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1:16 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon. April flowers bring May showers. Indeed it’s a beautiful day in May. So let me just get started. I have one thing at the top.
MR. VENTRELL: I said that April showers bring May flowers. It’s a beautiful day in Washington. Let me get started here.
Today in our Free the Press Campaign we’d like to highlight --
QUESTION: I think you got it reversed at first.
QUESTION: You did.
QUESTION: You said April flowers bring May showers.
MR. VENTRELL: I was trying to just bring a smile to you, Matt. So let me start here with --
QUESTION: And you succeeded.
MR. VENTRELL: Let me start here at the top.
So today in our Free the Press Campaign we’d like to highlight three journalists from Ecuador. The harsh personal attacks and attempts to discredit journalists such as Janet Hinostroza of Teleamazonas, and columnist for national daily Hoy; Martin Pallares, anchor of Ecuadoradio; and Miguel Rivadaneira, multimedia editor for leading national daily El Comercio, represent the challenges faced by private media in Ecuador, which operate in a climate of self-censorship.
The Inter-American Democratic Charter and other international agreements, to which Ecuador is a party, make clear that freedom of expression is an essential component of democracy. A robust, independent media law is necessary to create a public discussion of ideas regarding rule of law. We call on the Government of Ecuador to uphold freedom of the press as a vital component of a democratic society and to ensure that journalists can operate without fear or threat of retribution.
So having said that, I will turn it over to all of you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the expulsion of USAID from that country? Do you care? Does this at all hurt the United States?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we do – the U.S. government does deeply regret the Bolivian government’s decision to expel the U.S. Agency for International Development. We deny the baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government. USAID’s purpose in Bolivia since 1964 has been to help the Bolivian government improve the lives of ordinary Bolivians. All USAID programs have been supportive of the Bolivian government’s national development plan and have been fully coordinated with appropriate government agencies. The U.S. government has worked in a dedicated fashion over the past five years to establish a relationship based on mutual respect, dialogue, and cooperation with the Bolivian government. This action is further demonstration that the Bolivian government is not interested in that vision.
And so what is most regrettable, Matt, is that those who will be most hurt by the Bolivian government’s decision are the Bolivian citizens, who have benefited from our collaborative work on education, health, and the environment.
QUESTION: What exactly does USAID – do you have numbers and what exactly the programs are that are now no longer going to be working?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have full numbers on the scope of the programs. I did highlight that education, health, and environment have been three of the key areas. But in terms of the number of personnel we have in Bolivia or --
QUESTION: Well – okay. But President Morales believes, or says that he believes that, in fact, what USAID is doing is something much more nefarious or something nefarious in his country, trying to undermine the government.
MR. VENTRELL: And we deny those baseless allegations made by the Bolivian government.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. VENTRELL: But in terms of a diplomatic note or other official communication from the Bolivian government about the activities, we’ve seen this announcement, but I’m not sure whether we’ve received a diplomatic note to the effect.
QUESTION: Do you anticipate that there would be any reaction, tangible reaction from this government?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t sort of preview or look --
QUESTION: I mean, they’re free do without USAID, are they not?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, this is their sovereign decision.
MR. VENTRELL: Whether we’ll take an action in response is yet to be determined. But the people who suffer because of this are the Bolivian people who were receiving our assistance.
QUESTION: All right. One of the --
QUESTION: Why would you retaliate, though? I mean, why are you even considering taking an action in response to the --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I said we can reserve whether we’ll make a reaction or not. But the principal point is they’re baseless allegations and this harms the Bolivian people. And so we’re there; we stand ready to provide development assistance. It’s something we’ve done, as I mentioned, going back almost 50 years. So we think the programs have been positive for the Bolivian people and we think they’ve been fully coordinated with the Bolivian government and appropriate government agencies under their own national development plan.
QUESTION: One of the reasons that President Morales gave for his decision was a comment that Secretary Kerry made in testimony earlier – well, actually last month during the flowery May of April, according to you. (Laughter.) That – in which he referred to Latin America as America’s backyard. When he – he seems to have taken offense to – well, not seems to. He has taken offense to this.
When the Secretary or any other official – and there have been many officials who have used that phrase – refer to places being in America’s backyard, does that imply that this is something that you feel you have the responsibility and obligation and right to weed and water and take care of and nurture, or let die, as you see fit, or is it simply a geographic fact?
MR. VENTRELL: Of course not, Matt. It’s about us being neighbors. And I know the Secretary looks forward to traveling soon to Latin America, that he values our relationship with Latin America. The President is headed to Mexico and Costa Rica here just in a couple of days. And so we value our relationship with our Latin American partners, and indeed they’re neighbors and we have broad friendships across the hemisphere.
QUESTION: So you would say that people who – your opinion would be that if someone takes offense or finds this to be, I don’t know, patronizing --
MR. VENTRELL: They shouldn’t, because that’s not the intention of it, other than to imply that we’re geographic neighbors and friends.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Patrick, that was actually a policy (inaudible). It’s called the Monroe Doctrine. I mean, it has imperial connotations.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, I know you’re always trying to make broad historical analyses here in the briefing room.
QUESTION: No, but that’s – they have their right to view it that way.
MR. VENTRELL: Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: This issue has been up and down (inaudible). We can immediately think of Russia. Has USAID looked at its programs to evaluate, reevaluate, how they’re being perceived abroad, whether anything should be changed?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, USAID – again, I’d have to refer you to USAID for their very specific programming and how they analyze their programs. But we do these developments in partnership with the local countries, and so it’s really to sort of maximize the benefit and to do sustainable development projects that help the people of the host governments based on their needs. And so we do so in a collaborative fashion and in a number of places, and some of these politically charged or unfounded allegations that we’ve seen, whether from Bolivia or other countries, are unfortunate because they miss the point of our development assistance, which is nonpartisan and nonpolitical and intended to help the welfare of the people in the countries of assistance or of destination.
QUESTION: Can you take the question on – just get us during the course of this afternoon a brief summary of the amount, the dollar amount of USAID – annual dollar amount of USAID programs in Bolivia and what they principally go for?
MR. VENTRELL: Yes. I’d be happy to take the question and get back to you.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Camille.
QUESTION: I just wanted to make sure that I understand that you guys have seen the announcements, you haven’t had any diplomatic notes, so the USAID staff are still there. Are they still working or have they stopped?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to check on whether we’ve received a diplomatic communication. I mean, President Morales was pretty clear in what he said. But I’d have to check on operationally in terms of whether a time limit has been given or how operationally we’ll comply with this. But USAID does work at the invitation of host governments, and so we’ve seen unfortunate circumstances in the past, including in Russia, where we’ve withdrawn our programs or our personnel based on a host country’s request.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead. State your name, please, and outlet.
QUESTION: Lourdes Meluza with Univision news.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Also on the region, what is your reaction to the beating of the opposition legislators in the Venezuelan National Assembly after the decision of the president of the assembly to deny them the right to speak until they recognize President Maduro, and how will it affect your evaluation of whether or not to recognize Maduro’s government, which has also refused a recount that you have requested?
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks for the question. Let me state clearly, violence has no place in a representative democratic system and it’s particularly inappropriate within the National Assembly. We’re deeply concerned by the violence that occurred, express our solidarity with those injured, and again urge all parties to refrain from acts and attitudes which contribute to physical confrontations. And as I said this just earlier this week here from this podium, but the rights of all Venezuelans, including their elected representatives, to assemble freely and speak their minds and convictions are essential components of democracy as defined and agreed to by consensus in the Western Hemisphere in the Inter-American Democratic Charter. So we’ve been pretty clear about this going back, and I reiterate it again today.
In terms of the vote recount issue, we’ve said that it’s the prudent and essential approach to do a prompt, transparent recount in an inclusive manner to look at the vote count to help build confidence among the Venezuelan people. And our understanding is that some of that is still going on, but it’s working its way through the Venezuelan system.
QUESTION: So are you going to delay the decision of recognizing or not the government until that is taken care of, or solved, or has --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we don’t sort of recognize governments. We have a bilateral relationship with a country and that bilateral relationship continues. But we’ve said that it would generate more confidence among the Venezuelan people if a full recount and an investigation of the irregularities can go about.
QUESTION: Right. But usually, the governments are recognized, and Secretary Kerry had said that they would withhold this until they know what happened with the election.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, that was in a particular moment when the opposition hadn’t decided the way forward. They said that – and the government agreed – to look at a recount after the inauguration, which they are doing through their process. But the bottom line is there’s not this sort of sense of legal recognition, where we say you are recognized as the sovereign leader of a country. We have a bilateral relationship with the government and that bilateral relationship continues.
QUESTION: Well, do you think that the government is legitimate and do you regard – whether the word is “recognize” or not, do you regard Maduro as the lawfully and legally elected president of the country?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, that’s for the Venezuelan people to decide in terms of the legitimacy. But we continue --
QUESTION: No, it’s not. It’s up to the Venezuelan people to decide what you think of him?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, no. We – I’m saying --
QUESTION: No. You have your opinion, and that’s what I want to know.
MR. VENTRELL: And Matt, I --
QUESTION: I don’t care what you – whether – what the Venezuelan people did or did not do is immaterial to my question.
MR. VENTRELL: All right.
QUESTION: What I want to know is does the United States regard – not recognize – regard Mr. Maduro as the legally, lawfully elected, democratically elected president of Venezuela?
MR. VENTRELL: We continue to have our bilateral relationship with this government, which is led by Mr. Maduro. And so he is --
QUESTION: So there’s no – you can’t answer that question yes or no?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, there’s no break in relationship. He’s now --
QUESTION: I’m not asking if there’s a break in relationship.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: I’m asking if you – if the United States government considers Mr. Maduro to be the legal – the legally elected, democratically elected president of Venezuela.
MR. VENTRELL: We work with Mr. Maduro as – and his government – as the government in place running affairs in Venezuela. In terms of generating greater confidence in the vote outcome, we thought that it was good for the Venezuelan institutions and for the Venezuelan people to pursue that and to look into irregularities so that – what’s really at stake here is that the Venezuelan people have faith in their institutions and in their government.
QUESTION: I understand that. But it sounds to me like the answer is yes, you do believe that Mr. Maduro was legally elected president of Venezuela because you’re still working with him and his government.
MR. VENTRELL: We are still working with him and his government. It is up to the Venezuelan people to decide whether it was a legitimate election and was done so according to their standards. And that’s why they’re looking at it, and that’s why the opposition called for a reexamination of what happened, and we want that to happen in their institutions.
QUESTION: So – sorry. I’m confused.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: So you still are going to wait before you confer whatever kind of recognition it is that --
MR. VENTRELL: Look, it’s just – it’s not for us to put --
QUESTION: I know it’s not for you --
MR. VENTRELL: -- a stamp of approval one way or another on their electoral process. It is for us to work with the government that’s in place on mutual interests of concern, which we need to on bilateral interests that we have in common and we need to work with.
QUESTION: But you routinely comment about the transparency or credibility of elections in countries that are not the United States.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: So --
MR. VENTRELL: And Matt, at the time, we expressed our concerns about the irregularities.
QUESTION: I understand that. But you are – at this moment, you are working with Mr. Maduro as if he was the newly elected president of Venezuela?
MR. VENTRELL: Yes.
QUESTION: All right.
QUESTION: Change topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Jill, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: And Russia?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Syria will definitely be one of the topics. I think you heard, though, the Secretary say yesterday, Jill, that in his judgment this is an overdue visit to have a full, robust, bilateral dialogue directly between the Secretary and the Russian leadership. And he said that he looks forward to it, particularly because we have very serious issues like Syria and Iran to discuss, and he mentioned preparation for the upcoming G-8 summit. So those are the broad issues, but Syria certainly will be one of the central issues as well. And we all know that – the history here of some of the differences we’ve had on Syria going back a couple of years here, so we will address those and that will be part of the dialogue.
QUESTION: But more specifically, I mean, what does he want from the Russians? What is he hoping to do?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I’m not going to preview in detail a trip that is happening next week point by point, but --
QUESTION: Or at all.
QUESTION: We could get a briefing. Maybe we could get a briefing.
MR. VENTRELL: We do provide briefings for our press that are traveling out to these events to give some context for the briefings, but – and all the meetings are still being organized. But the bottom line is we’ve been clear with the Russians where we’ve had disagreements and differences of opinion, and that includes the support and arms they’ve provided to the Syrian regime. We’ve been clear there are some issues like chemical weapons and others where we have mutual interest and mutual concerns where we need to cooperate. And so he’ll highlight the broad range of it.
But this is about – and you know and you all follow this very closely, in terms of us supporting a political transition inside of Syria, and you all know the history of the Geneva communiqué and trying to get the political track back on track.
But that’s the key point that we’ll continue to make to the Russians, is that we still think that a political transition is the best way to end the violence and to do so in the swiftest way to prevent further bloodshed and to maintain some of the Syrian institutions so that there’s not a further devolution or a further dissolution of the institutions that provide basic services to the Syrian people.
QUESTION: Are you going to try to persuade them, leaving aside your view that the political track is the best way to proceed? It’s not clear how much influence the Russians would have at this point over Assad. Are you going to make the case for some kind of UN Security Council action, notwithstanding the fact that the Russians have repeatedly vetoed such?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into a point-by-point of what we’re going to raise in our private diplomacy with the Russians. You also know the history of their opposition and know the repeated vetoes. We’ve consistently said at the Security Council if there’s a path forward, that would be welcome, but we haven’t been in a place where that’s realistic in the recent past. But we’ll continue to look at the broad array of options, and you’ve heard the President on down talk about the broad array of options.
Some of those are in the diplomatic front, and we’ll continue to look at the whole host of what makes sense given the seriousness of some of the issues that we’re seeing on the ground – indiscriminate violence, clearly we have the chemical weapons issue. So there’s a lot of things that we need to look at, and the Russians are an important party to talk to about. But it’ll be the whole host of the bilateral relationship when he visits with the Russians and has a chance.
QUESTION: And what will it specifically include? I mean, you cited precisely the three things that the Secretary cited yesterday, which are Syria, Iran, and preparations for the G-8 summit, whatever that means. Are you going to talk about human rights, U.S. human rights concerns in Russia? Are you going to talk about arms control? What else are you going to talk about? And those two things specifically, are they going to come up?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know one way or another on arms control. Human rights issues always come up when we have meetings with senior Russians, and indeed in a number of contexts. So those are concerns that we’ve made clear that we have in the past, and we’ll continue to make clear going forward. But again, we’re still a few days out here. I know you’re all eager to report on this and get more information, and we’ll get there as we get closer to the trip.
QUESTION: Last one: Does he – he’s now met with Foreign Minister Lavrov several times, starting in Berlin.
MR. VENTRELL: He has.
QUESTION: Is he going to meet President Putin?
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that, again, the meetings are all being scheduled, but I believe this was part of – the scheduling had to do with President Putin’s schedule as well. So that’s one of the things we’re looking to schedule, but he wants to meet broadly with the Russian leadership, and this was an opportunity and a date that the Russians had given us that would work for them, so he’s going to go out there.
QUESTION: On Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) one of the contingency issues between Russia and the United States is the Geneva and how each one of them interprets Geneva. Will you come out of that meeting with some sort of a common understanding as to what the Geneva points mean?
MR. VENTRELL: We never predict what the outcome of a diplomatic meeting is going to be, but there has been contention over the meeting of Geneva, and it’s something that we consistently raise.
QUESTION: Okay. But the Russians have, in the past couple weeks, indicated that there may be – they are closer to a common understanding on the Geneva point. Do you concur with that?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, Said, you’ve asked this question last week.
MR. VENTRELL: You asked it after the Secretary met with Mr. Lavrov. And we’re continuing to work through the issue. I don’t have any update one way or another to provide you.
QUESTION: On this trilateral dialogue between India, U.S., and Japan that is happening today, do you know what are the issues on the table? What are you discussing today? And can you get a readout after the meeting?
MR. VENTRELL: Today at the State Department, we hosted Japan and India for their fourth trilateral dialogue exchanging views on a wide range of regional and global issues of mutual concern and mutual interest. This was co-chaired by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Affairs Robert Blake, and Acting Principal – Acting Assistant Secretary for East Asia – Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asia --
QUESTION: You mean Acting Assistant Secretary?
MR. VENTRELL: Sorry, I didn’t get to the name yet, Jim Zumwalt. So he’s the Acting PDAS.
QUESTION: Got it, thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: And these discussions focused on the prospect of greater Indo-Pacific commercial connectivity. So I think we’ll have a Media Note for you here in a little bit with further readout, and we’ll get that to you as soon as we can.
QUESTION: Will that have some more detail about what these issues of mutual concern are?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to – I don’t have the final copy of – I think the meetings are just wrapping up about now.
QUESTION: Will you spare us a statement that just simply restates what you just said?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll see if there’s further information to provide, and if so, we’ll do it.
Samir, go ahead.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Yep.
MR. VENTRELL: The Secretary has been in – had a conversation in the past 24 hours or so with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but I think you’ve heard the Israelis themselves speak publicly about their opinion of this Arab League follow-up initiative. So the Secretary said yesterday that the Arab League has an important part to play in advancing the peace effort, and they showed earlier in the week that they can play a positive role. So I really refer you to what the Israelis said of their own perception of it, but I believe it was the Justice Minister who says it sends a message to the Israeli public that this is not just about them and the Palestinians.
QUESTION: But the press reports are saying that Mr. Netanyahu’s reaction was not positive.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I refer you to the Israelis for a readout from their side, but --
QUESTION: Does the Secretary at least get the feeling that the Israelis are a bit more enthusiastic than they were about the Arab Peace Initiative, considering that they’ve had plenty of time to look at it? It’s been around for 11 years.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, from our perspective, and the Israelis spoke to this too, it sends a positive message about the Arab countries’ willingness to be flexible about further peace efforts. So one of the things in the context of a wider settlement is Israel having a normal relationship with its neighbors as well.
QUESTION: Okay. But the statement, the amendment, the change that was proposed a couple days ago is actually to make it more acceptable to Israel. So did the Secretary of State ask the Prime Minister whether this is acceptable to you?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of their private diplomacy, but they had a chance to discuss this, and the Israelis have spoken about their opinion.
QUESTION: But when did they speak? Did they speak today or yesterday?
MR. VENTRELL: Yesterday.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Can I change us to Iraq?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay, Iraq.
QUESTION: Yes. On Iraq, the congressional study number RS21968 that was submitted to the Congress on the 26th of April paints a very bleak picture of Iraq and it calls what’s going on in Iraq – their words – an open rebellion by the Sunnis and the Shias.
MR. VENTRELL: Who are their words?
QUESTION: That the congressional study RS21968, okay? Maybe you want to take a look at it. It’s a lengthy study. But it draws a very bad – I mean, a very bleak picture of what’s going on in Iraq and closed an open road between the Sunnis and the Shias. Have you been able to sort of look at the study and perhaps hone your policy as a result of such drastic allegations or statements?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, I haven’t seen this particular congressional study. But let me just say that the current situation in Iraq is concerning, and it’s a reminder of the formidable challenges Iraq continues to face. As I said yesterday, U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad – we’ve been in constant contact with a wide range of senior Iraqi leaders to help resolve ongoing political and sectarian tensions. And these talks have focused on specific steps to avoid further violence and resolve key issues peacefully and through constructive engagement in the political process.
And I do want to highlight a couple of specific things. We were encouraged to see over the weekend this constructive meeting senior federal and Kurdistan KRG government officials on Monday – I guess this was not over the weekend; this was on Monday – and reports that the Kurdish ministers will return to the cabinet tomorrow in Baghdad. So we urge all parties to build on this positive step by promptly addressing issues raised in a constructive and effective manner. And in addition, we’ve seen positive and encouraging statements from both Baghdad and Sunni leaders on the need to work together to isolate violent extremists whose only goal is to make – is to stoke sectarian tensions, to make it worse.
QUESTION: Mr. Maliki is accusing two of your closest allies in the Arab world, Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, of fomenting sectarian struggle and aiding Wahhabi sects and (inaudible) types in Iraq. Would you sort of lean on your friends to stop whatever aid, if you agree that there is aid in terms of arms and money going to these groups?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not familiar with those particular allegations, but we’ve been clear where we stand in terms of sectarian violence and extremism in Iraq, and the support that we are providing as facilitators for the political process so that Iraqis can resolve their issues through the political process.
Scott, go ahead.
QUESTION: On Nigeria.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- in which the Nigerian military said that several dozen homes were burned. Human Rights Watch is out with a report today saying that satellite imagery shows that more than 2,000 homes were burned during that violence. Do you have any reason to doubt the Nigerian military’s assessment of that violence?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen the Human Rights Watch report of the press coverage of that since coming down here. We did strongly condemn that violence that took so many innocent civilian lives. That was in Baga, Borno State. And we said at the time our thoughts and prayers are with the families and loved ones who died or were injured. But I’d have to look into more information for you on the specific issue of further damage or wider assessment of damage from that particular attack.
QUESTION: Can you take that question then, on the HRW?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll take the question. I’d be happy to.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Dana.
QUESTION: Sorry. Is Nigeria still an ACOTA partner, and are we still funding part of their military to go into Mali?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know the answer to the question if they’re still an ACOTA partner. I’ll check on it.
QUESTION: And if they are, I mean, has that been suspended at all, given these allegations of the military?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware one way or another on the ACOTA piece, but I’ll look into it. In terms of human rights, we’ve been very clear with the Nigerian Government, including when the Secretary was with his counterpart here in Washington just a few days ago, that there needs to be progress on human rights and that in terms of instability in the north and extremist violence, there’s got to be an evenhanded way of dealing with this and the legitimate concerns of northerners. And the security response has to be done in a way that respects the human rights of people in the north as well.
QUESTION: But part of our policy with aid is that we cannot give aid – like, ACOTA can’t give aid unless – if there are allegations of – or credible allegations of human rights abuses being committed by a specific military. So I guess I’m just wondering where that stands in terms of the force in Mali that we’re still supporting and whether, since Nigeria is one of the bigger – one of the biggest contributors, and whether these allegations and investigations have affected that.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information one way or another on a change in policy, but I’ll look into it, in terms of ACOTA. Okay.
(Inaudible), you’ve been patient.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I know your longstanding policy on Diaoyu Islands or Senkaku Islands, and both the State Department and DOD have said that the United States opposes any unilateral and coercive actions that seeks to undermine Japan’s administrative control of the island. However, yesterday the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, said it’s Japan, not China, that is taking unilateral or coercive actions on the island issue. So in your view, who is taking unilateral and coercive actions here?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, the point is we urge all parties to avoid actions that could raise tensions or result in miscalculations that would undermine peace, security, and economic growth in this vital part of the world. So we say that to both sides.
QUESTION: Okay. And he also said that China hopes that other parties do not lift up rocks for the Japanese. And China hope even more that these rocks don’t end up falling on their own feet. So this – apparently it’s referring to the United States support for Japan. So are you afraid that the U.S. involvement in this dispute would hurt your own interests?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we don’t take a position on the ultimate sovereignty of the islands, and we call on all parties to manage their differences through peaceful means. And that’s our longstanding policy; it has not changed.
QUESTION: Then will you try to talk with Chinese to discuss this issue to ease Chinese concern?
MR. VENTRELL: We regularly discuss regional security issues, such as tensions over the islands, with all the parties.
QUESTION: Patrick, do you know – you say that you don’t want either side to do – you call on both sides not to engage in unilateral actions. Have you seen any unilateral actions by either side?
MR. VENTRELL: That – well, I didn’t say “unilateral.” I said, “We urge all parties to avoid actions that could raise tensions.”
QUESTION: Okay. Have you seen any actions that could raise tensions?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I don’t know if we parse each individual – I mean, there’s been some back and forth over the recent weeks, but --
QUESTION: But have you – well, there – clearly, there have been actions that have been taken by one or the other parties that have raised tensions. Is that not correct?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. There have been, and --
QUESTION: There have been. Okay.
MR. VENTRELL: -- we call --
QUESTION: And which – and who, the Chinese or the Japanese, has taken those, or have both of them?
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is from the perception of both sides, they have concerns about actions the other side has taken.
QUESTION: No, no. How about – (laughter) – how about from your perception? From the U.S. – where the U.S. sits right now as watching this situation, which side has taken the provocative actions, or have they both?
MR. VENTRELL: We express our concern about any and all actions that could raise tensions, and we make that clear to both sides.
QUESTION: Okay. But have you seen both sides take provocative actions?
MR. VENTRELL: Like I said, the perception of both sides is that the other side has done something, and we make it clear to both sides.
QUESTION: I’m glad that you’re finally talking about speaking for other governments and their perceptions, but I want to know about the perception of the U.S. Government. Do you not have anything on that?
MR. VENTRELL: We’re not going to make a judgment one way or another --
QUESTION: All right.
MR. VENTRELL: -- about either side.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have information on any U.S. companies having the workers in this building which collapsed last week?
MR. VENTRELL: One second here. Just again to take the opportunity to say this is a really terrible tragedy, and our hearts continue to go out to the victims of the building collapse near Dhaka. The U.S. actively engages with the highest levels of the Government of Bangladesh, with exporters, and with buyers on the issues of workers’ rights and safe working conditions. We understand that businesses operating in this building appear to have links to numerous companies in the U.S. and Europe, and so we’ll continue to engage with U.S. companies to discuss what role they can play in improving working conditions, including in Bangladesh. And we have an ongoing dialogue with U.S. buyers that’s led by Assistant Secretary Blake and by our Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. And so we continue to speak with many U.S. companies that source from Bangladesh about workplace safety and the role that buyers can play in improving working conditions.
QUESTION: Have you been able to identify these companies?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, some of these companies are already identifying themselves. I know it’s a complex supply chain in terms of who’s bought what goods from what supplier, but some of the companies have identified themselves. But we discuss these issues broadly with companies that operate in Bangladesh and, as I’ve said, we’ve raised the issue with exporters, with buyers, and directly with the government. And we do that at the assistant secretary level and the ambassador level regularly.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Tejinder.
QUESTION: Do you have any update on the U.S. stand or policy on the ongoing tension between India and China, where India accuses China of penetration across the border?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything beyond what I said last week, is that we support India and China working together to settle their boundary disputes, and to do so bilaterally and peacefully.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I talked about this earlier this week, and we again call on all those exercising the right of freedom of assembly and expression in Libya to do so peacefully, and we recognize that Libyans have concerns and grievances that they wish to be heard by their government. But those Libyans should peacefully utilize the democratic process to do so and not attempt to intimidate political officials. So our stance is the same.
QUESTION: So that means that you don’t believe that people carrying weapons around and chanting is – that’s not necessarily a peaceful protest?
MR. VENTRELL: People should not be intimidating public officials as they try to do their jobs. And there is a right to protest peacefully, but not in a way that intimidates. And clearly, armed folks doing this has caused intimidation.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you trying to make a broader point about weapons and freedom of speech?
MR. VENTRELL: No, I’m not trying to make a broader point --
QUESTION: Is it possible to exercise freedom of speech in a way that you would respect and understand while carrying a weapon?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t sort of parse this for the whole world, but suffice it to say we have some concerns here in Libya and we’ve expressed them.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:49 p.m.)