The video is also available with closed captioning on YouTube.
12:32 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay, good afternoon. Other than to welcome some of our State Department interns here in the back, I don’t have anything at the top, so I will hand it over to all of you.
Go ahead, Deb.
QUESTION: The Muslim Brotherhood is saying that the Obama Administration basically gave the military a green light to stage a coup. Their statement exactly says that it’s essentially an American coup that would have not taken place without U.S. consent. Obviously, they think that we’ve taken sides on this issue. Can a new government be inclusive without the Brotherhood?
MR. VENTRELL: Again – and this – we’ve said this many times – we don’t take sides. And I think you all saw Deputy Secretary Burns in Egypt yesterday, the message that he had about our desire, our main policy goal, being an inclusive, tolerant, democratic future for Egypt. He talked about our desire for a nonviolent, inclusive path forward toward sustainable democracy. And so the Deputy Secretary talked about that and he did talk about the need for all parties and all actors in Egypt to have a place in the political space as they move toward that transition, and we want to get Egypt back on track in that direction.
QUESTION: I don’t --
MR. VENTRELL: The Deputy Secretary talked about this being a second chance and the importance of seizing on this opportunity to get the transition toward a sustainable democracy back on track.
QUESTION: I don’t think that anywhere in his comments, though, did he even mention Morsy’s name or the Muslim Brotherhood. I think he was asked about it, but --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, the Deputy Secretary made very clear – and again, I’ll get you the transcript, which really was a very --
QUESTION: I’ve read it, yeah.
MR. VENTRELL: -- strong statement on the Administration’s behalf. And he was clear – and let’s see if I have some of the language here. I don’t have the exact text, but in it he was clear that to have this path forward, to have the inclusive path forward, that all parties should have a role in that and it’s hard to see how --
QUESTION: Including the Brotherhood?
MR. VENTRELL: -- it’s hard to see how you could exclude one group and not – and have a successful transition. So the Deputy was pretty clear in that regard, and that’s the position of this government.
QUESTION: Is he meeting with anybody, though? Is he meeting with anybody from the Brotherhood? The other day you said no or --
MR. VENTRELL: So he did not meet with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood during his short trip, but he did have a phone call with a Muslim Brotherhood representative.
QUESTION: When was that?
MR. VENTRELL: This is while he was on the ground in Cairo. So as you know, we’re in regular contact with representatives of all groups and parties, and they had a phone conversation while he was in Cairo.
QUESTION: Who was he?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have the name of the representative, but he was in touch with the Muslim Brotherhood. And as we said yesterday, you know that the Deputy Secretary – and he said it himself – met with interim Egyptian officials, other leaders in Egyptian civil society. And so he had a wide range of meetings with a wide range of Egyptians and he was able to have a phone conversation with a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood.
QUESTION: Do you know how that went?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a readout of the call other than to say that we engage with a wide variety of Egyptian society and we think it’s important that there’s an inclusive environment going forward.
QUESTION: Is he still actually in Egypt?
MR. VENTRELL: He is wheels up en route back to Washington now.
QUESTION: Can I ask, did he actually ask for a meeting with the – with members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who actually say that they were not requested a meeting?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, there was a discussion about the possibility of a meeting, a face-to-face meeting, but logistical constraints didn’t lend themself to a face-to-face meeting, so they engaged on the phone. And that’s consistent with our longstanding engagement with a wide variety of sectors and different parts of Egyptian society. We don’t take sides. We repeat it again and again, and it’s very clear that we don’t. We take the side of the Egyptian people as they move through this transition, and we want the Egyptian people to succeed. And we want to ease the polarization so that, as the Deputy said very strongly yesterday, that can poison society. We want to move away from polarization.
Just to take a chance while we’re talking about it, and to be very clear, we also condemn and strongly condemn the overnight violence in Cairo which killed seven and wounded over 200 people. We also condemn any incitement for violence. There can be no place for such violence in Egypt. Simply put, violence makes the transition much more difficult and further threatens Egypt’s stability and prosperity. The United States, as you know, supports an inclusive, democratic process where all political parties and groups as well as sectors of society are represented.
QUESTION: Patrick, I just --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) without the Brotherhood, though?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, first of all, as we’ve said, the transitional – we’ve called on the transitional government to move toward a democratically elected civilian government as quickly as possible, and it needs to be inclusive. We’re not going to be prescriptive about which party is going to have what role. That’s for the Egyptian people to decide. The Deputy talked about supporting, broadly speaking, a set of principles rather than an individual group or party. So only Egyptians can determine their future, and he was very clear about that.
QUESTION: Patrick, do you view the new government inclusive and democratic?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, the transition is just getting underway. They now have an interim president. Some of the members of the cabinet are being filled out, although I don’t have details on --
QUESTION: But they took oath today. The government members took oath today.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, some of them have taken the oath. And as you know, we’ve been welcoming of them getting this transition, getting the interim government, stood up. We want them to be able to have the stability they need as they go through this transition. But we’re very clear that the end goal of getting toward that democratically elected end-state of a sustainable democracy is very important to us, and that’s our main, broad policy goal is that Egypt can realize the fruits of the revolution and have the democracy that they deserve.
QUESTION: But there is --
QUESTION: Did the armed forces display the type of restraint that Deputy Secretary Burns had urged during his meetings?
MR. VENTRELL: Are you talking about a specific incident?
QUESTION: The violence overnight that killed (inaudible) people.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have enough details on the specific violence overnight. We condemn all violence. There’s no place in Egypt for this type of violence. I don’t have enough details yet on what occurred overnight to make a judgment one way or another about the actors involved, but we condemn all violence.
QUESTION: But did --
QUESTION: Patrick, I just want to come back to --
MR. VENTRELL: Hold on, one at a time. Lesley.
QUESTION: Yeah, I just want to come back to – so he did not ask for a meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood while he was on the ground?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, there was a conversation about whether it would be possible. Logistically, there was --
QUESTION: A conversation with the Brotherhood?
MR. VENTRELL: Right. We had a conversation with the Brotherhood about whether the Deputy Secretary could meet with them directly. It wasn’t logistically possible, so they had a phone call.
QUESTION: Was it a senior member of the Brotherhood?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have a name, but it was with their designated representative who wanted to be the interlocutor and have the discussion with the Deputy. I just don’t have a name.
QUESTION: So they didn’t reject a meeting with him?
QUESTION: Patrick, just to follow up, follow up this --
MR. VENTRELL: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. I’d just say that we think it’s important to engage with all members of Egyptian society. We’ve long done that. But we don’t take sides. And so there’s been in Egypt some of the parsing of every word we say or every meeting we take, but we support a broad set of principles, and the Deputy Secretary was very clear about that.
QUESTION: Yes, Patrick, a follow-up to this question regarding the phone call or whatever, the contact with the Muslim Brothers. Gehad El-Haddad, spokesperson of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is usually giving interviews or courts Western media, he said that we didn’t receive – I mean, they didn’t receive any invitation or a call or anything regarding a meeting with. Do you have anything to say about that?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I hadn’t seen that specific remark. But as I just said, we were in discussion with them about a potential meeting and we had a conversation --
QUESTION: Second point: Regarding publicly you said and definitely Deputy Secretary Burns mentioned what is needed from all sides to do, whether it’s inclusiveness or condemning violence and restraint and all these things, and that definitely you – the Assistant Secretary Burns conveyed to the officials the necessity and the importance of inclusiveness. What was the message on the phone call? Because the main thing is the incitement going on from the other side as if it’s like it’s a two-sides fight, but --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, we’re very concerned about the dangerous polarization on all sides. And so our goal in getting Egypt back toward this inclusive, democratic transition is to reduce the polarization, and so that’s our main policy goal. I’m not going to read out every single conversation.
Elise, go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I --
QUESTION: I just want to go back to this thing with the Brotherhood.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. You talked about whether you would have a meeting with him. Did you seek – did he seek a meeting with the Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood said it was not logistically possible for them? Or they were trying to get a meeting with you, and you – and given the Secretary’s – Deputy Secretary’s schedule, that was not possible?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I think we’re way over-parsing this.
QUESTION: No, we’re not over-parsing it. It’s very important to get to the matter of whether the Brotherhood was willing to see the Deputy Secretary or not.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think this was a matter of willingness on either side. I think this was logistically it didn’t work to have their meeting, so they had a phone call.
QUESTION: Why not logistically?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have – the Deputy is en route back. I haven’t had a chance to talk to him since he’s been wheels-up and is arriving at the building later this afternoon. So I don’t have that granularity about who made the phone call at what exact time. But you know how these high-level trips go. You have a number of meetings scheduled, meetings get bumped and pushed and added to the --
QUESTION: It seems as if this would be – if you’re looking for an inclusive process and one of the major points of --
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Elise, let me finish. We’ve been very clear that we’re willing to meet with a wide range of Egyptian society, and the Deputy was very clear in his public remarks afterward that it’s hard to see how there can be an inclusive process forward if one group or a significant portion is excluded. So we’ve been clear about that.
QUESTION: Were members of the Brotherhood invited to the roundtable with the Deputy Secretary?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure that – first of all, I can give you a readout of who was at the roundtable: the Free Egyptian Party, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, Al-Dustour, Al-Wafd, and the April 6th Movement. So that’s the attendees. I don’t think they were going to be part of that roundtable, but I think there was – we had some discussion with them about the opportunity to have a face-to-face discussion.
QUESTION: So basically, he didn’t meet with any Islamists?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, he had a phone call with the Muslim Brotherhood, Elise. I think we’ve done – go ahead.
QUESTION: I think it’s important because it seems as if there were many groups, particularly in the Islamic realm, that didn’t want to meet with the Secretary because the U.S. – because they’re very upset with the way this went down and the U.S. position on it. I mean, are you concerned that half – a good deal of the Egyptian population you’ve alienated?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, the Deputy Secretary engaged with a wide range of Egyptians on his trip. He met with the civilian transitional government; he met with the Egyptian armed forces; he met with political party representatives, which I outlined for you, religious leaders, civil society activists, and the business community all in his couple of days on the ground. So he had a very comprehensive visit, and I would sort of reject the characterization that we aren’t engaging with a wide sector of Egyptian society, which we are.
QUESTION: I didn’t say that you didn’t engage with a wide range. That’s clearly a wide range. But you didn’t engage with any Islamists.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, the Deputy was able to have a phone conversation with the Muslim Brotherhood. Our policy is not to support any party or any side in this process. We’ve been very clear about that. And he had a good range of meetings with all of these different sectors.
QUESTION: Patrick, how could (inaudible) --
QUESTION: Patrick, would you say --
MR. VENTRELL: Michel, go ahead.
QUESTION: -- that doesn’t include any member from the Muslim Brotherhood?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, you’re trying to get us to be prescriptive about this day, today. Here we are. We’re looking at the wider process of how does this go forward, how do we --
QUESTION: So the Islamists don’t fit into the wider process?
MR. VENTRELL: No. How do we get to the inclusive future that the Egyptians deserve? And the Deputy was clear it’s hard to see a way that you can get to that inclusive, sustainable democracy if there’s exclusion.
QUESTION: Well, it’s hard to see if you’re excluding them.
MR. VENTRELL: We’re not going to be – as the United States, we understand how deeply polarized these parties are, how strong the feelings are. Again, we’re getting the U.S. accused on all sides of being friends with one side or another, when the truth is we don’t take sides. And so there’s been a lot of this back-and-forth, and we’ve been clear that we don’t take sides. And so we’re making that clear and we’re making clear what our final end-state goal is, which is to help the Egyptian people get their democratic process back on track and to get their economy back on track, because we’re on the side of the Egyptian people and their prosperity and their well-being. And that’s whose side we’re on.
QUESTION: But you’re calling for an inclusive government, and this government doesn’t include any member from the Muslim Brotherhood. How will you deal --
MR. VENTRELL: Again, some of that’s still being worked through. But what I would say is the importance is getting the transition back on track. It is about getting the institutions – there’s going to be a constitutional process through which there can be potentially amendments. We want that process to go through, and the Deputy Secretary talked about that at some length yesterday about how it’s important that that be – the process of getting to the democratic institutions be inclusive.
QUESTION: Patrick, the fact that --
MR. VENTRELL: Rosalind.
QUESTION: -- Deputy Secretary Burns did not meet with both sides – I know he had a phone call, but he did not meet with both sides – would that indicate that the U.S. is losing influence in this process?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I would absolutely reject that, and you just heard the wide range of Egyptians that he met with. But again, this isn’t about us. This is about them and this is about the Egyptians getting their democratic transition back on track. So we’re broadly supportive of that, and this was a chance to check in and hear from a wide range of Egyptian society.
QUESTION: Is there a follow-up visit or have you got --
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t --
QUESTION: -- any readout of what Secretary Kerry has done anything in Jordan on Egypt?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, as we said yesterday, the Secretary would be prepared to give a readout of the Deputy Secretary’s engagement in Egypt, but I don’t have a ground update from the traveling party yet if some of that engagement has happened. They’re talking, as I understand it, primarily about Middle East peace and Syria. But certainly, given the events that are going on on the ground, he’d be more than happy to discuss Egypt with his colleagues.
QUESTION: Has the Secretary spoken with any of his Egyptian counterparts in the interim government, in the opposition? Has he engaged on this issue directly with any of the principals in the past eight hours?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, the Secretary has been very focused on this, and you saw going back to a couple weeks ago when some of this started, his wide engagement with a wide variety of Egyptians. I don’t have a call to read out in the past couple of days. I know he was eager to get a readout from Deputy Secretary Burns on his engagement, and you know the President and the Secretary sent Deputy Secretary Burns to have this wide-ranging engagement and to come back to Washington to report on the state of events.
QUESTION: Is it still correct for us to then say that Deputy Secretary Burns is the highest ranking U.S. official to engage with the interim government at this point?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’d have to double-check when the most recent call was, but I don’t have anything to dispute that characterization.
QUESTION: Can I change the topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead Lesley.
QUESTION: I want to ask you about the North Korean-flagged ship that was – yes.
MR. VENTRELL: All right. One more question on Egypt. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have now who is going to be representatives of the Arab League, I mean, that who are going to meet with Secretary Kerry?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have the list of all the representatives who are there. I really defer to the traveling party, and we can get you a readout.
QUESTION: The Secretary’s isn’t going to try to the meet with the newly appointed Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy while he’s out there?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have anything to read out in terms of scheduling changes. I know that --
QUESTION: Is he – I understand that there’s nothing scheduled. Is he going to try to meet with him while he’s out there?
MR. VENTRELL: It’s customary when you have a new foreign minister to reach out in some form, but I don’t have any readout on whether that’s going to be – how that’s going to be done or whether there’s a phone call or how that happens.
QUESTION: So can I --
MR. VENTRELL: Lesley, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is – are the Panamanians – have you approached them to ask them what they’ve discovered on the ship? Did you know about the ship in the region? Had you been tracking it before?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Lesley, let me first of all say that the United States strongly supports Panama’s sovereign decision to inspect the D.P.R.K.-flagged vessel. The U.S. commends the actions that the Government of Panama has taken in this case. Panama, as you know, is a close partner of the United States. We stand ready to cooperate with Panama should they request our assistance. But really, on all details of the case, I refer you to the Government of Panama.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. The White House is deferring all questions on this matter to the State Department briefing. So --
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. And I’m happy to answer more questions about this.
QUESTION: So they deferred it to you that you had – so that you could say you have no information?
MR. VENTRELL: No, no. No, I’m happy to answer further questions on this. My point being --
QUESTION: She just asked you if there was – if you’ve been tracking the ship, did you know about the ship for some time?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to get into our private diplomatic discussions with the Panamanians or others, but suffice it to say that we strongly support Panama’s sovereign decision. We commend their actions. We are in touch with them. I’m not going to detail how we’re in touch with them.
I will say this is a vessel, as we understand, that the Panamanians inspected because it might be smuggling narcotics, and they utilized their resident domestic authorities to make that inspection. And this ship – this is called the MV Chong Chon Gang – has a history of involvement in drug smuggling. Public reports from 2010 and also a UN panel of experts report from 2012 cite this history. So this vessel has a well-known history in this regard.
QUESTION: Would the United States seek to interview or speak to the captain, who tried to commit suicide?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that particular detail. We’re broadly in touch with the Panamanians, and so we’ll continue to be in touch with them. I just don’t have any further details.
QUESTION: Do you know where this ship was headed? There are reports that it was bound for Cuba.
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if it was headed in which direction, but let me say this – that just to remind people. In terms of UN Security Council resolutions, if indeed there were a shipment of arms on board of this vessel, any shipment of arms or related materiel would violate UN Security Council Resolutions 1718, 1874, and 2094.
QUESTION: What do you mean if it would – if there were weapons on board? There were weapons on board.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re still getting – gathering more information about the exact contents --
QUESTION: There’s missiles – the President of Panama has reported it and said that there were missiles. This particularly was a fire control --
MR. VENTRELL: Again, and as is – as happens in these cases, an inventory is taken, there’s a report made if there’s relevant sanctionable materiel on board to the UN Sanctions Committee. So we have a process. When there are flagrant violations of UN Security Council resolutions, there’s a process for reporting that through the UN Security Council sanctions mechanisms. And so --
QUESTION: But you would consider that a violation then if that is what is found?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, there’s an official way to report this. But broadly speaking, arms --
QUESTION: (Inaudible) if it is found to be such --
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: -- it would be, as you just said, a violation.
MR. VENTRELL: Any shipment of arms or related materiel would violate numerous UN Security Council resolutions – 1718, 1874, and 2094.
QUESTION: Is there concern that Cuba is involved in this?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, any country that would be exporting arms or arms-related materiel would be in violation of the sanctions. I don’t want to get ahead of where we are, as clearly there has to be a report to the UN Sanctions Committee on the way forward here.
QUESTION: But it seems – but from reporting in this building, there were – the ship seemed to be bound for Cuba. I mean, I know you can’t tell that specifically, but it seemed to be going in the direction of Cuba.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not --
QUESTION: Yeah, that’s what I meant. Sorry, sorry.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, what has been publicly reported in the press and what you’ve seen is that there was reports of it going toward North Korea, but --
QUESTION: No, I said reporting in this building. I didn’t say press reports.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Well, again, any country that would exporting arms or arms-related materiel to North Korea would be in violation. It’s going to take some time to confirm the details of this case, but that kind of export would be a violation of UN Security Council resolutions.
QUESTION: Patrick, you said that --
QUESTION: Patrick, obviously the intelligence system of the Panamanian Government is not the best in the world. So obviously they had to have intelligence from somebody else, who everybody assumes is the U.S., and that the ship was coming from Cuba.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have anything for you further on that one way or another, but we’ve been clear and that there’s a public record of narcotics smuggling from this very vessel. So there’s --
QUESTION: From Cuba?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have information on – in which direction it was going in the previous incidents. I’d have to go look. But there are public reports and a UN panel of experts report about this very vessel.
QUESTION: You said that --
QUESTION: Can we change the subject, Patrick?
QUESTION: No, I’ve just got one more.
MR. VENTRELL: I think --
QUESTION: You said that the U.S. was willing to cooperate. What kind of cooperation would you offer the Panamanians on this?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we’ve had broad cooperation with Panama. Just to remind people that they’re one of 102 countries that are part of our Proliferation Security Initiative. So they’ve made a public commitment to stop transfers of weapons of mass destruction, related material, and their delivery systems to and from state and non-state actors of proliferation concern.
So you know that Panama is a close partner of ours; we’ve had a lot of cooperation with them. Again, we want to get to the bottom of the facts in this case before making further pronouncements. But we are happy to be in further contact with the Panamanians.
QUESTION: Is there any sharing of intelligence?
QUESTION: But you were working with the Pakistanis --
MR. VENTRELL: Guys, one at a time.
QUESTION: You were working with the Pakistanis on this for some time. I mean, this doesn’t come as any surprise to you because you’ve been tracking it.
MR. VENTRELL: The Panamanians?
MR. VENTRELL: You said Pakistanis.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. (Laughter.)
MR. VENTRELL: So we’re getting all sorts of countries involved here. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Sorry. That’s what I meant --
MR. VENTRELL: Again --
QUESTION: -- not the Pakistanis, the Panamanians.
MR. VENTRELL: -- I don’t have further information for you on this specific incident which just happened. Broadly speaking, we have a long history of cooperation with Panama --
QUESTION: Which includes the ship.
MR. VENTRELL: -- they’re a close partner. I don’t know if we have cooperation on this ship. My point about the ship is that --
QUESTION: You don’t know that, or you’re not saying? I mean, you’ve been working with the Panamanians on this ship for some time.
MR. VENTRELL: I personally don’t have more information for you on our cooperation on this ship other than to say that there has been publicly available information about its use and prior incidents of narcotics smuggling.
QUESTION: What about with the Pakistanis? No, I’m just – (laughter).
QUESTION: Would that include intelligence sharing with the Panamanians of some sort? If you’re offering assistance, what would that assistance be?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t comment on this specific case. In general, we have --
QUESTION: Well, you just said you would offer them assistance. So --
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Again – but broadly speaking, in Latin America, we have, when it comes to especially narcotics trafficking, a wide range of agreements and sharing that goes on, and whether it’s intelligence sharing or equipment or all sorts of arrangements we have with our partners in Latin America. I just can’t comment on this case specific.
QUESTION: Patrick, can you clarify for us then if it’s the narcotics entities within this body that are engaging on this issue, or whether this is now an issue of nonproliferation of weapons?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d really have to refer you to the Panamanian authorities about which of their local authorities are on the same --
QUESTION: No, which – it’s not clear --
QUESTION: But who – because which – who within this building are the Panamanians engaging with?
MR. VENTRELL: In terms of which bureau? I don’t think I’m going to get into that level of granularity, but broadly speaking, through the Embassy and through this – through the State Department, we’re in touch with them.
QUESTION: What – I think her question is: Is this now considered a nonproliferation issue?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Let me put it this way. When there are reports, public reports of a potentially serious nature of arms proliferation, we take them seriously and we work with our partners to investigate what more facts there are. And so given that there is publicly reported information about this type of information, we’re certainly going to look for more facts in the case to see what exactly was on it, the ship, where it was coming from, where it was going to, and get to the bottom of it.
QUESTION: So that would be a nonproliferation issue.
MR. VENTRELL: Certainly weapon smuggling is a nonproliferation issue, absolutely.
QUESTION: And the nonproliferation bureaus are the ones working on it. Is that correct?
MR. VENTRELL: We do have a nonproliferation bureau that would be involved, yes.
QUESTION: Patrick, have you received a request by the Panamanian Government for assistance on evaluating these weapon systems that were found in the ship?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware of one, again, in the past couple of hours. But if there’s more to update you on later in the day, we’d be happy to.
QUESTION: Can I change the subject?
QUESTION: And is this impacting the ongoing engagement with the Cubans right now?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, this incident just happened. There’s more facts to be obtained about what was going where and what exactly was on the ship, and so we’re going to reserve judgment until --
QUESTION: Patrick --
MR. VENTRELL: -- we’ve made a determination in that regard.
QUESTION: Just quickly, sorry.
QUESTION: Move to Kerry --
QUESTION: One more on that.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is there any contact with South Korea on this at all, or --
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that we’ve been in touch with the Republic of Korea, but you know broadly speaking, Japan, the Republic of Korea – there are many nations that are very concerned about any sanctions violations as they relate to the D.P.R.K. And you know how much we’ve pushed for universal compliance with UN Security Council resolutions and their full and robust implementation so that they can be fully implemented and the provisions of the Security Council resolutions can work as they’re intended to work.
QUESTION: And is there any idea how this will affect talks between South Korea and North Korea that are ongoing?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I wouldn’t speculate on all of that. I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.
QUESTION: Kerry’s --
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: I’m going to disappoint you right from the beginning. I’m not going to have a lot to read out from here.
QUESTION: But Jen said yesterday that she doesn’t have a lot of details because the trip was happening in the afternoon. Right now he’s there. He’s --
MR. VENTRELL: He is there.
QUESTION: -- already arrived to Jordan. So is he going to meet President Mahmoud Abbas? What are the new ideas that he’s bringing with him toward --
MR. VENTRELL: Again, sorry to disappoint. I’m just not going to have any readouts here from the podium.
QUESTION: But there’s nothing. We don’t even know who’s going to even meet.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, there’s a whole traveling press corps that’s with the Secretary and reporting on the trip. If there’s more information that I can share with all of you back here about the meetings that he’s had and report on them, I’d be more than happy to.
QUESTION: But don’t you have anything, any details on this trip? We have nothing.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have --
QUESTION: So we don’t’ know if he’s meeting any officials, if he’s going to focus on what’s happening in Egypt --
MR. VENTRELL: We put out a trip release yesterday. We will provide you more information if there’s more information to provide. I don’t have anything more for you right now.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Burmese Government today announced that it will release all the political prisoners. How do you see the comments from the Burmese Government and --
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. So we welcome President Thein Sein’s July 15th speech in London in which he declared that all remaining political prisoners will be released by the end of 2013. We encourage the government to continue to work expeditiously through the political prisoner review committee to release all political prisoners unconditionally and to remove conditions placed on those released to date. And to prevent the arrest of new political prisoners or the re-arrest of prisoners released conditionally, we urge the government to undertake comprehensive legal reform in line with international human rights standards.
So broadly speaking, as you know, on Burma, we welcome President Thein Sein’s comments and his commitment to promoting a multicultural, multi-faith nation, and taking a zero-tolerance approach to violence. So indeed, we welcome those comments in London.
QUESTION: And do you have any figures? What is the U.S. estimate of the number of political prisoners in Burma?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a U.S.-specific estimate. Civil society groups have estimated approximately 200 political – remaining political prisoners. But I don’t have sort of a U.S. Government assessment one way or another.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: So the U.S. has exhausted all options with Snowden and Russia with the extradition? Right?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we don’t have an extradition treaty with Russia. Broadly speaking, our policy remains the same, that we’d like him returned based on previous law enforcement cooperation we’ve had with Russia. We think there’s a basis to do that, and we’d like to see him come home to face justice. He should have the courage to come home to the United States and face the criminal charges against him.
QUESTION: But I mean, what’s left? How are you going to convince the Russians that he should come home?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ll continue to make, through law enforcement and diplomatic channels, our policy well known, and we have done so with the Russians, including up to the level of President Obama. So we’ll continue to make that case.
QUESTION: The Chinese got a kind of a free pass when they let him leave, go to Russia. We didn’t do anything and now what’s to say --
MR. VENTRELL: We expressed our very deep concern and I refer you to some of the remarks we made, indeed, during the S&ED about our deep concern about what the Chinese did. But --
QUESTION: But outside of a deep concern, what can the U.S. do to get Snowden back, besides asking?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, we look toward Russia – look to Russia for law enforcement cooperation based on some of the excellent law enforcement cooperation we’ve had in the past.
QUESTION: Is there any indication that they’re going to be cooperative in the future?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have any public readout of their thinking. I’ll let them speak for themselves.
QUESTION: But are – is the U.S. satisfied with the kind of cooperation it is getting from the Russians on the issue of Snowden?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I --
QUESTION: Are you dissatisfied with them?
MR. VENTRELL: The sooner we can get him home to face justice, the better.
QUESTION: Do you know about a lawyer, a Russian lawyer today – we saw him last week – saying that he has applied – requested temporary asylum in Russia. Do you have any confirmation?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have any confirmation on that one way or another. But we’ve said that he should come home and have the courage to come face the charges against him.
QUESTION: What would the U.S. response be if Russia does accept Snowden’s asylum request?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t want to get into a hypothetical, but I think the Russians know how strongly we feel on this case and how important it is for him to come home and face justice from our vantage point.
QUESTION: And what would they do if they didn’t accept it?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into a hypothetical.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: The Mexican Government announced the capture of Miguel Angel Trevino, the top leader of the Zeta cartel. Reaction to that initially? And then are you going to ask for an extradition?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I can’t comment on a potential extradition. That’s getting ahead of ourselves. But let me just reiterate what the Embassy has said, what the DEA has said, and other government agencies. I believe the White House has already commented on this as well. But we congratulate the Government of Mexico on the capture of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the alleged leader of the cartel known as the Zetas and one of the most wanted criminal suspects in Mexico. This is yet another advance by the people of Mexico in dismantling organized crime, so we really commend our Mexican partners in this regard.
QUESTION: Does anybody get the $5 million reward? Do you know?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if we had a Reward for Justice or one of the State Department managed programs on this individual. I’d have to check into that.
QUESTION: And according to our copy the U.S. Department – State Department did offer a reward of five million.
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to check on the Rewards for Justice. I wasn’t aware of that.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Margaret, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Patrick, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said today that the last disaster on this scale, in reference to Syria, was the genocide in Rwanda. He cited thousands killed, thousands fleeing per week, more than 1.8 million refugees. Is that comparison fair?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that particular comparison. I think we have to be careful, in general, about making broad comparisons. Each situation is unique. But undoubtedly this is horrific and disgusting violence and it is appalling on a number of levels. We’re talking about closing in on, as many people estimate, nearly 100,000 slaughtered, and it is just despicable and horrendous violence.
As you know, the U.S. has provided nearly a billion dollars of humanitarian assistance to ease the suffering of the Syrian people. You know what our policy is and how much we are focused on helping the opposition so that they can organize, so that they can provide a coherent plan for a post-Assad Syria, a nonsectarian, nonviolent, peaceful Syria. And so we’ll continue to work in that regard.
Obviously, if this situation were easy, we would have fixed it. But this is an incredibly complex situation, given all the regional dynamics, given the specific history of Syria. And so no doubt it’s despicable and horrendous violence.
QUESTION: Can you give us some comparison though on scale? I mean, Rwanda is the one used by the UN chief, but he certainly said this is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, humanitarian disasters they’ve ever dealt with.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, it is --
QUESTION: Is this the biggest one this building has ever dealt with, this government?
MR. VENTRELL: -- an enormous humanitarian challenge, and as I talked about, nearly a billion dollars of U.S. assistance to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, marshaled again with the resources of many other countries who are deeply concerned, and that’s been worked through the UN. But I hesitate to make broader comparisons, because I’m not an expert in UN humanitarian – sort of instances of UN humanitarian assistance in the past. But clearly there is a lot of work that’s been done to help Syrians inside of Syria and Syrians outside of Syria.
The one other thing that I’ll say in terms of the disaster – certainly there are sectarian overtones and certainly there’s been some despicable sectarian violence, but remember how this started, principally as the Assad regime going after its opponents. And so we have to keep our eye on remembering how Syria began to fracture in the first place and that desire of the Assad regime to snuff out any opposition to its rule.
QUESTION: But you saw in the U.K. public comments from their government saying that the situation on the ground is also affecting their decisions on the scope and scale of the aid they want to give to the armed Syrian opposition. Is this affecting the U.S. position at this time or adding to the hesitation to get involved?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ve spoken at length about concerns we’ve had about extremism. You heard the President of the United States say we’re against all extremism. We’re against the extremists inside of Syria. Having said that, there is a moderate opposition that we’re trying to bolster, we’re trying to help, who can provide a path for a new and different Syria. And so we’ll continue to do our best to bolster them in collaboration with the U.K., in collaboration with other partners among the London 11 and others who share our same interests.
QUESTION: So this building has not given up on the Supreme Military Council, the Syrian rebels?
MR. VENTRELL: Not at all. Indeed, we’ve thought it’s very important to channel our assistance through the SOC and the SMC, General Idris and others, to make sure that they can deliver on behalf of the Syrian people and provide that – the vision of a potential new Syria so that the Syrian people can see that.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Syrian refugees in Egypt are facing deportation after the regime change. Are you talking with Egyptian officials about this topic?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to check in on that, Michel. Broadly speaking, we’ve been appreciative of governments in the region that have taken in a burden of so many Syrians who are suffering and provided them a place to stay and provided them UN agencies access. But I’d have to check on the Egyptian situation. I’m just not familiar with any developments in past days.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: There is a story from Islamabad today. It quotes U.S. Embassy sources and Pakistani officials saying that the United States and Pakistan are looking at the possibility of using nuclear technology for producing electricity. Do you have anything --
MR. VENTRELL: We’d seen those rumors, but I can confirm there was no discussion of civilian nuclear technology. For further discussions, I’d direct you to the Government of Pakistan and OPIC, which is a government agency on our side. But there was no discussion of civil nuclear technology.
QUESTION: Can I change topics?
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Lesley.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up to that.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Lalit.
QUESTION: Pakistan has been asking for this for quite some time now. Is the U.S. considering that as an option to address Pakistan’s energy situation?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I confirm – can confirm there was no discussion of it here. I don’t have anything for you on it. But broadly speaking, you know that we’ve been supportive of efforts with Pakistan’s energy problems and much of the aid that the U.S. has provided and the expertise and technology and know-how. But I don’t have anything for you on that.
QUESTION: And related to Pakistan’s energy situation, of late Pakistan’s new government is planning to import energy from India. How do you see the trade of energy between – electricity between India and Pakistan?
MR. VENTRELL: Anything that makes relations better between Pakistan and India is a good thing. We welcome anything that warms the relationship. If it’s in the energy or economic sector, that’s good, but otherwise as well.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Follow up. I have a follow up.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Are you ruling out such negotiations, discussions between U.S. and Pakistan towards nuclear – civil nuclear cooperation?
MR. VENTRELL: That has not been a topic of discussion.
MR. VENTRELL: Yes.
QUESTION: The election campaign is ramping up, got elections at the end of the year. Are the conditions there in the country – and would you say that the conditions within the country make for a free and fair election currently?
MR. VENTRELL: Let me say, Lesley, that this is a critical moment for the people of Zimbabwe. Progress has been made since the Global Political Agreement was signed in 2008. Zimbabwe’s economy has begun to recover from devastating economic mismanagement and hyperinflation, and the people of Zimbabwe peacefully approved a new constitution in March. The United States joins the Southern African Development Community and our international partners in calling for elections in Zimbabwe that are peaceful, transparent, and credible. Elections that do not meet these standards risk undermining the progress that Zimbabwe has made since 2008. We are deeply concerned about the lack of transparency in electoral preparations, the continued partisan behavior by state security institutions, and the technical and logistical issues hampering the administration of a credible and transparent election.
QUESTION: Sounds like you’re saying that those conditions are not there.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I don’t want to preview what we’re not yet – where we haven’t gotten to yet. But we’ve been deeply concerned and disappointed that the direction of this is the elections moving forward in the absence of reforms that the Government of Zimbabwe and SADC themselves agreed to in the Global Political Agreement and the SADC electoral roadmap. So that includes the security sector, media, and other reforms. And we call on the Government of Zimbabwe, SADC, and the African Union to accept nothing short of SADC and internationally accepted standards of electoral credibility, fairness, and transparency.
So we’ve raised our concerns. You know where we are on the sanctions policy, that we’ve wanted these free, transparent, and credible elections, and that could have an impact on our sanctions policy. But I don’t have anything for you in terms of the elections that we haven’t arrived at.
QUESTION: I understand Secretary Kerry has written to President Mugabe. Do you know what he said in that?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to check on that. I’m not sure if there’s been correspondence directly in that channel. You know we have an ambassador on the ground who communicates directly with the government, but I’d have to check on that.
Okay. In the back.
QUESTION: Patrick, do U.S. have any detailed information for the Asiana airline and crash at the San Francisco Airport?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything for you here from the State Department. That’s really the NTSB and FAA. I refer you to those authorities that are the competent authorities here in the U.S. that deal with that. So I just don’t have anything from – here from the State Department.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:10 p.m.)
DPB # 119