The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:27 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon, everybody, and happy Friday indeed. I have a few things for you at the top, and sorry for the delay. One of the things we just – I apologize for this delay, even on the two minutes. But let me go ahead here. As you’ll just be seeing now, Secretary Kerry just made an announcement about our new Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. So you’ll all be getting this – it has just been released moments ago. But in it, the Secretary says that --
QUESTION: Now, wait a minute.
QUESTION: You sent out the email?
QUESTION: So you do this while we’re sitting here in the briefing room?
QUESTION: Where we don’t have access to email?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, the Secretary has just released a statement about the announcement. I’ll read it – I will read you the key points here so that you can make the announcement.
QUESTION: Can you – can you go to my office and actually type it into my computer so that the news can get out?
MR. VENTRELL: No, Matt, I can’t. Let me go ahead and read the content here, and then let me continue on.
Okay. So in the statement, Secretary Kerry says that this morning, he called the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan to tell them that Ambassador James F. Dobbins has agreed to serve as the next Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He has a deep and long understanding of the region, deep and longstanding relationships in the region, and the Secretary is very grateful that he has agreed to take on this position.
Just to remind people that Ambassador Dobbins was our first diplomatic envoy to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban. He represented the U.S. at the Bonn Conference that established the new Afghan Government, and he reopened the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2001, raising the flag over our Embassy. And before he was director of the Rand International Security and Defense Policy, where he currently works, he was a career Foreign Service Officer who led the Department and U.S. Government efforts to establish greater peace and stability and security in places like Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti. Among his many assignments, he served as Assistant Secretary for European Affairs, as well as Special Assistant to the President, and Special Advisor to the President and Secretary of State on the Balkans, and as Ambassador to the European Community.
He’s one of our nation’s most accomplished diplomats and brings all of his considerable expertise and experience to bear as Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the Secretary noted in his statement, his appointment clearly reaffirms this government’s commitment to the key national security priority of ensuring Afghanistan and Pakistan are secure, stable, and prosperous nations.
And so again, as I mentioned earlier, Secretary Kerry called the Afghan and Pakistani leadership this morning to inform them of his selection of Ambassador James Dobbins as the new Special Representative.
QUESTION: “Leadership” meaning he called the heads of state of those countries or his counterparts at those countries?
MR. VENTRELL: He called President Karzai, President Zardari, and General Kayani this morning.
QUESTION: And this is the post that the late Ambassador Holbrooke had; is that correct?
MR. VENTRELL: And then Marc Grossman after him.
QUESTION: And then Marc Grossman, right.
MR. VENTRELL: I have a couple more things for you at the top before I turn it over to you. We have our final day of the Free the Press campaign. For the past two weeks, we’ve been highlighting a journalist at the top of every briefing. So today’s Free the Press campaign comes from Sudan, where al-Nour, Ahmed al-Nour, one of Sudan’s most prominent journalists and editor of the al-Sahafa newspaper was dismissed from his position by security forces. Al-Nour was accused of insulting a member of the national intelligence and security services. After his removal, his name was stripped from the masthead. This case demonstrates the targeted intimidation and repression newspapers and journalists face in Sudan.
The government has launched a campaign of censorship and reprisal against newspapers. Security service target newspapers and often ban distribution of entire editions to inflict financial losses as punishment for critical coverage. The deliberate constriction of the space for free political expression in Sudan does not serve the government’s interest, nor those of the Sudanese people. We call on the Government of Sudan to release all journalists in prison for criticisms of the government and to implement reforms that widen the space for freedom of expression as well as protect the universal human – their human rights.
And finally, just to give you a readout of President Kerry’s call with the Iraqi Foreign Minister --
QUESTION: President Kerry’s call?
MR. VENTRELL: Secretary Kerry’s call with Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari. Sorry. It’s been a busy day today.
This morning, Secretary Kerry called Iraqi Foreign Minister Zebari to welcome his return to the Council of Ministers this week. The Secretary also welcomed the recent discussions between Baghdad and Erbil and the commitment to follow through on important matters critical to Iraqi stability. The Secretary and Foreign Minister also discussed the current situation in Iraq and the need for all parties to refrain from violence and address legitimate grievances peacefully in a manner consistent with the Iraqi constitution. The Secretary expressed our concerns over the situation, including in the disputed boundary areas where all security movements must be coordinated to avoid misunderstandings.
The Secretary reaffirmed the commitment of the United States under the Strategic Framework Agreement to help all sides work towards sustainable compromises that will be essential to long-term stability. And finally, the Secretary looks forward to seeing the Foreign Minister in person in Washington under the auspices of the Joint Coordinating Committee established by the Strategic Framework Agreement.
So having said that, I turn it over to all of you.
QUESTION: I have two kind of logistical things.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: One has to do with this announcement. When did the Secretary make these phone calls?
MR. VENTRELL: This morning.
QUESTION: Yeah. Like, 8 a.m.? 9 a.m.? The reason I’m asking --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- is that they were done this morning, and it’s now 1:20, or later than that, in the afternoon. I understand it if your goal in putting things out like this while we’re all sitting here and unable to write about it might be to have fewer people at the briefings so that you’ll get less questions and be -- not be harassed.
MR. VENTRELL: That’s not at all the goal. In fact, Matt --
QUESTION: Well, then, can I just make a plea --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- that if you’re going – when you’re going to make a – if you’re going to do a big announcement like this, or an announcement like this that involves a statement coming out, that you do it before the briefing? Because otherwise, it just – it’s --
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, our goal here had been to release the statement and be able to describe it in more detail for you here at the podium.
QUESTION: Okay. But I mean, if the calls were made this morning, presumably before the Foreign Affairs Day’s commemorations, I mean, the statement could have come out at 10 o’clock and it would have made – anyway, that’s just a --
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, anyway, I’m not sure if --
QUESTION: It’s a situation of convenience. Anyway.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Secondly, if it is true, as Under Secretary Kennedy said, that the State – that he has ordered an adjustment in the temperature in this building as a way to save money and energy, why is it still so damn cold in this room?
MR. VENTRELL: (Laughter.) Matt, I don’t know that. It feels hot up here sometimes, so – but I have no information for you on the temperature in this room.
Samir, go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you know when Minister Zebari is coming to Washington?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an exact date on that. Again, as I said, it’s under the auspices of the Strategic Framework Agreement. You know we have a number of implementing committees and we have regular interaction at the ministerial level and below through the Strategic Framework Agreement. So when we’re closer to announcement, we’ll let you know and see if we can get you that.
QUESTION: I have a couple of small things. About the announcement about Ambassador Dobbins.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just to be clear, the title is – he is the President’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan? Or is it a different title now?
MR. VENTRELL: The title I have is the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
QUESTION: And that does not require Senate confirmation, correct?
MR. VENTRELL: This is not a Senate confirmation – confirmable position.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you know when he will start?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a date on his starting, but of course, we’re always trying to work through these as quickly as possible to get people on the job.
QUESTION: And then just a couple of sort of cleanup things from yesterday.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Chen Kegui.
QUESTION: Chen Kegui. Thank you again. Did he make such a call? And if so, to whom and when, and what did he say?
MR. VENTRELL: The Secretary did reach out to his counterpart, Foreign Minister Wang, yesterday. He was unable to reach him and the Secretary will follow up. So he has placed a call and has not yet been able to connect with the Foreign Minister, who we understand is on travel.
QUESTION: Do you know if he attempted to reach him after you announced from the podium that he was going to call?
MR. VENTRELL: No, we discussed in the morning that he was going to make the call during the day.
QUESTION: Well – right, I know. But was it – did he try to do it after you had said that he was going to?
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, I don’t know at exactly what hour the --
QUESTION: I’m just curious if you think that the Chinese Foreign Minister might have been ducking the phone call because he knew that he was going to get yelled at about this.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know at what time the Operations Center was putting forward the call, but the Secretary did reach out to the Chinese and will follow up.
QUESTION: Isn’t it odd that he’s not able to reach the Chinese Foreign Minister?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, sometimes it’s time differences or travel or – but sometimes it takes us a little while to connect with a foreign leader, or a foreign minister in this case.
QUESTION: On Ambassador Dobbins?
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead. On Ambassador Dobbins, go ahead.
QUESTION: So in the phone call where General Kayani and President Zardari, was this – only this information was passed, or other issues were discussed as well?
MR. VENTRELL: I believe these were shorter phone calls to inform them of the decision about the appointment, and so these were fairly brief phone calls.
QUESTION: And does the new envoy plan to travel to the region anytime soon?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, first we’ve got to get him in the building and have his first day and start his work, but I do anticipate he’ll travel out to the region fairly quickly after getting here into the building, which is standard.
Okay? Go ahead.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Said.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Will the State Department coordinate the distribution of weapons that the United States might be giving to the Syrian opposition?
MR. VENTRELL: What was the first part?
QUESTION: The first part: Will the State Department be involved in the distribution and the allocation of weapons that the United States is likely to give to the Syrian rebels?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, you know where we are on this. We haven’t made a decision one way or another on lethal aid to the Syrians. But we continue to ramp up and are on an upward trajectory with our nonlethal assistance.
QUESTION: Okay. Are you concerned that some of the alleged weapons that are being sent along with Triple-As and maybe anti-armor rocket launchers and so on, there’s also shoulder surface-to-air missiles which can’t fit in some of the last remaining civilian aircraft and so on? Are you concerned about that, much as the Russians were targeted a week or so ago?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we had had concerns about civil aviation, and I know the Russians themselves expressed their concern and have – I believe there’s been some information to their own national airlines in that regard.
Okay. Go ahead, Samir.
QUESTION: Can you confirm reports about Mr. Brahimi’s resignation?
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks for the question. We are aware of these reports. We do refer you to the UN for further details. But just to reiterate what I said earlier in the week, that during their meeting on Monday the Secretary expressed our appreciation to Joint Special Representative Brahimi for his efforts and reiterated our support for his mission despite the challenging circumstances. But I really refer you to the UN.
QUESTION: Did you express a desire that he continue in his good work?
MR. VENTRELL: And we’ve said that we want him to continue in his good work. But again, he has to make that kind of decision, and we refer you to the UN for more details.
QUESTION: On that point, Patrick, did he make – did he promise to stay till the 15th and the 31st of this month? Did he give a date as to when his last day might be?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that he communicated that here to us. But again, I refer you to him for more details about his plans.
QUESTION: Whether it’s Mr. Brahimi or another person who replaces him as the special envoy, is there any appetite for what was being reported on Thursday for a revision of the Geneva agreement in terms of bringing about a new political structure inside Syria? And if so, what would be the top three issues that the U.S. would be looking for?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, just to say, Roz, that we’re still – I believe that the political solution is the fastest way and the best way to end the violence in Syria and to get Syria on track to becoming the unified, peaceful, democratic Syria that the Syrian people want. In terms of the Geneva communique, the Secretary did reaffirm to Mr. Brahimi the importance of advancing a political solution to the conflict in Syria within the framework of the Geneva communique. So we still think that it has value. But again, indeed, the fighting continues on the ground and the Syrians continue to face the onslaught of the regime.
QUESTION: Well, I guess the simpler way of asking the question: Is Geneva, as it’s currently written and agreed to, still valid? Does it need to be updated?
MR. VENTRELL: From our point of view, it’s still valid and we think there’s still value in pursuing a political solution. Having said that, clearly the fighting is intense and that’s why we’ve very much ramped up our efforts to support the opposition.
QUESTION: There’s also some reporting that in some parts near or in Syria there may have been more apparent uses of chemical weapons, unspecified. Have you seen these reports, and what does this building and other parts of the Administration think about the likelihood that there may have been more than one instance of chemical weapons being used against civilians?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we’ve seen the reports and our position is the same that we need to investigate any and all uses of chemical weapons. We talked a little bit about it yesterday that there’s a UN investigation ongoing. Information is being shared by capitals and we’re continuing to look at all the information available and be in touch with people on the ground, be in touch with various countries and contacts as well.
QUESTION: Is there any progress being made in terms of helping the UN inspectors actually get inside country to try to verify these reports or debunk them, as the case may be?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d really have to refer you to the UN in terms of any update on communication they’ve had with the regime about moving the team in from their forward deployment site. But we continue to urge that they be let in, and if the Syrians have nothing to hide, they should let the team in.
QUESTION: Did you ever get an answer to whether there were members of other agencies in Mr. Sellstrom’s visit to State yesterday?
MR. VENTRELL: There were other agencies. I know at a minimum at least, including DOD. In terms of whether he had meetings elsewhere in town, I’d have to refer you to the UN. I’m not sure if he went to other buildings, but we did have interagency colleagues here within the building.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Nicolas, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, still on Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have information about this American journalist who has been missing in Syria for six months? His family has just said in Boston that he’s held by Syrian intelligence.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Thanks for the question, Nicolas. We are aware of reports of James Foley’s disappearance in Syria. We’re concerned about his safety and well-being. But unfortunately, because of the privacy concerns, I can’t say more about the case at this time. But we are aware of the reports and we are concerned about his well-being.
QUESTION: Hold on. Can I ask you – because of the Privacy Act – this guy’s missing in Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: You have nobody in Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Look --
QUESTION: How exactly do you expect him to sign a Privacy Act waiver?
MR. VENTRELL: This isn’t about – Matt, I know that you love to talk about the Privacy Act waiver.
QUESTION: No, I don’t love to talk about it. I wish I never had to talk about it.
MR. VENTRELL: I know you do.
QUESTION: But this is ridiculous.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, there are a number of exceptions under it and various provisions.
QUESTION: Right. And has his family been approached to sign a Privacy Act waiver upon – on his behalf?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re in touch with the family, but because of Privacy Act restrictions, I can’t say more.
QUESTION: So in other words, they have been and they don’t – and they haven’t signed it? I mean, if they haven’t, that’s fine, but --
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’d have to --
QUESTION: -- have they been asked to sign --
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, I’d have to ask the lawyers in terms of --
QUESTION: Please do.
MR. VENTRELL: All right.
QUESTION: Because when you give an answer for someone who is missing, when you give that answer, it just – I mean, it is mindboggling to me.
QUESTION: Well, especially because they appeared --
MR. VENTRELL: Again --
QUESTION: -- in public a week ago Wednesday in New York City and made a very public appeal --
MR. VENTRELL: I understand, and that’s part of the reason that we’re --
QUESTION: -- that people should try to bring him home.
MR. VENTRELL: And that’s part of the reason that we’re able to say his name and say that we’re aware of his disappearance and that we’re looking – that we’re concerned about his safety and well-being. But in terms of the details of the case, there are Privacy Act restrictions.
QUESTION: Well, I am going to throw my support with Matt and just sort of beggar’s belief that there wouldn’t be more, especially if there is this suggestion that he just hasn’t been caught up in the fire but he may actually be held hostage by a government with which we have extremely strained relations.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, at a minimum, we’re very much in touch with families, and a lot of what we say and do also has to do with family issues. I can’t say in this particular case, but broadly speaking, on consular cases, we’re also very much in touch with the family and respect their wishes.
QUESTION: Would an issue like this be brought up, let’s say, in the discussion between Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov, considering that they do have good relations with Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: We do raise consular cases in a variety of channels. We’ve raised consular cases with Russian authorities, with others who may have influence, and we – of course, the Czech Republic continues to be our protecting power in Syria, and we communicate through that channel as well.
QUESTION: Patrick, three different subjects (inaudible). First --
MR. VENTRELL: Can we do them one at a time?
QUESTION: If we – yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: That’s ideal, I think.
MR. VENTRELL: Everybody’s in the Friday spirit here.
QUESTION: And active verbs, if I may.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: The first is to follow up on the exchanges you had in this room yesterday regarding the human trafficking case in Virginia. At that time, you had pledged to look into the role played by DS and/or the Office of Foreign Missions. I wonder if you have any update.
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks for that question. One second here.
So again, in terms of Department – Diplomatic Security involvement, other than to say that our Diplomatic Security agents were involved in the law enforcement operation, there’s no more information that I can share at this time.
QUESTION: Another question that you pledged to --
QUESTION: Are we still staying on the subject?
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Another question that you pledged to look into yesterday with regard to this subject is whether a foreign diplomat has to assert his or her diplomatic immunity in this kind of case, or whether it is simply a blanket that is known to exist.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. And that was a question Arshad asked, and we’re still – I’m following up with the lawyers to get you the very precise language on that.
QUESTION: Still on this subject --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- have the Saudis been in touch with the USG on this issue in any respect?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that they’ve been in touch with this building, but I can check into that.
QUESTION: Lastly, are there, to your knowledge, some categories of crimes that can be committed in this country by foreign diplomats for which the diplomatic immunity would not ever apply, like murder and working backwards from that, say?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure on that hypothetical, but let me reiterate what I said yesterday, that under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, diplomats are under a duty to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving state. But again, as I touch base with the lawyers again this afternoon, I’ll follow up on that subject for --
QUESTION: And so the Saudis, to your knowledge, have not waived diplomatic immunity in this case?
MR. VENTRELL: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Can you try to get an answer on that today?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. I’d be happy to take it.
QUESTION: Good. Thank you.
QUESTION: In your answer to James’s first question, you said that beyond saying that Diplomatic Security was involved --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- you couldn’t say any more. Well, the question was what the involvement was.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. I’m saying that --
QUESTION: And you’re saying that you can’t say whether that involvement was that they went to this compound with the ICE or DHS people?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Beyond saying --
QUESTION: You can’t say whether there was a request from law enforcement about diplomatic immunity, about the possible application of diplomatic immunity in this case?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Again, Diplomatic Security agents were involved and --
QUESTION: What does that mean, they were involved?
MR. VENTRELL: It means that there were law enforcement activities happening and our agents – ICE had the lead, but our agents were also involved in the interagency operation.
QUESTION: Well, what does that mean? Did they call them on the phone?
MR. VENTRELL: Again --
QUESTION: Did they go there? Did they go to this place?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, this is a law enforcement activity. I refer you to ICE. That’s the lead on the investigation.
QUESTION: No, but we’re not – I’m not asking about – I just want to know what State Department – how – what the involvement of the State Department employees were. Did they go to the site where – to where ICE or whoever it was responded? Did they just --
QUESTION: You pledged to get us – to provide us some more information on it, so --
QUESTION: Did they just speak with whoever it was on the phone?
MR. VENTRELL: I did overnight, and one of the principal things that you all were interested is – in terms of the information-sharing on the status of this diplomatic compound, to which I do not have an update, and – other than to say that Diplomatic Security agents were involved in the law enforcement operation, I also don’t have an update. I’m happy to continue to look as more information on this particular law enforcement activity becomes available, but at this time, this is all the information we have.
QUESTION: But I thought you said that you did – so in other words, you got an update that there was no update?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I wasn’t --
QUESTION: So they came back to you and said, “No, you shouldn’t say anything more about what our involvement was,” even though it’s a pretty strict – I mean, I don’t understand what – it’s not a national security issue.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. But --
QUESTION: We just want to know --
MR. VENTRELL: Part of the issue, Matt, is --
QUESTION: -- were DS agents on the ground when this went down, or was there involvement simply --
MR. VENTRELL: Let me --
QUESTION: -- answering a phone call?
MR. VENTRELL: Let me triple-check about the actual presence of DS agents. The information that I have is that DS agents were involved in the law enforcement operation. Let me check on the definition of that, Matt. I understand that that’s perplexing to you.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, you don’t know whether there are any categories of crimes in which diplomatic immunity would never obtain?
MR. VENTRELL: Not that I’m aware. I believe it’s full criminal immunity, but let me – we’ll have to check with the lawyers.
QUESTION: Patrick, could you tell us about the involvement of a third country in this case, and would the embassy of the third country in which the – apparently the domestic – are citizens of? Were they involved?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’ll have to get back to you on that, whether a third country – this is a --
QUESTION: Some (inaudible) they are, like, in the custody of the U.S. Government, or is it – are they, let’s say, in a halfway --
MR. VENTRELL: I understand – let me just finish here – I understand there’s a lot of desire for more information on this case. As you know, when we have active law enforcement activity going on, sometimes we’re restrained by a number of restrictions from what we can say due to the sensitive nature of the ongoing case. And so I’m not able to say more at this point.
QUESTION: Okay. Now on the limits of diplomatic immunity, I remember a case back in 2005 where a diplomat from the United Arab Emirates was accused in a child molestation and so on, and he left the country, and then there were no further charges. So do you at least place, like, some limits on where they leave or what – like some sort of a house arrest, or at least they cannot leave within a certain time? Is there such a thing?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. I see we’ve got a lot of interest in the issue of diplomatic immunity. Let me see if I can get one of our experts from the building to give some of you some more background information about exactly how this works. I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t think me trying to give a detailed explanation would be helpful, so let’s see if we can get you an expert.
QUESTION: Can we proceed to the other two subjects?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what involvement, if any, State had in the revision of the customs rules that now face foreigners who arrive here with a student visa, changes obviously undertaken in the wake of the Boston bombings?
MR. VENTRELL: I really refer you to the Department of Homeland Security. That’s their jurisdiction. I’m not aware that the State Department had any direct role. We adjudicate visas overseas, but in terms of how they’re used when they arrive, that’s 100 percent a Department of Homeland Security issue.
QUESTION: And the next subject is Benghazi, and I want to pose a series of questions to you, both with apologies to my colleagues in advance for the length of time it may take and also by letting you know in advance that I understand what a tough day this is for the larger diplomatic community, what with the ceremony that we had in the building earlier.
MR. VENTRELL: Thank you for that, James.
QUESTION: But nonetheless, you’ve had a lot to say on this subject in recent days, and I think much of it bears some follow-up.
MR. VENTRELL: As has your news organization. So, go ahead.
QUESTION: One wonders, actually, if the two might be related.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, James.
QUESTION: I don’t wonder. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: All right. First of all, we’ll start with the ARB. Why don’t you just begin by telling us what your understanding is of the state of play regarding the ARB and the Office of the Inspector General?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Let me go ahead and answer that. And first of all, I want to say something at the top, since you mentioned today. And just as you heard the Secretary say, today is the day that we mourn, but we commemorate and celebrate some of our fallen colleagues. So you know that this Department is committed to not only – and the State – the whole State Department family is committed to bringing those who perpetrated this attack to justice, and to doing everything we need to do to keep our people safe. And so that’s where our attention is, and we hope that Congress and the media too can keep the focus on that.
On your specific question about the OIG, the State Department OIG is not investigating the Independent Benghazi Accountability Review Board. There was some misreporting on that yesterday. Nor was the OIG’s review specifically spurred by the Benghazi ARB. Rather, the OIG is conducting a review of the ARB process itself going back two decades, looking at how boards are convened, their standards, and how we’re doing on implementing ARB recommendations.
So to be clear, the independent ARB process that we followed in Benghazi is in fact a statutory process mandated by the Omnibus Diplomatic Security and Antiterrorism Act of 1986. The OIG is looking at the process as followed by the 18 ARBs convened since the statute was passed. And as part of this review, the OIG plans to look at the Department’s current progress in addressing the Benghazi recommendations. To remind you both, Secretary Clinton – former Secretary Clinton and Secretary Kerry have testified about this on the Hill, about our implementation and how we’ve accepted all the recommendations and are – have either completed or are actively implementing every single one of them.
And I just want to add – and this is important – when the Benghazi ARB was convened, Department employees were informed both in a Department notice and a cable sent to all posts worldwide that directed them to give the ARB their full cooperation, and the convocation of the ARB was also announced to the public by a Federal Register notice. So these notices have contact information for the Board.
And the final thing that I want to correct about misreporting yesterday – and it was Admiral Mullen from this very podium, from this Briefing Room last December, who said that the ARB interviewed more than 100 people, reviewed thousands of documents, and watched hours of video. It spoke with people who were on the scene in Benghazi that night, who were in Tripoli, who were in Washington. It talked to military and intelligence officials, including many State Department personnel, and to experts who do not work for the U.S. Government. So he was clear that throughout the process, the ARB enjoyed superb cooperation from the Department of State and its interagency partners, and he said that here from this podium.
QUESTION: Okay. Without necessarily agreeing to any of your premises, which is, I know, one of your favorite stock phrases, allow me to continue.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Are you going to continue along the line of the OIG?
QUESTION: Yeah. Since you feel comfortable in telling us that this OIG review was not spurred by Benghazi, to use your word --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- I presume you will feel comfortable in telling us what did spur this investigation, to your knowledge.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we can’t speak for the OIG in terms of how they do their processing. My understanding is that these reports are fairly routine. Last year alone, the OIG issued more than 100 reports.
One more thing on investigations, James, while we’re on it: The use of the word “investigation” is very specific. When you say “investigation,” it means that the OIG is looking into the possibility of criminal activity. So this is not an investigation, but rather a simple review of the ARB process and our follow-through of the implementation of the Benghazi recommendations.
QUESTION: This notice that this special review would be commencing was delivered to the Department of State on March 28, according to the office of IOG – OIG, excuse me. Since March 28, you and other spokesmen for the Administration have had numerous occasions to extol the work of the committee as comprehensive and so forth. Why at no time did anyone from the Administration disclose the fact that the work of this ARB and others is under this kind of review?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, this is sort of a routine review of how Department processes will – and in this case, it’s actually a congressional – congressionally mandated independent board. And so it’s part of their routine review process, and so --
QUESTION: You never thought to disclose it?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, the bottom line is that the OIG does hundreds of these reports. And we still think that the ARB process is credible, that it was comprehensive, but’s it’s Congress’s imperative and the OIG if they want to look at how the board’s operated and make a further review of it.
I know, to bring another issue to light, there was at one point during the Keystone process, folks wanted an OIG review. OIG went in, reviewed, and found that our processes had been quite good. So – had been excellent, indeed. So again, I’m not going to prejudge what they’re going to review in terms of their reports that they do on a regular basis.
QUESTION: But it’s your understanding that the scope of this special review is to include all 18 ARBs --
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: -- and therefore that the OIG will be contacting living survivors of every single one of those ARBs?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure that that’s what they’re looking at. I think they’re looking at the ARB process as a whole, how they’re conducted, how they’re convened. And I’m not sure exactly who they’ll talk to – they’re the OIG. That’s an independent body.
QUESTION: You’re aware that they have, in fact, already begun interviewing ARB – or people who were covered by the Benghazi ARB, if you will. You understand that they’ve already begun that interviewing process, related to the Benghazi ARB, which you maintain didn’t spur this?
MR. VENTRELL: James, I’m actually not aware of who they’re interviewing because that’s their prerogative. But the bottom line is that the ARB process has been around, it was a congressionally mandated process that goes back to 1986. We’ve had a number of them. I’m not sure whether it was interest on the Hill to have a look at how ARBs have worked, whether it was interest among the OIG themselves. They can clarify how they decided to go about this process. But sometimes the Hill asks for reviews, sometimes the OIG is looking at Department processes or other activities inside of this building, so I really can’t speculate on how it started. But --
QUESTION: So it’s a rather unremarkable bit of business, in your view. I gather that from your remarks.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, let me be clear that the report that your news organization made, that this was some sort of investigation, was misleading, and so we’re clarifying this about all ARB processes. And I think, now that there’s been a lot of public attention on ARBs – certainly there was public attention back during the horrific attacks back in 1998 when there was another major ARB – people are looking publicly at what it was, and we have talked about how we think it’s a credible, independent process, and we’ve spoken at length about that. So if the OIG’s going to look at how the process has worked going back to 1986, that’s something that’s certainly within their prerogative to do.
QUESTION: In your remarks this week and again just now in our exchanges, you have referred to the Benghazi ARB as credible and comprehensive.
MR. VENTRELL: And we still believe that.
QUESTION: How can a report like that or an investigation like that be considered credible and comprehensive when two of the individuals who were not interviewed for it included Secretary of State Clinton herself and, according to our information, at least one of the seven individuals who made up CIA’s global response team that was on the ground in Benghazi during the attacks? You’ve got one person on the ground and you’ve got the top person in the State Department who weren’t interviewed by this panel. How then can that be credible and comprehensive?
MR. VENTRELL: They interviewed over 100 people, including people on the ground --
QUESTION: I’m asking about the people they didn’t interview.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t speak for who they did and didn’t interview, but we have --
QUESTION: Well, then you can’t call it comprehensive.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, we have some of our most respected senior former officials here in Washington – Tom Pickering, Admiral Mullen – these are people with – people who have an enormous amount of respect for --
QUESTION: Why was Secretary Clinton not interviewed?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know why Secretary Clinton was not interviewed. That, I’d have to refer you to the folks on the ARB. But the bottom line is --
QUESTION: Don’t you – you’re telling me it’s a comprehensive report, and yet you can’t explain the omission of two key witnesses, the Secretary of State and one of the seven CIA global response people on the ground in Benghazi. Does that sound comprehensive to you?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, we believe this was a comprehensive report and we believe it looked at it in great detail, and we stand by our claim this was a comprehensive, credible report.
QUESTION: Moving on.
QUESTION: Wait, wait – can I – on this, can I ask for another one?
MR. VENTRELL: Matt. Yeah.
QUESTION: I don’t understand how you can call it comprehensive and credible when it doesn’t – when its conclusions disagreed – don’t agree with the conclusions that some congressional Republicans have come to.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, let me say one more thing about this, Matt.
QUESTION: That’s the bottom line in this line of questioning.
MR. VENTRELL: Let me – but --
QUESTION: Let me – hold on. If James is correct that one of the seven people on the ground weren’t interviewed, were the other six? Do you even know? Did the State Department have anything to do with the workings of the ARB, which is supposed to be independent?
MR. VENTRELL: We did not. They were independent and they chose who to interview.
QUESTION: Okay. So this is not a State Department – you don’t tell the ARB who to interview or who not to interview?
MR. VENTRELL: We do not.
QUESTION: Okay. As it relates --
MR. VENTRELL: And to clarify, the only thing we do do is to make it publicly – we publicly announce it and convene it and then let people know how to get in touch with them.
QUESTION: As it relates to the OIG --
MR. VENTRELL: And we ask people to cooperate with it.
QUESTION: Right. The OIG investigation, as it pertains to the Benghazi ARB, is simply to look at how the recommendations of the ARB are being implemented. Is that correct? Is that what you said?
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that the review process, again, the only Benghazi-specific piece to it is to look at how the recommendations are being implemented, and we’ve spoken to that, and we’re doing that.
QUESTION: In other words, that would be the recommendations that security be improved, that kind of thing.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. And --
QUESTION: Not whether the ARB – the Benghazi ARB adequately investigated whether people in this – whether this Department willfully --
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: -- denied adequate --
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think that’s the scope of it.
QUESTION: You don’t think – or isn’t?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, the OIG would have to clarify the exact scope of their review process, but my understanding is that’s not what they’re looking at. They’re looking at the ARB recommendation implementation from the letter and from their communications to us.
QUESTION: And then the – on – so they’re looking at all 18?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Recognizing you don’t speak for the OIG, which is an independent – kind of like the internal affairs bureau of a police department but at the State Department – correct?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I mean, these are the guys who come in, if you do something wrong, they’re the guys you’ve got to watch out for, right?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Would it make sense, in your mind – the most recent ARB was the Benghazi ARB, is that correct? There hasn’t been one convened since?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t believe so.
QUESTION: Would it make sense for a review of ARBs – past ARBs to begin with the most recent or not?
MR. VENTRELL: That would probably make sense.
QUESTION: So it would make sense.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. So to your knowledge, there is absolutely no reason – or that – sorry – to your knowledge, the findings of the Benghazi ARB are not a matter for this review by the OIG?
MR. VENTRELL: That’s not our understanding of what they’re reviewing.
QUESTION: Only the implementation of the recommendations?
MR. VENTRELL: Only the implementation. Let me say one thing on this, Matt. The ARB had some very tough findings about this Department, and we were clear where – that mistakes were made and that we were aggressively implementing the recommendations. And so this report was not light on this Department. It was very tough. And so we take it very seriously and we take our implementation of it very seriously.
QUESTION: Before I proceed to some other related subjects, I just want to say that it baffles me how you can personally see fit to vouch for the comprehensiveness of a given report without being willing to address the fact that two key individuals were not interviewed by the panel that put together the report. I don’t understand how you can feel comfortable saying it was comprehensive at the same time that you’re unwilling to address the fact that two – at least two key individuals weren’t interviewed by the panel.
We can move on.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry earlier this week mentioned that he has appointed his Chief of Staff David Wade to serve as a kind of interlocutor with Congressional Republicans to try and settle all outstanding evidentiary claims related to Benghazi that the House Republicans may have. You have stated from the podium this week that Mr. Wade has been in touch with these folks. Can you give us any details as to the nature of the requests that they are pressing with David Wade or the extent of the contacts, et cetera, and how active this is?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, let me just say that there’s a few different ways to communicate with the Hill. Obviously there continues to be a Legislative Affairs Bureau that deals with the correspondence back and forth. But the Secretary also wanted to make clear that, in a comprehensive way and in a senior way, this building is willing to work with the Hill on any of their new or outstanding requests. But you’re looking at this hearing next week, and we still don’t even know who Chairman Issa is going to call. So we need cooperation to go both ways, and I said that yesterday.
QUESTION: What I asked about was the David Wade channel, if you will. And I just want whatever detail you can provide as to Wade’s contacts and activities with respect to this.
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have --
QUESTION: Is there anything you can tell me about what – who he has talked to, what has transpired between David Wade and the Congressional Republicans?
MR. VENTRELL: I know he’s been in touch with people on the Hill. I don’t have a list for you. I’d have to check up on that.
QUESTION: All right. Secretary Kerry, at that same event, said that he wants to see the Benghazi matter demythologized. That was the word he used.
MR. VENTRELL: And depoliticized.
QUESTION: And depoliticized.
MR. VENTRELL: He did.
QUESTION: Since you are in the business of clarifying the Secretary’s remarks, I wonder if you could tell us what mythology there is associated with the Benghazi case out there that he wants to see removed from accounts of the matter. What is the – where – what are the myths? What is the mythology he’s talking about that needs to be demythologized?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I’m not going to call out one specific news network or another, other than to say there’s --
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. VENTRELL: There’s a lot of --
QUESTION: Who’s responsible for perpetuating --
QUESTION: Wait, let’s first – Matt, we’ll come to who.
QUESTION: But what are the myths? What’s the mythology that he’s referring to?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, there has been a very politicized campaign over many months to have all sorts of theories out there and all sorts of speculation. We had an ARB. It was very specific about what happened in that incident. We continue to aggressively seek justice for these attacks. But the fact of the matter is, there are many news organizations – and you work for one of them – who are aggressively and at some times being fast and loose with the facts. So --
QUESTION: I want you to tell me how. I just want you to tell me what the mythology is.
MR. VENTRELL: Let me give one example. Yesterday you all made this sort of big announcement that we’re – that’s there’s an investigation going on, and that has a specific meaning.
QUESTION: But excuse me, I hadn’t reported that when the Secretary made this comment about mythology. So please tell me what he was referring to when he spoke about mythology. My ARB reporting hadn’t happened yet.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Well --
QUESTION: So what did he mean by mythology?
MR. VENTRELL: That’s only one example of what’s gone over many months. Having said that, let’s get back to --
QUESTION: Can I just persistent, if you’re unwilling to answer what the mythology is, with just one more line of question?
MR. VENTRELL: There’s a lot of mythology out there, but go ahead.
QUESTION: But you’re not willing to tell me what it is.
MR. VENTRELL: I gave you one example of a specific example from this week.
QUESTION: That example didn’t exist when the Secretary spoke, and I’m asking about his remarks. So tell me what he had in mind when he spoke of mythology.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean --
QUESTION: It couldn’t have been the reporting I hadn’t done yet.
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll give you one example. There continues to be a whole line of reporting about military assets being available for this. I refer you to DOD. I can’t speak to that from this podium. But they’ve been very clear about that, at the highest levels, in terms of the role or the potential role of the military during the attacks. So that’s just one example. Again, I can’t get into a point-by-point, but that’s one that continues to persist and the Department of Defense has clarified and been very clear about.
QUESTION: Last subject on this. And again, I appreciate my colleagues’ indulgence. The Weekly Standard today has published a number of original documents and excerpts from them that emanated from the drafting of the intelligence community talking points that were provided to Ambassador Rice prior to her September 16 Sunday show tour. One version of these talking points, dated September 14, 11:15 a.m. and prepared by CIA stated, quote, “We do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida participated in the attack,” end quote. Obviously that was not among the final talking points. The article goes on to quote from contributions to this drafting process from Victoria Nuland and other officials by name.
So first, I wonder if you can tell us why CIA’s early determination that we do know that Islamic extremists with ties to al-Qaida participated in the attack was stricken from those points.
MR. VENTRELL: Let me say this: We regularly discuss our public messaging with interagency counterparts. That’s part of what happens in the interagency. But we’re not going to get into the details, James, of our internal deliberative process on these. And so we continue to be transparent with the Congress and have been and shared thousands of documents. The issue of talking points has been something that they’ve looked into. And so we’re not going to get into individual documents one way or another. But we do regularly discuss our public messaging with interagency counterparts.
QUESTION: Thank you for all of your questions.
QUESTION: Wait. I just want – this doesn’t have to do with any controversy, I don’t think, but it does have to do with the investigation, so I suspect you’re going to refer me to the FBI. But there were reports yesterday that the three – the photos of the three men that the FBI put out who were sought for questioning – there were reports that those three were identified as being members of AQAP. Do you know anything about that?
MR. VENTRELL: I do not. I do refer you to the Department of Justice.
MR. VENTRELL: I do have only one update from yesterday, Arshad, and that’s to say that we – some of you had asked about our contact with Mr. Bae’s family. And I can confirm that we remain in close contact with Mr. Bae’s family. We last spoke to them yesterday, and so we’ve been in constant communication with them. But I don’t have an update in terms of Sweden’s access to Mr. Bae.
QUESTION: Can we change topics?
MR. VENTRELL: Let’s --
QUESTION: One more on Benghazi?
QUESTION: No. One more on Kenneth Bae.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Not on Benghazi. Have you, since this – since the sentence was handed out, have you, through any of your channels, been in touch with North Korea’s Government – other than the public statement that you want his amnesty and release? Have you communicated directly this desire with them?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything for you on that one way or another, other than to say that we continue to have channels and ways to communicate with the North Koreans.
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: I know that you (inaudible) yesterday. Do we have any more – a more thorough reading of the meeting and what is next in this process?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a more detailed readout. I know that you’re all interested in having every single move and every single detail of what we do on the Middle East peace process, but that’s not something – the Secretary’s clear about that – that we’re going to be reading out in detail as this goes forward. But the Secretary’s going to continue to remain in touch with the parties and continue to try to work, given that we had a couple of positive steps this week. And he’ll continue to work with both parties.
QUESTION: What were the positive steps?
QUESTION: Did she give a different point of view than that was publicly announced by, let’s say, Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of the Israeli Government regarding the amending of the Arab Peace Initiative?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I can’t speak for any differences within the Israeli Government. But let me – let me say one thing clearly though: And what’s most important is that – and what the Israeli side has been very clear about is that – and they’ve publicly affirmed this at all levels, that Israel needs to have peace with the Palestinians. And so that’s really the key issue. In terms of any differences of opinion among their negotiating team or their political leadership, I really refer you to the Israelis.
QUESTION: And lastly, Patrick, because Secretary of State made it like a major breakthrough, this amending for land swaps and so on in the Arab Peace Initiative and the language of the Arab Peace Initiative, but apparently the Israelis countered back with different kind of demands*. Does he still feel as enthusiastic about where this is going?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, he said that it was an important step and was pleased with it, and the bottom line is in terms of – in the context of a final settlement, Israel having – being at peace with all the members of the Arab League would be a very positive development and good for Israel.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) you said that there have been some positive steps this week other than the Qatari Prime Minister’s statement about the possibility of land swaps. What other positive steps have you seen this week?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I guess we could have said step. But suffice it to say that the Secretary’s been very engaged this week on the matter.
Scott, you’ve been patient.
QUESTION: On Sudan, you took a question earlier this week regarding a letter from Congressman Wolf expressing his objection over the Obama Administration’s invitation of the Sudanese presidential advisor, Nafie Ali Nafie.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you confirm receipt of that letter?
MR. VENTRELL: So we have seen the letter from Congressman Wolf. We’re aware of the allegation, and we’re not under any illusions about this delegation or any of the other senior leaders of the regime. However, we believe that engagements with this delegation can advance our policy goals in Sudan, and if we don’t make our arguments directly to the Sudanese, who influence and direct their country’s policy, our ability to affect change will be limited. So this engagement can set the stage for a continuing dialogue on a peaceful, sustainable resolution to the conflicts and governance issues throughout Sudan.
QUESTION: So you’re under no illusion about Mr. Nafie Ali Nafie, but nonetheless he is still invited to come to the United States as part of that delegation.
MR. VENTRELL: And again, we agreed to receive the delegation. They expressed an interest in meeting, and we’ve invited the delegation to travel to Washington following their initial expression of interest.
QUESTION: Is there any (inaudible) of why he’s being denied a visa?
QUESTION: Does that hold more broadly?
MR. VENTRELL: To what?
QUESTION: Well, if you – your justification of this is that if you don’t have – if you don’t talk with people you disagree with then how are you ever going to make your point? So why don’t you go – why don’t you send someone to Pyongyang now?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean again --
QUESTION: Why don’t you send someone to Tehran now?
MR. VENTRELL: A lot of these are based on the individual context, and we think at this time that this is the appropriate move to have this kind of engagement in this particular situation.
QUESTION: Is there any reason why the U.S. would be comfortable issuing a visa to Mr. Nafie? I mean, doesn’t that erode the U.S. credibility by doing so? Why can’t you say to the Sudanese, “Yes, you can send a delegation, but you need to send someone else”?
MR. VENTRELL: We adjudicate visas based on applicable visa law. I don’t have any information on this specific case or specific allegations, but we certainly adjudicate all the visas based on the law.
QUESTION: Certainly, human rights groups that advocate for better conditions in Sudan and along the border with South Sudan are quite dismayed that the U.S. may, in essence, raise -- remove all of its pressure on the Bashir government by allowing Mr. Nafie to come in.
MR. VENTRELL: We’re – look, we’re under no illusions about a specific individual or the leadership of the regime as a whole. But we are going to pursue this engagement.
QUESTION: If he were to be allowed to come in, would there be restrictions on where he could travel while he’s here in the United States?
MR. VENTRELL: That’s sort of a hypothetical. I’d – we’re not there yet.
QUESTION: But there’s a long history of other officials being allowed to come to the U.S., at least to a port of entry for very specific reasons, and having their travel circumscribed. The late Qadhafi, Ahmadinejad --
MR. VENTRELL: There are a lot of different circumstances in terms of visa restrictions. Some of them are for the UN, some of them are, in specific cases, based on reciprocity and other issues. But I don’t have anything for you on this specific case.
QUESTION: Can I pick up on that with --
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: One directly has to – relates to travel restrictions. And that is, have you gotten this letter from three members of Congress – Representative Ros-Lehtinen, Representative Scalise, and Representative Diaz-Balart about Castro’s – about Ms. Castro’s visa?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to check on that, Matt. I wasn’t aware of that this morning.
QUESTION: Okay, well, regardless, the letter sent to Secretary Kerry was just sent, I think, this morning. So I’m not surprised you don’t have it. But perhaps you are able to answer some of the questions that they have --
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll do my best.
QUESTION: One is, why – these are questions that they asked: Why is the State Department ignoring current U.S. law by continuing to provide visas to Cuban Communist Party operatives such as Mariela Castro?
MR. VENTRELL: I do have a little bit of information about this. And again, what I said about adjudicating visas based on U.S. laws is something that we absolutely do. While we can’t discuss the individual – specific details of individual cases, under Presidential Proclamation 5377 and other applicable requirements, those are all duly considered and strictly followed in adjudicating visa applications submitted by Cuban nationals. Each visa request is reviewed on a case by case basis, including with our agency partners, and there’s no blanket ban on issuing visas to Cuban Government officials.
QUESTION: Okay. Number two: Given the fact that the United States must preclude any travel outside of a 25 mile radius – New York – for Cuban operatives – and I understand she was given a visa to go to New York to attend some kind of UN meeting – why did Mariela Castro get permission to go outside that 25 mile radius and attend this conference in Philadelphia?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t speak about specific cases. You’re right, Matt, that for certain countries at the UN, there are specific restrictions about officials who have come from that country who are going just for UN business in terms of traveling outside that radius, but those can be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
QUESTION: So if the – and not – and again, not specifically about this case, which you say you can’t talk about specifically, but if permission was granted, it would – to go outside that radius, it would have been because there was some kind of compelling reason for that person to do so? Is that correct?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, they have to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
QUESTION: All right. And then the last one is – it’s a question about reciprocity --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- and whether U.S. diplomats in Cuba are given the – are freed or the restrictions on their travel have been either removed or eased in any way.
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that they’ve been eased. There certainly are restrictions on our people, and at times, from time to time in the past, we’ve had frustrations or problems with travel, even sometimes for routine consular matters. But I’d have to check in terms of the very recent past.
QUESTION: All right. But you don’t know of any specific reciprocity for – in exchange for the Mariela Castro (inaudible)?
MR. VENTRELL: Not in this specific case, but reciprocity is something that is one of our principal concerns and something that does govern how we look at this.
QUESTION: Okay. And when you do answer – when you do get this letter, when the Secretary does get this letter, and presumably there will go – be a response --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- do you know if the Department is able to say more to members of Congress than you are allowed to say from the podium?
MR. VENTRELL: I think there are some waivers to visa confidentiality for members of Congress, and I think that they’ll be able to answer in more detail in terms of how this specific presidential – again, let me read it to you again. It’s --
QUESTION: Yeah, no, they cite it --
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: -- 5377, Section 1, all right.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. So I imagine in the letter we’ll be able to get into more detail.
QUESTION: And then unrelated, but also Cuba: Are you aware of the decision this morning by a district judge in Florida to allow Rene Gonzalez, one of the Cuban Five, to remain in Cuba to finish out – just to remain in Cuba, or even while he’s on probation, in exchange for renouncing his U.S. citizenship?
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Matt. We have just learned of the judge’s decision and we’re studying it to understand the consequences, and I don’t have any further information. So I have to refer you to Justice since this just happened.
QUESTION: All right. Well, can I ask you to take the question of whether – I mean, our story at least says the Justice Department initially opposed the request to serve probation in Cuba, but that dropped its opposition when Gonzalez offered to renounce his U.S. citizenship.
My question that I would ask you to take is whether the State Department had any input into Justice’s dropping of its opposition.
MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to look into it.
MR. VENTRELL: All right?
QUESTION: I’ve got one more.
MR. VENTRELL: All right. Nicolas.
QUESTION: Can we go back to the Palestinians?
MR. VENTRELL: Yep.
QUESTION: Are you in contact with the Internet company Google, which has decided to recognize the Palestinian state status, in putting the word “Palestine” instead of Palestinian Territories in its – on its home page?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. We have heard of this, we’ve seen it, but we don’t have a position on it one way or another. It’s a private company.
QUESTION: So you’re not worried that this is going to open the floodgates? I mean, one of the reasons that Google said they were doing this is because of the move at the UN. Was this a kind of a dismaying thing --
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen --
QUESTION: -- or do you think that the Palestinians should be allowed to call their --
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen --
QUESTION: -- little enclave whatever they want to?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen anything out of Google about their reasoning.
QUESTION: And then I just need to --
QUESTION: Just following on this, do you urge all private companies that do business in that region to refrain from any provocative acts?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we encourage both sides to refrain from provocative acts.
QUESTION: And does that go for private entities that do business in that area?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I think this is dragging us down a whole set of hypotheticals, but Matt, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Just one thing, and that is just – do you know if the lawyer who yesterday you said was lying on television when she claimed that she was being blocked from getting security clearance but who is now – yesterday, at least, gotten in touch with you, do you know if she has gotten that clearance?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve received the request for clearance and it’s being processed in the standard way.
QUESTION: Do you have any idea how long generally that kind of thing takes?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t. It depends on the individual circumstance in terms of prior clearances, and there are a number of factors.
QUESTION: And who does that? Is that something that this building does or something the FBI does? Who’s in charge of that?
MR. VENTRELL: I believe it’s Diplomatic Security, but I’d have to check on that.
QUESTION: In this case, the individual making the application for the security clearance is a former chief counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee. How should that fact be treated in regard to consideration of the individual’s application?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I can’t speak to individual cases one way or another. There are very strict Privacy Act restrictions regarding individuals, but, to say broadly, that the security clearance process does look at previous clearances, and that is one factor.
QUESTION: And is this the only individual, to your knowledge, who has applied, or has another – at least one other attorney applied?
MR. VENTRELL: I believe she and her spouse have both applied, or her partner.
QUESTION: And he too is an attorney?
MR. VENTRELL: And he too is an attorney.
QUESTION: Do you know his name?
MR. VENTRELL: I actually don’t have it here. It’s Ms. Toensing and --
QUESTION: Mr. diGenova.
MR. VENTRELL: -- Mr. diGenova.
QUESTION: Joe diGenova.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:23 p.m.)