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Daily Press Briefing, August 9, 2012

Patrick Ventrell
Acting Deputy Department Spokesman
Daily Press Briefing
Washington, DC
August 9, 2012

Index for Today's Briefing

Conference in Iran
Situation in Aleppo / Syrian Opposition
Missile Defense
Oil Agreement
Support for Burmese Reform Efforts
Charge d'Affaires / Issue of Ambassadorship
Daqduq Case
U.S. Relationship with Iraqi Government
Encourage Good Relations between our Allies
Charge in Place to Manage Mission / Issue of Ambassadorship



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

12:58 p.m. EDT

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Good afternoon, and welcome to the State Department. I will turn it over to all of you.

QUESTION: I don’t really have anything that I think is of massive importance, but maybe you’d like to comment today on the Iranian conference that is underway? I know you’ve touched on it in the past, but is there anything that you could possibly expect from this conference that would be constructive in any way?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, you’re right, Brad. As we’ve been saying all along, and this week in particular, we’ve had a few instances to reiterate our position that we think the Iranian behavior in Syria is destructive. It’s just hard for us to imagine that a country putting so much effort into keeping Assad in power, to helping him, as the Secretary said, stage manage this repression on the people of Syria – it’s just hard to imagine how they could be a constructive actor in facilitating a political solution to the crisis in Syria.

QUESTION: Are you upset that they’re also calling themselves Friends of Syria? Does that seem to be --

MR. VENTRELL: I hadn’t heard that.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just on Aleppo, do you have any kind of update on the situation there? I know you don’t have a lot of eyes – or any eyes and ears on the ground, but just how you see the battle playing out right now?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Brad, we are following the reports of the offensive by the Syrian regime that includes a ground assault and shelling and bombing as they try to destroy homes and stores and cause even more extensive damage to the city. We see reports of jets that have been firing unguided rockets into civilian areas indiscriminately in Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria. Today, we’ve heard of 78 more people killed across Syria. One hundred and sixty-two were reported killed yesterday. And we just think that it’s unconscionable that the government would use fighter jets, artillery, tanks, and helicopters to bombard towns and cities under the rubric of protecting them. Nor do we see how they possibly can justify closing hospitals and hindering humanitarian access, which is what the regime is clearly doing now.

What I would say about the broader issue though of momentum is that despite this onslaught, we think that the army is increasingly overstretched. We think that the economy is under increasing strain. And we think the rebels are getting stronger. So they may tactically retreat from neighborhoods here or there, but the broader trend line is that the opposition continues to gain strength as they hold large swaths of territory in the north.

QUESTION: But you don’t think their retreat from Aleppo would be a major reversal in this war or a major kind of defeat for the rebels?

MR. VENTRELL: We’ve seen them tactically retreat and advance back and forth, different times and different cities. So that’s happened before.


QUESTION: On this very point, I mean, you keep saying – stating from the podium that the opposition is showing that it’s getting stronger, it’s getting more united, and so on. On the other hand, all other news accounts show them to be actually in disarray. Their forces on the ground have been decimated by the regime’s and so on. So is this kind of position in a way to sort of filter out any pressure to give direct aid to the rebels?

MR. VENTRELL: Said, I’m just giving you our analysis of how we see it on the ground --


MR. VENTRELL: -- and we do believe that they’ve gained strength; we do believe they’ve made some major advances. There’s no doubt, however, that this regime is willing to go to great lengths to stay in power, and it includes some very vicious tactics. But we think they continue to be ever more united and increasingly effective.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you see any sort of difference or any daylight between your position and that of Mr. John Brennan yesterday when he said that all options were on the table, including – suggested or insinuated – including a no-fly zone?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Mr. Brennan absolutely speaks for the Administration. What he said is that the Administration is doing everything possible that’s going to advance the interests of peace in Syria. And I quote, “and not, again, do anything that’s going to contribute to more violence.” So that’s what he said, and I think the wider issue of us responsibly looking at different scenarios is something we’ve talked about before. So I don’t think we’re at any change in policy at this point; we’re just at a point where we continue to monitor the ever evolving situation in Syria, and we’ve been pretty clear that we want to get to a peaceful solution as quickly as possible, and that’s exactly what Mr. Brennan said yesterday.

QUESTION: But if – you said that you continue to believe that the opposition is growing ever more united --


QUESTION: -- what evidence do you have for that?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I mean, we talk about it sometimes politically, Arshad, in terms of them becoming more united in terms of this broad group of opposition leaders, but we talk about it also on the ground in terms of their ability to communicate, which is something we’ve helped facilitate – their ability to have greater command and control over the various components, so it’s an evolving situation. But that’s the trend line.

QUESTION: But, I mean, what are the indices of their being more united? I mean, have they coalesced to form a leader or a leadership group?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, that’s something they continue to work on. But when we talk command and control, for instance, we’re talking about their ability to have disparate units that are in different parts of even one city or one battle zone, or in, indeed, in different cities be communicating and be working in concert. So this is – the Assad regime has taken their repression to all ends of Syria and in response you have different communities that are – have risen up and asked for a new way forward and pushed for that. And so we have people in a lot of different areas of Syria that are communicating more effectively and becoming more united. But obviously they’re continuing to coalesce; this is a work in progress.


QUESTION: Can we just stay on Syria?

MR. VENTRELL: I think we have a couple more Syria questions.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Israeli press is saying that U.S. envoys have transmitted a concern – Saudi concern about a possible raid over Iran and warned that Saudi will down any Israeli planes going into their airspace. Did you transmit anything from the Saudis to the Israelis?

MR. VENTRELL: I have nothing for you on that.

QUESTION: Going back to Syria.


QUESTION: The King of Jordan – King Abdullah – said yesterday that he – there’s a real fear that Assad may go into the Alawite area in the mountains and actually have an Alawite enclave and this would cause – would bring in a domino effect where the Sunnis will have an enclave, Alawites will have an enclave, the Christians, and so on. What is your assessment of such a dismal prospect?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, there are some different scenarios about how this may play out. I think King Abdullah was talking about one of those potential scenarios. We remain committed to a unified Syria, one that is a future for Syria that is free and democratic and sovereign and that maintains the territorial integrity of Syria. So that’s the direction that we hope this goes. There are some fearful scenarios on a number of different fronts in terms of how this could play out, so I think he was expressing that. But our – we continue to be committed to the broader goal of an end state of a free, stable, secure, and sovereign Syria that maintains its current borders.

QUESTION: And I promise lastly, now, does the retreat – the apparent retreat of the opposition from Aleppo, the battle of Aleppo that was deemed the mother of all battles, does that bring in a sense of urgency or an added sense of urgency when the Secretary meets with her interlocutors in Istanbul?

MR. VENTRELL: We’ve been saying all along that this is – and talked increasingly about how urgent this is, but I wouldn’t tie it specifically to one event or another, other to say we’ve been – the need to urgently end this violence is ongoing.


QUESTION: Oh, sorry, Patrick, if I cause you to reiterate something you’ve already said, but several voices in the Washington D.C. foreign policy civil society have criticized the Administration for not working closely enough with – and specifically not taking enough of a leadership role with U.S. allies in the region, specifically Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. Do you feel that that criticism is inaccurate, first? And then a follow-up.

MR. VENTRELL: I think our cooperation and interaction with these key allies and neighbors and others is intensive and ongoing and is close and collaborative.

QUESTION: Can you give us one specific example, and I know there are developments to come in the days ahead, but can you give us one specific example of how it is that we’re working with those three countries to communicate with the opposition, for instance?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we don’t get into all aspects of our diplomatic interaction with other countries. But suffice it to say that it’s intensive and ongoing how we work with these countries and continue to coordinate. Obviously, as you’ve mentioned, the Secretary will go to Turkey and coordinate with our Turkish ally. And our discussions with other partners and neighbors and Friends of Syria are ongoing as well.


QUESTION: Not on Syria.

MR. VENTRELL: Okay. Change of topic.

QUESTION: There’s a report out today that the U.S. is pushing Gulf countries to create a missile shield around that area, and I wondered if you could comment on that and update us on any efforts – the Secretary has mentioned this in the past – on any efforts to work with Gulf nations to build a missile shield against Iran.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, what I would say is that the threat from ballistic missiles to our deployed forces, allies, and partners in the region is growing, and this threat is likely to increase in both volume and complexity in the coming years. The U.S. has a robust security partnership, including missile defense with our allies and partners in the Gulf and is committed to their security. The U.S. will continue to work with our partners in the Middle East to strengthen missile defense in the Persian Gulf. But of course, for any other details, I would refer you to the Department of Defense principally on this matter.

QUESTION: Has anything significantly changed on that regional defense architecture since the Secretary went there and talked about it in March?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I’d refer you to the Department –

QUESTION: And it was re-quoted yesterday in a prominent newspaper about –

MR. VENTRELL: I would refer you to the Department of Defense for any further details.

Okay. Over here.

QUESTION: Yeah. Can I ask about the oil deal between Sudan and South Sudan? The Secretary commented on this over the weekend, but can you help us understand what more can the U.S. do now to facilitate this agreement, and what would you like to see the Chinese do to help this agreement?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we can’t really speak for other countries. In terms of the U.S., we think implementing the deal as quickly as possible is key to the economic stability of both Sudan and South Sudan. But beyond that, I don’t have any information for you. We remain committed to seeing these partners implement the deal as quickly as possible.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: A different issue, on Burma.


QUESTION: PepsiCo today announced that it is entering into an agreement with a local Burmese company to market some of its products inside Burma. I think this is the first major U.S. company entering the Burmese market after the sanctions were lifted. What do you have to say on it? And has the PepsiCo assured you that it will abide by all the conditions that you have given to the U.S. companies?

MR. VENTRELL: Thanks for the question. I can’t speak for individual companies in particular, but broadly speaking, the U.S. supports the Burmese Government’s ongoing reform efforts and believes that the participation of U.S. businesses in the Burmese economy will set a model for responsible investment and business operations, as well as encourage further change, promote economic development, and contribute to the welfare of the Burmese people.

QUESTION: And do you have any idea how many U.S. companies have (inaudible) you in terms of number that they’re going to Burma?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any further information on the number of companies, but if we have anything further for you, we’ll get back to you.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hi. I would like to ask about the Korea and Japan. It’s reported that the Korean Government informed to Japanese Government that President Lee Myung-bak going to visit the small island tomorrow. And do you have any information from the Korea or Japanese Government about that?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t. I really refer you to those two governments.

Go ahead, sir.

QUESTION: Today, China saw the most high-profile trials in over 30 years. The last time it was the trial for Jiang Qing, the widow of Mao Zedong. And today, the trial is about Bo Xilai – I’m sorry, Bo Xilai’s wife, Bo Gu Kailai. Do you have any comments about this trial, because China is considered a country that has a legal system but doesn’t have rule of law? Do you think rule of law can apply to Bo Gu Kailai, the lady who is also an attorney in China?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) you have nothing at all on that? It was a seven-hour trial, I believe.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, again, I don’t have anything for you on that.

QUESTION: Is it a kind of – I don’t know. I mean, back 30 years, because at that time most people are not here, I mean, did the U.S. make any comments on any trials in China, like the trial of Jiang Qing back over 30 years?

MR. VENTRELL: Historically, we may have said something. I’m just not aware.

QUESTION: You’re aware that the case is happening, though, right?

MR. VENTRELL: We’re aware of the case.

QUESTION: Did you provide any information to Chinese authorities on this case, considering the initial encounter in the Embassy that kind of touched off the whole episode unraveling?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not aware that we have, Brad. But if that’s not right, we’ll get back to you.




MR. VENTRELL: Yes. Iraq?



QUESTION: Yeah. Could you update us on the status of the American ambassadorship in Iraq?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have an update for you. On personnel decisions for ambassadorships, I refer you to the White House.

QUESTION: Okay. So it is the chargé d'affaires who’s taking care of things?

MR. VENTRELL: We still have a chargé.

QUESTION: Okay. But these are really very critical times for both Iraq and the United States, considering all that is going on in Syria and allegations that the Government of Iraq is releasing a wanted member of the Lebanese Hezbollah and so on. Do you know anything about that?

MR. VENTRELL: Which case are you referring to?

QUESTION: Well, the Iraqi Government is fixing to release a member of the Lebanese Hezbollah militia.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, first of all on the wider issue of our ambassadorship there, obviously, as soon as we’re able to nominate someone and fill that post, we look forward to doing that. As you know, I would also say that we did just have our ambassador to Afghanistan confirmed. We continue to urge the Senate to confirm our ambassador to Pakistan, and when we have an ambassador to nominate to Iraq, we will.

On the particular case that you’re discussing here, we continue to believe that Daqduq should be held accountable for his crimes. And while we do strongly oppose recent decisions by the Iraqi judiciary, protections for the accused are built into the judicial systems, including our own, and we understand that there is – we await another decision from the Iraq – from their highest appeal court.

QUESTION: Now, the United States has really invested a great deal of time, effort, and money in Iraq, and Iraq proposed itself as a robust U.S. ally. But they seem to be contradicting your position on Syria, especially with their ties to Iran. Could you in any way elaborate on this issue?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we do have a good and robust and strategic partnership with the Iraqi Government. As you know, our Strategic Framework Agreement, which was signed a few years ago, really is the outline for our deep and intensive and ongoing relationship with the Iraqi Government on a number of fronts. Whether it’s with civil society and education and some of those areas, or again, on rule of law and other areas, we have an ongoing relationship with the Iraqi Government that is robust and covers a number of different areas.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask again? That is really a serious issue for the two U.S. allies, Japan and Korea. It’s about the same issue. So if the president – Korean President visit that island, that going to be a big conflict between two allies of United States. What is the stance – position of the U.S. Government against this issue?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we encourage good relations between both of our allies.

QUESTION: Are you disappointed at – or how far the absence of your full-fledged ambassador from Pakistan is affecting your ties with Pakistan, given that it’s very crucial time for you, your people?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I would just say that we also have a chargé in place who is running our bilateral mission in Islamabad, but we encourage the Senate when it is back in session to quickly confirm our nominee.

QUESTION: But it is unlikely to be confirmed, at least for a month or few weeks. Is it going to impact your --

MR. VENTRELL: We still have a very capable chargé in place to manage our important mission there, and we look forward to the ambassador being confirmed by the Senate.

QUESTION: And have you expressed your concerns to the Senate on this issue or other ambassadors’ nomination?

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, I know that he had his confirmation hearing, and then there’s a process whereby the Senate provides its consent. And when they’re back in session, we look forward to them taking up the matter.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR. VENTRELL: Anything else, guys?

QUESTION: Thank you.


(The briefing was concluded at 1:19 p.m.)

DPB # 142

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