monitors there that – and they’ve made a report. So we’ll refer you to them for the analysis of the conduct of the elections.
QUESTION: On --
MR. VENTRELL: But we’re waiting on – we’re awaiting final results still.
QUESTION: Serbia has said that it’s certainly willing to keep talking about the northern Kosovo issue, but is rejecting the proposal that was put forth in the Lady Ashton talks last week. So do you have an idea of where the United States would like to see that process go from here?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Scott, I think you’ve heard us say previously last week that we encourage both sides to seize this extraordinary opportunity to reach this agreement that opens their respective paths to European integration. We’ve seen some comments back and forth as this plays out. I know there’s a deadline coming up, but the bottom line is we’re going to continue to encourage both sides to seize this extraordinary opportunity.
We’ve been very supportive of the EU High Representative Lady Ashton’s leadership and work on this. You know our – we’ve had folks in this building that have continued to help where we can and continue to be supportive, but I don’t have an update beyond that other than we continue to encourage them to seize this opportunity.
QUESTION: Patrick, can we go to Iran?
MR. VENTRELL: Let’s go ahead and have somebody here – we’ve got another --
QUESTION: Hi, sorry.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, go ahead. Tell me your name.
QUESTION: Rosie Gray, BuzzFeed.
MR. VENTRELL: Hi, Rosie, how are you doing?
QUESTION: Nice to meet you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Just back to WikiLeaks for one second. They had a press conference this morning and Julian Assange sort of beamed in from his hideout in London. And he was saying that part of the reason that they decided to do this project, which isn’t a leak but just mashing together all these cables into a searchable database, is because the government over here doesn’t do a good enough job of making declassified documents actually – making these diplomatic cables actually usable for people – like, they’re public, you can find them.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
Do you have anything – does the State Department have any opinion on that sort of charge or --
MR. VENTRELL: So let me check in with our experts in the Office of the Historian about what our procedures are for declassification, how we make it available to the American public, and see if I can get you all a readout as soon as possible on some of those procedures.
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment now that the Almaty round is over and apparently things are where they were before the talks?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, you know that we had the second round of talks in Almaty over the weekend. The P5 were very united and continue to press Iran to address their concerns. I think you heard the Secretary talk about how, while the talks were substantive, it’s quite clear that a significant gulf exists between the P5+1 and Iran. So we’re consulting on what the next steps should be. We continue to believe it’s important to work for a diplomatic solution, but we’re back consulting in capitals right now is the state of play.
QUESTION: Do you believe that you are exactly where you were, let’s say, a month or two months ago, or some progress has been made?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think I would characterize it that way. I mean, the bottom line is that the talks we’re dealing with, the core issues, and – were substantive, but it became clear that this – we had hoped that they would make – they would come to Almaty to prepare to make concrete progress, and unfortunately, that was not the case.
QUESTION: Patrick, can I follow up on this?
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: Iran is threatening today to withdraw from the NPT if the West intensifies sanctions or refers the nuclear case to the UN Security Council, as an Iranian official has said. Do you have any reaction to that?
MR. VENTRELL: I haven’t seen that one way or another, Michel, in terms of a report on that, but we’ve long encouraged Iran to come into compliance with its obligations as an NPT member. And in addition to that, there are Security Council obligations, so that’s something we’ve been consistent about. But I’d have to look into the specific report.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: His (inaudible) on Asia is not very clear to me yet, so I’m just wondering if there is any possibility that he is going to make any major speech on Asia during his visit in the region.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, when we can get you some more information on each of the stops – you know we put out specific dates when he’s going to be in the Republic of Korea, China, and Japan. So as we can get some more information for you on the specific stops, we will.
QUESTION: One more.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Michel.
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Michel. We do welcome President Sleiman’s designation of a new prime minister. Prime Minister-designate Salam’s nomination is the first step in the government formation process. The bottom line is that this process is and should and must be a Lebanese process.
QUESTION: But do you – how do you view Mr. Salam?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, the bottom line is we think that the Lebanese people deserve a government that reflects their aspirations, their stability and sovereignty, and so this is the first step. I think we can comment further once it’s complete, but we welcome the move and look forward to working with the new prime minister.
QUESTION: But do you have any relation with this gentleman?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m sure he’s known to our colleagues at the Embassy, but I’m not aware of what our past working relationship is with him one way or another.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)
DPB # 58