State Department Briefing by Patrick Ventrell, August 31, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–August 31, 2012.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Secretary’s Travel to Pacific and Asia
    • Meeting in New York / Humanitarian Assistance / Turkish Response
    • Ambassador Ford
    • President Morsi’s Comments
    • Senkaku Islands Dispute
    • Refinery Fire
    • Attacks on Australian and ISAF Soldiers
    • Rachel Corrie Case
  • IRAN
    • IAEA Report / Sanctions
    • Shooting of Embassy Employees
  • IRAN
    • Ban Ki-moon Remarks
    • Refugees on China-Burma Border


12:51 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon and welcome to the State Department on a Thursday in August. We have a fairly large crowd here today. I wanted to start by welcoming our visitors from Pakistan. We have a number of journalists here who are finishing a month-long exchange in which they’ve been working at some U.S. news organizations, so welcome to our visitors.

And at the top, I’d just like to say, as you know, that the Secretary and the traveling party are wheels-up en route to the Asia-Pacific region, as you know, to the Cook Islands, Indonesia, China, Timor-Leste, Brunei, and Russia.

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

QUESTION: Can I ask about the Turkish proposal for a safe zone inside Syria that the Security Council’s going to discuss today? What is the U.S. position on this? And do you see any prospect at all for agreement within the Security Council on it?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Matt, as – you’re correct. Today in New York, there’s a Security Council meeting at the ministerial level. Ambassador Rice is representing the United States, and there are a number of ministers – the French Foreign Minister is there, the Turkish Foreign Minister will be there, as you mentioned. My understanding is that the meeting is primarily to discuss the humanitarian response to the crisis.

Obviously, as you know, our broader strategy is doing everything we can to hasten the end of bloodshed and the end of the Assad regime, humanitarian assistance, and planning for the day after. We’re in wide-ranging discussions with our Turkish ally, with some of our other partners in the international community, and we continue to look at options, but I don’t have anything new for you in terms of specific proposals. Obviously, we continue to look at everything carefully.

QUESTION: But the idea of a safe zone inside Syria, is that one idea that’s out there? I mean, I understand that’s what Turkey’s proposing.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, there have been a lot of different ideas out there. We’ve been in very close contact with our Turkish ally, obviously. But broadly speaking, the meeting today in New York is about the humanitarian situation. I don’t know to what extent that will come up in the wider discussions. The meetings are happening this afternoon, so let’s wait and have the meetings happen and see if we have anything to say later.

Jill, go ahead.

QUESTION: But up until now – we’ve been talking with Toria, for example, yesterday – with Toria, who mentioned that the U.S. view seems to be to have everything outside; obviously, on the other side of the border, not within Syria itself. Is that still overall the preference of the United States?

MR. VENTRELL: That’s where we are right now. Clearly, the Turkish Government has been – has gone to great lengths to take care of so many of these literally tens of thousands and now potentially over a hundred thousand refugees that have come to their territory, and so we’re greatly appreciative. You know that we’ve spent upwards of $82 million on humanitarian assistance that have gone through UN organizations to help these refugees. And so we’re very appreciative of the Turkish response. And the conversations are continuing up in New York, so I just don’t want to get ahead of meetings that we continue to have with our partners and allies.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Victoria Nuland ignited a controversial by saying that U.S. official name for the Diaoyu Island – for Senkakus, so this is quite controversial in China. So that mean – in other words, it has shown a kind of stance of the United States. So some media comments that it’s kind of double game. What do you think of it?

MR. VENTRELL: Are we done with Syria before we move on?


MR. VENTRELL: Let’s finish Syria and then we can come back to your question. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Victoria mentioned that Ambassador Ford had talked about training programs in Syria —


QUESTION: — in areas that had been liberated to maintain utilities and other civilian things. Is it possible that Ambassador Ford could give a briefing on this or come down to the press briefing sometime in the near future to talk more about these training programs?

MR. VENTRELL: We – I’d be happy to see if we can get you some further information. Ambassador Ford has obviously been very engaged. Since he left the Embassy, he’s been back here in Washington, working on the grave issue in Syria, and so I’ll talk to him and see what we can do. But broadly speaking, his diplomacy is intensive. He continues to be very much in contact with wide and diverse groupings of the opposition, and also working as we provide some of this nonlethal assistance and training as well.

QUESTION: But could he come to a briefing and answer questions about these training programs, just to get some more detail on how they’re being carried out and what’s going on?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, for the security of the participants in some of this, we’re understandably – we talk about it in general terms, but we tend not to be specific. But I’d be happy to follow up with you after the briefing and see if we can get you some more information.


QUESTION: Patrick, President Morsi recently in Iran – or yesterday in Iran – or today in Iran, sorry – denounced President Assad. And I was just wondering if the State Department had any reaction to his comments.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, they were very helpful comments, and they were very clear and very strong. And as he said, he put his – the full weight of Egypt behind a full – “for just support for a free, independent Syria that supports a transition into a democratic system and that respects the will of the Syrian people for freedom and equality.”

So, a really strong and clear statement by President Morsi obviously made in Tehran to some people who need to hear it there. So his comments, the Secretary General, his comments also, in support of the Syrian people, were very clear and we applaud those. And we share Egypt’s goal to see an end to the Assad regime, an end to the bloodshed, and a transition to a democratic Syria that respects human rights.

In the back.

QUESTION: The UK and the French ministers up in New York, the foreign ministers up in New York have suggested that they will seek to refer to – this – and to refer Syria to the ICC. Would the U.S. support it? And if so, how are you going to overcome possible Russian and Chinese veto or opposition?

MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t heard that. You know that the U.S. is – we’ve been very clear that those who have committed these gross human rights violations need to be held to account. But I don’t have anything particular in terms of additional to add, and we’ve been very clear that the Syrian people will demand accountability. But beyond that, I don’t have anything further for you.




QUESTION: Yes. The family of the Al Hurra correspondent who disappeared in Syria, they announced today that the Red Cross confirmed to them that the correspondent is held by the regime’s forces in Syria. Did the Red Cross brief you on this – on his case or anything?

MR. VENTRELL: Let me check into that, Samir. I don’t have any information to that effect here at the briefing, but I’d be happy to check in after the briefing —

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: — and see if I have anything further for you.

Okay. Moving on to your question again, do you want to repeat it one more time?

QUESTION: Just that Victoria Nuland ignited a controversial by saying the U.S. official name for Diaoyu Island is Senkakus. In other words, it has shown the United States stance. So some media say it’s a kind of double game. What do you think of it?

MR. VENTRELL: This issue of the various islands of – and rocks of the Pacific has been an area of prominent discussion over many days here in the briefing room. Let me repeat it, and I’ll just be as clear as possible: The U.S. does not take a position on the question of the ultimate sovereignty of the Senkaku Islands. We expect the claimants to resolve the issue through peaceful means among themselves. That’s the U.S. position. We’ve said it once. We’ll say it again. That’s very clearly our position.

QUESTION: And Hillary Clinton is going to visit China. What are you expecting by solving this kind of issue?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, the Secretary is en route. China will be one of her stops a little bit later. We’re still a few days out from that, but we expect that she’ll engage in a – with senior Chinese leaders on a wide variety of subjects. But given that the territorial disputes are a hot issue that absolutely – these are issues that will be part of the discussion, but it’s going to be a broad, wide-ranging discussion with the Chinese about all of the key issues that we always talk to the Chinese about.


QUESTION: Thank you. On Venezuela.


QUESTION: Considering that Venezuela is one of the major oil providers to the U.S., do you have anything on the fire – on the refinery fire there?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, Sonia. This happened a few days ago, I believe over this past weekend. I just wanted to say very clearly that our condolences go out to the family and friends of those deceased and wounded in the oil refinery explosion in Venezuela. The United States would consider any requests for assistance to Venezuela if and when they are made. But they have not, at this time, yet requested any assistance. But our – really, our heartfelt sympathy to the victims of that explosion.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello. I’m Lisa Millar from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

MR. VENTRELL: Hi, Lisa. How are you doing?

QUESTION: Australia lost three more soldiers in Afghanistan yesterday from insider attacks. In fact, there was five soldiers that were killed. Two others were in a helicopter. I’m just wondering if – and I understand that’s now 45 coalition troops in total from insider attacks. What communications are being had with the Karzai government in relation to this problem? I understand the Defense Department has spoken about it previously, but is there enough being done? It clearly must be concerning everyone.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, this is something that the President has talked about, that DOD has talked about, and obviously it’s something we’ve been watching with deep concern. There has been an uptick over the past 12 months of these so-called green-on-blue incidents, and they’re concerning. But we’re looking at it very carefully. Obviously, it’s something that we’re in communication with the Afghan Government about. And considering that this incident happened to our ally and partner, the Australians, obviously it’s something that we discuss within the wider NATO-ISAF coalition as well.

QUESTION: What kind of communications with the Karzai Government? What’s the tone of those communications?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I don’t think we would get into further details about it, but the Afghans themselves have been concerned about it. But again, we’re talking about – we have a very wide and deep interaction with the Afghan security forces on a day-to-day basis. And as we become increasing – as our partners have been out on the ground, we consistently work with our Afghan partners. And so we’re concerned by these incidents but I’m not going to characterize the diplomacy further.

Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the Rachel Corrie case?

MR. VENTRELL: Samir, I don’t have a specific update other than to, again, reiterate our condolences to the Corrie family on the tragic death of their daughter, Rachel. As you know, since this incident – this tragic incident in 2003 – U.S. officials have repeatedly stressed to the Government of Israel the need for a thorough, credible, and transparent investigation. And so we understand the family’s disappointment with the outcome of the trial. Under Israeli law, the family has the right to appeal the verdict. And we understand that they are considering their options. So I don’t think at this time we can really say much more as they consider their options to appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court.

I would also just say that in the wake of Rachel’s tragic death, the Government of Israel and our government discussed possible measures that the Government of Israel could take to prevent further such incidents. And so the Israelis also looked carefully at that and informed us they were taking steps after this tragic incident.

Thank you, Samir. Jill, go ahead.

QUESTION: Patrick, have you had a chance to look at the IAEA report on Iran?

MR. VENTRELL: Jill, the report literally came out moments before I was walking down, so I think it’s – we’re obviously reviewing it. But broadly speaking, it’s not surprising that Iran continues to violate its international obligations. This is something that’s been going on for a long time, and it’s deeply concerning.


MR. VENTRELL: Samir, go —

QUESTION: — I mean, there has been so much attempt here, with sanctions, et cetera, and if you find out that they’re continuing to do this, is there any reevaluation of the policy?

MR. VENTRELL: Jill, the pressure continues. You know the wide-ranging sanctions that we’ve placed on this regime that have been very effective and had a financial impact. And we continue to press our dual-track approach, which includes these very strong measures, but also includes a window for diplomacy, which we’ve said continues to be open but will not be open indefinitely.


QUESTION: Patrick, on this question of the dual-track —


QUESTION: — and continuing pressure of various kinds, when do you decide that that track has run its course?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, other than to say that the window remains open but will not remain open indefinitely, I don’t want to characterize it further than that.

QUESTION: You can’t give us any kind of criteria or —

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, obviously we have a very robust strategy that is focused on getting the Iranian Government to change its fundamental calculus. It has not done that to date. You know that the Supreme Leader was out today saying that – making this pledge that they have a motto that they wouldn’t use nuclear weapons. We’ve heard that before. But mottos and pledges and slogans are one thing; we haven’t seen them come into compliance. And so the strategy will continue. We think that there is an opportunity that we want the Iranians to take through the P-5+1 process to come back and come in line with their international obligations. And so that window is open right now, but it won’t be open indefinitely.

Samir, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. The Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei gave a speech today in Tehran. He actually confirmed that he is not – Iran is not willing to develop nuclear weapons. Will that be an assurance for the West?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as I was just saying, Samir, we saw those comments. It’s something that the Iranians have said before, but mottos or slogans that they’re not going to use nuclear weapons are not the same as coming into compliance with their fundamental obligations to the IAEA, to the UN Security Council, which they have not done.

In the back.

QUESTION: I think it was announced out of Brussels today that Lady Ashton’s assistant is going to contact Jalili’s assistant. Is there anything positive that you’re aware of that – is this going to move towards a – setting up another meeting or anything that —

MR. VENTRELL: I really refer you to the EU, who, on behalf of the P-5+1, will be the channel for any future meeting. I don’t think we’re at a point where anything’s been scheduled, but refer you to the EU. That’s – the technical process through which we would get to another meeting is through that channel, but I just don’t have anything to update you on.

QUESTION: What has been the evaluation of the last meetings, which were all technical? Did that lead to anywhere, to any possibility of another meeting?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we have to work through the process that was laid out, which is the communication between Lady Ashton and the Iranians before we see if there’s another meeting, but we had serious concerns that they haven’t made a fundamental shift in their calculus, and so we’re going to continue to pressure them.

Go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: Thank you. Jun (inaudible) Kyodo News, Japan. On Secretary Clinton’s meetings in China and Russia, I just want to know if you have any further information, who she’s going to meet in China, when she’s going to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov.

MR. VENTRELL: Those meetings are still a number of days out. They are wheels-up westward, first to the Pacific Islands, where we have some significant engagement with our friends in the Pacific, and then onwards. So the China and Russia stops are still a number of days out, and I don’t think we’re at a point where we can read out any times or places for those exact meetings yet.

In the back.

QUESTION: Yes. Do you know if President – the Egyptian President Morsi, is he coming to Washington after his UN General Assembly trip in September?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know yet. As we get a little bit closer to the UN General Assembly, we’d be happy to take a look at – many leaders do end up coming to New York, having some meetings there, sometimes coming back and forth to Washington. But again, we’re still a number of weeks out. Got to get through Labor Day and into the fall.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have a question on Mexico.


QUESTION: Has there been any more communication with the Mexican Government on the shooting of the Embassy employees? Or has there been any more information on the investigation? And has there – have there also been any orders for Embassy staff to change their travel patterns or the way that they go about their work?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’d have to check with our Embassy in Mexico City to see on your last part of your question, about any change of procedures at the Embassy. Broadly speaking, we continue to be in touch with the Mexican authorities about this. They continue with their investigation with – and we’re cooperating with that. But really, beyond that, I don’t have a lot to add.

Anything else? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Back to Iran. Are you satisfied with the strong remarks done by – made by Ban Ki-moon to the Iranian leaders in Tehran?

MR. VENTRELL: We thought it was good that the Secretary General not only made clear and forceful statements to the Iranians about their nuclear program, but that he also raised their appalling human rights violations, that he also raised the situation in Syria. So we think that’s a good thing.



QUESTION: There’s a report that China forced several hundred Kachin refugees back into a combat zone and were planning to push more back. Have you got any information about this and any comment to make?

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks for the question, Matt. We indeed remain concerned about the welfare of vulnerable Kachin on the China-Burma border. We have urged China to implement a temporary protection program for those seeking refuge from the conflict, which would provide protection from forced return until conditions are appropriate for their return home. The U.S. Government believes that the refugees should only return home by their own choice and in conditions of safety and dignity. And so we consistently urge China to adhere to its international obligations as a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 protocol.

QUESTION: So have they actually forced anyone back?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update in terms of movement on the ground in the past day or so. I would be happy to check in after the briefing. But we are very concerned.

Okay. Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:11 p.m.)