The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:04 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon. Full house today on a Wednesday.
I have one thing for you at the top before turning it over to all of you. I’d once again like to start off with today’s Free the Press case. Memetjan Abdulla worked as an editor of the state-run China National Radio’s Uighur Service. He was detained in July 2009 for allegedly instigating ethnic rioting in the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region via posts on the Uighur-language website Salkin. On April 1st, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The exact charges against Abdullah were not disclosed, but Radio Free Asia reported on the sentence and cited a witness at the trial that stated that Abdullah was targeted for talking to international journalists in Beijing about the riots as well as translating articles on the website. We call on the Government of China to release Memetjan Abdulla and all other journalists imprisoned for their work.
QUESTION: Since you brought it up --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- there were some deaths in that province.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Brad, we are deeply concerned by the reports of violent confrontation in Xinjiang that left 21 people dead. We will continue to monitor the situation carefully. We regret the unfortunate acts of violence that led to these casualties, and we’ll continue to encourage Chinese officials to take steps to reduce tensions and promote long-term stability in Xinjiang. And we urge the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation of this incident, and to provide all Chinese citizens, including Uighurs, the due process protections to which they are entitled not only under China’s constitutional laws but under their international human rights commitments as well.
QUESTION: Just on whether this was terrorism, as you – as the Chinese claim, or were these just protestors who were – I mean, where does the fault for this lie?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re seeking more information. We’re certainly concerned by and following closely this violence, but what we’re calling for is a thorough and credible investigation so that more facts become available, so that the rest of the international community can hear more about what happened.
QUESTION: Can U.S. diplomats enter that area?
MR. VENTRELL: They can. Indeed, actually our Ambassador was in the western province of Xinjiang, is there right now leading a trade delegation of energy, rail, and transportation companies. So I’m not sure that he was near the actual violence, but that is a province or an area that we’re at times able to visit and that the Ambassador has in the past and is right now.
QUESTION: His – the Ambassador’s effort is just related to trade, or is he bringing up the situation with Uighurs, the human rights situation?
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that he’s there with a trade delegation – U.S. energy, rail, and transportation executives. So – but Ambassador Locke regularly raises these cases, as well as we do from Washington, directly with the Chinese Government.
QUESTION: More broadly, the situation of Uighurs in China, Xinjiang specifically, I think it was addressing the human rights report --
MR. VENTRELL: It was.
QUESTION: -- a few days back, but do you see a deterioration or some sort of – what’s your assessment of the situation with the Uighurs in China right now and their treatment?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Shaun, we’re deeply concerned by ongoing reports of discrimination against and restrictions on Uighurs and other Muslims in China. So we urge the Chinese Government to cease policies that seek to restrict the practice of religious beliefs across China. But we’ve been particularly concerned about the Uighurs and have stated so publicly in the past.
QUESTION: Are we still on press freedom?
QUESTION: Can we stay on China?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: This just real quick. The wife of Liu Xia had a brief moment of fresh air today --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- yelling out of a car window that she’s not free. What do you make of this? And have you been raising this issue with the Chinese, about the treatment of his family?
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Brad. We remain deeply concerned that Chinese authorities continue to hold Liu Xia, wife of Nobel Laureate and imprisoned activist Liu Xiaobo under unjustified and extra-legal house arrest. We’ve repeatedly raised our concerns about the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo and the extra-legal house detention of his wife, actions which violate the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which they deemed a violation of international law. So we continue to urge the Chinese authorities not only to release Mr. Xiaobo, but also to allow his wife out of house arrest. So, we think that should be done immediately and that he and his wife should be provided the protections and freedoms to which they’re entitled under China’s constitution and legal system.
QUESTION: And this court case, do you believe that these are trumped up charges, the so-called real estate fraud, or do you respect the Chinese right to prosecute what they are calling possible fraud?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re monitoring the trial very closely and urge the Chinese authorities to afford her the due process protections to which – to which he is entitled under Chinese law and China’s international human rights commitments. Excuse me.
QUESTION: Patrick, are you still on press freedom?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) The al-Watan TV, which is a Palestinian organization supported by USAID with taxpayer money, it’s – the Israelis confiscated their equipment, like, a year and a half ago. They have now returned them. They are constantly and chronically confiscating their equipment, preventing them from conducting their business. If it’s not the antenna one time, interfering with their transmission, it is something else. So are you raising the issues with the Israelis?
MR. VENTRELL: Said, we did have some updated information on this a week or 10 days ago. I don’t have it here with me today, but I’d be happy to get it to you after the briefing. We did have an update on that.
QUESTION: Also, perhaps you could get updated on what the Palestinian Authority is doing, because they are also constantly harassing the Palestinian press, taking their license away, throwing them in prison for a day or two or three or a week.
MR. VENTRELL: So, Said, let me check on the specific case and also the broader issue that you’ve raised.
Okay. Jill, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: I really refer you to the FBI in terms of the investigation.
QUESTION: Even though that – it’s just a factoid of about (inaudible) it’s not --
MR. VENTRELL: I believe the Embassy did confirm yesterday that some personnel are headed down there, but again, this is really in the context of the investigation, the FBI, so I really refer you to them for more details. As you know, embassies are very large, multi-agency missions sometimes, so I can’t say one way or another whether they’re visiting personnel from Washington or whether they’re folks assigned directly to our legal attaché office in Moscow as part of the Embassy. I’m just not sure. But --
QUESTION: And is there anything at all that you can tell us about the cooperation between the U.S. and Russia now on this investigation?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, there’s nothing I can say specifically about the details of the case, but you’ve heard the Secretary talk about it, and others, that we’ve had cooperation and continue to have excellent cooperation with the Russians. But I just can’t characterize it beyond that.
QUESTION: Can you characterize what the role of the Embassy is? Because there are Embassy officials in Dagestan, separate from FBI.
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to clarify one way or another. I mean, again, embassies are frequently – especially in a large place like Moscow – large interagency teams. So I’d have to check --
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll look into it with the Embassy after the briefing.
QUESTION: How rare is it for U.S. diplomats or U.S. officials to be in Dagestan?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure. I mean, I believe our diplomats get out a fair bit and, whether it’s human rights reporting or visiting local contacts, do go to a number of places in Russia, but I’d have to check more specifically.
QUESTION: To clarify on that --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- would the State Department play a role in helping to arrange for the return of the parents here – and can you clarify that – just to claim the body and do that? Is there a State Department role separate from the Embassy?
MR. VENTRELL: Not necessarily. I mean, again, I don’t know the – in this particular case, the details of the citizenship or the travel documents of family members. But it just depends on the circumstances.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’d like a clarification.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry was speaking with reporters in Brussels, and he said Tamerlan went to Chechnya and, quote, “learned something” and, quote, “came back with a willingness to kill people.” What did he mean when he said that, and what did he mean he learned when he was in Chechnya?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, first of all, as I’ve said repeatedly here, there’s an ongoing FBI investigation. The Secretary was simply expressing broad concern about radicalism and not necessarily offering any more specific information about this case. But the context of how that came up was really – radicalism broadly, I understand, is how the question came up. But this isn’t about any new information or conclusion about law enforcement details of this case.
QUESTION: Let me just – because I want to be clear on this point. From reading the transcript – no U.S. press were present, so we are reading the transcript – it seems that Kerry is suggesting that Tamerlan was radicalized during his time in Russia. You’re saying that that is not what he meant to say and that he was speaking more broadly about radicalization.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. I’m clarifying his remarks and saying that he was simply expressing broad concern about radicalism. This isn’t about new details about the ongoing investigation.
QUESTION: So when he learned something, it was about radicalism, but he learned about radicalism; he wasn’t radicalized? That doesn’t make too much sense to me.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, my understanding of this informal press availability is that there was a question broadly about terrorism and foreign fighters, and it was in that context that he was saying that people can be radicalized by extremism. But this isn’t about drawing any conclusions about the specific law enforcement investigation.
QUESTION: So what did he learn? He learned something.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re not getting into any more details about the --
QUESTION: Right. But you put out a statement and the clarification doesn’t clarify anything. So did he learn – was he radicalized in Russia?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not in a position to say one way or another on that. I really refer you to the law enforcement authorities investigating this.
QUESTION: Patrick, does the United States have, like, a consulate in Dagestan or in Grozny?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think we have a consulate down there.
QUESTION: So how do people, those who want to apply for visas and so on or immigrate to the U.S., where do they go?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, as we do in any place in the world, citizens of a country, if they’re not near a capital, would have to go to the capital or the nearest U.S. consulate. I’m not aware which is the nearest embassy or consulate to that region.
MR. VENTRELL: Michel.
QUESTION: Any reaction to the clashes that went on today between the Iraqi army and armed Sunni tribesmen that killed 28 people around the country?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update from yesterday, other than to say you heard us – well, the only update is I believe that the Iraqi Government has called for an investigation. So we do want a fair, transparent, timely investigation that has broad participation. But we were very clear yesterday that we condemn this violence and that we want the Iraqi people and their leaders to work through constitutional processes and their institutions to find concrete solutions. So I guess the update from yesterday is that they’ve called for an investigation. We welcome that. But we want it to be fair and transparent.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the country could be headed toward a new round of sectarian violence?
MR. VENTRELL: We have been concerned and we’ve long expressed our concerns that there is a risk for sectarian conflict, but – given Iraq’s history, but that we’re encouraging all leaders to move away from that and that there’s no place for sectarian conflict in a democratic state. And so you know what our goal is. It’s to help maintain with our Iraqi partners that they have a unified, democratic, stable, and secure Iraq, and we want them to work through their issues in the political sphere. And so to the extent that there’s this tension and violence, we’d much rather have the Iraqis sitting down and working through this in specific and concrete ways to work through their differences.
QUESTION: Any communications with the Iraqi Government in this regard?
MR. VENTRELL: Our officials from our Embassy have been in contact with senior Iraqi leaders to help defuse tensions, and that’s really been done out of Embassy in Baghdad.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) of Iraq, there was no sectarian conflict until the U.S. engagement of 2003. On this very point, are you leading any kind of reconciliation effort, and if not, why not?
MR. VENTRELL: I think I already answered this, Said, that we’re very clear that we’re against the sectarian conflict, we’re against sectarian violence, and we stand ready to help our Iraqi partners work through these things in the political sphere.
MR. VENTRELL: Yes.
QUESTION: -- a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army allegedly hacked the AP, hacked my organization, CBS News, over the weekend as well. Does the State Department have any insight into who they are, whether they are who they say they are? Were they known in any way to perhaps people in this building who look at cyber issues?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve seen reports of their claim of responsibility. We strongly condemn this activity. As you mentioned, AP, your news organization, and others. We understand that AP did quickly regain control of its Twitter feed after discovering the hack yesterday. But other than these reports that are claiming responsibility, I don’t have more information about this particular group one way or another.
QUESTION: So it’s not clearly tied to the Syrian Government, in the State Department’s view, at this point?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have any information to clarify it one way or another, but I will check in with our experts to see if we have anything more to say about their potential ties or who we think they are.
QUESTION: But someone here is looking at that?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to check with our experts.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Are you worried about cyber hacking from Syria? I mean, you – we’ve talked about it a lot with regards to China. Is this a growing concern coming from this part of the world?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we have seen some specific instances during this conflict of various cyber hacking and institutions, but I’d have to check in and see if we have any broader conclusions.
QUESTION: The Russians are saying that as a result of Lavrov-Kerry meeting, there has been a narrowing of the gap on Syria, on the position of Syria, especially with reference to the Geneva points that – June 30th of last year. Do you concur?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I hadn’t seen a specific Russia readout from their perspective. Syria was certainly a topic that the Secretary addressed at length. He’s en route back here to Washington from that meeting, but I don’t have a specific readout, other than it was one of the key issues they discussed, including in the one-on-one format for an extensive period of time.
QUESTION: Has there been anything new on the Israeli assertion that there has been use of chemical weapons by the Syrian military?
MR. VENTRELL: Said, I don’t have anything new for you from what I said yesterday.
QUESTION: Have there been further conversations – the Secretary spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but since then, have there been further conversations by the Secretary or others with the Israelis regarding the chemical weapon allegation?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re in very close consultation with the Israelis, with the British, with the French, with other interested parties, and we’ve said that that cooperation would be intensive and ongoing to get to the bottom of what may have happened in Syria.
QUESTION: Well, they seem to have gotten to the bottom of it, so what are you exactly cooperating on?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’ll refer you to them for their conclusions, but we’re consulting and continuing to look at the body of evidence.
QUESTION: Right. But you’re saying that you’re cooperating with them to get to the bottom of it, but they’ve made conclusions. So, what, are you telling them to take back their conclusions or are you trying to learn why you should make the same conclusion?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’d refer you to those other parties for their description of what they’ve concluded.
QUESTION: Well, we know what they’ve concluded. It was pretty clear.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, we’re working --
QUESTION: I want to know what you’re actually talking to them about, if they’ve actually made this conclusion, and you say we’re working with them about an ongoing process of trying to figure out what happened. They’ve figured it out, so I don’t quite understand what the conversation’s about.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we think that, given the conflict in Syria, that it’s very difficult and challenging to make a final conclusion on this, and we have not made a conclusion. So that’s our position. I refer you to the other parties for their opinion.
Anne, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you just describe generally, institutionally, who and where in the State Department is following up on this, at which bureau? Do you have people forward at embassies? How is that process of figuring out whether what the Israelis say happened happened going to go for you?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, there are a number of different channels of communication. Obviously, I can’t get into intelligence sharing, but in terms of this building, we have a number of bureaus who focus on the issue, including our arms control experts, including our Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs. So we have both technical experts and regional experts here in the State Department who work on these accounts and follow them very closely. And of course, as you know, we have teams here at the State Department looking very carefully at the day after in Syria and looking carefully at a variety of scenarios. So we do have experts who are looking at this very closely, Anne.
QUESTION: Will you be able to make those determinations, though, if you can’t actually get on the ground to do soil testing and all of that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re looking for all sources of credible information. Certainly, the UN investigation would be one way to do that, and it’s something we’ve supported, but we’re looking at all avenues of evidence to continue to look at it.
QUESTION: Yeah. How do you view the role that Qatar is playing in arming the opposition in Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’ve talked about this, that each country has made their own decision, but we’re working closely together so that the sum of all of our efforts really helps the opposition. You know that the Qataris were here yesterday meeting at the White House. I refer you to the White House for the details of those meetings with the President and the Vice President, but certainly, Syria was a topic of discussion.
QUESTION: AP has quoted an opposition commander in Damascus suburb saying that Qatar is working to establish an Islamic state in Syria since it’s directing its aids to rebels with a more Islamist ideology. What do you think about this statement?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I can’t comment one way or another on each individual partner, but what we say to all of our partners in terms of assisting the Syrians is that we want to make sure that we’re all working together to support the moderate opposition that’s looking for the type of inclusive Syria that the Syrian opposition themselves want. And we’re working vigorously to make sure that extremists don’t get assistance, so that’s a priority of the United States.
QUESTION: And one more on this: Secretary Kerry, when he visited Qatar, he said that he received greater guarantees from Qatari leaders that nearly all the arms were getting into the hands of moderates among the Syrian rebels. Do you think the Qataris are fulfilling their guarantees or promises?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a reaction one way or another for you, other than to say that, very clearly, that’s our position. I’d have to look in and see if we have more information about that, but I don’t have anything for you one way or another.
QUESTION: Following up on that?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Special Envoy Brahimi, he – I believe it was today or yesterday – he called for consideration of the idea of an arms embargo on both sides, so no weapons going in to the regime or to the rebels. Is that something that the United States – obviously, there’s nonlethal aid on the part of the United States, but is that idea of an arms embargo on both sides something that the U.S. thinks can be considered?
MR. VENTRELL: So you’re saying he said there should be a complete arms embargo on both sides?
QUESTION: On both sides.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I hadn’t seen that one way or another. We’ve been very clear about the very destructive role of some of the weapons going to the regime, certainly on the part of the Iranians and Hezbollah and Russia giving them weapons that they’re raining down on the heads of innocent women and children. And you know what we’ve said about our nonlethal assistance, but other countries have made their decision in terms of helping the opposition.
QUESTION: So the United States supports the total arms embargo to Syria to all sides; correct?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, that’s not what I said. I said that we have serious concerns about the type of and lethality of the weapons that continue to flow to the regime, that we ourselves have chosen to offer nonlethal assistance, and that other countries have made other decisions.
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t support the idea of an arms embargo on assistance to the rebels?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I hadn’t seen the context of Mr. Brahimi’s remarks, but that’s not something that we’ve clarified one way or another in terms of – we haven’t supported or come out and said that we want some sort of total arms embargo. That’s not something we’ve said.
QUESTION: Patrick, the EU has said that it would agree to allow purchases of oil from Syria as a way to help fund the rebels. A question: What is the U.S.’s position on that EU decision? And is the U.S. contemplating a similar kind of move?
MR. VENTRELL: I really refer you to the EU for their decision. I don’t – that’s something that they can clarify. I’m not sure that we’ve taken a position on that one way or another. I’m not sure our sanctions take a position on the oil exports that go – funds the opposition. I’m not sure we have a – I’d have to check with Treasury and see if we have anything more on that.
QUESTION: Different topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Shaun.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: President Maduro was happy with the comments from the podium yesterday about sanctions being considered and he’s announced that the – that Venezuela has appointed a new charge d’affaires in Washington in hope for a better relationship with the United States. Do you have a reaction either to the appointment or to his comments that Venezuela, under his leadership, wants a better relationship with the United States?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Well, as you know, Shaun, with all bilateral diplomatic relationships, it’s important to establish effective channels of communication between governments so we can discuss matters of mutual concern. The Venezuelan decision to send Calixto Ortega as their charge d’affaires of – in charge of the Venezuelan Embassy here could be a step in that direction. He’s known and is a respected participant in the Boston Group, which was a bipartisan group of legislators from Venezuela and the United States established back about a decade ago to discuss bilateral relations.
So we have had historical ties with the Venezuelan people – historical, human, and cultural ties – and we believe it is important and timely to establish a productive relationship based on mutual interests, such as counternarcotics, counterterrorism, the energy relationship, the commercial relationship. So that’s really where we are in terms of our relationship with the Venezuelans.
QUESTION: Where are you in terms of your assessment of the election? There have been calls for a recount or an audit. Do those calls of the United States still stand, or are those --
MR. VENTRELL: We do continue to believe that the ongoing CNE recount and a thorough review of alleged voting irregularities will – is important and essential to ensure that the Venezuelan people feel that their democratic aspirations are being met and that they have greater confidence in the election outcome.
QUESTION: Patrick, on that, just out of ignorance more than anything, does the U.S. have a charge in Venezuela?
MR. VENTRELL: We do have a charge d'affaires.
QUESTION: He never left?
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding – I think we may have a different charge d'affaires now, but let me check on that.
QUESTION: But I mean, it’s been staffed, in other words?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve consistently staffed the charge d'affaires position, but I’d have to check for you on who he or she is at this moment.
QUESTION: Can we stay in Latin America?
MR. VENTRELL: Sure, go ahead.
QUESTION: On Cuba, the Cuban Government’s submission to the UN Human Rights Council said that it’s unable to make improvements, perceived improvements in human rights, because of the U.S. embargo, that that’s holding it back. Does the United States have a reaction to that, about whether the embargo has a bearing on Cuba’s efforts in human rights?
MR. VENTRELL: This is something that consistently comes up in the UN both in the Human Rights Council context and in the General Assembly, and we very clearly make our position known every time that it comes up. And I’d be happy to give you the full remarks that we’ve made both at the HRC and in the General Assembly in the past, but the bottom line is we have no ill will toward the Cuban people and it’s the Cuban Government that needs to reform its practices and protect the human rights of its people. And our embargo is not designed to preclude humanitarian assistance and other vital goods going to the Cuban people, which have continued to flow. And as we’ve seen in the Obama Administration, there have been some changes to our travel policy in terms of allowing educational and cultural groups and other types of visits.
Go ahead in the back.
QUESTION: Patrick, today the Armenian organizations in Washington, DC are organizing the commemoration of the Armenian genocide on the Capitol Hill, and I was informed that American Foreign Service officials were invited also by the Armenian lobby groups to be present, including high-ranking officials. And as far as I know, there is no precise answer from this building yet whether there will be any participation from this building on the Hill’s commemoration event. Do you have any update on this?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if any State Department officials will be at that particular event, but you did see the President’s statement on Armenian Remembrance Day, which was very clear on our position. But in terms of State Department participation, I’d have to check.
QUESTION: During the former Democratic administrations during Bill Clinton, the State Department officials were actually present at the Armenian commemorations, and then during the following administration of George Bush, Jr., it stopped. Do you have any directives now from maybe White House to be present or not to be present at the Armenian events?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’d have to check on that.
MR. VENTRELL: The United States supports India and China working together to settle their boundary disputes bilaterally and peacefully, and that’s what we’ve continued to urge throughout this.
QUESTION: Have you spoken to either of these countries after this incident?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware whether we’ve been in contact at the embassy level since then.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Jerusalem. The Israelis allowed, after repeated requests, a team from UNESCO to go and inspect al-Haram al-Sharif and the Dome of the Rock. And they say that the United States actually pressured the Israelis to do that. Did you pressure the Israelis to allow them in?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, just to say that we’re pleased that Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians were able to reach an agreement that advances cultural preservation efforts and avoids divisive, anti-Israel votes at UNESCO. We strongly support this return to consensus-based decisions and we note that the agreement resulted from concerted efforts by the parties, Russia, Arab delegations, and the United States to broker an agreement. So we hope to build on these efforts to promote cultural preservation and to create an environment conducive to furthering Middle East peace. Thank you.
Brian, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Is there any reaction to the EPA’s decision that the State Department review was insufficient?
MR. VENTRELL: Just to say that the State Department, as we’ve always indicated, that in preparing a final Supplemental Environmental Impact Study, SEIS, that we would conduct additional analysis and incorporate public comments received on the draft SEIS. So we look forward to continuing to work with the Environmental Protection Agency on the issues described in its letter commenting on the Keystone draft SEIS.
And just in terms of process, the next step once we issue – the Department issues the final SEIS, we’ll obtain the views of federal agencies as well as the public regarding whether the issuance of a presidential permit for Keystone XL pipeline would serve the national interest.
QUESTION: Would you disagree that it’s insufficient?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’ll take into account their views as we work to make the draft SEIS into its final format. And there’ll be another opportunity also during the interagency process where there’s a national interest determination where other agencies can express their views as well.
QUESTION: Might you have any reaction to House Republican legislation that would take the decision on building the pipeline out of the hands of State and the EPA?
MR. VENTRELL: The bottom line is that we continue to review the Keystone XL pipeline in a transparent, rigorous, and efficient manner, and so we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Can we stay on the Hill?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: I was wondering if the State Department had any reaction to the report by a number of House Republican chairmen on the Benghazi attack which was a bit critical of the role of former Secretary Clinton.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Well, first of all, Shaun, you know that the Department’s top priority is the safety and security of our men and women who serve on the frontlines around the world; and while we can’t eliminate danger, we work tirelessly to mitigate it. And as Secretary Kerry stated last week, we cannot and we will not retreat from engaging on the frontlines of diplomacy.
As you know, we’ve had extensive and unprecedented cooperation with the Congress on this issue. The Department has exhibited an unprecedented level of transparency throughout the process. We’ve made the unclassified ARB report available to the public, the entire classified report available to the Congress, and we remain committed to working with Congress in a constructive manner as we move forward and continue to implement the recommendations of the report. So there’s been eight hearings, there have been 20 briefings, and as the House itself noted in – the House Republicans noted in this report, there have been 25,000 pages of documentation which we’ve handed over to them in response to their requests. So we’re very determined to continue to cooperate and we’ve been clear that we’ve had unprecedented cooperation to date.
QUESTION: So you welcome the report by the House Republicans?
MR. VENTRELL: I didn’t say that. What I said is we’ve had unprecedented cooperation. Some of the specific allegations in there or requests for more information have been asked and answered in a number of these sessions. So there are points in this report where they’re asking or seeking more information. We’ve provided all this information and we’ve continued to be transparent. And the Secretary, when he was testifying on this last week, was clear that we’ll continue to provide --
QUESTION: Do you reject or accept the outlined conclusions from the report?
MR. VENTRELL: They are not consistent with what we believe in terms of our transparency and the work that we’ve done, so we don’t agree with their conclusions.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the resolution of the kidnapped archbishops?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, thanks for bringing that up. Yesterday we had heard reports that they’d been released and welcomed those reports, but it looks like there’s some contradictory information about the two archbishops. So we continue to seek more details on their status, but – and we understand the Syrian Opposition Coalition is condemning their capture and urging their release. So we continue to reiterate our call for their release and we look for all parties in Syria to protect and respect the rights of all civilians, including religious figures.
QUESTION: Do you know if those kidnappers are Chechens, as some news outlets said?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information one way or another on the identity of the kidnappers or perpetrators in this case.
QUESTION: A lot of people said they were Chechens and maybe even linked with what happened in Boston.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re not in a position to say one way or another who the perpetrators might be.
QUESTION: Yeah. Last week, several member – around 32 members of the Congress, led by co-chair of the Tom Lantos committee, wrote a letter to Secretary Kerry on Pakistani election, that some of the minority communities like Ahmadis are having problem in exercising the right to vote in Pakistan in the coming May elections. The question is: Is Secretary Kerry aware about that? Has he received the letter, and what is his position on that particular ordinance issued by President Zardari of Pakistan?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to check on the specifics of the congressional letter. But you know that we continue to look forward to timely, free, and fair elections in Pakistan. But let me check on the letter.
QUESTION: Do you have an updated readout of Dawei’s meetings here at the State Department, which have now concluded?
MR. VENTRELL: Actually, they’re not 100 percent done, because he’s still meeting again with Ambassador Davies today. But as I said yesterday, they were productive discussions, and his visit is part of a series of high-level, in-depth U.S.-China discussions on how to achieve our shared goal of a denuclearized North Korea in a peaceful manner.
QUESTION: Last one, on --
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: The peace process.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Arab foreign ministers are coming to town on Monday. Do you have any idea about their meetings, if they will discuss the peace process? Who will they meet?
MR. VENTRELL: We do have a number of folks coming into town next week. Let me see if I can get some more granularity for you on the precise timing on all the folks who are coming.
MR. VENTRELL: We put out a media note on this. You’re talking about the --
MR. VENTRELL: -- this is with the Republic of Korea, South Korea, and that we said clearly that the purpose of the extension is to provide additional time for our two governments to complete negotiations on an agreement. Both sides decided that seeking an extension was appropriate in order to allow sufficient time to negotiate this complex and technical agreement. So it’s a very highly complex and technical type of negotiation, and both parties felt that more time would be useful.
QUESTION: But is there some particular thing that you couldn’t – I mean, this has been going on for years, right? And intensive negotiations for the last, what, like, ten weeks or something. What happened at the end that you couldn’t get it?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think it hinges on one thing or another other than these are very technical talks, and both parties felt that we needed more time.
QUESTION: On the issue of reprocessing, is that something that the U.S. continues to oppose?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, this is an update that would be valid for many years going forward. So I think all the details are being looked at carefully.
Okay. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:37 p.m.)
DPB # 66