Daily Press Briefing - July 12, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • UN Security Council Resolution / Ongoing Negotiations
    • UN Observer Mission
    • Formation of Transition Government / Mutual Consent of Opposition and Regime
    • Defection of Syrian Ambassador to Iraq
    • Russian Ships
    • Reports of Violence in Damascus
    • Secretary Clinton Visit
    • Transition / Political Situation
    • U.S. Engagement
    • Nabeel Rajab Prison Sentence
    • GLOCs
    • Defection of Syrian General Manaf Tlass
    • Ambassador Ford Contacts with Opposition
  • MALI
    • Renewed Fighting in Northern Mali / UN Security Council / ECOWAS
    • Israeli Participation in Global Counterterrorism Forum
    • Financial Aid
    • Secretary Clinton Trip to Region
    • Deputy Secretary Burns in Beirut
    • Syria downing of Turkish Plane
Patrick Ventrell
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 12, 2012


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

1:04 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Good afternoon, and happy Thursday to everyone. Welcome to the State Department. I don’t have anything for you at the top, so I’ll turn it over to you.

QUESTION: I don’t have anything worthy of the opening question today.


Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Could you explain to us about the American-British proposal at the United Nations to use – to impose Chapter 7, utilizing Article 41, but not 42, which calls for armed interference?

MR. VENTRELL: Well what I can tell you is that, up in New York right now, negotiations are ongoing. I can tell you that there was a P-5 meeting this morning, that we anticipate there’ll be additional consultations on Syria among all 15 members later today. I don’t want to get ahead of what may be in the different drafts. You know Ambassador Rice, yesterday, outlined that we are working with the British on a draft.

What you do know is our position all along has been that a resolution should contain not only a full endorsement of the Action Group’s plan from Geneva, but measures – and this is as Kofi said that impose real consequences. So the U.S. position is that we need this resolution that not only has the component endorsing his plan, but that has real consequences. And so that’s our baseline. Obviously, we mean a Chapter 7 resolution that would have real measures, real teeth, in it. So that’s where we are.

QUESTION: But how is that different from what we have now, which is economic sanctions, diplomatic sanctions, all the stuff that is basically included in what is being proposed? How is that different?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we have all of that, Said, but we have them – we don’t have that all within one Security Council resolution. We’ve done some of it through the Friends of Syria; we’ve done some of it in our national capacity; we’ve done some of it with our allies. But to have it in one full UN Security Council document is the best idea.

QUESTION: So you’re trying to amalgamate all these things that have come out and put them in one solid resolution?

MR. VENTRELL: We want one solid resolution that not only endorses the Geneva Action Group plan, we also want it to impose – as Kofi Annan has asked for – real consequences for non-compliance. That’s what’s really key, is that it have real consequences for non-compliance, and that’s what we want to see.

QUESTION: The Russian Deputy Foreign Minister today was very explicit when he said that they would not accept any resolution that contained those sorts of sanctions, and they’ve said we will not let it pass. So there’s your veto right there.

MR. VENTRELL: We’ve --

QUESTION: What’s the point of continuing on if you have – if one member of the group has already staked out a position that says it’s absolutely not going to let such a resolution through?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, having been myself a member of many United Nations Security Council sessions and many negotiations, there are a lot of times that people stake out positions publicly, but we negotiate these documents behind closed doors, and we come to an agreement among all 15 members of the Security Council about the best way forward. So one can try to negotiate it publicly, but ultimately, it will be negotiated behind closed doors.

You know the broad principles of what the U.S. wants. We want, as I said, an endorsement of the Action Group document out of Geneva plus real consequences. Kofi, yesterday, asked for the real consequences. He told the Security Council members that that’s what he needed to get his job done. And so, as you know, the Secretary this morning said that we want to not only give Kofi want he needs and what he’s asking for, but what the entire international community wants to see in Syria – see happen in Syria.

QUESTION: Sorry. Patrick, in all your years of experience up at the UN, which you just mentioned, how many times do you recall the Russians threatening to veto and then not doing it?

MR. VENTRELL: What I recall is that many different public positions come about during the negotiation of resolutions, but that the deals are always made in private negotiations.

QUESTION: Do you recall any instance where a country – Russia, or any other country – has said that it’s going to veto something and then doesn’t?

MR. VENTRELL: What I can tell you is there are a lot of times that people stake out a position that changes, is what I can recall.

QUESTION: Can you recall – I totally understand that, but not on the veto. Can you recall a time when a country has said it’s going to veto something and it didn’t?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, there are plenty of times when countries that are initially considering a veto end up abstaining or are considering abstaining and then vote yes. Positions do change on UN resolutions. Let’s let the negotiations go forward. What I do know, having seen a lot of these, is that it takes time, hard work behind closed doors. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves and negotiate these resolutions. So there can be a lot of different chatter on the sides, but it’s what happens behind closed doors that matters.

QUESTION: And what about the timeframe here? I mean, it is a 10-day deadline, right?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we know that July 19th is when the observer mission expires, so that’s a week out. We’re working it intensively. I never want to predict if there’s going to be a resolution today, tomorrow, or the other day, but we’re working intensively with our partners.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Annan – the question before, on the extension – and for what? Is it justified?

MR. VENTRELL: Can you --

QUESTION: Who suggested the 45 days extension for Annan mission?


QUESTION: And based on what?

MR. VENTRELL: What I do know is that the Secretary General provided a detailed report on some potential ways forward for the observer mission, and so we’re taking those into account as we negotiate with our partners.

QUESTION: And did he accept that? It’s been agreed upon, the extension?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, nothing’s been agreed upon yet. We’re still negotiating the resolution.

In the back.

QUESTION: Today, some Arabic publications published purported minutes of a meeting between Kofi Annan and Assad. In that, he apparently named an interlocutor. What do you make of that? And also there were some disparaging remarks in there about the Secretary, and I was wondering if there’s a response to that. I think, in particular, she was called dangerous – is the quote.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I wouldn’t even dignify a response to some sort of supposed transcript of a meeting.

QUESTION: But on the interlocutor issue, I mean, there’s a specific name put forward. And I think this is the first time we’ve seen that. Is that a positive sign for --

MR. VENTRELL: Well, it’s not only an interlocutor. We need Assad to step aside and allow the elements of the regime that don’t have blood on their hands to work with the opposition together to come up with a follow-on transition government that has full executive authority.

QUESTION: If I could just follow up --

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: -- and that continued with, okay, who is the interlocutor from that – from the opposition side? That continues, clearly, to be a struggle. If the regime does put forward someone to negotiate, who from the other side is going to step up? And how do you decide that? And how do you determine who to work with?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, obviously, the opposition coalesced around its own plan in Cairo. They have leaders among the opposition that have expanded the range and breadth of who comes under the opposition umbrella. Kofi’s team, the Special – the Joint Special Envoy’s team, has reached out to the opposition as well. And so he’s not only talked to the regime. He’s talked to the opposition. And he’s looking for the two sides to be able to discuss who’s going to be in this new government through that channel. So it’s an ongoing process.

QUESTION: Are you considering changes to the structure of observers mission? I mean, in terms of – because they were unarmed, for example. Do you consider to arm them or do you consider to increase the number of observers?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, what Ambassador Rice said yesterday is that the mission, as it stands now, is not at present able to do the job that the Council mandated it to do. So if we can get a resolution that has some real teeth in it and can change the situation, then we can look at a different composition potentially of what the observers would do. But as they’re currently structured, they’re not able to do the job that the Security Council asked them to do, and we know that, because obviously they had to withdraw from the types of site visits they were doing because of the security situation, because the regime didn’t stop the violence.

QUESTION: So maybe they will be armed this time.

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t want to prejudge what’s on the table up in New York right now. They’re negotiating actively. I don’t know how it’s going to come out in terms of this resolution. There could be – there are a number of different options, but people are working on them, based, of course, in part on what the Secretary General himself presented to the Security Council in his document.

QUESTION: Patrick, just to follow up on the blood on their hands. I mean, who falls under that? For instance, you have the Vice President Farouk al-Shara, who is a civilian, and you have Walid al-Muallem, who is the Foreign Minister, members of the regime. On the other hand, you have Manaf Tlas, who – the general that defected last week – he was involved until recently in putting down these protests. And so how is that defined, blood on their hands?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, you know that the concept that was adopted is this one of – that they both have the mutual right to decide who composes this. So the opposition has a role, they have a say in mutual consent about who from the regime can participate. I’m not going to go name by name down the line of officials of, well, this person meets the criteria or not. That’s part of what the opposition will do. They’ve got to be able to work with somebody they’re comfortable with who’s not actively involved in shooting at them at the exact same time.

But that’s ultimately something that the opposition is working through to find out who are the technocrats in the regime that want a way forward. And the other element that the Secretary talked about today really is about the business community and others who have sort of been on the fence. And so those folks who maybe have not made a decision, now is the time to break away.

QUESTION: But is it also valid for the opposition? I mean, the regime could also refuse opponents with blood on their hands.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, the phrase was “mutual consent,” so that refers to both sides. But obviously we’ve been very clear that there’s no sense of proportionality here. It’s the regime that has been slaughtering people with heavy arms. So that’s a different scenario obviously.

QUESTION: Do you guys have any information on the whereabouts of the ambassador – the ambassador to Iraq who defected yesterday?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have information on his whereabouts, but obviously you know we said yesterday that his defection is the first major diplomatic defection. This morning the Secretary praised his defection, and we think it’s – this is a wider sign that the regime is feeling the pressure. The pressure is up, and the regime is clearly starting to fall apart.

In the back.

QUESTION: We’ve been hearing a lot about a possible Chapter 7 resolution and more things with – stuff with teeth and real consequences and everything like that. What else hasn’t been done yet that could be that you think actually would be effective short of actually arming the opposition, because you seem not to want to say that that’s an option at this point.

MR. VENTRELL: I won’t engage in hypotheticals of what may or may not be the options that are actively being negotiated in New York right now today.

QUESTION: There has been some statements from the Russian Navy saying that those ships that were sent were going to Tartus were in fact going for regular maneuver for the anniversary of the navy. What do you make of this? Is there any clear message from the Russians about those ships?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I think we addressed this in the past couple days that – we saw the news reports – the Russians said that.

QUESTION: Because yesterday they said that they said no, they’re going for special maneuvers for the anniversary of the navy’s --

MR. VENTRELL: We – well, what we said in the past couple days is we didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. But obviously, if there – if we did see signs of anything that was involving new supplies of arms to the regime, that would be deeply concerning.


QUESTION: Do you have any information about the situation in Damascus today? Because there were reports that there was shelling for the first time in the capital.

MR. VENTRELL: We did see those reports. Opposition activists have reported new fighting between regime forces and rebels in Damascus. The latest clashes have resulted in mortar fire in the capital, and we think that this is a clear indication that the regime is losing the battle that they’ve been waging against their own people and the people’s aspirations for freedom.

QUESTION: Can we go to Egypt?


QUESTION: Yes. I know we touched up on this the beginning of this week, but things have changed somewhat in Egypt on the eve of the visit of the Secretary of State. How do you view the situation today in view of the supreme court saying that, in fact, the annulment of the parliament is legitimate and justified?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, the Secretary looks forward to going to Egypt over the weekend. We want this transition to succeed in a way that meets the aspirations of the Egyptian people and fulfills the promises of the revolution. And ultimately, how it works out is a decision for the Egyptian people to make as they move forward and how they decide to do this. So the U.S. isn’t taking sides. We think that the Egyptians should continue to work this out through an appropriate dialogue between the different parties.

QUESTION: Your talks or whatever – your contact with the Egyptians, is it now with the Egyptian President, or is it military to military? What is the nature of the contact that you currently have?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re engaging with Egyptians across the spectrum – military to military, at the diplomatic level, with various civil society actors, with people of all different stripes from different political parties. Broadly speaking, that’s what our Embassy in Cairo is doing.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: In Bahrain?

MR. VENTRELL: Bahrain? Go ahead.

QUESTION: Amnesty International is accusing the government of the arrest of the activist Nabeel Rajab was politically – political and that he should be released immediately. Do you agree with Amnesty International?

MR. VENTRELL: While I haven’t seen the Amnesty International report, what I can tell you is that we’ve been concerned about his case. Clearly, we continue to encourage the Government of Bahrain to respect the freedom of expression, which is a universal right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Bahrain is a party. So we’ve actively been following his case and continue to have a keen interest.

QUESTION: Do you want him released?

MR. VENTRELL: We are concerned about the reports of the three-month prison sentence, and what I will say is that broadly speaking we want the Government of Bahrain to abide by its commitment to respect the right to due process and transparent judicial proceedings.

QUESTION: But you’re not calling for his release?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re concerned about the three-month prison sentence.

QUESTION: What does that mean?

MR. VENTRELL: It means that we’re concerned about it.

QUESTION: Yeah. But what does that mean?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not going to go any further, Matt. Thanks.

QUESTION: Well, the question was that Amnesty International says that he should be released. You don’t share – it sounds as though you do not share that same opinion.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, what we want – the bigger picture of what we want is that, in regard to the treatment of all detainees, is that there’s a fair and transparent judicial process. So --

QUESTION: All right. Well, do you believe that that’s happened?

MR. VENTRELL: So there clearly have been cases where we’ve had concerns about the political ramifications. We’ve expressed concerns about his case in particular, and we’ll continue to raise it as appropriate with the Government of Bahrain.

Catherine, yes.

QUESTION: The GLOCs have been open, but there are still reports of truck backups and security concerns. Do you have an update?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Catherine, as we’ve said, we’re pleased that Pakistan has decided to open the supply routes and that already several containers have moved across the border into Afghanistan. We also understand that the process of activating the supply routes has only just begun and that it will take time for the backlog to be cleared. We understand the Pakistanis continue to be committed to getting things moving. We are working together to put in place a range of technical measures and instructions necessary for transit. We’re confident that these procedures will be put in place and allow many more trucks to move expeditiously.

QUESTION: So some progress is being seen --

MR. VENTRELL: We’re pleased that several containers have made it across, and we look forward to the backlog being decreased as we move forward.

Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Did Ambassador Ford try to contact the – Manaf Tlass, the general in Syria who defected to France?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t know if we’ve had direct contact with him. Ambassador Ford maintains extensive contacts with the opposition, with many elements of Syrian society. But on this particular individual, I don’t have any information.

QUESTION: But just the fact that he hasn’t come out, unlike the Syrian Ambassador to Iraq, that the general has not come out and sort of said, “I’m joining the opposition,” does that concern you or give you any doubts about his motivations, though?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t think we know in his particular case. Obviously, individuals, as they peel away from the regime, will take different stances and a different role. So I’m not sure whether to comment on every significant figure that peels away from the regime, but we think all of them are important as they peel away.

QUESTION: That peeling away and not joining the opposition, is that useful? I mean, if they peel away and then just remain independent actors that aren’t associated with the anti-Assad --

MR. VENTRELL: Each case is individual. If they can obviously help the opposition against the efforts of the regime to slaughter the people, that’s a good thing. But each case is different.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) today that one day force will be probably used in north Mali to expel Islamists. Do you agree with that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, what we have seen in Mali’s north are that various armed groups, including Islamic militants, are exploiting the political instability in the capital and the resulting security vacuum. We condemn the renewed fighting in northern Mali and call on all groups to cease fire and engage with ECOWAS mediators. And we strongly insist that all actors in Mali respect human rights and international humanitarian law. The people of Mali must be able to live in a secure environment free from fear and oppression where they can practice rights such as freedom of religion and expression.

QUESTION: But that doesn’t answer my question.

QUESTION: That’s – those are great talking points, but they’re not an answer.

MR. VENTRELL: What specifically --

QUESTION: Well, I think that he asked specifically about the French Foreign Minister saying that force would have to be used.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I didn’t hear the beginning of the question, so I’m sorry about that. I didn’t hear the --

QUESTION: No, he said that force would be used one day and it could be an African-led dimension with international support. He was very specific on that.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. What I do know is that obviously the Security Council just last week engaged in the situation. They’ve looked at some of the options, broadly endorsed ECOCWAS’s efforts, but are still seeking more information, for example, on what an ECOWAS mission would include. So there are options still on the table. Decisions haven’t been made and I don’t want to get ahead of the process.

QUESTION: Do we have an answer about the Syrian Ambassador to Iraq defected, where is he, about his location?

MR. VENTRELL: I think that was asked earlier in the briefing, and I don’t have any independent information of where he is today.

QUESTION: So I’m led to believe that you have an answer to my question about Israel and the Global Counterterrorism Cooperation Forum or whatever it’s called?

MR. VENTRELL: I do, Matt.


MR. VENTRELL: We believe that Israel would make a valuable contribution to the Global Counterterrorism Forum. We have raised the issue of Israeli participation in relevant GCTF activities with a number of GCTF partners at very senior levels. We will continue to do so as we move forward. Our discussion with Israel concerning the GCTF – our discussions have focused on Israeli participation and relevant activities to allow Israel to share its counterterrorism expertise with CT practitioners from GCTF-member and other countries.

QUESTION: Do you know – just as a corollary to that, you have raised it at very senior levels with other member --


QUESTION: Has there been an opposition?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware one way or another. I know that we continue to raise it. And one example, for instance, is that the GCTF’s terms of reference leave open the possibility for including Israel in relevant activities of the GCTF’s five working groups. So that’s one way to start their participation, so that’s one thing that we’ve raised. And our strong hope is that they’ll be involved first in one or more of the working groups and then potentially become a full member.

QUESTION: But they haven’t participated in it yet to this --

MR. VENTRELL: Not yet. But --

QUESTION: And so I guess just the question is: Are you aware of opposition from any one of the existing members to Israel participating in the working groups or anything else?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not directly aware of the positions of the other members. What I do know is that it’s a relatively new forum. We started this just last September. The initial idea was that we had some of these core founding members and that additional members would be added as time goes on. So Israel is one potential member and there are a number of other countries that have expertise that could be really useful. And so we’ll continue to work with the members to see where that makes sense and where it can be beneficial to all members.


QUESTION: Yes, on the Palestinian issue?


QUESTION: Are you aware of any urgent appeal or requests submitted by the Palestinian Authority to you directly to help speed up financial aid to have them be able to meet their financial obligations for this month?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, you know what I said yesterday in terms of the importance that we attach to Palestinian institutions having the funding to really be able to deliver for the Palestinian people. In terms of the contacts they may have had with us about our bilateral funding, I’ll have to take the question. But you know that Deputy Secretary Burns was just there. You know that the Secretary is going. So our discussions continue with the Palestinians at very high levels on the full range of issues. But whether that’s come up in – specifically or how they’ve been in touch with us, I’m going to take the question.

QUESTION: Speaking of Burns --


QUESTION: -- can you give us a meaningful – I stress the word meaningful – readout of the security dialogue? And if it’s not meaningful, then don’t even --

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is that we’re going to release something shortly, if it hasn’t already gone out, so stay tuned.

QUESTION: Something – sorry. What, like a joint statement or something?

MR. VENTRELL: Something of that nature.

QUESTION: Do you think it will be meaningful?

MR. VENTRELL: I haven’t --

QUESTION: Do you think it will be substantive and thick with details?

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, I personally haven’t seen the draft, but we’ll release it as soon as it’s complete and ready to go out.

QUESTION: Based on your lengthy experience, would you expect that this would be a statement that actually talks about specifics about what they --

MR. VENTRELL: I think it’ll be a good release. Let’s see what it says.


QUESTION: You said yesterday that Mr. Burns discussed with President Abbas the upcoming visit by the Secretary. Is she planning to go to West – to the West Bank to meet with – to Ramallah?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we’re still a number of days out from that portion of the trip, so they’re still working on all the different actors that she’s going to meet with. But she herself said that she’ll meet with some Israelis and some Palestinians, and so that’s the expectation. But in terms of all the different sites that she’ll go to, where she’ll meet with people, that’s still being worked out.

QUESTION: Burns in Beirut?

MR. VENTRELL: Yes. As you know, Deputy Secretary Burns arrived today in Beirut for meetings. He’ll be there today and tomorrow with – and meet with the Prime Minister and other senior Lebanese political and security officials. And during his meetings, he will consult on recent developments in Lebanon and the region and emphasize the United States firm commitment to a stable, sovereign, and independent Lebanon.

Anything else? One more?

QUESTION: Yeah, about Turkey (inaudible) yesterday Turkish general staff announced that there is no evidence of any explosive matter in – no flammable material on the Turkish downed jet. After this statement, do you think there is any confusion on what happened in this incident? Or do you have any comment on this?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, all along we’ve said that we condemn Syria’s brazen and unacceptable downing of the Turkish aircraft. The attack was a reflection of the Syrian authorities’ callous disregard for international norms, human life, and peace and security. But in terms of the specifics, there’s nothing else I can get into here.


MR. VENTRELL: All right. Thank you all.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:29 p.m.)

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