US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser, June 27, 2023

9 Min
State Dept Presser, June 27, 2023

The US State Dept held a press briefing on June 27, 2023 with spokesperson Matthew Miller fielding a wide range of questions.


MR MILLER:  Some brief comments before I start.

The United States is pleased to host Foreign Minister Mirzoyan of Armenia and Foreign Minister Bayramov of Azerbaijan to facilitate negotiations this week as they continue to pursue a peaceful future for the South Caucasus region. Secretary Blinken was honored to welcome the foreign ministers at the opening meetings this morning at the George P. Schultz National Foreign Affairs Training Center. The Secretary met both individually with each minister, and held a meeting with the two of them together, and emphasized in each meeting that direct dialogue is the key to resolving issues and reaching a durable and dignified peace.

The United States is encouraged by recent efforts of Armenia and Azerbaijan to engage productively on the peace process, and we will continue to assist them any way that we can to build on that momentum. Today was the first day of meetings that will continue through Thursday, and we will have further updates as the week goes on.

And with that —

QUESTION: That’s it?

MR MILLER: That’s it.

QUESTION: Nothing else? Okay. Let me just start by asking you if you’re aware of any developments in Yemen …..

MR MILLER: I don’t have any updates. We are monitoring the reports of the – regarding the status of detained U.S. and UN Yemeni employees. Obviously, we have been calling for their release and have been working our diplomatic efforts for some time to secure the release of staff and ensure that they are safely reunited with their families, but I don’t have any updates.

QUESTION:  Could we go to the Russia-Ukraine conflict? Belarus confirmed today that Prigozhin has come in to Belarus. First of all, is that consistent with what the United States thinks? Does the United States have any reason to doubt that assessment? But more broadly, what does this mean for the United States relationship with Belarus, and has there been any communication with the Lukashenka regime?

MR MILLER: I will say I don’t have any United States assessment to offer about where Yevgeniy Prigozhin may be, but I also don’t have any reason to doubt the announcement made by the Government of Belarus.

With respect to communications, I also don’t have any diplomatic conversations to read out. But I would say, as I said yesterday, and as the Secretary said on Sunday, everywhere that Wagner goes, death and destruction follows in their wake. He has been a destabilizing agent. And so the decision by President Lukashenka to welcome Prigozhin to Belarus, I think, is another example of him choosing the interests of Vladimir Putin and choosing the interests of the Kremlin over the interests of the Belarusian people.

QUESTION: … do you think he should be persona non grata – he, meaning Prigozhin? In the United States’ view, should the Lukashenka regime be welcoming him in?

MR MILLER: I would say in terms of  disposition of Yevgeniy Prigozhin, he’s under indictment in the United States. We would like to see him here standing trial for the crimes that he is alleged to have committed.

I will just repeat what I said, which is that the decision by Lukashenka to welcome him to Belarus does show that he continues to take steps not in the interest of his own people but in the interest of the Kremlin.

 QUESTION: Putin revealed that Russian state has been funding Wagner, and state of Russia has been engaging in terrorism sponsoring, obviously. Does it change the calculus on your end to finally saying it out loud?

MR MILLER: To say out loud —

QUESTION: That Russia is a terrorist state.

MR MILLER: Whatever you call Wagner group, I think what’s important are the steps that we take to hold them accountable. And the United States has taken   number of steps to hold Wagner accountable in imposing sanctions, in – as I said, indicting the head of Wagner, Yevgeniy Prigozhin. And we will continue to take steps to hold them accountable. I don’t think the label is important – is as important as what we do.

And I would say stay tuned. In the very near future, you will see additional steps by the United States to hold them accountable for actions they’ve taken.

QUESTION: Is that something this week?

MR MILLER: Yes, this week.

QUESTION:  I have two questions, China and Korea. And thank you, Matt. Chinese Government announced that its espionage law punishment for journalists, scholars, and businessmen to take effect next month. In particular, surveillance of photo media will be strengthened. What can you say about the fact that freedom of press and expression has become more discouraged in China?

MR MILLER:  I haven’t reviewed that specific law that you refer to, but I will say we have long expressed concerns about the lack of freedom of expression in China. We’ve expressed concerns broadly about human rights in China. The Secretary made those concerns clear both in his meetings with Chinese officials when we were there, and in his public comments before he left Beijing and since he returned, and will continue to do that.

QUESTION:  Is there any discussion of planning a visit by Foreign Minister Qin to Washington?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to get into the specifics that were discussed beyond what we said in the readout. But as you know, the Secretary, when he was in Beijing, invited the foreign minister to come to Washington. The foreign minister accepted that. We’ve had – continue to have talks with the government in Beijing about when that visit might occur and what it might look like, but we’ve come to no final determinations yet, or they have come to no final determinations yet about when that might be scheduled.

QUESTION: So – but this call, was it – I’m sure it was substantive, but it was – she’s step – she’s retiring in a couple days. Was this more of a kind of —

MR MILLER: No, this was a substantive – this was a substantive call. It was to follow up on the Secretary’s visit. There are a number of conversations that are happening at the – at the subcabinet level now about following up on some of the issues that the Secretary discussed.

QUESTION: ….. how can the revolt of Wagner affect the security strategy against the militias groups in Central Africa and in Mali?

MR MILLER: I would say, with respect to Wagner, we would continue to urge any governments who have considered inviting Wagner to operate inside their borders, who have considered security arrangements with Wagner, who have considered any sort of cooperation with Wager at all – we would continue to urge them to not pursue those arrangements.

We believe that everywhere that Wagner goes, they leave death and destruction in their wake. They hurt local populations; they extract minerals and extract money from the communities where they operate. And so, we would continue to urge governments in Africa and elsewhere to cease any cooperation with Wanger and not pursue any further.

QUESTION: So, in February, the French President Emanuel Macron, he described the deployment of Wagner Group troops in Africa as he mentioned, and I quote, “life insurance of failing regimes in Africa that will only sow misery.” Does the United States agree with this statement?

MR MILLER: Well, as I just said, that we believe that death and destruction follows in their wake. That would certainly equate with sowing misery.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I have two questions, but if you allow me, I’ll ask the third one.

MR MILLER: If you allow me – if I allow you, you’ll what, ask a third one? So, you have three questions?


MR MILLER: Fair enough.

QUESTION: ….. so my first question is that could the Secretary have saved the President from embarrassment on a state dinner with Modi when he was asked by the Washington – by The Wall Street journalist that the President was overlooking human rights violations in India? I mean, I’ve asked this question. So, the President was asked that, if he was overlooking the human rights violation in India.


QUESTION: And I’ve asked this question on this podium here too, that, like, it’s not about India. It was particularly about President Modi, that it deserved from your podium just condemnation of what has been going on in India for last few years.

MR MILLER: I will say – and I did speak to this yesterday – that the – we always raise human rights issues and human rights concerns at senior levels in our engagements with foreign governments. You saw the President in the press conference to which you are referring speak to human rights issues in India. So, we will continue to raise those issues privately, and we’ll continue to speak to them publicly.

QUESTION: My second question is regarding – there was an interview done of former Prime Minister Imran Khan by Voice of America journalists recently in Pakistan. And this briefing also has international state-owned media news – media outlets as well. I’m sure you are aware state-owned media outlets perform from certain international norms and decorum. The journalist asked former Prime Minister Imran Khan that do you still say that the cipher was a reality? And Imran Khan, while referring to Donald Lu, the assistant secretary of state, who had a meeting with the Ambassador Hale –said that, yes, the cipher is a reality. And so now it has become a responsibility of State Department to disclose at least the notes that were taken, because the ambassador and Mr. Donald Lu must have had somebody present in the room. Are you going to disclose those documents?

MR MILLER: We are really going down a rabbit hole here, I think. We’ve spoken to this before. I will just continue to reiterate that those claims are not accurate.  

QUESTION: Ukraine. Black Sea grain deal will be finished by July 18th, and yesterday UN agencies warn of impact if Black Sea grain deal ends. And at the same time, one of the senior Ukrainian diplomats said that they are sure that Russia will not extend that deal. Any coordination with Türkiye and United Nations from the U.S. side?

MR MILLER: I will not speak to private diplomatic conversations but I will say, as we’ve said before, that we believe the Black Sea Grain Initiative has yielded tremendous benefits for the world. It’s an important initiative to ensure that food continues to flow out of Ukraine to the parts of the world that depend on it. And we have seen Russia continue to make threats to withdraw from the grain initiative almost since the very day they signed on to the first iteration. And so we would hope that Russia would stop making these threats, that it would comply with the obligations it agreed to, and continue to allow food to flow.

Russia talks a lot about the Global South and talks about other countries in the world and its supposed – supposedly how much it cares about those countries. If it’s true, then it will stop threatening to withdraw from the Black Sea Grain Initiative.

QUESTION:  It was noted today that – it’s on Russia – that a special plane left Moscow this morning to Washington. There are speculations that it is for picking up Russian diplomats. What do you know about that?

MR MILLER: That’s true. It was to pick up Russian diplomats.

QUESTION: How many and any details about —

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to the exact numbers. I’ll let the Russian Federation decide whether they want to speak to the number of what are, of course, their diplomats. I’d say diplomatic personnel routinely rotate in and out of assignments. That’s what happened here. The U.S. Government allowed the Russian Government to send a charter flight to the United States to transport to Russia those Russian diplomats whose assignments have ended. And I’ll say we maintain strict reciprocity with Russia regarding special transport missions for diplomatic personnel and cargo, and we are maintaining diplomatic courtesies, such as this, for the Russian diplomatic mission. And in exchange for granting these courtesies, we expect Russia to maintain open transport for our diplomats and cargo to our embassy in Moscow.

QUESTION: Polish President Duda today expressed concern about the security implications for Poland and for the eastern flank in regards to the announced Wagner relocation to Belarus. Do you share those concerns and do you think that requires some sort of adjustment in posture or beefing up of the eastern flank?

MR MILLER:  I would just say that I would restate my previous comments about the impact of Wagner wherever it goes, and would reiterate that since the beginning of this conflict, one of the things that the President has made abundantly clear is that we will protect our NATO Allies. The President and the other NATO Allies made adjustments to troop posture at the beginning of this conflict to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank, but I don’t have any specific updates to share at this point.

QUESTION:  Are you suggesting that death and destruction will follow Wagner to Belarus?

MR MILLER: Well, we’ll see whether it’s Wagner forces or whether it’s Yevgeniy Prigozhin. We don’t have any specific assessment on that, but I would say certainly he is a destabilizing agent wherever he goes.

QUESTION: As we know, Wagner Groups are at least in eight countries in Africa. Can you speak a little bit about the work of United States in those countries where Wagner are conducting operations?

MR MILLER: So I won’t speak specifically with – to each of those eight countries or other countries where they may be operating. We’ve put out a number of information over the last year or so about   Wagner’s destabilizing activities in those countries and the implications of Wagner’s activities in those countries. The Secretary has spoken to it, and we have taken a number of actions to respond to Wagner’s activities in those countries, and we’ll be taking actions – further actions, as I said, in the very near future. Didn’t happen before I left the podium. This happened with the other announcement I previewed, but it’ll be happening very soon, and I’ll defer further comment to that.

QUESTION: So those sanctions or those upcoming actions that United States will be taking will be against the African nations or Wagner Group?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak specifically to them other than to say you’ll see the announcements when they’re made.

Thank you, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:01 p.m.)