US State Dept Presser

State Dept Press Briefings -Aug 9, 2023

19 Min
<a href="">State</a> Dept <a href="">Press Briefings</a> -Aug 9, 2023

The US State Department held a Press Briefing on August 9, 2023 with spokesperson Matthew Miller fielding questions on a wide range of issues.


The Q-A on Pakistan and Afghanistan is tweaked to appear upfront.

MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. Start with some comments at the top.

Three years ago, hundreds of thousands of Belarusians from all walks of life took to the streets to demand change in response to Belarus’s fraudulent 2020 election. Their peaceful calls for free and fair elections and respect for human rights were met with – by brute force by the Lukashenka regime, which continues to carry out systematic repression of the Belarusian people. Today the Lukashenka regime holds more than 1,500 political prisoners, including individuals detained for exercising their human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In coordination with our allies and partners, the United States is today sanctioning eight individuals and five entities that enable Lukashenka’s brutal domestic repression and human rights violations and abuses. Additionally, the State Department is taking action to impose visa restrictions on 101 regime officials and their affiliates for their involvement in undermining or injuring democratic institutions in Belarus.

The people of Belarus have shown incredible courage and resilience at great personal cost. We commend Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya and the democratic movement as they mark one year since the formation of the United Transition Cabinet. Together Tsikhanouskaya, the United Transition Cabinet, the Coordination Council, and countless journalists, human rights defenders, and Belarusians from all segments of society continue to demand free and fair elections and a sovereign and peaceful Belarus. They have refused to give up hope for a brighter democratic future, and the United States will continue to stand with them.

With that,

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News. A couple of days ago, on the arrest of Imran Khan, you said there are cases that are so obviously unfounded that United States believe it should say something about the matter, and the U.S. has not made that determination in this case. So, what is it in Khan’s case that makes you think it is not unfounded? What criteria do you use to make that determination, if it is a founded or unfounded case?

MR MILLER: I will just say that we continue to believe that these are matters for the Pakistani people to decide. Our bottom-line principle is that we continue to call for the respect of democratic principles, human rights, and the rule of law in Pakistan, as we do around the world.

QUESTION: So Pakistani Ambassador Masood Khan called on the U.S. to engage more closely with Pakistan, as it continues to grapple with a host of threats including last week’s suicide bombing that killed at least 63 people. How can U.S. can help Pakistan counter the ongoing terrorism threat to the region that threatens both U.S. economic and security interests in the region?

MR MILLER: So, we deeply value our relationship with Pakistan, including our relationship with respect to counterterrorism. We have supported Pakistan through a number of pieces of assistance to help with counterterrorism, with other law enforcement activities, and we’ll continue to do so.

QUESTION: So, one last question, if you allow me. What is the U.S. role in stamping down terrorism in the region after 20 years of war in Afghanistan?

MR MILLER: I’ll just say, as I said, we continue to support Pakistan’s counter- terrorism operations.

Go ahead, you’re next.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. We have seen ups and downs in U.S.-Pakistan relations in recent past. What kind of confidence-building measures are being taken to avoid mistrust between these two countries? My second question is there is upcoming elections in Pakistan, we already spoke few days ago – will U.S. sending an independent observer to monitor the general elections in Pakistan?

MR MILLER: I’m not aware if a decision has been made with respect to sending observers. With respect to your first question, we will continue to engage directly with the Pakistani Government, as we do at a number of different levels. And we will continue to engage in people-to-people contacts with Pakistan, who we consider a close partner.

QUESTION: Matt, I don’t know if State was able to watch any of this pretty gut-wrenching testimony from these Gold Star families earlier this week of the 13 servicemembers that were killed in Afghanistan two years ago now. They had a lot of accusations against the Biden administration, particularly the State Department. They felt like the administration botched this withdrawal, that they then tried to cover it up, and that they feel that they haven’t been explained to properly in terms of what led to the decisions that were made that ultimately led to this fatal blast. What’s State’s response to that?

MR MILLER: I will say that obviously our hearts go out to those family members. I cannot begin to imagine the tragedies that they have suffered, and they will always be in our thoughts, and we will hold the great – deepest sympathy for them.

With respect to the decision-making that went into the withdrawal from Afghanistan, that’s something that we’ve spoken to a number of times.

QUESTION: Do you still believe that this was a success? Because they have a real hard time when the administration calls this withdrawal a success. Do you still believe it was a success?

MR MILLER: We believe it was the correct policy choice. But again. But again, I would never want to quibble with a family member who has suffered such an enormous tragedy.

QUESTION: You guys have put out the AAR – or at least a redacted, unclassified version of the AAR – and shown the HFAC the dissent cable, and I think the response to that. In your guys’ minds, is this a done deal? Is there anything more they’re apparently still looking for more, the committee is looking, and potentially the families. I’m not aware of this testimony. But are you guys –

MR MILLER: I’m not aware –

QUESTION: In terms of the State Department, you guys think that you put out everything that there is?

MR MILLER: So, I’m not aware of the latest status of discussions with the committee or what their latest asks are. I know that they made a number of additional asks. But we’ve been engaged in a back-and-forth with them, and I’m not sure where we are, where that stands right now. I haven’t checked in on it in some time.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, do you think, though, that they should be satisfied? They and – the committee and the families of the 13 should be satisfied with what has been released thus far?

MR MILLER: Again – again, I’m reluctant to speak about this in detail, not knowing what the latest status of the discussions with the committee are.

QUESTION: Yeah, I know. But do you think that you’ve fulfilled your obligations or your commitments to being transparent about what happened?

MR MILLER: I believe we’ve been incredibly transparent about the actions this department has taken. But with respect to requests from the committee, I’ve seen a number of requests come in. I know we’ve been in discussions with them. But I’m not – I don’t want to characterize those, given that Congress is in recess right now; the discussions have obviously slowed down over the recess.

QUESTION: Fair enough.

QUESTION: Can I take you back to Pakistan?


QUESTION: The cipher cable supposedly that’s been reported. Just – I know you’ve had some on-record comments on this, but I wanted to ask you about the veracity of the comments. It’s obviously a Pakistani document. Does the United States generally think that what was reported there was accurate?

MR MILLER: So, a few things. One, yes, it’s a report – reported to be a Pakistani document. I can’t speak to whether it is an actual Pakistani document or not; just simply don’t know. With respect to the comments that were reported, I’m not going to speak to private diplomatic exchanges other than to say that, even if those comments were accurate as reported, they in no way show the United States taking a position on who the leader of Pakistan ought to be. We express concern privately to the Government of Pakistan, as we express concern publicly, about the visit of then-Prime Minister Khan to Moscow on the very day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We made that concern quite clear.

But as the former Pakistani ambassador to the United States himself has stated, the allegations that the United States has interfered in internal decisions about the leadership of Pakistan are false. As we’ve stated, they’re false. They’ve always been false, and they remain false.

QUESTION: Just to pursue that briefly, the – I guess the money quote in that was saying that Pakistan would – or that Imran Khan personally would have continued isolation because of his visit to Moscow. Is that – can you explain that in terms of, I mean, if we take that as given that that was an accurate comment, what that meant?

MR MILLER: So, without stipulating whether it’s an accurate comment or not, if you take all of the comments in context that were reported in that – in that purported cable, I think what they show is the United States Government expressing concern about the policy choices that the prime minister was taking. It is not in any way the United States Government expressing a preference on who the leadership of Pakistan ought to be.

QUESTION: Well, but Matt, just – you can – they – I think what I’m hearing is that essentially the substance of this report and the purported Pakistani cable back to Islamabad is accurate, but you’re saying that it – but it is not the U.S. saying that —


QUESTION: — Prime Minister Khan, then-Prime Minister Khan has to – should leave office. Is that correct?

MR MILLER: Close-ish. I cannot speak to the veracity —

QUESTION: Close-ish?

MR MILLER: I’ll explain what I mean by that, which is I cannot speak to the veracity of this document.


MR MILLER: What I can – let me just finish. What I can say – let’s even just – even if those comments were all a hundred percent accurate as reported, they do not in any way show a representative of the State Department taking a position on who the leadership —They’re commenting on —

QUESTION: But you can understand, though, perhaps – perhaps you can understand why other countries might think when the U.S. weighs in, even in a way like this, that it is taking a position on it. I mean, I can think and name, like, five or 10 leaders who the United States has sought to oust, including some that it has been successful in ousting, although not – only after military invasions. So, it’s not an unprecedented thing or – for a country to think that the U.S. is trying to pressure it into – or trying to make its views known about who it thinks should be the leader of a country, right?

MR MILLER: I will say that I can understand how those comments, number one, could be taken out of context; and number two, how people might have the desire for them to be taken out of context, and might try to use them to advance an agenda that is not represented by the comments themselves.

QUESTION: Okay. And do you think that’s what’s happening here?

MR MILLER: I think a number of people have taken them out of context and used them for political purposes.

QUESTION: Intentionally for – to —

MR MILLER: I won’t speak to intentions, but I think that’s what’s happened.

Go ahead.  

QUESTION: Just one more on Gold Star families.


QUESTION: I think these families feel at the very least – deserve some sort of an apology. Do you think that State can admit that some mistakes were made during this withdrawal?

MR MILLER: I will just say, as I said before, we express our deepest sympathy to the families, and I can’t imagine the situation that they are in. I would never quibble with any position that they take. We, of course – the administration made policy choices that we believe in. We executed those policy choices. We recently released an after-action report that details in – or that runs through in great detail things that the State Department could have done better. The Secretary endorsed the conclusions of that report. I would commend it to you for a very detailed read about what we could have done better at the time, but we stand by the underlying policy choice to end the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

QUESTION:  Just on Haiti, and the release of the two Americans. Do you have anything more to say than   the language that came out earlier today?

MR MILLER: I will say that we welcome the reports of their release. We have no greater priority, of course, than the safety and security of U.S. citizens overseas. We express our deepest appreciation to our Haitian and U.S. interagency partners for their assistance in facilitating for their safe release, and out of respect for their privacy, will let the individuals speak for themselves when they feel ready.

QUESTION: So, in other words, the answer was no, you don’t have anything to add to what was said before. But I’m just a little bit curious why do you open it up by saying “we welcome reports of the release,” and then you go on and thank the Haitians and your other partners for facilitating their release. Why can’t you just say yes, they’re out?

MR MILLER: That is a very pedantic quibble, but I think you’re right. We welcome their release.  Fair point.

QUESTION: And then on Niger, again, just any more detail on the amount of aid that has been paused, the specific amount of aid and what specific programs – I know that you went into this a little bit yesterday – and the situation of President Bazoum.

MR MILLER: No more detail on the number of aid or specific programs beyond what I said yesterday. With respect to President Bazoum, we are greatly worried about his health and his personal safety and the personal safety of his family. In all of the conversations Secretary Blinken has had with President Bazoum, inquiring about his safety has been one of the first things he’s brought up. It is one of the reasons that Acting Deputy Secretary Nuland wanted to see him personally, when she was in the country on Monday. And it’s a matter that remains of concern to us.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?  We actually do have his party saying Bazoum and his family were being detained under cruel and inhumane conditions with no running water, no electricity, no access to fresh food. Is the United States aware of these specific conditions?

MR MILLER: I will not speak to specific conditions. I think it’s hard for us to do from Washington, D.C., a long way away. But I have no reason to dispute those reports.

QUESTION: Reuters reported that there is thinking among EU that they can unveil some sanctions. I’m just wondering, especially in light of information about the conditions that President Bazoum is in, is that something that the U.S. is considering, may consider, if those conditions deteriorate or any other conditions?

MR MILLER: We are considering a number of different policy options, but I wouldn’t want to preview them from here at this point.

QUESTION: What avenues do you have left for that?

MR MILLER: We continue to engage with our partners in the region. We continue to engage with other governments; the Secretary has discussed a number of times with the French foreign minister. We continue to engage with civil society and NGOs in Niger to try and reverse and lead to a different outcome that restores constitutional order.

QUESTION: Can I just do a brief follow-up?


QUESTION: On the diplomacy. Your – of course, the Secretary met with the foreign minister of Algeria this morning. Algeria, as you know, borders Niger. Was there any substantive discussion about the crisis or any –

MR MILLER: Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten a readout of that meeting yet. I think we’ll have something coming out later ….


QUESTION: A couple questions on Belarus, if you don’t mind. I’m going to shift the topic. Before the human rights angle, there are reports that another Wagner camp is being built in Belarus. Ukraine confirmed it. Do you have anything about —

MR MILLER: So, we do know that some fighters in – some Wagner fighters are in Belarus. We continue to monitor that situation. As we’ve said before, the arrival of those forces in Belarus is another example of Lukashenka ceding further control and decision-making to the Kremlin, contrary to the interests and wishes of the Belarusian people. We continue to look closely at the actions that Wagner forces take against the interests of the country that – countries where they operate, and we’ll continue to take actions to hold them accountable.

But with respect to any specific reports of a new camp, I don’t have any comment on that other than to say that of course we’ve seen Wagner forces redeploying to Belarus. And as I’ve said, that’s obviously not an action that’s in the interests of the Belarusian people.

QUESTION: And what is your assessment on how Poland and other frontline states are dealing with increasing threat from Belarus?

MR MILLER: That Poland and –

QUESTION: Yeah, mm-hmm.

MR MILLER: I – we have full confidence in the actions that Poland, which, of course, is an important ally of ours, takes.

QUESTION: On human rights, back to your topic, can you assure Belarusian opposition, democratic forces, that the administration has done in these three years everything you can to support them? New sanctions on 100 regime officials are welcome, but why did you wait for three years to punish them? Are there other Lukashenka officials still out there —

MR MILLER: I don’t think we have waited. We have taken a number of actions over the course of the last three years to hold Belarusian officials accountable. We have spoken to this on a number of occasions; we have made clear that we stand with the Belarusian people, and the sanctions that we rolled out today are just the latest in a long series of sanctions that we have imposed.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. You may be aware that the Russian companies are still active in Iraq, and that there is a big issue between the U.S. and Iraq that due to your sanctions on Iraq that the Iraqi Government cannot pay the bills to Russia. And I read that since February, the Iraqi Government are in close contact with the U.S. Government to get some sorts of waiver to pay the bills to – that owed to Russia. My question is that have you waived Iraq to pay any bills to Russia? And then, notwithstanding with your sanctions on Iraq, but what’s your reaction to the Russian companies that are still active in Iraq?

MR MILLER: So first of all, no, we have not. We continue to implement all of our sanctions on Russia. There has been no change to Iraq policy vis-à-vis Russia. We have stood firm, of course, in opposing Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. And since Russia has shown no signs that it intends to de-escalate or enter into serious negotiations, we will continue to impose costs, including by reducing the amount of revenue it receives from its oil and gas sector. And finally, I’d say Russia has clearly demonstrated it is not a reliable supplier of energy and repeatedly using foreign – it has repeatedly used foreign dependence on Russian energy to influence other countries towards the Kremlin’s interest. But the bottom line is no, we have not changed our sanctions.

QUESTION: Are you going to put any restrictions on the Iraqi Government while they are letting the Russian companies to be active in their country?

MR MILLER: We will continue to enforce all of our sanctions, but beyond that, I wouldn’t want to preview any specific action from here.

QUESTION: This week, The Washington Post reported that China hacked into Japan’s sensitive defense networks beginning in 2020. Are you worried that Japan’s cyber security capability could slow the information sharing with Japan? And a follow-up: Do you expect that President will discuss cyber security at the upcoming U.S.-Japan-South Korea summit next week?

MR MILLER: So, we obviously saw those reports. I will leave it to the Government of Japan to speak to them specifically. Obviously, cyber security is an issue that we take seriously. We have encouraged both domestic U.S. companies as well as our allies and partners to take steps to strengthen their defenses, as we have taken steps to strengthen ours. And I would – without getting into specific previews of that meeting, which I will – for – to a large extent leave to the White House, of course, cyber security is an issue that regularly comes up in discussions with our allies and partners.

I said I’d come to Olivia next.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. As the Biden administration today rolls out these new rules limiting certain American investments in certain Chinese tech sectors, has this department engaged on the diplomatic front to understand the possible reaction or retaliation from Beijing?

MR MILLER: So, this is actually an issue that came up in our meetings in Beijing when – we had a back-and-forth, a very detailed back-and-forth with Chinese Government officials. And one of the things that the then-Chinese foreign minister objected to quite strenuously was reports that we would be imposing outbound investment controls. And I won’t get into their objections in details other than to say that they objected to those, as they have objected to our export controls and other measures that we have taken with respect to China.

And the point that the Secretary made clear in those meetings is that the United States has taken and will continue to take whatever actions we believe are necessary to protect the national security of the United States.

QUESTION: Sure. I mean, Chinese officials here – the Chinese ambassador here said publicly that this would be viewed as a provocation by the Chinese Government. So, have they previewed any potential responses in these recent conversations, either with the Secretary or more recent conversations?

MR MILLER: Not that I’m aware of, but one of the things that we have made – that we have made clear to them repeatedly in all of our engagements with them is that we will continue to say things and we will continue to do things – and by do things, I mean, taking policy actions that they object to. But we will do that because we believe it is in the national security interest of the United States. And we have also made the point to them a number of times that we believe it’s important that even though we will be taking these actions – just as they take policy actions that we don’t agree with – we think it’s still important that we have the ability to have conversations about our areas of disagreements, so we can make sure that the relationship doesn’t deteriorate; and so that we have the ability to manage through crises and manage through other situations.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matthew. What is the State Department’s reaction to South African politician Peter Mokaba calling for white farmers to be killed? And second, was the State Department involved in the release of those Americans from Haiti? Was there anything given, like sanctions relief, in exchange for their release?

MR MILLER: Sanctions relief to kidnappers? No.

QUESTION: To Haiti – or the government.

MR MILLER: No.  Obviously, we oppose violence directed at any individual group. But with respect to the specific comments, not having seen them myself, I’m reluctant speak to them.

MR MILLER: Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. North Korea is currently operating the Kaesong Industrial Complex, which blew up three years ago, and North Korea and China are working together to export product. As you know that machinery and product are under UN sanctions, do you have any comment on that?

MR MILLER: I – only that we will continue to enforce our sanctions and impose new sanctions when necessary.

QUESTION: But the military uniforms produced here are being sent to Russia. How can you see this, because they’re military stock?

MR MILLER: So, I’m not going to speak to it specifically other than to say that we will continue to enforce our sanctions. We will look for evidence of people who are evading our sanctions. If necessary, we will tighten our sanctions and we will crack down, using all the tools available to us, on anyone that evades our sanctions.

QUESTION: But you never said that the U.S. have additional sanctions regarding violations – North Korea, China, or Russia.

MR MILLER: I think —

QUESTION: Why not?

MR MILLER: Because I don’t make announcements from here before we have imposed a sanction. I don’t like to preview anything that hasn’t yet been imposed.   And that and that’s true with respect to every country in the world.

Go ahead.

Go ahead.

And Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Iran’s president has promised to bring down the hammer on women and girls who are not observing the mandatory hijab. Any comments?

MR MILLER: Yeah, we – I saw his remarks. It is our belief, as we’ve said before, that women in Iran and everywhere should be free to wear what they want. Iranian women should not have to worry about Iranian authorities using surveillance technology or any other methods to impose control over them. And the United States has and will continue to take action to support the human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Iran, including women – the women and girls of Iran, and to work with allies and partners to pursue accountability for the perpetrators of human rights abuses.

QUESTION: And then one on Taiwan. The island has been reporting that there’s been some large-scale Chinese air force incursions that have happened this week. What’s State’s reaction to that?

MR MILLER: I won’t speak to those specific reports other than that I will say we have always urged China not to take actions that would escalate cross-strait tensions.

 QUESTION: But just one quick question on Haiti, and the nurse that has been released with her daughter. Do you guys know where she is right now?

MR MILLER: I can’t speak to that level of detail just out of the – with respect for their privacy. And I think given the situation that they’ve been through, they should be the first ones to address – to speak to the media about their situation, not me from a podium in Washington.

QUESTION: Can or will the U.S. Government assist them in getting to the United States, if that’s what their plan is?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to – in detail to that question because I don’t know what requests they have made to us, but obviously we always try to assist U.S. citizens in foreign countries if they need help exiting a country. I would expect we would do so here, but I just don’t want to speak specifically to the situation that they have not yet spoken to publicly.

QUESTION: Okay. And then one quick question on the Wall Street Journal report today on the Saudi Arabia normalization with Israel conversations. They have reported that there’s an agreement on a path to normalize relations between the two countries. The White House has said that that’s going a little bit far. There’s a lot of conversations that need to be had before that path is agreed to. Can you just give us a status update from this building as to where you view those conversations at this moment in time?

MR MILLER: I will say that we’ve had productive conversations. There is a number of issues that we have discussed, both with the Israeli Government and with the Saudi Government. Those conversations continue. I expect there will be more happening in coming weeks. We’ve made progress on a number of issues. I’m not going to get into what the progress is, but it is still a long road to go with an uncertain future. But it is an important initiative that we think we should continue to pursue.

QUESTION: Israel’s national security advisor said today that they don’t expect any agreement to be announced before the end of the year. Would you concur with that assessment?

MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to put a timetable on it at all.

QUESTION: And then last question. The Wall Street Journal said that part of the conversations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia on this are putting pressure on the Saudis to distance themselves from China as part of an agreement to normalize Saudi-Israel relations. Is that part of this conversation?

MR MILLER: Not that I’m aware of. Again, I don’t want to speak to it in details, but from our perspective, the purpose of this agreement is to increase stability in the region and to normalize relations between the two countries.

QUESTION: Potential agreement.

MR MILLER: Potential agreement, yeah. (Laughter.) Thank you. I think I’ve made clear we don’t have agreement, but yes, in case anyone would take that out of context.

QUESTION: On a possible meeting between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov at the UN General Assembly, although it’s still a way, but maybe there is any preparation underway, and if there are any plans to have – to organize a conversation between them to discuss such issues as grain initiative?

MR MILLER: There are not any plans for a meeting that I’m aware of. I would never make any announcements about meetings this far in advance. But again, we think with respect to the grain initiative that Russia needs to return to the Black Sea Grain Initiative, as not just the United States has encouraged it to do but as Türkiye has encouraged it to do, as African countries have encouraged it to do. So, we’ll continue to make that case. I think our position is pretty well-known.

All right, let me take one more at the very back and then we’ll wrap for today.

QUESTION: Just also on Ukraine, Donald Trump is now clearly the runaway favourite for the Republican nomination and has talked about diminishing support for Ukraine significantly, and other Republicans have said similar things. Are you picking up concerns from President Zelenskyy and allies that perhaps the U.S. will not last the course, that – so they only just – Putin just has to run down the clock?

MR MILLER: So, I’m still relatively new to this podium, but one thing I do think I know to do is not comment about politics. So, I will refrain from discussing the first part of the question.

But with respect to our conversations with allies overseas, we have made clear that we need to do two things. One is to continue to support Ukraine for the battle it’s facing now, but then the second is to lock in long-term security agreements that will outlive any one administration, any one government, both here in the United States and among our allies and partners who have signed up for the same type of long-term security commitments. So, we are in discussions with Ukraine about what those security commitments look like right now. We are in discussions with the United States Congress about what both our current funding posture for Ukraine ought to be and what the long-term funding posture ought to be – and we’ll continue to have those conversations.

But I will say that we have – and I said this yesterday – we still have been heartened, despite all the churn about this question that really has been out there since the outset of this war – we have been heartened that every time we have gone to the Congress to look for more support for the Government of Ukraine, the military of Ukraine, and the people of Ukraine, Congress has always been there, and we expect that they will continue to be there.

With that, we’ll wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.

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

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