Patrick Ventrell
Acting Deputy Spokesperson
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
May 15, 2013


Index for Today's Briefing
  • RUSSIA
    • Detention of Officer / Meeting with Ambassador McFaul
  • SYRIA
    • Peace Conference
    • Iran's Role in Syria / Friends of Syria Meeting/Syrian Opposition Involvement
  • PHILIPPINES/TAIWAN
    • Death of Taiwanese Fishing boat Master / Ongoing Investigation
  • NIGERIA
    • State of Emergency
  • MALI
    • May 15 Donors Conference / Humanitarian Assistance
  • MIDDLE EAST PEACE
    • Aid to Palestinians
  • JAPAN/DPRK
    • Ambassador Davies' Meeting with Japanese Counterpart
    • Kenneth Bae
    • Under Secretary Sherman's Meeting with Japanese Counterpart
  • WESTERN HEMISPHERE
    • Press Freedom


TRANSCRIPT:

The video is available with closed captioning on YouTube.

12:50 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Good afternoon. Welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything at the top, so over to all of you.

QUESTION: Do you have any more information on the – this case of the U.S. spy in Russia? Is he still in the country? Has he left? Have you gotten more information from your bilateral meetings and your discussions with the Russians?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Brad, just to reiterate what I said yesterday, that we can confirm that an American Embassy official in Moscow was briefly detained and was released and that we’ve seen the Russian Foreign Ministry announcements. We can also confirm that Ambassador McFaul met with Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov today. We’re not going to comment on the private, diplomatic conversation, but that meeting did occur.

QUESTION: Okay. But you now acknowledge the public announcement that he was declared persona non grata, correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Right.

QUESTION: Has he left this country, this unnamed U.S. official?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information for you on that one way or another, but we do comply with our Vienna Convention obligations and requirements when countries ask us to send someone home.

QUESTION: And then what about this other case now that the Russians are talking about and showing footage of regarding a January case? Are you aware of this? Did you comply with any requests at the time?

MR. VENTRELL: We’ve seen those media reports, but I have nothing for you on a January case at all.

QUESTION: Can you say whether you are planning to make any similar kind of tit-for-tat move?

MR. VENTRELL: We talked a little bit about the potential for reciprocity. I don’t have anything for you on that today.

QUESTION: At what level will that be decided? Would it be in this building or would it be over at the White House?

MR. VENTRELL: Normally issues of reciprocity are decided here at the State Department, but that’s just generally speaking. On this specific case, I don’t have anything for you.

QUESTION: In this case, would reciprocity go to a third secretary or would you have to find someone who you also accuse of similar acts of espionage? Or is --

MR. VENTRELL: Again, each instance of issues like this are taken on a case-by-case status.

Jill.

QUESTION: I know this building doesn’t like to talk about it, but the Russians are not holding back. And presidential aide Yuri Ushakov said that it’s extremely surprising that this happened at a time – he called it crude, clumsy attempts at recruitment taking place at a time that both the presidents have been talking about improving relations. Do you share that concern, that this comes up right at a moment that the two presidents and the Secretary and Lavrov have been talking about improved relations?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Jill, as I said yesterday, I wouldn’t read too much into one incident one way or another. In terms of our bilateral relationship with Russia, our active diplomacy continues. And you know that the Secretary finished his bilat last night. He again was with his Russian counterpart in Sweden earlier today and you saw the press remarks that they made there, that this case didn’t come up in those meetings. They were specifically discussing Syria, and our intensive diplomacy on that – in that regard continues.

QUESTION: So what are we to read into the fact that they didn’t discuss it? What does that mean? Why didn’t they?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I wouldn’t – as I said, I wouldn’t read into one case too much one way or another. We continue our broad diplomacy with Russia.

QUESTION: So it wasn’t that important?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I think I’ve characterized it how we want to characterize it.

QUESTION: Russian National Security Chief Nikolai Patrushev is apparently going to visit the U.S. next week. Do you know who he might meet with and what could be discussed, what’s on the agenda for the talks?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything in – any information in terms of meetings in this building. I’d have to look into it and get back to you, Jo.

QUESTION: So the U.S. Ambassador to Russia was summoned on Wednesday. Any details about that?

MR. VENTRELL: I talked about that a little bit earlier, that I confirmed that he was – did have a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov but that I wasn’t going to get into the details of their diplomatic conversation.

QUESTION: They spoke about Syria only, I guess?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to get into the details of this, but we know from the public comments what the meeting was about.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we move to Syria? Can we go to Syria?

QUESTION: Actually, on the Lavrov meeting with Kerry, is there anything more concrete with regard to the upcoming conference? I know they decided on Geneva as the venue, but was there anything more concrete said with regard to the participation of both the Syrian Government and the opposition, what level would that be or what level do they desire to have it at if they agree to --

MR. VENTRELL: You heard the Secretary talk about this this morning, and he talked about his optimism and the work we’re doing as we move towards this peace conference. Some of the details are still being worked out. And we do – of course, the UN is – we’re hoping that the UN can play an important role here as well. And so announcements haven’t been made on precise timing and participants, but the Secretary has been in touch with the leadership of the United Nations as well.

QUESTION: And on Syria and the UN.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: There was, of course, the General Assembly discussion that may still be ongoing at this stage --

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that the vote has taken place yet, but I know that the conversation leading up to the vote was happening.

QUESTION: No, it is already – it has already taken place.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay.

QUESTION: So there is an effort, I guess, to isolate Syria further. There is a draft that was submitted by Qatar and the Arab group, basically putting all the blame on Syria, to which the Russians objected and they said that it was biased. Do you have any comment on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Said. Well, we cosponsored this resolution to show our support for the humanitarian relief and political transition that the Syrian people seek and deserve. This resolution is consistent with the initiative to bring the Syrian regime and the opposition together in an effort to advance a political solution under the framework agreed to in Geneva in June 2012.

QUESTION: Okay. So – but this is being interpreted as an effort to set the stage for the upcoming – the General Assembly session in September, to basically throw Syria out of the United Nations and give the seat to the opposition, much as what happened with the Arab League. Is that what is going on?

MR. VENTRELL: Where we are in the process in terms of the General Assembly looking at Syria is that it reflects the General Assembly’s acknowledgement of the progress made by the opposition toward becoming empowered interlocutors. But in terms of final recognition as the Syrian state, that’s a different matter and I’m not sure that I would read into specific resolutions one way or another in that regard.

Jill, go ahead.

QUESTION: Also on Syria, the Syrian Government apparently has given names of potential people who might go to that meeting – given those names to Russia. Have the opposition given names to the United States of who they think should be in that conference?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, this is something that the opposition continues to work through, including the SOC, and so we’ve encouraged them as they work through their leadership issues as well to focus on naming negotiators. But I don’t have anything to read out at this point.

QUESTION: Also, if I may follow --

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Brad.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Russians said today that any conference on Syria must include Iran. So do you agree that a country like Iran, that has such close ties to Syria, and actually a lot of influence on Syria and Lebanon, should be included in such a conference?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, decisions on participants are still being worked through at this time. So this is something we’ve talked about all week at the podium.

QUESTION: But is it from your point of view, from this building’s point of view, is it that Iran should be party to any kind of international conference so you can have sort of solid international agreements or engagements in this case?

MR. VENTRELL: The issue of participation in this conference is still being worked through. So we’ve talked about this earlier in the week.

Michel.

QUESTION: Just real quick.

MR. VENTRELL: Brad.

QUESTION: Do you – Is the United States the proxy for the Syrian opposition? I mean, when they put names forward, either as negotiating partners or as potential interim government candidates, is that going to go through the United States?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re working very closely with the opposition.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: And this is part of our intensive dialogue with them, but these are decisions for the opposition to make, of course.

QUESTION: Right, I understand. But you know how the Government of Syria is working through the Russian Government to kind of present its names, present its positions. Does the U.S. envision itself playing the same role on behalf of the opposition?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, their decisions haven’t been made yet, so I don’t want to sort of prejudge how it may happen logistically, but I’ve been pretty clear that we are bringing our influence to bear to work with the opposition as we try to get these parties to the table.

QUESTION: So then you would – I’m just trying to understand what this process – that doesn’t really exist yet, but, I mean, you talk about all the time, how you’re doing all this work to get a political transition. So I’m just trying to understand, when they bring forward these names, they’ll bring them to you and then you’ll have their potential delegation and the Russians will have the --

MR. VENTRELL: I just don’t have that --

QUESTION: They don’t have a seat at the United Nations. They have to have some method for disseminating whatever their positions and delegation --

MR. VENTRELL: Right. And I just don’t have that logistical fact of after they make their decisions, will they share it with all of us in the London 11 or specifically with the U.S. We’re just not there yet.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay, Michel, go ahead.

QUESTION: Patrick, Jordan has announced today that the Syrian opposition will not attend the contact group meeting that will be held next week in Jordan. Do you know why?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t. I’d refer you to Jordan for more details on their conference. That’s something that the Secretary looks forward to attending. But I don’t have any details on the final participation in that one way or another.

QUESTION: But it would be the first time that the opposition doesn’t attend such a meeting.

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I hadn’t seen that before coming down, so I’m not aware of that information. But we’re appreciative of the Jordanians for willing to organize the meeting.

QUESTION: One more on Syria: Is the U.S. still working on changing or working to change the Assad calculation on the ground? And how?

MR. VENTRELL: Absolutely. And I want to just clarify something. There’s been some press reporting and editorializing out there that seems to sort of imply that we’re not working in that direction, and let me just be clear: The pursuit of a political solution is not a switchback or a pursuit away from any of our concurrent lines of effort to resolve the Syrian crisis. I talked a little bit about this yesterday. So we’re going to continue to increase our aid, continue to help the opposition, and continue to work every day to change Assad’s calculation. We’ve been clear throughout that a political solution is the best way and the fastest way to end the violence and the suffering of the Syrian people, but that in no way indicates that we’re not going to continue, as we’ve redoubled our efforts to assist the opposition.

So we’re going to – going forward, we’re going to continue to consider what additional nonlethal assistance we can provide to assist the opposition. We’re going to continue on all of our lines of effort. So just to be clear, for some of those out there who think that this is a step away from our efforts to change Assad’s calculation – absolutely not. And the Secretary has been clear about that, and he’s been clear since he came into office that we’re working to change his calculation.

QUESTION: But since you started working on this policy, what have you achieved?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, you all try to always draw a line in the sand on an individual day. But what we’ve done is we’ve doubled our nonlethal assistance, we’ve dramatically increased our humanitarian assistance, and concurrently with that, we’re also working to seek peace by giving new energy and new vitality to the pursuit of peace through a negotiated settlement. So we’re working all of these lines of effort very vigorously. The Secretary is working it on a daily basis with his personal diplomacy, and it’s the strong focus of this Department and this U.S. Government.

QUESTION: And have you changed anything on the ground --

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again --

QUESTION: -- to push President Assad to change his calculation?

MR. VENTRELL: -- we’ve certainly worked assiduously with the opposition to increase their capabilities and their organization and their unity and their cohesion. We are talking about facing somebody who is brutally slaughtering his people and is willing to go to almost all ends to stop the free will of his people. So that’s really what we’re up against. And so we’ve seen the brutality of the Assad regime and the regime’s willingness to do almost anything to its own people, and that’s really what we’re up against. So we’ll continue on all of our lines of effort and continue to support the opposition, and continue to seek all avenues to end this violence as quickly as possible.

Go ahead, Jo.

QUESTION: Sorry Patrick, just going back, you just – just now you said that the Secretary looks forward to attending meetings in Amman next week. So you’re confirming that Secretary Kerry will be at the Friends of Syria meeting in Amman next week?

MR. VENTRELL: Yes. I don’t have the full travel schedule for him for the upcoming week, but this is something that had been mentioned already in the previous hour. So we can confirm that piece of it. But again, when we have a more fulsome travel schedule to share with you, we’ll get that to you.

QUESTION: And this is a meeting that’s been arranged by Jordan at – on its own initiative, or following up from the meetings that Secretary Kerry had with Foreign Minister Judeh last week in Rome?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure the genesis of this particular meeting. Part of this is keeping the London 11 and all of the key supporters of the opposition unified and aligned as we work toward our common goal. But I don’t have more information on this meeting as we’re still a number of days out.

QUESTION: London 11?

MR. VENTRELL: I think that’s a term we’ve used before in terms of the key countries that are supporting the opposition.

QUESTION: Do you know who else will be at the meeting in Amman? Have you a readout on that?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t. I refer you to the Jordanians. And we’re a number of days out, so you know that we hesitate to get into too much detail as we’re still days out.

QUESTION: And what will be the key purpose of this? Because it comes after – there was a fairly recent one before. I can’t remember, they’re coming so quickly now.

MR. VENTRELL: I think what you’ll see is that a substantial amount of our diplomatic energy is focused on this, and so there’ll be a number of meetings going forward. And the Secretary is invested in his personal diplomacy in all of these regards, both in supporting the opposition and in working toward a peaceful and negotiated solution to end the violence in Syria.

QUESTION: And should we read anything into it that this one’s in Amman and not in Istanbul?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not sure that I would --

QUESTION: In an Arab country as opposed to one of the Syrian – Syria’s neighbor --

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not sure that I can characterize a meeting that’s still a number of days out further at this point, but --

QUESTION: Days are numbered.

MR. VENTRELL: (Laughter.) Thanks for that, Brad.

Samir, go ahead.

QUESTION: There are press reports talking about Iran plotting or planning with its proxies to change the military situation on the ground in Syria before the expected conference. Are you aware of these reports?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, they’ve already had a very negative role, and a substantially negative role, on the ground inside of Syria in terms of their direction training. You know that an Iranian general was killed inside of Syrian territory. So there’s already been a very explicit role. Whether it’s the Iranians or their allies in Hezbollah or other nefarious actors, there’s – it’s been substantial to date.

QUESTION: Yeah, but they want to set the stage before the conference.

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I hadn’t seen those specific sort of speculation reports in the press, but this is something that there’s a history of this going back quite some time.

It looks like we have some questions maybe on the Philippines and Taiwan. (Laughter.) I’m just guessing.

QUESTION: Yeah. Patrick, do you have anything new to say on the fatal shooting of the Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippines? Jen said a couple of days ago that the United States was in contact with both Taiwan and the Philippines. How is your communication with both sides? How effective is your communication? Because the problem seems to be far from ending. Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks for the question – John, am I correct?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, John. So, we’re concerned by the increase in tensions between two neighboring democracies and close partners of the United States in the Asia Pacific region. We note that the Philippine President appointed a personal representative to Taiwan to convey his deep regret and apology to the family of the fisherman and the people of Taiwan. We welcome the Philippine Government’s pledge to conduct a thorough and expeditious investigation into the incident and cooperate promptly and fully with Taiwan investigators. We urge the Philippines and Taiwan to take all appropriate measures to clarify disagreements and prevent recurrence of such tragic events. And we continue to urge both parties to ensure maritime safety and to refrain from actions that could further escalate tensions in the region and undermine the prospects for a rapid and effective resolution of differences.

QUESTION: How is your communication with both sides so far?

MR. VENTRELL: You know that these are partners with whom we have extensive relationships. I’m not going to get into the day-to-day readout of our diplomacy, whether it’s from Washington or our posts overseas. But I’m just not going to get into that level of detail.

QUESTION: Patrick, just about some factual data, is it – have you learned exactly the location of the incident? And when the investigation will be revealed to the public? So far, how much fact have you learned?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information on when the investigation may be completed, and refer you to the Government of the Philippines. But it appears the incident took place in or near disputed waters where the Philippines and Taiwan both claim fishing rights. The United States does not take a position on the proper location of a maritime boundary in that area.

QUESTION: What is “in or near disputed area” – so it’s disputed whether it’s in disputed area or not?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, that’s a pretty rough estimate.

QUESTION: Can’t you just say it’s in disputed area then?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, this is in or near disputed waters. That’s all the accuracy we – that’s all the level of detail we have.

QUESTION: And that’s everywhere in the world, correct?

MR. VENTRELL: (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Everywhere in the water, it must be in or at some point near to disputed waters. (Laughter.)

MR. VENTRELL: The point is, Brad, we’re not able to pinpoint exactly whether it was inside the disputed waters or --

QUESTION: It was in the water.

MR. VENTRELL: -- or very nearby that disputed area.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR. VENTRELL: That’s the point. Bingru, go ahead.

QUESTION: Taiwanese leader Ma Ying-jeou actually rejected the Philippines apology as lacking sincerity. Do you consider Philippines apology is sincere?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, in terms of an apology, this is a determination for the Taiwan authorities to make, and they can discuss that as appropriate directly with the Government of the Philippines. So that’s a judgment that they’re making.

QUESTION: And you also mentioned your concern about the increase tension. Are you concerned this conflict, as it’s rising, would undermine the U.S. interest in Asia Pacific?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not going to draw sort of that broad a conclusion, other than to say that we’re concerned about this increase in tension. And so these are two partners that we have a robust relationship with both of them and we want them to work through their differences on this issue as expeditiously as they can.

QUESTION: So, to what level do you have contact with both side?

MR. VENTRELL: I already answered that question, that we have diplomatic discussions, but I’m just not going to get into the back-and-forth of every discussion at every level.

QUESTION: Patrick, the death of the Taiwanese fisherman was a main factor why there has been outrage all over Taiwan. The United States has expressed regret over the death of the fisherman. Would the United States express something more than regret? Sympathy or – because, after all, Taiwan is an ally of the United States, as you say.

MR. VENTRELL: It is up to the Philippines and Taiwan to determine the specific terms of the resolution on this immediate issue. We’ve said we have already on the specific incident.

Nike, you go ahead. You’ve been waiting in the back.

QUESTION: Yeah. Patrick, you mentioned several times about maritime security. Broadly speaking, is it against the code of conduct or the freedom of navigation to use violence against any party in disputed waters?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, code of conduct is something that’s still being worked through, and it’s something we’ve encouraged, so that there are rules of the road. And so this is not something that is a process that’s been completed, but it’s precisely incidents such as this which underscore the need for a code of conduct as we work through these issues in the wide range of the Pacific where there are disputed areas of territorial waters and other claims to various territories.

QUESTION: Well, Patrick, there are some story indicated that U.S. has dissuaded Taiwan to send a military ship to protect their fishermen. And – so I would just wonder, do you want it clarified, does U.S. really involve in this kind of conversation? And – because there is some criticism from Taiwan about a U.S. action.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah, I’m not aware – I don’t have any information on that one way or another on that specific item. I think I’ve done what I can on this issue. Are there – one more.

QUESTION: Yeah. Taiwan says apology from Philippine over the shooting is inadequate, and threatens to impose more sanctions. How do you see these sanctions?

MR. VENTRELL: I already answered that question. So, okay.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR. VENTRELL: Different topic?

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. VENTRELL: Nike, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I apologize if this issue has already been addressed, because I’m a little late. Secretary Kerry is in Sweden for the Arctic Council --

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: -- and today six countries, including China, Japan, South Korea, have become – has become the permanent observer. And so I wonder if you have anything on that. What is the rationale for the United States to support China’s permanent observer status, and what does the United States expect from China in the Arctic Council? Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, the Secretary already spoke to this pretty extensively, so we’ll get you his comments and reaction. You know that the chairmanship will go to Canada for the next two years, and then we look forward to the U.S. having the chairmanship here, and that these additional observers were added. But I really don’t have any information beyond what the Secretary said.

Scott, go ahead.

QUESTION: Nigeria.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have a view to Goodluck Jonathan’s declaration of the state of emergency in areas where there’s been violence attributed to Boko Haram?

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Scott. So we remain deeply concerned about increasing insecurity in northern Nigeria and the potential threat it poses to stability in both Nigeria and the region. The rising cycle of violence is affecting Nigerian citizens the most, with the number of civilian casualties increasing. The declaration of states of emergency in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states reflects the worsening cycle of violence in northern Nigeria. The United States condemns Boko Haram’s campaign of terror in the strongest terms and has worked to helped Nigeria address the threat of terrorism. We call on Nigerian officials to ensure that Nigeria’s security forces protect civilians in any security response in a way that respects human rights and the rule of law and to ensure that recent incidents in the north, including the violence in Baga, are fully investigated and those responsible are held accountable.

QUESTION: This state of emergency gives security forces broader powers of search and seizure, of arrest, and detention, the ability to take possession or control of any building used for terrorist purposes. The United States has in the past expressed concern about how those security forces have dealt with local populations in the north. Do you have any concern that this state of emergency might exacerbate that situation?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, this was just declared a few hours ago, but let me reiterate what I said, that Nigeria’s security forces must protect civilians in any security response in a way that respects human rights and the rule of law. So that’s our broad standard. And something that we’ve been saying previously to this state of emergency, and I don’t want to necessarily tie the two together, but we have made clear to the Nigerian Government that its heavy-handed response to insecurity in northern Nigeria and the failure to address human rights violations will potentially affect our ability to provide security assistance going forward. So we’ve made that message clear to the Nigerians. We’re looking at this state of emergency that was declared given this violence, and so that’s really our bottom line in terms of our response to the Nigerians. Okay.

QUESTION: Patrick, staying on Africa, anything to do with – have you got any comment on what the U.S. contribution is to the Mali donor conference in Brussels?

MR. VENTRELL: I do have some information on that. Just to let you know that USAID Assistant Administrator for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance Nancy Lindborg, who many of you know, and State Department Acting Assistant Secretary for Africa Don Yamamoto are leading the U.S. delegation to the May 15th Mali donors conference in Brussels, hosted by the EU in France. At the conference, we are going to announce $32 million in new humanitarian assistance to support internally displaced persons in Mali and Malian refugees in neighboring countries. We’ll also announce our request to Congress for $180 million in FY 2014 bilateral funding for Mali. Just to emphasize that this would be post-election, of course, because you know where we are in terms of our pause in direct assistance.

So this new assistance to Mali builds on a significant ongoing commitment of the United States to address the crisis in Mali. And although over $188 million in assistance, mostly to the government, was either terminated or suspended after the coup, we have continued to provide over 7 million in democracy assistance programming, $83 million in health support, and with our new contribution of 32 million, that will bring it up to $181 million in humanitarian assistance to Mali and Malian refugees.

QUESTION: So the 32 million is specifically aimed – I mean, focused, I mean, on the displaced people --

MR. VENTRELL: This is for IDPs. Yeah. Okay. And --

QUESTION: I’m sorry, that’s the FY 2014 that was 108, or 180?

MR. VENTRELL: 180. And one other thing just to note since we’re on Mali, just that the President’s announced that presidential elections will take place on July 28th to emphasize that we continue to urge the Malian Government to make the necessary preparations to ensure that this election will be inclusive, credible, and free, and that inclusive, credible, and free elections are critical as the first step in Mali’s return to constitutional order and establishing government with the necessary legitimacy to pursue longer term political and development policies, including national reconciliation.

QUESTION: Change topic?

MR. VENTRELL: Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Today marks the 65th anniversary of what the Palestinians call Nakba, the catastrophe. Yet despite repeated UN resolutions, they still continue to languish either in refugee camps or under occupation. My question to you is, despite your voting for a resolution that calls for the return of the Palestinians, nothing has been done over the past 65 years. Could you explain why the United States has not pushed through with its commitment to have the Palestinian refugees returned to their own land?

MR. VENTRELL: Said, you know that we work every day toward a negotiated settlement that will bring a two-state solution. And I just want to emphasize, while we’re on the topic of the suffering of the Palestinian people, the United States has long been the largest donor of assistance to the Palestinian people and we’ve worked very hard with the Palestinian authorities to build up their institutions, to provide proper education. And you know the Secretary’s committed to providing economic opportunity to Palestinians in the West Bank; concurrent with our efforts on the political track, he’s also very focused on bringing economic opportunity to the young people of the Palestinian territories. So all of those efforts continue.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you agree that the United States was not able to enforce a resolution to which it is a signatory which calls for the return of the Palestinians to their homeland, right?

MR. VENTRELL: Look, Said, you’re trying to – you are the resident historian here, and --

QUESTION: Yes.

MR. VENTRELL: -- have become so in this briefing room.

QUESTION: Twice in one week, twice in one week.

MR. VENTRELL: But again, I think I’ve outlined for you very clear our efforts to assist the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Okay. Finally on the Palestinian issue, there is a great deal of talk that we are likely to see increased activities over the past – over the next two to three weeks where you’re going to be hosting some Palestinian officials. Could you share something of this on that issue?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any visits to announce at this point, but you know that the Secretary’s personal diplomacy and that of our wider State Department will continue with both parties going forward, but I don’t have any visits or timing to announce on anything at this point.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On North Korea.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: And so you know that the Japanese Abe’s advisor visit to North Korea right now. And what is the U.S. view of the Japan and North Korea talks today?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, we talked a little bit about this yesterday, and I don’t have much to add. You know that our envoy Glyn Davies is headed to Tokyo tomorrow, that he’ll have a chance to meet with his counterparts in the Japanese Goverment. But I really don’t have anything to add from what I said yesterday.

QUESTION: Japanese Prime Minister --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has actually said he could meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un if he thought it would help to – specifically over the issue of the kidnapping of Japanese citizens --

MR. VENTRELL: I’d seen that media report. Again, Glyn Davies is en route to have a very direct conversation with his Japanese counterparts, so let’s let that meeting go forward as he has a chance to get a personal download from the Japanese about their perspective on things.

QUESTION: The Japanese Government would give any notice to the United States Government to know if they go to the North Korea?

MR. VENTRELL: I didn’t hear the first part of your question.

QUESTION: Japanese Government give notice to United State Government if they’re going – Japanese visit to North Korea?

MR. VENTRELL: We talked about this yesterday, that we had seen media reports of the visit. Glyn Davies talked a little bit that he’d a brief phone conversation with some of his Japanese counterparts sometime overnight our time – I’m trying to get the time difference in my head correct, but this is sort of overnight our time – and that he looks forward to having that interaction.

And just to say one other thing in terms of the abductee issue. We continue to work closely with Japan on issues regarding the DPRK and support efforts to resolve the issue of abductions of Japanese citizens by the DPRK in the 1970s, ’80s. So that’s something that’s been ongoing work and that we’ve collaborated with the Japanese on over time.

QUESTION: So a meeting between Abe and Kim Jong-un could actually be helpful in this case, do you think?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not tying any specific announcement or item that was in the news this morning to that. I’m just saying that we’ve had long-standing work with the Japanese on this issue, that as we know is of great importance to the Japanese people.

QUESTION: But Abe had certainly didn’t give any notice to South Korea and China and other Six-Party Talks in the delegation, but they sort of need their own reactions like that. How did you feel about this?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t have anything beyond what I said yesterday.

Nike, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Kenneth Bae. Today is the day that he started his prison – in a special prison. I wonder if you have any update on the efforts to – for his release. And since Secretary Kerry’s in Sweden, and Sweden Embassy is a protecting power for the U.S, I wonder if you have anything on that.

MR. VENTRELL: So we’ve seen the reports that Kenneth Bae has begun his prison sentence. We understand that the DPRK’s supreme court convicted U.S. citizen Kenneth Bae for hostile acts against the DPRK and sentenced him to 15 years of compulsory labor. There is no greater priority for us than the welfare and safety of our U.S. citizens abroad, as I’ve said many times. And we urge the DPRK authorities to grant Mr. Bae amnesty and immediate release.

In terms of the diplomacy in Sweden, I’m not aware that this specific case came up. I believe the Swedish Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister, had mentioned that there are many cases, that the Swedish authorities help with a number of countries, given their presence in Pyongyang. But I’m not aware that this specific case came up one way or another.

QUESTION: (Off mike.)

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yesterday, Under Secretary Sherman met Japanese Foreign Ministry’s (inaudible). Do you have any readout? Also, what --

MR. VENTRELL: Who was the meeting between? I didn’t hear who you said the meeting was between.

QUESTION: Wendy Sherman.

MR. VENTRELL: Oh, yeah. Under Secretary Sherman did meet with, I believe it was her Japanese counterpart, yesterday. It was really to discuss the broad, bilateral relationship. There wasn’t any particular piece of business that was more pressing than others. This was a broad, bilateral check-in at her level.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) going to talk about the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo trying to rewrite the constitution thing?

MR. VENTRELL: I asked, and this was asked and I answered it yesterday.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Let’s go a minute to the Western Hemisphere, especially in South America, some countries. There are some problems of dialogue, and also some pressure to the press from the governments. I want to know if the U.S. is following some rumors about intervention in Argentina to some media that sometimes is opposite to the government, harsh comments from the Government in Venezuela, in Ecuador. How is the U.S. following all these cases?

MR. VENTRELL: We follow press freedom across the hemisphere. It’s something that is part of the Inter-American Democratic Charter. It’s something that we care about deeply and in terms of the balance of power between different branches and the freedom of the press. These are issues that we raise across the hemisphere consistently. I don’t have a specific reaction for you country by country, but this is something we work toward broadly.

QUESTION: Related to the dialogue in Venezuela, is the U.S. interested in inviting some of the opposition in Venezuela to come here to have some conversations – talking about Capriles? Are you inviting, probably in the future, him to the United States to talk? Because there is no dialogue in Venezuela.

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not aware of an opposition visit to the United States at this point, but we maintain a wide range of contacts in Venezuelan society.

One more, Emile.

QUESTION: Lebanon.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Any concerns about the delays in forming the new government and coming up with an electoral law, and seems to happen altogether?

MR. VENTRELL: I haven’t had a status update on Lebanon in a little bit. Let me get that for you and get back to you.

Okay? Thank you all.

QUESTION: One more.

MR. VENTRELL: One more.

QUESTION: Sorry. I’m sorry. The ICC’s opening an investigation into the flotilla raid back in 2010. Did the United States have a comment on that?

MR. VENTRELL: I’ll have to look into that as well. I don’t have any information on it. Thanks, Jo.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:24 p.m.)

[This is a mobile copy of Daily Press Briefing - May 15, 2013]