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U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action


Patrick Ventrell
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
June 24, 2013


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Index for Today's Briefing
  • LEBANON
    • Violent Clashes in Sidon / Call for Calm / Efforts of LAF
  • SNOWDEN
    • Location / Hong Kong / China / Russia / Ecuador / Diplomatic Communication
    • Freedom of Information
  • CUBA
    • Direct Transportation of Mail / Talks
  • SYRIA
    • Negotiated Peace Settlement / Geneva Framework
    • Continued Clashes in Aleppo
  • CHINA
    • American Held in Beijing
  • AFGHANISTAN
    • Special Representative Dobbins in Kabul / Possible Talks with the Taliban
  • TURKEY
    • EU Aspirations
  • JAPAN/SOUTH KOREA
    • ASEAN
  • LEBANON
    • Security Situation Concern / Syrian Conflict
  • PAKISTAN
    • Special Representative Dobbins Travel to Islamabad
    • Attack on Tourists / AmCit Killed


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.

12:40 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon, and welcome to the State Department. I have one thing at the top before turning it over to all of you. The United States is gravely concerned by the violent clashes in Sidon, Lebanon. We condemn in the strongest terms the attacks by militants against the Lebanese Armed Forces, which have resulted in the deaths of a number of soldiers and civilians. We strongly support the calls for calm issued by President Sleiman, caretaker Prime Minister Miqati, Future Movement Leader Saad Hariri, and other political and religious leaders.

The United States praises the efforts of the LAF and Internal Security Forces in working with political leaders to maintain peace and stability, and renews its commitment to continue providing training and equipment to assist security forces in their critical role of preserving Lebanon’s unity.

The United States is fully committed to Lebanon’s stability, sovereignty, and independence. This is the time for the international community to stand with Lebanon and responsible Lebanese leaders in defense of the interests of the Lebanese people for a stable and sovereign country.

Having said that, I will turn it over to all of you.

QUESTION: Patrick, can you start off by telling us where the U.S. has requested extradition of Edward Snowden, or otherwise made other diplomatic requests? I understand there’s no extradition treaty with Russia, for example, but can you confirm that there has been a request for his return, or by – via any kind of diplomatic channel?

And also, to the larger issue, how will the State Department try to pursue his return from countries that may or may not – that may have chilly relations with the U.S.?

MR. VENTRELL: So let me just speak broadly, that we, over the weekend, the United States, has been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with a number of countries which Mr. Snowden might transit or that could serve as final destinations. I’m not going to get into the detail of all the diplomatic exchanges, but we’re advising these governments that Mr. Snowden is wanted on serious felony charges, and as such he should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel other than is necessary to return to the United States. So that’s the broad point that we’re making a series of governments. Regardless of the overall relationship, these are the kind of messages that we’re relaying, that we want the law enforcement cooperation if necessary from these countries.

I will make a larger point about what happened in Hong Kong. We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the authorities in Hong Kong to permit Mr. Snowden to flee despite a legally valid U.S. request to arrest him for purposes of his extradition under the U.S.-Hong Kong Surrender Agreement. We’ve registered our strong objections to the authorities in Hong Kong as well as to the Chinese Government through diplomatic channels, and we’ve noted that such behavior is detrimental to U.S.-Hong Kong and U.S.-China bilateral relations.

Having said that, we now know that he’s in – understand that he’s in Russian territory. And so, given our intensified cooperation working with Russia on law enforcement matters, including returning numerous high-level criminals back to Russia at the request of the Russian Government, we hope that the Russian Government will look at all available options to return Mr. Snowden back to the U.S. to face justice for the crimes with which he’s charged.

QUESTION: So can you tell us which countries are the destinations that you mentioned?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I’m not sure I’m going to list out one by one, but there have been some countries in Latin America, for instance, that were potential destinations, and we’ve been in touch with the governments of those countries.

QUESTION: And I’m not sure I understood what you were saying about some of the chats with Russians. Were you saying that there might be some kind of exchange agreement set up?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we have been in direct touch with the Russians – Deputy Secretary Burns at his level, certainly our Ambassador and other officials at the Embassy. I think the Department of Justice has been in touch at a very high level. I encourage you to ask them for details of their readouts in the law enforcement channels. But diplomatically, we’ve been in touch at a high level and making that point that we’d like him returned to the United States.

QUESTION: So is it your understanding that he’s still in Russian territory?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information to indicate otherwise at this point.

QUESTION: Because I believe that Julian Assange was on a call this morning saying that he’s left, and he’s left with a refugee document that was given to him by Ecuador.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we’d heard that from Wikilieaks. I don’t know if he was referring to the initial travel from Hong Kong to Russia or otherwise, but I don’t have any information to verify that he’s left Russian territory.

QUESTION: Is this – if – assuming he does leave Russia and goes to another third country – and we know he’s already left Chinese territory – how damaging is this to your relationship with those two countries?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I can’t speculate on the Russian aspect, because we’re still in discussion with them. But certainly with the Chinese relationship, it does have a negative impact. We were very clear about our interest in this individual, and we’ve emphasized the importance of building mutual trust, and this has dealt a serious setback. If we can’t count on them to honor a legal extradition treaty, then there’s a significant problem. So this is something we’re raising very directly with the Chinese. In terms of the Russians, we’re continuing to be in dialogue with them about that situation.

QUESTION: And what actual consequences are there, then, for China?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to speculate on consequences at this point, but you’ve seen through the broad arc of our improving relations with China that we’ve worked through norms-based and rule of law and other norms of cooperation and international standards. And when they don’t comply with international standards in this manner, it certainly has a negative impact.

QUESTION: Can we step back for a second?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: When you say that this was a legal U.S. request, and the Hong Kong authorities have said that there were problems with the request and thus they weren’t able to prevent Snowden from leaving the country, can you describe the discrepancies?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, look. For us, we’re just not buying that this was a technical decision by a Hong Kong immigration official. This was a deliberate choice by the government to release a fugitive despite a valid arrest warrant. And that decision, as I said, unquestionably has a negative impact on the U.S.-China relationship.

In terms of – again, some of us have talked about the passport or some of the different technical measures that were taken in terms of a passport or travel documents. Again, we have to be a little bit careful because of the Privacy Act in talking about specific passports, but I do want to walk you through all the broader frame of what we do with passports here at the State Department.

We do revoke passports at the request of law enforcement authorities. We do so expeditiously when the request is received. When the Department of State revokes a passport, that information is shared through databases accessible by law enforcement and various border agencies around the world, including INTERPOL, to prevent persons from traveling on revoked passports.

And then, though the Privacy Act prohibits me from talking about Mr. Snowden’s passport specifically, I can say that the Hong Kong authorities were well aware of our interest in Mr. Snowden and had plenty of time to prohibited his travel. So they were well aware. Clearly, the Department of Justice can provide you more granularity on the day-by-day actions we took in terms of sharing information with them, including some of the public information that’s available.

Jill, go ahead.

QUESTION: Patrick when you say just not buying it, I mean, that’s pretty strong for a diplomat. What is going on here? I mean, what – how can you – what does that say about the relationship with China if they can defiantly just push it back in your face?

And the Russians so far are not cooperating either.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I can’t speculate or get in the heads of another country or – on their motivations. But as I mentioned before, what we’re trying to work through the Chinese with on our broader relationship are healthy norms of cooperation based on international standards. And so when you have something that is a relatively straightforward law enforcement cooperation matter and it’s not dealt with that way, it has an impact.

QUESTION: And “impact” again. I mean, just, you can’t --

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I know that --

QUESTION: -- tell us specifically, but I mean, even areas? Economically, diplomatically, what?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t want to speculate. This just happened less than 24 hours ago or a little more than 24 hours ago, so I don’t want to speculate. But certainly for us as we’ve – this is not in the pattern of some of the more positive steps we’ve seen with China in terms of increased collaboration and cooperation across a broad area of subjects.

Josh, go ahead.

QUESTION: So you’re placing the blame pretty squarely here on the Beijing government, not the Hong Kong government. You talk about the U.S.-China relationship. Can you talk about the pieces of evidence that you’ve seen that assure you that this was a decision made in Beijing and not in Hong Kong?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I’ll leave it up to the Hong Kong authorities to describe their decision making in relationship to the central government. But as I said, this will have an impact both on U.S.-Hong Kong relations and on U.S.-China relations.

QUESTION: You said – you were talking about U.S.-China relations, so you at least have come to the conclusion that Beijing was involved in this decision making in some --

MR. VENTRELL: Again, as we said, this is not a technical sort of immigration paperwork kind of matter taken at the Hong Kong level.

QUESTION: That’s yes? So Beijing was involved? I mean --

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I’ll let them clarify. But I think you all know the legal status of Hong Kong. I don’t have to provide more detail on that.

QUESTION: Is there another reason that the U.S.-China relationship would suffer due to a decision made by the Hong Kong authorities alone?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re concerned because of this specific incident, yes.

Guy, go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry to go around in a circle on this --

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: -- with you, Patrick, but just to clarify: So the Secretary of State said there will be consequences for these countries that facilitate Mr. Snowden’s flight. And you’re just not commenting now on what those consequences would be. Is that --

MR. VENTRELL: Nor did the Secretary yet. I mean, this is something that’s just happened. But the point is whether we have a really solid and warm relationship with a country or a less cooperative relationship, there are international standards of law enforcement cooperation that are important, and we expect other countries to abide by these international standards.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: And it has a consequence on our ability to have the wider range of the relationship.

QUESTION: I understand that the Ecuadorian Foreign Minister made a statement this morning saying that they’ve received a foreign – a request from Mr. Snowden for asylum and that they were considering it. But has the U.S. had any kind of exchange with Ecuador on this matter at all yet?

MR. VENTRELL: We have been in touch with Ecuador. As I mentioned, there are a number of countries that were potential destinations we’ve been in touch with. And we’ve made our point clear that, as I said, this is somebody who is wanted on criminal felony charges here in the United States and we’d like him returned to the United States to face justice.

QUESTION: What about Cuba? Has the U.S. had any contact with Cuba?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to check if that was directly or through our Interests Section or how we might have had communication with Cuba, but certainly they were one of the interested parties. I’d have to check on the actual mode of that communication, but we do have ways of getting in touch with the Cuban Government, certainly.

QUESTION: And Patrick, in terms of what you can really do other than, let’s say, urging them or pushing them to do something, what can the United States do to get him back at this point?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m just not going to speculate exactly, but you know how relationships work. We have broad relationships and we cooperate on interests of mutual concern. And so there’s an ability to cooperate more or less on areas of mutual concern, and that’s how --

QUESTION: I mean to actually get him, not down the road --

MR. VENTRELL: Oh, in terms of actually getting him?

QUESTION: Right now, yeah.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ll continue to work through law enforcement channels. I think – I really refer you to the Department of Justice for the outreach they’ve done through law enforcement channels, but they’ve been pretty clear to these countries and to Russia in particular our interest and why we’d like him returned to face justice for these very serious criminal charges.

QUESTION: And this morning in a call-in with Julian Assange, he said that the U.S. is bullying these other countries. What do you say to that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Jill, I reject that. I mean, we are having a normal diplomatic and law enforcement conversation with these countries about somebody who is charged with serious felony charges. That doesn’t mean that he’s guilty; it means that he should face justice just as everybody does in our system.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) about the South China Morning Post has just published a new report in which it quotes Snowden as saying that he deliberately took the job with Booz Allen Hamilton in order to be able to obtain information that he could then leak. Does this change, heighten the desire of the U.S. Government to bring him in? And are you concerned that he may, if he perhaps is still in Russia, may be sharing some of that information?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, I can’t speculate on motivations. Clearly, an oath was violated. Clearly, when you disclose sensitive national security information, classified information, that’s a violation of the law. And so for us that’s – those are very serious charges. And I can’t speculate on why he did so, but clearly, it does harm to the United States.

QUESTION: And in a related vein, are you able to say either in general terms or in specific terms how many contractors are working for the U.S. State Department on intelligence matters, since that is part and parcel of the work that happens, the information that has to be kept classified?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not sure that I could get into a level or a number of people that have security clearances or work in our Bureau of Intelligence and Research, but we do have communication, clearly, with the intelligence community. I’m just probably not going to be able to get into a precise number there.

QUESTION: But are they are all civilian employees of the State Department, or are they contractors?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we have civilians and we also have contractors who work and do tasks for the State Department. I don’t know for each level of handling of information who would be doing that, but --

QUESTION: Thanks. You talked in some detail about U.S. interactions with the Hong Kong government --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- before Snowden left Hong Kong. Could you talk to a similar level of detail about U.S. interactions with the Beijing government before Snowden left?

MR. VENTRELL: Just to say that this was raised at a high level as well with the government in Beijing.

QUESTION: How high?

MR. VENTRELL: At the ambassadorial level.

QUESTION: Has Interpol put out a red notice, or has the Administration asked Interpol to put out a red notice at this point?

MR. VENTRELL: My colleague Jay Carney talked about this a little bit already at his briefing and described that. I really refer you to DOJ, but my understanding is red notices are for people where we don’t know where they are. So I’m not aware one way or another whether we have the type of passport information – once there’s a revocation, would generally be available in Interpol’s databases.

So those are sort of – there’s been a little bit of confusion. And I just want to be very clear here. There was some media reporting that somehow the State Department had dropped the ball or we didn’t proceed as we needed to on this case, and I just want to outright reject that, that we have very much done our duty and done what’s necessary in expediting any processes that we have an involvement on. And certainly in terms of our diplomatic communication and the channel that we provide to some of these governments has been very active. So I just want to reject some of that reporting. Obviously, because of the Privacy Act, there’s some restrictions on how much I can say, but it has been frustrating to some of us to watch some news reporting implying something in that direction which is simply not true.

QUESTION: It’s been noted, just to follow up very quickly, that the U.S. has been pretty critical of countries like China and Russia for their freedom of speech rights or their human rights, and so it would come as little surprise where China, Russia would not be particularly aggressive in helping the U.S. bring Snowden back or extradite him in any way.

Can you say anything more about what kind of efforts will be taken to step up beyond what would usually be done in light of that kind of diplomatic relationship?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, just to say there is a certain irony here, of course, that somebody who says that he’s about freedom of the internet and freedom of information, of course, would seek out some of these countries, and particularly you don’t see him standing up for the free flow of information in some of these countries that don’t always have that. But again, as I said, I’m not going to speculate on future consequences. But the – in our communication with these governments what we’ve made clear is that we want to do this through our law enforcement cooperation. They have criminals at times that they’re looking for; we have criminals at times that we’re seeking to face justice here.

QUESTION: Patrick, can I get to the question that --

MR. VENTRELL: Let’s go, Jo. Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- that Laura just raised, the question about freedom of information. I mean, there are some people who – the supporters of Snowden would say that he’s doing precisely what you would want people in Russia or China to do, which is blowing the whistle on excessive state snooping and spying on its own citizens. Secretary Kerry described Edward Snowden on the weekend as a traitor to his country. That seems pretty strong language.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, it is, and it is for a reason, because we’re talking about very different things here. On the one hand, you’re talking about some of our intelligence programs, which again, I can’t always get into detail, but broadly speaking are to help keep us safe, to go after terrorists, and that are done in a legal way through our different branches of government, including with judicial oversight, including through the Congress. And so this is rules-based and done in a – in that manner, in contrast to some countries who are trying to rob economic information or go after human rights organizations or people trying to speak freely in their own country. So they’re very different ideas and they shouldn’t be conflated.

QUESTION: You could argue that Edward Snowden, all he did was actually tell us what’s going on. He didn’t actually leak any of the information that was garnered through those programs. He just told us it was happening.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, from our perspective he leaked classified information, and that’s a serious crime in this country. Having said that, the United States has long been a supporter of freedom of access to the internet, of free communication, and certainly we do these programs to help keep the American people safe and to help keep people safe in other countries by sharing tips on terrorists, potential terrorist attacks, and to keep others safe. So there’s really a pretty strong distinction there, and we feel pretty strongly about it.

Jill.

QUESTION: Patrick, this is almost more a technical question. The WikiLeaks people have described some type of asylum document that he traveled on. If his passport is revoked, can you actually travel on – what is an asylum document, and can you travel on it? Does that mean anything to you?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not familiar with the Ecuadorian legal system and with what travel documents they may have or under what grounds they would do it. I just can’t speculate on that. For us, the U.S. passport is the primary mode of travel for U.S. citizens. When somebody is convicted or is charged with serious criminal felony charges, we revoke the passport so that it’s only valid to return to the United States to face justice. But I just can’t speculate on what other travel documents may be issued by another country.

QUESTION: Well, I was thinking, let’s say that somebody came to the United States requesting asylum and they – their passport had been taken. Is there anything that the United States would give to that person that would bridge the gap if they don’t have a passport?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, that’s kind of a hypothetical about --

QUESTION: I know, but I’m just trying to figure out how --

MR. VENTRELL: I’d really refer you to DHS. There are a number of different ways to enter the United States. Generally, it’s through passports, but we have various forms of humanitarian parole and other things that work through the system. But I just don’t want to speculate or make comparisons because it’s a little bit oranges and apples, or apples and oranges, as you were.

QUESTION: I just want to make sure I have it absolutely clear. You have the oath that you’re saying he violated, this is an oath he took as – when he was a contractor for the NSA or when he was working for the CIA or --

MR. VENTRELL: Well, all of us who have access to classified information clearly make a pledge to our country and to protect that information. And so disclosing that information is a serious violation of our laws and of our standards and of the behavior we have within this government.

QUESTION: So it’s when he was a contractor that he took that oath?

MR. VENTRELL: It includes contractors who have access to this information as well.

Okay.

QUESTION: Among the countries – just to close this loop, among the countries that the U.S. is talking to, would that include Iceland? There’s been some mention that he’s applied for asylum, in Iceland as well.

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if we’ve been in touch with Iceland. Again, I’m not sure I can get into every single country, but broadly speaking, the ones that you’re seeing in the press are the countries we’re in touch with, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Julian Assange said that he had applied for asylum in Iceland, so --

MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t checked on that one in particular.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: The Hong Kong government offered a public explanation that our extradition request wasn’t completed in a full and lawful manner, an explanation you’ve just rejected.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Did the Beijing government make a similar argument or did they have a separate argument?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure about the argument, but we vehemently disagree with that characterization by the Hong Kong authorities, and I think the Department of Justice has laid out in pretty clear terms the type of information they provided and why it was legally valid in our opinion.

QUESTION: And what about the Beijing government, what’s their explanation?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not sure if they provided an explanation. You’d have to ask them.

Luis.

QUESTION: Patrick, in the high-level discussions underway with the Russian Government right now, have we communicated to them the potential consequences they could face if they allow him to transit through?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, beyond saying that we’ve discussed how we’ve had an intensified pattern of law enforcement cooperation, how it’s important to us, I’m really not going to get into the details of our diplomatic exchange. But I think you can tell by the sort of level of engagement that we’ve had that we take it very seriously. And I think the Russians certainly understand that.

QUESTION: So if you’re making these pronouncements to the countries in the Western Hemisphere, are you making them equally as strong to Russia?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re making it clear across the board regardless of which countries, and we do have a strong interest in him returning.

Okay. Other topics?

QUESTION: Patrick, I --

MR. VENTRELL: Guy.

QUESTION: Patrick, I’m sorry. I wasn’t here on Friday and --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- you may have already given an update on this. But the talks between Cuban and American postal officials about possibly reestablishing direct mail between the two nations, do you have an update on how those talks went? I believe they were held here in Washington on Thursday and Friday.

MR. VENTRELL: So these are the direct mail talks?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. So just to say that the establishment of direct transportation mail between the United States and Cuba is consistent with our goal of promoting the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. Last – on June 18th and 19th, so that’s last week, representatives from the State Department and the U.S. Postal Service met with representatives from the Government of Cuba to discuss establishing direct transportation of mail between the United States and Cuba.

And just to reiterate, and I think Jen said this last week, the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 states that the U.S. Postal Service shall take such actions as are necessary to provide direct mail service to and from Cuba. So the two sides continue to work on this, and as a result, will pursue means to open channels of regular communication related to mail, security, and operations.

QUESTION: So direct mail is not being reestablished as a result of these talks, right?

MR. VENTRELL: We didn’t establish a specific timeline for initiating direct transportation, but this is something that we’ll continue to work on with them.

QUESTION: Do you know – have you got anything for us on when the next round of talks will be?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a date on the next round, but this is something that, in the past, we’d had had some fairly regular discussion of and has now been back on the agenda between both countries. But I just don’t have an update on when the next meeting might be.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Syrian Foreign Minister said that the regime will go to the Geneva conference but no way will transfer the power to the opposition. Did you see that statement?

MR. VENTRELL: I did see it. I mean, these comments are unfortunate but not surprising. We think that a negotiated political settlement through the Geneva talks stipulates the power – the transfer of full executive power to a transitional governing – government. And so that’s been our clear interpretation of the Geneva communique, and we’ve made clear to the Russians that in bringing the regime to the table, that is going to be on the agenda. So we’ve been very clear about that.

QUESTION: So the Syrian Government’s saying they’re not going to talk about that. Doesn’t it really negate the value of holding a conference?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I mean, look, unfortunately, the Syrian regime’s lack of commitment to negotiations thus far is apparent. The increasing involvement of Iran and Hezbollah and the regime’s use of chemical weapons threaten to put a political settlement farther out of reach. So when we announced this process, we said the conference would be convened as soon as practical. That means as soon as it is determined, in partnership with the UN and with our international partners, including the Russians, that we’ve done the necessary preparations to bring the parties together for meaningful negotiations and move forward toward a political solution. And that’s very much under the Geneva 1 framework.

So those are the terms, and we’ll continue to press for that. Just to say that Under Secretary Sherman and Ambassador Ford are departing, I believe tonight, for meetings tomorrow with their UN and Russian counterparts in Geneva to take stock. So we’ll continue to work through these.

QUESTION: And --

QUESTION: Is – sorry.

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead. Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Is Assistant Secretary Jones going with them?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if Assistant Secretary Jones is on. I think she’s with the Secretary as they go to Kuwait and the rest of the bilateral agenda there.

QUESTION: So British Foreign Secretary William Hague said today at a press conference at the UN that the renewed government offensive against the opposition forces is harming any chances of holding this peace conference. Doesn’t it – doesn’t the picture look pretty gloomy at the moment?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I said, again, the increasing role of Hezbollah and Iran, it does put a political settlement farther away. But that doesn’t mean that we’re going to stop diligently pursuing one, because we think it’s the surest and most effective way to end this crisis.

Just to give a ground update – I know some of you want to get a daily check-in – but our understanding is that clashes continued this weekend around Aleppo, where the opposition is fighting to reverse recent regime gains. We note reports that regime militias in Aleppo executed 50 citizens in the southern neighborhood of Mazraa and shot 18 civilians in Douma. So the Assad regime and its supporters and all others who continue to commit crimes against the Syrian people should know that the world is watching and they will be identified and held accountable.

At the same time, you’ve also seen, of course, that the opposition is pushing forward and working to make gains in the same area of Aleppo as well.

QUESTION: So you’re hopeful that tomorrow they will be able to set a date for this conference?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t want to look into the crystal ball and predict one way or another. It’s about the conditions being ripe. We think that the political solution is the most enduring way to end this crisis, but the conditions have to be ripe. And so we’ll continue to push forward and do the best we can, but clearly, there’s a lot of work to continue to do.

Jill.

QUESTION: Patrick, this is another subject.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: There is a story about a businessman from Florida who apparently is being held at his own plant in Beijing, practically a prisoner.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: We’ve been in touch with the consular folks here --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and they’ve been helpful, but do you have something that you can say from the podium on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we are aware of a U.S. citizen involved in a commercial dispute in Beijing. We’re actively monitoring the situation and we ask that the Chinese Government work with appropriate authorities to ensure his safety and security, and we’re in contact with the U.S. citizen and providing appropriate consular assistance. But we don’t have a privacy – because of privacy reasons, we can’t say more, unfortunately.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. VENTRELL: Tolga, go ahead – or no, go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: I wanted to change subject.

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about Special Representative Dobbins --

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: -- who is in Kabul today --

MR. VENTRELL: He is.

QUESTION: -- and has been meeting with the Afghan authorities in Kabul.

MR. VENTRELL: He has been.

QUESTION: He’s had a press conference, but I didn’t actually see out of that whether he was asked or indeed said whether he’s been able to set a date yet for the talks with the Taliban. Can you help us on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, he hasn’t yet. I haven’t seen the transcript of his press availability, but I was able to confirm that he did not meet with the Taliban. And currently, he has – anticipates onward stops in Islamabad, Pakistan, and New Delhi, India. But we don’t have further details on potential stops beyond that at this time.

QUESTION: And so the idea is to hold the talks in Doha, right?

MR. VENTRELL: Right. That’s where they would be. We still haven’t set them. But as we’ve said, this is something we’re – we are clear about how difficult this could be, but it’s something that we’re open to, and we hope that the Taliban will be prepared to do their part as well.

QUESTION: What’s the main obstacle at the moment to setting a date?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything particular one way or another to read out. I mean, this is something that you know there were – that in the opening of the office, in the early hours, there were some terms that weren’t agreed to. Thanks to the efforts of the Qataris and others, there may still be an opportunity to move forward, so we need to see if we can get it back on track. We don’t know whether that’s possible or not.

QUESTION: Oh, really? So it might not happen at all now?

MR. VENTRELL: It might not. I mean, the Secretary said that over the weekend as well. We don’t know one way or another. There were some hopeful signs, a couple steps forward, in terms of opening the office. Clearly, some issues that – some of the agreement that wasn’t adhered to. But we want to see if we can get it back on track, but we’ll be clear-eyed and continue to see what can happen.

QUESTION: What – so again, what’s the stumbling block? What’s the problem with getting it back on track now?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have any particular terms or conditions or other problems. We’ve said that if a meeting’s possible, there’ll be one, but I just don’t have one to announce yet.

QUESTION: So the Taliban are actually not now acquiescing to a date for talks?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, we’re ready to meet, so – to take a step back, though, remember, for us the goal is to get Afghans talking to Afghans. We said that we were open to meeting with the Taliban because we have issues to raise with them directly, but the principal goal is to get Afghans talking to Afghans. And so I think part of Ambassador Dobbins’s trip was obviously working with the Afghans. And I think they’ve had some statements as well with the Afghanis over the weekend, where they made clear they are open to potentially having this way forward and a political dialogue, so --

QUESTION: So is the idea now to meet in a three-way situation then, with the U.S., Taliban, Afghans?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we said we’re willing to be there if they want us to be there, but we have to see what happens. The goal is to get the two sides talking together.

QUESTION: But it – I mean, this time last week it was going to be the U.S. and Taliban who were going to meet. Then we all know what happened with the office. Now --

MR. VENTRELL: Right. And so we’re still open to having that meeting, which hasn’t happened. Separately and apart from that, we think it’s important to get the Afghans talking to the Afghans directly. If the High Peace Council and the Government of Afghanistan wants us to play a part in that, we’re willing to play a part in that. But if not, they can have the talks directly amongst themselves.

QUESTION: So are you willing to step back now to allow the Afghan-to-Afghan talks to happen first, which was one of the requests from Karzai, of course?

MR. VENTRELL: They certainly could happen first, if that’s able to happen. It’s not clear whether that will transpire or not.

Okay. Tolga.

QUESTION: Yeah. I had a quick question --

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: -- regarding the European and Turkey relations.

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, as a support, U.S. Government was always a supporter of this process.

MR. VENTRELL: Yep.

QUESTION: But some EU members are reluctant to open chapters, new chapters, in this process with Turkey. Do you have a comment on --

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I have no change in position in terms of our support for Turkey’s European Union aspirations. That’s something that we’ve long been supporters of and will continue to be supporters of. I’d really have to refer you to other EU members for their position on that. But we do continue to follow events in Turkey closely, but separate and apart from that we’ve been clear that we support Turkey’s EU aspirations.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on planning a trilateral with South Korea and Japan for the ASEAN conference?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update on scheduling. You know that we met at the trilateral at the special representative level here in Washington. It’s a potential meeting that could happen on this trip, but I don’t have a confirmation one way or another.

Sarah.

QUESTION: Also on the conference, the North Korean Foreign Minister is going to go. Does the Secretary have any plans to meet with him, or would he be open to that?

MR. VENTRELL: Not that I’m aware of. I mean, I think that’d be fairly unusual. I’m not aware that that’s on the agenda.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Lebanon.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said at the top you were concerned with the situation. Is it a security concern, or are you more concerned about it being part of something along this Sunni-Shia divide in the Middle East or --

MR. VENTRELL: All of the above. We’re concerned about the security situation; we’re concerned about the spillover; we’re concerned about the deep sectarian overtones. So all of those concern us, and that’s why we’ll continue to express our support for the Lebanese Armed Forces, for Lebanese institutions, and we don’t want this – to see this spill over further. But clearly, we’ve been saying for many months that that’s one of the side effects or results of the Syrian conflict, is the destabilizing effect on its neighbors, and we’re deeply concerned about that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: You said Ambassador Dobbins is traveling to Islamabad.

MR. VENTRELL: He will on his next stop, yes.

QUESTION: Right. In what ways will he be seeking Islamabad’s cooperation towards initiation of reconciliation talks with the Taliban?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ve been appreciative of Pakistan’s interest in and support of reconciliation. We’ll continue to discuss that. And I imagine he’ll have a chance to have some wider discussions with his Pakistani counterparts and colleagues as well.

QUESTION: And will he be discussing economic and trade cooperation as well?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to double check and see. I’m not sure how many meetings he’s having and the scope of them. Let me get back to you on that.

QUESTION: And also, over the weekend, there was a terrible incident in Pakistan, where the international mountaineers were killed by some people in Pakistan. And this is for the first time that this thing has happened to the tourists in the north.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. The Embassy spoke to this over the weekend, but let me just say it again clearly: The United States Government strongly condemns the terrorist attack on tourists in the northern areas of Pakistan in which nine innocent tourists and a Pakistani guide were murdered on June 23rd. Our condolences go out to the loved ones affected by this senseless violence. And we can confirm that there was an American citizen killed in the terrorist attack. So we continue to express our condolences, and the FBI is working with Pakistani authorities to gather more information regarding this incident.

Okay. Anything else? All right. Thank you, all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:13 p.m.)

DPB # 105



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