Department Press Briefing – May 25, 2023
1:21 p.m. EDT
MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. Happy almost-holiday weekend. I don’t have any opening comments, so let’s jump right in.
QUESTION: I don’t either, or questions. I might later, but not right now, so I’ll defer to my colleague.
MR MILLER: Okay. Anyone else?
QUESTION: I’ll shoot, yeah.
MR MILLER: Yes.
QUESTION: Sudan. I know you don’t preview sanctions, as you’ll often say, but are we edging any closer to sanctions in Sudan given the situation that, three days into the new ceasefire, there’s no ceasefire, still no access for the humanitarian corridors? What’s the next step?
MR MILLER: Why don’t I speak to that, first give you an update on what we’ve seen on the ground as a way of answering your question, which I will answer. So the ceasefire monitoring mechanism that we put in place with the agreement that was signed over the weekend detected possible breaches of the agreement on May 24th. These included observed use of artillery and military aircraft and drones, credible reports of airstrikes, sustained fighting in the heart of the Khartoum industrial area, as well as clashes in Zalingei in Central Darfur. So we have continued to see violations of the ceasefire.
We have continued private engagement with both sides through the Ceasefire Monitoring and Coordination Committee. We are monitoring the conflict, including compliance with the terms of the ceasefire. We are, number one, pressing parties on alleged violations, but as we have said and as the Secretary said in a statement that we released earlier this week, we retain our sanctions authority and, if appropriate, we will not hesitate to use that authority.
QUESTION: But you’re not ready to do it now?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to make any announcements from the podium, but we do have that authority and will use it if and when it’s appropriate to do so.
QUESTION: Because it seems that the generals really – a lot of analysts have said this – don’t have really any incentive to stop the fighting, and each one thinks it can win. So this ceasefire – I mean, how – on and off, and more off than on – how long is that going to last before you ramp up the rhetoric and potentially sanctions?
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to preview any sanctions activities from here, but you’re right in that we have seen violations of the ceasefire. We along with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reiterate our commitment to the Sudanese people. We demand that the parties fully abide by their commitments. We do not believe – and we have made clear to both generals – that there is not a military solution to this conflict. We will continue to both engage with them privately to press them on the situation, we’ll engage with our partners in the region, and, as I said, we will not hesitate to use all of the tools available to us to hold them accountable if necessary.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that. So you sort of are not making announcements about breaches of the ceasefire. Is this the – this is now the mechanism or the channel that the ceasefire monitoring mechanism will speak through?
MR MILLER: Not necessarily. We may have further announcements to talk – I don’t want to say that I – I am – the international monitoring mechanism, of course, is comprised of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and both parties, so I don’t speak for all the parties for the monitoring mechanism, but this is the conclusion of the United States based on what we’ve seen in the past several days.
QUESTION: And you call the —
MR MILLER: The monitoring mechanism may have eventual statements to make —
MR MILLER: — or other statements to make, I should say.
QUESTION: And you’re calling them possible breaches if you – if the U.S. confirms that these are breaches and confirms that a particular side is in breach of the ceasefire agreements, what happens next?
MR MILLER: So we will make public statements about it to call attention to it. We will press both sides to the conflict. We will engage with our partners in the region. And if necessary, we will take further actions to hold them accountable.
QUESTION: How concerned is the U.S. about the Chinese state-sponsored hacking group Volt Typhoon’s recent cyber-attack targeting U.S. infrastructure? Does the U.S. believe that despite going after communication systems in Guam that Taiwan is the real target?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to the last part. What I will say is that we are aware of recent activity by a People’s Republic of China-sponsored cyber actor to develop a presence in digital networks across the U.S. critical infrastructure sector. The U.S. Government and close allies have released a joint cyber security advisory to help defenders identify and mitigate any such activity on their networks. And the U.S. Intelligence Community assesses that China almost certainly is capable of launching cyber-attacks that could disrupt critical infrastructure services within the United States, including against oil and gas pipelines and rail systems.
It’s vital for government network defenders and the public to stay vigilant. It’s why the U.S. Government, in a whole-of-government action, has worked with the private sector to prepare for defenses and we – prepare private sector defenses. And we will continue to work with our allies and partners to address this critical issue.
QUESTION: May I follow up on my colleague?
MR MILLER: Of course.
QUESTION: How do you think, if at all, this could affect the resumption of commercial and trade talks at the very high level of Secretary Raimondo and USTR Katherine Tai leading to the international talks in Detroit this weekend?
MR MILLER: So I will say that we have always believed that the United States should have the ability to engage with China on issues where we believe we ought to work together as well as raise concerns that we have with actions by the PRC. So we will – we, in fact, think it’s important to have these conversations with the Chinese Government so we can raise directly our concerns that we also raise publicly. So the timing and tempo and participants of those talks – we continue to not have any announcements other than the ones that you referenced that are taking place today and tomorrow, but we do intend to use our conversations with the Chinese Government to press on areas where we have concerns.
QUESTION: And are you at all concerned about some of the negative comments from the new ambassador when he arrived at New York for his posting here in D.C.?
MR MILLER: No, I would say that we understand. We obviously see comments from Chinese Government officials directed at various actions taken by the United States, both from the new ambassador and from other government officials. We understand their need to make those comments, but we look forward to engaging with the new ambassador as we engage with other Chinese Government officials.
QUESTION: Do you think that his presence in the talks on the commercial side here could lead to rescheduling visits, including the Secretary of State, Secretary Raimondo, Secretary Yellen to Beijing?
MR MILLER: We believe expanded diplomatic communication between the United States and China is always important. That, of course, at one level is with the new ambassador to the United States, but we – the Secretary does look forward to rescheduling that trip when conditions allow. We think it’s important for talks to take place at a number of levels between the United States Government and the PRC, not just from the State Department but from the Treasury Department and others. But for the timing and tempo of those talks, who may have the next meeting and when it will occur and where it will occur continue to be issues that we are working through, and I don’t have any further announcements.
QUESTION: Yeah, the United Arab Emirates has become a key trade hub for Russian gold since the West imposed sanctions on Moscow. The records show that the UAE imported 75.7 tons of Russian gold and China and Türkiye were the next biggest destinations after the UAE. Do you have any comment on that?
MR MILLER: I have seen those reports. I don’t have any specific comment on it. With respect to the sanctions questions, I’d refer you to the Treasury Department.
QUESTION: One more on Iran: They tested a ballistic missile today with the potential of 2,000-kilometer range. Any reaction to that?
MR MILLER: Sure. So we are aware of those reports. We’ve seen them, obviously. As we have made clear, Iran’s development and proliferation of ballistic missiles poses a serious threat to regional and international security and remains a significant nonproliferation challenge. We continue to use a variety of nonproliferation tools, including sanctions, to counter the further advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its ability to proliferate missiles and related technology to others.
I would say that despite the restrictions on Iran’s missile-related activities under UN Security Council Resolution 2231, Iran continues to seek a range of missile technologies from foreign suppliers and to conduct ballistic missile tests in defiance of the resolution. And as we’ve said before, an Iran with a nuclear weapon would likely act even more provocatively, and that’s why we are so committed to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: On Iran, Matt. Thank you. On the JCPOA, today the Iranian foreign minister said that messages – indirect messages have been exchanged during the past few weeks. And when he says indirect, that – he means the United States. He says that there’s been good progress and – so can you confirm that there have been messages exchanged in this regard?
MR MILLER: So I would say that we’re not going to respond to purported leaks of diplomatic conversations or rumors about diplomatic conversations, many of which have been false in the past and continue to be false. But that said, we have always said that we maintain the ability to communicate with Iran and deliver messages to them when it is in the United States best interest to do so. We’re never going to detail the contents or the – of those messages or the means of their delivery, but we do continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way to verifiably and durably ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Is the comment today by the foreign – Iranian foreign minister another false one?
MR MILLER: As I said, we’re not going to comment on every purported rumor, every purported conversation other than to say what I just said, which is we do have the ability to send messages to Iran when it’s in the best interests of the United States.
QUESTION: A follow-up on that?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. You have also said in the past that now you are not focused on JCPOA due to protests and Iran’s violating human rights inside the country. Is that period gone?
MR MILLER: I will say that we continue to believe that diplomacy is the best way, as I just said, to verifiably and durably ensure that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, and it is a priority of this administration to ensure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon. We’re going to – we believe diplomacy is the best way to accomplish that, but I don’t have any further conversations to announce.
QUESTION: Let me ask it a different way. Has there been any change since earlier this year? I mean, you had a clear position.
MR MILLER: Is there what?
QUESTION: Has there been any change on this front since earlier this year? You had pretty much clear position on this earlier this year.
MR MILLER: No.
QUESTION: No, okay. May I move to Russia and Belarus, if I may?
MR MILLER: Sure.
QUESTION: Does the department have a position on the latest agreement between Russia and Belarus on nuclear – moving tactical nukes, and have you seen any evidence that it’s being materialized?
MR MILLER: I won’t speak to any evidence or assessments that we might have. I would say that we strongly condemn the arrangement. It’s the latest example of irresponsible behavior that we have seen from Russia since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine over a year ago. As we have made clear, the use of chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons in this conflict would be met with severe consequences. But in response to this report, I will just add we have seen no reason to adjust our strategic nuclear posture or any indications that Russia is preparing to use a nuclear weapon.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thanks. Liam Cosgrove with Epoch Times. So this was a couple weeks ago, but I haven’t seen an official statement on it. A U.S. citizen who is residing in Ukraine has been arrested and that he was a California-born man; he was in the past like a business insider contributor, and he had a YouTube channel. He was an outspoken critic of Zelenskyy’s regime. The Ukrainian SBU released a press release saying he was arrested for justifying Putin’s invasion. So ultimately, it added up to speech. And I spoke with Congressman Ted Lieu, a Democrat, and he said he urges the State Department to engage its authorities to work out some sort of negotiation to get him released. So are you guys aware of this? How do we feel about our allies detaining U.S. citizens for speech abroad?
MR MILLER: So I will say in general that we’re aware of the report. We obviously support the exercise of freedom of speech anywhere in the world, and I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: So you guys aren’t working to get him released?
MR MILLER: I’m going to leave my comments where I just left them.
QUESTION: Just kind of pivoting to the broader conversation in Washington surrounding the debt ceiling negotiations, can you bring us up to speed as to if there’s anything going on in this building to prepare for if the U.S. does default on its debt?
MR MILLER: So I will say that I think it is best for me on questions regarding the debt ceiling to defer to the White House. And with regards to any planning for a possible default, that it would be best to direct those questions to OMB.
QUESTION: So OMB would make decisions that would have implications for this building if that were to happen? It would —
MR MILLER: I would say I would direct you for any questions about how the U.S. might be – how the U.S. Government might be positioning itself for a possible default, any kind of details about that I would direct you to OMB.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just I would like to follow up on Russia and Belarus agreement on deploying tactical nuclear weapon. Do you think if it could breach NPT or not?
MR MILLER: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Do you think if it could breach Nonproliferation Treaty?
MR MILLER: I don’t have any further assessment. We’ve just seen the announcement today, so I – we have not had the opportunity to make a full assessment at this time.
QUESTION: And do you have any comments on reports that Rick Waters is stepping down as deputy assistant for China – secretary of China?
MR MILLER: I do. So I’ll say Rick Waters, as was reported yesterday, will rotate out of leadership of China House and the Office of Taiwan Coordination on June 23rd as part of the department’s normal summer transition process. As I said in a statement yesterday, the Secretary values Rich Waters’ leadership in standing up to China House and the busy two years of work he did to stand it up and improve the department’s coordination on this issue. And we, of course, wish him best of luck in his next position within the department.
QUESTION: Can I just —
QUESTION: Sorry. Standing up to China House?
MR MILLER: Standing up China House. If I said “standing up to” that was an added syllable.
QUESTION: Yeah. He wasn’t like actively trying to —
MR MILLER: I don’t believe he was standing up to himself, no. I meant to say standing up China House. He was the first leader. Thank you for flagging that.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that? I mean, we have Rick Waters who’s going to be leaving pretty soon, Wendy Sherman who’s also leaving pretty soon. Can you just discuss who in this department is going to step up and kind of be the leading diplomatic voices shaping the Biden administration’s foreign policy vis-à-vis China, given how influential these two people have been to that policy at this point?
MR MILLER: So I will say that Secretary Blinken is responsible for the department’s strategy as it relates to China and for the execution of the strategy, and he will continue to lead that. Obviously, we will have, at some point, a new nominee for deputy secretary of state who will be involved as well, as well as a new leader of China House. But ultimately, the responsibility is with the Secretary, and he will continue to engage. As you know, he has been very engaged on this question, spoken to it publicly a number of times and will continue to do so.
QUESTION: Do you expect the person to replace Rick Waters to be a career or – a diplomat or someone from the outside?
MR MILLER: I don’t have any announcements to make at this time about who it will be.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. First of all, I would like to thank you on behalf of Bangladesh that you have made a very clear and loud message for the people of Bangladesh. The reason I said “loud and clear,” before you made this announcement from this room, Honorable Secretary of State tweeted, and after you made the announcement, Assistant Secretary Donald Lu also appeared in Bangladesh, a very popular talk show, and he made it very clear that – what you have said and where you stand.
So as you also stated, that it’s for – it’s responsibility for everyone, for the government, opposition, and everyone else. So would you urge the opposition also take part to the upcoming election, which we are expecting probably end of this year or probably beginning of the next year?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to what any political party within Bangladesh should or should not do. I will say that the United States’ interest in this question is in support of free and fair and peaceful elections. That’s why we announced the new policy that we did yesterday.
I will say that we were heartened by the announcement from the government yesterday that welcomed the steps that we took. We believe that democracy is the most enduring means to advance peace, prosperity, and security. It’s why we made the announcement today, and we look forward to working with the Bangladeshi Government going forward.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: So it seem like that the Russian prime minister arrived at Beijing and meet Xi Jinping there. What is, like, a U.S. view this event? And is there any concern that, like, China and Russia are getting lot closer?
MR MILLER: I’m sorry. Would you mind repeating the question?
QUESTION: Oh, yeah. Sure. So Russian prime minister arrive at Beijing and meet Xi Jinping there. And then what’s the U.S. views this event? And is there any concern China and Russia are getting closer?
MR MILLER: Let me take the question and get you an answer.
QUESTION: Yeah. Back on Ukraine for a minute. The U.S. has talked this week about starting training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s we’ve sold to other countries that have F-16s to get those to Ukraine in the future. Just to clarify, is the administration’s position on sending American F-16s to Ukraine specifically – has that changed, or is that still not in the cards for the time being?
MR MILLER: So as the President made clear when he made this announcement over the weekend, the first step of the announcement is to start training Ukrainian pilots on F-16s. But then we are going to work with our allies and partners about the provision of those planes, and no decisions have been made yet about where the F-16s would come from. As you know, not just the United States but a number of our allies and partners also have F-16s that they fly, and we’re going to work with them to ensure the delivery of those planes. But we do not yet have any announcements on either the timing or which country – the timing of those deliveries or which countries will be making the deliveries.
QUESTION: Okay. Can you speak to the timing of possibly why this change has come about to open this up? Obviously, Ukraine’s been asking for F-16s for quite a while. And we’ve seen this pattern happen with Patriot systems, with tanks, this pattern of saying we’re not sending Ukraine certain weapon systems and then eventually, months if not a year after Ukraine asked for them, finally switching and deciding to do so. Is there a reason that now is the time you guys are seeing fit to do this?
MR MILLER: There is, actually. So I will say that we have been engaged with our Ukrainian counterparts since before this conflict began about the best security assistance that we could deliver them at the time that they needed. Obviously, the type of security assistance that we have provided them has changed as the nature of the conflict has changed. In the last few months, as Ukraine has prepared for its counteroffensive, we have been delivering them the weapons systems that we deemed, in conversations with our Ukrainian counterparts, were most useful for prosecuting that offensive. And to get them ready for the offensive, we have worked with them to make sure that we could surge equipment into the country, so they were prepared to execute that military operation.
At the same time, we have begun to have discussions with the Ukrainian military and Ukrainian leaders about how best to position Ukraine so it has a strong and durable military presence to defend and deter Russian aggression for the long term, so not just with relation to this upcoming counteroffensive but so that it can continue to defend itself for years to come. And so as part of that conversation, which Secretary Austin has led with defense ministers from other countries and that Secretary Blinken has also been involved in, we have looked at what are the next – what are the next set of capabilities that we can provide them, not just for the conflict that they’re in right now but to defend themselves in the future.
Yeah. Someone who hasn’t – let me go to someone that hasn’t gotten one. Go ahead. If you want to follow – we’ll follow up, and then I’ll come to you.
QUESTION: Ambassador Hogan was on the Hill early this week and he was asked about the U.S. aid and – to Ukraine, whether or not it is meant to help Ukraine to achieve its ‘99 demarked borders, and he said yes. By the way, I appreciate the statement. I just want to give you a chance to expand on that, what that —
MR MILLER: It was to —
QUESTION: To – Ambassador Hogan.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: He was in front of House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he said yes, aid is meant to help Ukraine to achieve its ‘99 demarked borders. Just want to give you a chance to expand on that.
MR MILLER: We believe that Ukraine has the ability and has the right, and we support Ukraine defending its sovereignty and its territorial integrity. That includes the parts of Ukraine that Russia has illegally captured and occupied since its invasion in February of last year. It also includes Crimea, and we’ve made that clear.
QUESTION: Yeah. This is a follow-up on the F-16s.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: So the most significant amount of them are held in the Middle East. I’m wondering if we’ve had any conversations with Israel, Egypt, UAE, about potentially supplying them to Ukraine.
MR MILLER: We’re going to keep the contents of those conversations private. It is a priority for us to work with our allies and partners around the world to ensure the delivery of those F-16s, but as to where – what country specifically they would come from, we’re working through the details now and I don’t yet have any announcements.
Michel, and then I’ll come back.
MR MILLER: I don’t, other than to say that we continue to call for the release and return of Austin Tice. It is a priority for us, one that we have worked with our partners in the region on and one that we have pressed continuously over the years, and we will continue to do that. But I don’t have any updates.
QUESTION: Thank you. I just wanted to ask you about the claims that U.S. military equipment have been used in the incursion by groups on the Ukraine-Russia border. And I know officials across the administration have said they’re looking into it, they don’t have any definitive answer yet. But does the lack of definitive answer raise any red flags about tracking gear in Ukraine?
MR MILLER: No, I think it raises the fact that we are looking into it and haven’t yet reached a conclusion. So, no.
QUESTION: South Caucasus?
MR MILLER: Go.
QUESTION: It’s my turn. Thank you. I’m sure you know that Türkiye and now the Hungary are against Sweden joining NATO. As I understand, because of that, the Swedish Government has contemplated now to change the objective of joining NATO from the July summit in Vilnius to the NATO conference in Washington next April. What is your comment on the block of Sweden from these two NATO countries that, as we understand, at the same time, they cooperate with Putin and Russia? And second, what are you going to do to avoid the possibility from Sweden to withdraw its interest to join NATO?
MR MILLER: So I will say that we continue to strongly support Sweden’s accession to NATO. It’s a move that we have continued to discuss with our Allies in NATO. We think it’s important that Sweden be able to join the Alliance as soon as possible. We continue to believe that will happen, and it’s – we continue to press it with our Allies in the – with our Allies inside NATO. And I don’t have any further updates on timing, but it is a high priority for us.
QUESTION: Can I follow up? Is it okay with you for these two NATO countries to cooperate at the same time with Russia?
MR MILLER: We believe that – I’m – oh, I’m sorry, with – say that again. I thought you were asking about Sweden.
QUESTION: I’m – yeah, I’m asking, is it okay with the United States for these two NATO Allies, Türkiye and Hungary, to cooperate at the same time and put obstacles to NATO – to cooperate with Russia, I mean? Is it okay with you?
MR MILLER: I will say that Hungary and Türkiye are both important NATO Allies of the United States who have been with us in the Alliance to hold Russia accountable, and we are heartened by their efforts, and I don’t have any further comment than that.
Somebody had – oh, yeah, it was Alex. Yeah.
QUESTION: South Caucasus. I have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind. Just wondering if you have any —
MR MILLER: On? A couple questions on what?
QUESTION: On the South Caucasus.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: If you have any update for me on the Karabakh talks that are going on in Moscow. Now that the U.S. is not in the room, just curious if you have your eyes on the ball, just to make sure nobody drops the ball.
MR MILLER: We’re not in the room, as you noted, but this continues to be a priority for us. As you know, the Secretary welcomed the two sides here in Washington several weeks ago. We understand that talks continued after that in Brussels, and we support the talks continuing. As we’ve said, we believe that an agreement is in reach, and we continue to press the two parties to work together to reach an agreement on the issues that remain outstanding.
QUESTION: Is Secretary planning to meet with the sides while he is going to be visiting?
MR MILLER: I’m sorry, what’s that?
QUESTION: Is the Secretary planning to meet with the sides in the coming days or weeks?
MR MILLER: The Secretary did just meet with them several weeks ago. He will continue to stay engaged. But I don’t have any further meetings or announcements to make.
QUESTION: Thank you. On Azerbaijan, today marks one day – exactly one year since the President nominated his ambassador, Ambassador Libby, to Azerbaijan. While some surrounding countries – Georgia, even the pariah country of Putin – got their ambassador approved within days, weeks, ambassador nominee to Azerbaijan hasn’t even received a hearing. I’m just wondering what are the criterias, and if State is doing anything in the background to expedite the process?
MR MILLER: Well, I will say we support the swift confirmation of all of our nominees, and if you have any further questions about it, you should probably direct them to Capitol Hill.
One more question and then I’m going to – go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. On Taiwan, WHO announced its decision not to invite Taiwan to its annual meeting, WHA. And before that decision, Secretary Blinken released statement urging WHO to invite Taiwan. So how would you evaluate this stance, WHO’s decision? And I’m also wondering if State Department has or will deliver any form of concern or regret to WHO.
MR MILLER: So I will say you are right that we did strongly encourage the WHO to invite Taiwan to participate as an observer at the World Health Assembly so it could lend its expertise to the discussion, as consistent with past practice. We were disappointed that they decided not to do so. We believe that inviting Taiwan as an observer would exemplify the WHO’s commitment to an inclusive health-for-all approach to international health cooperation. And the United States will continue to advocate for Taiwan’s return as an observer at WHA, and moreover, for its meaningful and robust participation throughout the UN system and other international fora.
And with that, I’m going to wrap, but before I do, I want to wish you all a very nice holiday weekend. I hope you have a relaxing and restful time, and I will see you back here soon. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:51 p.m.)
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