US State Dept Presser

State Dept Press Briefing – Aug 8, 2023

16 Min
State Dept Press Briefing – Aug 8, 2023

US State Dept Spokesperson Matthew Miller held a press briefing on Aug 8, 2023. Some excerpts with Q- A on Pakistan and B’desh tweaked to appear upfront.

QUESTION: Today, the protest happening in front of the State Department for Bangladesh getting free and fair election – do you have any comment on that? And the situation in Bangladesh is really, really bad now, but they’re asking – demanding for democracy in Bangladesh. So please, what is your –

MR MILLER: As we have made clear many times, as I have made clear many times from this podium, we support free and fair elections in Bangladesh. We’ve made that clear publicly. We’ve made that clear in conversations with the Bangladeshi Government, and that will continue to be our policy.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: This journalist who happens to be a U.S. citizen as well, and he’s a top journalist in Pakistan, and he was arrested and released – I’m sure because of your pressure – he said that State Department and the Biden administration are ignoring a guy like Imran Khan, who is languishing in poor conditions in jail. So, no human rights, no interference, no talk about interference in internal matters when it comes to Imran Khan’s government, but Niger so much talk is given. So your reaction.

MR MILLER: I think I spoke to this at some length yesterday and I don’t believe that my answer is any different, which is the arrest of Imran Khan is an internal matter for Pakistan, but of course we continue to call for the respect for democratic principles, human rights, and the rule of law in Pakistan as we do around the world.

Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION: My question is that next month, President Biden will be in India at G20, and many G20 leaders will be joining Prime Minister Modi in India. You think this, as far as Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is concerned, will be solved? Or are we hoping anything coming out of this G20 in India?

MR MILLER: I will say that, in all of our conversations with allies and partners around the world, we continue to discuss the war in Ukraine. It is always one of the top topics that comes up in all of our conversations, and I have no doubt that’ll be true at the G20.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. My first question on Burma. War crimes committed by Myanmar’s military, including the bombing of civilians have become increasingly frequent and present a team of the United Nations investigators say in a report published today. So will you share your comment about this report?

MR MILLER: Let me take that one back.

QUESTION: Second, on Bangladesh, Richard Nephew, the U.S. State Department coordinator for global anticorruption, just concluded his visit to Bangladesh and met several high-ranking officials. During his visit to Bangladesh, the English daily newspaper Daily Star published a bombshell report revealing that Mohammed Saiful Alam, the owner of the S Alam Group, and affiliate of the current Sheikh Hasina’s regime, had laundered over one billion U.S. dollar and established a business empire abroad. and OCCRP have revealed same type of reports on massive corruption and money laundering.

During Mr. Richard Nephew’s meeting with Bangladeshi foreign secretary, he indicated that they might consider sanction as a tool against corruption. My question is: Does the United States Government intend to impose new sanction, especially on those involving corruption and money laundering?

MR MILLER: So, as I said in response to a different question earlier about a different country, we never preview sanctions actions before they take place. Generally speaking, sanctions can be a tool to fight corruption. We have other tools as well, such as freezing assets and giving partner nations information so they can prosecute cases. And we encourage Bangladesh to root out corrupt actors operating with its – within its borders fairly and impartially.

QUESTION:   I’ll start with Niger. After Acting Deputy Secretary Nuland’s meetings yesterday, do you guys have any idea where things are going?

MR MILLER: I will say that you’re right, Acting Secretary Nuland met yesterday with leaders of the junta and made clear that there was a diplomatic path forward for them if they would choose a return to constitutional order. She also made clear that there would be consequences if they didn’t, that there are hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. assistance at stake. As she said last night in the call she had with the press, they were very difficult conversations. She didn’t achieve any breakthroughs and it’s not at all clear that they will choose the diplomatic path forward.

And I do want to emphasize that she also met with civil society leaders, leaders of NGOs while she was on the ground yesterday. She mentioned some of this. And in those meetings, she heard them express real concerns about the situation and express a desire for the country to return to a constitutional order. And I wanted to say something about that, because I’ve gotten a lot of questions the last few days about so-called protests happening on the streets, and I would just – I think it’s fair to note that not everyone that supports democracy in the country can take to the streets because of potential concerns about their safety. But she heard in their meetings that there is support in civil society for a return to constitutional order, so we will continue to press for that, but I think we are very clear-eyed about the situation as it stands.

QUESTION: Are you specifically referring to protests where people were waving Russian flags and – is that what you’re talking about?

MR MILLER: I am. I am.

QUESTION: So, do you think that that’s a significant issue that needs to be addressed?

MR MILLER: I have heard questions about these protests, sometimes in this briefing room, and sometimes you see people assume that because you see people on the streets it is an expression of actual support rather than people who might have been paid to show up at protests. It does seem odd to me that if your country is suffering an attempted military takeover, the idea that the first thing anyone would do is run to a store and buy a Russian flag. That strikes me as somewhat an unlikely scenario.

But I wanted to emphasize that what we heard – what Acting Deputy Secretary Nuland heard in her meetings is the same thing we’ve heard in conversations we’ve had, that there are civil society leaders and NGOs and others in the country who are very concerned, even if they are not always in a position to make those concerns public.  

QUESTION: Can I just a follow up a little bit on Niger? The Secretary in his interview with – guess it took place yesterday with the BBC talked about Wagner potentially taking advantage. Can I just ask for a clarification? Is he saying that he’s seeing that happening right now or is he warning against this happening in the future?

MR MILLER: He was referring to the comments that Yevgeniy Prigozhin made last week when he publicly – last week or over the weekend – when he publicly was celebrating the events in Niger and the fact that we certainly see Wagner take advantage of this type of situation whenever it occurs in Africa.

We, as I’ve stated before, did not see any role by Wagner in the instigation of this attempted takeover, and we have not seen any Wagner military presence as of yet in Niger. I don’t have any specific Wagner activities to – that I can make public at this point, but we saw Yevgeniy Prigozhin publicly celebrating what’s happened. And as I said, it did seem a very odd event that we had a bunch of Russian flags show up at so-called protests on – in support of the junta leaders.

QUESTION:  You mentioned that you still have some hope that things can be reversed. IWhat’s that hope based on?  From the deputy secretary’s trip is there anything you can point to as like this gave us hope?  

MR MILLER:  Look, we do still have hope, but we were also very realistic. And you heard her say yesterday that the conversations she had were very difficult. As I said at – in my first comments, we are realistic about the situation on the ground. We do have hope that the situation will be reversed. But at the same time, we are making clear, including in direct conversations with the junta leaders themselves, what the consequences are of failing to return to constitutional order.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. still in a position of not calling what’s happening in Niger a coup?

MR MILLER: It is, at this point, an attempted military takeover. But again, we do not – we are still working to achieve a different outcome, and we are hoping to see President Bazoum released from house arrest and able to resume his duties.

QUESTION: And what are your expectations from the emergency summit of West African leaders to be held on this Thursday?

MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to speak to that in advance of it happening. Obviously, we’ve been in touch with leaders of the members of ECOWAS, and we’ll continue to be in touch with them as we try to resolve this situation. We have been fully supportive of their efforts to resolve it.

QUESTION: Just one more question on the ECOWAS angle of this. I mean, they’ve obviously threatened to take military action to reinstate President Bazoum, and you said that the U.S. fully supports their efforts to resolve this. So, if they did take that military action, the U.S. would support it?

MR MILLER: We are supporting a diplomatic path at this time, and I wouldn’t want to speculate about other outcomes or other policy choices that we might make at some other point. But right now, our focus is on a diplomatic path. That was the purpose of Acting Deputy Secretary Nuland’s visit yesterday, was to present a diplomatic path to them, one that they rejected. But right now, we’re going to continue to focus on diplomacy.

QUESTION: And then could we just get your response to the Nigerien military leaders rejecting ECOWAS, the African Union, and the UN mediators from trying to have meetings in the country earlier today?

MR MILLER: I think it’s very unfortunate, and it is in keeping with the message that we heard from them yesterday, when Acting Deputy Secretary Nuland presented options for a diplomatic path forward and a negotiated process going forward, and they were not willing to take that path at this time. We’re going to keep trying – again, fully recognizing how difficult that path is.


QUESTION:  On Ukraine. Do you have any specific information about the arrest of a Russian spy who was trying to assassinate President Zelenskyy?

MR MILLER: I’ve seen those reports. I don’t have any specific comment on them. I would obviously refer to Ukraine to talk about that in any detail. But obviously we’ve seen Russian espionage and Russian intelligence activities in Ukraine for some time. That is not in any way surprising, and we fully support Ukraine’s general efforts to hold people accountable for those activities.

QUESTION: And one on North Korea. North Korea continues to operate vessel sanctioned by UN Security Council, and China is providing used vessels to North Korea. What sanctions will the United States impose on countries that violate sanctions?

MR MILLER: Well, first, I will say that we will fully enforce our existing sanctions, but then I will give the answer you’ve heard me give in the past, which is with respect to any potential future sanctions’ actions, I would never want to preview them from this podium.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) China have 10 years. They still provide these ships. So, do you have anything about it, this issue when Secretary Blinken meeting with the Chinese counterpart?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to comment any more with respect to any potential sanctions’ actions, other than what I just did.

Go ahead, Alex.

QUESTION: Thank you. First, on Ukraine. May I get a reaction to Russian missile strikes last night on residential buildings in eastern Ukraine, in Pokrovsk? One of the buildings was known, apparently, to be used by journalists. So they aren’t even hiding that they’re targeting non-military targets. Is this how you think they responding to the peace summit that happened over the weekend?

MR MILLER: Look, I wouldn’t want to draw any specific parallel, because we’ve seen Russians – we’ve seen the Russians target civilian infrastructure and homes and apartment buildings and schools and hospitals going back for some time. So they do that; they have done that consistently since the beginning of the war. So I wouldn’t necessarily put two and two together and say it was a response to – it was a direct response to the talks that went on about securing a just and lasting peace. But certainly, I think it is a reflection, as all of their attacks on Ukraine – their continued attacks on Ukraine, on civilian infrastructure, and their attacks on grain facilities are a reflection of Russia’s refusal to engage in real peace negotiations.

QUESTION: On that point, your Russian counterpart seemed to have an issue with your statement on Russia —

MR MILLER: Oh, what a surprise.

QUESTION: — refusing the negotiations, saying that the U.S. apparently discouraged Ukraine from negotiating. Was that the case?

MR MILLER: No, absolutely not. Is this current or at some previous point? When did we – when did we supposedly discourage Ukraine from negotiating? I —

QUESTION: That’s a good point.

MR MILLER: I don’t know, but it’s not the case.

QUESTION: Yeah. You did offer a partial answer to my obvious follow-up question on (inaudible) to help Ukraine. Ukraine’s foreign minister yesterday asked the Secretary in a phone call for long-range missiles. Are you in a position to share what the Secretary’s response was?

MR MILLER: I am not. I’ll keep   those private diplomatic conversations private. But as I will say, as we’ve said before, we continue to supply Ukraine with artillery, with a whole host of weapons. We have other announcements coming later this week about additional assistance that we plan to provide Ukraine. And with respect to any other potential missile systems, they are – or other defense systems, those are always actions that we consider, but don’t have any announcements to make.

QUESTION: Thank you. My last question on Ukraine, Russia – Russian president is – the Turkish side already announced it – is expected to be in Türkiye by the end of this month. Do you take an issue with the fact that an indicted war criminal will be visiting a NATO member and will not get arrested?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to the visit in particular, other than to say one thing that we have welcomed is the role that Türkiye has played in pressing Russia to rejoin the Black Sea Grain Initiative. We think that they have been – they were productive. They were very constructive, obviously, in helping reach that – reach a deal for that initiative in the first place and helpful in convincing Russia to continue with the initiative the first – I don’t know three or four, however many times it was they threatened to withdraw before they ultimately did. And they continue to play a productive role. We think it’s useful that they play that role. I don’t have any comment on a potential visit other than we do support Türkiye continuing to press Russia to re-enter that initiative because it’s so important.

 QUESTION: Okay. Let me go to the Palestinian issue. An Israeli newspaper published an article saying that the Israelis will allow the Gaza people the benefit of the pilot program beginning next month. And my question to you: First of all, can you confirm that the Israelis will be doing that? And second: Why is it – since this started back on July 21, why is it taking so long?

MR MILLER: So I won’t speak to decisions made by the Israeli Government about how they are going to implement this program or when they are going to announce or the details of it. But they have assured us – they assured us when we first made this announcement – believe it was last month, and they have assured us throughout this process – that they would be making changes to the way they’re implementing it to ensure that – excuse me – U.S. residents of Gaza would be able to participate in the Visa Waiver Program. We believe those assurances are important; we believe they’re mandatory. And we look forward to them being implemented.

QUESTION: Well, have you seen any progress towards them meeting this goal so far? I mean, I understand that you’re monitoring it and checking it out, seeing it. So, what’s it looks like so far?

MR MILLER:  With respect to Gaza, they have not yet implemented the changes that they are going to make specific to Gaza because of the different security situation there. But we expect those changes to be made in the upcoming weeks. With respect to the overall compliance with the program, I just don’t have an update. I’m just not personally aware. I’m sure that there are metrics that we are tracking to see. I’m not personally aware of where it stands.  We have a set of data already from when the program started, and we’ll have more data when the Gaza piece of it comes online. But I will say as a general matter we do continuous monitoring for all 40 Visa Waiver Program countries, even after they have been admitted to the program, to ensure that they are all members in good standing and continue to meet program requirements.

QUESTION: Yeah, but the point is that Israel is not in the visa waiver program —

MR MILLER: No, no, I’m saying – I took Said’s point. I think Said – I —

QUESTION: No, I know, but – yeah, you monitor all of them, but this one, they’re trying to get in.


QUESTION: So presumably because they’re not in yet, the monitoring is a little bit more —


QUESTION: — intense. Right?

MR MILLER: My point was we – yes, we have an intense amount of monitoring going on now. We will have data on which to make a decision. I think the point Said was trying to make – maybe not; maybe I jumped to another point – was that if we let them into the program on a – the amount of data that they’re in, the point I was making is there is a monitoring period that is going on now. Should they be – should they be allowed to enter into the Visa Waiver Program, there would be monitoring that goes on after that in the same way that happens for all other 40 members of the program.

QUESTION:  On the Iraqi ministry of defense delegation, I’m not sure if they have a meeting at the State Department, but they do have a meeting at the Pentagon, and also the U.S. ambassador to Iraq is taking a part in these meetings. They are talking about the future security cooperation between Iraq and the United States. What’s the point that you believe that is the right time to go beyond the fighting against ISIS, and what’s the reflection of this security cooperation on your diplomatic mission in Iraq and also Iraqi Kurdistan?

MR MILLER: You are correct that the U.S.-Iraq Joint Security Cooperation Dialogue did conclude today in Washington at the Pentagon. The U.S. ambassador to Iraq was there. The talks focused on the future of U.S.-Iraq – of the U.S.-Iraq security partnership, and both sides reaffirmed a joint commitment to the enduring defeat of ISIS. We will be making a joint statement today reading out the meetings, and I don’t think I want to comment in detail before that statement comes out, but do look forward; it will have a number of details about the – what was discussed in the meetings.

QUESTION: And one more question, though, about the Iraqi paramilitary groups and also the Iranian-backed groups. In your recent quarterly report to the Congress, you mentioned that even the Iraqi prime minister has no full control of these groups, and there is a lot of concerns among the minority groups in Nineveh Plain and also in disputed area about these paramilitary groups, and also PMF. How does the U.S. giving and dealing with these groups? And do you have any concern about future security in the region with these groups? They are gaining more power and also they are becoming stronger in Baghdad.

MR MILLER: So the United States supports a stable, secure, and sovereign Iraq. We believe that will advance the interests of the United States and the interests of the Iraqi people. We believe all armed groups outside of state control in Iraq should be under the command and control of the commander-in-chief of the Iraqi armed forces. And we will continue to be a partner and build the capacity of the Iraqis to this end.

QUESTION: Can I go to Ukraine?


QUESTION: This is not about – this isn’t a policy question, but it’s based on the CNN poll last week where we saw for the first time the majority of Americans opposed additional congressional funding for the war in Ukraine. So I’m just wondering what the administration’s response is to that, if you guys are concerned about what appears, based on this poll at least, to show that the majority of Americans are just not fully there when it comes to the need for continued support to Ukraine?

MR MILLER: So I think this is the first time I’ve been asked about a poll in my short time at the tenure, and I should probably not make it a practice to comment on specific polls, but I will note that it is always dangerous to look at any one poll, because they are snapshots in time and you can see other ones. I will say that we have been heartened by the support from the American people, and the support – the bipartisan support we’ve seen in Congress for further assistance to aid Ukraine in defending its people from Russian aggression. That support has been longstanding, it has been there since the beginning of the war, and we expect it to continue.

QUESTION: And do you think, though, that the administration is doing an effective job at keeping the American people’s support substantial for continued support if we’re starting to see numbers like this?

MR MILLER: Again, not – I’m just not going to comment with respect to a poll. But I will say that we will continue to make the case that it is in the interests of the United States to defend Ukraine; it is in the interests of the United States to see that democracy is preserved; it is in the interests of the United States to see that Russian aggression has to be answered. And so we will continue to make that case, and I will let polls speak for themselves. Though I guess polls don’t speak for themselves, but I will let the polls stand as they may be. But we will continue to engage with Congress, where we have seen robust bipartisan support – yes, and it’s – you do see dissenting voices, but overall we’ve seen bipartisan support for continued support for Ukraine, and we will continue to push for that.

QUESTION: Ukraine?

QUESTION: And just staying on Ukraine for one second, last week the department put a readout of the meetings that State, NSC, and DOD had with Ukraine regarding long-term security negotiations and agreements between the U.S. and Ukraine. Do you have any idea as to when that kind of structure for long-term support for Ukraine is actually going to come to fruition, when we’ll see announcements on that? Is that something that’s happening anytime soon, or are we three to six months away from that?

MR MILLER: I don’t have a date; I wouldn’t want to put a timeframe on it because we are in the middle of those conversations. But in the conversations that we had with our Ukrainian counterparts, we did agree to follow-up meetings. I don’t have a date to announce about when those meetings will occur, but there will be follow-up conversations between the United States and Ukraine.

And I should note that the conversations – the bilateral conversations between the United States and Ukraine are just one part of this process. The other members of the G7 are having their own bilateral conversations about how they can assure long – Ukraine’s long-term security. And there are 12 other countries that signed on to that statement of support who will also have their own bilateral conversations.

So put together, this is a multi-country effort to assure Ukraine’s long-term security. I don’t have a timeframe on when we’ll have next steps to announce, but it’s something we’re pursuing aggressively.

QUESTION: Do you think Ukraine will see those long-term security commitments by the end of the year?

MR MILLER: I just wouldn’t want to put a timeframe on it.  

QUESTION: The fighting in Sudan has only intensified. What message do you have? What steps do you think the United States is going to take or until stop the fighting?

MR MILLER: So we will continue to engage with partners in the region to try to achieve a peaceful outcome. Obviously, it’s a very difficult situation, but it continues to be our belief that there is no military solution to this conflict, and we will continue to pursue diplomacy. And we will continue to press for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the people of Sudan who ultimately are suffering.

QUESTION: But any pressure that will be exerted on any or imposed on any of the fighting factions?

MR MILLER: We have already imposed sanctions on a number of parties, and we won’t hesitate to use those tools in the future if it’s appropriate.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:00 p.m.)