Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–April 30, 2013.
- Free the Press Campaign / Uthayan Newspaper / Sri Lanka
- Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko / European Court of Human Rights Decision
- Media Outlets Suspension of License / Journalistic Freedom
- Condemnation of Terrorist Attacks / Intensively Engaging
- NORTH KOREA
- Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula / International Obligations
- Wu Dawei Meetings / Chinese Talks with North Korea
- GUANTANAMO BAY
- Office of the Legal Advisor
- Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko / Call for Release
- Reducing Corruption and Increasing Transparency / Rule of Law / Afghan Institutions
- Update on Attack in Benghazi / Whistleblowers / Continuing to Work with Congress
- Full Normalization of Relations
- His Majesty Willem-Alexander / Investiture
- Secretary Kerry’s Meetings with Foreign Ministers / Bilateral Issues
- Military Buildup / Diplomacy and Cooperation
- Violence in Xinjiang
- One China Policy / Pending Legislation
- Chen Kegui Mistreatment in Prison
- Human Rights Situation
- SRI LANKA
- Human Rights
- Whistleblowers / Clearance Request
- Factory Collapse / Supply Chains
1:09 p.m. EDT
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon and welcome to the State Department. I have a few things for you at the top and then I’ll turn it over to all of you. First, a welcome to a number of our public affairs officers and press officers going out to be spokespeople at our embassies overseas. Welcome to the briefing today.
Second of all, as we continue our Free the Press campaign, we will highlight the case of Uthayan, a Tamil-language newspaper in Sri Lanka. Uthayan has seen its personnel beaten, its newspaper shipments burned, its equipment destroyed, and its offices set ablaze in this last month alone. The assault on a free press in Sri Lanka extends beyond Uthayan. The BBC Tamil-language service has had its programs about Sri Lanka and the Human Rights Council censored. Reporters have been physically assaulted and murdered in years past, and a prominent political cartoonist has been missing for three years.
The United States calls on Sri Lankan authorities to demonstrate their commitment to the rule of law and freedom of expression by conducting thorough investigations into all attacks and killings of journalists and bringing perpetrators to justice. We urge Sri Lankan authorities to protect freedom of expression. The necessity of upholding this fundamental right was not only a component of the UN Human Rights Council resolution in Geneva this March, but it was a central recommendation of the Sri Lankan Government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
Also, because it’s in the news, I will say that we’ve seen the Amnesty International report and note that it echoes many of the concerns we raised in our own Human Rights Report. So as we have said many times, we remain extremely concerned about threats to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka and continue to support the need for justice and accountability for serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.
QUESTION: Can I ask —
MR. VENTRELL: I have one more for you before we – and you can ask about any of the toppers, but let me do my last thing, which is to point out to all of you, to highlight the decision by the European Court of Human Rights regarding the detention, trial, and conviction of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. The court decision found that Mrs. Tymoshenko’s pre-trial detention was arbitrary and unlawful and a right to liberty restricted for reasons other than those permissible. We reiterate our call that Mrs. Tymoshenko be released and the practice of selective prosecution in Ukraine end.
So, Brad, having said that, I’ll turn it over to all of you.
QUESTION: I had, actually, a follow-up on freedom of information.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the Iraqi decision to revoke the license for Al Jazeera? I think they suspended several Iraqi TV networks as well. I think it was a couple days ago already.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks, Brad. So we are concerned by – that the Iraqi Government’s Communications and Media Commission has suspended the license of 10 media outlets. This action undermines the democratic principles of the Iraqi constitution and the Iraqi Government’s ability to guarantee freedom of the press and freedom of expression. We’ve expressed our concern to Iraqi authorities and call on them to reverse this decision. We’ve been told that this is a temporary measure and await action that could correct this order. And the protection of journalistic freedom is an essential aspect of all democratic societies, and we urge the Iraqi Government to respect press freedoms and safeguard journalists throughout Iraq.
QUESTION: So how are you urging them to do this? You’ve made a call and said, “Wow, this is really bad,” or what? I mean, this is a pretty drastic measure compared to some of the things you’ve raised in the last couple days, even.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Well, we’re concerned, and that’s why we’ve raised it at the Embassy. I’ll have to check and see if we’ve also made calls from Washington. But we’ve absolutely raised it very clearly with senior levels of the Iraqi Government to make our concerns crystal-clear in this regard.
QUESTION: Can we stay in Iraq?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. In the last few days, we have seen a spike in violence as a result of the election. But of course, the Iraqis are accusing all these stations of fermenting sectarian strife and so on. Tell us, if you will, if you are doing anything to bring the groups together.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Thanks for the question, Said. The U.S. strongly condemns the recent spate of terrorist attacks perpetrated in Iraq, and we offer condolences to the victims of these attacks and their families. U.S. officials here in Washington and in Baghdad have been in near-constant contact with a wide range of senior Iraqi leaders to help resolve ongoing political and sectarian tensions. These talks have focused on specific steps to avoid further violence and resolve key issues peacefully through dialogue and the political process. So we’re intensively engaging with all sides in an effort to reduce tensions, and we’re doing that through our senior officials here in Washington and through our Embassy.
QUESTION: Are you in touch with the head of the parliament, Mr. Osama Nujaifi, who is now insisting that Maliki should resign?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we’re in touch a wide range of the political spectrum from all different sectors of Iraqi society. I’m not sure about our outreach to him in particular, but certainly with Kurdish leaders, with Sunni leaders, with the government, we’ve been in touch with a number of different leaders to make clear our concerns and to help facilitate any ongoing cooperation that we can to lower the tensions.
QUESTION: And finally, could you tell us whether the Embassy is on lockdown or is it able to conduct its business and do public outreach and so on?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any specific information for you on Embassy security one way or another. You know that Iraq is a dangerous place and we have very specific measures for Embassy security. But in terms of – given this recent spate of violence, I’m not aware of any particular Embassy security measures.
Jill, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Other subject, North Korea?
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: After a lot of bluster and threats, they’re suddenly quiet. How do you explain this? Was it a result of the visit by Secretary Kerry and talking with the Chinese, or are there other factors at play?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I’m not sure that we would sort of give an academic analysis here of what their actions are or try to posit what North Korean actions are, but you know what our U.S. policy goals are, and that we want the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. We want it done in a peaceful manner.
And I will say that in terms of sort of deescalating the rhetoric, that’s a good thing, but the broader policy goal still remains in place, which is the verifiable denuclearization of the entire peninsula. So, certainly, stopping some of the bluster and the rhetoric and the threats is a good thing, but more fundamentally, we need to get to a place where they’re going to start coming in compliance with their international obligations.
QUESTION: Right. But why are they doing it, do you think?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I would refer you to them about why they’re taking the posture they are. But in addition to lowering rhetoric and tension, we also want them to start to make signals that they’re going to come in compliance with their international obligations.
QUESTION: To follow up on that —
MR. VENTRELL: Guy, go ahead.
QUESTION: — has there been – thanks, Patrick. Has there been any development toward the possibility of restarting talks with North Korea?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update for you one way or another, other than to say, as we’ve said previously, that they know what they need to do in terms of starting to take steps to come in compliance with their international obligations, and as the Secretary said, show a seriousness of purpose. And so one thing is to de-escalate the rhetoric, but there’s a wider policy issue at interest here. And we certainly have been in close communication with the Chinese who have some special influence with the North Koreans and others, and we’ll continue to do that as we pursue our broader policy goal.
QUESTION: So are we closer to talks now than we were like three weeks ago, or you’re not commenting?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I wouldn’t characterize it that way one way or another.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: In your ongoing discussions with your counterparts in China, you’ve said for a while now that they are looking internally to see what they can do about this newest round of sanctions and other ways to pressure the North Koreans. Do you have anything tangible you can tell us at this point about what they or you are considering in light of this kind of de-escalation of rhetoric?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I’ll let the Chinese speak for themselves, and I wouldn’t get into the intricacies of the diplomatic exchanges, other than to say you know we had a senior official here from the Chinese MFA, their senior official who deals with the D.P.R.K., intensive dialogue there. You know we had the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in China. So the dialogue has continued, but I’m not going to get into it sort of point by point.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: What does it mean you’re not going to characterize whether – one way or another? The question was: Are you closer? So does that mean you’re neither closer nor further, and you’re not closer? Or you’re neither closer nor not closer and in a realm of mystery world or something?
MR. VENTRELL: No. I mean –
QUESTION: What has happened? Have you gone further away, or are you going closer?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we think it’s a good thing, Brad, that there’s been some de-escalation in the rhetoric, but we also want to see them show a seriousness of purpose. So I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as closer.
QUESTION: But this is part of the conditions that Secretary Kerry laid down when he was in Asia. He said they need to de-escalate tensions and make some certifiable action.
MR. VENTRELL: Right. Well, one-half –
QUESTION: So this is part of – they’re moving – I mean, on one of the things they have moved, correct?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, you’re right; there are two parts in the sense that we want them to refrain from additional provocative actions that violate its international obligations and run counter to its commitments, but we also want them to show seriousness of purpose that they’re going to start coming into line with their international obligations. So we’ll take it one step at a time here.
QUESTION: So they’ve moved one step and now they have a lot of other things left to do, correct?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I’m not sure if I would classify it as a step, but we think it’s –
QUESTION: You guys laid it out there. That’s –
MR. VENTRELL: I said it was a positive sign that we haven’t seen provocative rhetoric. But I know in the news cycle, you’re all trying to look one day for another and to reading into broader signals. And we’re, of course, looking at the broader picture.
QUESTION: Did you ever give a readout of Wu Dawei’s meeting in this building?
MR. VENTRELL: Did I give any readout of it?
MR. VENTRELL: I did talk about it last week on Friday after he’d finished his meetings. But they were a series of productive meetings with a wide range of our senior leadership here and some of our senior leaders over at the White House who deal with our East Asia policy as well.
QUESTION: The Chinese military, they are concerned North Korea may launch next nuclear test. Do you share the concern?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ve had constant concern about them having further provocative actions, and we’ve continually urged them not to do so. And we’ll continue to say that.
QUESTION: Did the Chinese indicate that they are going to talk with North Korea directly soon?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to characterize the private diplomacy other than to say that the Chinese share the same fundamental goal that we do, which is the denuclearization of the peninsula, and that’s the focus of our discussions.
QUESTION: New topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Earlier today, President Obama said that he was going to refocus his Administration’s efforts on closing Guantanamo and on the transfer of detainees. And obviously, the State Department has a big role in that. And I wondered what efforts – since the last time we discussed this a few weeks ago, and with the President’s renewed focus, what efforts can you point to that this building has been engaged in to restart the transfers and to ultimately close the facility.
MR. VENTRELL: You know what, Camille? I believe I did have a little bit more information for you, but I don’t have it here with me today. I’m happy to talk with you after the briefing once I can track that down. But I don’t have the information with me today.
QUESTION: A follow-up. Did anyone ever replace Daniel Fried in charge of coordinating Guantanamo transfers, or has that just kind of been dropped permanently?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, no. As I mentioned – and Brad I don’t think you were here that particular day. But as I mentioned, the duties of the office are under the Office of the Legal Advisor, so there are staff who continue to work on this issue.
QUESTION: But no ambassadorial —
MR. VENTRELL: There’s not a special – there’s not an ambassadorial special envoy. There are staff who –
QUESTION: — actually working on this daily?
MR. VENTRELL: There are staff who continue to work on this, primarily interaction with foreign governments.
Go ahead, Paul.
QUESTION: I wanted to see if we can go to North Korea to see if you have anything overnight on Kenneth Bae’s case.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything. I mean, just to reiterate, the call – we said yesterday that we urged the Government of the D.P.R.K. to release him, but I don’t have any update overnight.
Tell me your name.
QUESTION: Thank you. Dmytro Anopchenko, Inter television channel from Ukraine.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Following your statement in Tymoshenko case, unfortunately there is not any clear injunction how this decision might be implemented. Can you clarify your position? What is your vision of the future steps of the Ukrainian Government? Secondly, that Tymoshenko was convicted, so according to Ukrainian law, she doesn’t have a right to participate in the political life even if she will be released. And at least, are you going to communicate with the Ukrainian Government in any way? I mean, speaking of all these —
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve been very clear and we do communicate directly with the Government of the Ukraine – and we’ll say it here, too – that we reiterate our call that she be released and that the practice of selective prosecution end immediately. And this is something that we’ve said very – we’ve said repeatedly to the Ukrainian authorities and we’ve repeatedly called for here publicly as well.
QUESTION: So am I right that your position that she has to be immediately released from the prison?
MR. VENTRELL: I didn’t hear the second –
QUESTION: Oh, pardon me. Am I right that your position is that she has to be immediately released from the prison?
MR. VENTRELL: Yes. We want her released from prison, and we want an end to all selective political prosecutions.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: President Karzai has admitted that his – that the U.S. gives his office cash funds, cash payments, outside of the other aid that the U.S. is giving. Doesn’t this fuel corruption?
MR. VENTRELL: We talked a little bit about this yesterday, and I said I didn’t have anything for you one way or another. What I can say in terms of our efforts to reduce corruption and to increase transparency – you know that’s been a focus of this Department and something we’ve worked very hard on – and this goes back to the mutual accountability framework to which the international community and the Afghan Government agreed at Tokyo. That was the Tokyo conference. And we expect the Government of Afghanistan will follow through on these important commitments.
So we continue to work with our international partners, and we remain committed to supporting Afghanistan’s anti-corruption efforts. And this is sort of, broadly speaking, about increasing transparency and accountability, building judicial capacity and rule of law. We’ve been clear that there’s more work to be done, and we’ll continue to help Afghan authorities in that regard.
QUESTION: Yes. But if you are providing – if the United States is providing actual cash, which is an invitation to disaster, wouldn’t it be a good idea to take the step that the U.S. can take immediately and stop that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I said I didn’t have any information for you on that one way or another. This Department and the work that we do is to implement sustainable development programs and to help build up Afghan institutions and do so in a way that will help them function as they increasingly – as Afghans take the lead for their security across the country and manage their own affairs. And that’s the focus of our efforts in Afghanistan.
QUESTION: Patrick. Do you consider off-the-books cash, paid by one government to another in order to gain influence, no matter who it is; do you consider that a form of corruption in itself?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to make a broad —
QUESTION: If Russia were to pay cash to India or whoever and said, “Here, here’s some money, we want influence in your country’s decision-making and in how you guys run your country,” would you consider that corruption?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, Brad, I’m not going to make a broad sweeping statement on a hypothetical.
QUESTION: No? It sounded like you said —
MR. VENTRELL: What I will say is that in certain —
QUESTION: You’re saying that isn’t happening anywhere in the world?
MR. VENTRELL: — war zone and transitional economies, there are times where development work and other stuff is done in cash-predominant societies. But I’m not going to make some broad sweeping statement about a hypothetical.
QUESTION: It’s not a hypothetical.
QUESTION: Have you not been in touch with the CIA? I mean, have you even asked – have you asked your colleagues over at CIA, there are these reports? I mean, President Karzai’s admitted they’re true, but have you actually gone to your colleagues in CIA and asked them to state what their policy is and what they’ve been doing over the last decade?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I don’t think we talk about our interagency discussions with our colleagues in the intelligence community or elsewhere in the Administration. Be happy to refer you to them if you want more information on their position.
Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Why did they – do you think that they continue the practice when they actually tried this in Iraq? I mean, we understand the urgency that sometimes you need to infuse some funds to deal with urgent conditions and so on, but it had disastrous consequences. So apparently, they are still using it in Afghanistan, not really learning a great deal from lessons learned.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to sort of do a broad historical analysis here. The bottom line is we do our development aid in the best way we can that is sustainable and is helpful to the local societies we’re working with.
Guy, go ahead.
QUESTION: Regarding the report last night that officials from the State Department and CIA have hired lawyers and are complaining that the White House is trying to intimidate them from speaking to Congress about last September’s attacks in Benghazi, Libya. Have you seen this report, do you have a response to it, and could you comment on this Department’s wider policy with regard to responding to requests from Congress for testimony related to the Benghazi attack?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thanks, Guy, we talked a little bit about this yesterday, but let me say a couple of things. Let me be very clear. The State Department is deeply committed to meeting its obligation to protect employees, and the State Department would never tolerate or sanction retaliation against whistleblowers on any issue, including this one. That’s an obligation we take very seriously, full stop. In fact, the Department regularly sends notices, as we do to our entire staff, to employees advising of their right to federal whistleblower protections. We do so annually, and in fact, I checked and we did so just last week, which is our routine process in the spring to send an update like that.
In terms of the attorneys issue, we’re not aware of any employees who have requested clearance for private attorneys, security clearances for private attorneys in connection with Benghazi. In the event of such a request, the Department has a security clearance process in place under which clearances can be provided to private attorneys who are representing individual employees of this building.
QUESTION: So could you just say a little more? I mean, what is the – what do you make of this report, then? I mean, this is just – it’s made up, or is there something real here? I mean, there’s a special counsel for one of the committees on Capitol Hill that’s saying that she’s representing a client who was involved in Benghazi that this has happened to.
MR. VENTRELL: Let me just repeat it, Guy: We’re not aware of any employees who have requested security clearance for private attorneys in connection with Benghazi. We’re not aware of it. You heard the Secretary say earlier today, Guy, about the concern about the enormous amount of misinformation out there. The Secretary testified about that when he was on the Hill, and he said that we’re going to continue to work with the Congress very closely. So he mentioned that his chief of staff will be a point person, and that we’ll continue to have our discussion and dialogue with Capitol Hill, and that there’s a process in place to assess some of these new and outstanding requests. So we’ll continue to be collaborative with Capitol Hill.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: All right. Go ahead, Tolga.
QUESTION: On the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry urged both sides to speed up the rapprochement actually recently. Can you elaborate on exactly what we mean, what kind of development will be satisfied in this area?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I don’t have an update on progress, but you know that the Secretary has urged that the process be carried all the way through, and that includes an exchange of ambassadors and a full normalization of relations between our two key partners and allies. And so I don’t have a specific update, but we continue to urge a full implementation of their agreement to normalize their relationship.
QUESTION: The Prime Minister will be in town on May 16th to meet with the President. Before that, I mean by this visit, ambassador exchange will be satisfied for U.S. Administration?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I can’t predict how far along they’re going to be in their work between the two countries by then, but we continue to urge that it be done so as swiftly as possible.
Okay. Jo, go ahead.
QUESTION: I just wondered if you’d been in touch with the authorities in the Netherlands to congratulate them on the new King.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Jo, we congratulate His Majesty Willem-Alexander on his investiture and we wish Queen Beatrix the very best in the future. The United States and the Netherlands have been friends and allies for over 200 years, and we look forward to many years of friendship in the future going forward. And so we have been communicating that publicly, but we’ve done so as well privately.
QUESTION: You’ve been allies for 200 years?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. We’ve —
QUESTION: When did that happen? I thought that was with NATO.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, the point is that our friendship and our relationship goes back 200 years. Thanks, Brad.
Scott, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Congressman Wolf is questioning the invitation of a delegation from the Sudanese Government that includes the presidential advisor Nafie Ali Nafie, who is accused of torturing prisoners and plotting the assassination of the Egyptian President. Have you received the congressman’s letter and are you aware of these allegations against a member of the delegation?
MR. VENTRELL: You know what; I’ll have to check on that, Scott. I’m not aware of the congressional correspondence, but I’ll look into it. But I don’t have any information in terms of receiving this delegation from what I said last week, but I’d be happy to look into the congressional correspondence.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on the Secretary’s morning meetings with the Egyptian and the Jordanian foreign ministers?
MR. VENTRELL: I do. So as you said, as you noted, Secretary Kerry met this morning with Jordanian Foreign Minister Judeh and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr. In both meetings, he reviewed the very positive outcome from yesterday’s meeting with Arab Peace Initiative – with the Arab Peace Initiative delegation, and they discussed in detail how all interested states can contribute to achieving the goal of peace, including successful negotiation between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
And as you know, as two Arab states with formal peace treaties and relations with Israel, we’ve always looked to Jordan and Egypt to contribute to a wider regional peace. And the ministers confirmed their commitment to our efforts.
In his meeting – hold on, let me finish – in his meeting with Foreign Minister Judeh, they discussed bilateral issues as well as the ongoing situation in Syria, including the increased refugee burden faced by Jordan. Secretary Kerry reiterated our commitment to helping Jordan face this burden.
And finally, Secretary Kerry and Foreign Minister Amr also discussed bilateral issues and the situation in Egypt in their meeting. Secretary Kerry discussed the need for the government’s leadership role in building greater political consensus in Egypt in order to move the democratic transition forward and address the political and economic challenges Egypt faces. And finally, they also discussed Syria in his meeting with his Egyptian counterpart.
QUESTION: Now that he was able to wrest this minor concession from the Arab states on the wording of their initiative and on land swaps as part of their vision, did they have any discussion on what steps they’d like to see from Israel going forward in the near term?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of the diplomacy. I think you heard the Secretary speak very clearly about this important step with the Arab League. But in terms of our diplomacy and getting the parties back to the table and the steps, I’m really not going to get into it.
QUESTION: Patrick, (inaudible)?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: I asked the Palestinian Foreign Minister last night, or yesterday, about this very issue, and he seemed to be comfortable that this is now part of the peace effort forward, so to speak, the land swaps and perhaps other compromises. He also said that he – they promised, the Palestinians promised that they would not pursue any additional membership in UN agencies such as the ICC and others and so on, and that they have actually – they have received nothing in return. But do you, on your part, lean on the Israelis to stop settlement activities in exchange or in show of goodwill toward negotiations?
MR. VENTRELL: Our longstanding policy on settlements still stands, and it’s something that we do raise with Israeli leaders. I’m not going to get into a point-by-point, back-and-forth of what we’re doing to try to get the parties to get this back on track, but it’s something that we do raise with the Israeli authorities.
QUESTION: He also suggested that a follow-up meeting will take place in a matter of weeks. Is that different, or is it consistent with some news that you guys are going to host a peace summit come June? Is that —
MR. VENTRELL: Said, I already talked about this last week —
MR. VENTRELL: — that these media reports of a peace summit are not accurate. And I don’t have any update to that.
QUESTION: But wouldn’t a meeting that would bring in Jordan and the Israelis and so on be considered a peace summit in town here?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know about that. But I don’t have an update from what I said last week. I do want to take the opportunity, though, since we’re talking about the West Bank and settlements, the United States strongly condemns today’s terror attack against an Israeli citizen in the West Bank today which resulted in the murder of that individual. We express our sincere condolences to his family. We also strongly condemn the reported acts of reprisal, including the attack at the Al-Rabat mosque in Urif village near Nablus, and we call upon all parties to take steps to restore calm and avoid the potential for further escalation.
QUESTION: And finally, there is a Palestinian prisoner by the name of Rashid (inaudible) who has been in prison for the past 10 or 12 years and so on, and now he’s served his sentence and you guys are trying to deport him, but no country will take him. Has there been any effort to see – to look at a country that might want to take him, or do you know what I’m talking about?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not familiar with the case. I’m happy to look into it after.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Goyal, you’ve been patient. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Going – before my questions on South Asia, if I can go back to China, please.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Japanese Defense Minister was at the Pentagon with the Secretary Hagel. And what he said was concern to the Japanese, that Chinese aggression or Chinese military buildup in the islands, especially in South Asia Sea. And also as far as China and India is concerned, they’re also building up a military on the Indian border. Do you know these issues came up when the Secretary met with the Chinese leaders?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if they came up specifically point-by-point, but I’ve said here from this podium whether it’s on China and India or China and Japan, that we encourage diplomacy and cooperation so that they can have their relations on track. But I don’t have anything specific about the readout.
QUESTION: And —
MR. VENTRELL: What were your South Asia questions?
QUESTION: And South Asia please, thank you. As far as bombings in Boston is concerned, Indians and India – she has grief and the pain and sufferings of the people in Boston, but also within 24 hours of that bombing in Boston, there was a bombing in India in Bangalore, similar types of bombing from the pressure cooker bombing, and those are very famous or easy to make. There were a number of bombings in India from pressure cooker. My question is that: Was there any kind of link here, or if Indian authorities have asked any kind of cooperation or help in that connection, or if the State Department got any news about this link on pressure cooking bombings?
MR. VENTRELL: Goyal, I’m not aware of any link. We condemn this type of terrorism and this tactic. I’m not aware of this specific event, but we certainly condemn this type of terrorist activity.
QUESTION: And finally —
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Finally, on – I’m sorry – elections in Pakistan, which you are following because this General Musharraf is now under house arrest for some time since he left for Pakistan. And the situation is not very good in Pakistan as far as elections are going on, anything could happen. What I’m asking you: Are you following what – if U.S. is helping in anyway Pakistan elections or the future of Musharraf in Pakistan, which is now, as I said, under house arrest?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we haven’t taken a position on Mr. Musharraf’s return to Pakistan. Let me say a few words, though, about the violence in Pakistan. The United States condemns the recent violence that has targeted politicians and their supporters during the electoral campaign in Pakistan. We likewise condemn recent statements by militant groups indicating their intent to disrupt Pakistan’s democratic process. We support the right of the Pakistani people to participate fully in the election of their representatives and their ability to fulfill their aspirations for a peaceful, prosperous, and democratic nation.
More broadly, the United States looks forward to witnessing timely, transparent, free, and fair elections on May 11th. These elections will mark an important democratic transition, a historic development of which the people of Pakistan can be very proud. So we do not support any particular political party or any individual candidate, and we look forward to engaging the next democratically elected Government of Pakistan.
QUESTION: But given the spike in the violence in Pakistan in last few weeks, and as the election approaches, do you think the atmosphere is conducive enough to have a free and fair elections, people can go out without any fear and vote?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we condemn the elections – or, we condemn the violence concerning the elections. (Laughter.) We call for the elections; sorry for that. We condemn the violence surrounding the elections. We do continue to urge Pakistanis to get out and vote and express their free will so that democracy can prevail and the people’s voice can be heard. And so we’re concerned about the violence but we urge the electoral process to continue.
QUESTION: There is one more, quickly, on that. What Pakistanis are saying in Pakistan, also Pakistani Ambassador here and the Pakistani Ambassador of the United Nations, he condemned the United States on drones attacks because he said that they are – drone attacks by the U.S. is linked to the violence in Pakistan, and U.S. must ensure stop immediately all those drone attacks against – inside Pakistan because U.S. is violating the Pakistan’s sovereignty.
MR. VENTRELL: Again, we haven’t commented on drone attacks from this podium, and I’m not going to start doing so.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, in the back. Back of the room.
QUESTION: Yeah. Last week, you expressed concern over the violence in Xinjiang, and then was condemned or criticized by the Chinese Foreign Minister as U.S. having a double standard against China defined incidents as a terror attack. I don’t know if you want to respond to that.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we talked about this a little bit last week and I don’t have an update other than to say that we regret the unfortunate acts of violence and we urge the Chinese authorities to conduct a thorough, transparent investigation of the incident, and to provide those detained with due process. So that’s our position and it hasn’t changed from last week.
QUESTION: And also last week a Congressional subcommittee adopted a resolution regarding the United States policy toward Taiwan, a.k.a. H.R. 419, the Taiwan Policy Act of 2013, in which a lot of language had to do with the State Department. For example, support Taiwan’s international (inaudible) and also request the State Department to revise the guidelines regarding contact with Taiwan. Do you have any response on that?
MR. VENTRELL: While we can’t comment on pending legislation, there’s no change to our “One China” policy which is based on the three joint communiques in the Taiwan Relations Act. In terms of the contact, on that issue we periodically review our Taiwan contact guidelines and update these as appropriate. But I don’t have a specific reaction to pending Congressional legislation.
QUESTION: Or you won’t comment. You can if you want to. You comment a lot on —
MR. VENTRELL: We do not comment on this type of pending legislation.
QUESTION: You do when you want to.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a comment for you on this specific —
QUESTION: When everyone talks about your funding, you like to comment on draft legislation.
MR. VENTRELL: I do not have a comment for you on this specific pending legislation.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Still on China.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you have a comment on the nephew of Chen Guangchen who – apparently his medical parole for appendicitis was denied?
MR. VENTRELL: I do. First of all to say that promoting greater respect for human rights is among our top foreign policy objectives, including with China. We remain deeply concerned by reports of Chen Kegui’s mistreatment in prison, and of his acute medical condition. We have consistently raised his case with the Chinese Government. We call on the Chinese authorities to treat him according to China’s international commitments to protect universal human rights and make sure he receives proper medical treatment. We also remained deeply concerned by credible reports that local authorities continue to harass Chen Kegui’s family members in his home village. So we urge the Chinese authorities to stop harassment of his family and to treat them fairly and with dignity.
And I do want to remind people that both Secretary Kerry and Deputy Secretary Burns raised his case with Chinese leaders in Beijing this month. Secretary Kerry reiterated that in his Congressional testimony. And the U.S. Embassy and officials in Washington, we’ve reiterated our concerns with the Chinese Government and called for Chen Kegui to be given immediate medical attention. And Ambassador Locke underscored again our position with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs just today.
QUESTION: Given that the non-persecution of his family was one of the conditions when you made that agreement last year that brought Chen to the United States, do you feel that you’ve been duped by the Chinese in that you guys thought you had this big success and now they’re going and allowing local authorities to harass the family? Well, worse than harass – persecute.
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to get into our diplomatic back and forth with the Chinese over the arrival of Chen Guangcheng here to the United States. What I will say is, we’ve been very clear in our concerns, we’re raising them very vocally. We’re doing it here publicly and also privately. And so our concerns are very clear have been expressed to the Chinese Government.
QUESTION: Well, what would be – since this was an actual agreement that you guys made, what would be the consequences if this continued mistreatment persists?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of the negotiation, but I will say that we’re deeply concerned by this.
QUESTION: But there’s no potential consequences.
MR. VENTRELL: Look, this is – we’re raising this directly with the Chinese Government in a very clear way. I’m not going to get into the substance of that diplomacy other than to tell you all that it is a priority to us.
Go ahead, Tejinder.
QUESTION: Yes —
MR. VENTRELL: One – one more on China.
QUESTION: Congressman Frank Wolf and Congressman Smith once criticized State Department not having enough official diplomat in Beijing Embassy to manage human rights issues, because most of people are doing trade, business, energy. I wonder how would you like to respond to —
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. I’m not particular with their exact complaint, but we have a very large, bilateral mission in China, a number of consulates. And we have officers who work very diligently on human rights, and we raise it at every opportunity with the Chinese Government, and we have officers who their full-time job is to follow the human rights situation. So it’s something that we do.
Tejinder, you’ve been patient in the back.
QUESTION: Do you expect any further diplomatic steps on Sri Lanka, to put pressure on the Sri Lankan Government beyond U.S. statement today?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we’re going to continue to work with the Sri Lankans bilaterally. We’re going to continue to work with interested parties that include a number of people quite frankly in the international community who are deeply concerned. And so we’ll continue to do so bilaterally, but we’ll also continue to do so with other members of the international community and that’s certainly been the case with the – at the UN Human Rights Council and in other fora. So we’ll continue to press our concerns very directly.
QUESTION: Just a quick question on as far as U.S.-India relations on the capital areas of concern. There is one of the largest U.S.-India congressional caucus on the Capitol Hill. But now last week, a few congressmen got together and Sikh community have now an exclusive Sikh congressional Capitol Hill caucus only for the Sikh community. My question is – and this was condoned by the Indian Government or Indian Embassy here in Washington. My question is: If State Department, you are aware of this, and what do you make out of this exclusive, not for the Indian American community but for the Sikh community only despite we only have one U.S.-India election – caucus dealing with the Indian community or U.S.-India relations?
MR. VENTRELL: Goyal, I’m not aware the specific interest group, but people are free to assemble and make their positions known. I’m just not aware.
One last question here.
QUESTION: Back to Benghazi. I’d like to return, if I may, to the subject of your exchanges yesterday with my colleague James Rosen. You stated at the podium yesterday that you are not aware of any whistleblowers related to Benghazi, nor are you aware of any requests for security clearances by private counsel representing them. Yet, Congressman Issa wrote to the L Office on April 16th specifically to Mary McLeod, the principal deputy legal advisor, and informed her, quote, “Attorneys representing State Department personnel in this matter were required clearance.”
So first, isn’t it a fact that the Department has indeed received notification of the existence of whistleblowers on Benghazi and the existence of private counsel seeking security clearances? And second, why hasn’t Mrs. McLeod responded to that inquiry?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, what I said yesterday stands, and I said it also in reply to other questions earlier in this briefing, and that stands as well. And so we’ve been very clear on this.
QUESTION: And one follow up: Attorney Victoria Toensing, who is a former Justice Department official and former chief counsel to the Senate Intelligence Committee, appeared on Fox News yesterday saying that her client is one of the career State Department officials who considers himself a whistleblower on Benghazi. Ms. Toensing stated on the record that this individual has been threatened for indicating an interest in providing more information to Congress. Can you likewise state on the record that no potential witnesses in this building have been threatened in connection with this case?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I just reiterated, and you heard very clearly earlier in the briefing, what I said about whistleblowers and what this Department’s position is on whistleblowers. And you heard what I said about the request for security clearance, that we’re not aware of any employees who have requested clearance for private attorneys in connection to Benghazi.
QUESTION: Quick follow on Bangladesh.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: A couple of days ago I asked you if any American companies received their products from these factories that have been collapsing. You said at the time you had no information about any American companies that might have.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: Have you an update?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Brad, we’re continuing to review the situation carefully. You know that there are complicated supply chains, and getting to the bottom of this has taken a little bit of time. So I don’t have an update yet, but I can assure you that our folks are looking at this closely, and when I do have an update I’ll be sure to get back to you.
QUESTION: Haven’t American companies actually said already publicly that they have received product from these factories?
MR. VENTRELL: Some of the companies are starting to clarify, and it’s starting to become clear. When I —
QUESTION: You just don’t know about that yet?
MR. VENTRELL: When I have a more – when I have a fuller picture for you, I’d be happy to provide more information.
Okay. Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)