State Department Briefing by Patrick Ventrell, November 1, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–November 1, 2012.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Syrian Opposition Leadership / Doha Conference
    • Chinese Proposal to the Joint Special Representative
    • Accountability Review Board


12:46 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: All right. Good afternoon. Happy Thursday. I’ll turn it over to all of you.

QUESTION: You have nothing to say?

MR. VENTRELL: I have nothing at the top.

QUESTION: Wow. Can I pick up a little bit where we left off yesterday with Mark about Syria —


QUESTION: — and the SNC and basically the – your decision to kind of abandon it and try to create something or help create something new and improved? Can you say when you guys decided that it was no longer worth waiting around for them to get their act together?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, let’s take a step back and first of all say that it’s absolutely up to the Syrians to choose a leadership structure and their representatives. And with the SNC in particular, we don’t object to whatever role or – whatever role in the structure that emerges from Doha may determine. But rather than marginalizing the SNC, the Doha conference presents an opportunity for them to join a political structure with broad credibility inside of Syria.

And so after many months, the SNC has not succeeded in broadening its leadership, not to more insiders, not ethnically, and not geographically. Meanwhile, we and other Friends of the Syrian People have encountered individuals who have already displayed leadership and want to be part of Syria’s future. And so we’re bringing these people to the attention of the Doha participants. We’re not choosing anyone. Only the Syrian people can do that. Rather, we’re helping bring attention to a broader pool of candidates for the Syrian people to consider for future leadership.

QUESTION: Okay. Can I ask you the same question I asked Mark yesterday, which he didn’t seem able to be – able to answer? Regardless of whether or not you are choosing who should be part of this group, you are identifying people who you think would be constructive members or credible members of it, correct?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re identifying some people that we and other Friends of the Syrian People have interacted with and individuals who have displayed leadership. And so we’re bringing them to the attention of the participants of Doha as they move forward.

QUESTION: And how is that not choosing?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, it’s our way of identifying some individuals that we think have shown leadership, but it’s up to the Syrians to decide how to move forward.

QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But if you’re pointing specific people out and saying, “Hey, take a look at this guy,” it’s not as if you’re leaving it up to the Syrian people. Why can’t – are they incapable of finding these people themselves?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, we’ve said, going back, that the opposition is going to need to continue to become more organized, coalesce around a strategy. We hadn’t seen that with the SNC, and so we’re helping the process along by identifying some more individuals.

QUESTION: Okay, so –

MR. VENTRELL: I will say that we do think there’s an increased sense of urgency about the formation of a representative opposition leadership structure. So we do think there’s an increased sense of urgency, but it really is up to the Syrians to decide who their leaders will be.

Jill, go ahead.

QUESTION: Patrick, can we delve a little bit more into who these people are? These, I presume, are people on the ground. Are they fighters? Are they thinkers? Are they – what are they?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I don’t think we want to get into a great deal of specificity, other than to say they’ve shown leadership. This is primarily political leadership, the type of people who can not only organize but also provide services, because what this really is about is the day after – and the day will come when Assad falls – there needs to be in place structures that can provide governance and provide services to the people.

QUESTION: So it sounds like some of the people who were leading these areas that have been taken over by the opposition, maybe – let’s say, local coordination councils, I think they were called – people who are running those, is that what you’re talking about?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I don’t want to get into naming one individual or another, or giving a greater degree of specificity. Suffice it to say they’re people that we’ve encountered, some of them on the margins of some of these conferences, some of them with our work directly inside of Syria. So we’ve – Ambassador Ford and his team have taken extensive steps to broaden and deepen our outreach to a wide range of Syrians.

QUESTION: And will they be taken or helped to get out of Syria to come to this Doha conference?

MR. VENTRELL: I really don’t have a lot of specificity to add other than to say that they’re folks we’ve recommended. But I don’t have any information one way or another on that.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. hope that they will be there physically?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, that would constructive if they can be, but – yes, we’d like to see as many people assemble in Doha as possible. We’ve seen other methods of staying in touch with people on the inside as well. So I don’t want to discount the kind of communication directly inside, whether it’s via Skype or other methods, but let’s wait and see as we get close to the conference.

QUESTION: And just one last question: So at this stage, what is your hope or expectation of what can come out of Doha?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, as I just was saying earlier to Matt, we think that there is an increased sense of urgency about the formation of this representative opposition leadership structure. And so again, we can’t predict in advance, but it’s part of the longer, broader trajectory that we’ve been saying all along that they need to increasingly coalesce. And there’s really two aspects to it: There’s the political aspect to it, which is coalescing around the political plan, the opposition to Assad; but it’s also the administrative task of interacting with the international community and helping to coordinate that kind of assistance and interaction. So those are really the two frameworks for what this – what an opposition leadership structure can do.

QUESTION: Patrick, going back to my first question —


QUESTION: When did it become clear to you, to the Administration, that this was the kind of – this was the tack that you needed to take, that what you had been doing previously wasn’t enough?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, I mean, this evolves over a significant period of time. After many months of working with the SNC, we’ve gone in this direction.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay, so when was it? After many months. And so when?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, it’s not like we drop a pinpoint on this calendar date and say, “Now we’re going in a different direction.”

QUESTION: Well, no, but there’s definitely a point at which a decision is made, correct? Or no? Are you saying there is not – there was no decision made at all? There had to be a decision, and it had to be taken on a specific date. I’m not asking necessarily for the specific date, although that would be nice, when someone checked off on the —

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, this is a general – Matt —

QUESTION: — checked off on this new strategy. But when did it become clear to you that the SNC just wasn’t going to be able to get this done by itself?

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, this was a pattern over a number of months where we continue to encourage them to widen their base.

QUESTION: When did you lose your patience?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, I’m not going to get into trying to pinpoint one date or another.

Guy, go ahead.

QUESTION: One more on Syria.


QUESTION: Mr. Brahimi was in Beijing yesterday.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: Chinese state media said that the Chinese Government has put forward a several-point proposal toward, quote-unquote, “political transition,” and a cessation of violence in Syria. Did this Department have a reaction to this proposal, and is there any new confidence here that China might now support a new UN Security Council resolution regarding foreign intervention in Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Guy, we have indeed seen the reports of the Chinese Government’s announcement about the proposal to the Joint Special Representative. We understand some of the broad outlines of it include implementation of a ceasefire, calls for an increase in humanitarian assistance, political transition, as you mentioned.

So these are all good things. What we haven’t seen necessarily is a change in their willingness to have a UN Security Council resolution that would have the type of consequences necessary for compliance. And so, again, those are all good points and they’re things that we agree with, but we haven’t seen a more fundamental shift on the broader issue of a UN resolution.

QUESTION: So is it your position or is it the position of people in this building that the Chinese really haven’t changed their tune on Syria in the last week, 48 hours?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, some of these are certainly some laudable elements, which we agree with the Chinese on, but we haven’t seen the sort of fundamental shift in their policy, specifically with the United Nations.

QUESTION: So the answer to the question is no?

MR. VENTRELL: That would be a fair assessment.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Have you got anything on the Lavrov position on Geneva minus the veto?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything further for you on that.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: There are reports that Iran is providing the regime in Syria with drones, and the regime is intensifying the airstrikes against the cities and villages. Do you know anything about these drones?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ve seen those same news reports. Other than to say that Iran’s role continues to be destructive and nefarious, I really don’t have anything specific on that particular news report.

QUESTION: Going back to —


QUESTION: — Doha, is the United States going to be represented at the talks?

MR. VENTRELL: I believe that Ambassador Ford and some of his team members will be on the margins, but if that’s not right, I’ll update you. But I believe Ambassador Ford will be there.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Patrick, yesterday we reported on the existence of an August 16th cable out of Benghazi addressed to the Office of the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which basically, in summary, says the regional security officer did not believe the consulate could be protected if it fell under a coordinated attack – quote, “coordinated attack.” Do you have any comment about that cable, who specifically reviewed it, and was any action taken as a result of that cable, viewing that cable? Any additional security measures put in place?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, Justin, this – all of these issues looking at the security related to Benghazi are under review by the ARB, and other than that, I don’t have anything for you.

QUESTION: So you won’t confirm or deny the existence of said cable?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, the Accountability Review Board is looking at all these matters. Specific cables, whether they’re classified or otherwise, are not the type of things that we discuss.

QUESTION: Do you know if they’re looking at this cable specifically?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, the Accountability Review Board is looking at those broadly, at all aspects of it.

Other topics?

QUESTION: No? Good. Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 12:57 p.m.)