Department Press Briefing – October 10, 2023
- ~ISRAEL / IRAN / QATAR~
- ~ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES~
- ~ISRAEL / NORTH KOREA~
- ~ISRAEL / TURKEY~
- ~ISRAEL / IRAN~
- ~PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES~
- ~ISRAEL / IRAN / QATAR / DEPARTMENT~
- ~ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES~
- ~ISRAEL / IRAN~
- ~ISRAEL / RUSSIA~
- ~ISRAEL / IRAN~
- ~ISRAEL / PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES~
- ~ISRAEL / SAUDI ARABIA~
- ~ARMENIA / AZERBAIJAN~
3:00 p.m. EDT
I would like to begin by reiterating our condolences to the families of those who were killed by Hamas terrorist attacks against Israel, including the 14 American citizens who we know have died.
The department is actively engaging with the families of those U.S. citizens. None of us can imagine the grief that they are feeling today, and we are doing everything we can in our power to offer them all appropriate consular assistance.
I also want to talk about Secretary Blinken’s efforts over the past four days since Hamas launched its initial terrorist attacks against Israel, which have been focused on three key priorities.
First and foremost, the Secretary has been engaged with our Israeli partners to ensure that Israel has everything that it needs to defend itself.
Both President Biden and Secretary Blinken have made clear that we stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the government and people of Israel. The first tranche of security assistance is on its way and will arrive in the coming days, and more will follow.
Second, the Secretary has been working the phones with his foreign counterparts to ensure that anyone who has lines of communication with parties hostile to Israel should use those channels to say that now is not the time to take advantage of this situation. The President has made that point clear – has made that point clearly and forcefully, and it is one Secretary Blinken has reiterated in his calls with leaders in the region.
Third, the Secretary has been intensely focused on securing the release of all hostages held in Gaza. There are a number of countries who have the ability to deliver messages to Hamas, and we have made clear to those countries that they should urge Hamas to release all hostages immediately. This is a matter we take incredibly seriously.
Finally, I’d like to announce that Secretary Blinken will be traveling to Israel in the coming days to engage our Israeli partners directly about the situation on the ground and how we can continue to best support them in their fight against the terrorists who launched these horrific attacks.
Our support for Israel is unwavering, and the Secretary looks forward to meeting with senior leaders in the Israeli Government and continuing the discussions he and the President have been having with them since the initial attacks on Saturday.
And with that, Matt.
QUESTION: In the coming days? You want to be more specific?
MR MILLER: Our expectation is that we will leave tomorrow and arrive in Israel on Thursday.
QUESTION: Okay. And is he going to go anywhere else?
MR MILLER: I don’t have announcements to make. This is a trip we’re still putting together at the time, but we’ll make – may have further announcements on that later this afternoon.
QUESTION: All right. And then on – so Jake Sullivan at the White House just said there are 20 – roughly 20 Americans missing.
MR MILLER: That’s correct. There are – the last number I had before coming out here was that there are 20 Americans who remain unaccounted for. That’s a number that has been moving around over the last few days. You have one number and then some of the people who are unaccounted for, unfortunately, you discover are actually deceased, or then some may turn up. But right now, the number that we’re tracking is 20.
QUESTION: Any – and you have no idea, of those 20, how many of their – how many of them – do their families believe that they are actually being —
MR MILLER: We don’t have definitive information, but we do believe it’s likely that there may be hostages who are U.S. citizens who are held in Gaza.
QUESTION: Can I ask —
MR MILLER: Go ahead. We’ll start and then go —
QUESTION: I’ll just be brief. But can you just like explain a little bit more what the Secretary’s message will be? You said he wants to confer with people, but will it be a message of solidarity? Will he discuss, in depth, the conflict and the maneuvers that – the actions that Israel is taking now?
MR MILLER: It will be a message of solidarity and support. He, of course, wants to hear from the leaders of Israel, hear from them directly about the situation they’re facing, hear from them directly about what they need and how we can best support them, and then to send a message to the Government of Israel and the people of Israel that we are there to support them as they fight against these brutal terrorist attacks and to talk about what additional assistance we can provide them.
QUESTION: Just on the hostages, can you talk a little bit about what engagements the State Department has had trying to secure their release with Israeli partners and others?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to talk in more detail, other than what I said in my opening comments. The Secretary has had a round of calls over the weekend. You’ve probably seen those, as we’ve been reading those calls out. And he has delivered a message consistently with everyone in the region if there’s anything you can do to send a message to those who are holding hostages, whether they be American citizens or whether they be others, that you should send the message to Hamas that they need to release those hostages immediately.
QUESTION: And what is the U.S. telling the Israelis about a ground operation, given these U.S. hostages?
MR MILLER: We understand that Israel was brutally attacked here. Israel has a right to defend itself. Israel has a right to conduct operations to ensure the security of its citizens, to ensure the security of its nation. And we are in communications with them about that, but those are decisions for Israel to make.
QUESTION: Do you have concerns that such an operation would hamper any efforts to secure their release unharmed?
MR MILLER: We don’t – look, our point right now is that Hamas ought to release all the hostages immediately. That’s the effort that we have been engaged in. I wouldn’t want to speak to anything beyond that.
QUESTION: On hostages?
QUESTION: Can I follow up?
MR MILLER: Jennifer, go ahead.
QUESTION: The partners that you’re engaging with to engage with Hamas, are they being productive? Is Hamas even acknowledging that they’re holding Americans right now?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to the details of those conversations. We do believe that there are partners in the region who are playing a productive role here and want to help secure the release of hostages. But in terms of details of those efforts, I’m not going to talk about them publicly.
QUESTION: And who from the U.S. is leading those efforts?
MR MILLER: Again, I think there are a number of people inside the U.S. – well, I’ll say two things. One, the Secretary has been involved, engaged in direct conversations with his counterparts. The U.S. Government is also making available to Israel experts in hostage negotiations and hostage recovery. That includes experts from the State Department. I’m not going to talk about those in detail; those are private conversations we’re having with the Israeli Government.
QUESTION: Is that SPEHA?
MR MILLER: There are a number of experts from across the government who we are going to make available.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. There’s public reporting that the talks via the Qataris involve a possible swap of women and children being held in Hamas for women and children being held in Israeli jails. Can you comment at all whether the contours of those kinds of negotiations are accurate?
MR MILLER: Again, I’m not going to talk about the details of any conversations, other than to say that we have made clear that Hamas ought to release all of those prisoners immediately. That is our position. That is what we have advocated for. That’s what we think Hamas should do.
QUESTION: Okay. Separately, are there Americans who are asking the State Department for assistance to leave the region, whether from Israel or from Gaza?
MR MILLER: We have been in contact with a number of American citizens in Israel. There are number of American citizens who are longtime residents of Israel, some of them who are dual citizen, some of them who have just moved there, and then there are Americans who were there that were either visiting for business or for tourism or something else. And we have been in contact with a number of Americans through our embassy there, some who we have helped facilitate travel to depart the country.
The airport is still open; there are flights that are getting out of the airport in Tel Aviv. And so we have encouraged people to make the – to try to avail themselves of those options. We have also been in conversation with various carriers to encourage them to consider resuming travel in and out of Israel, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: I want to —
QUESTION: I have more on the region.
MR MILLER: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on, hold on. Olivia, did you have another one, or –
QUESTION: I do have a few more –
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: — on the region. I mean, American officials, to include the Secretary, have said that there is no direct evidence linking Iran to this specific Hamas-led attack. First, is there any update on that assessment? And then second, can you elaborate a bit on what the U.S. would consider direct involvement by the Iranians?
MR MILLER: So we do not have any information to suggest that Iran either directed or orchestrated these attacks by Hamas. Iran likely knew that Hamas was planning operations against Israel, but without the precise timing or scope of what occurred. Iran has, of course, long supported Hamas with material and financial support, but we have not yet seen anything to suggest that they supported or were behind this current attack.
But our experience in these matters tell us that it’s premature to draw any final conclusions about this issue. We’ll be looking at additional intelligence in the coming weeks and days to inform our thinking on this issue, including whether at least there were some in the Iranian system who either had a clear sense of what was coming or even contributed to aspects of the planning.
QUESTION: If you’ll allow me one more –
MR MILLER: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, so – the Egyptians claim to have issued explicit and direct warnings to the Israelis that something was coming from Gaza and from Hamas. Does the U.S. have independent knowledge of any of those warnings, either being issued to Israeli or receiving them directly from the Egyptians themselves?
MR MILLER: I will let Israel speak to any conversations they had with Egypt.
QUESTION: A follow up?
QUESTION: Follow up?
MR MILLER: Go ahead, Shannon.
QUESTION: Thank you. Back to Iran. Going – looking at if the regime had direct knowledge of an attack, the timing of it, how much does that matter to the administration, given what you note – the material support, the military support, the millions of dollars they’ve been funneling into this organization, Hamas?
MR MILLER: So I will say that, first of all, I wouldn’t want to get ahead of what this assessment may ultimately find. We are in the early days after these attacks. Our first focus has been on helping Israel respond to these attacks, but we will continue to examine all intelligence and collect new intelligence, collect new information, talk with our Israeli partners about anything that they find.
But I will say, as we have made clear, that Iran has long supported Hamas. Hamas would not be what it is today without the financial and material backing that they have gotten from Iran. So yes, we very much do believe that Iran is at least complicit in these attacks, even if we do not yet have any evidence to show that they directed or orchestrated them.
QUESTION: With that complicity, will there be any kind of response? I know you don’t want to get into specifics, but –
MR MILLER: So I wouldn’t want to preview any actions that we might take. We have taken a number of actions since the beginning of this administration to hold Iran accountable for its malign activities in the region, including its support for terrorism. That includes more than 400 sanctions that we have imposed on Iran. We will continue to take actions to hold Iran accountable. But I wouldn’t want to preview from here what those might look like.
QUESTION: Follow-up on that. Follow-up on that.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR MILLER: Go ahead. And then I’ll come – then I’ll come to Abbie.
QUESTION: There’s been some talk, especially by Republicans, about freezing – re-freezing the $6 billion in funds that had been transferred to Qatar to secure the release of the Americans. Is that under consideration?
MR MILLER: So I think you’re talking about the funds that come from Iranian oil revenue that I have heard people say could be used to fund malign activities. I want to give a very clear response, so if you’ll indulge me, I’m just going to read something here.
“Iran will have zero oil revenue to spend on any of these things. Let me say that again. Zero. One hundred percent of the revenue that Iran receives from the sale of crude oil will be held in foreign accounts and can be used by Iran only for humanitarian trade or bilateral trade in non-sanctioned goods and services.”
And I will point out that is not a quote from anyone in this administration; that is a quote from former Secretary Mike Pompeo, delivered at the State Department on November 2nd, 2018, when he established the accounts that yielded this revenue that Iran is now – now has access to, with additional restrictions that we have imposed on them to ensure that not only – that they can only be used for humanitarian trade, not bilateral trade in non-sanctioned goods, only humanitarian purposes. And we have ongoing mechanisms.
Now, with respect to what we might do in the future, we have the ability to freeze those funds if we need to. We’ve not made any decisions.
QUESTION: Follow-up on that.
QUESTION: Matt, that fine. But it doesn’t matter who said it; whoever said it was wrong. Because the money – if Iran has a promise of money, they can use their own money that they have inside their own country, knowing – to do whatever with it. They could buy medicine. They could buy food, whatever. They could rebuild a bridge. They could do that. But they know that they have $6 billion sitting in Qatar right now, okay?
So whether Secretary Pompeo said it and said that the money would only be used for that purpose – yeah – or whether you guys are saying, yes, maybe that specific dollar with that serial number or that Euro with that serial number on it, can’t be used to fund terrorism. But the fact of the matter is – and you guys know this – is that it allows or it frees up money that Iran has for a – inside its own country – to use for other things, so they don’t have to spend that money on these —
MR MILLER: So let me —
QUESTION: – non-sanctioned items.
MR MILLER: Let me say two things about that. One, the reason I read this exact quote is I have heard a number – a fair bit of criticism about this money, including from the person who said this in November of 2018, and I thought it was fair to point out that this money was first allowed to accrue into these accounts under the Trump administration. And that’s a point – you did —
QUESTION: Well, I pointed it out at the same – back then as well.
MR MILLER: You did, and there are a number of people who have had a lot to say about this the last few days who have conveniently forgot that fact, which is why I thought it was important to remind the world.
The second thing I will say is that Iran has, of course, always funded terrorism. They have always funded malign activities in the region, and that’s why we have always taken action to hold them to account. But this money can only be used for humanitarian purposes. Not a cent of it has been spent at this point.
QUESTION: But that is not the argument that people are making.
MR MILLER: And we have the ability to freeze it at any time.
QUESTION: That is not the criticism that you’re getting. The criticism that you’re getting is that – is that this frees up money inside Iran that they can use for malign purposes —
MR MILLER: And there —
QUESTION: – as you say.
MR MILLER: And there is just no evidence that that is accurate. When we have seen —
QUESTION: Well, is there any evidence that —
MR MILLER: – when we have seen – when we have —
QUESTION: Is it inaccurate accurate? Can you – can you say —
MR MILLER: The evidence – so the —
QUESTION: Can you say that there is no evidence that Iran has used money over the course of the last month or month and a half since the money – months – since the money arrived in Qatar – to send to Hamas? Can you say that? Do you know?
MR MILLER: Iran has funded terrorism before these accounts were established, during the Trump administration. They have funded terrorism after these accounts were established in the Trump administration. They will no doubt continue to fund terrorism in the future, which is why we have sought to hold them accountable. With respect to this money, it cannot be used for anything but humanitarian purposes. We have strict oversight; we have strict visibility. And if we see it being used for anything else, we can shut it down immediately.
QUESTION: (Off-mike) —
MR MILLER: Go – Said, go –
QUESTION: (Inaudible) —
MR MILLER: Okay – you know what, I’m going to move around. Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Although – although the —
QUESTION: Let’s get real – let’s get real here.
QUESTION: Although the President did not call for restraint, for the Israelis to exercise restraint in the upcoming or the speculated-to-be-upcoming ground invasion, the President did mention that Israel ought to abide by international law. Does that, in your view, mean that Israel must end its cutoff of water, electricity, food, and medicine to the people in Gaza?
MR MILLER: I will say that, as the President made clear, Israel has suffered from a brutal terrorist attack. Israel has the right to defend itself. It has the right to take action against the terrorists who launched this brutal attack and killed Israeli civilians and killed American civilians, killed mothers and children and babies, and kidnapped children. And so they are —
QUESTION: What’s (inaudible)?
MR MILLER: And so they are going to – they are going to take action to respond to this terrorist attack and take action to secure their country, and we support them. As the President made clear, we always encourage all of our allies and partners to act in strict accordance with international law. That is what democracies do. And I would just point out that of course is not what Hamas did – let me just —
MR MILLER: Said, let me just finish – that is not —
QUESTION: So they —
MR MILLER: Said, let – that is not what Hamas did in coming into Israel and kidnapping and murdering innocent civilians.
QUESTION: Okay. I understand. I mean, Hamas – you have Hamas listed as a terrorist organization. They don’t get $4 billion a year from you. They don’t have military aid and support and so on. So that is established. You’re saying that Israel is a democracy, it’s a country that abides by international law. I am asking you: the cutoff of water, electricity, food, and medicine is considered a war crime. Do you call on Israel to cease its – its effort now in cutting so medicine, water, humanitarian aid —
MR MILLER: So let me start by saying that we are in the early days of Israel’s response. Israel has a right to conduct an aggressive response to respond to the terrorism that’s been committed against its citizens. We expect them to follow international law, we believe that they will, and we will remain in close contact with them about it.
QUESTION: You believe they should not intentionally target civilians. That’s one. Second, do you have any idea on the number of Palestinians killed by Israel in the last four days?
MR MILLER: I have seen public reports.
QUESTION: What are these reports?
MR MILLER: I am not going to speak to the —
QUESTION: Are they in the hundreds, in the thousands?
MR MILLER: So I – Said, I’m going to speak to what the U.S. Government can verify, which I’ve done with the number of U.S. citizens. I will let Israel speak to the number of Israeli citizens they have killed as well as the number of Palestinians they have killed.
QUESTION: Do you know if the 14 that the President spoke about are Palestinian Americans?
MR MILLER: I don’t – I don’t have any degree whether they are Palestinian Americans, whether they are dual citizens. It ultimately doesn’t matter to us. American citizens are American citizens.
QUESTION: And my – and my last question to you, Matt, I mean, the President has said that Hamas is motivated – and I’m paraphrasing – motivated solely by the quest to kill Jews. Do you believe that is to be the case? Is it the assessment of this government that Hamas sole motivation is to go out and kill Jews? There’s no context; there’s no siege that has gone on for 16 years.
MR MILLER: So —
QUESTION: There is no raid after raid by the Israelis?
MR MILLER: Said, I am just going to say that is a bit of a surprising question after what we saw a Hamas carry out this weekend, when we saw Hamas go in and deliberately target Israeli citizens —
QUESTION: No. I’m just saying —
MR MILLER: — and not just soldiers in the IDF but women, children, kidnapped them. We all saw the images that — across our television screens —
QUESTION: That’s true. And you state that —
MR MILLER: — of Hamas behaving in the most inhumane way possible. So I won’t speak to their motivations, and I think they’re pretty clear.
QUESTION: No, no, I am saying – I am saying to you —
MR MILLER: Let me – let me move on. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Is there another context? Is there another context?
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Matt. I have a question about the U.S. role, potential U.S. role. There’s been this strike carrier group that has been dispatched to the area, to the eastern Mediterranean, and now there’s reports that the second carrier group might be on the way to near Israel. So today, the Turkish president asked what the U.S. warships sent near Israel are there for, and it’s a question a number of countries in the region are trying to find an answer for. So is the U.S. really looking to get involved militarily? Can you rule that out? Because that could mean a catastrophic all-around regional conflict immediately.
MR MILLER: So we do not have any plans for boots on the ground or military action at this point. I will let the Pentagon speak to the specifics of deployments. But as the President has made clear, he has ordered the Pentagon to take these efforts to send a clear deterrent message to anyone who is considering entering this conflict, any of the – any entity or – who is hostile to Israel to take note and to not take action. I thought the President spoke very forcefully to that question today.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. On connection between Hamas and North Korea, Hamas and North Korea have been engaging in arms trading for some time. What are you concerned about the North Korea’s announcement that it support Hamas?
MR MILLER: Well, we clearly would be concerned about any country that is providing support to Hamas, whether it be financial, whether it be military, and would look to counter that action. And we do it first and foremost by making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against the recent terrorist attacks.
QUESTION: Does Israel have a right to kill civilians?
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Does Israel have a right to kill —
MR MILLER: No, I’m going to call on – the way we do it in this briefing room – and you and I have had this —
MR MILLER: You and I have conversation before – is I call on people and they ask questions and I move around.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Secretary Blinken deleted a tweet related to his phone call with Turkish foreign minister. The tweet included dimension of the ceasefire. Was that the reason? The word “ceasefire” was the reason behind why he deleted the tweet?
MR MILLER: I’m glad you asked me that question because there’s been a bit of misinformation about it. So after his call with Foreign Minister Fidan, we released a public readout that made clear that the Secretary, in his conversation, had reiterated what we have said publicly a number of times, which is: Hamas should cease its violent activities against Israel. The tweet was unfortunately worded, did not capture that appropriately, so we pulled it down.
And I’ve seen a lot of people – a lot of public conversation about this. I think those who – I think you would have to be intentionally misunderstanding what our position is, given the number of statements that we have made about supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, about supporting Israel taking direct action against Hamas. The Secretary spoke to that publicly on Sunday, on the Sunday shows. The President has spoken to it forcefully and we’ve issued a number of statements making that clear.
QUESTION: Can I have one more, please?
MR MILLER: Turkish President Erdogan said Ankara is prepared to take on a mediator role in the ongoing Palestinian and Israeli tension. What is the U.S. position on this offer, and was that discussed during the phone call between Blinken and Fidan?
MR MILLER: So I won’t speak to any potential mediation. I will say, with respect to the conversation that the Secretary had, we released a readout with information about his conversation with Foreign Minister Fidan. We made clear in that conversation, as we have in all of our conversations, that anything they can do to keep other parties from entering this conflict, anything that they can do to secure the release of hostages, is something we would encourage and something we would support.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I have two questions, one on Hamas and the other one on Syria. The first one: Have you noticed statements that – issued by the Iraqi leaders and Iraqi governmental officials about defense and escalation against (inaudible) Israel, including (inaudible) armory? The leader of the Iranian-backed (inaudible) organization issued a threat to the U.S. forces in Iraq and also elsewhere. He said that if the U.S. will interfere into the Israel and also helping Israel against Hamas, we are not hesitating to target the U.S. forces.
MR MILLER: So I won’t speak to those comments specifically other than to say that the U.S. – U.S. forces will do everything they have to to defend themselves, as is always the case.
QUESTION: Have you took those warning seriously?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to that other than comment I just made.
QUESTION: May I —
MR MILLER: And I would refer you to Pentagon for specific comments on U.S. forces.
QUESTION: I have another question on Syria. May I ask now, or —
MR MILLER: Let’s come back to it.
Abbie, go ahead.
MR MILLER: Sure.
QUESTION: I know you’re not being specific about any U.S. response to their complicity in these attacks, but are you encouraging any of your partners to take actions? For instance, are you asking for countries to designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization who haven’t done so before?
MR MILLER: We absolutely think that other countries should designate the IRGC as a terrorist organization. It’s a position that we’ve made clear a number of times. They finance terrorist activities, they have around the world for some time, and we think that other countries should take that step of designating them.
QUESTION: Are you having any specific conversations with your European partners and pushing them to make this move now?
MR MILLER: I won’t speak to specific conversations with respect to Iran. Again, as I said, they’re broadly complicit in supporting Hamas, have been so for years. But we’re going to continue to gather evidence and intelligence about whether there was any direct involvement in these attacks before making – taking any further steps.
Alex, go ahead.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just (inaudible) Europeans, the – I’m sure you saw – seen the European debate on assistance to the Palestinian Authority, initially talking about a freeze in development assistance and then reversing that. Does the United States have any take on that? And how has the U.S.’s own aid posture been affected by events this weekend?
MR MILLER: I believe they did reverse that, which is a step that we welcomed. We have made very clear that we do not have any grievance with the Palestinian people. As I have said from this podium a number of times, we have taken – we support steps that improve the livelihoods, improve the dignity of the Palestinian people, and we – and we supply —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) bomb (inaudible) Israel with (inaudible).
MR MILLER: — excuse me – and we supply —
QUESTION: This is absurd, Matt. Absolutely absurd.
MR MILLER: Excuse me. And we supply humanitarian aid that goes directly to the Palestinian people to benefit them. And I think the point that we would make – this is something the Secretary got into over the weekend – there are two paths forward for the region. There is a path of stability [not] conflict and normalization of relations with Israel, and then there is a path of death and destruction. And it is Hamas that favors that path of death and destruction.
We do not have any quarrel with the Palestinian people, which is why we think it’s important to continue to provide humanitarian aid that directly benefits them, not the terrorists who are trying – the terrorists who ultimately are going to be responsible for the loss of many Palestinian lives.
QUESTION: But Israel is raining down death and destruction (inaudible), Matt.
MR MILLER: You know what? I’m going to ask that we —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) what you’re doing.
MR MILLER: This is not a – this is – this room is not a debating session. It’s questions and answers.
QUESTION: What you’re doing (inaudible), Matt. How can you (inaudible).
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matthew. One, is the U.S. re-evaluating its alliance with Qatar, given Qatar’s support for Hamas? And I want to follow up on Vivian’s question about U.S. citizens. So U.S. citizens are having difficulty getting out of Israel. On a personal note, a friend of mine and his wife and two of their friends are trying to get out. They filled out some State Department form and haven’t heard back. So I don’t – what advice do you have for U.S. citizens like them? And then regarding – going off of Matt, I mean, what do you say to the criticism regarding the unfreezing of the $6 billion that money is fungible? Thank you.
MR MILLER: So I will say that I already answered the question about money being fungible in great detail, I think, with Matt. And I can repeat it again but that probably isn’t productive for any of us.
I will say – give me the first question again. I got the second one, but —
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Is the U.S. —
MR MILLER: Oh, Qatar. Right. So with respect to Qatar, the Secretary has had a number of productive conversations with the foreign minister of Qatar. We actually think that they are playing a productive role here and will continue to be partners of the United States. We are asking Qatar, as we are asking every country, to use any influence that they have to keep other parties from coming into this conflict and to secure the release of hostages.
And the second question?
QUESTION: Even with their support of Hamas?
MR MILLER: And the second question was?
QUESTION: The second question is U.S. citizens are having difficulty getting out.
MR MILLER: Oh, right, right. So look, we understand that there are a number of American citizens who want to leave Israel and that currently it may be that there aren’t enough available flights because some carriers have suspended travel. As I said, we have been in discussions with carriers, urging them to consider whether they want to resume travel. There are still flights that are making it out of Israel, some El Al flights, other flights to – operated by carriers in the region. And so we would encourage U.S. citizens to try to take advantage of those flights or other routes out of. And if they do contact the embassy, we will seek to facilitate travel with any information that we have that can be helpful.
QUESTION: And does – and one – and just a quick one, last one.
MR MILLER: Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Does the United States believe that the war between Israel and Hamas will be long?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speculate about the future.
Alex, go ahead and I’ll come to you next.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you very much.
MR MILLER: So I will let every leader speak to themselves about why they make the statements they do or don’t make, but we have been clear about the horrific, violent attacks that were committed against Israel this weekend. We’ve made clear what the United States position is on that matter and we’ll continue to do so.
QUESTION: Okay. Secondly, how is the Palestinian Authority’s official policy of “pay to slay” any different from what Hamas did on October 7th?
MR MILLER: So I will say that we oppose that policy, and with respect to the aid that we provide through humanitarian organizations to the region, we comply fully with the Taylor Force Act that presents – prevents any U.S. funds from being used in that regard.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Anything you can tell us about perceived Russian involvement, given Russian connections with Hamas?
MR MILLER: I don’t have any evidence of that to speak to at this moment.
MR MILLER: Look, I think there will be a time to look at those kind of questions about intelligence. I’m sure that the Israeli Government will take that very seriously. But I believe that their focus right now is responding to these attacks. Our focus right now is helping support them as they respond to those attacks and getting the security assistance they need to do so effectively. And that’s our focus right now. There will be a time to answer those questions.
QUESTION: If you’ll allow me just one more, if I may. Given everything you have told us – that you know that Iran knew this was coming – at what point the administration —
MR MILLER: I don’t believe that’s exactly what I said, but —
QUESTION: Yeah. I’m just (inaudible) the suggestions coming from the Hill. At what point the administration will be open to reconsidering its – to reverse course on Iran? Is there – are you waiting for other shoes to drop or is it in active discussion?
MR MILLER: I don’t know what you mean by reverse course on Iran. As I’ve said, we’ve imposed more than 400 sanctions on Iran since the beginning of this administration, precisely because we’ve seen their support for terrorism. We’ve seen the way they’ve added conflict and instability to the region, and we will continue to hold them accountable for those actions.
QUESTION: Can you just come back to me later real quick?
MR MILLER: Yeah, let me go to the – go ahead, and then we’ll —
QUESTION: So I’d like to follow up on what Alex was saying about Russia. Because you’ve repeatedly said, warned any other entities to not – not to take advantage of the situation. Does that, I mean, include Russia? Because we’ve heard President Zelenskyy saying that Russia is seeking to exacerbate the conflict and to distract from its war. So do you agree with him? And also on – a follow-up on the – what Said was saying. Do you – I mean, is the concrete example of the siege that Israel is laying – is that okay in your book? I mean, is that – do you approve of that, the Israeli approach so far?
MR MILLER: I will say, with respect to the first question, that the President was quite clear on Saturday when he spoke to this, and he was quite clear when he spoke to this question earlier today – that no one hostile to Israel should look to this moment to take advantage of the current conflict. And I don’t have anything to add to elaborate to that question.
With respect to the second question, look, as I said, it is Hamas who launched these terrorist attacks against Israel. It is Hamas who brutalized Israeli civilians. Israel has every right to respond forcefully to these attacks. It is what any country would do if they saw children being dragged away as hostages, if they saw children being slaughtered, if they saw people that were at a music festival being gunned down en masse. Any country would respond forcefully. We support Israel’s right to do it. We think it’s appropriate to do it. They have to be able to defend and secure their country.
QUESTION: Any country would lay a siege?
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
MR MILLER: We have seen those quotes. We don’t have any independent information to verify that.
QUESTION: If another Iranian proxy on the region going to join this battlefield with Israel, what will be your reaction? Are you —
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to hypotheticals, but the message that we have delivered very clearly, from the President on down, is that no entity hostile to Iran should consider entering this conflict.
QUESTION: Yeah. In March, you condemned Israel’s finance mister, Bezalel Smotrich, for calling for wiping the Palestinian village of Huwara off the map. This week we’ve heard the defense minister of Israel, Yoav Gallant, declare that he’s fighting human animals in Gaza, as Israel cuts off the gas, the water, and the electricity. We’ve heard Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, declare that all hiding places will be turned to rubble in a besieged coastal enclave where there are 1 million children. We’ve heard Ariel Kallner, who is a member of Knesset from the ruling Likud party call for a Nakba 2.0, which is essentially a call for genocide and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians as 850 are dead in Gaza. So what do you think of that rhetoric, in light of your previous condemnation?
MR MILLER: So let me say a few things about that. Number one, we expect, as we said, that Israel will conduct its operations in accordance with international law. Number two, there are going to be a number of statements made over the course of this conflict, and when we have disagreements with them, we will make those known privately. Number three, though, some of —
QUESTION: But you made them public before.
MR MILLER: Let me just – let me just speak to this. Number three, some of the questions I’m getting today do seem to ignore the fact that Israel just had hundreds of its citizens killed, people who were taken hostage, and pretend that Israel shouldn’t be able to conduct any kind of —
QUESTION: You can’t just say genocidal rhetoric. Can you —
MR MILLER: Let me just say – because shouldn’t – just shouldn’t —
QUESTION: Do you have – do you acknowledge that 80 Palestinian children have been killed?
MR MILLER: Let me just – just let me – let me —
QUESTION: Do you acknowledge that? Will you even acknowledge that?
MR MILLER: Let me finish.
QUESTION: Eighty Palestinian children killed this week?
MR MILLER: You know what? Again, let me —
QUESTION: Babies – do you acknowledge that?
MR MILLER: You asked a question. I will answer the question.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, that’s my question.
MR MILLER: Though I’m going to start by answering the previous question that was interrupted. I will say some of the questions seem to pretend that Israel should not be able to conduct operations to defend itself and hold accountable the terrorists who killed civilians. That is not Israel’s policy. That is not our policy. It is something that we would vehemently disagree with. Israel has the right to secure its country, the way any country does. It has the right to defend itself against terrorism; it has the right to hold terrorists accountable.
And I will say, ultimately, the Hamas terrorists who launched these operations – there is no one who has more disregard for Palestinian civilian life than those terrorists. Because those terrorists —
MR MILLER: Let me finish. Those terrorists launched this activity —
QUESTION: 850 Palestinians, mostly civilians, bombed in residential towers, bombing offices.
MR MILLER: Those terrorists – again, we have a lot of new – we seem to have a lot of new people. Those terrorists launched this activity knowing that there would be retaliation, knowing that Israel would have to defend itself, as any country did, knowing that it would lead to the unfortunate loss of civilian lives by their – by Palestinians, and they did anyway.
QUESTION: Isn’t that (inaudible) Palestinian captives in Israel prisons.
MR MILLER: Let me go – go ahead.
QUESTION: That’s amazing.
QUESTION: Yes. Is there a latest U.S. assessment —
QUESTION: So baby killing is okay here?
QUESTION: Why can’t you acknowledge —
QUESTION: Baby killing is okay here.
MR MILLER: I —
QUESTION: — the Palestinian children? You can’t even acknowledge it.
MR MILLER: We always – we always mourn the loss of civilian life. It is an unfortunate circumstance every time it happens. And as I just said, the Hamas terrorists who launched this terrorist attack, knowing that it would produce the loss of not just direct Israeli lives, who they took in their incursions across the border, but also the loss of Palestinian civilian life – they ultimately bear the responsibility for those acts.
QUESTION: They took the —
QUESTION: Matt —
MR MILLER: Go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: — staying in the region.
QUESTION: Will you call on Israel to not kill civilians?
MR MILLER: I’m going to ask – I’m going to —
QUESTION: Will you call on Israel to not kill civilians?
MR MILLER: I just – I just did do that.
QUESTION: It’s a simple question.
MR MILLER: I’m going to ask – I’m going to —
QUESTION: Will you call on Israel to not kill civilians?
MR MILLER: I would ask you not to talk over your colleague. Go ahead.
QUESTION: It’s a simple – you can’t make it simpler than that, Matt. Do you call on Israel to not kill civilians?
MR MILLER: I just did. And I’m going to – go ahead.
QUESTION: Can you say it like you say it (inaudible)?
QUESTION: — involving the potential normalization deal with Israel and the —
MR MILLER: Let me – there was a little talking over you. Why don’t you go ahead and go again, if you don’t mind.
QUESTION: Is there a latest U.S. assessment on Saudi’s position on the potential normalization deal with Israel, and especially after Secretary spoke with his counterpart from Saudi? Where we are at?
MR MILLER: So the Secretary did speak to this somewhat on Sunday, when he was asked about it on the morning shows. And the point that he made is very simple, which is there are opponents in the region of normalization. Hamas is an opponent of normalization. Hizballah is an opponent of normalization. Iran is an opponent of normalization. And they seek to prevent normalization exactly through these terrorist attacks.
So we do believe that normalization of relations not just between Israel and Saudi Arabia but between Israel and other countries in the region would help bring stability, would help bring peace, would help bring prosperity to the region. So it is a path that we will continue to pursue. The other path, as I said a minute ago, is the one outlined by Hamas, which is death and destruction. It is one of the goals of launching these terrorist attacks. And so we will not be deterred in continuing to pursue further normalization, which, as I said, we believe brings stability to the region.
QUESTION: You’re normalizing war crimes here, Matt. You’re normalizing war crimes.
MR MILLER: Go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.
QUESTION: You’re saying it’s okay —
MR MILLER: Again —
QUESTION: You’re saying it’s okay —
QUESTION: Excuse me.
MR MILLER: I would ask you to stop putting words in my mouth. Go ahead.
QUESTION: — (inaudible).
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I was just – one quick question is that President Biden’s two-state theory was very much appreciated in many countries in the Southeast Asia side. As for now, after this incident has happened, has that – has gone a little bit on the back burner side?
No, that’s my one question and then I have one follow-up, please.
MR MILLER: No, it continues to be our policy and that we will continue to support.
QUESTION: Okay. And then the second one is just because of Taliban, we had a lot of bomb blasts – TTP had many blasts in Pakistan, where the U.S. bases were there at that time and the U.S. could have taken very severe actions against them where, at least in my city, we had in one school 120 kids being slaughtered, more than several blasts where more than hundred people were dead. But the U.S. did not do something like that in Afghanistan to settle things with the – don’t you think because of U.S. not condemning these things, at least the humanitarian part, the U.S. impression at least around the world is going – like, don’t you think for the humanitarian there should be a little softer —
MR MILLER: So I would say that we always condemn acts of terrorism anywhere that they occur in the world, and as I believe you and I have discussed before, we have met recently with our Pakistani counterparts to discuss how we can increase our terrorism cooperation so that they can effectively counter terrorism inside their borders.
Alex, I said I’d come back to you and then we’re going to wrap up here.
MR MILLER: I’ll come to you and then we’ll wrap.
QUESTION: Lavrov today published an article on the ministry website accusing the U.S. of interfering into South Caucasus issues, including Nagorno-Karabakh, for its, quote/unquote, “geopolitical ambitions.” Do you have any response to this?
MR MILLER: Well, that’s absolutely not true. Our only goal in the South Caucasus, in the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan, is to ensure a lasting peace and stability and of course to ensure that the humanitarian needs and rights of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh are protected.
QUESTION: And as you know, Senior Advisor Bono is in the region, and he met with Azerbaijan officials. Any readout on that? I know the Secretary – the U.S. embassy to Yerevan was involved into urgent medical evacuation. Any details about that?
MR MILLER: I would refer you to the embassy for any further details on that question. And no, I don’t have specific readouts of Special Envoy Bono’s conversations.
Go ahead and then we’ll wrap.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yeah. A question on Syria and Turkish attacks on northeast Syria. In just 72 hours, they attacked 150 sites, including the civilian infrastructure and also the – there are a lot of civilian casualties. Do you have any comments and are you condemning these attacks by Turkish on northeast Syria?
MR MILLER: So the United States remains concerned about military activity in northern Syria, its impacts on the civilian population and infrastructure, and the impact on the effectiveness of our operations to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS. Our position has not changed. We continue to support the current ceasefire lines and call for a de-escalation of violence. It is crucial for all sides to maintain and respect ceasefire zones and to de-escalate violent activity to enhance stability in Syria and work toward a political solution to the conflict.
And with that, we’ll wrap. And with that, we’ll wrap for the day. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:52 p.m.)
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