Department Press Briefing – September 13, 2023 – United States Department of State

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1:41 p.m. EDT

QUESTION: I want to go back to the Iran stuff that you were talking about yesterday, and the assertion from the administration that billions of dollars in escrow accounts had been sent back or withdrawn by Iran during the previous administration without any restrictions at all. Do you have any more —

MR MILLER: Yeah. What I’ll say is so after the previous administration withdrew from the JCPOA and re-established or reactivated these accounts, they did not set up any procedures to give the U.S. Government either visibility or oversight into how the money was being spent. Now, look, that wasn’t required by law. But we have decided —

QUESTION: Well, it’s not – it was, wasn’t it? Or —

MR MILLER: No. It wasn’t required by law that they set up – that they set up —

QUESTION: Yeah. But it was required by U.S. law, by law that was signed by the President, several presidents, that, I mean, money in these accounts be spent on – for only humanitarian purposes.

MR MILLER: It’s not – well, no. That’s not quite accurate. It could be humanitarian or other nonsanctionable activity. So there are two —

QUESTION: Well, okay.

MR MILLER: Two points. So they could – two points. One, the Iranians could —

QUESTION: So they could buy some Snickers bars, okay? Not humanitarian, but —

MR MILLER: Nonhumanitarian, other nonsanctionable activities. But I think the larger point I was making, without direct visibility and without a mechanism for oversight, you are largely asking to trust the Iranians, which is not something that we are willing to do for a number of reasons, which is why, when we were setting up these accounts or setting up the regime for these accounts in Qatar, we were setting up visibility and oversight mechanisms so we have clear visibility into how the money is being spent and have the ability to oversee it and take action if it’s being spent for nonhumanitarian measures.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – okay. So I’m still pressing for details about how many billions were taken out of India and Türkiye and Japan and South Korea that the Iranians were able to spend on – willy-nilly.

MR MILLER: So we don’t have perfect visibility into this question because of the situation I just outlined, which is we don’t have visibility into the accounts and how they were being used.

QUESTION: So you don’t know.

MR MILLER: We do – well, let me just say we do have information that has led us to conclude that they were spent down by billions of dollars, in some cases all the way to zero. But we do not have perfect visibility about it.

QUESTION: In which cases were they spent all the way down to zero?

MR MILLER: I don’t have specific details on that.

QUESTION: Okay. It’s my understanding that, in fact, these countries, particularly India, South Korea, and Japan, were well aware of OFAC restrictions on the escrow funds, on the funds that they were holding in escrow, and would not give the Iranians anything unless it was specifically approved and sent through either the failed European INSTEX exchange or then the almost-failed Swiss humanitarian channel.

MR MILLER: Two things.

QUESTION: Is that – is that incorrect?

MR MILLER: First of all, those aren’t the only countries. China is another country that had one of these accounts. I – but it was —

QUESTION: Well, you know what? When was the last time the Chinese, like, obeyed U.S. sanctions or respected them?

MR MILLER: That’s my point.

QUESTION: No. I’m talking about countries —

MR MILLER: I know. And I’m about to —

QUESTION: India had the largest amount with the exception of maybe China.

MR MILLER: And I’m about to get to that.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: I can’t speak to the other countries’ procedures. But what I can say is from our perspective, we think it’s important that the United States Government itself have direct visibility and direct oversight of these transactions, which is why we insisted on it as part of these negotiations.

QUESTION: Okay. And so your direct transparency, your direct visibility into the accounts that still are in South Korea, Japan, India, Türkiye – how much are left in those?

MR MILLER: (Inaudible) we do not have direct visibility. We do not know with any sort of fidelity.

QUESTION: Well, the idea – you just said your whole point was that they – you want to have —

MR MILLER: With the account that’s being – that we want to have with the account that’s being set up in Qatar.

QUESTION: That what you did when you came in was to get direct visibility, and now you’re telling me —

MR MILLER: We are getting – no, no. We are getting direct —

QUESTION: — that you don’t have any visibility.

MR MILLER: No, that’s not what I said. I’m saying we are able to get – set up this new account in Qatar. We are able to set it up under rules that allow us to have direct visibility into how the transactions are being – how the money’s being spent.

QUESTION: Yeah. Well, I’m talking about – but the claim that was made on Monday and Tuesday was that when this administration came in, you set up these specific rules and restrictions on what – on how these funds being held in escrow could be used so that you would have direct visibility into it. And now you’re saying that the previous administration allowed billions of dollars to go to Iran without any restrictions on them, but the visibility that you say that you got three years ago you don’t have —

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: — because you can’t tell me or Treasury can’t say how much or – I guess we could go to India, Japan, China, and Türkiye and ask them. I don’t know that they’ll tell us. But if you don’t know how much is left in these accounts for sure, you’re just guessing, aren’t you? And saying that they’ve all been depleted?

MR MILLER: It is not just – it is – in some cases we have very low visibility. In some of the cases we have better visibility, which leads us to believe that billions have been spent, and in some cases we believe down —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, where’s the better visibility and how much is left in those accounts?

MR MILLER: Down – that’s what I said. I’m not —

QUESTION: And how much did the Iranians get out —

MR MILLER: That’s what I said.

QUESTION: — during the previous administration? Well, if you can’t say that, how can you make the – I don’t understand how you can —

MR MILLER: Because there is some information that we have available to us with good fidelity, and that’s what I’ve been able to provide, and others that we don’t.

QUESTION: Well, with good fidelity – what does that mean? That you suspect that someone emptied the bank account?

MR MILLER: No. It means that – the statement I —

QUESTION: Like, I could have a bank account —

MR MILLER: We can see that they’ve spent down billions.

QUESTION: — at M&T Bank, right, and draw it down to zero. And you should be able to tell, or someone should be able to tell, if it was at zero or not, right? Why can’t you tell – I don’t understand.

MR MILLER: These are not accounts held in the United States.

QUESTION: I know, but —

MR MILLER: We do not have perfect – so we do not have perfect visibility into them.

QUESTION: What – India is a partner. Japan and South Korea are treaty allies of the United States. How do you not know how much is left in these accounts?

MR MILLER: And I said with respect to some accounts, we are able to see. Not – I do not have all of those details available. With some accounts we do not have perfect visibility. What we can see is that billions of dollars were spent down without any U.S. Government visibility or oversight at the time that money was being spent.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t understand how you can say that without knowing how much is in the accounts.

MR MILLER: We have a variety of ways to gather information.

QUESTION: So do – so do I. (Laughter.) And one of them is talking to former administration officials who say this never – one of them is talking to former people who were in office during the time that what you say happening – was happening, and they say it didn’t happen. And they say there was only a very small amount that was sent to Iran, and it was for humanitarian purposes, and it was through mainly the Swiss humanitarian channel, which only succeeded in apparently one or two small, very small, transactions in the tens of thousands of dollars. And then there was also INSTEX, which completely failed and didn’t do anything. So I don’t – I’ll drop it, but —

MR MILLER: I’d take their claims, but that is just not the information that we have.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just (inaudible) Iran, or could I switch topics?

QUESTION: If I may —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: Switching to North Korea, actually, with Putin and Kim Jong-un meeting. I know there have been comments on that previously, but can you say particularly if there’s – the Russians are talking about satellite cooperation, what would that mean? How much of a concern is that in terms of the implications for North Korea’s program and for Russia’s military?

MR MILLER: I would say it is troubling when you see the Russians talking about cooperating with North Korea on programs that would violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself voted for. Now, we obviously don’t – we haven’t seen the full manifestation of this meeting yet or what the full outcomes of this meeting will be, but when you see the two – when you see Kim Jong-un vowing to provide full, unconditional support for Russia’s so-called “sacred fight” to defend its security interests, which of course is not what it’s doing with respect to the war in Ukraine, that of course is troubling. When you see what looks to be increased cooperation and probably military transfers – as we’ve said for some time, we have reason to believe they were going to discuss military transfers – that is quite troubling and would potentially be in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: When you say “potentially,” I mean, one of the things that they mentioned is on the satellites specifically. I know you said you don’t have the full manifests of what’s going on.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: But in terms of what – I mean, the United States has said that the satellite program that North Korea has is used to develop ballistic missiles.

MR MILLER: Ballistic missiles, exactly.

QUESTION: Is that a concern, that Russia could be actively promoting, improving the North Korean ballistic missile —

MR MILLER: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s why I – that’s why – that was what I was referring to in my reference to the multiple UN Security Council resolutions against North Korea’s ballistic missile program which Russia itself voted for and now could potentially be violating.

QUESTION: Could I just – one more.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I mean, just in terms of the consequences, I think Jake Sullivan himself has said that there is a potential for – just to put words into – a potential for sanctions, for further actions on this. What is the United States looking at? I mean, is there the potential for some action on the basis of this?

MR MILLER: So we’re going to watch very closely what comes out of this. I spoke to this somewhat the other day. We’re looking at – I will say there are two different – there are possibilities of weapons flowing two different ways here, right? So with respect to either direction, we would watch very closely and be concerned, and will not hesitate to impose sanctions if and when it’s appropriate.

And then I want to speak specifically for a second about the idea of North Korea providing weapons to Russia, which I spoke to the other day but I don’t think you were here. One, just the overall context, and one thing it’s important to restate again, that a year and a half ago Vladimir Putin launched this war thinking he was going to restore the glory of the Russian empire, failed in all of his maximalist, imperialist aims, and now a year and a half later, after losing tens of thousands of Russian soldiers and spending billions and billions of dollars, here he is begging Kim Jong-un for help. So it says something about the overall context of how this war is going for Russia. And with respect to what any outcomes might be, we have taken a number of entity – actions already to sanction entities that have brokered arms sales between North Korea and Russia, and we won’t hesitate to impose additional actions if appropriate.

QUESTION: Thank you. I —

QUESTION: May I just follow up on —

MR MILLER: Let me – she raised her hand. Go ahead. We’ll get to you, Said.

QUESTION: Thanks. Has there – has there been any interaction between U.S. officials and Chinese officials on this matter, given it would likely be a concern of Beijing if Russia were to provide nuclear technology to —

MR MILLER: Not that I’m aware of. Not aware of any specific interaction. But the meeting just happened today, so I wouldn’t rule it out. And we are – we do have somewhat regular engagements with Chinese officials going forward. We have – I will say that Secretary Blinken raised North Korea’s nuclear program and North Korea’s ballistic missile program in his engagements with Chinese officials when we were in Beijing, and we’ve regularly raised that in our conversations with Chinese officials because – we think because of the close relationship that China has had with North Korea, that if they’re willing to play a productive role, they’re able to and they have some influence with the regime in North Korea. So I would anticipate we would raise it, but I’m not aware of any specific interactions that have taken place.

QUESTION: And will Blinken meet with whoever the Chinese delegation leader is at UNGA next week?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any specific meetings to announce yet, but stay tuned over the course of the next couple days.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Two questions on North Korea. North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into the Eastern Sea yesterday ahead of the North Korea-Russia summit. What do you think is the intention behind this?

MR MILLER: So I won’t speak to their intentions – always tough getting in the mind of that regime in particular – but I will say that the United States condemns the DPRK’s recent ballistic missile launches, as we have condemned their previous ballistic missile launches. The launches are in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and are the latest in a series of launches that pose a direct threat to the DPRK’s neighbors. They undermine regional security. And our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remain ironclad.

QUESTION: President Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are further strengthening their military cooperation at the talks. How will the United States choose a diplomatic or military approach to resolve the North Korean nuclear and missile issues in the future?

MR MILLER: We have always made clear that we are ready for diplomacy, are open to diplomacy, would welcome diplomacy with North Korea to address our concerns about its nuclear weapons program. And to date, as I believe you’re well aware, they have shown no interest in such diplomacy.

QUESTION: So you still expect to dialogue with North Korea? Dialogue is still open?

MR MILLER: I – did you say I expect it?

QUESTION: Yeah, expect.

MR MILLER: I do not – based on their behavior over the last two and a half years, no, I would not expect them to engage in diplomacy with us, just based on how they’ve reacted for the first two and a half years – over two and a half years now – of this administration. But the door always remains open from our side.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: I was just curious as to why you guys insist on using the term “begging,” like he’s going cap in hand, while in fact it is the North Korean leader who is visiting Russia. Russia’s a vast country; he’s invited him and so on. And according to what we know, most of North Korea’s equipment – I mean military equipment – is basically Russian-made. But why the term?

MR MILLER: I don’t think that, at the beginning of this war, Vladimir Putin would have anticipated that a year and a half in he would having to be scrounge – he would have to be scrounging around —

QUESTION: But he —

MR MILLER: Said, let me finish – he would have to be scrounging around the world, including with international pariahs like Kim Jong-un, asking for assistance and potentially in return having to provide assistance to the DPRK that would violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself voted for. So, I mean, you can use whatever word you want to characterize it, but I will stand by the words I used.

QUESTION: It could be scratch my back, I’ll scratch your back kind of thing. That’s not begging, is it?

MR MILLER: I stand by my characterization.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Michele.

QUESTION: On Bahrain, on the meetings that you just had, this human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja – I’m sorry; I’m butchering her name – is heading back there to raise the profile of her father’s case. I wonder if the Secretary raised that in his meetings today.

MR MILLER: The meeting is ongoing right now as we speak, so I can’t speak to, obviously, what happened in a meeting that is ongoing. But we do regularly raise human rights concerns with countries around the world, including specific human rights cases. The Secretary regularly does that as part of his engagements, but, again, I don’t know what’s happened in a meeting that’s going on right now.

QUESTION: And one other human rights – human rights question. Has the administration decided what’s going to do with aid to Egypt?

MR MILLER: We have not made a formal determination as of yet, but I think, as you know, the deadline for that is approaching relatively soon.

QUESTION: Could we just follow up on Bahrain?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I know you said it’s ongoing, but in terms of what was signed today, what in substantive terms will change with the U.S. relationship Bahrain? I mean, the Fifth Fleet is already there. The Secretary spoke about intelligence cooperation. What changes after today (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: So two things – one – or three things: First, as you note, we already have a substantial security relationship with Bahrain. What we believe this agreement represents first – or second, I guess, if I made the first background point – a new framework to enhance cooperation across a wide range of areas, from defense and security to emerging technology, trade, and investment. We believe it’s the latest manifestation of that enduring commitment that we’ve shown to Bahrain and to the region in support of peace. And then I think the last point I would make about it is that this is a bilateral agreement between the United States and Bahrain, but we see it as potentially the cornerstone for cooperation among a broader group of countries that share mutual interests and a common vision with respect to deterrence, diplomacy, and escalation.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I have a Ukraine-related question, but before that I want to go back to Iran, if I may. We discussed in this room yesterday – also today, Kirby also mentioned that if Iran violates the – let’s say the deal – we will just lock it down, so we will not send that funding. It goes back to Matt’s question. Do you – can you please give us the timetable, the transaction process? What’s it going to look like? How many tranches will be sent – 6 billion will be divided. And at what point you will be able to weigh in? And do you have established mechanism to lock it down?

MR MILLER: I am not going to get into the exact details of the transactions as they move from South Korea, through banks in Europe, ultimately to these end accounts in Qatar. But we expect in the coming days or so that the – that that money will move ultimately to the final destination in Qatar. With respect to the mechanisms that are available to us, we have complete visibility into these accounts and have the ability to lock them down if we see Iran attempting to take actions that are in violation of this agreement and in violation of our sanctions. I’m not going to get into what the exact technical details are, but we have the full agreement to stop their access to this account going forward.

QUESTION: Thank you. While we’re on Iran, MAHSA Act just passed Congress yesterday. As you know, it demands the administration to sanction Iran’s human rights violators, particularly leaders of Iran. Do you find it appropriate that – I know that it’s not a law yet so (inaudible) Senate side and the presidential signatures necessary. But Congress already have expressed its will. Do you find it appropriate that right when Iranian people are going through this painful process, this first anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s murder – do you find it appropriate the butcher of Iran will not only be allowed to enter – to enter the United States territory, but also will be welcomed by local human rights – local NGOs such as Council of Foreign Relations, led by former administration officials? How appropriate is that?

MR MILLER: So I will just say that, as has been longstanding precedent, has happened under – going back really since the UN was founded and based in New York, we have an obligation as the host country to admit representatives of other countries no matter what we think of those countries’ policies. And that has long been the case as our obligation of the United Nations.

With respect to the president of Iran being hosted at a thinktank in New York, I won’t speak to that in particular. They’re obviously an independent organization that can make their own decisions. But I would say that when any organization hosts such a figure with a long history of spreading mistruths and saying the things that are – that – making claims that are not accurate, we would just urge them to watch very carefully what he says, make sure they hold him accountable, make sure that their members have full access to truthful, accurate information. And I would expect that they would do that.

QUESTION: And the fact the —

MR MILLER: Go – one more, and then I’m going to move around.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. The fact the bill passed the House, will that change your calculus on your end in terms of sanctioning Iran’s supreme leader before it becomes a law?

MR MILLER: I’m just not going to preview any specific sanctions designations.

QUESTION: Please come back to me later on Ukraine.

MR MILLER: What – let me go to Olivia —

QUESTION: The previous – the answer that you gave just prior to that was about Raisi speaking at CFR?

MR MILLER: CFR. Yeah.

QUESTION: So back in the previous administration, there had been restrictions placed on Iranian diplomats going to New York, which limited their movements to between their mission or residence and the UN itself. Now, recognizing that Manhattan is not exactly a huge area, still CFR is outside of what the range – what the perimeter had been for them before. I recognize that shortly after this administration took office, you guys rescinded those restrictions. But there are people who are saying that they should be re-enacted, particularly since the election of Raisi, which happened after that. Is there any consideration being given to going back to the previous administration’s restrictions on Iranian diplomatic movements?

MR MILLER: Not that I’m aware of. Not —

QUESTION: No? And then secondly on Iran, at the UN, I believe it’s October 8th that the – under the JCPOA, which is on life support – if it still can be said to be on life support – the UN arms embargo will be lifted. And there’s a growing call – bipartisan call – in Congress for there to be a snapback of sanctions, something that the administration has opposed. Are you prepared now to change your position, or are you still thinking it would be okay for the arms embargo to be – to disappear?

MR MILLER: Matt, let me look into that. I’m not focused on – with things that have still a month to go before we get there. It’s a fair question, and I’ll just have to look into an answer.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, maybe you should be focused on it because —

MR MILLER: I – a number of topics I deal with every day at this briefing. And typically —

QUESTION: I know. I know. Well, so —

MR MILLER: My time horizon can typically be shorter than a month on things I’m preparing for.

QUESTION: So do all of us. We have – we (inaudible).

MR MILLER: Yeah, I understand. Olivia, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. What can you tell us about the purpose and circumstances of Ambassador Tracy’s visit with Paul Whelan? Has that meeting already happened? Was it at our request? Is there a readout of the visit overall?

MR MILLER: Sure. So Ambassador Tracy did meet with Paul Whelan earlier today. It was a consular visit. We believe Paul continues to show tremendous courage in the face of his wrongful detention. Ambassador Tracy reiterated to him that President Biden and Secretary Blinken are committed to bring him home. You may recall Secretary Blinken had a phone call with Paul Whelan around a month ago – a little under a month ago – where he delivered that same message to him that we are working very hard to bring him home and we will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Separately, but maybe relatedly, can you confirm these reports that have emerged that Russian interlocutors have specifically raised the case of Vadim Krasikov in potential prisoner swap negotiations?

MR MILLER: I cannot. And I will say, as we have said a number of times, we have found that when it comes to our efforts to bring home these wrongfully detained Americans, the substance of negotiations and what we’re trying to do to bring them home and any specifics, it’s oftentimes not helpful to our effort to speak to those publicly, so I can’t do so here.

QUESTION: Absent from concrete conversations about his case, is his case something that the U.S. would consider in a potential swap? And if so, have you raised it with the (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: I’m just not going to – I’m not going to speak – obviously, we have shown that we are willing to make tough decisions, because we believe it is so important to bring Americans home. But that is a general statement. I don’t want to speak to any specific individual that might be detained in the U.S. or in another country. So.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I wanted to ask about – regarding Mexico. What can President Biden do to stop the sex trafficking of children coming across our border from Mexico, especially in the state of California? And I have a follow-up.

MR MILLER: Well, we have obviously – let me try to speak to what this department’s work is, which is to counter human trafficking. And we have taken a number of steps to do that. But with respect to specific border operations, I would refer you to the Department of Homeland Security.

QUESTION: Okay. And finally, what is the Biden administration response to the Sound of Freedom movie that highlights the international child sex trafficking problem? It’s a horrific problem.

MR MILLER: I’m not familiar with that specific movie. Obviously, as I said, we’ve taken a number of actions to counter child trafficking around the world, but I wouldn’t want to comment on that specific movie.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. The Kurdistan Regional Government in a letter has appealed to President Biden and this administration to intervene in a deepening crisis between Erbil and Baghdad. They also urged the administration to mediate between Erbil and Baghdad for their disputes. How do you (inaudible) request and letter? And will you mediate or increase your engagement between Erbil and Baghdad to overcome these disputes?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to discuss diplomatic correspondence between the President and the KRG. But I will reiterate, as we did in the February U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee in Washington, that we continue to urge the Government of Iraq and KRG officials to resolve their budget disputes in a manner that benefits the Iraqi citizens, as the Iraqi constitution requires.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. You had told me to ask the ambassador of the U.S. in Islamabad, so I asked him about his meeting with the election commission chief. He did not answer. He just sent me the press release back, which he had issued in August, that U.S. wants to see fair elections being held and stuff like that. But what hurt me Matt – and you are in the position to answer that – but when I asked him that: Mr. Ambassador, do you think since last one year the relationship between human-to-human relations of America, and Pakistan towards America – do you think it has improved or it has decreased? If I can’t even get an answer for this much question, then what is diplomacy about?

MR MILLER: I will answer the question this way, as I have said, I believe, before in answer – in response to similar questions, that Pakistan is an important partner of ours. And we greatly value the relationship between our countries, both between our two governments and the people-to-people connections.

QUESTION: Matt, one question about Afghanistan. Pakistan and Afghanistan are having border issues on Torkham since last few days. Thousands of people are stranded. What is the U.S. position on that?

MR MILLER: Obviously, we would encourage those two governments to work together to resolve that issue.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Let me – I’ve got to – I’ve got to get to other people in the room.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul has requested testimony from three Biden administration spokesperson, including our dear friend Ned Price, on the chaotic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Will state encourage Price testimony before the House Committee?

MR MILLER: So we obviously are in receipt of that request. Chairman McCaul has asked for interviews with a number of officials from the State Department and has asked for a number of documents. We have been – we have provided hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of pages of documents with respect to his inquiries in this regard. We will continue to push to cooperate with his committee to provide the information that it needs. We have already provided interviews with a number of officials and will continue to so as appropriate and when appropriate, balancing the House’s need to get information that it needs to do its job with our ability to protect certain privileges that the Executive Branch holds. But I wouldn’t want to speak to any potential interview other than to say that we’ll continue to work through these questions with the committee.

QUESTION: Sir, the chairman committee also claimed that these administration spokesperson misled the American people during the run-up to the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, painting a far rosier picture than the reality on the ground. So my question is, are these spokesperson or you are responsible for these statements that he’s referring? Because, I mean, are you just doing your job or – or somebody else is responsible for these kind of statements?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to get into that in detail other than to say I was not here inside the government at the time. But I do believe what the government has said at a number of occasions is that the situation changed very rapidly in a way that that could not be anticipated.

QUESTION: Sir, one last question. Sir – president of Pakistan —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: So – go – go – hold – everyone chill. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR MILLER: One more, and then we’ll —

QUESTION: The president of Pakistan proposes November 6th as election day, as according with the constitution, elections should be held in 90 days. But election commission of Pakistan said it is not able to hold elections in that short notice. Looks like another constitutional crisis in Pakistan. Your thoughts on that?

MR MILLER: As we do with countries around the world, we urge Pakistan to hold a free and fair – free and fair and timely elections, and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. And we urge Pakistani authorities to move forward with the electoral process in a manner consistent with Pakistan’s laws, as we do with countries around the world.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Accord that was so famously signed on the White House lawn. It called for a Palestinian state by 1998. Of course, that date has gone. The situation is a lot worse today. Settlements spreading – now, you’re fully aware of what’s going on. And I’m wondering whether the time has come to really pull the plug on these accords, and perhaps pursue something entirely different, maybe less loftier goals or something that can – the United States can lead.

MR MILLER: So we don’t believe so. We continue to focus on our efforts on affirmative and practical steps that could promote a negotiated two-state solution, but at the same time we believe it’s important to advance equal measures of freedom and dignity as a means to advance further a negotiated two-state solution.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the elements or the components for a two-state solution are there, are still there? It can be done?

MR MILLER: I believe that it is important to – let me refer to something the Secretary said when he was asked – or when he spoke to this in a speech in December of 2022. He spoke to this exact when he said, “We know…at this moment the prospects of a two-state solution feel remote, and that may be an understatement to some,” as I believe you would agree with those remarks based on what you said. “But we are committed to” providing – or “to preserving a horizon of hope…[and] that means holding firm to the values that have anchored the friendship between the United States and Israel across countless transitions in government in both of our countries.”

So the two-state solution has long been United States policy, and it continues to be our policy that we will push for, and we believe it’s important to do so.

QUESTION: So why not, if you’re still committed to the two-state solution ultimately, why not recognize a state of Palestine saying that we would like to see this state of Palestine on such and such land, this land that was occupied or a portion thereof, and so on, and in the meantime, these things ought to be negotiated among the parties?

MR MILLER: We don’t believe that would be a productive step at this time.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: So just —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: You talked about the Secretary saying that in December 2022. Since – since he made those comments, children who were not even conceived yet have been born. Do you think you’re further away or closer today to a two-state solution?

MR MILLER: I don’t think I want to make a judgment about further or closer, other than to say, again, it remains our policy and something we regularly push for in dialogue with officials from the governments.

QUESTION: And then secondly, and I don’t think you’ll have a lot on this, but the case of Elizabeth Tsurkov, who is this Israeli Russian citizen who’s been being held in Iraq but who has connections to the U.S. – do you have anything more on that?

MR MILLER: I don’t. I’m happy to look into it further and see if there’s more.

QUESTION: Matt?

MR MILLER: Yes.

QUESTION: Just a quick question on the visa waiver. May I just —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Just a quick follow-up. Is the U.S. still committed to ensuring Israeli adherence to the principle of blue is blue prior to admission of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program?

MR MILLER: I will say that we are – if by blue – you’re referring to blue passports? Is that what you mean? We are —

QUESTION: Yes, blue is blue. I mean, that’s what they call – you guys call it.

MR MILLER: We are committed to the principle that all American citizens be treated equally, yes.

Can we work some of the – go ahead, Shannon.

QUESTION: Is it still the case that Morocco has not put forward a formal request for U.S. assistance in the wake of the earthquake?

MR MILLER: I do have an update on conversations with the Government of Morocco and our actions with respect to relief efforts in Morocco. One is that the United States Agency for International Development has deployed a small assessment team to Morocco to liaise with local responders assessing the situation and identifying humanitarian needs; and second, that we are exchanging specialized technical expertise through the United States Geological Survey and we continue to be further in close consultation with the Moroccan Government on how the U.S. can best support their efforts to provide a humanitarian response to this tragedy.

QUESTION: Have they rejected any U.S. offers of assistance at this point?

MR MILLER: I wouldn’t frame it that way. I would frame it that we are in discussions with them about what we can best provide to support their efforts.

QUESTION: So can I get a quick follow-up?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: The USAID statement is talking about $1 million in support. Does that mean, like, to local groups or to people on – there? It won’t be Americans?

MR MILLER: I would refer to USAID for the specifics on how that money will be used.

QUESTION: Could I stay in Africa?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Mali. There was an attack today purportedly by Tuareg separatists. Generally speaking, I mean, what’s the concern level about the – a new flare-up of violence in Mali? And the departure of the UN peacekeepers and the presence of Wagner there, to what extent are those factors?

MR MILLER: We continue to be concerned both with the situation on the ground in Mali and with the presence of Wagner, or whatever you call the remnants of Wagner after the death of Yevgeniy Prighozin. We believe that they’re a destabilizing force in a country that did not need further destabilization.

I’ll go – go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. So last weekend, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg made some comments on kind of what precipitated the war in Ukraine, and I’ll just quote him here: “President Putin declared in … autumn of 2021, and actually sent a draft treaty that they wanted NATO to sign, to promise no more NATO enlargement. That was what he sent to us. And [it] was a precondition [to] not invade Ukraine. Of course we didn’t sign that.”

So I’m just wondering – there were also some remarks by counselor Blinken last year that the U.S. —

MR MILLER: Secretary Blinken?

QUESTION: Sorry, Secretary Blinken.

MR MILLER: I didn’t know if you meant Counselor Chollet or – but I misspeak enough that I am not faulting you for having done so, trust me. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: So, but Blinken apparently expressed a similar sentiment. So I’m just wondering, in hindsight of what has transpired in the war, whether that decision was worth it, and maybe what was behind that decision.

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to what were private diplomatic conversations. I will reiterate what we said at the time, which was NATO has an “Open Door” policy and we are not – we were not willing to compromise NATO’s “Open Door” policy, nor do we believe it is appropriate to compromise the NATO “Open Door” policy, nor is NATO in any way a threat to Russia. NATO was a – is, was then and is now – a defensive Alliance. We always made clear in the run-up to that war that we were willing to engage in diplomacy with Russia. The Ukrainians made clear that they were willing to engage in diplomacy with Russia about legitimate regional security concerns. But we were not going to compromise one of NATO’s founding principles, and I certainly don’t believe NATO was – or that Ukraine – or I won’t speak for them – NATO – Ukraine did not want to seem to want to compromise their own right to determine their future as a country.

QUESTION: And could I just get one quick follow-up?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: So when you weigh that, one is weighing that “Open Door” policy with the horrible consequences of the war, which Stoltenberg – Stoltenberg cites as one of Russia’s primary negotiating points. And then two is: Do you not see any security concern, even if it is a defensive Alliance, a security concern with NATO has a – NATO members often hold U.S. military assets on their territory? So is there not a concern from not wanting that on your border if you’re kind of one of our adversaries like China or Russia?

MR MILLER: I will just say I think you might be being – with all due respect – a little too incredulous with respect to your treatment of statements reported and offers reported to be made by Vladimir Putin. What we believe and what we believe has borne out – and some of the reason we believe this is because what – it’s what Vladimir Putin said himself – is that he has never believed Ukraine was a legitimate country and he always wanted to restore Ukraine – not restore, he wanted to make Ukraine a part of Russia. He’s said that openly. His actions indicated that’s what he’s – he believed. And that’s what his actions today continue to show he still believes.

Go ahead. No, go on. I’m going to work around. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Just real quickly, do you have any comment on the appointment of Ms. Kamikawa as the new foreign minister of Japan, and are there any plans set for Secretary Blinken to speak with her?

MR MILLER: I’m sure he will speak with her in the coming days, as he regularly does when new foreign ministers are appointed. The U.S.-Japan relationship has never been stronger. It is a – our alliance is a cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and across the world. Our government has had an excellent working relationship with the previous cabinet, and we fully expect close coordination on bilateral, regional, and global issues to continue with the new cabinet.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. China yesterday appointed a new ambassador to Afghanistan and the Talibans’ regime. I would like to ask you what’s your reaction and whether the United States will take such a step in the near future or not.

MR MILLER: I don’t have any reaction to the Chinese – the Chinese Government’s decision to do that, and I don’t have any announcements to make with respect to what we will do.

Alex, go ahead, and then we’ll finish off.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have two questions on Russia’s annexation policy you just were talking about. G7 today came up with a statement on sham elections, condemned the action of President Putin.

MR MILLER: The Secretary put one out last week as well.

QUESTION: The Secretary also put it prior to the election, and he also pledged that there will be sanctions against individuals who take part of it, which raised high expectations. Are they too high at this point?

MR MILLER: No.

QUESTION: When should we expect sanctions?

MR MILLER: I never preview those, but those elections only close I think on Friday, and today’s Wednesday. So it takes some time to put these things into effect.

QUESTION: So G7 statement is not enough, so – I mean it’s not your, let’s say a final —

MR MILLER: I am not going to announce or preview any sanctions – you’ve probably gotten used to hearing me say this – any – preview or announce any sanctions decision determinations before they are made.

QUESTION: Fair enough. Now that sham election is over, we have seen Russia is stepping up more with its annexation strategy, bullying other countries – in this case Azerbaijan – for not recognizing Russia’s, quote/unquote, “territorial integrity” by condemning – or not respecting, let’s say, the elections. Do you have any reaction?

MR MILLER: Look, Russia has proved through a number of actions in recent years that it is not a neighbor you can really trust on to be a peaceful, tranquil, stable neighbor that respects territorial integrity and sovereignty, and I would think every country in the region should be aware of that.

QUESTION: The fact that they are going out and talking about their territorial integrity by pitching Ukrainian territory to other countries, that’s what I’m talking about.

MR MILLER: Yeah, I did, and I stand by the comment I made. Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:24 p.m.)

 

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