1:22 p.m. EST

MR MILLER:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Start with a few comments.

Earlier today the Secretary of State announced the designation of the Houthis as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, effective February 16th, for threatening the security of the United States.

Since November, the Houthis have launched numerous missiles and drones towards international merchant ships, as well as U.S. and partner naval vessels defending the safety and security of commercial shipping across the Red Sea.

These attacks against international shipping have endangered mariners and disrupted the free flow of commerce and freedom of navigation.

For the past several weeks, the United States, with allies and partners around the world, has made clear that there must be consequences for those attacks, and today’s designation follows on our military action last week to hold the Houthis accountable for their actions.

As always, we are working to mitigate any adverse impacts of this designation on the people of Yemen, including through the issuance of five general licenses by the Treasury Department designed to ensure that food, fuel, critical humanitarian aid, and essential commercial goods are able to continue flowing to vulnerable Yemeni civilians.

The United States is the world’s leading donor of humanitarian assistance to Yemen.  We recognize the grave humanitarian situation there, which is why we are taking these steps to minimize harm to the civilian population.  At the same time, we will continue to make clear to the Houthis that their attacks against commercial vessels must stop, and we will remain – we will remain prepared to take additional actions if necessary.

And with that, start with you, Matt.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Matt.  Before going back into that, I just want to – let’s get this out of the way at the very top.  What was the issue with the Secretary’s plane?

MR MILLER:  There was a mechanical issue.  I don’t know the nature of the mechanical issue.  But he is in Zurich.  He was scheduled to fly back from Zurich.  There’s a mechanical issue with his plane.  The Air Force has a replacement plane inbound.  We expect him to be back still tonight, but several hours later than originally planned.

QUESTION:  But it didn’t disrupt any of his meetings or anything –

MR MILLER:  No, it was at the conclusion of his meetings.  He’d already left Davos, travelled to Zurich.

QUESTION:  And then just to forestall what I expect will be questions, this is – you would refer any questions about the actual plane to the Air Force, right, the Pentagon?

MR MILLER:  Since it is their plane, yes indeed I would.

QUESTION:  Yeah?  Okay.

MR MILLER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  All right, good.  Hope that’s done with, then.  On the Houthis:  Why not go for the full FTO redesignation?  Why only do the SDGT?

MR MILLER:  So when we looked at the options that were available to us, we were trying to (1) maximize the deterrent impact on the Houthis while (2) mitigate the impact, any potential impact, on vulnerable Yemeni civilians.  And what we saw when looking at the options is that there was a possibility – and this is something that we found in our conversations with groups that are providing humanitarian aid in Yemen – that an FTO designation ran the risk of having a deterrent effect on some of those aid groups continuing to provide aid, worried that they might be charged as material – as providing material support to a terrorist organization.

So when weighing those options, we decided that the SDGT designation gave us the tools to deny the Houthis access to the financial system and gave us the tools to impose additional actions, additional sanctions, on anyone who does business with the Houthis while minimizing some of the downstream harm to Yemeni civilians and the deterrent effect that we thought the – an FTO designation would have on aid groups, and that we saw when there was previously an FTO designation in place; it did have a deterrent effect on groups that really wanted to provide just humanitarian aid and nothing else.

QUESTION:  Well, I – did it – I mean, it was not – it was in place for about three days before you guys –

MR MILLER:  Right.  And in our conversations with aid groups, we at the time were told that they were going to be pulling back on the actions that they were taking —

QUESTION:  But they never did.

MR MILLER:  — that they were – they were taking.  I – this is three years ago; I can’t speak to specifics.  But they were —

QUESTION:  All right, well —

MR MILLER:  They told us that they were planning to, and so that’s something that we took into consideration today.

QUESTION:  In terms of three years ago, is this an admission or – I hate to – hesitate to use the word “admission” – but is this a recognition that you guys made a mistake in removing them from both the FTO and the SDGT lists just after the administration took office?

MR MILLER:  Not at all.  The circumstances have very much changed.  We’ve seen, in the last few months, something that wasn’t the case in —

QUESTION:  Well, it changed because – because the Houthis have, since the designations were lifted, been able to build up and get more equipment and power, and —

MR MILLER:  So the Houthis – the —

QUESTION:  — cement their position.

MR MILLER:  The Houthis were procuring military equipment long before that designation, and they continued to procure it in the years since.  What’s changed is we have seen them launching attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, something that wasn’t the case in 2021.  And that’s why we decided it was important to take this step.  Remember, this isn’t the only step that we’re taking.  We’re also taking military actions that we were not – the United States was not taking in 2020 and 2021 because we were looking at a very different situation now than we were then.

QUESTION:  All right.  And what precisely is the deterrent effect that you think this designation will have?

MR MILLER:  The effect that we think it will have will be to allow us to deny the Houthis access to the U.S. financial system.  It will —

QUESTION:  All right.  How much access to the U.S. financial system do they have?

MR MILLER:  So I don’t think they have a bank account at the Bank of New York.  But people have ways of trying to get around and find access to the U.S. financial system.  And this will give us tools not just to go after them, but also to enable the imposition of sanctions on any other bad actors who support them – something that we weren’t able to do, but now we’re able to do because of this designation today.

QUESTION:  The other bad actors that support them.  You mean Iran?

MR MILLER:  Any number of groups.  It could be private individuals too, who you see at times providing financial support.  It provides additional basis for U.S. law enforcement action, and generally just gives us more tools to go after their access to funds that we want to deny them.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Follow-up on that.

MR MILLER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Is it true that with this SDGT designation, Houthi operatives or suspected Houthi operatives can apply for visas and travel into the United States?

MR MILLER:  I would be very – so I won’t speak to that.  I would have to get back and check the details.  But I don’t think you should expect that any Houthi operative who applies for a visa to travel into the United States is going to see that visa approved any time in the near future, to say the least.

QUESTION:  What’s the mechanism in place to kind of prevent that, if it is the case that —

MR MILLER:  Well, we always are reviewing visas of anyone who applies for it.  But I think it’s a safe bet that a member of a group who has been designated as we designated the Houthis today is not going to see their visa approved for travel.

QUESTION:  It’s my understanding that under the terrorist designation, the FTO designation, there’s some kind of a mechanism in place to prevent that.  That’s potentially not in place with the SDGT, so I’m curious if there – additional, Matt, if that is the case, and I get that you’re going to confirm that, if you could give us any detail on how the administration would prevent that from happening.

MR MILLER:  I’m happy to look into any of the specific details that you’re asking about.  But I will say that anyone that applies for a visa to travel to the United States, there’s a process they go through to have that visa granted.  And I can assure you that a member of the Houthis, which has now been designated by the United States as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist, is not going to see their visa to travel to the United States approved.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Follow-up on —

MR MILLER:  Jen, go ahead.

QUESTION:  I wanted to follow up on some things the Secretary said last week.  He said he didn’t see the conflict escalating in the Middle East.  In the days since, we’ve seen a number of strikes from the Houthis, from the Iranians, in different countries – Pakistan, Iraq, for example.  Is it still the assessment that the conflict is not escalating?

MR MILLER:  So I will say that we have, from the outset of this conflict, seen various actions by the – we’ve seen them by the Houthis.  We’ve seen actions between Israel and Hizballah in the north of Israel.  We’ve seen attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, attacks that we have responded to on a number of occasions.  So we have seen kinetic activity since October 7th in addition, of course, to the – Israel’s military campaign in Gaza.  What we have not seen yet, and what we have very much worked to deter, and what was a primary objective of the Secretary’s trip last week was to prevent the region from tipping into a full-blown conflagration.

And so far, that effort has been successful, but it is something that we continue to work on all the time because I think, as I said right before we left, the risk very much does remain high that groups could miscalculate, that groups could try to take advantage of instability to further their own goals.  And so that’s why we continue to engage in diplomatic efforts, to try to make clear to everyone in the region that we don’t want to see the conflict escalated, that we don’t think it’s in any country’s interest to see the conflict escalated, and it’s why we’ll continue to do so at the same time we take action to hold the Houthis accountable for – to uphold basic principles such as the right to free navigation.

QUESTION:  Do you get any indication that Iran is taking these messages that are being conveyed to them to heart?  Do you sense that they are ever going to try to de-escalate —

MR MILLER:  So I certainly wouldn’t want to speak for Iran.  I will say that we continue to deliver a message, very loud and clear – you’ve heard us say it publicly, and the Secretary made it clear to a number of partners in the region when we were there, including countries that have diplomatic relations with Iran and have conversations with them – that we do not want to see the conflict escalated, and we do not believe they should want to see the conflict escalated; but also said very clearly that we will defend U.S. personnel, and we will defend U.S. interests.  And that will not change.

So all I can do is speak for the United States and make clear that we don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest, including Iran’s, to see this conflict escalated.

QUESTION:  And last question.  The Secretary announced that the U.S. and Israel had agreed on a plan for a UN assessment team to go into northern Gaza.  Do you have any details on when that might take place, the scope of that assessment team?

MR MILLER:  We continue to work through those details.  Ambassador Satterfield, of course, our special envoy, has had a number of meetings about this exact question in the past few days in the region.  We’re working through details with the United Nations.  We’re working through details with the Government of Israel.  There are a number of preliminary steps that have to take place before the UN assessment mission can be launched.  But it is a high priority for us that that UN assessment mission be launched as soon as possible and that it be completed.

And just to explain, I know the Secretary talked about it, but I’ve been gone for a while, so the – get into why we think this assessment mission is so important.  We have seen hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flee their homes in the north to escape the military conflict and move to the south.  The fact that you have so many people crowded into such a small area has put an incredible amount of pressure on the humanitarian efforts there.  It’s tough to find adequate housing for people.  It’s tough to get food and water and everything they need.  And it just puts an enormous amount of strain on the system.

So it is the position of the United States, and the Secretary made this clear in our meetings in Israel last week, that people should be allowed to return to their homes in the north as soon as the conditions allow.  So what we mean by “as soon as conditions allow” – it means, number one, that there isn’t widespread fighting going on in their neighborhood, so they return home and are immediately put in harm’s way; but number two, it also means that we have – there is an assessment of whether it’s safe, even absent kinetic activity, to return to their homes.  We know, for example, that there is unexploded ordnance in the north.  We know, for example, that there is an enormous problem – probably a larger problem than the problem of unexploded ordnance – of booby traps that Hamas set to try to target Israeli forces, booby traps that have never been triggered, IEDs that remain either along roadsides or in apartment buildings.  So we don’t want to see the situation where someone comes home, and a family walks into their home and an IED is detonated and kills that family member.  So this assessment mission is critical before we can achieve that step that we are trying to achieve, which is allowing people to come back to their homes and neighborhoods.

QUESTION:  I have one follow-up question on that.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up on that?

MR MILLER:  Go ahead – I’ll come – yeah, I’ll come to you in a minute, Said.  Go ahead, Leon.

QUESTION:  Yeah, I – it’s not really a follow-up, but speaking of escalation and – you said that the U.S. will defend its interests wherever it is.  That’s exactly the argument Iran is using when it’s striking targets in – of what they call terrorists groups in Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan.  What is your take on that?  Do you condemn those strikes?  Do you think Iran has a right to defend itself as the U.S. would?

MR MILLER:  So we do condemn those strikes.  We’ve seen Iran violate the sovereign borders of three of its neighbors in just the past couple days.  And I will say that the difference is the context very much matters.  I think it is a little rich for at one – on one hand, Iran to be the leading funder of terrorism in the region, the leading funder of instability in the region; and on the other hand, claim that it needs to take this action – these actions to counter terrorism.  So when you’ve seen us take action, it has been in Iraq where we – our forces are at the invitation of the Iraqi Government.  That’s the only reason our forces are there.  And you’ve seen us take action against the Houthis, which we have done as part of an international coalition and after a United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Houthis for their attacks on commercial shipping.

QUESTION:  Follow-up – so you think you have covered – I mean, the strike that you – you are covered – coalition and all that – but Iran is doing is bad – you are covered?

MR MILLER:  I think they are very different situations for all the reasons I just articulated.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike)

MR MILLER:  Go ahead.  Yeah, I’ll come to you next, Olivia.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  Today, Thomas Friedman of The New York Times asked the Secretary of State whether – do Jewish lives matter more than Palestinian Muslim lives – Muslim and Christian – Palestinian Christian lives, given the incredible asymmetry in casualties and so on – to which the Secretary said with an emphatic no.  Now, tell us how does that square with the fact that both the President and the Secretary of State said, in statements marking the hundredth day, talked about the ordeal with the hostages and so on, and not a single mention of 100,000 Palestinian dead, missing, or injured.

MR MILLER:  So —

QUESTION:  Tell us how that squares with that.

MR MILLER:  So, Said, I think you cannot take any one statement from any official in this administration in isolation and say that that reflects the totality of our opinion and the totality of what we have to say about the situation.  And if you want to get specific about it, I will say that just two or three days before that statement came out, the Secretary was in Israel, and he talked about the fact that we are about to mark 100 days of this conflict.

And if you go and look at the Secretary’s remarks, he talked about the effect that this conflict has had on Israelis – and especially the families of Israeli hostages who have spent 100 days not knowing the status of their loved ones – not knowing if they’re alive, not knowing the situation in which they are being held captive, not knowing if they were – will ever be allowed to come home and reunite with their loved ones.  And he talked about what it’s meant for Palestinians in Gaza, many of whom – thousands of whom – are mourning the death of loved ones and thousands of whom are having to live in really intolerable humanitarian conditions.

So the Secretary has spoken on a number of occasions, as has the President, about the toll that this has taken – this conflict has taken on Israelis and on Palestinians.  And it is why – it is what motivates the work that we and the administration have been doing to try to bring this conflict to an end in a way that ultimately establishes a just and lasting peace, that ensures the security and the prosperity of both Israelis and Palestinians alike.

QUESTION:  Today the WFP program – the World Food Programme said that there’s actually a possible famine – the Palestinians face a possible famine at a time when there are trucks laden with food and so on – and they’re not getting in, simply because Israel makes it so.  So what is your position on this?

MR MILLER:  So we have been working very hard to address the quite dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.  The Secretary made it a focus of this trip.  It’s something that was the subject of his meetings with Israeli officials.  The Secretary went and toured a WFP warehouse in Amman where food is being stockpiled and then delivered into Gaza for the benefit of Palestinian civilians.

We recognize – we are the first to say that more needs to be done.  More needs to be done to break down some of the logistical difficulties that the UN has faced in delivering aid into Gaza.  More needs to be done to get aid, once it’s inside Gaza, to civilians both in the south and in the north.  We want to see more trucks move into the north where we know – even though there are – hundreds of thousands of people who haven’t been able to go back to their homes, there are still Palestinians who are in the north who need access to food and water, just as people in the south do.  So we continue to work on this very difficult problem.  Our Special Envoy David Satterfield is in the region working on that.  As I said, he was engaged in meetings on this question just in the past few days, and it’s something we’ll continue to work through because it is a high priority for us.

QUESTION:  And finally, the – in the same interview, the Secretary said he was wondering what’s to be done about Gaza.  How about a ceasefire?  I think that would resolve – immediately would probably resolve this tragedy.

MR MILLER:  So again – and we have obviously spoken about this before – we do want to see an end to this conflict.  We want to see it as soon as possible.  But we want to see an end to this conflict that’s durable and not an end to this conflict that leaves Hamas in place to again launch terrorist attacks against Israel.  That’s not something that’s tolerable to Israel; it’s not something that is – would be tolerable in any country.   So we want to see an end to this conflict that ensures that October 7th can never be repeated.

And that’s why, when the secretary was in the region, you saw him launch this effort to work with Arab partners and with Türkiye to coordinate our efforts to reach a peace not just for the short term, but that eventually – that establishes a very clear path to a Palestinian state with tangible steps forward to ensure that there is a Palestinian state and real security assurances and security guarantees for Israel from the United States and from other countries in the region, because that is the only lasting solution, not just for the Palestinians but for Israelis as well.

Oh, I said I would go to Olivia next, and then I’ll —

QUESTION:  Just to follow up – then I’m glad to turn it over.

MR MILLER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Sorry, on the specific question about the WFP warehouse that we went to in Amman, because there the WFP staff were saying to us and to the Secretary that it would be helpful if you talked about people in the north of Gaza – not – we’re not talking about people returning to the north, which this UN mission is about, but the people who are still stuck in the north – are without aid, have been without aid for a really long time because none of the trucks can get there.  They had a very simple request, which was there are border crossings between northern Gaza and Israel, could the Israelis allow aid to cross those – is that something the Secretary raised with the Israelis?  And what was their response?

MR MILLER:  So I won’t get into specifics that he raised around this.  I will say that there are hurdles to opening some of those crossings.  I believe there are some of them that have – that had been damaged as a result of the conflict.  But I will say that we have tried to ensure that trucks can make it from the south to the north.   There may ultimately be some other solution down the road with access to the north, but the immediate solution that we have been working on is to get some of the trucks that enter either through Rafah or Kerem Shalom to move to the north.

And the hurdle that we have faced is a very simple one of deconfliction, that the UN is trying to send trucks to the north and they have a – difficulty ensuring that there’s deconfliction with the IDF to ensure that those trucks aren’t struck.  I’m not saying that trucks have been struck, but if you don’t have the appropriate assurances, you can see why they might be concerned about sending them to the north.  It is just a logistical issue that we have been trying to work through as an immediate solution to people – to ensure that there is enough humanitarian aid in the north.

But that isn’t meaning that – that is an issue that Ambassador Satterfield was working on today in a meeting with Israeli officials, trying to ensure that we solved this deconfliction problem and get aid moving from the south to the north, as well as we continue to work through other solutions for getting aid in, but I don’t want to speak to those publicly at this point.

QUESTION:  But the aid officials were also saying that people in the south of Gaza are so hungry that if you send a food truck from the south to the north, it’s not going to get there.  So perhaps opening those border crossings – but aside from that, just to clarify from Jenny’s —

MR MILLER:  Can I say —

QUESTION:  Yeah.

MR MILLER:  — that is exactly the problem, and that is why – I’ll just say – because you were right about the problem, and we are focused on it.  And the answer to it that we always focus on is to try to get more aid in overall, because if you get more aid in you will solve that problem of people trying to attack convoys and take aid and get it for themselves because they are so desperate and believe that otherwise they won’t get access to it.  So we believe the ultimate solution is just getting more aid in overall.  But sorry, didn’t mean to cut off your questions.

QUESTION:  Sure.  No, I just wanted to clarify an answer to Jenny’s question that – you came, you went to a food warehouse in Amman.  You came to Israel to talk to Israelis with quite a few requests about humanitarian aid.  What – seemed to be the only thing that you came out with was this promise to allow a UN aid mission with no timeline, right – there – is that – does that sort of seem like a satisfactory sort of concession from the Israelis, given all of the dramatic language being used about aid and the risk of famine, we get the promise of UN access at some point with no specific timeline?

MR MILLER:  So let me – I’m not so much rejecting the premise of the question, but I want to broaden it a little bit.  It wasn’t the only objective that we had going into either the trip or going into our discussions with Israeli officials.  We were also working on trying to deter the conflict.  We were working on trying to reduce civilian casualties.  We were working on ultimately bringing about the establishment of a Palestinian state, and we – as you know, when we went to Israel, went in able to tell Israeli officials that all of the Arab countries in the region that we talked to – a number of them on that trip – were ready to enter into real discussions with Israel about reconstruction of Gaza and Palestinian-led governance of Gaza.  But there had to be an exchange for the Palestinian – an establishment of the Palestinian state.

So I want to broaden the lens a little first, but then to get to your specific question, I will say also that we were focused on increase in the amount of aid, and we have seen the amount of aid going up.  We’re up to a little over 200 trucks now going in in the last few days, which is, again, not sufficient, but it is better than it has been and something we’re continuing to try to increase.

And I will say that I also think that I reject somewhat the characterization of the UN mission, which we see as quite important because it is the thing that unlocks a dramatic improvement in the humanitarian situation.  There are things that we have to – steps that we have to go through first that I can’t detail publicly, but steps we have to get into before this mission can be launched, and we are intensely focused on completing those steps so we can see it launched, and engaged in very direct conversations with the Israeli Government about it.

But we think this is a critical step because allowing people to return to their homes and neighborhoods first of all would alleviate the humanitarian situation in the south, as I said a moment ago, but it would also give them some ability to start rebuilding their lives and getting back to some small semblance of normalcy – nowhere close to normalcy yet, but to some small semblance of it – that it’s an important step to start.

Now, there’s a lot of work that remains to be done to get there, and none of it’s going to be easy, but we are working every day to try to kind of go through this one step at a time to get that assessment mission launched so people can start to return home.

Olivia.

QUESTION:  One —

MR MILLER:  Sorry to now —

QUESTION:  That’s all right.  That’s okay.  As one point of clarification on northern Gaza, was it ever communicated to the Secretary or anyone else on the American side that it’s Israel policy not to permit people to return to the north unless and until a new hostage deal is struck?

MR MILLER:  No.

QUESTION:  Okay, so that was never said?

MR MILLER:  It was not.  And I did see the reports that – in advance that Israeli officials planned to say that, and I saw some reports in advance claiming that they did, but they did not in any meeting with the Secretary.

QUESTION:  So it’s neither the spoken nor unspoken policy of the Israeli Government to make that kind of link?

MR MILLER:  I cannot speak to the unspoken policy.  I can tell you that they said to us that they do not want to see Palestinians displaced from their homes, and they said to us that they would support a UN mission to assess the conditions so people could return to their homes.  And they also never linked return to their homes to the release of hostages in any way, shape, or form.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And I know you said that the discussions are ongoing.  I mean, it was a week ago that the announcement about the UN assessment was announced.  So, I mean, is anybody moving with, like, real alacrity to let that take place?

MR MILLER:  I can tell you that on behalf of the United States, we are moving with enormous deliberateness and enormous focus to get this done, and there are a number of steps that we have to work through with the United Nations, with the Government of Israel.  But it was our urging that got this UN mission approved in the first place.  So I can guarantee you we didn’t walk in and urge for it to be approved just so it could wither on the vine.  We want to see it launched – we want to see it launched as soon as possible – because we do believe it is important to find out what the conditions are there so we collectively, with the international community can start to look at any mitigation steps that need to be done to allow people to return home.

QUESTION:  Sorry, what does that mean, “enormous deliberateness?”

MR MILLER:  It means —

QUESTION:  It certainly does not mean “alacrity.”

MR MILLER:  I just didn’t want to – I just didn’t – so “alacrity,” I just didn’t – I didn’t want to – I was —

QUESTION:  No, it’s just that some of us are old enough to remember when desegregation was supposed to happen with “all deliberate speed.”

MR MILLER:  I – so let me – let me – let me put it this way:  We want it to happen as soon as possible.

QUESTION:  It took a long, long, long time.

MR MILLER:  Matt, let me put it this way:  We want it to happen as soon as possible.  And that means —

QUESTION:  Well, but she —

MR MILLER:  That means – I – the only reason I —

QUESTION:  She – her word was “alacrity.”

MR MILLER:  The only reason I – the only reason I – the only reason I didn’t use “alacrity,” I didn’t want to just parrot her word back to her.  I was trying to come up with something —

QUESTION:  What’s wrong with my word?

MR MILLER:  Your word is great.  I just wanted to be creative and have my own.  So —

QUESTION:  You wanted – you wanted to say “deliberateness,” which —

MR MILLER:  So I wanted to —

QUESTION:  — which deliberately confuses it and makes it seem as though it could drag out for years.

MR MILLER:  I wanted – but I – so let me put this – let me put it this way:  The Secretary said last week we want to see it happen as soon as possible.  I think I said earlier that we want to see it happen as soon as possible.  So —

QUESTION:  Well, the reason I raise that, Matt – so, I mean, you’ve been wanting humanitarian aid to get boosted for the past three months, and that hasn’t been – no meaningful change in that has happened, I think.  The number of trucks going in is still stuck at fewer than 200 on average daily, right?  So for the U.S. to want this to happen as soon as possible, what does that mean?

MR MILLER:  So —

QUESTION:  Because the Israelis are not fully on board.  Did you receive any assurances or the Secretary securing assurances from the Israeli Government that they would move with alacrity on this issue?

MR MILLER:  So all I can speak for is the United States and what we are trying to achieve.  And I will tell you, it is the highest priority for us to get humanitarian aid in, and I think it’s fair to say it’s been a high – an incredibly high priority for us from the beginning, since you’ve seen it be the focus of the Secretary’s trips and you’ve seen the Secretary secure agreements to allow humanitarian aid to get in in the first place and then now for this UN mission.  But we are not the only party here.  The United Nations is a party; Israel is a party.  All of these things are complicated.  All of these things are difficult problems.  All we can do is to push hard privately, to say what we think clearly publicly, and to try to work through hurdles as they arise and knock down those hurdles to get this mission off the ground as we have solved other issues as it relates to humanitarian aid since the outset of this conflict.

QUESTION:  Let me ask briefly just on Iran and Pakistan and Iraq.  Have there been any – has there been any diplomatic engagement between the U.S. and Iraq and the U.S. and Pakistan to message either the need to respond or not to respond to these strikes by Iran?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any specific conversations to read out?

QUESTION:  Do you expect to have any in order to further this effort to contain the conflict?

MR MILLER:  Again, I just – I wouldn’t want to speak to what may or may not happen, but I don’t have any specific conversations to read out to you.

QUESTION:  Can I follow on that?

QUESTION:  Okay.  I mean, China has publicly called on both – on Iran and Pakistan at least to maintain peace and stability.  So apart from condemning Iran’s moves, I mean, does the U.S. have a similar public message (inaudible)?

MR MILLER:  Certainly we always want to see peace and stability maintained, especially in this region, where it’s been the focus of our diplomatic efforts since October 7th.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Very briefly before – I know there’s a lot of questions on this – the Secretary mentioned some leadership engagements with China in the coming year.  Can you clarify at all what he meant by that?  Is that at the presidential level?

MR MILLER:  I’m not going to speak to specific engagements, but what we have – what you have seen since last June when the Secretary traveled to Beijing to kind of relaunch this tempo of meetings at a high level between the United States and China – regular diplomatic engagements both here at the State Department but also among others in the government, including the President himself, of course; including the National Security Advisor; and including other cabinet officials – and we do expect that tempo of engagements to continue, but I don’t have any specific meetings to announce, either from this building or others around the government.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  And I will just say, I have to comment on – you got skipped over twice and then had like eight questions, so well —

QUESTION:  Four.

MR MILLER:  Four?  I don’t – some follow-ups count too.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  Back to today’s designation.  I have other regions to cover later.  Is it still your assessment that Iran’s proxies are acting alone, they are making solely independent decisions, even after what we have heard from Iranian foreign minister at Davos today?  He —

MR MILLER:  So I think I got this – I’d say I think I got this question before – once before, where people attributed an assessment to me that I had not yet made.  I think the thing that we have consistently said about Iran’s proxies in the region is that Iran has armed these groups, Iran is in constant communication with these groups; so certainly the framing of that question to make it sound like we have given Iran a free pass certainly is not the case.

Now, we don’t think it’s in Iran’s interest to see any escalation, and we think Iran should send a very clear, deliberate message to all of its proxies to stand down, to stop fomenting instability across the region, but I think I’ll – just wanted to correct that sort of – the premise there.

QUESTION:  No, just – and that makes perfect sense, but just to be clear about that, Iran’s foreign minister today linked the security of Red Sea to the Gaza events, and he said everyone will suffer if it doesn’t stop.  He said all the fronts will remain active.  So what do you make of these statements?

MR MILLER:  So first of all, I’m going to say that linkage is a bit absurd.  I don’t know what commercial vessels carrying civilian mariners from around the world – not from Israel, not from the United States, on vessels in most cases not flagged as Israeli ships or United States ships – I don’t know what attacks on those ships have – has to do with the conflict in Gaza.  In fact, I do know what it has to do with the conflict in Gaza: nothing.  It has nothing to do with it, which is the point that we have tried to make clear in marshaling this international coalition to make – to impose consequences on the Houthis.  So the message to Iran is the same as it was to the Houthis, which is attacking unarmed civilian vessels that are just sailing through international waters has nothing to do with the conflict in Gaza, and we will do what we need to to deter those attacks.

QUESTION:  Your action today doesn’t scream any message to Iran.  It doesn’t scream any accountability for Houthis either.  It’s about “stop; if you don’t stop, we will” – “if you stop, we will reconsider our decision.”  My question is you mentioned that we did send private message to Iran.  In what way?  Was there any communication at Davos?  Any fist bump, anything between the U.S. and Iranian delegation?

MR MILLER:  No, not that I – I’m not in Davos, but I’m not aware of any, no.  You can see I’m standing here in Washington, D.C., but no, I’m not aware of any —

QUESTION:  Okay.  Last one on Ukraine.  Iranian foreign minister also denied today his contribution – his country’s contribution to the war in Ukraine.  Do you have any comment on that?  He still says that we do not send any drones despite the fact that Ukraine has multiple times provided facts.  Any comment?

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  I would just say that’s obviously not true and the evidence speaks for itself.

QUESTION:  On Iran?

MR MILLER:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yeah, I wanted to ask you about the size of the international coalition against the Houthis.  And are there some countries that are afraid to be named in that coalition?

MR MILLER:  So I will let my colleagues at the Department of Defense speak to the coalition.  They were the ones that are principally responsible for it, but I – but we have been gratified at the support that we have gotten through the various – the various efforts that we have launched, both the statement that was signed by over 40 countries condemning the Houthis’ actions, by prosperity – by Operation Prosperity Guardian, which includes I think more than 20 countries in a defensive effort; and then of course the coalition we put together for the military strikes last week by the United States, the United Kingdom, but with support from Bahrain, the Netherlands, and other countries.  And I’ll leave it at that; let other countries, of course, speak for themselves and the decisions that they make.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Going back to access to Gaza, the Israeli Government still hasn’t given any independent journalistic access for foreign journalists to Gaza over a hundred days in.  On top of the number of Palestinian journalists killed in Gaza, is this something you’re putting pressure on the Israelis about, allowing foreign journalists in?  And what does it say, in your view, about people’s ability to really know what’s going on in Gaza?

MR MILLER:  So we support the free, independent press all over the world.  That includes in Gaza.  We have seen – we have all seen the images that have come out of Gaza, and it has been good that there are journalists on the ground there to provide us those images so we can all see what’s happening in this war.

At the same time, it is a – obviously a very dangerous place for journalists to operate, and we recognize the risks that journalists take upon themselves by operating in Gaza.  We’ve seen – I think it’s over 70 journalists killed according to one of the advocacy groups that watches this number.  So it’s a dangerous situation.  We certainly recognize the importance of journalism, but I think with respect to the decisions of who ought to be allowed to enter, that’s not a decision for the United States to make.  It’s a decision for other parties.  We will continue to support our general free principles.

QUESTION:  But are you – are you saying to the Israeli Government it is one of the issues that access should be allowed for journalists?

MR MILLER:  Our primary focus in our conversations with the Israeli Government right now when it comes to access to Gaza has been for relief efforts, humanitarian assistance, and of course for trying to get American citizens and others out.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  Two questions – Russia and North Korea.  First question:  North Korea’s foreign minister, Choe Son-hui, visited Russia and met with President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and additional arms deals between North Korea and Russia were discussed and President Putin also accepted a visit to North Korea.  What are the signs of close cooperation between Russia and North Korea?

MR MILLER:  Well, we’ve seen – in addition to that we’ve seen Russia providing weapons to North Korea and we’ve seen North Korea providing weapons to Russia.  We’ve seen Russia taking actions in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, including ones that it itself supported.

QUESTION:  North Korea launched a solid-fuel intermediate-range ballistic missile last weekend, and Kim Jong-un revised the North Korean constitution to say that South Korea is the main enemy and declared that if war comes, he will completely occupy South Korea as team – as a team with Russia.  How can you comment on Kim Jong-un’s self-confidence in war?

MR MILLER:  So we call on the DPRK to refrain from further provocative, destabilizing actions and statements and to return to diplomacy.  In particular, we encourage the DPRK to engage in substantive discussions on identifying ways to manage military risks and create lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.  As we have repeatedly said, the United States harbors no hostile intent toward the DPRK, and we continue to closely consult with the Republic of Korea, Japan, and other allies and partners about how best to engage the DPRK, deter aggression, and coordinate international responses to the DPRK’s ongoing and repeated violations of UN national security – UN Security Council resolutions.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  My first question is about Afghanistan.  The Taliban regime are systematically erasing women from the public life.  Just weeks ago they started detaining women from the street in the pretext of hijab, and you know more than 3 million girls are banned from the school.  I just wanted to know how does the U.S. – do you recognize this activity as a gender apartheid in Afghanistan?  And what are you doing for holding them accountable?

MR MILLER:  So we continue to condemn the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan.  We’ve seen them take a number of really deplorable actions when it – that relates to women and girls and their role in society.  And we have – we will continue to take all appropriate steps to hold them accountable for those actions.

One more.

QUESTION:  About – second question.  Pakistan has stated they reserve the retaliation right for – against Iranian Government regarding recent attack.  What’s your statement about this statement, and do you think that the tension in the – between Iran and Pakistan is going to escalate?

MR MILLER:  We think – we hope that that’s an issue that can be peacefully resolved.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  In light of a January 9 Israel Knesset member-led meeting in the Knesset condemning the UN agency UNRWA for fostering a welfare-dependent Palestinian population that breeds dissent and teaches children in their textbooks that the land is Palestine and Israel is the illegal occupier, with other instructions to hate and kill Jews, plus their association with terrorist groups like Hamas and Palestinian Authority, what is Secretary Blinken’s response to Knesset members Sharren Haskel and Simcha Rothman, who are calling for the funding of UNRWA to stop?  And I have a follow-up.

MR MILLER:  So I am not going to respond to the comments by individual members of the Knesset, but I will say that UNRWA has done and continues to do invaluable work to address the humanitarian situation in Gaza at great personal risk to UNRWA members.  I believe it’s over 100 UNRWA staff members have been killed doing this lifesaving work, and we continue to not only support it but we continue to commend them for the really heroic efforts that they make oftentimes while making the greatest sacrifice.

QUESTION:  The follow-up is how can you expect Israel and other nations to believe that the UN agency UNRWA is a credible humanitarian agency since, according to Jerusalem Post reports, UNRWA teachers and students celebrated Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel October 7 and over half of the Hamas terrorists behind that massacre were graduates of UNRWA schools in Gaza and weapons were found in UNRWA schools?

MR MILLER:  Well, I think most people in Gaza are graduates of UNRWA schools.  They are one of the leading, if not the leading providers of education.  So I think that’s a little bit of a – there’s a little bit of a breakdown in logic there.  But I will say – answer the question by saying, look, whenever we see reports of that nature, we ask specific questions about UNRWA and ask that they be followed up.  It does not change the lifesaving work that UNRWA is doing every day in Gaza that I just detailed a moment ago.

QUESTION:  Yeah, thank you, Matt.  You speak of the Iranian attacks on its neighbors, and I have a question on the Iranian attacks on Erbil specifically.  The Iranian Government is trying to distort the very facts of their attacks on Erbil, as they say that we are – we took this action against an Israeli base in Erbil, and the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government says that this action were took against a civilian house where four civilian people were killed, including one-year-old infant.  What’s your assessment on that?  And do you support the Iraqi Government to take this action – this issue to the United Nations to hold Iranians accountable for that?

MR MILLER:  So I will not speak to Iraq’s action.  But I will say that we condemn Iran’s attacks, as we did yesterday, and that following those attacks, Secretary Blinken met yesterday with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s Prime Minister Barzani on the margins of the World Economic Forum in Davos.  And in that meeting, the Secretary reaffirmed the importance of the U.S. partnership with the KRG and reiterated the United States unequivocal condemnation of Iran’s aggression in Iraq and the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  On these meetings, there was meeting between National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and also Secretary Blinken, and today the U.S. ambassador to Iraq met with the Kurdistan region president.  You say – you showed their support – your support to the Kurdistan region.  What do you mean by this support?  Are you going to support the Kurdistan to facing these attacks by Iran on the Kurdistan?  How do you support that?

MR MILLER:  I mean that we will continue to support them, the – including diplomatically.  And beyond that, I think I won’t preview any actions.

Go here to Simon and then we’re going to have to wrap for the day.  I’ve got to —

QUESTION:  Yeah, just wanted to come on to the aftermath of the elections in Taiwan on the weekend.  We’ve seen – well, Taiwan’s defense ministry said today that they detected 18 Chinese aircraft operating off its coast, off Taiwan’s coast.  So it seems like military activity is returning to the Taiwan Strait in the aftermath of Lai’s election.  Is that part of anticipated escalation that you were sort of waiting to see from Beijing?  Do you expect to see that – did you expect to see that given the victory of the DPP?  Or do you think this is a status-quo activity by China, and do you have any message to China regarding those activities?

MR MILLER:  So I will say we saw those reports.  I don’t have any assessment about the motivations behind them – or behind the activity, I should say.  But I will reiterate that we continue to urge the PRC to not take any actions that would contribute to instability in the region, and we’ll leave it at that.  And we’ll end there for today.

QUESTION:  Wait, wait, hold on.  I got one more – in Guatemala.

MR MILLER:  Okay – yeah.

QUESTION:  This is not —

MR MILLER:  Yeah.

QUESTION:  — an issue necessarily today, but it has been over the past week – and the inauguration of the new president and all of the controversy, I suppose, around it.  There are some people who say that U.S. actions and the actions of others, particularly regarding the country’s attorney general, suggest that – some kind of outside interference into the election process, and you saw the delay in the inauguration actually happen.  I’m just wondering how you respond to that – to those comments.

MR MILLER:  I would – excuse me; I’m a little hoarse today – I would say far from it.  Our only interest in Guatemala has been a free, fair election in which the Guatemalan people could express their will and elect the government of their choosing.  And the policy that you have seen us pursue over the past few months, including with enforcement actions, has been to support a free and fair election and to oppose any actors who tried to prevent a free and fair election, first and foremost, and then a transition to power by the rightfully elected president.

QUESTION:  And that means that you believe that the attorney general was acting in a way that would hinder a free and fair election?

MR MILLER:  I don’t want to offer any assessment of that from here.  But we did want to see a free and fair election, and not just a free and fair election, but then the candidate who was elected actually be allowed to take office.

QUESTION:  And all that happened.  So you’re pleased (inaudible)?

MR MILLER:  Certainly pleased by the outcome, yeah – the eventual outcome, yes.

QUESTION:  Okay.

MR MILLER:  Thank you, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)

U.S. Department of State

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