US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser – Sept 11, 2023

17 Min
State Dept Presser – Sept 11, 2023

The US State Department held a presser on Sept 11, 2023 with spokesperson Matthew Miller fielding questions. The Q-A session on India, and Af-Pak is tweaked to appear up front.

Some Excerpts    

QUESTION:  Nice to see you, Matt.  Finally, when we have closed the chapter of the cypher, we can now move to the facts of cypher.  My question is —

MR MILLER:  (Laughter.)  That doesn’t sound like we’ve closed the chapter.  (Laughter.)

QUESTION:  Well, it’s not going to be closed until it gets somewhere.  So, after this whole thing, now, today, you can say that in one year today, the economy of Pakistan is – basically, Afghanistan economy is four times stronger.  What does the State Department say to that?

MR MILLER:  To the economy of Pakistan?  I —

QUESTION:  To the dollar rate in Afghanistan is four times stronger than the dollar rate in Pakistan.

MR MILLER:  I’ve spoken to this on a number of occasions about our support for reforms that would allow the improvement of the economy in Pakistan, and will continue to do so.

QUESTION:  And one thing – I’m sorry, this is a little bit older story.  But keeping in view this whole thing that is happening, the ambassador to Pakistan, Mr. Blome, visited the chief election office.  I was just wondering, like, how does the State Department or the diplomats have anything to do with going and meeting the chief election office of any country? 

MR MILLER:  I will refer you to the embassy for specific comment on that meeting, which I’m sure they would be happy to provide.  But I think I see where you’re going with the question, and so I will reiterate what I’ve said a number of times, which is that the United States does not take any position with respect to the outcome of an election in Pakistan.  We do not support any one political party or any candidate in Pakistan.  But we of course urge free and fair elections in Pakistan, as we do throughout the world

MR MILLER:  I want to ask what you guys make of the whole Putin-Kim Jong-un thing, what it means for – what it means to you or what it suggests to you about the state of the Russian war machine.   And also, what it means in terms of North Korea.

MR MILLER:  I’ll say a few things about it.  First, I think it’s important to put it in overall context, which is a year and a half ago President Putin launched this war against Ukraine with its full-scale aggression with a dream of restoring the glory of the Russian empire.  That hope, that expectation of his, has failed.  It will continue to fail.  And I think there’s no better evidence of that than now, a year and a half later, not only has he failed to achieve his goals on the battlefield, but you see him traveling across his own country hat in hand to beg Kim Jong-un for military assistance.  And the fact that it comes just after the G20 this weekend, where President Biden was there meeting with his fellow counterparts, leaders of major countries in the world, and President Putin was nowhere to be found, I think largely because of his own international pariah status that he has foisted upon himself through his actions.

So, in terms of what it means going forward, I think obviously it means that he is having trouble sustaining the military effort and so is looking for help from North Korea.  And in terms of what our reaction will be to it, so we’re going to monitor very closely the outcome of this meeting.  I will remind both countries that any transfer of arms from North Korea to Russia would be in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.  And we of course have aggressively enforced our sanctions against entities that fund Russia’s war effort, and we will continue to enforce those sanctions and will not hesitate to impose new sanctions if appropriate.

QUESTION:  On North Korea?

MR MILLER:  I think I want to wait and see what the outcome of the meeting is before speculating, but we have always looked to impose sanctions and hold accountable countries or entities – entities that fund Russia’s war effort.

QUESTION:  Before I ask one more on this, just how many entities are there left in North Korea that don’t have U.S. sanctions on them?

MR MILLER: (Laughter.)  That’s a good question I’m not able to answer.

MR MILLER:  Humeyra.

QUESTION:  Matt, on China, there was a story over the weekend in Wall Street Journal saying that Wang Yi was no longer coming to UNGA.  First, can you confirm that?  Because that was the anticipation from State Department, that he would come during UNGA and meet with Secretary Blinken.

MR MILLER:  It’s not exactly what we’ve said before, but I – let me say this.  So I won’t speak – I’ll let the Chinese Government speak to whether Wang Yi will or will not attend the UNGA next week.  But that said, whether it’s at UNGA or whether it is after UNGA sometime before the end of the year, it is still our expectation that Secretary Blinken will host Foreign Minister Wang Yi here in the United States.

QUESTION:  And would that be in Washington, then?

MR MILLER:  I  don’t have any meetings to announce.  I’ll wait until we have something firmed up that we can announce.  But it’s still our expectation that meeting will take place.

QUESTION:  The fact that he’s not coming to UNGA, does the administration in any way see that as something that might derail a possible Xi-Biden meeting in November?


QUESTION:  In principle?

MR MILLER:  We have been clear.  It’s sometimes difficult to speak to these because I’m asked to speak – it’s not what I’m saying you’re doing – but ask me to sort of speak on behalf of the Chinese Government, which I will not do.  I will speak for the United States and for the State Department and what our hopes and what our expectations are with respect to engagement with the Chinese Government and with our Chinese counterparts.  And that is, as we have said, we think it is important to engage directly in one-on-one conversations.  That’s why Secretary Blinken traveled to China and kicked off a series of meetings both at the cabinet level and the subcabinet level that have taken place since then.

As the President has said, he hopes to meet with President Xi sometime later this fall.  We believe there is no substitute for one-on-one conversations at the leader level.  So we will continue to work towards a possibility of that – of those meetings, but we don’t have anything to confirm at this point.

QUESTION:  Right.  Just a couple of small things on this.  You mentioned three cabinet-level U.S. officials, and I was in one of those trips, and Special Envoy John Kerry also went to Beijing.  And  all of that happened within a span of less than three months.  And we’ve seen no reciprocity, and now we learn that Wang Yi is probably not going to be coming during UNGA.  Does the administration take this as a bit of a snub?

MR MILLER:  Not at all.  We think it’s important to continue these conversations.  The conversations have been ongoing.  As the Secretary said, he extended the invitation to the then-foreign minister when he was in China.  That invitation was accepted.  It has since been transferred over to the new foreign minister.  We expect it to be accepted, and we expect that meeting to take place.

But ultimately, we can only – we think it’s important to have these conversations.  And we will continue to have them and we expect them to continue to take place.  But we can’t speak for the Chinese Government about when and where they will send their ministers.  Those are decisions for them to make.


MR MILLER:  Yeah, Jenny.

QUESTION:  Can I go to Ukraine?


QUESTION:  President Zelenskyy in an interview with Fareed Zakaria over the weekend said he was expecting or hoping he would get ATACMS by this autumn.  Has there been a change in the U.S. position on providing ATACMS to Ukraine?

MR MILLER:  There has not been.  You saw Secretary Blinken speak to this over the weekend.  We always assess the military assistance that we can provide to Ukraine, both what is appropriate to provide at any given point, what we are able to provide at any given point, and what our allies and partners who are part of this coalition can provide to them.  It’s a question that we continue to take up and continue to look at, but there’s been no change at this point.

QUESTION:  Is it the U.S. assessment that these would be effective weapons for Ukraine in its counteroffensive?

MR MILLER:  I think I will just say that this is – these are ongoing conversations that we have with our Ukrainian counterparts, as well as conversations we have inside the United States Government, but we don’t have any new position to announce at this point.

Yeah, Leon.

QUESTION:  Matt, I was wondering, the Secretary gave a series of interviews over the weekend – CNN, ABC, what have you – I found that I thought – you probably won’t agree but – that he was at pains to, over the G20, to explain how it could have been a success, when, speaking of Ukraine, Russia is not mentioned in the statement; on climate issues, it’s way under par what was expected; there wasn’t the Chinese president present in India.  And so do you still – my question is:  Do you still think it was a success, or a missed opportunity?

MR MILLER:  We absolutely believe that it was a success.  I will just say with respect – let’s take them in order.  First, with respect to the statement, the G20 is a big organization.  Russia is a member of the G20; China is a member of the G20.  There are members that have a diverse range of views.  We believe the fact that that organization was able to issue a statement that calls for respecting the territorial integrity and sovereignty and saying that those principles should not be violated is an extremely important statement, because that is exactly what is at heart of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  It is those very questions.  So we thought that was an incredibly important statement for them to make.  You also saw important announcements made at the G20 about new economic arrangements between Saudi Arabia and India that the United States was a part of.

And I will say with respect to President Xi not attending – I’m not going to speak to whether President Xi should have attended or should not have attended.  I will say we found it incredibly productive for President Biden and Secretary Blinken to be there, engaging directly with their counterparts.  As I said in response to a question   a moment ago, there is no substitute for that, and we found it incredibly productive for the interests of the United States to be able to have those conversations and advance them.  As the White House made public over the weekend, in addition to the sessions, the President had a number of pull-asides with leaders of other countries where we were actively advancing the foreign policy priorities of the United States, including engaging on the war in Ukraine.

QUESTION:  Follow up on that?


QUESTION:  Russia and China were members of that very organization last year as well.  So is there any reason why we did not see —

MR MILLER:  There’s – I think if you go back and look at the statement that issued last year, there was a note – and I will need to follow up to get the exact – there was a note that Russia had abstained from that statement or did not join it.  So it was a different statement last year from a different collection of countries.

QUESTION:  What was the role of Lavrov in this process?  Has there been any interaction between the U.S. delegation and the Russians?

MR MILLER:  There was no interaction between Secretary Blinken and Foreign Minister Lavrov.  I’m not aware of any other interactions between the U.S. and Russian delegations.  I can’t rule out the fact that someone said “hi” in the hallways or something passing each other, but I do not believe there were any substantive interactions.

QUESTION:  I have a couple of questions, Matt.  First, on the MOU that the U.S. signed with Saudi Arabia regarding the green transit corridors, what’s the importance of this MOU?

MR MILLER:  So it was a landmark India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor that we believe will usher in a new era of connectivity from Europe to Asia that will stimulate economic growth, economic development across the two continents, as well as cooperation on energy and digital connectivity.  The memorandum of understanding is among the United States, India, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, EU, and other G20 partners to explore a shipping and rail transportation corridor that will enable the flow of commerce, energy, and data from India, the Middle East, and Europe.

And I will just say, like the Lobito Corridor we are announcing in Southern and Central Africa, it will be a clear demonstration of a new model that President Biden has pioneered for more transparent and sustainable infrastructure investments around the world, and we think it will deliver significant economic benefits both to the countries that are direct participants and to the region at large.

QUESTION:  Is it a part of the normalization efforts between Saudi Arabia and Israel?

MR MILLER:  No, it is separate from – it is separate.

QUESTION:  And one final question on Iran.  Do you expect any progress on the hostage or the prisoner swap?

MR MILLER:  I will say it is a process that is ongoing.  We continue to work towards the full release of the American citizens that were detained in Iran, that have now moved on to house arrest.  I don’t have any update on timing for ultimate resolution.

QUESTION:  Can I just ask you one thing on the Saudi – on this MOU that was signed at the G20?  What actually does it change?  Is it right now not possible for ships to go from India to Saudi Arabia?

MR MILLER:  It is possible.


MR MILLER:  We believe it will explore – that the creation of a new shipping and rail transportation corridor – shipping and rail – will –

QUESTION:  Okay, where’s the rail part?

MR MILLER:  — will enable – I will –

QUESTION:  What’s the new rail part?

MR MILLER:  So the memorandum – this is the signing of a memorandum of understanding that is going to lead to the full implementation of this corridor.  I don’t think I can speak to details before they have been fully established….. and those details will be coming in further months, as they are fully implemented with the countries who signed onto the MOU.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So, did the Egyptians have anything to say about this?

MR MILLER:  We do not believe that this will in any way hurt Egypt.  In fact, it will deliver positive economic benefits for the entire region.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So you do not think that once this is completed, whenever that is, it will mean that goods being transported from South Asia to Europe that bypassing the Suez Canal won’t affect Egypt at all?

MR MILLER:  There is no replacement for the Suez Canal.  But I will note that there is a maximum throughput through the Suez Canal every day.  And we do not believe that this economic corridor will in any way displace or replace the Suez Canal, and we believe ultimately it will deliver economic benefits for the entire region.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  On the Palestinian issue.  Today the Israeli Government was set to discuss and approve a new settlement in Abu Dis, which happens to be in my village.  I mean, my home could be gobbled up.  That was an area that was designated throughout peace negotiations to be the capital of the Palestinian and East Jerusalem, would-be capital or whatever.  I wonder if you have any comment on that particular settlement.

MR MILLER:  Our views on this question have been clear and consistent.  You and I have discussed them in the relatively brief time I’ve been here a number of times.

QUESTION:  Right, right.

MR MILLER:  The expansion of settlements undermines the geographic viability of a two-state solution, exacerbates tensions, and further harms trust between the two parties.  We strongly oppose the advancement of settlements and urge Israel to refrain from this activity.  We take the issue very seriously, as it impinges on the viability of a two-state solution, and we raise it at the highest levels on a consistent basis.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And one more.  It seems that $75 million are still being held up in food assistance to the Palestinians, especially in Gaza.  I guess it’s awaiting maybe the end of the fiscal year and so on.  And I wonder if you could comment on this because the situation, as you’ve probably been following up, with UNRWA and with the distribution of food and the assistance of food in Gaza cannot wait till the end of the fiscal year or the beginning of the new one.

MR MILLER:  I would say that we agree that funding for UNRWA supports provision of food, health care, education, relief, and social services, which are more vital than ever with the worsening violence in the West Bank and Gaza and deepening economic decline in the region, and we are committed to working with the UN and our international partners to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for recovery efforts in a manner that benefits the Palestinian people.  So we would agree that this funding is important and are trying to move it through.

QUESTION:  On Chile, the U.S. has spoken of a dark chapter, what have you.  But is the United States ready to – but has never really formally, officially apologized for supporting the coup.  Is the United States ready to do so?

MR MILLER:  So you’ll see us speak to this in more detail in the statement that we’ll put out.  I’m not going to speak with that level of specificity to events that happened in a previous administration 50 years ago.  I will say that the anniversary is a moment for us to pay our deepest respects to the victims of the repression that followed that coup, to honor the extraordinary bravery and sacrifices of countless Chileans who stood up for human rights and fought for an end to the dictatorship and a peaceful return to democracy.  And for our part in the Biden administration, we have tried to be transparent about the U.S. role in that chapter of Chilean history by recently declassifying governments – I’m sorry, reclassifying – declassifying documents from 1973, as the Chilean Government has requested us to do.  And I will just say that going forward, we reaffirm our full commitment to supporting democracy and upholding rights, of course, in Chile and beyond.

QUESTION:  In Libya there is reportedly massive flooding, up to 2,000 people impacted.  Does the U.S. have any comment or way to confirm that number?

MR MILLER:  I’m not able to confirm the number.  We’ve seen the reports, of course, and pass on our deepest sympathies to those affected.  But I don’t have a specific number.

QUESTION:  Matt, just on China again, because there are so many things.  The defense minister hasn’t been seen in public for two weeks, and U.S. ambassador to Japan seems to weigh on the issue with a tweet, which makes me wonder if the United States has an assessment on the whereabouts of the defense minister and whether you officially think of him as having disappeared, whether you have any idea about his whereabouts.

MR MILLER:  I do not have an assessment of his whereabouts.

QUESTION:  Do you have any answer to why the U.S. ambassador to Japan might have weighed on the issue?

MR MILLER:  I think Rahm Emanuel throughout his career has spoken in a colourful manner and continues to do so.

QUESTION:  So are you saying this tweet was not cleared by the State Department?

MR MILLER:  I’m not going to speak to our internal clearance processes other than to say, as I said, Rahm Emanuel has always had a colourful way of speaking in all of his positions in government, and that clearly continues.

QUESTION:  Okay, what was colourful about it?

MR MILLER:  I thought it was fairly colourful.

QUESTION:   On Morocco, can you bring us up to date on the latest efforts by the U.S. to assist in the aftermath of that earthquake, and what U.S. citizens may or may not have been affected or impacted by it?

MR MILLER:  Yeah, let me speak to the last question first, which is we are not aware at this point of any U.S. citizens who have died as a result of the earthquake.  We are aware of a small number of injuries but not any fatalities, but of course the rescue efforts continue, so that number could change or that fact could change.

With respect to our efforts, Secretary Blinken spoke with the foreign minister of Morocco over the weekend, again, from New Delhi at the G20, expressed first of all his deepest sympathies and condolences for the loss of life and – of – suffered by the Moroccan people and the destruction to their country.  They also discussed how the United States can best support the Government of Morocco’s leadership of the humanitarian response to the tragedy, and the Secretary and the foreign minister pledged to stay in close contact as the response efforts continue, and the United States through the State Department has been in close contact with the Moroccan Government through today.

QUESTION:  Is the U.S. providing anything directly right now for assistance?

MR MILLER:  We have made the offer for assistance and are in close consultations with the Moroccan Government about how we can best provide that assistance.

QUESTION:  On Türkiye, I was wondering if you have any updates on the sale of F-16s to Türkiye.  Is there any timeline for when the State Department intends to proceed with this sale?

And also, you and other U.S. officials have repeatedly said the F-16 issue and Sweden’s NATO accession were not linked, but yesterday, Turkish President Erdogan, after having a brief chat with Biden on the sidelines of the G20, said that the U.S. makes such a connection and it could upset Ankara.  How do you explain that?  Are you in the same – still in the same position of not linking those two separate issues?

MR MILLER:  So two things.  One, I don’t have an update on the timing.  But with respect to whether they are linked, we do not believe that they are linked or should be linked, but as we have said before and as we have made clear to the Turkish Government, of course, the sale of F-16s is something that has to be approved by the United States Congress.  And there are members of Congress who believe that the two issues are closely tied together, so while we do not believe that they are linked, we’re not the only actor in this process.  We’ve made that clear directly to Turkish officials.

QUESTION:  I have one more question.  Today, in Armenia, the first U.S.-Armenian military exercises are taking place, and I was wondering if this is designed to somehow forestall a potential Azerbaijani attack.  Are you – is there any —

MR MILLER:  No, not at all.  We routinely train and operate alongside our partners to maintain readiness, and we continually – continuously improve on the interoperability between our armed forces.  Armenia is a longstanding partner to the United States and has an enduring relationship since 2003 with the Kansas National Guard as part of the Department of Defense’s State Partnership Program.  So no, this is in – this is a routine exercise that is in no way tied to any other events.

QUESTION:  Let me follow up on that, Matt.


QUESTION:  You probably have seen Russia’s response to today’s Armenian-U.S. military training.  They remind Armenia to remember where their loyalties lie.  Do you have any reaction to that?

MR MILLER:  I think that given Russia has invaded two of its neighbors in recent years, it should refrain from lecturing countries in the region about security arrangements.

QUESTION:  And one more if you don’t mind.  Thanks so much.  And one more on Putin-Kim meeting.  You told Matt earlier that Putin was nowhere to be found last week, and then you said he is meeting with international pariah this week – today.  Do you see this as meeting between two international pariahs?  Is that how see Russia, Putin as well?  And do you think it will cement Putin as a pariah?

MR MILLER:  I think Putin’s actions have cemented him as an international pariah.  Remember, he’s under – he has been charged by the ICC with war crimes, was not able to travel to the most recent meeting of the BRICS because of that decision to charge him, did not show up at the G20 meeting, no doubt because he didn’t want to hear from a number of the countries there about the results and the consequences of his actions.  So yes, I would absolutely make that assessment.

QUESTION:  Are you sure he didn’t travel to the BRICS meeting because of that?  The South Africans are a member of the ICC.  But they have —

MR MILLER:  Correct.

QUESTION:  They have allowed other ICC invitees to go into the country without —

MR MILLER:  I – you can never say anything with 100 percent certainty, but I certainly saw the reports from South Africa that they were – the reporting around this that they were relieved that he did not attend.

QUESTION:  Matt, I’m sure you know that Greece and Türkiye started high-level talks to find ways for Türkiye to stop threatening Greece.  The two leaders are meeting again next week at the United Nations.  As we know, they met in Vilnius during NATO.  Is it possible to tell us if American Government is involved in these diplomatic efforts between these two allies of yours?

MR MILLER:  I won’t speak to the upcoming meeting.  But I will say that, of course, we have been involved in conversations with both countries about the need to de-escalate tensions in the region and specific steps they can take to de-escalate tensions in the region, including direct involvement on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Vilnius.

QUESTION:   Just want to follow up on the F-16 question, because in the same comments, Erdogan also talks about how he has his own congress to persuade, and that’s a reference to the Turkish parliament.  And when you read the comments in their totality, it does sound like the ratification may not be as soon as the Turkish parliament reconvenes.  I’m wondering if the U.S. has any worries that this might be further delayed?  Are you – what kind of, like, message are you conveying to the Turkish authorities?  And what is the sequencing going to be?  Like, they’re going to ratify, you’re going to send the formal notification?  Or they want you to send a formal notification of the F-16s after they ratify?

MR MILLER:  I will say, with respect to what our position is, we believe, as we’ve said before, that Sweden’s accession to NATO should be approved as soon as possible.  And we appreciate President Erdogan’s support for it and take him at his word that he will push it through and that it will ultimately be ratified by the Turkish parliament.  With respect to any sequencing, I’m not able to get into it at this point.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:07 p.m.)