State Dept Presser – Nov 20, 2023
The US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller held a Press Briefing on November 20, 2023.
The Q-A o B’desh is tweaked to appear upfront.
2:35 p.m. EST
MR MILLER: Afternoon, everyone. I don’t have any opening comments
QUESTION: Matt. On the new U.S. labor rights policy, Secretary Blinken has recently mentioned that those who violate worker rights, engage in threats, or intimidate workers may face sanction if deemed necessary. And he referred the struggle of Bangladesh’s government workers leader, Kalpona Akter. Is U.S. going to take any action as five government workers have been killed in recent days in wage-increase movement in Bangladesh?
MR MILLER: So in the remarks last week that you referred to, the Secretary outlined how we engage with governments, workers, labor organizations, trade unions, civil society, and the private sector around the world to protect and promote respect for internationally recognized labor rights. We will continue to do that in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world. I would reiterate you to his full statement for comment.
As we’ve said, we condemn the recent violence against workers in Bangladesh protesting over the minimum wage, as well as the criminalization of legitimate worker and trade union activities. We are also concerned about the ongoing repression of workers and trade unions. Our principle, as we have stated before, is that government must ensure that workers are able to exercise their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining without fear of violence, reprisal, or intimidation. And through our work in Bangladesh, and globally, we are firmly committed to advancing these fundamental human rights.
QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh. Bangladesh ruling party moving forwards – another one-sided election and crackdown on opposition, including killings, mass arrest, and abduction of the opposition activists and their family members. Ruling party officially denied the U.S. calls for dialogue as the U.S. does not support our one political party in – or other in Bangladesh. So what steps you are taking to prevent this one-party, authoritarian rule in Bangladesh?
MR MILLER: So you’re right, we do not take a position in favor of one party or the other. We want what the Bangladeshi people themselves want: free and fair elections which are conducted in a peaceful matter – manner. And we will continue to engage with the government, opposition, civil society, other stakeholders to urge them to work together for the benefit of the Bangladeshi people to ensure that outcome: free and fair elections conducted in a peaceful manner.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Matt. Honorable Assistant Secretary Donald Lu wrote letter to – for unconditional dialogue to three major political parties in Bangladesh. Election is scheduled for 7th of January, 2024. Thirty-plus political parties declared they are participating in the election. Only the opposition BNP called for the boycott. Would the United States consider an election with the participation of the remaining 30-plus political parties as a representative or – and participatory, or does BNP decision to boycott raise concern about the inclusivity and legitimacy of the election process by U.S.?
MR MILLER: I appreciate the repeated urge, I should say – to try and draw me into internal Bangladeshi matters, but I am going to continue to refrain from doing so and just state, as I said before, that our goal for the election in Bangladesh is what it has always been: free and fair elections conducted in a peaceful manner.
QUESTION: So, on the hostage deal, saying it’s closer now than it has been, can you explain a little bit, like without getting into details because I know you can’t, why this shift in messaging, why you feel that you’re closer now than you have been?
MR MILLER: I really can’t get into details. As we’ve said publicly for some time, really since October 7th and since we found out that there were hostages, including American citizens who were taken, unfortunately, we are doing everything in our power to secure the release of those hostages and see their safe return home. But it’s just not productive to talk about the details. We have been engaged in intense negotiations over this matter. The Secretary’s been involved; the President has been involved; other members of the administration have. And we have made progress in trying to secure a deal in conversation with our Qatari partners, and of course in conversation with the Government of Israel. But I can’t speak to the underlying details of those negotiations.
QUESTION: Do you have any sense of whether Americans will be included in any release?
MR MILLER: We obviously want to see those American citizens who we know have been taken hostage returned home. But I just don’t want to speak to any of the details of the negotiations.
QUESTION: And then where do talks on a pause stand with Israel?
MR MILLER: We continue to have negotiations about and discussions with the Government of Israel about a full range of humanitarian issues. As the President has said, as the Secretary has said, we want to see longer pauses. We want to see more humanitarian assistance go in. You saw the Government of Israel announce on Friday an agreement to allow more fuel, to allow fuel to come in through Rafah gate, really for the first time, up to 140,000 liters every 48 hours to power telecoms in Gaza so people can communicate with each other, so they can call emergency services, so we can communicate with the American citizens who are there; to power the delivery of humanitarian assistance that’s been coming in; and of course to power desalinization and hospitals and other electric needs. And we continue to push for all those things. It’s a top priority for the United States.
QUESTION: And if I could just ask one more on the Kerem Shalom border crossing. Martin Griffiths has called for that to be opened, and can you let us know where that stands on talks with Israelis with that? Is that something you’re trying to get open?
MR MILLER: So we want to see more humanitarian assistance come in through – into Gaza. There are a number of ways in which it could – in which more assistance could come in. It’s not just a question of opening another gate; it could be getting more assistance in through Rafah gate. The Israelis have very real security concerns about the ability to open Kerem Shalom, but we think if – actually if you could increase the screening so you could get more trucks and more assistance in through Rafah, that would be another way to do it. So we continue to have those conversations with Israel about what the best way is. But ultimately, our goal is to increase the number of trucks that are coming in so more food, more water, more medicine is getting to the Palestinian people who need it.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? What is the holdup on that, Matt? Because Blinken announced on our trip that he was expecting movement on that in coming days, and it’s been weeks now. Is it an Israeli political decision that’s holding this up?
MR MILLER: It is not just a political decision. There are real operational concerns about how you get screening turned on to get more humanitarian assistance in. There are operational details that we have to work through. There are agreements we have to reach with the Government of Israel. We are involved in those conversations. David Satterfield has been on the ground since he was appointed, working on these matters, continues to attempt to make progress. But there are just some really very difficult logistical problems that we have to work through and unlock to get aid screened and get it in through Rafah quickly.
And of course, I would say the – we ran into a problem last week where we had aid that was going in through Rafah and then filling up warehouses. And because there was no fuel going in to Rafah and fuel – or going through Rafah and fuel inside Gaza had been depleted, there was assistance sitting in Gaza that couldn’t be distributed to the people who needed it. An agreement that the Secretary pushed for last week with members of the Israeli war cabinet that they announced on Friday to allow fuel to go into Rafah for the first time will allow that humanitarian assistance to be delivered, now that it’s made it inside. But there is much more that needs to be done that we continue to push on.
QUESTION: Some of the UN agencies and other humanitarian agencies have said that Israel’s idea of moving these people to Mawasi on the southwest coast isn’t going to work. And so, what do you think is the best option? Since the UN may or may not be participating, what do you think is the best option in terms of keeping civilians safe as the conflict moves south?
MR MILLER: … it is the subject of ongoing conversations between the United States, the United Nations, humanitarian organizations, and the Government of Israel to try to work out what the best solution is. We do have concerns that concentrating all civilians in one area does leave them vulnerable to harm. We are trying to work through with the Government of Israel what other solutions might be, and it’s a subject of ongoing conversation.
QUESTION: Is this something where you have like neighborhoods or areas that are considered safe for civilians? Or is this something where you have individual outposts, like hospitals, schools, or other things that would be – have some sort of protection?
MR MILLER: Well, I’d say with respect to hospitals and schools, we do want to see it – them protected. We don’t want to see them struck from the air. We’ve made that clear. That was true with respect to northern Gaza. Obviously, there is a situation where you have Hamas using hospitals as places for – where they’re embedding their fighters, they’re using as command centers. That’s a difficult situation that Israel has to address, and we want them to do it in compliance with humanitarian law. But with respect to the first part of your question, it’s the subject of ongoing conversation right now, and I wouldn’t want to prescribe what the solution would be before those conversations are finished.
QUESTION: Sure. Just to play devil’s advocate, obviously some of these countries have argued that the U.S. is, I mean, clearly supporting Israel. Is there any sense that – is there any concern that perhaps another country could – such as China – could step into the U.S. role, just because the United States is seen as – their perception; I’m not saying that but it’s —
MR MILLER: No, I think there are productive roles for a number of countries to play, and we would welcome them. There are unproductive roles that countries can play as well. But we are confident in the diplomatic efforts that we have launched. We are confident in the conversations that we continue to have. This is a difficult problem that the region is grappling with. It is obviously, first and foremost, a problem that Israel is grappling with when it comes to trying to defeat Hamas. But the broader issue of preventing the conflict from spreading and ultimately achieving what the United States – what the United States supports, what other countries in the region and what other countries across the world support, which is, at the end of this, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
That’s something that’s going to take engagement from a number of countries. The United States expects to play a leadership role. We expect to be engaged. You’ve already seen the Secretary lay out principles that we think are important for the path forward at the end of this conflict, and we would expect other countries to play productive roles as well.
QUESTION: The President said that he envisions a Palestinian state that will include Gaza and the West Bank and so on. So let me ask you this: Do you – or is it safe to assume that the administration has some sort of a vision how this very battle should end?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to get to how this conflict will end because, ultimately, it’s very hard to prescribe from a podium —
QUESTION: Not to —
MR MILLER: But it’s hard to prescribe from a podium thousands of miles away how a military operation, which is, of course, unpredictable by its nature – we’ve seen that multiple times throughout history – how it will end and what will be left in the aftermath. So where we are right now is laying out principles. And you’ve heard the Secretary articulate some of those principles with respect to Gaza – that there should be no diminution in the territory of Gaza, that no Palestinians should be displaced from Gaza, a number of other principles – and also heard him and the President articulate that ultimately, at the end of this, we want to see the establishment of a Palestinian state that unites the West Bank and unites Gaza so the Palestinian people can determine their own future. And that is the policy that we support; it’s the policy that we will try to achieve.
QUESTION: Yeah, Matt, do you have any comment on the Houthis seizing the ship in the Red Sea, and is the administration reconsidering its decision to take them off the terrorist list?
MR MILLER: I don’t have any update with respect to those determinations. I will say that the Houthi seizure of the motor vessel Galaxy Leader in the Red Sea is a flagrant violation of international law. We demand the immediate release of the ship and its crew, and we will consult with our allies and UN partners, as appropriate, on next steps.
QUESTION: Last Saturday marked, as you know, one month since RFE/RL reporter Alsu’s arrest, illegal detention in Russia. Any notification you have received from Russian side?
MR MILLER: We have not received official notification of her arrest. It’s a matter we continue to monitor very closely. We have sought consular assistance; it has not yet been granted. We’ll continue to pursue it.
QUESTION: Did the fact that there was no notification from – over a month, more than a month – isn’t that enough reason to recognize or designate this case as wrongful?
MR MILLER: First of all, I’d say that the Russian Government, as a general rule when it comes to dual citizens, does not see it as its obligation to provide consular notification. And I will say as a broader issue that there are a number of factors that we consider when making that determination about whether someone has been wrongfully detained or not. It is never any one factor on its own. It is a confluence of factors that leads the department to making a determination.
QUESTION: Please, Matt, I have two more, if you don’t mind, different topics.
MR MILLER: Sure.
QUESTION: Belarus and Russia. Last – as you know, today is the World Children’s Day. I want to draw your attention to – a very compelling report came out last week – you guys also flagged it – on how Ukrainian children are being deported to Belarus. First of all, about significance of this fact, the findings, this was – and I think one simple question is: What are you guys going to do about it?
MR MILLER: So I would say that I did note that report. It identified more than 2,400 children from Ukraine between the ages of six and 17 who have been transported to facilities in Belarus. It documented close coordination between Russian and Belarusian officials to facilitate these movements. As we – you have heard us say before, Belarus is complicit in Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine; it is not a disinterested third country providing safe haven for children in conflict. These operations have disproportionately targeted vulnerable children, including purported orphans, children with disabilities, children from low-income families, and children with members of Ukraine’s military.
Our information is limited. We don’t know whether the children who are deported to Russia or Belarus are being exploited further, but they remain highly vulnerable, of course, to human trafficking. So it is a matter that we continue to monitor very closely in making all of the range of assessments that you would expect us to make.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. One on North Korea and one on China. It was reported that North Korea will launch its third military or space satellite this month due to technology transfer from Russia to North Korea. How do you see the chance of successful satellite launch?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to purported events. I will say that our concerns about North Korea’s ballistic missile program and other military programs are well known. Our concerns about the transfer of technology between Russia and North Korea, whether it’s Russia providing North Korea with technology or whether it’s North Korea providing arms to Russia, are also well known. As we’ve said before, those transfers in some cases violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, including resolutions that Russia itself voted for, and we will continue to monitor them closely and take whatever actions are appropriate with our allies in the region to monitor and respond to North Korea’s destabilizing behaviour.
QUESTION: South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol said that it would not be helpful if China went along with North Korea-Russia cooperation. Does the United States have the same position as President Yoon?
MR MILLER: I will just say that our position is very clear, which is that Russia should not supply North Korea with technology that would violate United Nations Security Council resolutions; North Korea should not supply Russia with arms that it can use to prosecute its war of aggression against Ukraine; and that is our position with respect to any country in the world.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, going back to Gaza. You said that Palestinian people can determine their own future, but we know that this will not happen soon after the Israeli finish with their military operation. Then what – do you have anything to share with who should control the Gaza until the Palestinian could determine their own future?
MR MILLER: So let me say this. It goes to the principles that I started to lay out with Said earlier. Some of the other principles that Said laid out is that they are – that Hamas cannot run Gaza at the end of this conflict, and that Israel cannot occupy Gaza, cannot reoccupy Gaza at the end of this conflict. There may need to be a transition period; you can imagine where the – once hostilities cease, there will have to be some transition period where there is a transition to a new governing authority and a new security authority, and we are going to work with our partners in the region and other countries around the world to try and determine what that looks like. I certainly wouldn’t want to describe it now. But the ultimate answer to your question is that the Palestinian people themselves need to be front and center at determining who it is that will lead the Palestinian people. These are not decisions that the United States can or should impose on the Palestinian people; these are not answers that Israel can and should impose on the Palestinian people. The Palestinian people ultimately have a right to determine their own future, just like any other people in the world, which is why our ultimate goal at the end of this is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state so, as I said, they can determine their own future.
QUESTION: Okay. Despite of your assurance that Gaza will rebuild and the people of Gaza, the Palestinian people, will return to their homes after Gaza rebuild, we still hearing about transferring plans to Egypt for Palestinian in Gaza, to Egypt and other countries. Please clarify that issue.
MR MILLER: So we have been very clear that Palestinians from Gaza should not be displaced. Period. Full stop. There have been some Palestinians from Gaza who have been injured, who have been wounded, who have left to seek medical treatment in Egypt. We support that if that is their choice and that’s what they want to do. But we have – we could not be more clear – more clear – you’ve heard the Secretary say this, you’ve heard the President say this – that the Palestinian people in Gaza should not, cannot, will not be displaced from their homes.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I have a couple of question regarding the U.S. ambassador in Algeria’s recent visit to Tindouf camps in the southern part of this country. Could you please clarify the nature of this visit and whether she met Polisario leadership while she was there? And my second question: This visit sparked some media attentions, particularly in the region, and some of them insinuating that there is a shift in U.S. policy regarding the issue. Can you clarify as well?
MR MILLER: So with respect to the first question, Ambassador Aubin and a broad range of international donors participated in a UN-organized visit to Tindouf, Algeria. The United States is the largest contributor worldwide to international humanitarian efforts, including through our support for the vital work of UN agencies in Tindouf. We deeply value the critical work that our ambassador and U.S. diplomats in Algeria are doing with the UN and international partners to reinforce the humanitarian response there. There was no bilateral engagement with the Polisario during this UN donor visit.
And more generally, with respect to your second question, we fully support the UN personal envoy of the secretary-general as he intensifies the UN-led political process on Western Sahara to advance an enduring and dignified solution without further delay. We continue to review Morocco – or to view Morocco’s autonomy plan as serious, credible, and realistic, and one potential approach to meet the aspirations of the people of Western Sahara.
QUESTION: Finnish prime minister today basically accused Russia of organizing this movement of migrants and pushing them towards the Finnish border, just as Belarus was doing to Poland and other countries. What do you make of that? Do you share this assessment of what is going on on the Russian-Finnish border? And unrelatedly, the new – the Argentinian president-elect said that he’s going to visit here, even before the inauguration. Do you have anything —
MR MILLER: So with respect to the first, let me take that back and get you an answer. With respect to the second, I don’t have any announcements of travel or meetings to read out here. I will say, as Secretary Blinken shared last night, we congratulate President-elect Milei on his victory in yesterday’s election. We applaud the robust democratic process through which the Argentine public spoke. And we will look forward to working with the president-elect and his government on shared priorities, including human rights and democracy, addressing climate change, and investing in the middle class.
QUESTION: Just two of the things you mentioned – democracy and climate change – he has somewhat eccentric views on them, I mean, I guess you could say. I mean, he’s denied the scientific consensus on climate change. He’s given credence to election conspiracies in the U.S. and Brazil. Are those types of things impediments, do you think, with working with the president – President Milei?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to comment on the views he professed during the campaign. I will say the United States and Argentina have a long history of working together on areas of shared values and shared interests, and we look forward to finding continued ways to do that.
QUESTION: I have a China question. Just quickly, the Secretary has raised concern in the past about these travel bans, particularly on young children unable to leave China. I wonder if you got any assurances last week from the Chinese that they’ll resolve these cases?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to those private conversations, but both with respect to Americans who have been detained and children who have been prevented from leaving China, I will just say that that is an issue the Secretary raises in every one of his conversations with his Chinese counterparts. It is an issue he raises quite fervently and quite passionately, that children shouldn’t be prevented from being reunited with their parents. And it’s an issue that he will continue to emphasize in hopes of achieving a breakthrough.
And with that, wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.
QUESTION: Thank you.
(The briefing was concluded at 3:22 p.m.)
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