1:18 p.m. EDT
MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone.
MR MILLER: I was informed I’m apparently expected to do this every day. (Laughter.) Let the record reflect I’m on time today, which I say not to pat myself – ah, well, Matt.
QUESTION: No, no, no. Hold on. You’re actually 10 minutes late. (Laughter.)
MR MILLER: We – let me – and if you want exact detail what happened, we gave the two-minute warning, I sat in the room and noticed that not everyone was in here, so I waited for the august representative from the Associated Press to make an appearance before I walked in. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, thank you. I appreciate that. You might not, but I’ll see. (Laughter.)
MR MILLER: I don’t have any opening comments, so Matt, do you want to kick us off?
QUESTION: Can I ask you about what your understanding is of the hearing that Evan Gershkovich had in Russia today?
MR MILLER: Sure. So we understand the hearing took place and that Russia extended the pretrial detention of Evan Gershkovich by an additional three months. We once again call on Russia to comply with their obligation to provide consular access to him. As we said – as I discussed yesterday, on Friday they rejected our second request for consular access to them. The claims against Evan are baseless, and we continue to call for his immediate release as well as for the immediate release of Paul Whelan.
QUESTION: Okay. But you have gotten consular access to him once, right? Or no?
MR MILLER: No. No. They have rejected —
MR MILLER: They have rejected consular access.
QUESTION: So you haven’t gotten any?
MR MILLER: Correct.
QUESTION: But there were people in the court today? —
MR MILLER: We did have representatives from the embassy in the court today.
QUESTION: But they weren’t able to speak to him privately or —
MR MILLER: I don’t know. I haven’t – I don’t have an update on whether – I know they were there. I haven’t – I don’t have an update on whether they were able to speak with him.
QUESTION: Okay. And per – but per the people who were in there, you don’t have any better understanding of the charges against him?
MR MILLER: I think that – my understanding of the hearing today was that it was a hearing on whether to continue to detain him, and they extended that detention by three months. I believe the embassy in Moscow will have a statement coming out. I thought it would be out before the briefing, but if it’s not out, it’ll be out in the next few minutes with any more details. But I don’t have any more details from what happened inside the court.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: May I follow up?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Evan’s parents were also in attendance at the court. Did the U.S. help arrange their visit to Moscow? Do you approve of this visit? Anything, any comment?
MR MILLER: We were aware that they visited Moscow. As I think we’ve said before, we have been in close contact with Evan’s parents since immediately after his detention. We did not help arrange their travel.
I will just say personally I can only imagine how difficult it must be to see your child detained overseas, especially to be detained wrongfully. And so I’m certainly not going to criticize any parent for wanting to see their child. But that being said, we do have a Level Four Travel Advisory for Russia, and just speaking generally, we don’t – we do not advise that U.S. citizens travel to Russia.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that?
MR MILLER: Yeah. Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Just to clarify, just so we have clear understanding of how your pressing on – still pressing for consular access, at what level? Have you invited the Russian ambassador to the State Department to express your concern about the latest development?
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to get into the details of back-and-forth conversations. But we have expressed our concern from the minister level. Secretary Blinken had a conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov about Evan Gershkovich’s detention already this year. We’ve engaged with him at a number of levels. Our embassy in Moscow has engaged with them. We’ve engaged with them here. And I’m not going to get into the specifics of those conversations.
As I said yesterday, we’ve found that oftentimes when it comes to wrongful detentions it’s unproductive to the release that we seek to talk about all of the conversations we have publicly. But we have consistently pressed the case that, number one, they need to – Russia needs to fulfill its consular obligations; and number two, they need to immediately release him as well as Paul Whelan.
QUESTION: Have you exhausted your leverages at this point?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to any of the details of how we are trying to secure his release, other than to say that it is an ongoing priority for the Secretary, it is an ongoing priority for the President. And I will say that even speaking more broadly than the case of Evan Gershkovich or Paul Whelan, the wrongful detention of Americans is one of the top priorities for this department. As you are aware, we have secured the return of more than two dozen wrongfully detained Americans since the beginning of this administration. It continues to be our top priority, and we’ll continue to work on it with all the tools available to us.
QUESTION: And a final follow-up on this. The administration earlier this month sanctioned FSB for its action particularly in going after American citizens, but it stopped short. You guys did not sanction the Russian foreign minister which is refusing the consular access. Is it on the table as an option?
MR MILLER: So I don’t want to preview any specific sanction action. I will say that, as always, we look at all the tools that are available to us and we use them when we think they are most effective. But if you look at our record not just with respect with wrongful detentions but our record with respect with Moscow and Russian Government officials and other Russian elites going back to more than a year now, we have not hesitated to use our sanctions authorities to go after any number of officials in that government, including the most senior officials.
QUESTION: Thanks. I know lots of us are concerned about Evan. But let me move to another topic, Sudan.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The ceasefire that is supposed to have taken place, that did come into force. What’s your assessment of whether it’s holding and where things stand right now?
MR MILLER: So today in Jeddah, representatives of the Ceasefire Monitoring Coordination Committee that we announced over the weekend engaged in discussions on humanitarian assistance deliveries. And they also had discussions with their respective chain of command, so that would be the Saudi officials on that group discussing it with the officials in the Saudi Government, Ambassador Godfrey, who leads our representation on the Monitoring Committee having conversations with officials in our government.
Regarding allegations of ceasefire violations, we’ve obviously seen the reports. The officials on the Monitoring Mechanism are looking into those reports and continuing to monitor, and we have the ability to, when we see violations of the ceasefire, make those known publicly as well as engaged with direct – directly with both sides to the conflict.
QUESTION: Can I just pursue that?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said the Monitoring Mechanism, and of course the Secretary spoke to that as well. How do you see that coming – how do you see that working? I mean, do you think that’s going to have a shaping effect, if you will, to reduce the violations? Is this just more of a reporting mechanism? How do you see that going?
MR MILLER: So what I’d say is the Monitoring Mechanism is made up of 12 individuals: three officials from the U.S. Government – Ambassador Godfrey is our lead and there will be two other officials as well; three officials from the Saudi Government; as well as three officials each from the SAF and the RSF.
The way we see the Monitoring Mechanism is – and what it can achieve is a couple of different things: one, to identify violations of the ceasefire; two, to publicly hold accountable the parties for the violations of the ceasefire; and then three, so we have evidence that we can use to privately press the parties. We have had conversations at a number of levels inside this department, both with the top generals and other officials in the SAF and the RSF from the beginning of this conflict, and we’ll continue to do that to press them to stop the violence when we see violations of the ceasefire, and also to have conversations with our partners in the region.
And then the last thing I will add is that we do have additional tools available to us and we will not hesitate to use those tools if and when it’s appropriate to do so.
QUESTION: So how —
QUESTION: Go ahead, go ahead.
QUESTION: How do you hold the violators accountable? How will you do that? I know you said you have some tools and so on.
MR MILLER: I don’t want to preview any specific action. Obviously, this is a – continues to be a very delicate situation, where we are involved in intense diplomatic conversations both directly with the two parties and with partners in the region. But we have a number of tools available to us. We – and we will not hesitate to use those tools if and when it’s appropriate to do so.
Anything else on Sudan before I – Sudan? Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: You announced the 245 million towards humanitarian aid for civilians today. But since there’s not a civilian government in place, how exactly is that going to be distributed?
MR MILLER: So let me note, first of all, that the United States remains the largest single donor of humanitarian assistance in Sudan and we will continue our support for the vulnerable population in Sudan.
The assistance that we announced today is not just for people in Sudan but for neighboring countries that are experiencing the impacts of the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Specifically with respect to how that will be distributed, it will be distributed through the State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration, as well as additional humanitarian assistance from USAID.
So we have the ability to directly provide humanitarian assistance and then also engage with multilateral organizations in the region.
Yeah, Said. Michel.
QUESTION: Are you aware on phone conversations between Israeli prime minister and the Saudi Crown Prince on the normalization between the two countries, and did the U.S. play any role in this regard?
MR MILLER: So we are aware of the reports. I would refer you to the two countries to speak to them, any detail. And of course, those are two countries with which we engage regularly, but I’m not going to speak to any private diplomatic conversations.
I will say as a broader measure we, of course, fully support Israel’s integration into the Middle East region, including normalizing relations with Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on this real quick?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you. It is said that Prime Minister Netanyahu is either speaking or spoke with Saudi Crown Prince MBS on – about flights for the pilgrimage for Hajj, a direct flight for Israel. But it is – also that was reported in the Times of Israel and – but it is alleged that the Saudis are insisting on allowing PA security officers on the compound of Haram Sharif. Are you aware of such talks and would you support the presence of Palestinian PA security in al-Aqsa/ Haram Sharif?
MR MILLER: Again, I think it’s more appropriate for those two governments that were involved in the reported talks to speak to any details about them. I would say as a general matter the United States continues to strongly support the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount.
QUESTION: Right. But it’s the United States that really trained Palestinian security, supports them, finances them and all these things, so you wield a lot of power of the Palestinian security. Does that factor in in any way?
MR MILLER: I will say, as I just said, we continue to support the longstanding historic status quo. That’s been our policy for some time, and I don’t have any further comment.
QUESTION: A question about Lebanon. Germany issues arrest warrant for Lebanon Central Bank Riad Salameh. This is like the second arrest warrant within one week. The first one came from France and this from Germany. What’s your take on that, since it’s a very kind of sensitive matter for Lebanese economy? It’s crashing right now and this will add more insecurity for the economy that is already clashed.
MR MILLER: So I would say with respect to the specific reports, we would leave that to our German partners to comment on them, just as last week we left it to the Government of France.
I will say in general it is for the Lebanese Government to determine who continues to serve in that position. We work with the designated governor in his or her official capacity. And I will say more broadly, as we’ve said before, it is important that the Lebanese Government respect the established process for appointing a new governor and focus on the task of stabilizing Lebanon’s economy and effecting meaningful change.
QUESTION: Okay. My question about the displaced Syrians – I’m stressing on the word “displaced,” not refugees, because a big number – as reports indicated, big numbers, they go back to Syria and then go back to Lebanon and get paid a salary through UNHCR. So they don’t really have a security problem going back home. Why this administration is not kind of pushing these displaced Syrians to go back home, safe, for good?
MR MILLER: So I will say that we continue to engage with our partners in the region about that issue, about the return of refugees to Syria. But I don’t have anything to add in – specifically.
QUESTION: Yes, my question is about Mexico, and the illegal use of surveillance there. Today The New York Times is publishing a front-page story showing how the Mexican army has been widely using commercial spyware to target a wide array of persons in Mexico. Does the State Department condemn this type of use of commercial spyware? And given the administration has spoken so forcefully against the misuse of surveillance, what does it say that one of your closest allies is encouraging this practice?
MR MILLER: So I have seen those reports. I haven’t even had a chance to read the full story; I don’t have any comment on them in detail, other than to say that the U.S.-Mexico relationship is one of the most important and dynamic in the world. But I don’t have any specific comment on that report in The New York Times.
QUESTION: So the U.S. doesn’t condemn the use of – the misuse of —
MR MILLER: I said I haven’t had a chance to look at that report in detail, and I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to comment on it in detail until I have done so.
QUESTION: Not even in general, around the world?
MR MILLER: I – I understand what you would like me to say. However, I think with respect to the report in the Times, until I’ve had a chance to read it in detail and talk with my colleagues about it, I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to make any comment.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Could you provide an update, please, on the State Department’s facilitating access to the Afghanistan dissent cable to the leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee?
MR MILLER: Sure. So as we made public last week, we made an offer to the committee that Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Meeks could come here to the State Department to view both the dissent cable – dissent channel cable itself and Secretary Blinken’s response. They accepted that offer, and it’s our understanding that they will visit the department today to review the cable and the response.
QUESTION: Has consideration been made for their – or for the chairman’s sort of counter that access be broadened to other membership of the committee?
MR MILLER: I would say as a general principle we continue to believe it’s important to protect the confidentiality of the dissent channel. We understand the need to give Congress the information it needs to do its job, but we want to protect the ability of State Department employees to do their job. We’ve seen the comments that Chairman McCaul has made about this issue publicly, of extending access to the other members of the committee. We will continue to engage with him on this question. And as we’ve said for some time, we hope to reach some kind of final resolution.
QUESTION: Follow-up on Afghanistan?
QUESTION: Should we – should the —
MR MILLER: Let me just – let me – one —
QUESTION: — the prospect of the enforcement of that subpoena be resuscitated? You think that you might consider facilitating broader access?
MR MILLER: I think for this point we’ll continue to keep the conversations confidential with the chairman. But we’re – we understand that he and Ranking Member Meeks will view the cable today. And as I said, we hope to achieve some resolution to the matter.
QUESTION: Thank you. On one quick separate topic, if I may.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does the State Department have a view on the impetus behind the apparent pardoning of Roman Protasevich in Belarus by Lukashenka? Was that – do you have clarity onto the circumstances of that pardon?
MR MILLER: Not clarity into the circumstances. As I think you’re aware, we don’t have a lot of direct conversations with the Lukashenka regime. I will say generally the release of even one political prisoner in Belarus is a positive sign, particularly when the total number of political prisoners continues to grow and now has reached more than 1,500. But that does not excuse the Lukashenka regime’s blatant violation of international civil aviation regulations when it diverted the Ryanair flight two years ago for the sole purpose of arresting – excuse me – Mr. Protasevich. After his arrest, he was unconscionably used as a tool of Belarusian state media. He was paraded in front of TV cameras, coerced into confessing. And while he was pardoned, Ms. Sapega, who was sentenced with him, continues to serve her six-year detention and – today. And we reiterate our call for the regime to unconditionally release all political prisoners unjustly detained in Belarus.
All right, Guita.
QUESTION: Thank you. On Iran, Matt. After months of detention of the two journalists who broke the news on how Mahsa Amini was actually killed, or died, the judiciary has set a date for their trial, which is next week. They have been – one of the charges is collaboration with the United States. Do you have any comments on that? And also anything – any thoughts on the escalation of executions in that country.
MR MILLER: So I will say with respect to that specific question, we reject those charges. They are obviously not true. And I will note that over the course of the protests, Iranian authorities have repeatedly violated Iranians’ human rights, punished them for executing their essential freedoms. This includes not just members of the Iranian public who have – who came forward to protest, but also journalists in the country. Sham trials and executions have been key components of the regime’s attempt to suppress any form of dissent. And we once again, as we have on a number of occasions, call on Iranian authorities to stop their arbitrary detentions, stop their sham trials, and stop denying the Iranian people the fundamental freedoms that they deserve.
QUESTION: And how about on the escalation of executions?
MR MILLER: I will say that we have been concerned about the way the Iranian regime has used executions after, as I said a minute ago, what we believe are sham trials.
QUESTION: Can I ask one more on Iran?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just President Raisi is in Jakarta. He signed some agreements on trade with the Indonesians. Does the United States have any stance on that? You have – the United States has good relations with Indonesia. Do you have any – any position?
MR MILLER: So I don’t have any specific comment on their visit. I will say that in general, we do continue to vigorously enforce our sanctions on Iran. We don’t hesitate to take action against sanctions invaders. We’ve taken those actions numerous times in the world, and we regularly engage with countries and strongly discouraging – discourage them from taking steps with respect to Iran that contravene U.S. sanctions.
Alex, you’ve already had, like, four questions. Go ahead. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: And do – all right. Yeah.
QUESTION: A couple of different things. Just in a response a minute ago on Syria, you sort of talked about engaging partners in the region about return of refugees. Just to clarify, is that – is the U.S. sort of discussing the possible return of Syrian refugees?
MR MILLER: I don’t think I want to detail – to comment in detail about our conversations with partners in the region.
QUESTION: Right, but there are conversations rather than about the issue of refugees, these are conversations about —
MR MILLER: I probably should – I probably should have said about the issue of refugees, to be – to be more precise.
QUESTION: Sure, okay. And just on the Afghan cable, are you saying it’s possible that as well as the visit today to see the – to view the cable, there will be – this will be extended to all members of the committee? Can you clarify that?
MR MILLER: What I would say is we believe, as we said in the letter that we sent to Chairman McCaul and Ranking Member Meeks, that making – making the cable available to the chairman and the ranking member to view in private was an extraordinary accommodation on behalf of the State Department. We believe that ought to satisfy the – our obligation to provide them with the information that they need, but we will continue to engage with them about the overall question.
QUESTION: And just one more separate issue. Sorry to range around. On the sort of cross-border offensive in Russian territory, I know you sort of touched on this briefly yesterday, but – and I know that the policy is that U.S. – American-supplied weapons shouldn’t be used in attacks on Russian soil. But is there – is there any U.S. position on whether you support or would denounce an attack, whether using U.S. weapons or not, but an attack into another country by – I guess the Russians would say this is terrorism. So does the U.S. have, like, a position in any way sort of to the people who did this? And we don’t know yet who it was.
MR MILLER: Let me say a few things about it. Number one, we’ve seen some of the reports circulating on social media and elsewhere making claims that U.S.-supplied weapons were used in these attacks. I will say that we’re skeptical at this time of the veracity of these reports. As a more general principle, as we’ve said and I believe I said yesterday, we do not encourage or enable strikes inside of Russia, and we’ve made that clear. But as we’ve also said, it is up to Ukraine to decide how to conduct this war.
QUESTION: I’m sorry, what does —
QUESTION: What does that mean, you’re skeptical of these reports? Either you know or you don’t.
MR MILLER: I will say we’ve seen a lot of reports on social media, and fuzzy pictures on social media, and a lot of kind of armchair intelligence analysts making —
QUESTION: But are they wrong?
MR MILLER: — making claims. We’re skeptical that they are – that they are accurate.
QUESTION: But why are you only skeptical? Why can’t you say they’re – why can’t you just flat-out —
MR MILLER: Because we don’t have perfect clarity on the information. We see – we’re looking at the same pictures that you see, the same fuzzy images, and at this time we are skeptical of their veracity.
QUESTION: Could I ask an Iran question?
MR MILLER: Let me – let me —
MR MILLER: Let me work the – you’ve had a —
QUESTION: Oh, sure. Yeah.
MR MILLER: Alex, come on. You’ve had a couple already.
QUESTION: I have a —
MR MILLER: Let me – go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV, Pakistan. Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan are targeting innocent Pakistanis (inaudible), and after the strong support from the Afghan Taliban we have seen a rise in their activities. Recently they’ve attacked an oil and gas facility in Pakistan. There were more than 50 terrorists. After the attack, they fled to Afghanistan. So my question is that are you concerned on the regrouping of terrorist networks in Afghanistan? Because it is not only TTP; there is Daesh, there is al-Qaida, and many more.
MR MILLER: Let me say a few things. Number one, we are saddened by the devastating reports concerning the deadly militant attack at the Pakistan oil and gas facility, which killed four security troops and two private guards. We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of those who were killed, and we wish a speedy recovery to those who were injured. We continue to closely follow the developments, but we understand that responsibility for the attack has not yet been claimed or attributed.
QUESTION: So there is a political chaos in Pakistan. In recent days we have seen a crackdown against political workers and journalists. The Pakistani Government and military leadership decided to try these arrested civilians under military laws. The national and international human rights organizations criticized this decision. What are your thoughts?
MR MILLER: I will say, as we’ve said before, we continue to monitor the situation in Pakistan very closely. We don’t have a position on one political candidate or another inside Pakistan. We call for the respect and equal application of democratic principles, freedom of expression around – and rule of law around the world, and of course in Pakistan we urge that these principles be respected for all people.
QUESTION: But would you call for the – to respect the human rights during this political chaos?
MR MILLER: Of course we do. As I just said, we always call for the respect of democratic principles, freedom of expression, and rule of law around the world – in Pakistan, in every other country around the world.
MR MILLER: Who was that? Who – yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you so much, Matt. First, let me just say that it’s wonderful to see you at the podium.
MR MILLER: Thank you.
QUESTION: And I look forward to engaging you on the entire continent —
MR MILLER: Thank you.
QUESTION: — of Africa. Pearl with Premium Times Nigeria. Matt, I have three questions to pose to you. My first question is the White House did announce the presidential delegation that will be going to President-elect Tinubu’s inauguration over the – from May 29. What do you say to the population of Nigeria who might view now the U.S. sort of embrace of Tinubu, whereas at the same time you have kind of indicated that the elections may not have been free, fair, and credible – yet there seems to be this embrace of Tinubu. So if you could share something on that, that would be great.
The second question I have for you is Africa Day is in two days, May 25, and in the U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa and its keenness to engage and deepen relationships and partnerships there – what message do you have as we head into Africa Day when millions are still facing instability, conflict, and other things?
Third, I saw the humanitarian assistance that you announced today for Sudan and neighboring countries – Chad and others. Do you have a breakdown there on those countries? And is it going to be limited to those – why – I mean, I may understand Egypt, but Egypt already received a – receives a disproportionally huge amount of assistance from the United States. Could you share the motivation and thinking behind that? Thanks.
MR MILLER: So let me say, first of all, thank you for the question, and likewise I look forward to taking your questions, especially when you ask me difficult three partners that – three part-ers that challenge my ability to even remember all the questions, let alone answer them.
To take them in order or attempt to take them order, let me say first, with respect to Nigeria, we did take steps last week in support of the democratic process in Nigeria to impose visa restrictions on individuals believed to be responsible for or complicit in undermining the democratic process in the country. That said, those steps that were specific to certain individuals and certain individuals alone and were not directed to the Nigerian people or the Government of Nigeria as a whole. As we made clear – as I think we read out last week, the Secretary just had a call with his counterpart in the Nigerian Government, and we look forward to continuing to cooperate with them on issues of shared concern.
With respect to your question about our Sub-Saharan strategy, I will say that Africa continues to be a priority for the Biden-Harris administration. Our U.S. Africa strategy is rooted in the recognition that Sub-Saharan Africa is a major geopolitical force, and we look at Sub-Saharan Africa as partners and the country in that part of the – the countries in that part of the world as partners. Countries in Sub-Saharan Africa play – have some of the most rapidly expanding economies, a growing and young population, large free trade areas, one of the world’s diverse ecosystems, and one of the largest regional voting groups in the United Nations. So I will say we continue – we look forward to continuing to work with not just the governments, but of course engaging directly with the people of the entire African continent.
And then I – finally I will say with respect to your third question, I’m not aware of the exact breakdown of aid and which countries it might be – which countries, which particular tranches of aid might be going to, but we’d be happy to follow up after the briefing.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. The former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss (inaudible) in a speech in Taipei, she called for development of economic NATO to coordinate pushback against Beijing. Did the U.S. welcome Liz Truss’s visit to Taiwan, and do you share that vision for economic NATO? Is this on the table vis-à-vis U.S.-UK relations at all, and what’s your overall stance on economic NATO, this idea?
MR MILLER: Our overall stance on?
QUESTION: Economic NATO.
MR MILLER: I will say with respect to Liz Truss’s visit: I don’t have any specific comment on it. And with respect to the rest of your question, let me take that one back.
QUESTION: May I?
MR MILLER: I’m going to – I’ll come back to both of you, but after I’ve – go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Senator Menendez said the other day that the approvals for the sales – for the sale of F-35 jets that Greece is asking have been given, he said. And he said, quote, “So they are coming,” end quote, to Greece. Can you tell us if the State Department sent already this request by Athens to buy the F-35?
MR MILLER: I don’t have any update with respect to that issue.
QUESTION: Can you take the questions?
MR MILLER: I will, but I don’t believe we have any update with respect to the sale of F-35s.
QUESTION: Thank you. There was a report that Chinese new ambassador, Xie Feng, would arrive in Washington as early as yesterday. Has he arrived, already come to D.C.? Do you expect any meeting between him and a high‑profile official of the Biden administration in coming days? And would you think his assignment could have a positive effect on the bilateral relationship between United States and PRC?
MR MILLER: So I don’t know the exact status of where he is at any given point. That’s probably a question better directed to the embassy here. I will say that the United States welcomes the arrival of Ambassador-Designate Xie Feng from the People’s Republic of China. We look forward to working with the ambassador-designate and his team. We remain committed, as we’ve said on a number of occasions, to maintaining channels of communication with the PRC to responsibly manage competition. And our understanding is that, in terms of when officials here will meet with him, the Office of the Chief of Protocol here at the State Department will work with the PRC embassy on the presentation of credentials in accordance with standard State Department practices and diplomatic norms.
QUESTION: Thank you. So you’ve reiterated today that you don’t encourage or enable attacks outside – Ukraine’s attacks outside its borders. But in the context of U.S.-provided air defense and soon maybe F-16s, does that also apply to Russian planes being in Russian airspace? Because they haven’t performed their strikes against civilians and civilian infrastructure from within its borders. So I’m wondering what the —
MR MILLER: Did you just say that Russians have not executed strikes on —
QUESTION: No, no, they do – they – I mean, the Russian air force conducts their strikes usually – I mean, a lot of the times from within their territory, airspace. So does your guidance on not encouraging attacks on outside of Ukraine’s borders also cover the Russian planes in Russian airspace.
MR MILLER: So I’m just going to say that, again, that we do not encourage or enable attacks outside Ukraine’s borders. But I do think it is important to step back and always remember that it is Russia who is the aggressor here. It is Russia, as you alluded to, that is launching attacks on civilian infrastructure. Russia, that is bombing civilian targets, is taking out schools and hospitals, and killing civilians by the thousands. So we will leave it to our Ukrainian partners to decide how to conduct this war. But as I’ve said on a number of occasions, and as the President, the Secretary, and the National Security Advisor have made clear, we don’t encourage or enable strikes beyond Ukraine’s borders.
QUESTION: And on the attack in the Belgorod region, do you know – do you have a position on who was behind it?
MR MILLER: We don’t. We are aware of the reports, but I don’t have any – any more specific information about it.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Tensions rise between Afghanistan and Iran over the Helmand River dam as the Taliban continue to build the dam. What is the U.S. reaction to any possible escalation between Afghanistan and Iran? And second question: In the past few weeks, Afghan women activists took to the street and they demanded the right to work and education. Does the U.S. have any new pressure strategy to pressure the Taliban?
MR MILLER: So I will say with respect to tensions between Iran and Afghanistan, I don’t have any specific comment other than that, obviously, we would be concerned about any increased tensions in the region. With respect to the Taliban, I will just reiterate what we have said for some time and that we encourage the Taliban to stop its crackdown on human rights, to stop its repression of women. We understand that the Taliban continues to seek international recognition, but to get international recognition they have to earn legitimacy. And that is very difficult to achieve as long as they continue to suppress their own people, and especially as they continue these horrific attacks on women inside the country.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Good to see you in the podium.
MR MILLER: Thank you.
QUESTION: This is Mushfiqul Fazal representing South Asia Perspectives. On Myanmar, in the United Nations-linked body found Myanmar’s military regime has procured more than 1 billion worth of arms and raw materials, weapons, from – mostly from Russia, China and India, since it ousted the democratically elected government in February 2021. And this, weapons using against the pro-democratic protesters. So what is your comment that?
MR MILLER: I am not aware of that specific report. I’ll have to take it back and get you a comment on it.
Yeah, go ahead, Shaun.
QUESTION: This is just – I realize you may not have anything, and this might be more for the Pentagon. But since we’re here, Russia —
MR MILLER: You’ve already given me an answer. (Laughter.)
MR MILLER: You shouldn’t make it easy – too easy for me.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) A serious matter, though – the Russian Defense Ministry said they’ve intercepted two U.S. jets just now over the Baltic Seas. Is there any – is that something you’re familiar with?
MR MILLER: I’m not aware of it. And I – as I said at some point yesterday, I’m going to make it a practice not to comment on things that break while I’m at – up here at the podium that I’ve not yet had a chance to confirm or discuss with my colleagues.
QUESTION: Thought I’d try.
QUESTION: Stay on Russia? Does the department have any position on the controversial meeting took place in Moscow between high-level UN special representative on children and the Russian ombudsman on children, AKA wanted war criminal?
MR MILLER: I don’t think I have any specific comment on that meeting, other than I will say we continue to be concerned about Russia’s actions in Ukraine. We have expressed our concern and our shock and our outrage about those actions on a number of occasions. We’ve made clear in calling Russia’s actions war crimes and we continue to seek accountability for those actions.
QUESTION: Can you take that question for me, so get back to me on —
MR MILLER: Sure. Sure.
QUESTION: And you might have some reports about Russia preventing Black Sea grain deal. Today Ukraine had to actually halt operations because of that reason.
MR MILLER: Yeah. I saw that, and I’ll say once again Russia continues to obstruct the normal operations of this lifesaving initiative. Really since the – almost since the ink was first dry on the first Black Sea Grain Initiative agreement, Russia began to complain about the agreement publicly, began to obstruct it – to obstruct it.
The – we should be very clear about what happened here. The parties agreed to enable unimpeded exports of Ukrainian food from three ports. Now Russia is refusing to allow ships to one of those three. It is a clear violation of their commitments under the Black Sea Grain Initiative. Their obstruction of this initiative – their continued obstruction of this initiative and threats to withdraw threaten to push up global food prices, threaten to reduce food accessibility for vulnerable populations around the world, and we once again call on Russia to stop holding global food supplies hostage.
You had your hand up, and this will be the last one. I’ve got to go.
QUESTION: Very quickly, Iran-related question. Yesterday —
MR MILLER: What’d you say? Iran-related?
QUESTION: Iran, yes. Yes, sir, if I may.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant accused Iran of converting merchant ships into military vessels and rocket launching platforms and so on, for the airplanes and so on. Are you aware of these – this accusation?
MR MILLER: I don’t have any specific comment on that, but I don’t think you’ll be surprised to say that – to hear me say that we have long been concerned about Iran’s activities in the region.
QUESTION: Right, but would that be a great deal of concern for you, like a threat to the United States and its interests in the region?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to comment on that specific report. Thank you all.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:56 p.m.)
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