US State Dept Presser

State Dept Press Briefing – Aug 1, 2023

18 Min
State Dept Press Briefing – Aug 1, 2023

The US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller held a Press Briefing on August 1, 2023.

Some Excerpts with the Q-A on Af-Pak region tweaked to appear upfront.

MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. Let’s start with some brief comments. Today the United States assumes the presidency of the United Nations Security Council for the month of August.

Among its many responsibilities as president, the United States will set the agenda for the Security Council. And for the third time in as many presidencies during the Biden administration, the United States will draw attention to food insecurity.

Roughly 345 million people face acute food insecurity. One of the primary causes for this is conflict.

For example, after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, wheat prices spiked to near record highs. The Black Sea Grain Initiative helped bring prices back down, but after Russia terminated its participation in the program, wheat prices rose again by 17 percent.

To highlight this topic, on Thursday, Secretary Blinken will chair a High-Level Open Debate in the Security Council, focusing on Famine and Conflict-Induced Global Food Insecurity.

The United States will also highlight another Biden administration priority – the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. As you may know, the united – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted almost 75 years ago. And to commemorate that milestone, we will elevate human rights at every opportunity throughout the month by including voices from civil society in the council’s meetings.

The United States will also preside over a full agenda in the Security Council, featuring regularly scheduled meetings outlined in our planned Program of Work.

The world is looking to the UN Security Council to fulfill its mandate of maintaining international peace and security. The United States is committed to real progress during our presidency and carrying that progress into the upcoming General Assembly.

And with that, go ahead   

QUESTION: Thank you so much, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News TV Pakistan. There was deadly bomb blast suicide attack in Pakistan. More than 54 people were killed, dozens of have life-threatening injuries. And it is not about 54 people, it’s about 54 families. Would you like to share your comments?

MR MILLER: We condemn in the strongest terms the attack in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday during a political rally. We are deeply saddened by the loss of life and injuries sustained from the explosion and share our heartfelt condolences with those affected by the attack.

The Pakistani people have suffered greatly at the hands of terrorists. We believe in the resilience of Pakistan’s people and their capacity to recover from this devastating attack. No country should have to suffer such acts of terror, which are, of course, an affront to all peaceful and democratic societies.

And I’ll say finally that we remain committed to working with Pakistan to address the shared threat posed by terrorist groups throughout the region and support the Pakistani Government’s efforts to combat terrorism in a manner that promotes the rule of law and the protection of human rights.

QUESTION: But a few days ago, you told us that United States will not allow Afghanistan to be used against United States and its partners. Pakistan is a close partner, and Tehreek-e Taliban Pakistan, Daesh, ISIS is the biggest threat operating from Afghanistan and targeting innocent civilians and security forces. So what kind of assurances or message you brought from Taliban in a recent meeting in Doha?

MR MILLER: We made clear in that meeting, as we have in our other meetings with the Taliban, our other engagements with the Taliban, that we believe it is important that they not allow Afghanistan to be used as a base for terrorist attacks in the region or anywhere else.

QUESTION: Sir, one last question, please. The attack has raised questions about whether Pakistan’s security establishment can stamp out militancy without the American air and other military support it will – it relied on during 2014 security operation. Is Pakistan asking any support, like military support, air support?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to get into conversations between our two countries, but I will say that the State Department does fund several counterterrorism capacity building programs in Pakistan, focused on law enforcement and the justice sector, and we’ll continue to do so.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Wajid Ali Syed, I’m from Geo TV Pakistan. The China’s leadership is in Pakistan these days to mark ten years of the CPEC project. Any comments on this relationship?

MR MILLER: Yeah. I will say that, first of all, our support for Pakistan’s economic success is unwavering. We’ll continue to engage with Pakistan about strengthening our trade and investment ties, all of which are priorities for our bilateral relationship.

With respect to investments by any country, we believe good governance, long-term capacity building, and sustainable market-based approaches that allow the private sector flourish are the best paths to sustained growth and development. We welcome trade and investment that promotes such development and growth.

But we will continue, in all cases, to emphasize the need for transparency, sustainable financing practices, and preservation of national and data security to ensure mutual benefit for both Pakistan and its partners. We have not always seen that with respect to investments by the PRC in countries around the world. But if – investments that promote transparency and responsible debt management we believe are appropriate.

QUESTION: For 20 years when the U.S. was in Afghanistan, how much responsibility until today do you think the U.S. or the State Department takes in the number of deaths caused by the heroin trade from Afghanistan, which is the largest producer of heroin in the world? Every country, every nation has thousands of people die every year.

MR MILLER: I think the responsibility for those deaths’ rests with the traffickers of heroin and those that enable it.

QUESTION: This is going back to Afghanistan. The readout of the discussions between the U.S. and the Taliban in Doha mentioned that U.S. officials were pressing for the immediate, unconditional release of detained U.S. citizens. How many U.S. citizens are currently detained in Afghanistan, and what can you tell us about their condition?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to make public the number that are there, but it is correct that in the meeting with leaders of the Taliban, we did raise that issue as well as a number of issues such as the resumption of flights, counternarcotics, combating terrorism, and we continue to press for the release of the detainees. But due to their privacy I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to get into the – their specific conditions.

QUESTION: As a part of the Taliban’s readout of those meetings, they said a significant portion of the restrictions on Afghanistan’s banks have been lifted; the development is expected to ease banking transactions and facilitate economic activities in the country. Can you speak a little bit more about what was discussed about – in that context?

MR MILLER: Yeah. So I will say I saw that in their readout, other people here saw that in their readout, didn’t know what they were talking about. There were no such restrictions that we are aware of, and any sanctions that we do have in place have not been lifted. So we were confused by that language in their readout.

All right, go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Just on Afghanistan really quickly, one of the conditions that were mentioned in the State Department earlier was that the Taliban needs to – in order for it to be recognized in some way, shape, or form, it needs to meet some criteria in terms of human rights and et cetera. Thousands of Hazara – ethnic groups consisting of Hazaras and other groups within Afghanistan has been facing genocide in some way, shape, or form, and also at the same time we have just heard that the Taliban is actually burning all types of books relating to music, and the erosion of women’s rights are just rampant in the country. But firstly, even just going back to the genocide of groups like the Hazaras, for example, would that be something that the State Department would consider to be one of the conditions for the recognition of the Taliban?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to stand here and say what the conditions are. I will say, as we have said in the past, that the Taliban continues to seek recognition; it continues to seek legitimacy. And that’s not where we are right now for a number of reasons, including the treatment of their own people, including their many flagrant human rights violations.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I wonder if we could start with Niger. If you could give us an update on what you’re seeing on the ground, and specifically France and some other European countries have started evacuating their people. Is the U.S. seeing anything that would cause you to start that process?

MR MILLER: A few things. Number one, our embassy is open today, operating on a normal schedule. We’re monitoring the efforts by France and other Europeans to evacuate their citizens. We urge Nigerien authorities to facilitate an orderly, safe evacuation. At this time, we do not have indications of threats to U.S. citizens or facilities, but we are continually reevaluating our posture to ensure the safety of our citizens.

QUESTION: And I wonder if you would have any comment on these statements by Mali and Burkina Faso, rejecting the ECOWAS intervention on Niger, and that basically this concern that this is going to spill over into a regional conflict. So where does the U.S. stand on those countries seeming to support the coup makers in Niger?

MR MILLER: We support the efforts of ECOWAS and leaders in the region to resolve this situation, to restore the democratic president, the elected president of Niger. We obviously saw the comments by other countries. I think it’s inappropriate to make those statements at this point. We’re not going to engage in hypotheticals. We don’t need – believe there’s any reason to ever get to that ultimate conclusion. We believe that the democratically elected president of Niger ought to be restored to full authority immediately.

QUESTION: Do you see any prospect for that? Is there any progress on reversing the coup?

MR MILLER: We continue to work at – the Secretary, as I said yesterday, has talked to a number of leaders in the region, has spoken to President Bazoum on a number of occasions. ECOWAS is, of course, involved on the frontlines and is continuing to work it diligently. I don’t have any updates, but it continues to be our policy to push for his full restoration.

QUESTION: And just one more. I wonder if you foresee – if that is unsuccessful and the status quo remains, do you see U.S. security cooperation with the government in Niger continuing? I know you’ve spoken to this could have an impact on humanitarian aid and other things, but in terms of the security cooperation, which is a major part of the relationship, is that likely to continue, even if they don’t reverse course?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to go into hypotheticals, because that is an outcome that we hope is not fulfilled. We hope to see the president restored to leadership of the country. He’s the democratically elected president, and all of our work right now is to see him restored.

As Secretary Blinken has made clear, however, there are hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from the United States that are at stake. I don’t want to talk about what specifically we might do if President Bazoum is not restored to authority, but certainly our aid, our assistance is at stake. But again, I think it’s premature to speculate what that might look like at this point.

QUESTION: Follow up on Niger, on that one?


QUESTION: You guys mentioned – in fact, Kirby again this morning – and you believe there’s a little window of opportunity or – how you want to call it, I’m not sure – for diplomacy and to restore President Bazoum. On what basis are you saying that? What window is this exactly? Because on the ground, things are not going that way at all.

MR MILLER: So it – there is a window. I would say we make those assessments based on the fact we are continuing to have conversations with President Bazoum; other leaders in the region are continuing to have conversations with him. We’re continuing to have conversations with other leaders in Niger. We’ve spoken with the former president and continue to press for the leaders of the – the security leaders who are attempting to seize power, to press for them to restore President Bazoum to his rightful place as the democratically elected leader of the country.

We will pursue that for as long as that possibility remains open. It does remain open today. I wouldn’t want to speculate on how long that might remain open, but as long as it is, we’ll continue to press that case. Because we believe that the democratically elected leader who was chosen by the people ought to be the one who leads the country.

QUESTION: Just a follow up on that.

MR MILLER: Yeah. Let me – yeah, go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Just very, very quickly, we all have seen pictures from the weekend, how protesters were waving Russian flags, chanting Putin’s name. Is there any involvement from Russia that you have noticed during past couple of days?

MR MILLER: We have not seen any evidence that Russia was behind this coup, but certainly it would not be out of character for Russia or for the Wagner Group to try to take advantage of instability in this country or any other in Africa.



QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. There has been a lot of reports about a grand old initiative that may be coming from the White House on a grand peace plan by the Biden administration that includes normalization of the Saudis in exchange for nuclear program security agreement, and many others, as was revealed by Thomas Friedman last week. I wonder if you’re aware of these reports.

MR MILLER: Aware of the reports? Certainly, and we’ve —

QUESTION: And have you read them and so on?

MR MILLER: We’ve – we have engaged in promoting such normalization from the State Department. As you may remember, the – Secretary Blinken traveled to Saudi Arabia, talked about normalization of relations with Israel with the crown prince, and then has discussed it with the prime minister of Israel as well.

QUESTION:   So when was the last time that the United States actually tried to broker some sort of talks even, peace talks, between the Palestinians and the Israelis and so on?

MR MILLER: There have been – this is the second – the second historical question at the briefing today. It is our policy that we continue to press both the Israeli prime minister and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority. It is also an issue that has come up in the context of normalization. I don’t know if you – if you followed the press conference when the Secretary travelled to Saudi Arabia. The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia made clear that one of the things that they were interested in, in the context of normalization, was seeing some progress on issues between Israel and the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: A follow-up. Do you have an update on the efforts that the U.S. is making with Saudi Arabia and Israel? And where are the sticking points on this – in this matter?

MR MILLER: Well, as I’ve said before, it continues to be a priority for us, but it is not something where we are going to constantly read out what are private diplomatic conversations.

 Go ahead, Olivia.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Noting the readouts that you issued late yesterday between U.S. and Chinese officials here in Washington, can you confirm today whether the invitation was made to Foreign Minister Wang Yi to visit the U.S.?

MR MILLER: I can. As you noted, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink yesterday met with his counterpart, Director Yang Tao, here at the State Department in Washington, D.C. This was a follow-up to the meetings that we had in Beijing in June, as well as the recent meeting several weeks ago that Secretary Blinken had with Wang Yi. In the meeting yesterday, we extended the invitation that had previously been made to the former foreign minister, Qin Gang, and made clear that that invitation did transfer over to Minister Yi, as I somewhat previewed in my remarks yesterday.

QUESTION: And can you say whether that invitation was accepted and whether an agenda or timeline to the visit has been set?

MR MILLER: With respect to accepting the invitation, I’ll let the Chinese Government speak to their side of it. We certainly expect that it is something that they would accept, and it is a trip that we expect to happen, but we have not yet scheduled a date.

QUESTION: And in terms of the topics that were raised, the readout was sort of terse. Did they – did the meetings notch any progress on the priority areas that were identified in the aftermath of Secretary Blinken’s trip, specifically on fentanyl and American detainees?

MR MILLER: We continue to make progress on those issues. We don’t have – I don’t have any concrete results. We’re not at the point of establishing the fentanyl working group, which, as you know, has been a major priority for us and we continue to press the Chinese side to agree to. But we did feel it was important to continue the conversations. That was something that we thought we had established in the meetings in Beijing. Since then, the Secretary has had another meeting with his counterpart, and we have these meetings going on at sub-cabinet, sub-ministerial levels to continue talking about these.

We will note, as we did even before we left Beijing, that we fully recognize that progress on many of these areas is hard. But we are committed to continuing to work because the issues on which we need to cooperate with China, we think, are important, just as the issues in which we need to raise concerns with them are important.

QUESTION: Last one: Did the specific issue of Travis King in North Korea and enlisting China’s support in that come up, and have the Chinese indicated in any direction whether they’re willing to engage on that?

MR MILLER: I don’t know if it – I just don’t know if it came up. I can check.

Okay, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Last week, the Ukrainian defense ministry said that Kyiv would submit its first report on the use of cluster munitions to the United States. Has the administration received this report yet?

MR MILLER: I’m not aware if we have.

QUESTION: My second question is about the peace talk summit in Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Do you think it is a good idea to organize such a summit without Russian participation in it?

MR MILLER: I would echo what Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has said, which is that he is open to real diplomacy with Russia when Russia is ready to engage in such diplomacy. Unfortunately, what we have seen is that from the outset of this war – really from even before the outset of this war – Russia has never been willing to engage in actual diplomacy. We made clear on behalf of the United States we were willing to talk about any legitimate security concerns Russia had before the outset of the war. Ukraine made clear that they were able to do the same. Russia never engaged in a serious or meaningful way.

With respect to the talks that will be held in Saudi Arabia, we believe it’s important that countries around the world hear directly from Ukraine about the horrors that have been unleashed on their country, about the attacks on civilians, about the attacks on schools, on hospitals, on apartment buildings and civilian infrastructure; that they hear about just how Russia has violated their territorial integrity, violated their sovereignty. So if at some point Russia is willing to engage in meaningful diplomacy – I will not speak on behalf of president – of the president of Ukraine, but he has made clear in the past that he’d be willing to engage with them on such matters.

QUESTION: On Ukraine.


QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Liam Cosgrove with The Grayzone. So back in May I asked you about Gonzalo Lira. He was the U.S. citizen arrested in Ukraine for posting dissident content online, and you told me the State Department was aware of his arrest in May. And we learned last night through a series of tweets by him that he had been tortured in the Ukrainian prison and he was now on a motorcycle with a broken rib trying to flee to the Hungarian border. And so I’m wondering, if this is true, given the State Department knew of his arrest and his detention, how has this been allowed to occur? We have a U.S. citizen being – being detained and perhaps tortured in the prison of one of our strongest allies.

MR MILLER: Well, you lost me with the “perhaps” and the “if this is true.” I think I’d want to verify those reports before I commented on it.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Two separate topics, first one Belarusian and Polish border. The incident that this morning was reported referring to a Belarusian helicopter crossing the border just got confirmed by Polish defense minister saying that they had noticed insertion in Polish territory. Are you aware of the incident? And what kind of reaction would that invite from the NATO?

MR MILLER: I was aware of the reports this morning. I believe if it’s accurate – and I don’t dispute your accuracy that the Polish Government has come out and confirmed that – that’s something that happened while I was up at the podium, and I’m going to maintain my policy of not commenting on things that break while I’m up here that I haven’t had a chance to read myself.

QUESTION: If that appears to be true —

MR MILLER: Again with the “if.” I would rather wait and verify it with my own eyes before I comment on it.

QUESTION: Okay. Moving to South Caucasus, I am told that Special Advisor Bono is traveling to region this week. Do you have anything about details of the trip, and what kind of message does Secretary want to convey to the regional leaders?

MR MILLER: I don’t. He’s not the Secretary. I don’t have – unless you meant separately the —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Yes. I don’t have any details of the trip to – of any trip to convey. I will say, though, as we have said consistently, we do believe that a peace agreement is within reach. It’s why we continue to engage both at the seniormost levels of this department and at subcabinet levels with leaders in Armenia and Azerbaijan to urge them to reach the difficult compromises that are necessary to reach a full peace agreement.

QUESTION: Do you have – do you know if he’s going to visit Tbilisi as well?

MR MILLER: I just don’t have details on his trip.

QUESTION: And on human rights in China, so the – the House Select Committee on Chinese Communist Party has flagged the BlackRock and MSCI as two companies that fund Chinese companies that help advance the Chinese military and further human rights abuses in China. And I’m wondering if you have any comments on this and see any concerns in U.S. companies having such financial links with Chinese —

MR MILLER: I have not reviewed that report or talked to others in the department about it, so I don’t have a comment on it.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you for taking my question. Today, the United States imposed restriction for Hungarian passport holders – I mean under the Visa Waiver Program, saying that Budapest has not addressed the security vulnerabilities repeatedly raised by Washington. I would ask you: Can you elaborate more on which these security vulnerabilities are?

And secondly, if I may, a U.S. official said, and I’m quoting, “The United States is paying close attention to Hungary’s choices.” So are the restrictions on the visa program related to other issues that cause friction – I mean human and civil rights and that problem – between U.S. and Orban government?

MR MILLER: So I would say first the visa – the new conditions on the Visa Waiver Program have nothing to do with any issue other than Hungary’s compliance with the Visa Waiver Program itself. In 2011, the Hungarian Government launched a simplified naturalization process. Nearly 1 million people gained Hungarian citizenship through this program before Hungary began instituting full biometric and identity verification in 2020.

During that period from 2011 to 2020, the program lacked adequate procedures to verify applicants’ identities before allowing them to obtain citizenship. We know that valid Hungarian passports were then fraudulently obtained by criminals and individuals with no connection to Hungary. And since we’ve identified this issue and raised it with the Hungarian Government, they have not taken the necessary steps to fully mitigate these border and travel security threats.

So we have made the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program clear to Hungary for multiple years over multiple administrations. We’ve provided them extensive guidance on ways that they can mitigate the vulnerability. Unfortunately, the Hungarian Government has not opted to take those steps, and so we were forced to institute this new policy today.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: I’m just wondering. You said that valid Hungarian passports were obtained by criminals. Did any of those criminals come to the U.S. on those passports?

MR MILLER: I don’t have specific information about who came in in the last however many years.

QUESTION: Were there any Hungarian passport holders that came to the U.S. with questionable backgrounds that triggered this?

MR MILLER: I don’t have information on people who came. But I would say as a – it was a policy question. We looked at the fact that there were people who were getting passports without going through rigorous screening that we think is necessary to gain – should be necessary to gain a passport. And so we raised the issue with the Hungarian Government, gave them an opportunity to address the situation, and they refused to do so.

QUESTION: And just why did it take nine years to change?

MR MILLER: I won’t speak to that other than that we were trying to work with the Hungarian Government to give them an opportunity to correct the situation. It’s not a step we wanted to take today. We engaged with them, as I said, for multiple years over multiple administrations working through possible changes that they could make, and they refused to do so, which ultimately led us to take this step.

QUESTION: Thank you. On Syria – actually, the skies of Syria – the Russian Ministry of Defense claims that over the past few days, there has been violation by the U.S. of the deconfliction agreement by F-16s, F-35s, and the MQ-9 Reapers. I wonder if you have any comment on that. They’re saying that you did not even inform them.

MR MILLER: For any specific military operations, as usual, I would refer you to the Pentagon. It’s not something I can speak to from this podium.

As I’ve noted before, though, the United States and the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS continue to work with our local partners in Syria to maintain constant pressure on ISIS remnants and to ensure ISIS’s lasting defeat. I will reiterate the statements the Department of Defense has made, that we strongly urge Russian forces in Syria to immediately stop reckless and threatening behavior, and to instead adhere to the standards of behaviour expected of a professional force. But with respect to any exact engagements, I would refer to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: Sure. A separate issue –the events in Myanmar where the junta has partially pardoned Aung San Suu Kyi. I wonder if that changes your view of the U.S. position towards Myanmar at all,  and sort of what would it take for this military junta to do to start to ease sanctions against them?

MR MILLER: I would say that no, it does not change our position. We remain deeply concerned by the Burma military regime’s extension of the state of emergency, which will only prolong the violence and delay a just and peaceful resolution to the current crisis. We have repeatedly called on the military to immediately release Aung San Suu Kyi, deposed President Win Myint, and all the others unjustly detained – something they have not done. And we continue to urge the regime to ends it violence, to allow unhindered humanitarian access, seek justice for survivors, and engage with all stakeholders to pursue a peaceful, just, and democratic future for Burma.

So there are a number of steps that we believe they have yet to take that they must before we can talk about any change in our posture towards them.

QUESTION: So last one, just regarding China, there has been – firstly, Se Hoon Kim, correspondent for Global Strat View. There has been an ongoing transnational repression against Uyghurs living in the United States particularly, a lot of them U.S. citizens, green card holders, and asylees. Recently there was a “turn yourself in” video released by the Chinese police, telling dissidents and Uyghurs living overseas that they must come back and turn themselves in. And for an example, someone like Kalbinur Gheni, who is actually living in the United States right now, a Uyghur refugee, has been receiving multiple threats by – from the Chinese Communist Party.

I’m just wondering: Is this something that will be brought up in terms of a topic of human rights when Wang Yi or any other CCP official visits the United States?

MR MILLER: We – in our engagements with PRC leaders, we always raise human rights issues, including the treatment of the Uyghurs. Secretary Blinken has raised that directly in his meetings; other officials raise them directly in their meetings. Human rights is always on the table for the United States.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:08 p.m.)

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