12:33 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: Good afternoon. I will start with some opening comments.

Later today, Secretary Blinken will depart for his fourth trip to the Middle East since the terrorist attacks of October 7th, as well as to stops in Europe. Over the course of the next week, the Secretary will visit Türkiye, Greece, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Israel, the West Bank, and Egypt for meetings with foreign counterparts and others.

The Secretary will focus on a number of critical issues on this trip.

First, he will discuss immediate measures to increase substantially humanitarian assistance to Gaza. The United States has played a critical role in unlocking humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people, but conditions remain extremely difficult. The Secretary will stress the imperative of expanding and sustaining safe access for humanitarian organizations to deliver food, water, medicine, as well as for commercial goods to enter all areas of Gaza.

Second, he will discuss with the Government of Israel its ongoing military campaign against Hamas to ensure October 7th cannot be repeated, including plans to transition to the next phase of operations, and how to – the steps Israel can take to better protect civilians, and how to enable Palestinians to return to their homes and neighborhoods as fighting curtails. He will also stress to the Government of Israel the need to do more to lower tensions in the West Bank.

Third, he will discuss ongoing efforts to bring home the remaining hostages, including the American citizens who are still unaccounted for. The Secretary has no higher priority than the safety and security of American citizens, and he will not rest as long as Americans – along with Israelis and citizens of many other countries – continue to be held captive.

Fourth, he will focus on, as he has consistently since October 7th, preventing the conflict from expanding. He will discuss specific steps parties can take, including how they can use their influence with others in the region, to avoid escalation. It is in no one’s interest – not Israel’s, not the region’s, not the world’s – for this conflict to spread beyond Gaza. As part of those discussions, he will raise the need to take steps to deter the Houthis’ attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

Finally, he will emphasize the responsibility of all parties to help chart a path forward for Gaza that achieves lasting security for both Israelis and Palestinians – as well as a more peaceful, integrated region – building on the principles he laid out in Tokyo on November 8th, and including a sustained mechanism for reconstruction and Palestinian-led governance of a unified West Bank and Gaza.

The Secretary also looks forward to discussing with his Turkish counterparts our many areas of bilateral and regional cooperation, including the final steps to complete Türkiye’s ratification of Sweden’s accession to NATO, and to conversations with the Government of Greece about their support for Ukraine and safeguarding regional maritime security.

We don’t expect every conversation on this trip to be easy. There are obviously tough issues facing the region and difficult choices ahead. But the Secretary believes it is the responsibility of the United States of America to lead diplomatic efforts to tackle those challenges head on, and he is prepared to do that in the days to come.

With that, Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Can I just ask you – this is kind of a minor – a minor point, but – so you went through this list of four or five priorities. But number three, you said – hostages – “The Secretary has no higher priority.” But it’s number three.

MR MILLER: The ordering of those – the —

QUESTION: All right. So it doesn’t – that is not the order of —

MR MILLER: The order in which I listed them is not a ascending or descending order of priorities.

QUESTION: Okay. And then when you talk about the – trying to prevent the spread, the escalation of this, hasn’t that already happened now? Are you not —

MR MILLER: So we have obviously seen – I mean, you saw – in the beginning of the conflict you saw strikes start across the northern border that Israel shares with Lebanon. We have not seen those strikes increase to an even more dangerous level, as we were worried they would at some point, and as still – we still run the risk of seeing take place, and we are trying very actively to avoid. We have not seen the conflict spread in – to the extent that other countries have been brought into it, something that we have worked hard to avoid. Yes, we have seen the Houthis take dangerous actions in the Red Sea, and that’s why you have seen us assemble a coalition, work with our allies and partners to make sure that – to make clear that those attacks on commercial shipping are unacceptable.

But I don’t want to say that we are by any – by any step out of the woods. This has been a top priority from the beginning – something the Secretary and the President recognized on October 7th, and you heard the President speak to it on October 7th, that one of the biggest dangers of this entire situation was that the conflict would spread and we would risk a region-wide conflagration. It’s why it’s been one of the major focuses of all his trips, and will continue to be a top priority.

QUESTION: Right. But it’s not just the Houthis’ attacks and the thus far relatively minor Hizballah attacks that are – that are putting – or giving weight to fear that this might spread. It’s also what’s happened in Beirut. It’s what happened in Iraq, in Baghdad today, and regardless of who was behind any of it, what happened in Iran just the other day. So are – is there not a great – is there not a concern that what you had potentially forestalled back in October with the deployment of two aircraft carrier strike groups to the Eastern Med and the Secretary’s visits and visit to Baghdad and to all around the region – that you’re now – that those fears that you initially had after the 7th of October have now come back? Is that —

MR MILLER: I wouldn’t say they have come back. I would say the risk is real; the concern is high; it has always been real and the concern has always been high, and that’s why the tempo of activity you have seen from this administration to try to lower the risk of widespread regional conflagration has also been high from the beginning. There have been a series of events since October 7th, any number of which raise the risk of further escalation and further conflict, and it’s why you’ve seen us try to take a measured approach. It’s why you’ve seen us when – you – I will – you have seen us take – try to take a measured approach and encourage countries in the region to take a measured approach, and as I said in my opening remarks, have had direct conversations with countries about not taking steps that could unnecessarily escalate the conflict. And it’s what the Secretary will do in this – in this trip.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Shaun, go ahead. Well, yeah.

QUESTION: Sure, can I just pursue —

MR MILLER: I’ll go in order.

QUESTION: When you say that the talks are not necessarily going to be easy, that they could be difficult – I’m not sure there’s anybody who’s really doubting that – but could you – could you elaborate more on that?

MR MILLER: (Laughter.) Thank you.

QUESTION: What are the aspects? I mean, you mentioned the humanitarian assistance. Is that where you expect it to be – to be tough? What are the tough parts that you’re expecting?

MR MILLER: So I don’t want to hone in on any one specific piece of the conversation that I expect to necessarily be tougher than others. But look, you’ve seen a number of disagreements between the United States and the Government of Israel, between the United States and other counties in the region – even countries like Israel who are close allies, even countries who are close partners on which we work on a number of issues.

So the Secretary believes we need to try to make progress on getting humanitarian access in. The Secretary believes we need to make progress on minimizing harm to Palestinian civilians. He believes we need to make progress on continuing to try to keep the conflict from escalating, which is why he’s returning to the region, because he thinks it’s important to be there face to face and engage in these diplomatic efforts. Even if it’s tough sometimes, it’s the job of the United States to do that.

So I won’t go through them here, but I think some of our disagreements with our – with the Government of Israel and with our partners are well-known. They have been aired in public at times. You saw them aired from this building two days ago when we made quite clear statements from the Government of Israel with which we strongly disagreed. And we will continue to do that, and we will do that directly in these meetings over the next week.

QUESTION: Okay, just one thing. And when you talk about an immediate and substantial increase in humanitarian aid, is there a specific wish list that you have going in in terms of things that you’d like to see particularly the Israelis let in to Gaza?

MR MILLER: There are certainly a number of things that we want to see. I am going to keep those for private conversations. I will say that generally, we have seen a number of logistical hurdles to deliver humanitarian assistance into Gaza. Obviously, getting Rafah open was a key thing that we were able to accomplish some time ago, and then we were able to get Kerem Shalom open just in the past few weeks, but there still remain a number of logistical hurdles to getting the level of trucks back to the level we need. We’re seeing somewhere around 200 trucks a day go in now – some days a little more, some days a little less. That is an increase from the 100 or so trucks we were seeing go in both before the humanitarian pause and after the breakdown of the humanitarian pause, but it’s not enough and we want to see more.

So you will see specific asks about things that can be done to get more aid going in, but also specific asks that we will have about additional deconfliction measures that need to take place so aid can more freely move around Gaza once it gets in and be delivered to the people that need it. And then we’ll have asks on other areas as well, but I think I’ll keep those private so the Secretary can deliver them to his counterparts rather than preview them all from here.

QUESTION: On the Houthis, you said he’ll discuss the need to take action. Do you expect any deliverables to come out of that or any announcements of actions to be taken?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to get ahead of the trip. We have – as I said, we’re going to be visiting a number of countries and have a number of conversations, but he will make it clear on all of his stops that the Houthi attacks are unacceptable, and they threaten not just the commercial – the direct commercial interests that are involved, the ship and the crew – the ships and the crews on those ships, but also the regional – regional economy and the world economy when you see attacks on commercial shipping, a great deal of which goes through the Red Sea and a great deal of which has been diverted now to longer and more costly routes. And he will make clear, as the United States made in a statement yesterday with a number of our allies and partners, that ultimately it is the Houthis that bear the consequences for those attacks, and I don’t want to preview anything further.

QUESTION: And then on what happens after the conflict, there’s some reporting that Israeli defense officials want to initially hand local management of Gaza over to clans who are traditionally connected to specific cities and sectors, replacing Hamas with family groups. What’s the U.S. view on this, and is that a plan you’d support?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to comment on that specific proposal, which I have seen just as a leaked report, so I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on it here. I will say that what we support and what we have made clear that we want to see achieved long term is reunited West Bank and Gaza under Palestinian-led governance, and that is what we’re working to achieve. We recognize that there will, of course, need to be some transition period, but that’s the vision you will see the Secretary advance in this trip over the coming week.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Matt, do you expect the conversations to be substantively different with the Israeli Government on this trip versus the last three times, given these priorities seem to be rather in line with the priorities of the past?

MR MILLER: Our strategic priorities have remained the same since the outset, but we have different things that we are trying to accomplish on every trip. Even though our strategic priorities have remained the same, you’ve always – you’ve heard the Secretary say, you’ve heard me say, you’ve heard the President say that we want to see the conflict from – we want to keep the conflict from expanding; we want to get more humanitarian assistance in. The different steps that need to be taken to achieve those change over time because the nature of the conflict changes and the nature of the situation on the ground changes. So while our strategic goals don’t change, the things that we are trying to accomplish always do.

I will also say that you will see us pushing additional steps on what Gaza should look like at the end of the conflict. That doesn’t mean I’m going to talk about all those publicly. It doesn’t mean we’re going to talk about all of them publicly at the end of the trip. But we have been working very hard in this building, throughout the administration, and quietly with allies and partners in the region and throughout the world on what the day after ought to look like. Those are going to be some of the toughest conversations, of course, but we’re ready to go pursue them.

QUESTION: Do you expect allies to be more receptive to these conversations now, given it’s been several months? I mean, most of the Arab allies have said we don’t want to discuss this until there’s a path to —

MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak for any other country. I’ll speak for the United States, and what I’ll say is that we think it’s important to engage in those conversations now. We think it’s important to engage some of the planning now, and that’s what we plan to do over the – what we continue – plan to continue to do over the next week.

QUESTION: And in past trips the Secretary’s come out of it saying Israel has agreed to certain steps that he wouldn’t elaborate. Do you feel that Israel has upheld its agreement to fulfill those steps on curbing civilian causalities, for example. I mean, from the outside, it looks like that has not come to pass.

MR MILLER: We have seen them [take] steps that they agreed to in our meetings. We have seen them take additional measures to deconflict sites, to make sure that civilian sites – or to try ensure that civilian sites aren’t targeted, to do more to allow Palestinians to move to safer areas inside Gaza. But the results continue to be – to not match where the Israeli intentions are, and that’s certainly something that we will talk about. And it’s why, as I said in my opening comments, that one of the things the Secretary will discuss are steps that we think that should be taken to further increase protections for civilians.

QUESTION: And then last one, on the Houthis. How concerned are you that these ongoing attacks are going to undermine the truce between Saudi and the Houthis in Yemen? What kind of discussions are being had to try to preserve that?

MR MILLER: So we think that the ceasefire that has held in Yemen for some time was an important diplomatic achievement. It’s something that we were – that we thought it was important that the United States played a role in. And we continue to see it hold, but certainly the Houthi attacks are not helpful to the – to stability either in Yemen or anywhere in the region or in the world, so it’s yet another reason why we’d encourage them to stop those attacks immediately.

Olivia.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I want to revisit some of the conversation that you had with Matt and Shaun. I wasn’t sure you’ve seen – an Iraqi Government spokesperson called the strike in Baghdad a flagrant violation of the sovereignty and security of Iraq and a dangerous escalation. So suffice it to say the Iraqi Government wasn’t consulted beforehand and didn’t greenlight a strike in Baghdad.

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to strikes from this podium, as I seldom if ever do. I will reiterate, as I have before, that the United States is committed to taking action to protect our forces in Iraq and Syria by addressing the threats that they face, but I’m not going to speak to a specific strike from here.

QUESTION: Okay. Has there been any diplomatic engagement following the strike with the Iraqi Government as to why it was taken?

MR MILLER: We engage in diplomatic conversations with the Iraqi Government quite regularly, as I know you’re aware. I don’t want to speak to any specific diplomatic conversations that we may or may not have had about this specific action. I will say we have clearly communicated to the Iraqi Government that our forces that are there are there at the invitation of the Iraqi Government to help ensure the continuing defeat of ISIS. And the Iraqi Government has the responsibility to do what it can to take action against any actors that threaten U.S. personnel. But – and we have said this consistently from the outset and we’ve said it privately and we’ve said it publicly – that we will not hesitate to take the necessary actions to protect our forces when it is in our interest and – when it is in our interest to do so.

QUESTION: So apart from the private diplomatic discussions, do you have a public response to this accusation of violations of sovereignty and a dangerous escalation?

MR MILLER: I don’t. As I’ve said, I’m not going to comment on a specific strike here. I would refer to the – my colleagues at the Pentagon for that.

QUESTION: Okay. But just broadly, I mean, how – as you were discussing, how does this bolster these consistent American appeals for containing the conflict to Gaza and preventing that broader regionalization?

MR MILLER: Well, I would answer that by saying obviously we want to prevent the conflict from spreading, but part of that means that people need to stop taking strikes against our soldiers. And if they take strikes against our soldiers, we’re going to do what we need to protect ourself, as any country would do.

QUESTION: One more question, related but different. ISIS appears to have now taken responsibility for these explosions in Iran. Does the U.S. have any comment on that, any reason to disbelieve that? Does it track with assessments by the U.S. Government?

MR MILLER: I will say – let me just repeat, again, what I said yesterday, which is to extend our greatest sympathy for the victims of what we do believe was an apparent terrorist attack. Based on all the information available, it’s clear to us that this was a terrorist attack. We’ve seen the reports that ISIS has taken responsibility for it. I will say I’m not ready to offer a formal assessment from this podium at this time when it comes to responsibility, but this attack does bear all the hallmarks of an ISIS attack.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I ask you something, briefly?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: On the – I mean, the Iranians – the Islamic Republic is saying that it’s the worst terrorist attack since ’79, under the new Islamic Republic. Since October 7th, the U.S. has often said Israel is able to defend itself, et cetera. In terms of the policy options for Iran, is there any message? Is the United States supportive of Iran taking action against ISIS, greater action against ISIS, if that’s the case?

MR MILLER: Again, we have not offered a formal assessment, so I think it would be premature for me to talk about policy options before we have done that. But I would say we, again, extend our sympathies to the people of Iran who have suffered really what appears to be a horrific terrorist attack that has claimed the lives of dozens of people.

QUESTION: And just briefly, obviously, there are no diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran, but do you know if there has been any sort of dialogue indirectly between the two countries regarding this?

MR MILLER: I don’t have anything to read out on that.

Nadia. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Are you saying that, if and when you do make a determination that ISIS was responsible, that you will go through policy options?

MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to get into a hypothetical from here.

QUESTION: Even after —

MR MILLER: I’m saying we – but I’m saying we haven’t made a determination yet, so it would be – it’s premature at this point.

QUESTION: No, well – yeah, I know. When was the last time you went through the policy options from the podium?

MR MILLER: Well, I’ve done it from —

QUESTION: Internal deliberations —

MR MILLER: Internal deliberations, certainly not. Yeah.

QUESTION: I have two questions. You said that the Secretary will focus on humanitarian aid in Gaza. Some aid organizations saying that by February Gazans will face a famine. So what – do you believe that the U.S. can do anything to stop this happening? I mean, we’re talking about a famine in the 21st century. Some believe that without U.S. assistance, support – diplomatically and militarily – Israel cannot conduct this war. So we’re not talking just about allowing 200 trucks to go through Rafah border. We’re talking about a serious famine, like we have seen in Africa and other parts of the world.

MR MILLER: I will say that, obviously, as you heard me say in my opening comments, the humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza right now is extremely difficult. The amount of humanitarian assistance that’s getting in today is not sufficient. It needs to increase. I will say that it is the United States that has been able to broker agreements to get humanitarian assistance in, in the first place. So despite the fact that what’s getting in isn’t sufficient to the needs right now, it is the United States that got anything in, in the first place.

And the fact that it’s not at the level its at is why we are going back and why we are continuing to engage not just at the Secretary level – remember we have our Special Envoy David Satterfield, who is there on the ground all the time. And I can tell you when you look at the work that he does, as those of us inside the department do, he is engaged in near hourly conversations with the Government of Israel, with the Government of Egypt, with other governments in the region, trying to unlock some of these logistical barriers and find ways to get increased humanitarian assistance in.

Because we know the situation on the ground. We see it. We see it from here. Our people who are in the region see it firsthand. And we know it needs to be addressed, and we know it needs to be addressed immediately, and that is why it is one of our top priorities. And it is why you’ve seen the Secretary himself engage in this, going back to his very first trip to the region. I’ll remind you that it was the Secretary that spent hours negotiating with the Government of Israel to get trucks in, in the first place. And we’re going back now to try to do what we can to increase the level of humanitarian assistance because of this very, very difficult situation that you point out.

QUESTION: Okay. And I have another question. In the 12 weeks of fighting, one percent of Gazans have been killed. We’re talking about 22,000 people – 70 percent are women and children. We saw yesterday that Israel was able to go after Hamas leaders with precision, as a surgical attack in Lebanon that killed Saleh al-Arouri. Do you think this war could have been conducted differently to spare the lives of women and children who are being considered collateral damage?

MR MILLER: I will say that, first of all, I would agree that far too many civilians have been killed in this conflict. You’ve heard me say that. You’ve heard the Secretary say that. You heard the President speak to this. I would also agree that there are additional things that Israel could do to protect civilian lives, and we have had very direct, very candid conversations with them about that. You’ve seen us make some of those additional steps that we think they should take – we’ve made those public. And there are other things that we have raised privately that we think they can do and that they should do. And we have seen them take a number of steps to try to minimize civilian [loss of] life, and we will encourage them to continue to do more.

But I will come back to the fact that this is a difficult situation precisely because Hamas does continue to hide behind civilians and embed itself in apartment buildings and in hospitals and schools, which makes this military campaign very difficult to conduct – none of which is to any way lesson the burden that’s on Israel. It has a burden to do everything it can to protect civilian casualties, and we continue to have conversations with them about how they can best do that.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Quick follow up on that, then I have Ukrainian-related questions. At what percentage does the Secretary believe that Hamas has already been defeated by now and is ready or willing to surrender?

MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to put a percentage on it from here. Israel has said that they have killed a number of Hamas fighters. They’ve killed – I don’t know the – their latest assessment of how many thousands they’ve killed, as well as a certain level of the leadership, but obviously the campaign goes on. There are a number of the top leadership who have not – who continue to operate and continue to plan terrorist attacks from Gaza. But I – so I will leave it to the Israelis to assess where they are in their battlefield objectives.

QUESTION: So do you expect the Secretary to discuss a potential – establishing potential interim government to take over, either run by Egypt or by other countries?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to preview specific conversations that he will have here. But I will say that generally, we will discuss the need for a combined governance that unites the – that unites the West Bank and Gaza under Palestinian leadership. But what the specifics look like I will keep for private diplomatic conversations.

QUESTION: Thank you. Let’s discuss Ukraine a little bit. How long will the latest package that you guys have sent already in December will give operations until they run out of funding again?

MR MILLER: I will let Ukraine speak to that because that pertains to – and my colleagues at the Pentagon may have some additional insight to offer on this. But ultimately, that’s a question to Ukraine to speak to because it goes to their rate of expenditure and other really military questions.

But I will say that we do need Congress to act. We are out of funding here. We know that we need to continue to support Ukraine. They need – they rely on this assistance. They rely on it to continue to fight what is a brutal Russian assault that continues, even over the – that continues every day. And so it’s important for Congress to act to continue to fund this democracy that is continuing to defend itself.

QUESTION: What is the status of humanitarian aid as well? Are you running out of funding for humanitarian aid?

MR MILLER: I’ll have to get back to you with an update on that.

QUESTION: And would you say that, given the latest developments, that the war is turning in Russia’s favor?

MR MILLER: No, I wouldn’t say that at all. I think people forget oftentimes the actual stakes of this war and what Vladimir Putin’s actual goal was, and what Ukraine has actually achieved and what it continues to achieve. Remember that Putin launched this as a war of total conquest where he wanted to take over Ukraine. He wanted to throw the government out of power. He wanted to subsume Ukraine inside Russia. Not only was Ukraine able to prevent that from happening, which everyone sort of takes for granted now but it was very not – it was very much not a settled question at the start of this war – they have managed to retake around half of the territory that Russia seized in the opening weeks of the war.

And even in the past few weeks, they continue to make battlefield gains. Remember the – over the last summer we were talking about the difficulty when Russia pulled out of the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and it looked like Ukraine wasn’t going to be able to continue to export grain. Well, because of advances that Ukraine made to open a Black Sea lane and expel the Russian fleet from certain parts of the Black Sea, they are now able to continue to export grain, which is critical to their economy.

So there are going to be battlefield developments back and forth, where you see each side gaining or losing territory. But when you look at the ultimate stakes of this war, it’s quite clear that Ukraine is going to exit this war independent, strong, with an improved economy, and looking west when what Russia wanted at the outset was not just a Ukraine that was looking east but Ukraine that was actually part of Russia.

QUESTION: Putin today issued a decree allowing for citizens to – if they fight for Russia in Ukraine, to obtain citizenships, Russian citizenship, both for themselves and for their family members. Will there be any measures from the U.S. against those soon-to-be Russian citizens?

MR MILLER: I never want to speak to measures before the – before we have taken them. But I will say I do think it is a sign of how Russia continues to have to work harder and harder and harder to recruit soldiers for its military to replace the thousands and thousands and thousands who have been killed or wounded on the battlefield. And it just speaks to the ongoing toll that Putin has inflicted on his own country, let alone what he’s done to Ukraine and continues to do to Ukraine, the very real human cost that he has inflicted on young men and women of his own country by choosing to launch this war.

QUESTION: I have a few more on South Caucasus. Please come back to me.

MR MILLER: Okay, all right.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you one about what you just said there?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said it is quite clear that Ukraine will exit or is going to exit this war independent. And why is it quite clear?

MR MILLER: I think it’s quite clear because Russia has failed, and we do not assess that they —

QUESTION: So far, right.

MR MILLER: And we do not assess that they are going to capture Kyiv and be able to —

QUESTION: Ever?

MR MILLER: No. We know – no, no, no.

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you’re the one who hates to talk about hypotheticals.

MR MILLER: We see that —

QUESTION: So I’m just wondering why —

MR MILLER: That’s funny.

QUESTION: Well, it’s true.

MR MILLER: No. It’s – no. We see —

QUESTION: Right? So I just want to know —

MR MILLER: We see a Ukraine —

QUESTION: You’re predicting the future here, and I just want to know —

MR MILLER: We see a Ukraine that is able to stand on its own feet, has built its economy and has built its military.

QUESTION: Even without additional support from the U.S.?

MR MILLER: Look, the battlefield situation will be very tough without additional support from the U.S., and we think we need to continue to support them, and we think Congress will ultimately be there. But the stakes are very real. But no, ultimately we do believe that Putin has not – not only has not but will not achieve his ultimate goals.

QUESTION: I get that’s the assessment of what has happened from the beginning of the war until now. But you made —

MR MILLER: No. I just said right now that he will not achieve – he will not be able to achieve his ultimate goal, which is to subjugate Ukraine – all of Ukraine into Russia.

QUESTION: Okay, okay. But why are you convinced of that?

MR MILLER: Because we’ve looked at Ukraine’s performance and Ukraine’s – not only their performance on the battlefield but the way that they’ve been able to build their economy and the reforms that they have taken – more needs to be done on all of those fronts, of course – and the way that they have rallied support not just from the United States but from all of Europe, and the way that they continue to fight very bravely against the Russian army.

QUESTION: Well, but okay, fair enough. But I mean, when you’re asked in the Middle East is this going to turn into a broader war, you don’t want to – you won’t say. And yet you are quite clear what the result will be in Ukraine at the end of —

MR MILLER: I’m not at all clear what the result broadly is when there are a number of things that still remain, but there is one thing that I think we’re quite clear about, which is that we believe that Russia’s Putin has failed and will continue to fail in his overall objective.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Matt, I think I know the answer to this, so I’m not entirely sure why I’m asking the next question.

MR MILLER: Okay. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But – no, no, no. I wanted to circle back to Gaza the day after, and you mentioned that a lot of these conversations were going to be focused on that. Can you give us any sort of elaboration on what you hope to see? Obviously, the Israelis have been pretty adamant that they want a security buffer. Is that something you’re willing to entertain?

MR MILLER: We have made quite clear that when you mentioned the – I mentioned the principles that the Secretary laid out in Tokyo. One of those principles was that there should be no reduction in the territory of Gaza.

With all these questions, there of course can be a transition period. You have right now the Israeli military conducting major combat operations. They’re not just going to pick up and leave and leave a complete security vacuum in Gaza, so there’s going to have to be a transition period of some sort. What exactly that looks like, how long it is – those are all questions that I’m not going to get into publicly. They’ll be the subject of conversation. Of course, they’re going to be somewhat dependent on what the facts on the ground are.

So I won’t articulate anything further than the principles that we have already laid out, but you will see us engaged in principles about – or in discussions about some of the hard choices that need to be made to get to what we support, what a number of countries in the region support, which is ultimately the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

QUESTION: Would you like to see a multinational transitional kind of governance?

MR MILLER: I just think it’s too early for me to talk about that publicly.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR MILLER: Yes.

QUESTION: The election commission of Pakistan has rejected the nomination papers of former Prime Minister Imran Khan. Now he won’t be able to contest the elections. How do you assess the situation when you call for free and fair elections?

MR MILLER: So I would say that Pakistan’s future leadership is for the Pakistani people to decide. Our interest, as you’ve heard me say before, is in the democratic process. We want to see free and fair elections which are conducted in accordance with Pakistan’s laws, and we don’t support one candidate or party over another in Pakistan or anywhere else in the world.

QUESTION: In his latest article, former Prime Minister Imran Khan once again came up with the accusations. I know we’ve talked about this may times, but the new accusation in that article is that United States wanted to establish military bases in Pakistan, which he refused. That’s the reason U.S. Government was angry. Do you want to respond to that?

MR MILLER: I will just say, as we have said before, the former prime minister’s accusations are baseless, and I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: The last question, sir. During the recent visit, did Secretary Blinken engage in discussions with the Pakistani army chief and ISI chief regarding Pakistan’s military involvement in politics?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to get into private diplomatic conversations, but we have always made clear it is for the Pakistani people to choose their government.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay, Matt. Thank you, Matt. When the U.S. gives foreign aid, is funding for abortion and birth control included in that? And if so, is the aid conditional? And I have a follow-up.

MR MILLER: I’m just going to say that with respect to that we follow all relevant U.S. laws and regulations.

QUESTION: Okay. In light of Catholic Church and Evangelical Christian Church membership in opposition to abortion, does Secretary Blinken expect a change in foreign aid policy regarding abortion?

MR MILLER: I do not expect any changes from our existing policy.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Thank you. The U.S. has been fighting against ISIS for years now, and there is irreconcilability with some of the allies over how the U.S. does that officially in Syria. How is it that ISIS is still strong enough to carry out such a terrorist attack, and what is the U.S. assessment on ISIS’ ability to recreate among Iranian Sunnis?

MR MILLER: So I will say that the – that ISIS has obviously been significantly degraded from its peak, but it continues to be a concern of ours that it would have the ability to regenerate and regrow and expand. It’s why you have seen U.S. forces maintain a presence in Iraq at the invitation of the Government of Iraq as well as in Syria exactly to counter this very problem, that ISIS continues to exist and wants to continue to carry out terrorist attacks around the world.

So I’m not going to make any assessments other than to say that it is important that we keep our eye on the ball and not lose sight of the fact that ISIS remains a brutal terrorist organization that needs to be countered.

QUESTION: The Iraqi Government, invited, yes, but also today the spokesman said that no different act from a terrorist act for the latest attack against Nujaba movement commander Abu Taqwa. There should be a kind of misunderstanding here.

MR MILLER: So again, I’m not going to comment on the specific attack, but I will say that when groups and individuals take action targeting U.S. forces, the United States will not hesitate to defend itself.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matthew. Could you confirm the U.S. assassinated Iran-backed militia leader Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi in Baghdad today?

MR MILLER: I think I’ve just spoken to this.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Can you repeat, reiterate?

MR MILLER: I don’t have – I mean, I have spoken to this several times already. I don’t have any specific comment on that. I’ll refer to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: No problem. And does the department have any reaction to a House report that the Chinese spent $5.5 million at Trump properties during President Trump’s tenure?

MR MILLER: I certainly do not.

Daphne. Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: And also, and the administration has talked about Israel needing to avoid civilian deaths. So you’ve seen that standard. Has the U.S. told Ukraine to do same thing amid Putin’s illegal invasion? Otherwise, how is this not a double standard?

MR MILLER: For Ukraine to avoid civilian deaths? Certainly we always want to see any country engaged in conflict follow the laws of war, comply with international humanitarian law, and do everything it can to minimize civilian casualties.

QUESTION: And finally —

MR MILLER: No, you got – that was three. Let me go ahead. Daphne has had her hand up.

QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.

QUESTION: If I could just go back to what we spoke about yesterday on genocide a bit.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said that there was a determination by the State Department that you have not seen Israel commit acts that constitute genocide at this point, so has the formal process on determining whether Israel has committed atrocities been launched?

MR MILLER: Again, I’m not going to speak to internal deliberations as it relates to atrocities and it – as it relates to war crimes.

QUESTION: So what was the process used for determining that you haven’t seen acts of genocide?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to all of the internal deliberations and the processes that we go through. I will say that when you look at these various categories, genocide is a very specific thing that looks different than, say, when it comes to war crimes, where any individual strike can be a war crime, any individual action can be a war crime. It takes a very laborious legal process, which is not to say that genocide doesn’t, but genocide is a very different thing just based on the definition. So I’m not going to get into the internal processes, but we’re comfortable making the statement we made about genocide.

QUESTION: And I know you —

QUESTION: Are —

QUESTION: Oh – I know you said you were collecting information when it comes to atrocities, but has a process been launched when it comes to war crimes or crimes against humanity?

MR MILLER: Again, we are collecting information, as we always do, but I’m not going to speak to – beyond that.

QUESTION: Just on the ICJ —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: The South African petition to the ICJ – are you guys planning to weigh in on that at all in any kind of formal way?

MR MILLER: I don’t have —

QUESTION: I don’t know what their procedure is, but like an amicus brief or something like that?

MR MILLER: I would say I don’t know that – I was about to say I don’t know that there’s a —

QUESTION: Either in support of Israel or potentially not in support of —

MR MILLER: Yeah, yeah. Let me just say I don’t even know if there’s a procedural way for us to do that, or – let alone if we’d made the decision whether to do so or not.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Could I pursue you on genocide, but slightly different – in a different country, perhaps? Sudan, the – obviously there was a determination a couple decades ago on Darfur. The Secretary’s spoken about atrocities there. Is there a determination or any sort of process whether genocide is ongoing in Darfur?

MR MILLER: Let me take that back and get you an answer.

QUESTION: And could I just press one thing? The RSF leader, Dagalo, is doing a tour in Africa. I think he’s going to South Africa now; he’s in other parts of the continent, in Kenya. Does the U.S. have any stance on that, whether he should – what type of dialogue should be or whether he should be received at all?

MR MILLER: I will – I’m not going to comment on it specifically, other than that we would say hopefully any foreign leader who engages in a conversation with either a member of the leadership of the RSF or the member of the leadership of the SAF should send a very clear message that there’s no acceptable military solution to the conflict in Sudan, that we want to see both parties return to the negotiating table, that we want to see a ceasefire that is actually adhered to, and we want to see both parties to this conflict stop their brutal attacks on civilians and actually take actions that are in the interests of the people of Sudan.

QUESTION: Sure. Could I just ask something completely unrelated? Back on the trip, do you have anything to say about why he’s visiting Greece? I mean, obviously this is right after Türkiye and obviously there’s a relationship there. Is it about the F-16 issue specifically, or is it more broadly – more —

MR MILLER: So as I said in my opening comments, he’s – Greece is an important NATO Ally and he’s looking forward to visit there to talk about Greece’s support for Ukraine, which has been longstanding, really since the outset of the conflict, safeguarding regional maritime security, and there will be other issues that we’ll talk about as well that I’m sure we’ll read out afterwards.

(Inaudible), yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask you, Matt – hearing about these reports of a U.S.-coordinated operation that resulted in the release or in the evacuation or the extraction of a mother and uncle of a U.S. servicemember. Is there any comment that you have to confirm that report? Is this a widespread practice that the U.S. is engaging in?

MR MILLER: So I will say that we have engaged, since the outset of this conflict, to do what we can to help American citizens and their family members safely depart from Gaza. I can’t get into all the specifics of this case. I’ll say that we played more of a liaison role. It wasn’t an operational presence by any U.S. forces or U.S. personnel there to help these family members escape, but we were glad to see them make their way safely out of Gaza, and we’ll continue to work to do what we can to facilitate the departure of others.

QUESTION: When you say “liaison role,” was there something particular about this case? And are there others like it in which the U.S. is coordinating among parties to help people leave on a special case-by-case basis?

MR MILLER: There’s nothing more I can say about this case because we played a liaison role. We don’t have people, we don’t have personnel on the ground in Gaza who can actually play an – do anything operationally to help American citizens get out, but we do stay in contact with those American citizens who want to leave and try to do what we can to facilitate their departure. We have helped over 1,300 U.S. citizens and family members and lawful permanent residents leave Gaza, and we’ll continue to work to help others.

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry, and just if you are in a position to provide an update as to how many remain who want to leave.

MR MILLER: I don’t have an update on that. We have changed the way that we look at this over time, as you’ve seen us do in other conflict zones, because when – over time, the nature of how we look at it and the nature of our conversations with people changes. We had – I think last week I said several hundred that were remaining to leave. That number has probably stayed somewhat consistent, but there are a number of people in that group who have been on the list, the cleared list to leave Gaza, for some time that haven’t done so. That may be that – because they can’t make it to Rafah to make it out. It may be because they’ve changed their mind and don’t want to leave, maybe because they have family members that they don’t want to leave behind, or because of other considerations.

So we know there are other American citizens that still want to leave, and we’re in communication with them, but it’s very hard to put a fixed number in it – on that question because of so many people who either have left and not told us or have said they want to leave and then haven’t left when they had the opportunity to. It’s tough for us to give an exact number at this point.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Matt. You talk about today’s attack in Iraq and the attack was conducted on the element that was – what the Iraqi Government says that was operating under the Iraqi prime minister’s authority. I’m not asking about this specific attack today and this specific element that you attacked today. But —

MR MILLER: I think I have some deja vu yesterday when you said you – I’m not asking about something —

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR MILLER: — and then asked me about it. But go ahead.

QUESTION: But in your general assessment —

MR MILLER: I feel a trick coming.

QUESTION: Yeah, in your general assessment, do you believe that there are elements and groups in Iraq that’s operating under the Iraqi prime minister is attacking you and threatening your forces in Iraq?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to that specifically. I will just reiterate what I’ve said, which is we’ve been very clear with the Government of Iraq – and I don’t think this is a secret; we’ve said it publicly – that we think they need to take additional steps to protect U.S. forces who are there at their invitation and to hold accountable those who have launched attacks against U.S. forces, whoever they may be.

QUESTION: Has anyone from the Iraqi Government or from the embassy requested United States to set a deadline for the U.S. forces withdrawal from Iraq?

MR MILLER: I am not aware of any such request.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: My question is about Afghanistan. Given the raise of terrorist group in Afghanistan and based on the recent killing by ISIS about – attacking Iran, how does the U.S. is going to address this issue in Afghanistan as a safe zone for terrorist attack – terrorist group?

MR MILLER: As a safe zone for?

QUESTION: Terrorist group in Afghanistan.

MR MILLER: I will say that we continue to make clear to the Taliban that they have counterterrorism commitments that we expect them to adhere to. We maintain our capabilities to monitor the situation and respond to terrorist activity that we see despite the fact that there isn’t a more U.S. presence in Afghanistan. We demonstrated that when we took out the leader of al-Qaida in July 2022, and we will continue to act to protect Americans.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. So back on Ukraine, you said yesterday that you haven’t shifted the strategy towards Ukraine, but we’ve stopped hearing from you the phrase you’re going to support Ukraine as long as it is attacked. And at the press conference, Secretary said that the main goal is to – for Ukraine to be able to stand on its own two feet. That seems like a shift at least rhetorically. Can you address that?

And the White House just released that Russia has fired the ballistic missiles from the – obtained from the DPRK. Can you —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — speak to that?

MR MILLER: So I could speak to that, but – the last one – but I know that my colleagues at the White House at least were planning to speak to it and sounds like they have. So I don’t have anything to add. It would be basically the same information, but – yeah – other than that, yes, we have seen Russia working to obtain ballistic missiles from Iran that they have not yet used. And we’ve seen them obtaining ballistic missiles from North Korea and actually using those. And beyond that, the White House has spoken to those details already. I don’t think I need to repeat them.

But with respect to the broader question, no, there has been not any change in strategy. And, two, I don’t think there’s any tension between those two comments. We have always made clear that we want Ukraine to be an independent country, and that means that can stand on – that it can stand on its own two feet. We will continue to support Ukraine. It is the policy of the United States —

QUESTION: As long as it takes?

MR MILLER: As long as it takes. That does not mean that we are going to continue to support them at the same level of military funding that we did in 2022 and 2023. We don’t think that should be necessary because the goal is to ultimately transition Ukraine – to use the language that you repeated back – to stand on its own feet and to help Ukraine build its own industrial base and its own military industrial base so it can both finance and build and acquire munitions on its own. But we are not there yet, and that is why it is so critical that Congress pass the supplemental funding bill, because we are not yet at the point where Ukraine can defend itself just based on its own. And it’s why that it continues to be important for Congress to support Ukraine and continues to be important for our European allies and others throughout the world to support Ukraine.

QUESTION: And on the —

MR MILLER: Oh yeah. Go ahead and finish.

QUESTION: On the trip to Greece, do you expect any specific results regarding the support for Ukraine, because you mentioned that as the main topic of the discussions?

MR MILLER: We’ll have more to say after the – at the conclusion of the meetings.

Alex, and then we’ll wrap up.

QUESTION: I have two questions on the South Caucasus – Armenia and Azerbaijan. As I understand, Secretary’s invite for ministers to come to Washington by the end of the year – that didn’t pan out. Moscow urged foreign governments not to interfere into Azerbaijan-Armenia —

MR MILLER: Not to?

QUESTION: Not to interfere into Azerbaijan-Armenia peace process. Is it too simplistic for me to say that Russia is preventing you from moving forward on this topic?

MR MILLER: It is. I never I want to say what’s too simplistic or not for you, Alex. You’re a very sophisticated guy. But, no, Russia does not in any way prevent us from conducting the important diplomatic efforts we think are necessary for Armenia and Azerbaijan, and we will continue to pursue them.

QUESTION: And when are you – when are you hoping to have them – when are you hoping to have the ministers in town?

MR MILLER: Stay tuned. I’ll – we’ll have an announcement to make when we have a meeting scheduled.

QUESTION: My second topic, if I may.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I want to ask you about Russia’s land grab —

MR MILLER: Alex, you’re killing me here. You’ve had your questions and I’m trying to go to one other person to end the briefing.

QUESTION: I apologize. Last one. The Russians’ land grab in occupied Georgian territory of Abkhazia – the U.S. condemned the effort, but is it reversible? Is there anything else you could do legally, militarily, to help Georgia to get that land back?

MR MILLER: We will continue to be focused on this matter, but I wouldn’t want to preview any specific steps.

Ryan, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, I just wanted to follow up quickly on the question earlier about Pakistani elections.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: You said, “it is for the Pakistani people to choose their government.” And not only, as you mentioned, is the former prime minister in jail at the time, but you’re also seeing something rather extraordinary where members of his party who are filing to run for office – and there’s a lot of video evidence from around the country that – you may have seen this – they’re filing to run for office and they’re being arrested and abducted at the – at the filing office. They’re also arresting the, quote/unquote, “approvers,” people who signed their petitions as well. So you’re not going to have any candidates for the people to choose from, so how can the Pakistani people choose their government if there’s nobody to choose from on the ballot? And is this something that is concerning?

MR MILLER: So I will say, without commenting on that – those specific matters, we want to see free and fair elections that are conducted in accordance with Pakistan’s laws. It’s not for the United States to dictate to Pakistan how it conducts – the exact specifics of how it conducts its election, but to make clear that we want to see those elections conducted in a free, fair, and peaceful manner that includes freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and ultimately a full, open, reliable, vibrant democratic process.

QUESTION: But it feels like election-rigging of this level would merit sanctions if any other – if a Maduro-like government did something like this, it would seem like —

MR MILLER: I —

QUESTION: — the State Department might come down a little harder. This is a 250-million-person democracy.

MR MILLER: And we will continue to support democratic expression and a vibrant democracy in Pakistan, but I don’t have anything to preview from here.

QUESTION: No, no. You just – you said you will continue to support democratic suppression. Is that —

MR MILLER: I said expression.

QUESTION: Oh, expression. I’m sorry.

MR MILLER: Expression. Expression. I’m not going to let you trick me into correcting —

QUESTION: I – I – I thought you said “suppression.”

MR MILLER: — correcting myself unnecessarily again. Expression.

QUESTION: Okay, sorry.

MR MILLER: All right. Thank you, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:23 p.m.)

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U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future