Department Press Briefing – November 14, 2023
- ISRAEL/PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
1:25 p.m. EST
MR MILLER: I don’t have anything to kick us off, so Matt?
QUESTION: Yeah, I actually – I mean, I have a lot, but nothing really to kind of start off with a bang, as it were. So I’ll defer.
MR MILLER: Okay, who else wants to go?
QUESTION: Any update on hostages, movement, ongoing negotiations, anything?
MR MILLER: I don’t have an update on hostage negotiations. I think as you know, I’ve been reluctant to talk about the status of negotiations from this podium because we’ve – it has been our position that anything that we say about hostage negotiations can jeopardize our work to try to secure the release of hostages. So I don’t have anything to say other than that it continues to be a top priority for everyone in this administration. The Secretary has had a number of calls about this very matter with his foreign counterparts in the last few days. And of course, it was a subject that he worked on a great deal during his recent travel to the region, but I don’t want to discuss any details.
QUESTION: Any word on the sanctions waiver expiring today for Iran?
MR MILLER: So I don’t have a comment to give on the expiration of the waiver at this time. But I would remind you of a few things with respect to these waivers in general, and that is that, number one, there are 20 waivers that have been issued for the payment from Iraq for Iranian electricity imports. They go back to 2018; they started during the Trump administration.
All – in each of these waivers, it has been the case that none of this money goes to Iran. It is held in accounts that are restricted where they can only be used to pay for food, medicine, humanitarian purposes, and other non-sanctionable activities. And it has been consistent with several policies that we have – one, to try to reduce Iran’s leverage over Iraq, and two, to try to wean Iraq from Iranian energy independence. We’ve had a number of policies we’ve worked with to try to ensure their energy independence, but in the meantime, they continue to buy Iranian electricity. And so we have in the past, as has the Trump administration, issued waivers to allow these funds to move to restricted accounts, or as I said, that can be used for humanitarian and other non-sanctionable purposes.
QUESTION: Is there any concern about the potential optics of, I guess, extending a sanctions waiver while Iranian proxy groups are attacking U.S. assets in the Middle East?
MR MILLER: We don’t worry about optics; we worry about reality. And the reality is that these funds, as I said, can only be used for humanitarian and other non-sanctionable purposes.
And when it comes to holding Iran accountable for its destabilizing activities, I would remind you that we have imposed more than 400 sanctions on Iran since the outset of this administration. In the past few weeks, we have taken a number of actions to ensure deterrence and to – the Pentagon has conducted strikes against Iranian-backed militias. And we will continue to hold accountable – Iran accountable for its destabilizing behavior in a number of manners.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: You don’t worry about optics, you worry about reality? Aren’t optics reality?
MR MILLER: No. No.
QUESTION: They’re not?
MR MILLER: I mean, we’re going to get into a bit of a metaphysical debate.
QUESTION: Well —
MR MILLER: But I would say I’m not – we’re —
QUESTION: No, I want to get to a specific question about this.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: But what you see is what you get. That’s reality, right?
MR MILLER: I would say what’s – what you see is what you get – what – the optics, in the term I mean the optics —
QUESTION: The optics are —
MR MILLER: — is people taking this and misinterpreting it and saying it’s something that it’s not, which is what’s happened in the past when it’s – when it comes to these waivers. And I’m making very clear that these waivers —
QUESTION: Okay, well what —
MR MILLER: — are something that has – that have dated back to the Trump administration.
QUESTION: But what is it – what is it that it is not? What are you saying it isn’t?
MR MILLER: I will say what it is, and I will let the – those who tend to talk about these waivers over and over again, they have – they can speak for themselves.
QUESTION: Well, okay. Are you saying that this is an absolute straight-up renewal of what has been done in the past and there are no changes to it? It doesn’t allow the Iranians to convert money from Iraqi dinars into Euros?
MR MILLER: So I am not going to speak to a new waiver; one has not been issued at this point. I’m speaking – so if we get to the point where we can talk about a new waiver, I’ll be happy to come in and talk about the specifics. But all of our waivers in the past have made very clear that the funds are held in accounts not in Iran and available only for humanitarian and non-sanctionable purposes.
QUESTION: Yeah. But — and you’re saying that should there be a waiver this afternoon, it will be exactly the same and it won’t change anything?
MR MILLER: I am not going to talk about – I’m not going to talk about things that have not happened. I will be happy to – I won’t be here tomorrow; I’ll be here Thursday – be happy to talk about – if something has happened by the next time I’m at this podium, I will happy – be happy to talk about it.
QUESTION: All right. And then what about the fungibility argument that you heard a lot with the money from South Korea for the hostages? Why is that – why is that argument wrong?
MR MILLER: So I will say we have heard this a lot; I’ve addressed it a lot. So with respect to the Iranian regime, it has always funded destabilizing activities. It has done that first and foremost; it’s one of its top priorities. It does that whether it receives – whether its people receive humanitarian benefits or not. To the extent that the Iranian people have greater access to food or medicine as a result of money covered by this waiver, that’s food or medicine that otherwise would not have been available to them.
And I would say, again, this is a policy that goes back to the previous administration. The previous administration apparently decided that it was worthwhile to have this money spent for the benefit of the Iranian people, with whom we have no quarrel. Our quarrel is with the Iranian regime and its destabilizing activities. And so our – what we see is an Iranian regime that – whether these waivers are issued or not, whether their people benefit from these monies or not – continues to fund hostile activities. That has not changed; it has not changed going back years.
QUESTION: Well, whether or not they benefit from this money, isn’t that the whole point? The whole point is that they’re supposed to. But the problem is and the argument against this is that the Iranians are going to spend the same amount of money on their people as they did before, but now they’ve got another $10 billion or so to use —
MR MILLER: So – so – I – I don’t accept that argument. I – what we believe –
QUESTION: You don’t? So you’re inside the —
MR MILLER: No.
QUESTION: You know what the Iranians are doing?
MR MILLER: No. What we believe is the Iranian regime is going to spend the same amount of money on destabilizing activities because it always has, and we will take actions to hold them accountable for those destabilizing activities —
QUESTION: How do you know they’re not going to spend more?
MR MILLER: — as we have from the beginning of this administration. What we have seen is that when these waivers have been issued, that money has been used for the benefit of the Iranian people, period.
QUESTION: Yeah. And then the money that they had inside of Iran that would have spent on this is then – is then freed up for —
MR MILLER: You are making an assumption that the Iranian Government —
QUESTION: You’re making an assumption that they’re not doing it.
MR MILLER: No, no – well, let me just – Matt, let me finish. You are making an assumption when you say that that the Iranian Government is choosing the benefit of its people over funding terrorism and funding other destabilizing actions.
QUESTION: No, I’m not making that assumption.
MR MILLER: That’s not what we’ve seen. We’ve seen them – we’ve seen —
QUESTION: You’re making that assumption. (Laughter.)
MR MILLER: No, no, I’m not. I’ve seen them as a first priority fund destabilizing activities. We think increasing the amount of money that flows for the benefit of the Iranian people is something that’s worthwhile. And again, this is money that was – that Iraq owes to Iran for electricity that Iran delivered.
QUESTION: Yeah, but I – you’re twisting it 180 degrees, the opposite of what – I’m not saying that they’re not going to spend any of this money on food and medicine and other humanitarian —
MR MILLER: That’s all this money can be spent on.
QUESTION: Yeah, but that means that they have X amount of dollars more —
MR MILLER: You – only —
QUESTION: — in their own treasury that they can spend on destabilizing activities.
MR MILLER: Only if you —
QUESTION: And you guys –
MR MILLER: Only if you assume they were going to fund food and medicine and other activities. And I’m saying that’s not a necessarily correct assumption.
QUESTION: But you – no, you said that they —
MR MILLER: They could make the choice to —
QUESTION: You said that they were, and you said also that even —
MR MILLER: No, that’s —
QUESTION: — if they are spending that money, that they are going to still fund destabilizing activities.
MR MILLER: I said their first priority is to fund destabilizing activities. That is the —
QUESTION: So then why would you – why would you give them – or not —
MR MILLER: Because this money will not —
QUESTION: — not give them money, but why would you do this —
MR MILLER: I feel like we’re arguing in circles here a little bit, not for the first time.
QUESTION: No, it’s not, and this has gone back for several administrations now, because I don’t understand your argument that you can be so sure that none of this money is going to increase the amount of cash that Iran spends to destabilize the region.
MR MILLER: Because Iran does not – when – what we see is, when making its choices for how to spend its money, Iran – the Iranian regime does not choose to feed its people first.
MR MILLER: They choose to fund destabilizing activities first. They always have; as far as we can tell, they always will. So when it – looking at this money, we see the benefit to allowing these funds to move again to restricted accounts where they can only benefit the Iranian people.
QUESTION: But they – all right.
QUESTION: Can I just (inaudible) —
MR MILLER: Go ahead, Jen —
QUESTION: I – I just don’t understand how you can’t see that – how you can’t see the problem with (inaudible) —
MR MILLER: And I don’t – I don’t understand how you can’t – what – well, I – we don’t understand each other, I think.
QUESTION: I guess so.
MR MILLER: Go ahead, Jen. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Going back to the hostages —
QUESTION: But we’ll get a divorce.
MR MILLER: Oh, I don’t think we’re allowed to. (Laughter.) I think we’re stuck with each other. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I have a quick question.
MR MILLER: No, no, let me – go – I’ll come to you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On Iran —
MR MILLER: No, no, Jen had her hand up. I’ll –
QUESTION: Going back —
MR MILLER: I will come to – I will come —
QUESTION: Okay. Going back to the hostages, though, the President gave some indication of optimism that a deal is going to be done. What is underpinning that optimism right now?
MR MILLER: Look, because we continue to work for it, we are always hopeful that we will be able to secure the release of not just the – first and foremost the American citizens, but all of the hostages that are held, certainly all the civilian hostages, the women and children who have been now prisoners for more than a month. So as long as there is a possibility to bring them home, we will work to do it. I just don’t want to talk about the underlying details that leads us to believe there is still a possibility to return them home.
QUESTION: But can you say there – if there has been any concrete movement towards that end, towards an agreement?
MR MILLER: There are ongoing discussions. I don’t want to characterize where those discussions are.
QUESTION: And can you say whether any sort of iteration of a deal would include all 10 Americans who are believed to —
MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to talk about what the contours of a deal might be before we’ve even reached an agreement.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on this —
QUESTION: And then on —
MR MILLER: Guys, guys. I will – I will –
QUESTION: On that point —
MR MILLER: I will – let Jen finish. I will come.
QUESTION: Is it still the case that there is not a formal assessment being done by the U.S. Government into whether Israel is adhering to international humanitarian law?
MR MILLER: As I said yesterday, we monitor the use of our weapons. We monitor all the actions that Israel takes, as we monitor actions in any conflict. But I’m not going to speak to internal deliberations.
QUESTION: But there is no formal assessment?
MR MILLER: I’m just not – there’s not a formal assessment that’s been made, and I’m not going to speak to internal deliberations inside the department.
All right. Now, Said.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Thank you for your patience, such as it is.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yeah – oh, no, I can wait all day; no problem. A Hamas spokesman suggested that they will release 70 hostages for a five-day pause. Would that be acceptable to the United States?
MR MILLER: I think you’ll understand I’m not going to negotiate in public about such a sensitive matter.
QUESTION: But this – I mean, on principle —
MR MILLER: You can ask it a bunch of different ways. I am just not going to take a negotiation question from the podium.
QUESTION: All right. Well, I tell you what: Can you update us on the status of the pauses? We have had had a pause or two. Is that ongoing, or did that stop? What’s going on? I mean, if – what – from what we see and read and so on, there are no pauses taking place.
MR MILLER: There are pauses that are taking place. So the Secretary – this is something the Secretary pushed for when we were in Israel. He had very direct conversations with the prime minister about it. You saw him come out and talk about those conversations afterwards, and then over the week – 10 days – after we left Israel, you saw Israel begin to implement pauses, and every day they announce pauses in areas to allow the evacuation of – let me – the evacuation of civilians along humanitarian corridors. We’ve said before we think the pauses ought to be longer. We will continue to engage in conversations with that – about that with the Government of Israel.
QUESTION: And one more thing. I mean, since Sunday morning there, Saturday night here, we have not seen any figures released from Shifa Hospital because it’s completely out of service. The last count was like 11 – 80 – 11,087 or something like this. Do you have any way of keeping track of the number of Palestinians killed?
MR MILLER: We don’t. We don’t have an accurate assessment or an assessment that we know to be accurate about the number of Palestinians who have been killed, but as the Secretary said last week, we know that far too many innocent Palestinian civilians have been killed.
QUESTION: I understand, but with the hospitals out of service, is there – are we likely to know what’s going on and how many people have died?
MR MILLER: I don’t know how I could speak to that from here.
QUESTION: I want to talk about – I want to ask about the West Bank, but I can wait.
MR MILLER: Go ahead. No, go.
QUESTION: Okay, on the West Bank very quickly, there’s a rampage going on by the army, by the settlers and so on. Last night they went into Tulkarm, Jenin, and so on. They killed 12 Palestinians or 10 Palestinians; the number has exceeded 200 since the beginning – since October 7 and so on. I mean, just total – are you guys concerned? Are you doing anything to make sure that things don’t really blow out of —
MR MILLER: We are – we are very concerned about this issue. You’ve heard the Secretary speak to this. He spoke to it when we were in Israel, in fact. The Secretary has made very clear that we condemn extremist violence and harassment against Palestinians. He had a very direct conversation with the prime minister about it. What he said to the prime minister and other members of the Israeli war cabinet is that the extremist violence against settlers is unacceptable, that we think the government needs to do more to rein it in, and they need to do more to hold people accountable, and we will be watching to see what steps they take.
QUESTION: Okay, but it has accelerated since this conversation.
MR MILLER: I’m telling you we expect them to take action and we will be watching to see that they do.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can we go back to Gaza, please?
MR MILLER: I told Olivia I’d come to her next.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on Shifa Hospital, I know you and the – and others in the administration have spoken generally about information you have about hospitals and Hamas operating under them. Is the U.S. taking any steps to declassify, to share more information about what it has specifically regarding Shifa?
MR MILLER: So I don’t want to talk about what we may or may not declassify before we take any action, just as I don’t really want to talk about intelligence matters from the podium. As I said yesterday, as you heard the National Security Advisor say over the weekend, and as the Secretary has spoken to, we do know that Hamas has used hospitals as command centers and has buried its tunnels under command centers.
And I want to say something about hospitals, that number one, we want hospitals to be protected. We don’t want to see any civilians – and certainly not babies in incubators or other vulnerable populations – caught in a crossfire. We want Hamas to stop using hospitals as command posts. That would be the easiest way to solve this problem, if they would stop using the civilians that are in hospitals as humanitarian shields.
But then I would also say that we want there to be safe evacuation for patients at hospitals so they can get out of harm’s way. We would support an independent third party, a respected third party, to conduct those evacuations. We know the Government of Israel would support such a step as well. They have said that they would support such a step. The question is will Hamas allow patients to be evacuated from hospitals or will they continue to use them as human shields. We think an appropriate step would be to support those evacuations so babies and other vulnerable populations are not in harm’s way.
QUESTION: Well, on that front – so, one, has a third-party candidate been identified to effectuate those kind of evacuations? And then, on the Hamas front, has the U.S. made an appeal through the Qataris or anyone else to do exactly what you just said?
MR MILLER: So we are in a number – we are in conversations with a number of humanitarian organizations and third parties about this very topic. I don’t want to speak to those issues in detail, but it is very much something that we would support. And I will just say generally we have sent messages through the Qataris and through other counterparts in the region to Hamas that, of course, just as we’ve said they should release the hospitals, that they should allow evacuation of wounded civilians and stop them using them as human shields.
QUESTION: Specifically on the babies, just given the urgency and the fragility of the lives at stake there, I mean, conversations are one thing, but are you really pushing the gas pedal here?
MR MILLER: We could not agree more. Look, we – to state matters lightly, we do not control what Hamas does. We would like Hamas to just move out of the hospitals. As I said, that would be the easiest way to solve this issue, but absent that, if they refuse to remove their command centers from hospitals, as they seem likely to do – they’ve been burying their command centers under hospitals for years – the step that we think would be appropriate for them to take would be to allow evacuation. And yes, we would very much encourage them to. Will they do it? We have seen them – one of their prime strategies has been to use civilians as human shields, not just in hospitals but in other civilian infrastructure throughout Gaza. So we would certainly hope that they would, and if they don’t, I think it speaks to their true motivations here.
QUESTION: I have another question that’s in the region but sort of ancillary to everything that’s going on, so I can pose it or you can come back to me.
MR MILLER: We’ll come back.
QUESTION: Thank you. On the hostages, I know you don’t want to talk about details, but some of the information that was leaked out that basically they will release 80 women and children in return for women and Palestinian children who are in the Israeli jails. Can you take this question if you don’t know the answer, please? No, can you please tell us if Israel – if you are aware of Israel holding Palestinian children in jail? Just take the question and you can verify it.
MR MILLER: So I am just not going to speak to hostage negotiations. With respect to that factual question, that’s a question for the Government of Israel. But as it relates to hostage negotiations, I’m not going to speak to that at all.
QUESTION: Okay. The Israeli foreign minister said that the secretary-general, Mr. Antonio Guterres, is not qualified to lead the UN or the world. Do you agree with him? And how do you differentiate between somebody who is obviously being critical of Israel and people who going to be labeled as antisemitic? How can we have this debate where there is legitimate criticism of Israel and not be put in the category that people are antisemitic?
MR MILLER: So with respect to the first one, I will let the foreign minister speak to his own comments, but I’ll say we support the work that the UN has done to get humanitarian relief into Israel. We’ll continue to work with the UN and its various agencies to try to get relief into Israel, and that includes with, of course, the secretary-general.
And with respect to the first question, of course legitimate criticism of Israel is appropriate, just as criticism of any government is appropriate. We welcome criticism of our government. I won’t speak for other governments; obviously, many governments don’t welcome such criticism around the world. But that’s a different matter than antisemitism, which we very much abhor and condemn.
QUESTION: And finally, there’s a lawsuit – I don’t know if you’re aware of it – against the Secretary of State, the President, and the Defense Secretary in New York. It was filed yesterday in a federal court, and they’re saying basically that they failed to prevent and aid in genocide in Gaza. Are you aware of this – of this —
MR MILLER: I’ve seen the – I’ve seen the litigation but we don’t – I won’t comment on litigation. I’ll refer that to the Justice Department for comment.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: The House looks set to vote on a budget today without any aid for Israel or Ukraine. How concerned are you about that, and when does this become critical?
MR MILLER: So we are at a critical point with respect to aid to Ukraine. The Pentagon has said publicly that they have exhausted somewhere around 95 percent of their funds to provide security assistance to Ukraine – security assistance that’s very important. We think it’s urgent that the House pass the supplemental requests that we made not just to fund security assistance to Ukraine, not just to fund security assistance to Israel, but also to fund the humanitarian assistance that we have requested for the people of Gaza, which we think is critically important both for their safety and well-being and for Israel’s long-term security interests.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Assistant Secretary Barbara Leaf is headed back to the region. Any particular message she is carrying on behalf of the Secretary?
MR MILLER: I think you’ll see her continue the work that the Secretary launched in his two trips to the region, trying to achieve many of the same objectives: one, to ensure that Israel is able to defend itself against terrorism while respecting humanitarian law, that we are trying to secure the release of hostages, that we are trying to secure the delivery of humanitarian assistance into Rafah and facilitate the departure of American citizens from Rafah. There are now over 600 American citizens and lawful permanent residents and their family members who have departed Gaza through Rafah gate. There are somewhere – there are a little under a thousand that we know of that are left now we hope – whose departure we hope to facilitate over the coming days should they wish to depart. And of course, you – we’ll continue to work to try to prevent the conflict from spreading, which has been one of our top objectives from the outset.
QUESTION: Thank you. And back to Iran, I want to bring up, too, a quote from the Secretary this morning. He said in a statement that, “Iran’s support, primarily through [IRGC], enables Hamas and PIJ’s terrorist activities, including through the transfer of funds … and operational training.” I assume you still stand by this statement. And if that’s —
MR MILLER: Absolutely, and I think you’re referring to a statement he made imposing sanctions on Hamas to prevent it from accessing the financial system, which is the exact kind of sanctions we have imposed on Iran over 400 times in this administration to prevent them from conducting these destabilizing activities.
QUESTION: But the argument is aren’t we deluding ourselves when expecting that a regime – a terrorist regime, I should say – of that nature then gets its hands on 10 additional billion dollars will act differently?
MR MILLER: So I think you are mistaking – you are misstating several facts. They get their hands on zero additional dollars as a result of these waivers. Again, none of these funds are sent to Iran. They are held in third-party accounts outside Iran, and can be used only for not – for humanitarian and other non-sanctionable purposes for the benefits of the Iranian people.
QUESTION: But there is no concern whatsoever on your end that Iran might get emboldened by this action?
MR MILLER: You think Iran is going to get more emboldened than it is already because of this action?
QUESTION: Well, do you think —
MR MILLER: These are sanctions that have been going – these are waivers that have been issued going back to 2018. We have seen Iran continue its destabilizing activities throughout that time, just as they did before the Trump administration issued the first of these waivers in 2018, which is why we have held them accountable through strikes against their proxy militias in the region and through the sanctions I just referred to, as well as a number of other measures.
QUESTION: Okay. Please come back to me on Russia later.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) thing again (inaudible).
MR MILLER: I think you’re about to. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, no, I’m not going to, but I just – I just do not understand why you – why it is that you’re so single-mindedly refusing to understand at least the argument that —
MR MILLER: I —
QUESTION: — this money – this money is going to be able to be used by Iran, and that when they do use it and they use $1 million to buy medicine from – of this money, that that frees up another million dollars that they would have spent – they would have had to spend on this – without the sanctions waiver.
MR MILLER: I – I —
QUESTION: And they can use that – they can use it to do whatever they want with it.
MR MILLER: So I understand the argument. I don’t agree with it, and here’s why. If they were sitting on that $1 million, they would use it for their destabilizing activities, to fund terrorism, and deny medicine to their people. That’s the point I’m making. And so to approve $1 million of, say, medical transactions to the benefit of the Iranian people, we believe those are benefits to the Iranian people that they would not have otherwise gotten.
QUESTION: So it’s just a lost cause, then? You’re just saying that they’re going to – they’re going to fund destabilizing activities regardless of whether you give them the waiver or not?
MR MILLER: I think that – I think they are going – they have shown that they are going to conduct destabilizing activities. They were doing it before 2018 when the Trump administration gave them their first waiver.
QUESTION: Exactly. That’s the entire point.
MR MILLER: Which is why – but which is why we have an entire set of policies to hold them accountable for their destabilizing activities. And part of our policy has always been not to penalize the Iranian people. There is no country in the world where we deny access to food and medicine and where our sanctions target food and medicine and other humanitarian goods to the people. That’s true with respect to Russia. It’s true with respect to Iran. It’s true with respect to every country in the world, and it always has been. That is the policy of the United States.
QUESTION: Matt, on this, what about the timing – the waiver’s timing? And second, did Iran help in preventing Hizballah from launching a full war against Israel? And third, did Iran receive the $6 billion that South Korea transferred to it through Qatar?
MR MILLER: So three things. Again, on the timing, a waiver hasn’t been issued at this point. I’ll be happy to talk more about a waiver if and when it has been issued. But the timing is that the waiver, the previous waiver, expires today. So that’s the – with respect to timing.
With respect to Hizballah, I will just – I won’t speak for what actions Iran has taken. I will speak for the United States, and we have sent very loud and clear messages that we think that any party hostile to Israel should not enter this conflict. We have sent public messages to that effect. You’ve seen the President speak to it. And we have sent private messages to that effect, and we hope that they will be received. And if they’re not, we will be prepared to take action.
And with respect to the third question, it’s my understanding that none of that money has yet to be spent.
QUESTION: And did you ask Iran to ask Hizballah not to launch a war, a full war, on Israel?
MR MILLER: I’m just not going to talk about messages other than to say that we have made very clear publicly and through private channels that no party should escalate this conflict.
Simon, go ahead.
QUESTION: A different subject, if it’s all right.
MR MILLER: No. No, no. We need to do more. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Can we talk – just get an update on the Russian-American journalist for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Alsu Kurmasheva? Her husband is calling for her to be designated as wrongfully detained. Can we expect such a designation? In the case of Evan Gershkovich, also detained in Russia, it happened within, I think, 10 or 11 days. What’s the holdup of getting a determination in this case?
MR MILLER: So I don’t have any update. We continue to request consular access for her, and it has not yet been granted. And I would just say with respect to wrongful detainees, every circumstance is different. We look at each of these and try to make a determination as quickly as we can, but we have to gather all the appropriate facts before making a determination. And I don’t think anyone should read into the amount of time it takes in one case versus the amount of time it takes in another case of what our determination is going to be or what our priority is going to be. It’s just that every circumstance is different.
QUESTION: But is it – just to confirm, there is a process underway to determine yes or no?
MR MILLER: We always – I don’t want to speak to a formal process, but we always look at these cases overseas and determine whether we should make such a – look at whether we should make such a determination or not.
QUESTION: And you haven’t had any consular access?
MR MILLER: We have not.
QUESTION: Haven’t been formally informed of her detention?
MR MILLER: As far as I’m aware. It’s possible the embassy’s had something today that I’m not aware of, but as far as I’m aware, we have not, no.
QUESTION: In a similar vein, is the department offering any guidance on the situation of Elizabeth Tsurkov, the Princeton researcher? A video of her surfaced yesterday. Has the U.S. authenticated that video in any way?
MR MILLER: So we’ve seen the video. I don’t think we have any way to authenticate it, but we strongly condemn her abduction, as we have before. We know she was conducting research in Baghdad at the time of her abduction. She is affiliated with a higher education institution in the United States. And I would just say, as is always the case when you have hostage videos or videos of people that are – have been abducted, you should not take the claims made in those videos at face value, and you have to consider the source of those videos and understand that their captors may have ulterior motives, to say the least.
All right, go ahead.
QUESTION: So a big part of this war is misinformation, which is spreading widely across social media. Yesterday, the IDF posted – the IDF spokesman posted a video in the basement of Rantisi Children’s Hospital pointing to a random calendar, and he said that this is evidence of hostage keepers and terrorists’ names. And it was debunked and showed that it was like a regular calendar. More of these are being spread, like a nurse being said that she was in the hospital and it was later debunked to be like an Israeli actress.
Does this administration examine misinformation widely spread, especially from the Israeli part? Because we heard – we heard here on this podium repeatedly you saying that the number of killed was 1,400 when it was 1,200. Do you ask – do you ask and look into these information and evidence, or do you believe them blindly?
MR MILLER: So we look at a number of different claims. I don’t know if that information about the calendar has been debunked. I read in a prominent American newspaper today that, in fact, it showed on that calendar – used the name for October 7th that Hamas uses. I have no way to —
QUESTION: It’s in Arabic.
MR MILLER: Hold on, let me just —
QUESTION: It’s an Arabic date.
MR MILLER: Let me just finish. I have —
QUESTION: Like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.
QUESTION: It’s all —
MR MILLER: Let me – let me make my point. I have no way of either verifying or debunking that information. And it goes to the point —
QUESTION: Yeah, but now they’re —
MR MILLER: Please. I did not interrupt you when you were asking a question.
MR MILLER: There’s plenty of time for people to ask questions.
It goes to the point I was making yesterday, that in the fog of war, from thousands of miles away at the podium, I have no way to independently adjudicate the various claims that are being made. I will come back to the core principles that we state, which is that we expect Israel to – that we expect Israel to operate with respect to humanitarian law. And I do want to restate the broader point with respect to hospitals that I said earlier, which is Hamas has long – has long used hospitals as command centers. I can’t speak to every individual claim, I’m not going to speak to intelligence that we have, and I can’t adjudicate the various pieces of information from here when I’m thousands of miles away.
But I think it’s fairly well known – and if not accepted, I would hope it would be – that Hamas uses civilians as – or uses civilians as human shields. And I’m a little surprised that there are people that continue to challenge that claim despite the evidence going back years from well before October 7th that Hamas has used mosques and schools and other civilian infrastructure as – as infrastructure for its own terrorist purposes.
QUESTION: Yeah, but my question is about misinformation. Like, we heard a lot of – like recordings that you can see the accent, it’s not like a proper Arabic accent. We’ve seen the calendar —
MR MILLER: I’m just —
QUESTION: — that is, like, so easy to know that it’s dates. It’s days. It’s not anything. There’s nothing on it. This is my question.
MR MILLER: I am just not able to speak to individual claims. Of course, we monitor all this and we try to reach our own factual determinations, as we do in any conflict.
QUESTION: Okay. And on Lebanon, yesterday, a group of media journalists was the target to an Israeli airstrike on the southern borders of Lebanon. A month ago – a month ago today, like, also an Israeli airstrike killed a Reuters correspondent. So do you have any comment on that?
MR MILLER: We mourn the loss of every civilian life in this conflict, whether they be Israeli, whether they be Palestinian, Lebanese, or citizens of any other country. And I’ve spoken to this before. We know that journalists put themselves in harm’s way to bring the truth to people around the world and we commend them for that activity. It’s one of the bravest acts you can ask anyone to do. And of course, when a journalist loses their life, we are deeply sorry for that – for that having occurred.
QUESTION: And just to come back to that —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — misinformation question, you say that you can’t adjudicate every example. This is very similar to a discussion we had about civilian losses in airstrikes as well, but just to point out that the department has the Global Engagement Center that is constantly putting out material about governments around the world doing disinformation, misinformation.
MR MILLER: Sure.
QUESTION: Is that something that you would look at in – there’s some examples there. There are other —
MR MILLER: If we —
QUESTION: There are other examples that have come out of the Israeli Government that – sure, Hamas as well, but is there something that you would —
MR MILLER: If we saw examples of disinformation, of course, it’s something we would look at and call out. But you do have to remember the fog of war, and that in the fog of war, everyone makes mistakes. I’m not saying that’s what happened here. As I said, I have no way to independently determine myself, but there is a difference between governments or individuals that make mistakes or that make claims that they then later have to update when new facts become available and intentional, deliberate misinformation over a sustained period of time.
QUESTION: I guess people might say you have these parts of the department that call out governments for misinformation, but it tends to be governments that you are – that are your adversaries, right? So I guess you could show some willingness to make those same judgments when it comes to your friends like Israel.
MR MILLER: So if we saw a sustained, deliberate misinformation campaign by Israel or any other government, of course, we would call it out. I will say it tends to be not democracies with whom we are allies and partners that conduct misinformation campaigns, but authoritarian regimes, so I think it’s natural that you will see us calling it out more in those circumstances – authoritarian regimes that don’t have a free press – to challenge the information being put out by the government. But if we see any kind of deliberate misinformation campaign, of course, we would call it out with – if it had – no matter who it was.
Okay. Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks very much. I have two questions. Yesterday, I asked you about a Russian delegation – a particular Russian deputy prime minister who will be present at the summit – at the leaders’ summit in San Francisco. Turns out it is Aleksey Overchuk, who got sanctioned by the EU last December for Russia’s brutal actions in Ukraine.
Do you have any issue with the fact that a EU-sanctioned Russian official will be in the same room with the President and —
MR MILLER: So I will let the EU speak to their sanctions. I will say that as the host of APEC, we have a responsibility – we – or I will say we take our host obligation responsibility – and that includes hosting officials from all the members of APEC, but we do it consistent with U.S. sanctions policy and rules and regulations.
QUESTION: But you don’t consider this as a violation of EU sanctions, the invite?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to get into technical sanctions questions. I will say we have an obligation as the host. There are a lot – we go – we attend – one of the things about diplomacy is you attend a lot of meetings with people whose policies you object to, and sometimes you object to things that they’ve done, but we have a responsibility to conduct diplomacy on behalf of the United States.
QUESTION: Thank you, and my second question on Karabakh. Ahead of tomorrow’s congressional hearing, I’m just wondering if you have any preview of what you guys are going to say in terms of the future of Nagorno-Karabakh. You have Azerbaijan on one hand celebrating the victory surrounded – in a town surrounded by Russian army. You have Armenia is being bullied by Russia every single day saying that won’t go anywhere, I’m not going to go anywhere.
So is there any happy ending there, in your opinion?
MR MILLER: I will just say what I’ve said before. I don’t want to speak to the meeting that’s going to happen tomorrow, but I’ll say that we continue to believe that people who have left Nagorno-Karabakh have the right to come home if they wish to do so, and that’s a right that should be upheld.
Let me go – go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Matt, I asked Vedant the other day when you were in Asia, then I asked the European desk, and I want to ask you too: Do you consider the occupation of Cyprus by your allies the Turks an occupation or something else? I’m sure you know the answer they gave me. They said to me: We believe the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected and protected. But they don’t say if there is – if the occupation of Cyprus is an occupation. What is your position?
MR MILLER: So we believe that – we support Cypriot-led, UN-facilitated efforts to reunify the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with political equality to benefit all Cypriots, as outlined in relevant UN Security Council resolutions. That has been the longstanding policy of the United States going back years.
QUESTION: But – but there is an occupation, you know that?
MR MILLER: Again, this is an issue we think that needs to be resolved through UN-facilitated efforts to reunify the island.
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MR MILLER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. I have two questions. 2+2 ministerial meeting in India. After that, Vinay Kwatra, Indian foreign ministry official, restated of stable Bangladesh for the Indian subcontinent and raised concern over rising extremism with third-country intervention. What will be really danger for India – yeah, as well as for U.S.A.? Will you differ from such Indian stance on Bangladesh?
MR MILLER: I just don’t have any comment on that.
QUESTION: And I have – the second one. While U.S. envoy repeatedly calling for dialogue between parties, ignoring the street violence between BNP-Jamaat-led blockade, can the U.S. guarantee the end of such – yeah, violence by BNP-Jamaat given past record of such violence by same group in Bangladesh?
QUESTION: Thank you so much.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, I have a follow-up —
MR MILLER: No, no, no, no – go – behind you.
QUESTION: Thank you. The Biden administration has been very clear about their China strategy and the hope to stabilize relations and reopen regular lines of communication in the near term. Can you speak more to what the goal and hope of this administration is for the U.S.-China relationship in the longer term?
MR MILLER: So we have – you’re right, we have – the short-term project, which we started in June, really, when Secretary Blinken traveled to Beijing, was to re-establish the ability to have conversations, but that was not a goal in itself. It was a goal so we could, number one, manage big geostrategic issues and make sure that, when conflicts do arise, that we can talk to each other and make sure that we are both – both avoid miscalculation. But it’s – also was to make tangible progress on bilateral issues between the two countries.
You saw the Secretary when he was in Beijing – and then with his meetings with Wang Yi in Jakarta and his meetings with Wang Yi here just afterwards – press on several tangible issues. Making progress on fentanyl is one, to stop the export of precursor chemicals from China that are turned into fentanyl and have killed millions and millions of Americans. Re-establishing military-to-military ties is another. The Secretary has pressed very hard for both of those. And it is that exact type of bilateral issue that we are looking to make progress on, as well as an ability to work together to reduce tensions on larger strategic global issues.
Go ahead. No – behind – go ahead. Yeah.
MR MILLER: No. Behind you.
QUESTION: I have question on Russia – two questions. First, if there are any contacts planned between the U.S. delegation to APEC and the Russian delegation.
And another question: One – the recent interview by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, who said that while Russia doesn’t intend to push relations between Washington and Moscow into a peace, it doesn’t rule out that Washington can either lower diplomatic level or break the relations. Your comment?
MR MILLER: I don’t understand. What do you mean lower the – what do you mean lower the diplomatic level or —
QUESTION: Maybe pull out ambassador or —
MR MILLER: Oh. I don’t want to speak – I don’t want to speak to that. I will say with respect to the first question, there are no – I am not aware of any meetings scheduled between us and the Russian Government at APEC.
QUESTION: Thank you. Speaking about preventing destabilizing activities, 45 members of Congress have sent a letter to Secretary Blinken asking him to put pressure to Türkiye about stopping facilitating Hamas. We know your position that you have expressed to the allies that you don’t want them to support Hamas.
My question is: Have you taken any action to ensure that a NATO member like Türkiye will not support the terrorist organization that at the very right moment is attacking a major ally like Israel?
MR MILLER: Let me say two things. Number one, we have made very clear our position that there can be no more business as usual with Hamas since October 7th. We have long designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. There are other countries that continue to conduct conversations with them and have relationships with them. And we have made clear the position of the United States, which is that there shouldn’t be such business as usual moving forward.
At the same time, we have recognized that Hamas continues to hold American citizens and citizens of Israel and citizens of Thailand and citizens of other countries as hostages. And it’s useful for countries that have relationships with Hamas now to use those relationships to try to get hostages released, just as it’s useful to use those relationships to try to get Rafah gate reopened, which we have done to get humanitarian assistance in, and to flowing – to get American citizens and others the ability to leave. But long term, our position is very clear that there can be no going back to the days before October 7th.
And – Jen, and then we’ll close out.
QUESTION: A very different topic. We were told there were migration talks between the U.S. and Cuba here this week. Is there anything you can share on that?
QUESTION: Wait, Matt, before you go —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — two widely divergent things. One, just on the whole dissent issue, the Secretary’s department-wide note sent yesterday. Was that written or sent out of concern that things are kind of spiraling out of control? Or was it simply because it was the first workday since he got back from the trip and —
MR MILLER: It was —
QUESTION: What is the concern?
MR MILLER: It was sent because it was – it’s the second of two emails. The first one was sent after his first trip to the region when he came back and updated the workforce on the work that he was doing and what our policies are and what we were trying to achieve and what he was trying to achieve through his travel through the region. And because this is such an important piece of diplomatic work to the department that touches not just one bureau in the department but multiple bureaus, he thought it was appropriate after the first trip to send an update, and thought it was appropriate after the second trip to do the same.
And of course, he did address in that email the – all the issues underlying our policy and made clear people understood what our policy is, just as he has done in meetings he’s had with a number of employees in the department.
MR MILLER: No, no, no, just —
QUESTION: So there isn’t – so there’s not a particular concern that the unity, cohesiveness of the building is being shredded?
MR MILLER: No. As I said yesterday, we think that the diversity inside the department is actually a strength, not a weakness.
QUESTION: Okay. And it’s still your understanding that there’s only one person who has resigned as a result of the – in protest over the —
MR MILLER: As far as I’m aware, the one resignation that’s been very public is the only one that I am at least aware of or that – with respect to our policy.
QUESTION: Okay. And then, on a completely different subject, today in San Francisco – and I think it might’ve already happened – the Secretary was meeting with the Japanese and the South Korean —
QUESTION: Oh, okay. Well, I’m just curious as to – I mean, is that just because they’re there? Because he just met with them.
MR MILLER: This is to conduct a trilateral. But he met —
QUESTION: He met with them last week.
MR MILLER: He met with them separately last week. This is to conduct a trilateral meeting as a follow-on to the summit that the President held at Camp David in August.
QUESTION: And are you expecting anything to come from this, or is it just kind of like a signals check?
MR MILLER: I think we’ll talk about a number of issues that are important in the relationship. We may have some announcements coming out of it. Stay tuned.
QUESTION: You may have?
MR MILLER: Yeah, just stay tuned. All right, thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:09 p.m.)
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