1:19 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. On Sunday, Secretary Blinken will depart for his fourth trip to Africa as Secretary of State, traveling to Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria, and Angola. Over the course of the trip, the Secretary will highlight how the United States is strengthening our longstanding engagement with African nations and institutions and delivering on commitments made at the U.S. Africa Leaders Summit to benefit both Americans and Africans.

This trip will advance a policy agenda that is responsive to priorities shared with our African partners along three core lines of effort. First, we are accelerating U.S.-Africa partnerships to advance global priorities such as cultivating sustainable and resilient food systems, strengthening health systems, and addressing the challenge of climate change. Second, we are deepening mutually beneficial economic ties between the United States and Africa. And third, we are working together in elevating African leadership and promoting democracy, respect for human rights, and security.

These three lines of effort are solidly anchored in the U.S. Strategy Towards Sub-Saharan Africa. As Secretary Blinken said in his August 2022 speech in Pretoria, our partnership is rooted in the recognition that Africa is a major geopolitical force – one that has shaped our past, is shaping our present, and will shape our future. America’s prosperity is tied to Africa’s growth, and African voices are vital to shaping the most consequential global conversations. The Secretary looks forward to continuing that conversation and making progress on all these issues during this upcoming trip.

With that, Matt, over to you.

QUESTION: Okay. So not to cast any aspersions on the Secretary or his – the importance of Africa to the administration, but this is – this will be the – I mean, he’s spent more time overseas so far this month than he has at home. Is there a reason that he doesn’t want to be here?

MR MILLER: (Laughter.) I – as someone who, like the Secretary, has spent a lot of time away from home lately, I think I can safely speak for him and say that he would love to be spending home at his – spending time at home seeing his family, as I know I would, and I’m sure – I think most days my family would love to see me, but there are a number of pressing challenges, and that’s the job.

QUESTION: Okay. So in terms of – in terms of this trip, it’s coming – he’s just done this big Middle East trip and he went to Davos, which is slightly less urgent a task, but now Africa. And you have the situation in the Middle East compounding. Ukraine is still an issue. We have a situation with the Houthis in the Red Sea, where there just another – more strikes today. Is he comfortable spending time in Cape Verde, Ivory Coast —


QUESTION: — Nigeria, and Angola which are important – I’m not saying they’re not – but they are not the most pressing issues.

MR MILLER: So, I would say that they are incredibly important – incredibly important countries that require and – that require U.S. engagement. We have challenges on the continent of Africa, but as I said in my opening remarks, we also have a lot of opportunities that the President has made a priority and the Secretary has made a priority. So I think it’s important that we make this trip and important that we engage on all the issues that I mentioned, from promoting democracy to deepening our economic ties.

But I will also say that one of the things that you’ve seen the Secretary do during his travels is, that no matter where we are in the world, he still tends to be focused on other challenges. And so you’ve seen in the Middle East – when he’s in the Middle East, he’s often on the phone with leaders in other continents working on challenges in those continents. And when he’s in Europe, he’s been on the phone a lot with people in the Middle East. And I’m sure that will be the case of this trip – that even while we’re in Angola and Nigeria, I would suspect we will be having calls with – that he will be having multiple calls with leaders in other parts of the world.

QUESTION: Okay. And then off this topic and before – I’ll let other people go on to Gaza and that situation there, but I just wanted to ask you really quickly about what your read is – what the administration thinks of the situation between Iran and Pakistan right now? And how concerned are you that this could escalate into a potentially – at least on one side and maybe on both sides – a nuclear conflict?

MR MILLER: So, we are concerned about escalating tensions in the region. It’s been something, as you know, we’ve spoken about a number of times. It’s something we’ve focused on. We’ve been incredibly concerned about the potential for escalation since October 7th, and that’s why we have engaged in intense diplomatic efforts to try to prevent escalation. So, I will say we noted the comments from the Government of Pakistan about the importance of cooperative relations between Pakistan and its neighbors. We thought those were productive, useful statements. And certainly, there’s no need for escalation, and we would urge restraint on all sides in this case.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Follow up?

MR MILLER: Yeah. Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Just so we are clear, in this feud between Iran and Pakistan – was triggered by Iran – who are you standing with? With the terrorist regime of Iran or with the non-NATO ally – major ally Pakistan?

MR MILLER: So, I think I made pretty clear yesterday that – what we think about Iran’s attacks, not just the strikes that it has launched in the past three days against three of its neighbors but it’s long history of funding terrorism, of funding instability, and sowing discord in the Middle East. And that’s something that we have seen contribute to the conflict in Gaza. You’ve seen Iran, the principal supporter of Hamas for years. They’re the major funder of Hizballah. They are one of the major funders of the Houthis. So, we’ve seen the consequences of the actions that Iran has taken to add to regional instability, and that’s why we continue to take actions to hold Iran accountable, but also send very clear messages to Iran that we don’t want to see this conflict escalated in any way, shape, or form, which is the message I just sent from this podium.

QUESTION: If it does escalate, which again is not after Pakistan, can Pakistan rely on its major ally, the United States?

MR MILLER: So, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals. We don’t believe this should escalate in any way, shape, or form. Pakistan is a major non-NATO ally of the United States. That will remain the case. But we would urge restraint in this case. We do not want to see escalation, and do not think there is any need for escalation.

QUESTION: Can you just come back for more on South Caucasus?


QUESTION: So, I – just to pick about a little bit, are you – you’re sort of treating the Iran‑Pakistan tensions as part of the spillover from Gaza. Do you see this as connected to that?

MR MILLER: No, I don’t think it’s in any way, shape, or form connected to Gaza. But whenever you see things – see strikes in the region – given the tensions in the region, there is the risk for an increase in conflict, which is something that we’re trying to avoid.

QUESTION: Do you assess that Iran’s – the initial strike is – was somehow – somehow is inspired by or related to what’s been happening elsewhere further west?

MR MILLER: So, no. It in no way, shape, or form is or should be connected to the conflict in Gaza.

QUESTION: I have more on Gaza, but if we’re sticking on this.

MR MILLER: You can —

QUESTION: I’ll follow up.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’ll go to Gaza. Thank you.


QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Israel yesterday – the Israeli military occupied and destroyed Israa University in Gaza. I mean, this is probably number of ten of – all ten universities that they have destroyed. And is it the assessment of this department or this government that this was a legitimate target?

MR MILLER: So, I can’t speak to this individual action. I don’t have independent information to verify that. But I can say that we continue to urge Israel to avoid damage to critical infrastructure – that would, of course, include universities – and to ensure the protection of humanitarian and medical sites. That has been something we have urged from the outset of this conflict. I will give the – make the point that I always make, that it is very difficult – and again, I’m not talking about this particular site, because I don’t have information about this particular site – but it is always difficult when you see Hamas use those civilian sites to hide its fighters, to launch attacks on Israel. But it doesn’t change the burden that Israel has to comply with international humanitarian law and avoid strikes, avoid military action against humanitarian infrastructure.

QUESTION: But there seems to be no evidence that there were any fighters – in fact, any presence of – any kind of military presence in the university itself. But that – I mean, we’ve seen – I mean, you keep saying that you want Israel not to destroy the infrastructure. Yet we have seen almost a total destruction of all infrastructure, including schools, hospitals, roads, cemeteries. They just – they excavated a cemetery for instance and took bodies, whatever. I mean, this is not exactly – tell us in any way that the Government of Israel is really paying heed to what you tell them, in any way, by any measure. They’re not listening to you.

MR MILLER: So, we have seen them take some steps to add civilian infrastructure to deconfliction sites. There are other things that we have urged them to do that we want them to do better on. It is an ongoing conversation between our two governments and something that the Secretary spoke directly with the leadership of Israel in his trip last week. But again, there is also this problem that Hamas does continue to hide in and under civilian infrastructure. So, when you see a strike against any one civilian – piece of civilian infrastructure, to assess the validity of that strike you have to know what it is that was there, and we don’t always know that when – or at least I don’t know that when I’m speaking from here.

QUESTION: Yeah, a couple more —

MR MILLER: And I suspect that a lot of the people writing about it don’t know it either. It’s very hard to know the facts on the ground.

QUESTION: Okay. The West Bank is basically a situation that’s just getting completely out of control. The Israelis are doing their excursions on a nightly basis. They killed ten yesterday. They keep going into these refugee camps in the West Bank and so on. They have been struck by unmanned aerial vehicle, drones and so on. They have been struck even by fixed-wing a couple times at the beginning of the month. So, I just wonder what are you doing to sort of calm the situation down in the West Bank?

MR MILLER: So, I will say that Israel faces very real security challenges and it has the right to defend its people and it has the right to carry out counterterrorism operations. Those need to be carried out in coordination with – or in compliance with international humanitarian law. We do remain deeply concerned about maintaining stability in the West Bank and we continue to urge Israel to take all feasible measures to protect civilian lives in the West Bank, just as we encourage them to do in Gaza. But they do have the right to carry out legitimate counterterrorism operations.

QUESTION: In a territory that they have occupied for over 56 years, right? I mean, they go in. They know everything about this area. They occupy it. They go in unprovoked. And you’re saying that they have to defend themselves against —

MR MILLER: So, I – so —

QUESTION: — a defenseless population.

MR MILLER: So unprovoked is a big word, Said. And I would say that they do face security challenges and they do face security threats, including from the West Bank. And they have the right to carry out counterterrorism operations to deal with those threats.


MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on the ongoing diplomatic efforts, the conversation. It’s been 27 days since the leaders of Israel and the U.S. have spoken. Did the Secretary hear any indication while in Israel that the prime minister thought it would be productive to have another conversation soon?

MR MILLER: So, we maintain ongoing dialogue with the Government of Israel at the most senior levels. The Secretary obviously engaged not just with the prime minister, but had one-on-one meetings with the defense minister, had one-on-one meetings with Minister Gantz, another member of the Israeli war cabinet, and of course the Secretary – sorry, the President has spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu on a number of occasions. I’m not going to speak to either the private conversations that Secretary Blinken had with Prime Minister Netanyahu or the tempo of conversations between the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu. But we always have ongoing dialogue at very senior levels, and I will say we have no inability to make our messages clear to the Government of Israel.

QUESTION: Sure, but isn’t the tempo of leadership exchanges something that you pay close attention to? You did so with China. So, does that lack of leader-to-leader engagement of late suggest that diplomacy between the U.S. is faltering, or at an impasse, or simply that there’s nothing for the leaders to exchange views about?

MR MILLER: I would not read too much into it. The Secretary just finished a week of diplomacy in the Middle East, including several days when we were in Israel and engaged with the highest members of the Israeli Government. He, of course, is not the only official in the United States Government to have traveled to Israel in recent months. You’ve seen officials from the White House, you’ve seen Secretary Austin travel to Israel. And of course, the President himself traveled to Israel and has conducted a number of conversations with the prime minister, and I am sure that they will speak again. But I would not read too much into the tempo of those conversations.

QUESTION: Before we leave this topic, can I just – so have you seen Prime Minister Netanyahu’s latest comments —

MR MILLER: I did. I did.

QUESTION: — about – that he’s rejected your guys’ assertion that the only way that Israel is going to achieve long-term security and peace is with the creation of a Palestinian state? This is obviously not new. This is something that he has said for some time and told you all directly last week, even. But I’m just wondering if you have any new – particularly new reaction —


QUESTION: — to him being apparently, in this situation, the roadblock? Your ally, your partner – all the Arab states are on board, at least according to what you guys say, with the post-conflict Gaza future planning, but Israel is not. So —

MR MILLER: Let me echo something the Secretary said when he was in the region last week, and that is that Israel faces some very difficult choices in the months ahead. The conflict in Gaza is going to end; it will end. And at the end of that conflict, someone is going to have to rebuild Gaza. Someone is going to have to govern Gaza. Someone is going to have to provide security in Gaza. And one of the things the Secretary was able to achieve in his travels through the region last week are commitments from other countries in the region that they would participate in the reconstruction of Gaza, that they would participate in helping establish Palestinian-led governance of Gaza, but they would only do that if there was a tangible path to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

But the question is actually bigger than that, because the question is not just about the short-term future of Gaza, but it is about how you solve this long-term challenge that Israel has, which is how Israel ensures real security for itself and how it ensures that October 7th is never repeated again. And the opportunity that Israel has right now before it is that, for the first time in its history, you see the countries in the region who are ready to step up and further integrate with Israel and provide real security assurances to Israel. And the United States is ready to play its part too, but they all have to have a willing partner on the other side.

So, we will continue to reiterate to the leadership of Israel, the Government of Israel, and to the people of Israel that these are the opportunities that they have, these are the challenges that they face, but there is no way to solve their long-term challenges to provide lasting security, and there is no way to solve the short-term challenges of rebuilding Gaza and establishing governance in Gaza, and providing security for Gaza, without the establishment of a Palestinian state.

And so, this is clearly going to be a conversation.


MR MILLER: We’ve had direct conversations with him, and now we’re having a public conversation as well.

QUESTION: So, you think that – you think that —

MR MILLER: But it’s going to be – it’s going to be a process.

QUESTION: You think that Netanyahu is basically squandering an opportunity for real lasting peace for his country?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to characterize his remarks, but I will say that there is a historic opportunity that Israel has to deal with challenges that it has faced since its founding, and we hope the country will take that opportunity.

QUESTION: All right. And then the – what makes – you said at some point – at the beginning of your answer, you said at some point the war in Gaza is going to come to an end. Why are you so confident of that? I mean, the situation right now appears to be one in which this is going to be never-ending, and the youth who survive in Gaza – Palestinian youth – have been radicalized to the point where – or seem to be, have radicalized to the point where there isn’t going to be an end anytime soon, even with the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

MR MILLER: It is – that is such a good question, Matt. I will say we believe that the short-term conflict will come to an end. We’ve had a conversations with the Israeli Government about that, about how they will transfer – how they will transition to lower tempo operations. But they see an end to this conflict, we see an end to this conflict. But you’re right; that is –

QUESTION: Well, wait. Do they? Are you convinced that the Israelis do see an end to this conflict?

MR MILLER: I am convinced that they do. But to get to your underlying question, that does not solve the long-term challenge. And we think the only way to solve the long-term challenge is to offer a solution that answers the legitimate hopes, dreams, aspirations of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Okay. And the last one, based on Said’s question about the demolition of the university. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video; it’s pretty widely-available.

MR MILLER: I have seen the video.

QUESTION: But it’s – it looks – I mean, it looks like a controlled demolition. It looks like what we do here in this country, when we’re taking down an old hotel or a stadium. And you have nothing to say? You have nothing to say about this?

MR MILLER: I have —

QUESTION: I mean, to do that kind of an explosion you need to be in there. You have to put the explosives down, and it takes a lot of planning and preparation to do. And if there was a threat from this particular facility, they wouldn’t have been able to do it.

MR MILLER: So, I have seen the video. I can tell you that it is something we are raising with the Government of Israel, as we do – often do when we see —

QUESTION: Well, raising is what? Like —

MR MILLER: When we see – to ask questions and find out what the underlying situation is, as we often do when we see reports of this nature. But I’m not able to characterize the actual facts on the ground before hearing that response.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you saw the video.

MR MILLER: I did see the video. All I – I don’t know – I don’t know what was —

QUESTION: I mean, it looks like people – it looks like a bridge being imploded.

MR MILLER: I don’t know what was under that building. I don’t know what was inside, inside that building.

QUESTION: Well, yeah, but it doesn’t matter what was under the building because they obviously got in there to put the explosives down to do it in the way that they did.

MR MILLER: Again, I’m glad you have factual certainty about it. I just don’t.

QUESTION: I don’t. All I have is what I saw on the video, right?

MR MILLER: I just don’t, but I can say —

QUESTION: And I think you guys saw it too.

MR MILLER: We did see it. And I can say that we have raised it with the Government of Israel.

QUESTION: And it’s not troubling to you?

MR MILLER: We are always troubled by the – by any degradation of civilian infrastructure in Gaza. But without knowing the actual underlying circumstances, I’m a little hesitant, I think for reasons that should be understandable, to pass definitive judgment on it from this podium.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask you just a follow-up?

MR MILLER: Yes, Said. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Not on this issue but on something that you said. You said you see an end to this conflict in the short term and so on.


QUESTION: What does this end look like in your view?

MR MILLER: So, we believe that there are military goals that are achievable for the Government of Israel. But to get into the point I was making that ultimately there also needs to be a political resolution, and there needs to be a political path towards statehood for the Palestinian people, period.

QUESTION: I understand. But this conflict – I mean, how would it end? How is it going to end?

MR MILLER: I did not bring my crystal ball today, Said. So, I’m afraid I’m not going to offer any predictions. But —

QUESTION: Right. But you – you’ve become quite an expert at —

MR MILLER: What’s that?

QUESTION: I’m saying you guys have a great deal of expertise that basically can give you sort of a direction on how this is going to end at one point, whether it’s next month or in two months or whatever.

MR MILLER: So, I am not going to make predictions about it, but we do believe that this conflict, as all conflicts do, will end at some point and that there needs to be a political path forward for the establishment of a Palestinian state. That is the only way not just to answer the legitimate hopes, dreams, aspirations of Palestinian people, but it is also – and this is critical – the only way to provide lasting security for the Israeli people.

I promised you I’d come to you next, and then I’ll go to —

QUESTION: Matt, thank you. I wanted just to follow up on the Israeli prime minister remarks. I know he didn’t say something new, but he said that he informed you that he doesn’t support a Palestinian state. Did he inform you? Because it explains a lot. He didn’t speak with the President since December 23rd.

MR MILLER: So, I will speak to our side of the conversation, and I will let him speak to his side of the conversation. But what I will say in speaking to our side is that the points that I just made publicly from this podium about the path forward, the opportunities for Israel, and the challenges that Israel faces are points that Secretary Blinken made very clear in all of his meetings with leaders of the Government of Israel.

QUESTION: Okay. You said also during the Secretary’s trip in the region he heard from the leaders that – and they are willing to engage with Israel. Do you characterize Prime Minister Netanyahu as a willing partner to engage for peace in the region?

MR MILLER: So, I think certainly we have seen the Government of Israel want to engage with its neighbors. You’ve seen the Government of Israel normalize relationships with a number of its neighbors already, and it wants to pursue further integration, it wants to obviously normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, and we had been making progress on that and believe that progress is still possible to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.

But the point that we have made to Israel is that to achieve those goals, to provide security assurances for Israel, it’s going to take Israel making some tough choices as well.

QUESTION: One more question, on Lebanon. I know the risk has been high for a second front or a bigger front – there is a front going. But given the new statements by the Israeli leaders and also the threats from Hizballah, do you see the risk as higher on the northern border?

MR MILLER: So, I don’t want to assess any change in risk, but we have always though the risk was high for escalation on the northern border since October 7th. And that’s why we have made it a focus of our diplomatic efforts since October 7th in making clear to Hizballah that they should not escalate. You saw the President speak on October 7th itself making clear that any enemies of Israel who wanted to capitalize on this situation for their own perceived benefit should not do so – and that’s a message we’ve continued to send loud and clear. And we’ve engaged in diplomatic efforts to make clear that there is a path to de-escalation, and we think that’s a path that ought to interest both Israel and all other parties in the region.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, just to come back on to the Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comments. So, your response seems to be, and what you were saying in the region, is you’ve outlined very clearly for the Israelis why there’s – how there’s an opportunity here, right, to have – but what they need – they need to make these tough choices. But clearly, with these comments it’s kind of drawing a line under that and saying the current prime minister is not willing to make those tough choices. So, as well as offering an opportunity and saying here’s a great solution to all your problems, are you also offering some kind of pressure, or what is it that you are actually saying to the Israelis we will do if you don’t accept – or are you just going to hold your hands up and say, well, we gave them an opportunity and they didn’t take it?

MR MILLER: I don’t think we need to offer any kind of pressure. The pressure is reality. The pressure is the reality that I just laid out, that without a tangible path to the establishment of a Palestinian state, there are no other partners in the region who are going to step forward and help with the reconstruction of Gaza. There are no other partners in the region who are going to step forward and help establish Palestinian-led governance of Gaza. There are no other partners in the region who are going to step forward and integrate with Israel and make further assurances about Israel’s long-term security. So that’s just the reality. It’s not the United States exerting pressure or not, it’s the reality of the situation that Israel faces, and without making some of these tough choices that we’ve outlined, that will continue to be the reality and there will be no actual solutions to any of those very real short, medium, and long-term problems.

QUESTION: So there – if there’s – you’re basically saying that there’s – their current position is only going to – is not going to lead to any solution. There’s no way that this will be solved. Does that mean cutting – do you continue to supply weapons and other support to an ally that is not listening to the warnings that you’re giving?

MR MILLER: So, I know that’s a question I get a lot, and I will answer it by saying Israel is a longtime ally of the United States. They’re a longtime friend of the United States, and there are friendships not just at the government-to-government level, but there are longstanding friendships between our two peoples. And one of the things that you can do when you have this kind of longtime alliance and longtime friendship is that you can have these very frank, candid, and sometimes actually quite difficult conversations – both with the leadership of the country and with the country at large, and that’s what you saw the Secretary do in his last trip, where he didn’t just lay all this out to the government. He laid this all out publicly in a speech in Israel that was – in a speech in Israel. And we will continue to make that clear publicly. We will continue to make it clear privately, because we do really believe the choices are stark.

QUESTION: But the message is – I guess that you could read from that is that U.S. support for Israel is not at risk no matter what choices they make.

MR MILLER: So, we – our support for Israel remains ironclad, but that doesn’t mean that there are no differences between our two countries and that there will not be any differences between our two countries. We have differences with all of our allies. There are things that we don’t necessarily see 100 percent eye to eye on. But again, I think the question here is less about a difference in opinion about a path forward between Israel and the United States. The question is really more about the opportunity that Israel faces and whether they will grab it, because this is not a question of the United States pressuring them to do anything. This is about the United States laying out for them the opportunity that they have, in part because of the work that we did, that Secretary Blinken and that President Biden have done to talk with other countries in the region to make clear that there is a path for further integration. There is a path for real security assurances – but again, we can’t make those choices for anyone. They have to make them for themselves.

Olivia, and then I’ll – I know I have to get to some of the other hands in the room.

QUESTION: I was going to ask about the Houthis, so if there’s something else about Gaza specifically.

MR MILLER: Yeah, no, go ahead.

QUESTION: Well, so a day after the SDGT designation, the Houthis’ attacks in the Red Sea have continued unabated, arguably intensified, targeting U.S. interests. The U.S. is now the sole power conducting strikes on Houthi interests. So where is the international coalition that the U.S. had worked so hard to galvanize in order to deter these Houthi attacks?

MR MILLER: So, if you look at the coalitions that we have assembled there, people have a number of different roles. There are more than 40 countries that issued a statement making clear that they condemned the Houthis’ attacks. There is a coalition of more than 20 countries that we assembled for Prosperity Guardian to defend against the Houthis’ attacks. There are all the countries at the United – on the United Nations Security Council who voted to make clear that those attacks are unacceptable. Then there are the – the countries that participated in direct military action, and of course that is a smaller group of countries. That’s always going to be the case when it comes to action of this nature.

I will say that we will continue to use all the instruments of military power, and that includes – or, I’m sorry, all the instruments of national power, and that includes not just military power, but it also does include our diplomatic efforts. We think it’s important that other countries of the world have made clear to the Houthis that these attacks are unacceptable and that these attacks must stop. And we will continue to use our sanctions authority to deprive the Houthis of resources and to further our efforts to crack down on people who provide them with finances or provide them with military equipment.

But we have been clear that – we have said from the outset that we did not think that the attacks would stop after our first military strike, that we would have to take further action. You have seen us take further action. And we are committed to continuing to do so because the attacks on commercial shipping are just unacceptable. They don’t have anything to do with the conflict in Gaza and they need to stop.

QUESTION: All right. I recognize that the statements were made, the resolutions were passed, but I mean, just as an example, you saw the president of France saying that France declined to engage in these more kinetic activities out of fears of escalation. So, is the U.S. risking being, again, sort of the sole power undertaking this more military-focused kind of activity?

MR MILLER: I don’t – I would not agree with that characterization only because of the reasons I just outlined, which there are a number of countries who have made clear that these attacks are unacceptable. And we are the ones who, of course, are leading the military response to actually add some teeth to that statement, but we certainly think the diplomatic statements are important as well.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. The Russian ambassador to South Korea said in an interview with South Korean press that he was ready to improve relations between Russia and South Korea and he wanted a high-level dialogue between South Korea and Russia. How can you explain Russia’s intention to – Russia dual action toward South Korea while engaging in military cooperation with North Korea?

MR MILLER: So, I have not seen those specific comments, so I am going to decline to comment on them from here and I’ll take it back and get you an answer.

QUESTION: Yesterday they held a —

MR MILLER: Yeah, I just didn’t see the specific comment, so —

QUESTION: Okay. Second one: Do you have anything on the United States and South Korea, Japan, representatives of Korean Peninsula meeting in Seoul?

MR MILLER: Let me take it back and get an answer on that as well.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Very quick question on Bangladesh. What steps will the United States take in response to the reported – reported sham election in Bangladesh involving the undermining of democracy and imprisonment of thousands opposition members? As you mentioned in your statement, that election was not free and fair.

MR MILLER: So, we do remain concerned by the arrest of thousands of political opposition members and by the reports of irregularities on election day. We share the view with other observers that these elections were not free and fair. We regret that not all parties participated, and we condemn the violence that took place during elections and in the months leading up to it. We are now encouraging the Government of Bangladesh to credibly and transparently investigate the reports of violence, to hold perpetrators accountable, and we all urge all parties to reject political violence.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Matt, in light of an NBC News report yesterday that describes President Biden and Saudi Prince Salman’s frustrations with Prime Minister Netanyahu refuses to accept a Palestinian state as a required path to – pathway to peace, what is your response to Prime Minister Netanyahu and evangelical Christians who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state to divide Israel? And I have a follow-up.

MR MILLER: I think this is the point in the press conference where I just say “ibid.” Is that how you pronounce it, the term you see in —


MR MILLER: “Ibid.” Is that how – so I have it wrong. “Ibid.” I think I’ve spoken to that at some length, probably at too much length, so I’ll refer you to my earlier comments.

QUESTION: Okay. Then follow-up: Do you expect Iran to cease their hostilities against Israel if Israel agreed to a Palestinian state given that Iran’s ayatollah has called for the total annihilation of Israel?

MR MILLER: So, one of the things that the Secretary made clear when we were in the region is actually the answer to Iran’s aggression against Israel is this further integration with other partners in the region. Iran clearly is not interested in peace with Israel, but other countries are, and there are other countries that are willing to step up and normalize their relationships with Israel, to integrate Israel further into the region, and to have real lasting security agreements with Israel. And what that would do is it would further isolate Iran, and isolate the groups that Iran funds – the Houthis, Hizballah, Hamas – and at least take some steps to depriving those groups of the political oxygen that they use to recruit new members.

So, it’s precisely because of the long-term threat that Iran poses to Israel’s security and to the security of the entire region that we think the establishment of a Palestinian state is so important.

QUESTION: About Iran also, since the head of the snake is Iran that is fueling unrest in the Middle East, what do you see the U.S. and its allies can do to stop their aggression?

MR MILLER: So, as I said – as I’ve said a number of times from this podium, we will continue to take actions to deter Iran’s hostile activities. We will continue to take actions to hold Iran accountable for its activities. We’ve imposed more than 400 sanctions on Iran since the outset of this administration, and we will continue to take whatever actions are appropriate.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. A question on Syria. NGO Forum warning on the escalation of hostilities between the Türkiye and SDF: “From January 13-16, 2024, 40 verified strikes were conducted across northeast Syria. At least six civilians [were] – been injured, [and] at least 26 critical infrastructure sites are either severely damaged or out of service.” That is what they mentioned in the report they published yesterday. I understand that Türkiye is your NATO Ally, and SDF is your local partner – they are fighting against ISIS with you. So how does the United States is trying to make these two parties to get together and de-escalate the situation?

MR MILLER: So let me take that back and get you a complete answer.

QUESTION: And one more question.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Iraqi prime minister says that the U.S.-led military coalition in Iraq is no longer needed. I understand that you are in Iraq on the Iraqi invitation, but now the Iraqi Government repeatedly says that they don’t need the U.S.-led coalition to fight against ISIS. What’s your assessment? Do you think that you still need to be there to face the ISIS? How do you see that?

MR MILLER: So, I will say that we are there at the invitation of the Government of Iraq. There is a process that we go through to engage in dialogue with the Government of Iraq, and we will continue to engage in that process.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Well, let’s remember that you got there first without the invitation of the Government of Iraq —


QUESTION: — and then you stayed and through repeated administrations while the Iraqi parliament —

MR MILLER: I – I am —

QUESTION: — after the invasion and the return to their–

MR MILLER: I am well aware.

QUESTION: — quote/unquote “sovereignty,” they have asked numerous times for U.S. troops to leave and you guys have basically given them the finger —

MR MILLER: I am – I —

QUESTION: — and said, “No, we’re not going anywhere.” And that was not just the Obama administration or the Bush administration, but also the Trump administration and now this administration.


QUESTION: But is there a process ongoing right now, a discussion with the Iraqis, about the eventual withdrawal?

MR MILLER: I am not going to get into the substance of our conversation, but we have an ongoing process with the Government of Iraq to talk about exactly these issues – the status of our forces in Iraq – and we are there at the Government of Iraq’s invitation. And beyond that, I don’t want to discuss our private diplomatic conversations.

QUESTION: But how many times does the invitation have to be, like, rescinded before you actually – before you actually agree to it?

MR MILLER: (Laughter.) So, I don’t think I’m going to accept the premise of the question, but I will say that we engage in ongoing and private diplomatic conversations about all of these issues.

QUESTION: Yeah, telling them that’s very nice, but no thank you, we’re staying.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Sir, a member of the media in Pakistan has reported that Pakistani authorities consulted with the U.S. before the airstrikes in Iran. Is it true?

MR MILLER: I don’t – I do not have any private conversations to read out.

QUESTION: And sir, India’s role in the assassination attempt on Sikh activist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun was highlighted at yesterday’s congressional hearing on transnational repression. Sir, is there any update from India about their internal investigation on that assassination attempt?

MR MILLER: So, I will say that there is – that is a subject of an ongoing Department of Justice investigation and – or I should say ongoing legal matter, law enforcement matter, and because of that, I’m not going to – I’m going to decline to comment on it.

QUESTION: So, when you say that the election results in Bangladesh were not credible, free, or fair, does this imply that the U.S. will not recognize Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s fourth straight term?

MR MILLER: No, no.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. Lots of stuff has been heard about Iran and their activities. Is the U.S. at all happy that Pakistan took the action to at least teach them? Because after a long time, somebody has taken step to go inside Iran or – you know?

MR MILLER: So, I did speak to this earlier, and what I said was that we are concerned about escalating tensions in the region, and we will continue to urge all parties to show restraint.

QUESTION: Okay. One more. Elections in Pakistan are happening, and you are hoping that the escalation will not grow and the elections are such that Imran Khan is out, obviously. His foreign minister was arrested. His interior minister was arrested. Many of his – his party ticket has been taken from him. Are you going to just comment the same thing you did to my colleague about Bangladesh elections – after the election, you are just going to regret it – or are you going to say that the elections are not being held fair?

MR MILLER: So, I’m going to say what we say about countries all over the world, which is that we want the elections in Pakistan, as we do all over the world, to be free and fair and held in a manner that allows the Pakistani people to express their will. And we will align our policies to achieve that objective.

QUESTION: Just last one.


QUESTION: Prime Minister Modi is going to inaugurate the Babri Mosque in a couple of days. It’s the same site where more than 2,000 people have been killed. Does it suit the prime minister to go to a place where it’s already from decades and – it’s an issue that has created a lot of hate between Hindus and Muslims. And Prime Minister Modi is doing this special ritual before going and he’s going to be there for the opening of a Hindu temple. Does that leadership – good leadership sign?

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

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Two topics. On Nagorno-Karabakh first, I was hoping you could update us on the latest efforts about the peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Last week, Special Advisor Bono was in the region to carry Karabakh talks, but he avoided Baku. Any reason why? And, also, any sense of what he heard in Armenia? Any message he conveyed?

MR MILLER: So, I’m not going to get into the exact substance of those – those meetings other than to say that we welcome the work towards peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan. We support the sovereignty and territorial integrity of both countries. We hope they will sign a durable peace treaty that recognizes such sovereignty and territorial integrity, the sooner the better. The parties have made significant progress over the past year, and we encourage them to maintain momentum building on past negotiations and conclude an agreement.

QUESTION: Thank you. And second topic: Today marks three months since the detention of Radio Free Europe reporter Alsu Kurmasheva in Russia. Do you have any message to Alsu – to her family, to her two little daughters who are also American citizens, to her colleagues at RFE/RL who are (inaudible) American citizens and are watching and wondering, three months in, the State Department still refuses to recognize her detention as wrongful?

MR MILLER: So, I would say that it is a case that we continue to focus an enormous amount of attention on. It’s something we continue to look into. And as I have said a number of times, that just because we have not made a wrongful detention determination at any point does not indicate anything about the work that we are doing or about what our future posture may be. We are constantly gathering information in all of these cases, assessing facts, assessing law in helping us guide – in helping guide us to what ultimately will be the right determination.

QUESTION: I understand that, but when push comes to shove, I mean, you offer something to Russians about American citizens’ detention – detained in Russia. You did not include Alsu. Why is that?

MR MILLER: I just don’t have anything further to add on it beyond what I just said.

With that, I’ll wrap from there unless Matt – unless Matt has a —

QUESTION: Well, what I – as I did yesterday —

MR MILLER: — Lagniappe, for the end.

QUESTION: — I have one last one on Guatemala.


QUESTION: So, after I asked you the last question of yesterday’s briefing about Guatemala and the criticism or complaints from some people about your policy towards there – well, not just after, it was about four hours after —

MR MILLER: It was a few hours later.

QUESTION: — as I was walking out the door, not – with no heads-up that you guys were going to do this, you guys —

MR MILLER: Give me a heads-up what time you’re leaving today, and I’ll try to make sure we make any news before that so as not to disrupt your commute.

QUESTION: Well, I want to leave right now. (Laughter.) I won’t leave right now, but anyway, so you guys put the former president – former by three days president —


QUESTION: — on – you put a travel ban on him, essentially.


QUESTION: And so, this is a guy who, while he was president, had annoyed the U.S., this administration, with his – with his policies, particularly on migration and other things. But what I’m wondering about is the timing of this, because these designations take some time to do. So, is it fair to say that this administration was considering doing this while he was still in office, but you held off until he was out of his office for whatever reason?

MR MILLER: I will answer that by saying whenever we take any sanctions action, we look at that action and the timing of it and try to achieve both the maximum impact and we try to minimize any downside risk. And so, in making the determination about when to impose this sanction – obviously, as we said in the statement – we had evidence of his involvement in significant corruption. We did not want to take any action that might have hurt our ability to achieve our goal in this – our goal in Guatemala, which was not just a free and fair election, but the actual ability of the duly-elected president to take office.

QUESTION: Okay. But a decision like this isn’t made – isn’t – the process of this isn’t started and then finished within three days.

MR MILLER: Correct.

QUESTION: And clearly you had – if you say you have this evidence against him for massive corruption or I don’t know what the adjective was in front of “corruption,” but if you had —

MR MILLER: Significant.

QUESTION: — “significant,” all right – evidence of significant corruption, why didn’t you act against him while he was still president?

MR MILLER: So, I don’t want to get into the exact timeline, but the point I was making here is we – in looking at how to maximize the impact of this, did not want to take any action that would impede what we were trying to achieve, which was a free and fair election.

QUESTION: Well, I’m sorry. I guess I just don’t understand.

MR MILLER: A free and fair election, and remember what – that there was significant risk of the duly-elected president not being able to take office, and we had to make an assessment whether any action —


MR MILLER: — we were doing would add to that risk?

QUESTION: Well, so you say – you keep saying “maximize,” that you wanted to maximize. In fact, you wanted to minimize —

MR MILLER: And minimize – no, no, did you just say – no, no, minimize the risk also. I mean, the risk that I’m just outlining —

QUESTION: Well, okay, so what is —

MR MILLER: — that we take an —

QUESTION: — maximizing the impact? What does that mean? What – so how did this announcement coming three days after the guy left office —

MR MILLER: So, what I said was – so —

QUESTION: — how did that maximize the impact?

MR MILLER: What I said is, as a general statement, we’re trying to do two things: maximize impact, minimize risk.


MR MILLER: And I think what you just heard me outline is a risk that we were aware of that we were trying to avoid —


MR MILLER: — that was any action that we take that might in any way impact the president-elect’s ability to take office, which, as you know, was – there was a great deal —

QUESTION: It did not go without hitch.

MR MILLER: It didn’t – exactly my point. It did not go without hitch, and we did not want to do anything that might make it more difficult.

QUESTION: So, you think that – you think that holding off on this was part of the reason or part of what allowed him to eventually take – the new president to take the oath?

MR MILLER: I think that establishes a causal link that I was not —


MR MILLER: — prepared to make, but the point I was making —


MR MILLER: — is we did not want to add to risk in any way.

QUESTION: Okay. But then when you talk about maximizing the impact, what – wouldn’t it – wouldn’t the impact be maximum or most – I don’t know what the Latin is.

MR MILLER: It’s about —

QUESTION: A “maximus impactus.”


QUESTION: If you had done it while he was still —


QUESTION: — a head of state.

MR MILLER: Not if we raised the risk of the elected president – the duly-elected president not taking office. No, that would not have maximized the impact.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

MR MILLER: All right, we’ll end there. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:07 p.m.)

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future