US State Dept Presser

State Dept Briefing – July 31, 2023

18 Min
State Dept Briefing – July 31, 2023

The US State Department held a press briefing on July 31, 2023 with the spokesperson Matthew Miller holding the forte. The Q- A on B’desh and Afghanistan is tweaked to appear up front

MR MILLER: Good to see everyone again after a week away. Let me start with some brief comments before coming to questions.

Part of the United States strategic efforts to engage emerging leaders and changemakers throughout – through the Young African Leaders Initiative, the Mandela Washington Fellowship 2023 Summit kicked off this morning in Washington, D.C. The three-day summit caps off six weeks of academic study and leadership development at 28 institutions of higher education in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Driven by young leaders, nearly 6,000 strong, who have gone on to address key issues such as democracy and voting rights, food security, economic equity, public health and education, the Mandela Washington Fellowship has been a vital public diplomacy tool to help catalyze positive change within the Sub-Saharan Africa – within Sub-Saharan African nations for nearly a decade.

On Wednesday, Secretary Blinken will address the 700 Mandela Washington Fellows at this year’s summit during the closing plenary session. In addition to the Secretary, Administrator Samantha Power, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Elizabeth Allen, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee, and other U.S. Government and private sector leaders will also address the Mandela Washington Fellows. And we would like to welcome them to Washington and encourage them for all their efforts on behalf of the nation.

With that, start us out?

QUESTION: Thanks. If I could start with Tom West’s meeting with the Taliban representatives today. What was discussed in that meeting? How did it go?

MR MILLER: I’m going to wait. We have a readout that we have coming. We’re working on putting together the details now. And I’m going to wait and withhold comment till we have all those details wrapped up and put out. It should be in the next hour or two.

QUESTION: Okay. And the Taliban said they discussed the lifting of travel and other restrictions on Taliban leaders, and the return of Afghan Central Bank assets. Is that something that’s seriously under consideration?

MR MILLER: Again, I’m going to wait until – just because the meeting just wrapped and we’re still in talks with the people that were there at the meeting, I’m going to wait until we have the readout out to talk in detail about the meeting.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. On Bangladesh, millions of people marched capital city Dhaka in protest demanding the resignation of the ruling Prime Minister Hasina. The local and international media reports that on Saturday police and ruling party members brutally attacked peaceful demonstrations – peaceful demonstrators and opposition leaders, resulting in hundreds of injuries, including the top opposition leader, Mr. Gayeshwar Roy. How do you assess the – monitor this escalating situation, considering the government’s apparent hardline stance towards the opposition and police brutality? What steps will the State Department take to ensure the possibility of a credible and peaceful election in Bangladesh?

MR MILLER: We are concerned about the reports of intimidation and political violence in Bangladesh surrounding this weekend’s political protests. We encourage the Government of Bangladesh to investigate reports of violence thoroughly, transparently, and impartially, and to hold the perpetrators of violence to account. We urge Bangladesh to create a safe environment for people to peacefully assemble and voice their concerns, and we call on all parties to respect fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, and to refrain from violence, harassment, and intimidation.

And I will say finally that free and fair elections depend on the commitment of everyone – voters, political parties, youth wings, and police – and cannot take place in an environment with political violence.

QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh?


QUESTION: Thank you so much. …..Everybody, knows that Bangladesh is approaching a national election, and the U.S. also declared a visa policy to ensure democratic process in Bangladesh. Also the ruling prime minister also ensure U.S. and the EU, the European Union, that there will be a free and fair election. But the main opposition party using arson, terrorism, and vandalizing the country capital as last week. They were attacking not only civilian properties, also the police properties. They burned everything there. They made a situation like a war field at the capital. The – and on a demand of a election-time government, which is unconstitutional declared by the supreme court of Bangladesh. What is your comment?

MR MILLER: My comment is the same as I made in response to the previous question.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. And my – another. I want only one observation from you. Last 15th of June, while descending a judicial review application that just labelled – Canadian federal judge labelled BNP as a terrorist organization. The judicial review was filed against the rejection of a BNP activist request for political asylum in Canada. This is the fifth time they labelled the party as a terrorist organization. What is your observation on that?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any observation on that.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Haiti. So the – now that you have a lead force, potentially, for the police mission or force in Haiti, which will be led by Kenya, something you are actively on, it’s supposed to be a multinational force. So are there, to your knowledge, any other countries that will now confirm and will be involved? And specifically, the United States, will you fund this force? Will you send police officers or anything like that?

MR MILLER: Sure. Let me say there are a couple things that need to happen as next steps before we get to addressing some of those questions. First, the United Nations – the UN Security Council needs to pass a resolution authorizing this mission. The United States, along with Ecuador, are going to introduce a resolution at the UN Security Council to take that step. That’s the first step that needs to happen.

The second step is that the Government of Kenya needs to conduct an assessment mission, which they plan to do in the coming days and weeks. And then once they have conducted that assessment mission, they, as the lead of this of this multinational force, will talk with other partners about what additional type of assistance they need, what other countries might participate. That’ll kick off a series of discussions, of which the United States will of course be a party.

We are committed to finding the resources to support this multinational force. As I said, I think it’s too early to get into any details about what those resources might be.  

QUESTION: Okay. Just to follow up, any date yet for the UN resolution to be introduced by you and Ecuador?

MR MILLER: No. But in the near future.

Yeah, Shannon.

QUESTION: Same topic. Thank you. It’s been, I think, about 10 months since the Haitian president first requested international intervention, and as you’ve just clearly detailed, there’s still a lot of steps that need to happen before that international intervention can take place. Do you think that in those roughly 10 months, has that allowed the situation to deteriorate further to what we’re seeing now?

MR MILLER: I think the situation has been challenging for some time. …. that’s not been a secret of any kind. We’ve talked openly about it. We have recommended that U.S. citizens do not travel to Haiti for some time. We have made it a priority to find a lead nation to operate this multinational force. That has been a challenge. There have been a number of conversations, some of which have been publicly reported, some of which have not. But I will say that we are pleased, as the Secretary said in a statement that we issued, we are pleased that Kenya is stepping forward and giving positive consideration to leading this – to taking this role.

QUESTION: I have two questions for the North Korea. Secretary Blinken has mentioned to possibility that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu would purchase weapons from North Korea. When North Korea provides new weapons to Russia, to concern is that it could cause threat to – I mean security of Ukraine as well as the Korean Peninsula. What can you say about security uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula? Then I follow up.

MR MILLER: Yeah. I would say, as the Secretary noted over the weekend, it certainly did not appear that Defense Minister Shoigu was in North Korea for vacation. I’m not going to speak in any more detail, but will say that we have imposed a number of sanctions on North Korea in the past for various activities. We’ve also imposed sanctions on a number of entities and individuals around the world for assisting Russia in its war effort. We won’t hesitate to do so in the future.

QUESTION: These actions are subject to UN Security Council sanctions. The role of the UN Security Council is weak now. How will the United States respond to this?

MR MILLER: Sure. I will say, as I said in my previous answer, we have never hesitated to impose sanctions on North Korea and North Korean entities when we’ve found violations or when we’ve found actions that merit sanctions, and we won’t hesitate to do so in the future. But of course, I’m not going to preview any specific action.

QUESTION: Lastly, Kim Jong-un invited Russian President Putin to Pyongyang this fall. How did you comment on this?

MR MILLER: Obviously there’s been a close relationship between those two countries for a while, one that’s not exactly been productive to increasing the security of the world, and I wouldn’t expect that to change as a result of this meeting.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m going to switch topics to the Palestinian issue. On the visa waiver issue, I mean, it seems that Palestinian Americans and Arab Americans are unhappy with the MOU because it’s convoluted. They don’t really understand what’s going on. So, my first question to you I asked last week: Could there be at any time an effort to publish this so people know exactly what you guys agreed with the Israelis on?

MR MILLER: We continue to review that question. I don’t have any updates at this time, but we are continuing to look into what exact information from the MOU we can make public.

QUESTION: And second, the Israeli Government’s public-facing guidance directs some U.S. citizens to use a smart application which allows the Israelis really, like, intrusive access to their – everything that they do. Are you aware of this app?

MR MILLER: I am aware of the app. I’m not going to speak to the specific kind of technical details.  Israel is going to implement the program other than to say the important thing for us is that the Visa Waiver Program is implemented without discrimination and that the same rules apply to all American citizens.

QUESTION: But it seems that still Gazans are not really included.

MR MILLER: So I would say, as I have said before, our understanding is that Americans who are in Gaza are very much included in this program. They might have different procedures because of the different security situation in Gaza, but it is our expectation that they will be included in this program. But we will be monitoring the implementation over the coming weeks and months to make sure that they are included and are not discriminated against.

QUESTION: And finally, Amnesty International slammed an Israeli court decision to demolish a Palestinian Bedouin village in the Negev. Do   you have any comment on that?

MR MILLER: Yeah, I’d say it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps.

QUESTION: That’s inside Israel. The Palestinian Authority has absolutely nothing to do with that. They have no authority whatsoever.

MR MILLER: I understand – that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance and negotiate a two-state solution, and that certainly includes the demolition of homes and the evictions of families from their homes.

QUESTION: Yeah, on Ukraine, President Zelenskyy’s chief of staff has said that there are talks this week on security guarantees in Washington. Do you have anything on this?

MR MILLER: Sure. Those talks are going to kick off this week. Those are an outgrowth of the statement that we released at – that the G7 released on the margins of the last NATO Summit in Vilnius, where President Biden and G7 leaders made clear that we were going to engage in negotiations with the Government of Ukraine about our long-term commitments to Ukraine’s security so it can establish a military that can defend itself and deter a future attack, rebuild its economy, protect its citizens, and pursue integration into the Euro-Atlantic community.

I will note this is separate and apart from the security assistance that we regularly provide now. We’ve made clear that we see this proceeding on two tracks: one, security assistance to support their efforts to repel the Russian aggression inside their country; and two, to establish a long-term military that can serve as a deterrent effect from future Russian aggression. So those meetings are going to start this week. I would add that since we released that joint declaration at the – from the G7 and EU in Vilnius, 12 other countries have joined their names to the declaration. So talks will begin this week about how we can decide on the actual details of those security commitments going forward.

QUESTION: And on the summit in Saudi Arabia this week on Ukraine, do you support this summit? Who will attend it? And what’s the goal of it?

MR MILLER: We do, of course, support this summit. We have long said that it is important that Ukraine be in the driver’s seat when it comes to any potential diplomatic resolution to this war. It’s important that countries that have not yet heard directly from Ukraine hear from Ukraine, so we are gratified that there will be countries that are attending this summit to talk directly with Ukraine. If your question was with respect to what other countries will be attending, I would defer to the governments of Saudi Arabia and Ukraine to answer that question.  If the question is with respect to what U.S.  officials will be attending, I can confirm that there will be U.S. Government officials. Not ready to make announcements yet about who those will be, but as the week goes on, certainly you can expect that we will do so.

QUESTION: One more on UAE. Do you have any updates on the case of Tierra Young Allen, known as Sassy Trucker, who is stuck in UAE?

MR MILLER: No. Only that – what we’ve said previously, that we’re aware that she is unable to depart the UAE. We take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad. We’re providing all appropriate consular assistance in this case, and we will remain in regular communication with her and her family.

QUESTION:  On Russia abducting Ukrainian children, indicted Russian war criminal Maria made a statement, a report saying that, well, since the beginning of the war, we have received more than 4 million – 4.8 million residents in Ukraine, and more than 700 of them being children. What do you think she’s saying here and what is your response?

MR MILLER: I would say, though, that one of the worst incidents we have seen in this war is the deportation of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including civilians who have been forcibly separated from their families. I will note that was an important consideration in the Secretary’s determination that Russian forces and officials have committed crimes against humanity. We call, as we have before, for Russia to stop those abusive actions and return Ukraine’s children. And I would say that we support accountability for these crimes…. we will cooperate with the ICC’s investigations. We support accountability through the ICC and a number of mechanisms. But consistent with the ICC’s confidential treatment of requests with respect to any specific request for information, we will keep those details confidential.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on talks you mentioned about? What kind of security guarantees could be provided to Ukraine? Is it kind of Israel formula President Biden mentioned before?

MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to comment about the eventual outcomes of talks that are just beginning other than to make clear what President Biden and other leaders of the G7 and the EU and, now, the other 12 nations that have joined the statement have made clear, is that we are committed to the long-term security of Ukraine and helping Ukraine build a long-term security infrastructure that can deter Russian aggression. What the details of that will look like, of course, will be something that will be covered in these conversations and conversations that will go on for some time. And I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to try to get ahead of those talks.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) President Zelenskyy made a statement yesterday like an hour after a major drone explosion in Moscow. And I’m quoting him here, he said, “Gradually, the war is returning to the territory of Russia – to its symbolic centers and military bases, and this is an inevitable, natural, and absolutely fair process.” So, I just wonder if the administration supports that stance, specifically with regards to symbolic centers, which appears to mean kind of civilian targets.

MR MILLER: I will say that – first of all, I’m not sure that I would agree with that interpretation of what symbolic centers means. I will say that we neither encourage nor enable strikes outside Ukraine’s borders. But as we have said many times, it is up for – to Ukraine to decide how to conduct this war. And when it comes to strikes, as you raised, on civilian centers, it has been Ukrainian civilian infrastructure that has been targeted over and over, Ukrainian civilians that have been murdered in this war – schools, hospitals, apartment buildings. I could go on down the list. So I don’t think any attempt to draw any equivalency is one that’s actually backed up by the facts.

QUESTION: The Iraqi Government has informed the recent KRG delegation to Baghdad that they are not being paid international oil companies’ duties for their past operation in Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which there’s a lot of U.S. companies are operating in the Kurdistan Region. There are a lot of U.S. companies working and operating in the Kurdistan region. And to that end, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation, FDC, has extended over 300 million U.S. dollars to these energy firms in the Kurdistan Region. What’s your reaction to this Iraqi decision? And the second: How do you engage to make sure that the U.S. companies in the Kurdistan region will get their share and the U.S. loans government are secure?

MR MILLER: So I would say, first of all, I don’t know it to be a fact that the Iraqi Government has taken that position. I will say generally, we have repeatedly urged Baghdad and Erbil to agree on a range of issues of mutual interest, including a viable budget and a new national hydrocarbons law. We will continue to encourage the parties to determine a way forward that benefits Iraq’s foreign investment climate and respects the important contributions of U.S. entities, including in the energy sector, while advancing the interests of all Iraqi people.

QUESTION: A member of the Iraqi parliament – actually he is the member of the finance committee – has said that Iran has been printing Iraqi dinars in Argentina, shipping them back to Baghdad, exchanging them into dollars, and then trucking them to Iran. Is the United States aware?

MR MILLER: I will have to take that one back.  The United States may be aware. I’m not personally. So I don’t know. (Laughter.)


QUESTION: This is on China unless there’s more on —

MR MILLER: It’s fine. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. With the removal of Qin Gang as foreign minister, will the U.S., has the U.S. extended the invitation that he originally accepted to visit the United States back in June to his replacement or anybody else?

MR MILLER: I don’t know if we have yet officially extended that invitation, but it was an invitation to the foreign minister. Obviously, Wang Yi is now serving in the role of foreign ministers, so I would expect that the invitation would be extended to him. Whether that has actually happened, I do not know. We are engaged in a number of conversations with Chinese Government officials even as we speak. And I would expect at some point we would make clear that the invitation extends to the new foreign minister.

QUESTION: Okay. And you would expect it to be accepted?

MR MILLER: I would expect so. Given that the Chinese Government had already accepted the invitation, I would assume they would. But of course, I won’t speak for them.

QUESTION: Okay. Still on China, but slightly separate topic. There’s been this drumbeat of revelations regarding Chinese cyber activity that’s targeting email accounts within this department or reportedly embedded malware in military systems. Is it fair to say that that cyber activity by the Chinese, including malicious cyber activity, is on the increase even as diplomatic engagement is increasing?

MR MILLER: I am going to, as we have before, decline to comment on any specific incident, which I know you were asking it generally, but you were referring to increased diplomatic engagement, so I think you were getting at a specific reported attempt. So I won’t speak to any specific action. I will just say generally that we constantly monitor attempts to breach our various systems. And as the Secretary has made clear, when we see those attempts, we don’t hesitate to hold the actors accountable.

QUESTION: It’s just in the past, the U.S. has tried to engage with China, say, to roll back cyber activity that had a momentary effect, and it seems to have subsided almost entirely. So, I’m just wondering if there’s any thinking going into re-initiating that kind of conversation.

MR MILLER: I will say that the Secretary did raise the issue of attempts to breach United States systems in his meeting with Wang Yi and raised it to say that we always watch for this type of activity and we will never hesitate to hold people accountable for it.

QUESTION: I was just wondering why you are so reluctant to spell out things as they are. You’ve always been very keen in the past to say that Chinese hackers or this or that. And in this incidence, which comes at a time, as was pointed out, that there are a lot of diplomatic engagements in Beijing, you’re being very, very (inaudible).

MR MILLER: We have yet to determine an actor, which leaves me unable to speak to specific actions we would take to hold specific countries accountable. I’ve said before we have no reason to doubt the assessment that Microsoft made, but the U.S. Government itself has not made its own attribution, so that leaves me in a place where it’s difficult to speak about –

QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, Microsoft came out and said it was the Chinese –

MR MILLER: That’s what I just said. And we have no reason to doubt it, but until the United States Government makes its own assessment, which is a technical matter, it leaves me unable to comment specifically on the incident.

QUESTION: Thank you. A couple questions on the South Caucasus, Georgia first. Hundreds of Georgians last night got out in Batumi protesting a shipment of Russian tourists to their country. Some of them got arrested by pro-Russian government. Georgia’s 20 percent is still under Russian occupation. Do you think they have legitimate concern?

MR MILLER: Do they have legitimate what?

QUESTION: Concern about not letting Russians into their country and —

MR MILLER: Let me take that one back.

QUESTION: Okay. As you also know that Georgia’s occupied Abkhazia region last week decided to gift very strategic airport Sukhumi to Russians. Does department have any position on that?

MR MILLER: I’ll take that one back as well.

QUESTION: Okay, two Azerbaijan. The Secretary spoke with Aliyev on Saturday. He raised his concerns about Lachin corridor situation on the ground. This is not the position where the Secretary wanted to be in this month, right, when he was hosting former ministers last month in this town?

MR MILLER: This is not – what did you say? This is not the position —

QUESTION: Not the position you guys wanted to be in. You were talking about a peace agreement.

MR MILLER: Yes, and we continue to talk about a peace agreement and we continue to believe that a peace agreement is within reach. However, we have always said that for it to be within reach both parties have to make difficult compromises, and that’s why the Secretary has been remained engaged in talking to the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to encourage them to make those difficult compromises so we can – they can reach an agreement.

QUESTION: Is it your observation that the situation has been worsening that caused the Secretary’s concern?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to comment on the situation.

QUESTION: Good afternoon. So, two questions, one Ukraine, one Nicaragua, if that’s all right. Pope Francis yesterday calling for the Black Sea initiative to be restored. The Biden administration, do they feel the Vatican can help make that happen, the Black Sea initiative?

MR MILLER: We certainly would encourage anyone’s support for re-instituting the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and of course that includes the pope. If you look at Russia’s actions since the Black Sea Grain Initiative, they – they have made very clear that for all their protestations that what they are concerned about is the supposed inability for them to export grain or inability to export fertilizer – both of which were not true, since our sanctions did not apply to either of those activities – their actions have proven that that’s not their real concern. And when you look at how they’ve bombed ports in Odesa, how they’ve taken out key facilities to facilitate the export of grain, how they’ve been practicing attacks on ships in the Black Sea, it’s clear that they want to use food as a weapon of war, and the result has been the increase by 17 percent in grain prices since the termination of this initiative.

So, we welcome any countries who are willing to get involved to encourage Russia – I would say two things: one, to call out Russia’s actions for what they actually are and call out Russia’s propaganda for what it actually is; and two, to encourage Russia to rejoin the initiative.

QUESTION: All right. One more on Nicaragua, if you will, please. So, I know the State Department has called for the release of Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez, the same for Father Fernando Zamora Silva. Have you heard from Daniel Ortega’s government yet after this?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any update on that

QUESTION: What’s the message to Daniel Ortega – thank you. What’s the message, the Biden administration’s message to Daniel Ortega, who continues to persecute the Catholic Church in Nicaragua?

MR MILLER: I would say that we of course believe in the freedom of religion everywhere and would encourage the release of wrongfully detained – people who are detained for exercising the freedom of religion.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Two questions on Taiwan. The Taiwanese vice president and frontrunner for the presidential election, William Lai, is expected to transit the U.S. before and after his visit to Paraguay on August 14th. Earlier this month, the Financial Times reported that Lai made remarks at a campaign event that seemed contrary to the U.S. “one China” policy. He said that, quote, “When Taiwan’s president can enter the White House, the political goal that we’re pursuing will have been achieved.” What is the State Department’s comment on those remarks and on this upcoming transit?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any reaction to his remarks. I will say that from the United States perspective, our “one China” policy has not changed, continues to be our policy. And with respect to his transit, such transits have happened numerous times going back decades over multiple administrations, and there’s nothing out of the ordinary about them.

QUESTION: Okay. And also, although he said he supports the cross-strait status quo, there’ve been some concerns about his foreign policy and that he may support Taiwanese independence. What is the administration’s view of this? And is it concerned that either during the election cycle or if he is elected, this could negatively impact U.S.-China relations?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to comments by a candidate for office, really, in Taiwan or any other country.


QUESTION: Can I follow up on Taiwan? So Matt, you just mentioned the U.S. “one China” policy. U.S. officials have said that the United States “one China” policy is based on Taiwan Relations Act, Six Assurances, and three communiques. Are there any wordings in those documents explicitly prevent a democratically elected vice president from transiting into a city in the United States?

MR MILLER: I do not have the entire law in front of me or the various communiques, but I will say that transits are well established precedent, as I said, that go back multiple administrations.

QUESTION: I’m just wondering if you have any comment on the fact that Chinese companies are pouring billions of dollars in past few months to Korean – South Korean companies in an effort to reach the U.S. markets and skirt the U.S. EV rules.

MR MILLER: I will say about that, number one, we certainly understand that other countries like South Korea have relationships with China, including economic relationships. We have a significant economic relationship with China. I will say with respect to all of our enforcement actions we always look on ways to improve those actions, in ways to tighten those actions, in ways to enforce them, including people who are – people and entities that are trying to evade them. That’s a general comment without respect to any specific report, but that remains our policy and will be going forward.

Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:07 p.m.)

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