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


Index for Today's Briefing
  • SYRIA
    • Assad Regime / Syrian Opposition Coalition / Arab League / Coordination / U.S. Assistance / Extremist Elements
    • International Nonproliferation Concerns
  • NORTH KOREA
    • DPRK Rhetoric / Threats / Communication Channels
    • International Obligations
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Concern for Palestinian People / Humanitarian Needs
  • CHINA
    • China's Military Developments / Free Flow of Commerce
  • BURMA
    • Communal Unrest / Condolences
  • SYRIA
    • UN Fact Finding Mission on Chemical Weapons / Russian Involvement in Investigation
  • HONDURAS
    • U.S. Assistance / Vetting
  • UNITED NATIONS
    • Arms Treaty / Ongoing Diplomacy


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

12:55 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Happy Wednesday. Welcome to the State Department. I’ve got nothing at the top, so over to all of you.

Brad.

QUESTION: You have nothing on this momentous day?

MR. VENTRELL: Jo.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say about the – Assad’s appeal to the BRIC nations? How do you view this?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, let me just say, Brad, that really what this highlights is the overwhelming isolation of the Assad regime. You see them sort of flailing for any last shred of support they can garner, which is very limited. And that stands in contrast, obviously, to the Syrian Opposition Coalition’s participation in the Arab League Summit where they took the historic decision to seat the Opposition Coalition, which really shows their region-wide support. So that really sort of stands in sharp contrast.

QUESTION: Have you had any contact with the BRICSs regarding how they’re going to address or not address this appeal for support?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I’m not aware that we’ve been in touch with them as a bloc. We obviously have relationships with those countries individually, but not that I’m aware of. But it just really underlines how isolated he is.

QUESTION: What’s your reaction to the Russian and the Iranian criticism to the Arab League for giving the seat of the government to the opposition?

MR. VENTRELL: This was really an Arab League decision, and they made the decision very clearly. And we really support efforts to enhance the coalition’s engagement with the international community. We think it’s a good thing.

QUESTION: When it comes to the private meetings that Secretary Kerry had with Foreign Minister Fabius today, the French foreign ministry said that discussions are ongoing within the context of the EU to try to find a way to lift the arms embargo in order to help the opposition. Did the Secretary reiterate his position and the country’s position that arming the opposition is not productive towards finding a solution to the crisis in Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Roz, actually the Secretary has spoken about this more recently than that where we’ve been very clear that we’ve made our own national decisions, and others will make their national decisions. You’re right that the Secretary finished his meetings in Paris. He’s en route home after a successful trip and will be back to Washington later this afternoon.

QUESTION: Was there any sense that the French were trying to put pressure on the Americans to change their tactics in the way that the U.S. is assisting the opposition?

MR. VENTRELL: This is really about coordinating effectively together. And so we bring substantial support to bear in terms of our support for the Syrian Opposition Council in terms of their ability to govern space. You know that this new Prime Minister Hitto is going to be filling out a cabinet, is going to be working on technical assistance, he’s going to be working very hard to bring governance to bear in newly liberated areas of Syria. So that’s the direction forward. Our tens of millions of dollars of assistance goes in that direction, and we work with others like the French, like the Brits, Turkey; there’s many countries that are involved who have a role to play, and we’re working to coordinate our efforts together.

QUESTION: Is that still the U.S. position, that providing weapons to – or providing military support is unhelpful? Do you have a position at all on military support?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, our position, Brad, is that the surest and fastest way to end this conflict is through a negotiated political settlement and – under the Geneva agreement, and that’s really the best route forward.

QUESTION: But does the U.S. have a position at all anymore on weapons, whether it’s helpful or unhelpful? We heard a long time that it was unhelpful. Does the U.S. think that it’s helpful or unhelpful at all anymore?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think we’re characterizing it one way or the other, other than to say that we’ve made our decision about our nonlethal assistance, and others are making their decisions.

QUESTION: Right. When did that change happen? When did we decide it was no longer unhelpful?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, these are citizens who are having SCUDs rain down on their heads and literally being slaughtered by their own regime.

QUESTION: Right.

MR. VENTRELL: And so obviously civilian protection is something that’s being taken into account. It’s – for us, we consistently evaluate whatever available practical and responsible means can end the suffering of the Syrian people. So civilian protection is a top priority, but we continue to coordinate with our allies and partners and to increase pressure on the regime. But we do so within the context of our international nonproliferation concerns as well.

QUESTION: I just wanted to know when – there was this line that had been used for at least a year, let’s say, that providing weapons would only further militarize the situation. And then at some point it got dropped.

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure I would draw a line in the sand so much. It’s an evolving situation on the ground.

QUESTION: But when did that happen? When did this decision take place that you would no longer say further militarizing the situation would be unhelpful?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, I’m not sure I can pinpoint or draw a line in the sand, but what I can say is that we do remain that a political solution is still the best way to end this conflict.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. VENTRELL: Jo. One at a time. Jo.

QUESTION: Can I ask whether Ambassador Ford has managed to hook up yet with Mr. Khatib and what your understanding of his status is?

MR. VENTRELL: I actually wasn’t able to reach Ambassador Ford this morning to get a status check on whether they’ve been able to communicate. So I don’t have an update this morning for you.

QUESTION: So you still don’t know whether Mr. Khatib is planning to stay on or not?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update for you. I mean, I really refer you to him about his plans in terms of he was there, he led the delegation, and he’s been a very courageous leader. But I really refer you to him for his plans.

QUESTION: Patrick.

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Do you have a list of who’s who among the militant groups? I mean, are you keeping a tally of, let’s say, Jabhat al-Nusrah, (inaudible)? God knows, I mean, maybe a hundred or two hundred others, and so on.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, Said, we said that we’ve been watching extremist activity very closely. That’s why we designated al-Nusrah, and so we keep a very close eye on it.

QUESTION: No, but you always – I mean, the general paradigm is that you want to know – or you want to ensure that arms do not fall in the wrong hands. Do you have a list to determine whether this is the right hand or the wrong hand?

MR. VENTRELL: We very carefully monitor extremist elements, and we’re very careful about empowering the opposition that wants a free, unified, democratic Syria and empowering those who have the positive message, the vision of a tolerant and inclusive Syria. And so absolutely everything we do is about helping and assisting those who have that vision of a tolerant, inclusive Syria and sidelining those who don’t. I’m not going to get into the details of all of our vetting in terms of our assistance, but we’ve sent a very clear message.

QUESTION: And in response to Brad’s question, you said that you still believe that the Geneva points are the right way to go, correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Said, it’s been –

QUESTION: The Geneva points –

MR. VENTRELL: -- our longstanding policy that a negotiated political settlement under the Geneva framework is the surest and quickest way to end the violence and also to preserve the institutions of the state so that the day after – that’s one of our deepest concerns is that the day after they’ll be able to deliver services.

QUESTION: So you are consistent or you agree with the statement that came out today from the BRICS countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa – that under no circumstances should military aid be sent to the opposition?

MR. VENTRELL: I haven’t seen the BRIC statement, so I really can’t characterize it one way or another. I heard your characterization, but I haven’t seen it.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the weapons point?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Steven Heydemann of the U.S. Institute for Peace said that the situation with weapons inside Syria is that you just don’t have organized governments providing weapons, but that you also have private people, particularly in the GCC nations, that are paying for weapons and arranging to have them shipped to various parts of the armed opposition. What can you tell us about these private individuals, and is it conceivable that as there is more of this coordination that you just described that the private sourcing of weapons can be dried up?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t really have any information for you on that, Roz, other than to say that we make clear with our partners that we want to increase the pressure but that we do so in a responsible framework that takes into account international nonproliferation concerns. But beyond that, I don’t have any information.

QUESTION: Patrick, has anyone – has any American been able to see General Riad al-Asaad, the head of the Free Syria Army that lost his leg a couple days ago in an assassination attempt?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that we’ve been in to see him. I know that he was recuperating in Turkey, but I’m not aware that we’ve been in to see him or had contact with him since then.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Other topics? Jill?

QUESTION: Could we put in a request that if Ambassador Ford is in town sometime that we could get a briefing with him?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll look into it.

QUESTION: He is in town, isn’t he?

QUESTION: I mean, he’s around a lot.

QUESTION: He’s just not --

QUESTION: Could he talk to us, wherever he is?

MR. VENTRELL: He has a very busy schedule. He’s been on the Hill testifying and other things --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. VENTRELL: -- but I’ll see what we can do. Okay, in the back.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: North Korea announced that it cut its last military hotline with Seoul, so do you have any concern that may cause some misunderstandings that will lead to some conflicts?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, you heard my statement yesterday that North Korea’s bellicose rhetoric and threats follow a pattern designed to raise tension and intimidate others, and we think their latest threat to cut off communication links coupled with its provocative rhetoric is not constructive to ensuring peace and stability on the peninsula. So that’s really our position.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: In concrete terms, though, what does this mean if they’re cut off the military hotline?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure, (inaudible) that I have an analysis of which all the hotlines are. We ourselves have a way of communicating with the North Koreans and a channel for doing so, but in terms of these sort of – I’d refer you to DOD on military-to-military.

QUESTION: And your channel of communication is still in place, is it?

MR. VENTRELL: It’s still in place.

QUESTION: And just on North Korea, can I continue?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: There’s a Chinese border province, Jilin, has announced plans to increase transport and trade links with North Korea. I wonder what the United States position might be on that.

MR. VENTRELL: This is a private company, you’re saying, or --

QUESTION: No, it’s Jilin province is going to boost its transport and trade links. Notably it’s going to speed up construction of an express railway between the cities of Chongjin to – into North Korea.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. So I’m not aware of a specific provincial government decision, but we make clear to the Chinese central government repeatedly our concerns about North Korea and they know our position.

QUESTION: And this would seem to flout the sanctions that are being put into place.

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware of sort of what sanctions that may implicate, but we make our concerns clear to the central government.

QUESTION: Still on North Korea?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: I understand the U.S. position as reiterated just now and what you said yesterday.

MR. VENTRELL: Yes.

QUESTION: It doesn’t seem like that’s going to change anytime soon. So basically, is the United States waiting until North Korea blinks first?

MR. VENTRELL: No, I mean, our policy is clear. We remain prepared to engage constructively with North Korea, but North Korea must live up to its commitments, adhere to its international obligations, deal peacefully with its neighbors, and refrain from this provocative action. So that’s --

QUESTION: And a follow-up on that. In your consultations about what to do about North Korea with your partners in Japan and South Korea, are they just content to kind of toe the same line as you, or are they asking you to do more, either sanctions or otherwise?

MR. VENTRELL: We remain in close contact with our allies in the region. And as I said yesterday, we’re fully capable of defending ourself and also of our allies. So we’re committed to the protection of our allies and we stay in close consultation.

QUESTION: North Korea?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. U.S. Government have been saying that North Korea should be back to the table with the (inaudible). So what is the criteria they should have, like the joint statement 2005 or the agreement between U.S. last February?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, clearly they need to – and we’ve talked about the joint statement from 2005 – that they need to come into compliance with that. Those are their commitments and they need to come into compliance with their international obligations.

QUESTION: On South China Sea?

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead. South China Sea.

QUESTION: On the incident that happened yesterday between China and Vietnam, you said you were seeking more information.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any further information on what happened? Have you spoken to the Chinese or the Vietnamese about this?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, really, other than to say that, as I said yesterday, we’re concerned about the reports of an incident between a Chinese vessel and a Vietnamese fishing boat and we’re discussing these reports with Chinese and Vietnamese officials. But I don’t have an update for you.

QUESTION: Change topics?

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: Does that mean you have discussed or you plan on discussing?

MR. VENTRELL: We are in the process of discussing this --

QUESTION: What does that mean? Have you spoken to people? I mean --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, we’re in contact with them and – but I don’t have an update for you.

Said.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Palestinian issue?

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: The Arab Summit yesterday allocated $1 billion designated to preserve the Arab/Islamic character of East Jerusalem. Is that something that you support?

MR. VENTRELL: Hold on one second here, Said. We’re aware that the Qatari Emir has called for the establishment of a $1 billion fund to help Palestinians in East Jerusalem, but we’ve only just seen the reports about the proposed funding so we’re seeking more information at this time.

QUESTION: But you see this as a step to help the Palestinians move forward?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re aware of the report and we’re seeking more information, but I don’t have a --

QUESTION: I have a --

MR. VENTRELL: -- reaction for you.

QUESTION: -- couple of other issues on the Palestinians. Abbas and Erdogan, they’re trying to make a trip to Gaza for conciliatory talks with Hamas. Is that something that the United States will look at favorably?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, I think you asked about this yesterday or another colleague did, and I talked about it. I mean, let me just say to start off that we share the international community’s deep concern for the welfare of the Palestinian people, including those residing in Gaza. So we again urge all those wishing to provide international humanitarian support to Gaza to do so through established channels to ensure that the Palestinians’ humanitarian needs and Israel’s legitimate security needs are both met.

So I really refer you to the Government of Turkey for more information on Prime Minister Erdogan’s travel, but you know where we are on this. You know where we are in terms of Hamas, which has not changed, and our opposition to engagement with Hamas.

QUESTION: And lastly --

QUESTION: So it’s just --

QUESTION: -- the new housing --

QUESTION: -- that you’re not happy with Erdogan – Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit if you want to go – if all aid has to go through established channels, then the flip side of that is that you’re not really very happy at the idea of an individual visit to Gaza.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I characterize it as that we share the deep concern. We really refer you to the Government of Turkey for more travel, and I think I was pretty clear.

QUESTION: And finally, I have a question about settlements because the new housing minister is a settler, Mr. Ariel, and he was appointed on the 15th of March, and on the 22nd of March while the President was there, they actually confiscated 3,000 meters of land belonging to a Palestinian to expand a settlement. Is that like a good start? Do you look at this? Did you issue a statement against the expansion of settlements and so on in the last week since the President --

MR. VENTRELL: Could you repeat the first part of your question, Said?

QUESTION: The first part – the first decision by the new housing minister was to confiscate 3,000 meters, which is about one acre of land, belonging to a Palestinian farmer.

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware of this report about the one acre of land. I’d have to look into it.

Okay.

QUESTION: I have one, back to the South China Sea.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: You said yesterday you tried to get more information from both side, Vietnam and China. Did you contact with Chinese – to both governments yesterday?

MR. VENTRELL: With the Chinese Government yesterday?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. VENTRELL: We have been in touch.

QUESTION: And so Chinese Government denied that they – they said they did not shoot against the Vietnamese vessels. How is your recognition of this case?

MR. VENTRELL: Like I said, we’re discussing this with both sides. I don’t have additional information for you.

Jo.

QUESTION: Can I ask on Burma? Sorry.

QUESTION: I just have one more follow-up. Do you have any sense of whether this was in international waters?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure about the location of it. That’s why we’re seeking additional information to get clarity.

QUESTION: Is this issue going to be discussed between Secretary Kerry and the Chinese counterpart in his trip?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, this is a trip that’s still a number of days away, so we’re raising it through diplomatic channels.

Brad.

QUESTION: On a related topic, do you have a comment on Chinese military exercises in – I think it’s close to the Malaysian coast?

MR. VENTRELL: Other than to say, Brad, that we continue to carefully monitor China’s military developments and encourage them to exhibit greater transparency, we want them to use their military capabilities in a manner conducive to the maintenance of peace and stability in the Asian Pacific region. But in terms of the specific exercise, I don’t really have a specific comment about it today.

QUESTION: You don’t have opposition in principle to China or anyone else conducting naval exercises in someone else’s exclusive economic zone?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, you know what our broad principles are on the South China Sea. You know where we are in terms of the ability to have free flow of commerce and for things to be resolved diplomatically, and that’s really the most important thing.

QUESTION: On this, actually, I don’t know. I don’t – I mean, do you – is it a problem or not to – I don’t know – to have – to do naval exercises in someone else’s – not in their international – not in their national waters, but in their exclusive economic zone, the 200-mile area?

MR. VENTRELL: Right. I’d have to check into that, Brad. I’m not sure about the exclusive economic zone. You know what our broad principles are, but I’d have to check on that.

QUESTION: On Burma?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Following the days of violence, there was a big military parade today to celebrate Armed Forces Day that was joined by Aung San Suu Kyi. I wondered if the United States thought it was appropriate to have a big show of military force at this point and when tensions are obviously escalating in the country.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Well, first, let me talk about the communal violence, and then we can get to the more specific point. But we do remain deeply concerned about the communal unrest in central Burma. We have reports overnight of another mosque and a number of homes that were burned in the town of Nattalin, approximately 90 miles north of Rangoon. So we do express our deep condolences to those affected.

What we are urging Burmese authorities to do is to restore order and maintain peace in a manner that respects human rights and due processes of law, and to provide all necessary assistance to internally displaced people. So that’s really the appropriate role for the military. This is an ethnically diverse country. We’re encouraging a move toward a pluralistic, tolerant society, but in terms of the role of the military, obviously they’re going through a transition and this is something that’s still being worked on. But to the extent that they’re able to restore order, that’s a positive thing.

QUESTION: But a show of military force then is not that appropriate in these times – in these troubled times for Burma?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’m not really reacting one way or another to the specific military exercise or parade as it were but to say that, to the extent that the Burmese military has helped restore security to affected areas, that’s a good thing. And clearly the transition is a work in progress, and they’re still working through some of these issues as they – clearly they’re becoming – they’ve had a historic opening and become increasingly under civilian rule.

QUESTION: I believe Aung San Suu Kyi’s coming under some criticism for her rapprochement, if you’d like, with the military. Do you think it’s a good sign or a bad sign that she joined in this parade – or she was – not joined, but in, but she was physically present at the parade or watched it?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I didn’t comment on the parade specifically, so I don’t know if the presence of Aung San Suu Kyi would – I’m not going to – if I hadn’t commented already on the parade, I’m not going to comment on her presence, other than to say that she is a political leader now in the legislative process and continues to exercise her role consistent with that.

QUESTION: So there’s no comment on the military parade at all then? It’s not --

MR. VENTRELL: Really don’t have any reaction for you about the specific parade.

QUESTION: -- the United States is worried about it, or they’re not --

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a specific reaction for you, one way or another.

QUESTION: Can I ask something on Syria --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- that I forgot to ask earlier?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on the UN investigation in the United States role in providing assistance to the – this is on chemical weapons, sorry --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- the UN investigation and how the U.S. is going to aid that investigation?

MR. VENTRELL: So just to note that the Secretary General announced yesterday that he’s appointed a head of the UN fact-finding mission. He’s a diplomat from Sweden, I believe. So we’re pleased to see the UN is moving forward to work out the details, which demonstrates the importance the UN is placing on the investigation. As you know, Brad, we support an investigation that pursues any and all credible allegations into the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. We demand the full cooperation of the Assad regime, in particular, as well as Syrian authorities throughout the country. So we want them to have full, unfettered access to all relevant individuals and locations. But --

QUESTION: What does any and all credible – I don’t think you guys have determined if any of them are credible or not, correct? Or have you?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, look, the point is that they need to be able to – there were competing claims that need to be --

QUESTION: So any allegations, not credible or not, because you – I don’t think the U.S. has said whether any of them – I think you dismissed all the regime ones as non-credible, but you haven’t said that the rebel claims were credible.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, it’s going to be up to the UN to determine --

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: -- what they think is credible. They’ll have the technical expertise and they’ll go into the country. But the Assad regime can prove that its request for investigation is genuine by fully cooperating with the UN, by providing them with access and security, and allowing the Secretary General’s team to complete their work. Absolutely I think that’s critical.

QUESTION: And just on the U.S. support for that, are you sending personnel? Are you --

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that – if we have U.S. technical – U.S. citizen technical experts on the team. I understand the team is being assembled now, so we often do have U.S. experts on various UN investigatory teams, but I’m not aware. We’d --

QUESTION: Is that something you would support, considering --

MR. VENTRELL: I mean --

QUESTION: I mean, I would figure there’s quite a wealth of technical expertise in this country.

MR. VENTRELL: On – look, on a range of different UN investigations, we routinely offer U.S. experts, private citizens who are U.S. citizens, to provide expertise. I’m not aware in this particular case if we have somebody on the team or --

QUESTION: Are you offering?

MR. VENTRELL: It sounds like it’s being worked out today. So --

QUESTION: Are you offering that though?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware, Brad. I would have to refer that to our U.S. mission at the UN, who’s interacting with the UN on this today.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Patrick, the Russians complained that not including them as part of the investigation team points to some sort of dubious evidence in this case. Do you have any comment on what they said?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, really I refer you to the UN there. They’re working out the composition of the team and --

QUESTION: Do you think that countries like experts from Russia and maybe the United States ought to be involved?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look, there are a number of different countries that offer experts in any UN investigation. That’s a routine and normal thing that happens. I don’t know whether the Russians have particular experts they’re trying to get on this investigatory body, but that’s normal for a variety of countries to offer their experts, and the UN determines the best way forward.

Jill.

QUESTION: Speaking of Russia --

MR. VENTRELL: Jill, go. Yeah.

QUESTION: -- do you know – on Magnistky legislation, do you know if anybody yet has been excluded – any Russians have been excluded from getting visas?

MR. VENTRELL: Jill, I don’t have an update for you on the Magnitsky legislation, but I’m happy to look into that afterward and see if we have an update.

QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you know how that process is going to work? Are you going to make it public the people who will be excluded? Or will it be a surprise when they’re boarding a flight somewhere?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, my understanding is that there’s legislation with a certain number of days to make the determination on the list, but I’ll have to get – check in on that.

QUESTION: I’m just asking about what that’s – if you’re on the list, what is that going to mean? Are you going to be informed? Is that going to be publicly announced? Or are you just going to find out if and when you travel to the wrong place at the right or wrong time?

MR. VENTRELL: Let me check it out Brad.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question on Russia?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about the increased anti-American rhetoric coming out of Russia? I mean, they miss no opportunity to, let’s say, lament what the United States is doing. In fact, they commented on what’s happening at the Supreme Court on the equal marriage act as pointing to the immorality of America and so on. Are you concerned about this kind of inflammatory rhetoric?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, you know where we are in our relationship with Russia. We seek their cooperation in areas of mutual interest while we manage our disagreements and speak frankly and openly about our differences. So I’m not going to react to one allegation or another, but that’s where we are broadly with our relationship with Russia. And we’ve expressed some of our concerns about civil society, and we’ve expressed those concerns clearly as well – civil society in Russia.

QUESTION: Since I brought up the question of same-sex marriage, much was made today after the hearings about the fact that under DOMA, Defense Of Marriage Act, that more than a thousand federal provisions affect what same-sex couples can and cannot do.

Has this building looked at, if the court were to declare DOMA unconstitutional, what sorts of policies regarding international adoptions, visas for travel, for business, for education, what family reunification policies – has this Department looked at what changes it would have to make administratively in order to meet that sort of ruling?

MR. VENTRELL: I’d have to check in with that. Obviously, when we have pending legal decisions or new legislation that involve our operations, we obviously always look into it and see how it affect our operations and we comply with – whether it’s court rulings or new legislation on various issues.

But just to note that former Secretary Clinton during her tenure really made some strides in terms of, for example, the rights of folks who work in this building who are LGTB and their ability to have their partners travel with them as diplomats and fully participate in our community. So there have already been some major strides made in this building in terms of our own personnel that are positive.

QUESTION: As diplomats or as kind of spouses?

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is some of the changes allowed the personnel to travel as part of – officially part of the embassy community and under diplomatic privileges. So some of those changes have already been made administratively here in this own Department.

QUESTION: Quasi – in a manner similar to a spouse?

MR. VENTRELL: That’s my understanding, yes.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you know about foreign diplomats? Do they have the right to bring their same-sex partners as – to the United States with the same privileges?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure, Brad, but I can take the question.

QUESTION: All right.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: Saudi Arabia is trying a dissident, a Shia dissident, after many months in prison, apparently. And there are some people who are calling for his crucifixion; I read this somewhere. Do you have a comment on that? Do you know about the case?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware of the case, Said.

QUESTION: Could you find out and see if you have a position on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Happy to look into it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you have any update on how much aid you guys provide to Honduras in the security sector?

MR. VENTRELL: Honduras. Okay.

QUESTION: Sorry, since --

MR. VENTRELL: So, Brad, you’ve asked about Honduras aid a couple of times this week.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. VENTRELL: So just to update you, through the Central American Regional Security Initiative, colloquially known as CARSI in bureaucratic speak, we provide assistance, training, mentoring, and technical support to the Government of Honduras. We’ve committed some $500 million through CARSI to disrupt criminal networks, build investigative and prosecutorial capacity. And this kind of assistance really is to build up the institutions and help with rule of law, vulnerable communities, at-risk youth.

And so this has been allocated across all seven countries of Central America, but the three northern tier countries, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, receive approximately half of that assistance. In terms of breaking it down by – country by country, this has really been a regional strategy, a regional approach, and so we have not broken the aid down into country-by-country statistics other than to say that the approach really is a regional approach. And so it’s some $500 million.

QUESTION: So that – okay, sorry.

MR. VENTRELL: So for all of Central America it’s $500 million.

QUESTION: Five hundred – half of that goes to the three countries?

MR. VENTRELL: Half of that goes to the three countries in the north.

QUESTION: This is over what period of time? This is 500 million per year?

MR. VENTRELL: 2008 to 2013.

QUESTION: 2008, okay. I’ve got to do some mathematics.

QUESTION: Can I ask a question about the process on the vetting of these funds to various agencies?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: In the case of Honduras, the AP story noted that it was commonly known within Honduras that regardless of what police agency you were discussing, everyone knew both by local practice and by law that the director general was the ultimate supervisor of all of these members of the Honduran National Police.

If it’s that commonly known inside the country, how is it that a decision, one, to cut off funding, and then, two, to reinstate funding and provide the Congressional reassurance, was done without knowing that kind of context? What’s – how thorough is the vetting that’s being done out of this building of these police agencies, and who is their ultimate supervisor?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Roz, you weren’t here the other day. Brad asked about the AP story as well, and I said very clearly that the U.S. undertakes stringent vetting procedures, as required by U.S. law, to ensure U.S. assistance does not go to individuals or units of the Honduran police and military whom there is credible information about linking them to human rights abuses. So we have a process absolutely for complying with all relevant U.S. law, and we’re very vigilant in that.

QUESTION: Is this a rolling vetting process, or is there a period where you look at a given police agency in a given country in that region, and then you say, “Okay, once we’ve met our statutory requirement, there’s a down period,” and then only if there is a concern raised by a member of Congress do we reopen the vetting? How does this actually work? Because when you have someone at the top of the national police who was accused and then acquitted of being engaged in disappearances and targeted killings and alleged ethnic cleansing, it kind of begs the question how thoroughly this building has been doing the vetting.

Or, as some have suggested, was this a situation where perhaps the larger need of trying to deal with the massive amounts of drug trafficking through that country, that a judgment was made that even if this person somehow gets some of the money, we have a much larger national security and public health issue that we have to confront, and that’s why we had to restart the apportioning of this money?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, Roz, I really can’t comment on internal deliberations about all the procedures of the vetting other than to say we’re in close contact with the Congress that funds these various programs, and we’re in constant communication with them about how we do our human rights vetting and stay in close contact with them. But beyond that, I can’t really get into the internal deliberations and procedures.

QUESTION: And why is that?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, part of this is that we comply with Congress’s concern, but we do take – we look at new human rights allegations when they come in. But I’d be happy to look and see if I can get you a technical expert that can explain it in greater detail, but in general we don’t comment on internal deliberations.

Okay?

QUESTION: The arms treaty? The last draft came out. Do you guys have any comment on it?

MR. VENTRELL: Just to say that the diplomacy is ongoing in New York, and you saw Secretary Kerry’s statement on this a week or ten days ago that very clearly laid out the U.S. position. So the diplomacy is ongoing in New York.

Okay?

QUESTION: Some of the NGOs have said that a bad treaty is worse than no treaty. Do you agree with that at all?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, look. You saw the Secretary very clearly lay out the U.S. position, what we’re looking for. This diplomacy is ongoing even in the last couple hours, so I just don’t want to comment on it beyond that.

Okay? Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:28 p.m.)

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