1:34 p.m. EDT
MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR MILLER: I’m not really sure where to start. I don’t have any opening remarks, and Matt’s not here. Who wants to kick us – who wants to kick —
QUESTION: I’ll take it.
MR MILLER: Oh – Jen, go ahead. Do the honors.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Can you give us any updates on the opening of the Rafah Crossing? Where do negotiations stand to try to get civilians to be able to access that gate? What is the expectation you’re giving to the Egyptians and the Israelis in terms of who will be able to leave?
MR MILLER: So it continues to be a matter that we’re working on. Ambassador Satterfield is on the ground in Israel, continuing close consultations with both the Israeli Government and the Egyptian Government, as well as the United Nations. There have been convoys moving through. As you know, we’ve unlocked that piece. There haven’t been, to our estimation, sufficient – a sufficient – there hasn’t been a sufficient amount of aid getting through, but we’re working on mechanisms to speed up the screening of that aid so more of it can move through the gate and make it to the innocent civilians in Gaza who need it.
We continue to work to unlock the very difficult, kind of practical problem of getting American citizens out. I think it might be useful for me to talk a little bit about what the issues actually are in that. So if you – if you’ve ever been to Rafah Crossing or if you know what it looks like, there is an Egyptian side that is controlled by Egyptian immigration authorities, and then there is a Gaza side that has been controlled by immigration authorities from Hamas. And in the middle, there is a no man’s land. And so the Egyptian authorities are ready to process American citizens and other foreign nationals if they make it through the Gaza side of the border, through the no man’s land to them.
But the problem has been – up until now, and it’s the problem that we’ve been trying to unlock – is that at times on the Gaza side of the border there has been no one there from Hamas to open the gates and process people and let them through. And at other times, there have been actually armed Hamas militants standing there, not even letting people approach the gate.
And so we are continuing to work through, with the United Nations, with the Government of Egypt, the Government of Israel how to get this situation unlocked. We have been making progress. I can’t get into the details of that progress, because it’s – they’re very sensitive negotiations, but it’s something that we are focused on and hoping to get – hope to have American citizens and other foreign nationals able to move through in the coming days.
QUESTION: What are you telling American citizens right now who are in Gaza, who have asked for assistance getting out?
MR MILLER: So we have sent a number of messages to American citizens. As you know, there are a number who have registered with the Department of State to receive updates. We sent a message to them yesterday, just telling them that we were continuing to work on the – to continue to work on a solution, and that we would provide them information as soon as we had an update.
As you know, there have been times when we thought that the gates were going to open and we sent messages to American citizens, telling them that it was possible it was going to open, and so if they could make it safely there they should consider doing so. And each of those times, we unfortunately weren’t – the gate didn’t actually open, for the reasons I just articulated.
So we are going to stay in touch with them, let them know we’re working on it. And as soon as we have an update about the – them actually being able to make it through the crossing into Egypt, we will send them that update.
MR MILLER: There are American officials, consular officials – I don’t want to give their exact location, because it is somewhat of a volatile situation – who are on the ground in Egypt, who, without getting into too much detail from this podium, will be able to facilitate the onward journeys of American citizens when we are able to get them through the Rafah Crossing.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just for my understanding, the Rafah Crossing, when aid convoys move in, is Hamas’s presence not required there to open the gate to those trucks that are allowed to cross into Gaza?
MR MILLER: So there’s a – there are gates from trucks to go in and out, and then there are gates for people to walk through. It’s a different thing. I – the Egyptians are opening their side of the gate. I don’t know, actually, if someone’s – who’s opening the other side of the vehicle gate that these trucks are going through. I would assume it’s Hamas, but I don’t know that for a fact. But it’s a different transit point for people to walk through, and there is no one there to open those gates and do the immigration processing that needs to happen for people to walk through and make it to the Egyptian side.
QUESTION: And has the State Department explored using this other point of entry possibly in these emergency situations to move trucks out of the area and also perhaps American citizens?
MR MILLER: I will say that we have explored every opportunity, including some that we haven’t discussed here, continue to explore every opportunity. We don’t talk about them publicly, because it’s often not useful given the security situation on the ground. But we are looking – we are pursuing every possible alternative available to get the American citizens out and will continue to do that.
QUESTION: Lastly, those American citizens – you still don’t have any estimate you can give on how many Americans in Gaza the State Department is in contact with?
MR MILLER: I don’t. It’s in the several hundreds, but there’s a number that we are in contact with. And the – as always in these situations, we don’t know exactly how many of them will choose to leave. We provide information to all of them that have registered with our system. Like I said, it’s several hundred. And on any given day, people make their individual choices based on their situation, their family situation, whether they want to leave or not.
QUESTION: Yeah. Also on the border crossing – well, specifically on the issue of getting fuel into Gaza. Where do we stand with trying to get an agreement on allowing fuel to go in?
MR MILLER: So we do think that it’s important that fuel be able to make it into Gaza for humanitarian purposes. Obviously the aid workers who are delivering humanitarian assistance through Rafah and then onward inside Gaza need to be able to – they need fuel to be able to advance those deliveries. Fuel is important for the provision of medical care; fuel is important for desalinization.
Israel has very real concerns about the diversion of fuel. Hamas continues to launch rockets. And so Israel has real concerns, and so we are trying to work through a mechanism to ensure that we can get fuel in in a way that would not be diverted, so it could be used only for humanitarian purposes. It’s one of the things that Ambassador Satterfield, who has a lot on his plate, is very much focused on. I don’t have an update to give today, but it’s something that we are trying very hard to effectuate.
QUESTION: What could – what kind of mechanism could there be that would – at some point, fuel is something that could be diverted once it’s in there, right? Is there a third party who could somehow make sure that that goes to hospitals or the places that you’re saying it’s needed?
MR MILLER: As with all of these details, because they’re the subject of some very delicate ongoing discussions, I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to talk about the details from here.
QUESTION: I don’t – okay. And just on the issue of – as you said, shipments have been going in, but it seems to be sort of happening very slowly. What is the holdup for – I mean, I think it’s only less than 70 trucks that have been in the last four or five days since —
MR MILLER: There are some practical considerations that we’re trying to work through. Chief among them – but not only – chief among them is we need to speed up the inspection regime, and we’re working to do that.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’ll be brief. Staying, obviously, in the region, but just on a slightly different issue, the President yesterday said that he had no confidence whatsoever in the numbers given by the – number of Palestinians killed in Gaza. The Hamas is publishing today a list of names of 7,000, I think, people – that’s the number that they’ve giving. What credibility at all do you give to that? And how can – because the – obviously, President didn’t get into numbers, and then he said innocent civilians will be killed, but he really said he had no confidence whatsoever in the numbers. Do you have any numbers on – from the Israeli side or ways to compare?
MR MILLER: So I will note, just for the record, that the President also noted that we mourn the loss of every civilian life, and that includes innocent Palestinians who’ve had their lives taken over the course of this conflict, and it’s something the Secretary has made clear on a number of occasions. But it is true that all of the numbers that are provided publicly are provided ultimately by Hamas, and so, given the way that Hamas has misled the public – most recently with respect to the explosion at the hospital last week that they claimed was an Israeli airstrike when our assessment is that is not accurate, and we have released information about that; the Israeli Government has released information about that – we don’t trust Hamas.
Now, we don’t – that – we don’t have any way to make an accurate assessment of our own about the number of civilians who have died in Gaza. There is not an independent body that’s operating in Gaza that can provide an accurate number. But we do have skepticism about everything that Hamas says, but that said, obviously a number of civilians have died, which is why we’re working to do everything we can to minimize civilian harm and get humanitarian assistance in to the civilians in Gaza.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that point, if I may?
QUESTION: I want to follow on this —
MR MILLER: Let me – go ahead, Said.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. You said that, given the facts on the ground, there are a number of Palestinians that have died. So what is that number, in your view?
MR MILLER: So what is —
QUESTION: What is that number in your view? How – you —
MR MILLER: We don’t – we – no, the point I just – is we don’t have a way of accurately assessing that number.
QUESTION: Is it in the thousands? Is it in the thousands?
MR MILLER: See, as I – there are a number, but I cannot stand here and give you without – there is not a United States body, there is not a United Nations body, there is not a credible body that is in there assessing them. But I – but let me just say that we know it’s a significant number of people have died. We mourn the loss of every one of those civilians, and that is why we are doing everything we can to make clear to the Israelis that they need to operate in a way that minimizes civilian harm and that we are doing everything we can to get humanitarian assistance in for the benefit of the innocent civilians.
We just are unable to offer our independent confirmation of the number because there’s no independent body that is making assessments. The only organization that can – that is currently giving this number is Hamas, and obviously, we don’t trust Hamas.
QUESTION: Okay. Okay. But, I mean, just to follow up on what the President said, that this is war and in war people die and so on and all these things – what would be acceptable for the United States? I mean, do you have a figure that can be acceptable —
MR MILLER: So —
QUESTION: — that would push the Government of the United States, that has a great deal of leverage on Israel, to say okay, the time has come for a ceasefire?
MR MILLER: Said, I think you are conveniently leaving out a number of things that the President said yesterday. The President said, as he’s said repeatedly, as I just said, that we mourn the loss of every civilian life, and he’s talked about how in direct conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu he has made clear that Israel needs to operate consistent with international humanitarian law.
Let me put it this way: We do not want to see one innocent civilian die. We don’t want to see an innocent civilian die in Israel; we don’t want to see an innocent civilian die in the Gaza. The fact is Hamas continues to use innocent civilians as human shields. Israel is conducting what in our assessment are legitimate military operations to try to take out the terrorist group that attacked them on October 7th. They need to do so in a way that minimizes civilian harm, and at the same time, we need to do everything we can to get humanitarian assistance in.
QUESTION: So do you believe that Israel is following the laws of war in this case? I mean, I’m looking at – that entire neighborhoods were completely wiped out.
MR MILLER: Again, I – as I’ve said – we talked about this the other day – I’m not able to sit up here and offer an assessment of individual strikes. I will say that our expectation is that they need to follow the laws of war and they need to follow international humanitarian law, and that means not deliberately targeting civilians, which we do not believe they are doing. It means operating in a way that minimizes civilian harm when they are trying to take on – take out legitimate terrorist organizations.
QUESTION: Okay. One more question and that would be it for me. Secretary Blinken – according to a report in Axios that was published yesterday at, like, 7 o’clock in the morning, Secretary Blinken told his guests or his – the group that he met with on Monday that he’s asked the Qatari PM to rein in Al Jazeera war coverage. Can you confirm that? Did the Secretary ask the emir of Qatar to rein in Al Jazeera coverage?
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to private diplomatic conversations, but you have heard me say from this podium that we would hope that everyone that talks about this war, everyone that covers this war would use reliable sources of information, would make sure that their coverage doesn’t – is not – does not rely on sources of information that are incorrect.
Again, I want to go back to the hospital explosion last week when you saw reports in the Western press and in the press in the Arab world that immediately attributed that to the Government of Israel —
QUESTION: Well, they still – they still believe that, by the way.
MR MILLER: — hold on, let me – just let me finish – just based solely on Hamas’s claim —
MR MILLER: — and continued to report it as an Israeli strike even after Israel had offered an assessment to the contrary, we had offered an assessment to the contrary, and Hamas had offered no information.
QUESTION: Okay. Right.
MR MILLER: So I will say that we continue to hope that everyone will treat claims from Hamas skeptically.
QUESTION: Okay. This is not a claim from Hamas. This is a published article by a well-known Israeli newspaperman. He wrote it in Axios and so on and he attributed it to solid sources and so on, and he said that Mr. Blinken told the Jewish community leaders on Monday – he also met with Palestinian leaders on Monday – and he told them that he asked the emir of Qatar to rein in Hamas. And the reason I ask because yesterday at about this time or an hour before, at noon, Israel bombed the place where the family of a Al Jazeera prominent correspondent – the senior correspondent at Al Jazeera – and they killed his entire family. Do you have any comment on that?
MR MILLER: So two things. Number one, if you’re suggesting a link between the two —
QUESTION: I’m not suggesting anything. I’m just —
MR MILLER: Well, you asked them in – hold on. You asked them in direct —
QUESTION: I am not suggesting anything. I am —
MR MILLER: You asked them in direct – so I’m glad you’re not suggesting that, because any such suggestion would obviously be preposterous. I will say that just as we mourn the loss of every civilian, that includes those journalists who are in harm’s way. And I would say, as we’ve noted a number of times from the United States Government, we pay special – we give special respect to journalists who put themselves in harm’s way to let the world know what is happening and to bring information to the world. So obviously we mourn the death of those journalists. It is a great tragedy.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. On this topic, two questions. I’m sure you have seen media reports about Hamas delegation visiting Moscow today. What role has Russia been playing in this fight against Hamas – your assessment?
MR MILLER: We haven’t seen them play any productive role. The only thing that we’ve seen them do is exercise a veto in the United Nations yesterday on a resolution which we – which achieved majority vote inside the Security Council but was vetoed by Russia and of course by China. But in terms of the work that we have been trying to do to keep the region calm, where we have had conversations not just with leaders in the region but the Secretary had a conversation with Wang Yi while he was in the region, we have seen Russia play no productive role at all.
QUESTION: Any reaction to Hamas dialogue – having dialogue with Hamas in Moscow?
MR MILLER: I wish I could say I was surprised, but I’m not. And I don’t have any further comment.
QUESTION: And on Iran, yesterday the President warned publicly the ayatollah that he – should there be any attack on U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq, there’ll be – it will trigger a response. We have seen multiple reports that there’s not one, there’s two attacks since yesterday. There hasn’t been any response. What should we expect in the next couple of hours, days?
MR MILLER: So I am not going to preview any action from this podium. I will say that we always reserve the right to defend ourselves and our interests. We will never hesitate to take action when needed to protect and defend our forces and our interests overseas. And any response, should one occur, a U.S. response, will be at the time and place of our choosing. And as I said, I certainly wouldn’t discuss it from here.
QUESTION: Please come back to me later on Caucasus. I have two. Thank you.
MR MILLER: Okay. Yeah, Humeyra, go ahead.
QUESTION: Yes. Since you disputed the number of civilians killed, just wanted you to verify this. So the UN said that 35 of their workers have been killed in Gaza, 24 journalists, including the family of our colleague Wael Dahdouh. Is this something you dispute as well or just Palestinian civilians?
MR MILLER: No, I – I’m not able to verify that. We don’t have an independent U.S. assessment to make of that. But no, I do not dispute numbers from the United Nations. Obviously there is a grave – a great difference between the United Nations and a terrorist organization like Hamas.
QUESTION: But the United Nations is using the same numbers —
MR MILLER: I don’t know where they’re getting their —
QUESTION: — that Hamas is using.
MR MILLER: I don’t know where – I don’t know where they’re getting their information. The United Nations obviously has connections with workers that it has on the ground. So I’m not able to speak to their assessments without having any more detail of how they arrived at them.
QUESTION: Okay. (Inaudible) this with the Israeli cabinet ministers have been calling Palestinians in Gaza “human animals,” and many people in the Arab world believe that this is an incitement campaign that will lead to more killing and, in a way, sanction the killing of Palestinians, including civilians. Is this something that you condone or can you condemn what the Israelis are saying from this podium?
MR MILLER: I think it’s important that everyone involved in this conflict, everyone involved around the world remember the basic humanity of every individual, of every human being. And as I said before, we think it’s important that Israel respects civilian life in conducting their operations.
QUESTION: Okay. One more on the Jordanian foreign minister who just spoke at the UN, and he was speaking on behalf of the Arab Group. He said that collective punishment against civilian Palestinians in Gaza is a war crime. Now, the U.S. has been providing Israel with lethal weapons, they’ve been giving them a cover even when they’re in obvious breach of international law like cutting off water, electricity, and fuel. Does the – or do the lawyers at the State Department believe that the U.S. is immune from prosecution later on when the dust is settling?
MR MILLER: So I would say that we would agree that we oppose collective punishment in any instance, and that’s not what we believe is happening here. We believe that Israel, as I’ve said, is conducting legitimate military operations against a terrorist group that embeds itself in civilian populations, that uses civilians as human shields, that puts its military headquarters in schools, in hospitals, in residential apartment buildings. Israel has a right and an obligation to do everything it can to respond to the terrorist attacks and take on the terrorist organization that launched them. But as I’ve said, they need to do so in a way that protects civilian life to the maximum extent possible.
QUESTION: Okay. One last quick one.
QUESTION: Sorry, can I cut in?
QUESTION: Go ahead, Matt.
QUESTION: Go ahead. Well, I’m just mystified by that last response. You oppose collective punishment, and you say that that’s not what you’re seeing here, and yet numerous people have said that that is what’s going on.
MR MILLER: And that is not an assessment that we have made. Obviously, a number of civilians have died in —
MR MILLER: — this conflict, and we want to see civilians protected to the —
QUESTION: Right. Okay. So you’re – so but you accept that.
MR MILLER: Of course. Of course.
QUESTION: And – but you don’t – I just want to make sure, because I asked Secretary Blinken about this last week. I said, do you think that the – much like what Said’s question was.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you think that the Israelis are complying with the international laws or rules of war? And he said last week, well, there’ll be plenty of time to figure that out at the end. But that’s not really what the question is, is do you think that they are complying with them now? And I am not trying to minimize what happened on October 7th at all. But since you guys have made it a priority to tell the Israelis that it’s important for democracies to respect these laws and rules, do you think that they are so far?
MR MILLER: We have not made – yes, we have not – as is consistent with what the Secretary said on Friday, we have not made any kind of formal assessment. There are a number of strikes that happened. You would have to look at the facts and the circumstances of every one of those strikes.
QUESTION: Well, when you – well, when is it —
MR MILLER: Hold on. Let me just – to make that kind of —
QUESTION: When is it that you make that kind of determination?
MR MILLER: That’s – to make that kind of formal assessment. Right now what we are doing is having conversations with them to ensure that they are conducting the strikes that they are conducting consistent with the laws of war and protecting —
QUESTION: And you think that they are so far?
MR MILLER: We have not made any kind of formal assessment, but it is —
QUESTION: Well —
MR MILLER: But hold on, let me finish. It is our assessment they are not deliberating targeting civilians.
MR MILLER: They’re warning civilians to get out of harms way when they’re taking a military strike. It is a difficult situation because of the point I made about Hamas using its human shields.
QUESTION: Understood. I am not – and I am not suggesting anything otherwise.
MR MILLER: We have not – we have not —
QUESTION: I just want to know, is it your assessment that they are right now complying —
MR MILLER: We have not made any kind of formal —
QUESTION: No, no.
MR MILLER: I know. I’m —
QUESTION: I’m not asking for a formal assessment, but it sounds to me as though you’re saying that you guys believe that the Israelis are operating —
MR MILLER: It is —
QUESTION: — within the rules of war and international humanitarian law.
MR MILLER: So they have launched – so we believe that – so we —
MR MILLER: They have launched a number of strikes. And to make that – hold on – to make that determination, you would have to conduct an examination of every strike, which, obviously, we have not done. Those are very fact-specific determinations that people here at the State Department would have to make. We have not made that assessment. I will say we do believe that they are not intending to strike civilians, that they are trying —
MR MILLER: — to conduct their operations in a way that minimize civilian harm.
QUESTION: Okay. And what – doesn’t that mean, then, that you think that they are complying?
MR MILLER: Again, that is – Matt, it is a legal determination that requires intense —
QUESTION: Look, I’m not asking for a legal determination.
MR MILLER: I —
QUESTION: But if you —
MR MILLER: But – no, but the question that you’ve asked is a legal question that requires a legal determination. There are formal assessments the State Department makes to – as to this question, and they require looking at very fact-specific determinations as regards to each strike. We are in the middle of this conflict. We have not made those determinations. What I can say is what – in our conversations with the Israeli Government, they have told us they are trying to minimize civilian harm. And we have impressed upon them the need to do that.
QUESTION: Okay. And you believe that they are doing that?
MR MILLER: We do.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: And there’s a disagreement —
QUESTION: Go to this?
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Therefore, you would disagree with the UN secretary-general when he said yesterday in front of the Security Council that there are clear violations of —
MR MILLER: It – that is just not an assessment that we have made.
QUESTION: But he’s made it.
MR MILLER: He has. It’s not an assessment that the U.S. Government has made.
QUESTION: But you’ve made similar assessments when Russia bombs places in Ukraine. You very quickly will say what you think is happening in that bombing, right? Why do you need to assess every single strike?
MR MILLER: And they have – they have – those have been after the result of internal determinations here at the State Department.
QUESTION: I would say you’ve come out much more quickly than that. Given the amount of time that the bombing has been going on in Gaza, you’ve had enough time – you’ve had more time than in some cases have —
MR MILLER: You – we have not seen Russians warning civilians to vacate apartment buildings when they launch them. We’ve seen evidence in Russia’s case of deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure. That’s the – that’s what we —
QUESTION: So you have made some kind of assessment of the —
MR MILLER: No, I’m saying that’s the difference in the situation and the facts that we have seen.
QUESTION: But wait, the fact is you have made a determination because you – what you just said to Simon is that you made a determination that Russia deliberately targeted civilians, and you have made a determination —
MR MILLER: No.
QUESTION: — in this case that Israel is not deliberately doing that.
MR MILLER: No. No, you’re – that’s not —
QUESTION: I’m sorry. I don’t see there’s any – there’s no other way to read what you —
MR MILLER: No.
QUESTION: — or to listen, to hear what you’re saying.
MR MILLER: Again, we were able – we were able to show and make the determination in the case of Russia that they were intentionally targeting civilian infrastructure. We have not come to that conclusion here.
QUESTION: No – but with Israel? But —
MR MILLER: With Israel, yeah.
QUESTION: Okay. So that means that you have thus far determined that Israel is complying with the laws of war.
MR MILLER: No, it does not mean that. It means that we have not conducted – again, Matt, I know you want me to make a claim —
QUESTION: No. I —
MR MILLER: — that usually is at the end of a formal legal process. And I’m not able to do that.
QUESTION: But – no – I don’t think that’s correct at all. And in fact, it’s exactly as Simon said: You guys were very quick off the bat to accuse Russia of – and probably correctly – of committing war crimes and doing that kind of thing.
MR MILLER: So —
QUESTION: But in this case – and it’s now – or – two and a half weeks in – you guys are saying – you guys won’t say whether you will make a determination even though many others have. So – or many others have weighed in either on the yes they are complying or no they are not complying.
MR MILLER: I am saying we —
QUESTION: And so I think that what the world is looking for is a clear statement from you guys whether you think that they are heeding your advice, and it sounds to me as though you’re saying yes, they are. You then – but when you’re pressed on that, you won’t give an answer.
MR MILLER: Again, we believe they are listening to our advice, but I cannot make the formal – I just cannot make –
QUESTION: All right.
MR MILLER: — the formal determination when it comes to every one of the strikes that’s been launched.
MR MILLER: I’m – let me – go ahead, Said. Go ahead, and then we’ll —
QUESTION: Right here, just very quickly. So you’re saying —
MR MILLER: I do want to give other people a chance, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. You’re saying that dropping leaflets on people —
MR MILLER: I’m sorry? Say —
QUESTION: That dropping leaflets on people telling them that we’re going to bomb this site like three or five – for five minutes before is actually complying with the laws of war? Is that what you just said?
MR MILLER: Said, I am not able to sit here at this podium and talk about the specifics of every —
QUESTION: No, you said they informed people —
MR MILLER: Said – Said, I let you finish the question; let me finish the answer.
QUESTION: Right. Sure.
MR MILLER: — of every individual strike. To make a determination of a war crime, you need to be able to do these very fact-specific determinations and compare them about what international law requires and see if the international law has been violated. I am not able to make that assessment. Certainly not as – with facts that you are giving to me about whatever strike —
QUESTION: No, you just said they informed them.
MR MILLER: Correct.
QUESTION: I am responding to what you said.
MR MILLER: Correct. I —
QUESTION: Do you think that absolves Israel from committing war crimes, or does it – does it show that they are complying with the laws of war?
MR MILLER: That is not what I said. It is a holistic determination that we would have to make looking at all the circumstances.
QUESTION: So what do you make of that —
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. So let’s go to Africa. Today —
QUESTION: Today —
QUESTION: Can I just stay on this topic?
QUESTION: Can I ask my question?
MR MILLER: Go ahead, and we’ll come back – we’ll come – we’ll —
QUESTION: Okay, thank you.
QUESTION: Okay, so today the SADC group of ambassadors had a meeting, and during this meeting, the ambassador of Angola in United States once again highlighted President Lourenco’s willingness to lead an effort to ensure the fact that the sanctions on Zimbabwe be lifted. So as – and this is a concern of all African countries, that those sanctions are unfair, the sanctions. So what is Biden’s administrations doing in order to lift the sanctions on Zimbabwe?
MR MILLER: I will unfortunately have to take that one back and get you an answer. Did you – go —
MR MILLER: I’ll – go – I’ll – let me – go ahead. I’ll come to you next. Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, so Matt, thank you. Regarding the attacks on Israel, what conversations has Secretary Blinken or other State Department officials had with the Lebanese Government, as well as the UN secretary-general pertaining to Hizballah activities or missile firings and the United Nations interim force in Lebanon obligations to intervene or stop the attacks? And I have a follow-up.
MR MILLER: So I will say that we have made clear that all of the parties – to every party in the region hostile to Israel that if they are thinking about this – entering this conflict, they should not take that step.
QUESTION: Okay then. It seems like Qatar and Türkiye are playing both sides. Is either government truly an honest broker and having a positive impact that you know of on stopping the assaults against Israel?
MR MILLER: We believe that Qatar has played an – has played a very useful role in this conflict in a number of cases, most importantly securing the release of the two American hostages that were released last Friday. Qatar continues to engage productively on this question with entities in the region. The Secretary has publicly thanked them for that role, and we hope it will continue. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I want to come back to the question about the numbers of people who have been killed in Gaza. One, John Kirby just said during the state – during the White House briefing, when asked about the thousands number, he said, quote, “We would not dispute that.” Number two, when it comes to trying to figure out the numbers of people, yes, I take it that U.S. officials aren’t inside Gaza. But with the rise of organizations that use and basically reverse-engineer information on social media to try to pull together those numbers, why isn’t the U.S. Government doing that? Is the U.S. Government doing that? And if not, wouldn’t that be helpful in trying to determine just how much loss of life —
MR MILLER: Sure.
QUESTION: — has happened, and whether that would go towards giving more informed advice to the Israelis?
MR MILLER: Sure. We would welcome any credible assessment of the loss of life inside Gaza. We don’t have the ability ourselves. We are not on the ground there, able to talk to people and families who have reported lost loved ones. It’s not an ability we have when we don’t have United States Government personnel inside Gaza. But if there was a credible third party that could do it, of course we would welcome it. I would say, whatever the exact number is, we know that a significant number of civilians have lost their lives, and it is a tragedy. Every one of those losses is a tragedy. And that is why we have been working so hard to get humanitarian assistance in, to establish areas where civilians could be safe from harm, to communicate directly to the Israeli Government that they need to act consistent with the laws of war. And it’s why we’ll keep at those efforts.
So the – I understand the importance of the numbers, and it is important to know, and we would obviously like to have an accurate assessment that we could rely on. But it’s not going to change our work to protect civilian lives, what that number ultimately is. We’re going to keep – we’re going to stay focused on that.
QUESTION: One more.
QUESTION: And when it comes to the transport of fuel into Gaza, particularly to deal with the desalination, particularly with keeping hospitals operating, are there third parties that the U.S. and its regional allies have identified that could verify that the fuel that is brought in actually gets to those locations, is not diverted? How quickly can that third party or those third parties be brought online to make this happen?
MR MILLER: That is one of the issues that are – that is under discussion. But I don’t think I should get into any of the details before we’ve been able to come to some kind of ultimate agreement.
QUESTION: Is it imminent?
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Are you able to say whether it’s imminent?
MR MILLER: I – we’re working on it. We hope to have an agreement soon, but I wouldn’t want to put a timetable on it.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. There has been a deep frustration in the Muslim world against the U.S.’s approach to Israeli-Hamas war, mostly simply leaders and foreign ministers of Türkiye, Qatar, and queen of Jordan criticized the quote/unquote “double standards” of the West in the Gaza conflict. So I’m wondering: How will the U.S. address this deep frustration and anger in the Muslim world, in its Muslim allies and partners, about its approach to Israel, about its unconditional support to Israel?
MR MILLER: I think we will try to keep having honest, open conversations with people – both with leaders in the region and directly with the public. It’s one of the reasons we stand up here and take questions. It’s one of the reasons the Secretary has done a number of interviews, including with Arab television networks. And we’ll continue to do that to make clear what our policy is, that we think it’s important that Israel be able to respond to a terrorist attack, as any country would, including countries in the Muslim world – but that they need to do so in a way that protects civilians from harm.
QUESTION: One follow-up, please. As my colleague mentioned, UN secretary-general said Israel’s actions are clear violations of international humanitarian law. So I’m wondering, by refraining from raising concerns about Israel’s – such actions, such violations, does the U.S. think it has lost its moral ground in other global issues in other parts of the world? I mean, are we – are you worried that your appraoch to Israel will undermine your message and your calls for respect to international law and humanitarian – human rights in other parts of the world?
MR MILLER: No, I do not. I think that we will continue to be clear that, in any conflict, civilians must be protected. They should have a real opportunity to voluntarily get to safety, to access food, water, shelter. That’s what we’re working hard to achieve for civilians in Gaza. And we will continue to make clear that those rules apply to – equally to all parties in a conflict, including Israel in this conflict, including Russia and Ukraine with respect to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with respect to any parties to any conflict in the world. We will continue to reinforce that message, because we believe that efforts to mitigate and respond to civilian harm are both a moral and strategic imperative that we will continue to push for in this instance and in others, and that are – they are the necessary actions that democracies should take.
MR MILLER: Go ahead. Go ahead, Nike.
QUESTION: Yeah, can we move on to China?
QUESTION: Can we stay on this?
MR MILLER: I’ll come to you next, but let Nike –
MR MILLER: Let Nike go ahead, and —
QUESTION: Sure. Congressional leaders – some congressional leaders have urged administration officials in their meetings with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to raise directly the questions on Americans wrongfully detained by China and other political prisoners. Would Secretary Blinken press China on this issue? What outcome would the United States like to see? Can you say (inaudible) names?
MR MILLER: So I am not going to speak to the meeting before it happens. The Secretary will meet with Wang Yi later today, and again tomorrow. But I will say that in all of our meetings with Chinese officials, we have raised areas of concern that we have, and those areas include wrongfully detained Americans. And you should expect that U.S. Government officials will continue to do that in their meetings with Chinese Government officials, and when the meetings are over, we’ll be happy to talk to you about exactly what we did.
I will say that with – that with respect to wrongfully detained Americans, a number of times it’s actually not helpful for us to raise their names publicly. There are a number of places where they don’t want us to, where there are privacy objections. But I can assure you that we are working behind the scenes to try to secure their release as soon as possible.
QUESTION: And on Taiwan, Foxconn, the global (inaudible) supplier for Apple iPhones, is recently under investigation. This timing is sensitive because it come at a sensitive moment when Foxconn’s founder, Terry Gou or Guō Táimíng, is entering into the Taiwan’s presidential election. Does the U.S. share with many analysts’ view that this is attempt to intervene and intimidate Taiwan’s presidential election? Does the U.S. have a position on a presidential election of a self-ruled democracy?
MR MILLER: I will say that we have deep confidence in Taiwan’s democratic process, believe it’s up to Taiwan voters to decide their next leader free from outside interference. The United States does not take sides in Taiwan’s elections, as we don’t in elections anywhere in the world. We are committed to the fair treatment of all candidates. And our policy with respect to Taiwan will remain the same regardless of whichever party is in power.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. On Bangladesh, opposition leader Khaleda Zia – whether U.S. would call on Bangladesh authorities to allow her getting medical treatment abroad, since the State Department’s annual reports describe her trial did not meet required fairness, and it is a political ploy to remove her from the political process. According to media reports, three members, medical doctors from the John Hopkins in Bangladesh and checking her medical condition as the Voice of America English service reported the country’s first female prime minister high risk of dying under this current government restrictions. So what is your comment?
MR MILLER: I will say that we are monitoring reports about former Prime Minister Zia’s deteriorating health. We have encouraged the Bangladeshi Government to ensure a fair and transparent legal process for her. And I don’t have anything to add to – an internal legal process.
QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh, Matt.
MR MILLER: You got – hold on, let me finish – yeah.
QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh. Ahead of grand rally 28th of October, the government is very much attacking on opposition and arresting every day. And they are trying to control by any means to obstruct the grand rally, and you are urging many times – Ambassador Peter Haas also urging many times – to ensure fundamental rights and to reflect the will of the people of Bangladesh. So what is your comment?
MR MILLER: Our comment is, as it has been, that we believe the upcoming elections need to be free, fair, and peaceful. And I don’t have any further comment.
Nick, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I know that —
MR MILLER: I was calling on Nick, but go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah. Thank you.
MR MILLER: That’s why I said Nick, but – unless —
QUESTION: You said it’s – yeah, U.S. Assistant Under Secretary Afreen Akhter recently paid a visit to Dhaka. Pro-opposition speaker in different talk shows claiming that U.S. issued a deadline to Bangladesh prime minister Sheikh Hasina to resign by November 3rd or face the music. Though U.S. embassy gave an explanation but opposition analyst continue to claim U.S. stand with opposition. Can you categorically confirm or deny? And then I have another question. Thank you.
MR MILLER: I will just say that, no, we do not take a side on internal political matters.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I’ll be very short. Do you know – just to explain now a big festival in Indian subcontinent going on, it’s called Durja Puja. This is an annual Hindu festival, and last five days is very important for this Durja Puja. And all the opposition party, the acting chief of BNP, Tarique Rahman, who is convicted and a fugitive, described by the – by former U.S. diplomat as a symbol of violent politician in Bangladesh. And they are asking to come their violent supporter to Dhaka to seize the Dhaka on the date of 28th, this day after tomorrow. It is the biggest – end of this biggest festival, Hindu community. And they have track record for criminal violation and attacking Hindu population with arson and burning the bus and families and also making (inaudible). So what is your concern on that? Thank you.
MR MILLER: I will take that back and get you a comment. Nick, go ahead. And then Janne, we’ll come to you next.
MR MILLER: Yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: I know you don’t want to get ahead of the meetings, but at the UN Secretary Blinken said he’s going to be speaking with the foreign minister on ways to prevent the conflict in the Mideast from spreading. What, if any, specific asks are going to be made in that respect during the meetings here?
MR MILLER: So what I expect is that Secretary Blinken will continue a conversation he started with Director Wang when he had the occasion to speak to him while we were on this trip to the Middle East. He called him when we were in Saudi Arabia to say that China should use whatever ability it has, as an influential power, to urge calm in the region.
We know China has relationships with a number of countries in the region, and we would urge them to use those relationships, the lines of communications they have, to urge calm and stability. We don’t think that increased instability benefits the United States; it doesn’t benefit China; it certainly doesn’t benefit the people of the region.
QUESTION: Can I ask one on —
MR MILLER: Janne, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I have a question on the Russia, North Korea, and China. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov told reporters that arms deals between North Korea and Russia were groundless and that the United States had made false report without evidence. Also Russia claims that the UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea are meaningless. How will you refute this?
MR MILLER: With respect to the last, it’s interesting to hear them claim that they are meaningless, given that Russia voted for those very resolutions that impose sanctions on North Korea.
I will say that our assessment has not changed, that we have seen the flow of weapons between Russia and North Korea. We believe that those violate UN Security Council resolutions. But that said, we will continue to act to support our allies in the region, in Asia. And with respect to Ukraine, we will continue to provide them the weapons they need, the security assistance that they need to defend themselves, including a package that we announced today.
Abbie and then Michel, I’ll come to you next.
QUESTION: Follow up, though. Will the Secretary Blinken raise the issue of China’s role in the UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea at the meeting with Wang Yi?
MR MILLER: I am sure that North Korea will be on the agenda and I wouldn’t want to comment any more specifically in advance.
Abbie, go ahead.
QUESTION: Going back to the Middle East, two questions. The UN humanitarian coordinator on the ground there said that there is nowhere safe for civilians to go in Gaza. Do you disagree with that statement? And what is the latest on U.S. efforts to create safe zones?
MR MILLER: I will say that we are working very hard with our partners in the region – it’s one of the things that Ambassador Satterfield is working on – to ensure that civilians can be protected from harm. It’s the subject of ongoing discussions. I don’t have any updates to offer other than to say it’s something that he continues to work on.
QUESTION: And there were reports today that U.S. and Qatar have reached an agreement to – for Qatar to revisit their relationship with Hamas after this is all over. Do you have any comment on that? Is that —
MR MILLER: I saw the report. I can’t comment on a private diplomatic negotiation. I will note two things: When the Secretary was in Qatar, he said publicly that ultimately no country can continue to carry on as – with business as usual with Qatar as they did before the – I’m sorry, business as usual with Hamas as they did before the October 7th attacks. That’s a message he delivered in all of his travels through the region.
That said, we are very appreciative of the role that Qatar has played in helping secure the release of hostages and work to continue to secure the release of hostages, and we are very appreciative for their work in that regard.
Michel and we’ll wrap it up there.
QUESTION: I have two questions.
MR MILLER: Alex, I’ll come back to you. I forgot I – yeah, go ahead. Sorry, Michel.
MR MILLER: That’s an issue that we will discuss directly with the French Government, but certainly we welcome the work of any government to try and ensure that Hamas cannot continue to operate, carry out terrorist attacks the way it did on October 7th.
MR MILLER: So I’m not aware of any such plans at this time. The United States remains committed to UNIFIL’s mandate of monitoring the cessation of hostilities and the Blue Line generally. UNIFIL’s independence and freedom of movement is critical to its ability to fulfill its mission.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: And Alex and we’ll wrap there.
MR MILLER: We —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) to expedite —
MR MILLER: We have not yet been officially notified by the Russian Government and they have not yet responded to our requests for consular access. We continue to make those requests to consular access and hope that they will be granted.
QUESTION: Thank you. And today is Evan Gershkovich’s birthday. Has there been any attempt to —
MR MILLER: I’m sorry, what?
QUESTION: Evan Gershkovich’s birthday is today. Have you guys reached out to him in jail? I know ambassador met with him last week.
MR MILLER: Yeah, the ambassador met with him, and we will continue to have conversations with him when we do have consular visits, and we continue to press for his release.
QUESTION: And finally on Karabakh, you know that the meeting between Azerbaijan and Armenian leaders was supposed to take place in Brussels but canceled – second time, actually, this been canceled. I’m just wondering, given all the latest developments and also, we have Iran in the picture, is there – what is your hope for the Washington-backed peace process? Is it a distant dream at this point, or —
MR MILLER: We continue to think that it is in the interests of the two parties, it is interest in the region – it is in the interests of the region, and it is in the interests of the broader world that those two parties reach a peace agreement, and we’ll continue to push it.
I’ll leave it there. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)