Department Press Briefing – May 24, 2023
1:18 p.m. EDT
MR MILLER: Afternoon, everyone. Some brief comments before we get started.
The Secretary has just announced a new visa policy under Section 212(a)(3)(C) – known as “3C” – of the Immigration and Nationality Act to support Bangladesh’s goal of holding free, fair, and peaceful national elections. Under this policy, the United States will be able to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh. This includes current and former Bangladeshi officials, members of pro-government and opposition political parties, and members of law enforcement, the judiciary, and security services.
Actions that undermine the democratic election process include vote rigging, voter intimidation, the use of violence to prevent people from exercising their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, and the use of measures designed to prevent political parties, voters, civil society, or the media from disseminating their views.
The holding of free and fair elections is the responsibility of everyone – voters, political parties, the government, the security forces, civil society, and the media. And our message today to the people of Bangladesh is that we stand behind you, we stand behind free and fair elections, and we are announcing this policy to support democracy in your country.
And with that, Matt.
QUESTION: Well – that’s it? I thought you said you had a couple.
MR MILLER: A couple of comments, not a couple of different sets of comments.
QUESTION: Oh, oh, a couple comments on the same subject. Okay. Well, I don’t –
MR MILLER: I’m going to – I’m going to try as a policy – I won’t promise to not do more than one set of remarks at the beginning of every –
QUESTION: All right. Well, I didn’t really have anything; I was just coming in for the entertainment.
MR MILLER: Leon? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: No, no, no. Hold on. But since – but since you began with – since we began with this Bangladesh thing, there haven’t been any actual sanctions imposed, right?
MR MILLER: No. This is –
QUESTION: So why do you need this? Can’t you do – can’t you restrict visas anyway?
MR MILLER: The announcement of this 3C policy gives us the authority –
QUESTION: You already had that, but –
MR MILLER: Yes, but it gives us authority under this section of the law to impose visa restrictions.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, but you already had that authority.
MR MILLER: Yes, but this gives us the ability to signal –
QUESTION: Well, I – so –
MR MILLER: No, hold on. I –
QUESTION: You guys do this all over the place, and then you don’t announce any actual sanctions.
MR MILLER: We have not taken any sanctions yet –
QUESTION: No, I know, but you’ve done –
MR MILLER: — but if we see activities that interfere with the election will we do so.
QUESTION: Yeah, but –
MR MILLER: This – let me just – one thing – in addition to allowing us the ability to take action under this section of the law, we think it’s important to send this signal to the people of Bangladesh that we back free and fair elections and are ready to take action.
QUESTION: Okay. So it’s basically a symbolic thing.
MR MILLER: It is.
QUESTION: Because you could – you could revoke visas for – you can revoke visas for anyone at any time for any reason.
MR MILLER: So we believe there is importance in sending the message that we are ready to use the authorities under this section of the law.
QUESTION: All right. But – okay. But there are – okay. But just to make clear, there are no —
MR MILLER: No announcements of – no announcements of sanctions today. Not today.
QUESTION: And when you do, if and when you do, because visa records are confidential, you won’t tell us?
MR MILLER: Correct.
MR MILLER: That’s correct. But we will notify the people.
QUESTION: So – (laughter). So what’s the point? I mean –
MR MILLER: The point is signaling to anyone in Bangladesh who may be considering actions that would interfere with the ability of the Bangladeshi people to make their voices heard that we are watching and –
QUESTION: I’m sure this will be a grand deterrent. But okay.
MR MILLER: We think it’s an important step.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, are you expecting that there will be rigged elections or irregularities, because you’re sort of doing this preemptive strike? Is that in any way a warning or criticism of the government and the prime minister in Bangladesh?
MR MILLER: No, I think it is a signal by our part that we support free, fair, and peaceful elections in Bangladesh, and we have the ability to hold anyone accountable who hinders the – any free, fair election in the country. And it’s – it is a signal –
QUESTION: And usually —
MR MILLER: It is a signal to all members of society, as I mentioned – military security forces, members of judiciary – that we have this ability and that we are paying attention.
QUESTION: Yeah. Usually you impose these visa restrictions or sanctions when there’s proof of irregularities. In this case you’re saying, “Watch out if?”
MR MILLER: Correct. And if there is proof of irregularities, we will impose the appropriate measures.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Matt, hi. Are you able to say anything more on the Kremlin accusation that U.S.-made military hardware by pro-Ukrainian fighters were used on the (inaudible) Russian border region? Kirby talked a little bit about it, but it – I wondered if you got any updates from yesterday (inaudible).
MR MILLER: So I’ll say that we are looking into the reports. We’ve obviously seen the reports by media organizations over the last 24 hours or so. As a general policy matter, we have been clear that we don’t – we don’t support the use of U.S.-made equipment being used for attacks inside of Russia, and we’re looking into the reports. But we have not reached any conclusions at this time.
QUESTION: Do you have – do you anticipate when you might reach conclusions based on what you’ve seen on the investigation so far?
MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to prejudge either the outcome or when we’ll reach that outcome, other than to say we’re looking into it now and don’t yet have any verified conclusions.
QUESTION: Follow on that.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yesterday you articulated some skepticism about this equipment.
MR MILLER: Mm-hmm.
QUESTION: Does that skepticism remain, or are you sort of more or less inclined in any given direction?
MR MILLER: So what I will say is, again, that we’re looking into the reports. When I made the remarks I did yesterday, they were based on the images that we had seen circulating on social media, some of which we did have a great deal of skepticism about. Since then there have obviously been media reports with additional images. We are looking into those reports. But as I said, we have not yet reached any conclusions about them.
QUESTION: Okay. Apart from the equipment itself, has the U.S. come to an independent conclusion as to who carried out these attacks?
MR MILLER: We have not.
QUESTION: Is that an ongoing process?
MR MILLER: It is. We are looking into it. And I would say, as always, for questions about battlefield updates or updates on the ground, probably best to direct them to the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Okay. And one more. If you can’t comment on this specific instance, can you talk broadly about how the U.S. – what safeguards it has in place to prevent U.S.-supplied material to fall into the hands of, for example, sympathetic militia groups operating in Russia?
MR MILLER: So I will say that – a few things. Number one, the Government of Ukraine has shown that they take the responsibility to safeguard arms seriously. It’s been something that’s been a matter of dialogue between the United States and Ukraine since even before the conflict, when we began to provide them with the assistance they need to defend themselves. We’re going to work to continue to ensure that the assistance we provide them complies with all U.S. laws and other applicable requirements. And we will continue to communicate to the Ukrainians what has been our very clear policy, which is we don’t encourage or enable attacks beyond the borders of Ukraine.
QUESTION: If – last one.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: If it is determined that U.S. equipment was used in this instance, what are the possible repercussions for Ukraine specifically?
MR MILLER: I think what I’ll say is we continue to look into the reports, and I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to prejudge what the outcome of those – what the outcome would be based on what that – what we ultimately are able to conclude.
QUESTION: Let me put differently, and take it out of the hypothetical realm.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I’m trying to figure out a way to start this without “if.”
MR MILLER: Without getting into a hypothetical? Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, exactly. Should it be determined that U.S. equipment was used, what is the consequence for that? Is there an end use – an end user violation here?
MR MILLER: So that presupposes —
QUESTION: No, it doesn’t. I’m asking —
MR MILLER: Yes.
QUESTION: I won’t ask –
MR MILLER: But – “should” is slightly different than “if,” but I think gets you to the same place, which is we are looking into it and I wouldn’t want to prejudge what the outcome of that is before we reach any conclusions.
QUESTION: Well, that’s fine. But in general, would this be a violation of an end user agreement?
MR MILLER: Again, these are reports that we’ve not yet verified.
QUESTION: I’m not —
MR MILLER: So I don’t want to —
QUESTION: I’m not – in general – in general, forget about this. Let’s say – let’s talk —
MR MILLER: I’d rather talk about specific instances than generalities.
QUESTION: Okay, let’s say that it was – it could have been in, I don’t know, Madagascar.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay? If – and again, all right, there’s an “if.” But if U.S. weapons – U.S.-provided munitions equipment, military equipment, are used in a way that you find not to be compatible with U.S. law or the end user requirements, what is the consequence?
MR MILLER: I will say we have been very —
QUESTION: In general. Forget about this incident.
MR MILLER: I don’t think it’s – I don’t think it is possible to address this in general without my comments being directed at this specific incident. So I will say that we have been clear with our Ukrainian partners, as we have been publicly, that we don’t encourage or enable attacks outside Ukraine. We will continue to have those conversations with them privately. But I do think, as I said, as long as we are looking into this matter, it wouldn’t be appropriate to prejudge what any actions might be before we’ve reached a conclusion about what actually has happened.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on equipment? Not this particular equipment —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — but U.S. equipment and the use. The President announced that they will okay F‑16s for Ukraine. Now, experts say that it takes about 12 months to train already – aviators who are already elsewhere in some other air force. So in the meantime, would the U.S., let’s say, give a green light to, let’s say, volunteers from other countries that may have already trained pilots on the F-16 to go and fly these airplanes?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to the actions of citizens of other countries. What I will say, we obviously have made clear that we are not putting U.S. – the President has made clear from the outset we’re not putting U.S. military boots on the ground. I’ll make clear that we have said that U.S. citizens should not travel to Ukraine.
And then with respect to F-16s themselves, one general comment before I get into the specific policy, and the general comment is that one of the things that we have seen throughout the conflict is that the Ukrainians are a very quick study. So whatever estimates you may be citing about how long it takes —
QUESTION: I mean —
MR MILLER: — let me finish – how long it may take them to get up to speed, I wouldn’t want to verify that assessment through my answer other than to say that they have been very quick at getting up to speed in being able to operate the equipment that we have provided to them.
The second thing I will say, stepping back, is that as the President has made clear, we are going to begin training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s. We’re going to work with our partners and allies both on the training and then on the ultimate provision of F-16s to the Ukrainian military.
QUESTION: Yeah, but in the interim – yeah, in the interim if, let’s say, Polish volunteers —
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak with respect to volunteers from other countries.
Before we move on, anything else on Russia?
QUESTION: Same region.
MR MILLER: Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: Same region. So I —
MR MILLER: Same region. If it’s not Russia-Ukraine, let’s do Russia-Ukraine. I’ll come —
MR MILLER: We’ll do elsewhere in the region —
MR MILLER: — before we come back.
QUESTION: Please come back to me later on Caucasus. I have —
MR MILLER: Alex, I could never not come back to you. (Laughter.)
MR MILLER: Come on.
QUESTION: I mean, I was actually going to ask about Russia-Ukraine.
MR MILLER: Understand. Understand. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So in your comment to the provisions, you said it is – I don’t think it’s possible to address this in general without my comments being directed to the specific incident. So my question is: Are there any provisions on the – are defense articles provided to Ukraine or not?
MR MILLER: We have been very clear with the Ukrainians as we have been publicly that we do not encourage and we do not enable – we do not provide U.S. assistance with the purpose of enabling attacks outside Ukraine.
QUESTION: And then also —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — so the Pentagon has yesterday said they have not authorized Ukrainians to transfer any of the defense articles to any other groups other than the Ukrainian military. And it – it appears that – I know you don’t have a – you don’t have specifics on this specific case, but it appears that there might be some diversions. Are you confident that there are no diversions of the U.S. military assistance in Ukraine?
MR MILLER: I don’t think I want to get into questions of what appears to be true while we’re looking into the specific matter. As I’ve said, we have a number of safeguards in place. I would – to prevent the transfer of equipment from Ukraine – our Ukrainian partners to others. I will leave it to the Pentagon to speak to the specifics of those and again restate our over policy – our overall policy, which is to not encourage or enable attacks outside Ukraine.
MR MILLER: And I’ll come to you next.
QUESTION: You guys said that Russia has abducted more children under the false pretext of medical examination. I know we discussed it on different context yesterday. Before I ask that, have you — did you have a chance to develop around what you told us yesterday about Moscow meeting between the UN official and (inaudible)?
MR MILLER: Yeah, I am glad you mentioned – I am glad you mentioned that because yesterday when you asked me, we had seen the reports of the meeting. We had not yet confirmed it ourself. We have now confirmed that meeting in the last 24 hours, and I will say that we are deeply concerned that a senior UN diplomat met with a fugitive subject to an ICC arrest warrant for committing war crimes against children. Such conduct undermines our shared commitment to protecting children in conflict zones.
As we have said before – and Alex, this goes to I think the broader question you were going to ask – Russia is forcibly deporting children from Ukraine. They’re denying parents and legal guardians access to those children, giving away children from – and giving children from Ukraine Russian passports in an attempt to take away a part of their identity. Children are among the most vulnerable groups. They must be protected, especially in times of war. And we continue to account – call for accountability for war crimes.
QUESTION: Thank you. And my second topic on this, the Secretary today spoke with NATO chief and discussed Ukraine, who apparently made headlines early this morning by saying that Ukraine’s membership bid is not on the agenda before the end of the war. I’m just wondering, are you – do you guys share that viewpoint?
MR MILLER: So I will let the NATO secretary general speak for himself. I did see that one of the things he said, which is just an obvious statement of fact, that accession to NATO for any country requires the unanimous consent of all 31 NATO members. That’s an important fact to keep in mind. And with respect to the general question, I will say what we have said for some time, which is we remain committed to NATO’s open door policy. We made that clear before this conflict began. When Russia was very much objecting to open door policy, we stood behind it, said it was an important principle to protect. But our focus right now, today, is giving Ukraine the military it needs to hold Russia accountable, to repel the Russian army from its borders, at the same time taking whatever actions we can to hold Russia accountable for its crimes.
QUESTION: I understand this is not the Secretary’s viewpoint.
MR MILLER: Last one, and then we’ll —
QUESTION: Yeah, just a follow-up. I’m just curious how helpful this is when NATO leadership comes out and signals that we will not accept Ukraine to NATO until or unless Putin stops the war. How do you guys send right signal to Putin? I’m the last person in this room to – to be the advocate of the devil, but do you think Putin will really stop the war if he gets a signal that NATO —
MR MILLER: Again —
QUESTION: — will not accept Ukraine unless he stops the war?
MR MILLER: Again, I’m going to let the NATO secretary general speak for himself, but I think the message we’ve sent to Vladimir Putin since this beginning of this conflict is very clear.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that Prigozhin’s estimates in Bakhmut that 20,000 Wagner Group forces were lost and 50,000 Ukrainian forces are accurate? Does the U.S. have its own estimates on the forces that were lost there?
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak for casualties on the Ukrainian side. Prigozhin says a lot of things publicly, some of them true, some of them, I think, not. But I would say that our assessment is that 20,000 would significantly undercount the number of Russian casualties in Bakhmut.
QUESTION: Can you – does the U.S. have their own estimate?
MR MILLER: We have said publicly 100,000 casualties in Bakhmut alone. Now, that is not just dead. That’s both dead and wounded, but – around 100,000 casualties in Bakhmut.
MR MILLER: Just still on Ukraine? Yeah.
QUESTION: Yes, sir.
MR MILLER: We’ll come – we’ll have plenty of time to come to other stuff.
QUESTION: Thank you. Actually, I have two questions, but I will remain on India later on. As far as Ukraine is concerned, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he met several leaders at the G7 meetings, including President Biden and also, of course, President Zelenskyy and other leaders. You think when he arrives in Washington next month – because he has spoken in the past about the war between Russia and Ukraine that India could be – or Narendra Modi – Prime Minister Narendra Modi could be the one who can break the ice or mediator. You think he can play a role when he comes to Washington after meeting – when he meets with the prime minister – President Biden and of course the Secretary of State and other leaders?
MR MILLER: So I would say – without giving too much of a preview of that trip, which we will do as the state visit gets closer – certainly, the war in Ukraine will be one of the topics that is under discussion. It’s been one of the topics that’s been under discussion in previous meetings with Prime Minister Modi, as it is in just about any conversation we have with a world leader at this time, or has been the case for the past year, so —
QUESTION: May I have one on India, please?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: After almost two years of gap with the U.S. ambassador was not in India, and now finally we have Ambassador Eric Garcetti in, and he’s already almost a household name because visiting many places like Mumbai and Prime Minister Modi’s home state Gujarat and others. Now, my question is that also he’s very much thrilled about the prime minister’s visit to Washington. I’m sure he will be arriving with him here. My question is now: What would be his main mission in India after, as I said – that after two years we didn’t have any U.S. ambassador? And people in India were really worrying that because of the missions in – around the country, including Delhi, visa and immigrant visas and all the people were waiting and still waiting, that maybe ambassador will break the ice as far as visas are concerned.
MR MILLER: Let me say first of all I’ve seen some of the video and other coverage of the reception Ambassador Garcetti has received in India, and we’ve been quite heartened by it. I will say generally that our partnership with India is one of our most consequential relationships. We work with India closely on our most vital priorities and we expect Ambassador Garcetti to be able to deepen the relationship between our countries and work on these matters of shared concern.
And then I will just say specifically with request – as it pertains to the visa issue, which you pointed out, that our consular teams – we obviously recognize that it’s an area of concern, and our consular teams have been making a huge push to process as many visa applications as possible in India, including those in visa categories that are a key to the bilateral relationship. It is a top priority for our government and I know it’s a top priority for our embassy in the country.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matthew, sir.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: One question on Pakistan and one on Afghanistan.
On Pakistan, Elon Musk satellite company, Starlink, is trying to get the rights for landing rights of satellite. Does the State Department is aware of that? And if you could inform us what is the State Department position on these satellite companies giving connection to, like, locals? Like, is there —
MR MILLER: I’ll have to take that one back. I’m not aware.
QUESTION: Okay. One other question on Afghanistan which I’ve been continuously raising, without any agenda behind it, is I asked State Department official through email several times but they seem to not understand my question, so I’m going to try you now: Out of the 100,000 Afghans that the U.S. has brought to the U.S. after the withdrawal, how many of them are detained? By detained I mean how many of them, despite having the translator permission and stuff like – how many of them are being investigated or their applications are being – like under review, like continuous review?
MR MILLER: I would refer you to the Department of Homeland Security for that question.
QUESTION: And —
MR MILLER: Go – let me —
QUESTION: One similar question.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: What would be the status of those people if there are —
MR MILLER: Again, for questions about people who have arrived inside of the United States as it – as it pertains to their immigration status, it’s really a question for the Department of Homeland Security.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I’m little late. I apologize.
MR MILLER: I was looking for you. I smiled when you came walking in the door. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I’m little late. I don’t know if any of my colleague asked that question. Thank you for this announcement for —
MR MILLER: They did, but please go ahead.
QUESTION: — for a neutral election in Bangladesh. We feel incredible obviously. So all Bangladeshi political parties, civil society groups, everybody is asking for a election under a neutral caretaker government, which was in Bangladesh in – but this government is – they amended constitution unconstitutionally. So I’m wondering if U.S. is urging for – go for a neutral caretaker government to holding a free, fair election.
MR MILLER: I think what we will say is Prime Minister Hasina has committed to supporting free and fair elections. We share his support for free and fair elections, and the policy that we announced today is designed to support those efforts, as well as the efforts of the Bangladeshi people to having elections where the Bangladeshi people can choose their leaders. And I will say lastly, as friends, we have expressed our concerns where we see actions that undermine democracy and human rights in Bangladesh.
You got to take – you got to let someone else take a turn. Said, yeah.
QUESTION: Same region.
MR MILLER: Said.
QUESTION: Change of topic – Israel.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Very – two quick questions. The Israeli prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu, vowed that he will have the broadest possible coalition supporting the judicial reforms and so on. I know there has been a stated position in this administration that is not in favor of such reforms. Would the U.S. go along if there’s a broad-based coalition that agrees to these reforms?
MR MILLER: Well, what we have said before, both privately and publicly, is that fundamental reforms like this do require a broad basis of support to be durable and sustained. The President has been clear with Prime Minister Netanyahu that he hopes that he will work to find a genuine compromise, and the genius of both American democracy and Israeli democracy is they are built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, and on an independent judiciary. But ultimately, it is up for Israelis to find the best path forward.
QUESTION: And until such an issue is resolved, we are not likely to see Mr. Netanyahu come to Washington?
MR MILLER: I – we will continue to state our principles, and I don’t have any comment beyond that.
QUESTION: One really quick one. I don’t know if you know much about this, but it is alleged that next Sunday they’re going to – the – a coalition will be endorsing levying 65 percent tax on Palestinian – and Israeli, as a matter of fact – Palestinian and Israeli NGOs and so on. Many of those are actually financed or supported by the United States. Do you have any comment on that, if this comes to pass?
MR MILLER: I won’t speculate on things that might come to pass. I will just say as a general matter, the United States supports the essential role of NGOs as part of civil society. We believe they’re critical to democratic and responsive, transparent government. And we firmly believe that civil society should have the opportunity and space to operate and raise resources around the world.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Matt, thank you very much. Again, what is the State Department position regarding the newest reports showcasing illegal surveillance of human rights defenders, journalists, and even government officials in Mexico? Yesterday the report was front-page news in The New York Times. Today the story is in The Washington Post.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: One of your closest allies is using a spyware that the U.S. has condemned.
MR MILLER: So for specific requests – questions about this, I would refer to – refer you to the Government of Mexico. However, let me state in general our position on spyware, which the President has taken action on. As you may be aware, in March the President signed an executive order that prohibits, for the first time, the use by the U.S. Government of commercial spyware that poses a risk to national security or has been misused by foreign actors to perpetrate human rights abuses around the world.
We’ve also joined nine other governments in a statement on efforts to counter the proliferation and misuse of commercial spyware. In 2021, the United States Government added four foreign companies to the Department of Commerce Entity List to stem the proliferation and misuse of tools used for repression. And finally, the U.S. Government add NSO Group, the producer of Pegasus, to the Entity List because of its spyware, which some foreign governments have used to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy staff.
QUESTION: Understood. Thank you.
MR MILLER: So – I’m going to come back to you at the end, Alex. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Mr. Miller. One question on Afghanistan. Some Republican lawmakers and also – yeah, recently they said that the U.S. aid to Afghan people get to the hands of the Taliban, and they referred that to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, or SIGAR’s, report that indicates that some of these aids that the United States sent to Afghan people ended up to the hands of the Taliban. Would you please clarify that?
MR MILLER: So a couple things. Number one, the State Department supports inspector – the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan’s vital mandate to audit funds expended on reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan. We believe their audits are an important part of Afghanistan-related oversight. We have provided SIGAR with written responses to dozens of questions as well as thousands of pages of responsive documents, analyses, spreadsheets, on and on, about the programs that were part of the U.S. Government’s reconstruction in Afghanistan.
And then as we have stated before, more broadly on the issue, we could not be more clear on this: The United States does not provide funding to the Taliban. The State Department and USAID continue to work with the World Bank, with the UN, with NGOs, and other implementing partners and likeminded governments to provide humanitarian and basic needs assistance to the people of Afghanistan, not to the Taliban. And we require all of our partners that we work with to have safeguards in place to assure the assistance reaches those who need it. We have robust monitoring and reporting requirements from NGOs that implement any programs, including in unstable and unfriendly environments. And I would say we have – there are several examples in which we have suspended operations where we suspected Taliban interference with the humanitarian efforts.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: So can you make – so can you – can you give some details about those specific aids that were suspended?
MR MILLER: Were suspended?
MR MILLER: Sure. We have suspended operations in Ghor Province following evidence of continued attempts by the Taliban to prevent – to divert assistance. The World Food Program has halted distributions in two districts of Ghazni Province from January to April, when local officials attempted to interfere in distribution. In April, another U.S. Government partner suspended activities in Uruzgan Province after the Taliban issued demands to provide transportation support to Taliban representatives and otherwise interfered in staff recruitment processes. So we have been very clear: We do not provide funding for the Taliban, and we have very strict monitoring and compliance processes in place for the partners with which we do work.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. You might have seen the reports of Wall Street Journal that South Korea is proceeding the plan with United States to transfer artillery rounds for Ukraine with – by United States. So do you have anything to provide to us about this ongoing diplomatic discussion between United States and South Korea?
MR MILLER: As usual, we will keep the subject of private diplomatic conversations private. But the United States has led a worldwide effort since before even the onset of this conflict to secure assistance from our partners and allies around the world to support the Ukrainian military and support the Ukrainian people in defending themselves. It’s been a top priority for this, but I – for us, but I wouldn’t want to speak to our conversations with any one country.
QUESTION: Thank you. United States and Brazil just signed a joint statement on a joint action to eliminate racial and ethnic discrimination. Ambassador Brian Nichols, he is in Brazil, where he met with Brazilian officials, including the Minister for Racial Equality Anielle Franco. How United States and Brazil effectively can work together in this joint action to eliminate racial discrimination —
MR MILLER: So —
QUESTION: — if you could address that?
MR MILLER: So I will say that the long-term strategic relationship between our two countries is vitally important to us. We work together on a number of important issues: climate change, safeguarding food security, social inclusion and democracy, tackling disinformation. But promoting racial equity and justice is one of those shared priorities, and we look forward to continuing to work with our Brazilian partners on it.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up, this joint statement was released just days after a case of racial discrimination involving a famous Brazilian soccer player, Vinícius Jr., in a match last weekend in Spain. Today a high commissioner in United Nations – for human rights – he asked for a joint effort to fight racists in sports. So in addition to this joint action among US and Brazil, what can be done collectively to fight racial discrimination globally?
MR MILLER: So let me just say that I saw the chants directed at Vinícius Jr. They were obviously horrific. I know that the Spanish authorities, I believe, have taken action against them. Obviously, we condemn racism around the country – around the world wherever it takes place, including in sports, and applaud any efforts to ferret out – ferret it out and fight against it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Hi. China’s Commerce Minister Wang Wentao is expected to meet Secretary Raimondo on Thursday, then with U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai on the sidelines of the APEC trade ministers’ meeting. Do you see either of these meetings as helping warm relations with China? And how will the recent Micron ban play into this?
MR MILLER: So with respect to the Micron ban, we will raise our – the concerns that we have directly with officials in the Chinese Government. We have made – I have made clear from this podium the concerns we have about that specific action. I will leave it to the Departments of Commerce and, of course, the U.S. Trade Representative’s office to comment specifically on any meetings that their offices hold. But I will say in general, we have never – we have always made clear that we think it’s important to maintain dialogue with Chinese Government officials, both from the State Department and from other offices and – inside the United States Government. And we will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Different topic but also in China. Does the U.S. have any reaction to the new wave of COVID that is going across China right now? Authorities are estimating 65 million people a week would be infected by the end of June. It’s mostly the XBB variant; as I understand, it’s been in the U.S. as well.
MR MILLER: So we continue to monitor the reports of a second wave of COVID-19 cases in the PRC. We’ve been having discussions about them with our allies and partners. We don’t want to see people anywhere, obviously, suffering from COVID-19. The U.S. Government remains committed to working with the PRC on transnational challenges, including on global health matters, and maintaining open lines of communication. And in conjunction with the CDC, we are monitoring the situation but don’t have any updates at this time.
QUESTION: In those discussions with your allies and partners, is there any discussion of travel restrictions coming up again?
MR MILLER: We continue to monitor the situation and – in conjunction with the CDC, who we consult with before updating our travel guidelines. But I don’t have any announcements to make at this time.
QUESTION: Welcome to the podium, Matthew.
MR MILLER: Thank you.
QUESTION: I know yesterday you’ve been asked this question about the central bank governor in Lebanon. But he’s been – he’s been investigated now from six European countries, and this is the second warrant arrest from Germany after France. What’s your position on this, not on the election of the new governor? Do you support his extradition? You’ve been advocating for reforms in Lebanon, and the investigation is for money laundering and other things. I’m not saying he’s charged with this, but he’s under investigation. What’s the U.S. position on this?
MR MILLER: I would say that extradition matters that pertain to the governments of France and the governments of Germany, we will leave to the governments of France and Germany to talk about. I will say, in general, we understand that the central bank governor has announced that he will not extend his position when it expires on July 31st. And it is for the Lebanese Government to determine who serves in his position after that time, and the United States will work with whoever the designated governor is in his or her official capacity. But with respect to any extradition matters, I think it’s appropriate for me to leave it to comment to the countries directly involved.
QUESTION: On this?
MR MILLER: Go ahead – no, no – I’ll come to you next. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Me? Thank you. I have a question on Ukraine and one in Georgia. Former NATO Policy Chief Fabrice Pothier said in an interview recently that the United States can become the main guarantor for all these security agreements on Ukraine following the conflict. Is the U.S. ready to become the guarantor?
MR MILLER: I don’t think it’s appropriate to speculate about the end of this conflict while the Ukrainians continue to defend themselves against horrific Russian attacks against Ukrainian schools, against Ukrainian hospitals. As long as the Russian Government continues to wage this brutal war against the Ukrainian people, we’re going to support them in defending themselves and attempting to repel the Russian Government from their borders rather than speculate about what may or may not happen down the road.
QUESTION: And another question on Georgia. Can you explain why is the United States so concerned about direct flights between Russia and Georgia and not concerned about direct flights between, for example, Russia and Armenia or Russia and Azerbaijan? Thank you.
MR MILLER: So I will say that many Western countries, including the United States, prohibit Russian aircraft from entering their airspace. That was a direct response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And we think that the – given that the entire Western community has distanced itself from the – this brutal regime for its actions in Ukraine, that now is not the time to increase engagement with Russia.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Can you just update us, please, on the latest state of affairs about the Afghanistan dissent channel cable? I understand the chairman and the ranking member reviewed it yesterday. The chairman would still like access to be granted to the full committee. Is that a compromise that the State Department is willing to strike?
MR MILLER: So the chairman and the ranking member did come in yesterday and review the cables. You may have seen that – both the cable and Secretary Blinken’s response to the dissent cable. You may have seen that Ranking Member Meeks confirmed publicly what we have said all along, which is the summary and the briefing that we had given the committee beforehand accurately represented the contents of the underlying cable. We obviously have seen the chairman’s public remarks. We will continue to engage with him privately, but we think it was an extraordinary accommodation, as I said yesterday, to provide them with access to this dissent cable, something that the State Department has never before done. We do believe it’s important that we continue to protect this channel, which State Department employees use to provide candid feedback to our leaders. But we will continue to work with the committee and hope to, as I said yesterday, reach an ultimate resolution.
QUESTION: Have State Department employees expressed concern about this precedent that you’ve set now?
MR MILLER: I’m going to keep – certainly there has been concern expressed in the building. I do think State Department employees value the candid feedback that they can give in this channel. We have thought it’s important that we protect their ability to continue to do so without fear that their comments be made public or that there be retribution against them. But given the concerns that Congress has expressed and given the need to accommodate their oversight function, which is a legitimate responsibility that they have, we did provide them with this extraordinary resolution that we think should have resolved the matter; but we will continue to engage directly with them.
Alex. And this will be the last question.
QUESTION: Yeah – last three, if you don’t mind on the South Caucasus.
MR MILLER: Always. Always.
QUESTION: I had one actually on Armenia-Azerbaijan, but just wanted to follow up on the question that was asked by a gentleman from Russia. Has there been any clear communication between Washington and Tbilisi over your concerns? But this has been around for a long time.
MR MILLER: I’m going to keep those – any conversations we might have private.
QUESTION: Okay. Have you conveyed your concern over Lavrov’s —
MR MILLER: We —
QUESTION: — sanctioned daughter being invited to Tbilisi?
MR MILLER: I will keep any conversations that we may or may not have had private.
QUESTION: Okay. So it’s my understanding that senior advisor on Caucasus negotiation issues, Mr. Louis Bono, is currently in the region. Do you have a readout on his trip? And where is – where is he going after Baku?
MR MILLER: I don’t, other than to say that we continue to engage in discussions. We welcome the reports that the parties are continuing to engage in discussions themselves. We reiterate our conviction, as Secretary Blinken made clear last week, that peace is within reach, that direct dialogue is key to resolving issues and reaching a lasting peace, and we will continue to support the parties in this endeavor, including by engaging with them directly.
QUESTION: And just to – just to clarify. It was about Armenia and Azerbaijan. The leaders are invited to Moscow tomorrow to meet with Putin. Is it your understanding that this time things might be different?
MR MILLER: I will say about that, we support direct talks between the two parties. We believe that direct talks are important to achieving an ultimate lasting resolution, which we do believe is within reach if the two parties are able to come to agreement to bridge their differences. And we support those talks taking place whether they be in Washington, as they were last month, whether they be in Brussels, as they were a couple weeks ago, or really anywhere in the world. The important thing is that these two parties continue to talk to each other.
Thank you all.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:59 p.m.)
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