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12:48 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: All right. Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. I have nothing at the top, so directly over to all of you.
MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Matt, for the question. Yeah. We can confirm that two members of the U.S. Embassy in Caracas were injured during an incident early this morning. Medical staff inform us that their injuries do not appear to be life threatening. Embassy security and health unit personnel are at the hospital and have been in touch with the two individuals and their families, but we have no further details to provide at this time about the incident.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: It occurred at the Embassy?
QUESTION: -- can you say how they were injured?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any more information about the extent of their injuries, other than to say that they’re – we don’t believe they’re life threatening at this point. This did not happen at the U.S. Embassy compound. This was offsite.
QUESTION: Yes. Can you be more explicit?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, all the details of this – we’re still taking a look at it. I don’t have any more information to provide to you at this time.
QUESTION: What kind of – did it happen – where did it happen?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, my understanding is that this was at some sort of social spot or somewhere outside of the Embassy grounds. But in terms of the exact location of it, I don’t have any details on that.
QUESTION: A social spot? You care to be a little bit more – like a drinking establishment?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not aware if – I’m not sure if it was a restaurant or a nightclub or what the actual establishment was, but that’s why we’re in touch with both our personnel and --
QUESTION: Was it, in fact, a strip club --
MR. VENTRELL: I have no information --
QUESTION: -- in Caracas?
MR. VENTRELL: -- on the site, Matt, one way or another.
QUESTION: How about the rank of the staff?
MR. VENTRELL: Just that they were Embassy personnel. I don’t have further details at this time.
QUESTION: Were they Foreign Service – or are they Foreign Service officers, or are they other --
MR. VENTRELL: No, my understanding is that they are other agency personnel, not from the State Department. But if we’re able to confirm later in the day more about their status, we’ll do that for you.
QUESTION: But again, you said that injuries are non-life-threatening?
MR. VENTRELL: Non-life-threatening.
QUESTION: What kind of injuries? Were they stabbed, shot?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, as we look at the details of the incident – let’s wait till we have more information about both the location and the exact circumstances of this incident.
QUESTION: Has anybody been arrested for their --
MR. VENTRELL: Not that I’m aware of, but in instances like this, we are in contact with local authorities, which is a standard operating procedure for us overseas. Okay?
QUESTION: All right. Let’s go to Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: What’s your reaction? I see the White House has already said something small about the EU decision on the arms embargo.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Matt, while it is ultimately an EU decision, we do support the easing of the EU arms embargo as a part of the international community’s efforts to demonstrate its full support for the Syrian opposition. So we support it.
QUESTION: That’s it? You think it’s a good idea?
MR. VENTRELL: We do. We believe that this step will advance our shared goal of achieving an negotiated political settlement.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you explain exactly how it advances your shared goal?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, this gives the flexibility to specific EU member states to assist the opposition in a way that each sees fit under their own national decision making, and you know we’re working in the London 11 with this group of core supporters of the Syrian opposition, and this allows others to continue to accelerate that assistance to the opposition.
QUESTION: Is it still the Administration’s position that more weapons in Syria is not exactly what Syria needs to fix this problem?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, it’s our position that a negotiated political settlement is the way to – the most durable solution to this conflict. But in terms of what assistance is being provided by groups of the London 11, we’re providing nonlethal assistance, and others are providing different kinds of assistance, but we’re doing so in a coordinated fashion.
QUESTION: All right. The Russians have said that – have confirmed that they’re going – they’ve signed a contract to sell S-300s to the Syrians. What do you make of that?
MR. VENTRELL: And we have long said that we disagree with and we condemn the continued supply of Russian weapons to the regime, and this includes all class of weapons, and we’ve been clear throughout and very direct with the Russian Government about that.
QUESTION: All right. So just because you don’t like the regime, it’s bad for the Russians to sell them weapons, but because you – at the same time that you don’t like the regime --
MR. VENTRELL: We’re talking about a regime that’s willing to go to enormous lengths to use --
QUESTION: Yeah, but you don’t know what the opposition is willing to do.
MR. VENTRELL: -- massive – let me finish – to use massive force against civilians, including SCUD missiles and other types of --
QUESTION: So you’re concerned that these S-300s might be used against civilian population?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we condemn all support of arms to the regime. We’ve seen how the regime uses those arms. When we’re talking about the opposition, that’s a different group, and clearly they are people who are defending themselves in the face of an enormous onslaught and a despicable onslaught of violence against them – themselves.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the EU countries are individually – I mean, France has said it’s not going to send immediately. It’s going to wait a bit. Do you think that – believe that they should wait until the political process has been worked through or that there has been more advancement in that political process?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, they’re parallel tracks. We’re going to continue to support the opposition and continue to augment our support to the opposition in a variety of fashions, and that’s going to continue as we work to change Assad’s calculation and work toward a negotiated settlement. So they’re not sort of mutually exclusive. They’re really on a parallel track. In terms of the timing, I really refer you to the individual countries. But the point of our support for this decision by the EU is that it provides more flexibility for the states that want to make a different decision regarding arms.
QUESTION: Will this – sorry. Patrick, will this help and firm up the U.S. decision on whether – would the U.S. feel more comfortable now that – to maybe also provide the opposition with weapons or --
MR. VENTRELL: We haven’t made a decision one way or another. We continue to provide nonlethal assistance, but we continue to carefully review that and look at our options going forward.
QUESTION: Yeah, but will this help the U.S. make that decision quicker?
MR. VENTRELL: I wouldn’t relate the two between an EU decision and our internal decision making, but we’re supportive of the fact that some of these countries that may go a different course want to have the flexibility to do so.
QUESTION: Senator McCain was in Syria – northern Syria. Have you been able to get any kind of readout or talk to him – his office?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure the Secretary has been able to connect yet with Senator McCain. They do talk fairly frequently, so I imagine they’ll get a chance to have a conversation about his trip. But we do understand the senator crossed into Syrian territory, and refer you to his office for more details of his visit.
QUESTION: Did you know about him going?
MR. VENTRELL: We are in touch with various members of Congress about their traveling overseas. We stay in touch with them, but I’m not going to get into the details of our communication with an individual senator about foreign travel.
QUESTION: Because the White House said that they knew about it, which would have said that you would have known about it, the State Department would have known about it. And I would have also thought that there might be legal issues.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Well, we stay in close touch with members of Congress as they travel overseas. You know the State Department does provide a role for many members as they do travel throughout the world. I’m just not going to get into the specifics on this particular trip.
QUESTION: Patrick, as a matter of course, when such a high-profile American goes on a trip like this, it is assumed or presumed to be coordinated beforehand with you guys, correct?
MR. VENTRELL: The point, though, is that each individual senator, member of Congress, has their own prerogative and their own positions, and they represent their constituents, and they have their own policy positions, so they’re able to speak on their own.
QUESTION: Okay. And on the arms issue, now you’re saying – if I understood you correctly, you’re saying that on the one hand the regime should not get arms because these arms are used against its own people. But on the other hand, it’s okay for the opposition to get arms because it is defending itself. But what about all the influx of foreign volunteers that come from all across the Arab and Islamic world according to (inaudible) reports.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, what we’re really concerned about is the dramatic increase of Hezbollah activity inside of Syria. It’s destabilizing to Syria, but it’s destabilizing to Lebanon as well and goes against Lebanon’s decision to have – Lebanon has already had a position of disassociation, which we support. And so this Hezbollah decision to dramatically increase their activity inside of Syria goes directly against that policy.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that this may get out of control and get out of hand and will drag the Israelis into this fight?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we can’t see into a sort of glass ball, but we’ve been very clear about our concerns about the potential for spillover. Indeed, we’ve seen some of the destabilizing effects inside of Lebanon; we have concerns about some of the other neighbors, too, in terms of the negative impact that it can have on the neighbors.
QUESTION: And lastly, on the issue of the Geneva 2 conference, are you more hopeful or less hopeful today as – the prospects for this conference?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t think we’re going to give you a day-by-day sort of barometer of our hope, but let’s just say that we’re continuing to work very diligently toward the goal of having this conference, and we’ll continue to work with the UN and with other partners as we work toward the goal of getting these two parties at the table and talking about a transitional authority.
QUESTION: I’m sorry to frame it that way, the question, but all indications show that the opposition cannot get its act together to have a representative to go to Geneva, and --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, let me put it this way. Let me put it this way, Said. We’ve been very clear that we want the opposition to resolve its leadership issues. We continue to press on that front. They’re decisions that the opposition needs to make. Ambassador Ford continues his work in Istanbul. Of course, he’s not a participant, he’s an observer, but their – we’ve been very clear that we want them to resolve their leadership issues so that they can represent and fully negotiate with the regime that will send its own negotiators. And so they need to be on the strongest possible footing.
QUESTION: Do you believe that the added flexibility that the EU – in the EU – nations now have will increase leverage on the regime?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, certainly all that we can do to keep the opposition cohesive, coherent, giving them the tens of millions of dollars support that we’re giving to help them improve their position on the ground is helpful.
QUESTION: So – and that would include the easing of the embargo.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, they just did the easing of the embargo. They also have to make their national decisions.
QUESTION: Yeah. But I’m wondering – I mean, you all seem very happy and excited about it, and I – up until – I don’t know – yesterday or two hours ago, the Administration’s position had been that you didn’t think that more arms in Syria was necessarily the right answer.
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve been pretty clear for some time now, Matt, that while we’ve made our decisions, others have made their decisions, and we continue to coordinate with them. So that’s something we’ve been saying for quite some time now.
QUESTION: Yes. But when you said that and when you have been saying that, you’ve been also saying that your decision is not to supply weapons because you don’t think that more weapons are what Syria needs right now. Now some of your --
MR. VENTRELL: We continue to evaluate that, Matt.
QUESTION: But you continue to believe that?
MR. VENTRELL: We continue to evaluate the situation.
QUESTION: The Administration’s position is that, for itself, for the foreign policy that you speak for, more weapons going into Syria is not necessarily a good idea.
MR. VENTRELL: We have not made a decision in our own national regard about anything beyond nonlethal assistance. Now we’ve upped the levels of nonlethal assistance to include new types of equipment and more direct support.
QUESTION: Okay. Then let me ask the question this way: Is it no longer the Administration’s position that more weapons going into Syria is a bad thing?
MR. VENTRELL: Our position is that we want to negotiate a political settlement, but we want Assad to have a changed calculation so that he realizes --
QUESTION: Okay. So --
MR. VENTRELL: -- that he’s got to negotiate so that we can get a transitional executive body.
QUESTION: So do you believe that the new flexibility, regardless of whether any EU country actually goes ahead and sends weapons to the opposition – do you believe that that gives – that that puts greater pressure on Assad and gives you guys, as a group, this London 11 collective, more leverage in trying to get them to the table?
MR. VENTRELL: It certainly sends a message to the Assad regime, yes.
QUESTION: All right. And at the same time, the S-300s, what – that does what? Do you not – I mean, it seems to me that the Secretary --
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to comment on one weapons system or another.
QUESTION: Well, the Secretary and Foreign Minister Lavrov were out smiling away, chatting happily, and that behind the scenes – or not even behind the scenes but out in public – you’re at such cross purposes here that I don’t see how you expect them to help in this.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, we have had deep disagreements with the Russians on Syria, but we have some areas that we agree on – principally that there should be a negotiated political settlement, which is the most durable way to end the violence and do so in a way that’s sustainable.
QUESTION: But you think that supplying the regime with S-300 missiles does not help that.
MR. VENTRELL: Right, we think that’s a mistake. But that’s to say we agree with the Russians on the core issue of negotiating a political settlement.
QUESTION: Well, I’m not sure you can say that you agree with them on anything if they’re doing something that is so fundamentally opposed and so fundamentally destructive, as you say it is.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, they’ve described it as fulfilling existing contracts. We’ve long made our opposition clear to any and all arms. But having said that, this is an area we agree fundamentally with the Russians about a political – negotiated political settlement, and we’re going to continue to work with them on that productive front.
Separate and apart from that, we’re going to continue to work on our assistance to the opposition, which is on an upward trajectory, and we’re going to work with the London 11 and any other folks who want to help the Syrian opposition as they work toward a new, free Syria.
Ilhan. Go ahead.
QUESTION: What’s your understanding about latest status of – on these S-300s? Have they been delivered yet, or what’s your understanding?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information one way or another. I mean, this is something we talked about last week in terms of not being aware of anything particularly recent. But I don’t have any other information for you.
QUESTION: And one more on chemical weapon issue. In late couple of days, French Le Monde and other reports coming out from Syria suburbs like Harasta, very close to the heart of Damascus. Do you have any other – or what’s your latest status on this chemical weapon issue?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we refer you to the French on those specific reports. But as we’ve long said, we support the comprehensive United Nations investigation into what may have been done inside of Syria. But we’re not only depending on the UN or solely on the UN investigation, we’re also working through our friends, our allies, and the Syrian opposition to procure, to share, and to evaluate additional information associated with reports of the use of chemical weapons so that we can establish the facts. So we continue to do that in a rigorous and methodical way.
QUESTION: Are you still trying to send that investigation team into Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: We’d still like to see them go in. The UN has said that they’re prepared to do so and the regime continues to block them.
QUESTION: Patrick, just back to Senator McCain. Do you think that his visit helped or hurt the Administration’s view on Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think I would characterize it one way or another. I mean, we have members of Congress who express their views and travel and make their policy positions known. So there’s nothing unusual about that. But I don’t have any particular reaction to the trip one way or another.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that the new supply of missiles from Russia is being made specifically in anticipation of more weapons coming into the rebels from outside interests like the EU or the U.S.?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t speak to the Russian timing or motivations. They’ve said it’s fulfilling existing contracts, but I’d refer you to them for more details.
QUESTION: Sorry to --
MR. VENTRELL: Michel’s been patient here. Go ahead, Michel.
QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah, on – I have a question on Lebanon. I don’t know --
QUESTION: No, I just want to follow up very quickly to what you said to Matt a minute ago.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you saying that you’ll – these – possibly these – or this okay, the green light, to give arm to the rebels is intended to pressure the regime? Is that what you said?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, this is a decision that’s just been made by the EU, but we’ve been very clear that we’re doing everything we can to support the opposition so that they can help change the status on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. So you see it as a leverage, perhaps, in the prelude to the Geneva 2 conference?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I didn’t characterize it that way. This just happened. But I’ve been clear that what can be done to change the regime’s calculation is important to be done.
Go ahead, Michel.
QUESTION: Yeah. Three Lebanese soldiers have been killed during the night at the Lebanese-Syrian border. Do you have any reaction to that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we condemn that attack. These and other incidents pose a clear danger to Lebanon’s stability, and we call on the parties to do their part, to act with restraint, and respect Lebanon’s stability and security. And I point you to what we said on Friday. The violence, for example, in Tripoli in Lebanon’s north, together with these other incidents, it constitutes a stark reminder that the conflict in Syria poses an increasingly dangerous threat to Lebanon’s stability and security. So we call on all parties in the region to avoid any actions that would exacerbate the crisis, increase the propensity for spillover violence, and negatively affect civilian populations.
And you heard me speak just earlier a few minutes ago about the Hezbollah leader’s decision to escalate the group’s role in the fighting in Syria violates and undermines Lebanon’s disassociation policy and risks dragging Lebanon into a foreign conflict to the detriment of the interests and the well-being of the Lebanese people. So that’s been our position. We’re pretty clear about it.
QUESTION: The Hezbollah leader has said that he’s fighting foreign jihadists in Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, this is a pretty dramatic escalation of their violence inside of neighboring Syria, and it’s bad for the Lebanese people and it’s bad for the Syrian people.
Go ahead. Tell me your name.
QUESTION: Sorry. I’m Dan Roberts from The Guardian.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: I just wanted to be crystal-clear on the point you made to an earlier question. You said that the EU decision would help send a message to the Assad regime, the implication being sending a positive message. Is that the right reading of your position, that you think this is a helpful message that’s being sent?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, it’s a helpful because it sends a message to the Assad regime that support for the opposition is only going to increase, not only internally within Syria but from those countries who are interested in helping the Syrians reach the free, prosperous, democratic, unified Syria that the Syrian people deserve.
QUESTION: And just again to be crystal clear: How do you – how is the U.S. squaring that position with its position on the Russian missiles? Because you seem to be having two entirely opposite positions on arming groups in Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: And I think we’ve just done about four or five questions on this very topic.
QUESTION: Well, I’m still – I don’t believe you squared those opposite positions. I’m just hoping you might be able to clarify that.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I have nothing further than what I already said.
Okay. Go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Osaka Mayor Hashimoto retracted his remarks that U.S. servicemen in Okinawa should use the adult entertainment industry to avoid the sex crimes, and he apologized to the Americans and the U.S. military. Do you have any comment?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ve addressed his comments previously and really don’t have anything new to add. The one thing I’ll say is that we can’t be commenting on every state and local and provincial official around the world when they make outlandish or offensive or reprehensible comments. So we really can’t say much more beyond that. This is a local official.
QUESTION: Just one more: He canceled his U.S. trip. You have anything to say on his --
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to comment on every move or action of some local official. We’ve been clear that the U.S.-Japan alliance remains strong, and we’re committed to that alliance.
QUESTION: Okay. So does that mean that the bar has got to be – it’s got to be a national official? A mayor doesn’t do it for you, but if the guy’s a cabinet minister or a --
MR. VENTRELL: When we have concerns --
QUESTION: -- member of parliament or something like that, then you’ll talk more?
MR. VENTRELL: When we have concerns about somebody at the national level who’s made comments that are disparaging or difficult, we may make a comment.
QUESTION: Can you – where is the bar?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, my point being, Matt, is that there are hundreds and thousands of mayors and local officials around the world. We can’t respond to every single one of them.
QUESTION: Yes. Are there hundreds of thousands of local mayors around the world that run a municipality where there are large amounts of U.S. troops?
MR. VENTRELL: Are you trying to make some broader connection about the importance of the mayor of --
QUESTION: I’m saying that I think the mayor of Okinawa – right? That’s who we’re talking about?
MR. VENTRELL: No, this is the mayor of Osaka.
QUESTION: Oh, mayor of Osaka, okay. I stand corrected.
MR. VENTRELL: I was trying to figure out which American troops were in Osaka, but --
QUESTION: I apologize. So, okay – all right, well, if the mayor of Okinawa said something, would that not meet your bar?
MR. VENTRELL: (Laughter.) Now we’re going into wild hypotheticals here.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. We can confirm that Gary and Yanira Maldonado were arrested in Sonora, Mexico. Consular officers from the U.S. consulate in Nogales visited Mr. and Mrs. Maldonado on May 24th, providing all appropriate consular assistance. Mr. Maldonado has since been released. We continue to be in contact with appropriate Mexican authorities on the matter, and for further information on the charges, we refer you to the Mexican authorities and Ms. Maldonado’s legal counsel.
QUESTION: Can you tell me the mechanism that the U.S. plays in a case like that?
MR. VENTRELL: In general, I mean, this is something we talk about pretty frequently here, the role of our consular officers, and we work within the host countries’ legal framework. And our role in an arrest case is really to ensure that U.S. citizens are treated properly with full protection for their rights, to provide them with a list of locally licensed attorneys, and to facilitate communication with family and friends. So that’s the kind of role we play.
QUESTION: Would you have been in the hearing yesterday?
MR. VENTRELL: Sometimes we’re in local hearings for cases involving American citizens. I’m not aware in this particular case if we were there.
MR. VENTRELL: Michel.
QUESTION: On Ethiopia, Ethiopia has begun today diverting the course of Blue Nile. How do you view this step?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that. I’ll have to look into it after the briefing. I’m not aware of the diversion of the Blue Nile. I’ll have to look into it.
QUESTION: That’s a longstanding issue that they have been talking about for a very, very long time, so you must have a position on that.
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll check in and see if we have a position to get you the most precise information.
Go ahead, Bingru.
QUESTION: Patrick, on the mayor of Osaka’s question, is that his decision or is that the decision from the U.S. side?
MR. VENTRELL: Regarding what?
QUESTION: Canceling his trip.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information one way or another that we were involved.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a specific readout. We stay in touch with our Chinese counterparts on a range of issues, and particularly DPRK, but we really refer you to the Chinese Government for their readout of it. But just to remind, the U.S. and China share the view that denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is essential, and the global community will judge North Korea by its actions, not its words.
MR. VENTRELL: Can you tell me your name?
QUESTION: Yes, Santiago Tavara from the Mexican news agency Notimex.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Welcome, Santiago.
QUESTION: Yes. Firstly, in Guatemala, do you have a reaction or comment on the extradition of former President Alfonso Portillo, who faces charges in federal court in New York for money laundering? And this happens just after a court decision in that country to void a genocide verdict against former dictator Efrain Rios Montt. Do you see this as an attempt to distract international attention on this case?
And the second one on Colombia, please.
MR. VENTRELL: Why don’t we do Guatemala first and then I’ll come back to you for Colombia.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MR. VENTRELL: On Guatemala, I really refer you to the Department of Justice on – in the first instance about the extradition. We generally don’t provide information from the State Department on specific extraditions, but I refer you to the Department of Justice.
On the Rios Montt issue, we’ve said that this is a complex, unprecedented legal situation in Guatemala, and the fundamental imperative in this or any other legal proceedings should be to respect the rule of law and ensure equal justice for all.
What was your question on Colombia?
QUESTION: On Colombia, Vice President Biden said on the weekend that the U.S. strongly supports President Santos’ efforts to achieve a historic peace with the FARC. Do you have a reaction from the State Department to this agreement on agrarian reform? Are you pleased with this or do you welcome these efforts (inaudible)?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, of course we feel the same way that the Vice President does. But let me just say that the agreement on land reform is the first ever between the Colombian Government and the FARC, and as such the terms of its – and in terms of its substance it’s a highly positive step forward in the peace negotiation. So we’ve long given our strong support for President Santos and the Colombian Government as they pursue lasting peace and security that the Colombian people deserve.
QUESTION: Change subject?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I do all refer you to the speech that he made in the West Bank. This is on – was it Sunday night or Saturday night? I’ve got my days confused. I guess this is on Sunday. But a really comprehensive speech that he gave there, and I refer you all to the text and the video which we have up on our website.
But in terms of this economic initiative, it’s being spearheaded by the Office of the Quartet Representative. And as the Secretary has made clear, we fully support these efforts. And we understand that it’s still working on the full plan, but this is something we fully support.
And just to highlight that a lot of this is about the heavy emphasis is on leveraging the private sector. So any additional U.S. Government assistance would be from existing funds, but this is really about leveraging private sector assistance to spur economic growth in the Palestinian territories.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. Palestinian Authority President Abbas said that whatever economic package has to be part of a larger political package; that this should not substitute for that. Do you concur what he’s saying?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. It isn’t a substitute. I mean, we’ve been clear that the political track is the most important and that there needs to be a final negotiation between the two parties and they need to get back to the table. But in terms of the Secretary’s efforts and the efforts of the Quartet envoy to get some initial economic growth going in the Palestinian territories, we think that that’s a way to provide directly some hope to the Palestinian people and to this Palestinian youth who deserve a better economic situation.
QUESTION: The Palestinians also say that you are putting a lot of pressure on them to go back unconditionally to the talks, while on the other hand it seems you are not pressuring the Israelis whether publicly or through private channels to sort of cease settlement activities. Could you comment on that?
MR. VENTRELL: You did hear the Secretary say that we want to get them back to talks without conditions – both parties. But I’m not going to get into the substance of our back and forth with both sides.
QUESTION: But you keep saying that the Palestinians must, let’s say, do their part. What is their part in your view? What should the Palestinians do so the Israelis can reciprocate with ceasing settlement activity?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re not going to get into the details of what we’re working on in terms of the framework to get both sides back to negotiations, but it’s something that we believe there’s a real urgency and necessity to do. I’m just not going to get into the details, Said.
QUESTION: Is there anything in particular that you would like the Palestinians to do now, for instance?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into our back and forth with both sides, both parties.
QUESTION: President Obama in two weeks meets with his Chinese counterpart, and we’ve got a story out today about Chinese alleged hacking of our infrastructure. We’re hearing that there are diplomatic overtures and all kinds of overtures with the Chinese to try and resolve this. What is the State Department contributing to that?
MR. VENTRELL: Just to say on – first of all, you know that National Security Advisor Tom Donilon is in China, and so I refer you to the White House for the details of his visit. You know that cyber security is one of the Administration’s top priorities, and we have both the U.S. and China as two of the world’s largest cyber actors and it’s important that we continue a sustained, meaningful dialogue and work together. And as Secretary Kerry announced back in April, we have agreed to establish a Cyber Security Working Group with China in order to raise our concerns and have a constructive dialogue. So we look forward to engaging in that discussion. It’s something we raise at every opportunity with our interlocutors in the Chinese Government. We do so via the State Department as through diplomacy and we’ll continue to raise these issues.
QUESTION: Is there anything the President will be able to take from this building to his talks with his Chinese counterpart?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into any details of the President’s upcoming travel. I really refer you to the White House. But we do, as I said last week, support the efforts of presidential travel and do some of the spade work. But in this instance, you have the National Security Advisor himself who’s traveled directly over to China to have some of the talks in advance of the President’s travel. So that really was White House --
QUESTION: Patrick, a working group on cyber security, that may sound like a good idea, but when the – when your partner in the working group is the one that’s actually doing it, doing the hacking, don’t you see that as a bit problematic? I think it’s analogous to you making nice with the Russians about Syria and then --
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve been clear, Matt, about our concerns. It’s something that – and our growing concerns. And so it’s something that we raise very directly with the Chinese and we’re going to do so through diplomatic channels and be very consistent about it.
QUESTION: Do you know anything about a Tunisian politician being denied entry or being turned back from Frankfurt on his way to the U.S.?
MR. VENTRELL: I really have to refer you to DHS on any issues related to entry --
QUESTION: You’re aware of this case?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m aware of the news reports about the case, but this is a DHS matter in terms of entry into a U.S. port or airport.
QUESTION: Well, he was in Frankfurt. I don’t know where --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’m not sure --
QUESTION: Is that now part of the United States? That’s --
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if the incident occurred in Frankfurt or upon landing in the U.S. But regardless, the entry procedures for the U.S. are a DHS matter. We issue visas. They make determinations about all other matters.
QUESTION: Okay. So this person had a valid visa and everything like that?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not aware on this particular case, but we wouldn’t comment on whether it’s entry procedures or --
QUESTION: Well, if he had a legal right to be here, then I would think that you could comment on whether he did or not.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t know the details on this case.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. VENTRELL: But regardless of whether it’s entry or no-fly list or whatever the details may be, those are DHS matters not State Department matters.
QUESTION: Patrick, could you tell us who he is? Is it Ghannushi? Because he’s supposed to be here tomorrow and the day after participating in a conference and he’s the head of the Ennahda Party. So is that the person that was denied entry?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information one way or another. I’m happy to look into it for more details.
You’ve been patient in the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Regarding the U.S.-China Cyber Space Working Group, I’d like to know if you have started on it or when you will start.
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to take a look at it. My understanding is it’s part of the Strategic & Economic Dialogue and so it’s one of the sub working groups there managed by us.
QUESTION: About that?
QUESTION: Just one more?
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’d like to try on the mayor of Osaka just --
MR. VENTRELL: I really don’t have anything more for you.
QUESTION: Because I understand --
MR. VENTRELL: You can ask the question. I just don’t have anything more for you.
QUESTION: I understand he is the mayor of a local city, but he is also the leader of the – one of the major national opposition party. So but you still think you shouldn’t comment on his apology?
MR. VENTRELL: I really have nothing more for you one way or another.
QUESTION: I would be interested to know what the bar is that this building has now set for response to these things.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thank you, Matt.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: Can you take that? Or is it just going to be done on a case-by-case basis and this guy – this is like you feel like he’s been an annoyance, a little gnat --
MR. VENTRELL: You know that --
QUESTION: -- or pest that you just want to swat away and not --
MR. VENTRELL: You know, Matt, that we reserve the right to comment as we wish. I’m just saying that in this particular case, there’s been a lot of inquiries about one individual, and our broader point is there are a lot of local officials of different views. That doesn’t necessarily impact the relationship directly.
QUESTION: On the killing of politicians in the central Indian state of Chhatisgarh by Naxalites over the weekend, has India sought any kind of assistance of how to handle these internal insurgencies or these terrorist groups?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware of any request at all from the Government of India.
In the back. Can you tell me your name?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, that’s sort of a broad question, but you know that Saudi Arabia has been a key counterterrorism partner and a country that we work with very closely and effectively on counterterrorism issues.
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Last week, I think you took this question.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: It was about what you guys do when the Department of Justice comes knocking on the door asking for records of people’s comings and goings from this building. So did you get an answer? Do you just hand them over blithely, or do you make them get a – some kind of a court order?
MR. VENTRELL: So, the Department of State cooperates in criminal investigations in a variety of ways, Matt, including by providing various records in support of DOJ investigations when requested. In general, no court order is required for such cooperation to take place.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. VENTRELL: Having said that, I do point you of course to the President’s speech, which was just a couple hours after I was up at the podium on Thursday, where he was very clear that a free press is essential for our democracy and that he is troubled by the possibility that investigations may chill investigative journalism, and that journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. So the President of the United States was very clear about that.
QUESTION: Well, I don’t see how that’s very clear about you guys just handing over entry and egress records. He didn’t say anything about that. So, is this --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, this is a federal building, and we cooperate --
QUESTION: -- is it – no, yeah, yeah, but --
MR. VENTRELL: -- with other federal agencies.
QUESTION: Right, for federal employees, presumably. But what about private citizens like journalists who come and go to this building? Is having a badge – and I don’t know, maybe it is – does the privilege of having a badge mean that your – that any of our records can just be opened up and looked at at any time without any kind of a court saying this?
MR. VENTRELL: The information that I have is that in general, no court order is required --
QUESTION: Okay, but --
MR. VENTRELL: -- for such cooperation --
MR. VENTRELL: -- with the Department of Justice --
QUESTION: Okay, but does that apply --
MR. VENTRELL: -- on ongoing law enforcement investigations.
QUESTION: Does that apply to federal employees’ badges, or journalists’, or both?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information one way or another.
QUESTION: So there’s no distinction made between an employee of the State Department who signs agreements to protect and keep confident – keep classified information confidential, and someone like any of us? There’s no distinction between that? Those records are --
MR. VENTRELL: According to the information I have --
QUESTION: -- wide open?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we share them with the Department of Justice or other law enforcement agencies on a case-by-case basis.
QUESTION: Okay. So you are aware that they came in this case and asked for the --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, in some federal buildings they publish every --
MR. VENTRELL: -- entry and exit of --
QUESTION: I know. Listen, I’m not --
MR. VENTRELL: -- outside visitors, so --
QUESTION: -- I just want to know what the policy is. I’m not saying – I am not suggesting that there’s anything wrong, necessarily, with it. I just wanted to know what the policy was.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we’re a federal building and we share information as necessary with other federal agencies on law enforcement matters.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: In the last couple days, there’s been a real spike in violence and the country seems to be coming apart. Is the United States doing anything on the ground to mediate --
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: -- other than condemnation? Can you share with us something that you are actually doing sort of urgently to meet the urgency of the situation?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, our Embassy is very engaged. The Vice President of the United States is very engaged.
Let me start, though, of course, with our strong condemnation. The United States strongly condemns the terrorist attacks in Baghdad yesterday, where numerous car bombs detonated, killing and injuring scores of innocent people. We are deeply concerned by the frequency and nature of recent attacks, including the bombing of a bus today in Baghdad and a truck bomb north of Baghdad as well today. So the targeting of innocent people in an effort to sow instability and division is reprehensible, and our condolences go out to the victims and their families.
U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington are intensively engaged. We’re in contact with a wide range of senior Iraqi leaders to urge calm and help resolve ongoing political and sectarian tensions. And the level of U.S. engagement is evidenced including by the Vice President’s engagement, which you saw the readouts to late last week.
So our talks from the Embassy, they’re focused on specific steps to avoid further violence and resolve key issues peacefully through dialogue and through the political process.
QUESTION: Why doesn’t the United States – I mean, there is a great deal of attention to the Syrian civil war, for instance. Conferences are being organized and so on, Friends of Syria, all that stuff, but Iraq, on the other hand, continues to bleed. And you are basically a very important ingredient of what is going on in Iraq. Why doesn’t the United States, for instance, lead an effort to reconciliation, to bring the groups together?
MR. VENTRELL: Said, we’re – we remain committed to supporting Iraq’s democratic system, and we urge Iraq leaders to continue to working toward a peaceful resolution, to work through their system, to work through dialogue. And so we continue to work to help Iraq overcome the threat of terrorism and its internal issues. So this is something we’re very actively engaged on and very focused on.
QUESTION: Just one quick question, going back to Syria --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- my earlier question on chemical weapons.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Patrick, how long do you think it’s going to take for you to gather information and corroborate the information on – this is the line you have been using over two months now, and we have been seeing every single day that videos are coming out from Syria now.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Ilhan, we were very clear at the time that we’re not going to put a timeline on this, that we’re going to do this in a rigorous, methodical way and work diligently toward that, investigating all of these claims.
Okay? Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:25 p.m.)