State Department Briefing by Patrick Ventrell, July 31, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 31, 2012. 
Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Aleksey Navalny Case
    • Situation in Aleppo
    • Humanitarian Support / Nonlethal Assistance / Accountability Project
    • Concerns About Politically Motivated Prosecutions
    • GLOCs
    • Device in U.S. Embassy Vehicle
    • Arms Trade Treaty
    • U.S.-Pakistan Relationship


1:23 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon. At the top, I’d like to say that we are concerned by new charges brought against Russian activist Aleksey Navalny. This follows investigations against other May 6 demonstrators and the trial of members of a punk band who have been held in detention since March. All of these developments raise serious concerns about the politically motivated prosecutions of the Russian opposition and pressure on those who express dissenting views.

And with that, I will turn it over to you.

QUESTION: Oh, good. Can we start with Syria?


QUESTION: I think the UN said 200,000 people have now fled Aleppo, more and more talk of a humanitarian disaster. What new are you guys doing or thinking about doing to address this problem?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Brad, you’re right. The situation is grave, and we’re witnessing the regime’s continued assault on its own people. We are continuing and accelerating all the efforts we have had in place to get Assad to step aside as soon as possible. We are not only, of course, continuing to work with like-minded nations on sanctions; we’re working to provide our support to the opposition, we’re working to provide millions of dollars of humanitarian support to help Syrians both inside Syria and those who have fled to the outside, and obviously the accountability projects that we put in place also continue.

So we have all of these elements of our strategy. They continue in full force, and we’ll continue to work with all of our partners who – which include nearly a hundred countries and other partners who are all in concert working together so that we can see Assad step aside sooner, which is the – which really is the fundamental way to see less bloodshed, to see this stop as soon as possible.

QUESTION: But specifically on the humanitarian support, how – what are you doing that’s new? You said you’re continuing and accelerating all these efforts. How are you accelerating your humanitarian effort?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, we have a baseline of $64 million of support that we’re providing in humanitarian assistance. We’re providing that through nongovernmental organizations, through the UN, through others, so that that assistance can reach Syrians directly. I understand there’s nearly half a million Syrians who need food assistance. We have tens of thousands of Syrians who have streamed across the borders into Turkey, into Iraq, into Jordan, and in all of those places, we’re providing direct humanitarian assistance and will continue to do so, of course most directly to where it’s needed. And so we work in concert with our UN and NGO partners to make sure it’s getting to the right place. And we’re continuing to ask others to ramp up their support as well, because this is clearly a grave humanitarian situation.

QUESTION: And then just on the political question again – or I should say on the actual situation on the ground – how devastating do you think it would be if Aleppo fell at this point? You’ve been talking about large swaths of territory that are now flipping to opposition control. If Assad were to reassert his authority in the north, would you see that as a major setback?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re continuing to witness his overall control of the country slip away, and so we think obviously the opposition is more organized and has taken major steps to not only organize and plan for the future, but to hold the territory that they already have. And so we – I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t – we can’t predict exactly how this is going to happen. We want the violence to stop and the transition to begin as soon as possible. And so it’s impossible to predict, but obviously the violence continues. There were nearly a hundred deaths of civilians again overnight, and so the Assad regime continues to slaughter its own people.

QUESTION: Just lastly, you want the opposition to hold onto the territory that it controls right now, right?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I mean, the Secretary had said earlier that we see – and where this is going to end up is that as more territory slips out of the control of the Assad regime, the opposition will naturally have some safe havens, where they can continue to organize and plan for the transition that will inevitably occur, so —

QUESTION: Well, how are they supposed to do that without kind of a real infusion of international assistance?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, they are getting international assistance. We’re providing tens of millions of dollars of assistance, both humanitarian and as well as our nonlethal assistance to the opposition. Other countries are as well, and so they’re – we’re absolutely clear that we stand on the side of the Syrian people, and many other countries do as well. Nearly a hundred continue to robustly support the will of the Syrian people to see a better day.

QUESTION: How much —

QUESTION: Patrick, can you clarify those numbers? Do you mind?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)


QUESTION: Okay. The 64 million, is that spent to date? Does that cover humanitarian and nonlethal? Or is that what’s in the bank (inaudible)?

MR. VENTRELL: The 64 million is absolutely only humanitarian.


MR. VENTRELL: Only humanitarian. We put out a Fact Sheet a week or 10 days ago that has the breakdown, but it includes $27.5 million for the World Food Program, for instance, to help feed the Syrian people; $15 to nongovernmental organizations, $15 million; $8.5 million to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as Turkey and Lebanon and Iraq and others have had to set up camps in other quarters for these Syrian refugees; $8 million to the ICRC; $3 million to UNRWA, and the list goes on and on, and so – to UNICEF, to UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs. So —

QUESTION: What about the nonlethal?

MR. VENTRELL: The nonlethal is a $15 million support package at this point, so we’ve allocated $15 million for that support.

QUESTION: Yesterday, I think Toria was asked about the $15 million and I think she had the suggestion that – I think she was asked, “Well, are you putting up any more?” Or is it just 15 or is there any additional funding (inaudible)?

MR. VENTRELL: Right now, the funding is at $15 million. There has been an additional – and I’d refer you to Treasury for the exact details – but an additional OFAC licensing, which helps us as we accelerate and continue that cooperation and assistance in nonlethal assistance. But right now, $15 million is the number.

QUESTION: Do you know how much of that you spent?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a figure on that.

QUESTION: Since you keep talking about accelerating, and it’s hard to see evidence of acceleration if one can’t see tangibly that you’re doing more, like asking Congress for more money or spending it more quickly or whatever – it’s just hard to see the acceleration – can you give us an example of the acceleration of your activities?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, suffice it to say, as we’ve seen the situation accelerate, as we’ve seen the opposition gain momentum, as we’ve seen the regime continue to flail and lose control, we have accelerated all aspects of our strategy, both in terms of working with our like-minded partners – we said from the day after – from the day of that UN vote onward, we would accelerate every other part of our strategy and continue to work to get him to step aside so that this violence can stop. So all elements of that – as I mentioned, these four tracks that include the accountability track, the support to the opposition, the humanitarian track, all of these have continued apace.

That said, we’re also working with the opposition so that they can plan for the day after. And we think that day-after planning is absolutely critical. They’re doing some of that. Obviously, we’re in consultation with them. Ambassador Ford is in Cairo working with the opposition. And so we think that they’re – based on their earlier July 3rd plan for an inclusive transitional plan, we’re continuing to encourage them to work on concrete and workable plans that can be in place for the day after.

QUESTION: On that note —


QUESTION: — there are some reports from Cairo that a Syrian human rights activist says that he’s been – his name is not coming up – but that he’s been tapped.


QUESTION: What’s that?



QUESTION: Haitham al-Maleh.

QUESTION: Yeah, that he’s been tapped with forming a government in exile. Are you aware of this? And is Ambassador Ford in touch?

MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that particular report. Ambassador Ford is out there actively working. I can seek to get some more information from his travelling delegation. But I don’t have anything in particular.

QUESTION: Yeah. If you could get information on who specifically – is he working with a group of people to form a government in exile? Have people been tapped that he’s working with?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll check in. I don’t have any information on that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On this 15 million —


QUESTION: — that was announced I think by the White House, what, five months ago or so?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t remember the exact date, Brad.

QUESTION: And yet you say you’re accelerating your efforts. Presumably, all that money’s been spent, right? So I don’t understand what you can possibly be accelerating if there’s no new money. I mean, this government has —

MR. VENTRELL: Well, it wouldn’t surprise you, Brad, that obviously to spend these tens of millions of dollars in a coordinated way that’s going to be effective —

QUESTION: It’s not tens of millions. It’s 15. That’s one and a half tens.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, tens of millions of dollars in terms of our humanitarian track and also our non-lethal track, and so we have wide elements of this department and of other U.S. Government departments who are working on this very actively.

QUESTION: So you’re telling me the U.S. Government couldn’t spend $15 million over five months? I find it hard to believe they haven’t spent (inaudible).

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have the breakdown of the spending. But what I will say is that we are doing this in a coordinated and targeted fashion so that it’s effective and so that this assistance arrives and delivers on what we have said we would do.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Fifteen million for nonlethal. You mean military nonlethal?

MR. VENTRELL: Nonlethal assistance.

QUESTION: Does that have to do with medical and humanitarian?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, there are two separate tracks.

QUESTION: Is hardware nonlethal?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I mean, we’ve given some examples of communications equipment to help the opposition organize. That’s one example. We’re obviously not in a position to give an exhaustive summary of that, but those are the types of nonlethal assistance that we’ve been able to provide.

QUESTION: And the 25 million in the pipeline are also nonlethal?

MR. VENTRELL: So there’s 15 million nonlethal assistance; 64 million humanitarian.

QUESTION: And the 25 Treasury is asking license.

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure where the number 25 is coming from, but —

QUESTION: On the safe havens.


QUESTION: Assuming that the opposition manages to hold onto some key safe havens in – within Syria, what is the United States prepared to do in terms of helping them defend those safe havens there? I mean, in Libya we saw a no-fly zone get into place. Is the United States going to start approving greater support for the Syrian opposition, which will move beyond the boundaries of nonlethal assistance?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves and talk about hypothetical scenarios. We’re not there yet. But obviously, we’re planning for all scenarios and working in conjunction with our partners and with the opposition as this evolves.


QUESTION: Patrick, though, just to go back to the nonlethal assistance —


QUESTION: — are you guys issuing contracts for new supplies for this? Or are you pulling from existing Pentagon stocks? Where is this material coming from?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know if they’re new contracts or existing stocks. I’ll take the question and we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I know that in the past, this building has repeatedly said that they’re in touch with a wide cross-section of the opposition, and there’s been no call for more direct involvement. As the – and my question is: As the conflict in Aleppo has intensified, has that changed at all? Has there been any, however small, request or outcry for a more direct approach than the aid you’re providing now?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I think the people of Aleppo obviously want the violence to stop now. They’re under – clearly under siege from this brutal regime – this war machine. And so I haven’t seen a change in terms of what they’re asking for outside support, but clearly the situation is dire. Our hearts go out to the people of Aleppo. We continue to do everything we can, through all of our diplomatic levers, to get this violence to stop and move toward a political transition.

QUESTION: Can we change subject?

MR. VENTRELL: Change of subject?

QUESTION: No. One more on Syria.

MR. VENTRELL: One more on Syria.

Scott, go ahead.

QUESTION: Russia has changed its determination of what’s going on in Syria from complicated to a state of emergency or armed conflict. Does that give you any hope that Moscow might be coming around to your view of what’s going on in Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’m not sure what their internal legal rulings are in terms of what they view as a conflict. But obviously, we haven’t been on the same page with the Russians. We’ll continue to diplomatically work through all channels to communicate our position, but I’m not aware that we have – are at a new point with the Russians yet.

QUESTION: I have a very elegant segue to my question, which is about Russia.


QUESTION: So Russian investigators have charged the street protest leader and lawyer Aleksey Navalny with theft. He has described the charges as absurd and other people have described them as trumped up. What does the U.S. Government think about these charges?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Arshad, you missed my very strong topper on this very subject.

QUESTION: Oh, forgive me.

MR. VENTRELL: But just to paraphrase, again, we’re very concerned by these new charges, and so – not only regarding Mr. Navalny, but of course also the punk rock band and others. What we’ve seen are some serious concerns about the politically motivated prosecutions of the Russian opposition. So we’re deeply concerned.

QUESTION: We’re so disappointed you didn’t say the name of the band.

QUESTION: Yes, I was just going to ask you to – (laughter) – which punk band are you talking about?

MR. VENTRELL: They are indeed called – Pussy Riot is the name of the band.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Pakistan?

MR. VENTRELL: Pakistan? Go ahead.

QUESTION: I believe that a new agreement was signed today between Pakistan and the United States on the border crossings —


QUESTION: — GLOCs. Could you give us some details about that, how much money was involved? And what mechanism is enshrined in this new contract that Islamabad can’t actually go and shut down border crossings again?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, thank you, Jo. We are pleased to announce the conclusion of the signing of an MOU between the United States and Pakistan for the transitive cargo to and from Afghanistan. It – this MOU demonstrates increased transparency and openness between our governments in respect of Pakistan’s sovereignty as requested by their parliament. And it also underscores our shared commitment to support Afghanistan and regional stability. So in terms of the details of – the operational details of the MOU and in terms of coalition support funds and any other operational details, I would refer you to the Department of Defense.

QUESTION: Can you – on a different topic, can you explain what exactly happened in Norway today at the Embassy?


QUESTION: From the Norwegian police statement, it sounded as if you guys were doing some sort of internal drill, and it was a bit confused.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thanks, Brad. So this morning at our U.S. Embassy in Oslo, Norway, Embassy security staff identified a suspicious device in an Embassy-owned vehicle and took appropriate precautions. Upon investigation, the device was determined to be a non-threatening training device previously used in an exercise. The Embassy has resumed normal operations. Embassy security personnel handled this incident in accordance with standard procedures and alerted local emergency services. We regret any disruption caused by this incident not only for visitors to the Embassy and others, but neighbors, and we take any potential threat seriously and respond immediately.

QUESTION: So what was it? Essentially, what was it?

MR. VENTRELL: It was a nonthreatening training device.

QUESTION: No, no, but what was it? Was it like a rubber duck? I mean – (laughter) – what – can you not tell us what it was?

QUESTION: Some rubber ducks are —

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t know exactly. I know that our security staff had used this device in training, and so it sounds to me like we had a vehicle that had training equipment in it that had not been properly removed.

QUESTION: So you saw your own training equipment and alerted —

QUESTION: And called the police?

QUESTION: — Norwegian police? Is that what basically –

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t know if –

QUESTION: I’m just trying to understand what the –


MR. VENTRELL: What I don’t know is whether this was our local guard contract force or whether it was our security personnel who initially at the checkpoint discovered this; that I don’t have information on. But I do know that as soon as we had any indication that there was any concern about a threat, that all appropriate security procedures were followed. And fortunately, no one was injured, and there was no –

QUESTION: And there was no threat.

MR. VENTRELL: And there was – and it turned out that fortunately, there was no threat.


QUESTION: One other question, a different topic.


QUESTION: Just to come back to something that got (inaudible) yesterday, Toria said initially that there was a commitment on the part of the nations who failed to secure an agreement on a – on the arms trade treaty last week to hold a new round. And then she then said that there was a trend, and she kind of backed away from the word “commitment”.

Do you have an answer on that? Is there a commitment to hold a new round of talks or not?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I checked in with our delegation who had been on the negotiating team overnight, and what we were able to determine is that, in fact, the end of – the conclusion of the conference, the technical conclusion was to refer the document back to the General Assembly for consideration. Our strong preference and a number of other countries continue to think that we need more time to conclude these negotiations. We had – literally, the very first draft out of this month-long negotiation was only presented to the conference three days before the end of the conference, and it’s just not concluded – but we would like to get there.

We have said throughout this that the U.S. seeks to negotiate an arms trade treaty that improves global security by requiring countries to establish export controls, to prevent illicit transfers of arms including to terrorists, criminals, known human rights violators, and those subject to UN arms embargoes. So there’s a very serious commonality of purpose among countries who came to sit down and negotiate this. And we think, given the complexity of this issue, which deals with important national security issues, we’d like to see another round, and we think there are a number of other countries who share that view.

And this was not a treaty that was or is ready for primetime in terms of being signed by the United States and then presented to the Senate for consent. That’s not to say that major progress wasn’t made; it was, and there’s substantial agreement on a number of elements, but many of these technical treaties take years and many rounds of negotiations. We made significant progress in a month, and we don’t think that something that was drafted in haste and not studied adequately is ready to be adopted. And so consensus for us is very important. We don’t want this to just go to an up-or-down vote. We think that to have the widest possible implementation to meet those noble and lofty goals of an arms trade treaty requires the widest implementation. So we’ll continue.

QUESTION: So there’s no commitment to hold another round on the basis of consensus?

MR. VENTRELL: Right now, where we’re at is the month-long negotiation finished, they referred the document back to the General Assembly where it will be considered, and the U.S. position is, and that of many other countries is, that there should be another full round of negotiations, and we think that’s eminently reasonable.

QUESTION: But it hasn’t been agreed to yet?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re still at a phase where it will be first at the General Assembly.

QUESTION: Okay. And then separately –

QUESTION: Wait, wait. Could you repeat that? You’re still at the phase what?

MR. VENTRELL: Where in the UN it will be referred back to the UN General Assembly.

QUESTION: So then there’s no commitment yet?

MR. VENTRELL: Right now —

QUESTION: There’s just the hope that there will be?

MR. VENTRELL: Right now, the U.S. position is that we need to get back to another round of negotiations.

QUESTION: Yes, I understand that there’s a U.S. position, but all the other countries have not signed onto that?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re not there yet, Elise.


QUESTION: How many other countries do you – in terms of the 190 that are negotiating, how many other countries besides the United States are – have these concerns?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a breakdown. I just know that there were a number of countries who had some concerns about this coming about in haste and not having the time to not only work it, let alone through their delegation but through their capitals, and so we thought it was imminently reasonable to have additional time to conclude negotiations.

QUESTION: So then you don’t even know whether it’s five or ten?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a count.

QUESTION: It’s 190 countries were negotiating, but you have no idea how many —

MR. VENTRELL: Well, our baseline from the very beginning is and has been that we want this negotiated by consensus, because if you leave out some of the larger countries then, of course, you don’t get to the goal of better regulation of arms, which would keep them out of the hands of terrorists and human rights abusers. And so consensus has always been our position. That’s what we’re seeking.

The other thing that I wanted to clarify also, Arshad, which was raised yesterday, had been the issue of the Second Amendment concerns. And I just wanted to say that from our perspective this treaty and this text, and indeed, in all of the rounds of the text that we saw, in no way would infringe on Second Amendment rights. We were not in a position to – our redline from the beginning was to engage on a type of treaty —

QUESTION: What was said yesterday?

MR. VENTRELL: — that, while it would regulate, of course, international arms deals, would not infringe on the ability of countries to make their own sovereign decisions inside their country. And so we never had a draft that had those Second Amendment – anything that would infringe on the Second Amendment.

QUESTION: Okay. That’s not news to us, but that might be news to your colleague from the podium yesterday, who suggested that you couldn’t sign on yesterday because of language that would have been problematic with U.S. constitutional law.

MR. VENTRELL: We did some additional research with the negotiators, and we’re at a point where we do have concerns with the text, but —

QUESTION: Not related to —

MR. VENTRELL: — the Second Amendment concerns are – this current text and none of the prior draft texts had anything that would infringe on the Second Amendment.

QUESTION: So what are the concerns with the text then?

QUESTION: Are there no more —

QUESTION: What are the concerns with the text then?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, part of it is that it was drafted in haste and wasn’t fully finished. We have other concerns about issues like ammunition and other concerns. So there are issues that need to be worked out, some of them technical in nature, some of them substantive.

QUESTION: You said ammunition?

MR. VENTRELL: Ammunition is one area of concern, but there are others too.

QUESTION: That – in terms of what? Like the —

MR. VENTRELL: Well, ammunition is not something that can be marked and tracked in the same way, and that’s why we have concerns with that.

QUESTION: Can I ask – you and Toria both mentioned that you wanted something that would be in a form that would be ratify-able by the Senate.


QUESTION: Considering the NRA has publicly spoken against this and something like 40 Republican senators – which is more than the one-third you need to block – have said they would not support it, is that realistic anytime in our lifetimes to see this thing go to the Senate?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, we’re not in the form of a treaty that’s ready to be —

QUESTION: That’s long.

MR. VENTRELL: — signed and sent to the Senate. But this is a negotiation that we’re committed to and we continue to be committed to, because keeping arms out of the hands of the wrong people is important, especially when we’re talking about major international traffic of arms that go to major human rights abusers and others. And so we think it’s important and we think that we were able to negotiate – from the very beginning, our negotiating position was that we wouldn’t do anything that would infringe on Second Amendment —

QUESTION: Right. But you said you would – you wanted something that you could send to the Senate to be ratified.


QUESTION: If a blocking group of Republicans have already said they wouldn’t support it, they’ve basically checkmated you for now. Is that correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, the treaty as it stands is not ready for primetime, but our redline from the beginning has been that we would sign onto nothing that would infringe on our basic, fundamental constitutional rights.

QUESTION: I’m not asking about the constitutional rights. I’m asking you – if they say they’re not going to support this treaty, and you say you want – you will only agree to a treaty when it’s in a way that would get Senate support, you’re not going to agree to a treaty.

MR. VENTRELL: We’re not there yet, Brad. We’re going to continue to negotiate, and we hope that we’ll be back in January to continue the negotiations.


QUESTION: Just further to this, is it the U.S. position that they want a treaty that does have provisions for the identifying and the tracking of ammunition?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’ll tell you what. We have a lot of very specific questions about this. I can get us a follow-on briefing with some of our negotiators. We’ve really gotten into a lot of technical discussion here that I’m not capable to get into further details. So let’s see if we can arrange for later today or tomorrow some type of background briefing with some of our negotiators.

QUESTION: And the other statement, the U.S. objecting to the text?

MR. VENTRELL: There was not consensus, and we were not the only ones.

Go ahead. Last question. A different topic, Goyal?

QUESTION: I just want to go back to Pakistan for a minute.


QUESTION: By signing this agreement, that means you resolved and solved all of the problems between U.S. and Pakistan? And also respecting Pakistan’s sovereignty means that Pakistan is demanding that drone attacks will be stopped. And finally, ISI chief, Mr. Zaheerul Islam will be here in Washington tomorrow. Is that something – to a little bit disconnection as far as drone attacks and also this new agreement?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, suffice it to say, Goyal, that we’re pleased by this MOU, but our relationship, we continue to get it back on track and look to the future, and we have a number of issues to continue to work through with our Pakistani counterparts.

QUESTION: Do you have any guarantees that it will not happen again, though?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, obviously, we’ll continue to work to improve our relationship.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Last question? Okay. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)