Daily Press Briefing - July 17, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing:

    • U.S. Security Support for Olympic Games in London
    • Status Update
    • Meeting between Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan and Russian President Putin
    • UN Sanctions / UN Observer Mission
    • Aung San Suu Kyi
    • Release of Kidnapped U.S. Citizens
    • USNS Rappahannock Incident / Condolences from U.S. Embassy New Delhi
Patrick Ventrell
Director, Press Office
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
July 17, 2012


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

1:07 p.m. EDT

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

QUESTION: Can I start with the Olympics?


QUESTION: We understand that there’s additional U.S. security personnel going to London. I was wondering if you could be a little bit more explicit about who is going, what they’re going to do, how many of them.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, just to take a step back and talk about the Olympic Games more broadly and in history, we always, when there’s an Olympic Games going on in foreign countries, we, as part of our regular planning, the State Department sends a senior Diplomatic Security agent to be part of the coordinating committee to serve as a liaison. And it’s through those coordinating committees the lead country sets in place the plans that will govern security throughout those Olympic Games.

QUESTION: You mean the host country?

MR. VENTRELL: The host country. Excuse me. And, in this instance, the U.K. – as we’ve stated before, we have full confidence in their ability to provide security for these Olympic Games. And we are, as part of our routine and ongoing and longstanding coordination with our close ally, we’ll have some liaison personnel that will be in country during the Olympic Games. They won’t directly be providing security. That’s what the U.K. authorities will be doing. But they’ll be providing some routine liaison capability. So in the instance of having thousands of more Americans in country, we will have some, for example, TSA agents that will be at the airport. They won’t be the ones that will be necessarily screening people or providing that kind of security, but they will be – they’ll serve a liaison role, as we have an influx of thousands and thousands of Americans who are going through the country. So they can provide some onsite assistance as we see that influx of Americans.

QUESTION: Do you know how many is it?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an exact number, but my understanding is that this is a handful of personnel, at least from TSA. Diplomatic Security will have some agents. I don’t have a full count of our entire presence of what it will be during the Olympic Games, but we’ll have some additional personnel to support our U.S. mission in London.

QUESTION: Can you take that to see if we can get – to see if you can get an answer and --

MR. VENTRELL: I’m happy to look into it. I’m not sure that the Department of State will have the full breadth of it, but we’ll look into it. Obviously, there are a number of agencies that potentially have a role here. But I’d be happy to look into it after the briefing.

QUESTION: Well, even just for the State Department personnel.

MR. VENTRELL: I’d certainly take it on the State Department personnel. I can’t promise on other agencies.

QUESTION: So do you know, is this – is what’s being done this year more or less than what has been done in the past?

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is this is consistent with what we’ve done in previous Olympic Games, that this is routine.

QUESTION: I know. But I mean, I’m talking about the size of the contingent. Is it more or less?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have a reference point. I mean, I know, for example, on the TSA component that the U.K. Department of Transportation and the TSA had for months been talking about a liaison role. And so in their discussions it was agreed that a very small number of TSA staff would be an appropriate liaison. That’s how that came about. But I don’t have a way of comparing it to previous Olympic Games other than to say that it’s part of what we do in working with host countries every year that there’s an Olympics.

QUESTION: Okay. And you said that you have full confidence in the Brits in terms of securing the Olympics?

MR. VENTRELL: We do. They’re a close partner and ally, and we have full faith and confidence in their ability to provide security. And to the extent that we can be helpful in a liaison role or our Diplomatic Security presence can be of use, we look forward to being helpful. But really it’s the U.K. that’s in the lead, and our personnel will just be providing a liaison capability.

QUESTION: Even after this screw-up with the security agents, you still have full confidence?

MR. VENTRELL: We have full confidence in the U.K. authorities to provide security for the Olympic Games.



QUESTION: Oh, is it --


QUESTION: Just an additional one. If, in your whatever question you end up taking out of all of this, just could you let us know if – when the sort of the size of the U.S. footprint was established, and has that changed? Was it set four months ago and it’s still that same number, or has it changed in the interim?

MR. VENTRELL: We’ll look into all those aspects and see what information we can share after the briefing.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just a Syria question?


QUESTION: The latest reports now are that the opposition are moving into the capital, taking over places, et cetera. Can you give us the state of play what the State Department understanding is of how deeply they have penetrated, what their operation is like, how much they control?

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah. Well, what we know, Jill, is that the fighting has been, in these past couple days, the most sustained and widespread in the capital since the start of the uprising. And the Syrian regime, in response, has continued attacks across the country, not only on the capital directly, but also across the country. We’ve had nearly 140 deaths yesterday, and we believe the toll has now surpassed 17,000 dead from the uprising – from the crackdown on the uprising.

And our response really is that even in the face of this brutality, it’s clear that the regime can’t outlast these protests. The desire of the Syrian people for democracy, for freedom, is unyielding and will continue. And as the Secretary said yesterday, this regime cannot survive. We don’t have an hourglass. We don’t have a crystal ball to know if it’s going to be today or tomorrow or next week or when, but it’s clear that the opposition is going to be unyielding in its demands for democracy and that the people of Syria want to see a new regime and want to see a new day for freedom and democracy in Syria.

QUESTION: And on the meeting this morning between President Putin and Kofi Annan, I saw before that meeting Lavrov came out and made some statements that were actually kind of positive. I don’t see any reason why we can’t work this out was the gist of it. The latest I saw from Kofi Annan was not very specific. Do you have any better understanding what happened in that meeting?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we haven’t had a specific readout from the Joint Special Envoy yet on his meetings. We know that the overall message – and he was very clear about this to the Security Council in public and in private – that what he wants and needs to fulfill his responsibilities is a resolution that has real consequences for noncompliance with his plan and with the Geneva document. And so we haven’t had a chance to hear back from him yet on how his meetings went. The negotiations continue in New York today. I don’t want to prejudge how those are going to – what may come out of those. But we’re working very intensively, and the Secretary was very clear yesterday the importance we attach to getting a resolution with those Chapter 7 consequences for noncompliance.

QUESTION: But what are you reading into the statements by Mr. Lavrov, at least, because they seem quite seem different from – I guess it was yesterday – when he was talking about blackmail?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, let’s see how the negotiations go. I don’t want to try to negotiate this in public or try to prejudge where they may be. Let’s let them, around the negotiating table, continue to work on this resolution and see what comes out of it. We obviously have been very clear with the Russians the importance that we attach to this. We know what the Special Envoy had said in public, in private, and delivered that message as well. So we’re obviously hopeful that we can all get to the point we need to be, but I don’t want to prejudge where we may be as this day goes on and into tomorrow.

QUESTION: Patrick.

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead, Samir.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what type of consequences – I mean, what kind of sanctions that they may work on the Assad regime?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I don’t want to go into every detail of what will be in the resolution. Our broader picture has been that we want consequences for noncompliance, and we’re talking about sanctions that will continue to put the pinch on the regime. So we’ve done that in a unilateral setting; we’ve done that with the Friends of the Syrian People; we’ve done that in a number of different settings. But obviously, we know that UN Sanctions can be effective as well. And so having those additional measures, having that additional pressure to push the regime if they continue not to comply, would be useful. And we think that it’s important.

And of course, in the context of the observers as well, because as Ambassador Rice said last night at the UN, to have them in there, obviously we need to have something different. The status quo of what they’re doing and their mandate isn’t working with the tools they’ve been given. So that’s an issue as well.

QUESTION: Just on the consequences --

MR. VENTRELL: Yes, Matt.

QUESTION: -- when you say – when you use the word consequences, you’re only envisioning sanctions, correct?

MR. VENTRELL: Right now, we’re talking about sanctions.

QUESTION: And will that – do you expect that to be explicit in the resolution?

MR. VENTRELL: I never want to prejudge what will come out of negotiations for a resolution.

QUESTION: The reason I’m asking is because the last administration had a thing with Iraq, you might recall, where there were going to be serious consequences if Iraq didn’t comply. And they took that to mean that it was an invasion. So the administration read that as invasion, while other countries did not read that as an invasion. So I just want to make sure. You’re not talking about anything more – when you say consequences in this time around regarding Syria, you’re not talking about anything more than sanctions.

MR. VENTRELL: At this point, it’s economic sanctions for noncompliance.

QUESTION: Patrick, are you still insisting on having a Chapter 7 resolution, or there is no renewal of the UN mission in Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: We think what’s appropriate is a Chapter 7 resolution that has that sort of mandate and authority as it imposes the kind of economic consequences that we just talked about. We think that’s the most appropriate way forward.


QUESTION: But then on the monitors, the Russians are saying let’s broaden the responsibility of the monitors, don’t take them out of there, delink, keep them there, and even broaden their responsibility. What do you think of that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, if they can have impact as we work toward a political transition and have a positive role, we think that’s a good thing. But given the Security Council mandate they had in the original resolutions, they haven’t been given the tools to do what they need to do. And so if there are no consequences for the regime’s noncompliance, the tools aren’t available for them to continue to properly do their job. And so that’s being debated and negotiated up in New York right now.


MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Different topic?


QUESTION: A U.S. think tank invited Aung San Suu Kyi to New York --


QUESTION: -- for their events in September. The State Department is planning to invite her as well here?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I’m aware of those news reports. Obviously, we look forward to, at an appropriate date, welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi here to the State Department and of course her having bilateral meetings here in the U.S., but I don’t have anything to announce today in terms of meetings.


MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Anything more on the two Americans that were released?

MR. VENTRELL: Again, this is about the two Americans who were released yesterday in the Sinai. I don’t have an update for you in terms of their whereabouts other than to say that they were released.

QUESTION: You don’t know if they are in American custody or if they’ve had any sort of --

MR. VENTRELL: Due to privacy considerations, there’s not much more that I can say other than we know they were released. We, of course, had been providing appropriate consular assistance. But due to privacy considerations, I’m not able to provide any further information at this time.

QUESTION: But what you’re saying is you have had some sort of contact.

MR. VENTRELL: Yes. We’ve been in contact for proper consular assistance.

QUESTION: Okay. And secondly, there’s been a train derailment. And wondering – there’s quite a few deaths. Do we know of any Americans on that train?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t at this time, but I will take the question and look into it afterward.


QUESTION: Just on that – the boat shooting incident yesterday.


QUESTION: I was wondering if you could tell us about your contact in the Indian Government on that subject. Apparently, the Embassy had a statement up expressing condolences.


QUESTION: And then the fishermen are disputing the account of – the Pentagon account, saying that they were not warned off. I’m just wondering if that has come up in your back and forth with the Indians on this.

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks, Andy. In terms of everything regarding the actual circumstances of the incident, I, of course, refer you to the Department of Defense, as they have the lead on the investigation and the incident. But the Embassy in New Delhi did issue a statement earlier today in which we conveyed our condolences to the families of the crew, which came under fire after the vessel disregarded nonlethal warnings and rapidly approached the U.S. ship. And so at this point, DOD is conducting an investigation. And we, of course, will work with our Indian counterparts and be as transparent as possible to provide them the results of our investigation once it’s finished.

QUESTION: Have – has there been any contact with the Indian Government about this – I mean, with the State Department?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware of any at this point, but I’d be happy to look into it. From the information I had coming down here, I didn’t have anything to report yet.

QUESTION: If it turns out that this was some kind of a misunderstanding, are the Indians going to have to wait eight months for an apology?

MR. VENTRELL: What I can tell you is that this is under investigation by DOD, and we will be in touch with the Indians.


QUESTION: I’ve just got a related one. I was just wondering, idle curiosity really, there have been a spate of arrests in the UAE of Islamist activists, which they’re describing as a crackdown. And I’m just wondering if you guys are aware of these and if you have any reaction to this move by your close ally in the region.

MR. VENTRELL: I’m going to go ahead and take that one as well, Andy. I don’t have anything for you today.


QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:21 p.m.)

DPB # 128