US State Dept Presser

State Dept Press Briefing – Sept 26, 2023

13 Min
State Dept Press Briefing – Sept 26, 2023

The US State Dept held a press briefing on Sept 26, 2023 with spokesperson Matthew Miller fielding questions on a wide range of issues. The Q-A on India and Canada is tweaked to appear upfront.

Some Excerpts

MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. Full house today. Let me start with some brief comments before coming to questions.  

We strongly condemn the September 25th attack carried out by Houthi elements on the Saudi-Yemeni border that killed two Bahraini servicemembers and injured many others. This unprovoked attack threatens the longest period of calm since the war in Yemen began. U.S. officials from across our government have been in touch with Bahraini counterparts since news of the attack broke yesterday. We stand with the Kingdom of Bahrain, a longtime strategic partner of the United States, and we offer our sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the government and people of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. We wish those injured in this unprovoked and unacceptable attack a speedy recovery and return to duty.

We have worked tirelessly with our partners to de-escalate, secure a truce, and incentivize the parties to launch a Yemeni-Yemeni peace process. The Secretary discussed peace in Yemen in a number of his engagements with counterparts in the region last week during the United Nations General Assembly and emphasized that only a Yemeni-Yemeni political agreement can durably resolve the conflict and end the humanitarian crisis. We reiterate that call today.

QUESTION: Thank you. I wanted to ask you about the India-Canada relationship, what impact this is going to have on U.S.-India relationship.

MR MILLER: I made comments on this yesterday. I can restate them here, which is that we are obviously quite concerned about the situation in Canada. We’ve cooperated closely with our Canadian counterparts, and we have urged India to cooperate in that investigation and we’ll continue to do so.

And India remains an important partner of the United States. We work with them on a number of issues. But of course, on this matter, we urge them to cooperate with the Canadian investigation.

QUESTION: Canada has accused India of being involved in the murder of separatist Sikh leader in Canada. India is saying that Canada is a safe haven of terrorists. You are concerned about both or one of them?

MR MILLER: What I said a moment ago is that we have noted the allegations by Prime Minister Trudeau and we are quite concerned by them, and they are such concerning allegations that we think there ought to be a full and fair investigation. Canada has said it’s committed to doing that, and we believe the Indian Government should cooperate with it.

QUESTION: Has the U.S. seen those evidences, those information about those allegations?

MR MILLER: I am not going to comment on law enforcement matters.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News. It is about the killing of Khalistani leader Hardeep Singh Nijjar, who’s also the chief coordinator for Khalistan referendum in Canada. So what is the United States official stance on the Khalistan referendum in Khalistan organized by the U.S.-based education group Sikhs for Justice?

MR MILLER: Let me take that one back as well.

QUESTION: I have one more. Sir, India has labelled another Khalistani leader, U.S. citizen Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, as a terrorist and a most wanted individual. Do you have any comments or concerns regarding Mr. Pannun’s status and safety while he’s residing in United States? Mr. Pannun has expressed that he feels like the next target of the Indian Government.

MR MILLER: I don’t have any specific comment on that, other than to say, as the Secretary noted in comments he made on Friday, transnational repression would be a concern for us anywhere in the world. That is our policy. We have made it clear

on a number of occasions.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. So six months ago I asked Mr. Kirby whether Pakistan was providing any weapons to Ukraine, and he said he was unaware. Now Intercept has reported that Pakistan is providing some sort of artillery. Can you confirm that? And also, if you confirm it, then why has it been kept secret if a country is being an ally in such an important war of the U.S.? Why is it being downplayed?

MR MILLER: So we always let other countries speak to the nature of their assistance to Ukraine. We never confirm it on their behalf before they do. I think that should be for obvious reasons – let countries speak to their own matters – and I will abide by that policy here.

Yeah, go ahead, Michel.

QUESTION: Iraqi prime minister has said that ISIS no longer represents a threat to Iraq, and Iraq no longer needs the international coalition. Did you receive any letter from Iraq regarding this issue? And what’s your comment on it?

MR MILLER: I won’t speak to any private diplomatic conversations, but I will say that U.S. forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi Government on an advice, assist, and enable mission. In August, we issued a joint statement with our Iraqi partners underlining that we are there at their invitation and that we intend to consult on a future process inclusive of the coalition to determine how the coalition’s military mission will evolve. The Iraqi Security Forces are in the lead on D-ISIS missions within Iraq and have demonstrated increasing capability in countering this threat. And for more specifics on it, I’d refer you to the Pentagon.

QUESTION:   A senior Saudi delegation went to the West Bank today, and Saudi Arabia appointed an ambassador to the Palestinian Authority. How do you view this step, and is it the beginning of the reconciliation or normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia?

MR MILLER: I will say that we commend increased engagement between Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority. We see that as a helpful step; we always commend additional engagement in the region. And I would say with respect to normalization, obviously that’s something that we have been working on, the Secretary has spent a good bit of time on, the President has spent a good bit of time on. He spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu about this in New York last week. And one of the things that we have heard in our engagements with the Palestinians, and that we have communicated on their behalf to our Israeli counterparts, is that there will have to be a significant Palestinian component of any final agreement. The Saudi Arabian Government has made that clear publicly, they’ve made it clear to us privately. And so I wouldn’t speak to the outcomes of any meeting today. I’ll let the Palestinian Authority and the Saudi Government speak to that for themselves, but certainly that’s an issue that’s on the table.

QUESTION: And my final question on Iran. Iran’s foreign minister has said today that Japan has proposed an initiative to resume negotiations to revive the nuclear deal. Are you aware of this initiative, and is it coordinated with the U.S.?

MR MILLER: I am not aware of that specific initiative. I’m not sure what those comments reference. I will say, as we’ve said before, we believe diplomacy is the best way to ensure that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon. That position hasn’t changed.

QUESTION: Follow up?

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead, Guita. Follow up.

QUESTION: Thanks. Aside from this comment by Iranian foreign minister, there has been in the past few months a lot of talk from Iran about resuming nuclear negotiations, specifically JCPOA, picking up from where they left off last year. They’re talking about – the Qataris saying they want to get involved. They’re taking steps, the Omanis, and also the Japanese, as Michel just referenced. Are the pieces of the puzzle right now in place for any talks on revival of the JCPOA?

MR MILLER: Let me answer it this way, which is as I just said in response to Michel’s question, we have always made clear that we are committed to ensuring that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon, and we would prefer to address our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program through diplomacy.

As the Secretary has said as recently last week, however, Iran must take de-escalatory steps if it wants to reduce tensions and create a space for diplomacy. We have not yet seen indications, despite some of these public comments, that Iran is serious about addressing the concerns that we have, the concerns that other countries have about its nuclear program. I will say just in the last few weeks we’ve seen Iran take steps to undermine the International Atomic Energy Agency’s ability to do its work. So if Iran really is serious about taking de-escalatory steps, the first thing it could do would be to cooperate with the IAEA. We have not seen them fully do that.

QUESTION: Would the Biden administration be willing – is it – would it be open to holding direct talks?

MR MILLER: We have always said that we are open to diplomacy with Iran. I don’t want to get into what any such talks might or might not look like, but diplomacy, we believe, is the best path to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. We would prefer to pursue diplomacy, but as I said, there are a number of de-escalatory steps that we want Iran to take.

QUESTION: And those are specifically nuclear-related, not the ones that – like hostage exchanges?

MR MILLER: I could give you a long list of steps we would like Iran to take in terms of changed behaviour, but I’m speaking specifically with respect to the nuclear program right now.

QUESTION: Can I just have one follow-up to that?


QUESTION: So are you saying that unless those de-escalatory steps are all taken, you are ruling out having any direct or indirect talks with the Iranians?

MR MILLER: I am not saying that.


MR MILLER: Alex, go ahead.

 QUESTION: There’s some reporting today that the Iranians had embarked on this broad influence campaign over its nuclear program, targeting a network of academics, and some either were or became top aides to Rob Malley. Do you have any comment on that?

MR MILLER: I read that story, and from my read of it, it looked like an account of things that happened almost a decade ago, most of which involve people that do not currently work for the government. The one U.S. Government official I did see mentioned in that story – has written critically of Iran on a number of occasions before joining the government and underwent a thorough background investigation to obtain a security clearance before joining the State Department. She now works at the Defense Department. I’ll refer to them to any specific comment about her status, but as I said, it looked like a story about things that Iran was doing almost a decade ago.

QUESTION: Matt, can I follow up on that?


QUESTION: This person who, as you mentioned, is now at State – they were seeking direction and advice directly from Tehran, from someone who was affiliated with the government. As you say, it was almost a decade ago, but do you think it’s appropriate for someone who sought direction from someone who then passed her emails on to the then-foreign minister to then get a security clearance and work on Iran issues at the State Department?

MR MILLER: I am not going to speak to the underlying details when you see emails like this reported and you – from something that happened, like I said, almost a decade ago and are presented in a story where I don’t know the entire context. I will say I know that she has written critically of Iran a number of times in the past, and most importantly, any official who comes to work on sensitive issues and has to obtain a security clearance undergoes a full background check that is conducted by career officials. That’s what happened in that case.  She did work at State, now works at the Pentagon, right.

QUESTION: Yes, exactly. But she was hired by State originally.

 QUESTION:  On Iran, we know that two American Iranians who are Green Card holders are still in Iran and were not part of the deal in the prisoners exchange. Can you just tell us what exactly the process of designating somebody as wrongfully detained – till now – I mean, I asked this question maybe before but didn’t really get an answer to it. How do you decide that he is wrongfully detained?

MR MILLER: There is a careful process that is laid out in the text of the Robert Levinson Act that directs us to look at a number of conditions, including if this person is being specifically targeted because they are an American, because they – connection to an American, if they’re being treated differently than other likeminded detainees. It is a careful process that we undergo with respect to every detainee that’s potentially wrongfully detained overseas. The way we make that determination – just because we have not made a determination, say, today doesn’t mean that that determination won’t change in the future. That’s happened a number of times in the past because we get new information available to us that allows us to – that leads us to a different conclusion.

QUESTION: Are there any actual Iranian American dual citizens still held in Iran? Or any LPRs?

MR MILLER: There are. No, not dual citizens. LPRs. Citizens, LPRs.

QUESTION: Well, I want because the question is about Iranian Americans.


QUESTION: So are there any U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents —

still held, to your knowledge, in Iran?

MR MILLER: There are not American citizens who are still held. There are still LPRs.

QUESTION: Yeah. This weekend is the deadline for the Israel Visa Waiver Program assessment. And I’m not asking you to preview your assessment of it, but I wanted to know the process of how you’re reviewing and assessing the reports you’re getting from Palestinian Americans about how it’s gone for them, in terms of being able to travel freely or not.

MR MILLER: Sure. So along with the Department of Homeland Security, we have had a monitoring mechanism in place since we – since two months ago, when we launched this program to monitor conditions, to ensure that Palestinian Americans are able to travel freely, to make sure that they are not discriminated against. That includes talking to people who have traveled in and out of Israel and understanding their experience. And we take all that data and look at it, and it’s part of the determination by the Secretary and ultimately the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. We look at all that data in making a determination whether Israel is eligible for entry into the program.

QUESTION: And you don’t have a way to characterize it yet at this point?

MR MILLER: I don’t. But when we make a final determination, we’ll certainly be able to talk about the information that led us to reach that conclusion.

QUESTION: On China, Wang Yi said that China is willing to play a constructive role at APEC and said the U.S. should promote cooperation rather that provoke confrontation and show more inclusiveness – quote, “oppose advocating for democracy versus authoritarianism.” What do you make of Wang Yi’s remarks? Do you find them to be aggressive or hopeful that they will cooperate at APEC?

MR MILLER: I would find them largely consistent with what he and other representatives of the Chinese Government have said. I will say, for our part, number one, we will never stop standing up for democracy; we’ll never stop standing up for human rights. But that doesn’t prevent us from having conversations with the Chinese Government where we can both raise our concerns about human rights and talk about areas where we can potentially cooperate together.

The entire reason the Secretary traveled to Beijing this summer was to ensure that we could have open dialogue between our two countries, both about the areas where we have concern about PRC actions and activities, and so we can potentially cooperate on other areas.  So the one thing I would say that – where we would agree is that we would hope that we could have an APEC summit where we can find cooperation on a number of areas. But that doesn’t mean that we won’t have candid disagreements on places where we have longstanding areas of concern.

QUESTION: What do you make of him making the comments, period, after Xi Jinping was not at the G20? What does that indicate to you?

MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to try to play pundit up here. I do think they’re kind of consistent with comments that they have made on a number of occasions.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Two topics. Russia. Can I get your sense of where your department stands in terms of Russia’s seeking to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council? They were kicked out of that body last  April. They’re campaigning actively to return back. This is happening when evidence is building up about Russian war crimes – murder, rape, just to name —

MR MILLER: I would say I think we’ve been pretty clear about where we stand on Russia’s approach to human rights. The Secretary has been clear that we’ve seen Russia commit war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine. We’ve made clear that there needs to be accountability for those crimes that they have committed, and so certainly I think representation on a body devoted to human rights is not consistent with their actions in Ukraine.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Matt, good afternoon. Thanks for taking my question. This involved Jimmy Lai, the Catholic pro-democracy advocate who remains imprisoned in Hong Kong. And he’s now been there 1,000 days. Simple question: What is the State Department’s reaction to knowing that he’s been locked up that long awaiting trial?

MR MILLER: Let me take that one back to get you a specific comment on it. I’ve seen – before I comment on a law enforcement matter, I just want to check and make sure I have the exact status of where he stands today.

QUESTION: Along with that The Wall Street Journal wrote, quote, “Everyone in Hong Kong knows he will be found guilty.” This is referring to the national security law imposed by Beijing that he was arrested under. Does the State Department agree with that sad assessment?

MR MILLER: I will say we have expressed serious concerns about the rule of law in China. We have expressed concerns about their treatment of a number of individuals for either speaking out against the government or exercising their freedom of religion. We have very – we have – we will continue to express our very serious concerns about those matters. But as it retains – pertains to a specific matter, I just want to check on the status before I give a specific comment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Western Balkans leaders have called for NATO-led mission KFOR to take on complete responsibility for Northern Kosovo. What is the United States position regarding the proposal for NATO KFOR to assume a more substantial role and take full control of the Northern Kosovo to prevent further escalation?

MR MILLER: I think that I will, with respect to that, say that what we think is important is that all the parties immediately work in coordination with international partners to de-escalate the situation, ensure security and rule of law, and return to the EU-facilitated dialogue.

Let me take one more, and then I am going to have to break it off early today because, if you all aren’t aware, we are unveiling the portrait of Secretary Clinton in a few moments, and I want to make sure to get to that. And I know some of you do as well.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: So it’s been nearly a month since the release of the Fukushima treated water, and China’s seafood ban on Japan continues. Reuters released a report today that Russia’s considering joining China in banning Japanese seafood imports due to the possible risks of radiation contamination. Do you have a comment on that?

MR MILLER: We think that would be unnecessary and inappropriate. Scientific studies have shown quite clearly that there is no danger to marine life based on the release of this treated water, and we see these bans as completely unnecessary and with no grounding in science. And with that, I’ll stop for today. Be back tomorrow, and I’ll stay a little (inaudible).

(The briefing was concluded at 1:16 p.m.) # # #