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12:54 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. I have nothing at the top. Over to all of you.
QUESTION: I don’t really have anything that I’m expecting you to produce any news on – (laughter) – but I guess I’ll just ask – start with the Snowden case and if there’s any update on the situation there in terms of your outreach to the Russians or other governments that may seek or want to or not want to get involved in this situation.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, just to say that we are, indeed, continuing to be in contact with the Russians. As we said yesterday, we believe that there’s a basis for law enforcement cooperation to expel him, to return him to the United States, and we’re continuing to make that point to Russian authorities. I don’t have any particular diplomacy to read out, but that’s being done through diplomatic and law enforcement channels.
QUESTION: Does that mean today again?
MR. VENTRELL: We continue to be in touch with them today, yes.
QUESTION: And can you say if it’s there, it’s here, it’s over the phone, it’s what?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we use all those variety of channels, both for our post in Moscow and as well from Washington over the phone.
QUESTION: Patrick, on that basis, is it correct again, as I think you indicated before, that Secretary Burns – Under Secretary Burns is leading the discussions with the Russians? And also, Secretary Kerry mentioned seven people who – Russians who had been – sorry – seven Russians who had been returned or expelled from the United States back to Russia. Can you give us those names?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks, Jill. First of all, Deputy Secretary Burns was in contact with the Russians. I don’t have any phone calls to read out since that time. We have a number of different ways of channels of communicating with the Russians. Certainly, we know he has long experience in Russia and is an interlocutor with them, but I don’t have any phone calls of his to read out.
In terms of some of the high-level suspects, I’m not going to be able to provide precise biographic information. You know that part of this is some of them have to face justice in Russia, and there are certainly obligations in terms of names and disclosing, though, so I don’t have specific names to read out. But what I can say more broadly is that we’ve had many hundreds of criminals who have been returned to Russia, as I said, over the years, and it’s done through routine law enforcement cooperation. And on that basis, we also are asking for the return of this individual who was accused of very serious felony crimes here in the United States.
QUESTION: Right. Patrick, the only problem is that some are questioning why the Secretary would have brought up specifically seven cases if he can’t identify who they are.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we know who they are, but the point is to release them publicly, we don’t want to do anything that would publicly disclose names that may be going through a law enforcement – through a justice process inside of another country. So I don’t think we can necessarily disclose biographic data, but there certainly is this – the point that the Secretary is making is that we’ve had robust cooperation with the Russians and we want that to continue.
QUESTION: So is it the Russian law or the United States law that will not allow that?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure on each individual case, but I have talked to our law enforcement experts and their reasons for not disclosing the biographic data.
QUESTION: But these people were accused of what kinds of crimes in Russia?
MR. VENTRELL: The point being that you have some common criminals, but other more serious crimes, where the Russian authorities have taken a particular interest, and these were some of the cases that were high profile to them.
QUESTION: Well --
MR. VENTRELL: I’d really refer you to the Russian authorities if they think it’s appropriate to disclose any names. But I don’t think we’ll be doing that.
QUESTION: Well, in your experience, these people were charged with crimes in Russia? That’s your understanding?
MR. VENTRELL: That’s my understanding.
QUESTION: In your experience, do people who are charged with crimes in Russia often get exonerated? Are they --
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to make a --
QUESTION: Are people charged with crimes in Russia acquitted ever?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to give a grade to the justice system in that country.
QUESTION: I’m not asking that. I’m just saying these people – what kinds of – just, I mean, because there is a question about whether or not the case against Mr. Snowden is political or not, to the point where it was an issue with Hong Kong, where there was an extradition treaty, can you say whether any of these seven that the Secretary mentioned were arguably or could have been seen in a political light, or were they simply – were they common criminals, were they – or alleged common criminals, or --
MR. VENTRELL: We think that the term the Secretary and we’ve used is “high-profile.” These are cases that were of great import to the Russian Government. I don’t think I’m going to be able to lay out exactly what their crimes are, but from our perspective, Mr. Snowden’s crimes are not political. They’re serious felony offensives in the United States.
QUESTION: Are you able to say that it’s not --
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you able to say that it’s not those who are accused of spying within the U.S. that were returned? Can you rule that group of people out?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think those are the individuals we’re referring to here.
QUESTION: Patrick, if he --
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead. Go ahead, Nicolas.
QUESTION: Yeah. You just said that you are in constant contact with the Russians.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: How do you react to the last comments made by Sergey Lavrov, saying that Snowden is a free man and that he can go anywhere he wants?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen any since President Putin yesterday, which I reacted to, so I’m not aware of new Russian comments this morning.
QUESTION: Patrick --
QUESTION: When you talk about --
MR. VENTRELL: Roz, go ahead.
QUESTION: When you talk about trying to convince the Russians that they do have an obligation to return Snowden, can you get a little more into --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, the word we’re using is there’s a “basis,” so we’re not saying – we know we don’t have an extradition treaty with Russia, but --
MR. VENTRELL: -- there certainly is a law enforcement basis for – based on his travel documents and on the criminal counts that he’s been charged with – for returning him to the United States.
QUESTION: Well, they argue that because he technically has not set foot on Russian soil, that he’s in this clean zone, this transit point, in a similar situation, would the U.S. be able to go into the zone before you clear customs out at Dulles and be able to pick up someone that Moscow would want returned because of suspicions that this person had committed serious crimes?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re not going to interpret Russian law. That’s their sovereign ability to interpret how they apply their own laws in their own territory, but – so I’m just not going to make a comparison one way or another.
QUESTION: So I’m just – but I’m just trying to figure out, if they say that they technically don’t have the authority to lay hands on him and to carry out something that is a longstanding practice under this law enforcement relationship, then what? I mean, do you have any ability to – can you compel other countries to put him on no-fly lists? I mean, it seems as if he’s stuck in this zone.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, the Russians will do their own interpretation of their own regulations and their own laws, but we’re making the point to them that we do think there’s a basis for him to be returned, based on our longstanding law enforcement cooperation, and so those – under those terms, we’re seeking his return.
QUESTION: On Roz’s point – can I just follow up on that point?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Okay. On Roz’s point, so if he doesn’t have a passport, he’s really not free to go anywhere. So he could conceivably be stuck there endlessly, correct? Because he doesn’t have a visa, doesn’t have a passport, he can’t board any airplane, no one will take him.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, we’re just not going to refer to each individual’s travel documents and what they may or may not have.
QUESTION: No, but I’m saying technically, legally, could he be in an endless limbo, so to speak?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, there are different modes of travel documents. What we do for an individual like this, who is accused of serious crimes, is we provide a travel document that has one entry back to the United States. So that’s the kind of travel document we’re prepared to issue an individual accused of serious crimes.
QUESTION: Okay. So he would have a reentry document just for one trip?
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: Has that already been given to the Russian authorities?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t get into an individual case that we have or haven’t authorized a travel document for this individual or another, but that’s what we do in these cases in general.
Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Patrick, is there any discussion from either side about a prisoner swap or, let’s say, maybe not prisoners, because he’s not a prisoner, but some type of swap?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m certainly not going to get into every back and forth over a diplomatic discussion, but the point is that we think there’s a basis to return him, and that’s the point we’re going to continue to make to the Russians.
QUESTION: Can I just ask you about – recognizing you can’t talk about an individual case, but this one-way travel document you were just talking about in general --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- the way you do for fugitives, what does it say? You are allowed to come in --
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that we at --
QUESTION: -- and go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not --
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we have a way at the State Department, cooperating with DHS, that our embassies can provide letters for single entries in a number of different cases. Sometimes it has to do – it’s not always law enforcement.
QUESTION: But in a case like this?
MR. VENTRELL: It provides for the legal entry of somebody into the United States on a single --
QUESTION: And you can understand why he might not be really appreciative of – why the person who it’s made out to might not really want it, yes? Does it say you go directly to jail; you will be taken into custody as soon as you land?
MR. VENTRELL: No. I mean, look, the point is not that it has a law enforcement implication. The point is that it has a single entry. That’s what these documents do.
QUESTION: Patrick --
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- the Russian Embassy here in Washington says that Snowden’s on a transit visa that lasts for three days. And if he arrived in Moscow on Sunday, that means this visa would expire. After that, he would need a tourist visa – both, of course, you need to apply for ahead of time. I’m not sure if that happened, but --
MR. VENTRELL: I really refer you to the Russian authorities for the interpretation of their visa laws.
QUESTION: Okay. What next? I mean --
MR. VENTRELL: We don’t know what’s next.
QUESTION: And one more follow-up. A few hours ago, the --
MR. VENTRELL: We know what we’d like to be next, which is that he returns to the United States. But I don’t want to look into the glass ball.
QUESTION: Understood. Just one follow-up: Two hours ago, Reuters reported that the Government of Ecuador said that we need to – the United States needs to submit its position in writing regarding Edward Snowden’s – about him seeking asylum in the country and we have to argue against it. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. VENTRELL: Just to say – and I said this the other day – that we’ve been in touch via diplomatic and law enforcement channels with countries through which Mr. Snowden might transit or that could serve as a final destination. We’re not going to get into all the detail of that diplomatic back-and-forth, but we are advising these governments – and that includes Ecuador – that Mr. Snowden is wanted on felony charges, and as such he should not be allowed to proceed on any further international travel, other than as necessary to return him to the United States. So that’s still our position.
QUESTION: So will the United States be submitting a written position to Ecuador?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to get into our diplomatic exchanges with Ecuador. We’ll continue to be in discussion with them.
QUESTION: Patrick --
QUESTION: Mr. Snowden --
QUESTION: -- has there ever been a case where a U.S. citizen was able to get a visa on a revoked passport, to the best of your knowledge?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, once a passport has been revoked, it’s no longer valid for travel or for visas.
QUESTION: So no one can give him a valid visa?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to speculate on travel documents one individual or another might have or what they may contain or what travel they may allow. I’m just not going to speculate on it.
QUESTION: Mr. Snowden has threatened that he will release more information. My question is that that means he still has access to the classified or this important information? U.S. has blocked all these for his access?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, once somebody has been charged with these kind of crimes, they clearly no longer have their access to classified information. We have been concerned with the material that he continues to possess, and that’s something that we’ve clearly had a concern going back some time.
QUESTION: Are you asking those countries, including Russia, to block any internet or access in that area that he is in the airport?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to get into our diplomatic discussions, other than to say that we want him returned to the United States. And that is the thrust of our conversation with these foreign governments.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) something to ask for?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) happen? Like what if he seeked asylum?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, you all are asking a lot of hypotheticals. I think we’ve done what we can on Mr. Snowden today.
QUESTION: I have one non-hypothetical.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: On the relationship, there was quite a lot of heated rhetoric. Secretary Kerry on Monday made a, you would call it, a snide remark about internet freedom in Russia and in China. Now it seems to be a little bit diminished. But are you – what is your concern about how this is affecting relations? And why did the Secretary pull back and become a little bit more moderate in what he’s saying?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I reject that characterization. I think we’ve been consistent all along, and you can understand our frustration. But we’ve been consistent all along and registered our concerns, and we’re continuing to work through diplomatic channels. So I know you all in the news media have to make an analysis day by day, but we’ll certainly take stock of our relationships and take a look at this. This just happened a couple of days ago --
QUESTION: Change of subject?
MR. VENTRELL: -- but we’ll continue to take stock.
QUESTION: Can we stay on China, please?
QUESTION: Can you stay on Snowden?
MR. VENTRELL: Let’s let Luis go. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So Hong Kong officials are now saying that the paperwork that they received from the U.S. regarding Mr. Snowden had his middle name wrong, that there was a confusion between Joseph and James and that other records had it as Edward J. Snowden by itself, which one official told the AP those names are not exactly the same. What is your reaction to that?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d seen that in news reports. I don’t know if we’d seen that officially. Our position has been that the paperwork we’d given to Hong Kong was in order, but certainly we’ll take a look with our Justice colleagues and take stock as we go forward.
QUESTION: Would that have been something – something as minute as that, would that have been enough to have impeded the extradition?
MR. VENTRELL: The Hong Kong authorities knew exactly how we felt about this particular individual. We were very clear.
Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: During the talks with the Russian officials for last three days, do you get any sense that they are favorably considering or even positively considering your request, or this all negative kind of things coming back?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m just not going to read out their side of a diplomatic conversation while we continue to have that conversation in diplomatic and law enforcement channels.
QUESTION: But are you feeling confident that he’ll come back; they’ll deport him to U.S.?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m just not going to predict. We continue to make our case to the Russians and to any other countries that may serve as a place of transit or a final destination.
Emile, go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you concerned just for justice sake, or do you have real concern that he will be debriefed by Russian intelligence or – which could have already happened?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, we want him to face justice. I don’t think from the State Department podium would be the best place to give you an intelligence analysis of what we’re concerned about. I think the White House and the intelligence community have talked about their concerns, and I really refer you to them for a better analysis of that.
QUESTION: But just to quickly follow up on the intelligence question, given the overwhelming concern, has there been any initial assessment of what he has released?
MR. VENTRELL: I think the White House said that the intelligence community is doing an assessment, so I refer you to them.
QUESTION: Just a procedural question.
MR. VENTRELL: Yep.
QUESTION: Mr. Putin said let’s let the FBI and the FSB essentially take the lead here. Is that exactly what’s going on? I know it’s many branches of the government, but is it the FBI that’s leading the charge here?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, there’s very much a law enforcement channel, and I think we said that we want this dealt with as part of law enforcement cooperation, so that’s certainly a key channel. We have diplomatic channels as well.
Okay. Go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: What’s your position regarding millions of demonstrators getting ready to demonstrate against the – President Morsy and the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood and asking Morsy to step down?
MR. VENTRELL: Yep. Well, just, you heard the Secretary talk about this a little bit, I believe, at his press availability yesterday. But just to reiterate the U.S. position, we are closely watching developments in Egypt, including ongoing demonstrations and calls for further demonstrations in the coming week. All Egyptians have the right to express their opinions freely, and we’ve urged the government to protect that right. We urge all parties to refrain from violence and express their views peacefully. And political leaders have the responsibility of taking steps to ensure their groups do not resort to violence.
So we call on the government to be responsive to the justified concerns of its people. President Morsy, as Egypt’s first democratically-elected leader, has a special responsibility to reach out to all political groups and try to build consensus through compromise. So we continue to support Egypt’s democratic transition. And let me be clear, our support to the Egyptian people is not based on one party or one group, it’s for – it’s not for any political party; it’s for the success of all Egyptians. We want the Egyptians to prosper, we want their democratic system to succeed, and we want the rights of all Egyptians to be protected. That’s our key interest in Egypt, and their future is for them to decide, but we certainly want all political groups to figure out a way forward, figure out a way to cooperate, figure out a way to move their institutions and their economy forward. So we broadly support the Egyptian people. We want --
QUESTION: Would you think --
MR. VENTRELL: Let me finish. We want the Egyptian people to be successful.
QUESTION: Do you think that this regime, the Muslim Brotherhood regime, is doing the same things that the previous regime was doing against the freedom of expression and violating the freedom of demonstrating and expressing against the opposition?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, democracy requires compromise and concessions on everyone’s part, and Egyptians’ democratic transition is no different. So we hope that Egyptians will find a way to work together peacefully to address their concerns.
QUESTION: That’s not the answer of my – for my question.
MR. VENTRELL: And --
QUESTION: What about the regime? This regime is doing the same things --
MR. VENTRELL: You just heard. I had a very clear message both for the people and the Government of Egypt, and the message is that peaceful demonstrations should be allowed but that people should not resort to violence. So those – that’s a pretty clear message, and we want President Morsy to take into account the views of all Egyptians who want to be representative – want to be represented.
QUESTION: But this regime is – is it respecting or not the freedom of expression?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, our point for Egyptian leaders is that they need to demonstrate a clear commitment to work for all Egyptians, regardless of ethnicity, gender, political affiliation or religious belief. And that’s our broad message to the Egyptian leadership.
QUESTION: So – and if they don’t?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to get in --
QUESTION: That’s a hypothetical?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to get into the hypotheticals.
QUESTION: Okay. But presumably you thought that President Mubarak should also respect the rights of all Egyptian people and their freedom of expression --
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m just --
QUESTION: -- and the consequences for him not doing that were what?
MR. VENTRELL: Look --
QUESTION: A couple billion dollars a year in aid never taken away --
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, I’m not going to --
QUESTION: -- never threatened.
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to make comparisons. We’re invested in the success of the Egyptian people and --
QUESTION: Well, you were the one who said that Morsy, as the first elected President of Egypt, has a, quote, “special responsibility” to reach out to all Egyptians and to democracy. So if he doesn’t, has he been warned of some kind of consequence if he doesn’t?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m simply not going to get into a hypothetical or engage in that, but our message is very --
QUESTION: Okay. Then let’s take it out of the hypothetical.
MR. VENTRELL: Our message is very carefully --
QUESTION: Your – okay.
MR. VENTRELL: -- is very carefully crafted, both for the Egyptian people and the Egyptian Government. And we want all Egyptians to understand that we support the success of the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: Would you say that it would be fair to say that your message to President Mubarak was similar, that he should allow the Egyptian people to have --
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m just not going to make --
QUESTION: -- should respect the freedom – I’m not asking for a comparison. I just want to know if --
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to make a historical analysis or comparison or whatever you want to call it.
QUESTION: I’m not asking you for – did the United States, when President Mubarak was President of Egypt, want him to respect the Egyptian people’s right to free speech and did he want them – did you want him to respect the rights of free speech and demonstration? Yes or no?
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, you can go back and look at what we said at the time, and it’s pretty clear.
QUESTION: Well, the answer is yes, and he didn’t. And what did you do? What was the consequence of him not doing that?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, the key here, Matt, is looking forward, that we want the Egyptian political system, we want the Egyptian economy to succeed for the Egyptian people who have invested so much in this revolution and who want to see their rights respected and want to see their country move ahead.
QUESTION: Patrick --
MR. VENTRELL: And that’s the only U.S. interest, is supporting that broadly.
QUESTION: President Morsy, when he came to power, he granted himself a lot of power. And then a few weeks ago, and the State Department had a point – had a position toward – there was a law putting a lot of restrictions to non-governmental associations and --
MR. VENTRELL: And we were clear with our concerns at the time.
QUESTION: Yes. So this regime is doing stuff that the previous regime was doing. So what is your position? How do you see --
MR. VENTRELL: Transitions to democracy are hard. There will be ups and downs, there will be difficulties, there will be progress. We broadly support the Egyptian people to make that progress and to consolidate the democratic transition, so we’ll continue to make that point broadly and we want the Egyptian people to know that we support them and wish them success.
QUESTION: In the aftermath of accusations by liberal groups, secular groups, civil society people accusing Ambassador Patterson of being partial to the Muslim Brotherhood, has there been any meetings between these groups and the Ambassador?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, the Ambassador and the Embassy meet with a wide range of groups, and you saw Ambassador Patterson’s comments. She made clear that we fully support Egypt’s democratic transition and that we want the Egyptian people to fulfill their vision for their country. So she was very clear on that. But she and her Embassy team meet routinely with a wide range of sectors throughout Egypt.
QUESTION: I understand, but they made, actually, very scathing accusations. Has she been able to sort of alleviate these fears and so on with these particular groups?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, she and her team will continue to have contact with a wide range of Egyptian society.
QUESTION: So the Muslim Brotherhood is now an ally to the United States?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, Egypt, broadly speaking, has been a longstanding ally of the United States, and we support the Egyptian people in this transition, and we will continue to.
QUESTION: Yeah, but the Muslim Brotherhood in power right now in the regime, are they an ally to the United States?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, we continue to have a relationship with President Morsy and his government. We continue to want a productive relationship, but the future of Egypt is for Egyptians to decide and we want Egyptians, broadly speaking, to be successful, and we want to have a good, positive relationship with the Government of Egypt.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Pakistan’s new Prime Minister now, Mr. Nawaz Sharif, is asking again the U.S. to have good relations, but he wants to stop first these drone attacks – number one. Number two, his government is going ahead with the forcing the laws of the country against General Musharraf, and on charges on treason, killing – allegedly killing the former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and also other key leaders in Pakistan. Any comments on that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, on the issue of Mr. Musharraf, I really refer you to the Government of Pakistan for more information. I don’t have a position one way or another on that.
QUESTION: And the drone attacks?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, we have broad counterterrorism cooperation with Pakistan, and we’ll continue to have the conversation about our counterterrorism cooperation going forward.
QUESTION: And finally, any plans of any visitations to and from Pakistan to foster the relations in the future?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, you know that Secretary Kerry was unable to make it on this trip. You know that he very much wants to go there and spend enough time there, have an appropriate window of time to spend in Pakistan. He looks forward to it. Our Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Dobbins, was just in Islamabad yesterday. He has a press conference, which I’d be happy to get you the transcript, where he read out his meetings with the Pakistani leadership. So we continue that high-level engagement.
QUESTION: Speaking of Ambassador Dobbins --
MR. VENTRELL: Yes, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well --
QUESTION: It’s more on Pakistan.
QUESTION: -- there’s one on Pakistan.
QUESTION: Just one more on Musharraf.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. You guys are all over the place. Matt, go ahead.
QUESTION: Huh? Oh, I just wanted an update on his trip, but that’s because I haven’t been here, so I don’t – did he ever go to Doha? Has he been there yet?
MR. VENTRELL: He’s in New Delhi. We anticipate he’ll return to the United States. I don’t have any other stops to read out.
QUESTION: So he didn’t go to Doha?
MR. VENTRELL: He has not gone to Doha at this point.
Lalit, back to you.
QUESTION: On Pakistan.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any plans of an announcement for Secretary Kerry’s travel to Pakistan? There are some media reports in Pakistan saying that Secretary Kerry might not even go to Pakistan now.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, no, Secretary Kerry will go to Pakistan, and we’ll look for a date. We don’t have one to announce yet, but he looks forward to it. And we said at the time he wasn’t able to make it on this trip because of timing, but he looks forward to having an appropriate time to spend a good, significant portion of time in Pakistan and meet with the leadership and society.
MR. VENTRELL: Let me see if I have a readout of Delhi. I don’t have a readout of Delhi yet, but we’ll go ahead and see if we can get you one. I understand he may do a press availability. Well, let me see, actually. I take that back. He arrived in India today. He’ll meet with Indian officials, including his counterpart Special Envoy Lamba and Foreign Secretary Mathai, and they’re going to discuss a broad range of issues related to Afghanistan, including the reconciliation process and our support for a unified, stable, and secure Afghanistan. But in terms of a readout after the meetings, let’s see if he gives a press availability out there.
Jill, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Well, you saw the President already put out a statement, and --
MR. VENTRELL: -- here at the Department level --
QUESTION: Wait, wait. And you disagree with the President’s statement, right? (Laughter.)
MR. VENTRELL: We fully agree with the President’s statement. (Laughter.) What I wanted to say was here at the Department level, what we’re – what we’ll be focused on is implementing. And you know, first of all, that the Administration’s policy going back some time is that this was unconstitutional. And so our legal experts across agencies will look at the steps that need to be taken to implement the opinion.
Here in the State Department, of course, we have a number of same-sex couples who are diplomats, and there will be certainly provisions for our own regulations inside of the Department, and we look to fully implement those. And you know that protecting the rights of all LGTB persons is a core goal of this Department and of this Administration. So we believe that all people are created equal, and we look forward to implementing the legislation within the Department.
QUESTION: But how will this affect the diplomats, since they can grant for their partners specific visa for partners? So how this will help the diplomats?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, it’s up to each department to implement the various pieces. I was speaking about U.S. diplomats in the State Department. For foreign individuals, it would be the Department of Homeland Security that will have to implement the regulations.
So again, the ruling just came out this morning. It’ll take the Legal Adviser some time to work through exactly how it’ll be implemented, but we look forward to implementing it for our – the members of the State Department family, and we think that this very much is in line with what the Administration hoped would happen.
QUESTION: Does this complicate the deployment of some FSOs, Foreign Service officers, who may be in same-sex relations, if they’re going to countries where same-sex relations are considered illegal?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I can’t speak to what might happen in some of those countries, but you know that under Secretary Clinton, a number of steps have been taken to administratively rectify some issues so that same-sex couples could be part of the same household or same family. But some of those issues couldn’t be rectified precisely because of the legal constraints of DOMA, and so things like health insurance and other areas were a setback, and so we have to look at exactly what the ruling says and how it’s going to be implemented in each agency, but --
QUESTION: You mean before DOMA, there was no problem with diplomats – same-sex marriage – going overseas with their diplomats? There was no problem with some countries who don’t --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, we had made some administrative changes already.
QUESTION: -- accepts same-sex marriage.
MR. VENTRELL: But there were some legal issues that had to continue to be worked through. Okay?
QUESTION: Do you have any response to Senator Cruz, who has said he’s going to put a hold on every single State Department nomination that goes before the Senate until an IG is appointed? Is this a responsible exercise of the advise-and-consent function?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Matt, as we’ve said previously, and as the Secretary himself has said publicly, the Secretary and the President have identified an excellent candidate for Inspector General for the State Department, and we look forward to the nomination becoming public after the vetting and paperwork process is complete. And this is a position that’s particularly important to the Secretary and to the President.
Regarding other nominations which this may have an impact on, you know that the Secretary remains focused on the State Department getting the full State Department team in place. We have a number of outstanding nominees in front of the Senate right now and more nominations coming from the White House as well. So it’s a priority for the Secretary, and he looks forward to getting his team in place as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Right. Okay. My question, though, was: Do you believe this is a responsible use of the advise-and-consent function?
MR. VENTRELL: Look. From our vantage point --
QUESTION: Are you aware of complaints from the Hill that senior positions in the State Department have not been filled yet since the second term began?
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, from our vantage point --
QUESTION: Are you aware of complaints from the Hill that many senior positions have not been filled since the second term began?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I think what the Secretary wants and what --
QUESTION: Yes or no.
MR. VENTRELL: Let me --
QUESTION: Are you aware of complaints from the Hill --
MR. VENTRELL: I think there are plenty of members on the Hill, Matt, who share the same concern as the Secretary, which is getting a full team in place here in this building as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Okay. And do you think that a move like this is conducive to getting the full team in place as soon as possible?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, we want to get the full team in place as soon as possible, and we don’t want holds placed on people. But having said that, we’ve --
QUESTION: All right.
MR. VENTRELL: -- the Secretary already said that he and the President have found an excellent individual and would like to get him nominated as soon as possible.
QUESTION: All right. Well, it’s – my question is: Do you think that Senator Cruz is using his – using the senatorial power and responsibility of advice and consent in an appropriate and responsible way by saying --
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I don’t want to make a broad --
QUESTION: -- by threatening to – by saying, not just threatening, by saying that he will put holds on every nomination that comes before the Senate until this one position is filled?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to make a --
QUESTION: Is that a responsible way for someone who is supposed to be --
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to characterize, broadly speaking, Senate action one way or another. We clearly want to get our full team in place, and we’ll continue to make that case, and I just don’t want to comment specifically on one hold versus another. We’ll continue to work with the Congress.
Go ahead, Samir.
MR. VENTRELL: We did get a briefing from – well, first of all, I would reject that characterization. We did get a briefing from our team, which is en route back. Just to say that Under Secretary Sherman and Ambassador Ford had substantive trilateral discussions yesterday in Geneva that covered a lot of ground for the Geneva conference on Syria. We are proceeding with our preparations for the conference, but we’re not going to put a timeline on this, as I said yesterday. U.S. and senior Russian officials were going to continue to go back to our ministries and here to the Department and discuss next steps about what can happen at the meeting that’s going to happen here in Brunei, which is the next step, where the Secretary will meet his Russian counterpart, Lavrov.
QUESTION: Sorry, is that a new formulation, “We’re not going to put a timeline on this”? Is that something that I missed over the last – the course of the last three days?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, it’s something I’ve said over the past couple of days. I’m not sure the first time we’ve said it, but we’ve --
QUESTION: Well --
MR. VENTRELL: Let me – Matt, let me be clear --
QUESTION: -- because what I remember is that you wanted it in June, and then you said maybe July, and then you said maybe August. And if that’s not a timeline, then I don’t know what it is. So --
MR. VENTRELL: We want it as soon as is practically possible. We understand the difficulties here. You know, certainly with Iranian and Hezbollah activity inside of Syria, some of the complications that this has caused. But we and the Russians and the UN all agree on the importance of a political settlement. We know that it’s the best path to peace. The Secretary said that. And we’ll continue to make that case and continue to work through the diplomacy because we need a negotiated, political settlement.
QUESTION: Is there any concern at all, or any sign at all, that the Snowden situation is affecting U.S.-Russian talks on Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we agree with President --
QUESTION: Or were they just so bad to begin with already that --
MR. VENTRELL: Matt --
QUESTION: -- it doesn’t really matter, make any difference?
MR. VENTRELL: -- President Putin was clear yesterday he doesn’t want this to affect the broader bilateral relationship, and we agree.
Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: So you are waiting until the situation changes on the ground. Is that a fair characterization?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, no. I mean certainly at any moment that the parties are ready to have this kind of conversation seriously, we welcome that. We’re at a place right now where while the regime has indicated, sure, we want to have some sort of discussion or some sort of talk, they haven’t been serious about understanding that this has to be people coming to the table who are focused on protecting the rights of all Syrians and providing for a transitional government that will be a government for all Syrians and all Syrian citizens.
QUESTION: So you want – just so I can understand you correctly – so you want the regime to come out and issue an official statement saying we are going to Geneva so we can have a transitional authority, correct?
MR. VENTRELL: We want both sides to come to the table in good faith, understanding that the purpose of the talks is to implement the Geneva framework, which includes the outcome of a transitional government with full executive authority.
QUESTION: But isn’t it true, though, that you really would like to see the balance of forces on the ground shifting in favor of the opposition so they can have an equal setting at the table?
MR. VENTRELL: We have been very clear that we want to support the opposition, that we want their position to improve, and so we’ll continue to work with the opposition among the London 11 and to continue to assist them so that they continue to protect themselves. And of course we want them to have the best possible negotiating position.
QUESTION: And news reports have indicated that now the FSA is organizing to a brigade level, and they have American uniforms. They are wearing American-supplied uniforms – I’m sorry – American-supplied uniforms and so on. And they are waiting to receive arms maybe in mid-July. Can you comment on that?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve been clear that we’re providing a whole range of assistance. I’m not going to get into all the details, but we’ve been clear that we’re going to provide direct assistance to the SMC.
While we’re on Syria, I just wanted to take – and I talked a little bit about this yesterday – but we continue to be concerned about the regime’s ongoing surges of Tal-Kalakh and al-Qarayatayn. These are neighborhoods in and cities in Homs – Homs province where regime forces, with the support of Hezbollah, have now repeatedly imposed a full siege on the cities. And we are concerned by the implications that there may be major impending regime offenses against these areas. And as you know, the UN Commission of Inquiry has made detailed reporting on the regime’s use of this appalling siege tactic: they cut electricity, food, supplies access, and basically try to starve the people out. And so we think this is particularly appalling and we see it happening in these two cities right now.
QUESTION: Okay, are you aware that about 20 Syrian laborers in Lebanon have been attacked with knives? They have been stabbed on the presumption that they are Alawites and their attackers were Sunni vigilantes. Are you aware of that?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t – I hadn’t seen that particular report, but we’re of course concerned about any violence with sectarian overtones. As I said yesterday, they’ll remember, of course, that this is a regime that’s willing to slaughter anybody in its political opposition and has made that clear from the beginning.
Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: The internal opposition in Syria is claiming that they were vetoed by the U.S. to – from going to Geneva. Does the U.S. have any veto on any Syrian army?
MR. VENTRELL: Of course not. This is for the Syrian opposition to sort out. We want them to sort out their leadership issues. We want them to have a broad representative moderate grouping who can represent the rights of all Syrians as they go into the important process. And both sides will need to have representatives who are focused on the future of Syria and all Syrian citizens.
QUESTION: I’m talking about the internal opposition, the people who are in Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: And certainly we want members of the internal-external opposition to be a part of that. These are Syrian citizens who need to represent all Syrians.
QUESTION: As one? As one group?
MR. VENTRELL: They need to represent all Syrians. We’d like them to have one unified group that can provide – can negotiate on their behalf.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you expressed your concern or your disagreements to Israel after the green light for the construction of 69 new homes in east Jerusalem?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure the report on the 69 homes we’d – clearly when there are settlement issues, we very much have a clear position on that. I do really refer you to what the Secretary said today in his press availability in Kuwait – we’ll get you the transcript of that here momentarily. But the Secretary is in the region, he’s just wheels-down in Amman, and you know that he’s going to hold a series of meetings with Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian leaders. We’re not going to get ahead of those or preview them, but both Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas have indicated a seriousness of purpose in returning to the negotiations. Clearly, there was, as the Secretary said, homework ongoing, that we needed to take stock, and so he’s going to go take stock with these leaders and see if some of the hard decisions have been made. So he looks forward to his meetings.
QUESTION: Patrick, on this issue.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have any comment on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu going deep in a settlement in the West Bank and christening an elementary school right on the eve of the visit of Secretary Kerry? You have a comment on that?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if we spoke to this earlier. I’ll have to go back and see if we had some information about that school visit. I had seen that in the news, but I’m not sure if I have a particular reaction.
QUESTION: But would that be like a disturbing development before his visit?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, the Secretary is going to sit down and meet with both sides and he looks forward to having these meetings starting here shortly.
QUESTION: Okay. The chief Palestinian negotiator commented on this, saying that every time Secretary of State Kerry prepares to come for a visit, we have other settlement activities or we have efforts like what Prime Minister Netanyahu did to scuttle the process. Do you believe that the Palestinians are reading the situation properly?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, the Secretary is very focused on getting both sides back to the table. There have been very positive statements from both sides about the Secretary’s efforts in that regard, and they’ve indicated a seriousness of purpose. So that’s the Secretary’s goal.
QUESTION: And lastly, to talk about maybe a meeting between Abbas and Netanyahu, some Palestinians saying that President Abbas, under the pressure of the Americans, might go to one round of talks. Would you dissuade him from going to just one round, and maybe have a process going?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to read into a crystal ball about exactly how the meetings are going to go, but the Secretary’s pretty clear that he was going to meet with both sides individually, and let’s see how those meetings go.
Okay. Go ahead, Anthony.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: There have been some violent clashes in Xinjiang where I think close to 30 people have been killed, so I’m wondering if you have any reaction or comment to this.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, well, we’re closely following the reports of violence that have taken the lives of 27 people in Xinjiang. We – we’ll continue to monitor the situation closely, and we offer our condolences to the families of the victims and urge Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough, transparent investigation of this incident, to provide those detained the due process protections to which they’re entitled under China’s constitution, laws, and international human rights commitments, and just to say that we remain deeply concerned by the ongoing reports of discrimination and restrictions against Uighurs and Muslims in China. So this is something that we’ve been clear about.
QUESTION: On Benghazi, there’s been – the reported diary of Ambassador Chris Stevens has been published on several websites. Do you have any comment on that, and can you confirm that this is, in fact, his diary? And did the State Department do anything to try to prevent its publication?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, just to say that Ambassador Stevens’ family has made clear to media outlets that they did not want this private journal published. Ambassador Stevens was a cherished member of the State Department community who was clearly deeply committed to U.S. diplomacy and to the people of Libya, and he is profoundly missed here at this Department and here in this government. This does appear to be his personal journal, which the family had requested not be made public.
QUESTION: There’s a reference at the end there, the last entry where he talks about security concerns. Do you have anything on that?
MR. VENTRELL: And security concerns were absolutely what was looked at in the ARB process very thoroughly, and very much we’re addressing the ARB recommendations.
Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Patrick, in there, there is a reference to some type of alleged arms trafficking from Libya to Syria. Is there anything that you can tell us about that?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that particular piece, but again, all the issues that were raised about security were looked at by the ARB, and you know that the family opposed making this public because it was his personal diary. But I’m not sure that there was anything that was new or different there that we hadn’t already been aware of.
Okay? Go ahead.
QUESTION: One last one on Venezuela?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout of the meeting between Assistant Secretary Jacobson and the Venezuelan charge d’affairs?
MR. VENTRELL: I was just trying to catch up with her this morning to get the readout, and I don’t have that yet for you, but I will endeavor to get that before the end of the day for you all.
QUESTION: Can you? And is that the first – was that the next step – stage after Guatemala?
MR. VENTRELL: That was the next step. Yeah, that was the next step. So let me go ahead and --
QUESTION: And it was today?
MR. VENTRELL: I believe it was yesterday. So let me go ahead and get that readout for you all.
QUESTION: Yeah, if you could find out if it – if Snowden came up in that conversation too, it would be interesting if it was --
MR. VENTRELL: I will endeavor to get you all a readout of that first meeting yesterday.
QUESTION: Do you have --
MR. VENTRELL: Luis, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- an extradition treaty with Bolivia?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, our extradition treaties are public on the website. I’m not sure about each and every individual country.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Yeah.
QUESTION: How do you look at the power transition there?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, just to say, first of all, of course, you saw the President’s statement, but I can also read out for you that Secretary Kerry called to extend his best wishes to Qatar’s new Amir, His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Secretary Kerry noted Qatar’s smooth transition and that he looks forward to working with Sheikh Tamim as our two countries promote regional and global stability, prosperity, and progress. He also spoke with His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani expressing thanks for Sheikh Hamad’s leadership and commitment to working with the United States. And in both calls, he reaffirmed that the United States will continue to stand by Qatar as a valued partner. So those calls happened yesterday.
QUESTION: Do you see such a transition as a good way to share power in the Gulf area?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, we have a strong relationship with Qatar. I’m not sure that I’d comment one way or another on their internal transition or exactly how that mechanism works, but they’re a valued ally and a partner.
QUESTION: But you see it as a good thing, I mean?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, you know what our – broadly speaking, and this is across the region and across the world, we support the rights of people to have their aspirations represented. Each country is different and has different procedures. So I don’t want to make sort of comparisons, apples to oranges, with other countries, but we have a valued partnership with them and our broad policy is to support the aspirations of people to have their rights protected and to have as representative a government as possible.
QUESTION: So, wait, are you trying to say that you don’t support democracy in all countries?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, the U.S. doesn’t --
QUESTION: Some countries you think absolute monarchy is okay? Wait, I don’t get it.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, broadly speaking, the U.S. supports democracy around the world, the right of people to have their aspirations protected. We also have strong relationships with a number of countries, and each country is different and is at a different stage of various political systems, so I just don’t think we’re going to make a comparison.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- a different part of Ecuador. An American has been missing there for almost two weeks – August Reiger. Do you have any update on his situation?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we are aware of reports that a U.S. citizen is missing in Ecuador. You know that here at the State Department, protecting the well-being of U.S. is one of the Department’s highest priorities, and we take all such reports very seriously. The U.S. Embassy in Quito is in contact with the family and is monitoring the situation closely.
QUESTION: Are you aware of reports that he’s been kidnapped?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I don’t think we can comment on the particulars of this individual’s case, but we take these reports very seriously.
QUESTION: And broadly speaking, when – in cases like this, what exactly does the Department do with its consular affairs?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we stay in very close touch with the family. We help provide liaison with local authorities. We certainly provide in cases where there’s a need for legal counsel. But it just depends on the individual case.
QUESTION: Any U.S. position on news about Hezbollah being part of the military operation done – executed by the Lebanese army near Sidon?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to check into that. I’m not sure if they’re – we have information about Hezbollah’s involvement, but we’ve been very clear about its negative role.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we certainly agree that it’s been very negative to have the Iranian and Hezbollah foreign involvement inside of Syria.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:38 p.m.)