US State Dept Presser

State Dept Press Briefing -June 14, 2023

17 Min
State Dept Press Briefing -June 14, 2023

The State Department held a presser on June 14, 2023 with Spokesperson Mathew Miller fielding a wide range of questions.   The Q-A on B’desh appears towards the end.

 Some Excerpts

MR MILLER: I have a few remarks at the top. As we announced this morning, Secretary Blinken will travel to Beijing from June 18th to 19th for a series of meetings with senior PRC officials.

The Secretary’s visit builds on a series of engagements following the conversation between President Biden and President Xi in Bali, where they agreed to keep channels open to, at a minimum, prevent miscalculation. And it follows the work we’ve done since the outset of this administration to strengthen America’s ability to outcompete China – including historic investments at home and alignment with allies and partners abroad – work that will continue.

We have three objectives for the visit:

First, the Secretary wants to establish communication channels that are open and empowered – to discuss important challenges, address misperceptions, and prevent miscalculation – to manage competition between our two countries.

Second, as he always does, he will stand up and speak out for our values and our interests. He will raise clearly and candidly our concerns on a range of issues, and he will also discuss a host of regional and global matters.

Third, he is committed to exploring potential cooperation on transnational challenges when it is in our interest in areas such as climate and global macroeconomic stability. We also hope to discuss ways to increase exchanges between the American and Chinese people.

Our primary focus is to have candid, direct, and constructive discussions on all three of these fronts.

 MR MILLER: Olivia.

QUESTION:  So you offered some limited comments yesterday on U.S. engagement of the Cubans over these Chinese surveillance posts on its territory. Has that specific issues of additional Chinese investment in surveillance in Cuba already been raised with the Chinese in any of the various meetings that have recently taken place?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to what conversations have taken place yet other than to say that obviously, the Secretary spoke to his counterpart last night. They discussed the upcoming trip. The Secretary expressed interest in visiting China to talk about all of the issues in the three areas I outlined at the top and was very clear that he expects in his conversations both with his counterpart, with other officials in China, to have very direct and candid conversations about areas we have concern. Obviously, the issue you mentioned is one area where we do have concerns.

QUESTION: Can you elaborate a little bit on this notion of – that we’ve been hearing from the administration that diplomacy has slowed or impeded or prevented China from better establishing intelligence and military capabilities abroad. I mean, we’ve heard that line, but are there specific examples you could share?

MR MILLER: I don’t think it would be useful or necessarily appropriate to speak to specific examples other than to say that, as I said yesterday, when we took office at the outset of this administration, we looked at the policies that were in place and saw very clearly that the previous administration had a policy of confronting China but necessarily – hadn’t necessarily always done the work that would put in the best position to do so. So we went about in a series of steps: one, re-establishing our alliances, and you’ve seen work in the Indo-Pacific region, of course, in Europe and throughout the world to re-establish our alliances; and two, to go directly raise concerns with allies, with partners, with other countries. We’ve done so over the last two-and-a-half years, but – and we have seen specific, tangible results, but I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to speak to them with respect to this particular issue.

QUESTION: It’s hard for us to understand without specifics, but I understand —

MR MILLER: I understand, but you can probably also understand why I wouldn’t – we wouldn’t want to talk about those delicate conversations.

QUESTION: I don’t – well, no, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to talk about your successes, especially when you start out opening with saying how you want to outcompete China, beat them at their own game.

MR MILLER: I just meant with the – I meant – I meant —

QUESTION: But, I mean, it’s – it is not unreasonable to ask a question of what do you mean when you say you’ve managed to blunt or tone down China’s efforts here.

MR MILLER: Not unreasonable at all. I was referring to specifically this issue of intelligence installations where I think that’s a —

QUESTION: Okay. Well, then, let’s enlarge it. Overall, more broadly, in terms of the intense U.S.-China competition that’s taking place globally right now, where have you had successes?

MR MILLER: So I think you will see that we have been successful in revitalizing our alliances in the Indo-Pacific region. You’ve seen us launch a security alliance with Australia – an unprecedented security alliance. You’ve seen us revitalize our relationships in Africa, in South America. You’ve seen, I think, in the wake of the – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine where our strengthened alliances have allowed us to put pressure on Russia. And while that was specific to holding Russia accountable for its actions, I don’t think it’s activity that has been unnoticed by China. So I think we have a pretty robust record to speak to.

QUESTION: Okay. So, then you’re saying now that AUKUS is in fact aimed at China?

MR MILLER: I’m saying we – what I said is we have a robust record of revitalizing our alliances and that strengthening our ability to compete around the world.

QUESTION: And then my last one is you say the previous administration had a policy of confronting China but not necessarily doing what you all think is necessary to revitalize the relationship. Where – what do you think they didn’t do that you are doing?

MR MILLER: I think we – I will say that we have made it a priority since the outset of this administration to revitalize relationships with our allies, with our partners around the world that in some places had atrophied, and that has been a priority since day one where I think we’ve had a great deal of success.

QUESTION: A follow-up on China?

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Matt. While in Beijing, will the Secretary be open to entertaining Chinese peace efforts at – on Ukraine? Does he consider those efforts serious ones or just as optics on China?

And second part of my question, China is on the side of the autocrats on the – in this war. What is the level of concern on your end at this very moment that China might actually provide lethal aid to Russia?

MR MILLER: Sure. So let me take the second question first. We have been very clear that we had – did have concerns that China might provide lethal aid to Russia. We have not to this point seen evidence that they have carried out that step. It would be greatly concerning if they did.

With respect to any potential peace proposals, we have also been clear that we welcome the involvement of any country that is willing to help secure a just and lasting peace in Ukraine. China has said that they are interested in pursuing peace, but they’ve also been closely aligned with Russia since the outset of this war. So if China is serious about pursuing a peace that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty, that respects Ukraine’s territorial integrity, of course, that would be important and that would be useful. I’m sure that this will be a matter of conversation during the trip.

QUESTION: Thank you. Please come back to me later. I have something else on (inaudible).

MR MILLER: Sure. Let me go to Janne.

QUESTION: Thank you. China and North Korea. First question: Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang said today the United States should stop interfering in internal affairs, but as we all know, China is also interfering in the internal affairs of other countries, including in South Korea. How the U.S. responds to this? And will this issue be discussed during this meeting?

MR MILLER: I noted the readout of the call that they issued. I won’t speak to that directly other than to say that, as we said in ours, the Secretary did raise concerns that we had in that call. We very much expect to raise concerns about Chinese actions in a number of areas on the trip. I think the places where we have concerns are well known: fentanyl, cross-strait issues, their alignment with Russia in its war in Ukraine, which I just spoke to, and a host of other issues. And I would fully expect that wide range of issues to come up during the visit.

QUESTION: One more on North Korea. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un sent a letter to Russian President Putin promising deeper strategic cooperation with Russia and North Korea. Are you concerned that this will lead to unpredictable situation in Korea and Ukraine or Korean Peninsula?

MR MILLER: I would just say generally I think we would always be concerned with any country that is aligning with Russia to support its illegal, unjust invasion of Ukraine.

Let me go – anything else on China before we move on?

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Back in February, when Secretary Blinken postponed his trip to China, you keep – said that when the conditions allow, he will reschedule. So what conditions have changed or have been improved between now and February?

MR MILLER: So I think what’s happened between now and February is that we have had a number of discussions between our two countries. Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink travelled to the region in the last several weeks to have initial conversations. The National Security Advisor to the President had a meeting with his counterpart last month. And so we have looked – obviously, we made our position about the balloon quite clear, and our concerns about that matter quite clear.

And since then, we’ve continued to make our concerns about both that and the other issues clear, and – but at the same time have always looked to reschedule this trip because we thought it was important that there be direct – a direct channel of communication between our two countries. It’s one of the things that President Biden made clear, as I said in my opening comments, after his meeting with President Xi. It’s one of the things Secretary Blinken has made clear on a number of occasions. Obviously, we have a competitive relationship with China. We have a number of areas with which we disagree, but it’s important, as two of the world’s great powers, that we have the ability to directly communicate with each other so that competition doesn’t veer into conflict.

And so we look at this trip as a way to establish those channels of communication and hopefully build on the channels that we establish for future meetings, future trips from American officials to China, and potentially future trips from Chinese officials to the United States.

QUESTION: And lastly, Assistant Secretary Kritenbrink this morning, he said he would not expect a long list of deliverables. If so, how do you define success for this trip? Has Secretary Blinken made a request to meet President Xi Jinping?

MR MILLER: So I won’t speak to any potential meetings other than to say we’ll have announcements about who he will be meeting with and when over the next few days. But with respect to the assistant secretary’s comments, we go into this trip very clear-eyed that we have a number of differences with the government in China – that we have differences on a wide range of issues and we’re going to be clear and candid about those issues.

It doesn’t mean we will have any breakthroughs on this trip, but the reason we start these conversations is because we believe that, for example, the movement of precursor chemicals for fentanyl out of China to other countries is an important issue that we need to address and that we want to see them take action on. It’s important that we raise it directly, and if we don’t accomplish an exact breakthrough on this trip, that we make progress to addressing the issue down the road.

But then I would step back and say also, more broadly, what I was saying a minute ago. It’s important just that we have these lines of communication as two of the world’s great powers, to make sure that as we’re watching each other and watching steps that we take, that there’s no miscalculation on either side about the other’s intentions; that when we have issues, we can raise them directly with each other so misunderstanding doesn’t veer into dangerous miscalculation.

 QUESTION: Just one more – one more China question. If you could provide us with an update on the status of those who we have determined to be wrongfully detained American citizens in China. I understand Ambassador Burns had the opportunity to meet with some of them earlier this year. Was that the last time the U.S. was afforded access, and is the Secretary expected to raise their cases when he meets with officials this week?

MR MILLER: I’m not aware of any update with respect to meetings with them. I’d be happy to follow up on that and see if there’s been any meeting since the meetings that Ambassador Burns had. I will say that with respect to detainees held in any country, that the safety and security of American citizens abroad is the Secretary’s top priority and that he raises it with foreign officials in all of his travels.

QUESTION: Thank you. Andrew Thornebrooke with Epoch Times. I actually had a question on those non-deliverables. So Jake Sullivan said last week that the U.S. would pursue nuclear non-proliferation talks with China without precondition. Does Blinken have any plans to broach the topic of China’s nuclear modernization program and its expansion?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to read out the specific comments that we – that we expect to raise in the meetings before we have them other than to say that, as I said at the top, we have a number of issues of concern. We have other issues on which we think we can cooperate. And we will raise a wide range of topics with the Chinese officials.

QUESTION: Do you believe that nuclear non-proliferation is one of those areas that you can cooperate?

MR MILLER:  I’m just not going to read out a meeting before it happens.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Switching to the Palestinian issue, it seems that Israeli soldiers will not be indicted or charged for the death of a Palestinian American, 79 years old – specifically, the Hatsiet — Haredi Battalion, which is really notorious, known for tormenting Palestinians and popping up anywhere in the middle of the night just to exercise their authority. I wonder if you have any comment on this.

MR MILLER: Sure. What I will say is that, as we’ve previously stated about this case, that we expected a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability. We have been clear about our deep concern on the circumstances surrounding Omar Assad’s death and the need for such accountability. Israel itself stated that the incident showed a clear lapse of moral judgment and a failure to protect the sanctity of human life. Since Mr. Assad’s tragic death, we have continued to discuss this troubling incident with the Israeli Government. We’re aware of the conclusion of the investigation and we are at this time seeking more information from the Israeli Government about it.

QUESTION: But they just closed the file.

MR MILLER: I understand that. I said we’re aware of that and we’re seeking more information from the Israeli Government. We’re going to talk to them directly about it. .

QUESTION: So let me just follow up. It’s been 18 months, just to note. Last week, the Israeli army killed a two-year-old boy, and they – at the time they said they were returning fire. Today, the Israeli army said that the other person that was perceived to be a terrorist is also an Israeli soldier. Should someone pay the price for this? I mean, isn’t this just so outrageous that they kill a two-year-old boy?

MR MILLER: Let me say that we express our sincere condolences to the family of the child who was tragically killed. We understand that the Israeli Defense Forces have concluded a probe into the incident and we’re looking into the outcomes of that probe.

QUESTION: But they said it was another Israeli soldier. It was another Israeli soldier who was perceived or thought to be a terrorist.

MR MILLER: Yeah, and I will say we express our sincere condolences, and we always urge investigations into any operations that result in civilian casualties.

QUESTION: Okay, and one last follow-up on my question yesterday on the embassy. Has there been any – I think the committee met, though. What did they conclude? Which area is going to be allotted for the embassy?

MR MILLER: So all I will say about that is that the United States hasn’t taken any decisions at this point on which site to pursue. There are a number of factors, including the history of the sites, that will be our site – be part of our site selection process.

QUESTION: On Lebanon, do you have any comment on the latest failure to elect a president? And more specifically, are you exploring any actions, sanctions or otherwise, against officials or Lebanese leaders who’ve obstructed this?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to comment on any future actions we may or may not take. I will say we welcomed the vote yesterday but are concerned that members of the parliament left the chamber to prevent further rounds of voting, to deny a quorum. After more than seven months without a president, the Lebanese people deserve more than a single vote. We believe, as we have said before, that they urgently need a president who can act in IMF – enact reforms to unlock IMF support, and for this to happen, parliament must continue holding electoral sessions in the coming days and weeks to get that job done.

QUESTION: So your specific response is you’re concerned, but are you having any engagements to try to sort of help unblock that situation?

MR MILLER: I will say – so we have been engaged on this issue for some time, but ultimately, this is – the political paralysis in Lebanon is an issue that the – that Lebanese leaders must resolve. That’s why we’ve urged them to continue to meet to work on this. They’ve been stalemated for some time. We believe that Lebanon’s leaders and their elites must stop putting their own interests and ambitions above the people of their country.

QUESTION: On Iran, would you still describe the State Department position on the nuclear deal as it being not on the agenda right now?

MR MILLER: I would say that, as I said yesterday, rumours about a nuclear deal, interim or otherwise, are false and misleading. Our position on the question has not changed. We believe – our number one policy is ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon, so of course we’ve been watching Iran’s enrichment activities. We believe diplomacy is the best path to help achieve that, but we’re preparing for all possible options and contingencies.

QUESTION: But in months past, you’ve said it’s not on the agenda for discussion. This building has said that repeatedly. Is it now back on the agenda for discussion?

MR MILLER: I will say we have at all times believed that diplomacy is the best path forward. At the same time, we are not naive about Iran’s ambitions and Iran’s activities, but we have always believed at every step of the way that diplomacy is the best path forward for preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. But for the United States, all options are on the table.

QUESTION: And then on the issue of the detainees, are they being approached separately from the nuclear deal, or have they now been linked?

MR MILLER:  I will say with respect to detainees, it continues to be one of our top priorities. I unfortunately don’t have an update to share about the status of detainees. We remain committed to securing the freedom of all Americans held overseas, including in Iran, and once again call on Iran to release any detainees.

 QUESTION: Secretary Assistant Barbara Leaf said Bahrain is likely to resume relations with Iran soon. Is that – do you support that? Did Bahrain consult with you or did you – do you support that step from your ally Bahrain?

MR MILLER: I’m sorry, can you – can you provide me the full quote that the assistant secretary said?

QUESTION: Secretary Assistant Barbara Leaf reported as saying that it is likely that Bahrain will resume relationship with Iran soon. First of all, can you confirm? Secondly, is – the administration support that step?

MR MILLER: So as a general rule, I want to see a full quote in context before I will comment on it. But I will say we have always encouraged diplomatic engagement in the region if that engagement can help constrain Iran’s activities.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Iran and Iraq, recently come up with an agreement, security agreement to disarm and move out the Kurdish Iranian opposition in Kurdistan region and positioning the IRGC on the border of the Kurdistan region. What’s your comment on this agreement and are you (inaudible) this is a good idea to address the refugee – political refugee issue in Iraq and also the Iranian security concern?

MR MILLER: I will say I don’t have any comment on it, and defer to the Government of Iraq to comment, only that we – that broadly we support Iraq’s stability, security, and sovereignty.

QUESTION: And there is a delegation from Iraqi Kurdistan here and they met with different officials from the State Department yesterday and the day before yesterday. What have you discussed with them? And how do you see their concern about the budget bill that they think that this may put the agreement between Erbil and Baghdad into a huge risk?

MR MILLER: I will say we have a close partnership with the KRG, and KRG Minister of Interior Rebar Ahmed is holding several meetings this week with department officials to discuss a wide range of topics that fall within his important portfolio. Some of the issues we expect to be discussed include issues related to the conflict in Syria and human rights practices.

QUESTION:  Outside many Iranians are demonstrating, and they are asking for the freedom of the Iranian woman, because women in Iran are under attack because of their outspoken views about the freedom and press of the freedom and humanitarians. What comments do you think you have for them, and any message as far as Women’s International Day and all that?

MR MILLER: So I will say that we always value the opportunity to hear what members of the Iranian American community and civil society representatives have to say about the situation in Iran. Obviously, we have been outspoken about the treatment of women in Iran. We’ve been outspoken about the crackdowns on protests in Iran, and we will continue to make our views clear.

QUESTION: How dangerous is China as far as the U.S. national security is concerned today?

MR MILLER: I will say we have a multifaceted relationship with China. There are some areas in China where we obviously compete. There are other areas where we have issues that – where we have strong disagreements, and there are other issues – I said in my opening remarks – multilateral issues where we see the ability to potentially cooperate. And all of those issues are things that the Secretary hopes to discuss on his trip over the weekend.

QUESTION: You think we can bring China on the table not to support Russia as far as Ukraine war is concerned?

MR MILLER: I will say I would fully expect that topic to be part of the discussions on this visit.

 QUESTION: Can I go to Bangladesh?


QUESTION:  For the new visa policy about Bangladesh to ensure free and fair election, the ruling party, prime minister and opposition, both appreciate it and welcome this. Just to make here one fact check that opposition party general secretary, Fakhrul Islam, declared, day before yesterday, there will be no election in BD – in Bangladesh – without any caretaker government. Could the statement by BNP General Secretary Fakhrul Islam suggesting that election will not take place without a caretaker government in Bangladesh be interpreted as an indication of potential obstruction of election in accordance with the U.S. visa policy for Bangladesh?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to that specifically other than to say that the United States is committed to the promotion of democracy and fair elections all over the world. That of course includes in Bangladesh. Democracy is the most enduring means to advance peace, prosperity, and security. Promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms is at the heart of our – the administration’s foreign policy, and we have made that clear as it pertains to Bangladesh.

QUESTION: Thank you. About human rights, already two letter sent by the congressmen – six congressmens – to the State Department, also to the White House, and of course about human rights; that is a fantastic job that they are doing. Is there any way that the State Department do the – fact checked what’s really going on in Bangladesh in that matter, what is on that – their letter?

MR MILLER: I’m not familiar with the letter. We generally don’t comment on letters that we get from members of Congress. We respond to them back usually confidentially, but I’ll say, of course, any concerns that we have, we will continue to make known privately as well as publicly.

QUESTION:  President of Iran is visiting this week Venezuela and Nicaragua for cooperation agreements. So what opinion you have of this trip, and what’s your message for those Latin American countries who engage with the Iranian regime?

MR MILLER: So I would say in general we have been quite clear – I’ve been clear in this briefing – about our concerns about Iran’s activities. And I don’t think it’s necessarily surprising that those two countries that you mentioned are engaging further diplomatically with them, and I think I’ll leave it at that.

QUESTION: Russian parliament today backed the idea of army recruitment of criminals to fight in Ukraine. Let me get your reaction to that? Also, if this is not the very definition of a terrorist state in action, then what is?

MR MILLER: I will just say that we have seen Russia continue to have to take very drastic measures after suffering tremendous losses on the battlefield, both forces – both of human costs and materiel. They continue to send young Russians – in some cases, not even young Russians anymore – into a meat grinder of their own making, which – the way the Secretary put it a couple of weeks ago. And the way to end this, of course, would be for President Putin to end the war.

All right. Olivia, we’ll wrap it up here.

QUESTION: The Secretary and others have been very outspoken about the time being now for Sweden to join NATO. We saw comments today from the Turkish president throwing cold water on the prospect that that certainly would happen by the time of the Vilnius Summit or in general. Do you have any response to President Erdogan’s comments?

MR MILLER: Yeah, I will say we will continue to engage with our Turkish partners on this question. We have been engaged with them for some time about it. We’ve had direct conversations with them. I was with the Secretary when we traveled to the NATO Foreign Ministers meeting in Oslo two weeks ago, and what we heard was the near-universal opinion in that room that it’s time for Sweden – it’s time for Sweden’s accession to NATO to be approved. Sweden has taken a number of steps to satisfy the concerns that Türkiye raised. They’ve taken steps even in the last few days to extradite members – to extradite officials that Türkiye has – whose extradition Türkiye has called for.

So we believe, as we’ve said for some time, that it – it is time for Sweden’s accession to be approved. We will continue to make that case publicly; we will continue to make that case directly to Türkiye. And I think it’s important to note that this is not just the United States making this case, it’s not just Sweden making its case, but it is the other members of NATO making it as well.

 (The briefing was concluded at 2:02 p.m.)