Patrick Ventrell
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 27, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • IRAN
    • P5+1 Talks / Arak Heavy Water Reactor
    • Foreign Terrorist Organization Designation
  • PAKISTAN/IRAN
    • Gas Pipeline with Iran
  • ISRAEL
    • Golan Heights
  • RUSSIA
    • Readout of Bilateral Meeting
  • SYRIA
    • President al-Khatib / Secretary Kerry Remarks in Paris / Assad Regime
  • PERU
    • Missing U.S. Citizens
  • YEMEN
    • Ongoing Political Transition
  • IRAQ/SYRIA
    • U.S. Has Significant Concerns / Violence Spillover from Syria
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Sequestration's Impact on Visa Wait Times and Consular Services
  • PAKISTAN
    • Fatima Operations
  • PAKISTAN/AFGHANISTAN
    • IED Working Group
  • MALI
    • Secretary Kerry's Remarks / U.S. Financial Assistance / Cooperation with France


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

1:22 p.m. EST

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry for being a little late getting down. My binder’s a little full here, so --

QUESTION: Good.

MR. VENTRELL: -- just doing a little reorganization, but I’m down here.

QUESTION: Lots to tell us.

MR. VENTRELL: I have lots to tell you. Okay. I’ll turn it over to all of you. I don't have anything at the top.

QUESTION: Can we start with Iran? What can you tell us on the – about the conclusion of the P5+1 talks?

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Brad. So I do have some details from our team in Almaty from today. Talks have included – have concluded after a second day. Talks began today with a bilateral meeting between Lady Ashton and Mr. Jalili, followed by a plenary session of about 90 minutes. The talks were useful. They reviewed the P5+1’s proposed concrete confidence-building measures, steps which could pave the way for negotiations leading to a longer-term comprehensive agreement.

So – and there was quick agreement at the end of the session on the Iranian part to meet next at the experts level on March 18th in Istanbul and to have a follow-on political directors meeting with Iran back in Almaty from April 5th to 6th. So that’s sort of the broad overview of what happened in Almaty today.

QUESTION: So this session was mainly you and your partners presenting your offer to the Iranians, not so much the Iranians coming back with counter negotiations or any proposals of their own?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I can’t really characterize the Iranian side of it, other than to say that they’ve made some characterizations of the meeting. But the bottom line is that we presented our proposal, which we said was an updated and serious proposal. They’re going to have to take it back. They were interested in our ideas, and they’ve got to make a choice. And time will tell if they’re going to come back and take some of these confidence-building measures on their part so the diplomacy can continue.

QUESTION: And then just lastly, you – well, from this podium we’ve heard many times, and from the Secretary, I think even from the President, how the United States is not interested in talks for talks’ sake. What happened in this meeting beyond the concrete result that you agreed to have more talks that led you to believe this process was different than all the previous ones before?

MR. VENTRELL: We presented --

QUESTION: Not what you’ve done.

MR. VENTRELL: Right. We presented a new --

QUESTION: Because the onus wasn’t on you, as far as I understood.

MR. VENTRELL: The onus is absolutely on Iran. We presented our proposal, and what we need to do is now get the traction so that we can get the initial concrete, confidence-building steps from Iran. So the process will continue, but we have to see how it’s going to play out over the coming weeks. But we welcome that Iran was interested in our ideas, is going to come back to the table here, and we’d like to see them take some of the concrete steps they need to come in line with the international community’s concerns.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: And come in line with their obligations, quite frankly.

QUESTION: But there’s nothing yet from Iran that signifies a break or a rupture from their previous practice beyond being receptive to your ideas?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, there weren’t any sort of immediate breakthroughs or sudden agreement. This was a chance for us to – these talks hadn’t happened in some significant time. We sat back down at the table and we will see what happens here at the follow-on talks, first at the technical level, where we can flesh out – and it’s really at the technical level where we can flesh out exactly what we expect. They know what we expect, but where we can flesh this out in great detail, and again, where they can have their technical experts take a look before the next political directors --

QUESTION: You characterized it as useful. Are you able to sort of say a bit more in detail what the atmosphere was like in the talks?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think I really want to characterize it beyond that. The Iranians may have made a characterization themselves. But we thought it was useful. It focused entirely on the – our nuclear – our concerns about their nuclear program. That was the totality of the conversation, was all on that business.

QUESTION: And what about – you mentioned confidence-building measures. Are these from both sides or just from Iran? And what sorts of things would you be looking for?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we have a proposal, a serious updated proposal, on the table. But it would require them to also take some of their reciprocal steps to build confidence that they are taking, in a systematic way, the steps that are necessary to come in line with their international obligations.

QUESTION: And such steps being halting uranium production or enrichment?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, I’m not going to list them out one by one. But they know what they need to do to come in compliance with Security Council Resolutions, with their IAEA obligations, and to come clean about their nuclear program. But what these talks are designed to do is have diplomacy is to provide the way forward where we can make, step by step, a process for them to get to that point.

QUESTION: Did you bring to their attention this latest report that – about the Arak heavy water plant, which apparently may be beginning to try and produce plutonium?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure if the Arak heavy water reactor came up specifically. It’s something that the IAEA Director General has noted in several reports. It is a – its operation is a blatant violation of Iran’s obligations under Security Council Resolutions. So you know broadly speaking, we want them to come into compliance with everything. I’m not sure if this particular aspect came up.

QUESTION: And just how worrying is this report that this plant might be going operational?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, this report on Arak, the heavy water reactor, it’s – the water reactor is not even operational at this point. So it is a violation, but this is not something that’s operational or being used.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Samir.

QUESTION: Was there any bilateral meetings? Did Under Secretary Sherman meet with any of the Iranians?

MR. VENTRELL: We did not have a bilateral meeting. You know where we are on bilateral diplomacy. Since the President has been in office, we’ve said we’re open to bilateral diplomacy with Iran in the context of the P5+1. You heard the Secretary talk about that a little bit. But at this particular meeting, we didn’t have a bilateral meeting. The Iranians know how this work – both sides know how this works, that bilateral diplomacy is an option. I think some of the sides did. I believe there was a bilat with the Brits and the EU, as I mentioned earlier.

So – but the P5+1, the bottom line is we’re very unified. We’re absolutely together as a group. And so to the extent there are one-on-one meetings, we stay together as a group in the P5+1 format in terms of sharing information.

QUESTION: Does it mean that Iranian side didn’t reply to that – your request to have a bilateral meeting?

MR. VENTRELL: Well --

QUESTION: Last week, Ms. Nuland said she didn’t get any response from the Iranians.

MR. VENTRELL: I wouldn’t characterize it as a request. At all of these talks, the way that it works is you have the P5+1 partners, we’re there, we’re available. Sometimes there’s a pull-aside for a bilat, sometimes there isn’t. In this case, we didn’t have one.

QUESTION: Were there other topics raised? Because at one point there was a suggestion that the Iranians wanted to have other issues drawn into these talks such as Syria, such as the Arab-Israeli question and stuff like that. Was --

MR. VENTRELL: No. As I mentioned, it was all the nuclear program.

QUESTION: It was just nuclear? Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: On Iran, sir. What is the U.S. level of satisfaction of the talks or the Iranians’ response and the concerns that you have raised? And did they also give you a kind of wish list of the things that they want you to do?

MR. VENTRELL: Beyond saying they’re useful and the description – I’ve tried to give you as much detail as I can – I’m not going to get into the details of the diplomacy. We need to give diplomacy the time to work, and it’s not useful to the process to give detailed, specific reports of what’s on the table on each side. But I think the broad overview that I gave you at the beginning really outlines how the process worked, the kind of things that we’re talking about.

QUESTION: There’s a bill in the House today about tightening sanctions on Iran, which also would suggest that they want to see the Iran Revolutionary Guard designated as a terror – a Foreign Terrorist Organization, which I believe is within the State Department’s purview, isn’t it?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re aware of that new proposed legislation in Congress, and we’re going to continue to work with them on all sanctions legislation. I don’t have a particular update for you other than we’re aware of it and we continue to be in dialogue with the Congress.

QUESTION: But designating a group a Foreign Terrorist Organization is usually done by the State Department.

MR. VENTRELL: We do designate Foreign Terrorist Organizations, yes.

QUESTION: Are you reviewing the IRGC currently?

MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to look into that. I’m pretty sure we have a significant number of them designated, but I’ll have to get an update for you.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: I’m just not aware.

QUESTION: New topic?

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Still on Iran but slightly different. Pakistan’s President Zardari is in Iran, and they are going ahead with this Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline. Do you have anything to say on this? I know in the past U.S. has expressed concern over that.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Toria talked a bit about this last week. We recognize that Pakistan has significant energy requirements, but we really think there are other long-term solutions to Pakistan’s energy needs, and so we’ve been assisting as a government to contribute to the alleviation of the energy crisis in Pakistan. And so we made it clear to our interlocutors, for instance, that we – it’s in their best interest to avoid any sanctionable activity. And we think that we provide and are providing the Pakistani Government and people a better way to meet their energy needs in some of the assistance we’re providing.

QUESTION: Now that they are going ahead, they are in the final stages of going ahead with this project, do you think now that this is a sanctionable activity which could impose sanctions on Pakistan?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to speculate on that, but we watch all sanctionable activity very closely.

QUESTION: How are we helping them with their energy needs? You said something --

MR. VENTRELL: This is something Toria talked about last week, but I can give you some examples. We contribute to the alleviation of the energy crisis in Pakistan by supporting large-scale energy projects, including one that’ll add 900 megawatts to the power grid by 2013. That’s going to help supply electricity to an estimated 2 million Pakistanis. So we do have some bilateral assistance which we think is useful and helpful in that regard.

Jo.

QUESTION: Would just building the pipeline actually violate sanctions?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure; I’m going to have to look into that. We look at all sanctionable activity closely. It’s hard for me to make a determination on that, but let me look into it, Jo.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Samir.

QUESTION: Last Friday, Victoria said that the State Department will discuss with the Israeli Government their awarding a license to an American-based energy company to explore oil or gas in the Golan Heights.

MR. VENTRELL: I remember that, yeah.

QUESTION: Did you get anything? Did you talk with the Israelis about it?

MR. VENTRELL: I know it’s something we’ve raised. I don’t have a readout for you of what we’ve heard back from the Israelis, but I’ll endeavor to get that for you, Samir.

QUESTION: Did you raise it with the Israelis?

MR. VENTRELL: Yes, we have raised it with the Israelis, but I’ll have to endeavor to get you a readout of where we stand on that issue.

QUESTION: Are there any issues --

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: -- because of the Golan Heights’s complicated territorial issues, for American companies to work there? Are there any – is there any red tape they have to go through with the State Department, with others in the U.S. Government?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware in terms of sanctions. Clearly, there are some security issues.

QUESTION: Not sanctions, but there’s questions over who has the jurisdiction over certain territory.

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: The United States doesn’t recognize Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights, does it?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, it’s a very complicated legal scenario we have here. I’d have to get the lawyers to give me a full readout on where we stand on the Golan Heights. Suffice it to say there’s a major security issue right now because we have violence spilling over the border as well. But I’d be happy to look in and get --

QUESTION: When you have greater clarity on his question, maybe you can look at that one as well.

MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to, Brad.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Lavrov-Kerry meeting, I was wondering if you could say whether they discussed missile defense, if any progress has been made in narrowing the differences and breaking the current impasse on the dialogue, bilateral dialogue in this sphere.

MR. VENTRELL: Dimitri, we put out a readout last night, which I’d be happy to get to you, about the bilateral meeting. You know where we are on missile defense cooperation with Russia. It’s an important area that we continue to raise with our Russian counterparts. But I really don’t have anything for you on the meeting beyond the readout we put out last night about that bilateral meeting.

Again, it was about an hour and 45 minutes. It dealt primarily with Syria – was the key issue.

QUESTION: Foreign Minister Lavrov has come out and said that the Syrian regime has appointed its negotiating team. Are you aware of that, and could you give us some details about that?

And then, similarly on the other side, he was calling for the opposition to appoint their own negotiating team. Are you involved? Would you be involved with that? And do you have information on that?

MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that. But here’s we are. You guys asked a little bit about negotiations yesterday. And so I talked a little bit about how SOC President al-Khatib has made the courageous stand that he’s willing to talk with certain conditions. We obviously want to get to a political solution, because through dialogue and through a transition is the easiest way to stop the violence. And so that would be a good thing if we can get to that dialogue. The regime certainly hasn’t shown the kind of indications on the ground that it’s willing to talk when you have them raining SCUDs down on cities and indiscriminately slaughtering people.

But we’re obviously very supportive of the political transition process. We thought it was courageous that President al-Khatib was willing to extend a hand. And as you heard Secretary Kerry say today, what we’re really looking for is how to expedite a political transition and end the suffering of the Syrian people. So we’ve been clear that the process has to include Assad leaving, but it’s really up to the Syrian people as they determine what the best way is for these negotiations to happen.

QUESTION: So if they appointed a – if the regime has appointed a negotiating team, that is presumably a step forward?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, that’s something we said that they should do. I hadn’t seen that report, but it’s something that we’ve called for.

QUESTION: This is from Lavrov, so, I mean, it’s not from the Syrian Government itself, but --

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. I hadn’t seen that report, but again, that’s something that we’ve long encouraged.

QUESTION: And can I raise – I don’t know how much you’re going to be able to tell us about this, the report that was – that’s floating around in some of the media today about the further steps that the United States Government might be prepared to take in terms of providing perhaps body armor and armored vehicles to the opposition?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, first, before we get to that, Jo, I just want to go back and reiterate for those of you who haven’t seen what Secretary Kerry said in France today departing – before he departed for Rome where he’ll have these meetings that have been talked about.

What he said our goal in this meeting is is to seek advice on how we can accelerate the prospects of a political solution; that’s the best path to peace and change. And second, it’s really about how we can work with the SOC to better meet the needs of the Syrian people. So those are our broad goals.

In terms of where we’re going to be on our assistance, what kind of dialogue and discussion is going to happen about how we can accelerate that change, how we can better meet the needs of the SOC, we’ve really got to give the diplomacy a little bit of breathing room here as the talks play out in Rome. So that’s why they’re --

QUESTION: Can we expect something in Rome? Do you think there’s going to be an announcement?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t want to preview anything other than to say that we’re looking at all ways that we can accelerate our assistance to the opposition, that we can accelerate this political transition, and really – this is something that’s going to be a major part of our discussion, is how we can do that.

QUESTION: And has the opposition managed to convince you, I suppose, of its unity and its seriousness on the ground in such a way as to allow – we talked about this yesterday – in such a way as to allow the United States now to directly start funneling aid to the opposition so that they can --

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: -- get it out to people who need it?

MR. VENTRELL: They’re getting more organized. They’re in the spaces, as I said yesterday, that they’ve been able to control. They are helping to get the governing institutions up and running. We want to help them as they maintain the institutions of the state that are necessary. We’re talking about basic services – water, electricity – but also build up new institutions in terms of governance, rule of law, police. So really, there’s a lot on the agenda here and we think that they’ve made significant progress. We’re going to continue to work on it and really accelerate that assistance.

And so part of the whole point of this meeting is to sit down with them, hear their needs, hear the progress they’ve made, have our partners at the same table who are also willing and looking at what they can do to up their assistance. And it’s really an important meeting to sort of bring that all together.

QUESTION: So many of the objections that we saw from the United States a couple of months ago have been alleviated in the last couple months as they’ve been working together?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, this is over time. They are obviously getting more organized. As I said yesterday, we’re not at a point where they’re sort of a government in exile or anything of that nature. But we see them as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. We worked very hard to get them better coordinated also inside of Syria. That’s what some of our nonlethal assistance was doing, and so they’re making progress. That’s how I’d characterize it.

QUESTION: So you said that what you’re doing in Rome is going to be to accelerate efforts toward a political progress, not to essentially get to it immediately. I guess that’s a recognition that things aren’t that rosy when it comes to that effort and it might take a process to get to that. Is that correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, there’s separate tracks. I mean, one is – and we’ve said part of our strategy is to hasten the end of the Assad regime. And so we’re working with the opposition in that regard. Having said that, we’ve also said that the best way to end the violence is through a negotiated solution. So to the extent that that’s possible, we of course would welcome it. If there’s a negotiating team that’s out there that legitimately represents the regime and is willing to come to the table, that’s a good thing. But at the same time that they’re raining down SCUDs and haven’t been in communication through the Joint Special Representative, we haven’t sort of been able to assess that as credible to this point.

QUESTION: But this isn’t your ace in the hole, what you’re playing in Rome tomorrow. You’re looking at gradual, kind of modest increases in aid or in scope of aid. So would the U.S. consider future steps if the war drags on, if Assad regime doesn’t cease to exist, as you hope?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think I’m going to characterize it further. I mean, we’ll continue to see how this goes and see what we can do right now.

Okay. Other topics? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. May I circle back to the P5+1 talks with Iran?

MR. VENTRELL: Tell me who you’re with.

QUESTION: I’m David Ivanovich with Argus Media.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: There’s a report out of Almaty quoting a U.S. official saying that two of the key sanctions provisions, oil and the financial sanctions, were not on the table in Almaty, were never part of the discussions. Can you confirm that?

MR. VENTRELL: As I think I said earlier, I’m not going to get into the details of what was in our proposal, nor some of the steps we’re looking for the Iranians to take to build confidence. I don’t think getting into that level of diplomacy here is helpful.

QUESTION: Do you have – Peru?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure, Jo. Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have an update on the couple who were missing yesterday at all?

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Jo. I think I do.

QUESTION: We – the AFP was reporting through police sources in Lima that they’re on a 50-day boat trip up to Ecuador, and that the Embassy had been informed now of their presence.

MR. VENTRELL: So what I can tell you right now, Jo, is that we’ve seen these reports that the missing U.S. citizens in Peru have been located. So we’re working with local authorities to confirm these reports, but at this point we’re not able to confirm it.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: Obviously, good news if they’ve been located, but we’re still working on it.

QUESTION: Do you have any comments on Yemen? President Saleh made a big public appearance – former President Saleh – today. And he also spoke about not looking to the past but looking to the future, which is convenient when he got an immunity deal for everything that happened during his past. What do you make of the comments, and do you see him playing a positive role in the future? Are you still concerned about him standing in the way of progress there?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, first of all, let me say at the top, Brad, that the U.S. Government remains committed to supporting President Hadi, the National Consensus Government, and the ongoing political transition in Yemen. You know how much progress they’ve made dismantling decades of authoritarian rule. You know they have a dialogue coming up that we want to be inclusive, transparent, and constructive. That’s slated to begin on March 18th. But we’re continuing to encourage all parties to play a productive role in Yemen’s political transition for the benefit of the Yemeni people.

QUESTION: So that includes future political ambitions of President – former President Saleh and his loyalists, family members, assorted coterie?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I don’t think I’m going to characterize the speech beyond that, but you heard what I said. We encourage all Yemeni parties to play a productive role in Yemen’s political transition. So that would include everyone.

QUESTION: Okay. And then --

MR. VENTRELL: Brad, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to wrap up my Middle East tour.

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: We had an interview today with Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki and he spoke about if Syria falls, his country would be the next to face serious war and that al-Qaida would find a new haven in the region. Do you share his concerns, and what conversations are you having with Iraq about their concerns regarding Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ve seen you guys’ – I’ve seen the article that the AP published. I’ve seen some of those comments. I would obviously refer you all to President[1] Maliki for further explanation.

But from the U.S. vantage point, we’ve been clear about the negative influence, our concern about some extremist elements in the opposition, for instance, that we’re very concerned about. So there are people who are trying to seek to foment violence in Syria. Their – these countries’ histories are intertwined, and so we have concerns about sectarian violence in Iraq as well. So again beyond seeing the initial article you all published – I haven’t seen the entirety of the remarks – but we do have concerns about the spillover between the two countries, and we’re doing our best to support a unified, democratic, stable Iraq, and that’s what all of our diplomatic efforts are designed to do in Iraq.

QUESTION: How do you convince the Iraqi Government that a change from the Assad regime would be, in fact, beneficial to his country and stability in the region?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, you’ve heard some of their previous statements about wanting the dictatorship to end in Syria, but all the neighbors are concerned about the spillover. And so we’re doing everything we can, as I said before, to hasten the day – the end of the Assad regime so that we can have a new, free, prosperous Syria. That would be good for Iraq. But it’s – there’s no doubt that there are concerns from Syrians who are on the fence; there are concerns from Iraqis. The violence in Syria’s been horrific, and we’re doing everything we can to end that violence and provide a future that’s more stable for Syria – and that would include – and would be more stable for Iraq as well. Okay?

Lalit.

QUESTION: I have one question on sequestration.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you know what kind of impact this would have on U.S. visa issuing process, especially in countries like China, India, and Brazil where you offer – issue thousands of visas every day? Do you know how much delay it’s going to put on the impact immediately from next week onwards? Are you cutting down the number of (inaudible) that you have on the consulates in these countries?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, as you know, what sequestration would do to the State Department budget and all of our accounts is cut them by a fair percentage point, and so that affects all accounts. But one of the things we are very concerned about is we’ve done – we’ve had a huge influx of hiring of new consulate officers we sent out to hotspots like India, China, Brazil, where you have lots of middle class folks who are trying to come to the U.S. for the first time and visit and spend their money. It’s good for the American economy. And so we are concerned that if sequestration happens, we could have major setbacks in really the herculean effort we’ve made to reduce wait times. I can – Lalit, I can look for India specifically, but also for Brazil and China afterward, but we’re talking about wait times that have gone from hundreds of days down to a couple of days for people to come visit the U.S. And every one of those folks is coming to spend their money here in our economy, and so we do have some significant concerns.

QUESTION: So this will again increase the wait time?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, it’s impossible to say exactly how it would impact in each individual country. And indeed, as we get closer to this, I’ll see what more I can provide for you on sequester would impact this Department, but there’s no doubt in my mind and those who look at this closely that one of the areas that there’ll be an impact on, obviously, is our ability provide consular services. And so we’re concerned about that and it took a lot of effort to get us to reduce those wait times, and a lot of new hiring, a lot of new staff.

QUESTION: Would it be possible to have some figures on how many visas are issued on a daily or monthly basis, particularly those three countries, the big population countries?

MR. VENTRELL: Absolutely. We’ll get that to you after the briefing, for anybody who’s interested.

QUESTION: I have a question on food aid.

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: There’s been some grumbling from agri-business and there’s also been some comments from charities – food NGOs – that the Administration is considering a significant change in how it delivers food aid. Do you have any information on this?

MR. VENTRELL: Brad, I don’t. I’d really have to coordinate, especially with my USAID colleagues, on food aid. But I will look into it and get you something absolutely for tomorrow.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Again, on the Fatima in Pakistan. The question that I asked yesterday is: Has the State Department reached out to them in any way to try to get them to stop what they were doing over the past many months?

MR. VENTRELL: Did we reach out to the company?

QUESTION: Fatima. Yeah.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay, so first of all, you’re Jake from FoxNews, is that correct?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Welcome, Jake. I know you’re a new face in the room, so welcome.

Let me take this a step back and tell the story a little bit, and then try to endeavor to answer your question. First of all, for us at the State Department, working to save the lives of our forces in Afghanistan by addressing the threats of IEDs has been and continues to be a critical priority for us in our discussions with Pakistan. We’ve been clear that Pakistan, both the government and industry, must do more to prevent the flow of calcium ammonium nitrate into Afghanistan. We agree with some of our DOD colleagues that there’s been some recent progress with Fatima and greater cooperation between that company and the government – and greater cooperation between us and the Government of Pakistan in this regard. But it’s something that we’ve been working on for some time. We’d like to see some further concrete action.

With regard to the specific company, and I believe you’re talking about their desire to open a plant in Indiana --

QUESTION: And that’s one of the questions, yes.

MR. VENTRELL: -- that was not something that was a discussion between our Department and the state of Indiana. That was a decision of the state of Indiana.

QUESTION: Right, but you have been in touch with – directly with the company or directly with the Pakistanis in the past about trying to get them to stop doing what they were doing? I mean, what I’m saying here is that Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter said recently, in this case, it seems like the State Department completely failed. Not only was his company, Fatima, able to still ship calcium ammonium nitrate to make bombs across the border into Afghanistan, but they were almost getting ready to take advantage of taxpayer subsidies in Indiana.

Now, I know the Indiana part is – you have nothing to do with that. But do you – what do you – what is your reaction to his statement there?

MR. VENTRELL: I think it’s what I said at the top, is that this has been a top priority for us. We’ve been clear that Pakistan must do more. We’ve seen some initial progress. And it’s something that’s really at the top of our agenda. I’d refer you to – you know where we’ve been on our relationship with Pakistan, some of the difficulties we’ve had. But as we got our working groups back up and going as our relationship got back on track, one of the top things, one of the top working groups we got going again was this IED working group. And so we’ve made some progress. Our DOD colleagues have talked about some of that progress. But we’ll continue to work on it, okay?

One more.

QUESTION: Hamid Dal-Akma (inaudible) with Al-Arabiya.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: France is planning to create a beyond-the-horizon force in order to make rapid and quick military operations in Mali. Meanwhile, the U.S. has deployed some forces in Niger to set up a base for U.S. drones. Do you – can you share with us any information about any coordination between the United States and France? And also, does this have any relation with the possibility of transferring the headquarters of AFRICOM from Germany to one of the African countries in order to battle the influence of al-Qaida in the region?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, first, anything about AFRICOM’s location, I’d refer you to DOD. That’s absolutely a DOD issue.

First of all, on Mali, you saw the Secretary today where he commended the leadership France has demonstrated and talked about how we’ll continue to support our ally with intelligence, lift, and other needs. We are working as a government, the U.S., to support the African-led mission. We’ve given some $96 million – excuse me, let me correct that – we have $96 million that we’ve obligated, of which we’ve spent – let me get this right – we’ve obligated $40 million and we’re about to notify an additional $51 million, and then another $5 million for foreign police units.

So, again, we have some significant financial assistance that we’re giving to this mission, and we’ve got a shared goal with our French ally. You know this was absolutely a discussion that the Secretary had with his counterpart in France today.

In terms of what you’re talking about, in terms of the location of this new – of military forces in Niger, I refer you to DOD. That’s something for them. But the other thing I’d highlight about what the Secretary said on Mali today, he talked about the security cooperation, but I also really highlight for you his message on the need to get Mali back on track democratically, and to get their institutions back on track, to get their rule of law back on track.

And so we’ll continue to support the security track, but Mali also needs to restore its capacity for justice, and it’s just as important for them to work on these important matters of democracy and institutions.

So, okay? Anything else, guys? Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:54 p.m.)
DPB#34


[1] Prime Minister

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - February 27, 2013]