US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser – Dec 11,2023  

29 Min
State Dept Presser – Dec 11,2023  

US State Dept spokesman Matthew Miller held a Press Briefing on Dec 11, 2023.   The Q-A on Af-Pak region are tweaked to appear up front


MR MILLER:  All right.  Happy Monday, everyone.  Don’t have anything to start with

QUESTION:   I want to dedicate this question to my father, a journalist who started The Frontier Post 40 years ago from Peshawar who passed away two days ago.  Both the questions are dedicated to him.  Number one question:  Is Pakistan and Afghanistan – relations have – are going down.  Imran Khan even wrote a special letter about it from jail the other day, where he said that the relationship are going very down and the way Pakistan is kicking out Afghan is very disrespectful.  And my father personally played a very positive role in bringing peace during the civil war days in Afghanistan.  Just is the U.S. at all concerned about the relationship going bad? 

MR MILLER:  So, first of all, let me just start by offering my condolences to you.  I obviously didn’t know your father, but he sounds like an incredible man, and I’m sure it’s very tough for you and your entire family to lose him.  So, my thoughts are certainly with you at this time. With respect to relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan, obviously we support diplomatic resolution to all of the various issues between those two countries.  It’s something that we have been engaged on.  We’ve detailed the substance of some of those specific engagements over the past few weeks, and we will continue to do so. 

QUESTION:  Just one more – one more question about him.

MR MILLER:  One more.  

QUESTION:  One more question, just about his journalism.  So, the investigative journalism was something introduced in Pakistan by him in the mid ’80s.  And one of the stories that he has regularly been writing about – and I know the State Department does not take any position between political parties; you have said that many times to me, especially regarding cipher.  But regarding condemnation, the U.S. does not support corrupt and criminal leaders around the world.  That’s a clear fact.  

In Pakistan, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, three-time prime minister – The Frontier Post had published stories about him taking money from Usama bin Ladin to disrupt Benazir government.  The story was not condemned.  Taking state lands – story was not condemned or challenged in any court.  Sending money internationally, basically financial money laundering thing – story was never challenged.  At least condemn that, okay, the U.S. had no role in Imran Khan removal, but at least say something about that a Panama Paper convict has come back to Pakistan.  American – Pakistani Americans are upset at Biden for being silent about it.  They feel like you have brought this old corrupt criminal leader back into Pakistan, and are – he’s coming back to – so at least condemn the corrupt politicians.

MR MILLER:  So, I will just say with respect to that, especially the last part of your question:  The United States does not play any role in choosing the leaders of Pakistan.  We engage with the leadership shown by – or the leadership decided by the Pakistani people, and we will continue to engage with the Government of Pakistan on all these issues.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  Two questions about Afghanistan.  Taliban is still didn’t bring any change on their claim regarding Afghan women.  And President Biden last week, he was concerned about the terrorist activity like Daesh and other terrorists.  Any comment about that?  And, also recently, there is a report published that former Afghan house speakers under President Ghani’s government has been listed through by the U.S. Treasury.  And like him, there is so many people that they are involved in corruption in Afghanistan, as Mr. Afridi raised this issue two, three years ago, and he keep asking me.  Is there a – U.S. has a plan to blacklisted other corrupt people in Afghanistan and follow —

MR MILLER:  So, we have  taken action to designate former members of the Afghan parliament and their immediate family members, which renders them generally ineligible to enter into the United States.  Because of their involvement in significant corruption, The Treasury Department has also designated these individuals under the Magnitsky sanctions program for their extensive role in transnational corruption.  Treasury designated a network of 44 companies connected to them for their role.  

So, I will say that we will continue to take action to combat corruption both in Afghanistan and around the world.  And with respect to the first question you asked, of course we continue to be very concerned about the treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan.  We continue to be very concerned about the potential for terrorist activities in Afghanistan.  We’ve made clear that we maintain the capability to conduct over the horizon anti-terrorism activities.  And of course, we expect the Taliban to prevent Afghanistan from being a haven for terrorism, as it has been in the past.

QUESTION:    After the events of Friday – particularly the veto at the Security Council, the Secretary’s meeting with the Arab and Islamic foreign ministers, and then the emergency determination on the tank munitions to Israel – I’m just wondering:  Are you guys aware of how isolated you are?

MR MILLER:  So, I would answer that by saying every time we engage with one of our partners in the region and our partners around the world what the Secretary hears is the indispensability of American leadership, both in helping to resolve this conflict and bring an end to it that guarantees the destruction of Hamas and in planning for the days and weeks and months and years to come.

Now, that doesn’t mean that we have agreements with everyone in the region about the best way forward.  Obviously, we don’t.  There are a number of countries that have called for a ceasefire.  We’ve made clear that while we support humanitarian pauses, we think a ceasefire that would allow the leadership of Hamas that plotted and planned October 7th to continue to carry on in Gaza and plan future attacks is one that’s unacceptable.  While we have disagreements, ultimately that American leadership is critical both in this conflict and to broader issues in the region.  

QUESTION:  And you think that you’re demonstrating American leadership now?

MR MILLER:  Absolutely.  And that does not mean that we are going to agree with every country about everything.

QUESTION:  How about every?  How about any country?  Except for maybe Israel.

MR MILLER:  That is not at all – we don’t agree with Israel on everything related to this conflict.

 QUESTION:  But what happened on Friday and Saturday and over the weekend, you have one country that stands with what you’ve — 

MR MILLER:  So, I think if you’ve looked at the results of our diplomacy over the past few months, you cannot take any one piece of data – be it a UN Security Council vote or anything else, and say that that represents the sum and total of our diplomacy, because it doesn’t.  There are other things that we have done in working with the G7, with partners in the region, that we’ll continue to work on.  

QUESTION:  So, the bottom line is you are not concerned that you’re – that it appears the rest of the world, with the exception of Israel is angry at you and is unhappy with the position that the administration has taken, and that that is American leadership?

MR MILLER:  I would say that   this conflict has posed a number of obstacles for Israel, for countries in the region, for the United States, for the entire global community.  And so, we are trying to resolve this conflict – as I said, ultimately with a result that protects civilian lives to the maximum extent possible, that ensures that Hamas cannot rearm and refit and launch the attacks of October 7th again.  We’re trying to work on how to achieve a lasting, secure peace for the Palestinian people and the Israeli people and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and we are engaged every day from the President and the Secretary on down.  

And I will say that, even when we have policy disagreements – including sometimes very serious policy disagreements – every country that we engage with says they want to see America engaged.  They want to see America engaged both in helping to manage this conflict and helping to prevent the conflict from spreading, and helping to plan for post-conflict governance in Gaza and beyond.


MR MILLER:    I know that’s a long way of answering.  The point I’m trying to make is you can’t take a disagreement at the Security Council or a disagreement over pieces of policy and I think impute broader trends from that, other than to say that of course this conflict is posing challenges for every country in the world – is posing very serious challenges, of course, to the Government of Israel and posing very severe difficulties to the Palestinian people.  That’s I think the first-order question.

For the United States, we’re going to continue to try and stay involved, because we think it’s in the interests of the – Israel, the Palestinian people, broader regional security, and of course the security of the United States.

QUESTION:  Okay, last one.  You’re very fond of saying – you and every previous administration I’ve covered are very fond of saying in terms of numerous conflicts, almost every conflict around the world, that there is no military solution to this.  And yet your actions over the course of the last five days suggest that you think that there is or that the only solution to this conflict is military.  Is that an accurate reading?

MR MILLER:  No, I don’t think that’s an accurate – because I don’t — 

QUESTION:  So, you don’t think there’s a military solution?

MR MILLER:  Let me just me answer it this way.  I don’t think it’s an accurate reading because I think there would be other conflicts where we say there are potential military solutions.  We think the Ukrainian military repelling Russian forces from their borders would be a military solution to that conflict.  

QUESTION:  Right.  Well, no, yeah, but that you’ve always talked about diplomacy at the end.

MR MILLER:  Of course.  And there will have to be diplomacy at the end.  But as an immediate — 

QUESTION:  Diplomacy at the end with Hamas, between Israel and Hamas?

MR MILLER:  I was talking about the first conflict.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Well — 

MR MILLER:  With respect to this conflict, we think there can be a military solution to taking out the leadership of Hamas that planned and carried out the attacks of October 7th, in taking out the militants who crossed into Israel and carried out those attacks.  Ultimately, there is not a military solution to the broader issues between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people.  That is something that cannot be solved militarily.  It has to be something that is solved eventually, in our judgment, with the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. 

  Humeyra, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Hi Matt, I have a couple of things.  So, the – this administration, earlier this year, unveiled an overhauled arms export policy with increased emphasis on human rights.  Let me read this – your policy back to you.  Quote, “no arms transfer will be authorized where the United States assesses that it is more likely than not that the arms to be transferred will be used by the recipient to commit, facilitate recipients’ commission of, or to aggravate risks that the recipient will commit: genocide; crimes against humanity; grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, including attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such; or other serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law,” end quote. 

So just want to understand, given the flow of weapons transfers to Israel, is it the U.S. assessment that its weapons provided to Israel are not being used in any of the situations that I’ve just read out loud and are described in this policy? 

MR MILLER:  So, I will say that our expectation of every country to whom we provide military assistance – weapons and other assistance – is that they use that assistance in full compliance with international humanitarian law and the laws of war, and Israel is no exception. 

QUESTION:  Right.  But at the moment, you just told me your expectation.  However, there has been some results on the ground that we have seen.  So what is the U.S. assessment on the results that it has seen so far on the ground? 

MR MILLER:  So let me take that in a couple ways.  One, with respect to any specific – you know I get asked sometimes about a specific strike or a specific use of an arm – I’m not able to offer an assessment here from this podium.  I often don’t have all the available information. 

With respect to the overall use of arms, we have not made any specific determination of the type that you laid out in the intro to the question, but we have said we think there are more things that Israel can do to minimize civilian harm.  The Secretary talked about some of those this weekend.  We think there needs to be more predictability in the south for when humanitarian pauses can take place.  There needs to be more predictability in terms of the corridors that humanitarian – that civilians could use to get themselves out of harm’s way and designated time periods when those are protected.  There needs to be more predictability in those same corridors so aid can come in.  

And with respect to the use of the weapons we provide and with respect to the use of weapons that we don’t provide but that Israel uses on its own, we have been clear in all of our conversations with them that they need to comply with international humanitarian law and the laws of war.  We have been quite clear with that at the highest possible levels of this government and that – and we’ll continue to do so. 

QUESTION:  Right.  And the final thing is like the Secretary talked about the gap, and you’re referring to his comments.  Yesterday he, sort of, laid out like more pauses and specific humanitarian corridors for people to – assistance – for assistance to find its way.  But right now, we’re basically looking at a bit of a, like, societal breakdown inside Gaza in Khan Yunis, where even if the – even if there is an increase in the number of aid trucks going in, it’s simply not going to the people.  Have you – has this administration had conversations with the Israelis over the weekend on this specific challenge, and what assurances have they given you? 

MR MILLER:  Yes.  We have had specific conversations with them.  Our special envoy on the ground, David Satterfield, has had in-person meetings with the Israeli Government about these very issues over the weekend.  We had them at the highest levels of this department to make very clear that more needs to be done to get humanitarian access in.  

We have seen – so as you know, just to give it some context, we saw expanded levels of humanitarian access during the pause.  Part of that was that the Government of Israel was allowing more humanitarian access to get in through the Rafah crossing.  Part of that was because there was a pause it was much more easy – it was much easier for the enablers, the deliverers of humanitarian access, to move it around Gaza.

Since the resumption of combat operations in the south, we have seen the Israeli Government decide to let more humanitarian assistance in, which is good – something we support, something that we have urged them to do and have been gratified that they have done.  And there has been – the problem is now getting that humanitarian access not just through Rafah but then delivered to the people that – who need it.  And that goes with what I was laying out at the beginning, which is there needs to more predictability in terms of when there are pauses, where there are pauses, so civilians can get to safe areas, and so the humanitarian access can be delivered.

And I will say, we are laser-focused on that and have had ongoing, sometime nearly hourly, conversations with the Government of Israel, as well as, I should say, with United Nations agencies about how exactly to implement that.


QUESTION:  Matt, can I follow up?  You and the Secretary have laid out these additional steps you’d like to see Israel take.  But have you given them any ultimatum to actually take those steps?  Will there be any punitive measures if they continue to refuse to do so? 

MR MILLER:  So, I am never going to speculate about what steps we might take in public.  I will say that if you look at the totality of the Secretary’s engagements with the Government of Israel, on his first trip to the region – went to Israel, went around the region, came back and said to the Government of Israel, we need you to open Rafah gate to allow humanitarian access in.  And as you may recall, there was a big negotiation over that.  And ultimately, we got humanitarian access in.

On his second trip to the region, he came and said, we need to see humanitarian pauses, and was very clear with the Government of Israel that that’s what we wanted to see.  You might remember that the Government of Israel rejected it out of hand publicly; a few days later, started to implement daily humanitarian pauses of I think six hours or so.  We eventually saw those expanded to other pauses.  

We are continuing to engage with them now on things we want to see.  Last week, we were engaging them to get more fuel in, so you could run desalinization plants – so people get water, so humanitarian access could be delivered.  I think as you know, initially there was a reluctance to allow a certain amount of fuel in.  That level of fuel has gone up.

So the approach that we have taken, of conducting intense diplomacy and in some times having some very direct, candid conversations with them about what our expectations are and what we want to see done has delivered results.  Does that mean there’s not more to be done?  Of course not.  There is very much more to be – that can be done, and we will continue to engage with – in these conversations with them.

QUESTION:  But Matt, I mean, international humanitarian groups, these ministers he met with on Friday are saying there’s not time for this incremental approach, there’s not time for this to take weeks and weeks to play out.  So, are you putting additional pressure on them to say, like, this needs to be done in the coming days, the coming hours, as the situation on the ground has completely collapsed?

MR MILLER:  We do not want to see it take weeks.  We share those concerns about the situation on the ground, which is very, very difficult; extremely difficult for civilians right now in Gaza to access the food, the water, the medicine they need.  It’s tough to move around in the middle of a conflict.  So, we’re going to continue to have these conversations with the Government of Israel.

But – I haven’t said it yet in this briefing, I haven’t been asked yet in this briefing – I do want to reiterate that this is only a challenge because Hamas continues to embed itself inside the civilian population in southern Gaza, in Khan Yunis, in the very places where we are trying to get humanitarian assistance into civilians.  The reason it is so difficult to do all this is that Hamas will not vacate its tunnels; Hamas will not stop hiding behind civilians; Hamas will not lay down its arms.  

So, we always need to remember that the situation that Israel is operating in is really unprecedented in trying to conduct urban warfare in this very dense environment where you have an opponent who just carried out a brutal terrorist attack and is committed to carrying out more terrorist attacks, and continues to hide behind civilian – the civilian population.

Now, that in no way lessens Israel’s responsibility, and it in no way lessens our commitment to be very clear with Israel about what their responsibility is.  But I do think we have to remember that that’s what makes this thing so difficult from the beginning.

QUESTION:  I have one more on Israel, and one on a separate topic.  But photos emerged – I don’t think you’ve been asked about this at the podium – photos emerged last week of Israeli forces detaining, blindfolding, and having stripped down men in Gaza.  Does the State Department have any comment on this?  Do you think it’s appropriate for such images to be taken?  Do you agree with the Israeli assessment that these were Hamas fighters, given there are people who are saying these are normal civilians, family members?

MR MILLER:  So those images were – we found those images deeply disturbing, and we are seeking more information, both about the nature of the images and of course why they’re public in the first place.

QUESTION:  Have you gotten any responses from the Israeli Government?

MR MILLER:  We are seeking more information.  I don’t have a response at this point.

QUESTION:  And can I ask on a separate topic?

MR MILLER:  Yeah, of course.

QUESTION:  Alexei Navalny’s team says he has been missing for several days; they have no idea where he is.  Does State have any information on his whereabouts or what’s going on there?

MR MILLER:  We do not have any information about his whereabouts.  We are deeply concerned for Mr. Navalny’s well-being, after his lawyers have stated that they have not been able to contact him for almost a week now, and after he did not appear at his scheduled court appearance today.  We have communicated to the Russian Government that they are responsible for what happens to Mr. Navalny, while he is in their custody, and they will be held accountable by the international community.  We have repeatedly joined Mr. Navalny’s family, his colleagues, supporters around the world in calling for his immediate release without conditions and for the Russian Government to end its continued repression of independent voices in Russia who are subject to relentless harassment and intimidation for exercising their human rights.  And we’ll continue to follow the cases of everyone in Russia who has been illegally detained.

QUESTION:  Sorry, a quick clarification:  You’ve communicated that message to Russia, since the news of him going missing?

MR MILLER:  We have.  We have.

QUESTION:  And at what level was that communicated?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have a specific readout.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  I wanted to ask a slightly different version of what Humeyra has been asking about, and to specify that this is without regard to internal deliberations, specific attacks, any formal determinations the U.S. may have made:  Is the U.S. collecting any information about whether war crimes have been committed in Gaza by either side?

MR MILLER:  So, we are monitoring everything that happens in this conflict.  We are engaged in conversations with the Israeli Government.  And I don’t have anything further to say about our internal activities at the State Department.

QUESTION: “Monitoring.”  I mean, I know it’s a flawed comparison, but in the case of Ukraine and Russia, the U.S. was collecting information through open source and intelligence sources, and sharing those actively with allies and other organizations.  So, is a similar sort of activity underway?

MR MILLER:  I don’t think you can compare them, because as you say, it is a very different environment, it’s a very different place on the ground.  But I will say that we’re – not only are we monitoring, but we are in close contact, in close communication with the Israeli Government.  There are a number of times where we have sought information about specific actions that they have taken.  I’ve talked about that – about some of those from this podium; for example – or I shouldn’t say I did; the Secretary mentioned last week the fact the strike that killed a Reuters journalist in Lebanon, the Secretary said that we have communicated our interest in finding out what happened to the Israeli Government, and they’ve said that they are investigating it.  We think that’s appropriate, and we’ll continue to have those very direct conversations. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  Specifically on the question of war crimes, I mean, the U.S. believes, I assume, that there needs to be accountability, if it is determined that war crimes are committed, again, by either side. 

MR MILLER:  Of course.  

QUESTION:  And is the U.S. interested in being a participant and arbiter of this?  Or if not, is there another country or body the U.S. is interested —   

MR MILLER:  I just don’t want to address a hypothetical.  

QUESTION:  All right.  I have others that I’ll hope you come back to me.  

MR MILLER:  Okay.  I’ll come back.  Said, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I just want to follow up very quickly on the issue raised by Jennifer on the picture of the men stripped down, and so on.  You agree with the spokesman for the Israeli Government who said this is the Middle East, and it gets a bit warm.  That’s why they —    

MR MILLER:  So, I haven’t seen that —   

QUESTION:  You haven’t.  Okay. 

MR MILLER:  Hold up.  I haven’t seen that comment.  So, I don’t want to comment in specific because I – but I would say that is certainly not a sentiment that we would agree with.  We always have been clear with Israel about the necessary (inaudible) of acting in full compliance with international humanitarian law.  And that does require that it protects civilians and treat detained individuals humanely and with dignity.  

QUESTION:  All right.  I have a couple more questions.  The Saudi foreign minister suggested that the Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki was basically given a gag order that he could not speak in Washington.  Could you clarify this? 

MR MILLER:  No, that’s not accurate.  So, I will say – this gets a little complicated because it goes back to a law from —   

QUESTION:  Right.  Right. 

MR MILLER:  — 30 years ago at this point.  So, I think the first claim that was made publicly was that we had imposed a visa restriction   that prohibits him from speaking.  That is not accurate.  There is no statute in – or there’s no provision in U.S. law that allows the imposition of such a visa restriction, and we have imposed no such visa restriction.  There is a provision in U.S. law going back to 1987  – the Anti-Terrorism Act, that prohibits the expenditure of PLO funds inside the United States.  There have been waivers issued for that law in the past.  Congress has changed the requirements for the Secretary to issue one of those – to issue those waivers, such that they cannot be met under current law.  But in no way – I would say those – the provisions of that law all relate to the expenditure of funds.  So, they in no way limit anyone’s ability to speak.  

QUESTION:  Okay.  Just a couple of more questions.  You said that the stated goals – Israel’s stated goals, which you agree with, which is to end Hamas, defeat Hamas, change the regime in Gaza – however that – whatever that means and so on, and free the hostages.  Now, it has been 65 days.  We have not seen any Hamas leaders brought out, or killed, or named as such and so on.  So, you expect this thing to go for another 65 days? 

MR MILLER:  I do not have an expectation for how long this will go.  That’s for the Israeli Government to speak to. They have killed, and have been quite public about the fact   that they have killed a number of Hamas fighters.  

QUESTION:  Okay.  So, I mean, looking at the situation, this could go on for – conceivably, conceivably another 65 days? 

MR MILLER:  No, Said, I just said —  I wouldn’t want to speculate on the outcome, so I don’t think you can follow that up by adding speculation to what I’ve said. 

QUESTION:  All right.   Now, you also said that you want to see a resolution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict where there is a two-state solution and so on – all that stuff that the U.S. has always been stating all along for 30 years at least, and so on.  Now, today – today – the Israeli prime minister spoke to the defense and foreign relations committees in the Knesset, and he said two things.  He said, no Palestinian state, no to Palestinian state.  Under any circumstances, no Palestinian Authority in Gaza.  No Hamas, and so on.   So do you have any comment on what the prime minister of Israel, who obviously wields a great deal of power – he’s destroying the Palestinians to smithereens.  Do you have any comment on what he said?  

MR MILLER:  So, I think I said earlier in this briefing that we don’t agree with Israel on everything. 

QUESTION:  Right.  

MR MILLER:  And, certainly, this would be an example.  The Secretary has been quite clear on what our goal is for post-conflict governance.  The President has been quite clear that we want to see the Palestinian Authority reunite – reuniting the West Bank and Gaza, making clear we don’t want to see any Israeli occupation, making clear we don’t want to see a reduction of Gazan territory.  So, we have laid out the principles that the United States stands by, and we will continue to engage – not just with the Government of Israel, but with our other partners in the region about how to make those – turn those principles into reality. 

QUESTION:  So why not say this is the Palestinian state that we recognize?  It is – its borders are this, it is this, this, and so on; its characteristics are such and such.  Why not do that?  

MR MILLER:  Because we think ultimately this is best resolved by diplomacy and negotiations, which is what we’re pursuing. 

QUESTION:  All right.  

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  Would you say that under U.S. law that any individuals or entity or government that provide financial support to a terrorist organization is vulnerable to – or liable, rather, to prosecution by the U.S. Government? 

MR MILLER:  I don’t think I’m going to start speaking to any prosecutions by the U.S. Government from this podium – that’s a matter for the Justice Department – let alone hypothetical ones.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but you know for a fact that anybody who gives material support to a terrorist organization, you report them  you will accuse them of supporting this terrorist organization. 

MR MILLER:  I know the status of U.S. law about material support for terrorism, but when it comes to speaking about who might get prosecuted, who might get not, you understand that’s not something  that the State Department does. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  I’m just asking you a question because I’m sure you saw the Times report that the Israeli intelligence, with the approval of Netanyahu, has carried suitcases full of cash to Hamas, and the purpose was declared, and this is quotes, that basically this is the only way to prevent a two-state solution if we can only prop up the extremist Hamas in Gaza.  So, in this case, won’t the Israeli Government will – be liable for prosecution because they have  given financial aid to a terrorist organization that you list on your own State Department website as a terrorist organization?

MR MILLER:  Again, I am not going to speak to prosecutions from this podium.  It’s not something we do at the State Department, and it’s not something we speak to.  The Justice Department is quite clear about they’re the only ones inside the government that speak to prosecutions. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  You saw the UN report that Gaza – half of Gazans actually are facing starvation.  Apart from Hamas, which you blame normally, who else is bearing responsibility for half of the population that actually can be starving? 

MR MILLER:  So, I – what I think is that everyone involved in this conflict needs to do more to allow humanitarian assistance to get in and allow the people in Gaza to be able to move around to get access to humanitarian assistance.  Of course, there is – Israeli Government plays a role in that, partners in the region play a role in that, the UN agencies play a role in that, and the United States is actively working with all of them to try to increase the amount of humanitarian assistance that gets in for those civilians who desperately need it. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  And finally, you described these images as disturbing, and you said you’re seeking more information from the Israelis on this.  But actually, by definition, according to the Geneva Convention, if an army – which in this case these videos were released by the Israeli army filming a civilian population – we know some of them are civilians because some of our colleagues, including journalists, were among them – you take pictures of them and you put them publicly, that’s already a violation of the Geneva Convention and how you treat prisoners of war.  So, why do you need to seek more information when you can actually condemn this —

MR MILLER:  …all we’ve seen are the images, and as I’ve said, we’re seeking more information about both the status of those individuals, the status – the circumstances in those videos and how, ultimately, they become – became public, which is very relevant to the very question you asked.

Michel, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I have a couple of questions, if you don’t mind.  Did the U.S. first warn the Iraqi prime minister, al-Sudani, of harsh consequences if Iraq does not act to stop the attacks on American and American facilities in Iraq? 

MR MILLER:  So what I will say is that we have had conversations with the Iraqi Government, and that includes the Secretary, who traveled to Iraq several weeks ago to meet in person with Prime Minister Sudani, and then had a phone conversation with him a little over a week ago to make – to speak about a number of things, but one of the things he made very clear in that conversation is the same thing our ambassador has made clear and same thing others in the U.S. Government have made clear: that U.S. forces are in Iraq at the invitation of the Iraqi Government.  They are there conducting an antiterrorism mission that benefits the Iraqi people.  And we, of course, expect the Iraqi Government to do more to hold accountable the Iranian-backed militias who first were launching strikes against U.S. military installations and U.S. military personnel; and that as recently as last week were launching strikes against our embassy.   So, we very much do expect the Iraqi Government to do more, and as we have always said, we will take whatever actions we need to as the United States to defend U.S. personnel, defend U.S. interests. 

QUESTION:  And second, on Lebanon, Israeli defense minister has said today that Israel is open to the possibility of reaching an agreement with Hizballah if it includes a safe zone on the border and guarantees.  Do you have any comment on that?  Will the U.S. mediate between Israel and Lebanon to reach such agreement?  

MR MILLER:  So, I’m not going to comment specifically on that report or on that proposal, but I will say that one of our goals from the beginning of this conflict has been to prevent it from widening, and that of course includes from widening – northern Israel into Lebanon.  We have had conversations about that with the Israeli Government and encouraged – and said that we very much do not want to see the conflict from widening – for – that we do not want to see the conflict widen and have had conversations with other partners in the region, and we would support – I won’t say anything, but we would support steps that would achieve that goal. 

QUESTION:  And are you aware of any ultimatum that the Israeli Government issued to Lebanon or to the Lebanese Government? 

MR MILLER:  No, I’m not. 

QUESTION:  Yeah,  In light of a recent Jerusalem Post report about a UN agency, UNRWA, school teacher in Gaza holding a hostage captive in an UNRWA school, as well as teachers at UNRWA schools in Gaza praising the attacks on social media with ties between Hamas terrorists and the agency schools, is President Biden now willing to defund this terrorist UN organization, UNRWA?  And I have a follow-up. 

MR MILLER:  So, I would just say, with respect to that first report, we saw that report.  We sought information from UNRWA about it.  I would add that to our knowledge that report has never been verified.  Certainly, if that were the case, we would expect accountability for the individual involved, but I do want to speak about UNRWA specifically.  UNRWA is providing lifesaving work for Palestinians right now under very difficult circumstances.  We’ve seen – I think it’s more than a hundred UNRWA staff killed during this conflict while they are out trying to get food and water and medicine to the Palestinian people.  The work that they are doing is essential.  It is saving lives.  The United States continues to be the largest donor to – of humanitarian access to the Palestinian people.  We continue to support UNRWA for the work that it’s doing, and we’ll continue to do it because they are, I will say – as I said a moment ago – actually, they’re on the front lines, UNRWA staff, putting their lives at risk to get food, water, medicine to children, to babies, to civilians.  So, we absolutely support the work that they’re doing.

QUESTION:  Okay.  In light of that Jerusalem Post report of 100 Hamas terrorists confirmed to have graduated from UNRWA schools, what level of terrorist involvement with UNRWA will it take to motivate President Biden to condemn the UNRWA terrorist organization?

MR MILLER:  So we always condemn terrorism, and I think that’s pretty clear just based on what you hear me say from this podium every day, and what you’ve heard me say about Hamas since October 7th, but I do want to reiterate what I said about the lifesaving work that UNRWA is doing and how important it is that that work not just continue but it be expanded.  We would welcome other countries increasing their levels of support to UNRWA, because we really do think the work, they are doing is essential.

Go ahead.  Yeah, go ahead, Janne.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I have two questions.  First question:  Kurt Campbell, the nominee for the deputy secretary of state, said at the Congressional confirmation hearing that he has a sceptical stance on North Korea coming to diplomatic table to give up its nuclear weapons.  Then what are the other alternatives for the United States denuclearize North Korea?

MR MILLER:  I don’t want to speak to hypotheticals.  I will say that we will continue to encourage diplomacy with North Korea.  That has been our policy all along, but I think it’s safe to say that his skepticism is well-founded given that we have seen North Korea refuse to accept our offer to pursue diplomatic alternatives since the beginning of this administration.  And beyond that, I wouldn’t want to speculate about much.

QUESTION:  As long as North Korea is providing arms and ammunition to Russia, do you think South Korea should continue to provide artillery shells to support to Ukraine?

MR MILLER:  I just don’t have any comment on that.  I’ll let South Korea speak to its own decisions.

Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Just if you have any reaction to the Washington Post report that Israel used white phosphorous on civilians in southern Lebanon. And then a second question:  You mentioned in your – earlier in the press conference that Secretary Blinken referenced the killing of Issam Abdallah, and yet just Friday – or Saturday, was it – you fast-tracked 13,000 of the same shells that killed him.  So, is there, like, an incongruity to what the department is doing and saying?

MR MILLER:  Let me speak to the first question first, which is that we are concerned by the reports of the use of white phosphorous.  Obviously, there is a legitimate military use for white phosphorous, but that does not include using them on civilians.  It means that if you use them, you have to do everything you can to minimize civilian harm.  Anytime that we provide items like white phosphorous or really anything to another military, we do it with the expectation that it will be used for legitimate purposes and in full keeping with international humanitarian law and the law of armed conflict.  So we’re looking into this and looking for additional information.

And then with respect to your first question, you heard the Secretary speak to this yesterday.  If any of you were up early on a Sunday, or early-ish, you would’ve heard him speak to this and make clear that, look, Israel is engaged in a very difficult military campaign against a terrorist organization that says it wants to repeat the attacks of October 7th.  He decided that on this – on – with respect to this sale, this was a munition that they needed on an urgent basis, and so it necessitated an emergency authorization to provide those munitions.  But that does not in any way lessen their obligation to act in full compliance with international humanitarian law. And by the way, that goes for not just the munitions we provide them, but that the munitions that they procure from other countries or that the munitions that they manufacture themselves – they are – we expect them, and they should expect themselves to comply with humanitarian law with respect to any weapon that they use.

QUESTION:  Matt, just on the white phosphorous., this report today is not the first of its kind to allege that Israel has used white phosphorous in this conflict.  They go back to, like, I think October 13th.  You’ve never expressed concern about them before, which suggests to me that you didn’t believe them.  Why now all of a sudden are you saying you’re concerned by this report?

MR MILLER:  So, the difference with respect to this report is that the reporting, the story in the Post – and again, it’s a report; it’s why we’re seeking more information – purported that it was used, if not against a civilian target, had significant impact on civilian targets.  So that’s the – that’s the reason for —

QUESTION:  Back in October, in the first week of this war, when there were allegations from Amnesty and others that white phosphorous had been used by Israel in Gaza — 


QUESTION:  That you have no problem with because?  

MR MILLER:  So white – there are legitimate military uses for white phosphorus.  So —

QUESTION:  Are you – are you saying that there was no   civilian impact when these were used allegedly in Gaza?  

MR MILLER:  I’m – no.  I’m saying the specific reporting that we saw in The Washington Post is something that we were concerned about.  

Go ahead, Humeyra.  Yeah.  

QUESTION:  Can I ask a clarification on what you said about Issam?  Because I just checked Secretary Blinken’s comments from Thursday.  He says it’s my understanding that the Israelis are carrying out an investigation.  But I think you said that United States Government has actually sought information about the incident after our story has come out.  Is that right?  

MR MILLER:  We engaged in a conversation with the Israeli Government, and they told us that it’s under investigation.    

 Go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Different topic.  There’s some reporting today that some federal agencies are mobilizing to protect against cyber threats, particularly from the PRC, targeting or having a potential impact on the 2024 elections.  Was this brought up at all in the bilaterals in San Francisco?  

MR MILLER:  So, I’m not going to speak to everything that’s brought up in bilaterals, but you may recall there have been other reports of Chinese cyber activity previously this year – around the time that the Secretary was engaging in meetings with his counterpart Wang Yi.  And as we said at the time, we – Chinese cyber activities are something that we typically raise in our meetings with them and have done so for some time.  

QUESTION:  Can I – just directly related to that?

MR MILLER:  Yes, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Just because in recent reporting about Chinese military cyber actors embedding in some critical U.S. infrastructure, it was noted in that report that President Biden, in his bilateral with President Xi, did not raise that topic.  So, just specifically on that issue, has Secretary Blinken in his recent interactions raised what is now known to be a significant Chinese presence in some critical U.S. infrastructure?  

MR MILLER:  I just don’t want to give a specific readout about what are private diplomatic conversations, but this is an issue that we have raised on a number of occasions with the Chinese Government.  We have long been concerned about their cyber espionage and other intrusive cyber techniques.

QUESTION:  Can I go back for an update — 

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  Yeah.  

QUESTION:  — on aid coming in and Americans coming out?  Can you just give us, since it’s been a few days, the latest figure of Americans who have gotten out of Gaza and those still waiting to leave? 

MR MILLER:  Sure.  The number of Americans – and again, it’s American citizens, legal permanent residents, and their family members.  I know you know that, so it’s just for the – I can see you shaking the head, but I always have to give the qualifier just so it’s clear what I’m talking about.  

Over 1,200 who have made it out now, and there are somewhere around 900 who are remaining.  

QUESTION:  And to circle back on those reports of a potential American casualty, somebody who was waiting to leave Gaza, have you clarified — 

MR MILLER:  We still have not been able to confirm it.  It’s something we’re trying to do.  I had a follow-up conversation with someone today, trying to get more information and confirmed that no, we have not been able to track down any further details or confirm that in fact there’s an American citizen who died in Gaza.  

QUESTION:  Have you enlisted the Israelis in helping verify that — 

MR MILLER:  We have tried – I don’t want to speak to specific methods, but we have tried a number of different avenues to try to confirm whether this person indeed died.  The safety and security of any American citizen anywhere in the world is our first priority.  It’s our utmost concern.  We’re actively trying to confirm information and just haven’t been able to do so as of yet.  

MR MILLER:   we’ll wrap for today.  Thanks, everyone. 

(The briefing was concluded at 2:21 p.m.)