State Department Briefing by Patrick Ventrell, March 5, 2013

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 4, 2013.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • D.P.R.K. Provocative Statements / R.O.K. is a Close Ally of U.S.
    • State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation
    • Ambassador Rice / Draft UN Security Council Resolution
    • Chinese Policies Related to North Korea
    • U.S. Assistance to Syrians / Categories of Aid
    • Discussions on the Totality of Assistance to Syria
    • Deputy Secretary Burns’ Travel
    • Vice President Maduro / President Chavez
    • U.S. Concern for Missing Americans
    • Former President Nasheed / Scheduled Elections
    • U.S. Policy on the Senkakus Unchanged
    • Readout of Secretary Kerry’s Meeting with President Abbas



1:11 p.m. EST

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon and welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything for you at the top, so I’ll turn it over to all of you.

QUESTION: Can we start on North Korea, please?


QUESTION: I know the Secretary’s made quite a few comments about the trip by Dennis Rodman, so I don’t really want to ask about that myself. But I did want to ask about the news that North Korea’s threatening to scrap the armistice agreement and what the U.S. position would be on that if it were to come about.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Well, Jo, our position is that the D.P.R.K. will achieve nothing by threats or provocations which only further isolate North Korea and undermine international efforts to ensure peace and stability in Northeast Asia.

So that’s our position. We’ve heard some of these types of threats before, and we don’t think provocative statements are helpful at this time.

QUESTION: Given the relationship that you have with South Korea and the treaties you have with South Korea, could you just elaborate if there’s any kind of commitment on the U.S. part if Pyongyang does go ahead and tear up this agreement?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I don’t think it would be helpful to get into hypotheticals, but clearly, the Republic of Korea is a close ally of the United States. You know the troops that we have stationed there, you know that – what our relationship is like with the Republic of Korea. But I don’t think engaging in hypotheticals would be useful.

QUESTION: But technically, I mean, what does that mean? If they scrap the armistice, does that mean that you’re technically at war with North Korea again?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

QUESTION: No, I mean, I’m just asking, what does ending the armistice mean?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’d have to get some of our lawyers to take a look at the actual language.

QUESTION: Okay. Could you do that, please?

MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to take a look at – and do it.

QUESTION: Because it’s 50 years old and it’s well before —

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean —

QUESTION: — all of our – before we became —

QUESTION: Yeah, specifically if they were to scrap that, what – we’d like to know what does that mean?


MR. VENTRELL: Okay. I’d be happy to look into it —

QUESTION: The practical effects of it.

MR. VENTRELL: — and see if we have some more information for you all.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Jo, did you have something else?

QUESTION: Well, on North Korea, unless somebody else —


QUESTION: — had a – also, there was – there have been further calls again from the – from representatives in the House this morning where they held a hearing into the illicit financing of the North Korean regime to put North Korea back onto the list of state sponsor of terrorism. Can you tell us where you are with that?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update for you. This is something you all have asked in the past couple weeks, about the state sponsor of terrorism designation. It’s a legal – there’s a legal definition that defines that, how we place countries on that list or remove them. I don’t have an update for you other than to say it’s something that we periodically review based on the evidence. And we continue to discuss areas like this with our congressional counterparts, but I don’t have any update for you in specific.

QUESTION: What’s the process? Is it something you review at the Department and then go to Congress, or how does —

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we internally review based on whatever – based on the actual legislation and comply with what Congress has asked us to do. But I think this is draft legislation, so I don’t think it would be appropriate to get into it further on draft legislation.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are reports that you’ve agreed with the Chinese about new sanctions at the UN. I’m wondering, is there anything you can tell us about that?

MR. VENTRELL: So I think you all might have seen that Ambassador Rice was out and did a press stakeout just not too long ago up at the UN. As she indicated this morning in New York, the United States tabled a draft UN Security Council resolution that responds to North Korea’s February 12th nuclear test. If adopted, the resolution, which has been agreed upon by the United States and China, would provide a credible, strong response that would further impede the D.P.R.K.’s ability to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and the D.P.R.K.’s ability to engage in proliferation activities. So as Ambassador Rice said, we anticipate adoption of this important resolution later this week.

So, Said.

QUESTION: New topic?

QUESTION: No, I got one more on North —



MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Were you aware of reports that the file-sharing site Pirate Bay has now opened up in North Korea and is now somehow managing technologically to base itself from there?

MR. VENTRELL: I have no information on that but I’d be happy to look into it.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Jo, you stumped me.

QUESTION: North Korea, one more?

MR. VENTRELL: One more on North Korea.

QUESTION: Yes. There seems to be more and more voices inside Chinese calling for the Beijing government to review the relations with the North Korea. And the next potential foreign minister, Wang, is said to be coming from, like, school of thoughts that need to review the relations with the Kim regime. I wonder if Secretary Kerry’s phone call, and then his contact with the Chinese Government, he got an impression or any indication of a review?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I think I’d let the Chinese speak for themselves about their policies related to the D.P.R.K. We’ve certainly long urged the Chinese to continue to use their influence with the D.P.R.K. to get them to come in line with their international obligations. But I think we’ll let the Chinese discuss their own position and do that themselves.

QUESTION: Can we go to Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Sure, Said.

QUESTION: I know the Secretary made a number of interviews with the traveling press, but we’re still not clear on the type of aid. I mean, he – that is so different than, let’s say, what was in the past. Could you share with us what kind of aid and what is the likely impact that will make?

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Said. As you will see, the Secretary has given a number of interviews at the end of his nine-country trip. We do expect he will be en route back tomorrow morning to Washington. But he did do some interviews and Syria was a topic in many of those interviews.

And just to review, broadly speaking, you know that U.S. assistance to the Syrians is in three categories. We have $385 million of humanitarian assistance which goes from the American people to the Syrian people to assist not only Syrians inside Syria, but refugees as well, with their basic needs. We have $115 million of nonlethal support to the opposition. This is the kind of training and equipment and capacity-building that can really help the Syrian Opposition Coalition build up its ability to govern, build up its ability to not only control the space that they’ve taken, but to provide services for the Syrian people. And then the Secretary also announced additional assistance which will go to the Syrian Opposition Council, including the Supreme Military Command. And that’s the kind of food and medical kits – halal MREs and medical kits to the armed opposition.

So that’s really the three categories of aid, and that’s where we are.

QUESTION: So this aid to the opposition, including the military opposition, it doesn’t include training, does it?

MR. VENTRELL: We’ve always been clear that our nonlethal assistance to the Syrian opposition includes training and equipment to build the capacity of civilian activists and to link Syrian citizens with the Syrian Opposition Coalition and local coordinating councils. Secretary Kerry – what he was referring to this morning is our overall efforts by allies and partners who attended the Rome conference. So it’s really the totality of our efforts.

QUESTION: Okay. But I just want to understand one thing: That the United States will not be involved in, let’s say, training the rebels on explosives or military operations or anything like this at this stage?

MR. VENTRELL: I really don’t have anything for you on that. Our policy has been nonlethal assistance.

Okay. Michel.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry in his interviews has said too that this time, there are countries providing arms to the opposition. Can you elaborate on that? Can we know who are these countries and what kind of arms they are providing to the opposition?

MR. VENTRELL: This is, Michel, something we’ve talked about at length. We’ve made our decision about nonlethal assistance. Other countries have made their decision. So I really – I can’t speak for them, but the totality of the support to the opposition is meant, as the Secretary said today, to change Assad’s calculation. And so that’s really what all of us allies and partners and friends of Syria have come together to do.

QUESTION: But you said that there is more cooperation now between the U.S. and these countries regarding the arms and what kind of arms and what groups should receive these arms.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we discussed the totality of our assistance to Syria with a wide variety of partners. I don’t think I’m going to parse it beyond that, but the Secretary’s words speak for themselves.

QUESTION: Can I – well, Syria?

QUESTION: Syria, yeah. Is there – the Russian Envoy to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, yesterday said there were plans for a Burns-Bogdanov meeting. I wasn’t clear whether the third B, Mr. Brahimi would be included in that. Could you give us some more information on that, please?

MR. VENTRELL: Let me see.

QUESTION: In a European capital to be identified.

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have it with me here, but we’ll put out a Media Note about Deputy Secretary Burns’ travel here later this afternoon. So he will have a chance to meet with his Russian counterpart when he is in London for the Friends of Yemen conference later this week. But let’s get that Media Note out. In terms of the participation of Mr. Brahimi, I don’t have anything for you on that right now, but he will go to London, and he will be at the Friends of Yemen. So we’ll put that note out a little bit later this afternoon.

QUESTION: And I have one more on Syria as well.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: It was – I’m sorry. There was a German –


QUESTION: There was a German journalist who was released today and after being held since December. I wondered if you could update us on the efforts to find Austin Tice and James Foley.

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update for you on either of those cases. You long know our concern for the safety of journalists inside of Syria, but let me see if I have an update for you on either of those cases. But you do know that we have our travel warnings that we regularly update with information for journalists traveling into Syria and our concern for American citizens. But let me see if I have an update on those two cases in particular.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Patrick, the Amir of –

MR. VENTRELL: I think – Elise, did you have something?

QUESTION: If it’s on Syria, then –

QUESTION: A quick one on Syria.


QUESTION: The Amir of Qatar said that the only terrorist in Syria was Bashar al-Assad. Do you concur?

MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that comment, Said. You know where we are in terms of our concern about extremism and our concerns about sectarianism, but I just hadn’t seen those comments.

Elise, you’ve been patient.

QUESTION: Can we talk about Venezuela?


QUESTION: The Venezuelan Vice President just said that U.S. diplomatic attache has been expelled for plotting against the government. Do you have any information on this?

MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that. I did check in on Venezuela just before coming down here. I understand that the Vice President, Maduro, was speaking to the nation, but I didn’t see the final content of what he said, so I’m not aware of that.

QUESTION: But you don’t have anything on a U.S. diplomat being expelled from Venezuela?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, not since I came down here five minutes ago. If he said something further in his address, or – I’m not aware –

QUESTION: No, I’m not talking about – I’m just saying that the Vice President said it. I’m not asking you respond to his comments. Do you have any information on whether this diplomat has been expelled or not?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t. I’ll look into it afterward. You know where we are more broadly speaking on Venezuela, but –

QUESTION: No, I don’t. Remind me.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we have expressed sympathy for President Chavez’s illness. Should he become permanently unavailable to serve, our understanding is that the Venezuelan constitution requires an election to select a new president, so the elections need to be free and fair, if they were to go forward and we are in that situation. But right now, we’re not in a position where we’ve moved to that next step yet. So again, we express our sympathy for his illness, but I’m not aware of this particular case.

QUESTION: The reports overnight have suggested his health has actually deteriorated quite a bit.

MR. VENTRELL: I’d really refer you to the Government of Venezuela for more information on that.

QUESTION: You don’t have anything independently, a source —

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an updated.


MR. VENTRELL: So, Scott.

QUESTION: Laos. Can you tell us anything about three Laotian Americans from Minnesota who’ve been missing since January and whether the State Department, through the embassy in Vientiane, has been able to confirm that two men found in a burned van are two of those missing Americans?

MR. VENTRELL: Scott, I know we were concerned about a couple of missing Americans in Thailand, but I haven’t had an update since much earlier in the week. So I’m going to have to look into that and see if we’ve had an update from our embassy overnight. But I know we were concerned about a couple of Americans.

So, go ahead.

QUESTION: During one of the interviews, the Secretary said that he had visited with one of the survivors of the Benghazi attack at the Bethesda Hospital. My question is: Do you know how many the actual total number of injuries from that attack? And also further, why access has been denied to members of Congress to visit?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to look into that question for you. The Secretary did talk about visiting one of our injured personnel, but I’ll have to look into that for you after the briefing.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the Maldives?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure, Jo. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Opposition leader, Mohamed Nasheed, was arrested overnight. Do you have a comment?

MR. VENTRELL: Yes. One second here. And indeed our embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka released a statement. You know that our embassy in Sri Lanka also covers our relationship with the Maldives. But in that statement we expressed how we’re increasingly concerned about the ongoing events. We understand that both the Police Integrity Commission and the Human Rights Commission are monitoring the situation and that the Human Rights Commission has requested access to former President Nasheed. We urge all sides to remain calm, reject the use of violence, and avoid rhetoric that could increase tensions. Former President Nasheed must be accorded due process under the law regarding his pending court cases.

QUESTION: But you’re thinking – sorry.

MR. VENTRELL: And we just urge that presidential elections scheduled for September 7, 2013 be free, fair, credible, transparent, and inclusive.

QUESTION: Do you think he should be freed?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, we’re seeking some more information, but I know that the authorities there, in terms of the Police Integrity Commission, the Human Rights Commission, are in dialogue on this. So we’re seeking some more information, but we do have our concerns.




QUESTION: Yes. You said Deputy Burns will meet Bogdanov in London?

MR. VENTRELL: Deputy Secretary Burns will meet Bogdanov in London. Yes.

QUESTION: But this is not the three-Bs meeting, is it?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, my understanding is they’re going to be there for the Friends of Yemen.

QUESTION: But is there – the Russian Envoy to the UN, he said they will meet in Europe next week. Is there – is this there with Brahimi, or they are excluding Brahimi?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update. I’ll have to check and see if there’s been scheduling with Brahimi or not.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on what Brahimi doing lately?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t. I really refer you to his office. You know we support his efforts, but I refer you to his office.

Somebody in the back there.

QUESTION: Can I try on Senkakus disputes? Chinese Foreign Vice Minister claimed that with an interview with Chinese media that historically United States has a responsibility on the disputes over Senkakus because it returned to Japan with Okinawa in 1970s. So it’s one of the beginnings of the longstanding disputes. So do you have any comments on that?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I hadn’t seen those remarks one way or another. You know our policy on the Senkakus. It’s longstanding, and it has not changed.


QUESTION: On the Palestinian issue?


QUESTION: Could you tell us in what context the meeting between the Secretary of State and the Palestinian Authority President took place?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, you’re right, Said, that the Secretary did have a chance to meet with President Abbas in Riyadh. I understand that he was there also meeting with some Saudi officials, and they were chanced to have an informal meeting in advance of the President’s visit. So it was a chance to exchange some views. You know where we are, that we think that the Middle East peace process is an enormously important issue. And so he’s been listening and consulting with the parties, and that’s really all I have for you on that meeting.

QUESTION: Do you believe he discussed with him any new initiative? There is a great deal of talk about a new initiative the Obama Administration has prepared to take with it to the meeting.

MR. VENTRELL: I really don’t have a further readout for you other than to say they had a chance to – this is a chance for the Secretary to touch base with him.

QUESTION: And lastly, did you follow up on the issue of Nour Joudah, the American teacher that teaches in the West Bank?

MR. VENTRELL: We talked about this at length earlier in the week. I don’t have an update for you.

QUESTION: But she has requested that she – she requested your aid in returning —

MR. VENTRELL: You know that there are Privacy Act considerations here dealing with the privacy of American citizens.

So, thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:28 p.m.)