1:19 p.m. EDT

MR MILLER:  Good afternoon, everyone.  I do not have any opening —

QUESTION:  Oh, my God.  Really?

MR MILLER:  – comments.

QUESTION:  Oh, I (inaudible).

MR MILLER:  Well, I wanted to welcome you back in style and let you just jump right in versus subject you to my opening comments.   Welcome back, Matt.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  It’s not the same here without you.

QUESTION:  I’m sure it is, but I thought you would at least have something to say at the top.  Let me just ask you – because I’m not yet prepared – but let me just ask you:  What is the latest on Niger, your communications with President Bazoum, and the situation with embassy staffing and military issues?

MR MILLER:  So let me take that – let me make that as three things: the communications with Bazoum and others, the embassy, and then the assistance that we paused on Friday.

So with respect to President Bazoum, we remain in touch with President Bazoum.  Officials from the State Department spoke to him earlier today.  We had conversations with him over the weekend.  The Secretary talked to him last week.  We remain in contact with other leaders in the region.  As well, the Secretary spoke with the French foreign minister over the weekend about how to successfully resolve the situation and restore the constitutional order.

With respect to the embassy, we completed the ordered departure on Friday.  We also assisted the departure of around a hundred American citizens on a charter flight that left the country on Friday.  We have not seen significant other requests from American citizens for assistance with leaving the country, but obviously we’re in communication with any American citizens that are there who wish for assistance.  We’ve asked them on register on our website.  And if we do get further requests for assistance, we will seek to accommodate those.

And finally, with respect to assistance, the Secretary announced on Friday also that we are pausing assistance to the government for the time being.  That assistance will affect development aid to the government, security aid to the government.  It’s a significant amount.  I don’t have a number because it’s a pause, and it’s a pause that we would hope would be reversed.  If the junta leaders would step aside and restore constitutional order tomorrow, that pause would be – the security – the pause would go away and security assistance would be reinstated.  But as we have made clear, hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake.

QUESTION:  Oh, hundreds of millions?


QUESTION:  Have been paused?

MR MILLER:  All right – no.  Hundreds of millions of dollars are ultimately at stake.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Well —

MR MILLER:  It’s hard to say what’s paused because I don’t know how long the pause will take – will be in effect.  Hopefully it would be lifted soon if President Bazoum is returned to authority.

QUESTION:  Well, that is fine.  But you have to have some kind of an idea of how much has been put on pause.

MR MILLER:  Again, it is a number over $100 million.  But it’s hard to give an exact amount because, one, we just made this pause –

QUESTION:  You know how much money you are giving to Niger?

MR MILLER:  We don’t know how long this pause will be in effect.  If the pause —

QUESTION:  Well, it doesn’t matter how long is it going to be in effect.  But, look —

MR MILLER:  So – no, let me –

QUESTION:  If you announce something like this, you should have an idea of what it is that you’re stopping or —

MR MILLER: Here’s the reason.  Sometimes there are payments that are made in one big lump sum.  Sometimes there are continuing payments that go on, once every – I’m not going to say a period, but – and so the total —

QUESTION:  Okay.  But the total of the programs paused – but certainly there were —

MR MILLER:  Over $100 million.  Correct.

QUESTION:  Fair enough.  So what are the specific programs that have been paused?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have a list of specific programs, but they are development assistance, security assistance, law enforcement assistance, and other programs that aid the Government of Niger.

QUESTION:  Well, then how do you know it’s in the hundreds of millions of dollars?

MR MILLER:  Because we’re adding up some of the – I don’t have the list of all the programs to go down, but I can tell you they are in those broad categories.  And I should reiterate something I left out at the beginning, that humanitarian assistance to the Nigerien people is not affected.

QUESTION:  All right.  And then last thing on this, you said —

MR MILLER:  I have missed you.  I do enjoy our frank and candid – our frank and candid exchanges.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Well, look.  I’m sorry, I think —

MR MILLER:  No.  I’m not —

QUESTION:  I think when the State Department comes out and says it’s pausing a certain amount of assistance to a certain country, you would think that you would know how much that is and what the programs actually are.  And what you’re saying right now is that you can’t —

MR MILLER:  I’m giving you the broad category of programs.  And our —

QUESTION:  Yes, exactly.  But you should know specifically, when you make the announcement – which it was made on Friday, right? – what it is that you’re doing.

MR MILLER:  There are —


MR MILLER:  I’m giving you the —

QUESTION:  Am I wrong?

MR MILLER:  I am giving you the broad category of programs.  We continue to look through it.  And like I said, hopefully the pause goes away.  I mean, it could go away tomorrow.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then just the other thing is you said you assisted about a hundred – was that right?

MR MILLER:  Yeah, about a hundred American citizens.

QUESTION:  Leaving the country on —

MR MILLER:  I should be clear.  There were about a hundred American citizens we assisted that left on that charter flight.

QUESTION:  The French?

MR MILLER:  The – no, our – the flight that —

QUESTION:  Oh, your flight?

MR MILLER:  Our flight that left on Friday.  There were additional American citizens, somewhere around two dozen or so and maybe a few others, that we helped secure passage on French, Italian, and Spanish flights that left last week.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And at this moment in time, right now, how many American citizens in Niger are you aware of who are seeking assistance to get out?

MR MILLER:  I’m not aware of any.  We have sent – after the flight left on Friday —

QUESTION:  So you think maybe that was all —

MR MILLER:  There may be a very small number.  There were a very small number of people we were in communication with over the weekend after that – and when I – I mean like a handful of people – after that flight left.   But I’m not aware of any requests for assistance.  I wouldn’t – that doesn’t mean there won’t be, because people’s assessment of their situation changes.  The situation may change.  There may be, and we’ll take that in the system.  But I’m not aware of any now.

QUESTION:  And last thing.  Has Toria been named as some kind of a mediator in this?

MR MILLER:  No, not that I’m aware of.  She’s the acting deputy secretary.

QUESTION:  I mean, could we segue off of that?  Just – sorry.  There have been reports about a U.S. mediator having some sort of dialogue with the coup leaders.  Can you say anything about U.S. diplomacy beyond the calls?

MR MILLER:  I will just say that we have been in touch, from the Secretary level on down, with a number of leaders in the region, a number of leaders in Niger, and I don’t have anything further to announce.

QUESTION:  Is there a U.S. official going to the region, specifically to Niger?  Is that something that’s on the cards?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any announcements to make.  But if I do, I will let you know as soon as I can.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on what you said, that the —

MR MILLER:  By the way, let me – can I interrupt?  I hate to interrupt —


MR MILLER:  But welcome back, and welcome back to you as well.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  I didn’t want to – I don’t want to single Matt out for – happy to see all of you.

QUESTION:  Thank you all.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Elizabeth, welcome back.  There’s a few of you.  It’s like vacations – been vacation series and – vacation season in the briefing room.

QUESTION:  You’re not happy to see everybody.

MR MILLER:  I’m very happy to see you.  (Laughter.)  I’m going on vacation next week, so I’m in a particularly good mood.

QUESTION:  For how long?

QUESTION:  Can I just follow up on what you said about the assistance, the pause in assistance can be lifted tomorrow?  You also said that State Department officials have been in touch.  Is there any reason in your conversations, in the conversations of the people from this building, for you to think that this can be reversed soon?  Because a U.S. official last week talked about a window of opportunity.  Is that still open or close to being closed?  Where are we with that?

MR MILLER:  The window of opportunity is definitely still open.  We believe that the junta should step aside and allow President Bazoum to resume his duties today, tomorrow, any time in the near future.  I don’t want to put an assessment on when that window would be closed other than to say that using diplomacy to achieve this objective is our top priority with respect to Niger, and we continue to pursue it.

QUESTION:  And, I mean, this is going to relate to what Shaun and others have asked.  In that case, why not send somebody specifically assigned to this?  Couldn’t that make sense?

MR MILLER:  The Secretary himself has been involved in these conversations, and we have had other senior officials involved in conversations, and we’ll continue to have senior officials involved in conversations.  And when I have any more information about specific meetings, I will make those public.

QUESTION:  Can I just follow up on —


QUESTION:  — ECOWAS.  The ECOWAS, of course, had this deadline for the junta to step aside.  Do you have any comment on what you think – obviously, it’s not for you to say what ECOWAS should do, but any – does the United States have any assessment of what should happen now?  Some other Western countries have said the deadline should be extended.  What’s your messaging on it?

MR MILLER:  My message would be, first of all, I want to note that ECOWAS itself has said that military intervention would be a last resort.  We are focused on finding a diplomatic solution.  We’re in close contact with ECOWAS leadership.  The Secretary had calls with a number of leaders from ECOWAS states in the past week, and we’re going to continue to pursue diplomacy in concert with our partners in the region.

QUESTION:  And can I just ask – two countries that have been suspended from ECOWAS, Mali and Burkina Faso, said they were sending their own envoys to Niger.  Do you have any assessment on that?  Is that helpful at all?  Any thoughts?

MR MILLER:  If I thought they were sending envoys to try to restore democratic leadership and the constitutional order, we would see that as productive and helpful.  But I very much doubt that’s the case.

Anything else on Niger before we move on?

QUESTION:  Is the embassy still open?

MR MILLER:  It is.  It is open.

QUESTION:  And normal —

MR MILLER:  It is open.  It is open and functioning.

QUESTION:  Do you mind if I just take one more stab on the idea of having a – somebody go there?  You’ve mentioned the dialogue with President – with President Bazoum and with regional leaders.  Has there been much direct or has there been any direct contact with the junta, the military leaders, on the part of the —

MR MILLER:  There has been direct contact with military leaders.  I’m not going to say at what level or with whom, but there has been direct contact with military leaders, urging them to step aside.

All right.  Done with —

QUESTION:  Sir, can you tell us when that contact happened?

MR MILLER:  Only to say in the last week to 10 days, but there has been contact.

QUESTION:  And is that – was that conducted through officials in this building or through officials at the Pentagon?

MR MILLER:  Through officials in this building, urging them to step aside.

All right, done – we’re doing with Niger?  Going once, going twice.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  On North Korea, I mean, you may have seen this report today that last week North Korean Kim Jong-un inspected a munitions factory in order to focus on military economy and prepare for war.  How can you explain this?

MR MILLER:  How can I explain what?  His —

QUESTION:  Kim Jong-un’s visit inspecting the military —

MR MILLER:  Well, I certainly wouldn’t try to speak for him or explain his actions.  But I would say, as we’ve said before, that we would continue to condemn the missile launches that they have tested in recent weeks, we continue to condemn their pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and would hope that they would engage in talks, which they have shown, so far, no inclination to do.

QUESTION:  Look, after Russian Defense Minister Shoigu left Pyongyang and the military aircraft again arrived in Pyongyang, do you think it has something to do with Russian military aircraft visiting Pyongyang?  And it stayed there for two days, one night.  What did that happen up there?


QUESTION:  Can you say something?

MR MILLER:  I just don’t know.  Obviously we’ve seen close cooperation between Russia and North Korea.  We have made clear our concerns about cooperation between Russia and North Korea.  We have made clear our concerns about North Korea seeking to assist Russia in its aggression in Ukraine.  And we will continue to make those concerns clear and we will continue to enforce all of our sanctions.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Matt.  I have questions on South Caucasus, but before we enter there, did you have anything for us on the results of last week’s discussion between U.S. and Ukraine on long-term security arrangements, any – any results?

MR MILLER:  I would say that we felt there were productive talks.  They were attended, on the U.S. part, obviously, by Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, and by Deputy – Acting Deputy Secretary Nuland for – on behalf of the State Department.  We thought it was productive that a number of countries were able to hear directly from Ukraine about both the violence that has been inflicted on their country by Russia and also their vision for a just and lasting peace that preserves their territorial integrity and preserves their sovereignty.

QUESTION:  That is helpful, but I was meaning the U.S.-Ukraine —

MR MILLER:  Oh, the other one – the talks that we had —


MR MILLER:  The talks that happened Thursday.  I think I spoke to this last week, and I don’t have really any update to those other than to say that that they were the first in a round of conversations that we expect to have.  These are conversations we previewed in the G7 declaration that was announced at the end of the NATO Summit, where we announced that we would be making – having bilateral discussions with Ukraine, other countries in the G7 – and 12 countries since the statement were issued joined to say that they would be having the same discussions to talk about how to ensure Ukraine’s long-term security.

That is our priority.  That was the subject of these conversations.  But again, this was the first of what will be a number of conversations between the United States and Ukraine that, I should add, are separate and apart from the conversations we have going on every day about the ongoing war.

QUESTION:  Right.  Did you have next round of meeting, conversations scheduled already or —

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any update on the schedule.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thanks so much.  And moving to South Caucasus, I have two questions.  Georgia first – the Secretary issued a statement today on 50 years of Russian invasion – strong words, but I didn’t find any beef in it.  So the Secretary mentioned that United States remains determined to hold Russia accountable for its obligation for not withdrawing from Georgian territory.  What are you guys doing to help Georgian people – I’m not talking about Georgian Government; that’s a separate topic for a different day to discuss – but Georgian people to restore its territorial integrity and to kick out Russian terrorists from its territory?

MR MILLER:  Well, I think we have made clear in that – we made clear in the statement the Secretary issued today, as we’ve made clear for some time, that Russia should withdraw and stop occupying Georgia’s territory.  We will continue to make clear our support for that policy.  And I would just say that with respect to holding Russia accountable, if you look at the sanctions that we have imposed on Russia since the outset of the Ukraine war – and yes, those are in response to the invasion of Ukraine – those have degraded Russia’s military capacity.  They have hurt Russia’s economy.  They have targeted critical sectors inside Russia that it uses to project power overseas.  So I think with respect to holding Russia accountable, we have a very strong record to point to.

QUESTION:  Do you view Zelenskyy peace formula as a template for Georgia as well?

MR MILLER:  I wouldn’t want to make comparisons between two countries with different situations.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  My final topic, Armenia-Azerbaijan – we heard from Russian officials last week threatening both sides, Armenia and Azerbaijan, against signing any peace agreement, saying that they should expect further conflict if they rush into a peace agreement.  Is it time for the West to call Russia out for undermining your efforts to bring about peace?

MR MILLER:  I don’t want to speak with respect to Russia when it comes to Armenia and Azerbaijan.  I want to speak with respect to those two countries who are directly related – who are direct parties in this dispute.  We have been engaged directly with those countries; Special Envoy Bono traveled to the region last week and engaged directly with them.  And we believe, despite any comments from other countries who are not a party to this matter, that an agreement remains within reach, and we will continue to work with them to pursue it.

QUESTION:  And my final question on this —

MR MILLER:  The final question, then we —

QUESTION:  Yes.  Thanks so much.  Secretary spoke with Turkish foreign minister —


QUESTION:  — on Saturday, if I’m not mistaken, on this very topic.  Why – how do you define Türkiye’s role in – at this very moment in this process?

MR MILLER:  I don’t want to speak to it in detail – it’s a private diplomatic conversation – other than to say that we do believe that Türkiye has a productive role it can play in this, as Türkiye has in other issues, the Black Sea Grain Initiative being another one that they spoke about in their call over the weekend.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  Go ahead, Elizabeth.

QUESTION:  An OFAC-issued general license related to earthquake relief in Syria expires tomorrow.  Will the U.S. be extending or reissuing that license, or letting it expire?

MR MILLER:  So I don’t have any comment on it today.  I would defer to OFAC for comment today.  It’s a decision that, as you said, is due tomorrow, and I suspect they will have something to say.  And once they make any kind of public announcement, then I’ll be more at liberty to speak about it.

QUESTION:  And then one quickly on Israel.  The State Department referred to a settler attack that killed a 19-year-old Palestinian over the weekend as at terror attack.  That appears to be a first.  How should we interpret this change in rhetoric?

MR MILLER:  I think you can interpret it that we are greatly concerned about that attack.  We are greatly concerned about all the attacks that we saw in Israel, in the Palestinian territories over the weekend.  We strongly condemn those attacks.  Our – the tweet that the – that NEA issued over the weekend made clear our position on terrorist attacks.  It made clear our position on extreme settler violence.  I would note that the IDF spokesperson called the attack in Burka “nationalist terrorism” just this morning.  So we have – I would add that we have also been clear that accountability and justice should be pursued with equal rigor in all cases of violent extremism, whoever the perpetrators are.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION:  What was the thinking, what is the justification from the State Department to call it a terror attack?

MR MILLER:  The thinking is that it was a terror attack, and we are concerned about it, and that’s why we called it that.

QUESTION:  And do you anticipate – do you intend to follow through with any actions?

MR MILLER:  We have made quite clear our concerns, but I would note that the Government of Israel has made an arrest in this case and is seeking to hold the perpetrator accountable, and that’s an appropriate action.

Kylie, did you have your – yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  I just wanted to follow up – I know you just spoke a little bit about the talks in Saudi Arabia on Ukraine over the weekend, but with regard to the role that China played in those talks, can you just speak to how the U.S. viewed China’s involvement – if it was productive, if they were actually at the table working in a real way towards an end here – just tour readout of that.

MR MILLER:  We do believe it was productive that China attended.  I’m not going to speak to the details of the meeting because it was a private meeting, but we thought it was a – it was productive that they came.  We have long said that it would be productive if – for China to play a role in ending the war in Ukraine if it was willing to play a role that respected Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Ukraine’s sovereignty.  And as I said at the – when I was asked about this a moment ago, we believe it’s helpful for countries to attend and hear directly from Ukraine.  And I would note that Russia apparently objects to that, because you saw Russia criticizing this meeting over the weekend and criticizing the fact that this meeting was held.

So we all – we think it’s productive for any country to come and hear directly from Ukraine about the concerns Ukraine has.  We think it was productive that China did so.  In addition to attending the meeting, Deputy Secretary Nuland and the National Security Advisor held a brief separate meeting with the Chinese special envoy.

QUESTION:  And should we read anything into – pictures from the weekend showed the Saudi official in the meeting, and to one side the Chinese official, and to the other side the top U.S. official, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.  Are Saudi Arabia, China, and the U.S. really taking the lead on these talks to develop a constructive path potentially out of this war?

MR MILLER:  So I think it’s always a little dangerous to read into anything just based on the picture.  Sometimes it works, sometimes not.  Saudi Arabia was the host of this set of talks.  It did so at Ukraine’s request.  We think it was productive that they did so, and we think it’s – just as we thought it was productive that they invited President Zelenskyy to come to Saudi Arabia a couple of months ago.

So I wouldn’t want to say who is in the lead for talks that right now are not happening.  There are no peace negotiations going on with Russia right now, because Russia has refused to engage in meaningful peace negotiations.  Should there ever be peace negotiations, it’s Ukraine that will be in the lead from the non-Russian side.  The United States is happy to play any role that is productive to stand with our Ukrainian partners, and we would welcome any other country that wants to play a productive role as well.

QUESTION:  And then just last question on it – China’s readout did say that the meetings helped to, quote, “consolidate international consensus” on finding a peaceful solution to the conflict.  How long do you think it’ll take to actually develop that international consensus here?

MR MILLER:  I think that’s a very hard question to answer.  It is a – this still remains an active war in which Russia has shown no sign of curtailing its imperialist ambitions or coming to the negotiating table.

So we will continue to work to convince as many countries as possible around the world that, when this war ends, it should end in a way that respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity, its sovereignty.  That’s the point that Ukrainian officials made this weekend, that’s the point that U.S. officials made this weekend, and we will continue to press that and try to convince as many countries as possible to take that view of the situation.

QUESTION:  Matt, just one thing on that side meeting with Toria, Jake Sullivan, and the Chinese envoy.  Is there anything you can say a little bit more on, like, what was the main U.S. message and what kind of takeaways they got from the Chinese envoy?  At least why Beijing sent an envoy – did they get an understanding of that?

MR MILLER:  I’m not going to speak to why Beijing might have sent an envoy.  That’s for them to speak to.  I will say that the message that we delivered at that meeting was essentially the same that I just delivered, which is that we thought it was – it would be productive for China to play a role here, again, if that role respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity and its sovereignty.

Anything else on Ukraine?  Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  In fact, yes.  I have a couple of questions on Iran, and I’ll start off with the Ukraine-Russia one.  The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has put on display some parts of downed drones that is attributed to Iran.  Now today, the Iranian foreign minister was in Tokyo, he was asked about it, and he said that Iran had asked Ukraine for evidence that Iran is supplying the drones that Russia is using.  But —

MR MILLER:  Evidence beyond a downed drone with Iranian parts?  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Well, he was saying that no evidence was given to Iran —


QUESTION:  — was presented to Iran.  Now that the U.S. has officially finalized its analysis and the pieces are on display, do you think it’s prudent to bring that analysis to Iran and so put it on once and for all to their claim that it’s not theirs?

MR MILLER:  So I haven’t seen those comments from – did you say it was the Iranian foreign minister?  So – but I will I say that if it’s a request from the Iranian foreign minister to Ukraine for evidence, certainly we have provided – we have shared intelligence with Ukraine since the outset of this conflict and I’m sure that we’d be happy to continue doing so?

QUESTION:  Well, do – would you support Ukraine providing the —

MR MILLER:  That’s a decision for Ukraine to make, not the United States.

QUESTION:  Would the U.S. support it?

MR MILLER:  It’s a decision for them to make.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Another one on the detained dual citizens.  The last headcount we heard was from National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, who said there are four American Iranians in Iran that the U.S. is involved – is engaged in trying to get – obtain their release.  Today, an Iranian newspaper talked about a fifth person that – saying that it’s a female American Iranian and that she was detained a couple of weeks ago.  Can you bring us up to date on how many people we’re talking about and what’s going on?

MR MILLER:  I saw that report.  I’m not going to comment on it in detail.  I will say at a high level that we are attempting to obtain the release of Americans who are detained in Iran.  I don’t – there have been a number of reports about this in the past few weeks, and I will say at this time when our top priority is obtaining their release and their safe passage from the country that I don’t think it’s helpful for me to – it’s obviously a very sensitive topic and I don’t think it’s productive for me to comment on it in detail.

QUESTION:  Well, the talks began with three people – three American Iranians.  Would inclusion of others make it any more difficult to gain their release?

MR MILLER:  I just don’t think it’s productive or helpful to our goal of securing their release to talk about it publicly right now.


QUESTION:  So can I just ask you —


QUESTION:  — why is it not helpful or why is it unproductive to say how many you’re looking at?

MR MILLER:  Because it is a very sensitive – it is a —

QUESTION:  Is it three or is it five or is it four?

MR MILLER:  I am – it is a very sensitive topic right now.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Understood.

MR MILLER:  We are trying to – I understand.  And the —

QUESTION:  But I – I’m not sure I understand why the number is a – who is it sensitive to?  The Iranians or to you guys?

MR MILLER:  And I wish – I – it is sensitive to the – it is sensitive to the – our attempts to obtain their release, and it can affect their —


MR MILLER:  Well, if – I can’t really answer that question without getting into the process by which we are trying to obtain their release, which I —

QUESTION:  I don’t understand why the number is that sensitive.

MR MILLER:  And I understand that.  This is an issue that —

QUESTION:  Well, no one’s asking you for their names or who exactly they are.

MR MILLER:  I fully understand.

QUESTION:  Or why they were arrested.

MR MILLER:  We are trying to obtain the release of Americans in Iran.  And I hope – and at some —

QUESTION:  Yeah, I know, and it’s a laudable goal, but —

MR MILLER:  And at some point – hold on – at some point, I hope that I will be able to have a more detailed conversation about this where I answer all those questions.  I’m not at that point today.

QUESTION:  Matt, on this?

MR MILLER:  Well, let me – you’ve had your hand up.

QUESTION:  No, no, on this topic.

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  All right.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  News reports said today that U.S. and Iran suspended talks on release of detained U.S. nationals after additional arrests made.  Can you confirm these reports?

MR MILLER:  No.  Again, I’m not going to comment on – I’m just not going to comment on underlying details of any of those – of these reports for the reasons that I just outlined.

QUESTION:  Are they still going on or —

MR MILLER:  I’m not going to comment any further for the same reasons that I just gave in response to Guita and Matt.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  Iraq yesterday calling the U.S. to extradite two Iraqi former officials which they have the U.S. citizenship and they’re accused of facilitating the theft of 2.5 billion U.S. dollars in public funds.  And this is the country’s biggest-ever corruption case.  Are you going to extradite these two people to Iraq?  If not, then how do you respond to this Iraqi request?

MR MILLER:  Two things: one, I’ve seen the reports, but I can’t comment on an extradition matter, as is typically the case; and two, I will say more broadly, we are pleased that the alSudani administration is taking corruption seriously and we would defer to the Iraqi Government to speak further on this particular matter.

QUESTION:  Has Iraqi requested this extradition formally to the U.S.?

MR MILLER:  I am not going to comment on an extradition matter.

QUESTION:  One more question Syria.  Türkiye has increased its attacks on northeast Syria, and the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria is calling the U.S. and also the guarantor of the ceasefire to have a clear position on these attacks that – targeting their forces in northeast Syria.  What’s your clear position on that?  Why you have chosen to be silent on these attacks that they are attacking on the daily basis?

MR MILLER:  So the United States remains concerned about the increase in violence in northern Syrian, in particular the impact it’s had on the civilian population and the effectiveness of our operations to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS.  Our position on this matter has not changed.  We continue to support the maintenance of the current ceasefire lines and condemn any escalation.  It is crucial for all sides to maintain and respect ceasefire zones to enhance stability in Syria and work toward a political solution to the conflict.  And finally the United States is working with Türkiye and our local Syrian partners to ensure the safety of U.S. personnel, our partner forces, and civilians.  We share an interest with Türkiye in sustainably ending the conflict in Syria, and we have and will continue to consult with them closely on policy.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, thanks, Matt.  In light of the Voice of the Martyrs, persecution.com reports on Christian persecution in India —

MR MILLER:  Voice of the what?

QUESTION:  What was that?

MR MILLER:  Voice of the what?

QUESTION:  Voice of the Martyrs, the persecution.com —

MR MILLER:  Got it.

QUESTION:  — reports on persecution, especially Christian persecution in India, and President Biden’s upcoming trip to India.  What will President Biden be asking of India Prime Minister Modi regarding Christian persecution, who has failed to protect Christians from persecution in the wake of their anti-conversion laws?  And I have a follow-up.

MR MILLER:  So we regularly raise human rights concerns with countries with which we engage.  Done that so in the past with India, and will do so in the future.

QUESTION:  But also, specifically, has President Biden been dealing with the issue of Christian persecution there?

MR MILLER:  Well, we have made very clear that we oppose persecution of religious groups.  I have made it clear from this podium on a number of occasions.

QUESTION:  Worldwide it’s a concern for Christian persecution, so what would you say to our audience about President Biden and his attempts to stop Christian persecution, not only in India but also globally?

MR MILLER:  We have made very clear that we oppose the persecution of Christians and we oppose the persecution of any religious group, no matter where it takes place in the world.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  My name is Mesfin Bezu from TG Ethiopian.  My question is about the current conflict —

MR MILLER:  Welcome to the briefing room.  I’m not sure —

QUESTION:  Oh, you —

MR MILLER:  I’m sure you’ve been here before, not on – under my —

QUESTION:  Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

MR MILLER:  Not under my tenure, my short tenure.

QUESTION:  I’ve been out here, but thank you for welcoming us.  My question is about the current conflict in Ethiopia.  Recently, when the Ethiopian Government moved to dissolve or disarm Amhara special forces, or known as Fano, tension has begun between the two – the Ethiopian Government and the Amhara special forces.  What we hear from Ethiopia right now, Matt, it is very, very bad news – very bad news.  Instead of finding a diplomatic solution, Ethiopia is now facing another civil war.  What is the State Department or the Biden administration is doing to help averting another catastrophic civil war in Ethiopia?

MR MILLER:  So the United States is committed to the unity, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ethiopia, and we seek peace, prosperity, and stability in Ethiopia to build upon the longstanding, strong partnership between our government – our governments and our people.  And I will add that the special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Ambassador Mike Hammer, was recently in the region and met with [Ethiopian] Government officials and with the Tigray Interim Regional Administration on continued implementation of the recent agreement.  He discussed progress and priorities, including transnational justice and accountability efforts as well as disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programming, and we will continue to do so.

QUESTION:  Mr. Miller, I have —


QUESTION:  I have – (inaudible), I haven’t finished yet.

MR MILLER:  Okay, what?

QUESTION:  I haven’t finished yet.

MR MILLER:  Okay, okay.

QUESTION:  I have a lot of respect for you and the State Department, and I have not (inaudible) —

MR MILLER:  You just met me.  I appreciate that.

QUESTION:  I know, but I didn’t – I didn’t ask you a question about Tigray.  It’s already passed.

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Now there is another – another civil war is going on in Ethiopia between the Amhara special forces and the Ethiopian Government.  I know that the State Department keeps saying that we are gravely concerned while many people are dying.  That is not acceptable.  The State Department needs to act.  As we know, you just mentioned during the Tigray war has caused hundreds of thousands of deaths, mass displacement, famine, and human rights violation.  Despite – despite such terrible war, the State Department was saying we are greatly concerned before the State Department sent its special envoy to the Horn of Africa, who helped – I give credit – who helped to bring peace between the Ethiopian and the Tigray forces.  And now that —

MR MILLER:  Can we get to the question?

QUESTION:  Yeah, yeah.  Okay, let me get to the question.  Does the State Department need to wait hundreds of thousands of people to die, to suffer, or to be displaced before the State Department send its special envoy to the Horn of Africa to bring peace between the Ethiopian Government and the Amhara special forces, Fano?  Not Tigray right now.  This is a different situation in Ethiopia, Matt.

MR MILLER:  Yeah, I understand.  I will say that we remain engaged.  The Secretary just spoke with his – with the prime minister of Ethiopia on Friday, and we will continue to remain engaged both at the secretarial level and at other levels in the government.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much, Matt.  Very simple:  15th of August, Bangladesh observe National Mourning Day.  The father of the nation was brutally killed in 1975, 15th of August, with the family members.  One – at least one of the self-declared killer of that father of the nation is still remaining open here in USA.  Do you support bringing the – all killers to the justice and extradite them to Bangladesh?

MR MILLER:  Again, we don’t comment on extradition matters.

QUESTION:  One more.  Can I have one?

MR MILLER:  One more, yeah.

QUESTION:  Yeah, very simple.  Yeah.  Last month, Uzra Zeya, an under secretary for Civilian Security and Democracy and Human Rights, along with Donald Lu, assistant secretary of Southeast Asia, recently visited Bangladesh.  Can you say more about their – what they discussed in terms of in the Pacific zone and Bangladesh?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have anything to add other than the readouts that we made public at the conclusion of those meetings.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Do you have any updates on the grain deal, or can you provide any insights into the discussions around it?  Are you in talks with Saudi Arabia?

MR MILLER:  The – so I will say, first of all, the talks in Saudi Arabia were focused on how to obtain a just and lasting peace, not on the – some of the underlying issues.  It’s not to say it didn’t come up at some point.  I’m not aware if it did or if it didn’t.  But that wasn’t the focus of the talks.  But that has been a focus of our ongoing diplomatic efforts.  Secretary Blinken spoke with the foreign minister of Türkiye – believe it was on Saturday; we made the readout public, so you can check the date if I have that wrong – where one of the issues that we talked is the – that they talked about was the productive role that Türkiye has played in trying to convince Russia to rejoin the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

We’re going to continue to press Russia to rejoin the Black Sea Grain Initiative.  We’re going to continue to make clear that the excuses it made for withdrawing are just that, excuses; that their fertilizer experts – exports and their grain exports were at or near all-time highs while the Black Sea Grain Initiative was in effect; and we are going to continue to make clear to the rest of the world that it is Russia that is responsible, first, for withdrawing from the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and then for bombing Ukrainian ports and Ukrainian grain facilities over the days and now weeks since they withdrew.

So we will make that case and urge countries around the world that have depended on grain exports from Ukraine and from the region to press Russia diplomatically, but unfortunately we have as of yet seen no sign that Russia intends to return to the initiative.  But we will continue to press our case and encourage others to do the same.

QUESTION:  And just to follow up on that, so the Central European companies are trying to extend their ban on imports from Ukrainian grain.  What’s the U.S. position on that?

MR MILLER:  I’ll have to take that one back.

And then Humeyra and Shaun, then we’ll wrap up.

QUESTION:  Matt, did you guys receive a yes to your invite to Wang Yi to come to the U.S.?

MR MILLER:  So I will let the Chinese officials speak to their participation, but it is our full expectation that he will travel to the United States and conduct a meeting with the Secretary that was originally extended to the previous foreign minister.

QUESTION:  Well, what’s the possible date for that?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have a time – the time’s not yet – I don’t have time because the time’s not yet been scheduled.  The date’s not yet been scheduled.

QUESTION:  Right, and would you expect him to meet with President Biden, given Secretary Blinken met with Xi Jinping?

MR MILLER:  You have been here long enough to know that I will never talk about presidential meetings from this podium.

QUESTION:  Well, you know that I have to try.

MR MILLER:  I appreciate you asking.  (Laughter.)  I mean, it’s not just me – previous spokespersons for this department as well.

QUESTION:  I have two – I’m sorry, I have two more, just very briefly, on Pakistan.  Do you guys have a reaction to the arrest of former Pakistan Prime Minister Khan, and do you think he got a fair trial?

MR MILLER:  We believe that is an internal matter for Pakistan, and we continue to call for the respect of democratic principles, human rights, and rule of law in Pakistan, as we do around the world.

QUESTION:  The final one:  Some people described that response pretty subdued and muted – would you agree with that?  And does that have anything to do with Khan’s previous criticism of the United States when he was the prime minister?

MR MILLER:  The – so I thought I understood the first part of the question.  Now I’m not sure I do.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER:  Would you – (laughter) – that’s funny.  Do you mean my – that our response was muted, or the response to his arrest?  I first thought you – saying our response was muted —

QUESTION:  No, the State Department’s response to his arrest, yes.

MR MILLER:  The response – I think our – first of all, I’ll let people characterize our responses in all kinds of different ways.  I think our response to this arrest and his previous arrests have been consistent at all times in declaring it an internal matter for Pakistan.

QUESTION:  And nothing to do with, like, his past criticism of U.S.?

MR MILLER:  So that’s why you got the laugh from the back of the room.  While you were on vacation, I got this question a number of times.  We do not believe it’s related, no.

QUESTION:  Follow-up, please?  Follow —

QUESTION:  Can I just ask related to this – can I just ask – so if Imran Khan’s arrest and prosecution is an internal matter for Pakistan that you won’t comment on, what – how’s that different than the Navalny case?

MR MILLER:  There are times when we believe that prosecutions are completely unfounded and —

QUESTION:  So you think that there is some foundation to Imran Khan’s arrest and prosecution?

MR MILLER:  I would say there are times that we —

QUESTION:  But I just asked you a straightforward question.  If you’re going to come up —

MR MILLER:  That – let me – I know, and I’m going to give you a straightforward answer, but I’m – going to take me a minute.

QUESTION:  Okay.  All right.  Okay.

MR MILLER:  So we believe at times there are cases that are so obviously unfounded that is – that the United States believes it should say something about the matter.  We have not made that determination here.

QUESTION:  With Imran Khan?

MR MILLER:  We believe it is an internal matter, correct, and that —

QUESTION:  Okay.  But the Navalny case is not an internal matter for Russia?  It is a – do you think that it’s so —

MR MILLER:  It is a matter where it is – it is a matter where Russia is clearly violating his human rights.

QUESTION:  Okay, then let me go way afield and ask you about Julian Assange.


QUESTION:  So what’s your position on that now?

MR MILLER:  Our position on – he has been —

QUESTION:  Is that an internal matter for the United States and Great Britain?

MR MILLER:  In what way?  Is – he’s clearly been charged in a – he’s been charged by the United States Justice Department.

QUESTION:  So you think that you should – right, so – and so you think that other countries should keep – should say nothing?  Because the Australians have been starting to speak up —

MR MILLER:  I fully respect – we fully respect the right of other countries to make their positions known on this and other matters, but —

QUESTION:  Well, yeah, you can say —

MR MILLER:  I know, but a – but this came up when were in Australia week before last.

QUESTION:  I know.

MR MILLER:  And Secretary Blinken made clear that we respect their right to raise the situation, and we will make clear our belief that – well, I should say the fact that he was charged with very serious crimes that severely harmed the national security of the United States.

Shaun, then we’ll close out.

QUESTION:  I realize you may have even less to say about this one, but Rahul Gandhi, he was allowed to re-enter parliament.  There was a court ruling.  Is there anything that you have to say about that, about whether you think this was a correct court decision?

MR MILLER:  There is not.  I have no comment on that.

QUESTION:  Could I just – one more thing in South Asia, if you don’t mind.


QUESTION:  Back on Bangladesh, the digital security law, the government is to reform it.  That’s been – for a long time the U.S. as well has been quite critical of how that’s been imposed.  Is – does the U.S. have any assessment about this and where they think – where you think it’s going?

MR MILLER:  We welcome the reports that Bangladesh’s cabinet has decided to repeal the Digital Security Act.  As we’ve previously stated, the Digital Security Act has been used to arrest, detain, and silence critics.  We welcome the Bangladeshi Government’s long-stated commitment to reform the law, to protect freedom of expression, and we encourage the Government of Bangladesh to give all stakeholders an opportunity to review and provide input to the new draft Cyber Security Act to ensure it meets international standards.

And with that, thanks.


QUESTION:  (Inaudible) cyber security, North Korea’s cyber hacking and cryptocurrency branch is visiting China.  Has the United States sent any warning message to China regarding this?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any specific messages to read out.  Thanks.  Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)

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U.S. Department of State

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