Department Press Briefing – February 27, 2024

1:18 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: Hello, good afternoon. Start with some opening comments.

The United States condemns Russia’s unjust sentencing today of Oleg Orlov, the renowned Russian human rights leader and co-chair of the 2022 Nobel Prize-winning organization Memorial. Russian authorities – dissatisfied with the outcome of an earlier ruling that imposed a simple fine – sought a re-do. The outcome? Mr. Orlov was sentenced today to two and a half years in prison simply for peacefully and courageously speaking out against Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. Ambassador Tracy joins diplomats from 17 other countries to bear witness to this latest miscarriage of justice in Putin’s Russia, which Orlov aptly described as Kafkaesque.

Today’s verdict falls on the 9th anniversary of the assassination of Russian pro-democracy politician Boris Nemtsov. Like Aleksey Navalny, Nemtsov was a clarion voice for reform and accountability who Putin targeted for his activism. A former deputy prime minister of Russia, Nemtsov devoted his life to improving the lives of his fellow citizens until he was gunned down in the shadow of the Kremlin.

Nemtsov’s civic commitment continues to be an inspiration for other pro-democracy politicians and human rights defenders in Russia and beyond. Vladimir Kara-Murza, a Nemtsov protégé and courageous leader in his own right, now languishes in a Russian prison for advocating a freer future for Russia.

The United States strongly condemns the Kremlin’s escalating domestic repression. Together with our allies and partners, the United States will continue to insist Russian authorities immediately release the more than 680 political prisoners they continue to hold, and we reiterate today our support for Russia’s courageous citizens who continue to work toward a better future for the Russian people.

And with that, Matt.

QUESTION: Right. Sorry, yeah. Sorry, I was on the phone.

MR MILLER: Sorry for being —

QUESTION: I apologize.

MR MILLER: Sorry for being on time today.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR MILLER: Guess I caught everyone off guard.

QUESTION: Well, exactly. It’s such a shock. So because I was late and I missed your opening, I’ll defer.

MR MILLER: Shaun.

QUESTION: Could I ask you maybe switch to the Middle East first?

MR MILLER: Yes, of course.

QUESTION: The President’s comments talking about Sunday as the goal for a ceasefire, what can you tell us about that? Is that a goal? Is that something that is actually maybe not a deadline but something that you think is possible?

MR MILLER: So our goal is to achieve a deal to reach a humanitarian pause and the release of hostages as soon as possible. Certainly, we’d welcome getting one by this weekend. What I can say about the overall progress is that we made significant progress towards an agreement last week when we had officials from the United States Government engaging in the region. We continue to pursue further progress this week. American officials across the government continue to be engaged on this question.

We are trying to push this deal over the finish line. We do think it’s possible. But as you’ve heard me say before, ultimately some of this comes down to Hamas and whether Hamas is willing to agree to a deal that would provide significant benefits to the Palestinian people that they claim to represent.

QUESTION: Sure. I mean, you said it’s possible by the end of the weekend, and you mentioned the U.S. diplomacy. I mean, are there – what needs to happen for that to take place? Are there actual talks that are going on actually with the U.S. side?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to negotiate in public, but there are talks that continue. American officials continue to engage on this and discuss it with our counterparts in the Government of Israel as well as the Governments of Qatar and Egypt. And we continue to push to try to get this deal over the finish line. We think it’s possible. We think we can reach a deal. But ultimately, we would need Hamas to say yes. We would need Hamas to agree to a deal that would allow for the release of hostages which never should have been taken in the first place, that would allow for a temporary ceasefire and allow increased humanitarian assistance to come in.

As I said, that is a deal that is not just in the interest of the hostages obviously, it’s not just in the interests of the Government of Israel or the Israeli people. It is a deal that is in the interest of the Palestinian people, so we will continue to push for it because we think it’s in the interest of all parties concerned.

QUESTION: And could I just – just as a part of that, the President talked about a ceasefire, not necessarily a temporary ceasefire. I know you’ve – the Secretary himself has said that there needs to be a durable – I forget the exact phrasing, but durable solution. But is what’s – is the goal for this weekend or the goal for as soon as possible an actual ceasefire, like a long-lasting ceasefire rather than a temporary?

MR MILLER: So again, I’m not going to negotiate in public and talk about what the contours of a deal might look like, but we certainly are trying to reach a temporary ceasefire as part of this agreement that would allow us to get hostages out and would allow us to get humanitarian assistance. And we would like to see a temporary ceasefire go on long enough to allow all the hostages to get out. Again, without talking about what the contours of any agreement might look like, we want to see a ceasefire go on for as long as it can to get all the hostages out.

That said – and you’ve heard the Secretary speak to this and heard the President speak to this – our ultimate goal is to end this war as soon as possible and end it in a way that ensures Israel’s security and in a way that puts us on a path towards the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and that’s the diplomatic route that we continue to pursue.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, Matt?

MR MILLER: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you foresee the ceasefire being in one continuous phase or in multiple phases, and would you expect female IDF soldiers to be released (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: Again, I just don’t want to talk about what the contours of an agreement might look like as we continue very sensitive negotiations.

QUESTION: And can you give us any more details on what’s underpinning the President’s optimism given that partners in the region have kind of thrown cold water on the notion that this could be accomplished in the coming days?

MR MILLER: What’s underpinning the President’s optimism is looking at the broad outlines of a deal that we have put in place through negotiations last week and negotiations that are continuing through this week, and the fact that he believes and we believe one was in – one is within reach. That said, to be clear, we don’t have one yet. Hamas will need to agree to one. But we do think it’s possible and we’re going to continue to push for it, and we want to see it happen as soon as possible.

QUESTION: And then one more unrelated to the hostages.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have any updates on the CHIRG assessments that you mentioned are underway?

MR MILLER: Only that it’s ongoing. As part of our regular work and normal processes, we’re accessing facts and examining them as they develop, but I don’t have any update on the outcomes of that review.

Yeah, Simon.

QUESTION: Yeah, I wanted to just, I guess, try this from another approach. But the President said that the Israelis have agreed to a ceasefire during Ramadan. It’s sort of been said all along from the Hamas side that what they want is a longer-lasting, a permanent ceasefire, right. So I mean, has there been any movement that’s closed the gap between the two sides on that specific aspect?

MR MILLER: I appreciate you trying from another angle. I still don’t think I can answer that without getting into the underlying contours of a deal and the underlying issues that we are trying to negotiate.

That said, if we got a temporary ceasefire as soon as this weekend or as soon as early next week, just looking at logically how that would proceed, that would extend over the course of Ramadan. So obviously we’re trying to reach it as soon as possible. If we were able to reach over Ramadan – or before Ramadan, that would extend through Ramadan and would provide an outcome that I think would help alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people and, as I said, get hostages out. So we will continue to pursue it and try to get it as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Just to sort of understand where this optimism, I guess, is coming from, we’re talking about – we’re talking about a temporary ceasefire, but you think that that will lead to a – or the Secretary has said and you just said, I think, this is the best way to get to an end of the conflict. But just so we kind of understand, Israel’s position is still – they still are seeking to take out the leadership of Hamas. There are these battalions in Rafah that they want to get to. So is there a prospect for a longer-term ceasefire? Even if you get a temporary ceasefire, the Israelis are still going to have those broader war aims.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Are you going to be able to support – are the Israelis ever going to be able to agree to that before they’ve sort of achieved those aims?

MR MILLER: So that’s a great question. Let’s start by saying no one here can predict the future, and we ought to be – all ought to be humble in trying to predict how the future will unfold, especially in such a volatile situation. We want to get a ceasefire, as I’ve said, as soon as possible. We want to see it last long enough to get all of the hostages out.

Once you get a temporary ceasefire, there are a number of variables that could be in play. Yes, we agree with the Government of Israel that the persistence of Hamas battalions in Rafah or wherever else they might be, or Hamas fighters wherever else they might be in Gaza, does represent a legitimate security threat to the state of Israel that they have a right to address. And so that may be addressing through a military campaign. But as we’ve heard us say before, Hamas could make all this easier by laying down their arms and forswearing further threats against the Government of Israel.

So I know whenever I say that, people say, oh, Hamas will never do that. But again, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t if they want to see this war end, if they want to see the suffering of Palestinians – one way to alleviate that suffering would be for those Hamas battalions to swear off the fight against Israel. So all of that said, it’s very hard to predict what might happen weeks from now. What we are focused on now is trying to get this temporary ceasefire that would alleviate the very severe conditions on the ground right now as well as get these hostages out.

QUESTION: Sure. Finally, I wonder if you had any concern with some comments that the Israeli Defense Minister Gallant made saying if there is a possible ceasefire, then Israel would increase attacks on Hizballah in the north. Do you have concern that there would be escalation in that sort of separate front in the north?

MR MILLER: So we do not want to see either side escalate the conflict in the north, and in fact, we are going to continue to pursue a diplomatic resolution of that conflict. And while we saw the defense minister’s comments, we have also taken note that repeatedly the defense minister and other officials of the Government of Israel, including the prime minister, have said publicly that they would prefer this situation to be resolved diplomatically.

They do face a real security threat in that there are tens of thousands of Israelis who do not feel safe returning to their homes in northern Israel. That’s a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed. We want to achieve a diplomatic path. The Government of Israel has said publicly and they have assured us privately that they want to achieve a diplomatic path, and so that’s what we’re going to continue to pursue, and ultimately that would make military action unnecessary.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR MILLER: Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just following up on Shaun, Jen, and Simon on – there’s a great deal of pushback. I mean, when the President spoke yesterday, there was an element of certainty that we will have a ceasefire by next Monday.

MR MILLER: I think you’re over describing his comments a little bit.

QUESTION: Well, I’m not – I’m not —

MR MILLER: He said that’s what we’re trying to – what we’re trying to get to.

QUESTION: I mean, okay. I mean, let’s see what he – he said that —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. He used the word —

QUESTION: Well, I mean, okay, the impression – let’s put it this way. The impression —

MR MILLER: I don’t speak to people’s impressions, Said. Sorry.

QUESTION: Okay, fine. It’s okay. That’s all right. I mean, you know exactly what I – where I’m coming from on this issue. What I’m saying is that does that mean that all the I’s have been dotted and the T’s have been crossed, or at least they have been fined-tuned right now and we are probably getting closer? Would you say we are closer today than we were yesterday?

MR MILLER: We’re closer today than we were yesterday. But no, the I’s haven’t been crossed and the T’s haven’t been dotted. As I said, we don’t have a deal. And we are trying to get one and we’re trying to push this over the finish line. There are a number of officials from the United States Government doing that hard work even as we speak, and we want to get there. But ultimately Hamas has to agree to a deal, and we hope that they will.

QUESTION: Yeah, but time and again, you put the blame squarely on Hamas, and that’s your prerogative. That’s fine. But before October 7th, there was – there was a siege on Gaza for 16 years. I mean, the suffering has been going on for a very, very long time. Would there be, as a part of this deal – whenever it comes to pass – would there be a commitment to lift the siege by the Egyptians, by the Israelis, with the influence of the United States of America?

MR MILLER: So again, I don’t want to speak to what this deal would look like, if and when we get one. But if you go back to the principles that the Secretary outlined in Tokyo that we want to see govern Gaza going forward, one of the principles that he outlined was no ongoing siege of Gaza.

QUESTION: But, I mean, let me ask you about the food situation in Gaza. We saw that the Jordanian monarch himself went on a plane and was – also, they say, was – basically they were dumping the foodstuffs and so on from an airplane. Why couldn’t the United States do that? I mean, you guys have all these C-130s anyway that Jordan is using, Israel is using, everybody’s using. Why not do it —

MR MILLER: Every partner —

QUESTION: — and show the Palestinians a great gesture?

MR MILLER: Sure. Every partner plays a different role and has different capabilities that they bring to bear. We are the leading donor of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. The United States just announced a significant new aid package of over $50 million in humanitarian assistance today that will go into Gaza. That said, there are other partners that bring other capabilities to bear, and we welcome the Government of Jordan air-dropping supplies in and will continue to work with them on that. But we have our own ways of getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza.

QUESTION: And lastly, would the United States be prepared to deal with a sort of super-urgent situation if the ceasefire ever takes place, because you have disease, you have – probably have issues of shelter, and so on, schools and all these things, to sort of – like I said, beyond aiding UNRWA on your own, so to speak?

MR MILLER: I don’t – what was the last?

QUESTION: The question is would the United States have any kind of its own initiative, so to speak, after – if the ceasefire takes place, if the hostilities cease? Will – is there – do you talk in this building, do you discuss in this building ways and means to aid the Palestinians afterwards with possibly tents, with foodstuff —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: – medicine, emergency things?

MR MILLER: Absolutely. So it would be a part of our ongoing – excuse me – humanitarian assistance that we’ve been providing to the Palestinian people. But as we saw in the last pause, the nature of a pause is it’s safer for humanitarian assistance to move around inside Gaza and so relief can get into the hands of the people that need it most. And because you alleviate some of that backlog that happens once you get humanitarian assistance through Rafah or through Kerem Shalom into Gaza, you then can get more of it in. So we would very much anticipate that during a pause or a temporary ceasefire you would see increased humanitarian assistance come in, and of course the United States would play its role and its part, as we have from the outset, to try to get that humanitarian assistance in and make sure it’s sustained.

QUESTION: Matt, is there anything you can point to to back up the assertion that you just made in response to one of Said’s questions, that we’re closer today than we were yesterday?

MR MILLER: Just that we continue negotiations, and I can’t, unfortunately – I can’t – but I —

QUESTION: Well, you’re – okay, fine. But continuing negotiations – so they haven’t broken down. Is that why they’re closer to them —

MR MILLER: We – I am – so I can’t really answer that —

QUESTION: — today than yesterday?

MR MILLER: — without getting into the underlying substance of the negotiations. But the talks continue, and we think we continue to make progress on them.

QUESTION: Okay. But I’m – well, yeah, you said that —

MR MILLER: You said – I said we think we continue to make progress. That’s the basis.

QUESTION: Well, no, no, I —

MR MILLER: That is the basis of my statement.

QUESTION: You said we are closer today than we were yesterday, and so —

MR MILLER: Continuing to make progress is closer.

QUESTION: — I’m just wondering – just wondering what you can point to to back that up.

MR MILLER: I am not going to point to anything related to these underlying talks because I can’t do it without —

QUESTION: Okay. So just so it’s like —

MR MILLER: Hold on. Let me just finish, Matt. I can’t do it without getting into the issues that we’re discussing and the sticking points that remain. But we continue to make progress, and that’s the basis of my statement.

QUESTION: And it sounds like that old one-hit-wonder Spiral Staircase song: “I love you more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow.” But you can’t – but you can’t show —

MR MILLER: Well, we would hope – we – we – you can —

QUESTION: There isn’t anything you can give to us now or present to us or tell us that would actually back up the idea that I – that a ceasefire/hostage deal —

MR MILLER: I —

QUESTION: — is closer today than it was yesterday.

MR MILLER: I can never show you definitive progress in talks that, by their very nature, are secret until we have an agreement. What I can tell you is that we made progress last week, we continue to make progress, and we hope to get a deal as soon as possible.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Shifting back to Europe before – if I may. Starting from your opening statement on Russia and human rights, the Navalny family has found itself in a very peculiar situation. They can’t recover the body, and her mom was threatened by the officials, and her lawyer got arrested today. Do you have any comment on —

MR MILLER: So we remain in touch with the Navalny family. As you know, the Secretary met with Yulia Navalny on the margins of the Munich Security Conference last week. We, as we’ve said, hold Russia accountable for Navalny’s death. You saw us impose sanctions on officials connected to the death of Navalny last week. And we will continue to maintain – to be in touch with the Navalny family. I had not seen the reports of the arrest, so I’m not going to comment in detail until I have a chance to look at them. But I will say we have of course seen continued crackdown on dissent by the Russian Government; that was the focus of my opening comments, and it’s why we continue to call on the Russian Government to release all of the more than 600 political prisoners it is holding.

QUESTION: Thank you. And moving to Ukraine, any comment on the French leader’s latest comments about potentially Western soldiers, troops, fighting in Ukraine? Concerns around it, debates around it – where are you standing?

MR MILLER: So President Biden has made clear, going back more than two years to before even Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that he will not send U.S. soldiers to fight in Ukraine.

QUESTION: And what is your observation about the current state of – state in the battlefield? Ukraine appears to be in retreat. What’s next? How dangerous is the current situation?

MR MILLER: The situation is extremely serious right now. We have seen Ukrainian frontline troops who don’t have the ammo they need to repel Russian aggression. They’re still fighting bravely. They’re still fighting courageously. They still have armor and weapons and ammunition they can use, but they’re having to ration it now because the United States Congress has failed to act. And so we expect that for the remainder of the year Ukrainian forces will continue to fight bravely and they will make advances, as they have done most significantly in the Black Sea as of late. But it will be much tougher for them if they don’t have access to the ammunition that (inaudible) need, which is why you see the President continue to push for Congress to act.

We believe, as we have said multiple times, if the House would just hold an up-or-down vote on aid to Ukraine, it would pass. And so we again call on Congress to do its duty to hold this vote and get the assistance to the Ukrainian army, that desperately needs it.

QUESTION: Thank you. And final one from me on Armenia-Azerbaijan. The ministers – foreign ministers – are meeting tomorrow in Berlin. I know the Secretary wanted to have them here in Washington since December. Is it the end of the Washington process? And also, what is your expectation from tomorrow’s meeting?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any announcements to make, but we continue to encourage both sides to try to reach a durable, lasting agreement.

QUESTION: Could I actually —

MR MILLER: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: — just ask a question that the – Alex’s question on Macron?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know, of course, the President has it clear – made clear that the U.S. isn’t going to send soldiers to Ukraine. The overall debate, though, do you think it’s useful to have Macron’s sort of musing that it shouldn’t be ruled out? Is this something that should be in the cards a little bit, should be discussed, not necessarily U.S. troops but some Western NATO forces?

MR MILLER: So certainly every country is free to speak to its own interests. But in addition to the President making clear that the U.S. will not send any troops to fight in Ukraine, the NATO secretary general has ruled out any NATO troops to fight in Ukraine. I think fundamentally we think that the path to victory for Ukraine right now is in the United States House of Representatives. That’s what Ukraine needs most. They need the national security supplemental that the President has proposed to get Ukraine the weapons and ammunition it needs to defend themselves and continue to fight courageously for their freedom and independence.

QUESTION: And just finally, have there been any discussions with the French, before or after, about these remarks made by Macron?

MR MILLER: I don’t have – I’m not aware of any conversations or don’t have any to read out.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any comments on the attacks that the Houthis made yesterday on cables, submarine communication cables, in the Red Sea?

MR MILLER: Only that it’s the latest in the – a long string of reckless attacks by the Houthis on entities and interests that have nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza. Just as when we saw the Houthis attack ships that were bringing food to the people of Yemen, these attacks are on entities that do nothing to help Palestinians who are suffering, are in no way connected to the conflict in Gaza, and they should stop immediately. And we will continue to hold them accountable for the attacks.

QUESTION: And how will you counter these attacks, and what alternative does the international community have?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to the – any specific actions we might take. I never want to preview them in advance. But we will continue to work to degrade and deter the Houthis’ capability to take such reckless actions.

QUESTION: Is there any alternative for these cables?

MR MILLER: You’re going to have to talk to a telecommunications expert, someone other than – and that is very much not me. Sorry.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just briefly.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just reading back when he said – just wanted to see if there’s a nuance to it, saying that the President’s been clear – back on Macron’s comments – ruling out sending soldiers to fight in Ukraine. Is that – could there be a training role? Could there —

MR MILLER: There is no nuance that I mean – that I mean to communicate there. We are not sending boots on the ground to Ukraine. The President has been very clear about that from the beginning.

QUESTION: Sorry, isn’t there already a training role?

MR MILLER: I don’t believe it’s in Ukraine. I believe it’s in – I’ll defer to —

QUESTION: But there is various National Guard forces who were in Ukraine and are in Poland and elsewhere training.

MR MILLER: I believe that’s correct. I’ll defer to my colleagues at the Pentagon. But I believe the training – if I remember correctly, the training mission was before the invasion, and since it’s happened, outside of Ukraine.

QUESTION: On Afghanistan, I know the Secretary spoke to the oppression of women there today. He didn’t mention anything about the three public executions that have been held there in the past five days. So what, if any, comment do you have on that?

And separately, Chairman McCaul is again threatening to hold the Secretary in contempt of Congress, demanding notes from Dan Smith on the withdrawal be turned over by March 6th. Does State intend to comply with that?

MR MILLER: So as it pertains to public executions, we condemn the public executions. It’s another sign of the brutality that the Afghan Government shows to its own people.

And with respect to the letter from Chairman McCaul – so been a while since I’ve spoken to this, but I’ve spoken to it before. We have repeatedly and explicitly underscored the important role that we believe Congress plays in foreign policy – excuse me – and its vital oversight responsibility. We have engaged with the committee extensively to respond to requests on the after-action review. We remain committed to accommodating the committee’s legitimate need for information regarding the withdrawal.

In terms of that cooperation and what it’s looked like, for more than six months we have, every week, provided hundreds of pieces of – hundreds of documents and information from the AAR files. We sent our most recent transmission to the committee just this past Friday. We have provided them numerous briefings, tens of thousands of pages of documents, public testimony from the department’s senior leaders, and witnesses for day-long transcribed interviews – all demonstrating, in our view, our commitment to accommodating the commitment’s – the committee’s request to the greatest extent possible, while still respecting the Executive Branch’s legitimate confidentiality interests. So that’s our overall record in cooperating with the committee’s oversight responsibility.

As it relates to the chairman’s latest letter, I think it is worth pointing out that it doesn’t have some of the facts right. The department has never told the committee that the White House or any other agency is holding the interview notes used to compile the AAR. Those are department records. What we have actually asked for is the chance for Chairman McCaul to speak to the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Rich Verma to discuss our concerns in order to try to reach some understanding, and those requests have gone unanswered.

So we will continue to work in a good faith and timely manner with the committee to answer their oversight requests, but we would ask that they also engage with us in good faith.

QUESTION: Matt, follow-up on Afghanistan?

MR MILLER: Go ahead. I told Nike I’d come —

QUESTION: Matt, follow-up on —

MR MILLER: I – please don’t interrupt. I told Nike I’d come next.

QUESTION: But Matt, this is —

QUESTION: If I may —

MR MILLER: Please do not interrupt your colleagues. Go ahead.

QUESTION: If I may, I would like to go back to Gaza. Earlier this month, the Sinai Foundation said that they obtained information that current constructions in eastern Sinai is to create a highly securely gated, isolated area near the Gaza borders to prepare for the reception of Palestinian refugees. I took note that the Egyptian Government has come out – has denied it. What is the State Department’s assessment, especially at a time when Israel is planning for a military operation around Rafah that would affect about 1.5 million Palestinians?

MR MILLER: So I will let the Government of Egypt speak to what it is they’re constructing. I know they’ve said that that is construction, I believe, for staging of humanitarian assistance. I will also note that we have made clear for months that we are opposed to the forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza. The Egyptian Government has made quite clear that it is opposed to the forcible displacement of Palestinians from Gaza and we have seen, just in the past few days, that the Government of Israel has come out publicly and said it has no intention to forcibly displace Palestinians from Gaza.

So as it pertains to any potential military operation in Rafah, what we want to see is a credible and executable humanitarian assistance plan to account for the more than 1 million Palestinians who are sheltered there, some of who them – who have been displaced more than once. We have not been briefed on such a plan yet by the Government of Israel. It’s our understanding that they have developed one and presented it – we’ve seen the public comments that they’ve presented it to the prime minister, so we will look to that plan.

But I do think it’s worth emphasizing, again, that our focus continues to be on achieving an agreement that would give us a temporary ceasefire and alleviate some of that humanitarian suffering, that might allow people to leave crowded areas in Rafah and go elsewhere inside Gaza.

QUESTION: When you said —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) Gaza.

MR MILLER: Yeah. Go ahead. If you weren’t done —

QUESTION: Yeah. When you said that we have not been briefed by Bibi’s plan, are you talking about the State Department or are you talking about the whole Biden administration?

MR MILLER: I’m speaking on behalf of the State Department. I’m not aware of any briefings. It may be that we’ve received cursory briefings, but I know we have not engaged with them in any kind of substantive way on this plan that was reported, was presented to the prime minister just in the past couple days.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Oh, great. Thank you, Matt. I wanted to ask —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) follow-up. I (inaudible) get it.

MR MILLER: Hold on. I’m just going to say, I was getting ready to call on you, but —

QUESTION: I’ve been coming to this house for eight years. I know very (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: I was getting ready to call on you, but I’m going to observe my long —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) get the follow-up from (inaudible).

MR MILLER: First of all, it’s the second time you’ve interrupted your colleague. I’m going to observe my longstanding rule that the best way to get called on is to not interrupt your colleagues when they’re asking questions. And I’ll call on the gentleman sitting next to you.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. I wanted to ask about Aaron Bushnell, the 25-year-old, active-duty airman who self-immolated in front of the Israeli Embassy on Sunday, especially since it didn’t come up during yesterday’s briefing. I know you released a statement extending your condolences to his family, but I wanted to ask if you have any comments beyond that. Specifically, I wanted to ask: Will U.S. policy in any way be changed or affected by what happened on Sunday?

MR MILLER: So again, I just want to reiterate here our deepest condolences to his family. It’s obviously a horrific situation, and our most heartfelt sympathies go out to them.

With respect to this act or any kind of protest, obviously we are aware of the depth of feelings that people have over this issue, and we are constantly taking those points of view into account and using them to think about how we approach the issue and whether there is – there are things that we can do differently. That is the case whether it’s with respect to protesters; it is the case with respect to people that the Secretary meets with and hears from directly on all sides of this issue.

So yes, we will always look at the points of view that people have and – but ultimately, we have to make our own decisions based on what we think is in the national security interests of the United States, and we’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: So will U.S. policy be affected? Yes or no.

MR MILLER: I – that’s – I don’t want to – again, just – I don’t think I should comment with regard to this specific case, other than extending my sympathies to his family.

As I’ve said, generally, we are always looking at the strongly held views by people across the spectrum, and I guarantee you we do hear from people across the spectrum who want us to do one thing differently, whether it comes from stopping support for Israel to supporting Israel more, and we hear loudly from people about this issue. We have to make the best decisions we can about national security interests, and right now we believe the best thing that we can do is to continue to pursue a temporary ceasefire that would get the hostages out and alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, in the back. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.

MR MILLER: No, no, no. Behind you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. God bless you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: There have been now at least six documented instances depicting members of the IDF displaying or rifling through women’s underwear, and of course that’s just on camera. Soldiers have, as we’ve seen, stripped and tortured Palestinians. There have been a reported history of soldiers abusing children that they’ve detained even before October 7th. And, of course, investigations need to be pursued, but still, given all that we’ve seen from Israeli forces just up to this point, what’s the U.S. Government doing in response now, given the UN experts’ alarm at credible allegations of human rights violations and sexual violence committed against Palestinians?

MR MILLER: We made clear to the Government of Israel that we expect them to behave consistent with the laws of war and consistent with their own rules of engagement, and we have seen the Israeli military come out and say it is conducting its own investigations into reports of soldiers who have failed to comply with either of those two sets of rules. And that’s appropriate, and that’s what you expect a professional military to do, and we expect those investigations to proceed and, if appropriate, hold the responsible parties accountable.

QUESTION: Then a few more. And then, like, related to that investigation and related, as well, to the Biden administration’s memo a couple weeks ago regarding this kind of thing of ensuring that American military aid isn’t contributing to these kinds of violations, what sort of conversations are being had right now to make sure that these accountability measures, if they need to be taken, are taken on time, expeditiously? I know, for instance, like the assurances for the memo, those need to be done within 45 days. So what’s the conversations like around this?

MR MILLER: It is the exact kind of conversation I just detailed in response to your last question, which is we have very frank and candid conversations with the Government of Israel about this. But again, the Government of Israel has itself come out and said publicly – you’ve seen the head of the IDF say that they are conducting investigations. You’ve seen – I think it’s the chief attorney or the chief lawyer – I’m going to get the exact title wrong – come out with a report in the last week or so of alleged violations and say that there are members of the IDF who did not behave in accordance with Israeli rules of engagement and that there are investigations ongoing.

We think those are appropriate. That’s what we expect our military to do when American servicemen or servicewomen don’t behave consistent with the laws of war, consistent with rules of engagement. It’s what we expect the Israeli military to do. It’s what we would expect of any professional military operating anywhere in the world.

QUESTION: And then on Aaron Bushnell, per my colleague’s question just now, specifically I was wondering if there’s any concern with regards to him saying – as he said, “I’m an active-duty member of the United States Air Force, and I will no longer be complicit in genocide.” I’m curious if there’s been any conversations about that kind of claim being made by a member of the armed service before. Of course, he committed such a —

MR MILLER: I think I should defer to the Pentagon for an answer to that question.

QUESTION: And any updates on Hind Rajab’s – the investigation into the killing of Hind Rajab’s family and the paramedics sent to save her?

MR MILLER: I don’t have an update. My understanding is that the investigation is ongoing. It’s not concluded yet.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Sir, authorities in Pakistan detaining journalists who are talking about the reports of rigging in elections. We also heard that Pakistani authorities also ask the bureau chief of New York Times to leave Pakistan as soon as possible because she was also reporting on the same subject. Do you have any comments on the free speech?

MR MILLER: So we want to see freedom of expression and the right to a free press observed in Pakistan, as is true anywhere around the world.

QUESTION: Sir, United States spends millions of every year winning hearts and minds and promoting democracy overseas, including significant investments in Pakistan. But in last few months, the image of U.S. has suffered due to some misleading and irresponsible statements by some political leadership. What’s your message to the Pakistani people, like —

MR MILLER: Is there anything – is there anything in specific you’re asking me to respond to other than general statements? What specifically do you mean?

QUESTION: President Trump has said – he’s still saying that U.S. was involved in Pakistani politics because of America – I mean, I’m not on the far end. People are chanting slogans in the streets against U.S.

MR MILLER: All I can do is continue to stand up here and tell the truth, which is those allegations are incorrect, they are false. What we want is for the people of Pakistan to be able to decide the future of Pakistan, including their own government.

Jalil, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Matt. After so many weeks, I don’t know how to even ask question.

MR MILLER: Just get to the question.

QUESTION: So a couple of weeks ago, I had asked you about my assessment of the Taliban getting stronger. And my colleague just mentioned them, about there’s public hanging. You did not agree with my assessment, but the State Department in their letter to the SIGAR stated that the Taliban resurgence is going on. Can you now at least officially accept that under President Biden the Taliban have becoming more stronger at least?

MR MILLER: I am not familiar with that letter, so I want to review it before I comment in detail.

QUESTION: Okay. One more, sir. Just one more, sir.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: For 20 years, the U.S. was in Afghanistan. It lost more than 2,000 of its soldiers there, okay? So some questions are a bit more serious. Can you officially agree with me on one point here, that all these 20 years China was the one basically that was supporting the Taliban with those weapons, especially those Chinese AK-47s, which they copied from the Russians? And China is the only country right now that has one of the diplomats from Taliban in their country.

MR MILLER: So I am unfortunately unable to offer you an assessment of how the Taliban was arming itself over the course of that 20 years of war. It’s not something that I was working on in the U.S. Government at the time.

Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Back to the war in Gaza. You’re pursuing the negotiations in Paris, in Doha. Is the government holding off the draft resolution in New York to see if you get to a deal? And what do you intend to do with that?

MR MILLER: No, the two issues are not related. We continue to discuss a potential resolution with partners on the UN Security Council, continue to talk through the – both the content of such a resolution and the timing of when one might come up for a vote. I don’t have any updates other than those conversations continue.

QUESTION: Would reaching a deal put – cancel that, presenting the resolution?

MR MILLER: That asks me to, I think, respond to a hypothetical, and I’m going to decline to do.

QUESTION: Well, I have another hypothetical, but just listen to it.

MR MILLER: Shoot.

QUESTION: Should you get a deal, did you – does the administration want it presented to the Security Council?

MR MILLER: Again, I’m going to decline to comment on that until if and when we reach such an agreement.

QUESTION: Yes, you would?

MR MILLER: No, I said I’m going to decline on commenting on what we might do until if and when we reach such an agreement.

Go ahead, Jen.

QUESTION: Matt, has the U.S. gotten any information or additional answers from the Israeli Government on the deaths of the two 17-year-old Americans who were shot in (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: Only that those matters are both under investigation, and we think that’s appropriate. And when those investigations conclude, if accountability is the appropriate outcome, you will – you can be sure that we will be calling for accountability and we will expect accountability.

QUESTION: Have you given them any sort of timeline in which they need to get back to you with answers?

MR MILLER: So again, like – with respect to the two investigations, one is being conducted by I believe it’s the Israeli national police; the other is being conducted by the Palestinian police because of where that specific killing took place. And so it’s not just a question of pressing the Israeli Government. It’s – one of the investigations is being conducted by the Palestinian Authority’s police force. That said, we want them to proceed – we want them to be finished as soon as possible. I think you know it’s sometimes hard to put a timeframe on investigations, especially criminal investigations, so I’m not able to do that. We want to see it happen as soon as possible.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Given the fact that the Palestinian Authority has removed maps of Israel from new Palestinian textbooks, is there any evidence that the Palestinian Authority will accept and/or recognize a two-state solution, yes or no? And I have a follow-up.

MR MILLER: So the evidence I’d present to you is that in all of our conversations with President Abbas he has represented that he is ready to move towards a two-state solution. He is ready to look at any proposal that we can put forward, and we are working with our Arab partners in the region to come up with just such a plan.

QUESTION: Okay. The Palestinian Authority at UNRWA have reinserted a text which praises a woman terrorist, Mughrabi, who attacked a civilian bus, murdering 38 Israelis, including 13 children. Will you demand that the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA remove that text, yes or no?

MR MILLER: I am not familiar with the specific text to which you’re referring, so I’m not going to comment on it.

QUESTION: Sorry, just to take the —

MR MILLER: Yeah, yeah, go —

QUESTION: Can I please —

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: Matt, do you mind? Please.

QUESTION: No, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. So I’m very – I’m genuinely confused. Is the administration calling for a permanent ceasefire, or are they calling for a temporary ceasefire?

MR MILLER: We are calling for a temporary ceasefire as part of the negotiations.

QUESTION: Okay. And President Biden is going to the southern border on Thursday. Do you expect him to bring up the migration matters in Latin America?

MR MILLER: I think that’s a question you should direct to the White House briefing, which I believe starts in two minutes.

QUESTION: You’ve called for the unconditional release of hostages. Why then support a deal where there would be hostages released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners who have committed terrorism against Israel?

MR MILLER: We ultimately want to see these prisoners get out, and in any —

QUESTION: Talking about the Palestinian prisoners?

MR MILLER: No, we want to see the hostages get out.

QUESTION: I was just (inaudible).

MR MILLER: And in any such negotiation, you have to make difficult choices. Ultimately, these are choices that the Government of Israel is going to have to make, and we’re going to work with them to try to reach the best deal possible. We want to see all the hostages released. But this is – as often is the case around the world, when you’re trying to get hostages released or where you’re trying to get wrongfully detained individuals released, you have to make difficult choices to bring them home.

QUESTION: And finally, funding for the State Department expires at midnight on March 9th. Does the department have a contingency plan in the event of a shutdown?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to contingency plans other than to say that we think Congress should do its job and pass a funding bill.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: So sorry, just two really brief things. One, you were just asked if there was any evidence that the Palestinian Authority supports a two-state solution or any evidence that they do. Is there any evidence that the current Israeli Government supports a two-state solution?

MR MILLER: So we continue to engage with the Government of Israel about —

QUESTION: Sorry. No, no, no just answer the –

MR MILLER: No, no.

QUESTION: This is what I said. Do – does the current Israeli Government support a two-state solution?

MR MILLER: I think you can – I think you can look at the prime minister’s very well-covered public comments —

QUESTION: Yes.

MR MILLER: — on this matter.

QUESTION: And the answer would be yes or no?

MR MILLER: That said – that said —

QUESTION: Do they or do they not?

MR MILLER: That said – I will let you interpret them how you want. That said, we continue to believe that a two-state solution is in the interest —

QUESTION: So no doesn’t always mean no.

MR MILLER: — of Israel, and we’ll continue to push for it.

QUESTION: All right. And then secondly on these questions about Bushnell – I’m a little bit confused as to why this is coming up at the State Department briefing other than that it is a policy matter – but this guy was not an employee of the State Department. As it does relate to the State Department because this happened outside the Israeli embassy, was there any contact between the Israelis and you guys about what actually happened?

MR MILLER: There was contact at the security level on Sunday, I believe, when this happened. I know there was contact when DSS was looking at the matter, and I believe the Secret Service was as well. So there was contact at that level about a potential security situation. But I’m not aware of any beyond that.

QUESTION: Just on the – when the incident actually happened?

MR MILLER: When the incident occurred.

QUESTION: So —

MR MILLER: There may have been other conversations that I’m not aware of, but —

QUESTION: And – okay, but since then, since Sunday, there hasn’t been any discussion, at least involving you guys?

MR MILLER: About? In what regards?

QUESTION: About what —

MR MILLER: I’m not trying to be cute.

QUESTION: About what happened.

MR MILLER: It’s just that we talk to them all the time about things, so —

QUESTION: Well, there – I mean – no, look, I mean, if you’re – from an Israeli perspective, you could have imagined that this might be – like they might look at this as a security incident in which they might get in touch with you guys about it. But as far as you know, there hasn’t been anything?

MR MILLER: We – so I will say we talked to them Sunday, when the event first happened, about any potential security threat. I’m sure we are having ongoing dialogue with them about that. That would be the normal course of practice. I’m not aware of any specific conversations in that regards.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR MILLER: And with that, we’ll wrap for today. Thanks everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:02 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – February 26, 2024

1:20 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. Happy Monday. Matt, you want to start us off?

QUESTION: You have nothing to say at the top?

MR MILLER: Do you want me to step – do you want me to —

QUESTION: You don’t want to say anything about NATO expansion?

MR MILLER: Do you want me to step out for a minute to give you a second to start your recording, which is what I think you’re doing? Stalling for time?

QUESTION: Well, no. I was just wondering if you don’t have anything to say about Sweden and Hungary and —

MR MILLER: We certainly welcome the – we certainly do welcome the vote in the Hungarian parliament today and look forward to it being finalized, and are ready to receive the instruments here in Washington and welcome Sweden as the 32nd member of NATO.

QUESTION: Okay. But so you’re waiting for the formal —

MR MILLER: Yeah. We’ll wait for the formal process to conclude. The Hungarian parliament voted, but that’s not the end of the process. They have to formally – as I think you remember with the Turkish vote a few weeks ago, they have to formally present the instrument here, and then we deposit it in our vault for it to be final.

QUESTION: Right. And of course you know that that has not yet —

MR MILLER: Has – it has not yet been finalized, and certainly hasn’t been presented to us.

QUESTION: And do you know if that’s going to happen today?

MR MILLER: I do not anticipate it happening today.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: I think there are still a couple of formalities that need to take place inside Hungary before they can be presented to us.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just one other one, which is kind of way off – way off-topic. But you’ve – I’m sure you’ve seen the reports about this guy, Alexander Smirnov, Israeli-U.S. dual citizen, who’s the guy who is an FBI informant and he has just been ordered jailed.

MR MILLER: Oh, yeah, right.

QUESTION: The only reason I’m asking about it here is that he is a dual citizen, so I’m just wondering if there’s been any contact, but with the – between the Israelis and you about consular access or anything like that.

MR MILLER: I’m not aware of any. I’ll have to check and see. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR MILLER: Humeyra.

QUESTION: Hi, Matt. So I just want to ask about this thing about Navalny. One of his – a close ally of him basically said he was close to being freed in a prisoner swap. I mean, is there anything you can tell us about that? The U.S. did put forward a substantial proposal; I think it was – you made it public in early December. Was he part of that?

MR MILLER: We put forward a proposal in early December to secure the release of Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, as we said at the time. I have always made it a practice from this podium – and I think you’ve seen it across the United States Government – not to comment on the details of our negotiations or the details of our work to try to secure the release of prisoners in Russia or in other countries. All I will say about this matter is that we have long called for the release of Aleksey Navalny, and that was our position on the matter.

QUESTION: Do you also – does the U.S. Government also agree with the assessment of this ally that he was killed because he was close to being freed in a prisoner swap?

MR MILLER: I think – so I do not have any assessment on that – I don’t have any comment on that specific assessment. As we have said, we believe that Vladimir Putin and the Russian Government are responsible for his death. But I couldn’t comment beyond that.

QUESTION: I have other questions, but if anybody else —

MR MILLER: Do other people want to do Navalny? Yeah, yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: If I could follow up on that. Just to understand how this works, is it at all possible for the U.S. Government to discuss a prisoner swap on his behalf without designating him wrongfully detained?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to try to get into a hypothetical that’s going to, by necessity, implicate me commenting on a specific situation. As I said, I’m not going to do so. I’m going to refrain from – I’m just going to refrain from commenting on any aspect of negotiations to secure the release of anyone around the world.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Can I – this is – the question —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — contains a premise that I don’t think is accurate. Is there any authority under which the U.S. can make a determination that a —

MR MILLER: No.

QUESTION: — non-U.S. citizen is wrongfully detained?

MR MILLER: No, but I took Alex’s question to be can we try to secure the release of people who are non-U.S. citizens, which of course – well, maybe I misunderstood – which of course we can. But we – the wrongful detention statute only applies to U.S. citizens and other U.S. nationals.

QUESTION: I mean, there’s – as you know, there’s Levinson Act that actually expands beyond the U.S. citizens (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: To U.S. nationals, right, of which he was not.

QUESTION: Please come back to me.

QUESTION: Can I —

MR MILLER: Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: I understand there were some early discussions on this front involving a potential swap for Navalny and U.S. citizens. Is there anything you can say about that —

MR MILLER: I’m just not going to speak —

QUESTION: — and when these conversations were happening?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to either internal deliberations or our work to secure the release of people held overseas. As I said, we had long called for Aleksey Navalny’s release.

QUESTION: And were there any conversations with the Germans on a —

MR MILLER: I’m just not going to speak to our conversations with any of our diplomatic partners about the work that we do to try to secure the release of wrongfully detained Americans or others held around the world.

QUESTION: But you don’t deny it, that there – I mean —

MR MILLER: I did not deny it, but I didn’t confirm it. I didn’t comment on it one way or the other. And you can read or not read whatever you want; sometimes people read things into that, mistakenly. But no, I didn’t comment on it at all.

QUESTION: Have you put forward any additional proposals to the Russians for the release of the Americans since that initial one you spoke about a couple of months or so ago?

MR MILLER: Our work to try to secure the release of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan continues. It’s something we are working on every day, trying to figure out the best way to secure their release. As it pertains to any further proposals or any further conversations, I just don’t have anything to announce today. As I said, there are times when we feel it’s in our interest to make public – or in the interest of the work we’re trying to do to make public – certain details. But beyond that, we typically try not to comment at all because we don’t want to jeopardize the status of what are very – the very sensitive work that we’re doing to try to secure their release.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

QUESTION: Staying on Navalny —

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Is this – let me – is this Navalny?

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MR MILLER: Let me go – let me just close out on Navalny and I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s not related to the hostages but it’s related to Navalny, the question being: Has the U.S. come to a determination at all as to whether the death of Navalny was coincidental or a concerted effort by the Kremlin?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any assessment to offer on the circumstances surrounding his death other than that the Russian Government is responsible for it.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. seeking to independently come to a conclusion as to whether his death was —

MR MILLER: We are always seeking more information about incidents of this nature. That’s certainly true in this – with respect to this incident, but I don’t have any assessment to offer.

QUESTION: Has there been diplomatic engagement with the Russian Government to seek answers about Navalny specifically?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any comment – any conversations to read out.

QUESTION: Okay. Relatedly, there was – there were reports from U.S. officials that the U.S. had engaged diplomatically on the matter of the anti-satellite capability that Russia has been developing. Can you provide any update as to whether the Russians have responded to that outreach?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to those conversations. We do have the ability to deliver messages to Russia. We did engage in diplomatic outreach to Russia to make clear our concerns about their pursuit of an anti-satellite capability. We’ve also had concerns with allies and partners of the United States as well as – conversations with allies and partners of the United States, as well as conversations with other countries around the world who think we ought to be concerned about Russia’s pursuit of this specific capability.

QUESTION: Well, does the U.S. believe that it’s making progress in altering the likely trajectory of what Russia may or may not do with this capability, either via the Russian Government or with its partners?

MR MILLER: So all I will say about that – because, again, there are limits to what I can say; there’s a very limited amount of information that’s been declassified because of concerns that the Intelligence Community has about making more information public – we have had what we feel to be very productive conversations with a range of countries around the world. We think it is incumbent on other countries who share our concern to make those concerns known. We expect that they will, and I will leave it at that.

QUESTION: I know Michele had a question on Navalny.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to —

MR MILLER: You guys are confusing me sitting far – at the back.

QUESTION: I just wanted to get back to this —

QUESTION: There was no room.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — back to this (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: There’s a seat. You can come sit up front, walk and – (laughter) – go ahead. Sorry. Two – three seats up front.

QUESTION: I just wanted to go back to, like, the video itself, because you say you don’t like to have – you don’t like to publicize some of these negotiations. But these guys went out very publicly today and said that there was a deal. Are they wrong?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to comment to any extent on this beyond what I already have. So —

QUESTION: Matt, also just on this.

MR MILLER: Go – I told Janne I would come to her next, so go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. Ukraine and Russia and North Korea – first question. Regarding Ukraine’s defense industry corruptions, has the U.S. confirmed anything about Ukraine’s internal defense industry corruption, including artillery shells?

MR MILLER: So I’m not sure what specific report you’re referring to.

QUESTION: Because there are reports that Ukraine is involved with the – in defense industry corruption worth tens of billions of dollars, including the – I’m sorry, including the embezzlement of hundred thousand artillery shells.

MR MILLER: So I haven’t – I haven’t seen that specific report to which you’re referring. But we have long engaged in conversations with the Ukrainian Government about the need to take anti-corruption measures. We’ve seen them take a range of measures to crack down on corruption over the last couple of years. We think there’s more that we can – that they can do and we’re engaged in ongoing dialogue with them about that topic.

QUESTION: Secondly, Russia is using North Korean ballistic missiles against Ukraine, as you know that. But China’s role – what role does the U.S. seek from China, which is tolerating arms trade between North Korea and Russia? And will you impose additional sanctions on China?

MR MILLER: So we have made it clear to a number of countries that we think that the increased relationship when it comes to weapon-sharing between North Korea and Russia ought to be a topic of concern, that North Korea’s providing weapons to Russia for use on the battlefield in Ukraine ought to be a topic of concern, and we’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Humeyra, and then, Leon, I’ll come to you next, and then —

QUESTION: So I’ll go to Israel. I have a couple of questions, Matt, on what Secretary said in Buenos Aires on Friday. He said the Israeli settlements are inconsistent with international law. So I’m wondering why the administration – why it took the administration three years to sort of make that point? Was that something that you guys believed at the beginning of the administration and somehow decided to wait, or you landed at this decision just last week?

MR MILLER: So I’ll say two things. From a policy point of view, we have always been clear that we believe settlements are a barrier to peace and that they weaken, not strengthen, Israel’s security and position in the region. As a legal question, it is – excuse me, I still have this cough I’ve had for a week or so now – as a legal question, it is something that had been under review here at the department for some time. And as you know, the Secretary over the last several months has embarked on a process to try to ensure lasting peace in the region, to establish an independent Palestinian state, and we thought, as we were engaged in that important process, it was important to avoid any ambiguity about the U.S. position on this matter. And so that’s why he made the announcement he did on Friday.

QUESTION: Right. You said that there was a review that’s been underway. Can you – can you say when that started?

MR MILLER: No, we —

QUESTION: Was that at the —

MR MILLER: Only that we had been looking at this question for some time.

QUESTION: Right. And this is – I mean, I understand what you’re saying in terms of you have said that it is an impediment to peace before. But saying that it is inconsistent with international law is like a step sort of ahead of that, beyond that. What are you trying to achieve with this? Are you expecting that this would put some additional pressure on Israel about the settlements? Because this has been an ongoing conflict, dispute between you and the Israeli Government that you just can’t seem to agree.

MR MILLER: So what we are trying to achieve is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel. That is the ultimate policy objective that we are trying to achieve. You’ve seen the Secretary focus his diplomatic efforts on it. You’ve obviously heard me speak to that a number of times from this podium. And so we thought, as we go about that process, it was important that we be clear and avoid any ambiguity about this particular legal question.

QUESTION: Would you have not said this the way Secretary said it if you have seen Israeli Government not unveil or like not have any plans to sort of add new housing units? Could this have gone in a different way?

MR MILLER: It’s hard to speak to a counterfactual, but we have seen the Israeli Government announce and explore new housing settlements, and we’ve had deep concerns about those. And as you heard the Secretary say on Friday, we think the settlements that they’ve announced prior to this date, the settlements that they announced they were exploring last week, are fundamentally a barrier to peace.

QUESTION: Have you given them a heads-up before? Have you spoken to them privately since then?

MR MILLER: I’m sure that we’ve engaged in conversations about them. As you know, we engage in conversations with the Israeli Government at a number of different levels, but I’m not aware of any specific conversation around this.

QUESTION: Matt, can I just ask you —

QUESTION: Can I follow up?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: You say that this removes ambiguity in this – but actually what it does is restores ambiguity, the ambiguity that was in the original Hansell memorandum, which doesn’t say that settlements are illegal. It says that they are inconsistent —

MR MILLER: Inconsistent.

QUESTION: — or illegitimate. It doesn’t use the word illegal. So I’m not sure I understand how this removes the – it restores the previous ambiguity that had existed. Why don’t you guys just come out and take a position once and for all – are settlements okay, or are they actually quote/unquote “illegal” under international law?

MR MILLER: So I don’t think you should hear me saying that settlements are okay. You should see us – hear loud and clear – well, let me – hear loud and clear me saying from a policy perspective we believe they are a barrier to peace. From a legal perspective, we believe they’re inconsistent with international law.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you don’t believe that they’re illegal.

MR MILLER: I will let the lawyers, of which I am not, speak to the difference between those two terms if any, but on behalf of the United States, we —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR MILLER: — if any – we do not believe they are consistent with international law.

QUESTION: Because this is the entire – the entire point of the whole – the entire point of the Hansell memorandum when it was written in 1978 – believe me, I’ve done a lot of looking into this – was that it was ambiguous; that it did not put the United States down as having a position that settlements were illegal or not illegal or totally fine, but that it was intended to show unhappiness or your disagreement with settlement policy. But the fact of the matter is, is that when you say that this announcement on Friday removes the ambiguity, I just – that doesn’t – it restores the ambiguity. Because —

MR MILLER: So – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: — what the previous administration did, what the previous secretary of state did, was to say that the U.S. no longer regards settlement activity, quote/unquote “per se” —

MR MILLER: Per se.

QUESTION: — as being inconsistent or illegitimate. That seemed to remove ambiguity. This restores the previous ambiguity. How am I wrong?

MR MILLER: So I don’t find anything ambiguous about a statement from the United States that we believe the Israeli Government settlement program is inconsistent with federal law. I find that to be a very clear —

QUESTION: Not federal, international —

MR MILLER: — excuse me, international law, of course – a very clear, unambiguous statement. I cannot speak to the reasoning behind a memo that was written in 1978. Obviously, I was not here, but I can tell you our intention now is to be very clear about what we believe.

QUESTION: Yeah, so can I —

MR MILLER: Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m glad you mentioned 1978 because there was a lawyerly or a legal definition that was established then and so on. Plus, you guys are signatories to all the UN resolutions – 242 and so on – that basically say that settlements are illegal. So I don’t know why we – you – every so many years you feel that you have to reassert or dispel the ambiguity and so on. Let me ask you a couple —

MR MILLER: You would rather we hadn’t made this statement?

QUESTION: No, I’m saying you make these statements —

MR MILLER: Okay. Fair.

QUESTION: — all the time, especially —

MR MILLER: Fair enough. I’m just —

QUESTION: No, no, no. No, the statement is —

MR MILLER: I’m just being clear.

QUESTION: The statement is important because the previous administration basically sought to undo that.

MR MILLER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And that’s why it is timely and it is important. I’m not saying it’s not important.

I want to ask you a couple questions, but also I want to say for the record, Matt, with all sympathies with Navalny and so on, but a Palestinian prisoner has died in Israeli jails almost on weekly basis under torture. It would be – it would be great for the United States of America to say this should be unacceptable as well.

MR MILLER: We – so just to be very clear, we want every prisoner, every detainee anywhere —

QUESTION: Right.

MR MILLER: — in the world to be treated humanely, to be treated in accordance with international law. That is not just true in Russia. It is true —

QUESTION: Including – including in Israeli prison?

MR MILLER: Hold on, Said, just let me finish. And I will say what I – what I have to say. As I was going to say, is that’s true in Russia, it’s true in Israel, it’s true everywhere in the world.

QUESTION: Okay, excellent. Let me ask you about Samaher Esmail, the Palestinian American woman that was arrested early in February. Can you update us to any new development of this case?

MR MILLER: So I will say that we have obtained consular access and have – officials from our embassy have met with her. We are in contact with her and her family. We are providing all appropriate consular assistance, as we always do in these cases. There’s not a lot I can say about the case. It remains a legal matter, but we are in contact with her – her and her family.

QUESTION: Yeah, but she was apparently arrested for a Facebook post, I mean, nothing else. Let me ask you about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It seems that Israel is doing everything possible to hinder the entry of the humanitarian assistance into Gaza by denying visas for humanitarian workers, by shooting policemen that try to organize these things and so on. So – so what are you doing to facilitate these human – human assistance shipments and so on? I mean, kids are coming out and saying we want a piece of bread. I mean, it’s really – it’s hard to imagine this is happening in the 21st century.

MR MILLER: So let me say a few things about that. First, as I’ve said a number of times, we continue to be at the forefront of advocating for increased, sustained humanitarian assistance to benefit innocent Palestinian in Gaza. We continue to be the largest humanitarian donor to the Palestinian people.

With respect to two specific points you raise there, first the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Gaza, which right now is a difficult situation – so you have had this situation where the – the problem right now is not just getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza through either Rafah or Kerem Shalom, but getting it distributed inside Gaza, because of a lack of ability to secure shipments. There is a problem in that the police that were providing security to those shipments inside Gaza, some of them are members of Hamas; some of them are not. And so Israel does have a legitimate right to try to hold members of Hamas accountable as part of the ongoing military operation that they’re conducting.

But at the same time, we want to see the ability of shipments to be safely delivered inside Gaza and not looted by criminal gangs and others. So that’s a matter that we are in ongoing conversation with both the Government of Israel and our humanitarian partners on the ground about how to solve. It is a live question that we are dealing with every day. We haven’t reached a solution yet, but it’s something we’re actively engaged on – because it’s important not just that the humanitarian assistance get into Gaza, but that it get to the people that need it.

With respect to the second question that you raised, as it pertains to visa, so our position is clear: it’s that all regional governments must do what is necessary to enable this humanitarian response. That includes allowing international staff the freedom of movement to ramp up and help the response, and we hope all governments in the region will rapidly approve all requested visas for UN and INGO workers in an expeditious fashion.

QUESTION: Lastly, yesterday the Israeli prime minister told Face the Nation that any deal or any pause would only delay entry into Rafah. Do you have any comment on that?

MR MILLER: So I don’t want to speak to a hypothetical. Because right now, we are trying to secure a pause that would get hostages out, that would get humanitarian assistance in, and would greatly alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people. What happens after that? I think it’s too early to say. We are focused right now on trying to achieve that pause. We’ve had various officials from the United States Government engage in conversations last week and over the weekend to try to secure it. We think a deal is possible. We think a deal can be reached, and ultimately that’s where we’re focusing our efforts.

QUESTION: Can I follow on that (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: Leon. I told Leon I’d come to him.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: I’m just – I’m interested to hear what your take is – your reaction on the government of the Palestinian Authority which has resigned. That resignation has been accepted by President Abbas. How do you see that? Do you welcome that? Do you think it’s a first step to – towards a reform? And who would you support as a future government?

MR MILLER: So with respect to both the resignation and a future government, ultimately the leadership of the Palestinian Authority is a question for the Palestinians themselves to decide. It’s not a matter that I’m going to comment on from here. But we do welcome steps for the PA to reform and revitalize itself. The Secretary has encouraged the PA to take those steps in – when he’s been in conversations with President Abbas and others when we’ve traveled to Ramallah. That’s something you’ve heard this President speak to, and it’s something that we will continue to pursue. We think those steps are positive; we think they’re important – an important step to achieving a reunited Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, so we will continue to encourage them to take those steps.

QUESTION: So you think they’re – the actual resignation is a step in that direction?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to speak to the actual resignation, because when it comes to personnel matters, those are questions that should be left to the Palestinians. But we have been engaged with them on the need to reform and revitalize the government, and we have seen them start to take steps in that direction, and we welcome them.

QUESTION: But again, you say you don’t want to comment on specific resignations, but then you – but then you welcome it.

MR MILLER: I – we are welcoming steps towards PA reform. There have been a —

QUESTION: Okay, so they – are the resignations part of the steps towards – toward reform?

MR MILLER: The – so I – I suspected you might ask —

QUESTION: I mean, come on. What’s —

MR MILLER: I just don’t want to speak —

QUESTION: We’re not idiots here.

MR MILLER: I just don’t want to speak to – I’m well aware of that, Matt. (Laughter.) I don’t want to speak to a personnel matter. But I think you have seen —

QUESTION: It’s not just the personnel.

QUESTION: It’s not a personnel (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: I understand, a government matter. When it comes to the personnel who are leading the government, it’s not something we have ever wanted to speak to. But —

QUESTION: Well, I know.

MR MILLER: But – but —

QUESTION: But then – then you say that, and then you come out and say —

MR MILLER: Let me finish.

QUESTION: — well, this is a good thing.

MR MILLER: President Abbas has said he is going to take steps towards reforming and revitalizing the Palestinian Authority. He has said that directly to the Secretary, and we welcome him taking those steps.

QUESTION: So you welcome him bringing in fresh blood?

MR MILLER: We certainly would welcome a revitalized, reformed Palestinian Authority.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: But not to comment on the actual resignation in any way. (Laughter.)

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Nadiya.

QUESTION: Allow me just —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — one last thing on this. You think it was necessary for the government to resign in order to move forward?

MR MILLER: That I am not – that I am not going to comment on. I will let the Palestinian Authority speak to that. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on that from here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Two questions, one to follow up on Said’s question. So you’re aware that the UN humanitarian organizations in Gaza said that 85,000 Gazans could die as a result of starvation, disease, or bombing. So what practically can the administration do to alter this reality? So you want to be seen as literally repeating rhetoric when you said we asked the Israelis to allow human aid organization to expedite the visas, to allow trucks to come, et cetera, so that these things on the ground does not happen?

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: So can we make sure that these people won’t face this death either by starvation or by disease?

MR MILLER: So there are two incredibly important things we are trying to pursue to alleviate the suffering of the [Palestinian] people. One is, as I said, to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, to make sure it’s sustained, and to break down any obstacles to it actually being delivered to those who are in need. But there is a second – and that work ongoing. It’s something we’ve been working on for some time. And there – as you know, we are involved at a really kind of granular, technical level with the Government of Egypt, the Government of Israel, and international partners in the region, and have been engaged with it really since the immediate days after October 7th.

But there is another way that we could help alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, and that is to achieve a humanitarian pause that would allow more humanitarian assistance to come into Gaza and would allow more humanitarian assistance to get to those who need. It would allow people better freedom of movement to move around Gaza and get to humanitarian assistance. And we have worked with the governments of Egypt and Israel and Qatar to achieve such a proposal, and we need Hamas to say yes. And so if Hamas wants to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, they could agree to the proposal that we have put forward to achieve a humanitarian pause and get more humanitarian assistance in.

So when I see people calling for more to be done to allow humanitarian assistance in, we fundamentally agree with that. And everyone in the United States Government that is responsible for this brief is working on it, but Hamas plays a role too. And they —

QUESTION: So Hamas is —

MR MILLER: Hamas – I’d say Hamas plays a role too, and the people that are calling for us to do more should be calling for Hamas to get out of the way and allow more humanitarian assistance to come in as well.

QUESTION: You think the Netanyahu government is fine with all the conditions that will allow the humanitarian aid to come in?

MR MILLER: There are issues that we have to work through with the Government of Israel all the time, and we’ve been quite clear. I’ve spoken to them from this podium a number of times. The Secretary has spoken to them. I’m just saying that’s not the only impediment to humanitarian assistance getting in. If Hamas would agree to a humanitarian pause, a temporary ceasefire, that would go a long ways to alleviating the immediate suffering of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Okay. My second question is the Secretary was asked during the trip to comment about the Netanyahu plan for Gaza, and he said he’s not going to comment because he haven’t seen it. So the U.S. Government has not seen it officially. The White House dismissed it somehow as disagreement among friends. This plan – I’m sure you’ve seen it; not officially, but you read about it – fundamentally clashes with everything that administration calling, including just now when you talk about two-state solution. So is really the two-state solution a mirage, considering Netanyahu himself and his government don’t believe in it at all? So who are you going to implement it with?

MR MILLER: So with respect to the plan, first of all, again, we have not – you’re right that we have not engaged with the Government of Israel. We’ve seen press reporting, but we haven’t sat down to have a detailed – had a detailed conversation with the Government of Israel about this plan yet, so I will refrain from a specific comment until we have had the chance to do so.

But we have been very clear about what our position is with respect to the governance of Gaza moving forward, when it comes to questions about the reoccupation of Gaza and the reduction or potential reduction of any territory of Gaza. And we’ll continue to be very clear about that publicly and privately.

And when it comes to this question of the two – of two states, all we can do – and you’ve heard me say this before – is present our vision for peace and security in the Middle East, and make clear to the Government of Israel and make clear to the people of Israel that there is a path forward for lasting security, for better relations with Israel’s neighbors, and they have to take it. And if they are ready to do it, we are ready to work with them on how to achieve that vision.

QUESTION: But you have so many – you have so many tools – just the last – my last follow-up, sorry.

MR MILLER: Go – yeah.

QUESTION: But you have so much leverage over the Israelis, and this is fundamental vision of the President. So you can use all the leverage you want, including weapons that you sell to Israel —

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: — to make sure that this plan is on the – at least on the right path for implementation, considering we have, like, short time between now and November.

MR MILLER: So one thing I will say about that that people often tend to forget is that Israel, like other countries in the region, is a sovereign country that makes its own decisions. The United States does not dictate to Israel what it must do, just as we don’t dictate to any country what it must do. We present what we believe are the —

QUESTION: Unless you invade them.

MR MILLER: We present what we believe are the – (laughter). Good one, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, sorry —

MR MILLER: No, I mean – but come on. Yeah. We present standup hour at the – in the briefing room. We present what we believe are the best proposals to achieve peace and security, and we will continue to do that. But Israel has to make its own decisions, just as every sovereign independent country has to make its own decisions.

QUESTION: Can I just ask what did you say – what did you mean you mean when you just said to – that they have to take it?

MR MILLER: They have to – it doesn’t mean that they have to take it in that we can dictate to them. What I meant by “they have to take it” is we can present all the options in the world; we can’t control whether they take it or not.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. A question about today’s meeting between Secretary Blinken and the KRG prime minister. Why this meeting has happened at this time? Is there any connection between this invitation to the KRG prime minister and your discussion with the Iraqi Government about the evolution and the future of your forces in Iraq?

MR MILLER: So with respect to that meeting, the Secretary and the prime minister today underscored the importance of the U.S. partnership with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region in the context of their mutual enduring commitment to regional security and their shared values, including good governance and respect for human rights. Secretary Blinken expressed support for constructive collaboration between the Iraqi Government and the KRG as well as greater unity within the IKR to advance stability and economic prosperity for all of Iraq’s people.

This is not the first time the Secretary has met with the prime minister; we have done so in other contexts. With respect to the timing of the meeting, there’s nothing more about it than that we wanted to continue the conversations we’ve had.

QUESTION: And you talked about the unity among the Kurds, and Secretary Blinken in his remarks said at the beginning of the meeting he touched that issue too. What concerns do you have about the unity among the Kurds?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to that beyond what the Secretary said in his remarks.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Appreciate it. I wanted to circle back to the question that Said asked about the American woman detained in the West Bank and as well as the two brothers in Gaza. I know you are constantly doing assessments. Are you entertaining the possibility that these three or – and any other Americans detained by Israel post October 7th may be detained unlawfully or wrongfully detained?

MR MILLER: I don’t have – I don’t have any ability to offer that assessment at this point. We did meet with the two brothers today. We received consular access to them. Officials from our embassy in Jerusalem met with these two brothers at a detention facility inside Israel. We had been in contact with their family. This was our first time to speak directly to the two brothers, and so I don’t have any assessment to offer about their case other than that, as is true for all Americans in Israel or anywhere around the world, their safety and security is our first priority.

QUESTION: But like you often say when Americans are detained, say in Russia, I mean, that it’s something – I know – is there – there’s a process that you go through to establish that?

MR MILLER: There is a process that we go through, but we are just at the beginning stages of gathering information about these individual cases. We just met with the first detainee you mentioned last week. We just met with the two brothers today. So we’re nowhere near making that determination.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. My question is on Mexico. Has there been any engagement with the Mexican Government about the president of Mexico’s decision to publicly broadcast the cell phone number of a New York Times reporter? In the end she’s an American citizen, and U.S. press groups have called this action as dangerous.

MR MILLER: So I don’t have any diplomatic conversations to read out, but you might have heard the White House press secretary speak to this question on Friday. We support the independent free press when it does its work around the world. That includes in Mexico, includes any country in the world, and we wouldn’t want to see any action taken that would jeopardize any individual or any reporter’s safety.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Going back – going back to —

MR MILLER: Then I’m come to Jen and then Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you. Going back to Russia, does the department have any position on Russia’s forthcoming presidential election given the events of past couple weeks – not only murdering of Navalny but also they didn’t let the main challenger, Nadezhdin —

MR MILLER: Well, I don’t think it should be a surprise to anyone in the world that this will not be a free and fair election.

QUESTION: And on hostages, if I may, do you have any reaction to criticism that – coming from different corners – from the Hill, from other branches of government – saying that your approach towards dual citizens actually does embolden folks like Putin to go after more dual citizens. When the Secretary last year promised that the State Department will consider Kara-Murza designation as wrongfully detained, it was a year ago. Now you have more and more U.S. and dual citizens who have been arrested in Russia. Do you see any connection there? Because the criticism that your —

MR MILLER: I do not. All I’ll say – sometimes I get this question about dual citizens – we don’t see – we don’t look at dual citizens differently than any other citizen. An American is an American, and we try to do what we can to ensure the safety and security of every American overseas.

Jen and then Guita and then Olivia. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Matt, I know you don’t typically comment on hostage negotiations, but any comment on the discussions in Qatar today? We understand there has been some movement on the Hamas position that’s positive. Do you have anything on this?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to offer any comment other than what I said a moment ago, which is we did make progress in these conversations over the weekend and in the last few days. We continue to believe that a deal is possible and we are going to continue to pursue it.

QUESTION: And do you have any updates on the Americans who are believed to be hostages? Is it still your assessment that there are six?

MR MILLER: It’s still our assessment that it’s six, and I don’t have any information about their condition, unfortunately.

QUESTION: And then separately, there is an IAEA report that just came out saying that the Iranian of near-bomb-grade uranium has fallen. Do you have any comment or confirmation on this?

MR MILLER: So my understanding is that report has not been made public, and so I don’t have any comments on reports that have not been made public. But we remain seriously concerned about Iran’s continued expansion of its nuclear program in ways that have no credible civilian purpose, including its continued production of highly enriched uranium. And we appreciate the IAEA’s extensive efforts to engage Iran on longstanding questions to – related to Iran’s safeguard obligations.

Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Syrian Observatory has reported that there was a missile attack on the U.S. base in the – in Syria’s Koniko gas field yesterday, and then today there was an attack on a fuel tanker of the Syrian Democratic Forces and, it says, likely by ISIS. Now, the U.S. forces are in Syria in that area to control the resurgence of ISIS. I was wondering if the administration has seen any kind of a collaboration between ISIS and the Iranian-backed forces over there, the militia, post October 7th attack on Israel.

MR MILLER: So I’m not aware of any reports or assessments of such collaboration. I’m happy to take that back and get you a more detailed answer. And with respect to the attack, I would refer to my colleagues at the Pentagon.

Olivia.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Just to clarify, has the U.S. received any update on the military or humanitarian plan for Rafah from the Israeli Government?

MR MILLER: We have not.

QUESTION: Okay. So —

MR MILLER: We have not. We’ve seen the comments from the prime minister that he only received them I think last night. We have not yet been briefed on them, unless there have been some preliminary conversations at the embassy level in Jerusalem I’m not aware of. But we have not received any kind of detailed briefing at this point.

QUESTION: The prime minister mentioned as part of that plan the potential of moving citizens from Rafah north, north of Rafah. Understanding you haven’t seen the plan, even in the abstract, does that sound like a conceivable plan for 1.4 million people?

MR MILLER: I don’t think I should comment on the abstract before we see a detailed plan.

QUESTION: And sorry, just to revisit something that Said raised, which is the prime minister publicly saying that Rafah – an operation in Rafah will continue whether or not a hostage deal is reached, doesn’t that disincentivize Hamas from signing on to something that is predicated on a sustained ceasefire?

MR MILLER: I think Hamas should want to sign on to this deal because they want to see a humanitarian pause that allows more humanitarian assistance to move in to people in Gaza so ‑-

QUESTION: Do they?

MR MILLER: They should. I said they should. I said they ought to want to see that. So when it comes to Hamas’s incentives, I – far be it from me to offer assessments about what incentivize them and – incentivizes them and what doesn’t, but I would think if they truly cared about the Palestinian people, they should agree to the deal that is on the table because it will greatly alleviate the suffering of those Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Last one.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just on the prime minister’s comments, he said that after the Rafah operation, total victory would be weeks away, not months away. Based on the military updates that the U.S. has been receiving from the Israeli Government, does that seem conceivable?

MR MILLER: I just don’t want to offer any assessments on the military campaign. I’ve always tried to keep from doing so here.

Humeyra, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just want to clarify one thing you said. You said we’ve had progress over the weekend. You mean like this very last couple of days, right?

MR MILLER: I mean we had progress with the conversations we’ve had between Egypt, Israel, the United States, and Qatar, yes.

QUESTION: Right. And based on the progress there, you’re still – are you hopeful or like not hopeful that – do you see a deal more likely after this weekend before Ramadan?

MR MILLER: I can’t make that assessment because it depends on Hamas. We believe a deal is possible and we hope Hamas will agree to one.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. In light of – and I know that there’s been denial that there’s illegal settlements, but there’s a Jerusalem Post article, February 24th, stating that the Biden administration has declared Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria as illegal. What is your response to previous Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments February 23rd that he made on Twitter, and I quote, “Judea and Samaria are rightful parts of the Jewish homeland and Israelis have a right to live there. President Biden’s decision to overturn our policy and call Israeli settlements illegal will not further the cause of peace. It rewards Hamas for its brutal attacks on October 7th and punishes Israel instead. These Israeli communities,” he said, “are not standing in the way of peace, militant Palestinian terrorism is,” and a follow-up.

MR MILLER: Well, I don’t think you will be surprised to hear that I disagree with those comments. And I should reiterate again that it has been the long-standing U.S. position across both Democratic and Republican administrations – not just the Biden administration, not just the Obama administration, but Republican administrations as well – that settlements are a barrier to peace, they’re an obstacle to peace. We believe they weaken, not strengthen, Israel’s security.

QUESTION: Okay. If President Biden and Secretary Blinken think – if they don’t – if you don’t agree that it’s illegal – if you believe that it’s a barrier, as you said, to peace, so would your response for Israelis to live in their old land of Judea and Samaria – where is the justice, the question is, in allowing illegal immigrants coming across our southern border to settle wherever they want, causing havoc here in the United States, murdering our citizens, and robbing the American taxpayer?

MR MILLER: Well, I think I would say with respect to that you have seen this administration put forward a deal to further secure the southern border, and unfortunately Republicans in Congress have not taken it up.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Sir, Pakistan is moving ahead to build a pipeline that will transport natural gas from Iran, a move it says is needed to meet the country’s energy needs. U.S. expressed concerns on this project in the past. You still have those concerns?

MR MILLER: I’ll have to take that one back and get you an answer.

QUESTION: Sir, two major political parties in Pakistan are forming a new government, and still there are massive reports of rigging. So do you welcome the formation of the new government or do you believe that investigation should be done first before the forming of a government?

MR MILLER: So with respect to the formation of a new government, that’s a Pakistani process led by Pakistanis. We’re not a party to it and it’s not something that I would comment on. We want to see a government move forward in a way that reflects the will of the Pakistani people.

With respect to investigations into reported irregularities, we want to see those investigations proceed. We want to see them wrapped up as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Sir, Indian security forces have responded to the farmers’ protest by firing iron pellets and using drones to drop tear gas shells on the civilian protesters. We have seen some horrible images. What are your concerns on the barbaric – on this barbaric treatment of the civilian farmers?

MR MILLER: I haven’t seen those reports. I’ll have to take it back.

Go ahead here and then we’ll wrap up for today.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. The question is regarding a January 31st incident in which two Navy Seals lost their lives at coast of Somalia. So a U.S. district court in Richmond charged four individuals who were allegedly carrying Pakistani identification cards, and it is said that these individuals were transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons to Houthis in Yemen. So do United States raise this murder with the concerned authorities? And also I want to know, do you have any details from Department of Treasury or from Justice Department what will be the further procedure as United States has done the sanction on the individuals and entities who are linked with Iranian weapons transfer?

MR MILLER: So the Justice – with regard to this case, the – I don’t have any updates with regard to the second question, but with regard to this case, the Justice Department released a very detailed statement about this, I believe in connection to an unsealed indictment on Friday. It’s an ongoing legal matter, and because of that, I’m not going to comment further.

And with that, got to wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – February 21, 2024

1:24 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: Good afternoon.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR MILLER: I do not have any opening comments, so Matt —

QUESTION: Oh, really?

MR MILLER: — take it away.

QUESTION: Nothing? You don’t have anything exciting and new to tell us today?

MR MILLER: It depends on what your questions are. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, yeah, obviously. Hold on, let me start my recorder here. So I know a lot of people want to talk about Gaza, but I have something else that I just need to get off at the top. The Russia sanctions package that the White House, the President, Kirby, you, everyone has said is coming on Friday – what can you tell us about what that is? Is it related to the two-year anniversary? Is it related to Navalny’s death? What is it? What is it?

MR MILLER: So I don’t want to speak in detail about announcements that will be coming two days from now, but the – excuse me, I’ve got a bit of a lingering cough from this cold I’ve had – the sanctions that we’ll be announcing on Friday will be in connection both to the two-year anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and to Navalny’s death.

QUESTION: Okay. And Russia is one of – along with Iran and North Korea, is already one of the most heavily sanctioned countries by the United States and others on the planet. Where would you expect these sanctions to target?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to preview too much of what we’re going to do on Friday, but it will be a robust sanctions package. We are always looking at additional ways that we can choke off the Russian war machine, that we can deny the Russian military industrial complex components that it needs to use to fund its war effort, as well as to hold accountable those involved in it. So without getting into too much detail, like – as I said, two days before the announcement, you should expect them to follow the general direction of our past sanctions as well as some sanctions specifically related to the death of Alexei Navalny.

QUESTION: Right. But when you say that they’re going to – it’s going to be robust, I go back to a line from Spinal Tap, right: How much more robust can they be?

MR MILLER: You —

QUESTION: Aren’t they already pretty robust?

MR MILLER: They —

QUESTION: Didn’t you guys exact super-big sanctions on Russia after the Ukraine invasion?

MR MILLER: They are incredibly robust and they’ve had an impact on Russia’s economy and Russia’s military industrial complex, but —

QUESTION: Yeah, so the question is: How much more robust can they be?

MR MILLER: Well, you will see on Friday, but I can guarantee you it’s – it is, as I said, a strong, robust package, partly because we are always – look, this is a dynamic situation, right. Russia watches the sanctions, sees the sanctions and tries to respond to the sanctions that we impose, and so we watch the actions that they take and we look to impose new sanctions either on individuals or new areas that they explore, and also to focus on sanctions evasion. When we see them or entities that deal with Russia trying to evade the sanctions that we previously put into place, we have ways to tighten those sanctions.

QUESTION: Okay, last one. Does that suggest, then, that a bunch of the stuff in this package might be secondary sanctions?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to make any comments about what they’ll look like, again, two days before we roll them out.

QUESTION: Can I have a question on that?

MR MILLER: So I’ll come – I’ll come to – oh, okay. Go ahead. She graciously yielded the floor.

QUESTION: Yeah, apparently there’s a new intelligence assessment from Western governments suggesting that Putin thinks he eventually can win the war in Ukraine for three reasons: one, a possible return of Donald Trump to the White House; two, increased conscription; and three, a rejuvenated military manufacturing sector. Does State believe, on the record, that Putin does believe that these factors can help him win the war? Does this increase the need to provide funding for Ukraine if, in fact, there’s a belief that Putin may now have some leverage in this situation?

MR MILLER: So I never want to discuss intelligence matters from here, real or imagined, but I think it should be obvious to everyone that Vladimir Putin is watching what happens in Washington closely. You have to assume that he is watching what happens in Congress. I think he has always assumed from the beginning of this conflict that he can wait out the West – that the West’s attention would flag, that the West’s interest would flag, that the West would be unwilling to maintain sanctions. And so far the West has proved them – proved him wrong, and I don’t just mean the United States but Europe as well, which took dramatic action early on to wean itself from Russian energy, something I think Putin never thought would happen.

But I have to think that the entire world, including those in Moscow, are watching whether the United States Congress is willing to step up and continue to fund Ukraine to help it defend itself from Russia’s aggression. We have been very clear in the Biden administration what we think ought to happen. We have been very clear what is in the United States’ national security interests, and we will continue to make that case, and we hope that Congress will respond because, as I said, the entire world is watching.

QUESTION: Does the U.S., though, actually believe that Putin now has the advantage given —

MR MILLER: No, we do not believe that at all. If you look at the shape of this conflict over the past not just two years, but even the most recent history, yes, you have seen Russia make gains on the battlefield; we saw gains just over this week – this last weekend because Ukraine was not able to properly resupply its troops, in large part because Congress has not taken the action that we think it should to continue to support Ukraine as it fights to defend its territory. But you have also seen Ukraine make dramatic improvements on the battlefield, most significantly, I think, in the Black Sea where they have pushed the Russian fleet back, they have opened up a new shipping corridor that has allowed them to export not just wheat and grain, but also other manufactured goods through the Black Sea, something that was not possible in the early days of the war when Russia had blockaded Ukrainian ports. So we think they’ll continue to make progress there, and we’ll continue to support them to the best of our ability, but we need a partner in Congress to help us.

QUESTION: Can I – can I follow up the there on North Korea and Ukraine?

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. There are —

MR MILLER: Humeyra’s just adding to the list of questions she gets to ask. (Laughter.) Go ahead; sorry.

QUESTION: Yeah. There are reports that North Korean missiles that Russia recently used – excuse me – recently used against Ukraine contained U.S. and European components. How many times has Russia used North Koreans’ missiles against Ukraine?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to that in detail. We will continue to use all of our relevant tools – export controls, sanctions, interdiction and law enforcement actions – to prevent the DPRK from acquiring sensitive items and technology that it can use in its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs, and that includes preventing Russia from acquiring weapons and other sensitive items, including components from North Korea or from anywhere else.

QUESTION: One more quick question. North Korea Kim Jong-un and Putin’s relative with the luxury cars. Russian President Putin gave Kim Jong-un a luxury car as a gift. Is this a violation of UN sanctions?

MR MILLER: So I did see that report. I actually, frankly, didn’t know there was such a thing as a Russian luxury car. I hope Kim got the extended warranty. I would note that the —

QUESTION: (Laughter.) He —

MR MILLER: I just – look, when it comes to —

QUESTION: Even if he didn’t, I bet he can still expect his cell phone – the spam cell phone calls —

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: — from the warranty department for the —

MR MILLER: I bet that’s right. I’m not sure, if I were buying a luxury car, Russia would be the place I would look, even if it was – even if it wasn’t with respect to sanctions.

But UN Security Council resolutions do require all UN member states to prohibit both the supply of transportation vehicles and the supply of luxury automobiles to the DPRK. And if this is true, it would appear to be once again Russia violating UN Security Council resolutions that it itself supported.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I just want to ask you —

MR MILLER: Excuse me.

QUESTION: — a couple of comments that Benny Gantz just made about an hour ago. He basically – he said there were promising early signs of progress on a new deal for the hostages. I’m just wondering what’s the latest that you guys are hearing, and whether you’re picking up the same promising early signs of progress as well.

MR MILLER: I don’t want to discuss those discussions, those negotiations in detail. And I don’t want to offer any assessments beyond what we have said previously, which is we do think that there is space to reach an agreement here. We are going to continue to stay engaged in this matter with everything that we can bring to bear on behalf of the United States to work with Israel, to work with Egypt, to work with Qatar, because we want to see the hostages released, we want to see a pause in the fighting. And so that’s what we’ll continue to pursue.

QUESTION: Okay. He is also saying that if no new deal were struck, the Israeli military would keep fighting in Gaza even into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. I’m just wondering if that would be something the United States would be supportive.

MR MILLER: So I think I got a version of this question yesterday, and I don’t have anything new to add. We want to see a deal struck. So I’m not going to get into what might happen if we don’t get an agreement, but we want to see an agreement reached, and we want to see it reached as soon as possible. That would include, of course, before Ramadan. It could include – it could be even earlier than that. So that’s what we’re going to continue to pursue.

QUESTION: Right. But I think you guys have made it a bit of a red line – I mean, if I guess one can call it that – the need for a humanitarian plan on top of, obviously, a military strategy before Israel goes into Rafah. So I think what I’m trying to get at is whether fighting continuing in Ramadan is really offensive – starting or continuing into Ramadan – whether that’s a similar red line or not.

MR MILLER: I just don’t want to speak to where we’ll be in two weeks, because I think it’s impossible to say. We want to see a hostage agreement that secures a temporary ceasefire where we can get the hostages out and get humanitarian assistance in. Ultimately, we want to see a durable resolution to this conflict, and we want to see it as soon as possible. With respect to where we’ll be in two weeks, I just don’t want to speak beyond —

QUESTION: Okay. I —

MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to that in detail.

QUESTION: Okay. I have a few quick ones on UNRWA; I’ll be quick.

MR MILLER: Take your time; you got interrupted a few times, so go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry. (Inaudible.)

MR MILLER: Said attempting to interrupt you again. And now I interrupted you; sorry. Go ahead. Go ahead, Humeyra.

QUESTION: Have you asked other UN agencies – like, your funding is stopped for now. And there is legislation that has not yet passed within supplemental that might bar you completely from resuming that funding. But that legislation is not on the House floor yet. So I guess I’m wondering what you guys are doing in the meantime. Have you asked other UN agencies to pick up the slack? And exactly what did you ask them to do? Like, are there UNRWA workers on the ground right now working for – actually working for other UN agencies who are doing the distribution of aid?

MR MILLER: We have been in conversations both with the United Nations and with other countries around the world about how to make sure that the important work that UNRWA does is not interrupted. We want to ensure that humanitarian assistance continues to flow to the Palestinian people. Right now, UNRWA is the key facilitator of humanitarian assistance in Gaza, and we don’t want to see that humanitarian assistance disrupted in any way.

At the same time, we are obviously cognizant of the draft legislation and the provision that it contains. It’s not law, as you said, but we have to plan for all possibilities, including the possibility that it becomes law. So we’re looking at all the options that may be available to us. But I don’t want to discuss that in detail; it’s internal planning that continues to go on inside the government.

QUESTION: All right. The final thing is there is the reporting in Devex which says that you have actually asked other UN relief agencies to pick up slack. But Secretary-General Antonio Guterres have urged the heads of those agencies to basically rebuff your plea. I mean, is this something you can confirm or —

MR MILLER: I’m just not – I’m not going to confirm that report at all. Sorry.

QUESTION: Can I just very briefly follow-up on (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m guessing you may not have a lot to say about this, but following up with Humeyra’s question, Brett McGurk, of course, is in the region. I know he works in a different building. But do you have any –

MR MILLER: Correct. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But do you have anything you could say more generally about what he’s – about the tone of what he’s doing or what —

MR MILLER: No. I will leave it to the White House to speak in detail to Brett’s work and what he’s trying to accomplish on the trip. But I think, look, you know – you have seen from the administration broadly what our goals are with respect to the conflict right now. Our immediate goal is to try to achieve a deal that brings about a ceasefire in the fighting. A temporary ceasefire in the fighting allows us get hostages out and allows us to get humanitarian assistance in and kind of would help with some of the bottlenecks that have begun to pop up inside Gaza, to preventing humanitarian assistance actually getting out to the people that need it because there’s fighting on the ground and looting and other obstacles.

So we are trying to achieve all those things, and that, of course, is Brett McGurk. It’s the Secretary. It’s the President himself. They’re focused on that issue.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: And I thank you. To follow up on Humeyra’s fair point and –

MR MILLER: Thank you for being sort of patient.

QUESTION: Sorry?

MR MILLER: Thank you for being somewhat patient.

QUESTION: Oh, no, no. I did not mean to interrupt her.

MR MILLER: That’s fine. It’s fine.

QUESTION: So apologies if that was perceived as such —

MR MILLER: I feel like a schoolmarm up here, scolding – I feel like a schoolmarm, scolding people unnecessarily.

QUESTION: That’s right. Anyway, just to follow up on Humeyra’s —

QUESTION: A schoolmarm?

MR MILLER: Yeah, I don’t know. Is that the – that’s —

QUESTION: Yeah, wow. Texas coming out (inaudible).

MR MILLER: A little bit of an archaic – a little bit of an archaic term, yeah.

QUESTION: All right. Okay. So just to follow up on her point, you’ve said that you’re hoping that a deal will be struck. What if it doesn’t get struck? I mean, we have been there before. They were – these artificial deadlines and calendars and a week here, and the end of October, then the end of November, then December, the end of the year, and all these things – I mean, to be honest, the Palestinians and Israelis fought in Ramadan many, many times, and they were struck. So what if a deal is not struck? What is your vision on how this thing will end?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to deal with a hypothetical, as I think you know. I will tell you, though, I think it’s a fair question about where we want to see this conflict go. In the short term, we want to see, as I said in response to several other questions, a temporary ceasefire that allows us to get the hostages out, bring more – bring more humanitarian assistance in.

But we have also been very clear, and if you’ve looked at the Secretary’s many public comments on this, he’s been not just clear but quite detailed in what we want to see in the long term. And what we want to see in the long term is a durable agreement that allows – that brings about peace and security for both Israel and Palestinians through the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with real security guarantees for Israel, Israel further integrated into the region. That is our long-term vision, and that is what the Secretary has been focused on through his diplomatic engagements in the region, and what it – it is what we will continue to pursue.

Now, the first step in that is getting an agreement to get the hostages out while we work on this longer-term plan for the region.

QUESTION: Well, I’m sorry (inaudible) point. But in the meantime, people can’t get food. I mean, kids, children, 5-year-olds, my grandson’s age, and so on. So, I mean, they’re not getting – they’re asking for bread, for crying out loud. They’re standing in line asking for bread, and bread is not getting in. So what are you – I mean, you keep saying about things that – the need for things to go in. But it’s not going in, Matt.

MR MILLER: So the humanitarian situation in Gaza continues to be extremely difficult, dire for many people, which is why we continue to focus all the efforts of the United States to improve that situation. When it comes to bread, the United States has funded flour that would feed 1.5 Palestinians for five months.

QUESTION: No, no, no. A lot more than 1.5.

MR MILLER: One point five million Palestinians for five months. Thank you – thank —

QUESTION: If it was only 1.5 Palestinians, that would – that would be —

MR MILLER: Right. Fair. Obviously a misspeak. One point five million Palestinians for five months. We have worked to not just fund humanitarian assistance but get it into Gaza, and continue to stay engaged on that every day, not just on the big picture issues but on very minor logistical issues that have a big impact, things that seem minor but that have a big impact in getting – in getting in. Is enough food and water and other humanitarian assistance getting in? Absolutely not, which is why we continue to stay engaged, to improve the situation every day.

QUESTION: You talk about the Palestinian state, although we’ve heard statements that are really emphatic by the prime minister of Israel saying, no – under no circumstances whatsoever, and so on. I just want to read you what a member of his cabinet – from the Likud, as a matter of fact – May Golan of the group during a Knesset hearing about the motion to expel MK Ofer Cassif. She said, quote, “I am personally proud of the ruins of Gaza and that every baby, even 80 years from now, will tell their grandchildren what the Jews did,” unquote.

I mean, this is the kind – I mean, this is not someone extremist. It’s not Smotrich. It’s not Ben-Gvir. This is in the prime minister’s – Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.

MR MILLER: Said, I would encourage you to take a close look at the comments the Secretary made in Tel Aviv at a press conference two weeks ago where he talked specifically about the effects of dehumanizing language and why it’s important that no one on either side of this conflict dehumanize anyone else. That will continue to be our position. It will continue to be what we pursue because as the Secretary has spoken, we care about the lives not just of Israelis but of Palestinians – Palestinian men and women and children – and we grieve for all of those who have been killed, all of those who have been injured, and it’s what animates our work to try to bring a durable end to this conflict.

QUESTION: Does that go for Congressman Ogles as well?

MR MILLER: I’m sorry. What?

QUESTION: Does that go for Congressman Ogles as well?

MR MILLER: I don’t know what your comment you’re referring to.

QUESTION: He made – he made a comment in response to a protestor up on the Hill about the deaths of Palestinian children, and I’m slightly paraphrasing, but “[they] should kill all of them.”

MR MILLER: So I haven’t seen his comments. It’s the first I’ve heard of them. And with a slight paraphrase, I’m reluctant to – without seeing the comment, reluctant to react. And we typically don’t respond to comments made on the Hill, but obviously we would urge anyone – whether in the United States or abroad – to avoid dehumanizing language and dehumanizing sentiments.

QUESTION: Matthew, the majority of the Israeli Knesset has voted today against the unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood. How do you feel this step?

MR MILLER: So I again will only continue to speak for the United States and what we are trying to pursue, and we are trying to pursue the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. We are focusing our diplomatic efforts on that, not just because we think – and again, you’ve heard the Secretary speak to this a number of times – not just because we think it’s in the interests of the Palestinian people but because we think it is in Israel’s short, medium, and long-term security interest as well.

QUESTION: But if the government and the Knesset in Israel don’t want the establishment of a Palestinian state —

MR MILLER: You – so, again, you have heard the Secretary speak to this, that what we will do is continue to lay out what we think the best choice for the Government of Israel to make and the best choice for the Israeli people to make. Ultimately, Israel will have to make its own decisions, as every sovereign country does. We will present to them the ideas and plans that we are developing with our partners in the region, the commitments that other countries are willing to make to Israel’s security. And every country will have to make its decisions about its – how it’s going to proceed.

MR MILLER: I don’t have any further readout of the meeting other than what we already offered publicly.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. And a few questions here; please bear with me. Going back to your line of questioning with Matt on the sanctions, the EU today came up with its – agreed on its 13th packet of sanctions with some 2,000 listings in total. Could it be a template for you on Friday?

MR MILLER: I would want to just say: Everyone, just wait for two days and you’ll see all the sanctions that we’re going to impose. Obviously, we work closely with the EU and countries around the world on the – on various sanctions packages, and we’re glad to see the EU take its – the steps that it did. But you should just watch and look at our sanctions when we roll them out on Friday.

QUESTION: And my colleague made a point about North Korea. Early in January, you guys announced the provision of ballistic missiles from North Korea to Russia. Several weeks passed; neither Russia nor North Korea have faced any consequences. Why? Is it going to be addressed during this next package?

MR MILLER: Again, I have said everything I’m going to say about a sanctions rollout that is not happening for another two days. I would encourage you to check back on Friday to see —

QUESTION: That would be nothing.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: I said a little bit. I gave a little more than nothing, but we’ve got two days to go.

QUESTION: Fair enough. Fair enough. Any update for us on the latest U.S. citizen arrested in Russia and access to her?

MR MILLER: No, I have no further updates. We continue to seek consular access; it’s not yet been granted.

QUESTION: I want to go back – if I may, going back to Munich last week, the Secretary met with Azerbaijani and Armenian leaders. Does he still believe that the peace is within reach? I’m just borrowing the vocabulary he used last year at this time.

MR MILLER: He still does believe that peace is within reach, and he discussed that with the leader of both – directly with the leaders of both of those countries, and encouraged them to work together to bridge the – what ultimately are just a remaining few issues. And we will continue to encourage those countries to reach a peace agreement. I know that the two leaders met bilaterally in Munich, and so we will continue to offer the assistance and the support of the United States in reaching agreement.

QUESTION: He also reminded – my last one, I promise – he also reminded Aliyev of his obligations on human rights, according to your readout. Just day before that meeting occurred, the Secretary was addressed on the Hill – so 21 congressmembers called him out, telling him that – to – asked him to prioritize the cares of Gubad Ibadoghlu and his well-being. Did the Secretary have a chance to go through the cases, including Mr. Ibadoghlu?

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Two questions on Iran. The country’s national virtual space center has banned the use of VPNs, and it has been also endorsed by the supreme leader. I was wondering if the Iranian people should be worried about having access to information to the outside world or as, in the past, during the demonstrations the U.S. was going to – is going to step in?

QUESTION: Could I ask a few different issues around the world?

MR MILLER: So this decision is just the latest reminder of how much the Iranian regime fears its people and what they are capable of when they are giving – given unfettered access to the internet and unfettered access to information. The internet disruptions that the Iranian regime has put in place in the past have cost the economy billions of dollars. It caused pain to businesses as well as, of course, choking off information that people need to make decisions about their lives and decisions about their futures. Support for internet freedom in Iran will continue to be a central pillar of our efforts to support human rights in the country. As you’ve said, in the past in the height of the protests in 2022 and 2023, as many as one in three Iranians used U.S.-supported anti-censorship and digital security tools such as VPNs. There are millions of Iranians that have continued to use those tools to this day, so I’m not going to speak to what actions we will take in the future, but as I said, upholding internet freedom and ensuring Iranians – Iranians – citizens’ access to the internet will continue to be a central pillar of our engagement in that country.

QUESTION: Thank you. Also, Abram Paley, special envoy for Iran, is or was in Vienna. He met with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi. I was wondering if you could tell us anything about the nature of this visit given that Grossi has spoken out a lot recently about his concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

MR MILLER: Sure. So Deputy Special Envoy Paley was in Vienna to meet with Director Grossi. He reiterated the United States appreciation for the IAEA’s extensive efforts to engage Iran on longstanding questions related to Iran’s safeguards obligations. Iran’s cooperation remains severely lacking. We remain seriously considered about Iran’s continued expansion of its nuclear program in ways that have no credible civilian purpose, including its continued production of highly enriched uranium, and that was the focus of the discussions today.

QUESTION: Any discussions, any solution to gaining access to Iran’s nuclear program by the IAEA?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to give any further comments about that meeting other than to say that they did discuss how Iran should fully uphold its safeguards obligations and provide full cooperation to the IAEA without further delay.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Senegal – I know the Secretary spoke not so long ago with President Sall about the election. The – there was a court decision calling for a new date but it hasn’t been set yet. Do you have any update on U.S. engagement there and the U.S. stance about what’s happening now?

MR MILLER: So we continue to stay engaged with the government in Senegal. I don’t have any specific engagements to read out, but as – we have been – stayed in close coordination with them, and I’ll just say that we want to see the election take place as soon as is practical – practicable.

QUESTION: Sure. Elsewhere in Africa, there was an agreement signed today between Somalia and Türkiye on a naval upgrade or a coastal upgrade. It’s obviously a bilateral, but this is in the context of Ethiopia and Somaliland having a pact. Does the U.S. have any stance on Türkiye’s involvement here?

MR MILLER: Let me take that one back and get an – get you an answer on it.

QUESTION: Sure. And one other thing: Pakistan.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know you’ve been saying in recent weeks that it’s – you’re not going to comment till a government is formed, but there’s a coalition that actually has – is being formed between two of the major factions without Imran Khan’s enforcement. Is there an idea that this is a representative government? How does the U.S. feel about this?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to comment on the government before it’s formed. Ultimately, as is the case whenever you see coalition politics taking place inside any given country, that’s – it’s a decision for that country itself, not something that we would weigh in on.

QUESTION: Sure, sure. And in terms – I know in the past you’ve talked about allegations of fraud, of rigging. Is there any follow-up on that? Is the U.S. looking for anything in particular before a government comes in?

MR MILLER: We want to see a full investigation into any claims of irregularities.

QUESTION: Okay. And just finally, yesterday I asked about the disruptions on social media in Pakistan. Is there anything further on that, whether it was (inaudible) communication?

MR MILLER: So we are concerned by any report of restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of expression and association in Pakistan, including the partial or complete government-imposed internet shutdowns, which includes, of course, on social media platforms. We continue to call on Pakistan to respect freedom of expression and restore access to any social media that has been restricted, including Twitter, I think now known as X. We have and will continue to emphasize the importance of respecting these fundamental freedoms during our engagements with Pakistani officials.

QUESTION: Sure. And just finally, that’s – has that been communicated through official channels or —

MR MILLER: It has been, yeah.

QUESTION: Follow-up on Pakistan?

MR MILLER: Go ahead. Right here.

QUESTION: The Foreign Policy magazine, in a recent report titled “The Taliban Wants a Piece of Pakistan,” reveals that Taliban engaging to border tension with Pakistan through their supporting TTP. While the Taliban publicly refuse the —

MR MILLER: I’m sorry, what was the – what would – what was the – just didn’t hear the last – the beginning of the last sentence.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry. It’s about a Foreign Policy report that they titled “The Taliban Wants a Piece of Pakistan.”

MR MILLER: Right.

QUESTION: And while the Taliban publicly refuse the Durand Line as the official border between Pakistan and Afghanistan, what’s the position of United State about Durand Line?

MR MILLER: We support the territorial integrity of both Afghanistan and Pakistan within their internationally recognized borders.

QUESTION: Follow-up —

QUESTION: Another question about Afghan Adjustment Act that was not passed by the Congress recently. While there are some reports that United State Department of State is going run out of the SIV P-1 and P-2 quotas, do you confirm this report? And what are you doing about SIV and Afghan Adjustment Act (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: So as the President has said, we urge Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act. We support it and want to see it passed. When it comes to Special Immigrant Visas, I would just note that in the last fiscal year, 2023, the government issued more than 18,000 Special Immigrant Visas to Afghan applicants outside the U.S. That was the most in any single year.

So go ahead. We’ll work down —

QUESTION: On Pakistan, thank you. Pakistan Ambassador Masood Khan here in D.C. yesterday said that Pakistan is pleading with the Congress, with the U.S. Congress, to help restore the U.S. military aid that was suspended in 2018 by the Trump administration. Is the U.S. considering restoring the program given that Pakistan is a major non-NATO ally in the region?

MR MILLER: I just don’t have any comment on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. A question on the Kurdistan Region parliamentary election, which was expected to be held in October 2022, but due to the disputes, political status, they delayed. And last year, the Iraqi top court ruled against the self-extension of that parliament, which the region has no parliament now. And today the Iraqi top court ruled against the Christian regional parliament minority seats. Any reaction and comment on that? And have you ever engaged with Erbil and Baghdad on that issue?

MR MILLER: So we have seen the reports that the court issued rulings today related to the Iraqi Kurdistan parliament elections and other issues concerning relations between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Iraqi federal government. We are still reviewing the full scope of the decision. As a matter of longstanding U.S. policy, we support holding parliamentary elections in the Iraqi Kurdistan region at the earliest opportunity. And as we do everywhere, we encourage those elections to be free, fair, and transparent.

QUESTION: And one more question on Iraq. We know the situation in Iraq has been cooled down and the militia groups is not attacking you as they did before. And today the U.S. ambassador met with the Iraqi prime minister, and they discussed the upcoming visit of the Iraqi prime minister —

MR MILLER: The discussed what?

QUESTION: The upcoming visit of the Iraqi prime minister to Washington. So my question is that are you done with the response to those groups who were responsible for killing three U.S. service members and injuring 40 others?

MR MILLER: I am not going to preview or rule out any potential steps from this podium.

QUESTION: So what’s your general assessment about the current situation? Do you think that these groups are taking their words when they say that we are not going to attack the U.S. forces?

QUESTION: And how the United States analyze those comments in a moment that there is an effort to de-escalate tensions in the region?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to offer any assessment or speak for any of these groups. I will say on behalf of the United States we have made very clear, not just with our words but with our actions, that we are prepared to defend U.S. forces and U.S. interests in Iraq and in the region. And we are prepared to hold accountable anyone who attacks U.S. forces, and I think I’ll leave it at that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Barbara Miller, ABC Australia. The Australian parliament recently passed a motion calling for the Assange matter to be brought to a close and for him to be allowed to return home. What’s your response to that motion?

MR MILLER: So I spoke about Julian Assange extensively from this podium yesterday, and I don’t think I have anything to add on to that matter. It is an ongoing legal matter and an extradition matter, and beyond what I said yesterday I think I don’t want to comment in any more detail.

Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Good afternoon, Matthew. Good to see you. Two questions – one on Ukraine, one on Haiti. On Ukraine, the Knights of Columbus – they’re an organization that has provided millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine, helping people there during this very terrible time. How would you describe the impact of groups like the Knights of Columbus?

MR MILLER: So look, we support any organization that wants to deliver aid to people in Ukraine or anywhere in the world who are in need of it.

QUESTION: And then on Haiti, where of course we all know there’s been terrible violence. Catholic – the other day Catholic Bishop Pierre-André Dumas was hurt in an explosion at a house. He is in stable condition, reportedly. Recently, six Haitian religious sisters were recently abducted and then released. What’s the State Department’s reaction to those incidents?

MR MILLER: So I will just say generally we continue to be very concerned about the ongoing violence in Haiti. And it’s why we continue to focus on the launch of a multinational security force to help with the situation on the ground in Haiti, and that Secretary Blinken will in fact be engaging with counterparts at the G20 about the deployment of such a mission today and tomorrow while he’s in Brazil.

QUESTION: Can I just very briefly follow up?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Do you have anything to say About the indictments over Jovenel’s killing – on Jovenel’s killing in Haiti?

MR MILLER: I do not. I do not.

Go ahead, back – yeah. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you so much. On U.S. and Brazil, what is the evaluation of the meeting this morning in Brasília between Secretary Blinken and President Lula?

MR MILLER: So we put out a readout about that meeting, and I will say that they discussed a number of issues, including the work through the G20 to help alleviate poverty and combat climate change. They talked about regional issues, including the work that Brazil has done to try and de-escalate tensions between Venezuela and Guyana; talked about Brazil’s support for democracy in South America, including in Venezuela; and then they talked about bilateral issues between the United States and Brazil, as well as issues around the world such as the war in Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up. Yesterday on this podium it was sad that the United States does not agree with what President Lula said last weekend on Gaza. But from your perspective, are those comments a matter of public retraction, as the Israeli foreign minister suggested?

MR MILLER: So —

MR MILLER: So they are comments with which we disagree. As I made clear today, the Secretary had a chance to discuss the comments with President Lula today in his meeting, in the context of an overall discussion about the conflict in Gaza, and made clear – as I did yesterday, made clear that those are comments with which we disagree.

QUESTION: And the G20, is it possible to highlight the priorities from the U.S., the summit of ministers – summit that is happening —

MR MILLER: Well, as I said, you – and you will see comments from the Secretary – he’s going to have a press conference tomorrow before he leaves the G20. So I don’t want to get too – I don’t want to get ahead too far of his comments. But we will be focused on fighting poverty, addressing climate changes, and other issues that President Lula has put on the agenda for this meeting of the G20.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matthew. A few questions. When will the draft U.S. resolution calling for a temporary ceasefire be put forth before and voted on by the Security Council?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to put a timetable on it. It’s something that we continue to discuss with partners on the council.

QUESTION: And the administration supports Israel’s goal to annihilate Hamas, yet the support does not seem unconditional, as the administration opposes any further Israeli military operation in Rafah. How do you square the two? If Israel’s goal of annihilating Hamas requires going into Rafah, why would that not be supported by the U.S.?

MR MILLER: We support Israel’s goal to defeat Hamas and to ensure that the terrorist attacks of October 7th can never be repeated, but we have always said that it needs to – the campaign that Israel is carrying out needs to be carried out in a way that puts civilian protections first. And so we don’t see any tension between those two, and that’s why we have said that before Israel conducts a full-scale military campaign against the Hamas battalions that remain in Rafah, that it needs to have that kind of civilian protection plan.

QUESTION: And finally, does the State Department have any reaction to the rise in cyber operations by China? Has the administration taken any actions to hold the CCP accountable for targeting the U.S. infrastructure with malware recently?

MR MILLER: We have long made clear that we oppose any cyber actions in that – of that regard by both the PRC and others, and if you look, there is a long history of us taking action to impose consequences when we see them.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead, Shannon.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Then I think we’ll wrap there.

QUESTION: As Russia’s treatment of dual citizens has become a more visible problem, has the State Department taken any steps to push Russia to change its policy and allow regular consular access to American dual citizens beyond just asking for access to those already in detention in Moscow?

MR MILLER: Oh, we have pressed it at a number of levels. Both – you’ve seen the Secretary raise this in direct conversations in the past – not – have a lot of regular engagements with the Russian Government now, but our embassy continues to raise it on a regular basis. The unfortunate truth, though, is that Russia continues to detain its own citizens and continues to detain American citizens, and it’s why we have tried to make clear as – just as plainly as we possibly can that no American citizen should consider traveling to Russia for any reason, period, because they are at risk of detention, imprisonment by the Russian regime.

So we will continue to work to try to get consular access to Americans that have been detained. We will continue to try to work to free those American citizens who we have determined to be wrongfully detained. And we will continue to call on humane treatment for everyone, but I think people need to remember the kind of brutal regime that we’re dealing with that’s willing to inflict brutality on its own citizens and willing to inflict brutality on citizens of other countries. And if you are considering travel to Russia for any reason, do not do it. I don’t think we can say that any more clearly.

QUESTION: Wait —

QUESTION: On the State Department – sorry, quick follow-up —

MR MILLER: Yeah, go —

QUESTION: They shouldn’t even consider traveling to – they shouldn’t think about it?

MR MILLER: Think about it and make a very quick decision not to do it.

QUESTION: But in that Travel Advisory, the State Department’s language says that Russia may refuse to acknowledge dual nationals’ U.S. citizenship. Are you aware of any case where Russia actually has acknowledged U.S. citizenship (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: I’d have to look back through history. I’m not aware of any recent case where they have, no.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: And so —

QUESTION: I just have one more, and this goes back to something that was raised yesterday about the UN expert – panel of experts on the sexual – alleged sexual assault of Palestinians. You said that you were looking for independent confirmation or an investigation into that. Has that gone anywhere?

Okay, thanks.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: That’s it for today. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:05 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – February 20, 2024

1:41 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry to be – sorry, thank you. Sorry to be late. Let me —

QUESTION: Are you really?

MR MILLER: I am sorry to be late. You think I don’t want to get on with my day as much as you do. (Laughter.) Let me —

QUESTION: I accept your apology.

MR MILLER: No, thank you. Let me start with some opening comments.

As we mark two years this week since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the brutality of Putin’s regime is increasingly evident both at home and abroad. The weakness and rot at the heart of the system that Putin has built was confirmed not only by Aleksey Navalny’s death last week, but also by the fact that the Russian – that Russia detained close to 400 people over the weekend just for mourning his passing.

The Kremlin has poisoned Navalny, imprisoned him unjustly, kept him in harsh conditions, and denied him medical care. It is the Russian Government that is responsible for Navalny’s death while in detention. And now, in any other society – in a free, democratic society – we would see openness and transparency as his family seeks more information about their beloved son, husband, and father. But of course, in Russia, openness and transparency remain in short supply.

We saw further evidence of Putin – the Putin’s regime’s brutality and disregard for human life in Avdiivka this weekend, where Ukrainian citizens bravely tried to hold off Putin’s illegal invasion while facing rationed ammunition due to dwindling supplies. Unfortunately, Russia made its first notable gains in months. It is now clear – more clear than ever what the stakes are in Ukraine. Without more support from Congress, Ukraine will not be able to replenish its air defenses and ammunition supplies to help protect itself from Russia’s aggression.

As the White House announced this morning, at President Biden’s direction, we will be announcing a major sanctions package on Friday to hold Russia accountable for Navalny’s death in prison, and for its actions over the course of the vicious and brutal war they have waged in Ukraine for the past two years. We also renew our call for Congress to pass the national security supplemental funding bill, both to enable Ukraine and its people to defend against the ongoing invasion, and also to advance U.S. national security interests. It is critical that Congress act without further delay.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks. Before we get into the – what you just talked about, I just want to get what you have to say about the detention of a U.S.-Russian dual national.

MR MILLER: So with respect to this most recent detention, we are aware of the case. We are seeking consular assistance[1] that has not yet been granted. I’d limit what more we can say because – with respect – because of privacy laws, as I’ve discussed many times from this podium.

And I will just say generally, as I think you are aware, Russia – when it comes to dual citizens of the United States and Russia or dual citizenship of any other country and Russia, Russia does not recognize dual citizenship; considers them to be Russian citizens first and foremost, and so oftentimes we have a difficult time getting consular assistance[2]. But we will pursue it in all matters where a U.S. citizen is detained.

QUESTION: Okay. And then on the sanctions, why wait until Friday?

MR MILLER: It takes time to put these sanctions packages together. There’s —

QUESTION: Well, it’s been two years. I mean —

MR MILLER: It has been two years.

QUESTION: Well, it wasn’t a secret that the anniversary was coming up, so —

MR MILLER: And if you have watched, you have seen us roll out a significant number of sanctions packages over that two years. So it’s not like we have delayed anything.

QUESTION: Yes. No, no, no, I know. But —

MR MILLER: But we are always looking to impose new sanctions as facts justify when we see sanctions evasion or activity moving to new areas, and to tighten our existing sanctions. And we’ll have more to say on Friday.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: Or do you want to go to there? Could I ask – I’ll just ask you if you have any reaction on Evan Gershkovich’s, the latest pretrial detention, that he’s being kept in for another 30 months – excuse me – 30 days?

MR MILLER: So with respect to Evan Gershkovich, Ambassador Tracy attended Evan’s hearing and spoke to the press soon after. You may have seen her comments. We’re disappointed but not surprised by the outcome of the hearing. As you’ve heard me say many times from this podium, the charges against him are baseless and Russia should immediately release Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan, and the United States will continue to work towards securing both of their freedom.

QUESTION: And just one other on Russia, Radio Free Europe. I don’t know if you saw the announcement on that saying it’s undesirable as an organization. Do you have any reaction on the Russian statement?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any specific reaction other than to say that you have seen Vladimir Putin oppose the free dissemination of information, the free press inside Russia, and unfortunately that seems to be – seems not surprisingly but unfortunately not moved off that position.

QUESTION: And may I follow up on that, Matt?

MR MILLER: Let me go to Humeyra first.

QUESTION: Matt, can you say at all if the administration is going to use this EO that you guys issued in December that threated basically penalties for financial institutions that help circumvent Russia’s sanctions?

MR MILLER: You mean with respect to our announcements that are coming on Friday? I certainly don’t want to preview those.

QUESTION: Yes, yes.

MR MILLER: And I just – I’d just say in general —

QUESTION: The announcements that are coming on Friday that you guys —

MR MILLER: On Friday that you would like me —

QUESTION: — have made public on Monday.

MR MILLER: That you would like – it’s Tuesday, actually.

QUESTION: Oh, Tuesday. Long weekend.

MR MILLER: But we made public that we’ll be taking that action. I don’t want to preview what they will be, but as we have said, they will be a major sanctions package.

QUESTION: Right. Can I – can I just ask a little bit on Ukraine coming off the heels of Munich Security Conference, where a lot of European leaders and sort of various officials have tweeted their rather negative outlook about the supplemental and Congress and all that? And the Congress is on holiday until mid-March. What exactly is the administration planning how to convince the Speaker, whether you have a Plan B if the supplemental prospects look pretty bleak?

MR MILLER: So we will continue to engage with Congress to make clear that it is in the national security interest of the United States to pass this supplemental funding request. You heard the Secretary speak about this last week. One of the points he made is that when it comes to our security assistance to Ukraine, 90 percent of that money is actually spent here in the United States. It benefits American manufacturing. It benefits American technological development.

So we will continue to make that case, but I think it’s also the American people that make that case. If you look at the recent polls that came out, the American people overwhelmingly continue to support standing with Ukraine. And there were a number of members of Congress who were in Munich over the weekend and at the end of the last week attending the Munich Security Conference, and they heard directly from Ukrainian officials and from European officials how it is in the national security interest of Europe and also in our transatlantic national security interest. So we’ll continue to make the case, but I would say it’s not just the United States that will continue to make the case.

And I will say, as you have heard the Secretary say, there is no other magic plan that we can unveil to support Ukraine. Ukraine will continue to defend itself even in the absence of a supplemental funding request passing Congress. That is without a doubt. You have seem them fight with bravery, you’ve seen them fight with skill, and we fully expect that they will continue to do so and they will continue to make gains against Russia as they have done in the Black Sea. But the situation will be very difficult. When you don’t have the ammunition you need on the front lines, you’re going to be vulnerable. And that’s what we saw over the weekend with the loss of Advika (ph) and – or Avdiivka. And so I think it’s the fact on the ground that will continue to make the case to members of Congress why they need to act, and we hope they will.

QUESTION: Would you say that you’re – you still have some sort of confidence that it will pass?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to make an assessment on what Congress will do. What we will say and continue to represent is why it is in the national interest of the United States for it to pass this bill. Members of Congress will have to make their own assessments, and it continues to be our belief that if you brought this funding up for an up-or-down vote it will pass the House, and that’s what needs to happen.

QUESTION: Okay, I have some Gaza questions but I’ll let people ask questions.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Matt, a single on Russia. Russian Supreme Court of Tatarstan today rejected Alsu Kurmasheva, RFE/RL reporter’s, request for house arrest. Can we do a quick reaction? And I want to follow up on that.

MR MILLER: So we will continue to engage with the Russian Government. This is another one – another matter where they consider a – this to be a dual – well, not a dual citizen. It’s another matter of a dual citizen they – where they rejected that request. We’ll continue to engage with the Russian Government on this question, but I don’t want to speak to a specific court matter.

QUESTION: I mean, yesterday marked four months of the arrest of – day before yesterday. Are you telling us that you are out of option here in terms of defending a U.S. citizen even on —

MR MILLER: The safety and security of United States’ citizens overseas is always our first priority, and we always look to protect the safety and security of every United States citizen whether they be in Russia or whether they be in any other country.

QUESTION: Is her designation – or designating her arrest as wrongful? Is it still on the table? Are you still considering it?

MR MILLER: I just don’t want to make any kind of judgment about a wrongful detention determination. That is something that we always look at when it comes to American citizens who are detained overseas. It is a process. Sometimes it takes time. Sometimes new facts develop that we take under consideration. But I don’t want to put – I don’t want to speak to that any further from here.

QUESTION: And going back to Shaun’s question, you —

QUESTION: On this, Alex, RFE/RL too?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Russia has labeled Radio Free Europe today as an undesirable organization after designating it as a foreign agent. Do you have any —

MR MILLER: I just – I commented on that a moment ago just to say we have seen Russia continue to crack down on a free press, continue to track down – crack down on transparency. It is quite clear that they do not want their people to have information about what the Russian regime does abroad, what the Russian regime does to its own people.

QUESTION: And one more. Russia placed U.S. Senator —

MR MILLER: I don’t think Alex completely yielded the floor.

QUESTION: Since you’re talking about Russia.

MR MILLER: But go ahead, Michel. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. Russia placed U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham on Russia’s terrorist and extremist list. Any reaction to that?

MR MILLER: So I – we’ve seen obviously the Russian Government designate a broad range of United States officials with various sanctions. I doubt there are any significant ramifications from that, partly because I doubt very much that Senator Graham – who I shouldn’t speak to, he can speak for himself – planned to travel to Russia anytime in the near future.

QUESTION: RFE/RL again.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is it fair for us to report back that you just said you will not take any action just for RFE/RL designation?

MR MILLER: Alex, you can report back what I just said, not your implication of what I didn’t said – say. And what I said was that the safety and security of American citizens abroad is always our first priority. That is true with respect to this case. It is true with respect to every American overseas. And when it comes to the wrongful detention determination, that is a process that takes time here at the department where we assess the facts, some of which change over time, circumstances change over time, and make a determination that is consistent with the law.

QUESTION: Please come back to me on the region?

MR MILLER: Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. Two questions on South Korea, Cuba, and North Korea. South Korea and Cuba established diplomatic relations last week. Cuba has been a brother country with North Korea for a long time. What is the U.S.’s view?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any comment on a relationship between South Korea and Cuba. Obviously, we have always said that countries are free to pick their own – free to decide their own diplomatic engagements and their own diplomatic alignments.

QUESTION: Okay, on North Korea. North Korea Kim Yo Jong announced that North Korea is open to talks with Japan if Japan does not interfere with North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests and abduction issues. My question is: If Japan tolerates these and talked with North Korea, what impact do you think it will have on the U.S. and South Korea – North Korea – alliance?

MR MILLER: I think that’s a pretty big “if.” I think I will wait to see how the Government of Japan responds to that question before I weigh in any further.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: You don’t have any —

MR MILLER: I am aware of the North Korean offer.

QUESTION: — any opinions or —

MR MILLER: I have not see the Government of Japan respond, but it will be – continue to be our policy to achieve – that – for full denuclearization of the North Korean – or of the Korean Peninsula. That, of course, has not changed and will not change.

QUESTION: Any intention – any intention of North Korea, why they suggest, talked with —

MR MILLER: That is a good – that is a question for North Korea, not for me.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Sir?

MR MILLER: Yeah. Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. I have a question about a statement by the UN experts from the UN Human Rights Office yesterday, expressing alarm over allegations of human rights violations to which Palestinian women and girls in the West Bank, in Gaza is subjected to. They said – the UN experts said that Palestinian women and girls in detention have been subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault by male Israeli army officers. At least two of them were reportedly threatened with rape and sexual violence. Have you seen those allegations —

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: — and do you have any reaction?

MR MILLER: — I have seen the allegations. I cannot independently confirm the reports. I will say that we have been clear that civilians and detained individuals must be treated humanely and in accordance with international humanitarian law. We strongly urge Israel to thoroughly and transparently investigate credible allegations and ensure any accountability for abuses and violations, and that will continue to be our position.

QUESTION: Have you heard back from your previous call for investigation into the killing of Hind Rajab?

MR MILLER: The —

QUESTION: Hind Rajab, killing of.

MR MILLER: We have heard that those investigations are underway. We have – it’s our understanding that the investigations have not yet been concluded.

QUESTION: Sorry, can I just – on the —

QUESTION: Sir?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: When you said you had no independent confirmation of what the UN experts found —

MR MILLER: I mean, the underlying —

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, I get it. But did you ever get – did you ever have confirmation of what Hamas allegedly did to Israelis who were – women and girls who were —

MR MILLER: There are Israeli medical experts who have testified to that, and that is something we consider credible, yes.

QUESTION: So you have – you consider those instances to be confirmed, but not what the UN was talking about yesterday?

MR MILLER: We have seen this report and we have called for an investigation to confirm whether the allegations are true or not.

QUESTION: I get it. And who – and if you’re willing to take a word of an Israeli – and I’m not saying you shouldn’t – but if you’re willing to take the word of Israeli medical experts on what happened to the people who were abducted on October 7th, whose word are you willing to take – if not the UN, who —

MR MILLER: A full, independent, credible investigation —

QUESTION: Would it have to be – would it have to be an Israeli medical expert?

MR MILLER: We are calling for that – and, no, of course it would not have to be an Israeli medical expert. A credible medical expert, a credible —

QUESTION: Or a Palestinian —

MR MILLER: A credible – I don’t want to prescribe who it would be – a credible medical expert that can testify to it would be something we would look at, of course. It would not have to be —

QUESTION: Well, you would look at, but you’d take – you’ve taken —

MR MILLER: I’m not going to – because that’s one where we have seen the outcome of the investigation and are able to opine on it. I’m not going to opine on a matter that hasn’t been conducted.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but you didn’t do your own independent investigation into what I think is pretty much well accepted by everybody that there were instances of rape and sexual assault on October 7th, so —

MR MILLER: And the circumstances very much matter, and in this – in this —

QUESTION: I completely understand that, but I’m just —

MR MILLER: It is a well – it is a well – hold on. It is a well-accepted fact. With respect to this —

QUESTION: Yeah, no, no. It might be a well-accepted fact —

MR MILLER: No, this – hold on. No, let me – just let me finish. It – just —

QUESTION: — but you’re saying that – but you’re saying that you have what you consider to be independent confirmation that those —

MR MILLER: Let —

QUESTION: — attacks, those assaults, happened. And in this case — s

MR MILLER: Independent confirmation – it is a well-accepted fact because the investigations produced credible evidence that not just the United States accepted but countries —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: No, no, let me finish – countries around the world accepted. With respect to these new allegations, we want to see an investigation, and we will, of course, look at the investigation, make our judgements when that investigation is concluded.

QUESTION: Okay. So it’s just too early for you?

MR MILLER: Correct.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Could I stay in the Middle East?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Matthew, sir?

QUESTION: Just – well, a couple things, but of course the Secretary’s on his way to Brasilia. I’m sure you saw the comments by Lula, by President Lula, in Ethiopia this past weekend. Israel’s quite upset with him likening what’s happening there to the Holocaust. Do you have any comment on – both on – both do you have any comment on what Lula said, and do you think the Secretary will raise this with him tomorrow?

MR MILLER: So obviously we disagree with those comments. We have been quite clear that we do not believe that genocide has occurred in Gaza. We want to see the conflict ended as soon as practical. We want to see humanitarian assistance increased in a sustained manner to innocent civilians in Gaza. But we do not agree with those comments.

QUESTION: And does – do you expect the Secretary to raise this? Will this affect relations —

MR MILLER: I’m going to follow my general rule and never preview what the Secretary plans to raise before he has a chance to do so directly with officials, but we engage with Brazil on a number of issues, and I don’t expect that to change.

QUESTION: And just – can we stay on the Middle East? Obviously there was the veto this morning at the Security Council. I know Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield spoke about this at length, but in terms of U.S. engagement with the region, how do you think this affects – I mean, do you think that – a number of Arab states in particular have been calling for a ceasefire. How does this take U.S. diplomacy —

MR MILLER: So look, when it comes to an immediate ceasefire, this has been a place where we’ve had a disagreement with a number of countries in the region for some time now. I don’t think that’s anything that’s new. But that has not stopped us from being able to engage constructively about how to bring this conflict to an end – and not just an end, but a durable end, in a way that ensures that the violence that we saw on October 7th and the death and destruction that has plagued this region for so long is not continued, and that we can finally find a durable peace agreement.

And so despite our differences of opinion about the – this UN resolution, we continue to engage with Arab countries about finding a way forward and working on some of the issues that we know we will have to deal with when it comes to establishing long-term peace and security in the region.

QUESTION: Can I —

MR MILLER: Let me make sure Shaun’s done before I go —

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead.

MR MILLER: Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Just on Gaza, the mention of temporary ceasefire, the word “ceasefire” in the UN resolution, is this change in wording comes after President Biden used this last week?

MR MILLER: “Temporary,” obviously, does. The President made that point last week, and now you’ve seen the draft resolution that we’re working on. But this has been a matter that we have been pursuing for some time, trying to get a temporary ceasefire in exchange for a release of hostages, and something we think is critical to try to achieve and we’ll continue to focus on.

QUESTION: Right. Do you think – the administration has obviously been under pressure domestically on this and internationally as well. Do you think that the change in President’s wording but the fact that now it’s in draft resolution has anything to do with those pressures that it’s facing domestically?

MR MILLER: No, I think it has to do with how we are responding to the situation on the ground and the situation in the region. We are trying to achieve a temporary ceasefire – or you can call it a pause; you can call whichever name you prefer – to secure the release of hostages. We worked on achieving a humanitarian pause back last year, were successful in doing it. It didn’t go as long as we wanted it to. We got some hostages out; we didn’t get all of them out. We are back now trying to get a longer pause, a longer temporary ceasefire, and secure the release not just to some of the hostages but all of the hostages.

And I would say we have made quite clear that we want to see not just a temporary ceasefire, but ultimately an enduring end to the hostilities, and one that ensures that Palestinian civilians are protected, that we get humanitarian assistance to them, and that ultimately the attacks of October 7th cannot be repeated.

And that’s one of the reasons why you’ve seen us oppose the resolutions at the UN, not just today but in the past, because we think just an unconditional ceasefire only benefits Hamas, that it would – that Hamas is not going to abide by a full temporary ceasefire. They’re going to continue to hold hostages; they’re going to continue to launch attacks against Israel. They may not do it for a week or so, but they have not forsworn their aims to destroy the State of Israel. And so we’ve oppose that policy, and we think it’s not one that’s effective.

We think a negotiated agreement that would get a temporary pause, a temporary ceasefire, is ultimately not just the way to release the hostages and alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people but to give us a pathway to a more enduring end to hostilities.

QUESTION: Right. And you’d like to achieve that pause before Ramadan starts?

MR MILLER: We would like to have achieved that pause yesterday.

QUESTION: Right.

MR MILLER: We would like to achieve it today or tomorrow.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR MILLER: We want to achieve it as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Sure. But how concerned are you that the fighting will continue into Ramadan? Are you doing anything specific about that?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to get ahead of the situation, because we are right now in conversations and in negotiations to try to achieve a humanitarian pause. We are still over two weeks away from Ramadan. We would like to get that humanitarian pause before Ramadan begins. We’d like to get it before the end of the week, as I said. We’d like to get it as soon as possible. So that’s what we’re going to continue to try to do.

At the same time, we have made clear that Israel should not launch a full military campaign in Rafah unless it has a humanitarian plan that is both credible and realistic, and one that they can execute.

QUESTION: Have you seen any indications of that humanitarian plan? And what is the United States prepared to do if they go ahead anyway?

MR MILLER: One has not been presented to us yet. I’ve seen reports that one is being developed and will be presented to the Government of Israel this week. I will let them speak, of course, to that. But one has not been presented to the United States, so I, of course, can’t speak to it, and I wouldn’t want to deal with any kind of hypothetical situation down the road.

QUESTION: Israel?

MR MILLER: Go – Shannon, go ahead.

QUESTION: While in Munich, the Secretary raised Russia’s pursuit of an anti-satellite capability in meetings with his Chinese and Indian counterparts. Can you say this is the first time the Secretary has raised such meetings with other countries and whether he hopes to achieve anything by raising the topic with China and India specifically?

MR MILLER: So I will say that on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference he did raise Russia’s pursuit of an anti-satellite technology with our allies and partners, but not just our allies and partners – with other countries as well – because as the Secretary made clear, he thinks it’s an issue that should be of concern, not just to the United States but to other countries in the world. And I won’t speak to the details of those diplomatic engagements, but I would just say generally that when you have an issue like this that we think should be of broad concern, not just to the United States but other countries, we, of course, would fully expect that they would use their diplomatic engagements to, as we have done, urge that the pursuit of such a technology be abandoned.

QUESTION: Can you say those other countries – did they express concern about the capability as well?

MR MILLER: I just don’t want to speak to private diplomatic engagements.

QUESTION: Matthew, sir?

MR MILLER: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Sir, a senior Pakistani official admits to helping rig the vote. He claimed that he changed the election results with a margin of 70,000 votes in favor of Nawaz Sharif, and that those seats were actually won by Imran Khan’s party candidates. What are your views? You already talk about the allegations of rigging and fraud. What are your views on this?

MR MILLER: So I saw that report. Any claims of interference or fraud should be fully and transparently investigated – excuse me – in accordance with Pakistan’s own laws and procedures. And that, of course, includes this claim as well.

QUESTION: Sir, a number of Pakistani politicians and media analysts in Pakistan have termed these elections most controversial, and asking political leadership to respect Imran Khan’s party’s mandate as the largest group. Would you also like to see the political leadership in Pakistan to respect the PTI’s candidate – mandate?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to get – I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off.

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR MILLER: What was the last piece?

QUESTION: I’m – are you also, like, asking the political leadership in Pakistan to respect the PTI’s mandate?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to get into an internal Pakistani matter, which I very much believe that the formation of a new government is. But – so that’s a matter that I will leave to Pakistan. But as I said, when it comes to the – any claims of interference or allegations of irregularities, we want to see those fully investigated.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

QUESTION: Different topic?

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There was —

QUESTION: Can I – do you mind if I just follow up very briefly on something?

QUESTION: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on —

MR MILLER: You guys are so nice to each other. Like, all the – (laughter) – you’re just tolerating all these interruptions today.

QUESTION: Always cordial.

MR MILLER: Huh?

QUESTION: Always trying to be. Can I just follow up on Pakistan, though? In relation to the —

MR MILLER: He’s going to be mad if I don’t come back to him now. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’ll get two.

MR MILLER: There you go.

QUESTION: X, formerly known as Twitter, has been disrupted in Pakistan in recent days. There have been a number of calls from the Hill in particular for the State Department to raise this. Has it been raised? Do you have a stance on this?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any updates on whether it’s something that’s been raised, but we always want to see full internet freedom around the world, and that includes the availability of platforms that people use to communicate with each other.

QUESTION: And specifically in Pakistan, is it of concern in light of these allegations about the election?

MR MILLER: So I’ll just say as a general matter that we want that to – we want internet platforms to – I don’t know why I keep saying “internat” today, I don’t know where that came from – internet platforms to be available to people in Pakistan and around the world. And I don’t have anything further than that.

Nick, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. There have been some reports over the weekend that the State Inspector General opened an investigation into Rob Malley and is being put on leave. Do you have anything you can add to that?

MR MILLER: So I won’t speak on behalf of the inspector general. As you know, they operate independently and they should be the ones to decide whether to confirm any investigation or not confirm an investigation. I will say that when it comes to inspector general investigations, we always comply with those fully and will continue to do so.

QUESTION: And then separately, there’s been some criticism of a cable that the Secretary sent a few weeks ago on gender identity to staff, urging staff to use gender-neutral language whenever possible, and avoid terms like “manpower” and “ladies and gentlemen.” Why do you think a memo like that was needed?

MR MILLER: So I will say first of all, when it comes to these types of cables, they all come out with the Secretary’s signature on it – that tends to be standard department practice, has been for years. It doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a memo from the Secretary himself. I would say if you look at that memo, as I have done, it’s a standard government practice to try to encourage just – people just to be respectful of others and use the terms that – with which others are comfortable, and talk to people the way that they would like to be addressed, and nothing more than that.

QUESTION: Matt?

MR MILLER: Actually, let me go back. Alex, I need – it’s too late to come back to you.

QUESTION: Please come back to me, yeah.

MR MILLER: You’re right in front, so sometimes I come back, but there are people in the back that need to —

QUESTION: So you’re saying that it is not an order?

MR MILLER: It is a – I would like to look at the memo again before – but my understanding is it was a best-practices piece.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, you remember there was a little bit of a kerfuffle some time ago – maybe before you were here – when the email system —

MR MILLER: When people’s pronouns were changed for them —

QUESTION: Yes.

MR MILLER: — by mistake. I do remember that.

QUESTION: Exactly.

MR MILLER: No, yeah. No, this was just encouraging people to be respectful and treat people with – treat people with respect, and address them with the terms that they feel comfortable with.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I mean, does the Secretary or anyone else in the building have an issue with the phrase “ladies and gentlemen?”

MR MILLER: I do not have —

QUESTION: Not you personally.

MR MILLER: I do – hold on – I do not have any problem with the term “ladies and gentlemen,” and I feel fully confident saying the Secretary does not either.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. Bangladesh regime people involvement in corruption is an open secret, according to a Bloomberg detailed report yesterday. Saifuzzaman Chowdhury, one of the cabinet ministers, is alleged to have built an empire in the UK and U.S. valued at 200 million pounds sterling, equivalent to 1 percent of the country’s foreign reserve. This is just one case among many. How is the U.S. addressing this matter to hold the government accountable and combat corruption globally?

MR MILLER: We are aware of these reports and encourage the Government of Bangladesh to ensure that all elected officials comply with the country’s laws and financial regulations.

QUESTION: Matt, can I follow up (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: Go, go, go, go, go. No, no. Note that the best way to not get called on is to shout out a question while I’m calling on other people. Go ahead. I will come across to this side of the room in a minute.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. In light of world pressure on Israel to accept a Palestinian state dividing their land with Hamas and Palestinian Authority terrorist organizations, and for Israel not to enter Rafah in Gaza to destroy Hamas there, what is the State Department’s response to Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli cabinet, as well as the entire Jewish population, who are defending their right to live free from terrorism? And a follow-up.

MR MILLER: We, of course, agree with Israel’s right to live free from terrorism. If you’ve looked at the repeated comments that Secretary Blinken has made – not just here in the United States, but in Israel itself on his five trips to the region – he has made clear that he supports Israel’s right to ensure that October 7th can never happen again. And more importantly, he is trying to achieve a resolution of this conflict that will ensure Israel has long-term peace and long-term security, including security, of course, from terrorism.

QUESTION: Are you going to be wanting to prevent Israel from entering Rafah to take out Hamas there?

MR MILLER: What we have said is we do not support an – a full-scale military campaign in Rafah that does not account for the more than 1 million Palestinians who are currently there – people who have nothing to do with Hamas, innocent civilians; men, women, children, the elderly, who in many cases have fled to Rafah from their homes; in some cases, have fled more than once – have fled two or three times to escape the war, the conflict that is raging in Gaza.

So we fully support Israel’s right to take a military campaign to Hamas and ensure that the attacks of October 7th cannot be repeated, as I said, but we also want to see civilians properly accounted for, and right now we don’t believe that there is a way to conduct a military campaign in Rafah without moving some of those civilians and properly accounting for their humanitarian needs.

QUESTION: What are the reasons of the State Department for not demanding Hamas immediately release all remaining hostages unconditionally?

MR MILLER: I think you’ve missed dozens and dozens of statements from the State Department going back to October 7th – well, it’s actually October 8th by the time that we were aware that hostages should be released, and was the first time the Secretary called for the immediate release of hostages. And he has continued to make that clear; as have I, as has the President. We have demanded time and time again that hostages be released immediately and unconditionally.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. I just wanted to circle back to the verbiage used in the draft – UN draft today. I mean, how important is it that you used the word ceasefire as opposed to an extended pause, which is what you’d been using prior?

MR MILLER: I will let other people make those sorts of assessments. From a policy perspective, we want to achieve a temporary stop in fighting. You can call that a ceasefire. You can call that a pause. Ultimately, we want to see the fighting stop so hostages can get out, hostages can be released, and humanitarian assistance can get in.

But I should make clear the only kind of temporary ceasefire that is going to achieve a release of hostages is one that’s negotiated. Just calling for a temporary ceasefire is not going to – that Hamas has not agreed to is not going to do anything to get the hostages out, which is why we continue to pursue diplomacy with Israel and with the governments of Egypt and Qatar to try to achieve a temporary ceasefire that would secure the release of hostages. We think that is by far the most productive way forward. It is what achieved a release of more than a hundred hostages last year and what we think should be the productive path for moving forward now.

QUESTION: A question about Afghanistan.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: As you know, the Taliban refused to attend a UN-sponsored conference in Doha that’s concluded yesterday. They didn’t send any delegation, and also they rejected the appointment of a special envoy by UN in Afghanistan. Does the United States still hope to engage with Taliban by considering all of that?

MR MILLER: Let me just tell – speak to what we were trying to engage – or what we were trying to achieve by attending this conference. And it’s not surprising that the Taliban, of course, has different objectives. We were trying to achieve a number of things: One, to make clear that Afghanistan should not be a hotbed for terrorist activities that impact other countries; two, a vision for Afghanistan with inclusive institutions in which its diverse groups all feel represented in a state that is truly inclusive; and number three, a concern about the respect of human rights, and in particular the rights of women and girls.

So that’s what we’re going to continue to pursue. I shouldn’t – I can’t say I’m incredibly surprised that the Taliban declined the invitation to participate in a meeting with a broad representation from the international community. But I will say, as you’ve heard us say before, that the Taliban are not the only Afghans who have a stake in the future of Afghanistan. We will continue to support giving all Afghans, including, of course, women and girls, a voice in shaping their country’s future.

QUESTION: And the Chinese, Russian, and Iranian envoy into the peace meeting, they refused to meet with the Afghan civil society because they were not greeted by the Taliban regime. Do you support this idea, and what’s your take on that?

MR MILLER: So I won’t – I won’t speak to the actions of another country, but I will make clear we always find engagement with civil society to be productive. We try to take actions through our diplomacy to empower civil society, and we would certainly encourage every country in the world to pursue that path.

Let me —

QUESTION: Follow-up?

MR MILLER: Let me go back to – I promised you I’d come to you a minute ago. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Me?

MR MILLER: Yeah. Well, now I call on you —

QUESTION: Oh, thank you.

MR MILLER: — you don’t want a question, after like jumping in for other people – during other people’s questions? (Laughter.)

QUESTION: No, I do. Thank you. Thank you, Matt. I’ll be very respectful. I – before I ask you a question, I have to let you know that Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu was speaking at the Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., last week. He said that the situation in Burma was not getting better, and what worried him was that the refugee crisis and security problem it was creating for Bangladesh and potentially for India could get deeper in coming days. Quote, “It is something we have to watch out for and enable our partners in the region – in this case Bangladesh and India – to cope with those stresses without it boiling over the instability in their countries as well,” over – I mean cross-border instability. What is your opinion on that? Thank you.

MR MILLER: I think it was a well-crafted, well-delivered speech, and I don’t have anything to add to it. (Laughter.)

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Wow, going out on a limb there. (Laughter.)

MR MILLER: Thank you, Matt.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Who?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, thanks. I have two questions. The Houthis have escalated their attacks on ships in the Red Sea during the weekend. One of the attacks targeted or damaged a ship and forced its crew to abandon it. How do you view this escalation and what or how the U.S. will react?

MR MILLER: So obviously we continue to condemn the reported reckless and indiscriminate attacks on civilian cargo ships by the Houthis, not just those that were reported to have occurred over the weekend but all those that have been occurring for the past number of weeks. But I just want to mention something specific about one of these attacks this weekend – the attack on the Sea Champion. That ship was bringing corn and other food supplies to the Yemeni people in Aden. These were supplies for the Yemeni people, have nothing to do with Israel, have nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza. That of course is what the Houthis have claimed their attacks on civilian ships are trying to impact.

This was a reckless attack on a ship delivering humanitarian assistance to the Yemeni people, and I think it was another sign that the Houthis continue to demonstrate disregard not just for international shipping, not just for supplies that are going to benefit civilians all around the world – in many cases far from the region, but ultimately for their own people. It was a dangerous attack, and the fact that they’re launching these just kind of wanton, indiscriminate attacks – even when they hurt their own people and hurt the provision of supplies to their own people – shows just how reckless their actions have been.

QUESTION: And on Lebanon, how do you view the escalation of military operations between Israel and Hizballah? Will the U.S. participate in two conferences that will be held in France and Rome to help increase the Lebanese army capabilities to implement the UN Security Council Resolution 1701?

MR MILLER: So we continue to be concerned about the risk of escalation and continue to be concerned about the risk of the conflict widening, and we continue to work to achieve a diplomatic path forward that resolves the legitimate concerns of the Government of Israel and the legitimate concerns of Israeli people who don’t want to move back to the north because they feel that their houses continue to be threatened, their communities continue to be threatened by attacks from Hizballah. So we’re continuing to pursue that diplomatic resolution.

As it pertains to these two conferences – or I think maybe in one of the cases, potential conferences – I don’t have anything to add about possible U.S. participation.

Let me go back here.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. I have two questions, one about the irregularities in Pakistan election. From the last Monday briefing you have mentioned that United States raised privately and publicly the irregularities matter with Pakistani officials, but ministry of foreign affairs in Islamabad just in last briefing said they are not aware of any bilateral messaging that has taken place post-elections. Meanwhile, what we observed are U.S. ambassador in Pakistan, just after two days after election, held a meeting with former foreign minister of Pakistan. So do United States directed speaking in Pakistan to have engagements with the officials or the politicians?

Secondly, I want to ask regarding the efforts for United States for the Israel-Saudi normalization.

MR MILLER: Let me – let me – before we get in – let me ask – let me answer the question you asked, which is I’m not going to talk to private diplomatic engagements, but we have made clear that we want to see any claims of – any – any irregularities or claimed irregularities fully investigated.

Go ahead with the second one.

QUESTION: So the October 7th is considered as big damage for diplomatic efforts by U.S. in Saudi-Israeli normalization process, so MBS – the crown prince – reminded two-state solution and he also looking for a timeline from U.S. So Netanyahu’s not, like, bothering this two-state solution, this condition, so what is the time frame after the post-Gaza war, what really the damage repair by the U.S. to repair this, as number of Arab nations have reservations on this. So —

MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to any timetable, but I will say – as, again, you have heard the Secretary say – we continue to work on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, which we believe doesn’t just benefit the Palestinian people but would benefit the Israeli people and would benefit the entire region. That is something we have heard from a number of Arab partners in the region, including, of course, the Government of Saudi Arabia. And one of the things that the Secretary discussed directly with the crown prince and heard directly from the crown prince was that the – Saudi Arabia was not prepared to pursue normalization or was not prepared to agree to normalization, I should say, without the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I just raise the extradition hearing of Julian Assange, which has taken place at the high court in London today, and his lawyers have repeated an allegation saying that there is evidence of – that a plan was discussed to either kill or kidnap Assange while he was in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Mark Summers KC, Assange’s lawyer, is saying senior CIA officials requested plans; the president himself – that’s President Trump – requested on being provided with options on how to do it and sketches were drawn up. Is there any comment?

MR MILLER: No, I – I’m not going to comment on an ongoing extradition matter.

QUESTION: Can I just ask a follow-up to that, please?

QUESTION: Well —

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Matt. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Well – and I mean, I want to go back to what you were talking about a bit earlier, and that is just – the question is whether the administration regards Julian Assange as a journalist.

MR MILLER: So with respect to that question, I think I should decline to comment in detail because, as I said, it is an ongoing extradition matter and it’s an ongoing legal matter. This is a case which is under indictment. But I will just say generally that I have never heard a journalist say that, as a legitimate journalistic practice, to help a source hack into a government computer to steal information. It’s not a legitimate journalistic activity to hack into anything to steal government information, so I think I will leave it at that.

QUESTION: Well, okay. Well, that suggests, then, that you don’t. I’m – and I want to specifically avoid getting into what the Justice Department has to say about this case. I want to talk about what the State Department believes about his status, Assange’s status, because you guys are self-proclaimed champions of independent, free press. You are all the time saying journalism is not a crime and this kind of thing. So if you believe that what Julian Assange has been doing or was – or did is journalism, I don’t see how you can – I don’t see how that squares with —

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: And if you don’t, are you saying, from your comment just now, that you don’t regard him as a journalist, because he accepted or allowed or helped someone hack into computers? Is that – is —

MR MILLER: So again, I’m at a limit to what I can say about an ongoing legal matter that is under indictment. I remember from my days as the Department of Justice spokesperson that it was —

QUESTION: Yes, exactly, which I think has probably colored your personal – your personal reaction to it.

MR MILLER: Let me just – let me – no, let me just finish this answer, that it’s not appropriate for government officials to speak at length about matters that remain under indictment. We support an independent, free press in the United States; we support an independent, free press around the world. We feel that an independent, free press not just benefits the people of the United States, it benefits those of us in government by making us work harder, by making us be ready to explain what we’re doing, by making us think through the decisions that we are making and making sure that they fully represent the best interests of the American people. And we think that same process holds true everywhere in the world, and that’s why you see dictators and autocrats and others crack down on independent, free press.

At the same time, helping someone hack into – which is a crime; hacking is a crime, right – helping someone hack into a government network or a private network, for that regard, is not something I think any journalist considers to be a legitimate journalism activity.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you not think then that what was published as a result of hacks into the government database, especially as it relates to State Department cables, which are – many, many thousands of them, and that were then published by an independent, free press – you don’t see a problem here with the —

MR MILLER: I think —

QUESTION: — prosecution or attempted prosecution, the indictment, and your stated view that you think that this kind of activity should be protected?

MR MILLER: Again, if you look at the conduct that is alleged in the indictment, when it comes to helping someone hack into a government network, that is a very different type of activity.

QUESTION: So – but publishing it is not —

MR MILLER: I am not going to get into the ongoing details of what is a – probably gone too far already in discussing this case – the ongoing detail – the details of what is very much a live, ongoing litigation matter.

QUESTION: Well, do you not think the publication of these documents, when they came out, back – the original ones, the ones that Chelsea Manning provided to WikiLeaks, and when they were published by The New York Times and El País and all the – and others, do you not think that that helped informed public discussion? Do you not think that those – that that was useful?

MR MILLER: So I – let me say this, because I’m not going to speak to that specific case, for the reasons I just articulated. But I will say that two things can often be true when it comes to the publication of classified government documents. It is true that at times the publication of a classified government document, well, will inform the public, and sometimes it will uncover wrongdoing. It’s also true that sometimes the publication of classified government documents serves no underlying purpose and can jeopardize sources and methods that the government uses to keep the American public safe. So it is a very difficult situation. It is a – I think one of the trickiest questions the government faces in navigating this area. But I can tell you that we try to do it as responsibly as we can.

All right. Over here. And then —

QUESTION: Good to see you, Matt.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And thank you so much for taking. I have two questions, if you will allow. First, I’d like to talk about the anniversary of the war in Ukraine that is coming up. And as you rightly know at the very start of the war African countries – there was sort of an outright split, right, some ambivalence in the support to Ukraine. So I’m seeking your assessment on U.S. efforts – I’m not saying that you – we’ve had this conversation and narrative about is or is the U.S. not trying to ask African countries to pick a side. That’s not what my question is. My question is to ask, while we recognize that garnering international support for Ukraine sovereignty and territorial integrity is important, what over the two years has been your efforts, the U.S., in garnering international support in terms of African countries?

And then my second question is on Guinea.

MR MILLER: Let me take that one first. So I will say that we have engaged in countries all over the world – not just in Africa, but of course across the world – to urge them to support Ukraine and support its efforts to defend itself from Russian aggression. We think when you see any country’s sovereign borders violated, see its – control of its territory violated, that it threatens all countries around the world. Because it is ultimately the UN Charter that upholds the territorial integrity and sovereignty of every country in the world.

And I will just say we – not just because of our efforts, although they have helped, but because I think we’ve seen countries in the world outraged by Russia’s activities – we have seen a number of UN resolutions, including ones that were joined by dozens of African countries, in support of holding those – of upholding those principles of the UN Charter, of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and ultimately finding a comprehensive, just, and durable peace that recognizes those principles.

QUESTION: Sure. And then on Guinea, if I may – and this will be my last question to you, Matt – since yesterday, as you may already know, there is no leadership in Guinea. I think there is currently maybe some low-level leadership. They dissolved the government. And so while I appreciate that you will not comment on the internal affairs of another country, I am asking you to see if you can comment on your own efforts and how you might be engaging any stakeholders in Guinea or in that part of the world, for that matter, or any regional organization besides ECOWAS, which may seem more weakened. Are there any other countries that you may be engaging – Angola, South Africa, Kenya – in your efforts in this regard?

MR MILLER: Sure. So we are closely monitoring developments in Guinea. We encourage the transition authorities to work with ECOWAS. It’s something we’ve discussed with a number of ECOWAS states and – to continue positive momentum by holding a constitutional referendum and elections in order to complete democratic governance. We remain concerned about media restrictions placed on the Guinean people and calls on the – and call on the transition authorities to ensure that freedoms of peaceful assembly and expression are fully respected, including from members of the press. And we are engaging with a number of countries in the region around those goals.

QUESTION: Can I just do one more on Africa?

MR MILLER: Yeah. Yeah, one more and then – Humeyra, did you have one?

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR MILLER: We’ll do that.

QUESTION: But just one more on Africa. Rwanda-DRC – you issued a statement on Saturday, I believe it was, on the – so the DRC is alleging Rwandan involvement in the drone attack in – on the airport. Besides the statement, has there been any response from Rwanda? Are you confident that there’s some progress in there? How do you see things going —

MR MILLER: I don’t have any update on the situation since we released that statement over the weekend.

QUESTION: But is it – do you find the DRC allegations credible for Rwandan involvement in this?

MR MILLER: I don’t have anything to add beyond what we said over the weekend.

Humeyra, and then we’ll finish up.

QUESTION: Matt, there were some incidents off the coast of Taiwan in the past couple of days. China’s coast guard boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat, and on Tuesday Taiwan drove away a Chinese coast guard boat that entered its waters. Are you guys worried about like any escalating tensions? Have you seen that?

MR MILLER: Yeah, we are closely monitoring Beijing’s actions. We continue to urge restraint and no unilateral change to the status quo, which has preserved peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and throughout the region for decades. We urge the PRC to engage in meaningful dialogue with Taiwan to reduce the risk of miscalculation. And we share with other countries, not just in the region but around the world, an abiding interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait and in the broader Indo-Pacific region, which impact global security and prosperity.

And with that, we’ll wrap for today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:32 p.m.)

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  1. access

  2. access

Department Press Briefing – February 14, 2024

MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone.

QUESTION: Good afternoon.

MR MILLER: Happy Valentine’s Day, especially Happy Valentine’s Day to those of you celebrating with us on a flight somewhere over the Atlantic tonight instead of with your significant others. I wish you peace and tranquility at home. With that, no Matt – Shaun, you want to go first?

QUESTION: Sure. Happy Valentine’s Day to you.

MR MILLER: Thank you. Thank you.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about – to start off – the talks in Cairo that took place recently, that are (inaudible) in some form. I know there’s a limit to probably what you’re going to say about it, but do you have any assessment right now about how things stand? Is the U.S. still hopeful that there could be a deal for hostages and a pause in fighting?

MR MILLER: As has always been the case, I don’t want to kind of give a day-by-day, step-by-step update or assessment on the talks, or the status of them, or where they might stand; but we continue to believe that it is possible to achieve a deal. We continue to believe it’s in the national security interest of the United States to achieve deal. And we believe it’s in the interest of both Israel and, of course, the Palestinian people. So we will continue to work to try an achieve an agreement that would not just secure the release of hostages, but, of course, enable – allow a pause that would enable the delivery of humanitarian assistance that would alleviate the suffering on the ground in Gaza.

QUESTION: Sure. Not to jump around too much, but the – I was wondering if you could comment on today’s developments in Lebanon. There’s some strikes there from the Israeli side in particular. How dangerous is the situation in Lebanon? Do you have any reaction in particular to the use of force?

MR MILLER: We continue to be concerned about escalation in Lebanon. As you know, it has been one of our primary objectives from the outset of this conflict to see that it not be widened, to see that it not be escalated in any way. That continues to be a primary national security objective of ours that we will continue to pursue. And we continue to believe that there is a diplomatic path forward, and we will continue to push forward to try to resolve this issue diplomatically so both Israelis and Lebanese can return to their homes.

QUESTION: Is there active diplomacy in Lebanon right now?

MR MILLER: There is active diplomacy. There has been active diplomacy on this question for some time. I, of course, am never going to get into the underlying details of those diplomatic conversations, but we continue to pursue diplomatic resolution of this situation.

QUESTION: And just one more before I yield to somebody else. The – I’m sure you saw, and I believe the National Security Advisor was asked about it, but I wanted to ask you – the report from The Wall Street Journal on white phosphorus use in Lebanon. Is there anything you can say whether the State Department is actually looking into that?

MR MILLER: So as I said yesterday, we do continue – we are reviewing reports of human rights violations and civilian harm incidents through the CHIRG process that we set up last August. I’m not going to comment on the specifics of any one incident. We take these on a case-by-case measure and assess them to see whether, number one, civilian harm actually occurred; and, two, to identify any appropriate policy responses if it has occurred, to mitigate such – to reduce the risks of such incidents happening in the future. But we are going to make it as a kind of blanket policy not to confirm specific incidents that may be under review.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to ask you a couple questions on Gaza, but first I wanted to ask you about what the Israelis did today – demolished a house for Fakhri Abu Diab – he’s an activist against demolition – to basically make room for a biblical theme park. Do you have any comment on that?

MR MILLER: We condemn the demolition of Fakhri Abu Diab’s home. He is a community leader in East Jerusalem. We believe that demolition not only obviously damages his home, and his family, and the lives that they have built there, but the entire community who live in fear that their homes may be next. This has been their family home for generations. Part of the structure dates back to before 1967. He has been an outspoken community leader, including against demolitions, and now his family has been displaced.

But I want to – I would also like to reiterate that the impact of these demolitions – this is obviously not the first – goes beyond just the impact on this individual family. These acts obstruct efforts to advance a durable and lasting peace and security that would benefit not just Palestinians, but Israelis; they damage Israel’s standing in the world; and they make it ultimately more difficult for us to accomplish all of the things we are trying to accomplish that would ultimately be in the interest of the Israeli people. And so we condemn them and we’ll urge them – continue to urge that they not continue.

QUESTION: Well, Silwan is really adjacent to my neighborhood so I know – I know the area. I know how many people have lost their homes, how many homes have been demolished, but the Israelis seem to have a methodical plan forward, going forward. I know that you condemn, but do you condemn saying “or else,” for instance?

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: “You must stop this”? And you – they should not demolish anybody’s homes, not even for – as a form of collective punishment if someone has done something from the household.

MR MILLER: So we condemn them, and let me tell you what we are offering as an alternative.

So the Secretary has made clear that after conversations with others in the region that there is a path forward – an alternative path to the one that Israel has pursued to date – to provide lasting peace and security for Israel, and it would include the establishment of two states. And we will continue to pursue that path. And we have made clear and other countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia, have made clear that there are enormous benefits on offer for the Israeli people should they pursue that path, including in further integration with the region, including security guarantees.

And so when it comes to all of these types of issues, what we will continue to lay out is the vision that we think is a better path – as I said, not just for the Palestinian people, but ultimately that provides greater security benefits for the Israeli people as well.

QUESTION: Now, on the looming or the expected attack on Rafah, I know that the President, the Secretary of State, you from this podium many times, however, warned against such a storming of Rafah. But on the other hand, I mean, one reads reports and so on that okay, by not doing anything, or by not saying that there will be consequences if you do this, you’re basically green-lighting – essentially giving a green light to the Israelis to go ahead. I mean, we just – we don’t like it, but we’re not going to do anything about it.

MR MILLER: I think that would be a significant misinterpretation of what we have said. We have made quite clear both publicly and privately that we cannot support any military operation in Rafah until such time as Israel has developed a humanitarian plan that can be executed, and that they have executed such a plan.

So I know people like to jump ahead far into the process and talk about what-ifs, but we’re not at the what-if stage right now; we are at the making very clear to Israel what we expect stage, and we have seen the Government of Israel ask the military for such a plan. We haven’t seen that plan yet; we don’t know what it’ll contain; we don’t know if it will be executable, as we have said. So we will wait before offering any prejudgments about what will, or may, or might, or might not happen. We’re going to wait to see what that plan looks like and then engage directly with the Government of Israel about it.

QUESTION: So you’re saying, yeah, you can do this, with the caveat that you have to make sure that the population, the civilian population, is not harmed or somehow moved from place to place. Now, remember, these people have already been moved there. They have been instructed by the Israelis to go to Rafah (inaudible).

MR MILLER: You don’t have to tell me “remember;” I’ve said that myself from this podium.

QUESTION: I remember. But this is the thing. I mean, it’s déjà vu all over again.

MR MILLER: Which is why we have made clear that there has to be a plan —

QUESTION: To quote Yogi Bera, “déjà vu all over again.”

MR MILLER: Look, there are – there are Hamas – there are – as I’ve said yesterday, there are two things that are true in this situation, right. One, that there are Hamas battalions that operate in Rafah, that exist in Rafah, that continue to pose a threat to the national security of Israel, Hamas battalions, part of an organization that attacked Israel and has made clear they want to continue to attack Israel. At the same time – so I’d say as a first matter of course, Israel has the right to take military action against those Hamas battalions that pose a threat to it. At the same time, they have an obligation to make sure that they only do so in a way that puts civilian protection first. And that is what we have made clear to them, and so we will see the plan that they will develop, and I will wait and pass judgment until we see that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: Alex.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) topics. I want to start with NATO, given the recent debate in this town. NATO today disclosed that its defense spending hit a high record – record high, 18 members —

MR MILLER: Eighteen.

QUESTION: — about to hit the 2 percent.

MR MILLER: Up from 11 I believe, right?

QUESTION: That was a target, not the goal – or they don’t owe anyone any money. But can you speak to this, the import of this development?

MR MILLER: We think it’s incredibly important. So look, we have made clear that there are targets that NATO countries have agreed to, that they would spend 2 percent of their budgets on national security. We have made clear that we expect countries to meet that target. There is often this misnomer that countries pay money to the U.S. and they’re in arrears; that, of course, is not factually the case. It’s not factually how it works. But there are defense spending targets that they are supposed to meet. As the secretary general announced today, a record number of those countries are now meeting those targets – 18, almost two thirds of the Alliance. And we continue to see progress from other countries towards meeting those targets, and we will urge those who have not yet met them to continue to take steps to do so.

But again, as I’ve said – as I said earlier this week, NATO is an Alliance that the American people derive tremendous benefit from, provides tremendous security to the United States. And that’s why we have seen durable, long-lasting, widespread support – not just in Congress, not just from leaders in Congress, but also from the American people, and we expect that to continue.

QUESTION: Thank you. A couple questions on the sanctions. The U.S. took part today in Brussels at EU Sanctions Coordinators Forum. This is the first time, if I – as far as I follow. There are reports that EU, on its end, is considering secondary sanctions against Central Asia, Türkiye, and other countries, or companies based in those countries, in its next batch. I know you don’t telegraph your sanctions, but can you at least assure us that —

MR MILLER: But would I do it in this case?

QUESTION: At least assure us that you —

MR MILLER: It’s okay.

QUESTION: — will not – you will follow unless you – once they put it out, or is it part of the conversation?

MR MILLER: Assure you that – assure you that what?

QUESTION: That the U.S. will not lag behind when Europeans move forward with this?

MR MILLER: I don’t think – if you look at the United States actions in this guard – in this regard, we have been a leader, we have been at the forefront at holding Russia accountable for its actions, and we will continue to be – to be a leader in this regard. But of course, as you I think knew by the way you framed your question, I am not going to preview any sanctions action that we may or may not take.

QUESTION: And on that line, Putin today signed a confiscation law, which experts believe that further complicates – endangers, if you want – foreign investment, including Americans. And this is something we discussed in this room before, that State Department recently updated its Business Advisory for Burma. Why not impose a same advisory on Russia?

MR MILLER: I just don’t have any update on where that stands.

QUESTION: And one – my final question, if you don’t mind —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — on Nagorno-Karabakh. Jake Sullivan today from White House podium announced that the conflict in itself – also support for the victims of the conflict – he said it’s part of the next package. Is the State Department looking for additional resources? I mean, in what form you are trying to get involved?

MR MILLER: Additional resources in what – in what regard?

QUESTION: In next package, he mentioned that the Congress should support supplemental, because it also covers, among other conflicts, he mentioned Nagorno-Karabakh. So what additional resources you are seeking right now?

MR MILLER: So there are additional resources that were in the supplemental request for humanitarian assistance. I didn’t see all of the National Security Advisor’s remarks. I believe that’s what he was referring to, or I suspect – I should say – that’s what he was referring to. But there was humanitarian assistance contained in the supplemental request that we put forward and in the bill that was passed the Senate that would – could be used by the United States for humanitarian response to conflicts all around the world.

QUESTION: Any update for me about additional efforts that U.S. wants to bring together the sides and to discuss the conflict? Anything about the next couple of days, weeks?

MR MILLER: I do not have any schedule announcements for you. I know what you’re getting at, but I’m not going to bite, Alex.

QUESTION: I want to go back to the Lebanese-Israeli border if you don’t mind.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. It’s clear now that Hizballah – Hizballah announced a few days ago, a couple of days ago, that his war activities or military activities or engagement in this conflict is linked to the war and military activities in Gaza. If there is a humanitarian pause, he will pause; if there is end of the war, he will end his activities. Is it the same diplomatic approach you are applying to this conflict of the northern border, or you are trying to push Lebanon to distance itself from the conflict, regardless of what happened in Gaza?

MR MILLER: We have had specific diplomatic engagements related to the situation at Israel’s northern border and to resolving that situation diplomatically beyond the efforts to secure a humanitarian pause. Now, that said, of course it is our assessment that achieving a humanitarian pause and an agreement to secure the release of hostages would help with the risk of escalation and help – might help lessen the risk of escalation. That’s one of the many reasons why we continue to pursue such an arrangement.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: You touched on this yesterday, but with the Secretary heading to Munich, European security and the war in Ukraine a focus, does he find himself in a difficult negotiating position with aid, foreign aid, stalled in the House? And how does he plan to address this, and how confident are you that the aid will make its way through?

MR MILLER: So it’s not really a question of a negotiating position. I will say that, when it comes to our European partners, they have stepped up and made contributions to Ukraine I don’t believe because the United States has made contributions to Ukraine’s defense but because they see it in their own independent national security interest, and they have made their own assessments that it is the right thing to do, both on the merits, and that it is in their – in the interest of their particular countries. So it’s not a question of the United States needing to negotiate with these countries, though we, of course, always are encouraging countries to do more if they can do more.

But that said, we very much do want to see Congress act as quickly as possible to pass the supplemental. As you heard the President say yesterday, it’s not just in the interest of Ukraine, but, as I said, it’s in the interest of European countries. It’s in the interest of the United States, we believe, to do so. A lot of that money is spent here, helps develop the manufacturing base here in the United States.

And so we will continue to push for the passage of the supplemental bill, and ultimately we think – as the President said, the world is watching. And certainly I’m sure that when we are in Munich we will hear directly from foreign leaders that they are watching very much what Congress does. We know the Ukrainian people are watching. And as the President said, history is watching as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. It’s on Pakistan elections, thank you. How is U.S. State Department tackling the pressure from some of the U.S. lawmakers who are asking the State Department not to accept the results of Pakistan election until and unless thoroughly allegations of rigging are investigated?

MR MILLER: So we have called for those allegations to be investigated. We think that’s appropriate step to take. That’s – that is our response to questions of irregularities not just in Pakistan, but when we see them anywhere in the world. We think that they’re thoroughly investigated and resolved. And so that – we will continue to call for that. But at the same time, it’s clear that the elections in Pakistan were competitive, and we look forward to working with the government, once it’s formed, that the people of Pakistan elected.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up?

MR MILLER: Yeah, Shaun. Go ahead. And then I’ll come back.

QUESTION: Sure, sure. Just on that – I mean, of course, as you’ve probably seen that there’s a coalition being formed in Pakistan that doesn’t include Imran Khan’s party – I know you’re probably loath to talk about the details of Pakistani politics, but – (laughter) —

MR MILLER: You’ve noticed.

QUESTION: Well, let me – but I want to —

MR MILLER: To be fair, loath to talk about the internal details of politics in any country, but —

QUESTION: Sure, sure, sure. But can I just ask you if the U.S. has an assessment on this, whether this is in keeping with democratic principles to have the largest winner being excluded from the emerging coalition?

MR MILLER: Look, that is ultimately an internal matter. You see this in a number of countries that have parliamentary systems of government, where no country has – or – I’m sorry – where no party has established a majority you see the kind of coalitions that are formed. Ultimately that’s not a decision for the United States to make. It’s a decision for Pakistan to make.

QUESTION: Follow-up, Matt.

MR MILLER: I promised her I would come to her next, so —

QUESTION: The Foreign Policy magazine —

MR MILLER: In fact, I was calling on her before Shaun interrupted, so anyway. So – and now I interrupted you, so I apologize for that. Go ahead. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: The Foreign Policy magazine published an investigative report last week which shows that a former drug trafficker, Mr. Bashir Noorzai, who was serving a lifetime prison here in United State, was later released to the Taliban in exchange for one U.S. citizen, now is started working closely with China in the mineral contract and doing money laundering for Taliban. What’s your reaction to Chinese for this kind of partnership with this former drug trafficker?

MR MILLER: You know, I have not seen that report. Let me take it back and get you a comment on it.

Now go ahead.

QUESTION: Happy Valentine’s to you, Matt.

MR MILLER: Thank you.

QUESTION: My next couple of questions are in the backdrop of former U.S. ambassador Mr. Ryan Crocker, who I believe served in – with both the Republicans and Democrats, so very well-respected diplomat. Yesterday while speaking to Voice of America, he said that the Biden administration policy towards Afghanistan is not good and he said not much importance has been given to the country, plus the education part has been neglected by the government.

In the backdrop of all this, I want to ask you: Now, when the PTI government is in a province which is right next to Afghanistan, is my assessment correct that in coming days we will – we are going to see Taliban further increasing as far as their strength is concerned, or no?

MR MILLER: So I do not want to make any predictions based on – about what may happen in the future, nor get into a question involving an internal political party in Pakistan. But with respect to our policy in Afghanistan, I think you heard me speak to this yesterday. We have been very – have been quite clear about our policy in – as it regards to Pakistan, including through the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution just in December.

QUESTION: And just —

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks —

MR MILLER: You want one follow-up? Go ahead.

QUESTION: One follow-up, please. There are quite a few citizens – U.S. citizens – right now on social media who criticize the Pakistan serving military generals, army chiefs; they curse at them. I tried to get a reaction from Global Engagement Center. What do you, as a State Department official – is it fair that the social media influencers just curse around at serving military? Does not – does that not affect the government relationship with each other? I —

MR MILLER: I think if I started trying to comment on the random postings of citizens on social media, I would be up here for the rest of the day and probably the rest of the week, so I’m going to pass.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matthew. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner said that there’s information that’s been made to members of Congress regarding a serious national security threat. Is the State Department aware about this and – I’m – you’re probably going to say no, but is – what – do you know what is the threat?

MR MILLER: So the National Security Advisor did just speak to this, and as he said, he has scheduled a meeting with Chairman Turner and other members of the House leadership, and it’s not appropriate to speak to the matter any further from – in a public setting, and so I will leave it at that for now.

QUESTION: And following up on a question I asked yesterday regarding Ahlam Tamimi, who’s a terrorist wanted by the United States, did Secretary Blinken bring up that case in his meeting yesterday with King Abdullah?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any further readouts, other than the note we issued publicly.

QUESTION: And then finally, the House CCP Select Committee issued a report stating that some U.S. venture capital firms invested $3 billion into critical tech companies in China, some with ties to PLA and involved in genocide. What’s your reaction to that? And is the Biden – and has the Biden administration taken actions in the past to curb investments going into China, and does more need to be done?

MR MILLER: So I have not seen that report, so I do not want to comment on the details of the report. But of course, there are U.S. statutes that prohibit the U.S. business – U.S. companies from doing business with companies that are engaged in genocide, and you – in addition to that, on a separate note, I will say that the U.S. has imposed a number of investment restrictions as it relates to China.

Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you. Matt, two natural gas pipelines blew up in Iran today, and the officials have called it a sabotage work. I was wondering if the Biden administration has any theory of its own on the cause of these explosions.

MR MILLER: I’ve seen the reports, and I just don’t have any comment on them.

QUESTION: When earlier one of the proxy groups of Iran attacked Tower 22 in Jordan, which led to the killing of three American servicemen, the Biden administration said that they were going to retaliate. Is it safe to assume that the retaliation will only be military or otherwise?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to that. The – we have made clear that some of our responses would be seen and some would be unseen, and I think I’ll leave it at that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. The Russian Ambassador Antonov said last week that he held meetings with U.S. officials, including at the State Department, and that he discussed with them the crash of the cargo plane, the Russian plane with Ukrainian prisoners of war, in the Belgorod region. And he said that U.S. officials showed interest in considering Russian proposals on investigating the incident.

MR MILLER: I’m – sorry, go ahead. Didn’t mean —

QUESTION: Can you confirm that the U.S. is ready to investigate the incident?

MR MILLER: I cannot. I’m not aware of those meetings or able to comment on them in any regard. We obviously have an embassy in Moscow that does, at time, engage with the Russian Government, but I don’t have any readout of those meetings.

QUESTION: And one more question on the same issue. Vedant said last week that the U.S. doesn’t consider Russian claims about the incident as credible. At the same time, New YorkThe New York Times reported last week that some U.S. officials admit that it was Ukraine that shot down the plane using a Patriot missile system.

MR MILLER: I don’t – I seldom want to comment on claims made anonymously in any outlet, but we continue to engage with the Ukrainian Government about this question. We’ve seen their public comments, and we engage with them privately about it as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Excuse me. During the hostage negotiations, like, we see there is some obstacles. Like, from your perspectives, which party is, like, more flexible for making these deals happen, like Hamas or Israel? Because what we see in the media – yeah – that, like, Hamas submitted a full proposal, but, like, we see Netanyahu is kind of a stubborn guy somehow. How do you assess this?

And, like, last question, related to the Rafah. We see many protest in, like, Kerem Shalom border, like Israeli people preventing many aids to get in Rafah from their side. What is the action that you can take to facilitate this? Like, are you going to put some sanction? Like, what (inaudible) effort that you do to convince the Israeli Government to, like, let this protest stop and let this humanitarian aid get in the Rafah?

MR MILLER: So with respect to the first one, I think the only way I’ll answer that is that in the response that you saw come back from Hamas to the proposal that was put forward by the Government of Israel and other countries, you saw a number of issues that were obvious nonstarters. For example, the status of al-Aqsa is not going to be resolved in a negotiation over hostages, and I will leave it at that.

With respect to the second question, I will say we have seen the Government of Israel take steps to keep Kerem Shalom open. They declared the area around Kerem Shalom a military zone. The IDF has made – has moved forces in to police that crossing to ensure that it can stay open so much-needed humanitarian assistance, including humanitarian assistance that was supplied by the United States, can continue to flow into Rafah. And we think that’s important to do it. It is extremely unfortunate that, at times, that crossing has been blocked. We have engaged with the Israeli Government and made clear that it is the position of the United States that it ought to be – that it ought to remain open and they ought to take whatever steps they can to make sure that it remains open. And we’re glad that they have taken those steps.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR MILLER: Go ahead. Go. I’ll come to you next, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you and good afternoon, sir.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I have a couple questions on Gaza. It’s been over two weeks since Israeli forces attacked Hind Rajab’s family, killing her aunt, uncle, and cousins, leaving her trapped alone in her vehicle. We heard her pleas to the Red Crescent Society. Two medics were sent, all to be blown up, allegedly by Israeli forces. I wanted to ask about the status of the inquiry into this just because it seems if the Israeli Government, which seemingly does have a pretty sophisticated operation, is prioritizing this – if they don’t already know which soldiers to interview, for instance, they have Red Crescent calls, timestamps, the location of the Red Crescent staff to question and rely on, planning material to figure out who exactly to inquire with and to figure out who to hold accountable.

So I want to first ask about the status of this investigation.

MR MILLER: Sure. So I think that question is appropriately directed to the Government of Israel. I will say, on behalf of the United States, we have made clear to them that we want that incident to be investigated. They have told us they are investigating it. It’s our understanding that investigation is not yet complete. You should direct questions to them about where it stands. But we want to see it completed as soon as possible, and as I said from this podium several days ago, if accountability is appropriate, we want to be – we want to see accountability put in place.

QUESTION: And then a follow-up to that before the second one. Just similarly, with regards to Al Jazeera cameraman Samer Abudaqa being left to bleed out while Israeli forces reportedly stopped medics from reaching him, I know that previously you have said there’s investigations into that. Is there any updates on that investigation?

MR MILLER: I don’t have – I don’t have any update on that. Again, we press the Government of Israel on these matters but – and at times I have – I’m able to comment on specific incidents from here where we’ve gotten answers. But ultimately, those are questions better directed to the Government of Israel.

QUESTION: Thank you. Okay, and then the last question.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: As you’ve said repeatedly, the U.S. chose to be cautious as it suspended funding to UNRWA for allegations that 12 of its 30,000-person staff may have been involved in the atrocities on October 7th. And as you described yesterday, that’s kind of standard U.S. policy to have this type of caution with all sorts of entities. But as our colleagues have asked you over the please few months, there have been broad and specific human rights violations that we’ve been concerned about, human – attacks against hospitals and churches; targeting people with white flags, both Israeli hostages and Palestinians; torturing Palestinians; and now, of course, this attack on Hind Rajab’s family and then leaving her to die horribly.

And so I’m wondering, on all this you’ve said we’re looking into it and Israel is investigating. But in each of these cases, the U.S. doesn’t seem to be as cautious with its money and support as it is with UNRWA. It’s to the point that the ICJ and the U.S. court both say Israel may be plausibly committing genocide. Still, U.S. money is coming while the U.S. shut off UNRWA funding immediately. So I’m just wondering if you could explain that sort of difference.

MR MILLER: Let me say there is, I think, a false equivalency embedded in that question between members of a terrorist organization who went out and intentionally killed innocent civilians.

QUESTION: Right, right.

MR MILLER: This – no, that is the difference. When you have members of Hamas who participated in October 7th according to the allegations made by the Government of Israel, that I should say UNRWA itself found credible – those are allegations that UNRWA found credible of people intentionally participating in a terrorist action to murder civilians. That is different than a military campaign conducted in an environment where that terrorist organization hides behind human shields. And so we will continue to engage with the Government of Israel about how to minimize civilian casualties – there have been far too many over the course of this campaign – and how to prevent civilians from killed. But I think they are very different matters for the reasons I just articulated.

Said.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up to –

MR MILLER: Let me – Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Because I’m going to have to – I’m going to have to wrap in a minute to go to a meeting, so —

QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Antony Blinken spoke yesterday about hostage diplomacy, and as an international security threat and so on. I want to ask you, the Israelis have arrested roughly 5,000 Palestinians from the West Bank – not in Gaza, from the West Bank. Almost none of them have been charged with anything since October. No charges. What do you call this? I mean, they come in the middle of the night. They take young men and women and so on. Many are children, as a matter of fact: 12, 13, 14 years old and so on. Isn’t this really something that a government, in this case, leveraging – leveraging the taking of people, incarcerating them out any charges, for maybe a future kind of a bargaining chip?

MR MILLER: So I’ll say two things about that: number one, that we want to see due process for those individuals, as we want to see for anyone; and number two, we will continue to encourage Israel not to take any steps that can increase tensions in the West Bank.

Let me go to Ksenija and then I’ll come back to you, and then I got to wrap because I do have a meeting. Sorry to – quick wrap today. Go ahead, Ksenija.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Matt. So we say in this room that the word of the United States matter. But despite this, Prime Minister of Kosovo Albin Kurti has not been responding to the words, as you’re aware, of the United States to suspend his decisions, unilateral decisions. Immediately you had even James O’Brien going on record yesterday (inaudible) is happening. So besides words, what other tools do you intend to use next to compel Kurti to stop with his unilateral actions given that, in the end of the day, this is a question that concern the U.S. taxpayer?

MR MILLER: So I will say that we will continue to engage in diplomacy to resolve and – to resolve this matter, and we want both sides to return to the EU-facilitated dialogue. And beyond that, I don’t want to preview any specific steps from here.

Shaun.

QUESTION: And can you just say about —

MR MILLER: Shaun – I’m going to – only because I have to wrap and I said, Shaun, I’d go to —

QUESTION: Albania is tomorrow.

MR MILLER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Albania is tomorrow. I just want to ask if Secretary Blinken in Albania is going to talk to Prime Minister Edi Rama —

MR MILLER: The —

QUESTION: — about Kosovo issue in order —

MR MILLER: So let me just say —

QUESTION: — to compel him to reason with Kurti.

MR MILLER: — whatever the Secretary is going to say to the prime minister, I think I’ll wait and let him say it privately to them. He does have a press conference in Albania afterwards where he’ll talk about that meeting, so please tune in to that.

Shaun, go ahead and then I do have —

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on a statement that you had earlier on the elections in Indonesia?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know it’s quite general, I know. In line with what you said about Pakistan – you’re not getting ahead of who is taking power – but Subianto has claimed victory in this. Of course, as you know, until recently he was barred from entering the United States on human rights ground – human rights grounds. I mean, that’s been resolved since. But do you think that there’s any lingering issue with – on human rights regarding a Subianto presidency?

MR MILLER: So you’re right, we did say we would wait for the results to come in. It does appear that he’s received the most votes, but I don’t want to get ahead of the process that still needs to unfold, the official process in Indonesia. We are committed to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership with Indonesia that we have had, and of course our 75 year diplomatic relationship with Indonesia, and we are prepared to work with whoever the Indonesian people choose as their democratically elected leader, whether it’s Subianto or – as it appears to be, President Subianto.

QUESTION: Can I just very quickly —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: The other statement that you had on the call with the Algerian foreign minister. Do you know if there was discussion about the Security Council resolution that the Algerians are putting forward about a ceasefire? Did the Secretary say it’s not a good idea or some other message?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to get into the private conversation other than what we already included in the readout.

With that, sorry for the quick wrap but I do have to go, so wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – February 13, 2024

2:30 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. Sorry to be a little late, or a lot late actually. I’m going to start with some opening comments about travel.

Secretary Blinken will leave tomorrow for travel to Tirana, Albania, and Munich, Germany. This will be the Secretary’s first trip to Albania and while there, he will reaffirm the strength of the United States’ relationship with Albania.

Albania has been a strong voice in support of Ukraine’s defense of its sovereignty and freedom against Russia’s brutal aggression. Albania was a principled leader during its tenure on the UN Security Council and as the 2020 OSCE Chair, and is a key partner for stability and progress in the Western Balkans.

The Secretary will then travel to the Munich Security Conference as part of the delegation led by Vice President Harris.  While in Munich, Secretary Blinken will hold bilateral meetings with global leaders and underscore the importance of the enduring U.S. commitment to the NATO Alliance. The NATO Alliance has secured a historic peace for both the United States and Europe for the past 75 years and is helping the United States maintain an edge over our adversaries for the future.

The Secretary will also reaffirm the United States’ enduring support for the people of Ukraine, continue discussions with partners on how to achieve lasting peace and security in the Middle East, and highlight our steadfast commitment to transatlantic security.  We will have more announcements about his individual meetings in Munich over the course of the trip.

And with that, I will take your questions. Humeyra, you want to start?

QUESTION: Hi, Matt. So —

MR MILLER: You’re in a different seat today. I didn’t know people were allowed to change seats.

QUESTION: I think we can – we can have some mobility here.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR MILLER: You’re not allowed; you can only sit there. It’d be confusing.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: And Matt is not here, so I just want to —

MR MILLER: I noticed, yeah.

QUESTION: I just wanted to ask a little bit about UNRWA given that the supplemental passed in the Senate, although we know it has a long way in the House and all that. But there is a provision – a provision has been added recently basically barring United States from resuming its funding for UNRWA. I just want to sort of a little bit do fact checking. Does that mean that the question of whether or not the United States will resume its funding to UNRWA, when and if the investigation is concluded, is in a way irrelevant and this provision makes it almost impossible for the administration to resume its funding for the agency?

MR MILLER: So I think it’s hard to answer the question because the high degree of uncertainty that you kind of got at the intro to your question, which is this is a law that has passed on chamber of Congress. We don’t know what will happen in the House, but as you heard the President just say, we very much urge that Congress – that the House take up the legislation and pass it.

That being said, we don’t know what the final provision will be, but of course we will comply with the law whatever it ultimately looks like.

QUESTION: But the way the provision has been added, it looks like there was quite a lot of bipartisan support from Congress. So do you think that that would mean even if this supplemental fails, there is going to be another legislation and this provision will likely be put in there? How concerned are you, basically, that the administration by law will be barred from resuming its funding for UNRWA, and what alternatives are you looking at?

MR MILLER: So I just don’t want to get into trying to speculate about what Congress might do. As you know, that is always somewhat of an unpredictable situation, and I think it’s an incredibly unpredictable situation right now if you just look at the back and forth over this very piece of legislation between the House and the Senate over the past few weeks. I will say, as a general principle, we support the work that UNRWA does. We support delivering humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people in Gaza. The United States has been the largest funder of humanitarian assistance to Palestinians, and we expect to continue funding humanitarian assistance to Palestinians.

We, of course, have suspended our funding to UNRWA while the investigation is ongoing. We don’t know what Congress ultimately will do, but we will explore any and all available alternatives to ensure that humanitarian assistance can continue to flow from the United States to innocent civilians who need it.

QUESTION: And are you already looking at options – those options, like rerouting this money to alternative, like, humanitarian organizations on the ground? And are you encouraging other countries to resume their funding or even, like, increase their funding?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to get too much into internal deliberations, and I certainly don’t want to get into the conversations that we’re having with other countries. As you know, we have suspended our funding. I know other countries have done the same. I know we’ve done that in good faith because we think it’s important to see the results of the investigation, and it’s a legitimate thing for other countries to want to wait and see the results of the investigation and how UNRWA responds to that investigation as well.

But of course, we are always looking at all available alternatives. We see the legislation that has passed in one branch of Congress. It is certainly possible that that could pass through another branch and ultimately be the law. Also, of course we look at all available alternatives because, as I said, it is our priority to ensure that innocent civilians in Gaza can continue to get humanitarian assistance from the United States and from other countries who want to provide it to them.

QUESTION: Okay. Final thing is, like, the end of February is a critical date for UNRWA. So do you have, like, anything concrete planning towards that date? It’s not too distant in the future.

MR MILLER: As I said, we are engaging in conversations with the United Nations and with our international partners about the importance of ensuring that humanitarian assistance is not interrupted. We’ll continue to do that. There’s nothing I can provide you in terms of specifics today, but those are conversations that are ongoing. And I would also say this does highlight why it’s important that the United Nations investigation proceed as quickly as possible, because of this very real challenge.

QUESTION: Could I – could I – oh, that’s fine.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Suppose that the investigation comes satisfactory and so on. Will the U.S. make a commitment that – to continue to —

MR MILLER: So Said, whenever you start a question with “suppose,” it’s like starting with a question with “if.”

QUESTION: Okay. Well —

MR MILLER: You get to a hypothetical; I don’t want to engage in a hypothetical. We will wait and see what the —

QUESTION: Right, okay. No, I mean, you are – you are (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: Let me – let me just finish my answer. We will wait and see what the results of the investigation show, and importantly, how the United Nations and how UNRWA respond to the results of that investigation. That is as important. But both the backward-looking aspect of it – the backward-looking aspect of it is important; so is the forward-looking aspect in terms of how they respond, how they impose accountability for any employees who are shown to have engaged in wrongdoing, and how they put in place any measures to ensure this can’t be repeated in the future.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, we know that UNRWA is not only in Gaza. It is in the West Bank; it is in Jordan; it is in Lebanon; it is in Syria. I mean, it takes care of millions of Palestinians. I mean, do you see an alternative to UNRWA after so many decades of being there, knowing exactly what to do, making sure that Palestinians in these refugee – awful refugee places are able to eat and go to school, get medical care?

MR MILLER: So Said, we support the work that UNRWA does.

QUESTION: Right.

MR MILLER: So I just – but this is —

QUESTION: You’re the biggest donor.

MR MILLER: I just – I want to make sure that is very clear. We support —

QUESTION: Yeah. You are the largest donor.

MR MILLER: I know. We support – that is exactly right. And that is why we think it’s so important that they conduct this investigation. And that is – I mean, this is just kind of – we’re speaking with this in relation to UNRWA, but this is always true when you see credible allegations of wrongdoing at any organization, whether it be a government entity, whether it be a nonprofit, whether it be a private corporation. It’s important that that organization take action to ensure that people are held accountable, that they implement reforms as necessary. And that is all the more so – more true at an organization that depends on funding from donors, as UNRWA does.

QUESTION: Okay. But I don’t want to belabor the issue —

MR MILLER: Please do.

QUESTION: — obviously that you – (laughter) – yeah, okay, I will belabor the issue. (Laughter.)

MR MILLER: Don’t say things that aren’t true, Said. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. Exactly. But this is the thing. I mean, we are all expecting this investigation to conclude, and this investigation either can conclude positively or negatively. They say okay, this is it, we are going to take one measure, one, two, three, four, five measures. So at least hypothetically, if you’ll allow me – (laughter) – if these – if and when – I mean, one would expect that the results would be satisfactory to all the donors. If they are, then one should expect that UNRWA would continue to function.

MR MILLER: When this investigation concludes, we will have a response to it. But I don’t want, for obvious reasons, to offer what that response might be while the investigation is very much going – is very much underway. But as I said, we support the work that UNRWA does, not just in Gaza but everywhere else where it operates, because it provides humanitarian assistance that is critical.

QUESTION: This is what I mean. Even if you get a satisfactory result from the investigation, but the Congress is barring you from, like —

QUESTION: Yes, exactly.

QUESTION: They’re going ahead with – they’re prohibiting you to fund UNRWA, then what are you going to do? What’s your solution?

MR MILLER: As I said, we will explore all available alternatives to deliver humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people. We will follow the law, however. We don’t have any choice to do that, and, of course, that’s what we’ll do.

QUESTION: Could there be an executive waiver in this case?

MR MILLER: I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Yeah.

MR MILLER: You are now asking me to speculate about a law that has not yet been passed, so I do —

QUESTION: No, I’m not. Because this has been done before many times.

MR MILLER: I do not know what provision, if any, will ultimately pass Congress.

QUESTION: I have some more questions that are —

MR MILLER: There’s no – there’s just no way to answer that question. I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION: I’ll wait.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: No, no, just to follow up on that.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, you say you support UNRWA, but you’re effectively dropping UNRWA. You support that language in the supplemental. We’ll see if it passes, whatever. But at the moment, you do support that language.

MR MILLER: Look, when it —

QUESTION: And that language cuts funding for UNRWA.

MR MILLER: When it comes to —

QUESTION: So how can you say on one hand you support UNRWA and on the other you say but we won’t give you any money.

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: That’s a little bit – an easy way —

MR MILLER: So when it comes to dealing with Congress, you always have to make difficult choices.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR MILLER: And this bill contains funding for Ukraine, it contains funding for Israel, contains funding for our troops in the region, and it also contains funding for humanitarian assistance for innocent Palestinians. And we think that funding is important to obtain from Congress.

But Congress gets a say in how this works. They’re a co-equal branch of government, and we engage in a back and forth with them, and ultimately you have to make kind of difficult decisions about whether you are willing to support a bill or not, and we made the decision that ultimately this bill is worthy of support because of all the good things it does.

QUESTION: Can I ask about the Cairo talks today? Do you have any sort of readout of how the conversations are going?

MR MILLER: I do not.

QUESTION: Do you expect a counterproposal to the counterproposal vehicle you guys —

MR MILLER: I do not have a readout of how the conversations are going. I think even if I did, I would probably decline to give it from here. I can restate what we said going into these conversations, which is we do believe a deal is possible. We believe a deal is important to achieve. We’re going to continue to push for a deal because we think it’s important to get the hostages out and allow for a pause in the fighting to get more humanitarian assistance in and allow people to get to safety, but I don’t have any update on the talks.

QUESTION: There are reports that a shipment of flour from the U.S. is being blocked at Ashdod by some of the more extremist members of the Netanyahu government. Do you have any confirmation of this and what kind of message —

MR MILLER: So I have seen those reports. There’s flour – U.S. flour that has gone into Gaza through Ashdod – not through Ashdod – goes into Israel through Ashdod and then it ultimately makes its way into Gaza – previously. We have funded flour that would provide food for 1.5 million Gazans for five months. It is critical that this flour make it to Gaza. It is critical that people have access to the nourishment that it would provide. And we are engaging with the Government of Israel to try and make sure, not – that flour can continue to get in, not just as a one-off shipment, but over – for a sustained period over months. We had a commitment from the Government of Israel to let that flour go through, and we expect them to deliver on that commitment.

QUESTION: And then there were a couple cases of Americans being detained by the IDF. One of the families – Samaher Esmail – says that she was beaten in Israeli custody, has been denied her medications, and has also not been granted consular access. Can you confirm any of this? I know there are privacy considerations, but —

MR MILLER: Yeah. I mean, I am, unfortunately, not able to talk specifically about it. I can say that, as is the case anywhere in the world, we have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas in any of these circumstances, whether it be in Israel or elsewhere. We seek consular access. We seek access to the individual, and we talk to their family when appropriate. We try to ensure that detainees or people who are arrested are treated fairly, are treated humanely, have full access to due process, have access to counsel. But as is often the case, due to privacy considerations that are just in the law that don’t give me any wiggle room at all, I’m unable to speak in detail about this specific case.

QUESTION: What about the two who were detained in Gaza last week?

MR MILLER: Unfortunately, for the same reason, I’m not able to speak in detail about their case because of the privacy rules. But I would just say in general, just because of this provision in the law that prohibits me from speaking about what we’re doing when it comes to any specific case, you should not interpret that as a lack of activity by the United States Government. In any case when there is an American that is detained overseas, as I said, we first seek for information. We seek information about their case. Then we seek to ensure that they are treated fairly, that they are treated humanely, that they are given due process. And that’s true whether it be in Israel or anywhere else in the world.

QUESTION: And then —

QUESTION: Just to follow on (inaudible).

MR MILLER: Said, let me – just let me – Said, don’t interrupt – please don’t interrupt your colleagues. Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: On this same trend, there was —

MR MILLER: Yeah, just – just take a beat.

QUESTION: — another American who was reportedly shot by Israeli forces over the weekend, an American teenager. Do you have any information about the circumstances of his death and are you concerned this is becoming a trend? We’ve seen two American teens shot in the past month by Israeli forces.

MR MILLER: We are aware of this case. We are seeking more information about this. I would say there is – has been another case, and in that case, we called for an investigation. There is an investigation that’s ongoing, and in that previous case what we’ve said – and I would reiterate today – is if that investigation finds that there should be accountability, we expect there to be accountability. We are still at the information-gathering process with this second case. But as is always the case, if the information leads us to believe there should be further investigation or accountability measures, we will, of course, call for those, both publicly and privately.

QUESTION: I have another unrelated to this.

MR MILLER: Okay. Go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to follow up on Jenny’s question about the talks in Cairo. I understand you’re limited in what you can say, and without getting into the details or the tenor of the talks, can you confirm that the Israeli delegation arrived with something in hand to discuss?

MR MILLER: I think I should let the Israeli delegation speak for matters that pertain to the Government of Israel.

QUESTION: Okay. Did you ever receive an explanation as to why there was a delay in confirming that the Israelis would take part in these talks?

MR MILLER: Again, that’s a matter I think best addressed to the Government of Israel, not to me.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you about Rafah. There was an investigation completed by Amnesty International that evaluated four strikes that took place last year in Rafah and found that those were not legitimate military targets. So, one, do you have a response to the findings of that investigation? And two, does that alter the United States thinking as the Israeli Government weighs the possibility of an incursion into Rafah?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any response to that specific investigation. Obviously, we are monitoring the evolving situation in Gaza. We examine the facts as they are available to us, but I don’t have any assessment about those particular strikes. But it would in no way change our conclusion, which is that the Government of Israel before it launches any military operation in Gaza – or I’m sorry – in Rafah needs to have a plan to deal with the humanitarian situation there. We’ve seen the Government of Israel ask for such a plan to be developed. We think that’s appropriate. And we think that once that plan is developed, it needs to be credible, and it needs to be one that they can actually execute.

QUESTION: And to confirm, you have not yet heard back on a plan that is credible or executable from the Israelis?

MR MILLER: No. It’s my understanding that the – that I think the prime minister only directed the creation of this plan Thursday, Friday, so no.

QUESTION: One more. The status of the UN mission that the Secretary of State announced over a month ago now, is it any closer to happening in northern Gaza? What prospects do Gazans have to return to their homes?

MR MILLER: So we want that mission to happen as soon as possible. The initial steps of it happened week before last, which was a two-day reconnaissance mission that went into northern Gaza. That reconnaissance mission had been delayed because of fighting on the ground in northern Gaza. They were able to get in, not see all of northern Gaza but see parts of it, and then made the decision that it was not safe for the full-blown assessment mission to go forward.

We want that assessment mission to go forward as soon as possible. We’re engaged with the UN about how it can go forward, whether it goes and surveys the entire north, or whether there are places that they can go that is safe. This is not just a question of unexploded ordnance, although that’s a real question, but it’s a question of actual live fighting going on on the ground in Gaza.

As I said previously, there are Hamas fighters who had gone underground – and in this case, I don’t mean necessarily legitimately underground into tunnels – but had gone underground that have now come out and have resumed fighting and resumed taking shots at the Israeli military. We want to see when this – we want to see this UN mission happen as soon as possible, but I think it’s in everyone’s interest, including the UN’s, that the mission be safe and that people be able to conduct the mission without being put in harm’s way themselves. And so we’ll continue to engage with the UN to try to get that off the ground really just as soon as we can.

QUESTION: So just to – I mean, from the U.S.’s perspective, from what you know about the mission and those circumstances on the ground, there’s no near-term prospect for Gazan civilians to return to their homes?

MR MILLER: So I don’t want to – I mean, to answer that question, you’d have to be able to know what the findings of the mission are, and the mission hasn’t launched yet. But certainly we don’t expect Gazans really to be able to return to their homes until this mission is completed, and we know the circumstances. Because you don’t, again, want people to go into homes that are unsafe, into buildings that are unsafe, into buildings that are boobytrapped, into buildings where Hamas has left IEDs or where there is unexploded ordnance. So the mission is critically important, but I can’t put a timetable on it.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two questions, Matt, first about protecting journalists in war zones. Last night, our colleague in Al Jazeera in Gaza got targeted. Our correspondent lost his leg, and our cameraman also suffered severe injuries in Gaza. Are you still in contact with the Israelis pressing them to make everything possible to avoid targeting journalists?

And my second question is just if you have —

MR MILLER: Let me do the first one first, and then I’ll come back for the second one.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: So first of all, let me offer, of course, condolences to your colleagues who have been injured, and I know they are not the first Al Jazeera journalists to have been harmed during this conflict. So they have our sincere condolences as do their families and as do all of you at Al Jazeera.

Yes, we continue to engage with the Government of Israel to make clear that journalists ought to be protected. We understand, of course, that this is an active war zone. Journalists are doing – are putting themselves in harm’s way to bring us the truth, and we support their work in bringing us the truth, and we want to see that they’re protected to the maximum extent possible.

So go ahead with your second.

QUESTION: My second question, if you have any comments on what Borrell was – statements yesterday or day before yesterday when he said that if the United States wants to see – to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza, they should stop supporting Israel with arms shipments or with arm ammunitions. And he compared that to what the United States did in 2006 in the war on Lebanon when they put a pause on supplying Israel with arms and ammunition.

MR MILLER: So just as a factual matter, I’ve checked with people here about the pause in 2006, and no one is aware of that actually being the case. So just as first a factual matter.

Secondly, with respect to the question about ongoing support, this is where we just have a fundamental disagreement, where we think it is in our national security interest and it is in – that we continue to support Israel’s right to ensure that the October 7th attacks cannot be repeated. We want to see them have the ability to go after Hamas, to defeat Hamas. We know that Hamas wants to continue to target Israel.

Hamas has been very clear about what their goals are, and they have not changed since October 7th. They want to continue to launch terrorist attacks. They are committed to the full-scale destruction of Israel, and we want to see Israel to be able to answer that. We want to see Israel be able to answer the attacks from Hizballah in the north. We want to see Israel be able to deter attacks from Iran and malign activities from Iran, which continues to fund other proxies that are hostile to the state of Israel. So that is true.

And it’s also true that we want to see Israel do more to protect civilians from harm. And so I know sometimes it is difficult for people to understand that two things can be true, but those are the two things that we believe in. And so the obvious tension is trying to ensure that Israel can accomplish that first objective while doing everything in its power to ensure that civilian harm is minimized. And so we engage with them on that second question, offer them ideas and expertise and ways to minimize civilian harm. We have seen civilian deaths come down from the levels they are. They are nowhere near where they should be. They are still far too high. There are still far too many Palestinians that continue to die. It’s why we continue to engage to try to achieve a humanitarian pause and why we continue to work to try to bring a durable end to this conflict, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Moving to another region and topic, Senegal.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Could you just speak to us a little bit about that in the sense of how you perceive things? The internet has been cut again. The protests are getting actually deadly. The government banned a march that was planned for today, and it looks like there potentially could be a march for this weekend if it’s not banned again. The situation is getting worse and worse every day. What is your take on that? What is the U.S. concerned about there?

MR MILLER: We are extremely concerned about the situation in Senegal, the political situation in Senegal. In fact, the Secretary spoke to the president of Senegal this morning to reiterate our concern about the situation there and to make quite clear that we want to see elections continued as they were scheduled. We want to see them take place as soon as possible.

QUESTION: As they were scheduled. They were scheduled for February 25th.

MR MILLER: Yeah, we want to see – we want to see a return to elections. We’d like to see them February 25th. If they don’t take place on February 25th, we want to see them take place as soon as realistically possible after that.

QUESTION: Okay. And so he spoke to the president this morning?

MR MILLER: Today, today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Yeah, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I want to go back to your opening statement. Before that, is it your understanding that Russia already has the upper hand in the war due to delay?

MR MILLER: I would not say that they have the upper hand. I mean, we’ve had a lot of people make assessments about this conflict going back to the beginning that turned out to be wrong when they assessed that Russia had the upper hand, and I would never want to underestimate both the bravery of the Ukrainian military and the skill that the Ukrainian military has shown, and I should add to the skill, the innovation that they have shown, in bringing new weapons to this conflict.

But we have already seen an impact because of Congress’s failure to act. We have already seen shortages on the battlefield. We’ve seen depleted stocks on the battlefield. And that has affected the Ukrainian military’s ability to answer the ongoing attacks from Russia and why it’s – it’s why we think it’s so important and it is why you just heard from the President in the last hour that the House act as soon as possible without delay to pass the funding request that the President put forward.

QUESTION: The President made his point about the importance of U.S. leadership and you also amplified that. My question is let’s talk about the damage that’s already done. The Secretary is headed to Munich. Other than explaining to allies how Washington works, what is he going to say to make the case about the U.S. leadership and the current state of U.S. leadership?

MR MILLER: He’s going to make the case that the President made, that as long as Joe Biden is president we will continue to support NATO, we will continue to support our European allies, and we will continue to stand with Ukraine. You just heard that from the President a moment ago.

And I think you will also hear him say what I said from this podium yesterday, which is that one of the hallmarks of this country is our enduring bipartisan support for NATO. If you look at polls, and we don’t usually do polls from this podium, but this isn’t a political poll. It’s an issue poll. There is broad standing – broad widespread support from the American people for NATO. There is also broad widespread support for NATO in Congress, and we expect that support to continue.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two more, if I may. Can I get your comment on Russia today’s – Russia’s decision to put Estonian PM and other political leaders to a blacklist?

MR MILLER: Let me take that one back and get you an answer.

QUESTION: And finally on Azerbaijan-Armenia, last year the Secretary when he was in Munich, he put together a trilateral meeting. Now there’s a tension going on the few past two days. Is he planning to meet with the leaders, and also what is your reaction to what’s going on?

MR MILLER: So we are concerned by the reports of deadly military-to-military clashes which resulted in several casualties. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families of those killed and injured. The use of force undermines negotiations. The only way to a sustainable peace is at the negotiating table. Any ceasefire violations should be investigated and properly addressed. As the Secretary continually emphasizes, the United States is committed to Armenia-Azerbaijan peace negotiations. And as it perhaps to the Secretary’s schedule, I don’t t think you were listening very closely to my opening remarks where I said we will make further – we will make further announcements about his schedule in Munich as we get closer to the date.

QUESTION: And will Special Advisor Bono accompany him on the trip at some time?

MR MILLER: I just don’t have any further comments about who will be traveling or where we – with whom we will be meeting while in Munich.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Circling back to the Gaza hostage negotiations, it’s been reported that a major sticking point that’s emerged is Hamas’ demands that prisoners again be released as part of any deal, this time including individuals who have been convicted of very serious offenses. Would the U.S. see the release of any convicted terrorists as potentially detrimental to U.S. national security?

MR MILLER: I just don’t think I should negotiate from this podium about what is obviously a very sensitive and delicate question.

QUESTION: So does that to imply that it’s something that could be negotiated?

MR MILLER: It is not to imply anything other than that these are sensitive negotiations going on that do not just involve the United States but involve the Government of Israel, which is ultimately the country that would have to make that decision, as well as the governments of Qatar and Egypt. And I don’t think I should say anything from this podium that could be seen in any way to impact those negotiations one way or the other.

QUESTION: And one follow: Does the U.S. still assess that Israel is negotiating in this as in good faith and that it shares the administration’s interest in reaching a deal?

MR MILLER: We have seen public statements from the Government of Israel that they want to secure the release of hostages. When we were in Israel last week, the prime minister reiterated that desire directly to Secretary Blinken, that it is a top priority for him to secure the release of these hostages. So yes, we do believe they’re acting in good faith.

Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I just want to go back to Jennifer’s question. I know you answered on the young Palestinian American that was shot dead last Saturday, Mohammad Ahmed Khuda. But like a month before or less than a month before, another Palestinian American was shot dead, Tawfic Abdel Jabbar. Anything new on his case?

MR MILLER: I spoke – in fact, I spoke to that in her response. I said when that – when – after that incident, after we gathered initial information, we called for an investigation. That – hold on, Said; just let me finish. That investigation is ongoing, and we will wait to see what the results of that investigation show because that’s obviously appropriate, and if the investigation shows there ought to be further accountability measures taken, we will not hesitate to call for them.

QUESTION: But does Israel have a good record in investigating the killing of Palestinian Americans? Do you —

MR MILLER: Said, I want to wait —

QUESTION: Okay. But we have – we have – we have done —

MR MILLER: Before I speak to that, I want to wait – I do not want to prejudge the outcome of an investigation that is underway.

Humeyra, you sound like you had something else.

QUESTION: So just a few things on that. So you said if the investigation yields to some sort of wrongdoing, we will call for accountability measures.

MR MILLER: If it shows that accountability is appropriate, we will call for it.

QUESTION: Right. So then it’s again going to be the Israelis to take those accountability measures?

MR MILLER: I do not want to —

QUESTION: So not (inaudible) U.S. —

MR MILLER: You’re asking me to go a little far down a hypothetical path that we are not yet —

QUESTION: I’m just trying to – I’m just trying —

MR MILLER: I understand what you’re trying to get – I’m not —

QUESTION: I’m just trying to understand, like, what exactly the accountability measure will be if there would be one.

MR MILLER: I do – there were two ifs there, and I do not – they get back to the – they were —

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, but —

MR MILLER: Hold on. It gets back to the place that I do not know what the investigation will show, so I’m not prepared to speculate on what our response might be.

QUESTION: Yeah, because you guys are calling for investigations. There are now like a lot of different incidents, right – some of them are involving American citizens, some of them are Palestinians. There are like a wide range of video footage showing the detonation of a university, for example. So assuming that you have flagged many, if not all, of these incidents and asked questions about the conduct here, you have a lot of possible investigations or at least questions asked to IDF. I guess what I’m trying to get at is: What makes you think – what is the path to accountability here from the U.S. side? How will you ensure the accountability? And what makes you think that, given the cases of, for example, Shireen Abu Akleh, who was an American Palestinian journalist – what makes you think that there will be accountability?

MR MILLER: So we deal with the Government of Israel in the same way we deal with every country in the world when it comes to treatment of United States citizens, which is when we see reports of U.S. citizens that have been detained, have been arrested, that have been killed, have been in any way potentially mistreated, we first gather information. If it’s appropriate, we ask for a full investigation. If that investigation shows that there ought to be accountability, we call for accountability measures.

I will also state that when it comes to activity in Israel, we – the United States has shown that it is willing to impose its own accountability measures when we think it’s appropriate. You’ve seen us roll out visa bans with respect to extremist settlers in the West Bank. You’ve seen us impose financial sanctions when it comes to extremist settlers in the West Bank. So when it comes to accountability, it is always appropriate that the host – that the government in question have the responsibility to take the first actions. That is the right, that is the responsibility that we expect any government to take. But we have shown that, when we think more needs to be done, we are willing to take further action.

QUESTION: Right. And are you satisfied with the answers and the level of response that you’re getting from Israeli authorities and IDF when you raise these incidents? Are they, like —

MR MILLER: So we’re a little bit mixing apples and – we’re mixing a little bit —

QUESTION: No, it’s just like – no, it’s a side thing, like – I’m —

MR MILLER: Just – hold on, just let me say – you’re mixing consular issues and actions in Gaza, which are —

QUESTION: No, no, not consular issues necessarily, no.

MR MILLER: I know, but there’s a —

QUESTION: I’m just trying to get a sense of like how responsive they are when you raise these issues with them.

MR MILLER: We have the ability to get answers from the Government of Israel when we raise them.

QUESTION: Great. And my final thing is Chris Van Hollen, Senator Chris Van Hollen, in his floor speech accused Israel of, quote, “textbook war crime,” quote, in remarks sort of detailing a lack of access to food in Gaza, which gives me another excuse to ask a previous question from other briefings. Is there any ongoing atrocity determination process within this building looking at whether there has been breaches in Israel’s – breaches of international rules of war in Israel’s military conduct?

MR MILLER: So, as I’ve said before, we are monitoring the evolving situation in Gaza and are examining facts as they develop as part of our regular work and normal process. I’m not going to get into what the internal deliberations look like. We do seek to thoroughly assess reports of civilian harm by authorized recipients of U.S.-provided defense articles around the world, including under the Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance, the CHIRG. We can’t comment on the specifics of ongoing reviews, but as we have said before, we are reviewing incidents in the current conflict according to the process set out in the CHIRG. That process is not intended to function as a rapid response mechanism. Rather, it is designed to systematically assess civilian harm incidents and develop appropriate policy responses to reduce the risk of such incidents occurring in the future, and to drive partners to conduct military operations in accordance with international humanitarian law.

QUESTION: So you do have CHIRG processes looking into Israel’s military conduct ongoing?

MR MILLER: We do – we have said that before, yes.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR MILLER: Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. On Russia, North Korea, China, North Korean delegation visited Russia today at the invitation of the Russian parliament. And Kim Su-gil, who head of the North Korean delegation, is on the U.S. and South Korea sanctions list against North Korea. And Kim Su-gil is also involvement in the development of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction while he was director of the military’s general political bureau. How would you comment?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any specific comment other than that we will always seek to appropriately enforce our sanctions.

QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, China is also violating sanctions against North Korea. How do you think Russia and China violation of sanctions against North Korea will affect UN Security Council?

MR MILLER: Again, we will always appropriately enforce all of our sanctions.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matthew. Today Secretary Blinken hosted King Abdullah. What is the State Department doing to get Jordan to extradite Ahlam Tamimi, a terrorist wanted by the U.S. for a bombing that killed two Americans in 2001?

And then do you think Democrats and Republicans in the House should use the discharge petition to bypass Speaker Johnson in passing the Senate supplemental?

MR MILLER: So as it pertains to your first question, I’m going to defer comment to the Department of Justice, as we always do when it pertains to matters of extradition. And with respect to your second, I certainly don’t want to comment on internal legislative dynamics in the House.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. As you’re working towards release of the Israeli hostages and sending humanitarian aid into Gaza and everything related to that war, Iran today test-launched two ballistic missiles, and it seems like they have just converted a container ship into some ship to carry weaponry in. Do you feel – does the Biden administration feel pressured in expediting, settling, and putting an end, bringing an end to the conflict in the Gaza Strip?

MR MILLER: So we want to bring an end to the conflict in Gaza as soon as possible for a host of reasons. One is to stop the suffering of the – of innocent civilians in Gaza. One is to find a way to ensure Israel’s lasting security. You’ve seen the Secretary engage in diplomacy around this question, where he’s traveled the region to coordinate with partner countries about a way to find a durable and lasting peace. And of course, it’s very much to end the risk of instability and end the risk of further conflict. That has always been the case.

QUESTION: And what Iran is doing, including what its proxies are doing, that’s not – is – that’s not adding to the pressure?

MR MILLER: No, not – look, Iran’s proxies have engaged in destabilizing activity before October 7th. And of course don’t forget that Hamas is one of Iran’s proxy groups that it funds and has funded for years – that is the – that is the instigator of October 7th and who is responsible for the attacks of October 7th and is responsible for this entire conflict in the first place. So we have long seen destabilizing activities from Iran, and we have held Iran accountable for those activities, and we will continue to hold them accountable for those activities going forward.

QUESTION: Matt, another subject that has been a concern of the U.S. regarding Iran: its nuclear program. For the umpteenth time now, IAEA director general today has again expressed concern saying that Iran’s nuclear program is not transparent. Where does that fit in? Where – isn’t that a matter of concern, that while you’re busy in the Middle East that Iran could go further than where it is right now?

MR MILLER: We – it remains the policy of the United States to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon; that has not changed and it will not change. And we will continue to engage with the IAEA as well as with our partner countries in the region and beyond to ensure that it cannot achieve such a weapon.

Go over here.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. According to media reports on Monday, a group of 20 unidentified individual seized Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus offices. And as you are aware that Bangladesh regime has taken control over one-sided parliament, judiciary, media, and anti-corruption, now the entity like Grameen. So what is your perspectives on this situation?

MR MILLER: So I would say regarding the multiple criminal cases filed against Dr. Muhammad Yunus, we note that the labor case was tried with unusual speed. The anti-corruption commission has approved a charge sheet for additional cases. Those have drawn widespread condemnation from around the world. We share the concerns voiced by other international observers that these cases may represent a misuse of Bangladesh’s labor laws to harass and intimidate Dr. Yunus. We worry the perceived misuse of labor and anti-corruption laws could raise questions about the rule of law and dissuade future foreign direct investment, and we encourage the Bangladeshi Government to ensure a fair and transparent legal process for Dr. Yunus as the appeals process continues.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: First, (inaudible) and Taliban announced that two Taliban detainees from Guantanamo have released previously and were kept in Oman, they went back to Kabul and received red-carpet reception. At the meanwhile, there are some report that Mr. Rahim Haqmal, who were assistant to Osama bin Laden, have released by the U.S. agency. Isn’t the U.S. Government worried about releasing this high-profile terrorist and if they pose any direct attack or threat to the United States?

MR PRICE: So with respect to the detainees that were released in Oman, we were not involved in that release. It occurred after the expiration of security guarantees made by Oman during their initial transfer in 2017.

QUESTION: Okay, another question —

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: — about the Doha summit. What’s the United States sense in the upcoming UN conference in the Doha about Afghanistan?

MR PRICE: So Special Representative for Afghanistan Tom West and Special Envoy for Women, Girls, and Human Rights in Afghanistan Rina Amiri attended the last UN secretary-general’s meeting of Afghanistan envoys in May of last year, and they do plan to attend the next one this month in Doha. The meeting follows the UN Security Council resolution on Afghanistan adopted in December. The United States strongly supports the resolution’s call for a UN special envoy for Afghanistan, and urges the secretary-general to appoint a special envoy as soon as possible. A special envoy will be well-positioned to coordinate international engagement on Afghanistan to achieve the objectives laid out in this resolution.

Go back there. Yeah.

QUESTION: It’s me. I have a couple questions, one about Egypt. Have you spoke with Egypt about their roles during the Rafah operation that we are expect? And are you going to, like, support Egypt financially if they have any future roles in Erez or during the Rafah operation? Like, during the trip that you traveled with Mr. Blinken to Egypt, have you discussed any roles from Egypt? Because we see the far-right wing in Israel accusing Egypt that they are accomplice or, like, they are involved in 7th of October somehow. Do you agree or disagree with this? And what is the role of Egypt that you see in the future during the Rafah operation after that?

The second question —

MR PRICE: First let me – there were, like, five questions in that one, so let me —

QUESTION: Yeah, there is —

MR PRICE: Hold on. Let me answer that one before you go on to the second one.

First, with respect to October 7th, no, of course there was no Egyptian involvement in October 7th. There’s been no evidence presented to support that. I will say that we have found Egypt to be a great partner in both getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza to help innocent civilians there and helping to get American citizens and others out of Gaza, including wounded Palestinians who needed to leave Gaza to seek medical treatment. And we have found them a productive partner in helping to secure the release of hostages. And of course, they are involved in the ongoing talks to secure the release of hostages and a humanitarian pause.

Now, second – second one.

QUESTION: Yeah, last one. Like, we have read that USA warned Israel or urged Israel to no conduct any big operation during Ramadan. You know Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims, and it’s like now we are less one month to Ramadan. It’s going to start at March 10th. And do you support, like, this idea that, like, pausing or, like, not permanent but, like, at least ceasing fire, suspending any operation during the Ramadan? As you know, it’s, like, holy months for Muslims and, like, we have 1.4 million in Rafah?

MR PRICE: Yeah, I – I don’t want to answer that question about what may happen a month from now, because before we even get to that we are trying to achieve a humanitarian pause and a release of hostages that would extend for some time, including through that period. So that is our – that is the goal that we’re trying to achieve at this point.

Jen, go ahead, and then we’ll wrap.

QUESTION: Yeah. The Secretary revealed that he spoke with Paul Whelan yesterday. Do you have any more details about their call?

MR PRICE: Only in that it was I think now the third – I may have that wrong, maybe. He’s had a number of calls with Paul Whelan, who of course is speaking from prison. He assured Paul Whelan, as he has in his previous calls, that we’re with you, we have not forgotten you, we continue to work to try to secure your release, and we will continue to work to try to secure your release. It is the top priority not just of the Secretary but of President Biden as well.

QUESTION: And can I follow up on what you told me yesterday about the proposals? Has Russia rejected them outright, these significant proposals?

MR PRICE: The proposal that we – the last proposal that we spoke about publicly they did not accept. And I think I don’t want to talk in any further – any —

QUESTION: Is there one that you haven’t spoken about?

MR PRICE: I don’t want to – I don’t want to speak in any further – you should not interpret that one way or the other, but we decide when we’re going to make things public, and we have not made – given you a further update.

QUESTION: A question on —

MR PRICE: I’m going to wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:15 p.m.)

Department Press Briefing – February 12, 2024

12:44 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: Hello, everyone. Good afternoon. Happy Monday. Happy day after the Super Bowl to Chiefs fans. Condolences to —

QUESTION: Don’t start.

MR MILLER: Condolences to the – are you a 49ers fan?

QUESTION: Absolutely.

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR MILLER: So am I, Said. And we have an issue on which we agree. Vedant is —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: – lot of 49ers fans in this room.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) Well, it’s – condolences to all my fellow 49ers fans. The only thing I will say, if any of you thought that Patrick Mahomes wasn’t going to do that at some point, then you haven’t been watching Patrick Mahomes very long.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

Anyway, on to the topic at hand. I’m going to start with some opening remarks. We are pleased today to welcome Dr. Kurt Campbell as deputy secretary of state following his confirmation by the Senate on February 6th and swearing in this morning.

Deputy Secretary Campbell’s distinguished career includes service in the Navy, positions at the Treasury Department and Pentagon, his previous service as the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and most recently as the – at the White House as the Indo-Pacific coordinator. He also brings extensive experience outside of government – including in academia, the think tank community, and the private sector.

We will share more about Deputy Secretary Campbell’s engagements as he begins his role in advancing President Biden’s and Secretary Blinken’s vision of a world that is more free, open, prosperous, and secure. But for today, I just wanted to welcome him to the building. On behalf of all of us here, we look forward to working with you.

And with that, Shaun, do you want to start us off?

QUESTION: All right. Rafah?

MR MILLER: Sure.

QUESTION: Sure. Very different —

MR MILLER: Sorry, Humeyra. You look – I was just trying to go in order from the usual way we go. Shaun, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a – could I ask you about the operation in Rafah that the Israelis had? First of all, if the United States has an opinion on this – I mean, there was – there were quite a few – over a hundred civilian casualties, apparently. The President has publicly called for Israel to have a plan for civilians there. Are you under the impression that this is part of a larger operation? Was this a specific thing to get hostages? To what extent are you okay with this going ahead right after the President’s conversation with the prime minister?

MR MILLER: So a few things about that. One, I will say with respect to this specific set of air strikes, I will let the Israeli Government speak to what they were, what they were intended to do, what they were intended to accomplish. That’s appropriate for them to speak to.

I will say that as the President made clear, as the Secretary made clear in his conversation with the prime minister and other members of the Israeli Government on the trip last week, we do not support any military campaign in Rafah going forward as long as they cannot properly account for the 1.1 million people, by some estimates, who are in Rafah today, some of whom have already been displaced, some of whom have been displaced multiple times. We think there needs to be a credible plan that they can actually execute before they undertake any military campaign in Rafah.

Now that said, they have conducted air strikes against Rafah really since going back to the original days of the campaign. It is not our assessment that this air strike is the launch of a full-scale offensive happening in Rafah. We just saw, obviously, the order from the prime minister last week to the Israeli military to develop a plan for dealing with Rafah. We look forward to reviewing that plan. We look forward to being briefed on it. And we will make clear, as we did last week and as the President did in his conversation over the weekend, that without such a plan that is credible and that they can execute, we do not support a full-scale military operation there going ahead.

QUESTION: And just could I just pursue that – the – when you say you would not support it, and this is of course the language of the White House as well, what does that actually mean? Does that mean you say no, don’t do it, it’s not a good idea, or does that mean there are actual repercussions or that the – to the relationship?

MR MILLER: Look, I don’t want to get ahead of the events as they currently stand today. They have said that they will implement – they will develop and they will implement a humanitarian plan. We have made clear that we think it is imperative that they do so, and we’re going to look and see what they develop.

QUESTION: On the – on Rafah, you said it’s not the U.S. assessment that the air strikes are the start of a full-scale offensive there. Is it your assessment that they will soon launch the full-scale offensive there?

MR MILLER: Again – so first of all, with regard to this air strike, as I said, they have conducted air strikes against military targets going – in Rafah, going back to the beginning of the campaign. But it is our assessment this is not part of a – the full – a full-scale military operation there, because we heard what the prime minister said over the weekend, which he has just tasked the military with developing that humanitarian plan. It has not been developed yet, let alone executed, and it is our expectation that a plan should be developed, it should be credible, it should be executed before they launch such a military offensive.

QUESTION: Right. But did you get any assurances from the Israelis that they’re not going to proceed with a Rafah offensive unless they get that plan in there? Because I mean, the humanitarian plans for everywhere else in Rafah was not very robust and sound either. It wouldn’t have led to this civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis that the enclave is facing right now.

MR MILLER: I am not going to speak for the Israeli Government. I will speak for the United States and make clear what our expectation is. And the expectation is as I have outlined it, and we have communicated that quite clearly with them.

QUESTION: Okay. To push a little bit more on Shaun’s question, like EU’s foreign policy chief Borrell, for example, said the U.S. should consider cutting aid to Israel. And we know that there is growing frustration with Netanyahu’s government. Is that at all a possibility that the administration is considering if it would not have any success in the coming days in terms of moving Israel?

MR MILLER: So let me say a few things about that, the most important of which is that we have pursued the policy that we think gives us the maximum ability to be successful in influencing how Israel conducts its military campaign.

QUESTION: And —

MR MILLER: And how —

QUESTION: Were you happy with the results of that?

MR MILLER: And – in many cases, no, absolutely we are not. We are happy with the fact that we have been able to get humanitarian assistance into Israel. That is the direct result of —

QUESTION: Gaza.

MR MILLER: I’m sorry, into Gaza. That is the direct result of U.S. intervention. But at the same time, there has not been enough humanitarian assistance that has gotten in. We are happy with some of the deconfliction measures that Israel has put in place at our urging, at our specific urging, at the request of the Secretary and others in the administration. Those deconfliction measures have not been as successful as we would like them to be. We are happy that over the past month we have seen civilian casualties come down from the incredibly high rates that they were. They are still alarmingly high; they are still way too high.

So in all of this, it’s a process where we engage with the Israeli Government, look to use every bit of expertise that we have to communicate to them the steps that we ought to take, and we use all of the levers at our disposal to influence them to the best of our ability, and that will continue to be an ongoing process.

QUESTION: So you’re still ruling out cutting of any aid?

MR MILLER: I am not ruling anything out. I am saying we have not made the assessment. That is a decision – or that is a step that would be more impactful than the steps that we have already taken. And at the same time you have to look at the fact that such a step – how such a step would be received by Israel’s opponents, both inside Gaza and outside of the state of Israel.

QUESTION: So that – just like what levers have you used?

MR MILLER: So we have used diplomatic levers. The Secretary has —

QUESTION: That means that – that means the Secretary and the President and you and Kirby and whoever else standing up and saying – wagging your finger and saying – that’s not really leverage.

MR MILLER: We have engaged with them on a – at a multitude of levels at this administration, and —

QUESTION: A multitude —

MR MILLER: – and, as I – kind of if you look at the list that we just went through with Humeyra, we have seen them take steps at our urging that have had real —

QUESTION: Yeah —

MR MILLER: Have had real tangible impact. But they have not been enough.

QUESTION: But what levers have you actually —

MR MILLER: I think the – that when the United States of America stands up and says something publicly, it matters.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you —

MR MILLER: That’s a lever – and we – and we —

QUESTION: But you haven’t – but you haven’t said —

MR MILLER: No – and we – but to my point —

QUESTION: — that there’d be any consequences —

MR MILLER: To my – to my point, we have seen —

QUESTION: — in terms of money or military assistance, right?

MR MILLER: We – but we have seen – because of the policies we have pursued, we have seen improvements along these specific areas.

QUESTION: Okay, fine.

MR MILLER: We have seen tangible improvements. Again, not —

QUESTION: Okay, but I’m just asking you what leverage have you used?

MR MILLER: I – but also I —

QUESTION: What leverage have you brought to bear?

MR MILLER: I – I just went through it. I —

QUESTION: What have you gone —

MR MILLER: I think the words of the President United States, the words of the Secretary of State, matter. And we have seen —

QUESTION: To say —

MR MILLER: Hold on – we have —

QUESTION: Over the top, that’s leverage?

MR MILLER: And we have seen – and seen the Government of Israel respond to it, not always in the way that we want, not always to the degree that we want or to the level that we want, but the – our interventions, we believe, have had an impact, and we will continue to pursue them because we – we believe they do.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, look, I – I’m not – I’m not trying to take a position on what you have done so far is adequate or inadequate, but you seem to be taking the position that what you have done so far is inadequate. Because while you say you have seen some results from the quote/unquote “pressure” that you have applied, they’re not enough, and that the situation is still not good and not acceptable to you. Is that – is that a fair assessment of what you said?

MR MILLER: I will say I think that sometimes people pretend that the United States of America has a magic wand that it can wave to make any situation in the world roll out in exactly the way that we would want it to, and that is never the case. We use – we use —

QUESTION: Okay, well I would just – let me just say —

MR MILLER: We use the tools that are available —

QUESTION: — that there are other people – there were other —

MR MILLER: We use the tools that are available to try to influence policy. They are imperfect, and there are ways in which we have been able to show tangible results and more that we want to do. And that is why we continue to stay engaged.

QUESTION: Okay, but there are others who would say that you have a multitude of billions of things that you could use to —

MR MILLER: I’m aware.

QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. So – and you haven’t used those. That correct?

MR MILLER: As always, when we look at all of the tools in our – at our disposal, we have to look at the up sides of using them and we have to look at the down sides in making those determinations.

QUESTION: Matt –

QUESTION: So – but the answer is no, correct?

MR MILLER: It is not a determination we have made at this point. But we —

QUESTION: No, no, no, no, but have you gone to the Israelis and said, look, if you don’t do what we think you should do or at least take our position into account, there will be some kind of tangible consequence other than the finger-wagging and the President saying this is over the top? Is there any – is there any real oomph?

MR MILLER: I am not going to get into the private conversations that we have with the Government of Israel, but they are quite clear about our positions on these matters.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Can I get a follow-up on this point? Can I follow on —

MR MILLER: Humeyra, were you done? Yeah, go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Okay. If – with the indulgence of my colleagues. Now, to Matt’s point, the President of the United States of America went out and told the entire world Israel’s conduct is over the top. Israel’s conduct is over the top. So if it’s over the top, what are you willing to do to make it go under the top?

MR MILLER: We are going to engage with them to – on specific areas where we expect to see improvement.

QUESTION: What kind of improvement? I mean, we saw yesterday —

MR MILLER: We want —

QUESTION: — that they bombed – they killed 120 people, maybe a lot more; we don’t know how many injuries and so on or how many among the injured will die – will end up dying, and all these things. And you’re saying that this is – you – just what you said. You said that we have seen them bomb Rafah all throughout. Does that make it okay? Does that make it okay when everybody, including the Secretary of State, including the President of the United States of America, including many leaders in this country have said, you should not attack Rafah, period, or you can attack it by air. Is that it?

MR MILLER: We have – we have always said that they can attack legitimate military targets. And we want to see them take every step that they can to minimize civilian casualties. As I just said, we have seen civilian casualties come down, but as you and I have – as you and I have discussed many times in this room, Said, they face a very difficult situation in that Hamas continues to hide itself among the civilian population. If this was a war being fought on a battlefield where Hamas would come out and fight, it would be a much different scenario.

QUESTION: Right. Right.

MR MILLER: Unfortunately, it is not, so Israel faces a very difficult situation. That doesn’t lessen their need to do more. And that’s why we continue to engage with them on this question.

QUESTION: But the fact is that you do have a magic wand. You have a huge, big magic wand.

MR MILLER: I – I —

QUESTION: And that magic wand —

MR MILLER: I’m glad you think it’s a magic wand, Said. I don’t —

QUESTION: It is a magic wand. It is a magic wand, but it —

MR MILLER: I don’t think people share that assessment.

QUESTION: It’s real, it’s substantive.

QUESTION: But it is a wand.

QUESTION: It’s a wand. I mean, we’re talking about billions of dollars that are approved to make this war keep on going while, in fact, we have seen reports from the United Nations that – telling you: you are a shake away, Matt, from starvation in Gaza. Nothing is going in into Rafah, no aid. None of this is going on.

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: I mean, there are so many things that are going on at the same time that the United States can in fact use its magic wand.

MR MILLER: So Said, we have used a number of levers at our disposal, and that is why humanitarian assistance is going into Rafah. In fact, your contention is not true. There were nearly 200 trucks that – or I’m sorry – that are going into Gaza. There are nearly 200 trucks of humanitarian assistance that went into Gaza yesterday. If we want to go back to the beginning, it is because of the intervention of the United States that humanitarian assistance is going in. We continue to call for more. When the Secretary was there last week, he raised with – directly with the prime minister that we want to see Erez crossing open so that we can continue to do more. And it is that repeated, sustained engagement that we have shown over time has delivered results, and it’s why we’ll continue to stay engaged.

QUESTION: Do you expect – lastly, do you expect that Director Burns’ meeting tomorrow and – or scheduled meeting tomorrow in Cairo will produce anything? What is your – the feeling in this building on the ongoing discussions?

MR MILLER: So first of all, I’m going to look around and remind everyone that I’m the spokesperson for the State Department —

QUESTION: Yes, absolutely. I understand —

MR MILLER: — not any other agency. So I’m not going to – I’m not going to speak to the travel of members of —

QUESTION: Well, you’re the highest government spokesman in this room.

MR MILLER: Members of other – hold on – members of other agencies in the government. I will say that generally as it relates to engagement – engagement over the release of hostages, you heard the Secretary speak to this and say that we think progress can be made. There were a number of really untenable items in the proposal that came back from Hamas, but we do believe that a deal is possible. And we are going to continue to pursue it from this building as well as from others because we think the benefits of a pause and a deal for hostages are tremendous, not just obviously for the hostages who would be released but also for the humanitarian effort in Gaza and for our ability to begin to pursue a real and lasting sustainable resolution to this conflict.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — just briefly on that point? The – I mean, is there any – is there any contradiction in that – I mean, the Israelis taking military actions to free hostages? Do you think that that affects at all the deal that’s on the table or the deal that’s been negotiated for —

MR MILLER: I don’t think it should, and I think the Israelis are well within their rights to do everything in their power to try to get back the hostages that were taken from Israel and continue to be held – have been held for far too long now – and it should in no way impact the negotiations.

Olivia, go ahead. Oh, sorry, Jen – Olivia, go ahead and we’ll come to Jen.

QUESTION: Just one point of clarification, because our understanding is that there’s not yet a clear commitment from the Israeli Government to have representation at these talks in Cairo. Understanding you’re not their spokesperson, are you relaying to the Israelis the importance of participating in these talks in order to achieve any outcome?

MR MILLER: I am not going to – obviously not speak for them, but I’m also not going to speak to our private negotiations. But obviously we do believe that these discussions are important. We believe that it’s important that we continue to engage around the need to secure these hostages and obtain a humanitarian pause, and we will continue to pursue that with the Government of Israel as well as with the Governments of Egypt and Qatar.

QUESTION: And you believe these activities in Rafah – your view is not that it is not the unspooling of a campaign, but do you believe they’re counterproductive to hostage talks?

MR MILLER: I just can’t speak to what the intent of these particular strikes last night were. But look, Israel has had an ongoing military campaign, so I don’t know why a new set of strikes would change the nature of these negotiations. They have been conducting a military campaign since – shortly after the immediate hours after October 7th, so there’s nothing really there that should have an impact on these talks.

QUESTION: But this happens to target a city center where 1.2 million Palestinian civilians are concentrated in a way that —

MR MILLER: Correct, but I am not sure why that would have an impact on the hostage talks. If Hamas – I mean, if Hamas was going to pull out of these talks, maybe Hamas should stop hiding – but – it’s Hamas that continues to hide behind those civilians.

QUESTION: Well, with respect, I mean, it’s – to the Secretary’s line that not forgetting a common humanity here is what I thought was top of mind for the administration.

MR MILLER: Of course it is top of mind for the administration. Israel does still have the need – or have the ability and the need and the right to carry out legitimate military campaigns that target members of Hamas, Hamas leadership, Hamas battalions. We support their right to do so, but we want to see them conducted in full compliance with international humanitarian law, and we want to see them minimize civilian casualties. And when we see reports of civilian casualties, we raise those directly with the Government of Israel and seek more information about them.

QUESTION: And the U.S. does concur that there’s a legitimate military reason in order to conduct these strikes in Rafah. I understand you can’t get into the details —

MR MILLER: There are Hamas battalions in Rafah; that is an undisputed fact.

QUESTION: Well, I just have two other separate questions. One is on whether you can tell us anything about the Americans who have been detained by the IDF in both the West Bank and Gaza. Do you have clarity on the circumstances of their detention? Have you been requesting and gotten offered consular access to them?

MR MILLER: We don’t have clarity on the situation. I can say that with respect to both of these situations, I think, as you know, because of privacy considerations, that lots of times in these cases we’re not allowed – we’re not able to speak to the details. But in both cases, we are aware of the matter and are seeking – are engaged with the families and seeking more information from the Government of Israel.

QUESTION: Is there a preliminary level of concern involved in any of these cases?

MR MILLER: Until we have been able to acquire more information, I don’t think I should offer a preliminary assessment.

QUESTION: Okay, last one, sorry. I’m sure you’ve seen the reports of Hamas having a command center underneath UNRWA’s headquarters. Does that alter the U.S.’s thinking in terms of the potential resumption of funding down the line? Is it being linked at all to the issue of the 12 employees who are alleged to have involvement in October 7th?

MR MILLER: So we believe that’s a matter that needs to be investigated, and we have sought further information from both the Government of Israel and from UNRWA itself. We’ll continue to engage with them to seek out more information. With respect to the investigation that the UN is conducting, clearly this is the type of thing that they ought to look at. Their investigation ought to look at both the circumstances of the 12 individuals who are reported to have participated in the October 7th attacks as well as any other Hamas infiltration or involvement with UNRWA.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead. Then we’ll go to Jenny. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes, Matt. Have you gotten any information from the IDF on these three American citizens that they acknowledge that they are detaining them?

MR MILLER: Again, as I said, I have to speak with some generality here because of the privacy considerations. As you know, we’re just restricted by law from what we can say due to privacy law. I’m just not able to say any more other than that we’re seeking more information from the Government of Israel.

QUESTION: Sorry. How about a follow-on on the UNRWA headquarters? Are you saying that you accept – that you believe, you have no reason to doubt the Israeli claims that there were?

MR MILLER: No, I said we’re seeking more information from both the Government of Israel and UNRWA about the matter.

QUESTION: So you’re not entirely sure yet?

MR MILLER: The point of seeking information is to get that information and make an assessment.

QUESTION: Well I — fair enough. But I just wanted to make sure I understood your —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — response. Thank you.

QUESTION: And then on the Rafah situation.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: The Egyptians have reportedly threatened to pull out of the Camp David Accords if Israel is to move forward with this full-scale operation in Rafah. Is this something that’s been conveyed to the U.S.? How concerned are you about the collapse of this kind of a deal?

MR MILLER: Look, I just think that gets several steps beyond where we are today. I think where we are today is that we have said we want to see a credible humanitarian plan developed, one that’s – that can be executed before any operation proceeds. The prime minister has asked the Israeli military to develop such a plan. We are a long – we are a long ways – we are a long way ahead of being able to talk to what potential ramifications are, and I don’t think I – it’s appropriate for me to speculate on those today.

QUESTION: And then I have one on a non-Middle East topic, if you want to come back.

MR MILLER: Okay. I’ll come back to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: There are some reportings that the plan that Israelis are working on for Rafah is to build a tent city by Egypt and funded by the United States and some of your GCC allies. Are you aware of this reporting? And is this something – is this something that you can support?

MR MILLER: I’m not aware of that reporting. I would say that the – again, we’re – it’s not quite – maybe not quite far down the road as Jenny’s question, but a little further down the road than where we are today. The prime minister has just asked for this humanitarian plan to be developed yet; our understanding is it’s not yet been developed. We certainly haven’t seen it. So we will look to see what the Government of Israel develops and be prepared to react to that, but I don’t think I’m ready to react to any reports.

QUESTION: But what plan – in your assessment, what this plan will look like?

MR MILLER: I don’t know what the plan is going to look like, because I am not the one —

QUESTION: No, no.

MR MILLER: We are not the ones developing.

QUESTION: Something will be acceptable to you?

MR MILLER: I will say what we would expect for any plan is that it have a credible means for dealing with the hundreds of thousands, probably over a million people, who are currently in Rafah, something that puts civilian protections first and decides – or ensures that civilians are protected, that they have a chance to get out of harm’s way, that they have access to food and water and medicine. All of those are the elements of any type of plan that we would find credible, but importantly it has to be a plan – I keep using this word because I make – want to make sure everyone hears me – not just a credible plan but one that can actually be executed.

QUESTION: So just to make a fine point on this, so are you saying that you are not opposed or would not be opposed to paying for whatever Israel’s plan is to – that whenever it comes in?

MR MILLER: I was —

QUESTION: And do they have to pay for anything? I mean, they’re the ones who are doing this. Do they – are you and the —

MR MILLER: So we are giving —

QUESTION: You and the GCC are going to pick up the tab for all of this?

MR MILLER: I am not aware of any proposal for the United States to —

QUESTION: No, I know, but are you opposed to – are you opposed to paying for —

MR MILLER: Matt, I don’t even know what the report he’s referring to is. I have heard —

QUESTION: Forget about a report he’s referring to.

MR MILLER: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on. I know, but you can —

QUESTION: Is the United States prepared to pay for the plan that Israel may or may not come up with —

MR MILLER: So that is —

QUESTION: — for the evacuation of civilians in Rafah?

MR MILLER: That has not been the role of the United States in this conflict. I do not foresee it being the role of the United States.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: That said, the reason why it’s hard to answer any kind of thing definitively, we provide money to humanitarian partners in the region.

QUESTION: Yes.

MR MILLER: And they do things like provide food and water —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR MILLER: — to people who are in Gaza, so that you could see how that kind of funding could be used in that regard, but not specifically to the way you proposed it.

QUESTION: Can I just —

QUESTION: Can I ask a quick one —

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: — before we close the loop on the hostages? What is your understanding or, like, do you have a – do you have a timeline on when you’re expecting a response from Israel on the Hamas counterproposal?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to – I don’t want to put any kind of timeline on it. No.

QUESTION: Right. But you are expecting them to come back with a response to the Hamas counterproposal, so that this would —

MR MILLER: We want to —

QUESTION: So that you can proceed in Rafah?

MR MILLER: We want to see these discussions proceed. We believe that progress can be made, and I will leave it at that.

QUESTION: Okay, one more: If the Israeli side somehow doesn’t show up tomorrow, will that meeting go ahead? Will those conversations still go ahead?

MR MILLER: You know I don’t answer “if” questions, Humeyra.

QUESTION: Well, you know I try. We all try.

MR MILLER: I do, I do.

Michel, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Do you have any updates on U.S. efforts to push forward the two-state solutions – solution and the normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any updates beyond what the Secretary said, but if you tuned in to his remarks in the region last week, he made very clear that this was the subject of conversation between him and his Arab counterparts when we traveled to Saudi Arabia and to Qatar and to Egypt, and it was also the subject of our conversations with the Government of Israel. He has been engaging with partners in the region to talk about plans for Gaza, for the reconstruction and the rebuilding and governance of Gaza after this conflict, and one of the things that we have heard from partners in the region, including most notably from Saudi Arabia, is that a path to two states has to be a part of that. And I say “most notably” because the crown prince of Saudi Arabia has made clear that in order to pursue normalization, they expect to see a time-bound, irrevocable path to two states. And so we had those conversations last week and we had them with the Government of Israel, and we will continue to have them in the weeks ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. One quick question.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the decision of Qatar to release eight former Indian navy personnel to India. Have you seen that reports and what’s your part in that?

MR MILLER: I’ll have to take that back and get you an answer.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two questions, one on Gaza and one on Türkiye, if I may. On the killing of six-year-old Hind Rajab after an Israeli tank targeted their family car in Gaza, the Geneva-based nonprofit Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor determined that the IDF is responsible for the bombing of the ambulance that attempted to rescue Hind, and it also reported that American-made weapons was found at the bombed ambulance. Have you seen that report, and do you have any response?

MR MILLER: Yeah, we – we are devastated about the reports of the death of Hind Rajab. I will tell you that I have a little girl that’s about to turn six myself, and so it is just a devastating account, a heartbreaking account for this child. And, of course, there have been thousands of other children who have died as a result of this conflict, and every one of them is a tragedy that I know I can tell you everyone in the United States Government feels quite deeply.

We have asked the Israeli authorities to investigate this incident on an urgent basis. We understand that they are doing so. We expect to see those results on a timely fashion, and they should include accountability measures as appropriate.

QUESTION: And do you have anything to say on that American-made weapons were found at the site?

MR MILLER: I just don’t – I’m not able to verify that.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. assessing whether or not Israel is using that weapons in accordance with the laws of war?

MR MILLER: We always expect that they use all weapons, whether they be provided by the United States or —

QUESTION: But are you making an assessment of that?

MR MILLER: No, hold on, let me just say – but – I think this is an important distinction, because we get asked this question. Whether weapons are provided by the United States or that they have acquired through some other method or that they manufacture them theirselves, it is our expectation that they use them in full compliance with the laws of war, and we engage with them on that matter. But I don’t think I – but I don’t think I can offer you an assessment on this particular one because, as I have said, we’ve asked them to investigate and they have said that they would do so. We want to see them do it as quickly as possible. And I don’t think I should speak to it before that investigation is completed.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Türkiye. The F-16 sale has been approved over the weekend, as there was no objections from Congress. Do you have any comments on that?

MR MILLER: I don’t. I’ll have to – I’ll have to check that and get back with you. Obviously we have made quite clear our position that this sale should move forward, but —

QUESTION: On its investigations, have you heard back from the Israelis yet about the demolition of the university in Gaza?

MR MILLER: Let me check and get back – and get you an answer to that.

QUESTION: Or any of the other investigations?

MR MILLER: We have heard back from them on a number of different things that we raise with them, but with respect to this —

QUESTION: Well, have you gotten anything definitive or —

MR MILLER: With respect to this specific one, let me find out and get you an answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. On the —

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. So what is your oral analysis on Pakistani election? Despite all efforts of rigging, Imran Khan came out as the winner. What is your oral analysis on the elections?

MR MILLER: I guess you didn’t read my statement that I – we put out on Friday, where I spoke to our analysis —

QUESTION: Yeah, but it – yeah.

MR MILLER: — analysis of this.

QUESTION: But now there’s also a – yeah.

MR MILLER: Sure. Let me say that we congratulate the Pakistani people, first of all, for participating in the election on Thursday. That includes poll workers, civil society members, journalists, and election observers who have protected Pakistan’s democratic and electoral institutions. We did express concerns publicly – we also expressed those concerns privately and joined the EU, the UK, and other countries in doing so – with some irregularities that we saw in the process. We’ve conveyed the need for the Pakistani Government to respect the will of the election.

We emphasize – you heard us from – you heard me from this podium, certainly, repeatedly but also across the government emphasize that we want to see the rule of law, respect for constitution, free press, vibrant civil society respected in the run-up to the election. We continue to believe that’s the case. We condemn political and election-related violence and restrictions on internet and cell phone service. Those negatively impacted the electoral service. The claims of interference and fraud that we have seen raised we want to ensure are fully investigated by Pakistan’s legal system, and we will be continuing to monitor that in the days ahead.

QUESTION: Sir, you said that you are ready to work with the new Pakistani Government, but this new Pakistani Government came in with the allegations of fraud and irregularities. What is your opinion?

MR MILLER: Well, I don’t think there is a new Pakistani Government yet. I believe there are still discussions going on about formation of a government. But one of the things that we have said leading up to the election and we’ll continue to make clear is that whoever the Pakistani people choose to represent them, we will work with that government. And as to the claims of fraud, we want to see those fully investigated.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: On the – I know you said there isn’t a Pakistani Government yet, but certainly former Prime Minister Khan’s faction of – some of them are – independents came in ahead. Is there any concern about the legitimacy of whoever actually becomes the leader of Pakistan sooner or later?

MR MILLER: I will say that – let me just reiterate that we do think that the claims of fraud need to be fully investigated. That said, it was clearly a competitive election in which people were able to exercise their choice. Now, that said, there were irregularities; we want to see them investigated. But ultimately, we respect the democratic process and we’re ready to work with the government once it’s formed.

QUESTION: And just one more on Pakistan. The authorities have had a ban on assembly. Some of Imran Khan’s supporters have called for protests on this. Is there any concern about freedom of assembly right now in Pakistan?

MR MILLER: Certainly, we want to see the freedom of assembly respected anywhere in the world.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. A couple of questions. Europe. EU chancellor today approved a regulation allowing profits from frozen Russian assets to be used in Ukraine. Do you endorse that decision or support it, don’t like it? What is your feeling about that?

MR MILLER: So we are encouraged by any action the EU may take to use Russian assets for the benefit of Ukrainians. We continue to be in active conversations with our allies and partners, including the G7, on what additional steps may be possible within respective legal systems and under international law to make Russia cease its aggression against Ukraine and to ensure Russia pays for the damage it has caused.

QUESTION: Is the United States considering to follow suit?

MR MILLER: So we are supportive of having domestic legislative authorities. We made that clear in the past that it will give us flexibility as we continue these discussions with our allies and our partners. Ultimately, we want to see Russia pay for the damage it’s caused, and we continue to pursue all appropriate vehicles to do so.

QUESTION: Speaking of allies and partners in Europe, any reaction to shockwaves we have seen over the weekend among allies in reaction to suggestions coming out of this town – and also there’s a presidential election going on, but in general pushback against suggestions that United States might not support its allies in case of Russian attack?

MR MILLER: So you heard the President speak to this over the weekend and make clear that any suggestion that encouraging Russia to invade our allies and partners are dangerous, and I would obviously echo that from here. And I would just say, as we often say, that the NATO Alliance provides actual security to the American people. This isn’t just a benefit – this isn’t just an Alliance that the United States puts into; we also get a lot out of this Alliance. And the only time that NATO has ever come to the defense of one of its member countries, it was coming to the defense of the United States after 9/11. And so we have been heartened by the broad support for NATO from the American people. We have been supported – been heartened by the broad support for NATO from Congress. And I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: How much has the former president’s statement damaged your relationship?

MR MILLER: I don’t think I should comment on remarks made in the political context.

QUESTION: Move to Central Asia if possible. Kyrgyzstan today responded harshly to the Secretary’s criticism of a Russia-backed NGO law that they’re trying to pass through the parliament, and they are referring to the U.S. FARA law. Any reaction? Any response?

MR MILLER: Let me take that back and —

QUESTION: And final —

MR MILLER: — and get you a comment.

QUESTION: And finally, if I may, on South Caucasus – Azerbaijan and Armenia. Looks like they are trying to move along through negotiation process without any mediator. Where do you stand on this?

MR MILLER: I don’t – I don’t want to comment on that specifically, but I’ll say that we do obviously support continued dialogue around that issue. We believe it’s the best way to reach a sustainable end to the conflict, and we will continue to pursue it.

QUESTION: And Azerbaijan has —

QUESTION: You say – you said several times that you want Russia to pay for the damage that it’s caused. Is that because you – they were – they are the – you see them as the aggressor here, or they are the aggressor?

MR MILLER: They very much are the aggressor, yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, so what about in other cases? Like after World War II, the Japanese attacked us but then the Germans declared war on us, so we were – went in and we – the Marshall Plan paid for huge amounts of reconstruction in Europe, and the United States also paid for the reconstruction of Japan after the war. So does that same – and recognizing that the situations are not exactly similar, but does Israel bear any responsibility for paying for the reconstruction of Gaza?

MR MILLER: So the —

QUESTION: Or do they get to foist it off on others?

MR MILLER: So the situations are not at all – are not at all —

QUESTION: Well, but they’re all conflicts and —

MR MILLER: But let – but —

QUESTION: And I realize that World War II is over and the Ukraine war is not over.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But neither is the Gaza war. And you’re saying that Russia right now has to pay for the damage that it caused in Ukraine. So I’m just wondering: Would you say the same, that Israel should pay for at least some of the damage that it has caused in Gaza, even though it’s fighting what you say is a completely justifiable – or what is a completely justifiable war?

MR MILLER: So I would say on that matter is that one of the things that we have heard as – through the Secretary’s diplomacy in the region is that there are countries who are ready to step up and help pay for the reconstruction of Gaza. I don’t mean Israel. Other countries who are willing to step up and help with the reconstruction of Gaza and put real money into the game as well as real political credibility, but that’s another matter on another track. But just with respect to reconstruction, there are other countries who are willing to recontribute or contribute to the —

QUESTION: No, no, recontribute is right because they’ve already rebuilt Gaza like three times, right?

MR MILLER: Who are – fair point.

QUESTION: And so but —

MR MILLER: Let me just finish.

QUESTION: But Israel is not one of those countries.

MR MILLER: Let me – Matt, let me just finish. Our discussions have been about other countries who are willing to contribute to the rebuilding of Gaza, but they expect something from Israel in return, and that’s – we’ve talked about this path to two states.

QUESTION: But what about money? What about actual reconstruction?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to get into the hypothetical because we think the policy that we ought to pursue —

QUESTION: All right.

MR MILLER: — is this path that the Secretary has laid out that would lead to the rebuilding of Gaza and would avoid the question that you are putting on the table.

QUESTION: Well, no, it – that wouldn’t avoid the question.

MR MILLER: I’m saying —

QUESTION: Someone’s got to pay for it.

MR MILLER: No, no, I’m saying it avoids the question of Israel having to pay for it. The path that we think forward is the one that we’ve put on the table.

QUESTION: So you think that path would —

MR MILLER: Well, I should —

QUESTION: — relieve Israel of any obligation for paying for —

MR MILLER: It would certainly – I do not want to say any – we are – we are fully well down the path that we have not – hardly even started walking at this point. But certainly —

QUESTION: Fine. But the same – the same thing – you could say the same thing about Ukraine. That war is not over yet either.

MR MILLER: It would bring other – it would bring other countries to the table.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – okay. But how about Israel? Do they —

MR MILLER: Again, I said we are not at that point yet in these conversations.

QUESTION: All right.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Sorry, question on a separate topic, and I don’t want to overlap with (inaudible).

MR MILLER: Yeah. Sorry, I didn’t see you.

QUESTION: Mine is on this flurry of mixed reports that an American being held hostage by the Taliban, Ryan Corbett, may be released in the coming days. Have you looked into those reports? Is there any merit to them? And —

MR MILLER: None that I’m aware of.

QUESTION: There’s no – there’s no —

MR MILLER: No, there are no plans that we’re aware of for him to be released. It is obviously a matter we continue to engage on. We continue to seek his release. I’ve seen some reports incorrectly linking his release or potential release to the release of two former Guantanamo detainees in Oman. Those reports are completely meritless. There is no linkage at all between the two. My understanding is that the release of those two former detainees in Oman had – was the result of the expiration of security conditions or security restrictions that were a condition of their transfer, and there – is no way linked to Ryan Corbett’s case.

That said, we continue to engage on this. It continues to be a top priority for us to see the release of Ryan Corbett, and we will continue to work on it. But the reports that I’ve seen are just not based on anything.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Do you mind (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: The – leaving aside whether they’re connected indeed to the release of the two former Guantanamo prisoners or the transfer from Oman to Afghanistan, is that the cause of any concern, or is that sort of not the U.S.’s problem anymore? Does the U.S. have any take on that?

MR MILLER: I will have to take it and get back with you. I’m not – I just – I’m not aware of the conditions under which they were transferred in the first place, which would impact on how – it would bear on the answer to that question.

QUESTION: Sure.

MR MILLER: So go ahead, Jenny.

QUESTION: On the – another detained American, Putin seemed to indicate that he would be open to a prisoner swap for Evan Gershkovich. Does the U.S. see any significance in him publicly making these comments, and what’s the latest on talks for him and Paul Whelan?

MR MILLER: So we have always made clear that not only do we want to see the release of Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, but that we have put a significant offer on the table. In fact, more than once we have put offers on the table to secure their release. And we will continue to engage to try to pursue or try to obtain their release, and I just don’t want to comment on President Putin’s comments.

QUESTION: Is the most recent significant proposal the one that you raised from the podium a couple months ago?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to comment on any further developments in that case. From time to time we make the decision to make things public, but ultimately we declined – we decided to do most of that quietly behind the scenes.

QUESTION: And did that proposal include Krasikov, who Putin seems to want?

MR MILLER: I think you know I’m never going to comment on what those – what those –

QUESTION: I think you know we’re going to –

MR MILLER: — proposals might include.

Go ahead, Willy.

QUESTION: I just wanted to circle back to the two Americans taken by the IDF in Gaza. Family members say the only communication they’ve had with the U.S. Government is a confirmation of receipt. Is that normal, for five days into this to not have had kind of more communication with State Department or anyone in this government?

MR MILLER: I really wish there was more that I could say. There are privacy rules that can only be waived by the individuals themselves, not by family members. This is not true – I’m not speaking with respect to this case. I’m speaking with respect to cases in general that prohibit us from talking about the cases. So unfortunately, I can’t say any more other than that we are aware of the matter and we are engaged with the Government of Israel to try and learn more information.

And Ryan, go ahead, and then we’ll wrap for the day.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to pick up – pick up real quickly on your Pakistan comment. And correct me if I’m wrong; I think you said that you were – the State Department hopes that the Pakistan – Pakistani courts will take a close look at this matter. You’ve also heard from a lot of members of Congress who have said there should be an independent investigation of the fraud before the U.S. recognizes any new government. The high – and I’m not sure if you saw this. The high court in Pakistan just tossed out most of the challenges despite the fact that the media there has seen 100 percent of the returns and the challenges are entirely legitimate. It’s like not even a he-said/she-said. So the court process seems to already have played out. Does the State Department want to see an independent investigation, as members of Congress are calling for?

MR MILLER: So I don’t know which – what – what – venue is not the right word, but what body they are proposing to conduct an independent investigation would be. I’m happy to look at that, if there’s a specific proposal. Right now we think as a matter of first course, it’s that the legal system play itself out in Pakistan. That’s a – that’s the appropriate first step to take, and we think that’s the step that should be taken. If there are additional steps that ought to be entertained, we’re happy to look at them at that time.

QUESTION: Same question on Hind Rajab, though, to follow up on I think what – the point Matt was trying to make. You’ve said you’ve urged Israel to investigate her killing, respond very quickly, and take accountability if they find something’s wrong. I think Matt’s point, though, is that you’ve urged a lot of accountability, a lot of investigations, and we don’t have evidence of them coming back with accountability. Should there be a second-level investigation into her killing —

MR MILLER: Again, it’s hard to —

QUESTION: — if you’re not satisfied with what they come back with?

MR MILLER: Again, it’s hard to comment on a second level before you’ve concluded the first level. We want to see the Government of Israel investigate this matter. If they find that somebody behaved inappropriately or in violation of law, we want to see accountability. And I wouldn’t want to speculate on what further measures might be appropriate before that first step has been completed.

With that, we’ll wrap for the day. Thanks, everyone.

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

# # #

Department Press Briefing – February 8, 2024

MR PATEL: Good afternoon, everybody. Apologies for being a little tardy. I do not have anything off the top. So Simon, since you’re in that chair, I’m going to ask if you’d like to kick us off.

QUESTION: That is quite intimidating.

MR PATEL: What’s that?

QUESTION: It’s quite intimidating to be in —

MR PATEL: I don’t think so, no. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah, I want to – first of all, there’s some reporting about two American citizens in Gaza who appear to have been detained by the Israelis. Is there anything beyond just the fact you’re aware of reports? Have you’ve been in touch with the family? Can you tell us anything about their cases?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any other updates, Simon, than what you said. As you know, we have no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens overseas. We are aware of these reports, and we are currently seeking additional information, but I don’t have any additional information to share and would not be able to at this point, given the privacy considerations.

QUESTION: I just wondered – the Israeli Defense Forces did say today that they have been operating in Khan Younis and have apprehended dozens of suspected militants. If – have there been any cases where American citizens have been accused by the Israelis of being militants involved with Hamas in Gaza?

MR PATEL: I’m not aware and I just wouldn’t want to speculate on such a hypothetical situation. As it relates to the questions that you asked, we are seeking out additional information. Broadly, as it relates to American citizens in Gaza, we continue to be communicative to them through online and through our consular channels for avenues and options for safe departure, specifically through the Rafah crossing, and we’ll continue to have those resources available.

QUESTION: And I believe the same family involved in a lawsuit against the State Department about – regarding this very issue of whether you’ve done enough to help Palestinian Americans who want to evacuate from Gaza, is your understanding that there are still Americans in Gaza who would like to leave who haven’t been able to? And what has stopped you from being able to get them out?

MR PATEL: So let me say a couple things. First, I am just not going to comment on any kind of litigation matter. But since October 7th, we have assisted nearly 1,600 individuals, including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and other eligible family members with entry into Egypt from Gaza at the – from the Rafah border crossing. We will continue to be in close touch and make ourself available to U.S. citizens seeking to depart. We believe that the vast majority of U.S. citizens so far who are seeking assistance have reached out. And our expectation continues to be that we expect the number of American citizens, LPRs, and eligible family members who are able to depart – we expect that number to continue to grow, as long as the crossing remains open.

Again – you’ve heard me say this before – this is not a crossing that the United States of America has any control over. It’s not one of our ports of entry. But we’ll continue to work closely with the Egyptians, the Israelis, and others on the safe departure of foreign nationals.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this, please?

MR PATEL: On the region broadly or on the consular question?

QUESTION: On this, on this issue.

MR PATEL: All right. Go ahead. Then I’ll come to you, Jenny.

QUESTION: Thanks. There’s also a young Palestinian American woman in the West Bank that was arrested by the Israelis. How do you – what mechanism do you use to follow up on these things? Do you do it through the embassy, or you go directly to the – how do you do it? What is the mechanism?

MR PATEL: Well, Said, there are appropriate channels that exist in the respective governments’ foreign ministries to talk about consular issues. I’m not going to get into the specifics of those, but those channels exist. And specifically on the issue that you’ve raised, we are also trying to continue to get more information as we can. We are aware that a U.S. citizen from the West Bank is detained in Israel, and we are in direct contact with the family and Israeli authorities and providing all appropriate consular assistance.

QUESTION: So it is something that is done through the American security coordinator, a military general who’s in the West Bank? Is that how it’s done? I mean, for instance, there was a young man that was shot a couple weeks ago. We don’t know what happened. It seems like you go into some sort of a never neverland. What happened afterward?

MR PATEL: Said, I —

QUESTION: How are you following up with that particular case?

MR PATEL: So on that —

QUESTION: Which we raised here.

MR PATEL: On that specific case, as you heard me say, the investigation into that matter was referred to the INP, and that process continues to be underway. And we hope and expect that that investigation to be conducted expeditiously, and we’re eager to hear and learn of the findings of that circumstance.

Broadly though, Said – I’m not going to speak specifically about one country – when it has made – it has been made to our attention that an American citizen is detained, we work through the appropriate consular channels that exists in the consular conventions that we have with that country to assess information, ask for consular access to that individual, and that continues to be in the case here.

QUESTION: Yeah. I have a couple of follow-ups on Secretary statements.

MR PATEL: Okay. I’m going – is it okay if I come back to you? Because Jenny had her hand up and —

QUESTION: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. I’ve been —

MR PATEL: We’ll – don’t worry, Said. No doubt we’ll get to you.

QUESTION: I understand you’ll come back to me.

QUESTION: Can I get a quick follow-up on Said’s question, though? When do you expect the INP investigation into this person’s case to be wrapped up?

MR PATEL: I don’t have a sense on a timeline.

QUESTION: Have you given them any timeline, that you need answers by X date?

MR PATEL: I’m going to keep those diplomatic conversations private. We – of course, our hope is to have answers and clarity as soon as possible. And like I said, we want this to happen expeditiously, but I don’t have a timeline to prescribe or offer.

QUESTION: Got it. And our understanding is the Secretary was briefed on the Israeli forces’ plans for Rafah. What can you tell us about their intended military operation there? Are you confident that they are going to be able to take steps to protect more than the one million people who have now had to flee to Rafah for safety?

MR PATEL: So specifically on Rafah and on the Secretary’s meetings broadly, I’m not going to get more descriptive than how you heard the Secretary himself describe his engagements with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, over this past week.

But on Rafah, we have seen those reports. We have yet to see any evidence of serious planning for such an operation. And to do – conduct such an operation right now with no planning and little thought in an area where there is sheltering of a million people would be a disaster. And you’ll note that I spoke a little bit about this on Monday: Rafah is also a region that is a key conduit for access of humanitarian aid. The Rafah border crossing is where foreign nationals, including American citizens and LPRs, are able to safely depart.

So this is not something that we’d support, and the Secretary made that clear in his meetings with —

QUESTION: You would not support a military operation in Rafah? Is that what you’re saying?

MR PATEL: And the Secretary made that clear with the prime minister.

QUESTION: Just so I’m understanding your message correctly, the U.S. does not support a military operation in Rafah?

MR PATEL: We would not support the undertaking of something like this without serious and credible planning as it relates to the more than a million people who are sheltering there, as well as without considering the impacts on humanitarian assistance and the safe departure of foreign nationals as well.

QUESTION: And so you say there are – you have not heard any plans for a military operation. Is that what Halevi and other Israeli officials —

MR PATEL: I’m just – I’m not going to —

QUESTION: — relayed to the Secretary yesterday, or is this just based on the public – what – what is being said.

MR PATEL: I am not going to get more specific on the Secretary’s engagements, beyond what you’ve heard him read out in his own press conference yesterday.

QUESTION: And then he also mentioned in this press conference the need for Erez to be open for humanitarian goods. Is that something the Israelis have indicated they are open to, and when might we see that opening?

MR PATEL: I’ll let the Israelis, of course, speak to their own planning and operations. But you’re absolutely right; he did raise that in his press conference, and we think that it could be an important and vital step for continuing to increase the humanitarian aid that flows into Gaza.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up specifically on Rafah?

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: I mean, you’ve talked about without a serious undertaking of how it relates to more than a million people there. Presumably, if they want to carry out a military operation there, that means those people have to be evacuated and moved, but where are they supposed to go? There is nowhere left to go, and they’re not allowing them back to the north. Khan Younis is another center of military action. So just if you could flesh out what that means.

MR PATEL: These are legitimate questions that we believe that the Israelis should answer. I mean, it’s not for us to be prescriptive about these things. But what you so exactly raised is why it is important to be – make sure that these kinds of operations are fully thought out, especially in an area that, like I said, there are more than a million people sheltering, continues to be an important conduit for humanitarian aid, as I’ve said, as well as the safe departure of foreign nationals.

QUESTION: Sorry, let me just – on the same topic.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: It’s 1.4 million. That’s the estimates. It’s a lot of people. And it doesn’t seem to have much military value, so – and I know the Secretary said that October 7th should not – should not be a license to Israel to dehumanize others. I assume he’s talking about this looming catastrophe. So why can’t the administration just issue a very firm statement on Rafah? Because obviously, until most recently, it had no military value, none whatsoever.

MR PATEL: Said, it’s really not —

QUESTION: That’s what the Israelis kept saying.

MR PATEL: It’s really not for me to stand up here and speak to what has military or strategic value or not. What I can just say and reiterate what I just said is that such an operation needs to be conducted with planning and factoring and taking the things into consideration that I laid out, specifically the more than a million people sheltering, the impacts on humanitarian assistance. And we have not seen such kind of planning take place yet, and therefore, as I said, the Secretary made clear that this is not something that we would support.

QUESTION: The Secretary also —

QUESTION: There’s been just so —

QUESTION: Just to follow up —

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: The Secretary also said something akin that we want an irreversible path to Palestinian statehood. What does that mean?

MR PATEL: Said, you have heard —

QUESTION: What does that mean? I mean, can you explain to us in whatever the understanding of this building, what does it mean?

MR PATEL: Said, you have heard the Secretary talk about this quite clearly since October 7th and even before. We believe that there is an avenue and an opportunity here to get us out of this endless cycle of violence, to work towards and make credible progress towards a two-state solution, a Palestinian state. And we believe that that is a key factor in how we look at regional stability and security for the overall region and to get us out of this endless cycle of violence.

We are not – I am not – no one here is being prescriptive about what exactly that policy is. As the Secretary said in Tel Aviv, part of this diplomatic process is engaging in a variety of these ideas and engaging in a lot of these policy proposals.

QUESTION: So is it conceivable to go to the UN Security Council and say – talk – or maybe recognize a Palestinian state although it may not be implemented, let’s say, in the immediate future? Is it conceivable that the United States would not veto it if such a resolution is proposed?

MR PATEL: Said, I’m not going to entertain or get into hypotheticals. You’ve heard us say before that a Palestinian state should be realized through direct negotiations. That’s not a position that has changed. But what the Secretary said was that there are a number of policy options that people may propose as part of that process, and our focus continues to be on the diplomacy needed to bring all of this about – getting ideas, getting proposals from concerned and appropriate regional parties, and putting together a credible and clear plan. That’s part of what the Secretary is doing on his travels to the region.

QUESTION: Is it fair to assume —

MR PATEL: Go ahead, Rosiland.

QUESTION: — that if the Israelis describe to the U.S. why they needed to go into Rafah, what they would be doing in Rafah, what the targets would be, would the U.S. be in support of such a mission? And – echoing what my colleagues have already raised – where would people go? Egypt has already indicated it does not want people coming into the Sinai. It does not want a refugee problem in the Sinai. So two parts.

MR PATEL: Rosiland, I’m just not going to get ahead of a hypothetical or a process here. I’ve seen these reports about a military operation into Rafah. As I said in answering Jenny’s question, we have not seen evidence of serious planning for such an operation. And to do any kind of – such thing right now with no planning and little thought in an area where more than a million people are sheltering, an area that is a key conduit for humanitarian aid entering Gaza, a key conduit for the safe departure of foreign nationals, that would be a disaster. It’s not something that we would support, and the Secretary made that clear to the prime minister.

QUESTION: Yeah, and —

MR PATEL: Leon, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I was wondering, because from this podium you’ve always been very clear that you are not involved in operational planning —

MR PATEL: We are not. We are not.

QUESTION: Yeah, of course. Yes.

MR PATEL: That is – that is absolutely correct.

QUESTION: And they didn’t – they didn’t give you a heads-up with Gaza. They’ve never given you a heads-up really on the operational planning, and you’ve always been very clear that you are not – obviously not involved and not – so now you’re saying you want to see those plans before they do what they do in Rafah?

MR PATEL: That’s not what I’m saying, Leon. What I am saying is that we have not seen evidence of serious planning around this operation. And of course —

QUESTION: Well, what kind of evidence are you waiting for —

MR PATEL: — when it comes to —

QUESTION: — are you expecting?

MR PATEL: We’ve just spent the past, I don’t know, 15 minutes talking about how there are a million people sheltering in this region, how it’s a region that is a key conduit for humanitarian aid and the safe departure for foreign nationals. I’m answering yours and your colleagues’ questions about what our viewpoint would be on this. And so we’ve been pretty clear that we’ve not seen any evidence of any serious planning around this, that we’ve seen these reports and we’ve also reiterated what the Secretary laid out when it came to his concerns, which you saw him address in Tel Aviv as well.

QUESTION: Just quick on the evidence thing, though. So did the IDF and everyone Blinken met with yesterday say we are not going into Rafah?

MR PATEL: I am not going to speak to the specifics of the meetings and engagements that the Secretary has had beyond what we have already wrote out. And he gave a pretty lengthy press conference that your colleagues on the road attended and asked questions in which —

QUESTION: Yeah, we all watched the press conference, but we’re trying to figure out —

MR PATEL: — he spoke to this pretty clearly.

QUESTION: — how you are saying there is no evidence you have seen if he had an entire briefing yesterday with top Israeli officials. Did – yes or no, did they tell him we are not going into Rafah?

MR PATEL: I am just not going to get into the specifics of the engagement that he had on the road.

QUESTION: Yeah, Vedant —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — the Israeli prime minister said yesterday that he directed the army to prepare for an operation in Rafah.

MR PATEL: Again, when I’m saying that we’ve not seen these reports, Michel, what I am speaking about is that – reports around the serious planning for such an operation. And we believe that planning for such an operation should require and – some thought into the more than a million people who are sheltering in the area. It’s also an area that is a key conduit for humanitarian aid and the safe departure of foreign nationals. Conducting an operation without thinking these pieces through is not something we’d support, and the Secretary made that clear to the prime minister.

QUESTION: And what’s your assessment or the department’s assessment for the Secretary’s trip? Was he able to achieve the goals that he set before he went?

MR PATEL: Michel, in all of our travels to the region, we go with some broad goals in mind and broad goals that we hope to continue to push forward: one of those, of course, continues to be doing everything we can to ensure that hostages can come home and that the hostages that are being held and continue to be unaccounted for can be released and come home.

Additionally, we continue to do everything we can to try and push for additional humanitarian assistance to flow into Gaza. That continues to be something the Secretary raised. You saw him talk about how important we feel that Erez be opened for humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza. And additionally we’ll continue to coordinate appropriately with regional parties on two fronts: first, taking every step we can to ensure that this conflict does not expand, does not grow and wade into other parts of the region; and additionally, of course, as Said was talking about, beginning to lay the groundwork and have conversations about a solution here that gets us out of the endless cycle of violence and closer to a two-state solution, which we believe is integral for peace and stability in the region.

QUESTION: Any progress that has been made on any of these points that you – that you already (inaudible)?

MR PATEL: You saw the Secretary lay out a number of these things in his press conference yesterday as it relates to how we are talking to our partners in Israel and other regional interlocutors about humanitarian aid and some of these other issues, and we’ll continue to work at them.

Go ahead, Simon.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on this. You’ve sort of given this warning of it would be a disaster to go into Rafah with no planning. Does the U.S. – the U.S. is the main supporter of Israel in terms of military aid and weapons. Would you do anything if they go ahead and do something that you just said would be a disaster?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to speculate or hypothesize on something, Simon.

QUESTION: And just – just – so more than two months ago, on the same theme, but more than two months ago the administration sort of said – started saying that there have been too many deaths in this conflict. That was when about 15,000 Palestinians had died. And there was a warning that Israel faces strategic defeat if they continue down a path of conflict, which is – which was creating so many civilian deaths and kind of – they were basically losing the longer-term fight through these – this tactic. Now, like, more than two months later, that number of deaths has almost doubled. We’re – I think we’re around 29,000 now. Can you just continue to give these rhetorical warnings without any actual consequences for Israel, or aren’t they just going to continue doing the same thing?

MR PATEL: We continue to believe that the daily toll of this military operation is too high, especially the toll that it is taking on innocent civilians, specifically women and children. And so what we are doing is we’re having very specific conversations with Israel about steps that can be taken that we believe would help alleviate some of that. You saw the Secretary talk about some of those things yesterday – first, of course, opening Erez so that the assistance can flow into northern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to survive under dire conditions. We also believe that steps could and should be taken to expedite the flow of humanitarian assistance from Jordan. There are steps that can be taken to strengthen deconfliction and improve coordination with humanitarian providers. And we also believe that Israel should take any step possible to ensure that the delivery of lifesaving assistance to Gaza is not blocked for any reason by anyone.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on —

MR PATEL: I’ll come back to you. Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on the same region.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: When it comes to retaliation for the killing of three Americans in Jordan, is your objective still deterrence or, as we’re hearing from the opposition officials recently, degrading their capabilities? Has there been any shift on that front?

MR PATEL: Both things can be true, Alex. Of course, my colleagues at the Pentagon, I’m sure, would be happy to talk to you in greater detail about some of the contours of the military operation, but the focus continues to be both: to deter these Iran-backed malign proxy groups from taking dangerous action against our servicemembers while also degrading their capability and their ability to do so down the line. And so both can certainly be true.

QUESTION: Can you please come back to me?

QUESTION: Follow-up?

MR PATEL: Yeah, sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: I’ll come back to you, I promise. (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Thank you. Follow – following up on the civilian deaths in Gaza. There have been some reports in Israeli media suggesting that during their meeting, Blinken told Netanyahu that he will think about thousands of children killed in Gaza all his life. Can you provide any confirmation or clarification on that? And what was the nature of the conversation between Blinken and Netanyahu regarding the civilian deaths in Gaza?

MR PATEL: So I don’t have anything to offer to further characterize the Secretary’s meetings in Israel beyond what you heard him say. What I can just say broadly is that we believe that the civilian death toll in Gaza has been far too high, and the impact that this military operation has had on civilians is far too high, and there continue to be steps, we believe, that can be taken that we believe are a moral and strategic imperative to minimize the impact on civilians. And that’s something we’ll continue to work towards.

QUESTION: So you have been urging Israel to take some steps to minimize civilian harm – and you have been urging them for maybe past four months. And have you determined that Israel has taken any of these steps? And if you determine that Israel is not taking those steps, what will be the consequences?

MR PATEL: Look, I am not going to Monday morning quarterback this – the operation from here or specific incidents that are reported in the media. We believe that there are more steps that can be taken. We also believe that over the course of this conflict, when we have raised the need to take certain steps that we believe will have a positive impact on civilians, our partners in Israel have done so. And so we’ll continue having these very tough and frank conversations.

I’m going to do Guita because she had her hand up, then I’ll come to you, Rosiland. Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. My question is about the CENTCOM attack against the KH member in Baghdad last night. Number one, is there a fixed list of targets, and is the DOS in any way involved in identifying the targets?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to speak to the operational specifics around this operation. What I can say is that the individual killed was a commander of KH, which as you know, is an Iran-aligned militia group and a designated terrorist organization. This commander was directly responsible for planning and participating in attacks on U.S. forces in the region, and we have said that attacks against U.S. and coalition forces by groups who call themselves the Islamic Resistance in Iraq need to stop.

And so if we continue to see threats and attacks from these militia groups, we will respond. We’ll take appropriate steps to hold them accountable.

QUESTION: You just said that the goal is to degrade their capabilities. But they could easily replenish with Iran’s help.

MR PATEL: Again, I’m – the specifics around the operation, I’m happy – I’m sure my colleagues at the Department of Defense would be happy to speak to you about this. But as I said to Alex, our goals can continue to be dual fronted on this.

QUESTION: One more —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: — on this. Politico is reporting that the U.S. intelligence agencies have started – after the October 7th, they started warning about possible attacks on U.S. interests in the Middle East, military and diplomatic facilities. Are you confident that all diplomatic facilities are secure in the region? Because there’s very – when they get to Tower 22, they could easily do, I mean, Baghdad.

MR PATEL: So the safety and security of our facilities, our embassies, our consulates, as well as our American personnel operating there is of the highest priority for the Secretary and for this department. I am just not going to speak to threat assessments or security assessments from here, but it is something that is of the highest priority for the Secretary. And we will take appropriate precautions and steps as the risk circumstances and the threat tolerance changes.

QUESTION: Did you change anything in the U.S. embassy (inaudible) —

MR PATEL: No updates to offer. Rosiland, go ahead.

QUESTION: Let me just ask this very plainly. The U.S., Qatar, Egypt, other interlocutors worked out some kind of deal to try to bring this war to an end. Hamas came back with its concerns. Netanyahu yesterday said: absolutely no way, no how. Where is the space to try to negotiate an end to this war?

MR PATEL: Well, first and foremost, I think it’s important to remember that the negotiations and the specifics and the sensitive conversations around these things are, of course, often best kept to be done in private. But I think the Secretary was pretty clear yesterday that while certainly there were some clear nonstarters in the proposal, that we believe that there is space to continue to pursue negotiations and see if we can get to an agreement, and that’s what the United States will intend to do in hopefully a constructive role.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we have seen this work earlier in the conflict, where we have seen a pause take place, where we saw approximately 100 hostages released, we saw a pause in the conflict which allowed the additional entrance of humanitarian aid into Gaza. So we know that there is a clear track record of this working, and we believe that there continues to be space to pursue and engaged on this.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. trying to temper expectations because, as the war continues, it becomes easier for Netanyahu and for his government to maintain a hard line?

MR PATEL: I don’t think we would be saying that there is a – there is space for some progress here if we were trying to temper expectations. That’s not hyperbole; that’s just legitimately where we believe things to be as it relates to this conversation.

Diyar, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Going back to the – Alex and Guita’s question —

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said that the U.S. goal is to degrade the capabilities of these groups and also to deter these groups. Does that meaning that the U.S. will continue with their attacks on these Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, even if they stop attacks on your personnels in Iraq, in Syria, and elsewhere?

MR PATEL: So I think the important thing to remember is that we are not going to hesitate to defend our people and hold responsible all who harm U.S. personnel at the time and place of our choosing. And as I just said, if we continue to see threats and attacks from these militia groups, we will respond to them and we will hold those responsible to account. What you also have to remember is that absent attacks against U.S. personnel for many of these groups based in Iraq, there certainly would be no reason for these kinds of strikes.

QUESTION: But you are working to degrade their capabilities until – to that end?

MR PATEL: I am not going to speculate or offer a timeline here.

QUESTION: One more question. Two days ago, the Iraqi foreign ministry said that there were a phone call between the Iraqi foreign minister and Secretary Blinken, and they touched two issues: The U.S. strikes in Iraq, which there is a lot of reactions to that, which they see that this is a violation to the Iraqi sovereignty; and also they said that the U.S. sanctions on the Iraqi bank is – there’s no explanation for that. Is there any political reason behind that, or is there any legal issue the U.S. are not giving as details? And I haven’t seen any readout from the State Department for that phone call between Dr. Fuad Hussein and Secretary Blinken.

MR PATEL: So first and foremost, let me just say we fully respect Iraqi sovereignty, and the Iraqi Government itself has rejected attacks on U.S. and coalition advisors by these Iran-aligned militia groups. I don’t have any policy updates for you on our sanctions regime, and I’m happy to check back on a readout between the Secretary and the foreign minister to see if we have any updates there.

QUESTION: My last question, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Do you think that your attacks in Iraq is not violating the Iraqi sovereignty, which they say that?

MR PATEL: We have fully respect for Iraqi sovereignty. And the Iraqi Government itself has rejected these kinds of attacks on U.S. and coalition forces. What these strikes are about —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL: I’m answering his question, Said. What these strikes are about are holding those who attempt to harm – and in some cases have lethally harmed – our personnel and our service members doing important work in the region.

QUESTION: And this is not violation to the Iraqi sovereignty?

MR PATEL: It is – it is not. It is us holding Iran-backed malign groups accountable for their reckless and dangerous behavior.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Yeah, but for the record, Vedant, these guys were not underground. They were not fugitives. They could have – the United States still wields a great deal of influence in Iraq on the government, on the security forces. Why not arrest them instead of resorting to an assassination – assassination, and then compromising Iraqi sovereignty?

MR PATEL: We have urged them, Said. We have urged the Iraqi Government to take appropriate action against these groups who we believe, when they undertake these kinds of actions, they are undermining their own country’s sovereignty and drawing Iraq into a violent conflict.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yes. We learned that Amos Hochstein has been handling Lebanon’s file in all aspects, not just the negotiation to stop the war or expand the war in south of Lebanon – also the presidential file, to maybe the cabinet in the future. Is it because the State Department failed to do so, or why this shift of responsibilities to a special envoy and not for NEA office?

MR PATEL: So the State Department continues to be integrally involved in our engagements around Lebanon as well as making sure that this conflict does not spread further, specifically as it relates to Israel’s northern border. Of course, Senior Advisor Hochstein also plays an integral role, and we – this is a collaborative effort involving a lot of key players across the interagency.

Janne.

QUESTION: Okay, one more question.

MR PATEL: All right.

QUESTION: This ongoing negotiation, maybe it’s direct talk or indirectly between Israel and Hizballah mediated by U.S. – and other European countries helping out – to find a solution, a diplomatic solution, on the border – maybe back up Hizballah forces on the Blue Line and maybe apply 1701 in future. Can you – some reports came out that – soon that we are going to hear a ceasefire at the Lebanese border despite if there is any ceasefire in Gaza. Is it something that you can give us extra information about the ongoing negotiation?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any updates for you on that, but I’m happy to check and see if we have anything to share.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Vedant. Two questions on —

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: — Russia and North Korea. The Russian ambassador to North Korea said that if the United States continues to take provocative actions against North Korea, North Korea will conduct its seventh nuclear test. How would you react to this?

MR PATEL: Well, this kind of rhetoric is just another example of the kind of behavior that we believe to be just incredibly destabilizing, risky, and dangerous. And so we have repeatedly said that the United States does not harbor any hostile intent towards the DPRK. We continue to be willing to engage with Pyongyang without preconditions, and we simultaneously will continue to consult closely with the Republic of Korea and Japan trilaterally, as well as other allies and partners, on how to continue to best engage the DPRK and deter this kind of aggressive behavior.

QUESTION: One more, quick. The New York Times reported that Russia released $12 million in frozen funds from North Korea and allowed North Korea to use its own bank account. How concerned are you about Russia violating UN sanctions?

MR PATEL: Of course it is something that we are deeply concerned about – not just this specific event, but we spend a good amount of time in this briefing room talking about the closening of relations between the DPRK and Russia. There continues to be a clear track record of that, and so it’s something that we’re continuously monitoring. And like I said, we will continue to consult closely with allies and partners on how to best deter this kind of aggressive behavior.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Cindy, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. I have a couple questions on Ukraine. Do you have any reaction to President Zelenskyy firing his army chief?

MR PATEL: That is a sovereign decision for the Government of Ukraine to make, and I will defer to them to speak to that.

QUESTION: Right. And closer to home, with foreign aid at an impasse in Congress, can you talk about the consequences if aid for Ukraine in particular dries up? There have been some assessments that Russia could win the war outright within weeks or months. And is there any way that the Biden administration has to bridge the gap if there’s just a more permanent —

MR PATEL: So let me start with the second part of your question. I think you’ve heard the Secretary say this a number of times before. There is no magic second pot of money. There is no other alternative here when it comes to this, and that’s why you have seen this administration come out strongly for the text of the supplemental funding bill that was made public over this past weekend. There is not another alternative than for Congress doing its job and passing this, and the effects that it could have on our partners – not just on our partners, on Ukraine, but there is – there are broader national security implications of not getting this done.

Of course, part of that conversation continues to be supporting our Ukrainian partners. Passing this will allow us to continue to support them in their effort to protect their sovereignty and to protect their territorial integrity. They’re also – not funding this would severely limit our ability to get humanitarian aid to some of the places where it is needed, including in Ukraine but also in Gaza. Of course, also, it would have dire impacts on our ability to support our Israeli partners as they hold these Hamas terrorists accountable for October 7th. So the consequences are surely cross-cutting, and that is why you’ve heard the Secretary say, in the clearest terms, there is not another alternative here.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, Vedant.

MR PATEL: Sure.

QUESTION: Senate just approved the supplemental – Senate Appropriations – back to Congress, but more broadly speaking, the past few days, Ukraine has been facing assault – increasing assault – from Russia. Given that and also given increasing criticism from allies, most notably today from Polish PM, how concerned are you about the U.S. – the state of – current state of U.S. leadership?

MR PATEL: Well, look, Alex, I think it’s important to not link these two things together. While we will continue to work tirelessly to get the supplemental across the finish line – I think you saw the President speak about this quite clearly earlier in the week – simultaneously, though, Alex, in the various conflicts that are currently taking place around the world, what there continues to be in common is this desire for the United States to continue to play its role as a key diplomatic partner on a lot of these endeavors. Countries around the world are seeking further U.S. engagement in preventing these conflicts from spreading and holding malign actors accountable. And so that is a role we’ll continue to play and we’ll continue to engage. You saw the Secretary do some of this on his travels as it relates to the conflict in Gaza right now.

QUESTION: And on flip side – don’t want to drag you into a Tucker Carlson debate, but given the fact that the Secretary has been on the record urging journalists, American journalists, not to go to Russia, and also GEC came up with the special report just two weeks ago approving – confirming how Russia has been using historically same tools to push its propaganda in the Western capitals, what is the Secretary’s position on this very episode?

MR PATEL: The Secretary really doesn’t have a position on this specific episode. What I will just reiterate, Alex, is that our message to all Americans, not just journalists, is that there is a pretty clear Travel Advisory warning when it comes to Russia. It’s a Level Four. It’s do not travel, and the reasons for why that is our very serious recommendation are pretty clear. And we have seen, just in the past year and a half, American journalists being detained in Russia just for doing their job.

Nike, I know you had your hand up. I’m sorry for breezing past you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Right. First, going back to the Hamas response to the hostage deal, what elements of the response makes the U.S. say that there are room for negotiation? And then is it fair to say that Hamas asked that it will have a governing role in the aftermath of Gaza is a nonstarter?

MR PATEL: I’m just not going to get into the specifics of these conversations and these proposals, as this continues to be something ongoing. But like the Secretary said, we continue to believe that there is space for progress here, and we’ll continue to play a role in moving that forward.

QUESTION: And then separately, on the Pakistan elections, I know you have been asked several times. Now that the elections were held, does the United States have a message to people in – not – sorry. Does the United States have a message to people in Pakistan after their controversial elections?

MR PATEL: Well, first, millions of Pakistanis went to the polls today to vote, and I will reiterate that Pakistan’s future leadership is for the Pakistani people to decide, and our interest continues to be in the democratic process. We strongly condemn all instances of election-related violence, both in the weeks preceding elections as well as those that transpired on election day. These kinds of election-related violence, we believe, affected a broad range of political parties across Pakistan. It impacted polling stations, election officers, as well as the election commission.

And as you heard me say earlier in the week, we are concerned about the restrictions on the exercise of freedom of expression. We are tracking reports of restrictions on internet and cellphone access across Pakistan on polling day. And we, along with the international community, will continue to emphasize the importance of democratic institutions, a free press, a vibrant civil society, and expanded opportunities for political participation of all of Pakistan’s citizens. But I am not going to get ahead of any of the other official election results, so I’m not going to comment on this any further.

QUESTION: How would you characterize the relations – the working relationship between the United States and Pakistan moving forward?

MR PATEL: Look, you heard me say is that – what you heard me say is that when it comes to Pakistan’s leaders, that is for the people of Pakistan to decide. Our interest is in the democratic process, and we are interested in taking the appropriate steps to continue to foster our relationship, our partnership with the Government of Pakistan, whatever it should be.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

QUESTION: On Pakistan?

MR PATEL: Sure. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So following up on Pakistan.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you for taking the question. So far the preliminary results have been Imran Khan’s party, I think at this point, with leading in 136 districts. That’s the three times the next closest one. You’re now seeing reports of Pakistan of two separate things: one, the army is in the streets, the police are in the streets, they’re surrounding polling stations. And you’re seeing a lot of reports and videos of efforts to change the vote. They’re kicking election officials out. There’s a lot of concern that number – 136 – by tomorrow morning in Pakistan could be pushed down lower.

Separately, you’re seeing also surface in Pakistan an attempt by the kind of military-connected officials to take the independents who are associated with PTI and pressure them to join other parties. So even though Imran Khan’s party might win a majority, after torture and bribery, you could have a different government take power.

So you’ve from the podium stood up for free and fair elections, but free and fair elections are one thing. But if you torture your way to a majority after that, that doesn’t quite – that doesn’t quite live up to kind of the values that you are stating from here. So this seems like a pretty pivotal moment —

MR PATEL: Look, Ryan —

QUESTION: — for America and the – and Pakistan’s relationship.

MR PATEL: Look, Ryan, the thing about preliminary results is that they are preliminary. And I am not going to get ahead of any official results, and so I’m not going to comment or speculate further on what a government could look like, what the makeup could be, or anything like that. What I will just —

QUESTION: You’d be okay if —

MR PATEL: What I will just reiterate again is that we condemn all instances of election- related violence, even some of the kinds that you are describing that took place in the weeks preceding the election as well as on election day. We also believe that these kinds of actions have affected a number of political parties across Pakistan, and we’re also concerned about the steps that were taken to restrict freedom of expression, specifically around internet and cellphone use. But again, I’m just not going to —

QUESTION: Thank you. Just real quick —

MR PATEL: — speculate on results or government makeup.

QUESTION: But let’s say the Pakistani people do elect a majority of independents associated with the PTI, but then after a bunch of backroom negotiations, which are accompanied by reports of torture, all of a sudden there’s another candidate that has a majority. Would that be okay with the United States?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to – I’m not going to speculate or hypothesize on —

QUESTION: You can’t say that wouldn’t be okay with the United States?

MR PATEL: I’m not going to hypothesize on a made-up situation that you’re just describing right now. We will at some point – I have no doubt that the United States of America will comment on the election – official election results when they happen, but till then we will defer to the electoral process, which we believe – we take very seriously.

Nick, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?

MR PATEL: Let’s – I’ll come back to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. During the last few days, we have seen a rise in the terrorism in Pakistan.

MR PATEL: Yeah.

QUESTION: A couple of bomb blasts killing security forces and innocent people in Pakistan. Pakistani foreign ministry officials say that they have shared some evidence with the United States and some other foreign countries regarding the involvement of neighboring countries sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan. You have seen reports or what you want to say about that? (Inaudible) of cooperation with Pakistan?

MR PATEL: I don’t have any – I don’t have any comments on that, and I would defer you to the Government of Pakistan to speak further on that.

I’m sorry I missed you earlier. Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: So would the U.S. accept the results of Pakistan election while they’re being tainted by rigging, violence, torture?

MR PATEL: So again, I think I’m starting to sound like a little bit like a broken record on this, but we’re going to continue to monitor the electoral process. We’re not going to get ahead of any official results, and we want to see a process that took place in a way that allowed for broad participation, freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. And there were some clear restrictions of the exercise of freedom that took place – addressed some of those in speaking to Nike and Ryan’s questions, specifically around internet and cellphone use – and those, of course, are concerning. We’ve also seen reports of election-based violence in the weeks leading up to this, as well as on election day. Those continue to be concerning, and those, we believe, have impacted a number of political parties. But again, I’m just not going to get ahead of this, and it is truly up to the people of Pakistan to decide their political future.

QUESTION: Just last question. Some here do think the U.S. has been fairly muted on human rights violations in Pakistan, but the focal point between bilateral talks or the relations between U.S. and Pakistan is the Pakistan military, so it doesn’t really matter what the outcome of the election is because U.S. prefers to deal with the Pakistan military. Is that true? That’s the question.

MR PATEL: I would certainly take issue with that characterization. We are interested in the – first, let me take a step back. The makeup of the Government of Pakistan is up for the Pakistani people to decide. What the United States is interested is in deepening our partnership and cooperation with the Government of Pakistan irregardless of what the makeup of the government is. That is not for us to decide. There are a number of areas which we believe we’ve got some strategic shared priorities, and we look forward to continuing to work in that space.

All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PATEL: Nick, I think we’re going to – that’s all we’ve got time for anyways. Go ahead.

QUESTION: So two questions, then.

MR PATEL: All right.

QUESTION: The first is: The U.S. embassy in Colombia put out a security alert a couple of weeks ago warning about the risk of using dating apps. Apparently eight citizens died between November and December in Medellin after being drugged on dates from dating apps. Are you aware of this issue? Any comment on it, and is it happening in any other countries where Americans are being targeted?

MR PATEL: So I would have to take a look at every single Travel Advisory to see if others are listed as specifically, but what I can just say broadly, Nick, is that when we update our Travel Advisories or when we add specific information to them – in this case dangers around cyber – a cyber presence and online dating – it’s rooted in circumstances on the ground. As you recall, there are instances in which we’ll update our Travel Advisories based on public health guidance, natural disasters, other things that are happening. It’s something that we take very seriously, and so I will just leave it at that. I don’t have any other specific contours to offer on this.

QUESTION: And then a lot lighter topic. More than 100 million people around the world are going to be watching the Super Bowl this Sunday. Wondered if you had any predictions.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

MR PATEL: I will be one of them. I will be one of them. Look, I grew up —

QUESTION: 49ers.

MR PATEL: I grew up in San Jose.

QUESTION: Off the record. Off the record.

MR PATEL: Said – Said said right – I grew up in San Jose, California. Go Niners.

QUESTION: Go Niners.

MR PATEL: So I will be – I will be tuning in.

All right. Thanks, everybody. Have a safe Super Bowl weekend.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR PATEL: I will see you all next week.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:46 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – February 5, 2024

MR PATEL:  Wow, packed house today.  Jeez.  Good afternoon, everybody.  I don’t have anything off the top.  Simon, would you care to kick us off?

QUESTION:  Sure.  The supplemental that came out from the Senate, some senators yesterday, included a line saying that the funding can’t go to the UN agency UNRWA.  And you’ve obviously suspended new aid to UNRWA, but does the administration support sort of putting the language in the legislation so that funding can’t be sent to this agency?

MR PATEL:  So look, broadly as it relates to the draft legislation, I think you saw the statement from the President over the weekend about the overall package and the administration’s support for it.  I am not going to get into sort of the back and forth or the internal deliberations of how we got to what version of the text or not.  

But I think to take a step back, Simon, the United States is pushing for an immediate and serious investigation into the allegations at UNRWA.  We’ve been talking about those for a couple of weeks now.  As you know, the United Nations has already launched an investigation.  The secretary general this morning just announced an independent review led by former French Foreign Minister Colonna on UNRWA policies and procedures with recommendations.  All of those things will be under review, I imagine.

From the U.S.’s perspective, we want to see concrete results for these approaches.  And meanwhile, we’re going to continue to consult closely with other donors on how to continue to meet urgent humanitarian needs in Gaza.  We also simultaneously – as you heard Matt talk about, we of course want to be able to continue supporting the important work that is happening in Gaza and the region, and we are looking at what options exist for supporting civilians in Gaza through partners like the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and other NGOs.

When it comes to the supplemental, all of this of course is public information.  The bill includes $10 billion in humanitarian assistance that the President requested.  That 10 billion is for global needs, including those impacted by the war in Ukraine as well as the conflict in Gaza.  Of that 10 billion, we expect 1.4 billion to be planned for Gaza.  This is tangible money that we believe will save lives and have a direct impact on Palestinian civilians.  And we will redirect funding for UNRWA to other partners to provide assistance in Gaza, some of those examples I gave – the World Food Programme, UNICEF, and other NGOs.  

This is a process we’re going to continue to work through with appropriate regional interlocutors and other donor countries as well.

QUESTION:  In terms of the importance of UNRWA itself, yeah, you can divert aid through other agencies.  But do you accept that doing so potentially – if UNRWA, as officials in UNRWA are saying, is really short of money and potentially unable to continue its operations, that’s going to reduce the impact of any other money you send to Gaza in other ways, right, in terms of — 

MR PATEL:  We have not been naïve about how critical we think UNRWA is both in Gaza but also the regional broadly, and the critical work that they do to aid and get aid to Palestinian civilians.  And that’s why this is something, one, as it relates to the allegations we took so seriously and appreciate the seriousness at which the United Nations is taking this; and two, as it relates to the supplemental, we believe that we can continue to do important work through other NGOs and other partners, and simultaneously we’ll continue to have conversations with donor countries about supporting UNRWA and ways that they can continue doing their important work in the region.

QUESTION:  And just to clarify, you referenced this new independent – the assessment that’s going to happen, the review of UNRWA.  Does – is the U.S. going to wait until the outcome of that?  That seems like that might take you a little – quite a while before you make a decision on renewing the UNRWA funding.  

MR PATEL:  I don’t have – I’m not going to preview a timeline from here.  I think we just want to at first see a process play out, and then we’ll go from there and take it step by step.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on that?

MR PATEL:  Sure, Said.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  I mean, let’s face it.  UNRWA is a political issue.  It’s being pushed by pro-Israelis and spin and think tanks that actually sprung for this purpose, because they believe that cutting off aid to Palestinian refugees will simply liquidate the Palestinian issue, that the right of return that the Palestinians hang on would just simply disappear.  So I want to ask you:  Is the United States of America committed to continued funding of UNRWA?

MR PATEL:  Well, Said, that the – (sound).  Whoa, I wonder what that was.  

Said, obviously there is text in this pending legislation that would preclude us from doing so.  We are an administration that follows the law.  That being said, in this pending legislation there is $10 billion for humanitarian assistance, of which 1.4 billion is for humanitarian aid for Gaza.  This is an issue we take very seriously.  

We also believe, even prior to this conversation about the supplemental, we have, as I told Simon, been unambiguous, in my opinion, about the critical work that UNRWA does, not just in Gaza but in other parts of the region as well.  We think that the work they do is critical.  They are an important vehicle for getting humanitarian aid to those who need it.  And we’re going to continue to work with donor countries and UNRWA, as well as – as they work through this investigation and work through this internal matter that they’re dealing with, but also broadly to ensure that the Palestinian civilians that rely on this kind of work are able to get it.  

QUESTION:  Can I have a follow-up?

QUESTION: This whole investigation seems to have been launched because there’s allegedly 12 members of those who attacked on October 7th who are actually working with UNRWA – out of an employee population of 13,000.  

MR PATEL:  Said, it doesn’t matter — 

QUESTION:  13 – no, I’m – but — 

MR PATEL:  It doesn’t matter if it’s two or 12.  

QUESTION:  That’s fine. 

MR PATEL:  People participating in terrorism — 

QUESTION:  Right.  That’s fine.  

MR PATEL:  — in a terrorist attack in which 1,200 individuals were murdered is unacceptable to us.  

QUESTION:  The point – the point — 

MR PATEL:  And that is why we’ve called for these investigations.  

QUESTION:  I understand.  I understand your point.  

MR PATEL:  And we’ve called for – we’ve temporarily put UNRWA funding on pause.  But we also have said how important this issue is, and we want to see it worked through because we know how vital their work is.  

QUESTION:  So how are you responding to Lazzarini and Guterres, who stated very clearly that UNRWA has funding only till the end of this month – only till the end of this month, which is a very short month?  

MR PATEL:  Well, that is why it is our hope that this internal investigation and review is done so expeditiously and done so as quickly as possible so that there is – as Matt has spoken to previously, there is obligated funding that the United States had not transferred yet.  Simultaneously, we’re going to continue to work with donor countries to ensure that they can continue supporting UNRWA so this work can continue.  

QUESTION:  So lastly on this point, so what would be satisfactory to you in terms of how this investigation – where does it – where is it leading to, or where should it lead to?  

MR PATEL:  Said, we’ve spoken to this — 

QUESTION:  Arresting these people – arresting 12 people and so on, and that would be – we put the page behind us and that – is that — 

MR PATEL:  There of course needs to be accountability.  We’ve spoken to this before.  It’s not for us to be prescriptive here.  We of course are going to look at the assessments made from this internal investigation and go from there.  One, we of course want to see accountability.  We want to see steps taken and measures implemented so something like this can’t happen again.  And we want to see just an internal review of policies and procedures to double make sure that something like this isn’t repeated.  

QUESTION:  And on UNRWA, we heard that the Israeli minister of defense just issued a threat or whatever you want to call it just a few minutes ago that they are going into Rafah.  You have any comment on that?  You have any comment on what might happen next in Rafah, where you have such a concentration of those who have been displaced?  

MR PATEL:  So Said, I’ve not seen those comments.  And certainly, I’m not going to comment or opine on every military strategy or tactic that we hear discussed or floated or is reported on, as it relates to the Israelis conducting this operation.  What I will just say is that we have been pretty clear that Rafah is an important conduit for the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.  It is an important conduit for foreign nationals, including American citizens and LPRs, to be able to safely leave Gaza.  It is also – it is also somewhere where more than a million people are sheltering.  And so we of course would want any operation to be – being conducted in that in that region to take that into mind.  But of course I am not going to opine on it more specifically than that.

Let me go to Leon.  Nadia, I’ll come to you right after that.  Leon, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  I just wanted to come back to the UNRWA issue.  I mean, obviously I think the – well, the legislation doesn’t look like it’s going to go anywhere.  But aside from that, the administration has approved language to prohibit funding of UNRWA.  So I don’t know – how do you reconcile saying on the one hand that it’s doing a critical job, which you have said publicly, on the other – also saying that you’re checking with other donors, basically washing your hands financially of it and leaving it to other donors.  How do you reconcile that and accepting the language to prohibit funding, when you had announced a month ago or a couple of weeks ago that you were suspending funding?  

MR PATEL:  Well, Leon, in the American system Congress is a co-equal and a separate branch of government, and all of these things are discussions, negotiations, deliberations.  Again, as I said to Simon, I’m not going to get into the specifics of how we got to the text that we got.  I’m sure our colleagues at the White House might be happy to walk you through some of that.  But we’re not the only ones that have a say here.  

And so when it comes to using the dollar of the American taxpayer and where it goes and the things that it funds and the things that it supports, it is not only up to the Executive Branch.  And so these are conversations that we have and policies that we move forward in close coordination with our partners in Congress.  I would point you no further than the transcripts of the past I don’t know how many daily press briefings, where myself, Matt, Secretary Blinken, have talked about the vital role that UNRWA plays in the region.  And that is incredibly indicative of this administration’s point of view when it comes to their work. 

QUESTION:  Precisely.

MR PATEL:  Now the text of this legislation is – where it landed is, of course, a deliberation with Congress.  And so simultaneously we’re going to take steps to ensure that aid can flow through other appropriate partners who do work in the region like the World Food Programme, like UNICEF, like other NGOs.  And we’ll continue to have this conversation not just with Congress but with donor countries as well.

And we also – I think it’s important to take a step back.  We also still need to see UNRWA work through its own investigation and work through its process before the United States is ready to unpause the funding that we have put on pause.  This is still very much an active process.  We have – while we certainly welcome the developments that are coming from the United Nations and UNRWA, we’re not ready to announce or share any change in policy at this time.

Nadia, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Vedant.  Two questions.  Since the ICJ ruling on January 26th which clearly called on Israel to avoid civilian casualties, 900 Palestinians have been killed, including women and children.  So is Israel heeding the message that you sent to them in terms of the casualties?  And what kind of, like, pressure are you putting on them trying to avoid – I mean, 900 in 10 days is a huge number. 

MR PATEL:  Any number above zero, Nadia, is heartbreaking.  We strongly believe that far too many civilians have lost their lives in this conflict.  Not just far too many civilians; far too many women and children have lost their lives over the course of this conflict.  And so at every step and at every turn, we will continue to make clear with the Israelis that international humanitarian law needs to be respected, steps need to be taken to minimize civilian casualties, additional steps need to be taken to minimize civilian casualties.  And I have no doubt that these are the very kinds of things you are going to hear Secretary Blinken raise with his counterparts on his travels in the region right now.

QUESTION:  Okay.  You were alarmed by the settlers’ violence in the West Bank, to the degree that you put sanction on them.  Are you equally alarmed and disturbed by the Israeli army torture of Palestinians?  There is emerging pictures that’s horrifying.  I am sure you’ve seen this picture, but one of them is basically an Israeli soldier – and this is what we know of through the social media.  You must have seen this picture.  This soldier has been identified as his name is Yosee Gamzoo, and he is from the Nahal Brigade.  This is an – this is a clear violation of international law, of the Geneva Convention, et cetera.  

So just equally as much as the violence of the settlers, this is the violence of an Israeli soldier.  This is an Israeli army that’s an allied of the United States.  Are this is acceptable to you?  And what do you do to hold these people accountable?  This is what we know from the social media.  This – the guy himself published this picture.  Imagine the things that we don’t know.

MR PATEL:  Thanks – thanks for your question, Nadia.  So first, as it relates to our sanctions, you’re absolutely right.  Peace, stability, and security in the West Bank is of utmost importance to us, and those participating in activities or actions that detract from that, that make the West Bank more destabilizing and risk the security situation, that is of course of great concern to us, and that’s why you saw the United States take appropriate action last week.

In relation to the image that you shared, I’ve not seen that image specifically.  But obviously, it is – it’s deeply troubling.  I have no knowledge or information as it relates to the circumstances surrounding that incident, and I will leave it to the IDF to speak to those specific situations.  But we have been clear to them that the respect for basic human rights, the respect for humanitarian law needs to be respected.  And those who do not comply with that need to be held accountable.

QUESTION:  Vedant.  

QUESTION:  So if I share this information with you, would you raise it with the Israelis?  

MR PATEL:  We —

QUESTION:  I’m happy to share it with you. 

MR PATEL:  I’m not going to – I’m not going to get into specific situations here, Nadia.  This is not a operation that the United States is conducting.  But when it comes to the impact on civilians, the treatment of civilians, the things that we see – not just in social media but elsewhere in our conversations with people on the ground, in our assessments with things on the ground – we raise those issues with the Israelis, and we’ll continue to do so.  

QUESTION:  Can I just follow up —   

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

QUESTION:  — on sanctions? 

MR PATEL:  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  You’ve sanctioned these four individuals.  The ideological leadership of these individuals and of all of those people to harness – basically who want the forcible expulsion of Palestinians sit at the highest levels of the Israeli Government: the finance minister, the national security minister.  There’s a fundamental contradiction, isn’t there, in your policy, because you’re sanctioning the followers, but you’re backing the leaders?

MR PATEL:  We don’t back any leader, or don’t back the leader of any government.  That’s not our approach to this.  This is an Israeli Government that we are working with.  And the makeup of any cabinet and any government is a sovereign decision for that government to do.  That’s not something that the United States has a say or a sway in.  And when we have seen rhetoric from some of these ministers, from some of these individuals that make up this cabinet, when we see rhetoric from any member of this particular Israeli cabinet that we think is not just a distraction but an incitement or something that brings us further away from a two-state solution or brings us further away from peace and stability in the region, we’ve not hesitated to say so.

QUESTION:  But it’s not – it’s not just rhetoric, because arms transfers go, for example, to the Israeli border police.  That is a department controlled by the national security minister.  Those border forces operate in East Jerusalem, in the West Bank often – rights groups will say – hand-in-glove with these people that are smashing up Palestinian property.  So there is an arms transfer to the very department, funded by the U.S. taxpayer, of one of these leaders in terms of the national security minister who controls the border police.  

MR PATEL:  And with every transfer of any U.S. asset, we, of course, have been clear that any end user needs to comply with humanitarian law, and those who are not should be held accountable.

QUESTION:  But are you checking that in each case? 

MR PATEL:  We are having —   

QUESTION:  You’re being —  

MR PATEL:  We – there are a number of vectors and lines of work that lead into the work we do to assess situations and circumstances on the ground to make sure that basic humanitarian rights are being protected and followed. 

Willy, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Thanks, Vedant.  Appreciate it. 

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  I was just wondering, Secretary Blinken’s trip to the region comes on the heels of the French foreign – the new French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné.  I was wondering if there was any sort of coordination between the two countries? 

MR PATEL:  Well, look, the French, of course, have been incredible partners, not just as it relates to this conflict but much when it comes to the United States’s approach to a number of other areas.  I don’t have any specific engagements or meetings to read out, but throughout all of this you have seen the Secretary engage quite regularly and with partner countries, allies, as it relates to the broader situation.  And that’s something that we’re going to continue to do.  

Janne, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Vedant.  Two questions. 

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  North Korea launched cruise missiles four times this year at three days’ intervals.  Isn’t North Korea cruise missile launch a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions?  Is there any response from the U.S. itself?

MR PATEL:  These kinds of actions by the DPRK are deeply destabilizing, and they are unhelpful and they contribute to greater risk in – and risk in the region.  And so we’ll continue to coordinate closely trilaterally with the ROK and Japan when it comes to pushing back on some of these malign and destabilizing actions.  

QUESTION:  On Russia, the Russian ministry of foreign affairs defended North Korea and criticized the South Korea, saying the South Korean Government had biased reporting on North Korea’s nuclear preemptive strikes.  And Russia denied North Korea and Russians’ trade and warned South Korea about such report.  How can you comment on —

MR PATEL:  Well, Janne, I’m not aware of this specific report that you’re mentioning, but what we do know is that there is a deepening relationship between the DPRK and Russia.  We have seen that.  We’ve seen that over the past many months, including the transfer of munitions from the DPRK to Russia.  And we believe that these kinds of actions and activities are deeply concerning and destabilizing.  And we’ll continue to work in close coordination to fend off against those.

Jenny has had her hand up patiently, and then we’ll make sure to get to the room. 

QUESTION:  Thanks, Vedant.

MR PATEL:  Go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Prime Minister Netanyahu said earlier today that he will not end his offensive in Gaza until the leadership of Hamas is destroyed.  He said this could take months.  We’ve seen this timeline shift over and over and over again.  I just wonder what the U.S.’s comment is on the prospect of this taking many more months.

MR PATEL:  Our hope and one of the things that the Secretary is continuing to work towards and work on is ending this conflict as soon as we can.  There is a convergence amongst all of us in wanting to see that happen, including many and all in the Israeli system, and we’ll continue to work in close coordination with them to that goal. 

QUESTION:  So it would be acceptable to the U.S. if this continues for months longer?

MR PATEL:  I’m not going to prescribe – I’m not going to prescribe a timeline and I’m not saying that any prescription of a timeline would be acceptable to us or not.  What I am saying is that we’re going to continue to work with the Israelis to end this conflict as soon as possible, and over the course of its duration, continue to push for the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza, continue to work tirelessly so that the hostages can be released, and continuing to allow for conditions so that foreign nationals who may be interested in departing Gaza can doing – can do so while simultaneously working towards some kind of longer-term solution here that gets us out of a endless cycle of violence.  You’ve heard the Secretary talk about that before, and we continue to feel strongly that a two-state solution is that solution forward. 

QUESTION:  And you spoke a little earlier to the importance of Rafah.  Do you have any updates on the amount of aid getting in — 

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  — the number of Americans who are leaving through that passage? 

MR PATEL:  I have a couple of things.  So first, since October 7th, the State Department has assisted nearly 600 individuals, including U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, and their family members with entry to Egypt from Gaza at the Rafah border crossing.  We feel that the vast majority of U.S. citizens who are seeking our assistance have reached out to us already, yet – but we’ll continue to engage appropriately through consular channels to any American citizen who might be interested in departing. 

On some of the metrics on the humanitarian questions that you raised, on February 4th, 207 trucks with food, medicine, and other supplies entered the Gaza Strip through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings.  As of February 4th, more than 10,500 trucks with humanitarian aid entered Gaza since October 21st.  Again, you’ve heard me say this before:  This, of course, is not nearly enough, but we’re continuing to work with regional actors, including the Government of Israel and the Government of Egypt, to do what we can to increase flow, and that’s one of the things I expect the Secretary will continue to press on in his travels.

Nick. 

QUESTION:  A couple of China-related questions. 

MR PATEL:  Can I see if anybody else has anything else in the region — 

QUESTION:  Yeah, absolutely. 

MR PATEL:  — before I come back to you? 

QUESTION:  Following Jenny’s?

MR PATEL:  Okay, go ahead.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Following Jenny’s, you said that you’re helping – you believe all the American citizens have reached out already.  At one point the embassy and the Americans were helping non-U.S. citizen Gazans who worked for U.S. media or U.S. NGOs, et cetera, and you stopped that.  Is there a reason that you stopped that, and any chance of restarting it? 

MR PATEL:  Look, our priority in these circumstances, of course, are American citizens, legal permanent residents, and their eligible family members.  But I’m happy to look into if there’s anything around that circumstance that we can share.  Happy to follow back up with you. 

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on that? 

MR PATEL:  On the region? 

QUESTION:  Yes, on the region. 

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MR PATEL:  Okay.  All right, hold on, everybody.  We’ll get to you.  

Guita.  

QUESTION:  Thank you, Vedant.  You just referenced the two-state solution.  The Secretary has been following that up during his trips.  The Islamic Republic of Iran says that they also want peace and security in the region.  They want a country for the Palestinians.  How do you see this claim by them?  Is there common ground here? 

MR PATEL:  If the Iranian regime is interested in peace and stability, they could stop being the world’s largest exporter of terrorism.  That would be a great starting point.  

Alex. 

QUESTION:  To follow up on that — 

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  — what can you tell us about the impact of the weekend strikes, particularly about the – there’s a growing criticism that if the aim is to stop Iran, then why going after two other nations instead of Iran while simultaneously saying that you are not seeking to expand these tensions in the region? 

MR PATEL:  Alex, it is of course about holding these Iran-aligned malign proxy groups accountable.  And so what these strikes were on Friday, you saw the United States conduct strikes on more than 85 locations at 75 facilities in Iraq and Syria.  Three were in Iraq and four were in Syria, and these locations were used by the IRGC and affiliated militias to attack U.S. forces.  These locations were carefully selected, and there is clear and irrefutable evidence that the facilities targeted were used by groups and individuals directly involved in the attacks on the Americans.  They included command and control centers, rocket, missile, and drone storage facilities, and other things of that nature and which we have credible information to believe that they were directly involved in the attacks on American personnel. 

QUESTION:  Follow-up to — 

QUESTION:  Can you just come back to me on Russia later? 

MR PATEL:  Okay. 

QUESTION:  Related follow-on to that? 

MR PATEL:  Okay.  

QUESTION:  Follow-up. 

MR PATEL:  Diyar, and then I’ll come to you, Guita.  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Vedant.  On the same topic.

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  The Iraqi Government says that we have been not informed by the U.S. Government, but after the attack I was attending the press call by John Kirby and he said we did inform the Iraqi Government.  So have you informed the Iraqi Government prior to the attacks? 

MR PATEL:  So Iraq, like every country in the region, understood that there would be a response after the deaths of our soldiers.  As for the specific response on Friday, there was not a pre-notification.  We informed the Iraqis immediately after the strikes occurred. 

QUESTION:  All right.  And one follow-up.  And how do you see the Iraqi reaction to that attack?  They summoned your chargé d’affaires, the U.S. embassy chargé d’affaires, and also they said this is an attack on the Iraqi Security Forces and on the civilian residential buildings and citizens.  Then how do you see that reaction? 

MR PATEL:  So let me say a couple of things.  First, our colleagues at the Pentagon are continuing to do their battle damage assessment.  But again, these targets were carefully selected, and as I said, they included command and control centers; rocket, missile, drone storage facilities.  We believe that these were credible targets and picked in a way to minimize and avoid civilian casualties.  I’ve seen some of those allegations; allegations of casualties among Iraqi Security Forces because of these strikes on these terrorist-operated facilities are concerning.  It would mean that these rogue Iran-aligned militia groups are working in proximity to official Iraqi Security Forces.  But again, these battle damage assessments are still ongoing and I don’t have anything conclusive to offer from up here, and I’m sure my colleagues at the Pentagon would be able to speak more to that. 

Go ahead, Guita. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Reportedly there’s – there has been another drone attack on a U.S. base in Syria today.  There have been no U.S. casualties reported yet, but six or seven Kurdish fighters have been reportedly killed.  Now, the retaliation against the Islamic Republic of Iran is in relation to killing of American troops.  What about allies?  Would the administration take any action when it comes to killing of allies? 

MR PATEL:  I’m certainly not going to preview any actions from up here.  But look, we believe that all of these kinds of activities are dangerous, they’re reckless, they’re incredibly destabilizing, and they are unsafe.  And so we’ll take appropriate steps to hold those accountable.  I don’t have any assessment to offer on this specific circumstance, but I think you heard National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan pretty clearly this weekend talk about how these initial strikes were – would be just the start.  So – but again, I’m not going to preview anything from here.  

Michel, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Vedant —

QUESTION:  Yeah —

MR PATEL:  I’m going to work the room a little bit, Guita, because a lot of people have their hands up.  Michel, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Yeah, on Iraq, do you have any comments on the assassination of Naji al-Kaabi, one of the Asaib Ahl al-Haq leader, in Iraq?  And reports say that the U.S. was involved in this assassination.  Can you confirm that? 

MR PATEL:  I don’t have anything to offer on that.  I’m happy to look at that.  I don’t believe it to be true, Michel, but I will double-check. 

QUESTION:  And do you have any reaction to the drone attack on a base housing U.S. troops in eastern Syria that killed six SDF fighters?  And do you consider this attack an attack on the U.S.? 

MR PATEL:  I think Guita just asked that question right before. 

QUESTION:  But do you consider it as an attack on the U.S., or you’re not —

MR PATEL:  Michel, again, these kinds of actions are incredibly destabilizing, they are unsafe, they are – increase risk and they put civilians, servicemembers, including servicemembers of other partner forces, in harm’s way.  And so we will take appropriate action, but I don’t have anything to preview from up here. 

QUESTION:  And what about the timing of this attack? 

MR PATEL:  I don’t – I’m not going to speculate on the timing. 

I’m going to go back to Nick, who’s patiently been waiting. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thanks very much.  

MR PATEL:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  A couple of China questions.  A report last night bringing some renewed attention to the fact that Chinese nationals are the largest-growing ethnic group trying to illegally cross the southern border.  A major driver of that is because of the scaleback of visas issued to Chinese nationals.  What can you say about bilateral discussions and increasing those visa numbers? 

And then separately, there are reports that students, Chinese students with legal visas, have been getting harassed and interrogated at airports coming back from the holidays, and some not being admitted.  And the PRC ambassador called it absolutely unacceptable.  Have you had any discussions with PRC counterparts about this or any comment? 

MR PATEL:  Let me say a couple things.  I think, Nick, for – on both of those questions, I think the operational and technical details of that would be better answered by our colleagues at the Department of Homeland Security.  

On the People’s Republic of China broadly, look, people-to-people ties continues to be a topic of discussion in our continued bilateral engagements, and candidly, it’s an area where we believe there is opportunity for shared cooperation.  I believe the number – and someone will have to fact-check me on this – we have about 300,000 Chinese students studying in the United States.  And so there is of course opportunity for greater collaboration and cooperation in these spaces. 

As it relates to visas, our visa process is quite rigorous and quite solid, and of course we’re not going to – it is done so – without speaking to anybody’s specific visa circumstance, the process is adjudicated in the utmost strict, rigorous, and legal manner, and so don’t really have anything else to offer on that. 

Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Two questions, India-related.

MR PATEL:  Sure. 

QUESTION:  One, Assistant Secretaries of State for South and Central Asia Donald Lu was in India and Maldives last week.  I wanted to check with you – do you have a readout of his trip to Maldives?  And what is the U.S. assessment of the situation in Maldives right now?

MR PATEL:  I don’t have any readout from here but let me check with the team and see if we can get back to you on that.

QUESTION:  And second question:  A day after the State Department notified the Congress about a decision to sell MQ-9B drones to India, Senator Ben Cardin, chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, issued a statement saying that he had long negotiations with the State Department on that issue.  Can you give us a sense what his main concerns were, and have all these concerns been addressed?

MR PATEL:  I’m not going to characterize Senator Cardin’s comments.  I would refer you to our colleagues at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to speak to that.  But what I can say is that this sale, we believe, will provide India with an enhanced maritime security and maritime domain awareness capability.  It offers India outright ownership of these aircraft, and this is something that we’ll continue to deepen our cooperation with our Indian partners on.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you.

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Just a few days, sir, remain in the Pakistani elections.  There is a question mark on the fairness of the electoral process as former prime minister and a popular leader Imran Khan behind bars, not even allowed to contest elections.  His political party symbol, a cricket bat, is also banned.  United States always stood up for the democratic values and freedom of speech.  What is your take on the scenario?

MR PATEL:  We’re continuing to monitor Pakistan’s electoral process quite closely, and as we have said, we want to see that process take place in a way that facilitates broad participation with respect for freedom of expression, assembly, and associations.  We have concerns of the – all incidents of violence and restrictions on media freedom; freedom of expression, including internet freedom; and peaceful and – peaceful assembly and association.  We’re concerned by some of the infringements that we’ve seen in that space.  Pakistanis deserve to exercise their fundamental right to choose their future leaders through free and fair elections without fear, violence, or intimidation, and it is ultimately for the people of Pakistan to decide their political future.

Go ahead.  Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  The UN secretary-general is convening a conference this month to discuss about international and regional approach to Afghanistan.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Meanwhile Taliban have refused to work with the new UN envoy in Afghanistan.  Do you support this initiative?  And what the U.S. is doing to support the role of the new UN envoy for Afghanistan?

MR PATEL:  Look, we believe it is important to be very clear about our State Department position is that we have no near-term plans to return any diplomatic functions to Kabul.  We engage with many Afghans, including the Taliban, both inside and outside the country, but human rights and the return to school for women and girls are at the forefront of our engagement.  And working with our allies and partners – which, of course, the UN is a key partner – we’ll continue to press the Taliban to reverse these discriminatory edicts, particularly those that disproportionately affect women and girls and those that we believe will affect any normalization of relations.  And it’s contingent on the respect for the rights of all Afghans.

Go ahead, in the back.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  On Russia, last week Russia presented evidence that Ukraine used a Patriot missile system to shoot down a Russian plane with 65 Ukrainian prisoners of war on board.  Are you aware of this?  Are you going to look into this incident and ask questions – Ukrainian partners?

MR PATEL:  Is it the same level of credible evidence that makes Russia claim that they have Crimea or that all the territory that they took from Ukraine is theirs?

QUESTION:  So you don’t believe Russian claims that —

MR PATEL:  No, I’m just following up with a question, is if it’s the same level of credible evidence that the Russians have showed when it comes to their track record on telling the truth about other things.

QUESTION:  Russia published pictures of the Patriot missile system.

MR PATEL:  As it relates to the specific incident that you’re referring to, I will let our partners in Ukraine speak to that.  But when it comes to credible information coming from Russia, they don’t really have a lot of legs to stand on given their immense track record of disinformation, not just in the region but also broadly.

QUESTION:  One more question.

MR PATEL:  Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION:  So the United Nations secretary-general today condemned another Ukrainian attack that killed 28 people the other day, including one child.  An American-made HIMARS rocket was used for this attack.  Are you aware of this?  Are you planning to condemn it or anything else?

MR PATEL:  I’ve seen those reports.  But again, given the track record that Russia has, we have no way of independently verifying that information, so – go ahead.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.

MR PATEL:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Every day, the United States emphasized the necessity of protecting civilians in Gaza and ensuring they receive their necessity stuff.  However, the commitment does not seem to translate in action, especially after United States suspended funding UNRWA based on suspicions only.  This situation raised questions —

MR PATEL:  It wasn’t based on suspicions.  I just want to be very clear.  There were credible allegations, so – I don’t mean to interrupt you, but I think – I take issue with the premise of your question.

QUESTION:  Even few member —

MR PATEL:  It doesn’t – as I said to Said, it doesn’t matter if it’s two or 12.  We think any participation in terrorism is incredibly troubling and problematic.  It needs to be held accountable, and that’s why we were glad to see UNRWA take these steps to internally investigate into what happened.

QUESTION:  Isn’t United States truly – and I couldn’t imagine incapable to provide people with their necessary stuff, their essential needs, and to protect them.  Every day until now civilian bomb, the majority of them children; yesterday, today, before.  And also I have friends and cousins in Gaza; they don’t have – there is huge shortage.  They don’t have their essential needs.  I can’t imagine that United States incapable to do that —

MR PATEL:  So —

QUESTION:  — if it seriously or sincerely wants to help civilian people in Gaza.  

MR PATEL:  — since October 7th, we have been unambiguous about the importance of getting increased, regular flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza.  And candidly, it is because of American diplomacy that we have been able to see aid trucks flow into Gaza helping the Palestinian people.  And as I was telling Jenny, on February 4th, 207 trucks with food, medicine, and other supplies entered Gaza.  We are looking at a total of 10,500 trucks since October 21st.  I’m not at all saying that this is enough, by any means.  We need more and we will always continue to push for more.  But this is at the forefront of the Secretary’s mind, it’s at the forefront of our mind, and we continue to believe that UNRWA does vital, integral, and important work in the region.  And that is why we’re going to continue to engage closely with donor countries, but also we look forward to seeing UNRWA work through its – this investigation, through the UN as well.

QUESTION:  Look, my second question is:  What human rights violation will Israel commit before America stop funding the IDF?  Everything is targeting in Gaza, even the dead people.

MR PATEL:  I spoke a little bit to this when answering Jenny’s question.  We believe that every possible step needs to be taken to minimize civilian casualties.  That’s something we’ll continue to press the Israeli Government, and we continue to believe that when international humanitarian law isn’t complied with that there needs to be accountability.

Jackson, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Vedant.  What’s your reaction to Speaker Johnson and House GOP leadership saying the supplemental is dead on arrival in the House?  What message does it send to the rest of the world?

And Buckingham Palace just announced that King Charles has been diagnosed with cancer.  Any reaction to this news surrounding his majesty?

MR PATEL:  I just – I didn’t see that report before coming out.  So certainly first and foremost, our thoughts are with the king.  That’s really – with the king and his family.  That’s incredibly sad news, and hope that – actually, that’s just – that’s very sad, and I’m very sorry for the king and his family.

On your first question, I think to quote Secretary Blinken, there is no magic pot of money.  There is no alternative path here.  This funding is critical not just – it’s funding for a number of areas.  It’s – it’s critical for continuing to support Ukraine as it fights for its sovereignty and territorial integrity against Russia.  It is critical to our partners in Israel as they continue to work to hold the Hamas terrorists accountable for these October 7th terrorist attacks.  And as I said a little bit at the beginning, it is critical to humanitarian aid that we believe is needed in all corners of the world, including those impacted by the war in Ukraine as well as the conflict that’s ongoing in Gaza as well.

So we’ll continue to work with our partners in Congress.  We believe that it’s necessary.  And as the Secretary said, there is no – there is no magic pot of money.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Vedant.  Two quick question, if I may.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  May I know the – may I know the status of implementing visa restrictions under 3C visa policy for those who undermining elections, given the concern that the recent election in Bangladesh did not reflect the will of the people of Bangladesh?

MR PATEL:  So I don’t have any updates or changes to offer when it comes to policy.  My understanding is that these policies don’t sunset just because the election is over, but I don’t have any updates to offer.

QUESTION:  Still that policies exist?

MR PATEL:  That is – yes.  There is no change in policy.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  One more on the ruling regime in Bangladesh has filed a fresh corruption charge against Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus.  The government is restricting his ability to travel abroad through another court order.  A coalition of 243 global leaders, including 125 Nobel laureates, expresses concern over the judicial harassment of Professor Muhammad Yunus; 12 bipartisan U.S. senators, led by Senator Dick Durbin, call for an halt to all harassment.  How does the State Department view the prime minister political vendetta against Professor Muhammad Yunus?

MR PATEL:  Look, we share concerns voiced by other international observers that these cases may represent a misuse of Bangladesh’s labor laws to – as a way to intimidate Doctor Yunus.  And our hope is that we would encourage the Bangladeshi Government to ensure a fair and transparent legal process for Doctor Yunus as the appeals process continues.

Alex.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Vedant.  Do you have anything on this debate in Hungarian parliament about Sweden’s NATO bid?  Orban’s MPs didn’t show up.  What do you think why Orban is doing what he is doing?

MR PATEL:  Hungary is the last NATO Ally to ratify NATO’s membership, and we are glad that Hungary’s parliament held that session today.  At the same time, we are disappointed that the ruling party blocked the opportunity for a vote by boycotting the session.  Hungary has said that it supports Sweden’s NATO accession, and it has also said that Sweden has fulfilled its commitments and is ready to become a NATO Ally.  We believe the matter of Sweden’s NATO accession has been settled, and our hope is that we can work through this final process expeditiously.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  And going back to Russia, if I may — 

MR PATEL:  Uh-huh.

QUESTION:  Putin is expected to visit NATO member Türkiye next week, and according to Turkish officials President Erdogan is planning to focus on a new way, quote/unquote, to allow Ukrainian grain exports through the Black Sea.  What is the department’s view on the trip and the topic?

MR PATEL:  So first, I will leave it to our Turkish partners to speak to their own engagements and their own foreign policy.  If any country is able to play a meaningful role in stopping Russia from some of its malign behavior, we certainly would welcome it.  

And then the topic of Ukrainian grain, Alex – you know, as someone who has followed this the whole time, that Türkiye was instrumental in the – in getting the Black Sea Grain Initiative accomplished when it was in existence, and so we continue to feel that it’s critical that Ukrainian grain get to the places that it needs to go.  And if there is credible progress that can be made in that space, it certainly would be a welcome one.

Ryan, you had your hand up.  

QUESTION:  One more question on — 

MR PATEL:  I’m going to work the room, Alex.  You’ve gotten a couple questions already.  

Ryan, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Quick question on sanctions.  When you guys implemented sanctions on Yemen, you announced kind of extraordinary carveouts to make sure that you didn’t exacerbate the humanitarian crisis there.  When you warned that Venezuela may soon be getting hit with sanctions on its oil industry, there was no kind of – there was no application of those same carveouts.  That includes the recent sanctions that were applied to Venezuela.

So if the goal is to make sure the humanitarian situation doesn’t deteriorate in any country, why not make the carveouts from Yemen kind of universal to sanctions applications?

MR PATEL:  So I’d have to check the technical specifics, Ryan.  But just broadly speaking, when it come to our approach to sanctions, export controls, things like that, we have been very clear to try and leave carveouts so that humanitarian aid, lifesaving aid, is not impeded.  That’s just not the case in Yemen – it’s also the case in Russia, other places as well.  But I am happy to check into the technical specifics of this circumstance and see what we might have to offer on this?

Jalil, and then let’s close it out.  Or – then we’ll come back to Simon, then we’ll wrap.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much, Vedant.

MR PATEL:  A quick one, my friend.

QUESTION:  A little different interesting question for you.  Today – today AFP reported that ElevenLab created this voiceover of President Biden, and today Wall Street has reported that a Twitter big financer is a LSD and some other drugs user.  So as big social media platforms are playing a big role in the electioneering in the U.S. and internationally, how difficult is it making your job, this whole social media influencing and the money that is spent there behind promoting and downplaying leaders?  And the same thing just happened with President Biden just recently, so how is the State Department handling this whole issue?

MR PATEL:  So as it relates to your second question, I really don’t have any comment for you.  But look, when it comes to social media, especially the dis- and misinformation that can exist on social media in foreign countries, that of course is something of grave concern to us.  And that is exactly why we have the Global Engagement Center.  It’s something Special Envoy Rubin is immensely focused on.  Under Secretary Liz Allen is working immensely on this as well.  And we have a number of lines of efforts across the department, including through the Secretary, in which we’re working to combat mis- and disinformation in places around the world.

Simon.  

QUESTION:  Just one follow-up, please.  

MR PATEL:  All right.

QUESTION:  Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu had an interview with French TV and he made this two comments.  I see that the U.S. and Israel of course are very close partners.  He made these two comments.  One was that this is a battle of civilization.  Doesn’t this sound very extremist from a leader like — 

MR PATEL:  I’ve not seen the prime minister’s interview, and I will leave it to his office to clarify his comments.

Simon, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah, I want to ask about events in Senegal.

MR PATEL:  Sure.

QUESTION:  Do you have any response to the events that happened over the weekend there?  And I wonder, and more broadly, the Secretary just came back from a trip to that region.  I know the U.S. has been pretty concerned about the sort of spate of both coups and undemocratic things.  Do you classify this as a coup, as I think some people have?  And how does this speak to your broader strategy for that region when countries kind of keep going down this path?

MR PATEL:  Sure.  So first, we are deeply concerned about the situation in Senegal and are closely monitoring developments.  Senegal has a strong tradition of democracy and peaceful transitions of power.  And while we acknowledge allegations of irregularities, we are concerned about the disruption of the presidential election calendar, and we urge all participants in Senegal’s political process to engage in – peacefully, to engage peacefully in the important effort to hold free, fair, and timely elections.  We also call on Senegalese authorities to restore internet access immediately and to respect freedom of expression, including for members of the press.  

I will also just add, since you asked, Simon, in terms of how the U.S. supports the Senegalese people’s commitment to democracy in a number of ways, we’ve got lines of effort through technical and financial support as well as working directly with election authorities and civil society.  

QUESTION:  And too early to say whether – whether it’s a coup or not?  

MR PATEL:  I don’t have any assessment to offer for you on that.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.) 

MR PATEL:  All right, thanks, everybody.  Thanks, everybody.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  

(The briefing was concluded at 1:44 p.m.)

# # #

Department Press Briefing – February 1, 2024

2:05 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: I wanted to wait for you to get —

QUESTION: Sorry.

MR MILLER: I wanted to wait for you to get —

QUESTION: I won’t – I just —

MR MILLER: I would like to blame the uncomfortable pause for my waiting for you, but in fact I was just trying to pull up my opening comments.

QUESTION: Apologize for being – for being late. I had to take a call.

MR MILLER: It’s quite all right.

QUESTION: But I will defer.

MR MILLER: Well, good because I have something to start with.

President Biden and Secretary Blinken have been clear that the levels of violence we have seen in the West Bank over the past few months are unacceptable. Violence in the West Bank surged to alarming levels in 2023. This includes unprecedented levels of violence by Israeli extremist settlers targeting Palestinians and their property, as well as violence by Palestinian extremist militants against Israeli civilians.

Earlier today, the President issued a new executive order establishing U.S. authority to impose financial sanctions against foreign persons engaged in actions that threaten the peace, security, or stability of the West Bank. Under the authority granted by that order, the State Department is today imposing financial sanctions on four Israeli nationals for their destabilizing acts in the West Bank.

Today’s action follows on the step we took in December to impose visa restrictions on dozens of individuals for contributing to violence and instability in the West Bank. There is no justification for extremist violence against civilians, whatever their national origin, ethnicity, or religion.

The President and the Secretary have both raised our concerns with their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts about the level of violence in the West Bank and stressed that Israel must do more to stop violence against civilians and hold accountable those responsible for it. We continue to make clear that expectation to the Government of Israel, and as we do, the United States will also continue to take actions to advance the safety, security, and dignity of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Matt.

QUESTION: So – well, I said I would defer, but actually now I won’t.

MR MILLER: No, I thought you meant you were deferring to me, not deferring to a colleague.

QUESTION: No, no, no, I was going to defer to colleagues.

MR MILLER: I was even more surprised. That’s even more surprising.

QUESTION: But just – but just on this, I mean, do you have any indication that any of these four people have any assets that could actually be targeted?

MR MILLER: So I will defer to the Treasury Department to speak to the specific flow of assets. But I will say that when we impose financial sanctions of this nature it is not just a question of assets that can be frozen. It’s also a question of transactions that individuals and organizations take that may flow through or in some way interact with the U.S. financial system, which, as you know, a good deal of transactions that take place all over the world tend to do.

QUESTION: Yes, I do because I was just on the phone with a bank. (Laughter.) Not about this.

MR MILLER: Fair enough.

QUESTION: But yes. So, but – so you do think it will have an actual impact on these people?

MR MILLER: We do think it will have an impact on these four individuals, and our expectation is that the activities we have taken both raising this with the Government of Israel and making clear our expectation that they do more to hold accountable those responsible for settler violence. The visa restrictions that we imposed in December and the actions we imposed today will all have an impact, and we remain willing to impose additional actions if necessary.

QUESTION: Okay, and then last one. Just the four today, and are they also hit with the travel ban, the visa restrictions?

MR MILLER: We – so we are not – we have the same – we’re back to the place we were before with the travel ban, which is we are not by law allowed to announce the impositions of visa restrictions.

QUESTION: Well, how many people have been affected by both the – your order in December on the travel ban and today.

MR MILLER: So dozens of the visa restrictions – and I can’t give you —

QUESTION: Dozens is —

MR MILLER: Dozens. Dozens. I can’t get any more specific than that. And then four —

QUESTION: Three dozen? Four dozen?

MR MILLER: Dozens. And then four, four individuals today.

QUESTION: So —

MR MILLER: Dozens plus four. Try to try that math.

QUESTION: Dozens plus four. So it could be 28?

MR MILLER: It’s dozens. I can’t get any more specific than that.

QUESTION: So Matt, while this is one of the most significant actions by the administration, I’m wondering – a lot of people point out that many of these settlers do have U.S. citizenship. So I wonder what tools, if any, does the United States have if it wants to take actions against these settlers with U.S. citizenship.

MR MILLER: So I would say that the first responsibility here for policing destabilizing action, for policing violence in the West Bank, is with the Government of Israel, and the Government of Israel that is on the ground that we have been very clear needs to do more to arrest extremist settlers engaged in violence and prosecute extremist settlers engaged in violence, and that we have made that clear to them.

We have seen them take some additional steps since we began these interventions, both the Secretary in his trips to the region and the President in his various phone calls with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

That’s the first – like, the first line of responsibility is with the Israeli Government, and we continue to hope that they will do more. But then we are willing and, as we have shown through our actions both with the visa bans and the actions we take today, committed to taking further actions within our ability to police settler violence, extremist settler violence, and we’ll continue to take additional steps as necessary. But I don’t have anything else to preview.

QUESTION: And when you say we’re willing to take further action, do you mean against Israeli settlers with dual citizenship, or just U.S. citizenship? Do you mean the —

MR MILLER: I just don’t have any further actions to preview today. But we think it’s important that extremist settler violence be – that those involved in it be held accountable for their actions, whatever their citizenship.

QUESTION: Okay. And there is also another criticism out there, that this reduces the problem just to individuals, whereas there seems to be a targeted institutionalized effort to expand the settlements in the West Bank. You guys have been raising this issue with the Israelis for a while. But I mean, how do you go about solving that problem, really? Because I mean – and again, attached to that I want to ask: What exact answer is the Secretary and U.S. officials in this building are getting from Israeli Government when they raise this issue? It’s – because it’s clear that you don’t seem to be satisfied with the actions that they’re taking.

MR MILLER: So what – without betraying too much of our private diplomatic conversations, I will say we have had some very frank conversations with them about extremist settler violence. And that includes some very detailed conversations where we have presented cases to the Israeli Government, cases of settler violence that – where we have seen reports, and where we have seen documented settler violence, and asked them to take action. And we have seen them take some action. And so we’ve engaged in a back and forth with them, both at the – at the Secretary’s level and through our embassy.

What we have seen – and I should say we have seen since those interventions over the past month, six weeks, two months, we have seen the level of extremist settler violence come down somewhat. Not come down enough; we want to see more. But the interventions that we’ve made have, we believe, made a difference. But we want to see it continue to come down, which is why we have taken the actions today.

With respect to your questions about settlements, we have made clear that we think the expansion of settlements in the West Bank undermine peace, undermine stability, threaten an ultimate – the ultimate establishment of a Palestinian – independent Palestinian state, make it more difficult. And so we will continue to engage with the Israeli Government on that matter as well.

QUESTION: Could I follow up?

QUESTION: Just a follow-up.

MR MILLER: Let me go to Shaun first. Let me go to Shaun first, and I’ll come back.

QUESTION: Just a – just on the Israeli response to this. You’ve probably seen Netanyahu’s office is saying, hey, look, Israel – I mean, I’m paraphrasing – Israel has laws, we punish people who break the law; we don’t need the U.S. to do this. What’s – is there a response to that? I mean, is that – is – why haven’t they done it, then? Is that – I mean, is there a – do you think that’s a valid argument in itself?

MR MILLER: So they do have laws against violence, obviously, and we have seen them, as I said, take some steps to rein in settler violence. But we don’t think those steps have been sufficient, which is why you’ve seen us take a series of actions, starting in December and continuing with the President’s executive order and the sanctions we imposed today.

QUESTION: Sure. I have some peripherally related, but if you want to, please.

MR MILLER: Yeah. Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: I just want to clarify the point that Humeyra raised on both regarding your citizens, U.S. citizens. If they have, like, assets and properties and so on, could they – or is that a Justice Department issue? Could they be seized or frozen, something like this?

MR MILLER: This executive order is targeted at foreign persons.

QUESTION: Okay. All right. And on the issue of the settlements, you have – obviously, you have leveraged sanctioning the settlers, extremist settlers, and so on. But you are not leveraging the settlement expansions, and so on. So I know Humeyra asked, but I didn’t really quite understand what you tried to say.

MR MILLER: My answer was that we have been quite clear that we oppose —

QUESTION: Right.

MR MILLER: — the expansion of settlements. We believe that they undermine prospects for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, they threaten peace and security and stability in the West Bank, and we have made that clear with the Government of Israel. We’ll continue to make it clear with them.

QUESTION: Is that including efforts to reverse some of the settlement – the illegal settlements back?

MR MILLER: We have made clear that we oppose the expansion of settlements. Obviously, the issue of settlements has been a topic of dispute for some time, something that we have said needs to be resolved in final negotiations over the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. But we oppose the expansion of settlements.

QUESTION: I have a couple more, but – if I may.

MR MILLER: Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. One, have you – have you heard about the H.R. 6679 that was passed today in the House?

MR MILLER: I have.

QUESTION: About restricting visas of Hamas but also the PLO. I mean, the PLO is someone that you interlocute with. They have come – they have – they come to New York. They come to other places, and so on. How is that going to affect them? Why is that?

MR MILLER: Well, it’s not —

QUESTION: And of course, with the congressional approval —

MR MILLER: Right now it has no effect, because it’s draft legislation. We don’t have – we – I don’t have any comment on a draft legislation.

QUESTION: All right. Okay, that’s fine. On – just a couple more things. The chief of – the chiefs of WHO, UNICEF, and several other organizations, NGOs —

MR MILLER: The chief of who? Sorry.

QUESTION: They —

MR MILLER: Bad – you’re old enough to – you’re old enough to remember.

QUESTION: “Who’s on first?”

MR MILLER: You’re old enough to get the joke. The WHO, I think you mean? Yeah. Right. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Yeah. WHO. Okay.

MR MILLER: I thought first, “Who’s on first?” Yeah, who’s on second?

QUESTION: Yeah, who’s on second. Exactly.

QUESTION: What’s on second.

QUESTION: What’s on second. All right.

QUESTION: I don’t know is on third.

QUESTION: We know that one. Okay, all right.

MR MILLER: There are a lot of people in this room who have no idea what we’re talking about right now. (Laughter.) Sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Us old-timers know it.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: So the chiefs of these organizations have warned that suspending financial aid is going to result in a total disaster. I mean, there are reports about just looming famine and so on, and I know I asked about this yesterday, but it seems to have gained more urgency, especially that Lazzarini said that without the aid they can operate – they cannot possibly operate beyond the end of this month.

MR MILLER: So I don’t really have anything to add to what I said yesterday, which is that, number one, there is an urgent humanitarian crisis in Gaza. It’s why – it’s what has animated all of the efforts from the Secretary and others in the U.S. Government to try to get humanitarian assistance in. Number two, UNRWA plays a critical role. You have heard us say that dating back to before Friday when these allegations were announced publicly and we temporarily paused our aid. You’ve seen us say it since then. And number three, that is why we think it is so important that the United Nations conduct a prompt, thorough investigation to make sure that there is accountability and make sure that any reforms that need to be instituted are put in place. It is, as I said yesterday, precisely because the need is so dire that it’s important that the United Nations conduct a prompt and thorough investigation.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you one thing on this?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: The – related to the conflict. The Qataris today are saying that they had, I think the phrase they used is “initial positive confirmation” from Hamas about the proposal that CIA Chief Burns has been involved in regarding a temporary truce for the hostage release. Do you have any latest assessment about where things are going and whether there’s any more optimism about this?

MR MILLER: I just don’t think I should offer any – either an assessment from this podium or a kind of detailed play-by-play of the back and forth, other than to say that as you heard the Secretary say earlier this week, we think the proposal that was on the table was a strong, constructive one, and for now I should leave it at that.

QUESTION: Maybe not a detailed play-by-play but a general play-by-play. Have there been calls or anything —

MR MILLER: Neither a detailed nor a general play-by-play, I don’t think, would be helpful for me to offer from here.

QUESTION: Matt, the Secretary met with some Palestinian Americans today for a roundtable. A number of people have said they refused the invitation in protest of the administration’s policies toward Gaza. Do you have any comment?

MR MILLER: So the Secretary did meet today with a number of leaders of the Palestinian American community. It was the latest in a series of meetings that the Secretary has had with individuals and organizations both within the department and from outside the department that hold a wide range of views across the ideological and political spectrum, and he has held these meetings because he thinks it’s important to hear directly from individuals, as I said, both inside the State Department and outside the State Department. He finds that process to be constructive. It informs his thinking. It helps him, he believes, shape policy in the best way possible, and he’ll continue to hold such meetings.

QUESTION: Has it shaped policy – any of these meetings, though? I mean, we haven’t really seen —

MR MILLER: I can say that every interaction that we have enters into the Secretary’s thinking and enters into other policymakers’ thinking in the administration. That doesn’t mean, obviously, that we agree with every person that we meet with. It doesn’t mean that we expect them to agree with everything that we say. Of course that’s not true. But we find the give and take valuable and yes, it very much does inform his thinking and informs the decisions that he makes.

QUESTION: Can you say how many people attended the roundtable today?

MR MILLER: I don’t. The meeting was ongoing when I came down here for the podium, so I don’t have a detailed readout.

Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. A couple questions, as we will not see you next couple of days. Can you speak to the EU’s today’s decision of a 50 billions package to Ukraine, its significance, and how much do you think it should hold a mirror up to the U.S. Congress?

MR MILLER: So we welcome the continued support of our European allies and partners for Ukraine as it depends – defends itself from Russia’s aggression. And I would say, as you have heard multiple people from inside the administration say, it is important that the U.S. Congress act as soon as possible to advance our national security interests by helping Ukraine defend itself and secure its future.

And I think the decision by the EU today just highlights something that you have heard the Secretary say over and over again, which is it is not just the United States that is supporting Ukraine; it is a broad coalition of allies and partners in Europe and around the world who are doing so. And in fact, when you look at the financial contribution that has been made to support Ukraine, the European nations have contributed more. The United States has contributed somewhere around $75 billion in assistance. The European nations collectively have contributed around $110 billion. So this is very much a collective effort, and we believe it is in the national security interests of the United States that the Congress do its part and step up and pass the supplemental request that the President has put forward.

QUESTION: Thank you. And separately, staying on the region, Russia today has extended its detention of RFE/RL reporter Alsu Kurmasheva. Firstly, your reaction to it. And secondly, some European countries sent their representatives to the – to the processing. Why weren’t the Americans in the room?

MR MILLER: So we are aware of the extension of her detention in Russia. We remain deeply concerned about this matter. We have no higher priority than the safety and security of U.S. citizens.

And I will say with respect to – with respect to her detention, or her hearing today, because of Russian Government-imposed staffing and travel restrictions, Embassy Moscow was unable to attend the hearing in Kazan where she is being held. We continue to see consular access to Ms. Kurmasheva and insist that Russia allow consistent, timely consular access to all U.S. citizens.

And I will say because – although we were not able to attend the hearing because of these Russian Government-imposed staffing and travel restrictions, we are in close touch with her legal team about the matter.

QUESTION: Thank you. A final one on Azerbaijan. Yesterday, I asked you about the snap elections in Azerbaijan. The OSCE overnight came up with its initial report, highlighted some concerns, particularly the candidates previously supporting the current president. Where are you standing on this?

MR MILLER: I just don’t have any comment on the internal elections inside Azerbaijan.

QUESTION: Is that because it’s not significant enough or is that because —

MR MILLER: I’m sorry? I just don’t have any comment on it.

QUESTION: Are you also aware —

QUESTION: Can we go back —

QUESTION: Are you also following the events in Georgia? The prime minister stepped down and got replaced – actually is being replaced with another ruling party leader. What are you – what’s your reading about that?

MR MILLER: So we’re obviously aware of the formation of a new government and the discussions coming up in parliament. Our embassy works closely with the Georgian Government, and we look forward to continuing that relationship.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Abbie.

QUESTION: I just had one follow-up on the line of questioning earlier with Humeyra about the individuals who had been sanctioned earlier today. Senior administration officials had said some of those individuals had already been prosecuted under the Israeli system. How many of the four had already been prosecuted?

MR MILLER: Three of those four had been prosecuted; one had not.

QUESTION: So actions had already been taken. Are – did you feel that those actions didn’t go far enough that the Israelis took?

MR MILLER: We thought it was appropriate to take additional U.S. Government action, and we will continue to monitor the levels of extremist settler violence and will not hesitate to take additional actions as necessary.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR MILLER: Sorry, Michel. I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: No, no.

MR MILLER: Yeah. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. My question is about U.S.-India diplomacy or diplomatic relations between the two countries. India’s top diplomat to the U.S., Ambassador Taranjit Singh Sandhu – he’s ending his tenure today after almost four years, or one of the longest-serving U.S. – India’s diplomat to Washington. What he said, that he had been thanking the State Department, the media, and also people of the United States for cooperating with him in his tenure in Washington. During the last few weeks at the farewells, he said that diplomatic relations between the two countries have gone up between President Biden and Prime Minister Modi.

But also at the same time, because when he arrived in Washington, the very next month COVID started and he was stuck two years in the embassy or the in the residence. But at that time, thousands of students and Indians were stuck in Washington because colleges, universities, and schools were closed, and with the help of the State Department and – he was able to send them back to India a while earlier. My question is that – also he met with the Secretary of State also quite a few times, and he was also, of course, instrumental bringing Prime Minister Modi last year in June in Washington, and finally G20 visits also he – so where his general stance as far as State Department’s concerned or Secretary of State is concerned? Where do we go, where we stand today, after – well, he’s leaving today – Washington.

MR MILLER: So I would say that our partnership with India is one of most consequential relationships. We work closely with India on our most vital priorities. We have had a close working relationship with the ambassador, have been able to work with him on a number of those shared priorities, including the crucial role India plays in ensuring a free, open Indo-Pacific that is connected, prosperous, secure, and resilient. We wish him well in his future endeavors and look forward to welcoming his replacement.

QUESTION: And finally, do ambassadors play different role, different ambassadors, when they come to Washington here? Let’s say many other Indian diplomats were here, ambassadors, and many will be coming back or new will be coming back and replacing him.

MR MILLER: So I think every ambassador approaches their tenure differently, both inside countries from ambassador to ambassador and, in my experience, among different countries represented here in Washington.

QUESTION: And finally – sorry.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Finally, how do you put relations between Secretary of State Blinken and India’s defense – foreign minister Dr. Jaishankar?

MR MILLER: They have a close working relationship, where they are able to engage on some of our most urgent and important priorities. Obviously the Secretary has traveled to India to meet with the foreign minister on a number of occasions. He’s welcomed him here, he’s met with him in New York on the margins of the UN General Assembly, and we look forward to continuing to work with him.

Michel.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, sir.

QUESTION: Mali military authority has ended the 2015 peace deal with Tuareg separatist rebels due to other signatories not sticking to their commitments and hostile acts by chief mediator, Algeria, as they said. Do you have any comment on that?

MR MILLER: So we regret the transition government’s withdrawal from the Algiers Accord, which if fully implemented would have provided more stability for all Malians and the whole region. We remain concerned by the resumption of hostilities and the risk of returning to civil war among the signatory armed groups to the Algiers Accord and the transition government, including its Wagner Group partners.

QUESTION: And Algerian media points finger to – or at Morocco for Mali’s withdrawal from the peace agreement. Do you think that Morocco played any role in this regard?

MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to comment on that, other than to say that we do believe that the withdrawal from the accord was unfortunate, and we regret that the transition government made that decision.

QUESTION: And no role that Morocco has played?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any comment on that.

QUESTION: Thanks.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Africa?

MR MILLER: Sure. Yeah.

QUESTION: Kenya. I know the meeting I believe is this afternoon —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — as – but the Secretary meeting the – Kenya’s top diplomat about Haiti, obviously. I know there was a statement that was issued over the weekend, but is the U.S. still hopeful that Kenya can lead this mission in Haiti, or is there a look now for a plan B? It’s been well over a year since the U.S. started talking about this.

MR MILLER: We are still hopeful. Obviously we saw the decision by the Kenyan Supreme Court last week. We noted that the executive branch in Kenya declared that they would appeal that ruling. We will be watching that matter closely. We do think that the multinational force is important to go forward as soon as possible. We continue to work with international partners, both Kenya and other international partners, about funding for that multinational police force and want to see it implemented as soon as possible.

Go ahead. Start over here.

QUESTION: Thank you. Going back to Gaza, the UN Secretary-General Guterres today warned that the humanitarian system in Gaza is collapsing, saying that everyone is hungry and 1.7 million have been displaced. Do you have anything on that, any updates on your efforts to address the humanitarian situation and hunger in Gaza?

MR MILLER: So we continue to work to try to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance in, and I think one of the ways I would address that is so the – we have seen a number of problems, right, with delivering humanitarian assistance to – actually not just into Gaza but to the people in Gaza, and chief among those problems is not just the ability to get aid into Gaza but then to actually deliver it to the people who need it inside Gaza because of the intense nature of fighting in an ongoing conflict.

So what we saw during the last humanitarian pause, the one that was implemented in late November, was a surge in humanitarian assistance into Gaza and an increase in the distribution of that humanitarian assistance once it got inside Gaza for the reasons I just articulated. So one of the reasons we think another hostage – another pause would be so important is not just to secure the release of the hostages who are still being held by Hamas, but also because it would enable the sustained increase in distribution of humanitarian assistance. So I think what we – we would say that we have pursued this pause intensively, and we have made clear it’s a priority of the United States. Other countries in the region have made clear it’s a priority for all of these same reasons, and we are hopeful that – and it’s why we hope that Hamas, which continues to hold hostages and continues to hide behind human shields and continues to take activities that makes it so difficult to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza – we hope that they will agree to a pause.

QUESTION: And do you have any updates on the possibility of another pause in Gaza?

MR MILLER: I don’t. As I said earlier to I think it was Shaun’s question, I just don’t think it’s productive for me to give a play-by-play about what are intense private negotiations from here.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. After the attack on – in Jordan, the Iraqi Government took some steps, and they mentioned these groups – to put statements and suspend their attacks. So as you are seeking to retaliate and responding these groups, especially KH in Iraq, how do you get engaged with the Iraqi Government? How do you notify the Iraqi Government that you are responding these groups who were responsible for the attack in Jordan?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to any one particular communication with the Government of Iraq, but we have made clear to the Government of Iraq for months, going well back – well before this attack over the weekend – that we wanted to see the Government of Iraq do more to police attacks on our forces, to hold accountable those responsible for attacks on our forces, and that if – that we would not hesitate to take action to defend ourselves. And that continues to be our message to the Government of Iraq. It was our message before the horrific attacks of last weekend; it will continue to be our message.

QUESTION: For the last attacks, the Iraqi Government put statements and they condemned your attacks on the militia groups inside Iraq, and so they said this is a violation to the Iraqi sovereignty. As you have a good relations with the Iraqi Government, is there any concern that if you do another attack in Iraqi land or – that will make the Iraqi Government upset of you and something like that?

MR MILLER: So I am not going to – it’s difficult to answer that question without commenting on the location, let alone the timing, of future attacks, which I am not – or future responses that the United States might take, which I am not going to do, as we consistently have not done from this podium. But as a general matter, we have made quite clear to the Iraqi Government, as I’ve just said before, that we will not hesitate to defend U.S. forces. We have taken action to defend U.S. forces inside Iraq. That is – it is our responsibility to do so, and we will continue to do that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Recently the House Foreign Affairs Committee was holding a meeting on the former Afghan security forces and the U.S. allies in Afghanistan who left behind by the Biden administration. They are killing and torturing systematically by Taliban. What does the Biden administration is doing to protect them, the U.S. – the former U.S. allies in Afghanistan?

MR MILLER: So again, I am – I was not following that hearing. I’m not familiar with all the testimony that’s given that – so I’m reluctant to comment in detail, but we continue to call on the Taliban to take steps to gain international legitimacy, to stop the crackdown on the legitimate expression by its own people, and that’s what we’ve done and what we’ll continue to do.

QUESTION: What about —

MR MILLER: One more and then I’ve got to go —

QUESTION: More than two years have passed since collapse of Taliban by – collapse of Kabul by Taliban, but based on the CNN report, more than 80,000 SIV cases are still pending. Don’t you think by considering the situation in Afghanistan, the U.S. Biden administration should be accelerate those cases?

MR MILLER: We have been working very hard to accelerate those cases and work through the backlog, and we’ll continue to do so.

All the way in the back, because I’ve – I apologize yesterday for missing you, so let me make sure I get to you today.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have three quick questions, the first one related to —

MR MILLER: I didn’t say you get three questions. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: One for today and – one for today, two for yesterday.

MR MILLER: Fair enough. I did miss you yesterday.

QUESTION: Yeah, okay. The first question is, like, related – Russia and Ukraine. President Putin suggested creating a buffer zone – demilitarized, like, buffer zone between Russia and Ukraine. Do you support this idea or not? And this is the first question, if you support – if you support a buffer zone, demilitarized, between Russia and Ukraine.

MR MILLER: So I’m struggling to understand how a demilitarized zone between Russia and Ukraine would be implemented when Russian forces are currently inside Ukraine. Kind of tough to have a demilitarized zone when Russian forces continue to operate on the Ukrainian side of the border and have made – and President Putin has made clear over and over again that he has not changed his aims to conquer and subjugate Ukraine.

So as to – so I think if the – if Russia really wanted to show interest in a demilitarized zone, the thing they could do is start by demilitarizing the parts of Ukraine where there are currently Russian forces.

QUESTION: Okay. So a second question: Do you accept any roles for China or Russia, and specifically China, in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? As we saw, like, China played roles between Saudi Arabia and Iran; they looked like a peacemaker in the area, like they don’t have any criticizing toward the bias. You have a lot of criticizing that you are – have a bias toward Israel, providing them military aid, supporting their back in the United Nations, et cetera. So do you accept any roles for China, Russia, like, for playing any peacemaking roles between Palestinian and the Israelis or not?

Last question: What —

MR MILLER: Yeah, well, let me just – let me do that one first. Let me take them – and let me take them in order. So with respect to China, we have made quite clear, including in direct conversations between the – Secretary Blinken and his Chinese counterpart, that we would welcome constructive Chinese engagement in the region, both to urge de-escalation – China has a number of relationships with countries in the region where we think they could use those relationships to a positive end – and if it wanted to play a constructive role in helping resolve the ongoing conflict and ensuring lasting peace and stability, that is very much something we would welcome.

With – as it pertains to Russia, we have not seen Russia really play a stabilizing role in the Middle East. In fact, if you look at Russia’s actions in Syria, it has played a destabilizing role, so I think it’s very hard to contemplate Russia playing anything of a constructive role in helping to end this conflict.

QUESTION: Okay, last question.

MR MILLER: Last question.

QUESTION: Yeah, last question. Do you think that it’s a tangible goal that you can really destroy Hamas 100 percent even as a military militia or as a political party in Palestine? Because now it’s like over three months, almost four months, and according to The Wall Street Journal and many other mainstream medias, Hamas is still strong, like, by 70 or 80 percent. Or we are going to see, like, Taliban scenario, like strong statements about terrorist group, blah, blah, blah, and then see you or Israel sitting in the same table and Qatar sign a deal?

MR MILLER: Sure. Let me – I got the – I got it. So there are – we do believe there are military objectives pertaining to the defeat of Hamas that can be accomplished, and you have seen Israel accomplish some of those objectives. They have taken out a number of Hamas leaders. They have dismantled, through their military actions, a number of Hamas battalions. There are other objectives that they have not yet met. But just as a strict military —

QUESTION: How long – how long can they stay?

MR MILLER: Let me – let me finish. Just as a strict military matter, there are objectives that can be met. But – and you have heard the Secretary speak to this – we also have to put forward a better idea as a political question to speak directly to the Palestinian people, and – that there is a better idea than the terrorism and death and destruction that Hamas offers. And that very much has to be part of what the United States Government and other countries in the region and Israel are putting forward. And as you have heard us say, we believe that ultimately the better idea is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that gives answer to the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people —

QUESTION: Demilarized? Demilarized, like independent states?

MR MILLER: I don’t – I just don’t have any comment on that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So going back to the package adopted today by the EU, that was a financial support package. Meanwhile, some lawmakers at the Capitol Hill are pushing to remove at least some of the financial aid from the supplemental. Do you think – do you still think this is vital to adopt the economic aid part of the package? And I have another one, somewhat relatedly, maybe.

MR MILLER: Yeah. Let me just answer that question.

QUESTION: Okay. Yeah.

MR MILLER: We absolutely do think that both the economic and security assistance components of the supplemental request the President made are vital.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: And so Assistant Secretary O’Brien tweeted today – X’ed – about the —

MR MILLER: X’ed. (Laughter.) Which is – which assistant secretary?

QUESTION: O’Brien.

MR MILLER: Oh, yeah.

QUESTION: About the meeting between Secretary Blinken and Ambassador Pressman, and saying that they discussed – for a discussion at the key moment in the U.S.-Hungary relationship. I wonder if you could elaborate why is – why is it a key moment?

MR MILLER: What I would say is that Ambassador Pressman was here in Washington – our ambassadors regularly come home for consultations – met with the Secretary as part of that meeting. And every time that the Secretary meets with an ambassador, obviously they’re discussing the ongoing bilateral relationships between the United States and the country where that ambassador serves.

QUESTION: But so there’s no, like – any breakthrough or change, any – “key moment,” it sounds like – yeah.

MR MILLER: Ryan, yeah.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Can you shed a little light on the timeline around the UNRWA decision? The Israeli Government has since shared that intelligence dossier with some members of the press. They said they shared the dossier, I believe, on – on that Friday.

MR MILLER: On – that’s correct.

QUESTION: The decision was also announced that Friday, the same day the court ruling came out. How – how was State able to – how were you able to make such a fast decision?

MR MILLER: It’s a good question. So I think there has been some confusion about this. This matter was not first brought to us by the Government of Israel; it was brought to us by UNRWA itself. UNRWA brought this matter to the Government of the United States – the State Department – on Wednesday of last week and said that they had – were aware of allegations by the Government of Israel and they had conducted their own initial assessment and found those allegations to be credible and were taking disciplinary action against a number of people.

So they contacted us on Wednesday. We spent Thursday looking into the matter. We contacted the Government of Israel on Thursday, engaged in initial consultations with them. We’re continuing to talk with the United Nations. The Secretary spoke to the secretary-general on Thursday. And then on Friday we announced that decision and were briefed by Israel. But I should make very clear our decision to temporarily pause funding was not just based on the strength of Israeli evidence, but it was based on UNRWA’s own conclusion that those allegations were credible.

QUESTION: Was there any concern internally that releasing the announcement within about an hour or so of the ICJ court ruling, which – which one thing it did was instruct Israel to make sure that humanitarian aid was flowing – that it would – that announcing it so close together would seem like a repudiation in some ways?

MR MILLER: No, I – there was no concern, but also the United Nations has – had made its announcement. And we thought it was important that – that given that the United Nations had made that announcement – and that’s not a – that’s not timing we control. They made that announcement Friday morning. We thought that it was important that we respond as quickly as possible to make clear the position the United States. It was in no way in our mind related to the ICJ decision.

QUESTION: Matt, just tangentially related to the ICJ, there was a lawsuit that was brought in a California federal court against the President, the Secretary, and Secretary of Defense Austin. It was dismissed yesterday by the judge because of a – on jurisdictional grounds. But in his ruling dismissing the case, he said that there was – the ICJ’s ruling that there was plausible grounds to believe that genocide may be being committed was fair. He noted – I don’t know if “fair” is the right word, but that there was at least as – a case to be made in court. Do you have any comment about this lawsuit and the judge’s dismissal?

MR MILLER: So I don’t have any comment on the lawsuit, and one thing that I learned in my time at the Justice Department is that it is unwise to comment on remarks or decisions by federal judges. And I’ll – so I won’t do that here. But I will say it remains our conclusion that the allegations of genocide are unfounded.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: One more follow-up on the previous questioning.

MR MILLER: Follow-up on your follow-up?

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR MILLER: Your first one was a follow-up to somebody else.

QUESTION: Yeah. So the message of this EO and these sanctions is to try to say that the Israelis need to take further action against the perpetrators of violence in the West Bank. If that’s the case, why would you sanction people Israel had already taken action against? Wouldn’t it have sent a stronger message to sanction those who had not yet been prosecuted?

MR MILLER: So a few things. Number one, it is very much to send the message that we think more needs to be done by the Government of Israel; number two, that we will also take action on behalf of the United States, both against those who engage in settler violence and – extremist settler violence that have been prosecuted by governments and others who have not – there was one today who had – was not – part of that message is not just to the Government of Israel, but also to people who – themselves who might be considering engaging in acts of violence, to let them know that the United States Government is watching and will take action.

And I also think you should not conclude that we are done with our action through our actions today. The executive order was just promulgated today, gives the State Department and the Treasury Department new sanctions authorities that we did not previously have. We will not hesitate to use those sanctions authorities if it’s appropriate to do so.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could I go back to the – and it might be for your Justice Department – this was last week, but I don’t think it’s been addressed here. Alabama carried out an execution last week, which was criticized by the UN. The UN human rights commissioner is saying this might amount to torture. It’s nitrogen gas – he was supposedly thrashing on the floor for four minutes. I believe the White House commented on it. But on the international aspect, the EU condemned it, the United Nations. Is there a response that the State Department has? I realize the State Department isn’t carrying out executions.

MR MILLER: I think as a – as that’s a domestic matter, I will absolutely defer to the White House and their comment on it.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Matt. I have only one question. As I found on your last press note on Bangladesh, the United States is interested in working with Bangladesh in various security areas. These areas include counterterrorism, border security, cyber security, maritime security, and regional stability. How is it possible to work in a larger context with the new government in Bangladesh without welcoming the prime minister?

MR MILLER: So I would say that we have relationships of this sort all around the world. We expressed our concerns about the Bangladeshi election. We’ve expressed our concerns about crackdowns in Bangladesh, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have the responsibility to work with the government – both on areas where we have concern and also areas where we believe we can cooperate on shared priorities.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Myanmar?

MR MILLER: Sure.

QUESTION: You know that in Myanmar now, the junta and other party – this is a war zone. And more Rohingyas about to enter to Bangladesh, and also some military personnel with helicopters. Do you have any comments on the situation there?

MR MILLER: On – with respect to that specific question, let me take it back. And then I’m going to go to the back of the room, and then we’ll wrap for today.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.

QUESTION: Now, earlier today, we saw the readout about the certification – the certification notifying Congress of the possible drone deal between the U.S. and India. Can you sketch out the timeline or the next steps and how important this deal would be?

MR MILLER: I cannot give you a timeline. This was the initial step today, notifying Congress. The exact timeline of the delivery is something that we will explore with the Government of India over the coming months.

I will say with respect to the deal itself, the $3.99 – almost 4 – billion sale of 31 MQ-9B SkyGuardian aircraft will provide India with an enhanced maritime security and maritime domain awareness capability. It offers India outright ownership and a 16-fold increase in the number of aircraft, as compared to their current lease of two MQ-9A aircraft.

And with that, we’ll wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:47 p.m.)

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U.S. Department of State

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