The video below is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:27 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon, everybody. Sorry for getting down here a little bit late. It’s a busy Friday, but happy Friday indeed. I don’t have anything at the top, so I will turn it over to all of you.
QUESTION: Treasury put out those Russian names today. Do you have anything at the podium to say about it in terms of how you think it might affect U.S.-Russia relations and cooperation going forward, or do you feel there’s a risk to sort of say “missile talks” and things like that?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks, Paul, for the question. Indeed, we have transmitted to Congress our information from the State Department and the Treasury Department. Stay tuned for an announcement shortly this afternoon, and we will have some officials explaining it in greater detail. So I think I’ll reserve it until we have a call this afternoon at about 2:15 to clarify more about the list with some experts.
QUESTION: But can we ask a context question about it?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Given the timing – yes, I know that there was the deadline of having a name – a list of names by Saturday if anyone was going to be designated. But given that the National Security Advisor, Mr. Donilon, is on his way to Moscow for meetings in the next two or three days, was there any concern that publicizing the names at this point would have a negative impact on his meetings given the ongoing situation in Syria, given the ongoing concern about North Korea, given the other issues that are certainly on their agenda to now have this fight over human rights violators now at the top of the list, as it were, of his agenda this coming Monday?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, Roz, I don’t think I would read into it one way or another, other than to say that of course, the State Department and the Treasury Department, as Executive departments, will comply with our legislative requirements, and we’ve done so in this case.
QUESTION: Has there been any initial contact from the Russian Embassy or from any of their delegation at the UN regarding the release of the names in the past hour? And if so, what has been their reaction?
MR. VENTRELL: Not that I’m aware of, Roz, but again, I refer you to our forthcoming statement and some more information we’ll have from officials later this afternoon.
QUESTION: And then there’s been a bit of conflicting messaging coming from the top leadership of the Russian Government. While the Foreign Minister, Mr. Lavrov, has indicated that this could have negative repercussions on the U.S.-Russian relationship, the spokesperson for President Putin as well as another spokesperson have indicated that perhaps this is not going to be as dire a situation as it might be, that you might not see a tit-for-tat, as it were, with Americans being cited for alleged human rights violations in retaliation.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: What is this building’s assessment of how Russia is actually dealing with the fallout from Magnitsky?
MR. VENTRELL: Roz, I’ll let the Russian side speak for themselves. You know where we are with our relationship in Russia, that our approach to Russia has been to seek cooperation in areas of mutual interest while managing our disagreements and speaking frankly and openly about our differences. And when it comes to human rights or democracy, we clearly communicate those. So, again, that’s probably where we are on Russia, but I’ll let the Russian side speak for themselves.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: What are the outcomes of the Secretary’s meetings with the Syrian opposition in London?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, first of all, before I get to the Secretary’s diplomacy, thanks for raising Syria, Michel. I did want to, first of all, mention that we are appalled by the horrific reports that 60 Syrians were killed on April 10th when regime troops stormed the town of Sanamein in the southern province of Dara’a. We strongly condemn this massacre in which civilians, including women and children, were killed in shelling and executions. So we’ve been absolutely clear from the beginning that those who commit these horrific atrocities must be held to account.
In terms of the Secretary’s diplomacy, you know that he had a chance to meet with the opposition in London. You know that he will continue on to Istanbul, as I mentioned – I guess it’s next weekend, not this coming weekend, but the weekend after – where there will be a chance with key partners to continue the discussion. So I don’t have an update in that regard other than to say that certainly, we’re continuing to intensify our efforts and do everything we can to help the Syrian opposition.
QUESTION: And there are some news reports that said that the Special Envoy Brahimi will resign soon. Do you have any idea about this? Are you aware?
MR. VENTRELL: I missed the first part of your question. Can you repeat that, Michel?
QUESTION: There are news reports saying that Special Envoy, or the international and Arab envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will resign soon. Are you aware of this report?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything for you on that one way or another. I’d really refer you to the UN. We continue to support his efforts to make peace, but I don’t have an update for you on his efforts at this time.
QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the Istanbul meeting that the Secretary will attend?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a lot of information other than this is a chance to work with international partners and the Syrian opposition leadership to further explore ways in which the international community can have a stronger impact on changing Assad’s calculation. But as we get a little bit closer, we’ll give you some additional details about the Secretary’s forthcoming trip.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Michel’s question about Mr. Brahimi in the larger context? We’re on the second envoy to try to bring about some sort of political resolution to this ongoing civil war in Syria. And we’re no closer, it seems, to coming to a resolution. Yes, there have been movements on the part of the Syrian opposition to establish some sort of military presence, to establish some sort of governmental presence to gain recognition in certain international bodies. But there is still fighting. There’s still people dying. There is still a massive humanitarian crisis.
Has there been any point in having a special envoy in order to just basically watch this crisis continue and to basically be present at a number of international meetings? I mean, it just almost seems as if it’s a waste of time.
MR. VENTRELL: Roz, I reject your characterization. You know that the United States preferred approach is to end this conflict through a negotiated solution, and that’s the best way to preserve some of the technocratic aspects of the state and the best way to avoid further chaos.
Having said that, we haven’t achieved that result yet. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to continue to pursue diplomatic efforts. But clearly, our efforts are on intensifying our support to the opposition, and we all want to see this conflict and this suffering and these brutal – the brutal, horrendous suffering end, just like the attack that I mentioned a little bit earlier in the briefing.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t seem as if Mr. Brahimi, and before him, Mr. Annan, were able to use any particular leverage to get both the Syrian Government and the Syrian opposition into a room to start negotiating some sort of future. What we have seen over the past two years have been a number of statements indicating that either Assad should have a role in the talks, shouldn’t have a role in the talks, and so on. It does not seem as if we’re actually getting to a point where people from both sides are actually sitting down and figuring out how to proceed and keep Syria as an extant nation.
So again, my question: What is the point? Is there another mechanism that ought to be used in order to try to, one, stop the civil war, and two, try to reach what the U.S. and its allies say they want, which is a negotiated political settlement?
MR. VENTRELL: That was a long question, Roz.
QUESTION: I’m good at those.
MR. VENTRELL: Let me be very clear, and the Secretary’s been clear. This is about changing Assad’s calculation. And he hasn’t made the right decision yet to step aside, but his regime will come to an end, and we’re very much focused on assisting the opposition in changing his calculation. And so the right calculation is the Geneva framework, which would allow for mutual consent for a new executive authority in which Assad steps aside and we can preserve some elements of the state.
So that’s what our efforts are focused on.
QUESTION: Is that part of the mission for Mr. Donilon as he goes into these meetings on Monday, to try to find a way back to that settlement? And on a related point, is there anything that he could possibly say to the Russians that might increase their ability to persuade Assad – who is, for better or worse, one of their clients – to make the calculation that would be in the best interests of the Syrian people?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Roz, you know where we are in terms of Russian support for the Syrians, which we’ve consistently raised with them. I really refer you to the White House in terms of Mr. Donilon’s travel to Russia, but it’s something that we consistently raise at high levels with the Russian authorities and will continue to do, because we don’t think that any assistance to the Assad regime is advisable at this point, which we’ve been saying for a long time.
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yes. Thanks for the question, Michel. We are deeply concerned with draft legislation that would severely restrict the ability of NGOs to work in Egypt. Restricting the activities of NGOs will damage Egypt’s international image and will not help build the greater consensus Egypt needs to deal with its political and economic challenges.
So NGOs have played a significant role and a positive role in Egypt’s revolution. They continue to play an essential role in ensuring that Egypt’s democratically-elected government fulfills the aspirations of the people. So we continue to support the work of – the United States always supports the work of civil society, and as it reviews this legislation, we urge the Shura Council to consult with Egyptian civil society organizations and to amend the law in a way that regulates NGOs without repressing their activity.
QUESTION: Have you raised your concern with the Egyptian Government?
MR. VENTRELL: We have raised our concerns.
QUESTION: And any reaction from them?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything to read out to you, but certainly we’ll continue to raise our concerns with the Egyptian Government.
QUESTION: And one more on Egypt: A fact-finding commission founded by President Morsy after the revolution has found that the army unlawfully detained protesters and possibly killed some of them during or after the uprising. Are you aware of this report?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we have not seen the report. But for the sake of transparency, we do believe it should be made public, and we urge the Government of Egypt to credibly and independently investigate all claims of violence and wrongdoing and promptly bring the perpetrators to justice. But we haven’t seen the report.
QUESTION: Will this report affect your relation with the Egyptian army?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we haven’t seen it, but we believe for transparency’s sake it should be made public.
QUESTION: I have a question on Pakistan warning issued recently. The question is that I understand this warning, Patrick, was issued, first of all since September of last year. But since September and even last week, hundreds of people were killed and there was dozens of or even hundreds of attacks inside Pakistan on Pakistanis.
This is what the Pakistanis are asking: How come this warning comes now, but it has not come in between September and this month, even though there were so many attacks inside Pakistan, innocent Pakistanis were killed, even foreigners.
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Goyal. I don’t have an update for you on the timing of our travel information, which we regularly release for American citizens in a variety of settings. But on one specific case, we do condemn the recent killing of Fakhrul Islam, a provincial assembly candidate from Sindh, and condemn any violence targeted towards political leaders of Pakistan. Violence such as this prevents the Pakistani people from achieving their aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic nation. I’ll look in and see if I can get you some more information on the travel notice. I just don’t have it here in front of me.
QUESTION: And (inaudible) is this warning, also, anything to do with the upcoming elections in Pakistan?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware of a connection, but let me look into this afterward and get you an update, Goyal.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. We got a couple folks here in the back, I think. Go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: The spokesperson of Afghanistan’s president today said that the Western countries are pressurizing Afghanistan to accept the bilateral agreement which the U.S. is pushing for without any conditions. What do you have to say? Is U.S. pressurizing Afghanistan or asking (inaudible) to push Afghanistan to accept those conditions?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, Lalit, I haven’t seen those remarks, so I would continue to work on the bilateral security negotiations, and I just don’t have an update. I mean, that’s something that’s part of an ongoing negotiation. But I just haven’t seen those comments.
In the back.
QUESTION: On Serbia and Kosovo, a meeting in both countries the last two days reported that former Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon and Ambassador Reeker are in touch with Serbian Government, and that they are pushing Serbia to sign agreement with Kosovo. Do you have something on that?
MR. VENTRELL: I really don’t have an update for you. You know where we are earlier in terms of expressing regret that Serbia has rejected the proposal, so that’s something where we expressed our regret. We know that the EU continues to work on this, and Ambassador Reeker is our lead for our policy in that region. I think he’s helped at a consultative role, but I really don’t have an update one way or another.
In the back.
MR. VENTRELL: Back row.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry is going to China, and he actually said he wants China to use its influence on North Korea. Could you be more specific on what influence you want China to use? Does that include crackdown on the illicit flow of funds from North Korea?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I don’t think I’m going to get into greater detail, obviously. The Secretary will be there very shortly. But the bottom line is we want the DPRK to – we want the Chinese to use the DPRK to get the – we want the Chinese to use their influence to get the DPRK to stop this behavior and to change course. And so I’m not going to get into the details of what we may discuss, but that’s clearly the frame here.
MR. VENTRELL: In terms of the whole trip?
QUESTION: In China.
MR. VENTRELL: We’re providing – in terms of China, well, it’s a broad range of issues. And so we’re providing some readout to the traveling press, but I don’t have an update of the whole breadth of issues in terms of all the officials he’ll meet with. But if I have something more for you later this afternoon, I’ll get it to you.
QUESTION: To follow up --
QUESTION: Did he actually change his trip, the sequence? Because I --
MR. VENTRELL: Did he change his trip what?
QUESTION: I thought originally he was planning to go to China. China was his last stop before --
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that there was any change of schedule one way or another.
In the back.
QUESTION: Yes. Regarding Secretary’s trip to China, human rights organization is urging Secretary to make human rights as a top priority. I wonder if you have anything on that.
MR. VENTRELL: Just to say that human rights issues are a central element of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship and U.S. foreign policy, and so we continue to raise human rights frankly with the Chinese Government, and it very much will come up in the Secretary’s discussion with his Chinese counterparts.
QUESTION: Do you have any personnel announcement regarding the assistant secretary of EAP? Because it was widely reported that now Secretary Kerry is ready to name Dan Russel as assistant secretary.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any update on personnel. Those announcements come from the White House.
QUESTION: Follow-up on China?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Twenty-one senators have written a letter to Secretary Kerry to raise the issue of Tibet and the human rights violation in that part of the world, in view of the more than hundred Tibetans that have died in self-immolation. Will that be an issue when he goes and meets the Chinese leadership, besides the North Korean issue?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware of the congressional letter in question, but human rights are something that certainly the Secretary will raise.
QUESTION: But would be an issue with --
MR. VENTRELL: Again, the traveling party is going to read out more details of who he’s meeting with and the topics as we get there. I don’t have any more information.
QUESTION: Also on North Korea.
MR. VENTRELL: Roz, go ahead.
QUESTION: Going back to the Secretary’s comments with the Foreign Minister, the Secretary seemed to indicate that there might be a possibility of reopening some sort of dialogue with North Korea. Do you have any more insight into what he was getting at in that part of his commentary today?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. I think the context was really in regard to what President Park’s vision is, which is for a vision of peace and ultimately a vision where Koreans across the peninsula can live in prosperity, which stands in stark contrast to the decisions the DPRK leadership is making.
In terms of negotiations, when we talk about denuclearization and some of those issues, that’s very much something where the DPRK needs to stop its provocative actions and come in line with its international agreements. And you know that the President and the Secretary have been clear that we’re open to engagement. But I think really in this context he was referring to President Park’s positive vision. And we, of course, encourage anything that can promote a positive – more positive relationship between the two, but their visions stand in stark contrast.
QUESTION: Given the upcoming anniversary of Kim Jong-un’s grandfather’s birth on Monday, is there any thought to telling U.S. citizens on the Korean Peninsula to perhaps leave the region for their own safety? Are there any changes in Travel Warnings coming up?
MR. VENTRELL: Roz, I don’t have any update from what we said earlier here at the podium this week, and we don’t have any specific recommendation that way for American citizens.
In terms of a potential missile launch, that’s something that the North Koreans should not do, and it’s something we’ve been very clear about that would be a very clear violation of its international obligations.
QUESTION: So, what happens if there is a missile launch? It seems as if various intelligence agencies are suggesting that something is imminent. What happens then? Is it another round of sanctions? Some have suggested that, at most, we could only see perhaps a presidential statement coming from the members of the Security Council. What’s going to happen? Is the U.S. just going to let something happen and just ignore it and hope that the crisis somehow just dies out?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, I’m not going to speculate on our reaction, but very much after grave violations of international obligations, we’ve always consulted and taken action. So I’m not going to preview what that may be, but this would be highly provocative, and so we very much would work with our key partners on this.
QUESTION: Would a presidential statement send perhaps the wrong message to Kim Jong-un and the military leadership?
MR. VENTRELL: You’re way too many steps ahead here, putting the cart before the horse. I mean, look, we take appropriate UN reaction – action at the UN after events like this, and I just don’t want to preview that one way or another.
Guys, we really only have time for a couple more questions, because we’ve got a tight day here. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I have a question about the Romeike family in Tennessee. They’re from Germany. They are – they were granted political asylum because they wanted to home school their children in Germany and they were unable to, so they were granted political asylum. Now that political asylum has been overturned. My question is: Does – why does that not meet the standard for political asylum?
MR. VENTRELL: Sorry to disappoint you, but I really have to refer you to the Department of Homeland Security, which has jurisdiction in asylum cases. We can’t comment on individual asylum cases.
QUESTION: In broad terms, does the State Department have anything to do with the political asylum process?
MR. VENTRELL: I would have to check on that, but it’s certainly a DHS lead. I’m not sure at what point in the process there may be some interagency input, but it’s a DHS lead.
We’ve got time, really, for just about one or two more. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Just out of concern, some Hindus (inaudible), and now what are saying is, yesterday Hindu year started, 2070, and some Hindus feel in the area that Secretary John Kerry forgot them, and they didn’t see any statement from him, but there was a number of statements on other new years or greetings and all that. So I just brought out a concern there, a message to the Secretary Kerry.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Well, thanks for noting it, Goyal. You know that we do our best in the Department, and the Secretary does his best, to recognize various international days.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Chemicals – apparently the Foreign Minister, Syrian Foreign Minister, rejected a UN team to investigate the chemical allegations. What is the next step now? Because they are serious allegations. There are – diplomats are saying that – Western diplomats are saying that chemicals used. We have Israeli ministers on the record saying that chemical weapon used in Syria and the regime is blocking. What are you going to do about it?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, you know where we are. And we’ve said repeatedly that we support the UN investigation, one that pursues any and all credible allegations of possible chemical weapons use, and we’ve been equally clear in demanding full cooperation of the Assad regime, including full and unfettered access for the investigation. So I really have to refer you to the UN in terms of it, but we’ll continue to press. The UN and the international community will continue to push.
QUESTION: But the regime blocked the team. I mean, my question is: I don’t – understand you endorse the team, but the regime is not allowing. So my question is: What are you going to do about it if the regime is not – just reject them?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I really refer you to the UN, who is liaising on this. I understand that they had a team already forward deployed nearby in the region. But I really refer you to them on the details of their interaction with the Syrians.
Time for one more? Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Israel. According to one senior Israeli official quoted in Haaretz, there seems to be disagreements between Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu over the framework for which he was – he has proposed, and obviously he discussed this on Wednesday. But according to that assessment yesterday, what is your reaction to that?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, you heard me earlier in the week say that we’re not going to be getting into the peace process here in that kind of detail from the podium. So I don’t have an update for you.
QUESTION: Well, like, according to the Secretary at Ben Gurion, he said that the U.S. wants Israel’s security to be guaranteed. Does that include putting a priority on discussing the Jewish character of the Israeli state as well as Palestinian right of return versus territory?
MR. VENTRELL: We’re not going to get into the details of the negotiation, but the Secretary’s been clear that obviously Israeli security and of course Palestinian freedom and dignity are paramount importances for the United States.
Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)