The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:43 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Happy Friday to everyone.
MR. VENTRELL: Happy Thursday. I thought we were on Friday. Happy Thursday to everyone. Sorry for a late start today. It’s been a busy week here. Can we – I don’t have anything at the top. I’ll turn it over to all of you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: President Hamid Karzai said that the U.S. has requested nine bases after the 2014 withdrawal. Is that the case?
MR. VENTRELL: So this is about the – what President Karzai said on the base issue. And my colleague, Jay Carney, has already addressed this today, but just to reiterate, as President Obama has made clear, the U.S. does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan. We envision that the bilateral security agreement will address access to and use of Afghan facilities by U.S. forces. So you know that the bilateral security agreement is still being negotiated. We have a lead negotiator here at the State Department. We’re not going to get into the details of those negotiations that are ongoing, but they continue.
QUESTION: But the U.S. would seek access to facility – Afghan facilities across the country so troops could deploy across the country?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we’re not going to get into specific facilities or numbers. This is something that’s being negotiated. But the President has been clear: The U.S. does not seek permanent military bases in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Patrick --
QUESTION: So you’re saying no to what he – you’re saying what he’s saying is not true.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, what I’m saying is we’re not – and the President has said this and this is something we’ve been consistent about – seeking permanent military bases. In terms of the negotiations with the Afghans about our presence going forward and the bilateral security agreement, that’s still being negotiated. And as I mentioned, here at the State Department we have a lead negotiator, Mr. Warlick, who continues his work.
QUESTION: Is the U.S. seeking temporary base, maybe 10 years, 20 years, as to what the President might be referring to nine temporary bases for 20 years in Afghanistan?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I think we’d just say that this is the access and use of Afghan facilities by U.S. forces. But again, this is in terms of us changing our presence in Afghanistan. You know that we’re obviously going into 2014 as this goes to a full Afghan lead, as we work through our civilian and our development assistance. And so that’s the change. We’re not talking about leaving thousands of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in perpetuity. That’s not what anybody has been talking about and that’s not been the aim.
QUESTION: What’s the duration of that – those access they are seeking from?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, these are being negotiated as part of the bilateral security agreement, so I don’t have an update one way or another.
QUESTION: Patrick, as far as leaving Afghanistan 2014, what kind of message or messages the U.S. Government or the NATO is sending to the Taliban or terrorists, who still remains the question mark there? And also, if you can say something about the second anniversary of the death of Usama bin Ladin. Is that now end of terrorism or end of legacy of Usama bin Ladin?
MR. VENTRELL: Would you repeat the first part of your question? You tied a number of things there together. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Oh, I mean, as far as leaving 2014, what kind of messages you think you are sending to the Taliban or terrorists who still – or remaining still active in the region or around the globe.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, remember, Goyal, our post-2014 mission is to train Afghan forces and target the remnants of al-Qaida and their affiliates. But we’ve been clear about the successes that we’ve had in terms of core al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but that’s what the post-2014 force is about.
QUESTION: Usama bin Ladin?
MR. VENTRELL: And again, we’ve talked about how we took out Usama bin Ladin and some of the core leadership of al-Qaida, and any of the remnants, that’s part of the post-2014.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. The United States looks forward to witnessing timely, transparent, free, and fair elections on May 11th. These elections will mark an important democratic transition, a historic development of which the people of Pakistan can be very proud. We do not support – and I’ve said this a few times up here at this podium – any particular political party or individual candidate, and we look forward to engaging with the next democratically elected government.
I want to be clear about violence. The United States condemns the recent violence that has targeted politicians and their supporters during the electoral campaign in Pakistan. We likewise condemn recent statements by militant groups indicating their intent to disrupt Pakistan’s democratic process.
So we support the right of the Pakistani people to participate fully in the election of their representatives and their ability to fulfill their aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic nation.
QUESTION: And what about election observers? Is the U.S. sending anyone to observe the elections?
MR. VENTRELL: The U.S., in coordination with our EU partners – and we’ve talked about this in the past – we plan to participate in election observation efforts and we’re working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to help support a fair and transparent election process.
QUESTION: And what kind of participation, would be going to the election booths or counting centers?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure of their exact activities, but it’s consistent with practices around the world, where’s there’s a tradition of democracies hosting observers to support their efforts to conduct free and fair elections.
QUESTION: And how many people you have sent to – send there?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not sure if these are local staff from our Embassy or from outside. I’ll have to check on that for you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I --
MR. VENTRELL: Elise, go ahead.
QUESTION: Go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I want a change of topic.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: A couple of hours ago, the House Speaker, John Boehner, came out asking for release of some emails that were released by a senior State Department official, that she had emailed her superiors that she had relayed to the Libyan Ambassador that it was Islamic terrorists who were responsible for the attack. Do you have any comments on what House Speaker Boehner has asked for?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, so this is related to an email, part of which was read by one of the members yesterday and entered into the record. My understanding is that aspects of this correspondence may have been inadvertently entered into the record incorrectly, and so we’re working with the members and with the House to correct that record to make sure if there was an inaccurate piece of that. This has to do with the word “extremist.”
QUESTION: Well, they’re claiming it was an email that they were given but they weren’t allowed to keep. So it comes directly off of this email that she had sent.
MR. VENTRELL: Right, and we’ve worked with – and this is something we talked about, I believe, last week, where to get the Hill the extensive documents that they were looking for – this is 25,000-some-odd documents, we allowed them to have them in-camera to get them to them as quickly as possible. In terms of specifically sharing different emails through the redaction process and the standard process, that’s a different one and I can’t --
QUESTION: Well, let’s just get to the --
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- gist of the email --
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: -- the gist of which is that Assistant Secretary Jones said to the leadership of this building that she informed the Libyan Government that the U.S. believed that this was a terrorist attack and knew the group that was responsible, which would directly contradict the Administration’s assertion that this was a protest at first.
MR. VENTRELL: And again, Elise, one of the concerns is the way that the email was read, there was a potential inadvertent inaccuracy in the use of the word “terrorist.”
QUESTION: Well, an extremist who launches an attack against an embassy is not a terrorist?
MR. VENTRELL: Again – and I think what this goes back to is the talking points issue about the later intelligence assessments. And so this is something that we’ve talked about in the past, and these are – and we were very clear about this at the time – just to be clear, these talking points were developed during an interagency process led by the CIA about how to communicate the best and most current information the Administration had about the Benghazi attacks.
QUESTION: Right, but, I mean, this building never said that the incident was the result of a spontaneous protest. And if I remember, a senior State Department official briefing reporters the night before the last Benghazi hearing, which – I can’t remember, was it in October or – I don’t even remember, but – said, even acknowledged, that this building never said that there was a protest, that it had always maintained it was a terrorist attack. And I also believe that Under Secretary Kennedy, when he testified, said that the State Department never said that there was a protest involved.
So it seems to be that there’s a discrepancy between what this building viewed as a terrorist attack versus what the larger Administration called the result of a spontaneous protest.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, remember, these were CIA talking points, and the draft talking points circulated referred to demonstrations that were spontaneously inspired.
QUESTION: Right, but didn’t the --
MR. VENTRELL: That was something that we’re --
QUESTION: No, but the State Department never – to my understanding, and I know through public comments and private comments – never supported the line that there was a protest.
QUESTION: Well, one of the points --
MR. VENTRELL: Again, let me clarify. These were interagency points that were drafted by the CIA and cleared through their interagency. I can’t get into every aspect of that process, but this, as the intelligence community has testified, was the best information, consensus information, that they had at the time.
QUESTION: Including the State Department, who never believed that it was a terrorist attack, signed off on talking points that said that it was a protest?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we did – I think you said terrorist attacks. We said extremist from the beginning, but regardless, this was an interagency process that was – this has been testified on the Hill repeatedly.
QUESTION: Well, I think the point that the House Speaker is making, that is, to clarify this – why won’t you then release these emails so that it can be seen by --
MR. VENTRELL: And we’re following up directly with the House leadership and with the membership on this issue as we speak. I mean, this happened an hour or two ago, and so we’re following up with the House directly.
QUESTION: You are going to go back to them and follow --
MR. VENTRELL: We are following up with them directly on this issue.
QUESTION: And then will you allow that to be released publicly or will that be up to the committee?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to check on that in terms of redactions or any other legal issues, but it’s something that we’re clarifying with the House directly.
QUESTION: Can I go to another issue about Mr. Hicks’s claims that he felt that he was the – his current position, which is, I guess in his mind, a dead end position, was the result of him questioning the leadership on why the Administration called it a protest, that his questioning and his kind of questioning of the leadership resulted in his current status?
MR. VENTRELL: So let me say a few words broadly about the testimony yesterday and then address your specific question.
I just want to say that we’re all grateful for the service of the individuals who testified yesterday, their service to their country. We’re particularly grateful for all the services of the people who were in Libya through these tragic attacks. You know that this has been a hard year for the Department. We’ve had some tragic losses, and this has been a period of mourning for so many of us in the State Department family. So that’s really our perspective in terms of the service of these individuals.
In terms of their viewpoints and adding to the public testimony, the public record about this, we don’t believe that new information was necessarily presented that hadn’t been already either entered into the public record through congressional testimony or investigated by the ARB or otherwise looked at. But we are grateful for their service. In terms of --
QUESTION: But you’re saying that you don’t think there was anything new that came out?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. We’re not – I mean, these are things that have been – whether it’s about military assets being available or many of the other things that were raised, whether it’s the FEST team or some of these other issues, these are issues that have all been looked at in great detail.
Let me say a few more words about Mr. Hicks specifically since you asked. The Department has not and will not retaliate against Mr. Hicks. As he testified yesterday, he decided to shorten his assignment in Libya following the attacks, in part due to understandable family reasons, and that he has followed standard employment processes.
Let me talk a little bit about our Foreign Service assignment cycle to put this in context.
QUESTION: Well, was it that he voluntarily resigned or was it a mutual decision by the State Department and Mr. Hicks that he would not resume his post after he came back in October?
MR. VENTRELL: His testimony was that he decided --
QUESTION: I know what his testimony is. I’m asking you, was it his voluntary decision or was it a mutual decision between the --
MR. VENTRELL: It was a voluntary curtailment, is what we call it.
QUESTION: So the State Department didn’t pull him in October?
MR. VENTRELL: He voluntarily curtailed his assignment. And let me finish talking about the Foreign Service assignment system because it’s important to add a little context here.
We work on annual cycles, as you know. Some of this is mapped out in terms of language training and positions well in advance. And so when somebody has a voluntary curtailment, you’re in an off-cycle period, and so it’s not uncommon to have some difficulty finding an appropriate assignment and then filling that time until you get to your next full assignment. So in that situation, we work with employees to find a suitable assignment.
We did that with Mr. Hicks, and he found a suitable temporary assignment. He’s in a position commensurate with his grade, he still receives the same salary, and he has the same employment status and rank as before, so all of that is the same. And he’s now, per the standard procedure with all the other members of the Foreign Service, working through a preference list that he submitted, and he’s under consideration for positions in the next rotation. So this is all part of the standard procedures.
And he also testified in terms of some of this counseling yesterday, or management counseling, and counseling is done in individual sessions. We can’t sort of comment on specific instances of that. But we encourage employees to provide their viewpoints. We have a long tradition in the Foreign Service, whether it’s through our Dissent Channel or through other methods for people to express their viewpoint if they have a different viewpoint about something that has transpired on the ground or a different political assessment of what may be happening in a country. We have a long tradition of being very open and accepting of differing viewpoints, and in fact, some of our most senior ambassadors, some of the most lauded individuals in our State Department history – Ryan Crocker – have won these dissent awards and have otherwise spoken out with a different viewpoint. And so that’s something that the Foreign Service has a long tradition of embracing and accepting.
In terms of specific management counseling, that’s a separate matter that is dealt with primarily about management issues.
QUESTION: So you’re saying that his management counseling had nothing to do with Benghazi, but rather, his management issues?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t speak --
QUESTION: I’m not asking you what the management issues were. I’m saying that you mentioned that he had management counseling and then you also said that that has nothing to do with dissent. So what you’re saying is that his --
MR. VENTRELL: I can’t speak – Elise, I can’t speak in individual cases, but broadly speaking, when people have dissenting views or differing views, we have a system that accepts and embraces those. In terms of supervisors counseling employees about specific practices or specific issues with their staff, that’s a wholly separate matter – broadly speaking. Okay?
Go ahead. Tell me your name again.
MR. VENTRELL: Hi, Whitney.
QUESTION: Hi. To follow up, before yesterday’s hearing, my colleague James Rosen asked you if you thought Hicks and Thompson were credible witnesses, and you said you declined ahead of their testimony. Now that you’ve seen their testimony, what is your assessment of their credibility?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I think, as I said, we thank them for their service to their country. We believe there’s a process in place to look at all of these issues through the ARB, through testimony to the Hill. And so they told some stories that were, again, very personal about their experiences. But in terms of adding new information about what occurred, that’s not what we saw transpire.
And in fact, you had a situation where the Hill was sort of – you had people leaking out various pieces of supposed new information which, upon further examination, turns out not to be true – this whole notion of the ability of DOD to get in there and have done something differently or made a difference to rescue people. And again, my colleagues over at the Department of Defense have already clarified that, and Mr. Hicks, under testimony, said that he couldn’t refute the senior leadership of the military about the ability to respond.
And so some of these issues were sort of hyped up by some, whether it’s in the media or on Capitol Hill, as new information. But we see that we had a thorough and credible ARB investigation. We’re focused on keeping our people safe overseas. This is a challenging and dangerous world where we have tens of thousands of State Department employees who are posted at some 285 diplomatic posts. And so our focus is on keeping our people safe, implementing the recommendations of the ARB, and doing everything we can. And that’s the focus of the Secretary, and that’s the focus of this building.
QUESTION: Do you have a problem with these further congressional investigations in general, or just Mr. Issa’s committee?
MR. VENTRELL: No, look – and the Secretary was clear about this. Earlier he spoke to this at his press availability in Rome. We’re willing to work collaboratively with the Congress, whether it’s on oversight issues or other issues they have unresolved. He’s appointed his chief of staff to be a liaison with them to resolve anything that is unresolved in their opinion. And so we’re going to continue to work with the Congress, and that’s something we’ve been clear about. But we’ve also been clear in repeatedly stating that these are things that have been looked at in great detail, and we’ve been very transparent: eight briefings, some --
QUESTION: I understand. I mean --
MR. VENTRELL: -- 25,000 documents. We’ve been very transparent.
QUESTION: -- you’ve said that many times.
QUESTION: So is his chief of staff working specifically on these email issues? You said they’re going back up.
MR. VENTRELL: The whole host of issues with the Hill that are unresolved. Of course, we have our Legislative Affairs Bureau, which is always responsive, but --
QUESTION: Right, but he’s --
MR. VENTRELL: -- the Secretary, to show that we’re being particularly responsive, has assigned someone on his core senior staff to be responsive.
QUESTION: But when you say “the Hill,” do you mean all members of Congress, or are you making a distinction between senators and congressmen on the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committee? Are you making a distinction between those committees and the Oversight Committee?
MR. VENTRELL: We’re willing to work with any member on the Hill who has concerns, who feels that they have something that hasn’t been asked and answered or that remains unresolved or that isn’t clear at this point. And so a lot of these issues were things that had been looked at and had clear answers, but if there are other issues they want to raise, we’ll continue to be responsive.
QUESTION: Chairman Issa came out also and called for more whistleblowers to reveal themselves. Are you concerned there may be other members, other employees of the State Department --
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve been clear that we’re not going to block anybody from telling their story and offering their personal account. And that’s not what we do, and we don’t retaliate against those people, and so that certainly is an option that people have. But as I said, in our system we also have a number of methods of people expressing their views and making sure that there are ways for people who have different viewpoints to express them.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Goyal.
QUESTION: Patrick, the Dalai Lama was at the University of Maryland, and the spiritual leader, of course, from Tibet, and also his Prime Minister was speaking yesterday at the Council on Foreign Relations. What both are saying – what I’m asking you is if the U.S. supports their claim and their request that Tibetans should get autonomy within China’s constitution. And that will protect you – U.S. policy – One-China policy.
MR. VENTRELL: Goyal, this is something we’ve talked about from this podium many times. Our lines and our policy have not changed. But we continue to call on the Chinese Government to permit Tibetans to express grievances freely, publicly, peacefully and without fear of retribution. And we’ve also urged the Chinese Government – and this goes back some time – to refrain from statements that denigrate the Dalai Lama and Tibet’s unique cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions.
QUESTION: What – just quick – just follow one more. What they are saying is that Chinese are now destroying the Tibetan culture and also sending more Chinese into Tibet, so Tibetan culture and future of Tibetans will be destroyed. That’s why now there is no freedom of any kind, religious and press and no freedom there in the Tibetan territory. That’s what they are requesting the U.S. Administration now that time has come through the United Nations or international community and U.S. can lead for their plea and plight going on for the last 50 years.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I just answered the question about our concerns about Tibet’s unique cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions.
Camille, go ahead.
QUESTION: On Syria --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Still on China?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Chinese communist party’s (inaudible) newspaper People’s Daily is claiming that territorial jurisdiction of Okinawa is not resolved as of now. Could you clarify your position about that of who’s – who has the sovereignty of Okinawa?
MR. VENTRELL: The United States recognizes Japanese sovereignty over Okinawa. On the issue of the Senkakus, the United States does not take a position on the underlying question of the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkaku islands.
QUESTION: Do you consider this Chinese protest as unilateral provocative action?
MR. VENTRELL: Can you repeat the first part of the question?
QUESTION: Yeah. Do you consider this Chinese claiming as unilateral provocative action?
MR. VENTRELL: You’ve asked this question a number of times about which part is provocative on each side, and I’ve answered this question many times, and there’s no change in position.
Go ahead. We still have more on China.
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m just wondering if you have anything on the kind of miniature invasion of India that the Chinese army did. I believe it was last week. I apologize if I missed it. I hadn’t checked the transcripts before I came over here.
MR. VENTRELL: This is something we talked about in terms of – and had referred you all to China and India on this issue. It’s something we’ve talked about previously.
QUESTION: On China?
MR. VENTRELL: Yep.
QUESTION: Regarding the Chinese role in the Middle East peace process, one of the top officials are calling the resumption of the peace talk and then saying that China wants to be broker to bring both sides together. Meanwhile, I understand Secretary Kerry will return to Middle East later this month. I wonder what do you make out of the significance of the Chinese role?
MR. VENTRELL: And we talked about this a little bit either yesterday or the day before, but we welcome – and I’ll say it again – we welcome broad international support for the objective of Middle East peace based on the two-state goal. So we look forward to consulting with a broad range of partners on this issue, and you know the Secretary’s personal commitment to the issue, as you mentioned, in terms of his continuing engagement.
QUESTION: Have you heard from your Chinese counterpart that there is an indication that the resumption will go on?
MR. VENTRELL: Excuse me?
QUESTION: Have you heard from your Chinese counterparts that – to see if there is any indication of the resumption of the peace talk process carry on?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if we’ve had a specific readout from the Chinese about their meetings with some of the Middle East leaders. But if I have any reaction for you, we’ll get back to you.
Matt, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: We remain deeply concerned by reports that family members of Chen Guangcheng continue to be harassed and by reports that Chen Guangfu – this is his brother – was recently attacked and beaten. We urge Chinese authorities to stop any harassment of the family and to treat family members fairly and with dignity. We also remain deeply concerned by the reports of Chen Kegui’s abuse in prison, and you know that’s a case that we’ve raised consistently at very high levels.
QUESTION: Do you think there’s a pattern emerging about the abuse that his family, Chen Guangcheng’s family members, face in China and him being outspoken while he’s in the U.S.? Because apparently, he just announced or there’s reports that’s he’s going to go to Taiwan and that these might be linked.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. I saw those news reports about the linkage. I don’t have information one way or another. But we’re very concerned about the treatment of his family members, and we will consistently and continue to raise them with the Chinese Government.
QUESTION: Given China’s track record with his family, do you have any reason to believe that they will stop harassing Chen Guangcheng’s family at this point?
MR. VENTRELL: We’re going to continue to make our position very clear on this issue.
QUESTION: Forgive me if I missed it. Did the Secretary ever get through to Foreign Minister Wang Yi on this case?
MR. VENTRELL: The Secretary has conveyed in writing his concerns directly to senior Chinese officials.
QUESTION: The phone call didn’t go?
MR. VENTRELL: He conveyed his concerns in writing.
QUESTION: It seems to be that the United States Government has become the last resort for a lot of Chinese petitions, for example, (inaudible) a White House petition, We the People, the website. And then my understanding is if you got 100,000 signatures within 30 days, the White House will respond to the petitions. I wonder if there is a similar channel within the State Department.
MR. VENTRELL: I’d refer you to the White House in terms of their petitions. We do have a way for people to share their public reactions with the State Department, both Americans and foreign citizens, especially at our embassies. But I’d have to look into more information about the specific petition and refer you to the White House on the matter concerning the White House.
Samir, go ahead.
QUESTION: Peace process?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: And yesterday – or the Israeli Peace Now confirmed reports that the Israeli cabinet is going to adopt a policy of restraint regarding settlements so they can support Secretary Kerry. What is the latest? I mean, could you clarify the position of the Israeli Government?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I refer you to the Israelis. We talked about this the other day in terms of if there was a new policy on their part. But we’ve also seen the media reports that they have advanced plans for construction of additional settlement housing in the West Bank settlement of Beit El. As the President said, Israelis must recognize that continued settlement activity is counterproductive to the cause of peace, and that an independent Palestine must be viable with real borders that have to be drawn. So this is something we’ve said many times, and our position hasn’t changed.
In terms of what they may be moving forward with or not moving forward with, I really refer you to the Israeli Government. Okay?
QUESTION: On Syria, I wondered if – after Secretary Kerry’s comments in Rome just a little bit ago, I wondered if you could talk more about this building or this Administration’s contacts with the opposition, and particularly with the new money that has been allocated to them.
MR. VENTRELL: Our contact with the opposition remains robust. As I mentioned, Ambassador Ford is in Turkey, and in fact was up very near the border today. But he continues to interact widely with the opposition, and his team does, to look at their needs, to look at what can be most effective. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance, and so we’re looking to make sure that it’s channeled appropriately and effectively based on their needs, and also that it works effectively in the context of all the other millions of dollars of support they’re receiving from some of these 11 other core countries. So that work continues.
QUESTION: And what about – I mean, I know he just left Moscow and all, but is there any update on swaying the Russians to the position that the U.S. has on Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any update from what we said yesterday in terms of the conference or further work on that, but we’ll continue our diplomacy. The Secretary had an intensive day of a number of calls to partners on Syria, so he stayed in touch with a wide range of interested parties on this just today.
QUESTION: Like who? Who did he talk to?
MR. VENTRELL: He’s been in touch – I’m not sure we have the final list – but he’s been in touch with the Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, the French Foreign Minister, the Turkish Foreign Minister. So these are just some of the folks he’s been calling just over the past 24 hours. I don’t have a final list, but those are some of the folks he’s been in touch with.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout about Ambassador Ford’s talks with the leaders of the opposition in Istanbul?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a specific readout, but we’ll – let me see if I can get you some more granularity on his activities in Turkey over the past couple of days.
QUESTION: Where is he now?
MR. VENTRELL: He’s in Turkey right now. I’m not sure if he’s in Istanbul or if he’s out further to the east. But let’s see if we can get you a readout of some of his activities over the past couple of days.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay?
Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: Thank you. A war crime tribunal in Bangladesh has sentenced to death the leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, Kamaruzzaman, on the allegation of his indulgence in mass murder in 1971, the fight for independence in East Pakistan. Do you have any view on this? Because this has created a lot of controversy and political adverse inside the country.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, as we said at the time of this first verdict and Bangladesh’s International Crimes Tribunal, the United States supports bringing to justice those who commit atrocities. We believe that any such trials must be fair – free, fair, and transparent in accordance with international standards that Bangladesh has agreed to uphold through its ratification of international agreements, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. So we look to the Government of Bangladesh to ensure the safety of all of its citizens and encourage all Bangladeshis to peacefully express their views, given some of the disturbances. And while engaging in peaceful protest is a fundamental democratic right, we firmly believe violence is never the answer.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that this particular trial was fair and transparent and meets U.S. standards?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t think I’m in a position to address each and every individual trial, but that’s the broad frame that we are making very clear to the Bangladeshis.
QUESTION: Because opposition parties are saying this is politically motivated. Do you agree with their view?
MR. VENTRELL: And again, the people who are expressing their views should do so in a peaceful manner and we encourage a free and transparent process.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I follow on Bangladesh quickly?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: A different question on Bangladesh: Any update on the ongoing – and are – still more and more bodies are coming out of those factories. In fact, more factories are also, I think, I believe – and now latest factory also on fire or has collapsed. Any assistance may have been asked by the Bangladesh Government from the U.S.?
MR. VENTRELL: So I don’t have an update on the fire overnight, although I have seen the news reports and we are very clear what a tragic situation it was with the building and so many lost.
I do want to point you, Goyal, to a Media Note we put out yesterday that talks about a meeting that we hosted between the State Department, the Department of Labor, U.S. Trade Representative, with U.S. buyers in Bangladesh, with their garment industry to discuss U.S. Government engagement. So we continue to engage at the Assistant Secretary level, at the ambassadorial level, not only with American buyers in the country, but with – directly with the Government of Bangladesh. So this is something we’ve placed a priority on and will continue to do.
QUESTION: And do you know who is participating in that – in this meeting, this conference call?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to check in afterward and get you a full readout.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Are you working with the Bangladesh, or have they asked to rebuild those factories, because those are the really bread and butter for the millions of Bangladeshis in Bangladesh to rebuild these factories, sir?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware on specific factories. But the point is that we want them to meet the codes so that they can provide safety for the workers.
Tejinder, you’ve been patient.
QUESTION: Thanks. I have just two questions. One is: The State Department hosted a group of human right activists from India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, et cetera. Can you give us an update on the visit?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have information on that particular visit, but I’ll take the question and get back to you afterwards.
QUESTION: They just finished this. And the second one is: Any reaction from Sri Lanka on your strong-worded statement and/or any further action on your behalf on the subject?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware of a specific demarche response from them, but we were very clear about our position and will not shy away from making very clear our public position.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: And the Vice President Biden and also the Under Secretary for the Western Hemisphere Roberta Jacobson talk about Venezuela and the need of dialogue.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: I want – Maduro has been visiting some countries like Uruguay, Argentina, and also he’s going to be in Brazil. I want to know if the U.S. is worried that Maduro is creating a new bloc of countries that are not interpreting – making an interpretation of this message – politically talking – that is the reason – necessity of dialogue in Venezuela.
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure that – again, and I refer you to the Vice President’s remarks. I can’t possibly improve on them; they were very good. But in terms of our relationship with the countries in the hemisphere, we pursue them with our friends and with all countries in the hemisphere, and we pursue them, and we’re not concerned as people, as countries look at their various bilateral arrangements or multilateral arrangements. We engage widely and have a robust relationship with our Latin American partners.
QUESTION: Yeah, but if you see the picture of some countries that are invited to the White House, you will see, for example, that yesterday was observed that the Chilean President is invited to the White House, the Peruvian President is invited to the White House, Mr. Biden is going to Brazil and Colombia, and there are some countries there in South America that are not being visited. And the question is if you see the picture that it seems that some countries that aligned maybe in the UNASUR with the Maduro position and the U.S. is talking more with other countries. It’s not – the picture looks –
MR. VENTRELL: We pursue a collaborative and cooperative and positive relationship with our partners across Latin America. And this – some of these visits and these engagements really underscore our commitment to Latin America in this Administration.
Okay. Thank you, all.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)
DPB # 76