State Department Briefing by Patrick Ventrell, July 5, 2012

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–July 5, 2012.

Index for Today’s Briefing
    • Secretary Clinton’s Travel Stops / Meeting with President Abbas
    • Defection by Security Forces
    • Assad Interview with Turkish Newspaper
    • Review of WIPO Development Projects in Iran and DPRK
    • Assassination Attempt on Boutros Harb
    • GLOCs Opened to NATO supplies / U.S. Relations with Pakistan
    • Ambassador Ford’s Report / Syrian Opposition’s Transition Plan
    • Members of SNC to go to Moscow
    • Assad Regime’s Internal Documents
    • Review of WIPO Development Projects
  • MALI
    • Support for ECOWAS Efforts / Security Council Resolution
    • Presidential Election
    • Announcement on Whaling
  • UAE
    • Release of Zack Shahin


Today’s briefing was held off-camera, so no video is available.  

1:00 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon and welcome to the State Department. Just at the top, as you know, Secretary Clinton has just departed on foreign travel. She is en route to Paris right now, where she will attend the Friends of the Syrian People and then also meet with President Abbas, and then from there will also meet with French officials in a bilateral setting. As you know, there are a number of other stops on this trip, including to Tokyo for the conference on Afghanistan, a number of stops in the East Asia Pacific region, and then back through Egypt and Israel on the way home.

So an extensive trip. The team is wheels-up and en route. And with that, I will turn it over to you for your questions.

QUESTION: I just have a logistical one on the schedule.


QUESTION: For every single country she’s going to, it lists the cities that she’s visiting, except for Israel. So this is a semi-trick question: Is she going to be visiting the capital of Israel?

MR. VENTRELL: The Secretary will be in Israel and she will meet with Israeli officials.


MR. VENTRELL: At this point, I don’t know where those meetings are going to be, but obviously as we get closer, the team will have more information.

QUESTION: You don’t know if they’ll be in Jerusalem or if they will be in Tel Aviv?

MR. VENTRELL: We can presume that she will visit multiple sites in Israel on this trip.

QUESTION: She will?

MR. VENTRELL: That’s the presumption.

QUESTION: The announcement also doesn’t specify whether she plans to meet President Morsi in Egypt. Is that on the schedule?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we can anticipate that, as the newly elected and inaugurated President of the country, that that would be a likely visit while she’s there.

QUESTION: Did you say —


QUESTION: — that she’s meeting in Paris with Abbas? Is that what you said? She’s meeting with Abbas?

MR. VENTRELL: Yes, with President Abbas.



QUESTION: In Paris, okay. Let me just follow up on this a bit, because Palestinian sources say that they have been told – or Saeb Erekat when he was in town and met with Secretary Clinton was told that if they continue to pursue the UN road that, ultimately, they will close down the PLO office in Washington. Could you comment on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, what I will say more broadly speaking, Said, is that you know where we are on the UN issue, and that we think that – obviously, you know what the U.S. position is on that. More broadly speaking, what I will say about where we are in the process with the Israelis and the Palestinians is that we’ve had the exchange of letters. This is a chance for the Secretary and President Abbas to meet face to face for the first time since those letters have been exchanged. And in their calls, they’d agreed to meet the next time they were in Europe, so that’s this opportunity. And broadly speaking, there’s – our position is that there’s no substitute for direct negotiations. So —

QUESTION: We understand, but if they continue that path, you will close the office of the PLO in town?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, I’m not going to get into speculating about hypotheticals. Suffice it to say, it’s well known what our position is on the UN aspect of this.

QUESTION: Okay. A quick – one quick follow-up: I don’t know if you followed the news on some – the investigative report done by Al Jazeera English that Arafat was poisoned by polonium. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. VENTRELL: I would just really refer you to the Palestinian authorities on the subject.



QUESTION: There’s been some reports in the Syrian media – pro-Assad media, in fact – that a senior general member of the Republican Guard and a close Assad confidant has defected to Turkey, and I’m just wondering if you guys have been able to confirm that. I know you’ve been tracking these defections pretty closely.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. We’ve seen those reports as well. Obviously, there’s been a number of defections among the Syrians, including members of the security forces. We welcome that. They’re courageous in rejecting the horrific actions of the Assad regime. And we – so we welcome that and – but I don’t have any further information for you at this time on the specific individual.

QUESTION: Okay. And are you seeking any information from the Turks who – presumably, if they’ve got him, that’s where he supposedly defected to, right? Can we say that you’re actually trying to consult with the Turks about (inaudible)?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re in constant communication with the Turks. I don’t have anything further.


QUESTION: Patrick, also on Syria?


QUESTION: There was an interview that the McClatchy newspapers picked up from a Turkish newspaper with Assad in which he appears to be saying that he might step down if the people did not want him, and also doesn’t rule out departing office through some other means, such as Kofi Annan’s plan. Do you – have you looked at this interview? Do you have any thoughts? Do you believe what he is —

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we – Jill, we’ve certainly seen the interview. Our position has long been that he needs to step aside, but of course, actions speak louder than words. So what – we, of course, welcome that and want to see it happen, but he’s said a lot of things over the past months. But we think it’s clear that, obviously, he has lost his legitimacy and he has lost the respect of his people and support of his people. So that’s pretty clear to us.

QUESTION: So just back on the defector, you said that the people who are defecting are courageous in rejecting the actions of the Assad regime?


QUESTION: So someone who spends 15 months participating in a savage slaughter and butchery of the Syrian people is now courageous? Wouldn’t it have been more courageous or courageous of them in the first place if they had not obeyed the orders at the beginning?

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, it’s hard to know where each of these individuals fit in, but the most important thing is that they vote with their feet, that they peel off from this murderous regime.

QUESTION: I understand that. I understand why you’re welcoming it. I just don’t understand why you’re – why they’re necessarily courageous.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I think what we’re going to see, Matt, as time goes on, we’re going to continue to see more people to peel off. And so for a number of people, this isn’t an easy decision. There are family concerns. There are – it can be very complicated for each individual. So we encourage those to continue to peel off, and folks that are technocrats in the regime that can participate in a transition, that they do so.


QUESTION: On this very point, Patrick.


QUESTION: Early this week, Victoria, from that podium —

MR. VENTRELL: Can you speak up a little bit? I’m having trouble hearing you.

QUESTION: Yeah. I said early this week, Victoria said, from that podium, that we are likely to see more defections. Do you see a pattern that this has actually happened and it will be a flood pretty soon?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re seeing increasing defections. I don’t have a crystal ball; I can’t predict about what the numbers will be tomorrow or the day after. But we’re hopeful that they will continue at a good pace.

QUESTION: So in the event that the regime falls quicker than everybody else thinks, are you prepared to deal with whatever confusion or chaos that —

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, that’s why we have a transition plan, why we think it’s so important to have – as we’ve worked with Kofi and our partners – to have something on the books that we can work with so that there is as stable a transition as possible. So that’s what we’re looking for.

QUESTION: Hi, Catherine Herridge, Fox News. What’s the status of the State Department investigation into these WIPO transfers to North Korea and Iran?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I do have something for you on that. Hold on one second. So you’re asking about – I believe this is the World Intellectual Property Organization?

QUESTION: Correct.

MR. VENTRELL: I can tell you that we’re reviewing their development projects both for Iran and the DPRK. We’re working with both the Director General and other member-states to institute reforms that will ensure future development projects are properly reviewed prior to being approved and implemented. And we’re working in New York to ensure that the UN Security Council Sanctions Committees play a more active role in advising international organizations on how to remain compliant with UN sanctions.

QUESTION: As a follow-up, what level of cooperation – or how would you characterize the cooperation you’ve received from the UN?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, our review is ongoing so I don’t have any specific details for you at this time.

QUESTION: The issue here is that you’ve got this small UN body violating UN sanctions against North Korea and Iran. I mean, that’s a very serious situation.

MR. VENTRELL: Again, that’s why we’re reviewing this up in New York and we are looking at this very carefully. But in terms of the outcomes of what we’re able to uncover and how we go forward, until that review is complete I don’t have anything further for you. But clearly we take it seriously and we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: Do you have any information about the attempt to assassinate a member of parliament in Lebanon today?

MR. VENTRELL: Let me take a look. I think I do have something for you. So I know that our Embassy put out – in Beirut put out a statement earlier that we condemn in the strongest terms the apparent assassination attempt targeting Lebanese politician Boutros Harb this morning, July 5th. We call on the Government of Lebanon to thoroughly investigate this incident. Lebanon and the international community have sought to bring about an end to impunity for political assassinations, and with the 2009 establishment of the special tribunal, that is a mechanism that can be used to end impunity for this kind of political assassination (inaudible). So we strongly condemn it.

In the back.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) In Pakistan today, GLOCs were finally opened to NATO supplies. So going forward, what kind of relationship are you looking at with Pakistan?

MR. VENTRELL: Thank you for the question. We are pleased that Pakistan has decided to open the NATO supply lines and that the first few containers have – (inaudible) moved across the border this morning. It’s a tangible demonstration of Pakistan’s support for a secure, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan.

But more broadly speaking, as you asked about our relationship, we’re focused on moving forward in our relations with Pakistan. We have many shared interests, including peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan, increasing trade and investment between our countries and the region, and in strengthening our people-to-people ties. So we’re really looking to moving forward with Pakistan in our relationship as best we can.

QUESTION: And can you confirm from this podium if the U.S. is releasing CSF funds – payments which were due for a long time?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I refer you to the Pentagon, as Toria did the other day. I don’t have anything here from the State Department to share.


QUESTION: Just one more on Syria?


QUESTION: It may have been addressed before, but just your read on how the opposition are doing in terms of becoming more coherent and cohesive. It did not sound very promising at their meeting in Cairo.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we actually – we got a report back from Ambassador Ford, and he reports to us that indeed there were some very encouraging signs. We applaud the initiative of the opposition to come together. They united around an impressively broad range of opposition elements – including Kurds, tribal leaders, Christians, Alawites – all under a common plan. They have developed and agreed upon, for the very first time, on a detailed transition plan that corresponds with the principles of transition put forward by Kofi and agreed to at last week’s action group meeting in Geneva.

So they put together their own plan for the first time that agrees on a democratic state, ruled by a new constitution, with respect to human rights toward the Syrian people. So we think that’s a positive development. Obviously we’re aware of some of the media reports about scuffles on the sidelines, but the broader story that happened behind closed doors was a very positive development.

QUESTION: So the encouraging signs came after the fistfights and the walkout by the Kurds?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Matt —

QUESTION: Or are those part of the encouraging signs?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Matt, behind closed doors there was a broad-based negotiations that went on which Ambassador Ford was able to observe and work with his contacts and —

QUESTION: So he didn’t see the —

MR. VENTRELL: I believe he was behind closed doors negotiating with —

QUESTION: So he missed the fistfights and the scuffles?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t know where Ambassador Ford was as that was going on. What I do know is that this plan that they put forward corresponds to the Kofi plan. It’s the first time they’ve put together down on – with pen and paper – the kind of democratic transition plan that corresponds to what Kofi is doing. So that is positive. Obviously, this is not easy. This is a group of many disparate and different people trying to come together and unite around a plan. And so we’re working this very hard and we’re encouraged by the positive signs.

QUESTION: So you’re not concerned by the fact there were fistfights and the Kurds walked out?

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, I think the broader story is that the opposition was able to sit down —

QUESTION: Well, I’m not asking you what the broader story’s about. I’m asking about – specifically when you have a group of people meeting together and a fight breaks out —

MR. VENTRELL: That doesn’t change our judgment. That —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) It’s still encouraging. You’re not concerned about that?

MR. VENTRELL: What I said is that that doesn’t change our assessment of the overall impact of the conference and the substance of what they worked on.


QUESTION: The plan that they have, if it tracks Kofi’s plan, does that mean that members of the present regime would be able to be part of a transitional national body, a governing body? And is it exactly those points, because that was part of the contention in Geneva?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, my understanding is that all members that attended the conference in Cairo agreed on the need for a transitional government to include officials from the existing government, (inaudible) if they’re needed, and of course, deemed necessary. But these are folks who are the kind of technocrats that can work side-by-side with oppositionists and other of the young activists and others who can compose this transition going forward.

QUESTION: As long as they don’t have blood on their hands.

MR. VENTRELL: Of course.


QUESTION: The Russians announced that – or confirmed rather – that two members of the opposition, including the current – or the new head of the SNC – are going to be going to Moscow next week.


QUESTION: I’m wondering what you read, if anything, into that visit. Is that something that you’re encouraging the opposition to do, reach out to the Russians?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we welcome that. I mean, obviously, the Russians took interest and also participated in the Cairo conference, and so they’ve taken an increasing interest in the opposition. And we continue to also encourage them to use the influence that they do have with the regime to bring about change there as well.


QUESTION: Patrick, just a quick follow-up on the opposition. In view of the walkout of the Kurds and so on, so is it your assessment that today the opposition is more coherent, more together, more united?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we think that this was a significant moment that they were able to put together this plan on paper for the first time that corresponds to Kofi’s plan. So they’re asking for the same kind of transition. I’d also note that there was consensus among the opposition that the international community needs to take a tougher stance and implement Chapter 7 sanctions if there’s not progress on implementing Kofi’s plan and the six points. So we’re continuing to see – we’re encouraged that a more coherent narrative is coming out from the opposition. We think it’s a good thing.

QUESTION: Elaraby yesterday – the Secretary General of the Arab League – said that perhaps the only thing left to do is to go up to the UN and call for Chapter 7. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ve said – the Secretary’s very clear that if this plan isn’t implemented, there should be real consequences. And so she said in Geneva that she thinks it’s appropriate that we work hard at the UN for a resolution that would not only endorse the Annan plan but have the kind of consequences under Chapter 7 that would impose conditions if it’s not accepted.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to follow up on WIPO again. Do you believe that this incident has —

MR. VENTRELL: Can we actually stay with Syria, and we’ll come back to it?

QUESTION: Okay, yeah. Sure.

MR. VENTRELL: We tend to stay with the same topic. Are you done with Syria? Okay. I guess we are on Syria.

QUESTION: Okay, great. Do you —

QUESTION: One more on Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Do you have a comment on the Wikileaks leaking of all the Syria emails?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’ve seen the initial news reports, as you have. My general reaction is that I don’t think we need any more internal documents of the Assad regime to know exactly about – there is ample evidence about the exact kind of violence that they’re perpetrating against their own people. So my initial reaction is that I’m not sure that any additional internal correspondence will change our perspective.

QUESTION: What do you mean by additional?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, what I’m saying is that —

QUESTION: You are in possession of internal Syrian correspondence?

MR. VENTRELL: No, what I’m saying is that it is blatantly clear to the whole world what the Assad regime is doing to its people. And so —

QUESTION: So this is not just —

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’ve just seen the initial reports.

Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Great. Thank you. Do you believe this incident with WIPO has undercut the UN’s credibility and the effectiveness of the sanctions?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I don’t know enough about where we are in terms of the evidence that’s coming – come forth in terms of this review. What I do know is that the Obama Administration has, for our national security interests, engaged very constructively and broadly with the UN. And we think that that’s shown real results for our national security whether it comes to Iran’s sanctions or North Korea or a number of other issues. And so we’ve constructively engaged with the UN. That’s our broader platform and policy. In terms of this particular instance, we have an ongoing review; we’re looking at it. But I just don’t know until – I won’t prejudge until we know more information.

QUESTION: But you agree it’s serious.

MR. VENTRELL: We’re looking into it.

QUESTION: Do you know when that review began?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t actually have that information. I just have that we’re reviewing it for the development projects for both Iran and the DPRK.

QUESTION: Have you expressed any anger to the UN in your review?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, my understanding is we’re seeking more information. I don’t have anything further.

QUESTION: I mean, does it give any additional information about the review, what it’s reviewing specifically or when it began? I mean, you say “ongoing.” Has this been going on for months and months and months, or is it something that’s relatively recent?

QUESTION: Since April.

MR. VENTRELL: Broadly, Matt, what I do know is that there – this had to do with some sort of technology transfer and computers – that kind of transfer. I know we’ve been aware of it. I know we’re looking into it. I just simply don’t have any information. I’d be happy to look into it afterward.

QUESTION: Aware of what?

MR. VENTRELL: What did you say?

QUESTION: Aware – you said, “We’re aware of it.” Aware of what?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re aware of the allegations that there’s been a violation of UN sanctions in the transfer of this material. So that’s why we’re looking into it.

QUESTION: And you don’t know when the material was transferred?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any further information here today at the podium, but obviously it’s something that we’re reviewing.


QUESTION: A quick one on Mali.


QUESTION: The UN Security Council today endorsed the ECOWAS political efforts in Mali

but didn’t give them the okay that they were looking for for a military intervention. I’m wondering if you could tell us what the U.S. sort of thinking was on that, and, I mean, if Mali’s closest neighbors are thinking that they need to get in there militarily to sort things out, and you’ve been tracking ECOWAS pretty closely on this crisis from the get-go, why at this point you’re deciding no, that’s not the right step to take.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, on Mali, broadly speaking, we’ve supported ECOWAS’s efforts, and they’ve played a key and important role. We continue to call on members of the military junta and its political supporters to cease and desist, and we continue to call on the interim government to set an election date as they move forward in their transition. We, of course, welcome the passage of the UN Security Council resolution. I actually hadn’t heard before coming down that it had been adopted, but I know it was on the docket for this morning. So we, of course, welcome that.

But I believe the text of the resolution seeks some additional information about ECOWAS in terms of what the mandate and scope of that would be, but more broadly speaking, endorses their efforts to bring about stability in Mali. But I think in terms of the actual planning for that, I think they’re still – that we’re not at a point where the UN had endorsed that.

So – in the back.

QUESTION: Yes. On Mexico —


QUESTION: — there’s been a recounting of votes going on the past couple days. And also, the left has gone on with its allegations of vote-buying. I was wondering if any of this, for you, weakens Pena Nieto’s victories at all.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, we’ve welcomed Mr. Pena Nieto as the president-elect and look forward to working with him. We, of course, respect the Mexican electoral process and understand that the Federal Electoral Institute has yet to conclude the official procedures but will do so in the coming days, and is set to release the final results on July 8th. In our opinion, the Mexican people demonstrated their commitment to democratic values through a free, fair, and transparent election process. And in terms of looking into these specific allegations, we think that the Mexican authorities, their electoral authorities, have the capability to appropriately look into this, and we have confidence in their ability to work through this.

QUESTION: I have two small ones.

MR. VENTRELL: Go for it, Matt.

QUESTION: Do you have any – apparently, the South Koreans say they want to start whaling. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. VENTRELL: I do, Matt. We remain committed to the moratorium on commercial whaling. We’re concerned about South Korea’s announcement that it will begin a lethal scientific research whaling program, and we plan to discuss this with the South Korean Government.

QUESTION: Okay. When and who?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any further details. I just was getting information as I was coming down here. So that’s what I have for you.

QUESTION: All right. And then the other one: Is this guy that you’ve been talking about in Dubai, I think —


QUESTION: — he’s finally been given bail – Mr. Shahin. Do you have anything about that?

MR. VENTRELL: I did just get some additional information. Okay. Well, we welcome the UAE court’s decision to set the condition for Mr. Shahin’s release on bail. The ruling is a positive step in ensuring that he is afforded the same legal rights as others who’ve been accused of financial crimes in the UAE. And we continue to advocate that his case be conducted in an expeditious and transparent manner.

Anything else?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 p.m.)