Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–February 25, 2013.
- CYPRUS / ARMENIA / ITALY
- Diplomacy / Violence in Aleppo
- Meeting in Rome with Opposition
- Spillover into Neighboring States / Hezbollah
- Change in Leadership
- Academy Awards / ‘Argo’
- ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
- Peace Process
- Situation in West Bank
- Death of Arafat Jaradat / Hunger Strikes
- Reports of Argentina Developing Missile
- ISAF / Strategic Partnership Agreement / Bilateral Security Agreement
- Human Rights / Nonlethal Riot Control Agents / Export Licenses
- P5+1 Talks in Kazakhstan / Nuclear Program
1:02 p.m. EST
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon. Happy Monday. Welcome to the State Department. As you know, Secretary Kerry’s already finished the first stop of his first overseas tour and is now en route to his second stop in Berlin. He had an extensive press conference, which I hope you all saw this morning.
Before I turn it over to all of you, I have a couple of quick things at the top. On Cyprus, we congratulate President-elect Anastasiades and the Republic of Cyprus on this free and fair election. We look forward to working with Cyprus on areas of mutual interest, including promoting peace and security in the region, fostering opportunities for greater trade and investment, and protecting cultural heritage. The United States continues to support efforts to reunify Cyprus as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. We hope the President-elect, this presidential election, will provide an opportunity for renewed efforts to achieve a just and lasting settlement that will be acceptable for – to the majorities in both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities.
On Armenia, we’d like to congratulate President Sargsian of Armenia, who was today certified as the winner of the February 18th presidential election by Armenia’s Central Election Commission. We look forward to working with Armenia on the democratic and economic reforms critical to the long-term security and stability of the region.
And as you know, in Italy – there’s more elections going on in Europe – polls have just closed there. But I don’t believe any results have been announced, so we don’t – we won’t have an immediate reaction there, but obviously, Italy is one of longstanding close allies and counterparts, and we’ll continue to look forward to a close relationship with them going forward, regardless of the election results. So having said that, let’s turn it over to all of you.
QUESTION: Can we start with the Secretary and what he’s doing on Syria? We understand he’s had a call today with Moaz Khatib. Could you provide any information on that call and the status of getting the opposition to come to the Rome talks?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thanks, Brad. Indeed the Secretary was able to speak with Mr. al-Khatib not long ago. In fact, it was just a few minutes ago. I don’t have a readout to provide you, but you saw his extensive comments on Syria this morning and his talk – what he spoke about in terms of working with the opposition. I really don’t have anything to add to what he said this morning.
QUESTION: How disappointing would it be if the Syrian opposition indeed boycotts these talks, considering that was kind of the showcase event on this trip, or at least the first half of it?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, again, the Secretary spoke extensively to this this morning, Brad, about our work with the opposition, about what we’re looking for going into this. I’m not going to speculate on what may or may not happen, but obviously, our diplomacy continues.
QUESTION: Yes. Did Ambassador Ford succeed in convincing the opposition to join the – because I know he was dispatched to Cairo so he can convince the opposition to go to Rome. So what happened with that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, you’re right. Ambassador Ford is in Cairo and Assistant Secretary Jones is en route to Rome early, so we clearly continue to work on the preparations here. I’m not going to give you guys sort of a minute-by-minute readout of where we stand in advance of these meetings. Suffice to say that the Secretary’s been working on the diplomacy, Ambassador Ford has, as has Assistant Secretary Jones. So we continue to work on it.
QUESTION: But (inaudible) I have a quick follow-up. I mean, what is the point that the opposition is trying to make, Patrick? Because now they’re saying that they are disappointed with international aid and so on. But what is the real point that they are making? They were all planning to be a part of this conference that is actually designed for them.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, I can’t speak for them. Obviously, they can speak for themselves. What I can say is, in this context, we absolutely condemn the escalation of violence in Aleppo. There have been some horrific SCUD missile attacks, particularly in the eastern district of that city, that have killed dozens of people. This is a clear sign of the regime’s ongoing disregard for human life. And so in the context of some of this severe suffering, there’s been that escalation. And again, I can’t speak for the opposition, but —
QUESTION: Why didn’t you put that statement out condemning the attack in Aleppo till after the opposition said they wouldn’t’ come to the meeting? Is that some kind of inducement to show our concern to get them to come to the meeting?
MR. VENTRELL: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. I mean, this was a horrific attack.
QUESTION: And why did it take so long for you to issue that statement? I mean, Secretary Kerry was still in the building. It’s not like you didn’t know what was going on.
MR. VENTRELL: Elise, I can’t remember the exact timing on Friday in terms of when we knew what pieces of the information. What I can tell you, in terms of previous attacks, is there is sometimes – we go through a process of confirming sometimes the types of munitions used, the extent of the damage and loss of life. And so if we didn’t condemn it immediately on Friday, the only delay would have been that, quite frankly, we were seeking more information.
QUESTION: But you were talking about it at the briefing. It just didn’t rise to the importance of a statement?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I think Toria condemned it on Friday. But we’ve been clear about this. We’ve condemned this kind of behavior before, and it’s really appalling, and as the Secretary said this morning, it has to stop.
QUESTION: Well, I mean, what are you willing to do to get these guys to come to the meeting? I mean, is it – are they trying to blackmail you for more aid, or what – is this – are they hoping for some kind of deliverable that you weren’t – they weren’t going to get in Rome that can convince them to come?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, the Secretary spoke to this for seven to ten minutes this morning. I really can’t improve on what he said to this, so I really refer you what he said.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry said in a press caucus in London that it’s not just going to be a talking shop, the Rome meeting. He said there’s – they’re going to be discussing the next steps to take. Could you outline some of those for us, please?
MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t think it would be the appropriate time or place to start reading out in great detail how this is going to go forward. Clearly, we continue to look forward to the meeting in Rome, but when we get a little closer, we’ll have more to say.
QUESTION: Could you – in the background briefing that – on Syria the other day, which I think you put out yesterday, there was a discussion about the pressure that the opposition is under from – domestically back home to deliver something. Could you tell us what they’re telling you about the pressure that they’re under?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, guys, I think we’ve sort of asked and answered this one. There’s not a lot more I can add on Syria in terms of what – clearly, we’ve had background briefers, we’ve had the Secretary out. I think we’ve done what we can on this one.
QUESTION: Can I ask you —
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Muallem’s —
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — acknowledging that or saying that the regime would be open to talks with the opposition, do you view this as a positive step from the Assad regime?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I mean, certainly in the context of them raining SCUDs down on their own civilians, that’s pretty discouraging. If they’re serious, clearly they can communicate that to the UN special representative, something which we understand they haven’t done. So —
QUESTION: Or maybe just stop launching SCUDs at them.
MR. VENTRELL: That would also be a good first step.
QUESTION: There’s been no invitation extended to the Syrian regime to attend the Rome talks, has there?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I’d refer you to the host. I’m not aware of that being the case. But the meeting is intended – is set up to be a meeting with the opposition about how we can work with them. We continue to be in support of a political transition and we know what the points of reference for that are, but that’s not what this conference is about.
QUESTION: Do you take these comments serious that they would be willing to meet with the opposition, or do you think this is merely more stalling tactics and ploys to gain some sort of credibility in the international community?
MR. VENTRELL: I can’t, Brad, get into their heads. I don’t know their motivations, other than to say they continue to rain down horrific attacks on their own people, so that speaks pretty loudly and clearly.
Go ahead, Elise.
QUESTION: I want to change the subject.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Go ahead, Elise. Let’s change —
QUESTION: No, wait, wait, wait, wait. On Syria. Muallem’s statement said that they are willing to talk to the armed opposition, and that this is a change in kind. Do you view this as a change in attitude and a change in kind? It’s no longer just the internal opposition, as they claim time and time again. Now they are willing to talk to the armed opposition.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. I’m not sure that we see a lot new in this.
Elise, go ahead.
QUESTION: One last one on Syria?
MR. VENTRELL: No, I think we’ve really done all we can.
QUESTION: No, no, it’s on the exchange of fire with Hezbollah inside Lebanon.
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have any concerns there may be a military spill across the border?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, this is something we’ve been talking about for months. Our deep, deep concern about the potential in what we’re seeing is the reality of spillover into the neighboring states. And so it’s completely unacceptable. You know the role that Hezbollah and Iran have played, and it’s really quite destructive.
Elise, let’s go on.
QUESTION: This is about the – well, it’s tangential to the movie Argo that won the award last night, the Academy Award, and I see that Secretary Kerry on his Twitter account was congratulating the Foreign Service for being honored in that way. This is about the actual hostages that are still suing for damages and compensation from Iran and haven’t been able to seek redress in the courts because of the Algiers Accords. And now, the Supreme Court has left it up to Congress to work it out.
Now, according to the Constitution, or according to the actual – to this actual accord, that Congress has the power to override the accord and actually seek redress for the hostages. Do you think that the hostages should receive compensation for what happened to them all these years ago?
MR. VENTRELL: Elise, you have stumped me out. I’ll have to take the question and look into it. I just don’t have an immediate answer. I have to go, obviously, talk and consult with the lawyers, and we’ll get back to you later today on that question.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have a reaction to Raul Castro saying he will not seek reelection in five years’ time?
MR. VENTRELL: So, Brad, we are indeed aware of the reports that President Castro, Raul Castro, announced his intention to step down in 2018 after another five-year term. We also saw the announcement that Mr. Miguel Diaz-Canel was named First Vice President.
We remain hopeful for the day that the Cuban people get democracy, when they can have the opportunity to freely pick their own leaders in an open democratic process and enjoy the freedoms of speech and association without fear of reprisal. We’re clearly not there yet.
QUESTION: Hold on, hold on. I’m glad you’re aware. I guess that confirms that not everybody in the U.S. Government slept through the entire weekend. But do you have an actual reaction? Do you have a position on whether this is a good step, whether this is helpful in that process toward a freer, fairer, Cuba as you stated?
MR. VENTRELL: I think —
QUESTION: Or just that you know that things happened in the world over the last 48 hours?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, no. I mean, I think, Brad, what we’re saying is that we’ve noted that it’s happened, but clearly, a change in leadership that, absent the fundamental democratic reforms necessary to give people their free will and their ability to pick their own leaders, won’t be a fundamental change for Cuba.
QUESTION: So this is not enough; they still need to do more if they want to, one, improve the state of their country and, two, repair relations with the United States?
MR. VENTRELL: Absolutely.
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: Do you have anything in there about any reaction to Argo winning the award?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I don’t think we as a U.S. Government can take a position, necessarily, in terms of Hollywood one way or another. I think the Secretary obviously expressed appreciation in the sense that certainly in the U.S., there aren’t necessarily a lot of people who know about the Foreign Service, the challenges we face living and working in overseas embassies. And so I think those – that’s what he was getting to.
In terms of – I think we all were excited to see it win, but I don’t think in terms of an official U.S. Government policy on one film or another being picked is really anything we can do. But I know at the State Department, many of us were – of course, there were some scenes filmed here and we cooperated with them in some of the production aspects of filming inside of this building, but beyond that, I don’t have anything for you.
QUESTION: So the Iranians have come out today and said that it was obviously a political choice because it was announced by the First Lady.
MR. VENTRELL: I would —
QUESTION: Is there any involvement by the State Department in the choice of —
MR. VENTRELL: I would refer you to the academy. I don’t have anything on that.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I want to ask about Italy. You mentioned about the Italian —
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — election result that are coming out today, and I represent the Italian wire service Ansa. And I would like to know, number one, you are following at the State Department the result? And number two, is there any concern, considering the picture is – emerging is of a difficult stability for the next government – without going in details – but is there any concern in the case that the Italian Government, the coalition that will come out of the polls, will be difficult to govern?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, beyond saying that we congratulate Italy on these elections and look forward to working with its new government on a wide range of priorities, we really have to see what the results are. I mean, we do recognize, for example, that outgoing Prime Minister Monti, we – he’s had leadership during this challenging period. He’s taken a courageous path of reform. But clearly, Italy still has some economic challenges in front of it. But we need to wait and see what the results are.
QUESTION: But you are following it?
MR. VENTRELL: We’re following it.
QUESTION: The Palestinian-Israeli?
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Today, Foreign Secretary William Hague said that Secretary Kerry agrees with him that no more urgent foreign policy priority than restarting negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. Really? I mean, is that the most urgent foreign policy priority on Secretary Kerry’s plate?
MR. VENTRELL: Start from the beginning. I missed the beginning. Sorry.
QUESTION: Secretary Hague said that there was no more urgent foreign policy priority than restarting negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, suggesting that he concurs with Senator Kerry on this issue. Do you agree?
MR. VENTRELL: It’s clearly a very important priority.
QUESTION: Okay. Then let me just quickly follow up on the Palestinian —
QUESTION: Are all of them equally urgent? Is that how the State Department views these things?
MR. VENTRELL: We have lots of very important priorities. Clearly, the Middle East peace process is one of those.
QUESTION: Last week —
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Yeah. Last week, I asked the situation of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. This weekend, a Palestinian prisoner died under Israeli torture. There are four or – there are hundreds who are on hunger strike, but there are four who are about to die. Are you making any effort to sort of urge the Israelis to either release these prisoners or allow them visits by their families?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, thank you for raising this situation. Let me say at the beginning that we call on Israelis and Palestinians to exercise maximum restraint as the situation on the West Bank remains tense. We’re also conveying that message directly to Israeli and Palestinian officials. All parties should seriously consider the consequences of their actions, particularly at this very difficult moment. We urge both Palestinians and Israelis not only to refrain from provocative actions that could destabilize conditions on the ground, but to consider positive steps to reestablish trust and deescalate the current tensions. So that’s really our position on this.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) asked you to specifically answer the question that – and a Palestinian prisoner died under suspicious circumstances in an Israeli jail. And this has been an issue that has been roiling Israel for the last many months. I mean, there have been many concerns about – and that’s one of the reasons that these Palestinians are on hunger strike, because of the treatments in Israeli jails. Are you asking Israelis for clarification on how this person died?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Well, let me first speak about this incident, and them more broadly about prisoners. In terms of this incident, we understand that the Israeli Government is looking carefully into the circumstances of Mr. Jaradat’s death. We expect all parties to consider the results of the autopsy calmly and without inflammatory rhetoric. And so we understand the Israeli authorities are looking into this very carefully.
And in terms of the broader issue of the hunger strikers, this is something that we’ve talked about – administrative detention is something we’ve talked about with our Israeli counterparts, and it’s something that is part of our Human Rights Report, and we have detailed information about our position there.
QUESTION: So it sounds like you’re asking the Palestinians to remain calm in the face of their prisoner – it just seems like you’re putting the onus a little bit on the Palestinians to not react to this person’s death.
MR. VENTRELL: I wouldn’t characterize it that way. I think what – we’re sending a clear message to both sides here in terms of restraint. But also, on this very specific case, we want it to be looked at calmly and without inflammatory rhetoric.
QUESTION: Can you tell us what officials reached out to the Israelis and Palestinians in the last couple days? You said that you had been in touch with Israeli and Palestinian officials.
MR. VENTRELL: I believe that’s from our Embassy in Tel Aviv and our consulate general in Jerusalem. I don’t believe it was from Washington, but I can check on that.
QUESTION: That’s fine. And can you talk about the positive steps that you want them to consider? Seems that any suggestions would be welcome at this point.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, I can’t get into details beyond to say that what we’re looking for instead of some of this increased tension is things to get on a positive trajectory. You know how important it is to the President and the Secretary of State, the issue of getting these two sides back down sitting and talking.
QUESTION: What about specifically not mistreating prisoners? Are you talking to them about that?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, Elise, we’re clearly in touch with both sides on this. We know that the Israelis are looking into this, and we’re in touch with both sides.
Said, you look like you had a follow-up.
QUESTION: I just have a very quick follow-up, because last week it was both the European Union and the United Nations, they called on Israel to stop the practice of administrative detentions. And you keep saying, or referring – or Toria kept referring us to your clause in the – in your Human Rights Report regarding that very point. What is your point? What is your position on administrative detentions that can go on for years and years and years in Israel?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, it’s in our Human Rights Report. It’s an issue that we discuss with our Israeli counterparts. But beyond that, I mean, I refer you to the report. You can read it in English plainly there.
In the back.
QUESTION: Well, do you see a hunger strike as a provocative action?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know if I would characterize it one way or another. What we clearly want is to get this tension to be reduced. That’s what we’re looking for.
In the back.
QUESTION: Yes. This is Ana Baron from Clarin Argentina. I just wanted to know about this missile that Argentina is developing. As you know, it’s a missile that has a history. In the ’90s, they were developing this missile, which they stopped under pressure of the U.S. Government. Now they’ve retaken it with a joint venture with a Venezuelan company that has links with Iran. So there is a lot of reports in the British press that they are worried about this missile could be launched against the Falklands/Malvinas island. On the other hand, other people are worried because of the link now, the rapprochement, between Argentina and Iran. So I was wondering, what is the U.S. worries or not worries about this missile?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ve seen this press report suggesting Argentina’s developing a missile, but we also note that the Government of Argentina has denied the report. So we can’t really speculate on it until we’ve seen the reports and the Government of Argentina’s denied it.
The Government of Argentina’s long supported international nonproliferation policies, and so we don’t have any information or reason to think that they’ve had a change in posture in that regard.
QUESTION: Can I go?
MR. VENTRELL: Jo, go ahead.
MR. VENTRELL: Sure.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, President Karzai ordered special forces out of Wardak – the U.S. special forces out of Wardak province. I mean, obviously I’m not asking you to talk about the military side of this, but I wondered if – what does this signal about relationships with Kabul going forward into the next – this year and beyond 2014?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I think you saw what the Secretary said this morning, he talked about this fairly extensively, and in the context even that you’re speaking about in terms of our relationship with Afghanistan. But look, we’re looking for – we’re seeking – I know that ISAF is seeking more information about this from the Afghan counterparts, and so we’re going to go ahead and let that communication continue and – before we make any judgments.
QUESTION: And how does this – but I mean, I think the Secretary has just said the same things as ISAF actually, that they were seeking more information. He noted the fact that President Karzai had asked for this. But I mean, how does it – you guys are in the middle of negotiating a bilateral framework for your relationship going forward. I mean, if President Karzai’s going to start laying down rules now, doesn’t that affect the whole tenor of the negotiations?
MR. VENTRELL: Look, I think it’s premature to speculate at this point. Obviously, as the Secretary’s said, as ISAF has said, we’ll be discussing this with our Afghan counterparts. But beyond that —
QUESTION: I mean, 12 years into the war, shouldn’t there be some kind of mechanism for discussing this without just being subject to President Karzai’s just, like, blanket declarations and you have to scramble to follow them?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, we have – clearly through the Strategic Partnership Agreement we have all sorts of communication cooperation with our Afghan counterparts and a number of ways to discuss different issues. And so – and we’re working on the Bilateral Security Agreement to help define the post-2014 presence. But I mean, look, this is something we need to continue to discuss with our Afghan counterparts as we look into some of these allegations.
QUESTION: It sounds like that the – that this announcement actually came out of the blue. Were you warned ahead of time?
MR. VENTRELL: I’d really refer you to ISAF on that. That would be through, sort of, military channels.
QUESTION: Change of topic?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: Earlier today, the Secretary spoke to U.S. personnel in the London Embassy and spoke about the sequester, what might be happening. And he said, quote, “I will do everything in my power to go to Capitol Hill and persuade my colleagues of the vitality, the criticality, of everything we do here.” “We will make it happen,” he said further on. When does the Secretary plan to go to Capitol Hill?
MR. VENTRELL: I actually hadn’t seen the Secretary’s remarks at the Embassy in London. That must have happened a little later this morning. But you know that he’s a former senator; you know he has good relationships on Capitol Hill. And I think what you saw in the broader arc of the Secretary’s first speech and some of the engagements he’s made with the American people is that for 1 percent – less than 1 percent of the budget, all of our not only foreign aid but our operations as the Department of State are all within that 1 percent. And so he’s tried to get that message out, not only to his colleagues in Congress but to the wider American people about the good that our work does.
QUESTION: I think he was very specific in the statement that he said he would do everything and go to Capitol Hill. Are you aware of it? You said you hadn’t heard the statement. Could you take the question and see if he has any plans? And if you can find out if he’s had any emails or phone calls with members of Congress regarding this.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’ll look into it. He’s in constant touch with members on the Hill and —
QUESTION: It sounded a little bit more operational, like he had a specific plan to go or brief or make a call. So that’s what —
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. I’ll look into it. I just hadn’t seen it before I came down. Thanks.
Go ahead, Camille.
QUESTION: Predator drone sales to the United Arab Emirates. This has been announced that they’re going through by the company in California. I just wondered, for a country that sometimes has questionable rights – human rights record, why is the U.S. Government allowing the sale of surveillance drones to a country like that?
MR. VENTRELL: I have to take that question, too. I don’t have anything on that.
QUESTION: I have a related question.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: There’s been some reporting about teargas canisters, U.S.-made, being sold to Egypt, except these ones don’t have U.S. origin or the name of the company on them. Did the State Department license, I think it was CSI, to sell such teargas canisters? And why without name or country of origin?
MR. VENTRELL: So first of all, let me say at the very top, Brad, that we strongly support the right of all Egyptians to assemble, to peacefully protest, and violence has no place in a free and democratic Egypt. We maintain, as you know, a robust defense relationship with Egypt. We urge professionalism and a respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights in all of our training interaction with our Egyptian counterparts. You know that the protection of human rights is a key component of our training.
I can tell you that we have approved an export license for the shipment of U.S.-manufactured nonlethal riot control agents to the Egyptian Government. No U.S. security assistance funds have been used for the purchase of these products. And when used appropriately, these products can save lives and can protect property. And so we condemn any misuse of these products, of teargas that can result in injury or unlawful death, and any such misuse would jeopardize future exports.
QUESTION: Okay. So did these ones – there’s been some correspondence that’s been made public, and it looked like it was specifically requested, in order for the license to go through, that the name of the company and “Made in USA” or “From USA” not be on the actual canisters. Is that correct?
MR. VENTRELL: We did not advise the manufacturer to remove “Made in the USA” from its labels. We refer you to the manufacturer on the labeling of their products. But that was not a request from us.
QUESTION: Okay. And you didn’t – well, just hold on.
MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Brad.
QUESTION: You didn’t have any concerns this – I think the same thing happened a couple years ago, and there was – it was something of a flare-up when you saw teargas canisters in the midst of – you licensed tear gas canisters in the midst of some civil unrest. Considering the ongoing demonstrations and the propensity for some of them to turn violent, are you concerned about misuse yet again, or no?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, we make these – as we do with the sales of items like these to any country – we make them on a case-by-case basis. But clearly, misuse would be grounds to suspend future —
QUESTION: But has there not been misuse in Egypt over the last two to three years?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, my understanding is we did have a period that we had suspended some of these products.
MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to look back and see the exact timing of when that all happened. And —
QUESTION: And now it’s “all go”?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, clearly, we continue, as I said at the very top of this, that – continue to work on human rights training in all aspects of our training with Egyptian security forces. And clearly they’re going through a complicated democratic transition. And the importance of professionalism, of institutionalizing best practices in the use of crowd control, of allowing the free expression of democratic principles but in the context of providing safety and security for Egyptians – this is something that continues to be worked on.
QUESTION: Why do we have to license that? Surely U.S. companies are not the only ones in world that produce teargas and crowd dispersal equipment. Couldn’t they get it somewhere else?
MR. VENTRELL: I have to admit, I’m not an expert on the different kinds of nonlethal crowd control agents.
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know if we’re a leading supplier from the U.S., but I will ask our political-military folks about the history of that. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: Following up on that —
MR. VENTRELL: Hold on. One at a time. Said.
QUESTION: Yeah. On Egypt, President Morsi called on the opposition for an unconditional meeting.
QUESTION: Can I just follow-up on the —
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Let’s follow-up specifically on teargas, then we can get into your broader question, Said.
QUESTION: You mentioned that any misuse of would jeopardize future export licenses. How do you monitor that misuse?
MR. VENTRELL: That is a good question. I don’t know all of our monitoring mechanisms. Obviously, we have an embassy that is in charge of our vetting. We do vetting for all of the units we have cooperation with, so they’re some of our eyes and ears on the ground. We also, of course, have different human rights organizations that can share information with us, but I’ll look and see if we have more information about end-use monitoring.
QUESTION: Won’t some of that involve some of that aid, training, monitoring? Won’t all that be affected by the sequestration, if it goes through?
MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that sequestration cuts everything, all of our accounts. So it could, indeed, have an impact on our security assistance to Egypt, to Israel. Now, I think this particular purchase was – is a private purchase by the Egyptian Government with their own funds. We provided the license.
QUESTION: But your monitoring of the use of it —
MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I don’t think I’d be able to get into that level of specificity about how sequestration would impact each individual account, other than to say it impacts every account.
QUESTION: When you issue the license for this —
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — is there any clause in there that allows the company to remove the U.S. label?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have that level of detail. I’d have to look into it. I just know that that wasn’t something that we – that came at our direction.
QUESTION: My questions about this are focused primarily because this is a private contract between an American company and the Egyptian Government, yet the American taxpayer has to pay for monitoring of something that it is deriving no benefit from, right? This is not —
MR. VENTRELL: I believe this is a congressional mandate. I think this is —
MR. VENTRELL: By law we have to do this licensing.
QUESTION: But doesn’t that give you hesitation though to provide a license when the American Government – now the American taxpayer – is monitoring – paying for the monitoring of a contract with a country that has shown misuse in the past.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, we comply with our congressional requirements on all of this end-use monitoring and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Right. But you have the choice whether to grant the license or not. If you have concerns, you can say no, we will not give you the license.
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we’re getting so far into the weeds of how these licenses are approved.
QUESTION: It’s not the weeds. It’s deciding whether you’re going to sell military equipment to different countries or not.
MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if the end-use monitoring funding has to do with the decision making in this. I’d have to look into that. I just don’t know.
QUESTION: A more general question on Egypt.
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: President Morsi called on the opposition to meet unconditionally. Are you talking to opposition members or leaders to go ahead and feel him out in advance of Secretary Kerry’s trip to Cairo?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, you know how extensive our contacts are with all different Egyptian groups from our U.S. Embassy in Cairo. You heard what Toria said last week about elections in terms of that this is an important opportunity for transparent, free, and fair elections so that the Egyptian people can have a voice. But it’s ultimately up to the Egyptians how they’re going to continue this dialogue. And so, I mean, I wouldn’t characterize our discussions with one group or another, other than to say it all fits in within the broad framework of this type of – that this is an Egyptian decision about how it’s going to go forward.
QUESTION: And lastly, Hizb Al-Nour, which is a Salafist party, announced that it’ll participate in the election, in the upcoming elections. Is that something good or bad from your point of view?
MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t heard that. I imagine our Embassy in Cairo is watching that development, but I just hadn’t heard it.
QUESTION: Any particular concern that the civil disobedience that’s gaining in more and more cities in Egypt could jeopardize the election process?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, we – Toria talked about this extensively last week. We had a long discussion about the importance of the Egyptian people having the right to express their own opinions freely of there being a transparent, free, and just manner for them to vote, and the importance of it being an Egyptian process. But beyond that —
QUESTION: Civil disobedience is peaceful.
MR. VENTRELL: We support the right of —
QUESTION: No, but you have concern that it may derail the electoral process?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I can’t speculate on what may or may not happen, but we do want Egyptians to get out and vote and participate in the process.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more about Argo? (Laughter.)
MR. VENTRELL: Go for it, Elise.
QUESTION: So did you see that – we saw that First Lady Michelle Obama announced the winner.
MR. VENTRELL: Right.
QUESTION: The Iranian news agency Fars put an image of her announcing the award, but she was wearing short sleeves, and they made it as if she has long sleeves. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, what I can say is that we’ve persistently seen Iranian news agencies, whether they’re partially or fully state-run, use fabrication and use other means to distort images. In this particular instance, obviously I’d refer you to the White House on what the First Lady was wearing. I watched the announcement as everybody else did last night, but I’d really refer you to the White House in terms of this.
But it’s something that’s we’ve seen in the past here in this Department. We’ve seen photos manipulated. We’ve seen official statements manipulated. So there would be nothing new. It wouldn’t surprise me. I just don’t have any information.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. One more, Jo.
QUESTION: The talks start tomorrow in Almaty —
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: — for the first time in a few months. And Catherine Ashton’s office today said that they’re a serious effort to try and break stalemate and get to – get things moving. Can you tell us what the United States or the what the P5+1 is bringing to the table that might make Iran rethink?
MR. VENTRELL: Well, without getting into the details, because we need to let the negotiators do their jobs, we do have a serious, updated proposal. And we hope that the Iranian regime will make the strategic decision to come to the talks that start tomorrow in Kazakhstan prepared to discuss substance so that there can be progress in addressing the international community’s concerns. You heard Secretary Kerry talk about this this morning, and we do have a serious updated proposal, and our proposal does include reciprocal measures that encourage Iran to make concrete steps to begin addressing the international community’s concerns.
But beyond that, I think we really need to let the negotiators – our team is out there. This will begin tomorrow morning their time, and we need to let them do their work.
QUESTION: There are reports out there that among the measures on the Western side, if you want to call it that, could be a lifting sanctions on the gold and metal trades. Would that be something that you could —
MR. VENTRELL: Beyond saying that we have reciprocal measures that encourage Iran to make concrete steps, I’m really not going to get into the details. We need to let our negotiators work.
QUESTION: You said, “serious, updated,” not seriously updated, right?
MR. VENTRELL: A serious, updated proposal.
QUESTION: Okay. So that doesn’t imply that it’s been dramatically altered from previous negotiations last year?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, it’s serious —
QUESTION: And updated.
MR. VENTRELL: — and it’s also updated.
QUESTION: Do you —
QUESTION: You were saying that —
QUESTION: And all the other ones were serious too, right?
MR. VENTRELL: We’ve always come to the table ready to engage seriously.
QUESTION: All right. So if you were to judge the difference between this negotiation and the last one, the actual offer on the table isn’t dramatically different than previously?
MR. VENTRELL: There’s nothing more that I’m going to say about the offer on the table. Let’s let our negotiators work.
QUESTION: You mentioned reciprocal measures to —
MR. VENTRELL: Reciprocal measures, yeah.
QUESTION: — to help Iran take the decision?
MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.
QUESTION: So some things will happen before Iran takes a drastic measure on UN resolutions or on stopping its nuclear program or whatever?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m just not going to get into it beyond what I said before.
QUESTION: Well, generally, do you feel optimistic going into these talks? Is the United States hopeful that there might be a change in the Iranian position?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we want them to make the strategic decision. We’re obviously – as the Secretary said, there is time and space for diplomacy, but it’s not infinite time, and we clearly want – we’ve come with a serious proposal, and we want to – we hope that the Iranians have come with the strategic decision that they’re going to change their behavior.
QUESTION: But the fact – excuse me – but the fact that they are using these new centrifuges, dramatically trying to increase their enrichment capability and purity, doesn’t necessarily signal that they’re ready to negotiate an end to their nuclear program.
MR. VENTRELL: Well, as Toria said last week, that’s a tactic they’ve used in the past coming into talks. And let’s see what happens.
QUESTION: You think it’s a tactic, or you think they’re trying to build a nuclear – I thought you thought that the reason they were using these centrifuges is to build a nuclear weapon?
MR. VENTRELL: I mean, clearly we have concerns about the Iranian program. But beyond that, all I’ll say is that that’s something that they’ve done in the past in the lead up to talks. Not necessarily one specific action or another, but that seems to be part of their strategy.
QUESTION: Procedurally, what will happen tomorrow? Is it just one day of talks, and then everyone goes away to consider their positions? Or is there a possibility it could go to two, or —
MR. VENTRELL: The talks in the past have sometimes gone into a second day. Let’s see what happens.
QUESTION: Do you have a readout on why Under Secretary Sherman is going to Israel?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information on that. I’ll have to look into it.
QUESTION: You guys put out a statement.
MR. VENTRELL: Oh, we have already put it out?
MR. VENTRELL: I’m sorry. I —
QUESTION: She’s going to brief them on the topics. (Laughter.)
MR. VENTRELL: Anything else?
QUESTION: Wait. But you put out a statement that she will go Israel —
QUESTION: Oh. Is she going to brief them?
QUESTION: — Saudi Arabia, and —
QUESTION: Is she going to Israel and these countries to brief them on the talks?
MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Guys, I didn’t realize in this thing we put out announcing her travel that it included that detail. Let me look into it. I’ll have some more information for you tomorrow.
QUESTION: Do you have the statement?
MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have it in my book right now.
QUESTION: I’ll forward it to you.
MR. VENTRELL: Okay? Thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)