Department Press Briefing – November 1, 2023
- EGYPT/ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES/REGION
- ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES/REGION
- IRAN/ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES/REGION
- ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
1:40 p.m. EDT
MR MILLER: Good afternoon. Sorry for being late. Nice scarf, Matt.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Let me start –
QUESTION: Not a Steelers scarf, I’ll note.
MR MILLER: Yes. For the record, Matt is wearing a Buffalo Sabres scarf. Correct?
MR MILLER: As I informed Matt earlier in the day, being from Texas, I’m not a hockey expert. But I appreciate you wearing your colors in the briefing room.
Let me start with an update on the situation at Rafah. It has been a top priority for the United States to get Rafah open, not just for trucks coming in, but for U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals coming out. The President has been working on this; Secretary Blinken has been working on it; and of course our Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues David Satterfield has been on the ground negotiating the details.
As a result of these efforts, an initial group of foreign nationals, including U.S. citizens, departed Gaza through Rafah today, and we expect exits of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals to continue over the next several days. We want to make sure we can get U.S. citizens and their family members out as safely as possible. In the past 24 hours, we have informed U.S. citizens and family members with whom we are in contact that they will be assigned specific departure dates. We have asked them to continue to monitor their email regularly over the next 24 to 72 hours for specific instructions about how to exit. The U.S. embassy in Cairo is standing by to provide assistance to U.S. citizens as they enter Egypt.
The situation remains extremely fluid, but this has been an important breakthrough. And we will keep working on it to ensure that all of the U.S. citizens who wish to depart safely from Gaza can do so.
Turning to humanitarian assistance, as a result of our efforts to accelerate the delivery of international humanitarian aid, 59 trucks entered Gaza through the Rafah Crossing yesterday, representing the highest number of trucks in a single day to enter Gaza since the humanitarian corridor began on October 21st, and bringing the total number through yesterday to 217. Trucks continue to enter today, and we expect today’s number to surpass yesterday’s just as yesterday’s number surpassed the day before’s, as we continue to ramp up deliveries to Gaza.
Finally, turning to travel, Secretary Blinken will travel to Israel and Jordan on Friday. The Secretary will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other leaders of the Israeli Government to receive an update on their military objectives and their plans for meeting those objectives. He will reiterate U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself in accordance with international humanitarian law, and discuss the need to take all precautions to minimize civilian casualties, as well as our work to deliver humanitarian assistance.
In his meetings in Jordan, the Secretary will also underscore the importance of protecting civilian lives, and our shared commitment to facilitating the increased sustained delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza, the resumption of essential services, and ensuring that Palestinians are not forcibly displaced outside of Gaza. He will also reaffirm the U.S. commitment to working with partners to set the conditions for a durable and sustainable peace in the Middle East, to include the establishment of a Palestinian state that reflects the aspirations of the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank – and in the West Bank. And of course he will continue to discuss the ongoing work to secure the release of all hostages.
We will provide further details about the trip over the coming days. And with that, Matt.
QUESTION: Yeah. So in terms of the number of Americans, I realize you’re hesitant to say. But, I mean, are we talking about a handful?
MR MILLER: So I am not going to discuss the number of Americans that were able to depart today, and I will not give rolling updates as this process unfolds over the next several days. I’ll say a couple things.
Number one, there are around 400 Americans in Gaza with whom we are in communication who have expressed a desire to leave. They have family members as well who have expressed a desire to leave. The total number is around a thousand people when you count both American citizens and their family members. We are going to give them specific instructions over the next few days about where to go, when to go, how they can get out. But for operational security reasons, which I think you can imagine, we’re not going to kind of put numbers on it as the next few days unfold. When we get to what might look like the end of this process, I’ll be happy to come back and talk in more detail.
QUESTION: All right. And when you say that they crossed Rafah, does that mean that they are safely – you have confirmed that they are safely in Egypt?
MR MILLER: Yes. There’s a number of Americans – there are a number of American citizens who have crossed through Rafah and are in Egypt today.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Jordan?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Also related to Jordan, Jordan just today announced that it’s withdrawing its ambassador from Israel. Could you – do you have any comment, first of all, directly on this, what it means for the Middle East? What do you think about the Jordanian decision and how this would affect, if at all, the Secretary’s travel and the Secretary’s interactions?
MR MILLER: So I saw the reports and the reason Jordan stated for withdrawing its ambassador. I would say that we share the concerns they expressed about the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza; that’s why we’re actively leading the efforts to address that humanitarian situation, including those I just detailed to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza. But ultimately, we believe that increased diplomacy is important, and steps to reduce diplomatic channels aren’t productive to our long-term – our shared goals of promoting a long-term solution to this crisis.
QUESTION: Would you say you would like the Jordanians to reverse that, and is that something that’s —
MR MILLER: I don’t want to comment any – in any more detail than I just did.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Is this a process that has an end date certain, or are you in ongoing discussions by your interlocutors with Hamas? Is this going to be extended to other groups beyond Americans, locally employed staff or other individuals?
MR MILLER: So I don’t want to put an end date on it. It is a process that’s ongoing. As I said, we expect it to proceed over the next several days. Our goal is to get American citizens out, their family members out; locally employed staff we also want to get out, the locally employed staff who want to depart. There are other foreign nationals of course, citizens of other countries in Europe and elsewhere around the world who of course those countries have been expressing interest in getting them out, and a number of them went out today. So it will take time to get all of those American citizens and other foreign nationals out, but we are working expeditiously to get them out as soon as possible.
QUESTION: And just to re-ask this question, what, if any, concessions is the U.S. making to Hamas in order to secure the release of these individuals?
MR MILLER: We are not making any concessions to them.
QUESTION: So what is Hamas getting in return for their – for their release?
MR MILLER: So you might have seen that there are wounded Palestinians who made it out through Rafah today. That was a step that we supported. We thought it was important that wounded Palestinians that needed medical care in this instance were – could leave and seek appropriate medical care. But ultimately, the United States is not in a position and has not provided any concessions at all to Hamas.
QUESTION: On the aid front, yesterday the Secretary testified briefly about the possibility of exploring Kerem Shalom in Israel as an additional pathway for aid. Is that actually something that is being considered in order to boost the amount of aid getting into Gaza?
MR MILLER: It is a possibility, but right now our focus continues to be on ramping up the amount of assistance that can go in through [Rafah]. And we have seen – we have seen increased assistance, as I outlined, over the last several days, and that’s because we have been working with the Government of Israel and the Government of Egypt to increase the ability to have the trucks that are entering Rafah be inspected as expeditiously as possible.
There are some kind of complicated logistical reasons that go into that, or logistical circumstances that go into that, as you might imagine. But we have been working to unstick those so you can get the number of trucks increased. The Secretary set a goal – said yesterday that we want to get to 100 trucks going in as soon as possible. You could potentially see more trucks going in than that. And we’re going to work to continue to do that. If we find that we can’t get in the amount of assistance through Rafah that is required, we will of course look at any other options.
QUESTION: One more question on the Secretary’s travels to Israel. What messages has the U.S. already conveyed to the Israelis about settler violence in the West Bank? Have we told the Israelis to stop sending arms to settlers there?
MR MILLER: We have made quite clear to the Government of Israel that we are very concerned about settler violence in the West Bank. We find it incredibly destabilizing. We find it counterproductive to Israel’s long-term security in addition to, of course, being extremely harmful to the Palestinians living in the West Bank. And we have sent a very clear message to them that it’s unacceptable, it needs to stop, and those responsible for it need to be held accountable.
QUESTION: And can I follow on to this?
MR MILLER: Let me – I’ll come to you in a minute, Said. Let me —
QUESTION: Yeah. Thanks, Matt. On the Rafah Crossing, who is administrating the exit from Gaza? Is it Hamas? Is there a third party who’s allowing —
MR MILLER: There is not a third party. I believe it is the authorities in Gaza that were existing running the crossing before October 7th.
QUESTION: So it’s kind of a return to the status quo for the border?
MR MILLER: I wouldn’t call it anything like – I wouldn’t call it a return to the status quo in that the process is very different. But ultimately, it’s the authorities that – with respect to the authorities that are administering the gate on the Gaza side and the Egyptian side, it is a return to how they were operating before October 7th.
QUESTION: And then when exactly did this deal actually get reached?
MR MILLER: That is a hard question to answer because it is something we have been working on continuously for a number of weeks. There have been a number of false starts along the way. There have been times when we thought we were going to be able to get American citizens out, and ultimately those efforts fell through. It’s been extremely complicated when you think of the number of partners we’re dealing with here.
But ultimately, we got to the point where we were able to feel confident that we’re – we could get American citizens out really in the past 24 hours. I will tell you I came out yesterday to the briefing and talked a little bit about what we – about what we expected to happen without being able to give any details, and it was just in the last hour before I came out that I really felt comfortable even saying that.
QUESTION: And then you said the U.S. supported allowing injured Palestinians to leave via Rafah. Was —
MR MILLER: Well, it’s not that the U.S. is. We don’t have any – we don’t —
QUESTION: No, but you said you supported that.
MR MILLER: Support. Yeah, correct.
QUESTION: Did a party oppose that move?
MR MILLER: Not that I’m aware of, no.
QUESTION: Can I follow-up?
MR MILLER: Go ahead. Said, I’ll come. Go.
QUESTION: Matt, I have a couple of things. On the Secretary’s travel to Israel, can you say what is his primary objective? And one thing specifically: As the civilian death toll rises, is the United States going to push Israel more to show restraint?
MR MILLER: So his primary objectives are as I outlined them in my opening comments. He wants to get an update from Israel on their military objectives and their plans for meeting those objectives. He wants to talk about ways that we can increase the flow of humanitarian assistance and get to the point where it’s a sustained, continuous flow getting in every day that meets the needs of innocent civilians in Gaza. He wants to talk about preventing the conflict from spreading. He wants to talk about the ability to get hostages back. And as I said, he will talk directly with the Israeli Government, as he has previously, as the President has previously, about our expectation that in launching – in conducting this military campaign, that they do it – do so in full compliance with international humanitarian law and the laws of war, and we will be very direct about that.
QUESTION: There’s been back and forth in this briefing room about this, but given there was the big attack yesterday on the refugee camp, I have to ask again: What is the U.S. assessment so far in terms of whether Israel is following the rules of war?
MR MILLER: Again, I will say that I’m not able to offer an assessment on that strike as I’m not able to offer assessment on other individual strikes. What I will say is that we will continue to discuss with them directly, as we will say publicly, that it is our expectation that in all of their activities, all of their military campaigns, that they comply with the laws of war.
QUESTION: I mean, in terms of yesterday’s attack, there are various commentators – some countries, international human rights lawyers – some of them are calling it war crimes. And we know that in this building when you are making these kinds of legal determinations, there is a process for that. Has there been any thinking of starting such a process for Israel’s actions in this war?
MR MILLER: It is not an assessment that we are making now. No.
QUESTION: Thank you. Actually, a follow-up on both Olivia and Humeyra. On Humeyra’s first, I mean, this area was struck today again. Now, why won’t you condemn the killing of dozens of civilians, like 300 – maybe less, we don’t know – to kill one person? Because that’s what the Israeli spokesman said. She said, we went after one militant. Why won’t you do that?
MR MILLER: So I will say that we are deeply saddened by the loss of civilian life. Whatever the number of lost civilians in this strike or any other strike, we are obviously troubled and deeply saddened by every one – every loss of life. And that’s true whether it be Palestinians, whether it be Israelis, and we will continue to make that clear. And we’ll make it clear to the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Right. Well, that – okay, but 21 years ago – 21 years ago – Eric Fleischer came out and condemned a similar act – the George W. Bush administration condemned an act at the time where Israel killed one Hamas leader, Salah Shehadeh, and killed 15 others, which is a lot less than what you have seen in the last couple days – and they condemned it very strongly. So why won’t your administration do the same thing?
MR MILLER: So I am not able to speak to whatever assessments an administration 20 years ago has made. I will say that we will continue to impress directly upon our Israeli counterparts the need to minimize civilian harm in all of their military activities.
QUESTION: All right. A follow-up on Olivia, on the – what the Secretary said yesterday about they’re looking beyond what comes next after Hamas is completely destroyed and so on – what kind of system you would have in place in Gaza. And he suggested that you are in talks with a group of governments. Would that include all of the Arab governments? Would that include Israel and Saudi Arabia or Egypt and Jordan? Who did that include?
MR MILLER: So I don’t want to get into any details. As the Secretary said, we have begun to have initial conversations about it. I do want to make one thing clear, which is the future of Palestinian leadership is ultimately a question for the Palestinian people. We have been thinking through and discussing with our partners in the region different post-conflict scenarios, but I’m not able to get into any of those sort of details at this point.
QUESTION: So let me just – my last question on the internet – the internet and communications have been cut again. Do you have any comment on that, because you – you urged the Israelis last weekend to have connectivity again. So are you urging them today to do the same thing?
MR MILLER: They – the internet was cut. It was restored. I will say that we have made clear that we think internet access is important. I just started this briefing by noting that we are going to send e-mails to American citizens —
MR MILLER: — about how to get out of Gaza. We think it’s important, obviously, that they be able to have access to those emails. So at times, Israel may need to take operational steps that they have judged they need to take, but I will say as a general principle, it is the position of the U.S. Government that internet access needs to remain viable for the people of Gaza.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on Humeyra’s question earlier when she asked you about whether there was any discussion in the legal – in L, the legal bureau, about what Israel is doing and whether it’s – and whether it complies with the rules of war? And you said no. So I’m just wondering, why not?
MR MILLER: It’s not an assessment that we have made at this point. You saw the Secretary – you – let me say —
QUESTION: I know, but she didn’t ask if you had made an assessment. She asked if it was being discussed and considered, that there were people looking at this —
MR MILLER: Let me say that —
QUESTION: — to make – and to eventually make a determination. And it’s now been – we’re three weeks in, basically – into this. You have made similar determinations roughly in that space of time. So I’m just wondering – you’re saying that that’s not even being discussed?
MR MILLER: No, let me —
QUESTION: Oh, okay.
MR MILLER: Let me be clear. I’m not going to get into internal discussions, internal deliberations at the State Department. I’ll speak to the assessments that we have made. We have not made an assessment —
QUESTION: But, yeah, that wasn’t —
MR MILLER: — of war crimes in this situation.
QUESTION: But you answered no to whether —
MR MILLER: I should have been clear. We have not – we have not made any type of assessment at this time.
QUESTION: Well —
MR MILLER: As the Secretary made clear, there will be an opportunity for that. We’re not in the position at this point to judge all the strikes. What we think is important is to continue to impress upon the Israeli Government the importance of minimizing civilian harm.
QUESTION: Yeah, but you guys have made a determination – and we have had this discussion with Simon the other day – about Russia and actually committing war crimes where you’ve made a legal determination. In this case, you’re not even willing to say that that’s something that’s being talked about?
MR MILLER: I will say in the case of Russia, we were able to assess with a very high degree of confidence that Russia was deliberately targeting civilians. You – I remember that it came after —
QUESTION: Yes, but in order to get to that determination —
MR MILLER: — that assessment came after Bucha when there were clear evidence —
QUESTION: Yes, exactly. But in order —
MR MILLER: — clear evidence of deliberate, deliberate killing and targeting of civilians.
QUESTION: But in order to get to that determination, it had to be considered by the lawyers.
MR MILLER: And I’ve just —
QUESTION: And what your response to Humeyra was, unless you’re saying it was now wrong or that you misspoke —
MR MILLER: I just – I’ve —
QUESTION: — that – was that it’s not even being discussed. It’s not – you’re not – people are not even looking at whether this question –
MR MILLER: And I’ve just —
QUESTION: And what your response to Humeyra was, unless you’re saying it was now wrong or that you misspoke —
MR MILLER: I just – I’ve —
QUESTION: — that – was that it’s not even being discussed. It’s not – you’re not – people are not even looking at whether this question —
MR MILLER: What I’m saying is I’m not going to get into internal discussions, internal deliberations. It is not an assessment that we have made. And as the Secretary has said, there will be time to make those judgments.
Said, were you – I think you got – were you done or —
QUESTION: I’m done. Thank you.
MR MILLER: Okay. See a minute ago, you were interrupting me. Now, I come back for more, and you’re not – go ahead, Michel.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you have any response to the Houthis’ missiles after they joined the war?
MR MILLER: Nothing further than what I said yesterday, which is that as the Secretary – or as the President has made clear, as the Secretary has made clear, anyone that’s considering joining this conflict in opposition to Israel should think again.
QUESTION: But they already joined and fired missiles towards Israel.
MR MILLER: I – I recognize their statement, and I don’t have any further comment to add.
QUESTION: Will there be any American reaction?
MR MILLER: Again, I’m not going to – I never want to preview actions that we might take. I’ll make statements, and leave it at that. And of course, the Government of Israel might have something to say about that as well. I would defer to them.
MR MILLER: Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. A couple questions on the trip. As I understand, there are some expectations in Türkiye that the Secretary might extend his trip and stop by this time around. How realistic are those?
MR MILLER: I saw reporters in this room tweeting that we might be going to Türkiye. I can say that we have not confirmed a visit – sorry, I didn’t mean – I don’t – I wasn’t going to say – you raised your hand; I didn’t – I wasn’t meaning to single – I wasn’t meaning to single you out. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Just – just for the transcript, my tweet is not based on my opinion —
MR MILLER: I – fair. Fair.
QUESTION: It’s based on official diplomatic sources who are saying —
MR MILLER: Fair, fair. Correct.
QUESTION: — Secretary Blinken is going to Türkiye.
MR MILLER: Correct. Correct.
QUESTION: So you can – would you like to respond to that?
MR MILLER: I – I am sorry; I should not have singled you out. It wasn’t my intention. I am not able to confirm any additional travel at this point other than that I – that I announced at the top. We will make further announcements as they’re available in the coming days.
QUESTION: As you know, Counselor Derek – Derek is headed to Türkiye. Is there any relationship?
MR MILLER: I – just – I – just someone was speaking over you, so you need to start again.
QUESTION: Any connection between Derek’s trip and –
MR MILLER: I’m sorry?
QUESTION: Derek is headed to Türkiye, the counselor, to prepare Secretary’s regional trip. Any connection between those two?
MR MILLER: I just don’t – I’m not going to make any announcements or speculation about travel before I’m –
QUESTION: On Ukraine, if I may. The Secretary yesterday spoke with his Ukrainian colleague following the congressional hearing. Is there any concern on your end that Ukraine might become a victim of domestic politics?
MR MILLER: We believe that if support – first of all, I’d say we believe that support for Ukraine continues to be essential. It continues to be important that the United States be there to help Ukraine defend itself against these horrific attacks that Russia has launched on them and continues to launch on them. And we believe, as a practical matter, that should funding for Ukraine get an up or down vote, it will pass in both houses of Congress. So I understand the kind of churn that has accompanied this, but it continues to be our position that funding is important, it should pass, and that as a practical matter if it gets a vote, it will pass.
QUESTION: As you know, Ukraine has seen more attacks during the past 24 hours than since the beginning of the war – 100 attacks to village and towns. Do you think Moscow is under impression that other conflicts are diverting attention in the West and that it has leeway to —
MR MILLER: I don’t know what – I won’t speak to what impression Moscow might be getting, but I can assure you that we are not. We have not lost focus in any sense on our need to support Ukraine. That’s why you’ve seen the President give an Oval Office address about our support for Ukraine, and we will continue to stay focused on it. We think we have the ability to work on more than one thing. You hear the Secretary often say, we have to walk and chew gum at the same time, and that is true with respect to both of these issues.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have two more (inaudible).
QUESTION: Follow-up on Ukraine?
QUESTION: Who is compiling the list of evacuees at Rafah gate? And what is the criteria for determining which injuries are eligible for treatment in Egypt?
MR MILLER: So that is one of the details, because of the kind of sensitive and delicate nature of this, I’m just not able to get into. All of this has been, as I said, an extremely complicated process when you think of all the parties that are involved. And I continue to find it not productive to kind of speak to the underlying details from here.
QUESTION: And then given that both Egypt and Israel have expressed security concerns and no third party is doing the monitoring, how have those concerns been addressed as part of this process?
MR MILLER: Security concerns, you mean, with the number of people coming through? I will – what I will say about it is we have worked with the Government of Egypt and the Government of Israel to attempt to ensure an orderly flow through the Rafah Crossing. I will let Egypt speak to ultimately if their concerns were assuaged, but obviously they have agreed to this transit of people throughout. And in fact, they agreed to the transit of people through Rafah some number of weeks ago, and it’s taken this long to actually make it a reality.
So I won’t get into the details other than to say that we feel confident that we’ve been able to establish a system that can get an orderly – the orderly flow of U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals. But as with all things related to this situation, we’ll repeat the caution I started with, that this remains to be a very fluid situation and we’ll continue to work on it and not rest until we have gotten all of our people out.
QUESTION: And then just finally, do you have assurances that all of the 400 or so Americans and all of their family members will be able to leave?
MR MILLER: Again, for some of the operational security reasons I outlined at the beginning of the briefing, I just don’t want to get into those details.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. What do you expect from Hassan Nasrallah’s speech on Friday, secretary general of Hizballah, his first appearance since the war started? Some speculation says that it might change the course of this war or maybe it will turn to full – full large-scale war. What do you expect from his speech?
MR MILLER: I would not want to speculate what he might say in advance.
QUESTION: Are you – there is any fear or worry that —
MR MILLER: Again, I – we will – I’m sure we will be monitoring what he has to say. We will not be speculating. As I said with respect to the Houthis, the President has made very clear that any entity hostile to Israel thinking of entering in this conflict should think again.
QUESTION: The President and the Secretary have made a point lately of saying that there should be a path to a two-state solution. I noticed you had a bit of a revised version of that, that you would work for the establishment of a Palestinian state that reflects the aspirations in Gaza and the West Bank. So given that the Israeli Government – it’s against the Israeli Government policy to talk about or contemplate a two-state solution, given that most – many Palestinians think it’s not possible anyway because the settlers have – settler activity means it’s no longer viable, what is the purpose now of, like, flagging a two-state solution?
MR MILLER: The purpose is that we believe it is ultimately the only solution that will provide durable, lasting peace. And I will add it has been our policy since the beginning of the administration, and it has been something that we have pushed with the leadership of the Israeli Government, with the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, made – something that we have made clear we continue to support, and we will reiterate it – we will reiterate it on this trip. When people talk about the end of this conflict and what different options are for post-conflict scenarios, I think it’s important and the Secretary believes it’s important that we lay out kind of our first principles here. And one of our important first principles is the establishment of a two-state solution.
QUESTION: And given that there’s something – something has to happen, obviously, in terms of the governance of Gaza when and if and after all of this is over, do you think that the Israeli Government is more open now to talking about this?
MR MILLER: So I, again, don’t want to get ahead of – I don’t want to get ahead of conversations that still need to take place. I will say we have made very clear that two things are true. Number one, Hamas cannot continue to govern and administer Gaza and use it as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against Israel. Number two, Gaza cannot be occupied by Israel. And so what the alternative is between those two poles is a matter that we will discuss here inside the United States Government, a matter we will discuss with the Palestinian people and Palestinian leadership, and a matter we will discuss with partners in the region.
QUESTION: On this?
MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Matt, I will follow up on this. The Secretary when I – when he was asked yesterday in – on the Hill about this, he said we are discussing temporary measures that involve Arab countries and international agencies. What did he mean by that?
MR MILLER: He meant exactly that.
QUESTION: I mean —
MR MILLER: If you mean will I provide you any more details, no. We will continue to have these discussions – we will keep them private – with our partners and with international agencies, but I’m not going to provide any further details.
QUESTION: Okay. And my second question is on the U.S. citizens and the foreign nationals who departed Gaza today. Yesterday also the Secretary has said that Hamas is impeding the departures of the American citizen, and you said you didn’t make any concessions. Why did they change their mind? Pressure, leverage from other countries?
MR MILLER: So I will say a few things. Number one, that is correct. Hamas was impeding the departure of American citizens and other foreign nationals. We’ve talked before about how at times they had no one there at Rafah gate to process individuals who were attempting to leave. At other times they were actively preventing them from approaching the gate. And they have now agreed to no longer stand in the way.
So without getting into the details of how this might have come about, I will just note for the record that the Secretary discussed this matter with the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar on Monday. We’ve discussed it with other leaders in the region. We’ve made clear that anyone in the region who can help bring any influence to bear with Hamas, that they do so. And we are appreciative for the – to the – we are appreciative to the work the Government of Qatar has done as they have done with securing the release of hostages and with attempting to secure the release of additional hostages, and I think I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Matthew?
QUESTION: Shannon, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. On Americans leaving Rafah, can you say a little more clearly what’s the rate-limiting step on the pace of departures? Is it Hamas determining how many or is it a security consideration?
MR MILLER: I don’t – because of the security – the operational security concerns I said at the beginning, I just don’t think it’s useful for me to get into any of these details. What I will say is that if there’s any American citizen in Gaza who has not yet registered with the State Department and they want to leave, they should register with the State Department as soon as possible. Those American citizens in Gaza who have already registered with the State Department, they should watch their email and we will get them a time and specific instructions for how to leave. But as – but as it pertains to the number and when, for a number of reasons I don’t think it’s helpful for me to talk about that publicly. I’d be happy to do so at the end of the process, but while it’s ongoing I think it would be counterproductive.
QUESTION: And on the family members, President Biden tweeted that he expected to see American citizens leave in the coming days. And of course, you said you’re still working on the immediate family members, some 600. But is there an expectation that they’ll be allowed to depart at the same pace, or is that on different tracks?
MR MILLER: Again, we are working to have all of these things happen together, to have American citizens and their family members move. It is always our policy to try and keep families together, and that’s what we’re trying to make happen.
QUESTION: Matthew, can I —
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Matt, thank you. Thank you, Matt. What entity oversees humanitarian aid to Gaza and the UN agency UNWRA, which is controlled by Hamas? And I have a follow-up.
MR MILLER: So I would reject that interpretation of UNRWA. It is a United Nations agency that provides humanitarian assistance to the – to innocent civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.
QUESTION: Okay. The follow-up is: When the U.S. sends the funds to the UN agency UNRWA, who oversees the donations to make sure that the funds are not used for guns and munitions?
MR MILLER: So we have strict monitoring programs in place for all of our humanitarian assistance and all the assistance we provide. We look into this regularly, we inspect, we audit – we do everything possible to ensure that there is no diversion of funds or any of the humanitarian assistance that we provide to UNRWA or any of the other agencies and international relief organizations that are working in the area.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. The foreign minister of Iran, having next to him the foreign minister of your ally Türkiye, said that today, if an immediate ceasefire doesn’t take place in Gaza and the rabid attacks by U.S. – he says by U.S. – Zionist regime continue, then the consequences will be harsh. I want your comment.
MR MILLER: So we have made very clear that we do not seek conflict with Iran. We do not want to see this conflict widened in any ways – in any way. But as the Secretary has made clear, we will defend U.S. interests and U.S. personnel in the region. We have already taken steps to do so, and as the Secretary of Defense made clear on the Hill yesterday, if we need to take additional steps, we will do so at the time and place of our choosing.
QUESTION: Also I had a question – I see that the head of the foreign affairs committee of Türkiye, he said, according to the Reuters, that Türkiye was in no hurry, even U.S. and NATO want a speedy vote by Türkiye’s parliament, for the accession of Sweden. I mean, you said yesterday that you want —
MR MILLER: So I haven’t —
QUESTION: You want ratification as soon as possible, and he answered to you, I’m sure.
MR MILLER: So I haven’t seen – yeah, let me just – I haven’t seen those specific comments, and I’m going to stick with my typical practice of not reacting to comments unless I’ve seen the place and the context in which they were delivered. But I will say that we have made quite clear that we want to see Sweden’s accession into NATO as soon as possible. We’ve had – the Secretary has had a number of conversations with his counterpart, the foreign minister, about that exact thing, and we will continue to work to make it happen.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I’m going back to the – what Iranian foreign minister said. He said that if the wars goes out of the control, then the U.S. will be responsible for what will happen the next. And also he said that there will be another surprise move by the resistance. Do you take any responsibility for that, if the wars gets out of the control?
MR MILLER: No. I will just say we have made clear in our public and our private messaging to Iran that it should not escalate or widen this conflict or take advantage of the current situation. We have said, as I just reiterated a moment ago, that if our troops are attacked, we would respond. We did just that, and if we are attacked again, we’ll respond again, and I’ll leave it there.
QUESTION: And another question. Today, Harakat al-Nujaba – it’s an Iranian-backed group in Iraq – they have 10,000 fighters. They announced a war against the U.S. forces in Iraq, and the leader of that group said that no pause, no truce, and no retreat, we’re going to fight the U.S. Do you think they are not taking your signal or your warning seriously because they don’t see any action from the U.S. —
MR MILLER: I don’t think anyone should doubt our commitment to defending our forces.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Matt, I have two question. I’ll be very impactful. First, the 28th of October, Bangladesh Nationalist Party leadership, they bring American citizen to their office named Mian Arefi, claiming him to be the advisor of President Biden, and he also claim on camera that daily he has 10 to 20 times text messaging prime – yeah, President Biden, but U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh disowned this claim of Mr. Arefi. My question – first question – is that the fraudulent activities by BNP leaders defame image of U.S. Government. Are you going to take any actions against Mr. Arefi and related people of BNP leadership?
MR MILLER: I do not have any comment on this individual’s actions other than to reiterate what the U.S. embassy says, which is he does not represent the United States Government.
QUESTION: And my second question about that right now in Bangladesh, that international train between Bangladesh and India was attacked by the violent BNP – violent activist, and Bangladeshi prime minister, whose government has tremendous success in overall development in Bangladesh and zero tolerance in extremist organization, fights against terrorism in Southeast Asia with close cooperation with United States, and they are reassuring a free and fair election. Will U.S. send any election observer there and assist Sheikh Hasina to conduct a free and fair election? Will you call BNP, that Bangladesh Nationalist Party, to stop violence and participate to the upcoming general election? Thank you so much.
MR MILLER: So again, as I said yesterday and as I said the day before and have said a number of times, the holding of free and fair elections is the responsibility of everyone: all political parties, voters, the government, security forces, civil society. The United States wants what the Bangladeshi people want for themselves: free, fair elections conducted in a peaceful manner.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Matthew, good afternoon.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Two questions for you. One, in the Middle East, Sam Brownback, a former U.S. ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, told us the other day – my organization – that if you want peace in the Middle East, the Iranian regime that’s in power now has to go. He says you will not have peace in the Middle East as long as this regime – his words – in Tehran, the ruling mullahs, are in power. Does the State Department agree with that assessment?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to offer responses to individual private citizens.
QUESTION: Okay, two, to Ukraine now, please. Thank you. There are 5 million Catholics in Ukraine, and church leaders – Catholic Church leaders warn right now that if Russia wins this war, succeeds in its invasion, the Catholic Church there could be wiped out, eliminated, or be forced to go underground, just as in the old Soviet Union days. How does the State Department address those concerns?
MR MILLER: Well, one of the – the way we would address those concerns, I’d say, would be to continue to support sustained U.S. military assistance and economic assistance to the Government of Ukraine. It’s been – the United States has provided more security assistance to Ukraine than any other country in the world, and I would say that anyone that is – anyone that is concerned about Russia’s potential aggression in Ukraine should join us in urging Congress to pass our increased security assistance package as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Matt, thank you. Just going to China, Secretary Blinken has just met with Wang Yi, and he has – and you said to me a couple months ago that all human rights issues will be mentioned, including that of the Southern Mongolians or – where 95 percent of the rare minerals come from, the region what they’re living in. We haven’t seen any discussions on the rights of the Mongolians when discussions on Tibetans, Uyghurs, and the Hong Kong people were discussed. And in the future meetings, at the very least, is the State Department going to address the rights of Mongolians and also of those underground Catholics and Protestants and the Falun Gong practitioners?
My second question to you is the other – the other part that was – seemed to be ignored was the – our presence in the Indo-Pacific. There is a degradation of democracy in places like Solomon Islands ever since they switched recognition from Taipei to Beijing. And so is the State Department going to address that portion given the fact that the erosion of democracy also involves a – an ousting of a former governor for speaking out against the “one China” policy.
MR MILLER: So with respect to the first question, I can assure you that the – that the Secretary raised human rights issues robustly in his meeting with secretary – I’m sorry, with secretary – with Director Wang Yi. He has raised human rights issues in all of his meetings with Chinese Government counterparts, and we will continue to raise a full range of human rights issues in our meetings with the PRC.
With respect to the second issue, we of course continue to support the flourishment of democracy in the Indo-Pacific, as everywhere in the world. You’ve seen the Secretary travel a number of times to the Indo-Pacific, including a number of islands in the Indo-Pacific, to make that very case, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Hi, Matt. Two questions, please. The first one: Do you have a comment on President Biden’s announcement of his intent to nominate Kurt Campbell to deputy secretary?
MR MILLER: So the President did make that announcement this morning. You may have seen that Secretary Blinken sent a message out to the workforce today welcoming that announcement. The only comment I will make, of course, that Congress has a job to do here in properly considering and confirming our nominees, and we hope that we’ll – they’ll do so as expeditiously as possible.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.
QUESTION: Also —
MR MILLER: Oh, sorry.
QUESTION: — as a follow-up, Secretary Blinken is expected to attend the G7 foreign ministers’ summit in Japan next week. What can you tell us about expected topics of conversation, particularly as Japan refrained from the initial G7 statement in support of Israel?
MR MILLER: So we have not yet announced further travel beyond Friday, when he will visit Israel and Jordan, but expect us to make further announcements in the next few days. And I’ll be happy to talk about those questions once we’ve made those announcements.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Pakistan’s deadline for undocumented Afghan refugee to return to Afghanistan has passed, and now thousands Afghans going back to Afghanistan. But there are around 60,000 refugees that they left Afghanistan because of Taliban’s threats and persecution. What’s your comment about that? And also, would be – would you be able to elaborate on Thomas West meeting with some European representatives in Italy?
MR MILLER: So we join all of our partners in urging every state, including Pakistan, to uphold their respective obligations in their treatment of refugees and asylum [seekers], and to respect the principle of non-refoulement. We strongly encourage Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Pakistan, to allow entry for Afghans seeking international protection and to coordinate with international humanitarian organizations to provide humanitarian assistance. And with respect to Tom West’s recent meetings, I’d refer you to his office for specific comment.
MR MILLER: Alex, go ahead, and then I – then Humeyra, and then we’ll wrap.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Do you have any update for us on the case of Radio Free – Radio Free Europe’s reporter Kurmasheva?
MR MILLER: I don’t. We continue to be in contact with her attorneys. We continue to be in contact with Radio Free Europe. We have not yet received formal notification of her arrest from the Russian Government, though obviously we are aware that it has happened. And that’s why we’ve – we continue to seek consular access to her, and that also has not been granted. We would urge the Russian Government to provide it as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Yesterday Russian court rejected her appeal to release pretrial detentions. Any reaction?
MR MILLER: I don’t have any comment on that. We are – our focus is at this point securing consular assistance as we seek more information about the case.
Humeyra, go ahead.
QUESTION: And final – and final question, if I may.
MR MILLER: Yeah. Sorry.
QUESTION: I apologize. On Wagner —
MR MILLER: Careful, like I – I singled Humeyra out and got the – a much deserved smackdown earlier in the briefing. (Laughter.)
MR MILLER: So —
QUESTION: Reports that Wagner Group restarted recruiting. Any concern on your end? Any – anything you have heard about?
MR MILLER: Sure, we always have concerns about Wagner Group’s activities, whether they be in Ukraine or whether they be anywhere in Africa, which is why we’ve taken a number of actions to hold them accountable over the past.
Humeyra, go ahead.
QUESTION: Matt, just to close the loop on a previous line of questioning and also Matt’s line of questioning as well, is it fair to say that there are no active – there is no active process in this building to make a legal determination about Israel’s attacks and strikes in —
MR MILLER: I just never want to talk about internal deliberations. I will just say what I said before, which is the Secretary said there will be time to make those assessments and those are not judgments that we have made at this point.
QUESTION: Right. But – I mean, I’m just asking about the intent or the plan, because Secretary did say there will be a time for that. I’m just wondering if that time is nearing or —
MR MILLER: I just don’t – I don’t have any further information on that.
MR MILLER: Go ahead, go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I had just —
MR MILLER: Oh, sorry. Sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah, one more thing on the hostages. Since the sort of bombardment intensified, there seems to be a bit of a stall in those negotiations. I mean, is that a fair characterization? What is the latest in (inaudible)?
MR MILLER: I really don’t want to characterize those discussions one way or the other. That’s been a rule I’ve applied to myself since October 7th, and it’s – you’ve seen the Secretary say the same thing when he’s been out in front of the public. We continue to actively pursue their release, and I mean actively. It’s something that people are working on in this building around the clock. We continue to discuss it with our partners in the region, but I never want to characterize the status or tenor of those discussions. It’s just not productive to the release the hostages.
MR MILLER: Let me – go ahead, and we’ll – and then we’ll wrap up.
QUESTION: I just had quick personnel question, which is now that he’s been confirmed, when is Jack Lew expected to take up his post in Israel?
MR MILLER: So we’re still working out some final details, but my expectation is that he will travel with us to the region when we leave Thursday and arrive Friday.
QUESTION: Just one question here, sir.
MR MILLER: With that, we’ll – and with that, we’ll wrap for today. Thanks, everyone. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:22 p.m.)