The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.
1:23 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything for you all at the top. So over to you.
QUESTION: About the spies, the America spies in Russia. Do you have any comment on reports that an employee of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has been – was detained, accused of spying, and is being expelled by the Russian Government?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Arshad, we can confirm that an officer at our U.S. Embassy Moscow was briefly detained and was released. We’ve seen the Russian Foreign Ministry announcement, and we have no further comment at this time.
QUESTION: Was he declared persona non grata?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’ve seen the same Foreign Ministry announcement that you have on the matter.
QUESTION: Is he still in the country?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update on way or another on that.
QUESTION: And do you have any update from the Ambassador, McFaul?
MR. VENTRELL: In terms of his activities?
QUESTION: In terms of the same issue. Like he had like this conversation on Twitter, but he didn’t respond to any of the questions regarding this matter.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I hadn’t seen what he said on Twitter one way or another, but again, if we have anything in terms of his diplomatic activities readout, we will. But I don’t have anything for you.
QUESTION: But can’t you confirm if this is true or this is not true? This story is true? Like Ryan Fogle is the person who works for the State Department, and he was caught by the –
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll just repeat it again. We can confirm that an officer at U.S. Embassy Moscow was briefly detained and was released.
QUESTION: Why can’t you say more?
MR. VENTRELL: That’s all the information that I have for you at this time.
QUESTION: You can’t even say why you can’t more?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, this is the information that I have for you at this time, Brad.
QUESTION: Was he a spy?
MR. VENTRELL: All I can confirm for you is that a member of our mission was briefly detained and released.
QUESTION: Do you have no comment on what the – on the Russian authorities’ claims that he was actively trying to recruit Russian agents?
MR. VENTRELL: I have really no further information for you one way or another.
QUESTION: Do you – here’s a broader question which maybe you can address: Do you think that this incident will have any material effect on the U.S. Government’s cooperation with Russia on any wider issues and specifically on work to bring together an international conference on Syria including the opposition and the government?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure I would read too much into one incident one way or another. We know that the Secretary will meet with his Russian counterpart, with Mr. Lavrov, later this evening our time, indeed, fairly late in the evening in Sweden. And if we have any update on that meeting afterward, we’ll read that out to you. But you know that we’re very much committed to working with the Russians toward this peace conference and that the Secretary’s very active diplomacy on that continues.
QUESTION: So – but when you say, “I’m not sure that I’d read too much into any one incident,” I mean, it seems like you’re trying to play this down. I mean, do you have any reason to play it down, or do you have any reason to think that the Russians are actually upset about this and are going to be less cooperative on other unrelated issues?
MR. VENTRELL: We have a very broad and deep relationship with the Russians across a whole host of issues, and we’ll continue to work on our diplomacy with them directly.
QUESTION: Have they protested to you directly about this issue?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware one way or another anything beyond the Foreign Ministry public announcement.
QUESTION: And that I think included that they had called in Ambassador McFaul, correct?
MR. VENTRELL: They have said that publicly. I’m not aware that that meeting has actually happened at this point.
QUESTION: You don’t think he’s gone and seen them then?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t believe that was for today. I think it’s – that meeting will be happening later is my understanding.
QUESTION: Has nobody in this building spoken to Ambassador McFaul today?
MR. VENTRELL: No, we have. We’ve spoken to Ambassador McFaul.
QUESTION: Are you sure?
MR. VENTRELL: I haven’t – absolutely.
QUESTION: You have spoken to him?
MR. VENTRELL: I didn’t personally speak to him, but we absolutely have been in touch with Ambassador McFaul. I hadn’t seen his Twitter reactions, but I’m aware of –
QUESTION: And he never mentioned anything regarding this issue.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: That’s the great thing about Twitter. But --
MR. VENTRELL: I know you all look at it very closely.
QUESTION: But how come you have no information about anything he’s done, any conversations he’s had today? Is there some sort of breakdown in the communication?
MR. VENTRELL: No. It’s just I have no other information one way or another that we can provide on this incident.
QUESTION: Has the Ambassador met with this officer at all? Has anyone from the Embassy met with this officer?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, he was briefly detained and has now been released. I’m not aware if he’s --
QUESTION: Released to the custody of the U.S. Embassy? Or released to the custody of who?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have that ground update. I’d have to refer you to the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
MR. VENTRELL: Yep. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you take any reciprocal action against any Russian diplomat in D.C.?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, this is something that happened overnight. I don’t have any information about reciprocity or anything to provide here.
QUESTION: Patrick, will this issue be raised by Secretary Kerry in his talks with the Foreign Minister?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I can’t predict everything that’s going to come up in a bilateral meeting, but the focus of the meeting is going to be clearly our work --
QUESTION: But wouldn’t you like to --
MR. VENTRELL: Let me finish – clearly on the work that we’re doing at the Arctic Council, but also on the issue related to Syria. So those are the two broad topics for this evening.
QUESTION: So you say you have no more information that you can give. Who’s telling you what you can say?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, on behalf of the State Department, I don’t have any more information to provide for you one way or another on this incident. Okay?
Margaret, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just to clarify, the language you used to confirm an officer was briefly detained, specifically when you say “officer,” you mean a Foreign Service officer? Or how would you describe his role at the Embassy?
MR. VENTRELL: An American staff member of the Embassy.
QUESTION: An American staff member?
MR. VENTRELL: Yes.
QUESTION: Not necessarily career Foreign Service officer, but a staff member who worked at the Embassy?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. I just don’t have any more information one way or another.
QUESTION: You don’t have any information of why he was just detained?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything more for you on the details of the case.
QUESTION: It seems a bit odd that you would not have information about why he was detained.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I provided the information that I can for you on this.
QUESTION: Are you saying the Russians haven’t provided any information about why he was detained?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, they’ve made a public statement that they’re going to call in Ambassador McFaul and --
QUESTION: I’m asking about --
MR. VENTRELL: And so after the Ambassador has his meeting, presumably they’ll discuss this issue.
QUESTION: It’s been proved, though, that there was always a tit for tat. I mean, to follow up on Michele’s question, that you guys have practiced in the past, whenever they approved someone, you threw someone out and they did vice versa the same thing?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, as I mentioned, I don’t have anything in terms of reciprocity on this particular case at this time.
Arshad, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you run down the list of calls that Secretary Kerry has made since the announcement in Moscow that are related to trying to convene the conference?
MR. VENTRELL: And you’ve heard the Secretary talk a little bit about this, Arshad. I mentioned some of his personal diplomacy, which you know has been on a daily basis since the announcement of this peace conference. So he’s working very diligently himself. Just to give you a flavor of some of the calls, he’s been in touch with his Turkish counterpart, his French counterpart, the Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, his counterpart from the UAE, from the UK, with Special Envoy Brahimi, with Ban Ki-moon, with his counterpart from Saudi Arabia, and from France, just to give you – and some of them on more than one occasion he’s called on particular days. So --
QUESTION: You mentioned France twice.
MR. VENTRELL: There you go. Because it was – they’ve talked twice. And some of those are – again, with many of those countries he’s been on the phone multiple times.
QUESTION: And that’s just in the last 24 hours?
MR. VENTRELL: No, this is since the announcement that we had this new initiative with the Russians. He also, just to let you all know, called this morning, and he mentioned this himself, the Free Syrian Army Chief of Staff Idris. He called this morning while he was in Sweden. So these are some of the calls that he’s made and the active diplomacy that he’s done to help push this process forward.
Jo, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the Secretary said that if President Assad refuses to send a representative to attend the peace conference that they’re – that the United States and Russia are proposing, then Syria’s opposition will receive additional assistance. Could you expand on that and say exactly what he meant by that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, and one other thing that he said also is that Foreign Minister Lavrov has informed him that the regime has provided the Foreign Minister with the names of those who will negotiate on behalf of the regime. So that was another piece that he clarified. The bottom line is that our assistance to the Syrian opposition is on an upward trajectory. It includes both, as we’ve talked about, our major nonlethal assistance as well as humanitarian assistance that goes to all Syrian people, anybody who’s in need. And at the same time, we’re also working toward getting both parties to the table to look for a political solution, which we’ve always said is the best way to end the violence. So these two tracks are not necessarily mutually exclusive; they’re happening in parallel and we’re pursuing both very vigorously.
QUESTION: But under the idea of additional assistance, was there a kind of veiled threat about perhaps the United States might start considering arming the rebels?
MR. VENTRELL: The Secretary’s point is that this would be a deep mistake on the part of the regime to miss this opportunity, which is the best route to end the violence. There’s – again, we’re very focused on a political transition as the best way to end the suffering of the Syrian people. And that’s the goal here, to stop the violence.
QUESTION: And going to the list of names that he says that President Assad has given to the Russians --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- have the Russians apprised you of those names and are they acceptable to you, and who might they be?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, it’s not up for us to decide who is going to be at this negotiation. I’m not aware that the Russians have provided us the exact names. But you know the Secretary is meeting with his Russian counterpart later this evening.
QUESTION: Have you received any names from the opposition?
MR. VENTRELL: We’re still working with the opposition as they look at these options as well. I don’t have anything in terms of names.
QUESTION: Sorry. Are these names for the transitional government or are these names for negotiating partners --
MR. VENTRELL: Negotiating partners.
QUESTION: -- at the peace conference?
MR. VENTRELL: Negotiating partners.
QUESTION: So it could be Bashar Assad himself. It’s not even – these are the negotiating partners? That’s it?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. This is negotiating partners. Now, the opposition has been clear in terms of their willingness to sit down with people with blood on their hands, but this is – these are negotiators.
QUESTION: But there’s no vetting. There’s no vetoing of negotiating partners. They can send anybody they want, either side, correct? There’s nothing in the Geneva communiqué that says you can’t even send a negotiating partner if the other one doesn’t like him or something?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d actually have to go back and look at the communique. I thought mutual consent --
QUESTION: The communique – mutual consent refers to participants in a transitional government.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: It has nothing to do with negotiating partners.
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to go back and look at the text, but that’s the broad concept.
QUESTION: Can I clarify?
MR. VENTRELL: Indira, go ahead.
QUESTION: It’s already been announced publicly that the Russians were going to provide a list to Kerry about what – about who they think could be negotiating on behalf of --
MR. VENTRELL: And the Russians were clear that they were going to bring to bear their influence to get the regime to the table.
QUESTION: Correct. What I’m trying to understand is, did you say earlier that they already have provided that list, or you don’t know if they’ve provided the list yet? Because I thought you said they had.
MR. VENTRELL: The Russian Foreign Minister said that they have a list.
QUESTION: Yeah. But have they provided it yet?
MR. VENTRELL: Now, I don’t have information for you on whether we’ve seen that one way or another.
QUESTION: Gotten the list yet.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have information on that.
QUESTION: And do you know whether we’ve given them our list yet of any opposition people who are willing to attend the conference?
MR. VENTRELL: And the opposition continues to work through their process as well.
QUESTION: So they haven’t finished their list yet?
MR. VENTRELL: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Patrick --
QUESTION: How would you characterize --
MR. VENTRELL: Let’s let Jo go ahead and then Said. Jo.
QUESTION: How would you characterize the facts that apparently the Assad regime has now given some names of possible negotiating partners to the Russians? How would you characterize that step? Is that a positive move forward in this conflict that’s now in its third year?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re focused on, as I said, the two tracks here, and one of them clearly is the political track in terms of a negotiated end to this violence. And that would be the quickest and easiest way to stop the violence. I’m not sure we’re going to characterize every step along the process as we get to the conference, but you know, as I mentioned, the Secretary is personally invested in working hard as we try to get this conference to come about. So again, this is still, as we said, a little bit of a ways out in terms of being, as the Secretary said, toward early June. So we still have a little bit of work to do. And the Secretary is going to continue to do that robustly.
MR. VENTRELL: Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Now, the Secretary said that he would be missing a big opportunity or a good opportunity if they reject the conference. What about the opposition? When – during his conversations today with General Idris, was he assured that the opposition is attending? And who among the opposition is attending?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, all those issues are being worked through among the opposition themselves, and we’re continuing to make the case that this is an important opportunity.
QUESTION: Okay. The reason I ask this is because the Free Syrian Army, there were actually statements alleged or attributed to the Free Syrian Army saying that they will not attend. So did he convince General Idris today that they will participate in such a conference?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, the opposition is continuing to work through these issues, and we’re continuing – just as the Russians made clear to the regime, we’ll make clear to the opposition that we think there’s an important opportunity here.
QUESTION: Okay. And finally, do you look at the Free Syrian Army as the lead opposition group in this case in any kind of conference?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ve talked about the SOC in terms of being the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, but the opposition is broadly working through this. I don’t think we want to parse between whether it’s the SMC or the SOC at this point, but --
QUESTION: Okay, because I’m a little bit confused on the coalition versus the Free Syrian Army, because obviously Ambassador Ford had close and intense conversations with the head of the Free Syrian Army and so on. So who’s going to be represented in this case? I mean, who will have sort of the decisive kind of position from the opposition from your point of view?
MR. VENTRELL: That’s being worked through right now.
QUESTION: But doesn’t it have to be the SOC in the U.S. view if you’ve already recognized them as the sole representative, legitimate representative, of the Syrian opposition?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve recognized them as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, and so we’re certainly --
QUESTION: So they have to be represented if they are the sole representative, legitimate representative.
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll characterize it this way: We’re clearly in direct discussion with the SOC about the role of the opposition.
QUESTION: I mean, it would be kind of silly to be considered the sole representative and have somebody else from another group representing the opposition at the talks, right?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we said that they’re the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. We’ve said that repeatedly.
QUESTION: It wouldn’t have much value being the American-appointed representative --
MR. VENTRELL: We’re not appointing people one way or another.
QUESTION: -- the American-designated, sole legitimate representative if you don’t even get a seat at the table, correct?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, we’re, as I said --
QUESTION: It wouldn’t say much about your proclamation, at least.
MR. VENTRELL: We’re in very close discussion with the SOC on this, Brad.
Samir, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Lavrov gave an interview to Al Mayadeen TV in Lebanon, and he is insisting on Iran’s participation in the conference. Will this be a problem for you?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything to update from what Jen said from this podium yesterday. The participants are still being worked on.
QUESTION: But you don’t have a position on if Iran should attend or not?
MR. VENTRELL: Just as Jen said yesterday, we have been deeply concerned about Iran’s role inside of Syria and the negative role they’ve played, but the participants of this conference are still being worked through.
Jo, go ahead.
QUESTION: So we’re reporting out of Amman that there’s going to be a Friends of Syria meeting in Amman next week, at which the foreign secretaries from the core group are going to be present, which would include Secretary Kerry. Do you know if he has plans to be at that meeting in Amman next week?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any updates or announcements on travel at this point. I’d seen that the French had discussed a couple of options there, but I don’t have anything to announce at this time.
QUESTION: And there was also a reference, I think from the French Foreign Minister, from Monsieur Fabius, that there would be a lower-level meeting on Thursday, this week, between core group countries to sort of sort out this conference. Could you tell us where that’s happening and who is going to take part on the U.S. side?
MR. VENTRELL: I saw that French reference in the media as well, but I don’t have any update for you.
Emile, go ahead.
QUESTION: If the Russians are working with the regime to come up with the list, and you’re working with the opposition, what do you expect to discuss at this international conference?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, this is about --
QUESTION: I mean, if you already get the members of this government --
MR. VENTRELL: This is within the framework of the Geneva communique, looking to transfer full executive power to a group mutually agreed upon by both sides.
QUESTION: Fine. If you and the Russians are working with the opposition and the regime to put this governing body into place, that leaves what, then, to the international conference?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, this is to put the conference together to get the two sides to the table. Then the actual negotiations between the two sides would have to go forward.
QUESTION: Patrick, but the Syrians’ Information Minister has said today that Damascus will not take part in any political dialogue that infringes on the country’s sovereignty and he said that the President, constitution and the form of political system are among the sovereign matters and will be only decided by Syrian people and ballot boxes. That means they won’t discuss anything outside the ballot boxes and outside Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I think you are trying to parse statements day by day. We’re working toward this conference. We’re working and bringing to bear all the influence we have to bring the parties to the table.
QUESTION: Just separately, on Syria --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- do you have any comment on this video that shows a rebel commander eating the heart or something heart-like or some other organ from a dead soldier?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, Brad. We’re appalled by this video and we’ve been very clear that all sides in this conflict must abide by international humanitarian law. We’ve raised this gruesome act in our recent conversations with leaders of the Supreme Military Council, who assured us that they do not support such actions and that this is not representative of the vast majority of the armed opposition. An SMC unit had previously ejected this individual because of his history of brutality.
QUESTION: This is – if the attribution is right, it’s been attributed to a Farouq Brigades commander. They are not seen as among the most hardline Islamist factions fighting for the rebels. So what does that say about any decision to provide lethal assistance to the rebels, if this is the kind of mainstream unit you would be providing to in theory?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, first of all, just as I said and I’m not sure if this came clear, this unit previously ejected this individual. So to be clear, he was ejected. But sectarian retribution plays directly into the regime’s hands, and so it doesn’t move anybody closer to ending this conflict. And so we’ve been very clear with both sides that retribution or any activities of that kind are totally unacceptable, and we’ll continue to make that clear to the opposition as well.
QUESTION: Can I just ask when – do you know when this individual was ejected from the unit? And where are you getting your information from that that was the case?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know when he was ejected, but in all of our conversations with opposition military leaders, we have urged opposition groups to respect international law, including the treatment of prisoners, and we’ve applauded groups that have signed onto the code of conduct issued by the Free Syrian Army, and that was back in the fall of 2012.
QUESTION: Is that the term they’re using, “ejected” from the group?
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that he was previously ejected from the group.
QUESTION: And it was the group who have told you this? Or I just wonder where you’re getting the information from that he had been thrown out.
MR. VENTRELL: That’s our understanding from opposition contacts.
QUESTION: To follow up on that same case. All right, there’s something you said there I thought was pertinent, and I was wondering, could you just elaborate on it? How does sectarian retribution play into the regime’s hands? Could you clarify that? I mean, what do you mean by that? How does that play into the regime’s --
MR. VENTRELL: Because within the context of the regime and their awful brutality against their own people, have tried to cast this in sectarian terms. And so to the extent that there’s retribution along sectarian lines by the opposition, it plays into their narrative, when we know that there’s a broad swath of the opposition that’s moderate, that shares the goal of a Syria that will respect the rights of all Syrians, where people of all minorities and religions will have a role and where their rights will be protected. So it’s within that frame.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Said.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Jabhat al-Nusrah were distributing leaflets in the refugee camps in Jordan and elsewhere, saying that they will reject anything less than an Islamic caliphate, they will not go to a conference and so on. My question to you is: Will these guys, since they really have the guns and they are the ones that fight on the ground, how will they – do you have any plans to sort of prevent them from sabotaging any conference that might take place?
MR. VENTRELL: Said, we’ve been very clear about the role of these extremists within the opposition and the negative role they play.
QUESTION: Okay. And just a quick follow-up: There was – there were meetings between officials from the GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries, people – countries like Saudi Arabia and perhaps Qatar and so on, meeting with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. Is that – are you aware of these meetings and is that an indication that perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood of Syria will garner the support of, let’s say, the GCC and their great ally, the United States of America?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have any information for you on those particular meetings. The point is, is that we move toward a Syria where we can eventually have a free, democratic system. There will be political parties from a range of different sectors within society, and so that’s just a fact as we move forward.
QUESTION: One more on Jabhat al-Nusrah.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you confident that all elements of Jabhat al-Nusrah have been ejected from the opposition, to use your terminology?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve been clear that there are still members, and you heard the President talk about this a little bit in terms of extremists who don’t share the broader goal of the opposition beyond overthrowing Assad. So --
QUESTION: So how come they haven’t been ejected then?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, clearly they don’t have the support of those of us in the international community and those Syrians who are looking for the kind of democracy and stability and respect for all rights that has broad international consensus and backing.
QUESTION: So why hasn’t the opposition pressed the eject button on all of them yet?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re working – and General Idris is a good example – with people who do have that moderate vision. And so whether the tactical gains of certain fighters who are trying to overthrow the Assad regime can be compared with the wider opposition effort, I don’t think we necessarily associate the two just because they may have the same tactical --
QUESTION: So you’re saying they are --
MR. VENTRELL: -- goal.
QUESTION: -- completely separate from the opposite. I mean, I’m – they’re included in the opposition, they have been, and you’re saying that they haven’t been kicked out or they have been kicked out, or they are completely --
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re working with moderate elements of the opposition who made clear that al-Nusrah has no role. Of course this is a --
QUESTION: But you made this big point about how this guy who was – it’s not a big deal because he’s not part of the opposition; he was ejected. But now you’re not saying the same thing about Jabhat al-Nusrah.
MR. VENTRELL: They’re two different things.
QUESTION: You’re --
MR. VENTRELL: One is an individual who --
QUESTION: So how --
MR. VENTRELL: -- perpetrated an atrocity --
MR. VENTRELL: -- in a unit that was more moderate. The other scenario - are extremists who, while they share the narrow goal of overthrowing the Assad regime, do not share the broader goal of a Syria that is free and democratic and respects the rights of all Syrians. So that’s the line between the two.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, it’s complicated on the battlefield. I can’t parse out each and every individual unit, but --
QUESTION: I’m just asking you why, if the opposition has erased all ties to these people --
MR. VENTRELL: The opposition – the moderate opposition has made many public statements disassociating themselves from these extremist elements, including General Idris and others.
QUESTION: A clarification on the --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday there was confusion in Brussels about who all are on this platform for this conference. Do you have European Union? Do you have any of the individual member countries? Can you clarify that?
MR. VENTRELL: We’re still working through who will be at this conference, including with – through the UN. So some of that is --
QUESTION: I’m talking about the European Union. Are --
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know if the EU as a body separately would be represented, but clearly there are a number of EU members who are core partners of sort of the London 11 or the Core Group supporting the opposition.
QUESTION: Any names?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re still working through all of this. Okay?
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Pakistan.
QUESTION: The Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Sherry Rehman has apparently resigned. I wondered if there was a U.S. reaction to that and whether that’s going to complicate relationships with Islamabad.
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that in the hour before coming down, so I’ll have to look into that. And I hadn’t --
QUESTION: Could you take the question?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll take the question, sure.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Japanese prime minister adviser, whose name is Iijima, is visiting Pyongyang now. Does this sudden trip surprise you?
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks for the question. We have seen the media reports and we’re aware of the visit. As he indicated earlier today in Seoul, Ambassador Davies looks forward to hearing about this trip when he meets with his Japanese counterparts in Tokyo in a couple of days. That will be May 16th to the 18th. So we really refer you to the Government of Japan for more information on this visit.
QUESTION: And one more question?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: They have not decided to change what?
QUESTION: Their attitude.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I think they’re not decide to denuclearization. So in this situation, do you support this Japanese contact to DPRK?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I really refer you to the Japanese for more information on the visit. We’ve been clear that diplomatic progress will come when North Korea begins to live up to its commitments and international obligations and take steps to demonstrate that it’s serious about denuclearization. So I really don’t have more information about this particular visit, but that’s the broad frame in terms of engagement with the DPRK.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: But given that some – we seem to know very little about the North Korean leadership and their ambitions and ideas at the moment, wouldn’t this visit be one way – Japan is after all an ally of the United States. Wouldn’t it be one way of kind of garnering some of that information that’s really vital as you go forward?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I just don’t have any more information about the frame of this particular trip of this Japanese official individual. But broadly speaking, we maintain close coordination among the five parties. You know that Ambassador Davies is out there in the region closely coordinating. So that diplomacy continues, but I don’t have information on this Japanese visit.
Indira, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you give us the latest on Cathy Ashton and Saeed Jalili’s meeting tomorrow? And is – are there any plans that they would be – that their meeting would set the stage for a return to actual political level talks?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I can’t sort of look into the crystal ball and say what will come out of that, but you know that over the process what the time has been – what the direction of the process has been after talks is that Mr. Jalili and Lady Ashton do coordinate and do talk as a step at an intermediary level. But beyond that, I can’t look into the crystal ball and say what will happen tomorrow.
QUESTION: Well, what are you expecting from tomorrow on a basic level?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, this is something where – and we’ve made clear to the Iranians time and again that they’ve got to come to the table with a seriousness of purpose and a real reaction. And – but let’s let those talks go forward tomorrow.
QUESTION: And have they been warned that more sanctions are coming if the talks don’t go well between Ashton and Jalili tomorrow?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, they know the broad frame that sanctions will always continue until we can get a resolution of this matter.
QUESTION: What about the diplomatic window?
MR. VENTRELL: Our position on that hasn’t changed. The diplomatic window is open but continues to shrink.
MR. VENTRELL: Bingru.
QUESTION: I saw the Media Note you put out on Ambassador Davies’ trip to Asia. What is the main purpose of this trip? And do you have a readout of his meeting in South Korea?
MR. VENTRELL: So Ambassador Glyn Davies had productive and useful meetings in Seoul today with Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs Lim Sung-nam, Vice Minister of Unification Kim Nam Sik, and National Security Director Kim Jang-soo – that was yesterday, May 14th, that last meeting – covering all aspects of the North Korean issue. These meetings built on the good discussions on North Korea during the successful summit between our two presidents on May 7th, and we are in agreement with our South Korean partners about the importance of continued close bilateral cooperation. You know that Ambassador Davies now goes on to Beijing and then from there to Tokyo.
QUESTION: Who he is going to meet in Beijing?
MR. VENTRELL: I believe he’s going to meet with his counterpart who was here in the United States not long ago. I’m not sure what other Chinese officials he’ll meet with.
QUESTION: Is he going to ask China to strengthen the sanctions on North Korea?
MR. VENTRELL: He’s going to continue to make the same case that we’ve been making to the Chinese consistently, which is that they should continue to put pressure on the North Koreans to take a different course.
QUESTION: Does he seek out the way for dialogue with DPRK or just increasing the pressure --
MR. VENTRELL: His diplomacy is about coordinating with the five, the other four partners. And so he – we stay in close touch and he regularly goes out and visits the region.
Okay. Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Peace process.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what is the special American envoy for the peace process status at the present time? The last was David Hale, but we don’t know what has happened since Secretary Kerry started his shuttle diplomacy. Where does he fit in, or is there anyone else who is doing this thing during the day-to-day and week-to-week conversations with their counterpart?
MR. VENTRELL: David Hale continues in his position and continues his duties and supports the Secretary.
QUESTION: Okay. So – okay.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update one way or another on his status, but he continues to support the Secretary.
QUESTION: I had one about the Euro Hawk program. Apparently, Germany has cancelled the purchase of the Euro Hawk drones, which is a joint venture between Northrop Grumman and EADS. We asked at Pentagon about this, and they’ve referred us to State, saying that it’s your – it’s in your perch. And it’s --
MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to take the question. I don’t have any information here.
QUESTION: -- something to do with safety concerns.
MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to take the question.
QUESTION: Could you?
MR. VENTRELL: I just don’t have any information here right at this time.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: In the back.
QUESTION: On the fatal shooting of the Taiwanese fisherman by Philippine Government personnel in the South China Sea, the Philippine Government has actually accepted three of the four conditions in President Ma’s ultimatum. And I was wondering whether or not you have any new comment on that, because these are the developments since Jen made her statement yesterday.
MR. VENTRELL: I have absolutely nothing further for you beyond what Jen said here today in a rather lengthy exchange that you all had.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’d recently hear an interview. Prime Minister Abe said the constitution, which was helped draft by U.S.-led allied forces after World War II, quote/unquote, “no longer fits with the times.” Therefore it will be his administration’s priority to move towards changing the constitution, including article 9 that prevents Japan from owning a military and waging wars. Any comment on that?
MR. VENTRELL: This is something that’s been asked a number of times at this podium, and what I’ve said still stands, which is that Japan is a critical partner, a critical ally, but these are internal Japanese decisions.
QUESTION: But again, we see a whole host of remarks that’s considered not only nationalistic but also historical revisionist by some analysts. Are you concerned that those remarks by Prime Minister Abe might stir up tension in the already tense region, Northeast Asia, that would eventually hurt U.S. interest there?
MR. VENTRELL: I have nothing further for you beyond what I’ve said about our critical alliance with the Japanese.
QUESTION: I have two questions. A follow-up on the Philippines fisherman – Taiwanese fisherman’s death. First of all, as Philippine agreed to apologize, do you think Philippine bear all the responsibility to this fatal death?
MR. VENTRELL: Our understanding is the investigation is ongoing. I have nothing further for you beyond what Jen said yesterday.
QUESTION: And the Philippine President says Philippine is going to deal with this aftermath according to One-China principle, but Taiwanese Government said they are not going to accept this. What is your stance on this?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, sorry to disappoint, but I really have nothing to say beyond what we said yesterday.
QUESTION: Patrick --
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:55p.m.)