12:53 EST

MR MILLER:  Good afternoon, everyone.  

QUESTION:  Good afternoon.  

MR MILLER:  The Houthis’ reckless attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea threaten the free flow of commerce in the region’s vital waterways, endanger innocent ship workers, and are a flagrant affront to international law.  Simply put, these attacks threaten global prosperity.  Yesterday, the Department of Defense announced the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multinational security initiative focused on advancing security in the Red Sea in the face of this threat.  We welcome the participation of our allies and partners the United Kingdom, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain in confronting the threat.  

In addition, the United States, High Representative Josep Borrell on behalf of the European Union, NATO Secretary —   

QUESTION:  United Nations. 

MR MILLER:  Not – no, I said in addition to the United States. 

QUESTION:  Oh, in addition to.  

MR MILLER:  Yeah, in addition, the United States – NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg on behalf of NATO, and a group representing 44 partner nations will soon release a joint statement condemning the Houthis’ ongoing and numerous attacks on merchant vessels.  The growing list of attacks includes the Houthi-led seizure of the Galaxy Leader, whose crew – hailing from the Philippines, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Mexico, and Romania – remain unjustly detained.  We once again call for the crew’s immediate and unconditional release.  

There is no justification for these attacks on global commerce, and we hope the world will join us in condemning these attacks and working to stop them.  

Our collective efforts remain open for additional countries to join in the crucial mission of defending the free flow of commerce in the Red Sea.  

With that, Matt.  

QUESTION:  Right.  Before I get to my question, I want to clear up something that I said yesterday which I – was in error.  I asked you at the very end of yesterday’s briefing about your phraseology in talking about Israel as technically an ally of the United States, and I had forgotten that Israel was in fact designated a major non-NATO ally back in the 80s, I think.  

MR MILLER:  So —    

QUESTION:  So, yeah, I was wrong and I apologize for – I just want to set that — 

MR MILLER:  So I very much appreciate that, Matt.  And I will say, it is a sign of my respect for your institutional knowledge here that when you raised that, I thought I’m pretty sure they’re – I’m pretty sure we have designated them a major non-NATO ally, but —     

QUESTION:  Anyway.  

MR MILLER:  — I would also think Matt is right about it.  So I appreciate the apology, and I will note that we do – in the spirit of the holidays, we do all make mistakes, myself very much included, and it’s good to be gracious about them. 

QUESTION:  Well, anyway, you were correct; Israel is technically able to be referred to as an ally of the United States, as is Pakistan and Brazil and —

MR MILLER:  Right. 

QUESTION:  Anyway, on to a question.  What would it take to get you to vote in favor of or abstain from this Security Council resolution that still appears to be being debated despite the plan for a vote hours ago, or several hours ago? 

MR MILLER:  So I don’t think I should try to negotiate the language in public, because anything I say will inevitably be used in the context of those negotiations, which are very much ongoing.  We are engaging constructively with our colleagues on the Security Council to resolve outstanding issues related to that resolution.  We fully support addressing the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza as this resolution should set out to do, and we’re working through these issues with other countries on the Security Council. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  Well, are you still – are you – do you think that there could be a vote today, or is it going to —    

MR MILLER:  It’s possible there could be a vote today.  There was one scheduled for earlier, and I think as you’ve seen, it’s been delayed.  We’re continuing to work through this, and I don’t have an announcement to make from here.  

QUESTION:  Okay.  Thanks.  

QUESTION:  Could I just very briefly —

MR MILLER:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  Just generally speaking, do you want a resolution?  I mean, obviously, it depends on the content, but is this – is the goal to actually have a resolution? 

MR MILLER:  It very much does depend on the content, but we have support – we’ve supported a UN Security Council resolution on this conflict in the past.  We would welcome a resolution that fully supports addressing the humanitarian needs in – of the people in Gaza.  But as I said, and as you referred to in your question, the details of it very much do matter.  

QUESTION:  Can I follow up as well? 

MR MILLER:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  Has Israel asked the U.S. to veto this? 

MR MILLER:    We have been in discussions with them about it, as we are in discussions with other countries in the region, but I don’t want to get into the content of those discussions.  Ultimately, we’ll make our own determination about what the best course of action is.  And it will depend very much on what the final text of the resolution states.  

QUESTION:  What exactly is your objection in the text as it is currently? 

MR MILLER:  Again, I don’t think I should get into publicly something that is under discussion with our – with other countries on the Security Council.  But I will say, as is always true, that when we cast our vote, we will explain why we cast it and what considerations we made.  But I shouldn’t get ahead of that process when it’s very much a matter under live discussion.  

Shannon. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  On Operation Prosperity Guardian, there’s really no – other than Bahrain, no representation from the Middle East there.  I know you said that it’s still open to other countries to join, but is it – are there in particular efforts to court other countries from the region?  And without that, could it really still prove to be an effective message – effective means of putting pressure on the Houthis?  

MR MILLER:  So let me start by saying that with respect to details around Prosperity Guardian, I want to refer to my colleagues at the Defense Department who are leading this coalition and can speak in detail about participation of other countries and how actually this will work and how they will use it to deter attacks on international shipping.  But I will say that of course we would welcome other countries’ participation, whether it’s countries from in the region or countries from outside the region.  One of the things that we have made clear from the beginning is that attacks on ships in the Red Sea are not just an attack on those ships, are not just an attack on those crews, are not just attack on the country from which those ships hail; they are an attack on international commerce.  So it’s something that affects not just the countries in the region and not just the parties who are affected directly by the attacks, but it affects the entire global economy.  So it is in the interests of everyone in the region and everyone in the world to deter these attacks and to respond to them.  And so yes, we would very much welcome participation from other countries in the coalition.

QUESTION:  Can I just follow up on that?

MR MILLER:  Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Saudi and the UAE are not listed as participating.  Can you give any insight as to why they’re not?

MR MILLER:  I don’t – again, I’m going to defer to the Pentagon for specific conversations about – or for specific comment on the membership of the coalition.  They were the lead agency on that.  But as I said, we would certainly welcome participation by other countries.

QUESTION:  And the Houthis?

MR MILLER:  Go ahead, Said.  I’m sorry, I’ll come to you next (inaudible).  Said, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Matt, we’re not likely to have another briefing, but – until the 2nd of January probably; that’s my understanding.  And my question to you:  Will we have a ceasefire between now and then?

MR MILLER:  Said, I am not able to predict the future.  I will say that we have made clear that we welcome humanitarian pauses.  If Hamas would begin releasing hostages again, I’m sure we could obtain a humanitarian pause; perhaps even an extended humanitarian pause that would not just see the release of hostages but would see, I would expect again, more aid – the ability for more aid to get into Gaza and aid to move more freely around Gaza, and would deliver tremendous benefits to the civilians in Gaza.  But we have to see Hamas be willing to release hostages, as they were doing, and then stopped doing last month.

QUESTION:  All right.  Well, Hamas announced that they would only accept a total ceasefire, so your expectation is that this killing could go on for another 15 days, until – or even beyond, right?

MR MILLER:  So I have not seen Hamas’s announcement.  I don’t regularly follow their announcements:  I follow their actions.  But if that is what they said, then it again confirms what we have said, which is they were at one time willing to release hostages, have reneged on the agreement that they made initially, but we do hope that they will – I was about to say “act in good faith,” which I would never – it’s hard to believe – never thinking Hamas is acting in good faith, but we would like to see them return to an arrangement where they would release hostages which could enable a humanitarian pause.

QUESTION:  So let me ask you about the other front, which is the West Bank.  There has been 300 Palestinians killed since October 7.  The occupation army just runs amok anywhere it wants, it goes into homes, throws people out, uses the facilities and so on, they tie them up and so on.  So how long will this go on?  Will you ever confront Israel on what it’s doing in the West Bank?

MR MILLER:  So let me say a few things about the West Bank.  Number one, Israel does have a right to protect itself, to conduct operations against terrorism, including terrorist activities in the West Bank.  They have the right to conduct operations, to provide security.  But just as we have made clear in Gaza, it’s true for the West Bank, that they must also take possible measures to avoid any harm to civilians.  I will also say that we have made very clear to Israel that we think they need to do more to police and prevent extremist settler violence in the West Bank, and we have taken our own actions to hold extremist settlers accountable when they commit violent actions.  And we will continue to do that, we will continue to speak both loudly from here about it and directly to Israel about it.

QUESTION:  But you are fully aware that Israel, under the pretext of protecting security, they can go into any home, as we have seen them do like maybe 10 times in the last 24 hours and so on, in Hebron, in Jenin, anywhere they want to?  So they can continue to do this under the pretext of security against unarmed civilians?  I mean, we’re not talking about Hamas presence there.

MR MILLER:  So that is your claim.  I would say that —

QUESTION:  Well, okay, it’s —

MR MILLER:  — that I cannot comment on —

QUESTION:  Right.

MR MILLER:  — an individual operation where I don’t have the details.  But of course they have the right to conduct legitimate security and anti-terrorism operations in the West Bank to maintain calm and maintain stability there.

QUESTION:  So you think that it is legitimate for them to go into any home, as we have seen in Hebron a couple days ago —

MR MILLER:  Said —

QUESTION:  I mean, I can send you the articles; it’s not my claim.  I just —

MR MILLER:  Said, you’re asking me to make a blanket statement about specific operations, which I’m not willing to do.  I’m willing to say that – as I said previously, that of course they have the right to conduct legitimate anti-terrorism operations when they see a terrorist threat, whether – whether it be in the West Bank, whether it be in Gaza; they have the right to take action to try to mitigate or neutralize that threat.  But it is important that they do so in keeping with international humanitarian law.

QUESTION:  Okay, my last question.  On the Palestinian Authority.  Now, you said from this podium that you want to see the PA revamped, or re-energized, whatever that means.  What does that mean, really?  How would you like to see this revamping being effectuated?

MR MILLER:  We would like to see the Palestinian Authority take additional steps to crack down on corruption.  We would like to see them take additional steps to engage with civil society.  We have had direct discussions with them about that.  Secretary Blinken made these points directly to President Abbas when we were last in Ramallah, and we will continue to engage in those conversations with them.

Libby.

QUESTION:  Back on the Houthis and the work being done on the diplomatic front.  Recent readouts of Secretary Blinken’s calls with Wang Yi in China have noted that the Houthis were explicitly raised.  So have – can you say whether you’ve gotten any commitments from Beijing to use its leverage with the Houthis, either directly or indirectly?

MR MILLER:  So I don’t want to speak to their side of the conversation.  I will let Beijing speak to it.  I will say that the Secretary has engaged with Wang Yi a number of times about the situation in the Middle East.  Might recall he had a phone call with him on our first trip in just the initial week after October 7th, where he made very clear that if China could use its relationships in the region to urge countries to maintain calm and maintain stability, we thought that would be a productive step.  

And yes, in his most recent conversation with him, he made the point that I was just making a moment ago, which is that attacks on international shipping by the Houthis don’t just harm those ships and those individuals.  They harm the United States; they harm China.  They harm the interests of every country.  And so yes, we would welcome China playing a constructive role in trying to prevent those attacks from taking place.  I will let China’s – the Chinese foreign ministry speak to their side of that conversation and any steps that they might have taken.  

QUESTION:  One —

QUESTION:  Beyond any one specific conversation, though, are you satisfied with China’s engagement on this front, or do you think that they could be doing more?  

MR MILLER:  I will say we think that every country in the world can be doing more.  And that’s why we are standing up this coalition that I mentioned a moment ago, and we will look for other countries to take actions that they can to try to defer – deter these attacks on shipping.

QUESTION:  One question on hostages.  Qatari sources have indicated that the talks most recently in Warsaw were positive, albeit inconclusive.  How would the U.S. characterize those talks? 

MR MILLER:  I just don’t want to characterize those talks at all from here.  I have maintained the policy from the beginning that I don’t think it’s productive to talk in details about our efforts to secure the release of hostages, and I’m going to continue to live by that rule that I said.  

QUESTION:  I’m not asking you to talk in detail, just to characterize — 

MR MILLER:  I know.  Well, that – but right, yes, I have also refrained from characterizing them, and I think I’ll continue to do that as well.

QUESTION:  Is there the expectation that talks will continue?  

MR MILLER:  Again, I’m just not going to comment on this at all from this podium.  I will say it has been our goal from the beginning – you heard the Secretary speak to this the day after October 7th, when we first learned that there were hostages taken.  And he said it will be a top priority of the United States to try to secure the release of hostages, not just American citizens but other hostages.  It has continued to be a top priority for the Secretary, and he is engaged with it in – on the issue in every meeting he’s had in the region, in every phone call he’s had with leaders in the region.  It is always one of the first things he mentions, and that’s true not just for him but for others in the government, at the White House, and at other agencies as well.  And it will continue to be a top priority until all those hostages are freed.  But I don’t want to characterize it or speak to any of the details about where that might stand from here.  

QUESTION:  All right.  Without proactively characterizing it, would you disagree with or take issue with “positive” as a characterization.  

MR MILLER:  (Laughter.)  I appreciate the effort, but I’m not going to —

QUESTION:  Okay, I have two — 

MR MILLER:  I’m not going to take the bait.  

QUESTION:  All right.  I have two questions on Russia, is that – which I can pose now or we can stay in the region.  

MR MILLER:  Go ahead now.  

QUESTION:  A few days ago in his annual press conference, Vladimir Putin said that – he acknowledged that the U.S. and Russia were in dialogue about detained Americans and said the U.S. side has to hear us and make a decision that will satisfy the Russian side as well.  Can you elaborate on what decision he was referring to?  

MR MILLER:  No, I can’t.  This is probably another place where I’m going to not talk about our efforts not to free a hostage but to free individuals who have been wrongfully detained.  We have made significant proposals to the Russian Government to secure the release of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan.  We think those proposals should have been accepted.  They weren’t.  We made one as recently as a few weeks ago, and we will continue to look for ways to engage with the Russian Government to bring them home.  I don’t want to characterize those efforts, other than to say it is a top priority to bring both of them home.  You’ve heard the Secretary speak to this, you’ve heard the President speak to it, but I don’t want to engage any further from here on what that might look like.  

QUESTION:  From that comment, though, it sounds as though, with the rejection of the U.S. offer, some sort of counteroffer may have been made.  Have the Russians put something on the table that the U.S. is considering?

MR MILLER:  I just don’t think I should speak to that from here, which you should not read – you shouldn’t read into my comments that they either have or they haven’t.  But we have ways of communicating with them about this issue.  We will do it when it’s – when we think we can take productive steps to try to bring them home.  We hope that they will engage in good faith as well.  

QUESTION:  Last question.  Have you had any update on the conditions or whereabouts of Aleksey Navalny? 

MR MILLER:  We have not.  We have not.  

QUESTION:  Are you pushing for answers?

MR MILLER:  We have raised this – we have made clear that we want to see him released, we want to see information about his status made public, but I – we do not yet have any information.  

QUESTION:  Can I follow up?  

MR MILLER:  Go ahead.  Go ahead, Alex.  

QUESTION:  Thanks.  Thank you, Matt.  President Zelenskyy just said that he is confident that U.S. will not let Ukraine down in terms of support.  Is he wrong?  

MR MILLER:  So again, I can only speak for the administration.  I think as you know, there are three branches of government in the United States, and speaking on behalf of the Executive Branch, we absolutely stand with Ukraine.  We are absolutely ready to support additional funding for Ukraine.  We have one drawdown package remaining that we can provide to Ukraine this year, and then we will have exhausted our ability to provide additional security assistance, so I think that question is one for the United States Congress.  

We have made clear that we want to see Ukraine funding that we have proposed in the President’s supplemental request passed.  We want to see it passed before the end of this year.  That remains our goal and our priority, but Congress is going to have to decide whether they are going to stand with Ukraine and supply the funding that they need to push back on Russia’s invasion as we enter what we expect to be a very difficult winter or if they’re not going to.  We continue to believe that an up-or-down vote for Ukraine funding in Congress would pass and would pass overwhelmingly, and we’ll continue to work – working with Congress to try to see that through. 

QUESTION:  If the funding dries down, is the administration considering anything outside of the box? 

MR MILLER:  There is no magic pot of funding that we have available to draw on if Congress doesn’t pass this bill.  That’s not how government funding works.  There is a – there are funding streams that we can draw on.  We have used those funding streams.  We have nearly exhausted them, and over the next few weeks, we’ll fully exhaust them, and that’s why we need Congress to act. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Can you please give a sense of where do things stand in terms of the talks going on in Europe with regard to enforcing Russian oil price cap?  Any – where are we right now at these, and any names you want to name, any countries that Russia has been using to evade the sanctions? 

MR MILLER:  No, we continue to engage with our partners about this very issue, but I don’t have any updates on it. 

QUESTION:  What’s your aim at right now at – conversations going on in Europe right now?  Is — 

MR MILLER:  The aim continues to be what it has from the beginning, which is to deny Russia the revenue that it uses to fund its war effort. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  And finally, anything on transferring frozen Russian assets to Ukraine?  This came up during President Zelenskyy’s trip to Washington, and there are congressional efforts to speed up there.  Is there any effort going on on your end?  

MR MILLER:  I just don’t have any comment on that.  It is something that we have looked at, but I don’t have any update.  

QUESTION:  But what is the administration’s position on that? 

MR MILLER:  Like I said, it’s something that we have looked at.  There remain sort of operational questions about that and legal questions about it, and I don’t have a further update. 

QUESTION:  Two questions.  I have a question first on the NDAA reupping from yesterday, there’s a provision in that law that passed making it easier to prosecute foreign officials engaged in alleged bribery schemes.  Is that something the State Department supports, or is there any concern that it could lead to reciprocal increase prosecutions of Americans? 

MR MILLER:  So we have made cracking down on corruption globally a major priority of this administration.  You’ve heard us talk about it from – a number of different times, and we have made clear to Congress that we would welcome additional authorities to police corruption globally.  But with respect to these exact provisions, I’m going to refer to the Justice Department, because it implicates their equities, and I think for matters of enforcement I should let them speak to it. 

QUESTION:  And then separately, on Iran, there’s been a wave of executions there, well more than in previous years.  What do you think this says about the regime now?  Are they more emboldened to carry out these executions or — 

MR MILLER:  So I would say that we have seen Iran take a number of steps to crack down on its public.  We have raised questions about Iran’s judicial system a number of times.  I don’t know that I would characterize anything as different.  The Iranian regime has taken a number of steps with respect to its population, not just over the past few months but over the past few years, and that’s why we continue to both call those out publicly and to take actions to hold them accountable.

Janne. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  Two questions.  North Korean Kim Jong-un threatened to attack the United States with nuclear weapons if the – if Washington makes the wrong decision.  How will you react to this? 

MR MILLER:  So we have tried to make it a policy of never – not reacting to every provocative statement that he makes.  We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK and call on the DPRK to engage in dialogue.  We harbor no hostile intent to the DPRK, as we have made clear since the outset of this administration.  And our commitments to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remain ironclad. 

QUESTION:  Then secondly, the Russian prime minister and Chinese President Xi Jinping and the other foreign ministers meet in Beijing today, and you know that the foreign ministers of China and North Korea met in Beijing yesterday.  And my question is:  What impact do you think the solidarity between Russia, China, and North Korea will have on the Korean Peninsula? 

MR MILLER:  So I would say what – as I said yesterday, that with – I’m not going to speak with respect to Russia, because we have seen Russia not play a productive role when it comes to the North Korean peninsula.  We’ve seen arms sales going back and forth between the DPRK and Russia in recent months.

I will say with respect to China, we have made clear that we do think China could play a constructive role in encouraging DPRK to pursue a diplomatic approach, and we would welcome them taking steps to further that. 

QUESTION:  Thank you. 

MR MILLER:  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  I have a question on Serbia, Matt, on the recent snap parliamentary and local elections.  The international observers, led by the OSCE, have issued a report spelling out a number of irregularities.  I was wondering if the United States would be asking the Serbian Government to look into those and investigate those? 

MR MILLER:  So we have been reviewing the OSCE’s election observation mission’s preliminary conclusions.  We have noted that they did say that the December 17th elections offered voters a choice of political alternatives, but they did find as well that the elections were marred by numerous procedural deficiencies, pressure on public employees, and misuse of public resources, and that these factors, together with the ruling party’s systemic advantages, create unjust conditions.  So we will urge Serbia to work with the OSCE to address these concerns.  

Claims of irregularities reported both by OSCE and other election observation teams should be investigated, and violence directed at election authorities, journalists, accredited observers, of which we have seen reports, is unacceptable.  And so we will continue to make that clear to Serbia and, as I said, urge them to work with the OSCE to address these concerns that have been raised. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  

QUESTION:  Could I press you on something? 

MR MILLER:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  Just how does that affect the U.S. relationship with the government in Belgrade?  

MR MILLER:  So I don’t want to have a specific comment on that.  I will say with respect to the government in Belgrade and actions in the region, we’re going to continue to urge them to de-escalate tensions and return to the EU-facilitated dialogue as it relates to the relations with their neighbors that I am frequently asked about at this briefing. 

QUESTION:  Sure.  Could I — 

MR MILLER:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  Could I ask a few things from other parts of the world? 

MR MILLER:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  Venezuela.  There have been some reports today about the release of two Americans involved in the 2019 alleged attempt to overthrow Maduro to – is there anything that you can say about that?  Is there anything — 

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any comment on the specific reports.  As you know, we have made clear that we have expected to see Venezuela to release wrongfully detained Americans.  We have made clear that we expect Venezuela to release political prisoners.  We have also made clear that some of the sanctions that we paused, we were willing to snap back into place.  And we will continue to work to try to achieve both the release of political prisoners and wrongfully detained Americans, but I don’t have any update on that from here. 

QUESTION:  Could I just ask you a couple of other things?  Sudan.  I know there’s a statement that was issued a few days ago, I believe it was.  The situation – the situation on the violence extending to – in Gezira State.  Is there anything you can say about what the situation is like now and whether there’s any U.S. diplomacy, particularly with the RSF, to try to halt the advance?

MR MILLER:  So I will say that we are deeply concerned by the RSF’s advance in Gezira State and against Wad Medani, which had become a safe haven for displaced civilians and an important hub for international humanitarian efforts.  We have urged both parties, as you know, to refrain from attacks.  We had this process – I think it was last week or week before last – where they once again said that they would commit to a ceasefire and then failed to follow through on their commitments, as they have on a number of occasions previously.  

So I will just say it is the choices of General Burhan – generals Burhan and Hemedti that have led to unspeakable atrocities across the country, that have led to a collapsing health care system, grave food insecurity.  We will continue to support the Sudanese people throughout this process, and we will continue to use all available tools to support those people and end the fighting.  That includes sanctions to press for an end of the conflict.  We have imposed 11 designations already since the fighting began.  It will include continuing to impress to countries in the region and others that there should be no outside support for the parties in the conflict.  It will include supporting IGAD in the steps following the commitments that were made last week that I referred to, and it will of course include supporting Sudanese civilians as they work to resume the stalled political transition. 

QUESTION:  Thanks. 

QUESTION:  May I ask one more question? 

QUESTION:  Can I just – just very briefly.  Just one in the region, in Africa. 

MR MILLER:  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  As you know, DRC has elections tomorrow.  Do you – I mean, this is more of a general question, but do you have any assessment about how things are going?  It seems to be a bit calmer than it has been historically in the past.  Is – does the U.S. have any assessment and any call on what it hopes happens? 

MR MILLER:  So we commend the Congolese people for their active participation in the electoral process.  We reiterate our support for their right to vote.  And I will say, before offering a – I don’t think we’re at the point where we can offer a full assessment yet, but it’s essential for the government to uphold freedom of expression, including for members of the press, and peaceful assembly.  They’re all critical pillars of a credible electoral process.  

We do appreciate the electoral commission’s efforts to date to implement elections and adhere to its electoral calendar; additional steps to ensure transparency of the electoral processes, including clear information on how and when election results will be made available; help build confidence in the process.  And we urge all candidates and parties to do their part to promote free and fair elections conducted through a peaceful and credible process.  

Ryan, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thanks, Matt.  

MR MILLER:  Welcome back to the briefing room.  Twice in two weeks. 

QUESTION:  I know.  It’s good to be here.  I have a Pakistan question, but first on Gaza.  Pope Francis said recently – he said, quote, “unarmed civilians are subjected to bombings and shootings, and this even happened inside the parish complex of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists but families, children, sick and disabled people, nuns.  Someone says, ‘It’s terrorism.  It’s war.’  Yes, it’s war; it’s terrorism,” unquote.

So first, is the pope wrong about this?  And is the U.S. concerned about its standing among the international community if the pope is willing to describe what Israel is doing as terrorism? 

MR MILLER:  So one of the things that we have made clear to Israel from the outset is that we do not want to see churches, mosques, schools, hospitals attacked.  In the Secretary’s last trip, he had a very candid conversation with the Israeli Government about the importance of protecting those civilian sites and ensuring that they are on deconfliction – deconfliction lists so they are not targeted.  

I will say with respect to this particular incident that you raise, we raised this with – directly with the Israeli Government and asked tough questions about it, and we will continue to do so.  

I will say with respect to the larger issue, you’ve heard – I would say you’ve heard me, but you’re not – as we know, you’re not always here.  I have spoken to the issue from the podium before that one of the things that we have heard from not just our allies who agree with us on approach to Israel, but from countries with which we have very clear disagreements, including those who are calling for an immediate ceasefire – something that we do not support – that they recognize the importance of United States engagement on this issue, they recognize the importance of United States diplomacy on this issue, and they recognize the important role that only the United States can play in, I will say, working with the Government of Israel and other partners in the region, something that there really is – it’s a role that cannot be replaced by any other country, and so we will continue to play that role.

QUESTION:  And on Pakistan, I want to read you a Voice of America headline.  They headlined the story, “Pakistan Restricts Internet Access Amid Rare Opposition Online Rally.”  That’s a recent article.  There was a virtual rally held by the opposition party because the opposition party leader is in jail.  And I’m wondering if the throttling of the internet amid an online rally makes a mockery of the many – of the many times you’ve encouraged Pakistan to hold free and fair upcoming elections.  Are they free and fair if even a virtual rally with the opposition leader in prison is being throttled nationally online?

MR MILLER:  So I cannot speak to the specific report you’re referring to because I’m not familiar with those underlying details.  But we have always made clear that we think access to the internet is an important component in a free society, and we’ll continue to make that clear as a general proposition for Pakistan and every other country in the world. 

QUESTION:  Asim Munir was just here, the army chief.  Was that raised with him?  I didn’t see any public comments made by State Department.  And why was he meeting with civilians rather than only military?

MR MILLER:  So I’m not going to get into private diplomatic conversations, but I will say we engage a number of times with military leaders from other countries, just as military leaders from the United States engage with civilian officials for other countries.  That’s not in any way unusual.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah, thank you, Matt.  According to a Jerusalem Post report dated December 17th this year, Türkiye and President Erdogan have hosted Hamas leaders.  Is America demanding that NATO partner Türkiye extradite them to America since they murdered our citizens?  And if not, why not?  And I have a follow-up question.

MR MILLER:  So I am not going to speak to matters of extradition, which to be extradited you have to be the subject of criminal charges and I don’t speak to that from this podium.  That’s a question for the Justice Department.  But I will say we have made clear to countries all around the world that we do not believe there can be business as usual with Hamas moving forward.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And as the Palestinian Authority continues to depict all of Israel as Palestine, as do so many Palestinians, as we see on social media and chants of “From the river to the sea,” clearly in deeds rather than words, and they reject Israel’s existence, after October 7th and the continuing rocket attacks not only from Hamas, how could Israel and Israelis trust and depend upon Palestinians to be peaceful neighbors for at least a generation?

MR MILLER:  So I will say that one of the things that we believe is that the vast majority of the Israeli public want to live in peace with their Palestinian neighbors, and the vast majority of Palestinians want to live in peace with their Israeli neighbors.  Now, this is not an easy problem to solve or it would have been solved decades ago, and a number of administrations have tried and come up short.  And a number of different countries, not just the United States, have tried and come up short.  But it continues to be our belief that the only way to achieve durable, lasting peace for both the Palestinians and Israelis is to – is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state that satisfies the legitimate political aspirations of the Palestinian people.  

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Matt, thank you so much.  If I may, I will ask two questions, one on Bangladesh.  On December 19, today, four people, including a woman and three-years-old child were killed after arsonists set on fire three coaches on the Dhaka-bound express train.  Is the Biden administration concerned about the victims falling prey to such arson attacks?

MR MILLER:  So I’m just not familiar with that specific incident and don’t have a comment on it.

QUESTION:  And second about the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson said if the result of the people’s vote are not satisfactory for United States, attempt can be made to destabilize Bangladesh like Arab Spring.  Your comments, please, on that?

MR MILLER:  We support a free and fair election in Bangladesh, and I don’t have any further comment from that.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Matthew.  A couple questions.  One, Egypt is losing a lot of money with so many vessels opting not to use the Suez Canal.  How does the administration see this affecting stability in the region?

MR MILLER:  Let me take that one back.  I don’t have a comment on the Suez.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And does the administration have any indication that shipping companies are reconsidering their decision to avoid the Red Sea since Prosperity Guardian was announced?

MR MILLER:  So Prosperity Guardian was just announced late yesterday, so maybe a little early to be making assessments about the individual choices of private companies.  But certainly it is our – it is our hope and our expectation that we will return – be able to deter the Houthis’ attacks, respond to the Houthi attacks, and restore some level of normalcy for shipping in the Red Sea.

QUESTION:  And finally, the administration’s reaction to the Vatican’s announcement yesterday regarding blessings for same-sex couples outside of marriage?  

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

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) news agency.  I have one question on Western Balkans, back to the Western Balkans.  As we know, the recent U.S. summit in North Macedonia failed to formally start the negotiations talks with the EU because the country’s parliament is blocked by the opposition party in adoption of an important change for the constitution for inclusion of Bulgarian minority and other minorities in the constitution.  So my question is:  What is the American diplomacy on the ground doing to help the two largest Macedonian parties to overcome this issue?  We know that the U.S. Ambassador Aggeler had several statements on this and called the parties to find a solution and change the constitution.  Is U.S. diplomacy pushing an agreement to be reached on this matter?  And no matter what, what would the results of the upcoming elections in the country – can you — 

MR MILLER:  Let me take that one back and get you a specific answer.  

And with that, I think we will wrap for the day and wrap for the year.  I hope everyone is able to get a little rest over the holiday period and spend time with your loved ones and your family and enjoy a blessed holiday.  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:36 p.m.)

U.S. Department of State

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