Department Press Briefing – November 16, 2023
1:34 p.m. EST
MR MILLER: Good afternoon.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR MILLER: Don’t have any – anything to start with, so Matt.
QUESTION: Really, you don’t?
MR MILLER: I see you writing out your questions. Do you need a minute?
QUESTION: Well, it’s such a quiet – no. It’s such a quiet news day.
MR MILLER: That’s why I wanted to defer to your questions, for you to ask about – for you to ask about all of it.
QUESTION: Not quiet – not quiet news day. I’m surprised you don’t have anything to start with, but that’s okay.
Let me begin with something about Gaza, and this is the letter that was signed today by the heads of a number of UN agencies, as well as NGOs, and that opposes the creation of a safe zone or safe zones in southern Gaza and also calls for an immediate ceasefire. I suppose none of that is particularly surprising, but I wanted to ask you about – there are – the fact that there are at least three American citizens, three Americans, who are signatories to this who are heads of UN agencies; who this administration nominated, supported, and lobbied for to win their positions who signed this. And so the first thing on that is —
MR MILLER: So – go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, the first thing on this is they’re no longer —
MR MILLER: I was going to say I don’t think it calls for —
QUESTION: They are not employed by the U.S. Government, so —
MR MILLER: Can I say – factually – correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t think it calls for an immediate ceasefire. Correct —
QUESTION: It calls for a ceasefire. I’ll go back and look at it.
MR MILLER: Happy to be proven wrong if – I read the letter quickly this morning, but I don’t think it calls for an immediate ceasefire. But anyway, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, anyway.
MR MILLER: I may have that detail wrong.
QUESTION: I might have it wrong as well, and I’m sorry if I do. But at any rate, the content of the letter is not in alignment with what the administration’s policy is right now. Obviously, these three people that I’m focusing on are not employed – or employees of the U.S. Government and so they don’t take – necessarily take their direction from the administration. So one, they didn’t clear or let you know in advance that they were going to sign this?
MR MILLER: So I am not aware whether we had conversations with them in advance of this letter. I would say we of course supported all those nominees, as you point out, and support their ability and right and authority to make their independent judgments about what is the best policy.
I will say one thing about what the letter calls for with respect to safe zones. I think the letter points out that they are opposed to safe zones in which there is not agreement from all the parties not to attack those safe zones. I think the point they’re making is if you direct people to go to safe areas, they have to be sure that those areas actually will be safe and not just targets on – for the civilians who have been moved there.
QUESTION: You’re saying targets from – by Israel —
MR MILLER: Targets, the civilians won’t be targets.
QUESTION: I mean, these are Israeli-proposed safe – this is an Israeli-proposed safe area.
MR MILLER: What we will – what we are working on with the Israelis – and we have had conversations about them – about this in the last 24 hours – is about what is the best way to implement protection for civilians in southern Gaza, and we continue to work through those details. I don’t have any announcements to make about where we might land, but it’s a conversation that’s ongoing with the Israeli Government right now.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just more broadly, because we’re all aware of the foment inside the administration and inside Washington and inside the country about what the policy is, but these are three prominent people, including two of which – Cathy Russell and Amy Pope – had senior positions at the White House. Cathy Russell is still, as far as I understand, extremely close to both the President and the First Lady. And then Cindy McCain, who – everyone knows who she is. Is it problematic for you guys at all that you have these three people who are the heads of important UN agencies who are disagreeing with the administration’s policy?
MR MILLER: Again, I don’t necessarily agree that they are disagreeing with our policy. We want to see that whatever protections exist for civilians in southern Gaza, that they are areas that are protected from attacks from Israel, from Hamas, from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, from anyone else operating there. So we would agree with that notion, and it’s something we’re working with the Israeli Government to try to implement and figure out the details of now.
QUESTION: So the administration does not support the creation of a safe zone?
MR MILLER: We —
QUESTION: I thought that was one of the – I thought that was one of the main things that the Secretary was doing.
MR MILLER: No, I – no, we want to – we do want to establish areas that are safe for civilians in southern Gaza, but working out the details of that when you have an armed conflict going on is complicated, as it always is in the middle of armed conflict.
QUESTION: Okay. So you’re not particularly concerned about —
MR MILLER: No, not at all.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: On – related but not totally, of course, there’s the operations in al-Shifa Hospital. There are also operations surrounding another hospital, which I think the name was Ahli Arab. There’s been strikes on the Jordanian military hospital in Gaza, all hospitals. Is it still your understanding that there would be Hamas commands in all those hospitals? And more generally, is – again, I repeat, is it a legitimate thing to hit or strike or attack or what have you a hospital?
MR MILLER: So let me say a few things about that. First, just as a matter, we never said that there were command posts in all of the hospitals. We said that it is our assessment that there are command posts in hospitals. We did make a specific assessment as it related to al-Shifa, but we did not say that there are command posts in every hospital in Gaza. But there are command posts in hospitals there and there are tunnels underneath hospitals there.
Let me speak first of all to the Jordanian medical personnel that were injured outside a field hospital in Gaza. We are deeply concerned that they were injured. The Jordanian Government has done incredible work establishing this field hospital and other medical facilities in Gaza. We think they’re essential and it must be protected. That work must be allowed to continue, and we reiterate the obligations under international humanitarian law for all parties to take feasible precautions to reduce the risk of harm to civilians and we urge all possible steps to mitigate civilian harm.
As it relates to hospitals, as we said before, we don’t want to see hospitals struck from the air. We understand that Hamas does continue to use hospitals as places where they embed their fighters. It’s places where they have tunnels running underneath. And so it can be appropriate for Israel to conduct limited military operations with respect to hospitals, but we want to see them do it in a way that minimizes civilian casualties. We do not want to see hospitals in the middle of firefights. We do not want to see patients put at risk. It’s why we’ve called for the evacuation of hospitals when appropriate and said we would support international humanitarian organizations evacuating patients so they could be put out of harm’s way.
This is – I think as I’ve said before, this is such a difficult issue because two things can be true at one time. One, we want to see hospitals protected. Two, Hamas is operating outside of hospitals and Israel has a right to try to attack Hamas and hold them accountable and keep them from launching new attacks. So how do you square those two things? The way we try to square it is to say, number one, no airstrikes on hospitals, and number two, if Israel is going to conduct limited military operations in hospital, as they’re doing – at hospitals, as they’re doing with respect to al-Shifa now, that they try to do it in a way that minimizes civilian harm and so they only are putting in jeopardy Hamas fighters and not civilians.
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR MILLER: Said, I – Said, as is true every day, I will – you know I always come to you, so —
MR MILLER: — go ahead.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on that one specifically —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — so you’re saying no airstrikes on hospitals. Well, there apparently was one on the military Jordanian hospital in Gaza. So do you – and you say you’re deeply concerned. You don’t want to see hospitals struck from the air – but you’re – do you condemn that strike?
MR MILLER: I’m going to say we are concerned about those reports, we are concerned that hospital was hit, and we do not want to see airstrikes against hospitals. We want to see hospitals protected.
QUESTION: So you don’t condemn, yeah.
QUESTION: Will the U.S. support establishing safe zones —
MR MILLER: Said, I will – you know I’ll come to you.
QUESTION: — in northern Gaza for —
MR MILLER: I know. You can follow – and when I come to you, you can follow up on that and whatever else. You’ll get as many as you need.
QUESTION: Would the U.S. support establishing safe zones in northern Gaza for things like field hospitals? I mean, you can’t evacuate these people and put them where they aren’t going to be safe. So if you’re calling for patients to be evacuated, field hospitals would de facto be the best option, but if they’re not safe either, I mean, how is the U.S. approaching this?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to specific – try to prescribe specific proposals from the podium when this is an ongoing conversation we are having with the Government of Israel and with international humanitarian organizations, who themselves are trying to figure out the best way to implement this in what is an active conflict zone. I will just reiterate the general principles, which is we do want to see places established that civilians can be safe, we want to see places established where patients can be safe and patients are protected, and that’s what we’re in conversation every day with the Government of Israel about and with the international humanitarian organizations.
And I will just repeat, as I said the other day, remember that it is Hamas that is putting all of these people in harm’s way. It is Hamas that continues to operate inside hospitals as they have done inside mosques and schools and other civilian infrastructure. It is Hamas that is at the root of all this problem, that is creating such a difficult challenge for the international community and for the Israeli military.
So I don’t have any illusions that Hamas is going to change its practices, so that puts an added burden on Israel to conduct their operations in compliance with international humanitarian law, and we expect them to meet those obligations and we have conversations where we make that clear with them all the time.
QUESTION: But would you support safe zones established in northern Gaza because you’re – to this point, you’ve only mentioned southern Gaza, so —
MR MILLER: Again, I’m not going to get ahead of the conversations that we’re having with international humanitarian organizations about what the best way is to protect civilians from harm. It is an ongoing conversation and I don’t think I should try to prescribe where those conversations will land from here.
QUESTION: And you said you’re pressing Israel to conduct their operations within the confines of international humanitarian law. Have they done that to this point? Does the U.S. assess they’ve done that?
MR MILLER: Again, we have not made any assessment that they have violated international humanitarian law, but we constantly are monitoring facts as they develop.
MR MILLER: Simon, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, just on that particular issue, the President yesterday did talk about indiscriminate bombing, said “this is a different story than [what] I believe was occurring before, an indiscriminate bombing.” He’s kind of talking about how the U.S. has been able to influence the way that the Israelis are conducting this campaign. So does that mean there was an assessment at some point that it was indiscriminate?
MR MILLER: So as always, I will let the White House speak to the President’s specific comments, but I think the point that he was making is that when you look at the way they have conducted their military operation around al-Shifa, it has been a targeted operation to move slowly into the hospital. They’re moving one building at a time. They have not – it’s an operation that is yet ongoing. My understanding is they have not completed operations against every building in the hospital as of yet. It’s something that’s ongoing. And he was contrasting that with the airstrikes that Israel has conducted that, even when targeted, can produce significant collateral damage and loss of civilian life.
QUESTION: So indiscriminate is not this building’s assessment?
MR MILLER: It’s not an assessment that we’ve made, and again, what I think the President was referring to was contrasting ground operations with airstrikes, which, even when targeted, can produce significant civilian casualties, as we have unfortunately seen, and lead to loss of thousands and thousands of Palestinian lives.
QUESTION: And just back to al-Shifa specifically, you had talked earlier in the week about a plan to evacuate patients. Obviously, the operation – the Israelis are now in the hospital and there hasn’t been an evacuation. So did – was that something that you were trying to hold the Israelis back from going in there so that you could get people out? And can you, I guess – what went – what happened? What went wrong?
MR MILLER: We have not tried to dictate the tempo of military operations to Israel. We’re not in any position to do that from thousands of miles away. They have to make their own decisions about how to best conduct a military campaign. We were trying – we were liaison – liaising with humanitarian organizations about conducting evacuations. There have been evacuations that have been conducted from al-Shifa and from other hospitals in the north. There weren’t any that I was aware of this week and the last few days as this military operation took place. I’m not really in a position to comment about what’s going on on the ground right now. We don’t have eyes and ears there. But no, there wasn’t any significant evacuation that took place beforehand.
QUESTION: And just finally on the – you mentioned the hope that there can be these safer areas in the south of Gaza. The Israelis have started dropping leaflets on certain places around Khan Yunis. Are you concerned that basically the area that could be in some sense safe for civilians in Gaza is just shrinking and it is basically going to be nonexistent?
MR MILLER: I will say we are in active conversations with the Government of Israel about ensuring that civilians can be safe from harm. We obviously saw the step that they took with respect to Khan Yunis. They originally told people to move from the north to the south. We have been in conversation with them to impress upon them that as they continue to look at expanded military operations or ground operations in other ways – in other parts of Gaza, they need to ensure that there are safe – that there are humanitarian corridors for civilians, there is protection for civilians, there are human pauses so civilians can get themselves out of harm’s way and that we can get humanitarian assistance into them, and that there are ultimately places that they can be safe from harm. That is an active, ongoing conversation between our government and the Government of Israel.
Let me go to Said because I did promise, Said, I would come to you.
QUESTION: Thank you. I mean, you seem and the administration, the President himself, seem to be certain that the Shifa was a headquarter for Hamas, although no evidence has been shown. You’ve talked about tunnels. The Israelis have not been able to show any tunnels, but I don’t want to get into that. So there has been absolutely not even a shred of evidence.
MR MILLER: I —
QUESTION: They showed – they showed a backpack with one rifle.
MR MILLER: I saw a – I saw a host of rifles in videos.
QUESTION: Okay. Maybe they have – maybe they have police protecting the hospital. That’s not the point.
MR MILLER: I saw – I saw a host of assault rifles.
QUESTION: Okay, fine.
MR MILLER: I’m not aware that there’s a sort of acceptable threshold level for assault rifles held in hospitals. That’s not general humanitarian practice.
QUESTION: Very well. I think there are police guards in most hospitals around the world. But let me go on with the – with what the director of the hospital said today, Hamad Abu Salamiya. He was speaking to Al Jazeera. I put the things in English. He said there are about – by the way, do you consider the hospital to be militarily occupied by Israel? Is it an occupied territory?
MR MILLER: I don’t have an assessment of that because I think there’s an ongoing –
QUESTION: Okay. And —
MR MILLER: Hold up, Said. Let me – let’s – I have – let’s just try to establish a ground rule, and then we’ll continue.
MR MILLER: I will let you – I am not going to interrupt your questions. Don’t interrupt my answers.
MR MILLER: So to answer that question, there is an ongoing military operation, as I understand it, right now. I obviously cannot offer an assessment to the exact facts on the ground from here. We don’t have eyes and ears on the ground there.
QUESTION: All right. There are – according to the director of the hospital, there is 7,000 people at al-Shifa right now. They are under total siege. There are – they destroyed something like 45 dialysis machines. There are 36 premature babies that probably are dead by now. But there’s no food. There’s nothing.
So should the Israeli army that is currently roaming, as you’ve suggested, roaming all buildings and all rooms and all corridors of the hospital, should they be responsible for the goodwill of these people that are in the hospital?
MR MILLER: So as I said, we expect Israel to comply with international humanitarian law. And to the extent they are taking territory in Gaza, of course, we would expect them to ensure that patients are treated humanely, that patients have access to food, to water, to medical care. We absolutely would agree with that proposition.
QUESTION: But to the best of your judgement, have they been doing that?
MR MILLER: I don’t – again, I cannot – I just – I cannot speak to facts about what is a very actively evolving situation on the ground.
QUESTION: All right. They – the Israelis just destroyed this morning the last working flour mill in Gaza. That’s where they actually – the only place where sunflowers are. Is that suspected to be a Hamas headquarter?
MR MILLER: I, again, cannot speak to an individual strike where I don’t have all the facts at my disposal.
QUESTION: All right. And I have just two more questions. One, I think just to follow up on what Matt and others and so on have been saying, I mean, the American public is really opposed. I mean, they are for a ceasefire. They want a ceasefire. This is the first time that a ceasefire has become such a dirty word. So why not go along with the sentiment of the public? That would be quite democratic, wouldn’t it?
MR MILLER: So first of all, I’ve seen a number of polls about this very question, but it actually doesn’t matter. We don’t make our decisions based on polls. We make our decisions based on what we believe are the best foreign policy judgments on behalf of the American people and their national security interests. And the President and the Secretary have come to the judgment that a ceasefire at this time would only benefit Hamas, but we have been very clear that we believe there should be expanded humanitarian pauses to protect civilians, that there should be ways for civilians to get out of harm’s way, and that we should do everything we can to get humanitarian assistance in for civilians in Gaza.
The Secretary has spoken very clearly that in his judgement far too many Palestinian civilians have been killed as a result of this conflict, far too many children have been killed as a result of this conflict. There’s a tragedy that has been inflicted upon the people of Gaza that is not of their own making. It’s because Hamas launched a terrorist attack on October 7th. Israel has a right to conduct military operations to hold those terrorists accountable. We want them to do it in a way that minimizes civilian harm, and we want to do everything we can to get humanitarian assistance in to civilians. And that is the work that we are doing every day to try to effectuate.
QUESTION: And lastly, by the way, history did not begin on October 7th, but let’s not get into that. Do you have anything to say about a more mundane issue like the visa waiver?
MR MILLER: So with respect to the Visa Waiver Program – so we are aware of reports that there are American citizens in the West Bank who are unable to transit through Israel as they are allowed to do under the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program. We have expressed concerns about that to the Government of Israel. I won’t get into the full details of our private diplomatic conversations, but we expect Israel to address those concerns. We expect them to be in full compliance with the Visa Waiver Program, and there are remedial measures that we – that are available to us if they are not.
QUESTION: Okay. Let’s just – on that, like they can be suspended?
MR MILLER: There are a full range of remedial measures that can be taken before ultimate suspension. That is, of course, for any country in the Visa Waiver Program the ultimate action that we can take. There are measures you can take to try to bring a country back in compliance.
QUESTION: Like what?
MR MILLER: I can’t get into specifics from here. There are a range —
QUESTION: Can you turn assistance —
MR MILLER: Hold on. There are a range of measures. We can go into it in detail off – but – offline. But go ahead.
QUESTION: All right. And then – okay. But I mean – well, we can talk about this later. But literally, I mean, after October 7th it was going to be literally impossible for Israel to continue to meet the criteria for this. Is what you’re saying now – that you have told when you are expressing your concerns to the Israelis, are you telling them that, hey, you’re no longer in compliance with what you agreed to and fix it or something is going to happen?
MR MILLER: I am not going to get into the exact conversation that we have had, but we have expressed our concerns that American citizens in Israel – or in the West Bank traveling through – that want to travel through Israel cannot do so, cannot fully exercise their rights under the program. We expect them to be able to do so.
QUESTION: Are Israeli passport holders aware of the fact that the actions of their government may be – may eliminate them from the program so that they would have to go back and get visas?
MR MILLER: I don’t know if they were before. They probably are now.
QUESTION: All right. And then just the other thing is that, yeah, you said the letter that I mentioned earlier didn’t talk about a ceasefire?
MR MILLER: Was I wrong about that?
MR MILLER: Yeah, okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: “We also renew our call for a humanitarian ceasefire to ease the suffering and to help facilitate humanitarian operations and the release of all hostages.”
MR MILLER: So —
QUESTION: You don’t agree with that? You think that that’s not —
MR MILLER: So that —
QUESTION: That’s – I’m quoting from the letter.
MR MILLER: So you’re right, they called it a ceasefire. We are for a humanitarian pause to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance and —
QUESTION: But how can you say then that —
MR MILLER: And ensure the release of all hostages. So you were right —
QUESTION: They didn’t say humanitarian pause like you got in the G7 statement.
MR MILLER: Correct. We would —
QUESTION: They said humanitarian ceasefire, which is —
MR MILLER: We would – we disagree with a call for a ceasefire.
QUESTION: Okay. And so you don’t —
MR MILLER: Absolutely.
QUESTION: And so you —
MR MILLER: But the —
QUESTION: And that is still not a problem that you have three, two of whom were former senior White House officials and one of whom is well known and not just because of who her husband was but for her own work in her own right —
MR MILLER: As I said —
QUESTION: — publicly disagreeing with the administration. And this isn’t like some 23-year-old kid who’s got a – who’s working upstairs on the fourth floor or something like that. This is – these are serious people.
MR MILLER: As I said, we expect them to exercise their independent judgment, fully support their ability to do so with —
QUESTION: But you don’t care what they have to say?
MR MILLER: — with respect to a ceasefire. Oftentimes when ceasefire gets thrown around, it’s the idea of a ceasefire that will lead to a full cessation of hostilities. A humanitarian pause – I understand it’s called a ceasefire —
QUESTION: Are you suggesting that they don’t really know what they’re talking about.
MR MILLER: No, there may – I don’t want to get in the full details, but a short pause that would achieve the goals that they outlined is something that we would – we would support, of course.
QUESTION: Well —
MR MILLER: Go ahead, Olivia.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Just to clarify on these conversations that are ongoing about potential evacuations of hospitals, I just want to confirm that you do have interested humanitarian organizations, third parties that would be willing to effectuate evacuations?
MR MILLER: There are third parties who have expressed an interest to do so, and we have not for a variety of reasons on the ground – you remember there are both Israel and Hamas who are parties to the conflict here – it’s been impossible to ensure that they could move safely to conduct these evacuations.
QUESTION: Right. So can you – can you offer any clarity? I mean, is it Hamas? Is it Israel? I mean, two days – you first mentioned these conversations were ongoing two days ago. Two days is a long time for critically ill patients or premature babies, all of the patients who are caught in this conflict.
MR MILLER: So Israel has said publicly that they would welcome evacuation of patients. The problem has been Hamas.
QUESTION: Can I ask you about – to provide an update on the number of Americans who have been able to leave Gaza, how many are – have been able to leave, how many are left? And then if you could separately address how much aid has gotten in.
MR MILLER: So we have nearly 700 American citizens, legal permanent residents, and family members who have gotten out of Gaza through Rafah gate. There are a little under 900 who are left. Of that number, around 300 of them or so are American citizens, and the others are legal permanent residents and their family members. We’re trying to get more out all the time and remain in contact with the American citizens and family members that are left.
In terms of the amount of aid that has gotten in, so a couple things I want to say about that. Number one, yesterday for the first time fuel moved in to Gaza through Rafah gate to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Gaza. So you have to remember there’s two issues, right? One – I know you know this, but for everyone – you have to get the trucks moving in through Rafah to the Gaza side of the border. Once there, they unload into warehouses and then you have to have humanitarian implementers that have trucks that take that and deliver the aid all around Gaza. And the implementers had run out of fuel to do that aid, and so we got fuel in yesterday to allow those delivery trucks to continue to do their work. But because – because the warehouses were full, no trucks moved in yesterday because they didn’t – they didn’t have anywhere to unload.
Fuel went in. Implementers have started emptying out the warehouses. Today, trucks have started to go back in through Gaza. As of yesterday, a total of around 1,100, a little over 1,100 trucks had gotten in. None went in yesterday, but more are going through today, and I’m sure at the end of the day we’ll have an update on how many got in.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on the —
QUESTION: Okay. Two quick follow-ups. Sorry. So of the fewer than 900 Americans and family members who are left in Gaza, have any of them been killed or wounded while waiting to get out?
MR MILLER: I don’t have confirmed reports of that at this time.
QUESTION: So there are reports. You don’t have confirmation that any of them have —
MR MILLER: We don’t have —
QUESTION: — have been somebody killed?
MR MILLER: We don’t have confirmation. Yeah.
QUESTION: And then on the question of these deliveries, I mean, early on – or earlier, I suppose, the goal was set to have at least a hundred trucks coming in a day. I mean, obviously we are falling very, very far short of that number. The Secretary earlier discussed the possibility of Kerem Shalom opening or of considering the opening of that crossing to deliver more aid. Why isn’t that a more viable route?
MR MILLER: We are continuing to – first, let me say the question is not really about the number of gates that are open to get into Israel. The question is about screening mechanisms and being able to screen the number of trucks. There’s plenty of room for Rafah to get enough trucks through to deliver humanitarian assistance. The question has been getting those trucks screened, getting a significant – an appropriate number of trucks screened and in through Rafah.
So we continue to work with the Israelis on an appropriate screening mechanism. It’s the conversations that David Satterfield has been having on the ground with them. We continue to push. We don’t have an agreement on it yet; it’s taken longer than we wanted. But it’s something we’re very focused on and trying to get accomplished.
QUESTION: On fuel, please.
MR MILLER: Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Yesterday Israel only allowed some 24,000 liters of fuel, and the UN agency UNRWA said – says it is not enough; much more is needed and it’s like – it’s the only equivalent of half a truck. And UNRWA had – Lazzarini also accused Israel of using fuel as a weapon of war. Do you agree that Israel is using fuel as a weapon of war? And can you update us on the U.S. approach to get more fuel into Gaza?
MR MILLER: So I would say we agree that more fuel needs to move into Gaza. We’ve been very clear about this publicly, we’ve been clear about it privately. We want fuel to move into Gaza – not just for the delivery of trucks, which is what the – or the delivery of humanitarian assistance, which is what the fuel that went in yesterday would support. But we also want fuel to go in to power generators for hospitals, we want it to go in to power desalination, we want it to go in to power other humanitarian purposes. So we are very supportive of the delivery of fuel. It’s something that we have actively pushed for with the Israeli Government. The Secretary had conversations with members of the Israeli Government yesterday about it. Other members of the administration have had those conversations. It’s something we are actively pushing for all the time.
QUESTION: Can I have one more, please?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The UN Security Council yesterday adopted a resolution calling for extended humanitarian pause in Gaza. The U.S. abstained from voting, citing the lack of condemnation of Hamas. But does the U.S. support the call for extended humanitarian pause in Gaza? And will you encourage Israel to abide by the UN Security Council resolution, which it has rejected?
MR MILLER: We do support expanded humanitarian pauses in Gaza. The President’s made this very clear. When Israel announced humanitarian pauses last week, the President said he wanted to see longer ones. And we do want to see longer ones, and we continue to push for longer ones. We did vote against the resolution, as you said, because it did not condemn Hamas, which we think is important – an important step for the UN Security Council to take. But we supported a number of provisions in the resolution, and we do hope there will be longer pauses.
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up on that. President Biden has been calling for the reform of the UN Security Council, and called on member states to refrain from the use of veto except in rare, extraordinary conditions. But since the start of the war in Gaza, the U.S. has used its veto power – I think it’s three times. How do you explain that in terms of consistency?
MR MILLER: We thought those were appropriate uses of the veto. We were trying to reach a compromise resolution, which ultimately the Security Council was able to do.
Tracy, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. On the truck inspections, you said the problem with the trucks getting in is the inspections.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Does that mean Israel is dragging its feet or slow-walking those inspections?
MR MILLER: It means we have had – we have had difficulty reaching an agreement on the appropriate inspection mechanism. I’ll leave it at that.
QUESTION: The – you don’t want to say what the hold – what that is?
MR MILLER: I don’t, but it’s – we’ve had a problem getting agreement on what the appropriate inspection mechanism is.
QUESTION: Okay. And on the hospital evacuations, you said the problem is Hamas. But if, as Israel claims, they’ve taken over Shifa, the – Hamas is on the run, or they’ve been killed, or driven out, how is Hamas physically an impediment to evacuations?
MR MILLER: So yeah, that’s a different question. I was referring – I’m referring to – was following up with Olivia on a comment I made the other day before Israel had gone in —
QUESTION: I see.
MR MILLER: — to al-Shifa Hospital when we were supporting evacuation of patients, and Israel said at the time that they would support evacuation of patients. They were not at – in control of parts of the hospital yet; they had the hospital surrounded, and would have to let patients come out, and said that they would. And Hamas was objecting – well, in our assessment, wanted to continue to use patients as a human shield. Different question now.
QUESTION: So now?
MR MILLER: We would continue to support; I don’t have an update on conversations about whether that’s an actual possibility. It may be that it’s overtaken by events, and you can – the hospital can get back up to running, but that’s not – I’m not able to make that assessment at all at this time.
QUESTION: Sorry, the question before Tracy’s about the UN resolution, you said that – that was in reference to the resolution to – the UN Security Council resolution that —
MR MILLER: The one that passed.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. You said you voted against it. It didn’t —
MR MILLER: Sorry, abstained. Abstained. Misspoke; abstained.
QUESTION: Yeah. You didn’t vote for it, but you didn’t —
MR MILLER: We abstained, sorry.
QUESTION: If you had voted against it, you would’ve vetoed.
MR MILLER: I – I am aware, I’m just –
QUESTION: All right.
MR MILLER: I’m allowed to misspeak sometimes.
QUESTION: Yeah, no, you are, but I just was a little bit confused, because I know that it passed.
MR MILLER: I think you know I – you’ve – yes. Yes, I’m aware.
QUESTION: So – all right.
MR MILLER: My grave – my grave apologies.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: You don’t need to gravely…
QUESTION: Thank you so much, Matt. I wonder if the – pardon me – a question on substantial military presence versus operation at the hospitals. You did mention a number of times that it’s – Hamas operates inside the hospital. And then you also said you have seen rifles. Can you just elaborate a little bit more on what else you have seen that we may have not – may not have seen?
MR MILLER: No. We’ve seen the – (laughter) – we’ve seen – we – I will elaborate on the public evidence that we’ve all seen. But in terms of any kind of intelligence that we have, no, of course not.
QUESTION: But you have seen the presence, not operational —
MR MILLER: We – we are confident enough to make the statement we made two days ago that Hamas operates tunnels under hospitals and that they operate a command node at al-Shifa Hospital, but I’m not going to get into any other detail about intelligence matters other than that.
QUESTION: I’m asking – okay. I’m asking because your boss has been – the Secretary multiple times called on Israel not to make the same mistake that they have made – that the U.S. has made after 9/11. I’m just wondering if you aren’t helping them make the same mistake by just making those statements about “operational” if we have only seen the evidence of presence, not operation.
MR MILLER: If you’re only – I lost you in that.
QUESTION: If we are only seeing the presence of Hamas —
MR MILLER: Again, I just want to reiterate what I said a minute ago, which is I – my understanding, Israel is in the middle of this operation to take al-Shifa and they have not fully taken it yet, and I think it’s a little too early to be passing definitive judgments.
MR MILLER: Okay. You want to do it now, before I come to —
QUESTION: Yes, thanks so much.
MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Azerbaijan rejected peace talks in Washington next week. Let me get a fresh reaction, then I can follow up?
MR MILLER: Look, I will say, as we’ve said before, that we continue to support peace talks to resolve the issues between Azerbaijan and Armenia. We would encourage the two parties to engage in those talks, whether they are here, whether they are someone else – whether they are somewhere else, and that’ll be – continue to be our policy.
QUESTION: As the Secretary —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) on a different topic?
MR MILLER: Yeah, I’ll come to you – I’ll come to you next, Michelle.
QUESTION: The Secretary yesterday said that they have downgraded, canceled a number of high-level meetings with Azerbaijan. When you say “high-level,” how high do you have in mind? I’m asking because his own deputy was in Azerbaijan a couple of weeks ago.
MR MILLER: Let me take that.
QUESTION: And so the continent has never received a president, vice president —
MR MILLER: Let me – let me – let me take that.
QUESTION: — which is pretty high.
MR MILLER: Let me take that one back and get back to you.
QUESTION: And just a quick follow-up. So you had a decision to not have high-level meetings, but you guys have exemption for Karabakh talks with – because you invited the foreign ministers. Is that the case with —
MR MILLER: Again, let me just take that one back, Alex.
Michelle. Michelle, go ahead.
QUESTION: I have on very important topics.
MR MILLER: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: They’ll be quick. I’m sorry.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
And the other one is on Guatemala. The Supreme Court is allowing these cases to go ahead against the president-elect. He’s calling it a slow-motion coup, and I’m wondering if you guys think it’s a legitimate case or not.
MR MILLER: Let me start with the China piece. So first of all, let me talk about the meeting yesterday and what the President was able to announce, and that is the resumption of bilateral cooperation to combat illicit drug manufacturing and trafficking, including – most significantly, from our standpoint – fentanyl; the establishment of a working group for ongoing communication and law enforcement coordination.
We saw China – or we have seen China take four important steps in this regard. Number one, they are issuing a notice to their domestic industry advising on the enforcement of laws and regulations related to the trade in precursor chemicals and pill presses, something that we think is very important. They did a similar notice in 2019 and it led to a drastic reduction in the seizure of fentanyl shipments to the United States. They have begun taking law enforcement actions against Chinese synthetic drugs and chemical precursors. As a result, there are PRC-based pharmaceutical companies that have already ceased operations, others that have had international payment accounts blocked.
At the beginning of this month, for the first time in nearly three years, the PRC started resubmitting incidents to the International Narcotics Control Board’s global database, which is used to share real-time information internationally about suspicious shipments and suspected trafficking, which is important to let global law enforcement – including U.S. law enforcement – take action against the shipment of precursor chemicals.
And then fourth, as I said, we’ve relaunched this working group so we can – our policy and technical experts can discuss law enforcement efforts and exchange information.
So we think those were incredibly important steps. And then with respect to the delisting of the PRC’s Ministry of Public Security’s Institute for Forensic Science, that is a step that we have taken. It became clear to us in conversations with the PRC dating back to the conversations that the Secretary launched in June when he traveled to Beijing that the continued listing of the IFS on the Commerce Entity List was a barrier to achieving cooperation on stopping the trafficking of precursor chemicals. It was a high – it was a top priority for the Secretary and for the President to stop the trafficking of precursor chemicals into – out of China that can be used to produce fentanyl that comes into the United States. And so when we evaluated the issue and looked at all the merits of delisting the IFS, ultimately we decided that given the steps China was willing to take to cut down on precursor – precursor trafficking, it was an appropriate step to take.
Stop there in case – let me just – in case you have any follow-ups, and then I’ll go to the —
QUESTION: That’s okay. The —
QUESTION: Guatemala would be great, yeah.
MR MILLER: Yeah. So on Guatemala, we are aware of the reports that the public ministry raided the homes of Semilla party members and others while also pursuing politically motivated arrests. We are also aware of leaked documents allegedly belonging to the public ministry indicating that their attempts – indicating their attempts to undermine the Guatemalan presidential election. We condemn these provocative attempts by the public ministry and others to interfere with the transfer of power to President-elect Arévalo. These actions show a blatant disregard for the will of the Guatemalan people as expressed on election day. And we will continue to use all available tools to promote accountability for those involved in significant corruption and those who attempt to undermine democracy or are engaged in human rights violations and abuses in Guatemala.
MR MILLER: Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: — on the sanctions you’re listing, so the sanction of this institute of forensic science was related to human rights violation, so by removing it from the Entity List, is the – is the United States saying that there is improvement of China’s human rights practice? And what is – how do you respond to human rights groups who is saying that this raise questions about U.S. commitment to human rights and – all abuse against Uyghurs and minority groups?
MR MILLER: So I think our record on the – on human rights in China is pretty clear. In fact, yesterday the President himself underscored the universal – universality of human rights and the responsibility of all nations to respect their international human rights obligations. He raised specific concerns about human rights practices in PRC with President Xi. We’ve taken a number of actions since the outset of this administration related to human rights practices in China, and we will continue to do so. I think our record is very clear.
But when you look at the decision we had to make, we ultimately decided that the listing of the IFS on this Commerce Entity List was a barrier to taking action that would save thousands and thousands of American lives. And so we have to make tough decisions in this administration, and the decision that we made was that when you looked at the potential of saving American lives by securing this cooperation with China on fentanyl, on fentanyl trafficking, it was an appropriate step to take.
Now, it’s not the end of the story. We’re going to watch how China complies with the commitments that they made to us. We’re going to continue to talk with them about other steps that we – they can take, and we will continue to hold them accountable for their human rights record.
QUESTION: Just one —
QUESTION: Right, this was an action taken by the Commerce Department, right?
MR MILLER: Correct.
QUESTION: So why are you talking about it?
MR MILLER: Commerce department doesn’t have a podium, I think. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, they have e-mail, don’t they?
MR MILLER: They do. But no —
QUESTION: They have – they put out statements and releases.
MR MILLER: I try to – I try to be responsive here at the podium. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: How much —
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you very much. I have a question about the al-Shifa Hospital. We talked about the host of weapons, but in the images that the IDF shared yesterday, we’re seeing rifles that are a number less than 10. So a couple Qurans, disks, a laptop. Did you really look at the images and say that this is a proper headquarters, or are you hoping to see more?
MR MILLER: Again, I didn’t know that there was a sort of acceptable threshold level of rifles to be held in hospitals.
QUESTION: No, I’m —
MR MILLER: I mean, I’ll just say – look, I’m from Texas. Even in Texas, we don’t keep assault rifles in hospitals. I just – it does not —
QUESTION: Is that true?
MR MILLER: It is true.
QUESTION: Do you know? Okay —
MR MILLER: It’s – I —
QUESTION: Is that true?
MR MILLER: I looked at that. That’s not – I’m surprised when I hear people saying, oh, there were only 10 rifles in this room. It’s a hospital. It’s a hospital. There shouldn’t be any assault —
MR MILLER: Hold on. There shouldn’t be any assault rifles at a hospital. The second thing I would say is Israel continues to conduct its operations to clear all of the buildings in that hospital. And number three, we stand by the assessment that we made the other day.
QUESTION: Just one thing. I’m sure you have been in the Middle East. I’ve worked in the Middle East, like – in, like, courtrooms, like – either shops, hospitals —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: There’s weapons everywhere. So what – the intelligence was that? It’s a proper terrorist organization network headquarters. So the pictures are showing like a couple Qurans, a desk, a laptop, and like seven, eight rifles.
MR MILLER: And —
QUESTION: That’s why you’re making that assessment and not that there’s a threshold?
MR MILLER: Again, it is an ongoing operation. I think people should wait till the operation is concluded to draw —
QUESTION: So you’re hoping to see more.
MR MILLER: Hold on. No, no, just let me finish – to draw their final conclusions. But again, I am just – I am given all the – look, I expect – fully expect people to stand here and challenge the things that we say as the United States Government, challenge the things that I say from this podium. I am surprised that people do not – that – I’m surprised that people have ignored the weight of public evidence over years and years of Hamas using civilian infrastructure as human shields. You can read multiple articles – forget that the United States Government. Forget what the intelligence assessments that we make. Forget what the Israeli Government says. You can read articles by multiple respected news organizations around the world whose reporters have —
QUESTION: Like who? Like who?
MR MILLER: Whose reporters – Said —
MR MILLER: I will send you —
QUESTION: I’m just saying (inaudible) —
MR MILLER: I will – I have read article – I – there is an article I read —
QUESTION: I would love to see it, and I would love to see evidence (inaudible) —
MR MILLER: Said – Said, again – can we go back to the not interrupting each other rule? Because I try to behave by that. There’s an article in The New York Times about – at the end of a previous conflict when they went through a mosque in Gaza and found headquarters of — headquarters of Hamas being based in that mosque and firing on soldiers from the mosque. There are multiple well documented reports in international news organizations going back years. So again, fully respect everyone’s right to challenge us, and we will back up the claims we make with evidence. But the idea that Hamas uses civilian infrastructure as human shields is not one, I think, that is really contested.
QUESTION: Then you will not try and —
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: But can you back up your claim in this particular instance?
MR MILLER: What’s that?
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: You just said you would back up claims with evidence.
MR MILLER: I —
QUESTION: In this particular case, you’re not going to make —
MR MILLER: We’re going to make our – again, oftentimes it’s difficult with us with intelligence matters. But like as I said, it’s an ongoing Israeli operation.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Different subject, Matt. Bangladesh Government allows the election, therefore, the parliamentary election on January 7, ignoring the protest from the opposition parties. And the U.S. calls for a political consensus. So – and obviously all political party rejected it, and the crackdown is going on. So what is your position to hold a free, fair, and credible election and make the government accountable?
MR MILLER: So we have been consistent in our message regarding the upcoming elections, and that message remains the same now that the polling day has been announced. We want what the Bangladeshi people themselves want: free and fair elections which are conducted in a peaceful manner. We do not support one political party in Bangladesh; we don’t favor one political party over the other. We urge all parties to exercise restraint, avoid violence, and work together to create the conditions for free and fair elections conducted in a peaceful manner.
QUESTION: One more. Ambassador Peter Haas continues to receive death threats from the ruling party members. From central to grassroot-level ruling party, Awami League leaders are speaking in the same tone, wanting to slaughter the ambassador. And the ambassador himself yesterday expressed his deep concern for his security and their basic personnel security. Does the secretary general taking this threat seriously, and this – the violent rhetoric?
MR MILLER: So the safety and security of our diplomats overseas is, of course, our – our top priority. We take any threats against them very seriously. Violence or threats of violence directed at our diplomatic personnel is unacceptable. We have repeatedly raised our concerns about the threatening rhetoric directed at Ambassador Haas with the Bangladeshi Government. Would remind them that they have an obligation under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations to ensure the safety and security of U.S. diplomatic missions and personnel. And we expect them to act on those obligations.
QUESTION: Yeah, just to follow up on the Hamas using Palestinians as a human shield, there are also articles like this article that I just found on Reuters, dated 2013, that Palestinian children are also tortured and used as shield by Israel. So it goes both ways.
So my question is: Do you have any information about reports by doctors in Gaza of the use of white phosphorus in Gaza and in Lebanon lately?
MR MILLER: I don’t. I don’t.
QUESTION: Thank you. Different topic. Sir, the day before yesterday, John Sopko testified at Congress. And he said clearly that the Taliban in Afghanistan are getting the U.S. aids that’s supposed to be for the Afghan people. And he said clearly that whoever have guns in Afghanistan control the aid in Afghanistan, and also he indicated clearly that it is – the way that the Taliban got access to these aids somehow support terrorism in Afghanistan. So I know you before said that there was some intervention from the Taliban in terms of the aid that the U.S. sent for Afghan people. But what John Sopko explained at Congress is way more beyond that, what you said, sir, before.
MR MILLER: So a few things. Number one, the U.S. Government has robust oversight measures in place to monitor the implementation of U.S.-funded humanitarian assistance around the world, which we provide to help save the most vulnerable of lives. In cases where the Taliban makes demands of our partners beyond routine operational costs, our partners pause or adjust their operations accordingly. We work with trusted international partners who have extensive experience working on – in the challenging environments like Afghanistan, where we have no presence. And we continually assess our activities to ensure both our assistance is reaching those for which it is intended and that our partners have appropriate mitigation measures in place to help safeguard against diversion. And if we need to take steps to change how we’re delivering our aid, we of course will always do so.
MR MILLER: We continue – it continues to be a top priority. You heard the President speak about this a little – a little bit yesterday. The Secretary has been engaged and other members of the administration at the senior most levels have been engaged in it, but it is just not a topic we find productive to talk about publicly in terms of details.
QUESTION: We’re hearing fluctuating numbers – 239, 240. Do you have a precise number?
MR MILLER: Yeah, I don’t —
QUESTION: No. All right. How confident are you right now as we speak here, as we sit here, that they’re all alive?
MR MILLER: I’m just not able to offer any assessments about the condition of the hostages. Our focus is on working to try to get them home.
QUESTION: Okay. One more, please. Catholic Relief Services has staff on the ground in Gaza helping people, and they just told us the other day that even if more humanitarian assistance comes into Gaza, it’s impossible to distribute it without a cessation of violence – in their words, a cessation of violence. What is your – what’s the State Department – do you agree with that assessment?
MR MILLER: That goes to the exact point we’ve been making, which is that there need to be expanded humanitarian pauses to allow – among other things, to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people that need it most.
MR MILLER: I thought you said that was the last one.
QUESTION: I’m sorry. I’m sorry. Okay, one more.
MR MILLER: It’s okay. Go ahead. Go ahead. Go ahead, one more.
QUESTION: I misspeak too sometimes. You like that? There we go.
MR MILLER: Ah, fair. Fair.
QUESTION: Just a simple one here. Pope Francis tweeted the other day, quote, “May we not forget Sudan, which suffers greatly.” Is the world forgetting Sudan?
MR MILLER: I hope not. We certainly haven’t forgotten about it here. You may know that we just recently launched renewed talks with respect to Sudan and continue to push for the parties there to refrain from hostilities. We’ve had diplomatic personnel on the ground engaged in those diplomatic efforts. It continues to be a tragedy that we – the – just because there’s not – there always – it’s a big world, lot of things going on at one time. Just because the focus, the international focus sometimes is lost on one country or the other, it’s a big State Department and there are a number of people still actively focused on trying to resolve the conflict in Sudan, which remains a very, very difficult situation.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go there, and then we’ll wrap up.
QUESTION: Okay, turning to APEC, during this APEC Leaders’ Week, the IPEF partner nations had a chance to meet and conduct negotiations. They were able to make major milestones on pillars two, three, and four, but did not conclude negotiations on pillar one for fair and resilient trade. Do you have a comment on the meetings and outcomes?
MR MILLER: I don’t. It’s something that we continue to work on, and we’ll have a full readout at the conclusion of APEC. And with that, we’ll wrap for the day.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:26 p.m.)
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