(ON THE RECORD UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED)
2:35 p.m. EST
MR MILLER: I had a meeting to go to, so sorry to delay you. But you’re up.
QUESTION: Well, no. You’re not delaying me. It’s just that if you’re going to keep letting Kirby in the White House take all the foreign policy questions of the day, then I’m not sure why we’re having this briefing.
MR MILLER: I’m happy to – if people don’t have questions, I’m happy to go back to my office and relax the rest of the afternoon.
QUESTION: Okay. All right.
MR MILLER: (Laughing.) But —
QUESTION: I’ll leave, then.
MR MILLER: Okay. Daphne?
QUESTION: Thank you. So on the hostage deal, saying it’s closer now than it has been, can you explain a little bit, like without getting into details because I know you can’t, why this shift in messaging, why you feel that you’re closer now than you have been?
MR MILLER: I really can’t get into details. As we’ve said publicly for some time, really since October 7th and since we found out that there were hostages, including American citizens who were taken, unfortunately, we are doing everything in our power to secure the release of those hostages and see their safe return home. But it’s just not productive to talk about the details. We have been engaged in intense negotiations over this matter. The Secretary’s been involved; the President has been involved; other members of the administration have. And we have made progress in trying to secure a deal in conversation with our Qatari partners, and of course in conversation with the Government of Israel. But I can’t speak to the underlying details of those negotiations.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense of whether Americans will be included in any release?
MR MILLER: Again, I just – that is our priority. We obviously want to see those American citizens who we know have been taken hostage returned home. But I just don’t want to speak to any of the details of the negotiations.
QUESTION: And then where do talks on a pause stand with Israel?
MR MILLER: We continue to have negotiations about and discussions with the Government of Israel about a full range of humanitarian issues. As the President has said, as the Secretary has said, we want to see longer pauses. We want to see more humanitarian assistance go in. You saw the Government of Israel announce on Friday an agreement to allow more fuel, to allow fuel to come in through Rafah gate, really for the first time, up to 140,000 liters every 48 hours to power telecoms in Gaza so people can communicate with each other, so they can call emergency services, so we can communicate with the American citizens who are there; to power the delivery of humanitarian assistance that’s been coming in; and of course to power desalinization and hospitals and other electric needs. And we continue to push for all those things. It’s a top priority for the United States.
QUESTION: And if I could just ask one more on the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Martin Griffiths has called for that to be opened, and can you let us know where that stands on talks with Israelis with that? Is that something you’re trying to get open?
MR MILLER: So we want to see more humanitarian assistance come in through – into Gaza. There are a number of ways in which it could – in which more assistance could come in. It’s not just a question of opening another gate; it could be getting more assistance in through Rafah gate. The Israelis have very real security concerns about the ability to open Kerem Shalom, but we think if – actually if you could increase the screening so you could get more trucks and more assistance in through Rafah, that would be another way to do it. So we continue to have those conversations with Israel about what the best way is. But ultimately, our goal is to increase the number of trucks that are coming in so more food, more water, more medicine is getting to the Palestinian people who need it.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? What is the holdup on that, Matt? Because Blinken announced on our trip that he was expecting movement on that in coming days, and it’s been weeks now. Is it an Israeli political decision that’s holding this up?
MR MILLER: It is not just a political decision. There are real operational concerns about how you get screening turned on to get more humanitarian assistance in. There are operational details that we have to work through. There are agreements we have to reach with the Government of Israel. We are involved in those conversations. David Satterfield has been on the ground since he was appointed, working on these matters, continues to attempt to make progress. But there are just some really very difficult logistical problems that we have to work through and unlock to get aid screened and get it in through Rafah quickly.
And of course I would say the – we ran into a problem last week where we had aid that was going in through Rafah and then filling up warehouses. And because there was no fuel going in to Rafah and fuel – or going through Rafah and fuel inside Gaza had been depleted, there was assistance sitting in Gaza that couldn’t be distributed to the people who needed it. An agreement that the Secretary pushed for last week with members of the Israeli war cabinet that they announced on Friday to allow fuel to go into Rafah for the first time will allow that humanitarian assistance to be delivered, now that it’s made it inside. But there is much more that needs to be done that we continue to push on.
QUESTION: What about this idea of safe corridors that Ambassador Satterfield discussed, I mean, the fact that implementers aren’t going to feel safe distributing aid further within southern Gaza if they feel that they – their lives could be at risk? Have you gotten any guarantees from the Israeli Government that these implementers would be safe?
MR MILLER: This is another matter that continues to be a focus of discussion between our government and the Government of Israel, not just with respect to the implementers, who need to feel safe when they’re delivering humanitarian assistance, but also with respect to all the civilians in Gaza, and especially the civilians who the Israeli Government asked to move from the north to the south. They moved to the south and are now worried that they may be a subject of the next stage of the military campaign.
So you saw Jon Finer, the deputy national security advisor, say yesterday that we think if Israel is going to turn to military operations in the south, before it does so it needed – needs to address those very real humanitarian questions and have answers for where civilians in southern Gaza can be safe, especially those who have fled their homes in the north.
QUESTION: Have they given you any answers on that front —
MR MILLER: We —
QUESTION: – particularly when it comes to Khan Yunis, where a number of civilians who are waiting to get out of Rafah are sheltering?
MR MILLER: It is an ongoing conversation we’re having with them. We’re also having this conversation with UNRWA and other humanitarian organizations, about the best way to implement these civilian protections, what the best method might be.
QUESTION: Yeah. Can I follow up on that? Thanks. Some of the UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies have said that Israel’s idea of moving these people to Mawasi on the southwest coast isn’t going to work. And so what do you think is the best option? Since the UN may or may not be participating, what do you think is the best option in terms of keeping civilians safe as the conflict moves south?
MR MILLER: So I don’t want to prescribe that here, given that it is the subject of ongoing conversations between the United States, the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, and the Government of Israel to try to work out what the best solution is. We do have concerns that concentrating all civilians in one area does leave them vulnerable to harm. We are trying to work through with the Government of Israel what other solutions might be, and it’s a subject of ongoing conversation.
QUESTION: Is this something where you have like neighborhoods or areas that are considered safe for civilians? Or is this something where you have individual outposts, like hospitals, schools, or other things that would be – have some sort of protection?
MR MILLER: Well, I’d say with respect to hospitals and schools, we do want to see it – them protected. We don’t want to see them struck from the air. We’ve made that clear. That was true with respect to northern Gaza. Obviously, there is a situation where you have Hamas using hospitals as places for – where they’re embedding their fighters, they’re using as command centers. That’s a difficult situation that Israel has to address, and we want them to do it in compliance with humanitarian law.
But with respect to the first part of your question, it’s the subject of ongoing conversation right now, and I wouldn’t want to prescribe what the solution would be before those conversations are finished.
QUESTION: May I follow up?
MR MILLER: Shaun, go ahead. I’ll come to you.
QUESTION: Sure. Could I turn to something – to extremist settlers —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — in the West Bank. There have been a couple of strong statements from the administration, including by the Secretary last week, about extremist violence by settlers. What is the administration planning to do? I think John mentioned this as well on the – on one of the talk shows yesterday. Travel bans – is that on the cards? Is there a timeline for when these things could happen?
MR MILLER: Visa restrictions are very much on the table as one possible measure that we might implement. There could be others. We have made very clear, from the President on down, that the level of extremist violence against innocent Palestinian civilians in the West Bank right now is unacceptable. The Secretary has raised that repeatedly with the Government of Israel in his travels there, that the violence needs to stop. The perpetrators need to be held accountable. We want to see people prosecuted when they have violated the law. And in addition to the Government of Israel taking steps to promote accountability, there are steps that we can take as well, and we have a number of those steps under consideration. But I wouldn’t want to preview those publicly before we might take them.
QUESTION: When you say it’s on the table, that means it could happen, it could not happen, or is that something that’s actually —
MR MILLER: It’s something that’s under consideration. But as you know, a longtime attendee of this briefing, we don’t like to announce sanctions that we’re going to make before we’ve implemented them.
QUESTION: Sure, sure. But in the sense that it’s – like basically if things improve, then the action may not be taken?
MR MILLER: Look, if we saw a significant diminution in violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, and if we saw the Government of Israel taking steps to hold those responsible for violence accountable, that’s certainly something we would welcome, something we would consider in taking into account what kind of actions we might take. But we want to see those steps happen as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Sure. Can I just ask you – a couple of the diplomatic aspects of the situation in Gaza, one being China. China has had the foreign ministers of the —
MR MILLER: Side conversation going on over here. Go ahead. Go ahead, sorry.
QUESTION: I’m fully focusing on the —
MR MILLER: Yeah. I’m fully focused as well.
QUESTION: — the Palestinian Authority and a number of Arab countries, the foreign ministers have gone to China, had some talks. How does the United States see this? I assume the narrative is that China’s trying to steal – but maybe that’s not the right metaphor – but trying to take the role of the United States in some ways of – in the Middle East. Does the United States see this as productive, potentially? Does it see it as a threat diplomatically? What does the United States see it as?
MR MILLER: I’ll say two things about that. One, we would welcome China playing a constructive role in the Middle East. The Secretary has made this clear personally in his conversations with Wang Yi. He called Wang Yi on our first trip to the Middle East and said if there’s anything they can do to prevent the conflict from widening, in terms of using the lines of communications that they have available to countries in the Middle East, we would welcome that. He followed up on that conversation when Wang Yi was here and had a very productive conversation about it.
The — to the larger question though, I would say one of the things that we heard repeatedly from every party with which we engaged on our last trip is the indispensability of the United States in every aspect of this conflict. Whether it comes from getting humanitarian assistance in, whether it comes to preventing the conflict from widening, as I’ve said from this podium before, it is the United States – not any other country – that was able to negotiate an agreement to begin delivering humanitarian assistance in. It was the United States that was able to push for and achieve humanitarian pauses so civilians could move around Gaza more safely than they could before. It is the United States that’s the largest humanitarian donor to the Palestinian people.
So we always welcome any other countries that can play productive, diplomatic roles. But the thing we hear from partners over and over again in the region is there are no – there is no substitute for U.S. leadership, and it’s why the Secretary and the President and other members of the administration continue to stay engaged on this and will continue to stay engaged on it.
QUESTION: Sure. Just to play devil’s advocate, obviously some of these countries have argued that the U.S. is, I mean, clearly supporting Israel. Is there any sense that – is there any concern that perhaps another country could – such as China – could step into the U.S. role, just because the United States is seen as – their perception; I’m not saying that but it’s —
MR MILLER: No, I think there is – there are productive roles for a number of countries to play, and we would welcome them. There are unproductive roles that countries can play as well. But we are confident in the diplomatic efforts that we have launched. We are complement – confident in the conversations that we continue to have.
This is a difficult problem that the region is grappling with. It is obviously, first and foremost, a problem that Israel is grappling with when it comes to trying to defeat Hamas. But the broader issue of preventing the conflict from spreading and ultimately achieving what the United States – what the United States supports, what other countries in the region and what other countries across the world support, which is, at the end of this, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
That’s something that’s going to take engagement from a number of countries. The United States expects to play a leadership role. We expect to be engaged. You’ve already seen the Secretary lay out principles that we think are important for the path forward at the end of this conflict, and we would expect other countries to play productive roles as well.
QUESTION: Sure. Just one more, if you don’t mind, on the diplomatic side.
MR MILLER: You’re making Said get a little impatient here. He’s getting antsy for his question. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Let’s see, Israel-South Africa. Just a few moments ago, I believe the Israelis said they’re withdrawing their ambassador from South Africa. This, of course, is after South Africa said that it was – it hoped to refer to the ICC some of the issues that were – some of the – some of the things that are happening right now in Gaza. Does the United States have a stance either on what’s happening between Israel and South Africa or about the ICC referral?
MR MILLER: It’s ultimately a discussion for those two countries, not for the United States.
QUESTION: But on the ICC part?
MR MILLER: I don’t have a comment on it.
Go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Yes, thank you. I just want to follow on Shaun’s question on the sanctions that the (inaudible) – I mean that – against settlers and so on. There are many settlers, thousands of settlers, who hold U.S. passports. They are U.S. citizens. In this case, you cannot, of course, deny them a visa, but will you prosecute them if it’s proven that they have participated in criminal acts?
MR MILLER: Said, I wouldn’t want to preview any action before it’s taken. And certainly, the State Department does not prosecute anyone, and I wouldn’t want to comment on that.
QUESTION: I’m just saying —
MR MILLER: No, but as you know, the – we have strict rules inside the United States Government. Those decisions are made by the Justice Department, and we don’t comment on them or participate in them at any other agency.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay, so what kind of other sanctions you might impose?
MR MILLER: Again, Said, I don’t want to preview any steps that we might take. I will reiterate that our first priority is for the Government of Israel to take action —
MR MILLER: — against those extremists who are committing violence against Palestinians. But we have options at our disposal as well that we will use if appropriate.
QUESTION: Okay, a couple of questions on Gaza. But before I ask on Gaza, there – today – I don’t think you probably know about this, but there is a poet named Mosab Abu Toha, a young poet. His son is U.S. citizen, born in this country. Abu Toha is – was a scholar at Harvard. Today he was leaving after speaking with the embassy, apparently, and he was trying to leave, and he was basically taken away and his toddler given to his mom and so on. Is there anything that his family should be doing with the United States, since more than likely he was probably on his way to the United States?
MR MILLER: I just – I don’t have the details of that case, so it’s very —
QUESTION: Okay, I will send you the details.
MR MILLER: Said, hold – just let me establish the ground rule again.
MR MILLER: I will not interrupt your questions; don’t interrupt my answer, please. I don’t have the details of that case, and so it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to comment on them without having the full range of – full details.
QUESTION: Sure. Okay, I’ll send you the details. Now look, I mean, we have – the figures are really gruesome. I mean, I don’t know – is this administration – and I say this with – has it become numb to the number of Palestinians killed every day? I mean, are you okay with, like, 13,000 that have been killed thus far? What is – where are we going to stop? Where are we going to stop?
MR MILLER: Said, you have – you have heard the President speak to this. You have heard the Secretary speak to this. You have heard the Secretary say that far too many Palestinians have been killed as a result of this conflict. Every innocent life that’s lost is a tragedy, and we mourn the loss of every innocent life. These are civilians whose deaths have come through no fault of their own, that are in the conflict that is not of their own making. And I can tell you – speaking for myself, speaking for everyone in this administration – that we feel those deaths every bit as we feel the loss of Israeli civilian lives.
And so that is why when we set out to develop our policies and have conversations with the Government of Israel and with others in the region, we have a number of principles that we have made very clear. Number one, as Israel conducts a legitimate operation to prevent the terrorists that attacked it on October 7th from being able to do so again, it does so in accordance with humanitarian law, and it tries to the greatest extent possible to minimize civilian harm. Number two, we want to see civilians protected; we want to see civilian infrastructure protected. And number three, we want to get humanitarian assistance to those in need.
That is what we can do at the policy level from the United States Government. It’s what we continue to do to try to minimize civilian suffering, to try to help those civilians who are in Gaza. But at the same time, we see every one of those deaths and we mourn each and every one of them.
QUESTION: The President said that he envisions a Palestinian state that will include Gaza and the West Bank and so on. So let me ask you this: Do you – or is it safe to assume that the administration has some sort of a vision how this very battle should end?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to get to how this conflict will end because, ultimately, it’s very hard to prescribe from a podium —
QUESTION: Not to —
MR MILLER: But it’s hard to prescribe from a podium thousands of miles away how a military operation, which is, of course, unpredictable by its nature – we’ve seen that multiple times throughout history – how it will end and what will be left in the aftermath. So where we are right now is laying out principles. And you’ve heard the Secretary articulate some of those principles with respect to Gaza – that there should be no diminution in the territory of Gaza, that no Palestinians should be displaced from Gaza, a number of other principles – and also heard him and the President articulate that ultimately, at the end of this, we want to see the establishment of a Palestinian state that unites the West Bank and unites Gaza so the Palestinian people can determine their own future. And that is the policy that we support; it’s the policy that we will try to achieve.
QUESTION: And lastly, there was a report in Haaretz that, on October 7th, there were actually Israeli gunships that had – may have been responsible for a lot of the deaths that occurred that day. Have you seen that report?
MR MILLER: I’ve seen the reports. I can’t —
QUESTION: And do you —
MR MILLER: I can’t comment —
QUESTION: You cannot – okay.
MR MILLER: — on what’s an internal Israeli military question.
QUESTION: Yeah, Matt, do you have any comment on the Houthis seizing the ship in the Red Sea, and is the administration reconsidering its decision to take them off the terrorist list?
MR MILLER: So I don’t have any update with respect to those determinations. I will say that the Houthi seizure of the motor vessel Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea is a flagrant violation of international law. We demand the immediate release of the ship and its crew, and we will consult with our allies and UN partners, as appropriate, on next steps.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead, Alex.
QUESTION: Thanks – thank you, Matt. A couple questions on non-Middle East, if you don’t mind. Are you having —
MR MILLER: On – on what?
QUESTION: Non-Middle East, so —
MR MILLER: Oh, non-Middle East, okay.
QUESTION: Are you aware of any contact between the U.S. and Russian officials during the past one week, either in Washington or in San Francisco when Alexei Overchuk was representing Russian – Russian Government?
MR MILLER: I am not. You mean in – at APEC, any contact?
MR MILLER: I’m not – I can’t – as always, it’s a big conference. I can’t rule out someone said hi in the hall. But I’m not aware of any, no.
QUESTION: Last Saturday marked, as you know, one month since RFE/RL reporter Alsu’s arrest, illegal detention in Russia. Any notification you have received from Russian side?
MR MILLER: We have not received official notification of her arrest. It’s a matter we continue to monitor very closely. We have sought consular assistance; it has not yet been granted. We’ll continue to pursue it.
QUESTION: Did the fact that there was no notification from – over a month, more than a month – isn’t that enough reason to recognize or designate this case as wrongful?
MR MILLER: First of all, I’d say that the Russian Government, as a general rule when it comes to dual citizens, does not see it as its obligation to provide consular notification. And I will say as a broader issue that there are a number of factors that we consider when making that determination about whether someone has been wrongfully detained or not. It is never any one factor on its own. It is a confluence of factors that leads the department to making a determination.
QUESTION: Do you have a deadline for that?
MR MILLER: No.
QUESTION: Gershkovich, as you know, he was visited by the U.S. officials last week. Is there anything you can tell us about his situation?
MR MILLER: I can’t tell you any more about his condition or detention. I would refer you to the embassy at Moscow who conducted that visit for any more specific information. I will tell you it continues to be a top priority to bring him home, as it is to bring Paul Whelan home. It’s something that we have worked at – on at the seniormost levels in this government and that we will continue to make one of our top priorities.
QUESTION: Please, Matt, I have two more, if you don’t mind, different topics.
MR MILLER: Sure.
QUESTION: Belarus and Russia. Last – as you know, today marked – today is the World Children’s Day. I want to draw your attention to – a very compelling report came out last week – you guys also flagged it – on how Ukrainian children are being deported to Belarus. First of all, about significance of this fact, the findings, this was – and I think one simple question is: What are you guys going to do about it?
MR MILLER: So I would say that I did note that report. It identified more than 2,400 children from Ukraine between the ages of six and 17 who have been transported to facilities in Belarus. It documented close coordination between Russian and Belarusian officials to facilitate these movements. As we – you have heard us say before, Belarus is complicit in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine; it is not a disinterested third country providing safe haven for children in conflict. These operations have disproportionately targeted vulnerable children, including purported orphans, children with disabilities, children from low-income families, and children with members of Ukraine’s military.
Our information is limited. We don’t know whether the children who are deported to Russia or Belarus are being exploited further, but they remain highly vulnerable, of course, to human trafficking. So it is a matter that we continue to monitor very closely in making all of the range of assessments that you would expect us to make.
QUESTION: Is it time for an ICC arrest warrant for Lukashenka?
MR MILLER: I am not going to speak to determinations that the – that are appropriately in the context of the ICC.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Can you just let us know on what was supposed to happen today in this building and what ended up happening? An Armenian foreign – Armenian ambassador was in the building, but Azeris claim that there was supposed to be a Karabakh summit and then they declined to attend. Is there anything you can tell us?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to that. I will say that we continue to engage the leadership of both countries and offer to facilitate a dignified and durable peace where the rights of all are respected. It is important that Armenia and Azerbaijan discuss and resolve issues directly to benefit the region. We would welcome a role in facilitating those talks. We’ve seen other countries offer to facilitate those talks. We think it’s important that the two countries talk face to face to reach a durable agreement.
QUESTION: Will you still continue offering Washington as a potential —
MR MILLER: As I just said, we would be willing to facilitate those talks, as we have in the past, and we welcome other countries doing so as well.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. One on North Korea and one on China. It was reported that North Korea will launch its third military or space satellite this month due to technology transfer from Russia to North Korea. How do you see the chance of successful satellite launch?
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to purported events. I will say that our concerns about North Korea’s ballistic missile program and other military programs are well known. Our concerns about the transfer of technology between Russia and North Korea, whether it’s Russia providing North Korea with technology or whether it’s North Korea providing arms to Russia, are also well known. As we’ve said before, those transfers in some cases violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, including resolutions that Russia itself voted for, and we will continue to monitor them closely and take whatever actions are appropriate with our allies in the region to monitor and respond to North Korea’s destabilizing behavior.
QUESTION: South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol said that it would not be helpful if China went along with North Korea-Russia cooperation. Does the United States have the same position as President Yoon?
MR MILLER: I will just say that our position is very clear, which is that Russia should not supply North Korea with technology that would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions; North Korea should not supply Russia with arms that it can use to prosecute its war of aggression against Ukraine; and that is our position with respect to any country in the world.
QUESTION: Can I just follow-up briefly on —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The – it’s just a basic question on that. I believe the Japanese said that there has been a formal notification from North Korea about an upcoming satellite launch; it’s a notification for the sake of people – for the sake of the maritime industry. Has the United States actually been informed either directly or indirectly about a North Korean —
MR MILLER: I’ll have to take that back. I’m happy to check for you.
Yeah, go ahead.
MR MILLER: I’m sorry, said —
QUESTION: You said that Palestinian people can determine their own future. But we know that this will not happen soon after the Israeli finish with their military operation. Then what – do you have anything to share with who should control the Gaza until the Palestinian could determine their own future?
MR MILLER: So let me say this. It goes to the principles that I started to lay out with Said earlier. Some of the other principles that Said laid out is that they are – that Hamas cannot run Gaza at the end of this conflict, and that Israel cannot occupy Gaza, cannot reoccupy Gaza at the end of this conflict. There may need to be a transition period; you can imagine where the – once hostilities cease, there will have to be some transition period where there is a transition to a new governing authority and a new security authority, and we are going to work with our partners in the region and other countries around the world to try and determine what that looks like. I certainly wouldn’t want to describe it now.
But the ultimate answer to your question is that the Palestinian people themselves need to be front and center at determining who it is that will lead the Palestinian people. These are not decisions that the United States can or should impose on the Palestinian people; these are not answers that Israel can and should impose on the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people ultimately have a right to determine their own future, just like any other people in the world, which is why our ultimate goal at the end of this is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state so, as I said, they can determine their own future.
QUESTION: The chairman suggest that the UN should – could take control of Gaza, and also there are some suggestions from the region to create an Arabic coalition to run Gaza until the people could determine their own future. Do you support the UN or the Arab countries’ coalition?
MR MILLER: Again, there are any number of proposals that have been floated – some by people in government, some by people in the region, some by people in academia and other [think] tanks. What it will ultimately look at, we are at the beginning of having conversations about that with other countries. I wouldn’t want to try to prescribe it from here. It ultimately is a – will be the matter of a great deal of discussion between our country and other countries, and ultimately, as I said, between the Palestinian – or with the Palestinian people themselves, who need to have the voice front and center of deciding what their future looks like.
QUESTION: Last question, on Iraq. Last week, the Iraqi – the Iraqi top court ends the Iraqi parliament speaker term. Following this decision, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq met with both the Iraqi supreme court president and also Mohammed Halbousi, the removed Iraqi parliament speaker by the supreme court. But the U.S. ambassador in a post in – on X, she introduced Halbousi as the speaker of the parliament. Do you see Halbousi as the speaker of the Iraqi parliament still? What’s your comment on the Iraqi —
MR MILLER: I would refer the – I would refer to the ambassador or the embassy there to expand on those remarks.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. On the new U.S. labor rights policy, Secretary Blinken has recently mentioned that those who violate worker rights, engage in threats, or intimidate workers may face sanction if deemed necessary. And he referred the struggle of Bangladesh’s government workers leader, Kalpona Akter. Is U.S. going to take any action as five government workers have been killed in recent days in wage-increase movement in Bangladesh?
MR MILLER: So in the remarks last week that you referred to, the Secretary outlined how we engage with governments, workers, labor organizations, trade unions, civil society, and the private sector around the world to protect and promote respect for internationally recognized labor rights. We will continue to do that in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world. I would reiterate you to his full statement for comment.
As we’ve said, we condemn the recent violence against workers in Bangladesh protesting over the minimum wage, as well as the criminalization of legitimate worker and trade union activities. We are also concerned about the ongoing repression of workers and trade unions. Our principle, as we have stated before, is that government must ensure that workers are able to exercise their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining without fear of violence, reprisal, or intimidation. And through our work in Bangladesh, and globally, we are firmly committed to advancing these fundamental human rights.
QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh. Bangladesh ruling party moving forwards – another one-sided election and crackdown on opposition, including killings, mass arrest, and abduction of the opposition activists and their family members. Ruling party officially denied the U.S. calls for dialogue as the U.S. does not support our one political party in – or other in Bangladesh. So what steps you are taking to prevent this one-party, authoritarian rule in Bangladesh?
MR MILLER: So you’re right, we do not take a position in favor of one party or the other. We want what the Bangladeshi people themselves want: free and fair elections which are conducted in a peaceful matter – manner. And we will continue to engage with the government, opposition, civil society, other stakeholders to urge them to work together for the benefit of the Bangladeshi people to ensure that outcome: free and fair elections conducted in a peaceful manner.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I have only one question. It’s me?
MR MILLER: Yeah, you, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, thank you. Thank you, Matt. Honorable Assistant Secretary Donald Lu wrote letter to – for unconditional dialogue to three major political parties in Bangladesh. Election is scheduled for 7th of January, 2024. Thirty-plus political parties declared they are participating in the election. Only the opposition BNP called for the boycott. Would the United States consider an election with the participation of the remaining 30-plus political parties as a representative or – and participatory, or does BNP decision to boycott raise concern about the inclusivity and legitimacy of the election process by U.S.?
MR MILLER: So I appreciate the urge – the repeated urge, I should say – to try and draw me into internal Bangladeshi matters, but I am going to continue to refrain from doing so and just state, as I said before, that our goal for the election in Bangladesh is what it has always been: free and fair elections conducted in a peaceful manner.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: The Palestinian people themselves in Gaza.
QUESTION: Who? Gaza’s people – who?
MR MILLER: Look, I – that is ultimately a question for the Palestinian people to determine. I can’t lay out for you at this point, when there are active – when there’s active combat – there are active combat operations going on on the ground in Gaza, what the – what things will look like at the end of those combat operations. I can articulate our principles for you, and one of our principles is that the Palestinian people themselves, including the Palestinian people in Gaza, should have a role in determining their future leadership. As we have said before, the Palestinian Authority right now is the representative of the people – the Palestinian people, and we would fully expect them to play a role in governance of both the West Bank and Gaza.
QUESTION: But the people of Gaza – who?
MR MILLER: Again, I am not – what’s happening with the microphone here?
MR MILLER: Again, I don’t think I can articulate to you the exact path that this will take at the end of what are right now ongoing conflict operations. But we have been very clear that our goal is the establishment of a Palestinian state, a united Gaza and West Bank, where the Palestinian people themselves play a role in self-determination.
QUESTION: Okay. Despite of your assurance that Gaza will rebuild and the people of Gaza, the Palestinian people, will go back, will return to their homes after rebuild Gaza, but we still hearing about transferring plans to Egypt for Palestinian in Gaza, to Egypt and other countries. Please clarify that issue.
MR MILLER: So we have been very clear that Palestinians from Gaza should not be displaced. Period. Full stop. There have been some Palestinians from Gaza who have been injured, who have been wounded, who have left to seek medical treatment in Egypt. We support that if that is their choice and that’s what they want to do. But we have – we could not be more clear – more clear – you’ve heard the Secretary say this, you’ve heard the President say this – that the Palestinian people in Gaza should not, cannot, will not be displaced from their homes.
QUESTION: This statement is not valid?
MR MILLER: What?
QUESTION: What we heard is not valid?
MR MILLER: I don’t know what statement you’re referring to. I’m articulating the United States position.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. I have two questions on Middle East, if I may. First of all, regarding the future of Gaza, you were very clear. President Biden, Secretary Blinken, and you from this podium made clear multiple times that the United States opposes both forcible displacement of Palestinians and Israel’s reoccupation of Gaza. But Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statements point out that the Israeli military will remain there indefinitely. As he said, quote, Israel will retain “overall security” control in Gaza, including the capacity to go in whenever they want to. And the foreign minister of Israel said in an interview, quote, “There will be Israeli security control from the Jordan [River] to the [Mediterranean] Sea at all times.”
So it looks like the whole process is going towards a fait accompli. First of all, do you agree with that? And secondly, what does —
MR MILLER: Let me answer the first – no, let me —
QUESTION: — State Department think about these specific statements by —
MR MILLER: Let me just – so no, I do not agree with that. Secondly, every position – every country will articulate its own positions. I’ve articulated the United States position, and we will continue to articulate it. And I should add it is not just the position of the United States; it’s a position that we have heard over and over from other countries in the region.
Ultimately, we are going to have a – we have – well, I should say we have already had conversations about this with the Government of Israel and the Secretary in his travels around the region, and ultimately, at the end of this conflict, there is going to have to be a larger conversation with the Government of Israel, with the Palestinian people, and with the other countries in the region about what the path forward is.
We’re very clear about what that path cannot be. That path cannot be, on the one hand, a return to Hamas governing Gaza and having a safe haven from which to launch terrorist attacks against Israel. You’ve heard Hamas leaders even in the last week say they want to launch a series of October 7ths again and again and again. That’s unacceptable to Israel; it would be unacceptable to any country.
On the other hand, also unacceptable is Israel reoccupying Gaza. So there may need to be some transition period; we’ve been very clear about that. We understand that the Israeli military is not going to conduct military operations in Gaza and then just disappear the next day. There’s going to have to be some sort of transition period so there isn’t a vacuum of security in Gaza. We will work with partners in the region to figure out what that transition period is, and ultimately our goal is, at the end of this, to see the establishment of a Palestinian state, as I have said.
QUESTION: My second question is – will be about the press freedom and the press activities in the Middle East regarding the Gaza crisis there and Israel attacks on Gaza. So during Friday prayers last week in Jerusalem, an Israeli soldier hit the camera of TRT crew, the Turkish public broadcaster crew, and he broke the lens of the camera, and our colleagues continued the live broadcast while they were on the air and with the broken lens of the camera. So first of all, do you have a statement on that specific attack on a TV crew?
And according to the CGP, until now, 48 journalists have been killed during the Israeli aggression against Gaza. So what is the State Department’s comment on that?
MR MILLER: So with respect to the first, I can’t comment – as is usually the case, I can’t comment on a specific incident where I don’t have all the facts at my disposal to make some kind of determination. I would say, as a general matter, we think journalists should be free to do their job. We would hope that every country would respect the free press and allow the free press to report, as is its right to do, around the world.
With respect to journalists that have been killed, you’ve heard us speak to this before, where we do not want to see journalists put in harm’s way. We recognize the sacrifice that many journalists make by traveling into conflict zones to try to get the truth out to the world. It’s an enormous risk that journalists put themselves at, and they ultimately sometimes pay a terrible price for that. But we want to see journalists protected. We don’t want to see any journalists lose their lives in this conflict, just as we don’t want to see any civilians lose their lives.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I have a couple of question regarding another issue, not Gaza. It’s regarding the U.S. ambassador in Algeria’s recent visit to Tindouf camps in the southern part of this country. Could you please clarify the nature of this visit and whether she met Polisario leadership while she was there?
And my second question: This visit sparked some media attentions, particularly in the region, and some of them insinuating that is – that there is a shift in U.S. policy regarding the issue. Can you clarify as well?
MR MILLER: So with respect to the first question, Ambassador Aubin and a broad range of international donors participated in a UN-organized visit to Tindouf, Algeria. The United States is the largest contributor worldwide to international humanitarian efforts, including through our support for the vital work of UN agencies in Tindouf. We deeply value the critical work that our ambassador and U.S. diplomats in Algeria are doing with the UN and international partners to reinforce the humanitarian response there. There was no bilateral engagement with the Polisario during this UN donor visit.
And more generally, with respect to your second question, we fully support the UN personal envoy of the secretary-general as he intensifies the UN-led political process on Western Sahara to advance an enduring and dignified solution without further delay. We continue to review Morocco – or to view Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious, credible, and realistic, and one potential approach to meet the aspirations of the people of Western Sahara.
Go ahead. No, I’ll come to you next. Go here first, yeah.
QUESTION: I would like to talk about the West Bank because you always emphasize that Hamas, and you said that Israel’s attacks are due to Hamas. But if you checked the number, the hundreds of people killed in West Bank, even mosque was bombed, what do you think about that? When did you contact with Abbas administration about this issue?
MR MILLER: You’re referring to attacks by settlers in the West Bank, or —
QUESTION: Settlements are a quite different problem, but many civilians killed that Israel’s bombed.
MR MILLER: So we have been – so with respect to – so two things, and I want to make sure I speak to them separately. Obviously, if Israel has – Israel has legitimate rights that it – or legitimate military operations and counterterrorism operations it can conduct in the West Bank when it comes to responding to terrorist activities in the same way that countries around the world do. With respect to settler violence, as I spoke to a minute ago, we have seen a dramatic uptick in extremist violence conducted by settlers against Palestinian civilians since October 7th, and we continue to engage with the Government of Israel to make clear to them that we expect them to take action to stop those violent activities.
QUESTION: Let me follow up. I will use the occupier instead of settlers or settlement, according to UN report. Especially you said that last week you are from Texas – we know it’s good – because I will say please imagine Mexican people or Mexican soldiers are crossing the border and you will enter to your family house in the Texas and then they will say this house is mine from now on. Because this reality is how it is in West Bank. What is the real and permanent solution in the settlement or occupied problem?
MR MILLER: The permanent solution is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, full stop. That is the final answer to that question.
QUESTION: Thank you. So Finnish prime minister today basically accused Russia of organizing this movement of migrants and pushing them towards the Finnish border, just as Belarus was doing to Poland and other countries. What do you make of that? Do you share this assessment of what is going on on the Russian-Finnish border?
MR MILLER: Who? I just didn’t hear. Who’s —
QUESTION: Argentinian president-elect.
MR MILLER: So with respect to the first, let me take that back and get you an answer. With respect to the second, I don’t have any announcements of travel or meetings to read out here. I will say, as Secretary Blinken shared last night, we congratulate President-elect Milei on his victory in yesterday’s election. We applaud the robust democratic process through which the Argentine public spoke. And we will look forward to working with the president-elect and his government on shared priorities, including human rights and democracy, addressing climate change, and investing in the middle class.
QUESTION: On that —
QUESTION: Could I follow —
MR MILLER: Yeah, Shaun.
QUESTION: Could I follow up on it?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just two of the things you mentioned – democracy and climate change – he has somewhat eccentric views on them, I mean, I guess you could say. I mean, he’s denied the scientific consensus on climate change. He’s given credence to election conspiracies in the U.S. and Brazil. Are those types of things impediments, do you think, with working with the president – President Milei?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to comment on the views he professed during the campaign. I will say the United States and Argentina have a long history of working together on areas of shared values and shared interests, and we look forward to finding continued ways to do that.
QUESTION: Can you give us an update on how many Americans have been able to depart Gaza via the Rafah gate? How many remain? And do you have an update on the death toll both from the October 7th attacks and possible deaths in Gaza as well?
MR MILLER: Sure. So with respect to the first question, around 800 American citizens, legal permanent residents, and family members have departed through Rafah gate. There are a little over 1,200 left, which is a higher number than we had when we announced it last week. One of the things that happens is we continue to identify either additional American citizens or American citizens or permanent residents who have additional family members that they’re reporting to us that we then try to get on the list to get out of Gaza.
With respect to American citizens who have died, the number who died as a result of the attacks of October 7th is the same as it has been. There is one additional casualty in post-October 7th incidents that I can report out today. There are a total of six American citizens who have died, not from the terrorist attacks on October 7th, but in the month-plus since, five who were members of the IDF and one who was a national police border officer.
QUESTION: Did they die in Israel or in Gaza?
MR MILLER: Of those – of the IDF, I believe four of them died in Gaza; one died in northern Israel.
QUESTION: And any reports of Palestinian Americans? Have you been able to confirm deaths?
MR MILLER: There have been – you’ve heard me speak to this last week. There has been a report of the Palestinian American who died. We have not been able to confirm that report going back several days now. As you know, communications networks were down in Gaza last week, are only getting back online now after fuel was delivered, so we’re seeking to verify that information, but haven’t verified it as of yet.
Michele, and then we’ll —
MR MILLER: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: Just quickly, the Secretary has raised concern in the past about these travel bans, particularly on young children unable to leave China. I wonder if you got any assurances last week from the Chinese that they’ll resolve these cases?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to those private conversations, but both with respect to Americans who have been detained and children who have been prevented from leaving China, I will just say that that is an issue the Secretary raises in every one of his conversations with his Chinese counterparts. It is an issue he raises quite fervently and quite passionately, that children shouldn’t be prevented from being reunited with their parents. And it’s an issue that he will continue to emphasize in hopes of achieving a breakthrough.
And with that, wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:22 p.m.)
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