Patrick Ventrell
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
February 28, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • SYRIA
    • Secretary Kerry's Announcement of Additional U.S. Nonlethal Support for the SOC / Reports of Massacre
  • D.P.R.K.
    • Dennis Rodman / North Korea's Provocative Actions
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Issue of Sequester
  • SYRIA
    • Assad Regime / Opposition Coalition Reports a Massacre in Maalikiyah
  • EGYPT
    • U.S. Encourages All Political Parties and Individuals to Participate in the Elections
  • BALKANS
    • International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY)
  • TURKEY
    • Reports of Turkish National Police Action against al-Qaida
  • DEPARTMENT
    • U.S. Visa Processing / Sequestration
  • ITALY
    • Secretary Kerry's Travel to Rome
  • SRI LANKA
    • UN Human Rights Report, Human Rights Watch
  • DEPARTMENT
    • Assistant Secretary Posner To Depart March 8th


TRANSCRIPT:

1:05 p.m. EST

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Welcome. Happy Thursday. I will turn it over to all of you.

Brad.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about – first, can you just read out what Senator – Secretary Kerry announced today, and if you have a more precise breakdown on the 60 million?

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Brad, for the question. As you know, Secretary Kerry today in Rome announced that we are now providing over $110 million in nonlethal support for the SOC to assist the opposition councils and civil society inside liberated areas of Syria. As you know, the United States has recognized the SOC as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. Significantly, the Secretary also announced the United States would extend the provision of food rations and medical kits to the Supreme Military Council as well in order to feed those in need and tend to the sick and wounded. So it’s $60 million in new nonlethal assistance. We also, as you know, have $385 million of humanitarian assistance in a separate pot.

While we’re on Syria --

QUESTION: Just before we get to that.

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So the $110 million includes the $60 million in nonlethal, and $50 million of what?

MR. VENTRELL: It’s a little bit of over $50 million in nonlethal that we had already been spending. So as you know, we had $50 million and then --

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Sorry, so you’re giving the total, okay.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, but now we’re up to $110 million.

QUESTION: And within that nonlethal, can you say how much of it is going to medical supplies, how much is going to training, how much to governance programs, what – et cetera?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a precise breakdown for you yet. But I believe that --

QUESTION: Do you have a rough breakdown?

MR. VENTRELL: I believe that it’s been read out to the traveling party a little bit, if I can get that to you later today.

QUESTION: So that total is $495 million total with humanitarian plus nonlethal?

MR. VENTRELL: 385 plus 110.

So while we’re on Syria, let me just say this for a second: I did want to highlight for all of you that the opposition has notified us of some very credible reporting of another massacre. Seventy-two bodies discovered in the city of Maalikiyah, west of the Al-Shifa, the area of Al-Shifa near Aleppo. They were identified Wednesday evening. So this is another sign of horrific violence that the opposition has reported. And we continue to see Scuds in the area of Aleppo. That has not ceased, so the violence continues.

QUESTION: So, I’m sorry, going back to the $60 million and the breakdown, is all $60 million going to the vetted members of the FSA, or is that 60 million being split up between the political opposition and the military opposition?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, this is nonlethal assistance, broadly speaking. I don’t have a breakdown for you right now, but I will.

QUESTION: Right. But the new news is that the nonlethal assistance is now going to the military, to members of the military wing. So if that’s the new news, the breakdown’s kind of important.

QUESTION: The new $60 million. That’s what we need to break down.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. So let --

QUESTION: Right. We need to break down how much is going to the two vetted rebel fighters and how much is just going to the political opposition that we’ve already been helping.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Let me see if I can endeavor to get you a breakdown. I don’t have it here right at this second.

QUESTION: I have a question on the humanitarian, okay?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: So you say that the money, this new $60 million, part of it is nonlethal aid that’s going to the armed opposition – food, medical supplies to treat the wounded.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Now, how do you make the differentiation between nonlethal aid and humanitarian aid? Because some humanitarian aid experts are saying that this type of aid – food, medical supplies – this is humanitarian aid and this should be kind of – be going to everybody. It shouldn’t be selective, and it is nonpolitical.

MR. VENTRELL: Right. There are just – there’s two separate types of money here. You have the $385 million that’s money that’s distributed through aid networks. It’s nonpolitical. It’s nonpartisan. It goes to all those in need. But what we’re really doing, the significance of what the Secretary said today, is we’re accelerating the nonlethal assistance, and that is to bolster the opposition, that is to bolster their position, that is to help hasten the end of this regime. And so that’s really where the significant --

QUESTION: But it’s of a humanitarian nature, though. That’s --

MR. VENTRELL: It can be of different natures. It can be --

QUESTION: Weren’t we already giving $50 million to them, though?

MR. VENTRELL: We were giving some equipment, we were giving other things, but it can be used. Part of what’s significant about this is that the opposition is going to be able to spend – they’re going to have more direction over how they deliver assistance in terms of setting up governing structures, in terms of buying what they need to make governorates function, if that --

QUESTION: I’m just confused over – if you’re giving – okay, so you’ve used $385 million. My understanding is that now, when you announced new humanitarian aid, it’s going to go through this opposition entity. Is that right?

MR. VENTRELL: There’s still two separate pots. You have – we will still continue to spend money through aid organizations to feed any Syrian that needs it. And some of that has crossed rebel lines between the rebel and regime lines, and some of that has gone into areas that are still held by the regime. It’s going to all Syrians who are in need, and there’s many, in all parts of the country. And that’s reaching all 14 governorates.

Separately, and apart from that, what we’re trying to do is accelerate the opposition’s ability to govern the space that they have. And so part of what we’re doing is working with the opposition coalition as they build that up.

QUESTION: So wait, wait, wait, just --

QUESTION: So all $60 million is going towards the Syrian – through – sorry, Brad – via the Syrian --

MR. VENTRELL: Guys, listen.

QUESTION: No, but you’re confusing things because – what? People are getting confused because you’re talking about food aid in the humanitarian, and when we’re talking nonlethal aid with food rations you’re talking about things like ready-made meals, right? Troop meals, the things we give U.S. soldiers. Is that correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Listen, guys. Let me say this.

QUESTION: Well, no, no. I’m just trying to save you the confusion --

MR. VENTRELL: I know you’re trying to clarify.

QUESTION: -- because people think that’s aid and they don’t understand why that’s called nonlethal assistance.

MR. VENTRELL: Let me clarify a little bit. First of all, the Secretary read out this announcement. We’ve done some briefing to the press to clarify this out on the road. Clearly, this is with the road team that’s done some of the explaining of this. To the extent that I can bring back to you all some more details and even an expert --

QUESTION: Well, can we get that transcript?

MR. VENTRELL: -- and potentially some experts also to read this out in great detail – it’s complicated how this all works. Let’s do that. I want to answer --

QUESTION: Whoa, whoa.

QUESTION: One more quick question about the $60 million. You said they’re going to have more of a say over how that’s spent. So then are we going to be buying the supplies and giving to them? Or is the $60 million going to be in terms of direct cash?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m really not prepared to get into that level of detail today. The Secretary made his announcement. We’ve read this out in Rome. I’m here to answer some of your other questions today, so I’m happy to answer other questions.

QUESTION: I have --

QUESTION: We’re offering training. Is it a Pentagon project, or –

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have more details for you all today. Let’s stay in touch as we’re able to give you more clarity.

QUESTION: But just a basic breakdown for what’s going to the military, to the FSA, would be really good, because I think, like, that’s what the news is.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. I hear what you guys are all interested in. I’ll endeavor to get you more information. Okay.

QUESTION: On Dennis Rodman in North Korea --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Oh, I have another Syria.

QUESTION: Oh, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I mean – sorry. It’s not to do with the aid. It’s the fact that the – there was supposed to be a meeting of the SOC on Saturday in Istanbul at which it was hoped that they were going to name a prime minister and maybe a government. That’s now been delayed, and could be possibly canceled. And the explanation we’ve been given is it might be linked to the U.S.-Russia idea of trying to get together a – sort of the talks that might be happening in Russia at some point. Have you been made aware of this? And what is your comment on it?

MR. VENTRELL: Jo, I don’t have any information on that one way or another. I hadn’t heard that. So I’ll have to look into it.

Elise, over to North Korea.

QUESTION: Dennis Rodman --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know what you said the other day, that you didn’t have a position. But now he was seen at a basketball game with – sitting next to Kim Jung-Il and said to the public --

QUESTION: Un.

QUESTION: -- that he has a friend for life. And I’m wondering if you think this type of a U.S. celebrity, a kind of – albeit a D-list one, but, pumping up the leader of North Korea is helpful.

MR. VENTRELL: Elise, we talked about this the other day. Really, we just take no position on this private --

QUESTION: But you didn’t take a position because more – you said that it was more about this – it was for kids, this was about helping kids enjoy basketball. He was the one – I mean, it’s more than that now. It’s – now it’s – he’s cozying up with the leader.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look. I really refer you to – we don’t have any details on all aspects of his trip. We weren’t in touch with him before on who all they were going to meet with. It’s not something we’ve taken a position on. We have not been in touch with them at all throughout this process.

QUESTION: But do you in general appreciate Americans being part of propaganda ploys for the North Korean regime?

MR. VENTRELL: Private individual Americans are welcome to take actions they see fit.

QUESTION: And you have no qualms whatsoever about being put up as a kind of poster for North Korean propaganda?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look. We just don’t take a position. This is a private American’s travel.

QUESTION: You mean what you said – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: He’s not a private --

QUESTION: Because on Tuesday what you said was we’re talking about basketball and kids play; it’s different than some sort of dialogue directly with the regime. And now Dennis Rodman is the first American citizen to meet with Kim Jong-un. So clearly he’s having a dialogue with the regime, no? You still have no position?

MR. VENTRELL: Honestly, I’m not sure exactly what the extent of his meetings were or weren’t. Did they meet on the sideline of a basketball game? Did they shake hands? I’m not sure because --

QUESTION: They spoke.

MR. VENTRELL: Or they spoke for a couple of minutes. We don’t know because, other than you all maybe making reports in the news, we haven’t been in touch with them. So we haven’t been in touch with this party at all.

QUESTION: Well, that’s convenient because you’re not trying to get in touch with them. So that means you would never, ever have to answer any questions on this, according to your own logic somehow?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, we’ve said that if they’re Americans --

QUESTION: Just hear nothing, say nothing, see nothing?

MR. VENTRELL: If there are Americans who after traveling in North Korea want to get in touch with us or have something to share with us, we take the phone calls.

QUESTION: This is a country that just detonated a nuclear bomb, and the amount of effort you’re showing is incredibly lax. I mean, you’re saying that somebody who’s been – who’s spoken to the leader of this country, you’ll make no effort whatsoever to reach him, but if he wants to come and talk to you, then maybe you’ll pick up the phone call. Is that the level --

MR. VENTRELL: A couple things here, Brad.

QUESTION: -- of North Korean engagement right now?

MR. VENTRELL: A couple things here, Brad. First of all, we’re not a clearinghouse for American citizen travel to North Korea. There are some Americans who go there. We as a State Department provide our country-specific travel information. That’s the role we take.

When it comes to the situation in terms of the North Korean nuclear program, the North Korean ballistic missile program, we absolutely do take and do have a very strong stand, and we’re working with our counterparts in the UN on a strong resolution in response. And so we absolutely are concerned about the situation and take it very seriously. One individual’s travel is just something we’re not going to take a position on.

QUESTION: Do you think it’s helpful to the human rights issues? I mean, VICE has put out a whole press statement saying that they’ve had dinner with the supreme leader, that he’s a friend for life at the --

MR. VENTRELL: Our concern is that the regime spends money on this kind of entertainment and not on feeding its own people. So to that extent, if it’s a human rights issue, yes, we want the regime to feed its own people, to take care of them, absolutely.

QUESTION: If Bill Richardson had declared himself a friend for life with Kim Jong-un, would you – would the reaction be different?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, I wouldn’t speculate on what --

QUESTION: Do you think you’ll have a response when the documentary airs in April?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to speculate. We just haven’t had contact with him. We don’t know exactly the details of the trip.

QUESTION: Do you think that Kim Jong’s appreciation to American culture, like basketball or Disney, have any sort of impact on U.S.-D.P.R.K. relations?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think we’d try to get inside of his head, other than to say that --

QUESTION: Nor will you try.

QUESTION: Continue?

MR. VENTRELL: Nor would – look, the point is they continue to take provocative actions. They have under the previous leadership, and they continue to do so. So that’s where our concern is with the regime, and we’ll continue to work with our partners on a credible, strong response.

QUESTION: Can you say --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: -- when was the last time --

MR. VENTRELL: Guys, one at a time.

QUESTION: When was the last time anyone in this building spoke to anyone who had spoken to Kim Jong-un?

MR. VENTRELL: When was the last time anyone in this building had spoken to anyone who had spoken to Kim Jong?

QUESTION: Yeah. Because since – considering you’re not even trying to find out what they might have talked about, what he could learn, what he saw, what he heard, you must have an incredible wealth of knowledge on Kim Jong-un.

MR. VENTRELL: Look, you know where we are right now in terms of the provocative action, and that’s why we’re working with our international partners. We have had --

QUESTION: Provocative action meaning a nuclear test?

MR. VENTRELL: The nuclear test and the ballistic missile program. We have had a channel of communication with the regime, but the point here is right now what we’re doing is we’re working with our partners to have a credible response. This is – that’s the stage we’re at in our relationship with North Korea.

QUESTION: So you haven’t in a while? Is that the point?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to characterize it one way or the other.

QUESTION: Why don’t you like to say nuclear test? You just keep calling it a provocative action. It’s not just you; it’s the whole Administration. You don’t say “nuclear test.” They say, “Yes, we note that North Korea took a provocative action.” But it’s a nuclear test. It’s much more than a provocative action.

MR. VENTRELL: What I’m not sure, Elise, is if we’ve released or had any further – right when this incident happened, there was some information released by ODNI and some other assessments of what we technically thought happened. Now, here at the State Department, we wouldn’t be the right address for --

QUESTION: Well, could you take the question of whether you believe that it’s a nuclear test or not?

MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to look into it here from the State Department. I’m not sure that we’re the department that would answer that. But I will look into it, Elise.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about the sequester?

QUESTION: Can I follow on North Korea?

MR. VENTRELL: All right. One more North Korea.

QUESTION: Would you say this trip to North Korea – Dennis Rodman’s trip to North Korea is a good way to influence North Korea by your soft power, which the government always talking about?

MR. VENTRELL: Look. This was an – absolutely a private trip by a private individual. We have done various forms of diplomacy to connect the people of different – of countries with whom we don’t have a good relationship. We have no ill will toward the people of North Korea, just as we have no ill will toward the people of Iran. And so we have had, over time, diplomacy that we’ve done to, quite frankly, connect people in some of these countries. But this was a private – this was something that was a private --

QUESTION: Last trip.

QUESTION: Just one last thing for clarification.

MR. VENTRELL: Last one on this one, guys.

QUESTION: Do you still believe that Eric Schmidt’s trip was unhelpful in light of Dennis Rodman’s not being unhelpful?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we characterized it at the time and --

QUESTION: Do you stick by that, or do you take that back?

MR. VENTRELL: Look. Here we had a prominent former official and the head of a major American company, a former Cabinet member, going off specifically to have dialogue with the regime. It’s just comparing apples and oranges. We thought that was unhelpful in the context of what they had just done with the missile test. One basketball player, a couple basketball players – it’s just apples and oranges, guys. And so I’m not going to characterize it further.

QUESTION: Can I --

QUESTION: One more --

MR. VENTRELL: Goyal, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just quick one.

MR. VENTRELL: Sure, Goyal.

QUESTION: As far as North Korea’s nuclear program is concerned, you calling – in even Iran’s. Where is China now? Is with the U.S. or with the international community, or still supporting the North Korea?

MR. VENTRELL: We talked about this earlier in the week, Goyal, that we continue to work with the Chinese. Obviously, I refer you to them for their position, but – (phone ringing)

QUESTION: Sorry about that.

MR. VENTRELL: Looks like Marisa is calling. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Hi, Marisa.

MR. VENTRELL: So you know where we are on this with – continue the talks with the Chinese. I’ll let them characterize their position. But our diplomacy continues both in New York and the capital.

QUESTION: A related --

QUESTION: Can I ask about the sequester, please?

QUESTION: A related, to --

MR. VENTRELL: One more related, and then we’ll do the sequester.

QUESTION: Yes. The next Chinese Foreign Minister could be Wang Yi, who is a former head of the Chinese Six-Party Talks.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I wonder, do you have anything on that? And then where we are regarding a new resolution in UN.

MR. VENTRELL: I really refer you to the Chinese on their answer on all politics and personnel. In terms of where they are on the resolution, we continue to work with them. I don’t have an update.

QUESTION: It’s just really quick --

MR. VENTRELL: Sequester.

QUESTION: Yes. Just on the timing. Yesterday the White House said that it begins at midnight tomorrow. This morning the Pentagon said it begins at midnight tonight. What is the State Department’s understanding of when the sequester actually comes into effect?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I really refer you to OMB. I don’t know --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: -- if this building has a different clock than any other building.

QUESTION: When do you start cutting programs and money? Is that – because there is, like, a time that it will go into effect, right?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look. As we get closer to this --

QUESTION: If we – it’s --

MR. VENTRELL: To the extent that we can give you some more information about the impact --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. VENTRELL: I’ve already talked to you, and Toria’s talked to you about some of the dire consequences for our national security in terms of the significant cuts which were across the board, across accounts. Quite frankly, I’d have to get you guys a budget expert on background to explain technically how the movement of money works and how the actual accounts work. But we’ve been very clear about our concerns about – and you heard Secretary Kerry from the very beginning, his first speech here in the U.S., talk about his concerns about the importance of what, relatively for our Department is a very small, a little over 1 percent of the budget being --

QUESTION: Will employees --

MR. VENTRELL: -- our foreign affairs – our foreign affairs budget.

QUESTION: Are employees in this building going to be furloughed?

MR. VENTRELL: We can’t rule that out at this point. But I don’t have any information one way or another for you on that.

QUESTION: Is the Syria aid that you just announced sequester-proof?

MR. VENTRELL: This comes from money that has already been programmed, is my understanding. So – but again, I’d have to look into that exactly. But I believe it’s previous monies that we had.

QUESTION: Well, no, but – I mean, there has been previous Syrian aid that’s been programmed.

MR. VENTRELL: Guys, I’d have to look into that.

QUESTION: Can you check specific --

MR. VENTRELL: Let me check specifically. The bottom line is that it cuts all accounts. You guys know how complex the budget is. You know how complex it is in terms of when things are disbursed on which fiscal year. I need a budget wonk to explain some of this (inaudible).

QUESTION: But technically, I think, by law you could take from one country and give it to another, in a less-priority area.

MR. VENTRELL: There are some ways to reprogram funds. But again, as we get a little closer, let me see if I can get you an expert so we can get you the best information.

QUESTION: Could we go back to Syria? Did the Secretary agree with Mr. Lavrov about the coming meeting for the working group on Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware one way or another on that detail. We put out a readout of the meeting with Lavrov, but beyond what we put out, I just don’t have any more information for you, Samir.

QUESTION: And your position, does it agree with the President of the Syrian Opposition al-Khatib on when Assad should leave, before the negotiations? Or do you accommodate the Russian position on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Look. Here’s what our position is, is that the regime has yet to put forward a serious and credible negotiating team. They’ve yet to be in touch through Brahimi on this. In terms of when Assad should go, we said he should go now. And the opposition has been clear that he needs to leave as well. I really refer you to them for their characterization of it. But we’ve long said --

QUESTION: This --

QUESTION: Can we come back to the massacre?

QUESTION: -- massacre?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m sorry.

MR. VENTRELL: Let’s go back quickly. Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: There are some columnists in the Arab press saying that Secretary Kerry is adopting the Russian plan on Assad. What do you say to them?

MR. VENTRELL: I haven’t seen those reports. I wouldn’t characterize it that way.

QUESTION: This massacre – what other details can you provide? How were they killed, what’s the evidence that you’ve seen?

QUESTION: And could spell this? It’s M-A-L-I-K-A?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. I’d be happy to get anybody who’s interested this release that the opposition made. They spelled – the name of the city is M – it’s Maalikiyah. M-a-a-l-i-k-i-y-a-h. I’m looking at Samir because he’d probably have --

QUESTION: Maalikiyah.

MR. VENTRELL: Maalikiyah. There’s the correct pronunciation for you. So --

QUESTION: So this is an official release they’ve posted not just to you but to --

MR. VENTRELL: The Syrian Opposition Coalition.

QUESTION: They posted this.

MR. VENTRELL: So --

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: But have you gotten more than this release information from them? Have you substantiated by yourself?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re in touch with them. Let me see if I can find out --

QUESTION: Because you said “very credible” information or something of the sort.

QUESTION: “Very credible reporting.”

MR. VENTRELL: Right. And this was because the opposition felt that it was significant enough to make an official release --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. VENTRELL: -- on behalf of them, and so --

QUESTION: But what --

MR. VENTRELL: -- they felt it was critical. Let me see if we’ve been back in touch with them --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. VENTRELL: -- to follow up on more information.

QUESTION: Surely you have a basis to declare very credible --

MR. VENTRELL: Let me see what --

QUESTION: -- than the masthead.

MR. VENTRELL: Let me see what more conversation we’ve had with them on it.

QUESTION: Patrick, I wanted to ask about what changed the U.S.'s calculations in deciding to suddenly – or to now go ahead and supply aid directly to the Syrian opposition.

MR. VENTRELL: Look, we’ve continued to increase our support to the Syrian opposition over time. I really refer you to the Secretary’s remarks, which were very clear and comprehensive today in Rome.

QUESTION: Was there a fear behind it, perhaps, that the extremist elements within the Syrian opposition are perhaps coming to the fore and you wanted to give the remaining elements of the Syrian opposition a more credible basis with their own people?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, this is in line with what we’ve long been saying is that we need to accelerate the transition and increase the assistance to – the opposition needs to be able to govern the space that they hold, and so this is part of our effort to help them do that.

QUESTION: But this doesn’t help do that. This just helps them protect themselves better, but it doesn’t help them – it doesn’t do anything to help them secure the space or – it just helps them eat and --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. VENTRELL: Guys, I think what I said – I’ve said what I can on this today. But when we’re able to provide you with a little bit more granularity about how some of these new monies are going to work and give you a more precise readout, we’ll continue to do that. I just don’t have anything more for you today.

QUESTION: And I wanted to make the comparison with Libya because you also provided nonlethal aid to Libya as well, but you gave them sort of like bulletproof vests and some of this body armor stuff, which hasn’t appeared today. When do you think that’s going to become part of the package that you might be able to give to the Syrian opposition?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, we just made a significant announcement today. I don’t have anything further for you.

QUESTION: The Egyptian --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, Egypt.

QUESTION: Yes --

QUESTION: Still on topic? I know you’ll get us the breakdown later on Syria --

MR. VENTRELL: Yes.

QUESTION: -- with the aid, but can you get into a little bit of when it’s going to start to take effect, and distribution, and who’s going to do it, and who do you give the aid to to --

MR. VENTRELL: Those aren’t the kind of details I have to read out to you today, but as we have more information to share, we will.

QUESTION: Yes. The main opposition coalition announced that it’s going to boycott the elections. Do you have any reaction to that before going Secretary of State group?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, of course, you saw the President – the readout of the President’s call with President Morsy earlier. And what the U.S. position is, is that we encourage all political parties and individuals with an interest in representing the Egyptian people to participate in elections. So we think successful parliamentary elections will allow another opportunity for Egyptians to participate in the democratic process and have their voices heard. And so we continue to encourage not only participation but people to get out and vote as well.

QUESTION: But the whole idea, I mean, they already read this principled attitude and already it was related to the different situation but different visions or the – in the formula in which they are going to participate. I mean, as a matter of fact, election is not just ballots; it’s many things together. So do you have any kind of reaction to what they are saying that if – just expecting that they are going to participate?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, these are decisions for Egyptians to decide. You’ve heard Toria talk about this extensively. I’ve talked about it a little bit. We’re not – it’s not our position one way or another to say how the system should work, other than that we want free, fair, open elections and as many parties to participate as can and for as many people to get out and vote.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, two days ago when you say similar words – not you personally, I mean from the podium – said – they said if – is this the democracy that they are trying to impose on us? The coalition people simply considering this as a U.S. interference in even tipping this side or that side. Do you have any --

MR. VENTRELL: You know what our broad position is on Egypt: We want a prosperous, democratic future for the Egyptian people where all universal human rights are respected for Egyptians of all different faiths, men and women alike. And so that’s the broad framework we’re working with with Egypt, and the United States doesn’t take a position one way or another on who should govern Egypt. We don’t pick leaders one way or another. What we really do is we work to help this democratic transition along, and that includes economic assistance, that includes advice as institutions are built up, rule of law, that kind of training and assistance.

Samir.

QUESTION: The Russian – Mr. Bogdanov, the Deputy Foreign Minister, said that they are willing to host an international conference to aid the Syrian refugees. Will you participate in something like this?

MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t seen that at all, Samir.

QUESTION: Can we change the topic, ICTY? Today, Hague Tribunal acquitted Serbian General Momcilo Perisic. And actually, this is like fourth acquittal verdict in last three months after two Croatian generals and former Kosovo prime minister. And there are voices in former Yugoslavia right now that nobody is found guilty for the war crimes. Do you have any comment and do you have – do you think that justice is served with the sentence today – with the verdict today?

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks for the question. We note the judgment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and we respect the ruling of the tribunal. The United States has been and remains a steadfast supporter of the ICTY and its critically important work.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on --

QUESTION: You have no opinion on it?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, this is – it has to be an independent judicial process, and so we respect the ruling of the tribunal. We regularly cooperated with the ICTY. But these judges examine each case on their own facts and merit and not on the basis of political or other considerations. There have been some significant convictions. But one way or another, commenting on the judicial process, we have to respect --

QUESTION: But the ruling is done, right?

MR. VENTRELL: So we have to respect the ruling of the tribunal.

QUESTION: Right. You can say that – do you think that the proceedings were handled in a fair and accountable way? Do you think that --

QUESTION: -- justice was --

QUESTION: -- justice was served?

MR. VENTRELL: We’ve been longstanding supporters of the ICTY. We’ve had longstanding cooperation. This ruling just came out today. We respect the ruling of the tribunal. And we continue to – we’ve long cooperated with the ICTY.

QUESTION: Do you have anything on these reports out of Turkey about police – Turkish police detaining 11 people suspected of al-Qaida links and seized 55 pounds of plastic explosives, and they had charts of the U.S. consulate? Are you aware of it? Do you – what do you have on it?

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Jake. We are aware of press reports on Turkish national police actions in Istanbul against al-Qaida. We have been in communication with the Turkish government and the national police. The investigation is ongoing. And so for further information, I refer you to the Turkish authorities.

QUESTION: Can we go quickly back to sequestration cuts? If Secretary --

MR. VENTRELL: Go back to what, Goyal?

QUESTION: On the sequestration or the cuts.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: If it takes place tomorrow night, 11:59, is that many countries depends on the U.S. And Secretary is being in touch with some of those countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan or even India, many other countries, depending on some aids?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, Goyal, we’re not there yet. We’ve said that this would have an impact on all of our accounts. And when we have more information about how and where, we’ll be in a position to read that out. You’ve been very patient.

QUESTION: Well, on that, you sent out an email today regarding the U.S. visa processing.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Will the sequestration affect your plan to expanding the facilities overseas?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, as I mentioned – and we talked quite a bit about this today and how the budget will be impacted – the point is we’re not at a point yet where we can say exactly what officer won’t be here doing this work. We’re not able to do that.

But let me give a broad sweep overview of where we are on visas. We had some questions yesterday about visa processing. Just to give you guys an idea of what we’ve done in the past two years, in Brazil, we had in Fiscal Year 2010, 540,00 visa interviews; and in Fiscal Year 2011, 791,000; and then in Fiscal Year 2012, over a million visa interviews. So that’s fairly close to a doubling of the number of visa interviews we did in one year. We put out a fact sheet last night that had the reduce in wait times. So not only did we nearly double the number, for example in Brazil, of visa interviews that we were doing, we reduced the wait times at the same time.

In China, Fiscal Year 2010, 650,000 interviews; Fiscal Year 2011, 885,000 interviews; Fiscal Year 2012, 1.2 million interviews. So you can imagine just in Brazil and China. Even in India, we’ve gone – a more modest increase, but we’ve gone from 473,000 up to 508,000 interviews a year. So --

QUESTION: So are you able to say that sequestration threatens that progress? And then how much does it threaten that progress?

MR. VENTRELL: It’s – we’re not, at this point, able to quantify it exactly, but what we are able to say is that we’ve had a significant surge in hiring. We’ve made some really impressive gains that are good for the American people. You’ve had something like --

QUESTION: You could say that it threatens it though.

QUESTION: But then doesn’t it.

QUESTION: The Secretary of State said it two months ago.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Look, sequestration threatens all of our operations because it cuts across the board. And so the point being we’ve had a huge consular surge, it’s been good for the American economy. We estimate that for every 65 visitors to the U.S., that creates one American job. And obviously sequestration has a broader impact on our ability at all of our operations and our posts. And so one of the areas that we’ve particularly had a surge in hiring is on visa adjudicators, and sequestration certainly could have an impact in that regard.

QUESTION: Is that investment in the U.S. from different countries, like especially from India, will affect?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I’m not sure in terms of investment coming in. We’re talking about sort of the money that tourists spend while they’re here, Goyal.

Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the Pope?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure, Jo.

QUESTION: I saw statements that the Secretary put out yesterday. I guess there’s no plans for Secretary Kerry to meet with the Pope while he’s in Rome at the same time, I take it?

MR. VENTRELL: Indeed, they were not able to meet. Just to give you – hold on one second. So just to let you know that the Secretary was not able to meet with the outgoing Pope on this trip. He didn’t want to place any additional burdens on Pope Benedict or his advisers in the final days of his pontificate. So you saw the Secretary’s statement, obviously, wishing him well.

In terms of our relationship with the Holy See, at the Department of State we focus on shared common interests in our relationship, including advancing peace, justice, and human dignity around the globe. But the Secretary, due to the burden that could cause to his staff or – didn’t – they weren’t able to meet in this last day. The Secretary will, of course, be departing Italy shortly en route to Turkey.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on human rights. The UN Human Rights Report and also Human Rights Watch, they are accusing Sri Lanka as far as not taking steps against the minorities or for their welfare. Does U.S. agree with that? Because Sri Lanka denies all these reports and all.

MR. VENTRELL: So we’re reviewing this lengthy and extensive report. I understand we just got it a day or so ago. But we do note our strong concern about human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka. And to date, the Government of Sri Lanka has not initiated a full, credible, or independent investigation into longstanding allegations of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, including sexual assault. So we’re reviewing this particular report, but you know where we’ve been in terms of human rights in Sri Lanka and our really deep concerns.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: A related question on human rights: Do you have any personnel announcement on Michael Posner, the Assistant Secretary for Human Right Issues?

QUESTION: (Off-mike) come out today that he’s joining NYU?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Indeed, hold on one second here. So, yes, I can confirm for you that Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Michael Posner will depart his post on March 8th, 2013. He’ll join NYU Stern School of Business to establish a new center for business and human rights. And Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Uzra Zeya will be Acting Assistant Secretary until a successor is designated. So we wish him well and appreciate his service, and I know NYU’s put out a little bit more information about --

QUESTION: I have one more personnel issue as well.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: There are reports out there that Caroline Kennedy’s going to be the next Ambassador to Tokyo. Can you comment?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ve got nothing for you on that. Refer you to the White House on personnel. Thanks.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:40 p.m.)

DPB # 35

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - February 28, 2013]