Department Press Briefing – October 23, 2023
MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. I don’t have any opening comments today, so Matt.
QUESTION: Really? You have nothing at the top?
MR MILLER: I have lots on my mind, lots to say, but I’ll let you start.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, why don’t you go ahead and —
MR MILLER: No, I’ll let you start with a question first.
QUESTION: Lots on your mind, what do you have? What’s on your mind?
MR MILLER: I want —
QUESTION: All right.
MR MILLER: Start with a question, and then I’ll follow.
QUESTION: Can I go through just two things real brief, and then we can get into the Middle East?
MR MILLER: Sure.
QUESTION: One, do you have anything on the extension of the detention of the RFE reporter in Russia?
MR MILLER: I do. So I would say that we are deeply concerned about her pre-trial detention. We have requested consular access; so far it has not been granted. We will continue to press for it. And we have asked the Russian Government for more information on her situation.
QUESTION: Okay. And is it correct you still have not gotten any access?
MR MILLER: We have not gotten – we have not even been officially notified of her arrest by the Russian Government.
QUESTION: Gotcha, all right.
MR MILLER: But we are aware of the reports. And so because of that, we are communicating with her attorneys and we have requested consular access.
MR MILLER: Yeah, we welcome that step. Obviously, we have been calling for ratification of Sweden’s accession for some time. And we look forward to that bill being considered in the Turkish parliament and passed as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Okay. Now on to the Middle East. I want to go back to something that the Secretary addressed last week and over the – or tried to address. I’m not sure he actually did address it. But that is the question of whether you guys believe that Israel has been – so far in its response to the attacks of October 7th, been responding in – been adhering to the international rules, international laws of war, international humanitarian regulations.
When the Secretary said there’ll be plenty of time to work that all out, does that mean that you guys have not made any kind of a determination at all in terms of what they’re doing?
MR MILLER: No, we have not made any kind of formal determination, but it’s a matter we are in close communication with our Israeli counterparts. The President has discussed this with Israeli leadership. The Secretary has discussed this with Israeli leadership. And we’ve talked about it publicly, the fact that we believe it’s important that Israel comply with all laws of war. That is the responsibility of democracies. It’s the responsibility of all countries. And we’ll continue to make that clear to them.
I do, as always when asked about this question, do think it’s important to remind people of the context, which is that Hamas continues to embed itself inside the civilian population. Hamas continues to put legitimate military targets inside civilian infrastructure and use the civilians of Gaza as human shields. We know that Israel does notify civilians when it plans to conduct air strikes, say, against residential buildings, and gives those civilians an opportunity to vacate the premises. But we will continue to work through this question with them.
QUESTION: Right. I’m not saying that any of that is not true. I’m just wondering if you guys have made any kind of a determination, whether it’s preliminary or not, about whether the – I mean, there have been – granted, what happened on October 7 was absolutely horrific. But in the response, there have been many, many civilian casualties. So you guys have not yet made a determination?
MR MILLER: We have —
QUESTION: And when you say that you’re talking about it with the Israelis, are you telling them that you think that they’ve gone too far? Obviously, Hamas went —
MR MILLER: We have not made that determination and we have not communicated that to the Israeli Government. What we have said to the Israeli Government is the importance of, when they carry out their military operations, of doing so in a way that complies with international law and —
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah, but —
MR MILLER: – let me add something – and doing so in a way that protects civilian lives to the maximum extent possible.
QUESTION: Okay. But do you think that they’ve done that so far?
MR MILLER: That is the – that is what we have called on them to do. I am not in a position to sit here and assess every single strike from this podium. As the Secretary —
QUESTION: I don’t think anyone is asking you to assess every single strike.
MR MILLER: Well, I know. Let me – let me – as the Secretary said —
QUESTION: But in general.
MR MILLER: – there will be plenty of ability to assess that —
QUESTION: Is there a reason to be – is there reason to be concerned?
MR MILLER: Obviously, there is reason to be concerned. Every time there is a civilian death, we mourn the loss of every civilian death, whether it be a Palestinian civilian or whether it be an Israeli civilian. But again, you have to look at these strikes and you have to look at their operations in the context that I just said, where you have legitimate military targets that are embedded in civilian infrastructure. So it is in a very, extremely unfortunate byproduct of this campaign that there are civilians that are unfortunately harmed and civilians that are killed, which is why we’re working to establish areas inside Gaza where civilians can be safe from harm.
QUESTION: All right, understood. Last one. In terms of the release of hostages, it is correct, right, that you guys are still working with the Qataris, the Egyptians, the Turks, the Israelis, whoever, to get more of the hostages out? Is there any update you can provide us on that?
MR MILLER: There’s no update I can provide. I will say that from the opening hours of – or the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of the – of October 7th, one of the top priorities for the United States Government, one of the top priorities for Secretary Blinken, has been to secure the release of all hostages held inside Gaza. It was one of the – as you remember, as you were on the Secretary’s recent trip through the region, it was something he raised in every one of his meetings, most particularly in his meeting with Qatari counterparts. And it’s something he’s continued to raise. He spoke with the prime minister of Qatar yesterday to thank him for his help, for Qatar’s help, in securing the release of two hostages on Friday. And it continues to be one of our top priorities to secure the release of other hostages.
As for any details, we don’t – because of the delicate and very sensitive nature of this entire issue, we don’t find it productive to our objective to secure their release to talk about it – to talk about the details publicly, but it is something we are actively working on.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Can I get a follow-up on that?
MR MILLER: Let me go to – I’ll go to Humeyra and then —
QUESTION: Matt, there’s been a lot of reporting that U.S. Government is basically trying to hold – hold off the Israeli ground offensive. And I know that from various U.S. officials, it’s been said that you’re not trying to tell them how to do – or like what to do, when to do. But, I mean, can I just ask you: Is the United States advising Israel to hold off on the ground operation?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to get into the details of our private conversations with the Israeli Government, with the Israeli leadership. What I’ll say: in all of our conversations we continue to talk to them about the importance of having meaningful goals, meaningful objectives, and a plan to achieve those objectives. We’ve been engaged in a number of levels. The Pentagon has been engaging in a – in military-to-military channels about what their operations might look like. But beyond that, I wouldn’t want to go into details other than to say that, ultimately, these are decisions that Israel has to make.
QUESTION: Right. But you can’t also deny that that’s not what you’re doing, either?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to say anything other than what I just said about our private conversations.
QUESTION: Right. Do you know – do you know, based on the intense conversations that the Secretary has had and President Biden has had – do you know if Israel is ready to go ahead with its ground offensive?
MR MILLER: Again, those are decisions that Israel has to make for itself. They are the country that suffered this brutal terrorist attack and is suffering ongoing terrorist attacks from Gaza. Rockets continue to launch from Gaza targeting Israeli civilians. So these are decisions that they have to make. We are in close consultation with them. But I don’t want to speak to those private conversations.
QUESTION: Well —
QUESTION: Can I just follow up real quick?
QUESTION: Can I follow up here?
MR MILLER: Shaun. I’ll work around. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Just briefly, an aside to that. Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, said that he expects EU leaders to work toward a call for a humanitarian pause in what’s happening in Gaza to bring in some aid. Is the United States in conversations with the Europeans about that? And is it – would the United States support such a call?
MR MILLER: We are in conversations with the Europeans about this question of getting humanitarian aid in, and we are conversations with the Government of Israel and the Government of Egypt about how best to get humanitarian aid in.
But I think what this question – whether you call it a pause or whether you call it a ceasefire, you have to think about what that would mean in this context when Israel has suffered this terrorist attack and Israel continues to suffer ongoing terrorist attacks. There are rockets, as I said a moment ago, that continue to be launched from Gaza targeting Israel. Any ceasefire would give Hamas the ability to rest, to refit, and to get ready to continue launching terrorist attacks against Israel. You can understand perfectly clearly why that’s an intolerable situation for Israel, as it would be an intolerable situation for any country that has suffered such a brutal terrorist attack and continues to see the terrorist threat right on its border.
So while we – what we will continue to do with respect to this question is focus on getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza. We’ve seen deliveries go in for the past three days, and our special envoy on the ground, David Satterfield, is working intensively to establish ongoing mechanisms for the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and we’re working to establish places where civilians can be safe from harm inside Gaza.
QUESTION: And has that been communicated to the Europeans as it does its —
MR MILLER: We have had those conversations – in all our diplomatic conversations, I think we’ve been pretty clear about our policy.
QUESTION: Can I briefly follow up?
MR MILLER: Go ahead, Jen.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. On the hostages who were released last week, do you have any updates on how they’re doing, their status? Will they be coming back to the United States?
MR MILLER: In terms of their – of both their medical status or what their travel situation might be, I will let them speak to that. I don’t think it should be the position of – or the business of the United States Government to speak to what private individual citizens have to do.
QUESTION: So they’re still in Israel?
MR MILLER: I will – yeah, I will say that the Secretary had the chance to speak to them on Saturday, found them to be in good condition, in good spirits in his conversation. As to whether they intend to stay or travel back, I’ll let them speak to that.
QUESTION: Can I —
QUESTION: And then on the Rafah Crossing negotiations, where is Satterfield right now?
MR MILLER: Last I checked at – I guess it’s around 8:30 Israel time, he is in Israel. He has been involved, as I said, in conversations with the Government of Israel and with the Government of Egypt about trying to effectuate two things: number one, to get sustained aid into Gaza through Rafah. We saw the first convoy of trucks go on Saturday. We saw a second convoy of trucks go on Sunday. There was a third convoy that went in today.
And he’s been working on a sustained delivery mechanism, I said, with the Government of Israel and the Government of Egypt – I should have also mentioned with the United Nations – to ensure that humanitarian aid can continue to flow in. And then at the same time, he’s been working with those two governments and with the UN to ensure that the U.S. civilians who are in Rafah – or in Gaza who are stuck there, as well as other foreign nationals, can come out through the Rafah Crossing.
QUESTION: And then lastly, on the uptick in Houthi attacks towards Israel, do you see them as actually targeting Israel? And do you see Iran as directing these attacks or just facilitating them?
MR MILLER: So I wouldn’t – I don’t want to speak to assessment of what they might be targeting. I’ll leave it to the Pentagon to offer any assessments that they have on that question. I will say that we are concerned about an increase in attacks by Iranian proxies in the region, whether they be targeting U.S. interests or whether they be targeting other interests in the region. We hold Iran accountable for those attacks.
And as the Secretary said yesterday when he was interviewed, it’s something that we are preparing for and are ready to respond to if necessary.
QUESTION: So you see Iran as directing these?
MR MILLER: I didn’t say they’re directing. Whether they’re directing them or not, these are militias that they have sponsored, and they are responsible for them.
QUESTION: Can I —
MR MILLER: Go ahead. I’ll get – I’ll come to you, Said.
QUESTION: I wanted to clarify on your answer to Matt about the assessment or not assessment of compliance with international law. Are you saying that, without making a legal determination, you’re basically assuming that when the Israelis strike in Gaza they are hitting military targets, even though they’ve essentially destroyed Gaza City with their almost unprecedented airstrike campaign, yes?
MR MILLER: I am going to use – I’m going to use my own words. And I can restate them, but the words I used, which are – you have to remember the context in which Israel is carrying out those strikes, and that is against an opponent, a terrorist organization, that has embedded its infrastructure inside civilian buildings, in schools, in hospitals, under schools, under hospitals, inside residential apartment buildings. So Israel has a legitimate military – has a legitimate right to carry out military obligations targeting a foreign terrorist organization. It should do that in a way that minimizes, to the maximum extent possible, civilian harm. That’s what we’ve made clear to them.
QUESTION: Follow-up on Qatar. Is the U.S. hoping that Qatar is going to play a role in releasing further hostages?
MR MILLER: Absolutely. We have made that clear publicly. We have talked – as I said, really since the immediate aftermath of the attacks on October 7th, one of the first calls the Secretary made was to the prime minister of Qatar. We then had a follow-up meeting in Qatar during his trip to the region, where we talked about what – if there was anything that Qatar could do to secure the release of hostages, we would welcome them doing that. You heard the Secretary thank the Government of Qatar for their work when he stood at this podium on Friday, and we continue to work with Qatar to try and secure the release of all hostages.
QUESTION: What is – sorry – what is the State Department’s assessment about, I guess, what is in it for Qatar? Why is this in their interests to help us secure the American hostages?
MR MILLER: Qatar is a longtime partner of ours who is responding to our request, because I think they believe that innocent civilians ought to be freed.
QUESTION: One last question, if I may. Tomorrow, what is the Secretary hoping to – what is he hoping to see happen at the UN tomorrow?
MR MILLER: I will defer that question until tomorrow. Our work with regards to what happens at the United Nations is still ongoing.
QUESTION: Matt, there are some reports that the Red Cross is on its way to retrieving 50 dual nationals in southern Gaza. Have you seen those reports, and can you confirm they’re true?
MR MILLER: I’ve seen those reports. I can’t confirm them. Again, because this is such a delicate –
MR MILLER: I’m sorry, cannot confirm them. I cannot. I thought I said “can’t,” but I might have misspoke. I cannot confirm them. Again, because this is such a delicate situation, when we’re talking about actual lives at stake here, I don’t think it’s productive for us to talk about any of the details of our work. But we do want to see all the hostages released. We want to see them released unconditionally, and we want to see them released as soon as possible.
QUESTION: I understand all of those things, including the delicacy surrounding the discussions. But can you – what can you say about what Hamas may be getting for the release of these hostages? Can you confirm, first of all, that they’re making specific demands for their release?
MR MILLER: As far as I’m aware, Hamas is not getting anything in return for the release of these hostages.
QUESTION: No safe haven, no money, no prisoner exchanges? They’re doing it —
MR MILLER: No, no. They’re – we have not released any prisoners; the Government of Israel has not released any prisoners. I’m not aware of any intention to release any prisoners. We have called on Hamas to do this because they should not be holding innocent civilians hostage – not just men, but women, children, elderly people. And we’ve impressed upon all of our partners who have relationships with Hamas or have influence with Hamas that they should use that influence to the maximum extent possible to press for the release of all these hostages.
QUESTION: So to be clear, you’re not aware that Hamas is getting anything – via third parties or anybody else – in exchange for the release of the hostages to date?
MR MILLER: No. No.
QUESTION: Over the weekend, Secretary Blinken said that Hamas was blocking the exit of American citizens in Gaza through Rafah. What leverage does the U.S. have – first of all, are there conversations going on with Hamas about securing the release of those American citizens in Gaza?
MR MILLER: So let me back up and say what it – explain what it is that happened, and then I’ll get to the question. So Rafah gate opened for the first time on Saturday to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance in. There were a number of civilians – some American citizens, but I think also other civilians, foreign nationals of other countries – who came to the Gaza side of the Rafah Crossing to attempt to get out.
We were in conversation with the Government of Egypt, as we have been for some time, about being able to process those American citizens if they were able to get through the Gaza side and to the Egyptian side of the crossing. None of them were able to because the reports we were given on the ground is that Hamas was there blocking anyone from coming through the gate from the Gaza side out to the Egyptian side.
So we are not in direct conversation with Hamas, but we have been sending messages to Hamas through a number of partners – I think we’ll leave it at that – that we do want to see American citizens able to leave through the Rafah Crossing.
QUESTION: Is that through the Qataris, or somebody else?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to get into the details of —
QUESTION: Okay. Is there any expectation that you might see movement on that front, anything —
MR MILLER: I don’t want to say an expectation, but it is our very sincere hope that they would be able to leave in the coming days. It’s something that Ambassador Satterfield is working intensively on. As I’ve said, he’s working to get aid going in through the Rafah Crossing, and American citizens and other foreign nationals coming out.
QUESTION: I have questions on other topics. I’ll let –
MR MILLER: Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Going back to Rafah, yes, the third convoy has gone in. Israeli officials have noted, other publications have noted, that you need upwards of 1,100 truck deliveries per week. Is the U.S. expectating that the pace of aid delivery is going to ramp up? And I have a couple of follow-ups.
MR MILLER: We are working on a sustained mechanism to ensure that aid comes through the Rafah Crossing consistently. You’re right that we do not think the delivery of one convoy, two convoys, three convoys is sufficient; we want to see sustained traffic going through Rafah, delivering humanitarian assistance, and the exact mechanism of how we do that is something that Ambassador Satterfield has been working on with the Government of Egypt, the Government of Israel, and the United Nations.
QUESTION: Haaretz is reporting that Hamas —
MR MILLER: Who is?
QUESTION: — Haaretz —
MR MILLER: Okay.
QUESTION: — is reporting that Hamas wants to see fuel deliveries coming in. You have hospitals inside Gaza saying that they need fuel specifically to keep the hospitals operating. Israel, understandably, does not want fuel going in because of the high risk of diversion. What can be done to ameliorate the suffering of people inside Gaza if the Israelis have a legitimate view that the fuel could be used to launch further attacks against them?
MR MILLER: That is an issue that we are discussing now with Israeli authorities. The humanitarian organizations that are operating inside Gaza to distribute the humanitarian assistance that we have flowing in from Rafah need to have the ability to do so; they need fuel to be able to do so. Fuel is important for the desalination of water; it’s important to the provision of medical care. As you said, the Israelis do have legitimate concerns about the diversion of any fuel to Hamas. You can understand why they would be concerned about that, and so that’s one of the issues that Ambassador Satterfield is working through.
QUESTION: And then finally, there’s also some reporting that apparently Türkiye has expelled a Hamas political leader. Who is this person? Was this person expelled on the U.S.’s advice? Do you know where this person is? How significant is this?
MR MILLER: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have any information about them at this time.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. You said that Hamas embeds itself among the civilian population and they use hospitals and schools to launch attacks. So is this a U.S. intelligence assessment, applies to this current war, that actually the rockets that have been fired are from hospitals and schools?
MR MILLER: I’m not speaking to any specific intelligence assessment about a rocket that’s been fired in the past few days, but it is longstanding knowledge, not just from U.S. assessments but from other assessments, that Hamas does embed its infrastructure inside civilian populations.
QUESTION: Okay. By definition, you define Hamas as a terrorist organization. You actually design them as a terrorist organization, so you don’t expect them to abide by any rules. But the United States does, because you respect international law and you hold human rights very high up. So how do you assure civilians in Gaza that the United States is doing everything possible to make sure that the causalities that we have seen, the 5,000 of the civilians – that actually you did everything possible to make sure that we are not going to see another death climbing upward this number? And can you confirm – among this 5,000, do you have any assessment of how many Hamas fighters were killed?
MR MILLER: I do not have those estimates. But in terms of what the United States has done, let me just point you to the work that we have been doing in the past week. The Secretary traveled extensively through the region. At the end of that trip, he returned to Israel, after meeting with Arab leaders, to work with Israel to develop a plan to get humanitarian assistance in and to establish safe areas inside Gaza where civilians could go to be safe from harm.
And so there was a great deal of work by the Secretary first and then by the President of the United States, who flew to Israel to cement that agreement with Prime Minister Netanyahu and then in a phone conversation from Air Force One on his way home with President al-Sisi of Egypt. So the United States has been working overtime, first at the Secretary’s level, then at the President, and most recently with Ambassador Satterfield, who is on the ground to ensure that we are getting humanitarian assistance in for – to civilians inside Gaza, that we are establishing these safe areas where they can be safe from harm. And then, as I said, we’ve made clear on a number of occasions with – both publicly and in our conversations with our Israeli counterparts – that their military operations need to be carried out in a way that, to the maximum extent possible, protects civilians from harm.
QUESTION: Do you – sorry, I have two more, quickly. One is the UN’s saying that basically more than 50 percent of Gaza’s homes have been destroyed, so that means one million plus are homeless.
QUESTION: So what’s the next plan for – we’re talking now about humanitarian aid getting in through Rafah Crossing, but we’re talking about one million people who cannot go back to their homes. Is this – any plan? What’s the prospect for them? Where are they going to go?
MR MILLER: Again, we are working with Israel to develop a mechanism to – or to develop safe areas inside Gaza where civilians can be protected from harm. We’re also working with Israel to develop a mechanism that would help protect medical facilities, humanitarian sites, including areas of civilian shelter, UN facilities, distribution points, including for water and crossing points, and humanitarian conveys that include supplies and/or people.
So we are – actively work on that question, knowing that – again, you have to remember the context. Israel was the victim of a horrific terrorist attack. They have the right, they have the obligation to defend themselves, to defend themselves militarily, as any country would against a terrorist organization that launched that attack. But in that context, we are working with Israel to ensure that civilians are protected to the greatest extent possible and humanitarian aid can flow there.
QUESTION: But can you tell us about —
MR MILLER: One more, and then let me go to Said.
QUESTION: Yeah, sure. Can you tell us about a meeting the Secretary had with the Arab and Muslim community in the State Department today? Did the meeting take place?
MR MILLER: Yes. The Secretary has met – either has met or is meeting this afternoon today – with leaders of the Palestinian and Arab American communities, as well as meeting with Jewish American community groups.
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the kind of questions that have already been asked – now, you’re saying that Israel has a legitimate whatever to strike anywhere that they feel that Hamas fighters might be there. Suppose, assuming, that you have Hamas fighters or Hamas operatives in every single building in Gaza. So they have the right to strike every single building in Gaza?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to go into assumptions or hypotheticals. I would say —
QUESTION: Right. But that —
MR MILLER: I would repeat what I said before —
QUESTION: Right. But that’s their assumption.
MR MILLER: — which is if there is a legitimate – no, I’m not granting your assumption. If there is a legitimate military target, they have the right to strike it, yes —
MR MILLER: — and do so in a way that, to the maximum extent possible, minimizes civilian harm.
QUESTION: So let me ask you about a specific target: Al-Quds Hospital. Al-Quds Hospital in Gaza, one of the biggest hospitals and so on. Israel has been asking people to vacate it. There are people on dialysis, there are sick people that cannot leave, and so on. Do you consider that to be a legitimate target if Israel deems it necessary to strike it?
MR MILLER: So again, I don’t know the situation. I’m not in a position —
QUESTION: All right. Okay.
MR MILLER: Said, don’t interrupt – let me finish. I’m not in a position to sit here and offer an assessment from this podium of whether there is Hamas infrastructure embedded in that hospital or not. I will say as a general – my – the general principle that I have outlined stands, which is that they have a right to strike legitimate military targets, do so in a way that minimizes civilian harm. But as I just said, we are working to develop a mechanism to help protect medical facilities and other humanitarian sites.
QUESTION: Okay. The President the other day said that Hamas must pay a price. Now, we have had 5,000 killed – we don’t know exactly how many people dead. There may be another thousand under the rubble and so on. Among them, it is alleged that 2,100, 2,200 children and so on were killed. What is the price? What ought to be the price? Do you have, like, a figure that you can throw out or anyone, any expert, can have a figure on what that price ought to be?
MR MILLER: Let me say two things about that. Number one, you mentioned the loss of civilian life, and most acutely the loss of children who have died. You – I think you heard the Secretary speak to this yesterday on television, which is that we mourn the loss of every civilian life equally. He spoke to this, I think, quite personally yesterday that when he sees civilians who have died, children who have died – whether they be Palestinians, whether they be Israelis – that he feels the loss of all those civilians and he feels them equally, that every life has equal worth whether they be Israeli, whether they be Palestinian, whether they be from any other country.
So that is where we start from as an operating principle. That said, Israel has the right to conduct military operations. You talked – asked what – the question is what’s the price. Israel’s goal is not – or the goal that Israel has announced it is undertaking is to prevent Hamas from being able to operate inside Gaza with impunity any longer, for Gaza to be a safe haven where it can continue to launch deadly terrorist attacks against Israel. We think that is a legitimate goal. It is the kind of goal we would have as the United States. It’s the goal that any country would have if they had a terrorist organization operating in such close proximity to major population centers with a history – a demonstrated history – in the last two weeks of launching such deadly attacks.
QUESTION: On the West Bank, my last question: Israel attacked a mosque from the air, bombed a mosque, killing two people, whatever, three people, saying that they were – it was a preemptive strike to prevent a terror attack and so on. Do you agree with – do you believe the Israelis? Let me ask you.
MR MILLER: Again, I cannot offer an assessment about any individual strike from this podium.
QUESTION: All right. Okay.
MR MILLER: I will say – I will say the general principle stands, is that we support Israel’s ability to launch strikes targeting legitimate military objectives. That includes places where Hamas or other militants, other terrorist organizations are operating, and we expect them to do so in line with international law.
QUESTION: Are you concerned about the West Bank going – completely deteriorating, the situation there?
MR MILLER: We have great concerns about instability in the region, including in the West Bank. We’ve made those concerns clear. The Secretary made those concerns clear as he traveled the region last week.
MR MILLER: Alex.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Staying on the region, your current military support for Ukraine – there are media speculations that some of the weapons that U.S. is planning to sell to Israel have been originally allocated for Ukraine or you were planning to send to Ukraine. Is there any validity to those concerns and anything you can say about that?
MR MILLER: So I can’t speak to individual weapon systems before we’ve announced what we’re providing to Israel as a result of its request, and of course with specific drawdown packages that we will make to Ukraine in the future. I will say, as a general principle, there is very little overlap between what Israel has requested and what it needs and what Ukraine has requested and what it needs. And to the extent there is any overlap, we are going to work as hard as we can to make sure that we can supply both countries what it needs to defend itself. But as the President made clear last week, that also means that we need Congress to act to pass the supplemental request that we have sent up.
QUESTION: Thank you. Separate topic. Iran today is hosting five-nation summit. Do you have any reaction to some – an expectation? As you know, Türkiye and Russia are part of it, and also they’re discussing Armenia-Azerbaijan. Any comment on that?
MR MILLER: So with respect to the Armenia-Azerbaijan question of it, we welcome any good-faith engagements that contribute to peace and stability for the people of the South Caucasus regardless of where those talks happen or who is hosting them. But that being said, we recognize the South Caucasus’ delicate geographic position regarding Iran and Russia, but we have not found these countries to be reliable partners, to understate matters.
QUESTION: Thank you. And my final question – thanks. My final question, just to go back to original question Matt asked about RFE/RL reporter, can you give us a little bit of sense of the communication channels you have used so far to reach out to Russians and to ask for details about her arrest?
MR MILLER: I —
QUESTION: Has the ambassador been invited to —
MR MILLER: I’m not going to say specifically, but they have been channels from our Embassy in Moscow to the Russian Government .
QUESTION: Do you – thank you. Do you have any deadline on the Russians? This is about a U.S. citizen, a mother of two who actually, by the way, went to Russia for —
MR MILLER: We obviously want to see consular – or consular access granted as soon as possible.
QUESTION: Are you considering any legal action if Russia does not get back to you a little bit —
MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to preview any steps we would take —
QUESTION: There is the sanctions, or any others?
MR MILLER: Again, I never want to preview any steps we would take before we might take them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead, Elizabeth.
MR MILLER: I don’t have an exact number. It’s a subset of that number that has been in contact with us with – requesting information. We have supplied information to some of those. There have been periods where we thought Rafah might open and might be – might be – it might be possible for United States citizens to transit out of Gaza through Rafah – and we’ve provided it to them. But it’s always hard to know what number of the American citizens who have requested information from us at any given time actually want to leave.
We are supplying information to everyone who – because in this situation – this isn’t a situation, say, for example, where we’re providing charter flights out where we know X person wants to get on the charter flight at this date. It’s a much more fluid situation. So we have a list of Americans who have registered with us, and when we have any information about the possibility of transiting outside of Gaza, we’re providing it to all of them.
QUESTION: Okay. And then, given the Israeli concerns about the fuel being repurposed for military activities, have you seen any evidence of Hamas diverting the initial aid deliveries?
MR MILLER: So we have been in conversation with the United Nations about this. United Nations agencies are the ones who are delivering the humanitarian assistance once it gets into Gaza, and to this date they have not reported to us any signs of diversion.
MR MILLER: I don’t have any announcements to make, but stay tuned.
MR MILLER: Qatar has already been – has already been quite productive in helping with the release of two hostages. The Secretary thanked them for that work. That work is ongoing as it pertains to the other hostages that remain. So we are quite appreciative of the work that they have done, and that work is ongoing.
QUESTION: And how is the U.S. and its partners ensuring that none of the aid to Gaza falls in Hamas’s hands?
MR MILLER: Again, the United Nations is responsible for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to civilians inside Gaza once it transits over the Rafah Crossing into Gaza. They have a number of mechanisms that they have set up to ensure that it doesn’t – that it does go to civilians. But they are watching very closely, we are watching very closely to see any signs of diversion to Hamas. As the President has said publicly, if Hamas does divert any of that aid, it would jeopardize the delivery of future tranches of aid. So it is very important that if Hamas really does support the Palestinian civilian population, as it claims to do, that they not divert this aid.
QUESTION: And finally, what —
MR MILLER: Let me go – I’m going to move around.
QUESTION: Okay. No problem.
MR MILLER: Shannon, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. One more follow-up on the Rafah Crossing and the hundreds of Americans that are still in Gaza. Now, does the State Department feel that if Hamas was not blocking these American citizens from leaving, would they be allowed to leave, or is it multifactorial? Is Egypt still holding it up?
MR MILLER: We do believe that Egypt is ready to process American citizens if they can make it to Egyptian authorities. Hamas just has to stop blocking their exit.
QUESTION: And a quick follow-up to that: Does that extend to their immediate family members as well?
MR MILLER: We are working on trying to get American citizens, their family members, and other foreign nationals out. That’s a – it is an ongoing conversation and an ongoing process, but that is our goal.
QUESTION: And if these Americans are being detained by Hamas, if they’re being prevented from leaving, are they in a similar camp as the hostages? Will the State Department re-evaluate these cases if they can’t leave?
MR MILLER: So they’re in a different situation in that the hostages are being held captive by Hamas, right? They are detained and not being – are not allowed to go free. These other American citizens are able to move freely inside Gaza but have been unable to leave. So we’re working to – no, I get – I – no, I’m not trying to —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) hostages?
MR MILLER: I am not at all trying to minimize the situation, but it is why we are working to get them out of Gaza. It is a – it just factually a different situation than being held under armed guard as a captive. But nevertheless —
QUESTION: Do you know that these other people are being held under armed guard?
MR MILLER: I —
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting – I’m not suggesting that they’re not, but how do you know?
MR MILLER: They are being – let me put it —
QUESTION: How do you – how do you know what the conditions of their captivity is, the hostages?
MR MILLER: Let me put it this way. So —
QUESTION: As opposed to, I mean, a person who wasn’t taken from southern Israel and is in Gaza but is still not allowed to leave because Hamas is blocking them, as you said.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Aren’t they also under armed guard?
MR MILLER: They are being – they are —
QUESTION: I mean, maybe not, like, right next to them, but —
MR MILLER: They are, through force of arms, being prevented from leaving Gaza.
MR MILLER: Absolutely. It’s a deplorable —
QUESTION: So —
MR MILLER: Hold on. It’s a deplorable situation. It’s why we’re working to try —
MR MILLER: — to get them out. I’m not trying to minimize this situation at all. I’m just saying, factually, it’s a different situation than people that were taken hostage out of Israel, dragged into Gaza. And you’re right, I can’t speak to the specific conditions, but Hamas is a terrorist organization. I don’t think they’re standing outside their door just, “You can leave freely if you’d like.”
QUESTION: No, I’m not suggesting that they are. I just —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I think it’s interesting that you’re making a distinction.
MR MILLER: It’s a —
QUESTION: Because if you’re being prevented from leaving, you are, like, captive.
MR MILLER: I – it is a factual distinction in the condition they are in, able to move around Gaza freely versus not able to move around Gaza. And there —
QUESTION: But you don’t know that there are – do you know that they’re free to move around Gaza?
MR MILLER: We know that there are a number of American citizens who are free to move around Gaza if they (inaudible).
Let me just —
QUESTION: Well, they have moved from, like, what, four miles from the —
MR MILLER: They can move around Gaza.
QUESTION: — close to the Rafah Crossing to where they’re staying.
MR MILLER: There have been times when we’ve said Rafah is likely to open; they’ve moved towards the crossing.
MR MILLER: So yes, they are.
MR MILLER: They cannot get to – they cannot get to the terminal.
QUESTION: Okay. So the distinction is that? They’re not being held in, like, a basement or something like that?
MR MILLER: Yes exactly. Exactly.
QUESTION: They are – okay. Thanks.
MR MILLER: Exactly.
Were you finished, Shannon? Yeah.
QUESTION: Just on the number, do you anticipate the State Department – understanding of course that it’s a fluid situation, but give at least a ballpark of Americans in Gaza that the State Department is communicating with?
MR MILLER: I just don’t have an exact number. I’m happy to follow up on that.
QUESTION: A follow-up?
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. On the militia groups’ attacks on the U.S. forces in Iraq, do you hold Iraqi Government accountable for these attacks on your forces in Iraq? And then will there be any response to them?
MR MILLER: I will say that these attacks – you heard the Secretary speak to this – on U.S. forces, on U.S. interests in the region, is something that we’re greatly concerned about. And without getting into too many specifics, we are taking steps to ensure that we have the ability to prepare for those attacks and ability to respond if appropriate.
QUESTION: And yesterday you updated the Travel Advisory for Iraq, and also you ordered departure of eligible personnels in both U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and also the Consulate General in Erbil. Are you concerned about attacking on your diplomatic mission in Iraq? And then do you think that the Iraqi Government is not doing enough to protect your diplomatic mission in the country?
MR MILLER: So first of all, let me say that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and the Consulate General in Erbil remain open. We remain committed to our longstanding strategic partnership with Iraq, and we’ll continue to work through our embassy and our consulate there to strengthen that partnership. But yes, obviously, we are concerned about the safety and security of American citizens and Americans interests all throughout the region. That’s why we raised the travel – that’s why we have raised the Travel Advisories in places. It’s why we effectuated the ordered departure of some non-emergency personnel and family members, and it’s something that we continue to monitor very closely not just in Iraq but throughout the region.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: So Palestinian house ministry said that hundreds, including children, have been missing under the rubble in Gaza. Are you considering sending any rescue teams to save these people trapped under the rubble?
MR MILLER: I don’t think we have the ability to send rescue teams into the site of an armed conflict right now, where you have Hamas terrorist – the Hamas terrorist organization holding ground and legitimate attacks by Israeli security forces. I don’t think we’re in the position that we could send United States rescue teams into that sort of situation.
QUESTION: And second, do you have any update on the ongoing situation on the borders with Lebanon?
MR MILLER: I don’t, other than that we continue to see attacks by Hizballah across the border, and we’ve seen, of course, Israel respond to those attacks. One of the things that the Secretary made clear in this region is that we are concerned about the possibility of escalation of the conflict. We are concerned about the possibility of the conflict moving from Gaza to north – to southern Lebanon. And so we continue to make very clear our messages to anyone in the region who is hostile to Israel that if they are considering attacks, they should reconsider them, and that’s why the President ordered the deployment of two carrier strike groups to the Eastern Mediterranean.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. In the aftermath of the barbaric attack on Israel by Hamas and Palestinian terrorists with great anguish from loss, as well as with the rise of Jew hatred in America, how can President Biden justify saying on one hand that he fully supports Israel and condemns terrorism while on the other hand supporting humanitarian aid to the terrorist regime of Iran, Palestinian terrorists, terrorist organization of the Palestinian Authority, and UN agency UNRWA? And a follow-up.
MR MILLER: So the simple matter is we do not support the provision of humanitarian aid to terrorist organizations, and we make a very important distinction between the terrorist organization Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, any other terrorist organizations who are operating in that region, and the Palestinian people and other innocent civilians who themselves are often the victims of terrorism.
So we have made clear that while we support Israel’s right to defend itself against terrorism, we want to do everything we can to protect innocent civilians, innocent Palestinians civilians, and that’s why we support getting humanitarian assistance to them.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, thank you, Matt. With all the – with all of the Jew hatred unleashed in the past two weeks, what more can State Department do to get the facts about the Middle East to more Americans and the world?
MR MILLER: Well, I stand here every day that I’m not traveling and hold briefings. The Secretary has had a number of conversations with the media, and we will continue to do so to make our policies clear about —
QUESTION: I was just going to say – okay, hold on.
MR MILLER: Go ahead. I’m going to take two more and then – go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. On Bangladesh.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Bangladesh’s political situation escalated ahead of the opposition grand rally scheduled for October 28. The regime is on action to obstruct the rally, including arresting, framing charges, and trials now rolling well into the night. According to Human Rights Watch report day before yesterday, the ruling Prime Minister Hasina herself inciting violence, and her cabinet ministers, including threats, involve the use of Russian uranium – Russian uranium – against opposition leaders. How does the State Department view this allegation? And what actions, if any, is the United States considering to address the democratic rights of the people of Bangladesh?
MR MILLER: I don’t think I have anything to say about that specific allegation. We are closely monitoring developments in Bangladesh leading up to the elections. It’s important for free and fair elections that all stakeholders are able to participate peacefully. That includes government officials, law enforcement, political parties, the election commission, the media, and of course voters themselves. And we will continue to call on all stakeholders to respect the rule of law and to refrain from violence, harassment, and intimidation.
QUESTION: One more very quick. Referring to the recent meeting with the National Security Advisor, Bangladesh ruling prime minister claimed that she told the National Security Advisor why U.S. is asking their embassy personnels’ security from the law enforces agency as U.S. is imposed sanction on their security forces? And Ambassador Peter Haas expressed concern not only for his security, the embassy personnel. You many times ask from this podium to uphold the Vienna Convention, so what is your comment on this?
MR MILLER: So I will say it again, which is that under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Bangladesh has obligations to take all appropriate steps with respect to protecting diplomatic premises and personnel, and the United States values its relationship with Bangladesh and we expect the government will take all appropriate actions to maintain the safety and security of all U.S. missions and diplomatic personnel in the country.
Did you have one more? Then we’ll finish up.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you would clarify a comment you made a short while ago about monitoring for potential Hamas diversion of the humanitarian aid. Could you clarify that process? Just the UN —
MR MILLER: So I don’t want to speak to it in detail. I will say that the UN, which is the agency that is delivering the aid, is doing monitoring, and then we have other mechanisms to monitor that I don’t think I can speak to. So I’ll end it there. Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:07 p.m.)