The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
2:04 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay, good afternoon, busy day indeed. We’re a little bit tardy here, but let me do a few things at the top and then I will turn it over to all of you.
First of all, for our Free the Press Campaign daily update, today we’re highlighting the case of Zhila Bani-Yaghoub, the editor of the Focus on Iranian Women website. She was summoned in November 2012 to begin serving a one-year sentence at Evin prison on the charges of “spreading propaganda against the system” and “insulting the president” for articles she wrote during the 2009 presidential election. She was also banned from practicing journalism for 30 years. Bani-Yaghoub had previously been tried and acquitted on similar charges three previous times since 2009. She won the 2009 Courage in Journalism Prize from the International Women’s Media Foundation and the 2010 Freedom of Speech Award from Reporters Without Borders. Her husband, journalist Bahman Amoui, was released on furlough in March 2013 after serving three years of a five-year prison term on similar charges. And as of December 2012, international NGOs estimated that Iran had jailed 45 journalists and has reportedly jailed dozens since then.
Our Virtual Embassy Tehran page has a Faces of Iran site that highlights the cases of dozens of individuals imprisoned in Iran for their political or religious beliefs, their status as a journalist, human rights or women’s defender, their role as a student activist, or for simply exercising their universal human right to speak freely. So we call on the Government of Iran to protect this fundamental human right for all its citizens and to support press freedom by releasing journalists unjustly imprisoned for their work. And just to say in about half an hour we’ll be having a briefing over at the Foreign Press Center on this same topic in terms of Freedom of the Press Day more broadly.
Secondly on Russia, we’re very concerned that the election monitoring NGO Golos has been declared a foreign agent and fined thousands of dollars – the first conviction under Russia’s 2012 law on NGOs. We’re troubled by this and other recent laws that impose restrictions on NGOs in Russia and have been used to justify hundreds of raids on civil society groups and other organizations since early March.
And finally, just to say on Syria, you’ve all seen or should have all seen by now this letter that went from the White House to Capitol Hill. You’ve already heard an extensive White House briefing where they made – a White House official made clear that we’re going to pursue a methodical and rigorous investigation and we’re focused on getting to the bottom of the facts related to the potential use of chemical weapons in Syria. So I don’t have a lot to add beyond what the White House said, but certainly point you to that letter and the information that the White House has provided since then.
QUESTION: Well, why don’t we start first on what the head of this Department said today?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry said that there were two cases. Can you tell us what these cases of suspected chemical weapons use were?
MR. VENTRELL: Again – and I think a White House official already addressed this as well – the Secretary did say two cases. But in terms of getting into the sites or which we’re looking at in particular, that relates to intelligence and we’re not going to do that. But precisely because the President and the Administration and the Secretary, we all take this so seriously, we have an obligation to fully investigate any and all potential use of chemical weapons in Syria. So we’re looking at this all deeply.
QUESTION: Are the two cases – you think it’s happened, you just won’t say what they are?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, specifically, the Secretary was referring to two cases. But we’ll look for any and all use.
QUESTION: Can you say what changed in the last 25 hours, or however long it was since you briefed yesterday, when you said that there was no – you were still sticking to the lines, as it were, that there was no indication of chemical weapons use?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I really refer you to DOD and to the White House. It was Secretary Hagel over at the DOD who had mentioned the 24 hours. And these are intelligence assessments, which you know are not the final responsibility, of course, of this building. But a White House official already addressed this in some depth in terms of providing Congress the most accurate assessment of the Administration.
QUESTION: So this was all cooked up in the last 24 hours; is that the line?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I wouldn’t – that’s not what I said.
MR. VENTRELL: The bottom line is that this is something we’ve been looking – if you take the lens back a little bit, and remember this is something we’ve been looking at for many months, it’s something we’ve been concerned about. You’ve heard me over many months at this very podium issue very stern and clear public warnings about the potential use and how strongly we’re urging the Assad regime not to make this grave mistake. And so this is something we’ve been watching very closely. And in terms of the White House decision to --
QUESTION: Yeah, but what have you seen then that has made this sudden about-turn in your assessment? Why did it change suddenly?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into an intelligence analysis from this podium. But we need to establish credible and corroborated facts, and we’re going to continue to look at this in a methodical and rigorous way to get to the bottom of what may have occurred.
QUESTION: Patrick, how important or how crucial are those United Nations inspectors who haven’t been allowed in?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, let’s talk again – thanks for raising that, the UN inspections. Of course, that would be – the easiest potential way to confirm this use is having a technical team of UN experts get in and be able to fully do their investigation. The Syrians themselves had initially requested an investigation, and we support an investigation to go in and look at any and all allegations of the use of chemical weapons. That would be the easiest and most direct way to do it.
But we’re also working with our friends and allies. We’re working with the Syrian opposition. We’re working with contacts to assess any potential information through other means as well. So the UN is one potential avenue; it’s probably the most direct. But absent the Syrian regime’s cooperation, we’ll continue to look at this through other avenues as well.
QUESTION: So when the White House Administration is calling for a UN investigation, then could you explain exactly what that means? I mean, that would be – would that be another call for inspectors to go in?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, here’s where we are on the process right now. We have the UN ready to deploy inspectors on a couple of days’ notice. We’re already pre-deploying out in the field near Syria and ready to go in, and you have the regime resisting a full and thorough and credible investigation within Syria. So we urge the regime to allow these inspectors in, and that clearly is the most direct route to getting to the bottom of what may have occurred.
QUESTION: Right. But I mean now, if the Administration is saying one of the next steps will be to have a call for a UN inspection – I’m sorry, investigation, does that mean that you want to send even more – try to send more people in, or could that investigation take place with the information that you and others have on hand at this moment?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thanks for clarifying, Jill. The UN investigation continues. The key aspect of getting access to go inside of Syria has not come about, but they continue to gather evidence. We continue to share our expertise and information with the UN as well. So that’s not to say that the UN investigation won’t go forward one way or another, but the most definitive way, obviously, is if the regime would allow them access. Absent that, the UN will continue its investigation, and we will as well with our allies continue to get to the bottom of this and have the best possible information.
QUESTION: Patrick, can you – you talked about --
MR. VENTRELL: Camille. Camille, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- absent the Syrians’ cooperation that you’ll look at other avenues to investigate this.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: The longer away from these incidents we’ve come, the less evidence there. Evidence deteriorates, people’s memories, et cetera. Could you talk about what other avenues you’re looking at to investigate this, and is there any sort of time limit on how long it can go before you think the evidence isn’t going to be there anymore?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, Camille, it wouldn’t be appropriate to get into intelligence sources and methods from this podium, and it’s not something we’ve done in the past or would start doing now. But clearly, that’s something that the intelligence community is focused on because we want the highest possible level of confidence because of the seriousness of the matter.
What was the second part of your question?
QUESTION: Well, it was just about other avenues, but – what other avenues are you pursuing to investigate this?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Again, this is in close consultation with our allies, in consultation with the Syrian opposition, and we continue to work with the UN as well.
QUESTION: Could you explain the meaning of two cases? Is it two incidents of using chemical weapons attacking, or two cases, two people that were – suffered the consequences of a chemical weapons attack?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, I actually don’t have the transcript, as this was the Secretary walking out of a briefing, and so I don’t have the transcript of that, so I’m not sure if he said “cases.” But again, we’ll see if we can clarify for you one way or another, but I believe the word was “two cases.” I’ll have to check on it.
QUESTION: But to follow up on Camille’s question on the shelf life, don’t these things have a shelf life? I mean, when did this evidence come to your attention?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, we’re not going to get into a potential timeline. We’re going to continue a rigorous and methodical investigation of all potential evidence, and we’re not going to get into sources and methods from here.
QUESTION: It’s almost a month that Israeli minister first stated on the record that they have evidence, and then British and French have been talking about this for over a month. Why is that too late – I mean, your analysis came too late to kind of concur with this analysis?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, and we’ve spoken about this earlier in the week that we’ve been in close contact with our allies, we’ve been in close contact with the Israelis, the British and the French. And what they’ve been talking about are intelligence assessments. What we all want are final established corroborated facts. And so we’re very much in a similar place as our allies in terms of our intelligence officials having made an assessment. But those assessments, based on some of the evidence we have, is not final evidence and it’s not the final corroborated facts that we’re looking for. So we’ll continue our methodical and rigorous process.
QUESTION: Just to follow up, did you just say that you are on the same page with your allies on this issue, specific issue?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Again, I’ll let our allies speak for themselves in terms of what their assessments are, but in terms of us having intelligence assessments – and I know that the British and French had sent a letter to the UN and I refer you to them for the contents of that, but they’ve also sent a letter to the UN – have said some things publicly. But we’re going to work intensively with our allies to all come to a common consensus because the stakes are so high here.
QUESTION: Can you get to this final established corroborated fact without going into Syria, without the UN team or somebody else going into Syria to do on-site investigation?
MR. VENTRELL: I really think that’s a better question for our intelligence community in terms of what is necessary to corroborate facts.
QUESTION: Because if you could, then why even care if the UN team goes in or not?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, the easiest way would to be able to get in and do a full, open investigation directly in Syria. But absent that, we’ll continue our work.
QUESTION: And why would the Assad regime allow this team in? You’ve said you believe that chemical weapons were used. You say the regime would have had to have done it and not the – not the opposition.
MR. VENTRELL: Right, Brad, but interestingly enough, it was the regime itself that had accused the opposition and called for an investigation to come in. So it was they themselves who said that the opposition had used it. We expressed our skepticism, but we said, “Okay, let’s have a team go in, but they need to look at the whole -- ”
QUESTION: But you’ve already predetermined that any usage would definitely be the regime. You predetermined – you say you want all accusations investigated, but you’re saying if it was proved that it’s used, we know it’s the regime. So I mean, on that criteria, they have no interest in letting investigators in, correct?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, what we’ve said is we’re skeptical that the opposition would be using chemical weapons. It’s the regime --
QUESTION: It’s stronger than that. It’s in the letter.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, it’s the regime that possesses chemical weapons, that has shown a willingness to use increasingly horrific violence against its own people to achieve its gains. And so it’s in that context that this investigation is going forward.
QUESTION: And just lastly, you believe those weapons are secure because you’re saying that it’s the regime who possesses these?
MR. VENTRELL: I believe our assessment continues to be that they’re under regime control.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Guy, you’ve been patient in the back.
QUESTION: Thanks, Patrick. President Obama has said the use of chemical weapons would be a red line, but it’s really – no one in the Administration has clarified what would happen next. The letter today from the White House said that all options are on the table. Has Secretary Kerry been discussing those options with – in his recent meetings with the Friends of Syria nations? And specifically, are we talking about possible air strikes?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re not getting into the range of options, and of course, the Secretary’s advice to the President and on the National Security Council is his private advice. But certainly, we continue to look at a potential range of scenarios, and we do so in close coordination with the countries that are primarily interested, including Syria’s neighbors and our key friends and allies.
Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Patrick, the phrase “physiological evidence” was used.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does that mean that the United States has, physically has, that physiological evidence and has analyzed it? Or has somebody else done it for the --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, these are samples that are part of the intelligence process, and so I can’t speak about intelligence from here from this podium, but refer you to the intelligence community on that.
QUESTION: So on the physiological evidence --
MR. VENTRELL: Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- is it blood or is it soil?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t get into that from here.
QUESTION: Are you taking any measures to prevent the use of chemical weapons and having a catastrophe?
MR. VENTRELL: We have, going back a number of months, provided information and equipment to the region to help protect Syrians and support humanitarian workers also inside of Syria who are doing their lifesaving work. And so we have been – and here at the State Department, we’ve been part of that cooperation and making sure that we get equipment and timely information to Syrians who, for many months, have been under this threat of potential use of chemical weapons.
QUESTION: So, what, are you providing gas masks, or thinking about it?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to check and see what more granularity I have on the type of equipment, but we have certainly helped with public information and equipment, and I’ll see if I can get you some granularity.
QUESTION: Because information alone isn’t that helpful. I mean, “You might be gassed” – that doesn’t really do much --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, no, but public information in terms of potential sanitary and measures to take in the event of this type of attack.
QUESTION: But in light of this new assessment, there’s no stepped-up effort to prevent future attacks yet?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, our stepped-up effort is to very clearly communicate directly to the regime, and very publicly as well, that they should not be using – it’s not acceptable to the United States of America that the Syrian regime use chemical weapons against its own people or anybody else.
QUESTION: But they’ve ignored that. They’ve ignored that already, and now you’re going to repeat the same threat without anything --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we’re looking to establish the facts, and we’re – all options are on the table as we look at what may have happened, and we’ll continually and consistently say that the regime should not use these weapons.
Okay. Other topics?
QUESTION: Syria done?
MR. VENTRELL: Yep. Go ahead, Paul.
MR. VENTRELL: One more, Samir.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the two kidnapped bishops in Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: We still don’t have an update from yesterday. We continue to have conflicting information. It appears that they have not been released at this time. So we’re continuing to seek more details on their status.
Paul, go ahead.
QUESTION: Japan’s Prime Minister the other day in parliamentary debate made some fairly dubious comments about World War II that we understand may have led to some sort of remonstration with the Japanese diplomats here in Washington. Can you say anything about what was said, what was done? It was – was it the calling in of an envoy like they do to register a protest, or was it a milder version of that?
MR. VENTRELL: No, I wouldn’t characterize it that way. Contrary to reports, the State Department – we did not issue a formal protest to the Japanese Embassy. Broadly speaking, where we’ve been on these issues is that we stated many times we hope the countries in the region can work together to resolve their differences in an amicable way and through dialogue. And so this is in the context that, again, we also had other countries like China and South Korea that expressed some concerns, and we believe that strong and constructive relations between the countries in the region promotes peace and stability. And so we’ll continue to urge that. And we talk to the Japanese, both here at their Embassy and obviously out at our Embassy in Tokyo all the time.
QUESTION: And did this particular one take place at the State Department?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, we don’t get into the back-and-forth of every diplomatic exchange we have with the Japanese, but we talk to them, quite literally on a daily basis.
Jill, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: You mentioned Golos.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Jill, I’ll have to check on that. We know, and you’re very well aware of, the very restrictive environment in terms of us having to close our AID mission and really terminate a wide range of our civil society activities. And this is in the context that our civil society activities and partnership with the Russian people has always been nonpartisan and nonpolitical and done in a way that can support civil society broadly. But I’d have to check in on the details of this particular organization, but certainly the context over the past months has been an incredible shrinking of space for civil society within Russia, and we’ve expressed our deep concerns repeatedly.
Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Today Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, is saying that the Secretary of State John Kerry is planning, or suggesting perhaps, a summit in Washington in June, that they will have the Palestinian Authority President Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and possibly the King of Jordan Abdullah meet here to discuss two issues, launching the direct talks and, second, putting together an economic package. Could you share with us anything on that?
MR. VENTRELL: So, we have seen the media reports of a planned Middle East summit in Washington. These reports are not true. We remain committed to working with the parties to achieve a lasting peace through direct negotiations, and Secretary Kerry continues his efforts to work with Israeli and Palestinian leadership, how to find common ground.
What I can announce – some of you had asked yesterday about these meetings next week. I can confirm that the Secretary looks forward to meeting with the ministerial delegation representing the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee in Washington. This will be next Monday, April 29th. Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassim is chair of the committee. He’ll lead the visiting delegation. And so we welcome the Arab League’s eagerness to play a constructive role in the pursuit of a durable and lasting Middle East peace. This meeting comes in the context of a series of productive conversations by the Secretary to explore how we can best move regional peace efforts forward.
QUESTION: And this meeting will strictly deal with the Arab – Palestinian-Israeli peace process, moving it forward, correct?
MR. VENTRELL: I think that’s the primary topic, but if there are other issues on the agenda, it’s obviously an opportunity to talk with a number of ministers from the region. So to the extent that other topics come up, it’s possible, but the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-up Committee is the reason that they’re coming to visit.
QUESTION: And lastly, will they discuss or will the Secretary request amending the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, Said, we’re – the Secretary has spoken to this before, and we’re not going to get into details of an upcoming meeting.
QUESTION: How goes this economic initiative for the Palestinians that was – as I understood it would – well, as the Secretary said, would involve Coca-Cola, some other American companies?
MR. VENTRELL: The Secretary has had some follow-up meetings. He’s had dinner with Tony Blair, he’s met with Coca-Cola executives since returning from – I guess this was in between the last two trips. And so he’s continued that dialogue, and he’s been very clear that helping the Palestinians get their economy back on track and providing some economic prosperity and hope is a key aspect and something that would be very helpful. It doesn’t replace the political and security track, but --
QUESTION: When’s the plan going to – I mean, the plan had a lot of regulatory elements on speeding transit through checkpoints and red tape, and we haven’t seen anything yet.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: And I don’t think anything’s happened yet.
MR. VENTRELL: It’s something that our team is working on, and we’ll keep you updated.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Are we done with --
MR. VENTRELL: So we have seen the media reports that the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is calling for its fighters to withdraw from Turkey. This is a positive step toward ending more than three decades of tragic violence. We applaud the courageous efforts of the Government of Turkey and all parties concerned to work toward a lasting peace. The U.S. will continue to support the people of Turkey in their efforts to advance democracy and improve the lives of all of Turkey’s citizens.
QUESTION: Are you – will you be involved in any – people are talking about steps taken. Have you been, first of all, asked by the Turkish Government or any other to get involved or help process to move on?
MR. VENTRELL: Not that I’m aware. I really refer you to the Government of Turkey for more information.
Samir, you’ve been patient.
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have anything on the reports that Israel shot down a drone coming from Lebanon today?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have thing for you on that, Samir.
QUESTION: Maybe Hezbollah?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything for you on that one way or another.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Just to say that, Brad, this is a terrible tragedy, and our hearts go out to the victims of the building collapse. This was about two days ago near Dhaka. We also extend our wishes for a swift recovery to those who were injured and our appreciation for the many first-responders who are selflessly working to rescue and aid the hundreds that were trapped. So we stand ready to assist, but in terms of the investigation into what happened, I believe that Bangladeshi authorities are still looking into it.
QUESTION: Do you have any indication that American companies sourced product from any of these factories?
MR. VENTRELL: Our initial look is that there are number of different companies that were in this very large factory. Not yet able to share details one way or another whether there were any American companies. But it does underscore the urgent need for the government, owners, buyers, and labor to find ways of improving working conditions in Bangladesh.
QUESTION: So have you spoken to any of the companies involved?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to check on that. We certainly have been in touch with our Bangladeshi counterparts from our Embassy in Dhaka, but I’d have to check on that.
QUESTION: On the labor issue, it appears that those workers were not permitted to unionize, and that may have – in other words, some of them – a lot of were forced to work even though the cracks were starting to appear in the building. There is a very ugly backstory. In last week’s Human Rights Report you noted the (inaudible).
MR. VENTRELL: We did, we had a very specific --
QUESTION: Do you have anything more to say about that, or does – are the people on the ground in Dhaka pushing on that issue, urging Vietnam to be more permissive of --
MR. VENTRELL: I think you said Vietnam, but Bangladesh.
QUESTION: Did I say Vietnam? Sorry.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. We do regularly note our ongoing concerns, and you’re right, we had a very specific part about labor rights in our section on Bangladesh, including factory conditions. So it’s something that we’ve raised in the Human Rights Report, we raise in our bilateral dialogue, certainly directly with the government from our Embassy, but also I know Assistant Secretary Blake has been involved and has traveled raised this with Bangladeshi authorities in the past as well. So we’ve consistently raised it.
QUESTION: I would like to ask you about the South America. Yesterday in Venezuela, the candidate Capriles continued to be saying that the situation was a fraud there, that the election was not the real result, that the commission that has to take care of this is not starting their work. I want to know if the U.S. is following this kind of situation going on in Venezuela.
MR. VENTRELL: We are following it. I did talk about this a little bit yesterday where I said that we continue to believe that the ongoing recount and a thorough review of the voting irregularities is essential to ensuring Venezuelans having more confidence in the vote result.
In terms of the opposition, I did want to say one thing about the opposition, and there have been some reports overnight in terms of threats made against the opposition. We call on the Venezuelan Government to respect the rights of Venezuelan citizens to peaceful assembly and free speech. And we also urge everyone to refrain from violence and other measures, including threatened and arrests of political leaders and journalists, that could raise tensions at this difficult moment.
QUESTION: Exactly, because it seems that some ministers in Venezuela say that they are preparing the jail for Capriles. I want to know if this situation where we are seeing that there is some discrepancy this moment between the judicial systems and the executive branch, right, that the U.S. is following this kind of pressure going on in the judicial systems in South America, especially in some countries where they are following the same path sometimes like Venezuela. Yesterday in Argentina, for example, was a big discussion and a project that is related to some pressure from the executive branch into the judicial system.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we follow these issues closely in the hemisphere, as does the international community, the OAS, and many other groups. So this is something that we keep a close eye on.
Go ahead, Scott.
QUESTION: On Venezuela?
MR. VENTRELL: One more on Venezuela. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just specifically the case – I wonder if you can comment on the case of this U.S. citizen, Timothy Hallett Tracy, and this claim by the Venezuelan Government that he’s been arrested now and accused of financing opposition leaders. Do you have anything specifically on his case?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve seen those news reports this morning. We’re looking for more information. I don’t have a comment for you one way or another, as we’re still seeking more information.
Scott, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, one second. You know what, Scott, I had a more comprehensive readout which unfortunately I didn’t bring down with me, but I do have the highlights of it for you.
They very much focused on our comprehensive bilateral relationship, the working groups that we have to follow up on key issues. And they certainly also discussed violence in the North and the need for the Nigerian authorities to certainly focus on human rights as they respond to the needs of the people in the North.
QUESTION: Was there any discussion about the latest Boko Haram attacks, which appear to use more sophisticated munitions than Boko Haram has in the past, and the possibility of them hooking up with some of the al-Qaida-affiliated elements in the Sahel?
MR. VENTRELL: They did discuss Boko Haram in some detail. I’m not going get into the specifics of it other than to say that Boko Haram was very much on the agenda.
QUESTION: What was – ask you a question regarding Argentina and Iran? Argentina approved a memorandum commission with Iran for investigation – an investigation about what happened in Argentina in the 1990s – in 1994 – related to the bombing. And it seems that Iran is not approving the memorandum in their territory. I want to know if the U.S. is following this situation.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, this is something we’ve followed over many years. I’d have to check in and see if we have a specific update.
QUESTION: Patrick, I have a question on Cyprus.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Your Ambassador to Cyprus met with the President of Cyprus, and according to press report, he asked the President not to grant further licenses within the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus. Do you confirm these reports?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, let me speak more broadly about Cyprus and energy and get to your question. The U.S. supports Cyprus’s right to explore energy in its offshore areas. We continue to believe that the island’s oil and gas resources, like all of its resources, should be equitably shared between both communities in the context of an overall settlement. And we do not believe that developing offshore energy resources need hinder the reunification talks that continue to go on under the UN Good Offices. And we support that, in terms of reunifying the island as a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation.
So our position is well known. The U.S. supports Cyprus’s right to explore energy in its offshore areas, but I’m not going to get into the details of a specific diplomatic conversation.
QUESTION: When you are saying that you do not believe that developing offshore energy resources need hinder the talks, you think that it’s an obstacle to the negotiations?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, the point is is that these resources need to be shared equitably and in the context of the overall settlement, and that’s really the point that we’re trying to clarify.
I’ve really got time for just about one more. Go ahead.
QUESTION: This morning, Azam Khan, the cabinet minister of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, was detained on arrival at Boston Airport. He’s here at the invitation of Harvard University. Do you have any comments on the high-ranking Indian politician cabinet minister again detained after so many times? This keeps coming up. Indian Ambassador was detained, the Indian ministers were detained, and every time we see, oh, this is something. What is the latest on that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’m not aware of the specifics of this case. I do want to underscore that we have a very important bilateral relationship with India and a very robust and thorough diplomatic exchange with our partners. But in terms of this particular incident, of course it’s the Department of Homeland Security that has jurisdiction over airport movements here inside of the United States. So on that specific case, I refer you to them. But we very much value our partnership with the Government of India.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Is there any way --
MR. VENTRELL: I think this was from a couple of days ago. Just to say that we have seen the reports, but we don’t have further information for you on a potential deal, and our position on energy trade from Iraq has been consistent and remains unchanged. The U.S. does not support oil exports from any part of Iraq without appropriate approval of the federal Iraqi Government.
Thanks so much.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)
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