US State Dept Presser

State Dept Press Briefing – June 29, 2023

26 Min
State Dept Press Briefing – <a>June 29, 2023</a>

The US State department held a press briefing on June 29, 2023 with spokesman Matthew Miller fielding questions from reporters on a wide range of issues

MR MILLER:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Oops.  Let’s get situated.

Okay.  I don’t have anything to start with, so – Matt.

QUESTION:  Well, I don’t really have anything that I think that I can ask that you’ll have an answer to, but why don’t I try anyway?  (Laughter.)  What’s your understanding of the situation in Russia right now and with Wagner and Prigozhin, with the Russian generals?

MR MILLER:  So we’ve obviously seen the various reports coming out and the statements from the Kremlin.  We don’t have any independent assessment to offer on the status of Yevgeniy Prigozhin or any of the Russian generals.  We continue to monitor the situation very closely.  Secretary spoke of this at length yesterday, and I don’t have anything further to add to what he said.


MR MILLER:  Yeah.  Why don’t – Alex, we’ll come to you early, because I know you want – I know you have a pressing engagement.

QUESTION:  I appreciate that.

MR MILLER:  Try to accommodate you.

QUESTION:  We’ll talk about that later as well, if I might.


QUESTION:  Satellite pictures indicate that Wagner mercenaries found a new home in Belarus.  Is there any investigation on your end or anything you can share about your finding?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any assessment to offer about the location of either Yevgeny Prigozhin or other Wagner officials in Belarus.  I will say, as we’ve said previously, that the decision to welcome Wagner into Belarus would be another sign that the Lukashenko regime is siding with the needs and the interests of Vladimir Putin over the needs of his own people.  The presence of Wagner has never been a stabilizing operation anywhere that they’ve gone.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  And do you have any reaction to media reports that Wagner mercenaries will no longer fight in Ukraine because Prigozhin rejected a deal, a contract with Russian Defense Ministry?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any comment on the veracity of those reports.  I would say we’ve seen Wagner troops commit atrocities in Ukraine.  We’ve seen them attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure.  So were that to be true, we would obviously welcome it.  But I think, as always with statements that come out of Russia, that come out of Wagner, you have to take them with more than just a grain of salt.  We’ve seen repeated instances of them saying one thing and doing the other, so I’ll think I’ll wait to see – before we make any assessment of whether that’s accurate or not, I’ll wait to see the facts on the ground and how they develop.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible.)

MR MILLER:  Let me finish with Alex, because I know —

QUESTION:   I’m going to borrow a very familiar tactic from Matt Lee by asking – I’m not hopeful to hear anything new about the negotiation process, but – unless you want to surprise us, impress us.

MR MILLER:  About what?

QUESTION:  About the end of the negotiation process, Azerbaijan-Armenia.

MR MILLER:  So I would say that the Secretary himself is going to speak to this in just a little over an hour.  We believe that the talks have been constructive.  The Secretary is meeting this afternoon, again, both individually with the foreign ministers from both Armenia and Azerbaijan and then will hold a meeting with the two of them together.  And then he’ll speak, as I said, publicly at 2:30 or so to talk about how the talks have gone, and I would encourage you to head over there and watch his remarks.

QUESTION:  Any future plans to invite them back in horizon sometime soon?

MR MILLER:  I wouldn’t want to comment on potential meetings before the one that’s taking place now has even concluded.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Just back to Russia, would you agree with the comments of the EU foreign policy Josep Borrell this morning that said basically – the quote – exact quote was “a weaker Putin is a greater danger” to the West and to everyone else.

MR MILLER:  So I would just say that instability in a major country like Russia, a major military power like Russia, is always something that would be concerning, is always something that is concerning and something that we pay attention to.  It’s something we were watching closely over the weekend, and something that we will continue to monitor very closely.

I would add, as an addendum to that, that of course whatever the situation we will always take whatever actions are necessary to defend the interests of the United States.

QUESTION:  So does that mean you agree with the premise, that there is instability in this major country called Russia?

MR MILLER:  I’m not going to comment on Borrell’s comments.  I’ll just say that —

QUESTION:  No, I’m not asking you to.

MR MILLER:  I thought you were asking me if I agreed with his comments.

QUESTION:  No, no, no.  You said instability is a major in a – sorry – instability in a major country like Russia is always concerning.  So are you saying that there is instability in Russia?

MR MILLER:  I would say the events over the weekend were certainly not a —

QUESTION:  It’s not that difficult a question —

MR MILLER:  — hold on – not a mark of stability.  In terms of what happens going forward, I think it all remains very much to be seen.

QUESTION:  Russia.

MR MILLER:  Let me – yeah, Janne.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  The Wagner Group is doing independent activities in many countries around the world.  The Russia Government has direct control over the Wagner Group is in full swing.  Do you think Putin and Wagner Group’s new missions is possible?

MR MILLER:  I think there are a number of things that are possible.  I think the ultimate disposition of Wagner Group forces, whether it be in Africa, whether it be in Ukraine – and the leadership of those forces is something that we have not seen the – we have not seen the final chapter written yet.  Obviously there continue to be a number of reports out of Russia.  We don’t know the veracity of all of those reports.

I would just say – reiterate what we have said before about Wagner Group and that wherever it operates it leaves instability.  It leaves death and destruction in its path; it exploits local communities; it extracts wealth from communities.  And so we will continue to both, number one, encourage countries not to invite Wagner Group forces into their countries, and number two, we’ll take actions to hold them accountable.  But I do think it’s too early to say what exactly is going to happen to Wagner Group forces anywhere.

QUESTION:  Second question, members of the U.S. House Representative have sent a letter to the Secretary Blinken demanding that the U.S. and China science and technology agreement to scrap.  How he respond on this?

MR MILLER:  I am not aware of that letter.  I would want to review it in detail before commenting on it.

Any on – let me stay on Russia before – I’ll come to everyone, but, yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Russia or at least Belarus.  You’ve outlined – thank you, Matt – some of the diplomatic engagement that took part between the U.S. and Russia over the course of the weekend.  Can you say whether there’s been any engagement with the Belarusian Government throughout all of these events?

MR MILLER:  I will say that we – while we do maintain contact with Belarusian authorities both in Minsk and in Washington, I don’t have any updates to share on diplomatic conversations at this time.

QUESTION:  Can you say generally whether there were contacts this weekend throughout the course of the events?

MR MILLER:  I just don’t have updates about any conversations to share with the Belarusian regime.

QUESTION:  I mean, the governments of both Russia and Belarus have claimed that Russian tactical nuclear weapons have made their way to the territory of Belarus.  Has the U.S. at least verified any of those claims?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have an assessment to make on that from this podium.

QUESTION:  Do you know if there’s an effort underway to verify any of those claims?

MR MILLER:  I’ll just say, I don’t have an assessment to make about the transfer of nuclear weapons.  We have said before – and I’d reiterate today – of course we would see that as an unnecessary and inappropriate step by Lukashenko.  But whether or not it has been completed as he has claimed, I don’t have any independent assessment to offer.

QUESTION:  Wouldn’t that appear to be a priority, given also the potential of transferring Wagner troops who took part in the armed rebellion in Russia?

MR MILLER:  I would say that as always you should not interpret my refusal to comment on any matter as a lack of activity by others in the United States Government.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

PARTICIPANT:  Stay on Russia?


MR MILLER:  Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Just following up on an earlier question, you guys have obviously expressed concern about the potential movement of tactical nuclear weapons into Belarus, but given that Wagner is now going to have a presence there, do you have increased concerns about that possibility?

MR MILLER:  You mean because Wagner has —

QUESTION:  Yeah, because they could have a presence there.  Is that —

MR MILLER:  I don’t see – I don’t necessarily see a connection between the two.


MR MILLER:  They’re both – on their own – are concerning activities.

QUESTION:  And then just heading into the NATO Summit in Vilnius, can you just give us kind of a read on how you guys are thinking about what’s happened over the course of the last five days and heading into that summit?  Does it impact conversations regarding support for Ukraine and what that support would look like in any way?

MR MILLER:  I would say two things.  Number one, I’m sure the events of the past few days will, of course, be a topic of conversation.  How could they not be, which is not to say it’s a specific agenda item or you should expect any specific actions on it.  But we consulted with a number of our allies, including NATO countries, over the weekend about the events in Russia.

But I will say it does not really change our support for Ukraine.  One of the things the President made clear over the weekend, one of the things you heard Secretary Blinken say when he spoke on Sunday, was that as we were consulting with our allies and partners on Saturday – and it continued on Sunday and through the course of this week – one of the messages we were reiterating and that we were hearing reiterated back to us is the steadfast support that we maintain for Ukraine.

So as the Secretary has said publicly, we do expect at the NATO Summit to see a significant package of support, both political and practical for Ukraine.  I’m not going to get ahead of what is announced at that summit.  Those are leader-level conversations that are still taking place, and of course, will have to take place at the summit.  But I think one of the messages you will see is unity from NATO as you’ve seen since this outset of this conflict 16 months ago.

QUESTION:  And just one last question on Vilnius.  Do you expect that NATO is going to coalesce behind the next secretary general before or at the summit?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any updates on timing for that question.  It is – that is a matter that has been an ongoing subject of discussion among the allies, and of course requires a unanimous vote.  And we continue to talk through that with our allies about what that will look like.

QUESTION:  Russia.

MR MILLER:  Russia?

QUESTION:  Yes, sir.  Russia.

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  Go ahead, Goyal.

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.  Are you issuing any new warning – travel warning to Russia, whatever happened over the weekend and what’s going on in the country really?

MR MILLER:  Any new warning to who?

QUESTION:  To – any travel warning to Russia.

MR MILLER:  No.  I mean, I would say that we have made clear that with respect to American citizens not to travel to Russia, and we’ve made clear with respect to any American citizens who are in Russia that they should leave immediately, but I don’t have any other specific warnings to comment on.

QUESTION:  A question on China?


QUESTION:  A quick one.  Do you think China is spying on the United States?  Because there are now new reports that as far as balloon is concerned that China has been stealing the U.S. secrets and all that.

MR MILLER:  So I don’t have any comment on that specific report.  I will say more broadly that one of the topics of conversation when the Secretary was in Beijing, the topic of conversation with his Chinese counterparts, the PRC officials continued to object quite strongly to the export controls that we have imposed to prevent the transfer of sensitive U.S. technology to China.  And the Secretary made very clear, and he’s spoken to this publicly, that we will continue to ensure that sensitive U.S. technology that could be used against us is something that we will restrict.  We have taken steps to ensure that in the past.  We will continue to take steps in the future.  I am sure that the PRC officials will continue to object to it.  But as the Secretary made quite clear, we are not going to allow you to take U.S. technology and use it against us; and if you were in our shoes, you would do the same thing.

QUESTION:  And several people —

MR MILLER:  One more, yeah.

QUESTION:  — have been arrested as far as giving secret to China here in the U.S., including many Chinese or people who are connected espionage or giving this technology to China.  Any comments on those people that have been arrested here in the U.S.?

MR MILLER:  No, I am going to follow my general dictate about not commenting on law enforcement matters.

QUESTION:  Thank you, sir.

QUESTION:  Just to follow up on that —

MR MILLER:  Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION:  There is reporting that Defense and the Intel Community’s preliminary findings on this balloon that was shot down had American equipment, collected photos and videos, but didn’t transmit.  I know you can’t comment on intelligence, certainly not from the podium, but Chinese officials are warning —

MR MILLER:  Not from anywhere.

QUESTION:  Right.  But Chinese officials are warning that the report shouldn’t be made public or it would harm the bilateral relationship.  So what’s State’s position on making this report public?

MR MILLER:  I would say it’s a matter for the FBI.  It’s not for the State Department.

Any – we’ve moved —

QUESTION:  On Russia?

MR MILLER:  Yeah, we’ve moved – yeah, we’ll do Russia and then go to the other topics.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Former NATO chief Rasmussen recently said that a group of NATO countries may be willing to put their troops on the ground in Ukraine should member-states during the summit at Vilnius not decide to provide any tangible security guarantees to Ukraine.  Will the U.S. support this move by their partners at NATO?

MR MILLER:  I will say two things.  Number one, I think you will see tangible NATO support for Ukraine as a result of the summit, and that support will include U.S. support.  We just yesterday announced – or I guess it was two days ago now – announced an additional $500 million of security assistance, including security assistance tailored to the counteroffensive that is ongoing.

And then the second thing I would reiterate is that the President has been very clear that U.S. – that U.S. troops will not be on the ground in NATO – or in Ukraine, excuse me.

QUESTION:  One more question?


QUESTION:  On Ukraine.  A couple of weeks ago, the Ukrainian National Council on television and radio broadcasting revoked licenses of seven opposition TV channels in the country.  Do you have – are you aware of this?  Do you have any comments?

MR MILLER:  I’d seen the reports.  I’m not familiar with the underlying details and don’t have any comment on them.

Russia?  We’ve done Russia and China.  I would – any on those?

QUESTION:  Well, I’ve got a Russia but it’s totally unrelated to Ukraine, so I’ll pick it up at the end.

MR MILLER:  Okay.  Said.  Well, let me – Said, I’ll come to you next.  Go ahead.  You’ve had your hand up for a while.

QUESTION:  On Armenia-Azerbaijan.


QUESTION:  Residents of Nagorno-Karabakh say that they don’t have food, electricity, or gas, and Armenia is asking for security and supply guarantees.  Does the U.S. support that request?

MR MILLER:  I’m not going to comment on that specific request.  I’m going to say that there are a number of issues that have been up for discussion at the talks that are ongoing.  The Secretary will speak to those this afternoon, and I don’t want to say anything else to get ahead of that.

All right, Said.


MR MILLER:  Don’t give me that smile, like I was never going to come to you.  What was that?

QUESTION:  No, I just —

MR MILLER:  That was just like —

QUESTION:  I know you will come back to me.  I’m not going anywhere.  (Laughter.)

MR MILLER:  Yeah, that I’m also aware of.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Okay, great.  All right.  Very quickly on the appointment of Dan Shapiro that the Secretary just tweeted about and so on.  Now, he says he will be operating out of the NEA office in this building.  In here?

MR MILLER:  In NEA, yes.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So he – I mean, just to clarify of course, he’s not – he’s a special representative of the President or —

MR MILLER:  He is a special advisor inside NEA to work on regional integration issues.  So he will work to strengthen and deepen the Abraham Accords as well as other normalization initiatives.

QUESTION:  Okay, all right.  So —

QUESTION:  Not to the Secretary but —

MR MILLER:  In NEA.  He’s the senior advisor inside the – inside NEA.

QUESTION:  Okay, all right, a couple other questions on the Palestinian-Israeli —

QUESTION:  Whoa, whoa, wait.  Before you move on to that, so why not make him a special envoy?  Why not put him up in front of the Senate for confirmation?

MR MILLER:  We think he can all of the work he needs to do as a senior advisor.

QUESTION:  Yeah.  Is it not the case that you believe that a Senate-confirmed position would be – would have a stronger – stronger – more impact?

MR MILLER:  No, I think that you see a number of people inside this building from the Secretary to Assistant Secretary Leaf who work on all these issues.

QUESTION:  Who is Senate-confirmed, who is Senate-confirmed —

MR MILLER:  My point was there are a number of Senate-confirmed officials already working on this.  The Secretary just had a trip to Saudi Arabia where we talked about normalization, raised it with Saudi officials.  And we don’t think that – we think he can perform all the duties he needs to perform to advance the agenda as the senior advisor.

QUESTION:  And you would also prefer not to have a spectacle in front of the Foreign Relations Committee with him testifying at a confirmation hearing?

MR MILLER:  I just don’t think —

QUESTION:  Is that also correct?

MR MILLER:  I just don’t think it’s necessary.

QUESTION:  Well, it might not be necessary, but –

MR MILLER:  What I mean – I mean the Senate-confirmed piece is – I don’t think is necessary.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Could we —

QUESTION:  Could I follow up on that?

MR MILLER:  With Said’s indulgence; you jumped the line.

QUESTION:  On Shapiro?  Go ahead.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Is his appointment a recognition at all that things are not moving forward on regional integration?  And what do you see as the reason for that?

MR MILLER:  No, not at all.  It’s a recognition that adding another senior advisor to the department to work on this portfolio particularly would be a value add.  The Secretary has been involved in this personally.  He obviously attended the first Negev Forum meeting.  We were just in Saudi Arabia several weeks ago, and then he had a follow-up conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu about further integration.  It is a priority.  We recognize the difficult issues that are in play in making this happen with a number of countries.  But if we were giving up on this, if it wasn’t a priority for us, if it wasn’t something that we thought was possible, we wouldn’t be adding new staff to work on it.

QUESTION:  Thanks.  I have two more questions on Israel, but I’ll let Said go.

MR MILLER:  All right, who else wanted a – just kidding, Said.  Go ahead.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  By the way, I mean, on normalization, our colleague Andrea did an interview with the Saudi ambassador, Princess Bandar, Reema bint Bandar, and she told her that they are not going to normalize unless there is a Palestinian-Israeli peace of some sort.  But that’s a side issue.

MR MILLER:  I think you saw the Secretary spoke to this more broadly yesterday.

QUESTION:  Right, okay.  All right.  Now, I wanted to ask you about the meeting that took place between Palestinians and Israelis to calm the situation down.  And my question has – was there any American involved in these meetings?  Was General Fenzel, for instance, the security coordinator, involved in these?

MR MILLER:  So these were calls directly between Israelis and Palestinians.  We believe direct contacts between the parties such as this are helpful to help de-escalate tensions and strengthen communication.  As you know, we have private conversations with both the Palestinian Authority and with the Israeli Government, but I don’t have any specific conversations to read out.

QUESTION:  A couple more.  On a Palestinian family that is getting ready to be evicted from East Jerusalem, Sub Laban family.  I wonder if you’re aware of this issue and if you have any comment on that, because remember when this happened in Sheikh Jarrah a couple of years ago, all hell broke loose.  So –

MR MILLER:  Let me just say that we have been clear that it is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution, and that certainly includes the demolitions and evictions of families from homes in East Jerusalem in which they’ve lived for generations.

QUESTION:  So you urge the Israelis not to evict the Sub Laban family on July 13?

MR MILLER:  I will just say that we have certainly urged them not to take those types of steps.

QUESTION:  And lastly, the Israeli prime minister said that judicial overhaul is moving ahead without override clause.  Would that be satisfactory to this administration that has taken a very strong stance against the judicial law?

MR MILLER:  So I don’t want to speak to that specific proposal.  I will just say the President has been very clear on this, that both the U.S. and Israeli democracy are built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and an independent judiciary.  He has said consistently, both privately and publicly, that fundamental reforms like this require a broad basis of support to be durable and sustained.  And he has been clear that he hopes President Netanyahu – or, sorry, Prime Minister Netanyahu will work to find a genuine compromise.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

QUESTION:  On the —

QUESTION:  On Israel?

MR MILLER:  Yeah, let me – go ahead.  Yeah, I’ll come to you next, Michel.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  An Israeli drone last week killed three militant gunmen in the West Bank.  Surveillance drones are commonplace, but the strike by an Elbit Hermes drone was the first by the Israeli military since 2006, according to the IDF.  Is that something that gives the U.S. particular worry about escalation, and have you communicated any concerns on the use of UAVs to Israel?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any diplomatic conversations to read out.  I will say that in general we have urged parties not to take steps that would escalate the situation, but Israel does have the right to defend itself.

QUESTION:  Do you consider the use of drones escalating?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any comment on the specific use of drones.

Go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION:  Do you have any updates on the attack on U.S. consulate in Jeddah yesterday, who was behind it and what’s behind it?

MR MILILER:  We put out a statement yesterday, as I can share for those in the room.  There was a shooting incident yesterday outside our consulate in Jeddah.  There were two fatalities, including a member of the consulate’s local guard force, as well as the assailant, who was killed by Saudi security forces.

We remain in contact with the Saudi authorities as they investigate it.  In the aftermath of the event, the consulate was locked down, and we have – the accountability of all official U.S. citizen and local – locally employed staff has been achieved.  We of course offer our sincere condolences to the family and loved ones of the deceased local guard member.

And I will say with respect to the incident, motives or anything else, it’s a matter that continues to be under investigation.  The Diplomatic Security Service is coordinating with Saudi law enforcement, and I don’t have any updates to offer.

QUESTION:  And did you know who was the attacker?

MR MILLER:  It is an ongoing investigation, and so I’m not going to provide updates from the podium about that.

QUESTION:  And will the consulate open by next week after the (inaudible)?

MR MILLER:  I would say – I don’t have any updates about the status of the consulate.  I don’t want to speak about an ongoing security matter.  But if we – when we have updates about that, we’ll of course get them to you.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

MR MILLER:  I have missed you.  We’ll come to you.  I have missed you a couple times, so go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes.  Neria from Israel.  We heard prime minister’s – Netanyahu’s remarks today about the judicial overhaul.  He’s going through with it with a few changes but without a broad consensus, like you said President Biden did say that this is the one part that he really cares about.  How do you comment on that?  There is no broad agreement about it.

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any comment.  I’m not going to comment on the specific proposal other than the comments I made just a moment ago, which was to reiterate what the President has said.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And Secretary Blinken said yesterday that with everything that’s going on in the back yard of Israel, it will be hard and maybe impossible to achieve normalization with Saudi Arabia.  Did you get any messages from the Saudis, from Saudi Arabia about this issue?

MR MILLER:  Well, the Secretary traveled to Saudi Arabia several weeks ago and met with the crown prince and the foreign minister, and one of the issues we discussed was normalization and what it would take to potentially achieve normalization, which we continue to recognize is not something that’s easy to achieve but we think is important enough to work on.  So I won’t speak to those comments other than to say the – we generally won’t in our meetings talk about – we’ll talk about what we said sometimes, but we won’t generally talk about what the other side – but the foreign minister himself in Saudi – in Riyadh in a press conference next – standing next to Secretary Blinken made clear that he believes some progress on a two-state solution and some progress on the rights of Palestinians would be an important step for them.

And so the Secretary – as the Secretary said yesterday, he has made that clear to Israeli officials.  He talked with the foreign minister of Israel just in the last couple days and made clear that steps that take the two parties away from a durable two-state solution, that take the two parties away from peace, will of course have an impact on our shared goal of achieving further normalization.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MR MILLER:  Let me —

QUESTION:  Stay in the region?

MR MILLER:  Well, let me – can I come to you in a minute, just because I’ve – trying to get to someone who hasn’t —

QUESTION:  Yeah, over the incident of burning Quran in Sweden by Iraqi refugee, the angry protesters from Iraq, they stormed Swedish embassy in Baghdad.  What’s your comment on this incident?  And also, have you took any security measurements in your embassy in Baghdad?  Because they are preparing to do a large demonstration tomorrow and the day after tomorrow.

MR MILLER:  So I will say that the Swedish embassy is located outside the international zone where the U.S. embassy is located, and so as a matter of policy we don’t comment on internal security measures at department facilities.  But I can say that post operations have not been impacted, and the United States urges calm and calls on the Government of Iraq to protect all diplomatic families.

QUESTION:  And to the Quran-burning incident, do you see it as a freedom of expression or are you condemning this incident?  Because there is a lot of reactions from Türkiye, from Iraq, and from several Middle East countries.

MR MILLER:  I will say that we do condemn it; we’re deeply concerned by the act.  The United States of course supports freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly as elements of democracy.  We also support the right to freedom of religion or belief for everyone.  We believe the demonstration created an environment of fear that will impact the ability of Muslims and members of other religious minority groups from freely exercising their right to freedom of religion or belief in Sweden.

We also believe that issuing the permit for this demonstration supports freedom of expression and is not an endorsement of the demonstration’s actions.  More work to foster an inclusive environment for members of religious minority groups is needed, but I would note that the Swedish justice minister said Sweden has strong protection for freedom of expression and the police handles permit issues.  At the same time, the fact that it is allowed does not in any way mean that we have to support what is said.

QUESTION:  And do you think this – because Türkiye showed their reaction to this, do you think this will affect the negotiation between Türkiye and Sweden over the NATO membership?

MR MILLER:  I won’t speak to whether it will impact it or not.  I will just reiterate that we have been very clear, both publicly and in conversations directly with Turkish officials.  Secretary Blinken met with the Turkish foreign minister just last week in London, and we – this – we talked about this, that Sweden has taken a number of significant and important steps to respond to concerns that Türkiye has raised.  We believe those steps should be sufficient to address those concerns and that it is time to move to full accession to NATO for Sweden.

QUESTION:  Sorry, can I just —

QUESTION:  Sorry —


QUESTION:  What exactly are you condemning here?

MR MILLER:  The burning of a Quran.

QUESTION:  Okay.  You’re condemning the burning of the Quran and yet you’re not – but yet they had every right to do it?

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  We can both believe that people have a right to commit these acts and believe that they are deplorable at the same time.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And – but so – so you have no issue with the Swedish authorities, Swedish police granting a permit for a demonstration that was specifically going to do something that you find objectionable, but you still find the actual actions condemnable?

MR MILLER:  Yes, as can be true in the United States, where there can be – yeah, that’s – yes.

QUESTION:  No, I’m not – I just wanted to make sure I understood what you – what you were condemning.

MR MILLER:  Yes.  Exactly right.


MR MILLER:  Go – let me go to you first, and then we’ll come —

QUESTION:  All right.  Thanks, Matt.  The EU is reportedly considering maintaining the ballistic missiles sanctions on Iran once it expires in October, the UN sanctions – Resolution 2231.  Is that a matter of concern?  Would it possibly torpedo the reported talks between Tehran and Washington?

MR MILLER:  I will say we have made no changes to our sanctions with respect to Iran.  But Iran’s development and proliferation of ballistic missiles poses a serious threat to regional and international security and remains a significant nonproliferation challenge.  We will continue to work with our partners and allies, including the E3 and the EU, to counter the threat posed by Iran’s ballistic missile capacity, irrespective of the UN sanctions.  We will continue to use all our tools, including sanctions, export controls, and other tools, to counter the further advancement of Iran’s ballistic program and its ability to proliferate missiles and related technology to others.  And I will add that we will continue to raise our concerns, including at the UN in – and in other public forums, about Iran’s ballistic missile activities and the need for concerted action to counter them.

QUESTION:  So it sounds like the U.S. approves if the U.S. decides to go ahead with this decision to maintain this set of sanctions by the bloc itself?

MR MILLER:  I will say that we will continue to work closely with our allies and partners in Europe on countering Iran’s ballistic missile program, but we have made no changes certainly to our sanctions.

Now, Kylie, come to you.

QUESTION:  On Iran?  I’m just wondering, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity with the Iranians and Western nations in the last few weeks, and so I’ve just – I wonder if you guys have any status update on efforts to put controls on Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and who from the U.S. is the lead on those efforts right now?

MR MILLER:  I do not have any update on those efforts and will only say that it continues to be a matter that is worked on by a number of officials both here at the State Department and at the White House.

QUESTION:  And so Rob Malley is still the special envoy for Iran, even though Brett McGurk has taken a bunch of meetings on this recently?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any comment on his status, but Brett McGurk is – this has been always in his portfolio.


QUESTION:  Sorry, but —

QUESTION:  What do you mean you don’t have any comment on his status?

QUESTION:  On his status?  What do you mean?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any comment on his status.

QUESTION:  What – is he still (inaudible)?

QUESTION:  As special envoy?

MR MILLER:  He is – he is the special envoy.  Yes.

QUESTION:  Oh, okay.

MR MILLER:  Yes.  Sorry.  Sorry, he is – yes.

QUESTION:  When you say something like that, it makes it sound so – that’s like saying —

QUESTION:  So he’s still the special —

QUESTION:  — ah, yes, this Russian general – no comment.

MR MILLER:  He is the special —

QUESTION:  So he’s still the special envoy for Iran —

MR MILLER:  He is.

QUESTION:   — even though others are involved in the portfolio?

MR MILLER:  Correct.

QUESTION:  Okay, thanks.

QUESTION:  So why not bring him here to brief us one of these days?

MR MILLER:  It’s my job to brief you every day.

QUESTION:  I’m saying on the issue that he’s responsible —

MR MILLER:  I will note your request.

QUESTION:  All right.

MR MILLER:  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  On Yemen, do you have any update on the former employees of the U.S. Embassy in Yemen who had been detained by the Houthis?  Have any or all of them been released?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any update.  I’ve seen the reports – we’re aware of them – that some of the detained U.S. employees have been allowed to return home to their families.  If those reports are accurate, it would be a positive step that we welcome, and we would hope that they would remain safe and unharmed with their families.  We’re committed to securing the release of the remaining detained U.S. and UN staff and welcome the support from the UN Security Council and other international partners.  But unfortunately, I don’t have any confirmation of those reports.


QUESTION:  Mossad today revealed details of an operation that foiled a terrorist cell in Cyprus linked to Islamic Republic of Iran that intended to attack businessmen, Israeli businessmen, in Cyprus.  The information clearly links IRGC to a terrorist group.  Any comment on that, on the terror action of Iran on EU soil?  And also do you have any recommendation for your EU allies that label IRGC as a terrorist group, as you did before?

MR MILLER:  So I will just say, obviously, we have noted on a number of occasions Iran’s destabilizing actions in the region and around the world.  We continue to condemn those, we continue to counter them, but I don’t have any comment with respect to this specific report that you’re referring to.

QUESTION:  Okay, and when you were answering Kylie, do you confirm that Rob Malley is the special envoy for Iran?

MR MILLER:  He is.

QUESTION:  Well, I’ve got one more, but —

MR MILLER:  Yeah, go ahead.  Do this one, then come to Matt, then we’ll wrap up.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Matt.  I have two questions on UN report on child soldiers, if I may.


QUESTION:  The United Nations published its report on children and armed conflict, which is a 40-page report.  And the report says in the year 2022, thousands of children have been recruited by terrorist organizations.  First of all, what is the State Department’s comment on this report, which unveils verified information about recruitment of child soldiers, which is defined as a war crime by ICC?

MR MILLER:  Well, obviously we condemn the recruitment or deployment of child soldiers in any context.

QUESTION:  My second question is the UN report also say that the SDF/YPG recruited 1,696 children in armed conflict.  YPG and PKK also killed and abducted children, according to this report.  The PKK is a terrorist organization not only in the eyes of Türkiye, but also in the eyes of United States, NATO, UK, and many other countries.  So my question is:  Given the SDF is the U.S. partners in Syria, are you planning to hold the leadership of SDF accountable for committing war crimes?  And are you planning to sanction the SDF or maybe stop partnership with them?

MR MILLER:  I will not preview any potential actions on behalf of the United States, but will reiterate my earlier comment that, of course, we would find the recruitment and deployment of child soldiers in any context to be something that we would abhor.

Matt —

QUESTION:  I just wanted to ask you if you had any comment on the spectacle in Paris today with the UNESCO meeting?

MR MILLER:  I do not.

QUESTION:  You weren’t watching with – glued – glued to the – your eyes glued —

MR MILLER:  I was not watching.  I was – I was following updates.

QUESTION:  — as the Russians, the Palestinians, and the North Koreans objected for three and a half hours on procedural grounds to even adopting the agenda or —

MR MILLER:  It sounds riveting, but I confess I was not.

QUESTION:  It was thrilling.  (Laughter.)  I would like to know, though – because you guys do want to rejoin UNESCO and the vote will apparently now be tomorrow after this display that happened today – if you think that this kind of thing – three and a half hours arguing over the – literally the agenda – if you find that productive.  And is that the kind of organization that you really think that’s the – in the U.S. interest to rejoin?

MR MILLER:  I would say that certainly that does not sound productive.  But one of the hallmarks of a number of government institutions is free and open debate where everyone can come and —

QUESTION:  This is not a government institution.

MR MILLER:  Government and nonprofit multilateral organizations – is free and open debate including the right of all members to make parliamentary objections at times.

With that, thanks, everyone.

QUESTION:  Thanks.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:57 p.m.)