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1:31 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon, and welcome to the State Department. A couple of things at the top. First of all, welcome to our spokespeople outgoing to U.S. embassies overseas. Welcome to the briefing.
Secondly, in Albania, we congratulate the citizens of Albania on their peaceful and active participation in the June 23rd parliamentary elections. We support the OSCE/ODIHR Election Observation Mission and its assessment that the Albanian people freely expressed their will at the ballot box. While the final tabulation and appeals are still ongoing, these elections mark a significant step in Albania’s democracy, and the U.S. looks forward to working with the new government and will continue to support Albania’s path toward membership in the European Union.
So having said that, over to all of you.
QUESTION: Well, I guess the only thing that I have is just to ask if there’s any update on the Snowden situation, contacts with the Russians, contacts with other countries, particularly Ecuador who announced – that announced this morning that they were suspending some of their trade deals or consessions with the U.S.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you heard me say yesterday, I don’t have really a lot of updates in terms of reading out diplomatic activity, but as I said yesterday, we agree with – on the issue of Russia, we agree with President Putin that we don’t want this issue to negatively impact our relations, and we’re simply asking Russia to build on our cooperative history of working together on law enforcement matters and to go ahead and expel Mr. Snowden.
In terms of Ecuador, we’ve had our differences with Ecuador, but we’ve also found ways to cooperate, and so we’re making the same case that this is an individual who has been charged with three serious felonies and he should be returned to the United States and stand trial. So that’s the point we’re making there.
In terms of the trade relationship with Ecuador, I mean, those are really congressional, unilateral trade preferences granted by the U.S. Congress to Ecuador. So I’m not sure that you can really withdraw from them one way or another, but we are Ecuador’s largest trade partner representing 35 percent of Ecuador’s total trade. That’s somewhere in the range of a $10 billion economic relationship, and so we are an important economic partner of theirs. And Congress has, going back since, I believe for a number of years, had these unilateral trade preferences.
QUESTION: Well, but do you think that this will hurt the Ecuadorian people?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t want to speculate on decisions that haven’t been made by the Congress about whether to extend. There’s also some trade preferences that are through USTR, and I’d refer you to USTR for more information on those. But while we’ve had our differences with Ecuador, cooperating on the economic relationship can have positive effects. I don’t want to speculate on what may happen in that regard.
QUESTION: Well, but I mean, do you – I mean, when Ecuador goes and says, “We don’t want to have this certain relationship with the United States,” as you mentioned, it’s – we are the largest trading partner with the country. It’s $10 billion a year. So surely you have – there’s an opinion or a judgment from this building as the lead foreign affairs operation – outfit in the – agency – in the government about whether you think that this is in the best – that the Ecuadorian Government by doing this is acting in the best interests of the Ecuadorian people.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, that’s for the Ecuadorian people to decide. We certainly think through robust trade and improving economic --
QUESTION: Patrick, you just talked about – you just congratulated the Albanian people on the election, so it’s not as if you don’t have opinions about things that other governments do. I’m just asking you if you think that what the Ecuadorian Government did in suspending its preferences --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, first of all, as I said, they can’t really suspend it. It’s a unilateral preference granted by the U.S. Congress.
QUESTION: So you’re going to force it on them?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, no. But the point is that the U.S. Congress has provided these trade benefits --
QUESTION: Do you think that if Ecuador takes steps that would somehow reduce the trade that they have with the United States or gives up preferences that help trade with the – that helps them trade with the United States, is that in the best – is that a good thing or a bad thing for the Ecuadorian people?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, we would hope that the government would be looking out for the economic prosperity of their people, but that is for their people to make that judgment.
QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But do you think that this is a move that looks out for the best interests of the Ecuadorian people?
MR. VENTRELL: That’s for the Ecuadorian people to say. I mean – well, more broadly speaking, we’ve --
QUESTION: It’s not up for the Ecuadorian – I’m asking you if you think it’s a good idea. (Laughter.)
MR. VENTRELL: We think that having robust trade and a good economic relationship is good for the U.S.-Ecuador relationship.
QUESTION: All right. So suspending or surrendering these preferences is not a good thing in your --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, let me take the lens back a little bit. What would not be a good thing is them granting Mr. Snowden asylum. That would have grave difficulties for our bilateral relationship. That would cause there to be grave difficulties in our bilateral relationship. And so taking the lens back a little bit, if they take that step that would have very negative repercussions.
In terms of the trade relationship, again, we’ve had areas where we disagree and areas that we agree with Ecuador. Having an improved and better economic relationship is an area we’d like to continue to cooperate with Ecuador on.
QUESTION: And you do believe that the grave – whatever the word was that you used – grave – what was it, grave --
MR. VENTRELL: Grave difficulties.
QUESTION: -- difficulties, would that hurt the Ecuadorian people?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, as I’ve said, one of the areas that we’ve been able to cooperate on is economics and the economic relationship. You know that the U.S. and Ecuadorian people have longstanding ties, a lot of history together. And so we’d like to have those productive relationships where we can. But I’m just not going to speculate on, again, what may happen neither with congressional – the congressional trade measures, nor with the USTR provisions either.
QUESTION: Well, you’re not going to speculate on what? What happens if they give him asylum?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Again, I’m not going to speculate on what happens if they give him asylum. Obviously, it’ll have grave consequences.
QUESTION: Well, you just said – but you just did. You just said that there will be grave – (laughter) – you just said it would be a problem.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Well, I’m not going to spell that out loud.
QUESTION: So you did speculate. Well, I’m not asking you – I just think – I mean, if that happens, since you’re willing to say that there would – this would be very problematic for the bilateral relationship, do you think that that would be in the best interests of the Ecuadorian people?
MR. VENTRELL: We think it’s in the best interests of the U.S. and the Ecuadorian people to have a positive relationship where we can.
QUESTION: All right.
MR. VENTRELL: All right?
QUESTION: Can I just follow up?
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Jo.
QUESTION: I mean, Matt was asking: What are you going to do? You’re going to force it on them if they can’t withdraw bilaterally from it? And in fact, Correa – President Correa said himself today, quoting that these preferential rights in exchange for the cooperation in the war on drugs have become, quote, “a new instrument of blackmail.” Would you like to respond to that on behalf of the U.S. Government?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, no, we reject that characterization, and again, where we can have a positive economic relationship, that’s a good thing. But I’m just not going to characterize the reaction.
QUESTION: So if they can’t withdraw unilaterally from it, what’s the next step? I mean, do they just carry on anyway? I mean, is this an empty gesture, I suppose, is what I’m asking on the part of Quito?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’d just characterize it as their unilateral trade provisions that provide a benefit to certain Ecuadorian products. Whether they’re renewed or not is a prerogative of the U.S. Congress. I mean, I can’t – I just have nothing more for you on it.
QUESTION: So it’s an empty gesture, then?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m just not going to characterize it further.
QUESTION: And can I just clarify --
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- Moscow is saying they still have not received an extradition request for Mr. Snowden; is that correct?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I mean, there is not an extradition treaty. We’re making clear through bilateral channels our strong desire to have him returned to the United States, and the Russians are very clear about how we feel about Mr. Snowden.
QUESTION: Well, technically, if there’s no treaty, can you submit an – you can’t submit an – per say, an extradition request?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, there is no extradition treaty, but --
QUESTION: Exactly, unless there’s a treaty. So it’s --
MR. VENTRELL: So we’re making clear through bilateral --
QUESTION: -- moot whether or not they’ve gotten one or not because you can’t really do it.
MR. VENTRELL: We’re making clear through bilateral channels our desire to have him returned, okay?
Luis, go ahead.
QUESTION: Interfax is actually citing these diplomatic communications as being informal and that there has not been a formal law enforcement request. Would that be made by the Justice Department? And are you in contact with them so that they do make this kind of a request?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Beyond saying that it’s both through law enforcement channels and diplomatic channels and it’s directly with the Russians, I’m not going to characterize it further. But we have been in touch frequently with the Russians on this particular case.
QUESTION: Well, what do you make of the fact that they characterize these as informal diplomatic contacts?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I haven’t seen the full context of that, but we are very directly in communication with the Russians.
QUESTION: One more, Patrick, with regard to the impact on U.S.-Russian relations here. So all week, you’ve suggested from this podium that there would be some sort of consequences if there was not cooperation from Moscow with regard to Mr. Snowden. But, I mean, looking over the past year – actually, just a minute ago you said that you don’t want this to damage our relations. So it sounded like you were dialing back these comments from earlier this week which --
MR. VENTRELL: We talked about this, that some of you all were trying to read into tone, and I wouldn’t read in day-to-day to tone. We’ve been consistent all along. In the case of Hong Kong and China, we already had a decision which we deeply disagreed with. Russia, we’re still having the conversation. Ecuador is a case where there’s sort of a courting going on to see if he might have asylum there, and we said that would have a grave impact. But I’m not --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) consequences for the U.S.-Russia relationship?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we’re still working through this with the Russian authorities. It’s a little bit different there, where you have them with somebody in the airport who we’re asking to be expelled. So --
QUESTION: What are we working through?
MR. VENTRELL: President Putin himself said that he’d like to see --
QUESTION: That’s what I’m trying to get. What would the – this is a government that kicked out U.S. NGOs, outed a U.S. spy, put their finger in the eye of an adoption program all in the last 12 months. And what have we done in response to that here from the United States, or what has this Department done? And what is it considering doing if, in fact, the Moscow government just allows Mr. Snowden to leave on a plane to Ecuador?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to preview that. You know our relationship with Russia is broad. We have areas where we cooperate and agree, we have other areas where we have disagreement, and that includes on some of the civil society and NGO and other areas.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: How do you describe the response from the Russians so far? Is it friendly, is it unresponsive, negative?
MR. VENTRELL: How do I – I didn’t hear the first part. Go ahead, Lalit. How to respond to what?
QUESTION: How do you characterize or describe the response from the Russians so far? Is it unfriendly, cooperative, negative, or what, disappointing?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to describe their side of a two-way diplomatic conversation.
QUESTION: But are you satisfied with the responses of --
MR. VENTRELL: I’m just not going to describe their side of a two-way conversation. We continue to have the discussion.
Go ahead, Justin.
QUESTION: Patrick, on Syria --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that weapons are on the move from warehouses in Jordan and will be making their way into Syria. Do you have confirmation of that?
MR. VENTRELL: I really don’t have anything to confirm one way or another for you. You know you heard what the President said. After the use of – after our assessment of the use of chemical weapons, that we’re going to be ramping up our support to the SMC, including the military, but beyond that, I’m just not going to get into any details.
MR. VENTRELL: We work with a number of agencies, and there are certainly a number of elements where we’re a channel. There’s a lot of other agencies as well.
QUESTION: Is it wrong for us to assume that this has become a secret mission? And why publicly announce the mission three weeks ago today and then not offer any clarifying points on it since then? Why is this a secret mission?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, within the context of what we’re doing to support the Syrian opposition, you know there has been hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance over many months, and indeed now we’re into years of this conflict. So we’ve been very clear that there’s a whole range of assistance, and we’ve been very clear that we’re trying to help the opposition improve its position on the ground, and we’ll continue to do that. And we’ll do that in coordination with the London 11 and other interested parties. So we’ve been very clear about that.
QUESTION: Is it a good idea to provide shoulder-fired antiaircraft weapons to the Syrian rebels given extremist ties they have and the lethality of those weapons?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m just not going to get into one type of weaponry or another.
QUESTION: Final question on this from me.
MR. VENTRELL: Yep.
QUESTION: Congress is expected to introduce legislation today that would block military aid, particularly weapons to the rebels without a joint resolution of Congress, without their approval. Do you support that measure?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that measure in particular.
QUESTION: Oh. I just told you about it.
MR. VENTRELL: You know that what – (laughter) – look, I’ve heard your characterization of it. I haven’t had a chance to see it in greater detail, but suffice it to say Secretary Kerry has been on the Hill, he’s been briefing members, and so we’ve kept a robust dialogue open with the Hill.
QUESTION: There have been report in the Lebanese press that some anti-tank weapons were received by the rebels from their way – were bought by people to the – of the regime. Do you have any concern that this could be the case if any other weapons are channeled to the opposition?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything for you on that one way or another.
QUESTION: Do you have – do you know anything about this explosion attack in a Christian neighborhood in Damascus today? It was timed before the arrival of the Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch from Lebanon.
MR. VENTRELL: I have seen the news reports of that, but I don’t have independent confirmation on that, so we’ll check in and see if I have any more information later in the day. I will say that we’ve mentioned some of the siege activities we’ve had, both along the Lebanese border. You’ve heard me talking about this for a couple of days.
We also have a couple of the Damascus suburbs, including Al-Qabun and Al-Barzeh, where regime forces with the support of Hezbollah and the Shabiha continue to trap and starve inhabitants. So we continue to condemn this activity. In Tal-Kalakh, which was a city I mentioned yesterday, 15 people have been killed, 60 are missing, and the city is being looted and cut off from electricity, water, medical supplies, and communication. So these are some really alarming reports from the ground that we’re hearing.
QUESTION: A new topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Yep, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we talked quite a bit about Egypt here yesterday. I don’t really have an update or a specific reaction one way or another, but just to say that the U.S. position, to be clear, is that our message to the Egyptian people is that what we support is nonviolence. We do not want to see violence in Egypt. We want to see dialogue and consensus and compromise so that Egypt can move forward and the Egyptian people can be successful, both in their political transition and in their – as well as in their economy. So that’s our message to the Egyptian people.
QUESTION: So you didn’t see anything positive or negative in the speech?
MR. VENTRELL: I just don’t think we’re going to react one way or another to all the specific details of the speech. Our broad policy continues to stand.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: North Korea?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Today, Treasury Department announced the new sanction against North Korea. So why U.S. Government put more pressure at this – in this situation? Recently, North Korea have been telling that they are open to talks with United States, even regarding --
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure which new announcement you’re talking about. We’ve said that the pressure will continue on DPRK and we want them to change their behavior, but I don’t – I’m not sure what specific announcement you’re referring to.
Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Patrick, sorry I was a little bit late.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: You may have answered this, but there’s a little lack of clarity from the side of the Ecuadorans about what kind of documents Snowden might have had to get out of Hong Kong.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: And what they’re saying is they never authorized any granting of any refugee document to Mr. Snowden so that he could come to Ecuador. Is that your understanding?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’d refer you to them. I mean, I don’t know if there’s a discrepancy between their Foreign Ministry or their embassy or – I’d really refer you to them to clarify. But just to be clear, we’ve had some back-and-forth on this throughout the week. The Hong Kong authorities knew who Mr. Snowden was. They knew he was a wanted fugitive and they intentionally let him go. So again, while I can’t comment on this individual’s passport, the government of Hong Kong made a calculated decision to let Snowden go.
QUESTION: And then also when – just kind of a technical thing. If he is going from Hong Kong to Russia on an expired passport, could you run us through one more time, did the Hong Kong authorities know before he was leaving that his passport was being pulled?
MR. VENTRELL: Just to say what I said earlier: While 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 prohibit his travel as appropriate.
QUESTION: Sorry, could – I didn’t really think we’d get back onto this, but since you’ve opened the door here: What are the grave consequences for the U.S. relationship with Hong Kong SAR because of the fact that they didn’t cooperate?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into a --
QUESTION: Are there any?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to get into details, but as we said previously, this episode is going to have a negative impact and we’re just not buying that this was some sort of technical immigration decision. So it is going to have a negative impact. And when you have the Chinese and the Hong Kong authorities wanting to build mutual trust in the relationship, this is a serious setback.
QUESTION: So I presume when you say “technical immigration” issue, you’re referring to the incorrect name on the (inaudible)?
MR. VENTRELL: Right, they’ve been trying to – there’s been a series of steps here throughout the week where they’ve tried to sort of say, oops, he just left. And we’re saying, no, that this was an intentional decision.
QUESTION: Well, no, no, no. How about the whole thing about the extradition request having the incorrect spelling or incorrect name?
MR. VENTRELL: Right, and --
QUESTION: That’s – you think that’s frivolous?
MR. VENTRELL: We do.
QUESTION: Is it not the case that in a U.S. court that’s – if the authorities fill out documents incorrectly, like, in a search warrant, that that evidence obtained thereby is inadmissible?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Matt, I’d really refer you to DOJ.
QUESTION: Are you saying that technicalities like that --
MR. VENTRELL: Look, let me finish.
QUESTION: -- which American law enforcement are obliged to respect --
MR. VENTRELL: Let me finish, Matt. Just to be clear what the treaty requires between the Hong Kong authorities and the United States, the treaty requires: (a) a description of the person; (b) an indication that a surrender request will follow; (c) a statement of the applicable crimes and punishments; and (d) a description of the facts. All of that was provided to Hong Kong and they knew exactly who he was.
QUESTION: So you don’t have to give them his correct name?
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, he was --
QUESTION: Was that – I didn’t hear that in the list.
MR. VENTRELL: Matt, he was on TV, they knew exactly where he was, and we were --
QUESTION: I understand that, Patrick, but things get thrown out of U.S. courts on technicalities all the time.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I do refer you to DOJ.
QUESTION: And in fact --
MR. VENTRELL: They can give you a very detailed timeline of exactly the type of communication back-and-forth.
QUESTION: I’m not asking for the timeline. I just want to make sure that I understand that you think that this – you’re saying, you’re agreeing or conceding that the form was filled out – was not 100 percent accurate. Is that correct?
MR. VENTRELL: Look --
QUESTION: But, even though that’s the case, they should have known, right?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, from our perspective --
QUESTION: Is there a concession?
MR. VENTRELL: Matt --
QUESTION: Are you conceding that the form was not 100 percent accurate?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not. I have to refer you to DOJ on that.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay.
MR. VENTRELL: I just don’t know whether there was a middle initial or what the status, so I refer you to DOJ. But from our perspective, this was not in keeping with the law enforcement relationship that we’ve previously enjoyed with Hong Kong.
MR. VENTRELL: Hong Kong authorities, like the whole world, knew who Snowden was.
Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Patrick, in your communication, could you tell us why you are – you seem to be much softer with the Russians than you are or than you were with Hong Kong and the Chinese?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I wouldn’t characterize it necessarily – this is a little bit of apples and oranges. You have a case where he’s already left one place, and he’s still in another one. So we’re still looking for cooperation from the Russian authorities on this, and I don’t want to preview what may or may not happen based on what kind of cooperation we receive.
Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Patrick, if somebody applies for asylum, does the U.S. have to get noticed – notified officially?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure. Asylum is primarily a DHS matter, so I’m just not sure.
MR. VENTRELL: Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sorry for being late. I wanted to ask you about your reading of the President’s statement. He said we will not be dealing and wheeling on this issue. Does that diminish the importance of Mr. Snowden and getting him back?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, the President’s point – and this is what I’ve been saying all week – is that this is part of law enforcement cooperation and it should be dealt with in those channels. And so it’s on the basis of having good law enforcement cooperation that we do these things. And so both sides, whether it’s the Russia and U.S. or U.S. and other countries, have an interest in good law enforcement cooperation. That’s the President’s point.
QUESTION: So does that lift sort of the cover of – heavy cover espionage and political cover on this case, and purely places it in a criminal compartment?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ve said all along that these are serious criminal charges this week.
Go ahead. Tell me your name.
QUESTION: My name is Jon Decker.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Hi, Patrick.
MR. VENTRELL: Who are you with?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Welcome.
QUESTION: Why are these pats – spats, I should say, with Hong Kong so public?
MR. VENTRELL: That’s sort of a broad question. I mean, we made clear our disappointment with the fact that he’s left. They’ve had a number of press releases and other clarifications that they’ve made this week that we disagree with. But, I mean, going back some time we’ve had good cooperation with them on a number of issues and we’re pretty disappointed in this case.
QUESTION: You’re pretty critical of them right now. You’ve been so during this past week. I’m curious as to what – how does it further your goals to be so public about your disagreements with the Hong Kong government, or for that matter, the Russian Government?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, this is a case that’s of great interest to you all. You all have followed this very closely, and the President said --
QUESTION: It’s great for us, absolutely. I love it.
MR. VENTRELL: The President understands why you all in the media are so interested in it. I think from our perspective, as the U.S. Government, when you have another country making specific statements that we disagree with, we’ll react to that. But our interest was to deal with this through routine law enforcement cooperation, and that’s not what happened here.
QUESTION: You could argue they’re reacting to your statements, right?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, the point is that we’ve had good cooperation in the past. That’s not what happened here. But we have had good relations with Hong Kong in the past.
QUESTION: Separate topic.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: What’s the current status of the peace talks with the Taliban in Doha?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything to update for you. Ambassador Dobbins is en route back to Washington at this time, so no meetings to announce.
QUESTION: Just going back to Snowden.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: How hopeful are you that you will actually see Mr. Snowden come back to the United States and that the Russians will transfer him back to you?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t want to look into the glass ball and try to predict. We’d like to see him come home.
QUESTION: But you must be aware of the state of the negotiations that you’re having.
MR. VENTRELL: I’m just not going to characterize it.
QUESTION: How are they going? Are they proceeding smoothly or have they hit a – it was suggested today that they’ve hit a dead end.
MR. VENTRELL: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. And I think, actually, the President – and I’m not sure if I have it here in front of me, let me see if I do – had said that there have been some productive exchanges. I don’t have the exact phrase that he used, but the President talked about it some this morning, so I really refer you to what the President said.
Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Again, just kind of a technical thing. Because Mr. Snowden is in that transit lounge somewhere, we understood that he was allowed to be there for 24 hours. Is there any clarity – and forgive me if you’ve answered this already – any clarity as to why he has been there now for four days? Have you asked the Russians what – because it would seem to imply that they are allowing him to do that.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, just to go back to Jo’s question – sorry for a second – I did find this. What the President said is that there had been some useful conversations that are taking place. So that was the President’s characterization.
In terms of the transit lounge, I really refer you to Russian authorities. It’s their transit lounge, so I can’t really say more beyond that.
Guy, go ahead.
QUESTION: Change topic, if that’s okay.
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: Under Secretary[i] Michael Kozak, I believe, is meeting today with some members of Cuban civil society, and I was wondering if you could tell us what they’re talking about and whether or not these civil society leaders actually came here from Cuba for this visit.
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to look into that specific meeting. He’s one of our senior advisors in our Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. But you know that since Cuba’s changed its travel regulations there have been more Cubans coming to the United States, and we have had a chance to meet with some civil society people with whom we hadn’t been able to either previously meet or hadn’t seen in a long time, so we’ve taken advantage of that opportunity.
QUESTION: Are you able right now to speak to the regularity of these meetings? How often are they happening and --
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not in any great specificity. But when we have folks who want to come talk to us and have an exchange with us, we’re certainly welcome speaking to civil society members from Cuba.
QUESTION: Just one more on Snowden. In terms of the Administration and how it’s handling this, is there one person or one department that is in charge? I know we’ve kind of gotten into this, but what’s the latest on the state of play in talking with other countries, especially with Russia and China?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, Jill, as in any issue like this, the National Security staff provides the overall coordination and different departments play their role. We have roles whether it’s in diplomacy or some of the consular matters. Department of Justice has other roles. So that’s how we work through an interagency setting and close collaboration, and we’ve had excellent and close collaboration all throughout on this issue.
QUESTION: Can we change subjects?
QUESTION: And --
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: -- for Bill Burns, is he actually daily in touch with the Russians, or how would you characterize what he is doing?
MR. VENTRELL: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. But we’re certainly in touch with the Russians. We do so through diplomatic and law enforcement channels.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR. VENTRELL: Samir, go ahead.
QUESTION: Deputy Burns – do you know if he’s traveling anywhere soon?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any travel to announce at this time.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Small clarification on Snowden.
MR. VENTRELL: Lalit, go ahead.
QUESTION: When you withdraw a passport, do you inform the person that your passport has been withdrawn, and how do you do that?
MR. VENTRELL: Per federal regulation, we do inform the person.
QUESTION: Oh, yeah? How did you do that in this case?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t get into specific cases. We usually do so in writing.
QUESTION: So where’d you send it? Care of the transit lounge at Moscow Airport? (Laughter.)
MR. VENTRELL: I just can’t get into individual details for an individual case.
In the back.
MR. VENTRELL: Oh, hi. Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty say that their news programming to Azerbaijan has been interrupted in such a way that it appears that it’s being disrupted and jammed by the government. I was wondering what the State Department’s reaction to that is and what that could mean for the relationship between the U.S. and Azerbaijan.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we have seen reports that RFE, RL, and other outlets have encountered difficulties broadcasting satellite programming into Azerbaijan. We’ve been in touch with Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and the Azerbaijan Government to discuss this issue. We think that Radio Free Europe is an important contributor to the Azerbaijani media landscape. Its reporting provides a much-needed model of objective and independent journalism in Azerbaijan, and the United States strongly supports media freedom and freedom of expression in Azerbaijan.
QUESTION: Change topics?
MR. VENTRELL: Let’s go to Justin first and then you, Said, okay?
QUESTION: Patrick, what can you tell us about what’s going in Cairo right now? There are supposed to be mass protests tomorrow. I’m sure you’ve talked about this at some point this week, but how worried are you about instability there and these planned protests for tomorrow?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, just to say, as I did a little bit earlier in the briefing – and I have talked about it some this week, Justin – is that we’re continuing to make our call, our message, for nonviolence. We want to see prosperity and stability for the Egyptian people. We want to see them have greater consensus and greater dialogue among the different political parties and political groups. And we want to see progress and forward movement as they move in their democratic transition. So we’re watching very closely, including ongoing demonstrations and calls for further demonstrations, and we’ll continue to keep a close eye on the security situation.
QUESTION: How concerned are you that these Sunni Islamist fighters, who are being called upon to fight in Syria, will come back more radicalized, causing more instability?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t want to predict, but we don’t support any foreign fighters or any extremist fighting inside of Syria, and certainly that’d be the case for – if they were Egyptian citizens as well.
QUESTION: Patrick --
MR. VENTRELL: Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: On the Egyptian issue – I want to ask about the Palestinian-Israeli process, but on Egypt, are you guys disappointed in the secular opposition, the Egyptian secular opposition? It is unengaged, it is unable to organize among the masses. They seem to be elitist. That is actually – someone says that that’s your assessment of the secular opposition. Is that true?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, we think democracy requires compromise, working together. We want the opposition to do that on behalf of the people that they represent.
QUESTION: Okay. But do you feel that the opposition itself, the secular opposition, has not lived up to the expectation? Do you?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m just not going to characterize it further than that.
QUESTION: Is that why, do you think, they lashed out on Ambassador Anne Patterson?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I talked a little bit about Ambassador Patterson’s message yesterday, and I just don’t have anything further for you.
QUESTION: Okay. Can we go to the peace process?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. I’m going to --
QUESTION: Yeah. Could you give us --
MR. VENTRELL: -- say just in advance that I’m going to disappoint you some, Said, because I’m not going to be saying much about it here while the Secretary is currently in the middle of his active diplomacy.
MR. VENTRELL: So I’m happy to entertain the question, but I --
QUESTION: All right. Okay, well, let me ask, on those basis, can you give us a current status of the sequence of meetings he’s about to have – Jordan, Israel, and then with the Palestinians in Jordan?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll tell you what, Said. I’d be happy afterward to get you a list of the meetings that he’s had today. His diplomacy is ongoing throughout the day. I’m just not going to get ahead and – of the work he’s doing on the ground.
QUESTION: Okay. Would you comment on some – that some Palestinians claim that Secretary Kerry is sympathetic to the issue of the Palestinian prisoners, and he may actually push for that with the Israeli Government? Is that something that you would comment on?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to comment on the substance of his ongoing diplomacy.
Lalit, go ahead.
QUESTION: On China.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: He did.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on it? What did he see?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. So U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke visited the Tibet Autonomous Region from June 25th to 28th with members of his family and several officials from the Embassy and Consulate General Chengdu. Ambassador Locke visited the Tibet Autonomous Region and increased familiarity with local conditions and met with officials and residents. In his official meetings, Ambassador Locke discussed the importance of opening up access to Tibet for diplomats, foreign journalists, and foreign tourists. He also emphasized the importance of preserving the Tibetan people’s cultural heritage, including its unique linguistic, religious, and cultural traditions.
QUESTION: It was a six-day trip there? 21st to --
MR. VENTRELL: Twenty-fifth to the twenty-eighth, June 25th to 28th.
QUESTION: Forgive me, but Patrick, can we go back to Syria on one issue?
QUESTION: The 25th to – that’s today.
MR. VENTRELL: Oh, so maybe he’s still there. I thought he had returned.
QUESTION: Yeah, he’s --
MR. VENTRELL: He must be returning tomorrow. Sorry about that.
QUESTION: So this is not something that was affected by the Hong Kong decision on Snowden?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, just to say that on --
QUESTION: Your Ambassador’s still happy to go travel around China, spend money in Tibet --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, our Ambassador has made very clear to the Chinese authorities how he felt about Mr. Snowden, but to say that we’ve consistently made requests to go to the Tibet Autonomous Region over --
QUESTION: Do you still have a pending --
MR. VENTRELL: -- wait, let me finish, let me finish -- over a significant amount of time. The last time they granted or allowed a U.S. ambassadorial visit was September 2010.
Okay. Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Well, I just was going to ask: Do you know if the request to open a consulate in Lhasa is still pending?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know.
QUESTION: Or has that been, like, taken off the table?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to look into it.
QUESTION: And has the visit changed the U.S. position, U.S. views on this current situation inside Tibet like human rights violation and the self-immolation that is ongoing?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Lalit, you know how concerned we are by the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas that has played a role in tragic self-immolations, and we continue to call on the Chinese Government to engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions as the best means to address Tibetan concerns and the current unrest.
QUESTION: Can you tell us who Ambassador Locke met with while – well, obviously it’s still ongoing, but who has he met with in the last couple days?
MR. VENTRELL: I’ll endeavor to get a more comprehensive list. I’m – I’ll have to check on it.
QUESTION: But you don’t know if it includes also sort of the opposition (inaudible)?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’ll have to check in.
MR. VENTRELL: I had thought the visit was over, but it looks like there is a day left. So let me check in.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Well, actually, it is the 28th there now.
MR. VENTRELL: It is the 28th in China right now.
MR. VENTRELL: I understand. Let me check in.
Said, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the rebels in Tal-Kalakh actually signed their own peace treaty with the regime?
MR. VENTRELL: That they did – that what?
QUESTION: They signed their own peace treaty with the regime.
MR. VENTRELL: I wasn’t aware of that.
QUESTION: They signed a peace deal.
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t heard that. What we’re concerned about is this unacceptable and appalling actions where they’re taking to trap and starve inhabitants in these places.
QUESTION: You’re not opposed to, let’s say, counties and areas and districts actually ending violence with the regime, are you?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, that’s the first that I’ve heard. We want to get --
QUESTION: But they did.
MR. VENTRELL: -- the regime and all of the opposition to end the violence. Okay?
MR. VENTRELL: Jo, go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay, so – all right. Sure. Let’s stick with Syria.
MR. VENTRELL: We note that Russia has withdrawn its military personnel from Tartus and that some civilian workers may remain. We’re not going to speculate about the reasons for the steps taken by the Russians or speak on their behalf. You do know that there’s been a deteriorating security situation; I just can’t speculate if that’s their reasoning.
Jo, go ahead.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the Libyan Defense Minister --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: -- who’s going to be replaced, following some clashes that happened in Tripoli. Is there a U.S. comment on that?
MR. VENTRELL: Just that this is an internal Libyan decision, refer you to the Government of Libya for more information. You know what a priority it is for us, and the Libyan Government has said that security is its top interest, and reigning in militias, and they continue to work on that.
Also, while I’m here at the podium, just to say that there were some rumors going along that there was some sort of attack against our U.S. Ambassador in Libya. That’s patently false. Both the Embassy and the Ambassador and the defense attache are safe and continue to carry out their duty. So there was some false reporting about that this morning.
QUESTION: Okay. So can we ask now – we’re nearly 10 months since Benghazi. Is there an update on – is anybody in custody facing charges for the attack on --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I refer you to the FBI. You know how much that this building and this government wants to see justice served for the heinous attack.
QUESTION: But are you aware of any charges yourself? Is the State Department aware of anybody in custody, anybody facing charges?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I just can’t get into anything beyond referring you to the FBI on the current status of the investigation.
QUESTION: Well, along those lines, though, is there any movement on the internal personnel situation?
MR. VENTRELL: I do not have an update.
MR. VENTRELL: I do not.
QUESTION: Because there – because it’s still unresolved?
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that those four cases are still under review, and I’d have to check in.
QUESTION: Back to Tartus?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Are you basing that on press reports, or what exactly – how are you aware that they have actually pulled out their forces?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure that they’ve told that to us directly, but we do note that they’ve said they’ve withdrawn their military personnel, that they may leave some civilians. So we’ve seen the same things you all have.
QUESTION: So you’re just basing this off their press – off press reporting in Russia. You don’t really have --
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to check and see if they sent us any communication on this. You know that Under Secretary Sherman just saw – was just with the Deputy Foreign Minister Bogdanov. You know that the Secretary will see Foreign Minister Lavrov. So, I mean, we maintain a robust dialogue on Syria. I’m just not sure if that point was at some point officially exchanged.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah. There has been a really horrific spike in the violence in Iraq with so many killed, but also some Iraqi politicians saying that they should open the discussion again for a new security agreement with the United States. Will the United States be sort of receptive to such an idea?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that particular point, or I’m not sure if – I’d have to refer you to the Embassy if they have more information on that. But we’ve been very clear about our concern about continued violence and the need for an end to sectarian attacks, and we’ll continue to make that point.
QUESTION: So other than condemning the violence, are you doing anything to sort of help mitigate --
MR. VENTRELL: Our Embassy is – our Embassy and our experts here in Washington are very engaged, continue to work with all the parties on – to try to be – help there to be as much cooperation as possible between different political groups so that Iraqis can work out their differences through the political system, and that’s really the key here.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:07 p.m.)
[i] Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Kozak