1:36 p.m. EDT
MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR MILLER: Since the disappointment in the room yesterday when I didn’t have any opening remarks, so —
QUESTION: Oh, now, you have, like, what, 12?
MR MILLER: I – especially since your disappointment, Matt, so today I came prepared.
QUESTION: Twenty minutes in, we’ll get to questions.
MR MILLER: Something like that. Let me start by making some opening remarks on Russia and our support for Ukraine.
First of all, the United States today imposed sweeping sanctions on over 150 individuals and entities in connection with Russia’s unlawful invasion of Ukraine. This action targeted those engaged in sanctions evasion and those complicit in furthering Russia’s ability to wage its war against Ukraine, among many others.
The Department of State designated over 70 entities and individuals involved in Russia’s future energy production and export capacity, including Russia’s flagship Arctic LNG 2 project. The Department also designated numerous entities producing and repairing Russian weapon systems, including the Kalibr cruise missile used by Russian forces against cities and civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, and an individual affiliated with the Wagner Group who was involved in the shipment of munitions from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the Russian Federation.
Concurrently, the Department of Treasury imposed nearly one hundred sanctions on a wide range of targets, including Russian oligarchs, officials, entities that support Russia’s war machine, and two additional banks.
In addition to taking these sanctions against Russia today, we are also taking important steps to support Ukraine’s recovery efforts.
We are pleased to extend a warm welcome to Penny Pritzker, former Secretary of Commerce, who was named by President Biden as the Special Representative for Ukraine’s Economic Recovery. As Secretary Blinken said when he visited Kyiv last week, we are committed to ensuring that Ukraine not only survives, but thrives, and Secretary Pritzker will work to ensure that is the case.
We welcome Secretary – Special Representative Pritzker to her new role and look forward to working with her.
And finally, shifting to Moscow, I want to speak to the fact that today the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed Ambassador Lynne Tracy of the decision to declare two U.S. diplomats persona non grata.
This unprovoked expulsion of our diplomatic personnel is wholly without merit, as is the case against a former Russian contractor of our embassy who was arrested for the supposedly nefarious task of performing such activities as providing our embassy with media clips.
Yet again, Russia has chosen confrontation and escalation over constructive diplomatic engagement. It continues to harass employees of our embassy, just as it continues to intimidate its own citizens. We regret that Russia has taken this path, and you can certainly expect that we will respond appropriately to their actions.
And with that, Matt.
QUESTION: Okay. When can we expect to see a response?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to preview that.
MR MILLER: I don’t want to preview that, but we have acted expeditiously in the past in response to such actions by the Russian Federation.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just going – well, I presume that you don’t have anything more to say about this. I mean —
MR MILLER: No.
QUESTION: These two were, as far as the U.S. is concerned, were just doing their jobs and not doing anything nefarious?
MR MILLER: They were just doing their jobs, as was the underlying employee who the Russian – the Russian Government arrested some months ago was doing completely legal tasks there in compliance with Russian law.
QUESTION: Have they left yet, or no?
MR MILLER: No, they have not.
QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.
MR MILLER: Anything else on the – I’ll stay with this.
MR MILLER: But go ahead.
QUESTION: Have you already summoned Russian ambassador?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to exactly the steps that we are taking to respond, but you can certainly expect that we will do so.
MR MILLER: I’m not going to say when we’re going to take those steps. We will make those clear to the Russian Government, and we will make them clear to you at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: The sanctions on —
QUESTION: I just wanted to – quickly to the sanctions you guys have announced today. There are five entities that are based in Türkiye, and I’m just wondering if you guys – they are entities in Turkish private sector. None of them are government entities, but I’m just wondering if you have given the Turkish Government a heads up ahead of time.
MR MILLER: We often make those – take those steps. I am not aware whether we did at this – in this instance or not. I’m happy to follow up.
QUESTION: Right. Have you received any feedback from the Turkish Government since the sanctions announcement is out?
MR MILLER: Not that I’m aware of.
QUESTION: Right. Is the United States at all worried that these sanctions – because they come at this time when your top priority is for Ankara to ratify Sweden’s NATO membership, are you at all concerned that the sanctioning of these entities in NATO Ally Türkiye might derail that process?
MR MILLER: Not at all. We have a constructive, warm relationship with the Turkish Government. They are an important ally of ours. The President met with President Erdogan not too long ago and reiterated that fact after the meeting. We continue to work with them to communicate that NATO accession is important for Sweden and should happen as soon as possible, and we take President Erdogan’s assurances that it will happen at great value. And we don’t see these as any way connected, and we don’t see that in any way these sanctions should have any impact at all on that accession.
QUESTION: Same subject?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Same – thank you very much. On the Turkish companies that are being sanctioned by the State Department, so I just looked at a tweet just before briefing, and you said, and I quote, “We imposed sanctions on…those maintaining Russia’s capacity to continue this war, bolstering its ability to remain a global energy power.” But looking at the statistics since the start of the war, the EU – your biggest partner in the war against Russia, let’s say – they purchased more than $160 billion of fossil fuels since the start of the war.
And would you not say the West, the Western companies, these European Union member states, are actually funding the war against Ukraine? Because it’s great, like well done these five companies that have – that were selling like sensors and measuring objects and like to do some shipping and stuff, servicing regarding shipyards. But when you’re looking at the real picture, would you say to Americans that we’re doing everything we can whilst our biggest partners are basically paying billions and billions of dollars to Russia?
MR MILLER: I wouldn’t conclude that at all. I would say we have worked hand in glove with our partners in the EU, with the European countries individually, to impose costs on Russia through sanctions and export controls. We recognize that a number of European countries were importing large amounts of Russian fossil fuels before this war began and they couldn’t just turn those off immediately without having their citizens suffer through cold winters without any access to energy at all.
But as part of – but we have seen two things: one, European countries take important steps, as I said, to impose costs on Russia; and two, to start to take steps to wean themselves from Russia fossil fuels, Russian oil, Russian natural gas. We have worked with them to provide them with access to additional American natural gas to fund that transition, and we think those steps have been important and productive.
QUESTION: Well, it’s a fact, isn’t it, that hundreds of billions are still being – those payments are being made to Russia, like half the Russian oil has been transported by Greek ships. Like this is all happening in real time.
MR MILLER: As I said, it is – you cannot ask a country that was wholly dependent on Russian fossil fuel to go cold turkey if it means their citizens are going to have no access to electricity or heating through a cold winter. What we can ask countries to do and we have asked countries to do and have worked with them to do is to take steps to transition from Russian fossil fuels. And I would remind you that a number of those countries in Europe are members of the G7, which has imposed a price cap on Russian oil to ensure that Russian revenues are greatly reduced. And in fact, we’ve seen Russian revenues greatly reduced as the price – as a result of that price cap.
So while we have not wanted to take Russian oil off the market because of the impact that that could have on energy prices worldwide and the impact it would have on energy prices for American consumers, we have taken steps to ensure that while the Russian oil remains available, the price that they are receiving for it and the profits that they receive for it are greatly diminished.
Go ahead. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the sanctions too, and if I may ask to have the camera on the questioner who’s asking. That’s the only way how we do the live – thank you so much.
MR MILLER: That’s a new one. Okay.
QUESTION: Thank you. Appreciate it. The department designated today —
MR MILLER: I didn’t know we had a – I didn’t know reporters —
QUESTION: Sometimes we do.
MR MILLER: I didn’t know reporters served as the directors of the camera operations in this room.
QUESTION: No, no, no. I usually ask. Sometimes you guys do it, sometimes you don’t, so that’s the only way how I have poof —
MR MILLER: Makes me wonder. Makes me wonder what question’s coming, so go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Appreciate that. Department designated a Georgian Russian oligarch today as part of one of the designations you mentioned. And the guy is Mr. Partskhaladze and a Russian intelligence service officer for influencing Georgian society and politics for the benefit of Russia. I remind you that Mr. Partskhaladze, this guy who you sanctioned today, served as a chief prosecutor of Georgia for years and has been accused of oppressing opposition voices in Georgia, and he’s one of the cronies of the major oligarch, Mr. Ivanishvili, who controls the Georgian Government from the shadow.
On this note, today’s designation is sought to find recognition by both State Department and the Treasury, recognizing the fact that FSB has close ties with the Georgian Government and operates freely. How this would influence your relations with Georgian Government?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to jump to that conclusion. I will say that we sanctioned over 150 entities and individuals today, and I’m not going to able to speak to – I would say for full details on any of those sanctions, I would refer you to the information that we released and the information that the Treasury Department released. But with respect to 150 individuals and entities, I’m not able to speak to them in detail from this record.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matthew.
MR MILLER: Okay, let’s —
QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. As a broad context, this year this has been the second designation of the Georgian nationals. The first four was the Georgian supreme court judges. So in a broad context, how you see the relations with Georgia? Because this is very unprecedented facts if you look at the 30-plus years of diplomatic relations the U.S. State Department had – I mean the U.S. Government had with Georgia. So has any effects on this relations?
MR MILLER: I don’t believe so. I would say that we have always stood in solidarity with the people of Georgia and their desire to be a free and sovereign country with internationally recognized borders. And over the last 30 years, we have become strategic partners working together on our – towards our shared version of Georgia as a fully integrated member of the Euro-Atlantic family, and no individual sanction determination that we make changes that vision of ours or that relationship.
Shannon, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. In regards to the catastrophic flooding in Libya, I was wondering if you could give us an update on what the U.S. is doing to support the country in the wake of that tragedy, more detailed than what the President put out earlier this week promising emergency funding.
MR MILLER: Yeah. So I’ll say that the United States, through the U.S. Agency for International Development, has announced an initial $1 million in humanitarian assistance. That’s just a very initial payment to meet the most immediate needs on the ground as we get a disaster assistance response team on the ground, a USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team. We have activated one, who will coordinate with the Libyan Government and with international humanitarian partners to identify priority needs and deliver that assistance. And for further details, I would refer you to USAID, who can talk to them.
But I do want to reiterate – as I think it’s important to do whenever we talk about this situation – that we extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of those devastating floods, especially those who lost loved ones and are dealing with the horrific aftermath today.
Alex – no, actually you’ve already had one. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Do you know if the team is on the ground in Libya?
MR MILLER: I would refer you to USAID to speak to specifics.
QUESTION: It’s a question about Poland. One of the media outlets in Poland informed earlier today that officers from Overseas Criminal Investigations, which is a program run by Diplomatic Security Service, warned the Polish authorities about a new channel of illegal immigration to the United States from India via Poland and via Mexico. Now, supposedly, there was a corrupt cell at the Polish foreign ministry that operated this channel. And again, this is an information coming from State Department, from the Diplomatic Security Service.
MR MILLER: What – and what – just so I know what I’m talking about, what is the source of this information? A public report from —
QUESTION: It is one of the Polish media outlet called ONET PL. And so do you have any comments on this? Can you confirm this?
MR MILLER: I cannot confirm those reports, and as always, I wouldn’t want to speak to private conversations between our two governments.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Switching topics to the Palestinian-Israeli issue. A couple quick questions on the visa waiver. It seems that Gazan Americans are required to document and prove their residency abroad. To the best of your knowledge, is that required of other Americans?
MR MILLER: What I will say about that – so Israel just in the last few days announced new travel procedures for Gaza. I believe it was on Monday of this week. Those new procedures will allow U.S. citizens who are registered on the Palestinian population registry for Gaza to apply for visa-free admission into Israel. As we have said all along, we recognize that there is a different security situation in Gaza, and so there would be different procedures. I – and what I will say about that is that we are going to monitor the implementation of those procedures and make sure that Americans – all Americans – are treated equally in making any determination about Israel’s potential admission into the Visa Waiver Program.
QUESTION: One more question on this issue. There are reports that the determination of whether Israel enters the Visa Waiver Program sits with the Secretary, with Secretary Blinken, including apparently a planned announcement on October 6th. And according to the statute, it’s supposed to be the Secretary of DHS. Can you clarify this or —
MR MILLER: Well, I think we’ll follow the statute – obviously. No, you’re right about what the statute says. The Secretary doesn’t – the decision does not rest with the Secretary. The Secretary plays an important role, but as this – the procedure, the statute lays out is that the Secretary makes a recommendation to – Secretary Blinken, Secretary of State, makes a recommendation to the Secretary of Homeland Security, who makes the final determination. I can tell you that neither of those steps have happened yet. The Secretary has not made a recommendation, and so obviously without that the Secretary of Homeland Security has not made a final determination.
QUESTION: A couple more quick questions. The Palestinian Authority claims that —
QUESTION: Can we stay on the VWP issue?
QUESTION: Sure, Matt.
MR MILLER: Sure, if Said yields the floor.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but it’s just about this line that you just said, that the new Israeli guidelines allow American citizens who are on the Palestinian registry list in Gaza to apply for visa waiver entry, right? That’s what you said, correct?
MR MILLER: Yeah. Correct.
QUESTION: How is that different than getting a visa?
MR MILLER: There are different – the same as —
QUESTION: No, they’re not.
MR MILLER: No, no. There are. Because the same as – there’s the ESTA Program. For – it’s the same as entering America. I know —
QUESTION: This is not something that you apply for, it’s something you register for, okay? Now, what you just said was that, okay, Palestinian Americans who are from or who have family in Gaza who want to go there can apply for it. That’s the same thing as a – that is exactly the same thing as trying to get a visa.
MR MILLER: The procedures – our understanding – so first of all, Israel just announced these several days ago. Our understanding and our expectation of the procedures is that they will not be the same as getting a visa and that they will be —
QUESTION: Okay, well, they won’t. So it’ll just be a formality?
MR MILLER: It will be – there will be —
QUESTION: It will be like ESTA?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to compare a foreign program to our program. I was using that as an example to say that —
QUESTION: Well, but in fact, that’s what the law says. You have to – it has to be reciprocal, right, which means that —
MR MILLER: That – I just meant —
QUESTION: — the U.S. program – that their program has to be the same as —
MR MILLER: — not the exact same technicalities. I meant not the exact same —
QUESTION: Their program has to be the same as the U.S. program as it relates to American citizens.
MR MILLER: Yes, yes. Though we do recognize that there maybe slightly different procedures for going into Gaza because of the different security situation there.
QUESTION: Well, then that’s not reciprocal. If there are slightly different procedures, then that’s not reciprocal.
MR MILLER: But they still have to allow visa-free travel.
QUESTION: There’s just – and I think that even supporters of Israel will recognize that allowing complete reciprocity – in other words, for them to fulfill the criteria that is mandated under the law, the U.S. law – that they can’t do it without sacrificing their own national security interests. And what you just said is that they’re allowing Palestinian Americans to apply for visa waiver entry. But that is – in what world is that not the same thing as forcing them to apply for a visa?
MR MILLER: So —
QUESTION: What world is that in?
MR MILLER: So I’m not able to get into the very technical details of what this will look like.
QUESTION: This is not technical? This is pretty easy.
MR MILLER: No, no, no, hold on. I know but let me finish the answer – that Israel just announced a few days ago and that we have only begun to monitor and they have only begun to implement. But our understanding is that this new process for people traveling to Gaza, for residents of Gaza, will not be the burdensome visa – the burdensome process that is involved in acquiring a visa. And again, as we have said – as we have said a number of times – we will monitor it, and if it doesn’t meet our requirements for entry into the Visa Waiver Program, Israel will not be admitted into the program.
QUESTION: Okay. And they have 16 days to prove that, right?
MR MILLER: Correct.
MR MILLER: Correct.
QUESTION: And if they don’t meet it in 16 days, they have to go back and qualify under the —
MR MILLER: Correct.
QUESTION: — visa rejection rate, the visa overstay rate, and everything else.
MR MILLER: Correct, for a new fiscal year. Right.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on the claim of the Palestinian Authority that Israel is withholding about $800 million – I don’t know if you’re aware of it – in their tax revenues? Are you aware of that?
MR MILLER: I’ve seen the reports. I don’t have a response to it.
QUESTION: Okay. Because literally there’s —
MR MILLER: I’m not able to verify them.
QUESTION: — going to be a donors meeting, and I’m sure that the United States will be there in New York and so on, and this issue may come up.
My second question, also related to this: Will there be a meeting with any Palestinian official on the sideline of the UNGA, to the best of your knowledge?
MR MILLER: I have not yet announced any meetings by either the Secretary or other members of this department, and we’ll make those announcements in the coming days.
MR MILLER: Let me go here.
QUESTION: He has a follow-up, though.
QUESTION: Follow-up for Visa Waiver Program?
MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. So this follow-up on the Visa Waiver Program – given that Gaza is controlled by the terrorist organization Hamas, what are the reasons for the Biden administration and the State Department insisting Israel give unfettered (inaudible) access to Americans heading into or exiting the Gaza Strip in exchange for Israel being admitted to the Visa Waiver Program? And I have a follow-up to the follow-up.
MR MILLER: Wait, what was the question? That we are – you were asking are we insisting that American citizens be able to —
QUESTION: No, the question is – well, I guess basically (inaudible) response – the Biden administration is insisting Israel give unfettered transit access to Americans heading into or exiting the Gaza Strip in exchange for Israel being admitted to the Visa Waiver Program? And the second follow-up question is about —
MR MILLER: Yeah, we – well, I’d say, as I just said, we do expect that American citizens traveling into or out of Gaza be —
QUESTION: Isn’t it the law?
MR MILLER: — treated reciprocally. Yes.
QUESTION: Okay, but —
MR MILLER: That goes – that —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) had nothing to do with creating the visa waiver criteria; that was Congress.
MR MILLER: Correct.
QUESTION: Okay. The second part of that is what responsibility for an attack or attacks will the State Department take if someone headed into or out of Gaza exploits this new access and attacks Israeli citizens and tourists?
MR MILLER: I appreciate you coming and asking questions. I do think that’s a bit of an absurd framing of the question. Again, we are talking about American citizens and their ability to be treated without discrimination, which is something that we expect. That said, we do work with Israel to ensure their security. We are 100 percent committed to the security of the Israeli people, and we work with them on a daily basis to ensure that.
QUESTION: There’s a little confusing about – how can American citizens be living in Gaza? What is the prevalence of that in the first place?
MR MILLER: I don’t have the numbers, but there are American citizens that live in Gaza and all over the world.
QUESTION: Just one more on Israel.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: There was a bit of a kerfuffle yesterday or the day before in Israel over the transfer of some armored vehicles to the Palestinian Authority. I asked; I did get a very, well, I’ll say lame response —
MR MILLER: That wasn’t – me, was it?
QUESTION: — about – no, it wasn’t from you.
MR MILLER: I don’t – you’re not – my response wasn’t —
QUESTION: But — no, it was —
MR MILLER: At least in this instance, I hope my response is not characterized as lame.
QUESTION: No, (inaudible) we don’t comment on these transfers. But frankly, this is – this would – a transfer of armored vehicles to the Palestinian Authority, while it may be well intentioned and intended to, like, help the PA police areas of the West Bank, there are no details about it. So how many vehicles were there and how much are they worth?
MR MILLER: I do not have those details. I will give one answer you’ll probably not – you’ll reject as lame and then a follow-up answer. One is that we don’t comment on the details of these transfers, which I guess you’ve already pre-emptively rejected. And the second —
QUESTION: Oh, I’m not rejecting it.
MR MILLER: And the second, though, we do —
QUESTION: I’m just saying that it’s not – it doesn’t have (inaudible).
MR MILLER: No, the second thing I was going to say is – the second thing I’d say, which we do not – but we do not provide weapons to the Palestinian Authority.
QUESTION: And no one said they were weapons.
MR MILLER: I – yes. Right.
QUESTION: Like, armored vehicles.
MR MILLER: Sorry. We don’t – yeah.
QUESTION: All right.
MR MILLER: Hold on. Leon gave up the floor a minute ago. Do you want to —
QUESTION: Are you finished going —
MR MILLER: Yeah, I – (laughter) – Leon, I remembered your question. You didn’t have your hand back up. I could have lost —
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. Very, very different region. I was wondering whether you have any reaction or comment or how you view the fact that Cuba is heading a Group of 77 summit as of tomorrow for two days in La Habana with leaders such as Lula expected, and 30 of such leaders. What is your view on that? And in that context, of course, could you give us an update or readout of the meetings, apparently, that the deputy Cuban foreign minister had with people in this house and any readout —
MR MILLER: People in his house or —
QUESTION: Well, no, in the – at the Department of State.
MR MILLER: You mean people in the State Department, in the State Department. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
QUESTION: And where – or where in fact, if it was actually here or not? I think he also met somebody at the White House.
MR MILLER: Assistant Secretary Nichols, yeah.
QUESTION: But any readout you can have on that.
MR MILLER: So I don’t have any comment on the first question you asked. I will say with respect to the meeting that involved the State Department that you asked about, on Monday, Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols met with the Cuban vice foreign minister. At this meeting, Assistant Secretary Nichols and the vice foreign minister discussed human rights, migration, and other issues of bilateral interest, and it follows a number of meetings. We do routinely meet with officials from the Cuban embassy here in Washington.
QUESTION: But not at that level.
MR MILLER: Not at that level, no. I mean, not always someone here, but we do regularly have discussions about those issues.
QUESTION: Yeah, yeah. And any progress whatsoever on whether or not Cuba should be lifted from the list of state sponsored of – states that sponsor terrorism?
MR MILLER: We have not made any determination that I can report today.
MR MILLER: Look, we continue to monitor the situation there. We continue to engage with partners in the region. Secretary Blinken has had a number of conversations over the past weeks both with partners in the region and other countries around the world around this. One of our first priorities is still to secure the release of President Bazoum, his family, and all the members of his government who were unlawfully detained. And I don’t have any update on a determination by this department.
QUESTION: When was the last time anyone from this building spoke with Bazoum?
MR MILLER: I am not aware – I don’t track all of, like, the assistant secretary calls and others, so there may have been one recently that I don’t have at my fingertips. Happy to (inaudible).
QUESTION: What about the rest of the junta? When was the last engagement, when Toria visited?
MR MILLER: Again, because we have an embassy there that regularly conducts its own engagements and the – of course the Africa Bureau conducts its own engagements, I don’t know of the last engagement (inaudible).
QUESTION: And do you know who will be representing Niger at the United Nations next week, and would the U.S. grant a visa to a member of the junta if they were to try to represent —
MR MILLER: So I do not know who will be representing. I will say as a general matter we have an obligation as the host country, the host nation for the United Nations, to grant visas to people who are accredited members who are – who the United Nations has determined are accredited members representing their government. Those decisions – our visa decisions, of course, are confidential, but we do have an obligation to admit people for meetings at the UN.
QUESTION: Even if they’re from a junta that overthrew what you call a democratically elected —
MR MILLER: If the United – if their accreditation is uncontested at the United Nations and the United Nations is welcoming them to a meeting, it is our obligation to provide a visa. Just – I will say a visa for purposes of attending the UN, not for any other purposes of visiting the United States.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. I want to go back to South Caucasus. Three questions, but very quick. Special Advisor Bono is in the region. As I understand, he was in Yerevan today. Do you have any readout for us —
MR MILLER: No specific readout, other than he continues to engage both on the short-term priority, which is to re-open the Lachin corridor, and of course the – our long-term priority, which I – I say long-term, but we really want it to happen as soon as possible, which is to reach a peaceful resolution to the overall matter.
QUESTION: So he’ll be visiting Baku as well, probably?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to comment on his specific – but if you put a call in to the appropriate bureau, I’m sure they can give you detail.
QUESTION: (Inaudible.) So second topic, Gubad Ibadoghlu from Azerbaijan, his case we have discussed multiple times in this room. It came up during today’s congressional hearing. And the impression was that – there was a question about him, but the answer was about quiet diplomacy. Assistant secretary mentioned that she would go back to the senators with more detailed answer. If quiet diplomacy is not working – because he has been in jail for a long time already, his health is deteriorating – my question is: At what point you will start being deeply concerned and ask for his release?
MR MILLER: I have – you have – so I don’t think you should say – you should conclude that quiet diplomacy precludes that we’re asking for his release. I have said publicly from this podium that we urge the Azerbaijani Government to immediately release him. So —
QUESTION: You haven’t. You said —
MR MILLER: I have. I have said –
QUESTION: — that you urged them to respect human rights (inaudible).
MR MILLER: I have said before that we are troubled by his arrest and detention, and we urge his immediate release.
QUESTION: I appreciate that.
MR MILLER: So —
MR MILLER: I love it when we have reporters arguing with me in the middle.
QUESTION: It does disclose here already an important detail about this – how this Georgian (inaudible) government, operates, pushes Russian propaganda. There are multiple examples just in recent history. We all have seen this famous video of Georgian prime minister talking about how Russia started Ukrainian war because of, quote/unquote, “NATO expansion.” Yet he’s able to travel to United States – he was here last month on private trip, taking his son to American school. My question is: Is it fair to expect from the United States Government to go further – not only sanction the formers but a few current officials who push Russian propaganda in Georgia?
MR MILLER: We take sanctions actions when we feel it is appropriate to do so, and I don’t have any to preview at this time.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I have one question on Iraq. The U.S. Treasury Assistant Secretary Rosenberg, she was in Iraq and met with the Iraqi officials about corruption and also smuggling the dollar to abroad, especially Iran. Then are you still concerned about the dollar cashflow from Iraq to Iran? And how do you deal with the banks that are still operating with risks?
MR MILLER: So let me say that you’re right, Assistant Secretary Rosenberg was in Baghdad September 12th and 13th. She met with the Iraqi prime minister as well as leaders of the Central Bank of Iraq, Trade Bank of Iraq, the Iraqi Financial Intelligence Unit, as well as representatives from the Iraqi private banking sector. Both sides, recognizing the opportunities and challenges ahead for further improving the Iraqi financial sector, committed to continue working together to take positive steps towards meaningful and lasting reforms that will raise Iraq to international standards and prevent fraud, sanctions evasion, terrorist financing, and other illicit activities.
QUESTION: Then let me do – let me do one more follow-up.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Then do you say that there are still banks in Iraq that trying to smuggle dollar cash flow from Iraq to Iran and Syria?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to make any assessment of that from this podium today.
QUESTION: Matt, thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. So last month the —
MR MILLER: You’re next.
QUESTION: — the State Department called on Nicaragua to release imprisoned Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez. First question: Have you heard anything back from the Ortega government on that – on that demand to get him freed?
MR MILLER: So I won’t speak to any private diplomatic conversations, but I will say that we continue to condemn the Nicaraguan Government’s unjust detention of Bishop Alvarez. We are closely engaged and working on this case. We share the concerns of the international community about his well-being. And we continue to call on President Ortega and Vice President Murillo to release him immediately and unconditionally so he can continue his pastoral work. And we will continue to be focused on this case.
QUESTION: And some wonder whether he’s even alive. Do you have any proof he’s alive?
MR MILLER: I am not going to speak to his status. It is our priority, though, that he be released and that the Nicaraguan Government account for his whereabouts and health.
QUESTION: And one on Nigeria, please. Thank you. A – tragic story here. A Catholic seminarian was killed when his rectory was set on fire, just recently. Seminarian’s name was Na’aman Danlami. Why is Nigeria still not on the Countries of Particular Concern list when you – when we see Christians there being killed routinely?
MR MILLER: So two things. One, we do remain concerned by some state governments’ use of – use and enforcement of anti-defamation and blasphemy laws against individuals expressing their freedom of – their beliefs or opinions about religion. We believe that laws prohibiting insults to any religion often reinforce intolerance for differing views. We remain concerned about intercommunal conflicts that at times can take on religious overtones, and the effect of violence against members of the religious community.
But I will say, last November – as part of the department’s annual review of international religious freedom designations globally, where we look at countries around the world – the department determined that the religious freedom conditions in Nigeria did not meet the legal threshold for Nigeria to be designated as a Country of Particular Concern. So while we do remain concerned about the – some of the developments in the country, there’s a legal threshold that in this case we just did not find was met.
QUESTION: And finally, Nagorno-Karabakh. One U.S. lawmaker recently wrote a letter to President Biden saying, quote, “The United States must recognize this genocide and act accordingly to save as many lives as possible,” end quote. What is the State Department’s message to suffering Armenian Christians?
MR MILLER: That we want the Lachin Corridor to be opened immediately. We have made that clear. Secretary Blinken has engaged with the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to make it clear that we want the Lachin Corridor to be opened immediately to address the really dire humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.
QUESTION: How much time do you think these people have?
MR MILLER: Go ahead – I don’t have any further – go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
QUESTION: Matt, today the UK, France, and Germany officially announced that they’re going to keep the nuclear nonproliferation measures against Iran in place, which it also includes arms and missiles embargo, after the JCPOA transition day on October 18th this year, and that they have jointly notified the coordinator of the JCPOA. The U.S. does have its own sanctions against Iran. Is the Biden administration talking with other countries about this subject, keeping these missile – the arms sanctions in place once they expire in October?
MR MILLER: We are coordinating closely with a range of allies and partners, including our E3 and EU partners on their transition day plans, and we’ll consider additional counter-proliferation efforts going forward. We have imposed a number of sanctions, as you referred to in your question, on Iran, and of course will not hesitate to continue to do so in the future if appropriate.
QUESTION: One more question.
QUESTION: Well, what’s your reaction to the E3 saying that they will not go for snapback but they will transfer some of the UN sanctions that are due to expire on the 18th of – and I was wrong yesterday; I said the 8th, but it’s October 18th —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: — that they will make some of sanctions national sanctions?
MR MILLER: I would say that we are working closely with our European allies, including the members, of course, of the E3, to address the continued threat that Iran poses, including on missiles and arms transfer, with the extensive range of unilateral and multilateral tools that are at our disposal. And we will continue to work on that as we lead up to the so-called transition day and, of course, thereafter.
QUESTION: Well, yeah, but I mean, do you think it’s a good thing that they’re doing this?
MR MILLER: We are in close contact with them about what the appropriate —
QUESTION: That’s fine. But I mean —
MR MILLER: I know. I —
QUESTION: What do you mean you’re in close – I mean, that – okay. Of course you’re in close contact with them. You’re in close contact with them every day about any number of things. I want to know if you have an opinion, if the U.S. Government has an opinion on what they announced today.
MR MILLER: I will say that we are going to continue to coordinate with them on what the appropriate next steps are, but I’m going to keep our conversations with them private.
QUESTION: Well, no – okay, well what do you think – forget about the conversations, what do you think is the appropriate – what are the appropriate next steps?
MR MILLER: I think we should continue to hold Iran accountable, but I’m not going to preview what the next steps might be.
QUESTION: So you’re okay with transition day and the UN sanctions going away with no snapback?
MR MILLER: I think you have to remember, of course, that those are not the only sanctions that we have on Iran and that our allies and partners have on Iran, and we’ll continue to work with our allies on what other steps are appropriate to take.
QUESTION: No, but if the UN sanctions – if the arms embargo is lifted, as it will be on the 18th of October, right, everything that you’re talking about in terms of, like, transfers of weapons to and from Russia for use in Ukraine or elsewhere are no longer – they’re no longer covered.
MR MILLER: I will say there’s some time between now and October 18th, and we’re going to —
QUESTION: Yeah, there’s just a month.
MR MILLER: Long time in government – in government time, and we’ll continue to work with them on the appropriate steps in response to that day.
I – we’ve had – Guita was still – I think had a follow-up before.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you. In two days will be the anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s death while in the custody of the morality police in Iran. Recently her father has been – is being harassed. He’s been threatened not to make the anniversary a big thing, not to talk about it. They have forbidden him from doing interviews. Any comments on this?
MR MILLER: Yeah. First I’d say this is reportedly the fourth time in the last two weeks that the Iranian regime has summoned Mahsa’s father for questioning. The regime continues its relentless intimidation of her family and the families of slain protesters, but the regime cannot intimidate the people of Iran into silence. The world is watching its treatment of these families and the ongoing intimidation of journalists and abuse of peaceful protesters, and we will continue to watch it closely and take whatever steps are appropriate to respond to it.
QUESTION: Follow-up. Follow-up.
MR MILLER: Let me just —
MR MILLER: All right, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Just, I mean, following up on Guita’s point about Mahsa’s anniversary, just a few days ago you announced a hostage deal that basically left behind three U.S. other cases – Jamshid Sharmahd, Afshin Vatani, and Shahab Dalili. Today the Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress heard that the deal does nothing to halt further hostage taking and it allows the regime to divert resources intended for humanitarian purposes to security forces, missile program, and proxy groups, plus it undermines the international sanctions regime. Now, does the United States really stand with the Iranian people, or are your statements of support just paying lip service to the brave Iranian people who are fighting for democracy?
MR MILLER: So there was a lot there. Let me say a few things about it. One, all of the money that Iran would obtain access to under the terms of this arrangement are funds that Iran already owns. Under the terms of the arrangement that would be – that would allow the release of five American citizens, Iran would only have access to these funds for humanitarian purposes, so for purposes of food, medicine, and other things that do in fact benefit the Iranian people and not the regime.
With respect to the overall question, I – look, there were five American citizens who were being wrongfully detained in Iran. The Secretary believed, the President believed that we needed to do everything possible to get those Americans home. That’s what we are trying to do. It does not mean there are not other people in Iran who we are trying – whose release we are pressing for. There does not believe – there are other people in Iran who we believe are not being harassed and intimidated by the Iranian Government. It does not believe that we endorse all of Iran’s other actions on a range of activities. Of course we don’t. We will continue to hold Iran accountable for the actions to repress its own people; we will continue to hold Iran accountable for its actions to destabilize the region.
But when it comes to the decisions you have to make in this department, sometimes you have to make the decision of whether you want to leave these five Americans in prison under horrible conditions without access to their families – one of them had been in jail for over eight years – or do you want to bring them home. They’re not perfect choices sometimes. They’re not easy decisions. But we have made the decision that we want to bring those Americans home.
QUESTION: Do you have an end date on the —
MR MILLER: Go ahead. Oh, Michel, go ahead. Sorry.
QUESTION: On the prisoner swap, when will it happen?
MR MILLER: I do not. Not as – only thing I’ll say is what I said the other – not this week.
QUESTION: The funds, do you know if they’ve made it to Qatar yet?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to give an update on where those funds are in their transit from South Korea to the ultimate bank in Qatar.
QUESTION: Follow-up on those —
MR MILLER: No, let me go to some other people that haven’t – nice try, Alex.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) for (inaudible) National News (inaudible). I have a question about the planning meetings between American and Kazakhstan delegations during the summit of the United Nations General Assembly, including within the framework of the C5+1 platform. Could you tell about the agenda, and what key issues will be discussed?
MR MILLER: So I will say that the C5+1 is an important framework. The Secretary held a meeting at the ministerial level of the C5+1 some months ago, but we’re not ready at this point to announce any meetings at the United Nations.
Go ahead, and then we’ll do – we’ll wrap up.
MR MILLER: I would say that he raises the Black Sea Grain Initiative in just about every – I sit in a lot of his meetings with his foreign counterparts, and it comes up in just about every meeting, because it doesn’t just affect Ukraine, but it affects really every country around the world, especially those countries that have suffered most from Russia’s continued bombing – its continued blockade of the Black Sea and its continued bombing of ports and other facilities where Ukraine is shipping grain to nations that really depend on it.
With that, we’ll wrap —
QUESTION: Oh, well, l got – let me just ask one more, and this has to do yesterday with the Bahrain meetings. Did human rights questions come up at all during the discussion? I – they weren’t part of the MOU that was signed, but as you know and as you have commented on before, there are several people who are on hunger strike in Bahraini prisons for crimes that critics of the Bahrain Government say are ridiculous, are without standing. So was this something that the Secretary raised?
MR MILLER: It was. He raised human rights concerns and made clear that human rights are a pillar of our policy across the Middle East and North Africa, and then I’ll answer – I got asked a question about one specific human rights case yesterday that I couldn’t answer because the meeting was ongoing.
MR MILLER: But I can confirm today that yes, the Secretary did raise Mr. al-Khawaja’s case.
QUESTION: Okay. And – but even though there hasn’t been any positive response – or maybe there has been. Has there been a positive response from Bahrain?
MR MILLER: I can’t speak to the – a private —
QUESTION: Okay. Well, so assuming, then, that there hasn’t been, you went ahead and signed the MOU anyway.
MR MILLER: Look – yes, we believe that, as is true with a number of our countries —
QUESTION: Okay. So human rights is not actually the primary foreign policy —
MR MILLER: As is true with a number of countries, we have the ability to work together on things where we can advance cooperation but still raise where we have concerns.
QUESTION: Okay. Was that the only specific case that was raised?
MR MILLER: I don’t – I’m not aware of other specific cases.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
MR MILLER: All right, thanks.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)
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