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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Patrick Ventrell
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 6, 2013


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Deputy Secretary Burns / London Conference on Somalia
    • Condemnation of Attack in Abyei / Condolences to Victims
    • Concerned by Violence in Bangladesh
  • IRAQ
    • Readout of Secretary Kerry's Call to Prime Minister Maliki / Sectarian Conflict / Refrain from Violence
  • SYRIA
    • Ongoing Violence / Allegations of Chemical Weapons Use Must Be Investigated
    • Reports of Israeli Military Activity / Sovereignty of Neighboring Countries
  • LIBYA
    • Testimony on Benghazi / Accountability Review Board Process
  • MIDDLE EAST
    • China's Role in the Peace Process
  • DPRK
    • Update on Amnesty for Detained U.S. Citizen Kenneth Bae
  • RUSSIA
    • Remains of Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect
  • LIBYA
    • Update on Protests / Transitional Government
  • SYRIA
    • Update on James Foley / Privacy Act Waiver
  • MALAYSIA
    • Congratulations to Barisan Nasional and Prime Minister Najib / Electoral Process
  • BOLIVIA
    • USAID Withdrawal


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

1:11 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Mr. Rosen in the front row.

QUESTION: We promoted him.

QUESTION: We’ve gone there. (Laughter.)

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Let me go ahead with a couple of things at the top, and then I’ll turn it over to all of you. First of all, just to note that Deputy Secretary Burns will head the U.S. delegation to the London conference on Somalia, co-hosted by the United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, and Somali President Hassan Sheikh. The conference will be held at Lancaster House tomorrow, May 7th, and over 50 partner countries and organizations, including the UN, IMF, and African Union will participate.

Secondly, on Sudan and South Sudan, the United States deplores the acts of violence in Abyei that resulted in the tragic death of Ngok Dinka Paramount Chief Kuol Deng Kuol and an Ethiopian UNISFA peacekeeper. We extend our deep condolences to his family and Ngok Dinka people. The UNISFA peacekeeper was killed in the line of duty protecting others in the service of peace. We likewise mourn his loss and express our deep condolences to his family, the people of Ethiopia, and the United Nations. We urge all relevant parties to exercise restraint during this sensitive and volatile period. We appeal for calm in Abyei and implore all sides to avoid further escalation of violence.

We urge Sudan and South Sudan to use the mechanisms in place to conduct a transparent and effective investigation to bring those responsible to justice. This tragic event underscores the need for progress in establishing the joint administration and police for Abyei and for a fair and equitable means to address its final status as embodied in the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel September 21st proposal.

And then finally on Bangladesh, we are concerned by the violence in Bangladesh over the weekend, including the violent deaths of at least several individuals. This comes on the heels of a series of hartals, or general strikes, that have significantly disrupted daily life in Dhaka in recent weeks. The Embassy is closely engaging with all parties to urge calm and encourage dialogue. While engaging in peaceful protest is a fundamental democratic right, we firmly believe violence is never the answer. We look to the Government of Bangladesh to ensure the safety of all its citizens and encourage all Bangladeshis to peacefully express their views.

Okay. Over to you all.

QUESTION: All right. I was otherwise occupied during this conference call this morning, so I only heard little bits and pieces of it, so – but I’m going to imagine that most of the stuff that there is to say on Syria was said – and Russia was said. But I – was the question asked – and if it was asked, was it answered – if there had been any high-level contact between the U.S. and between this building and the Israelis since Friday? (Inaudible.)

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure it was asked in exactly those terms. We stay in very close touch with the Israelis in general. I don’t have anything to readout for you in terms of high-level contacts.

QUESTION: So the Secretary had no phone calls with Israeli officials over the weekend?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any phone calls to readout for the Secretary over the weekend on – to Israelis.

QUESTION: No phone calls at all?

MR. VENTRELL: He was in touch with President Maliki[1] in Iraq, but I don’t have any phone calls with Israelis to readout.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: What about this phone call with Mr. Maliki?

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Sure. One second here. Secretary Kerry called Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki over the weekend to discuss events in Iraq as well as in the region. The Secretary welcomed the recent discussions between Baghdad and Irbil and the commitment to follow through on important matters critical to Iraqi stability. The Secretary expressed condolences for the lives lost in Iraq in recent weeks and pledged continued support to Iraq’s counterterrorism efforts.

The Secretary also expressed concern about the potential for renewed sectarian conflict in Iraq and recognized the danger that the ongoing conflict in Syria poses for the region. And he urged Prime Minister Maliki to show restraint and flexibility in discussions with protesters, and stressed the need for all parties to refrain from violence and address legitimate grievances peacefully, in a manner consistent with the Iraqi constitution.

And finally the Secretary affirmed commitment of the United States, under the strategic framework agreement, to help all sides work toward sustainable compromises that will be essential to Iraq’s long term stability.

QUESTION: Can we go back to Syria for a moment?

MR. VENTRELL: Camille. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just this UN reporting over the weekend that if chemical weapons were used it might have been by rebels, and then further clarification today. I wonder, what conversations – I know that when the UN team was here last week gathering information – has there been any further communication between this building and the UN team looking into allegations of chemical weapons?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, just let me clarify one thing, and this was clarified on our background call this morning, but this entity that – the commission of inquiry is wholly separate, a totally different part of the UN from the investigation into the use of chemical weapons. So there are two very different parts of the UN. We do support the commission on inquiry; they’ve done good work. But they had – they did, in fact, clarify their statement from earlier over the weekend.

Let me just say this: Any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime. We believe these weapons are secure, but also know the Assad regime has demonstrated a willingness to escalate its horrific use of violence against the Syrian people. So our position has been and will be continuing going forward that all credible allegations must be fully and urgently investigated. And we call on the Assad regime to cooperate fully and allow the UN investigators unfettered access to all areas.

QUESTION: Does that mean when you say the stockpiles are secure, you believe the stock piles are secure but they’re still firmly in the hands of the Syrian – of the Assad regime or military?

MR. VENTRELL: That is our assessment.

QUESTION: And are you concerned at all that any Israeli military activity against Syria at this moment might make the likelihood of the use of chemical weapons higher?

MR. VENTRELL: I wouldn’t speculate on that. I really refer you to the Government of Israel about their actions. But on --

QUESTION: Huh? Oh. I’m not asking you to – for anything having to do with anything the Israelis might have done. I’m saying that are you concerned at all that any action by Israel – military action by Israel against Syrian targets – might increase the likelihood of the regime using chemical weapons.

MR. VENTRELL: Our concern, Matt, and this goes back some time, is that the regime has been increasingly willing to use greater and greater violence and greater use of force against its people and that they’ve demonstrated willingness that they might be willing to go down this step and cause mass casualties through the use of chemical weapons.

QUESTION: Well, I guess then you think that outside military intervention would make that more likely. Is that a concern of yours?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’ve been very clear to – very publicly clear that the Syrian Government should not use these horrific weapons and --

QUESTION: All right. But are you concerned that outside military intervention might escalate the risk of the Syrian Government or might make it more likely that the Syrian Government would use chemical weapons?

MR. VENTRELL: Our concern is a broad one, Matt, that is – and we’ve said – we’ve long said that the Assad regime’s days are numbered and that as they increasingly feel pressure that they will potentially will be willing to use this. And that’s why we’ve been so clear.

QUESTION: Has it been – just on the days are numbered line – do you know how many days it’s been since that was first said?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know when we first said that, but --

QUESTION: Close to 600 now.

MR. VENTRELL: We have long said that he needs to step aside and let this peaceful – let the political transition happen so that the Syrian people can have the peaceful future they deserve.

QUESTION: Do you see any impact of the weekend’s event in Damascus on Secretary Kerry’s visit to Moscow?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, we addressed some of this in the call this morning, and we’re going to go forward and continue to make our points to the Russians.

Said.

QUESTION: On the issue of chemical weapons used by the rebels, now are you dismissing the claim by Carla Del Ponte that she is almost certain that the opposition would have used sarin gas?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I think the commission of inquiry put out a statement clarifying her remarks. But let me say, and I’ll just repeat it --

QUESTION: What’s your position on what she said exactly? Do you dismiss what she said, or do you consider it to be --

MR. VENTRELL: Let me tell you what the U.S. position is. Any use of chemical weapons in Syria would very likely have originated with the Assad regime. We also think any and all use should be fully investigated and completely investigated.

QUESTION: But you’re not sure one way or the other whether the regime or the rebels have used chemical weapons, correct?

MR. VENTRELL: We’ve long –

QUESTION: But there was a great deal of assertion last week that chemical weapons were sure used by the regime, right?

MR. VENTRELL: The concern is that the regime has huge stockpiles of these weapons and has shown an increasing willingness to use escalated violence against their people.

QUESTION: And on the airstrike, do you consider that Israel breached Syria’s sovereignty by conducting airstrikes inside Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: I have no comment one way or another. I would refer you to the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: You don’t have a position on the issue of sovereignty of any country?

MR. VENTRELL: I have no comment one way or another.

QUESTION: In your estimate that would be like a breach of sovereignty – of Syrian sovereignty by the Israeli air force?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, we’re in a position where you have a country absolutely slaughtering its own people, so it’s –

QUESTION: What about a breach of Lebanese –

QUESTION: You do recognize the sovereignty of the Syrians?

QUESTION: What about a breach of Lebanese sovereignty considering numerous UN Security Council resolutions drafted by this Administration or previous U.S. administrations have tried to make sure that Lebanese sovereignty is protected.

MR. VENTRELL: Again, we have been strong supporters of Lebanese sovereignty. I don’t have any –

QUESTION: But not if Israel violates it?

MR. VENTRELL: But, Elise, I don’t have any details for you on events of the weekend one way or another.

QUESTION: President Obama said in his remarks to Telemundo that the U.S. has been coordinating fairly closely with Israel. That’s a paraphrase of his remarks, but faithful. Do you mean to tell us that there has been no contact at any levels between the Israeli foreign ministry and the Department of State since the hours just before these strikes?

MR. VENTRELL: We stay in constant contact with the Israeli Government at a range of different levels.

QUESTION: And so have there been communications on this subject between the two ministries?

MR. VENTRELL: On the particular subject of –

QUESTION: In other words, these contacts at all different levels that are constant managed to discuss a wide variety of subjects, but not the airstrikes?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, there’s a number of different relationships here. We’re talking about military to military, intelligence relationships, diplomatic relationships, not that I’m aware of in our diplomatic channels, but we stay in close contact with the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: So you don’t personally know of any discussions between our government and Israel about these airstrikes?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, not through diplomatic channels, but I can’t speak to the breadth of the relationship. It’s very multifaceted.

QUESTION: Sorry. The Syrian deputy foreign minister – or I think it was his deputy foreign minister, maybe it was the Foreign Minister – has said that Israel committed – what Israel did constitutes an act of war. Are you concerned at all that your ally Israel may be retaliated against for – one, do you believe that there have been incidents that constitute an act of war, and two, are you at all concerned for your ally – might face any kind of retaliatory action?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have any more information about any events over the weekend, but we very much stand with our Israeli ally and are constantly and always reviewing when we work with our Israeli partners the best way to ensure their security.

QUESTION: So do you believe that – Israel used American-made warplanes. Do you believe that Israel used those airplanes as an act of self-defense?

MR. VENTRELL: I refer you to the Israeli Government about any of their actions.

QUESTION: No, I mean, I’d like your position. I mean, you supplied these airplanes to Israel. Did Israel use it in self-defense?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I refer you to the Israeli Government.

QUESTION: But I mean, I listen to the Israeli Government all the time. I want your position. Those are American-supplied airplanes.

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information one way or another about what aircraft the Israelis may be using.

In the back.

QUESTION: When you said that you stand by your allies, but if you had to answer with one word “yes” or “no,” do you actually condemn these airstrikes?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, you all are always trying to sort of put a word one way or another in our mouth. I said I don’t have any information, and I refer you to the Israeli Government. And that’s our position.

QUESTION: Do you have any information on the number of killed by those airstrikes?

MR. VENTRELL: I do not, Said.

QUESTION: Different subject?

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Mr. Rosen.

QUESTION: Our thing?

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: As the (inaudible) would call it. Okay. So since we last talked in this room, the names of the so-called whistleblower witnesses on Benghazi have been revealed, the individuals who will testify this coming Wednesday before the House Oversight Committee. One of them is Greg Hicks who, as you know, is the deputy chief of mission in Libya at the time of the attacks, who with the death of Ambassador Stevens became the highest ranking U.S. diplomat in Libya, one of the last people to speak to Ambassador Stevens on the night of those attacks. One of the other witnesses is Mark Thompson, for six years now a senior official in the State Department’s counterterrorism bureau. First, before we get to the specifics of what they’re expected to testify, I wonder if you could provide us with your assessment of the caliber of these two individuals. Are they credible? They’ve been working at fairly senior posts here and abroad for years and years. I wonder first what thoughts the Department has about the caliber of these two individuals.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, it’s a little bit hard for us to – given that we don’t have a lot of information about how the hearing was scheduled and the various sort of formation of the majority’s decision to have this hearing, it’s a little bit hard to comment on the witnesses. Let me do – let me say one thing here, though, at the very top. We have always encouraged any State Department employee who wants to share their personal story, whether it be to the ARB or the Congress to tell the truth, period, full stop, end of story. That’s long been our position. We’ve made that clear from the start. In terms of these particular individuals, the committee didn’t come to us asking witnesses. We found out through the media and through the announcement the same way you all did. In terms of these potential transcripts out there, we haven’t seen the transcripts. So it’s –

QUESTION: Yeah, you have.

QUESTION: Oh, yes, you have. Come on, Patrick.

MR. VENTRELL: We have seen excerpts of these transcripts, but we do not have them, and they have not been provided to us.

QUESTION: Well, you’ve seen them – I mean, you’ve seen – you know the gist of what they’re saying and what their arguments are. First of all, Greg Hicks makes charges that he thought that there were assets in Libya that could have been able to be sent from Tripoli to Benghazi that night, and they were rejected. I mean, there are numerous charges that he makes.

MR. VENTRELL: There have been --

QUESTION: Let the record reflect that that was CNN was asking that question and not Fox News. Please continue.

MR. VENTRELL: Right. Well, let me just say that this has been made – these statements have been made to the media. They haven’t been made to us. Now, we understand this testimony is going to go forward and we want people to go and tell the truth. But in terms of the full context of these remarks or these sort of accusations, we don’t have the full context so it’s hard for us to respond.

QUESTION: Well, what about – okay. So – but just what do you make of the idea that more could have been done that night, sending assets from Tripoli to Benghazi, and that they weren’t?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, it’s hard for me to respond to specific allegations, not having the full context. Let me say this, though. And I said this last week. I can’t remember if you were here, Elise, on Friday. But these issues have been addressed and reviewed in great detail by the Accountability Review Board. There were eight hearings, 30 briefings, 25,000 documents; the ARB interviewed over a hundred witnesses, including people on the ground. And the ARB’s credible, comprehensive process was led by Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Admiral Michael Mullen.

QUESTION: I know --

MR. VENTRELL: But let me finish because not everybody does, and it’s worth saying this, that these are two of the most respected, nonpartisan leaders in Washington, each highly praised by both sides of the aisle for their long, distinguished careers. They put out a statement today saying that from the beginning of the ARB process, they had unfettered access to everyone and everything, including all the documentation they needed.

QUESTION: Except Secretary Clinton.

QUESTION: But what about (inaudible)?

QUESTION: Except Secretary Clinton, right? They did not have access to Secretary Clinton?

MR. VENTRELL: Secretary Clinton addressed this in her public testimony of some eight hours on Capitol Hill, where she --

QUESTION: It was five hours, and she did not. I checked the transcript this morning. She never discloses in there whether she talked to the ARB or Accountability Review Board. If you search it by text, it’s not in there. But they did not have access to her, correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, she spoke to this. I’d be happy after the briefing to get you the exact transcript.

QUESTION: I’m asking you a very simple question, Patrick: Did they have access to her? Did they interview her?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, the ARB --

QUESTION: They did not, correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Mr. Rosen.

QUESTION: Correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Mr. Rosen, the ARB is an independent body. They can choose who they want to interview. We have two of the most respected people in Washington – chose who they wanted to interview and needed to interview for the information that they needed. I will get you --

QUESTION: So they decided they didn’t need to talk to Secretary Clinton?

MR. VENTRELL: Let me finish. Let me finish. I will find you the quote where Secretary – former Secretary Clinton talks about this and her willingness, if the ARB needed to talk to her, to do so. They didn’t, and that was their decision. And they felt that, based on the people that they were able to talk to, they had a complete picture.

QUESTION: Before my questioning was hijacked by my esteemed colleague --

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Can I just --

QUESTION: -- I wanted to ask one thing, and this is what --

QUESTION: This is not a James Rosen briefing, okay?

QUESTION: No, I understand. I was in the middle of asking him something. I understand that.

MR. VENTRELL: All right, one at a time.

QUESTION: Wait, wait, can I just ask --

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Matt.

QUESTION: To the best of your knowledge, did the ARB talk to everyone that they wanted to?

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that they did, and they’ve said that publicly.

QUESTION: Are you in a position actually speak for them?

MR. VENTRELL: I am not.

QUESTION: No. So this statement – I haven’t seen it – did Pickering and Mullen put out a statement?

QUESTION: Yes.

QUESTION: And does it address this?

QUESTION: This is it. It’s two sentences.

QUESTION: “We had unfettered access to everyone and everything, including all the documentation” --

QUESTION: “We needed.”

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: And from the very beginning – let me also say this – this Department of State, when we – when the Board was convened, our message out was that everybody should cooperate with this Board, and that if anybody had anything to raise, there was an email address and a telephone number provided to get in touch with the Board.

QUESTION: Was Secretary Clinton involved in some of the early decision-making related to Benghazi?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, you’re talking – you’re asking me to talk about things that are --

QUESTION: No, I’m just – it’s a fairly simple thing, Patrick. Was she involved in some of the early decision-making regarding Benghazi?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know. Which part are you referring to?

QUESTION: After the attacks became known to the National Security Council? Was she involved in the decision-making?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I’d be happy after this briefing, Mr. Rosen, to get you the entire transcript of what she said over many hours on Capitol Hill, which answers many of your questions. Part of this is you’re bringing up information that’s out there that’s been answered.

QUESTION: It seems to me as if she was involved as a member of the National Security Council in the decision-making regarding this incident that affected her employees, that she would be relevant to the ARB’s --

MR. VENTRELL: James, she spoke at great length to this, and I will get you the transcript after this briefing.

QUESTION: Let me just go back to the question I started with, okay? And as I tried to put it to you, without respect to the specific charges that we expect these two individuals to be testifying to, can you just say: Are Greg Hicks and Mark Thompson credible people? Are they not longstanding career State Department employees? Are they credible?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to assess one individual or another. These are some folks who have said they’re going to come out and tell a story to Congress, and our message --

QUESTION: Have they been fired? Are they --

MR. VENTRELL: Let me finish. Let me finish.

QUESTION: Do they still work here?

MR. VENTRELL: Our message is we have always encouraged State Department employees who want to share their personal story, whether to the ARB or Congress, to tell the truth, period. And so they have an opportunity to do that if that’s what they choose to do.

QUESTION: Have they had distinguished careers? Have they had distinguished careers here?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not in a place to assess their bios and their work experience, but these are people who work inside the State Department.

QUESTION: Can I ask (inaudible)?

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On exactly that point --

MR. VENTRELL: Can you identify yourself?

QUESTION: Terry Jeffrey of CNS News.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: Okay. Another witness that’s going to testify to the Oversight Committee on Wednesday is Eric Nordstrom, who was the regional security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli until July 26, 2012, when he left six weeks before the attack. So as you know, a different individual was the RSO in Tripoli at the time of the attack. Also, there was a temporary duty RSO in Benghazi who was actually the person, according to the ARB report, who saw the attack as it began on the security systems, their surveillance system, notified the Embassy in Tripoli, notified the annex down the road. Has the State Department made those two RSOs available to the House committees investigating Benghazi so they can speak to them, interview them, and take their stories? Has the State Department made the other diplomatic security officers on the ground in Benghazi on September 11th available to the congressional committees? Yes or no?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, Mr. Nordstrom has testified over many hours already on the Hill.

QUESTION: I’m not talking about Mr. Nordstrom. I’m talking about the RSO who was stationed in Tripoli on September 11th, 2012. I’m talking about the temporary duty RSO who was on the ground in Benghazi, and according to the ARB, is the individual who actually saw the attack begin on the surveillance system, notified the Embassy in Tripoli and notified the annex down the road. Have those two individuals been offered to Congress to give their story and their testimony (inaudible)?

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. I’m not aware of these two specific individuals, but what I said, and I think this was about a week ago, is that if people want to come forward and tell their stories, that they should come forward and tell the truth.

QUESTION: But don’t you think --

MR. VENTRELL: And let me finish.

QUESTION: -- it’s important for Congress --

MR. VENTRELL: Can I finish my statement, or --

QUESTION: -- to interview the two security officers who were on the ground at the time of the attack? Would they be important witnesses for people to hear from?

MR. VENTRELL: Could I finish what I’m saying? If I could finish a whole sentence then maybe I could address what you’re saying. What I had said previously is in terms of people testifying on behalf of this Department, there are procedures in place, and at a certain level, people testify as government witnesses. They’re not always the people who are on the ground, but it’s the superiors and their chain of command. Having said that, if there are people that want to come forward and tell their story, this Department is not blocking whistleblowers and is not stopping people from telling their story. Some of these people have testified to the ARB and may not want – have done what they want to do and want to get on --

QUESTION: So you --

MR. VENTRELL: Let me finish what I’m saying. And want to get on and continue their careers and finish their – the business that they’re doing. So we’ve been very transparent with the Congress. We have shared and had an unprecedented level of cooperation with Congress. And if there are new and outstanding issues that the Congress wants to continue to look at, we’ll do so, and we have a mechanism in place through the Secretary’s --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) what Secretary Clinton said on the evening of September 11th, 2012. In the 10 p.m. hour, Washington, D.C. time, the Department put out a written statement entitled Statement on the Attack in Benghazi. It was not about what was going on in Cairo or anywhere else; it was a statement on the attack in Benghazi. She said in that statement, quote, “Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious belief of others,” unquote. That statement was put out before former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods died in Benghazi. Who specifically told Hillary Clinton that there were some people blaming this on inflammatory response to – inflammatory material on the internet? Where did she get that idea at 10 p.m. on September 11th?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, these are issues that have been looked at in great detail, that have been answered in great detail to the Congress, to the American people, and you’re asking about something that is many months prior. And we’ve been very clear, and the ARB has looked at all of these issues and done so in great detail.

QUESTION: Can I just pluck out a few more that are not re-litigating other things?

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: The former head of the counterterrorism bureau, Daniel Benjamin, has put out a statement this morning.

MR. VENTRELL: He has.

QUESTION: In it, he mentions that the first question to arise amongst policymakers that involved the counterterrorism bureau was whether or not the Foreign Emergency Support Team, FEST, should be deployed. He said the question of deployment was posed early and the Department decided against such a deployment. The decision, he says, was, quote, “the correct one.” Can you tell us anything about – I mean, if you’re prepared to put out this kind of statement, it seems to me you should be prepared to answer questions about its contents.

MR. VENTRELL: And the issue of the FEST teams was something that was addressed in great detail in previous hearings. And just to remind people that these are teams that go in to help re-set up communications when there’s been a terrorist attack. In the incident – in the case of Benghazi, we evacuated that post; Tripoli’s communications were up and running. And so I think Ambassador Benjamin’s statement is very clear about this decision-making.

QUESTION: Two final questions. You’ve been very kind, as have my colleagues. First, is deputy chief of mission an important job in an overseas post? Is it given to just anybody?

MR. VENTRELL: Just broadly speaking?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. VENTRELL: The deputy chief of mission is somebody who is the number two person at a mission, and they act as the chargé in the ambassador’s absence and have a critical role in the mission, yes.

QUESTION: And that requires certain credentials and background, correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, there’s a selection process that goes forward for some of our senior officers and experienced officers, sure.

QUESTION: And to be the coordinator for operations in the counterterrorism bureau, would that require certain high qualifications?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, James, you’re trying to get me into the credibility of witnesses before we’ve even gotten to a hearing. There are some folks who want to come tell their stories. Let them go out, and they’re going to tell their stories to the Hill and they can say what they want to say, but I’m not going to get into the back-and-forth.

QUESTION: One thing that Greg Hicks did say is he thought that the ARB let certain senior officials in this building, particularly Under Secretary Kennedy, off the hook, that security decisions were made at a much higher level than the ARB indicated, and that there was a whitewash of who was really involved.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, there was accountability for some senior officers, and you heard Ambassador --

QUESTION: Well, they said that – he said that those officers, that the actual chain meant – went much higher up.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Elise, we’re at a bit of a disadvantage here because when you have people going out to the media and making all sorts of statements, we don’t have the full context of it, it’s a little bit hard to respond to each and every claim. This is something that the ARB talked about. The accountability was held for senior officers. And we were clear where the State – where the ARB had very tough findings on the State Department, and where changes need to be made, and we’re implementing those. So we reject that line of argument.

QUESTION: One last one. I’m sorry. I know anytime a reporter questioning someone at a briefing, at a podium, uses the word intelligence, it provides an immediate off-ramp for the question, to say that we don’t discuss intelligence from the podium. That in mind, perhaps you can simply assure us that nobody – no U.S. personnel on the ground in Libya on the night of September 11th was carrying out covert operations outside the scope of what were then the existing covert operations action authorities?

MR. VENTRELL: You’re right, Mr. Rosen. We don’t discuss intelligence here from this podium.

QUESTION: But no one was acting unlawfully in a covert capacity for the United States at that time, were they?

MR. VENTRELL: American personnel act lawfully.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On Palestine?

QUESTION: No, no. I just want to – this is going to be a hypothetical, but I think it’s a hypothetical that you can – you may choose to answer. If these three witnesses who come forward on – who testify on Wednesday tell the truth, do you expect that any – that they will be able to say or that they will say anything that does not comport with the findings of the ARB?

MR. VENTRELL: It’s hard to know. We don’t know exactly what they’re going to say. They’ve been --

QUESTION: No, no, but if they tell the truth --

MR. VENTRELL: Well, they’ve been talking to --

QUESTION: -- as they are – will be sworn to.

MR. VENTRELL: Look, they’ve been talking to members of the Hill, they’ve been talking to other folks, but they’ve been talking to the media. But in terms of speaking to us, we don’t have the full --

QUESTION: All right. Fine. Fair enough. From what --

MR. VENTRELL: But again, the ARB was exhaustive and looked at these things in great detail.

QUESTION: From what you’ve seen of the highlights of the portions of the transcripts of the interviews they did with the committee investigators, do you find anything actually wrong about those excerpts?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, it’s – the reason that I hesitate here is I haven’t seen the full breadth of it. We’re getting sort of these snippets.

QUESTION: Well, last week you were very – presumably you were under instruction from above to come out quite clearly in talking about a particular lawyer making false statements on national television.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: So I’m just wondering if – and you didn’t listen to everything that she had to say; you were basing that on certain parts of the --

MR. VENTRELL: Well, no, we actually – we saw the full transcripts there, and that was an instance where somebody went to the media.

QUESTION: Okay. So once you’re able to see the full transcripts of this, you’ll be able say whether you – that this building believes that these three are --

MR. VENTRELL: If there’s more congressional testimony and people want to ask a reaction if there’s something that adds substantially to the story of what’s happened, we can react to that. But the bottom line is the ARB looked at this in great depth. You have two of our most respected figures in Washington who ran an independent and credible report, and this Department – and our focus – and let me just say – this is what I said at the top in this line of questioning: Our focus is on keeping our people safe. This is a dangerous world. We have diplomats stationed in some 285 posts around the world. Our men and women are putting their lives on the line for their country. And so there’s a lot of back and forth about what did or didn’t happen, but our focus is on having an independent ARB that gives us recommendations that we can use to then implement to help keep our people safer going forward.

QUESTION: So are you saying this congressional investigation is not – does not have the aims of trying to keep your people safe and find out what happened so that you can continue to do so? Are you saying that this investigation is merely political?

MR. VENTRELL: It certainly seems so, so far. I mean, this is not sort of a collaborative process where the committee is working directly with us and trying to establish facts that would help as we look to keep our people safe overseas in a very complex environment. We know on Friday we had a sad day here at the Department where we commemorated some of our fallen colleagues, and you heard the Secretary and the Vice President speak very eloquently about the service of our nation’s diplomats. And so our focus is on keeping our people safe, using these recommendations to better security where we can, and that’s our focus.

QUESTION: Did the committee contact you in terms of putting up further witnesses for this hearing?

MR. VENTRELL: Not to my knowledge.

QUESTION: On the previous line – earlier line of questioning, was – these two RSOs and whether the State Department had offered them, is that the bill – is that the place of the State Department to offer witnesses? I mean, if the committee comes to you and asks for the – does the committee come to you and ask to speak to certain people and you say yes or no? Or do these people, if they – can they go directly to these people and say, “Hey, we’d like you to come (inaudible)?”

MR. VENTRELL: It’s a little bit of both. I mean, the Congress can go to an individual, but the individual may or may not want to --

QUESTION: So in terms of --

MR. VENTRELL: -- testify and prefer to go on with their duties.

QUESTION: And in terms of these two people that were mentioned, although not by name, are you aware that these people have been told that they shouldn’t go, or are you aware that they have been asked to go and declined?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that they’ve – they certainly hadn’t come to – we’re not preventing people from going and telling their story. That’s not what’s going on.

QUESTION: But just to reiterate, the committee did not contact you and say, we would like to speak to these RSOs that were asked about earlier and we’d like you to put them up?

MR. VENTRELL: Not that I’m aware of. I can’t speak to every piece of congressional correspondence we get.

QUESTION: Can you take the question?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll look into it, yeah.

QUESTION: And also, did you – those RSOs all talked to the ARB; is that correct?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware if every single one of them did, but the ARB --

QUESTION: All five of the RSOs that survived did not talk to the ARB?

MR. VENTRELL: I would be surprised if they didn’t, but I’d have to look at the exact list.

QUESTION: Any – sir, if the House committees investigating this were to, in fact, ask to talk to these Diplomatic Security officers, would the State Department say yes? Are there any circumstances in which the State Department would say no, you may not talk to Diplomatic Security people who were in Libya on 9/11/12?

MR. VENTRELL: If people want to talk to their Congress in a personal capacity or tell their stories, they can do that. But in terms of providing government witnesses on behalf of this Department to tell the story of something that may have happened, that’s generally done at a management level.

QUESTION: So you might say no? You might say no, they can’t testify in Congress?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, no. If they have a story that they want to tell, they can tell their story. But again, we provide witnesses at a management level who can address --

QUESTION: If the – just a straight-up question: If these House – if the House committees looking at Benghazi would like to interview the Diplomatic Security people who were in Libya at the time, whether in Tripoli or Benghazi, would the State Department freely allow that without any fetters?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, you guys are asking a lot of hypotheticals about this individual or that individual. I’m not aware of these specific requests, but --

QUESTION: Generally, Diplomatic Security people in Libya on 9/11/12, is there any reason they wouldn’t be allowed to testify in the House committees?

MR. VENTRELL: This isn’t about allowing people --

QUESTION: Let’s make this easier. Can you prevent anyone from going to the Hill if they want to and talking to them?

MR. VENTRELL: No, and we don’t prevent people from going to tell their stories.

QUESTION: Okay. Does that answer – I think that pretty much answers your question.

QUESTION: Patrick --

QUESTION: For no reason – there’s no instance under which you can gag someone from talking?

MR. VENTRELL: We don’t stop people from speaking to their Congress.

QUESTION: No one, no matter who they are, any employee of this building, from the person who is a cashier in the cafeteria to the Deputy Secretary of State, you can’t stop anyone from going and telling their story, right?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, if people are going as whistleblowers to – in their words, to expose something, that’s something that they can do.

QUESTION: And then just one last one on this whole term, “whistleblower.”

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Has anyone in relation to Benghazi actually asked or sought whistleblower protection?

MR. VENTRELL: Let me just read what a whistleblower status is to you. Here’s the definition we have:

Any employee who discloses information that the employee reasonably believes discloses evidence of wrongdoing, gross mismanagement, or waste of funds and abuse of authority or a substantial and specific danger to public health or safety is entitled protection under federal whistleblower laws. It doesn’t matter if the agency agrees with the substance of the employee’s assertions. And let me reiterate: The Department of State does not sanction or tolerate retaliation against employees for protected disclosures.

QUESTION: Do they have to actively seek protection under that, or is it just granted automatically?

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that it’s the employee’s characterization of what they’re disclosing.

QUESTION: And are any – okay, and are you aware that any of these witnesses who are going up on Wednesday have classified themselves as --

MR. VENTRELL: I believe they have called themselves --

QUESTION: They have, okay.

MR. VENTRELL: -- whistleblowers.

QUESTION: Then you – and you are aware of that? The building is aware of that?

MR. VENTRELL: I certainly have heard through the media that a couple of them have identified themselves as whistleblowers. We’ll have to hear.

QUESTION: But they don’t have to identify themselves to the State Department as such? They can just – I mean, if I was an employee, I could call myself a whistleblower for any reason?

MR. VENTRELL: If you believe that you’re disclosing information under those terms.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: Patrick, aside from the news conference that Ambassador Pickering and Admiral Mullen held upon the submission of their final report in December, were any of the activities of the ARB public?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, the report was made public.

QUESTION: I said aside from the submission of the report --

QUESTION: Part of the report --

QUESTION: -- and the – yes, unclassified version.

MR. VENTRELL: The unclassified report was made public. The full classified report was provided to the Hill.

QUESTION: But prior to the finalization of the report and its release, was any aspect of its activities public?

MR. VENTRELL: The ARB held their – did their processes, they finished their conclusion, then they presented the report and they came here publicly to this briefing room.

QUESTION: You’re not addressing my question. Were any of those activities public? Were they televised?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, no. It’s not like a public hearing. This is something where people come in and they provide their story.

QUESTION: Have any of the 18 ARBs ever been public?

MR. VENTRELL: No.

QUESTION: No. Are they required to be public?

MR. VENTRELL: No.

QUESTION: No. Is it written in there that there’s a problem --

MR. VENTRELL: In fact --

QUESTION: -- if they’re not public?

MR. VENTRELL: No, and let me actually – let me clarify --

QUESTION: Are you required to release an ARB?

MR. VENTRELL: Let me clarify. Thank you for the question, Elise. Only two of them have ever even been made public: The ones after the attacks in Africa in 1998 and this attack.

QUESTION: You said the ARB was made available to the Hill.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Was it made available to the entire Hill or only to select committees and --

MR. VENTRELL: I believe it was the entire Congress that had access to the classified report.

QUESTION: I only raise those questions about the secrecy of its work because Secretary Clinton, in the testimony that you referred to earlier, talked about how transparent it was. But in fact we don’t know who all they interviewed, and we don’t know a lot about what went into that final report. And you can’t even tell us why Secretary of State Clinton, the line officer with duty – with responsibility for all others in the State Department, wasn’t interviewed by it.

MR. VENTRELL: Look, we’ve spoken at length at this. I’m not sure there’s a question in there.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Can we change topics?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. This week, both the Palestinian and Israeli leaders are visiting China, a country that has not been directly involved in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process. How do you react to that, and what do you expect the Chinese – what kind of role do you anticipate that China will have in this process in the future?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, just to say, Said, that we welcome broad international support for the objective of Middle East peace based on the two-state goal. We appreciate the interest of many in the international community who wish to play a constructive role. And so we look forward to consulting with a broad range of partners. But I refer you to the Israelis and Palestinians who are travelling there about their travel plans.

QUESTION: So you don’t – you encourage China to become more involved in this process, rather than – you don’t see it as undermining U.S. effort?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, look. We think it’s good that there are members of the international community who are focused on the two-state solution, and that’s a good thing.

QUESTION: And finally, yesterday was the orthodox Christian community – Palestinian Christian community – it was their Easter.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: And the Israelis prevented many of them, hundreds of them, from reaching the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, and the Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. VENTRELL: I wasn’t aware of that specifically. I’m happy to look into it and get some more information for you, Said.

In the back.

QUESTION: North Korea said they are not using a detained American as a bargaining chip. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any update other than to continue to say that we urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae amnesty and immediate release.

QUESTION: Change of topic.

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: In Boston, there’s been some controversy about the body of one of the alleged two bombers in the Boston Marathon. And this morning there was an interview with the funeral director who said he had made some sort of contact with the State Department. Has there been any contact with the state of Massachusetts, the governor or anyone, in regards to trying to settle the situation with his body?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. I checked on this this morning, and we’re unaware of any efforts to coordinate sending his remains to Russia.

QUESTION: So no one from the state of Massachusetts, the governor --

MR. VENTRELL: Not that we’re aware of.

QUESTION: And anyone from the Russian side?

MR. VENTRELL: Not that I’m aware of. I can say generally when you have the remains of a foreign citizen when we’re overseas, our embassies can facilitate the return of remains. It’s something that some foreign embassies do as well. But I’d really have to refer you to the Russian Embassy on that.

QUESTION: Well, he is an alien resident. Does that give him – he’s an alien – he was an alien resident, correct?

MR. VENTRELL: These matters are usually settled by --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. VENTRELL: These things are usually settled by the family if the family wants the return.

Michel, you looked like you had a --

QUESTION: I have one on Libya.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: After the passage of the political isolation law there by the parliament, the militia are still protesting outside the government today and raising signs demanding the resignation of Prime Minister – the Libyan Prime Minister. How do you view this action?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we refer you to the Government of Libya in terms of the details about the implications of the political isolation law passed on May 5th. This is Libya’s transition, and the Libyan people and the government they elect must be the ones to determine how their transition progresses and how their government is formed. So we support a peaceful transition to a full democracy in Libya, and democracy cannot develop – and I said this a couple times last week – in the context of political intimidation. So we urge the Libyan people and their representatives to determine the future of their country through healthy debate and deliberation of draft legislation.

QUESTION: But the parliament has passed the law under the pressure of the militias, and the militias are asking the Prime Minister to resign now.

MR. VENTRELL: Again, we refer you to the Libyan Government about how it’s going to be implemented. And we’ve had some concerns about militias and said that the – it’s important that the Libyan Government bring them all under Libyan Government control. And that’s something that we’ve long urged and that the Libyan Government continues to work toward.

QUESTION: And that’s why they are asking the Prime Minister to resign, because he asked the militias to come under the government.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we support the Prime Minister in his efforts, and we support the Libyan Government in their democratic processes.

Okay. Anything else?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, just – did you ever get an answer to the – (inaudible) for a little bit on Friday, I think --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- about this American missing in Syria, the journalist, and the Privacy Act?

MR. VENTRELL: I did, and I conferred with our Bureau of Consular Affairs, and our information is still the same, that we’re concerned about his safety and well-being, we’re working through the Czech protecting power to get more information on his welfare and whereabouts. We appreciate the efforts of the Czech mission on behalf of our citizens, and we are in regular contact with the journalist’s family.

QUESTION: Right, no, but that --

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: I understand that, but no, the idea of whether they could sign a PAW for him --

MR. VENTRELL: Family members cannot sign PAWs. Only individuals can and then --

QUESTION: Oh.

MR. VENTRELL: -- in the case of an individual not being able to sign themselves due to extenuating circumstances, any information is based on the series of exceptions that exist in the Privacy Act.

QUESTION: Which you will provide for us afterwards.

MR. VENTRELL: I would be happy to send you the link to the legislation.

QUESTION: I would love to see it.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: I have one more.

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any comment on the political wrangling in Italy over the – well, not wrangling – over the weekend? Political situation in Italy.

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a specific update. Is this to – no, I don’t have a specific update on Italy. I noticed that they had a former Prime Minister who passed away overnight, but in terms of political situation --

QUESTION: No. Didn’t they elect a new Prime Minister (inaudible)?

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, I think this is about a week old.

QUESTION: Oh, is it?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Sorry about that.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Anything else? Go ahead. Tell me your name.

QUESTION: My name is Bertolin (ph) from (inaudible).

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: So one simple question about Syria, okay, and – because it’s not clear until now, and thus the question is: Secretary Kerry. He knew about it from the news, like we did, or he was notified about the airstrike, the last airstrike, the last Israeli airstrike?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything for you one way or another. We stay in close contact with our Israeli counterparts.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Elections in Malaysia?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you recognize the victory of the ruling coalition of Prime Minister Najib, or do you support the claim by the opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim that the election were fraudulent?

MR. VENTRELL: Thank you for the question, Nicolas. We congratulate the people of Malaysia on holding the most competitive election in their country’s history. We were pleased to see Malaysians across the political spectrum engaged in the electoral process in large numbers with unprecedented enthusiasm. We congratulate Barisan Nasional and Prime Minister Najib on their victory in Malaysia’s 13th general election. We look forward to working with the new government once it is formed.

We are aware of concerns about voting irregularities and note that the opposition parties faced significant restrictions on access to the media. Addressing these issues is important to strengthen confidence in the electoral process. And so we call on all parties to peacefully respect the will of the voters.

QUESTION: But you don’t think there needs to be a recount.

MR. VENTRELL: In this instance, we understand that the opposition has expressed some concern about irregularities, and we have some concerns also about restriction on access to the media.

QUESTION: Can I get to –was going to lead in to Venezuela.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: This is just very brief. Are you aware – have all the AID workers and programs been shut down there?

MR. VENTRELL: Is this in Bolivia?

QUESTION: Sorry. Bolivia.

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that we’re still working through the processes we finish closing down our AID mission and withdrawing our personnel. We’re working on it.

Okay?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: All right. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:55 p.m.)

DPB # 74



[1] Prime Minister Maliki



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