Department Press Briefing – October 19, 2023
1:33 p.m. EDT
Secretary Blinken returned to Washington early this morning from an eight-day trip through the Middle East, where he met on multiple occasions with senior officials from the Government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, as well as leaders in Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar. Over the course of his trip, he made a number of things clear: that the United States strongly supports Israel and its right to defend itself from Hamas, and that support is unwavering; that the United States supports the aspirations of the Palestinian people, who are the victims of Hamas’s acts of terrorism; and that we believe it is important to establish mechanisms to keep civilians in Gaza out of harm’s way and provide them with humanitarian assistance.
Over the course of his meetings, the Secretary pressed these two points, along with the need to secure the release of hostages and prevent the conflict from widening, to every official he met. And when he returned to Israel on Monday after his meetings with officials from other governments, he was able to deliver these messages not just on behalf of the United States but also on behalf of others in the region who agree that Israel has the right to defend itself, but also want to see innocent civilians protected.
The work we began last week is, of course, ongoing. We continue to provide Israel with the assistance it needs to defeat Hamas, and you will hear the President speak more about that tonight. We continue to work to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza. Ambassador David Satterfield, the newly appointed Special Envoy for Middle East Humanitarian Issues, met with Israeli and Egyptian officials today to develop the exact mechanisms to implement the framework the Secretary negotiated with Israel on Monday, and that the President submitted yesterday when he was able to secure commitments from both Israel and Egypt.
Our work to secure the release of hostages continues to be a top priority. And of course, our messages to other countries hostile to Israel also – other countries and entities hostile to Israel continues to be clear: Do not enter this conflict.
Upon his return to Washington, the Secretary met this morning with bipartisan members of congressional leadership on the Hill to brief them on the trip and what he heard while in the region, and over the coming days he will continue —
MR MILLER: Sam, I’m going to ask you not to interrupt over the course of this briefing. I will call you – if you – I’ll finish what – my opening remarks, but just to establish a ground rule here, I will call on you for a question, but I would ask in return that you not interrupt either me or your colleagues in the media.
With that – and over the coming days, he will continue our diplomatic engagements on all these fronts.
QUESTION: Yeah. So I want to start with something that is non-Mideast, because I want to get it out of the way at the top, and that is the arrest in Russia of a RFE journalist. Do you have anything to say about this?
MR MILLER: I do. We of course have no higher priority than the safety and security of the U.S. citizens overseas. We are aware of reports concerning the detention of Alsu Kurmasheva in Russia. Whenever a U.S. citizen is detained overseas, the department works to provide all appropriate assistance. We have not been officially notified by the Government of Russia about this arrest yet, but this is a case we have been tracking since May when the Russian Government siezed her passports and prevented her from leaving the country. We haven’t made the details of our work public until now because we thought it was not helpful to the cause to get her to leave. But this appears to be another case of the Russian Government harassing U.S. citizens, which is why we continue to have a Level 4 Travel Warning and encourage all the U.S. citizens not to travel to Russia for any reason.
QUESTION: Okay. So when you say that they have – there has been absolutely no – radio silence at least so far from the Russians about her case?
MR MILLER: That’s correct.
MR MILLER: And I’ll just say one thing about this. She’s a dual citizen —
MR MILLER: — and as you’re aware, the Russian Government has refused – as often in the past – refused consular access when it comes to cases of dual citizens. So we will be seeking more information about the case.
QUESTION: Okay. Now on to the Middle East and on to – I just have one, and then I have to go. But is there any update on the situation at Rafah in terms of getting humanitarian aid in and American citizens out?
MR MILLER: So as you saw the – from – the President say on Air Force One yesterday on his trip back from Israel, he spoke with President Sisi, and President Sisi committed to opening Rafah to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Ambassador Satterfield met with officials from the Government of Egypt and the Government of Israel today in Israel to negotiate the exact modalities by which we can implement the agreement that the President secured.
So over the coming days, we will – I think what you will see – can’t get into the exact timing, but we expect it to be implemented soon – details for humanitarian aid to go in, and of course if Rafah gate is open to allow humanitarian aid to go in, we will be trying to get out the American citizens who are in Gaza who want to leave.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, Matt? Why is it only 20 trucks at this point? Do you have any firm agreement from the Egyptians to allow American citizens to leave via the Rafah crossing? Do you have an estimate on how many are trying to get out in that route?
MR MILLER: So I will say just with respect to trucks, I don’t want to speak to the – what the exact agreement will look like, because that is a matter that continues to be negotiated, that Ambassador Satterfield is on the ground negotiating. The Israelis, as they have said publicly and as Secretary Blinken said after we met with them for seven and a half hours to secure this initial agreement on Monday, the Israelis have very serious concerns about the diversion of humanitarian assistance. They’re worried that assistance that goes in will be diverted to Hamas. We are working out an agreement to ensure that that – that any deliveries can be handled appropriately. So we’ll continue to work on that. But what we have said publicly and what we have said to the Israeli Government is quite clear: We expect humanitarian assistance to be able to get in. We think it’s important that the innocent civilians in Gaza who did not start this conflict have access to food and water and medicine. That’s the commitment from the President on down. It’s what Ambassador Satterfield is working out the details of even as we speak.
QUESTION: And what is being offered to the Egyptians to try to grease the wheels on this?
MR MILLER: We’re not offering them anything. We are telling them that we have an interest in getting American citizens out, and it is our interest, it is their interest, it is the interest of every government in the region that humanitarian assistance be provided to the innocent civilians in Gaza who are not a party to this conflict.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on what’s been agreed, there’s this talk about 20 trucks being allowed – about up to 20 trucks being allowed to go through the crossing. Is it sort of limited to that and then the crossing will close, or is the plan to sort of open it and then —
MR MILLER: We want to see sustained humanitarian assistance going into Gaza for the benefit of innocent civilians. The exact discussions about how we implement that are exactly what Ambassador Satterfield is engaged in right now, so I wouldn’t want to get ahead of those discussions. But it is our intention, our goal, and what we’re working to secure is ongoing assistance to innocent civilians.
QUESTION: Why has it been so hard to get the Israelis to agree? The UN is involved. The U.S. can vouch for the fact that this is humanitarian aid coming in. Isn’t it pretty obvious that – it’s 2.2 million people in the country; they’re going to need more than this, but this is desperately needed aid. Why can’t they just let it in?
MR MILLER: I think the concern the Israeli Government has – and they’ve said this publicly and they’ve certainly said it privately to us – is that any assistance that goes in will be diverted once it’s inside Gaza, that there is not a – there’s not an Israeli military force in Gaza, there’s not a UN peacekeeping force in Gaza. The people with guns inside Gaza are Hamas. And so Hamas may try to divert this assistance and keep it from getting to the civilians who it is intended for. We think that’s a legitimate concern. We’ve made clear that this aid needs to go to innocent civilians and not Hamas. We’re going to be watching very carefully how it’s delivered because we want to be sensitive to those concerns, which we share.
QUESTION: So you have – but you do – you don’t have any way of making sure that that happens, right? So —
MR MILLER: We are working on the mechanisms for the delivery of this assistance.
Still in the region, Alex?
QUESTION: Yes. Just very quickly on that.
MR MILLER: Okay.
QUESTION: You mentioned Secretary will continue diplomatic engagements. I’m just curious: What is he hoping to achieve next couple weeks and months? And does the Secretary believe that the ground incursion is something that Israel will not be able to back off?
MR MILLER: So we’re going to let Israel speak to its military operations. It’s appropriate for them to do so. As the President said yesterday when he was in Israel, as the Secretary said when he is – was in the region, both in Israel and in other countries, it’s important that when Israel conducts its military operations that it does so in a way that protects innocent civilian life to the maximum extent possible. That is the responsible – responsibility of any democracy. It’s what differentiates us from terrorist groups like Hamas. And then your second question was – you had a second question. Remind me.
QUESTION: Yeah. What is he hoping to achieve in the next couple —
MR MILLER: Oh, so I reversed the order actually. The – well, he’s going to – he hopes to achieve the same thing that we were – have been working on since the outset of this conflict: number one, to prevent the conflict from widening. You’ve seen us, as a government, send very clear messages to other entities hostile to Israel both through the – what the President has said, what the Secretary has said, and by the fact that we have deployed two carrier strike groups to the region. We want to send a very clear message to other countries or other entities that they should not enter this conflict. The second thing we try to – are trying to do is to secure the release of hostages. There are a number of Americans who remain unaccounted for, and we know that some of those unaccounted for are hostages, and we want to secure their release. And then, of course, we want to continue to work diplomatically to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza for innocent civilians.
QUESTION: Thank you. Can you please come back to me on (inaudible)?
MR MILLER: Yeah, sure.
QUESTION: What’s the —
MR MILLER: Oh, I’ll come to you next. Let me get —
QUESTION: Actually, before (inaudible) you stopped. You said two carriers – strike carriers, Eisenhower and the Gerald Ford. So let’s say if Hizballah decided to enter the war from the north front. What – you said there’s a clear message. Does – will the U.S. be involved in a battle with Hizballah?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to —
QUESTION: So what do you mean by (inaudible) message?
MR MILLER: I am not going to speak to hypotheticals down the road. But our message to any entity hostile from – to Israel has been that they should not enter this conflict. And our message to Israel and the Israeli people has been that we stand with you, and we will support you.
QUESTION: Okay. One more question —
MR MILLER: I’m going to get to everyone. People – I’m going to work —
QUESTION: Last question.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: The U.S. State Department on Tuesday raised its travel alert for Lebanon to Do Not Travel and also asked for American citizens to make arrangements to leave the country as soon as possible. Do you have any additional information about the situation in Lebanon? Do you think it might escalate? Do you have like – why are you asking U.S. citizens to leave as soon as possible?
MR MILLER: So we have taken that measure because we’ve seen events on the ground – let me back up and say we are constantly assessing the safety and security of our personnel in every place where we operate overseas. We are constantly assessing the safety and – of the situation on the ground so we can give appropriate travel warnings and appropriate guidance to American citizens. We took the step in Lebanon because we’ve seen increased activity there that we thought warranted it. We’ve seen a number of protests around the U.S. embassy, for example. And then earlier today we issued a worldwide caution alert where we advised U.S. citizens that due to increased tensions in various locations around – locations around the world, the potential for terrorist attacks, demonstrations, or violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests, the Department of State advises U.S. citizens overseas to exercise increased caution.
I think Jennifer —
QUESTION: On the matter of the American citizens, how many are unaccounted for? How many have been confirmed deceased? And has there been any progress in discussions to try to get them released?
MR MILLER: Thirty-two are deceased; eleven remain unaccounted for. With respect to our work to secure the release of hostages, that work is ongoing. It’s something we’ve spent a lot of time. The Secretary himself was focused on it while we were in the region. And others inside our building, inside our department, and others in the government have been – worked on it. But I don’t think it’s productive to talk about that effort publicly.
QUESTION: Do you still believe that they are all being held in disparate places? Is there an understanding they may have been moved? Do you have a concept of who is actually holding them right now?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to offer a public assessment of where they might be or their situation.
QUESTION: Thank you. With the Worldwide Caution alert today, can you just confirm if that’s the third time that that’s happened since that Worldwide Caution system was comprised?
MR MILLER: I don’t know. I’ll be happy to check on that.
QUESTION: And also, the director of this department’s political military bureau, Josh Paul, resigned. It appeared that he felt like Israel had deferential treatment when it comes to arms sales to the IDF and checking individual units’ human rights records. Is he right?
MR MILLER: So let me say a few things about that. Number one, we understand – we expect, we appreciate – that different people working in this department have different political beliefs, have different personal beliefs, have different beliefs about what United States policy should be. In fact, we think that’s one of the strengths of this government. One of the strengths of this department is that we do have people with different opinions. We encourage them to make their opinions known.
It, of course, is the President that sets policy, but we encourage everyone, even when they disagree with our policy, to let – to make their leadership know. Secretary Blinken has spoken to this on a number of occasions, when he’s said that he welcomes people exercising the dissent channel. He finds it useful to get conflicting voices that may differ from his opinion. He takes it seriously, and it causes him to reflect on his own thinking in terms of policymaking.
But I will say, with respect to this – the specific criticism that has been aired, we have made very clear that we strongly support Israel’s right to defend itself. We are going to continue providing the security assistance that they need to defend themself. We think they have a right – not only a right but an obligation – to defend themselves against these terrorist attacks; I think any country would do that. But the President and the Secretary have spoken to this very clearly, that we expect Israel to abide by all international law in – as they defend themselves. And we’ll continue to work with them to ensure that they meet the highest standards.
QUESTION: But on a practical —
QUESTION: And so if they abided by international law —
MR MILLER: Go ahead, finish.
QUESTION: Sorry. Sorry, Matt. But on a practical level, isn’t —
QUESTION: You’re totally (inaudible) the main issue, Matt. I’m sorry. This is —
MR MILLER: Again, we’re not going to – we don’t do interruptions. Go ahead.
QUESTION: No, no. Somebody has to hold (inaudible).
QUESTION: I’m speaking.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: I’m speaking. Hello.
QUESTION: You’re a propagandist. You’re not (inaudible). And I’m sorry —
MR MILLER: I think your colleague is asking if she – is asking a question.
QUESTION: Can you wait till I’ve asked my question?
QUESTION: Please ask your question, but you can’t say oh, we expect —
MR MILLER: You know what?
QUESTION: Are you going to interrupt —
MR MILLER: You actually don’t get to tell the people how to answer.
QUESTION: Will you disrupt every person in this room?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: No, no. I’m telling you —
QUESTION: Let’s have decorum here. Let’s have decorum.
QUESTION: I’m telling you you can’t get away with that.
MR MILLER: Go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Settle down.
QUESTION: Me settle down?
QUESTION: Thank you. So on a practical level, does the military aid that goes to Israel, does it have the same vetting treatment as, say, for example, Saudi Arabia or in Egypt? Like, does the Leahy Amendment apply to Israel when military aid is being vetted?
MR MILLER: All of – we comply with all applicable statutory requirements and regulatory requirements in our provision of military assistance to Israel, as we do to every other country in the world.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: May I ask a question?
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. Do you have any figure on the number of Palestinians dead in Gaza thus far?
MR MILLER: I have seen the reported numbers. They’re not U.S. Government figures, but I’ve – just as I’ve seen the Israel reported figures.
QUESTION: So it is close to 4,000 people that have been killed, maybe mainly civilians. What kind of protection is the United States willing to give the Palestinian civilians? I mean, obviously they are told to move from one place to another, yet they are targeted. So you keep saying that you ask of Israel that they protect civilians. Have you seen any measure by the Israeli assault thus far where it has actually taken the protection of Palestinians into consideration?
MR MILLER: We are working with the Government of Israel. This is part of Ambassador Satterfield’s charge, not to get – just to get humanitarian assistance flowing into Gaza, which is something I’ve already spoken to at length, but – not just to get humanitarian assistance flowing into Gaza, but also to establish places inside Gaza where innocent civilians can be safe from harm’s way. That work is ongoing, but it is a high priority for us, and we are in discussions with the Government of Israel about it, as well as the UN and other international bodies.
QUESTION: So do you agree with the Israeli call of the United Nations to evacuate 1.1 million Palestinians to go south?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to that specific question. But I will say it is important that Palestinian civilians have the chance to get out of harm’s way. If Israel is conducting military operations in Gaza City or in other areas, it is appropriate to establish places where Palestinian civilians can be safe from military attacks. And that’s what we’re trying to do.
QUESTION: So you know that those who have actually gone south now have gone back north because they have been hit time and time and time again?
MR MILLER: What I would say to that is that is exactly why we are working to establish this area – these areas where they can be safe from harm.
QUESTION: I have a couple more questions, one of your veto at the United Nations that was cast yesterday. Why would you cast a veto on a call to end hostilities for a very brief time so you can get human assistance going through? What is – I mean, all other members of the Security Council, with the exception of Russia and England that chose to abstain, voted for such a measure.
MR MILLER: I would say a few things about that. Number one, we thought it was very unfortunate that that resolution did not recognize Israel’s right to defend itself in the face of these terrorist attacks. We think that is an important principle. I’m going to go back to what I said a minute ago, which is that Israel just suffered a massive terrorist attack, something that is 10 to 15 times the impact of 9/11 when you look at it on a per capita basis. Any country would defend —
QUESTION: But the Palestinians also suffer any time —
MR MILLER: Let me – Said. Said, I’m – Said, let me –
QUESTION: No, I’m sorry, but —
MR MILLER: Any – I’m going to answer. I’ll give you a follow-up, where you can make your point or answer your question.
QUESTION: Sure. Go ahead.
MR MILLER: Any country would defend itself in those situations. The other reason we exercised that veto is there is ongoing diplomatic work about this very question right now, the work that Ambassador Satterfield is conducting, the work that others in the region are conducting to try to establish areas where civilians can be safe from harm. At that – with that work going – with that work ongoing and with a resolution that did not exercise Israel’s right to defend itself, we thought this step we took was the appropriate one.
QUESTION: So in your view, what is Israel’s end game? I mean, what we have seen is an increased assault that ends up killing a lot of civilians, and that seems to be the trajectory for the few – the next few days and so on. What is – in your view, what is Israel’s end game, or what should it be? Because you obviously are in talks with them; you talk with them at the level of the President and the level of the Secretary and State and so on. What is their end game?
MR MILLER: It’s a good question. So I was just in, with the Secretary, a number of meetings with officials from the Government of Israel, including with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and what they tell us privately is the same thing that they have said publicly, which is at the end of this conflict they want a situation where Hamas can never again govern and run Gaza in the way it has; they want to ensure that Gaza is not a place where Hamas can continue to exist and launch terrorist attacks against Israel, which we believe is a completely legitimate and appropriate position that any country would take.
We also, as the President has made clear, as the Secretary has made clear, to continue to engage with them on how best they can achieve that goal while protecting innocent civilians from harm.
QUESTION: So we’re talking about regime change, I mean, just for the lack of better words, right?
MR MILLER: I – you can call it whatever word you want, but they want Gaza not to be administered by a terrorist organization that is launching attacks that kill 1,300 innocent civilians.
QUESTION: I have one more question. I have one more question about the situation in the West Bank.
QUESTION: Please, can I please finish my question? Thank you. I mean —
QUESTION: Thank you. On the situation in the West Bank, can you update us on the situation in the West Bank? Because since October 7 until now, 86 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli soldiers. There are fears that they are going to storm the camps any time, like Jenin camp, whether these reports true or not and so on. But are you prepared for such an explosion in the West Bank?
MR MILLER: So we have made clear that from the outset of this conflict, from the very first day, one of the things that we were trying to do was keep violence from spreading, to keep the conflict from spreading to other areas. So that is something we talked with President Abbas about, when the Secretary met with him twice; something we talked about with other leaders in the region, and it’ll continue to be a priority.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Can you give us an update on the – what happened in the hospital? Yesterday, you said – I mean, the NSC spokesperson said we are still gathering information. Do you have any update?
MR MILLER: We are still gathering information. But based on our initial assessment. it is the assessment of the intelligence agencies of the United States Government that the explosion at the hospital was the result of a failed rocket launch by militants in Gaza.
QUESTION: And if I may, I know it’s too early to ask this question, but is there any back channel, diplomatic back channel? Are you talking to the – I know you are in contact with all the Arab leaders now. But is there any horizon for a political solution or something? Are you – how open are the Israeli now for that?
MR MILLER: A political solution with Hamas?
QUESTION: I mean – no. For the aftermath. I mean —
MR MILLER: I see. Look, it is something that we discussed with the Israeli Government when we were there. It’s something that the Secretary discussed with other leaders in the region. We are obviously in the very early days of this conflict. But it is something that everyone agrees needs to be a priority in ensuring that whatever happens to Hamas, at the end of Israel’s military operations, that something new be established. And I expect that that will be the focus of a good bit of diplomatic work over the coming weeks.
QUESTION: You mention many times that you are working very hard to not let this conflict widening. In case – I want to repeat that question about Lebanon. In case there was any engagement by any other party, whether Hizballah or others, what is the scope of your intervention here – to intercept, to stop, or what?
MR MILLER: I am not, again, going to get ahead of actual events and speculate what our reaction might be, other than to say that the President has made very clear that anyone hostile to Israel considering entering the conflict should think twice about doing so.
QUESTION: So one last question. Are you negotiating with any other countries regarding the hostage, especially with Qatar? Because —
MR MILLER: There are ongoing diplomatic engagements with respect to this question. The Secretary was personally involved in this issue when he was in the region. But I don’t think it’s productive to the outcome we’re trying to achieve to talk about those engagement publicly.
QUESTION: On how can this – another one?
QUESTION: Let me follow up on this?
MR MILLER: I’ll come – let me go here, and then I’ll come to you — to these – I’ll work this side, and then I’ll come back to you. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. A few questions. First, one the ceasefire, the Egyptian and the Jordanians have asked for an immediate ceasefire. The Israeli Government spokesman said that there is no ceasefire or cessation of hostiles during the time when aid is going to go through Rafah. So does this – doesn’t this put the people who are crossing the border at risk? And why can’t the United States support the position that actually, at least during this time, there will be a ceasefire?
MR MILLER: Because one of the issues that Ambassador Satterfield is in discussions with Israeli and Egyptian officials about is exactly how to open Rafah gate and ensure that humanitarian assistance can be safely delivered in. So that would include, obviously, Israel not conducting military operations in the vicinity where humanitarian assistance is flowing across – through Rafah gate into southern Gaza.
QUESTION: Okay. Just to follow up, on the Josh Paul question, isn’t the U.S. policy that U.S. weapons should not be used against civilians, especially lethal weapons. Can you assure us that U.S. weapons are not used against civilians or is this exception to this rule?
MR MILLER: U.S. weapons cannot be deliberately used against civilians. Of course – and one of the tragedies of war is that there are always civilian deaths. It is one of the great tragedies of war, and what we try to do is work to minimize civilian deaths to the greatest extent possible.
So that is why the Secretary engaged – the Secretary – let me just go back to what I said at the outset. The Secretary went to Israel last week, met with the Israeli Government on Thursday; met with families of hostages and met families of the deceased; gave a speech in Israel about how the United States supports Israel. And then he went and traveled around the region and talked to leaders of the countries I mentioned – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar – both about the United States perspective and he listened to their perspective.
And one of the things he was able to do when he went back to Israel on Monday – three days ago, I think – was to deliver a message not just on behalf of the United States but on behalf of all of these other countries that it is important we establish a mechanism for the protection of civilians in Israel; came out and gave a press statement – I think it was at 3:00 in the morning, after we had engaged in seven and a half hours of discussions with the Israeli Government about that question – where he – as he said at the time, the Israeli Government had agreed, at our urging, at our strong urging in a message the Secretary carried not just on our behalf but on behalf of other countries in the region, to work to establish those mechanisms.
The President flew to Israel yesterday, personally pressed the government on that question, came out – and you saw announcements from the Israeli Government in the aftermath of that, and you see Ambassador Satterfield on the ground negotiating the mechanisms through which that humanitarian assistance will be provided and the ways in which we will set up areas to protect civilians right now.
This is a top priority for the United States Government. You have everyone from the President on down engaged in it just because it is such a top priority, and we will continue to stay focused on it.
QUESTION: Okay. And finally, just on the attack on the Ahli hospital, you said that you’re sure that actually it wasn’t the Israelis who did that.
MR MILLER: I said it was our initial assessment, based on the information that is available to us. And let me just say I don’t want to play media critic here, but I will say that I do think that this event was a reminder of that everyone – this includes officials in government, but officials in government and everyone that watches this conflict, that commentates on it – it would be wise for all of us to take a beat and pause and collect all the information before choosing to decide what we believe and what we don’t. I saw a number of – a number of reports from the very early days that took Hamas’s word at face value, the word of a terrorist organization. I don’t mind people – treating our claims with – our claims skeptically. Everyone has a right to do that. We stand up here every day and defend them. But I would hope that everyone who is watching what’s happening would not take claims from a terrorist organization at face value.
QUESTION: And that’s my question.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s precisely because of that that in the region, as you know, there is mistrust over the Israelis saying, and actually of the U.S. position as well, because there is previous administrations that took us to war in Iraq on a lie that was defended on a very high level, including behind this podium. That’s why people are cynical when you hear something. We might not know the truth, but would the United States support an international investigation? That’s —
MR MILLER: I do not believe that is appropriate at this time. The Israeli Government has released a great deal of evidence to support their contention that it – this was a misfire rocket attack from inside Gaza that unfortunately landed on this hospital and killed it looks like hundreds of civilians. The U.S. Government is conducting its own assessment.
And I would just say, from Hamas’s side we’ve seen a claim backed up by zero evidence, and it is unfortunate that a lot of people believe a claim from a terrorist organization in absence of them having provided any evidence at all when you are seeing the Israeli Government provide evidence. And I know people treat that skeptically, and I understand the reasons why. But I do – would hope that people who are trying to determine what actually happened would look at the fact that Israel has released information and Hamas has not in this instance.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you.
MR MILLER: No, let me go – go ahead (inaudible).
QUESTION: Follow-up on —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Follow-up on the resignation of the senior State Department official. After that resignation, would the U.S. reconsider its policy of unconditional military assistance to Israel? Isn’t there any concern among the administration that by supplying this military assistance, you might be involved in any possible war crimes against civilians?
MR MILLER: No, I would say that we have made very clear that we expect Israel to conduct its operations in compliance with international law. That is the standard we hold – uphold – that’s the standard we hold ourselves to; it’s the standard we hold our partners to; it’s the standard every democracy ought to be held to. And we will continue to work with them and continue to deliver messages to them that they should conduct their military operations in – and to the maximum extent possible to protect civilians from harm.
QUESTION: Also, I have a follow-up on the hospital attack. Would the U.S. consider making that evidence, that data related to hospital attack public?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak for the – those are not assessments that are conducted in this building and I wouldn’t want to speak to other agencies’ equities from here.
Go ahead, Shannon.
QUESTION: Thanks. On the hospital blast, we saw several Middle Eastern leaders come out quickly and going off of Hamas’s word condemn Israel, condemn the IDF. But now with the U.S. assessment, has there been any high-level outreach from this building to either share that intelligence or encourage them to walk back some of their initial condemnation?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to private diplomatic negotiations, but one of the things the Secretary did make clear in his travels around the region is that we think everyone ought to be very clear on what Hamas is – a terrorist organization – and be clear about that publicly and be clear about that privately. But beyond that, I wouldn’t want to speak to private conversations.
QUESTION: As a follow-up, does the State Department think that if some of those leaders were to come out and have some more measured statements, walk back some of the initial statements, would that perhaps lower the temperature in the Middle East where we’re seeing widespread protests?
MR MILLER: Go ahead, if you wouldn’t mind repeating that question.
QUESTION: Is the view of the State Department that if some of these leaders were to walk back their initial statements, encourage caution, as the State Department has, would that perhaps lower the temperature where we’re seeing some of these widespread protests?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to what other leaders should do. I would – but I would say we have made very clear that we think everyone ought to be open and crystal-clear in talking about the fact that Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that killed hundreds and hundreds of Israeli civilians, and of course we would hope that everyone that looks at what happened in the explosion at the hospital would look at the evidence in making up any determinations and not just rely on the word of Hamas.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matthew. Excuse me. Why did the State Department allow for the lowering of flags in the aftermath of the hospital attack, per a department cable sent out to U.S. diplomatic and consular posts, but not in the aftermath of the October 17 Hamas attacks on Israel?
What does the House Speaker saga say about America’s standing in the world? Is the State Department concerned about the vacancy given that the U.S. cannot send supplemental assistance to Israel or Ukraine without a House speaker?
MR MILLER: What we said in respect to the lowering of flags is that embassies could make decisions consistent with longstanding State Department policy and State Department regulation to decide to lower their flag when a state of mourning has been declared in that country. There are other considerations that go into, but that’s one of them that embassies can consider. I think places where the flag has been lowered, it’s because there has been a state of mourning that was announced by the government.
We of course mourn the loss of the innocent civilians who died in that explosion at the hospital, just as we mourn the loss of 1,300 Israeli civilians in the deadly terrorist attacks by Hamas. With respect to the question about the flag at our embassy in Israel, there was not a national day of mourning that was declared, which is one of the things that goes into the policy. But I think we’ve made pretty clear our sympathies for the people of Israel when you saw, for example, the Secretary traveling to the region and meeting with the families of a number of Israeli and American citizens who had lost their lives, of meeting with the families of hostages, of giving a speech in Israel where he said that the United States stand – stands by you and talked about how the – he was personally affected by the tragedy.
And the second question with respect to – look, I’d say that it when it comes to funding, the President’s going to speak to this somewhat tonight, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of the President. Never a good idea for a spokesman. But I will say that we do think it’s important that we have a functioning partner in Congress who can support our allies and our partners around the world. We have made clear that we stand by Israel, just as we stand by Ukraine. They are two democracies defending themselves from attacks from outside. And so as we do everything we can as an Executive Branch, there is a time when we’re going to go – need to go to Congress for more assistance, and it would be nice to have a functioning partner in that regard.
QUESTION: And the – and the National Security Council of Israel raised the travel warning to Türkiye to its highest level, warning any Israelis in the country to leave. Are you concerned about the safety of U.S. nationals in Türkiye? And how do you intend to handle this with Türkiye, which is a NATO Ally?
MR MILLER: So I won’t speak to the question of the travel warning, but as I said, we issued a general – the travel warning that was not issued by the United States. As I said, we issued a general Travel Warning for Americans all across the world to take caution and be on the lookout for increased tensions wherever they might be. And I would encourage any American who’s traveling overseas to enroll in our safe traveler – our safe traveler program so they can get updates about where they are or about conditions wherever they might be.
Go ahead, Janne.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. Russian President Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping blamed the Middle East crisis on U.S.’s faulty diplomacy, and they said that they supported Hamas. Meanwhile, China says it will act as a mediator for peace between Israel and Hamas. Do you agree to Chinese arbitration?
MR MILLER: I would just say that the instigator of this current conflict is Hamas, plain and simple, full stop. It is Hamas that launched a deadly terrorist attack inside Israel and killed hundreds and hundreds of civilians. With respect to potential mediators, I would say we think at this time the appropriate step is not mediation with Hamas, but Israel defending itself, as any country could.
I will say, however, that one of the things the Secretary did while he was traveling in the region is to reach out to his Chinese counterpart and call Wang Yi to make a very clear point, which is China has ability – has lines of communication with a number of countries in the region. We have said in the – going back to the Secretary’s trip to Beijing in June that one of the reasons we wanted to have lines of communication open with China was that so when there are crises across the world – not just bilateral issues between the United States and China, but when there are other crises – that China can use its lines of communication or its influence for good.
So if China could do something to prevent the conflict of – from widening, that is certainly something that we would welcome. But I don’t think that goal of ours is consistent with the proposal that you mentioned.
QUESTION: As you know, the North Korea continues to transport weapons to Russia. Does the U.S. have any tools to block arms trade between Russia and North Korea?
MR MILLER: So we’ve spoken to this somewhat before, back before this latest crisis. I will say that, as I said back then, part of the reason Russia has had to go around the world looking for arms is because of the sanctions and export controls that we have imposed on them. One of those states is the DPRK. We have made – we have released information to show that military assistance is already moving from DPRK into Russia. We will closely monitor that and we will take whatever steps we can to hold the party’s account – to account, as we have in the past.
QUESTION: Matthew, good afternoon. Two questions, if you would please. One, the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem – his name is Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa. He recently said he would allow himself to be taken hostage by Hamas if Hamas would release the children they are currently holding in captivity. One, is the State Department aware of that offer?
MR MILLER: I’ve seen public reports about it. I don’t have any comment about it. Our position all along has been that Hamas should just release the innocent civilians that it’s holding. There shouldn’t – it’s not necessary to have any further negotiations. These are in many cases children, in some cases babies, and that Hamas just ought to release them.
QUESTION: Does the State Department believe the Vatican can play a role in helping free the hostages?
MR MILLER: We would welcome – we would welcome diplomatic engagements by any country to try and secure the release of hostages.
QUESTION: And number two, please. More specific, Holy Family Church is the only Roman Catholic church in Gaza. In fact, it’s located in Gaza City, the northern part of Gaza City. Right now it’s housing hundreds of refugees. They have little food, little water, little electricity, few mattresses. The new aid the Biden administration is sending, $100 million, do you believe , does the State Department believe that money will get to that church, Holy Family Church, to help those civilians there?
MR MILLER: I can’t speak to where exactly aid will be delivered with respect to any one entity inside Gaza. What I will say is that the mechanisms we are trying to establish now, that Ambassador Satterfield is trying to establish, are to ensure that food, water, medicine gets to any innocent civilians in Gaza who needs it. That would – could possibly include a church, it could include others. The point is that any innocent civilian – not a Hamas terrorist, but an innocent civilian – should have access to the food, water, medical – medication, and other humanitarian assistance that they need for their daily lives.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on the Rafah Border Crossing? I know there’s – we’ve been looking at 20 trucks possibly coming across, but how much aid total is waiting to come across that border? And can you give any more details on, once it crosses over, how it will be distributed and where it will go?
MR MILLER: Both of those are – I know there’s a number of aid that’s prepositioned by various agencies and nonprofits outside of Rafah. In terms of how it will be delivered inside Gaza, when it moves through Rafah into Gaza, are questions that we’re working through right now.
QUESTION: And one more follow-up on the worldwide threat. Were there any specific threats that the State Department saw that led them to issue that alert?
MR MILLER: I would just say we’re monitoring conditions around the world; we’re monitoring conditions in the region. We take a number of factors into consideration when making that determination. It’s not necessarily any one thing, but everything that we’re watching around the world.
Still on Israel or —
QUESTION: On Russia.
MR MILLER: Let me – go ahead. Go ahead. Yeah, go ahead, sorry.
QUESTION: Afghanistan, please.
QUESTION: Are we still in the Middle East?
MR MILLER: Go ahead, and then I’ll come to you. We’ll – we – yeah, go ahead. We can move to something else.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. As you know, Afghanistan people has a lot of problem – Pakistan and Iran try to kick them out, and they wants them to leave Iran and Pakistan, and so many refugee live in these two countries. There is any way to bring a little pressure on these two countries, Pakistan and Iran, to keep Afghan refugees so far? Because some of them, they try to leave Pakistan and Iran to come to the United States and some other country, they have a lot of difficulty, and they push them to leave the country.
MR MILLER: I would say that we urge all states, including Pakistan, to uphold their respective obligations in their treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and to respect the principle of non-refoulement. We strongly encourage – I probably messed that up; my French is not so great. We strongly encourage Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Pakistan, to allow entry for Afghans seeking international protection, and to coordinate with international humanitarian organizations such as UNHCR and IOM to provide humanitarian assistance.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Yesterday, the U.S. forces in Iraq engaged with three attacks, drone attacks. The second drone attack were – resulted in minor injuries to the U.S. forces. Do you think that this is a message from the Iraqi militia to U.S. forces in the region – if they are doing what they are doing in the region with Israel, then they are getting involved into this war? And secondly, who do you blame for this attacks?
MR MILLER: I would say that that’s a matter we’re still looking into. We obviously take very seriously the safety and security of all Americans overseas, especially our forces serving overseas. And for further comment, I’d refer you to the Pentagon.
MR MILLER: I – what was the —
QUESTION: President Sisi, he’s such suggesting Negev deserts to settling the Gaza refugees instead of Sinai? This is inside Israel. Do you support the idea of resettling the Gaza refugees inside Negev desert in Israel?
MR MILLER: I will say one of the things that we heard in our travels around the region from – first and foremost from President Abbas, but also from many other regions – is that the idea of Palestinians leaving Gaza was a nonstarter. They did not want to see Palestinians leave leaving Palestinian land. That’s one of the reasons why we focused on setting up areas inside Gaza where they can be safe from harm.
QUESTION: Thank you. One question on Israel and one question on Russia. Amnesty International last week said that it has evidence Israel used phosphorus, white phosphorus, to bomb dense areas in Gaza. Are you aware of this report? Do you have any —
MR MILLER: I have seen the report. I don’t have any evidence to show that it’s accurate.
QUESTION: And on Russia, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov said earlier in October that Russia has no other choice but to revoke its ratification of the CTBT treaty because the U.S. doesn’t show any sign of ratification. Do you have any comment, sir?
MR MILLER: Let me take that one back. And Alex, go ahead, and then we’ll —
QUESTION: Staying on Russia – thanks so much – back to the second U.S. reporter who has been arrested in Russia. You said you have no information and have not been officially notified. Is that the reason why the U.S. State Department hasn’t still designated her a wrongfully detained —
MR MILLER: Well, she was just detained in the last 24 hours, according to reports. She was detained. She was – her passport was taken. We’ve been working on this quietly. I’m not going to speak to all of those efforts, but it is something we’ve been focused on. But she was just arrested, according to reports; again, we’ve not been officially notified or had contact with her just in the past 24 hours.
QUESTION: And as you know, Secretary told us in May, following Gershkovich arrest, that all of the U.S. citizens acting – reporters in Russia have left Russia. Is that still the case? Do you have any updated information? How many American journalists are still operating?
MR MILLER: It’s not something that we’re necessarily able to track, journalists coming in and out. But I would say that our guidance has been very clear, which is: No American citizen should travel to Russia for any reason. It’s quite risky to do so. We’ve seen American citizens detained for no reason, arrested for no reason. So we would encourage any American not to travel to Russia. And with that, we’ll wrap for today.
MR MILLER: Oh, one more from Abbie. Yeah.
MR MILLER: That is not our policy. We support Israel’s right to defend itself. You have to remember that Israel is still under attack. Hamas is still launching rocket attacks at Israel that have killed innocent civilians, and we believe Israel ought to have the right to defend itself against those attacks. At the same time, they ought to do so in a way that protects civilians from harm to the greatest extent possible.
I’ll stop – I’ll stop for —
QUESTION: You’re still asking for a two-state solution?
MR MILLER: We are. Of course we are. I’ll stop for there today. Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:19 p.m.)
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