US State Dept Presser

State Dept presser – Sept 13, 2023

16 Min
State Dept presser – Sept 13, 2023

The US State Department held a press briefing on Sept 13, 2023 with spokesperson Mathew Miller fielding questions. The Q-A session on Af-Pak region is tweaked to appear upfront.

Some Excerpts

QUESTION: Matt, one question about Afghanistan. Pakistan and Afghanistan are having border issues on Torkham since last few days. Thousands of people are stranded. What is the U.S. position on that?

MR MILLER: Obviously, we would encourage those two governments to work together to resolve that issue.

QUESTION: Thank you very much. Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul has requested testimony from three Biden administration spokesperson, including our dear friend Ned Price, on the chaotic troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Will state encourage Price testimony before the House Committee?

MR MILLER: So we obviously are in receipt of that request. Chairman McCaul has asked for interviews with a number of officials from the State Department and has asked for a number of documents. We have been – we have provided hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of pages of documents with respect to his inquiries in this regard. We will continue to push to cooperate with his committee to provide the information that it needs. We have already provided interviews with a number of officials and will continue to so as appropriate and when appropriate, balancing the House’s need to get information that it needs to do its job with our ability to protect certain privileges that the Executive Branch holds. But I wouldn’t want to speak to any potential interview other than to say that we’ll continue to work through these questions with the committee.

QUESTION: Sir, the chairman committee also claimed that these administration spokesperson misled the American people during the run-up to the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, painting a far rosier picture than the reality on the ground. So my question is, are these spokesperson or you are responsible for these statements that he’s referring? Because, I mean, are you just doing your job or – or somebody else is responsible for these kind of statements?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to get into that in detail other than to say I was not here inside the government at the time. But I do believe what the government has said at a number of occasions is that the situation changed very rapidly in a way that that could not be anticipated.

QUESTION: The president of Pakistan proposes November 6th as election day, as according to the constitution, elections should be held in 90 days. But election commission of Pakistan said it is not able to hold elections in that short notice. Looks like another constitutional crisis in Pakistan. Your thoughts on that?

MR MILLER: As we do with countries around the world, we urge Pakistan to hold a free and fair – free and fair and timely elections, and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. And we urge Pakistani authorities to move forward with the electoral process in a manner consistent with Pakistan’s laws, as we do with countries around the world.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. China yesterday appointed a new ambassador to Afghanistan and the Talibans’ regime. I would like to ask you what’s your reaction and whether the United States will take such a step in the near future or not.

MR MILLER: I don’t have any reaction to the Chinese Government’s decision to do that, and I don’t have any announcements to make with respect to what we will do.

QUESTION: I want to go back to the Iran stuff that you were talking about yesterday, and the assertion from the administration that billions of dollars in escrow accounts had been sent back or withdrawn by Iran during the previous administration without any restrictions at all. Do you have any more —

MR MILLER: Yeah. What I’ll say is so after the previous administration withdrew from the JCPOA and re-established or reactivated these accounts, they did not set up any procedures to give the U.S. Government either visibility or oversight into how the money was being spent. Now, look, that wasn’t required by law. But we have decided —

QUESTION: Well, it’s not – it was, wasn’t it? Or —

MR MILLER: No. It wasn’t required by law that they set up – that they set up —

QUESTION: Yeah. But it was required by U.S. law, by law that was signed by the President, several presidents, that, I mean, money in these accounts be spent on – for only humanitarian purposes.

MR MILLER: It’s not – well, no. That’s not quite accurate. It could be humanitarian or other nonsanctionable activity. So there are two points. One, the Iranians could —

QUESTION: So they could buy some Snickers bars, okay? Not humanitarian, but —

MR MILLER: Nonhumanitarian, other nonsanctionable activities. But I think the larger point I was making, without direct visibility and without a mechanism for oversight, you are largely asking to trust the Iranians, which is not something that we are willing to do for a number of reasons, which is why, when we were setting up these accounts or setting up the regime for these accounts in Qatar, we were setting up visibility and oversight mechanisms so we have clear visibility into how the money is being spent and have the ability to oversee it and take action if it’s being spent for nonhumanitarian measures.

QUESTION: Yeah, but – okay. So I’m still pressing for details about how many billions were taken out of India and Türkiye and Japan and South Korea that the Iranians were able to spend on – willy-nilly.

MR MILLER: So we don’t have perfect visibility into this question because of the situation I just outlined, which is we don’t have visibility into the accounts and how they were being used.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Shaun.

QUESTION: Switching to North Korea, actually, with Putin and Kim Jong-un meeting. I know there have been comments on that previously, but can you say particularly if the Russians are talking about satellite cooperation, what would that mean? How much of a concern is that in terms of the implications for North Korea’s program and for Russia’s military?

MR MILLER: I would say it is troubling when you see the Russians talking about cooperating with North Korea on programs that would violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself voted for. Now, we obviously don’t – we haven’t seen the full manifestation of this meeting yet or what the full outcomes of this meeting will be, but when you see the two – when you see Kim Jong-un vowing to provide full, unconditional support for Russia’s so-called “sacred fight” to defend its security interests, which of course is not what it’s doing with respect to the war in Ukraine, that of course is troubling. When you see what looks to be increased cooperation and probably military transfers – as we’ve said for some time, we have reason to believe they were going to discuss military transfers – that is quite troubling and would potentially be in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: When you say “potentially,” I mean, one of the things that they mentioned is on the satellites specifically. I know you said you don’t have the full manifests of what’s going on.


QUESTION: But in terms of what – I mean, the United States has said that the satellite program that North Korea has is used to develop ballistic missiles.

MR MILLER: Ballistic missiles, exactly.

QUESTION: Is that a concern, that Russia could be actively promoting, improving the North Korean ballistic missile —

MR MILLER: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s why I – that’s why – that was what I was referring to in my reference to the multiple UN Security Council resolutions against North Korea’s ballistic missile program which Russia itself voted for and now could potentially be violating.

QUESTION: I mean, just in terms of the consequences, I think Jake Sullivan himself has said that there is a potential for – just to put words into – a potential for sanctions, for further actions on this. What is the United States looking at? I mean, is there the potential for some action on the basis of this?

MR MILLER: So we’re going to watch very closely what comes out of this. I spoke to this somewhat the other day. We’re looking at – I will say there are two different – there are possibilities of weapons flowing two different ways here, right? So with respect to either direction, we would watch very closely and be concerned, and will not hesitate to impose sanctions if and when it’s appropriate.

And then I want to speak specifically for a second about the idea of North Korea providing weapons to Russia, which I spoke to the other day but I don’t think you were here. One, just the overall context, and one thing it’s important to restate again, that a year and a half ago Vladimir Putin launched this war thinking he was going to restore the glory of the Russian empire, failed in all of his maximalist, imperialist aims, and now a year and a half later, after losing tens of thousands of Russian soldiers and spending billions and billions of dollars, here he is begging Kim Jong-un for help. So it says something about the overall context of how this war is going for Russia. And with respect to what any outcomes might be, we have taken a number of entity – actions already to sanction entities that have brokered arms sales between North Korea and Russia, and we won’t hesitate to impose additional actions if appropriate.

QUESTION: Has there been any interaction between U.S. officials and Chinese officials on this matter, given it would likely be a concern of Beijing if Russia were to provide nuclear technology to —

MR MILLER: Not that I’m aware of. Not aware of any specific interaction. But the meeting just happened today, so I wouldn’t rule it out. And we are – we do have somewhat regular engagements with Chinese officials going forward. We have – I will say that Secretary Blinken raised North Korea’s nuclear program and North Korea’s ballistic missile program in his engagements with Chinese officials when we were in Beijing, and we’ve regularly raised that in our conversations with Chinese officials because – we think because of the close relationship that China has had with North Korea, that if they’re willing to play a productive role, they’re able to and they have some influence with the regime in North Korea. So I would anticipate we would raise it, but I’m not aware of any specific interactions that have taken place.

QUESTION: And will Blinken meet with whoever the Chinese delegation leader is at UNGA next week?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any specific meetings to announce yet, but stay tuned over the course of the next couple days.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Two questions on North Korea. North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into the Eastern Sea yesterday ahead of the North Korea-Russia summit. What do you think is the intention behind this?

MR MILLER: So I won’t speak to their intentions – always tough getting in the mind of that regime in particular – but I will say that the United States condemns the DPRK’s recent ballistic missile launches, as we have condemned their previous ballistic missile launches. The launches are in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions and are the latest in a series of launches that pose a direct threat to the DPRK’s neighbors. They undermine regional security. And our commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remain ironclad.

QUESTION: President Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are further strengthening their military cooperation at the talks. How will the United States choose a diplomatic or military approach to resolve the North Korean nuclear and missile issues in the future?

MR MILLER: We have always made clear that we are ready for diplomacy, are open to diplomacy, would welcome diplomacy with North Korea to address our concerns about its nuclear weapons program. And to date, as I believe you’re well aware, they have shown no interest in such diplomacy.

QUESTION: So you still expect to dialogue with North Korea? Dialogue is still open?

MR MILLER: I do not – based on their behavior over the last two and a half years, no, I would not expect them to engage in diplomacy with us, just based on how they’ve reacted for the first two and a half years – over two and a half years now – of this administration. But the door always remains open from our side.

QUESTION: I was just curious as to why you guys insist on using the term “begging,” like he’s going cap in hand, while in fact it is the North Korean leader who is visiting Russia. Russia’s a vast country; he’s invited him and so on. And according to what we know, most of North Korea’s equipment – I mean military equipment – is basically Russian-made. But why the term?

MR MILLER: I don’t think that, at the beginning of this war, Vladimir Putin would have anticipated that a year and a half in he would having to be scrounge – he would have to be scrounging around the world, including with international pariahs like Kim Jong-un, asking for assistance and potentially in return having to provide assistance to the DPRK that would violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia itself voted for. So, I mean, you can use whatever word you want to characterize it, but I will stand by the words I used.


QUESTION: On Bahrain, on the meetings that you just had, this human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja – I’m sorry; I’m butchering her name – is heading back there to raise the profile of her father’s case. I wonder if the Secretary raised that in his meetings today.

MR MILLER: The meeting is ongoing right now as we speak, so I can’t speak to, obviously, what happened in a meeting that is ongoing. But we do regularly raise human rights concerns with countries around the world, including specific human rights cases. The Secretary regularly does that as part of his engagements, but, again, I don’t know what’s happened in a meeting that’s going on right now.

QUESTION: And one other human rights – human rights question. Has the administration decided what’s going to do with aid to Egypt?

MR MILLER: We have not made a formal determination as of yet, but I think, as you know, the deadline for that is approaching relatively soon.

QUESTION: I know you said it’s ongoing, but in terms of what was signed today, what in substantive terms will change with the U.S. relationship Bahrain? I mean, the Fifth Fleet is already there. The Secretary spoke about intelligence cooperation. What changes after today (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: So two things – one – or three things: First, as you note, we already have a substantial security relationship with Bahrain. What we believe this agreement represents first – or second, I guess, if I made the first background point – a new framework to enhance cooperation across a wide range of areas, from defense and security to emerging technology, trade, and investment. We believe it’s the latest manifestation of that enduring commitment that we’ve shown to Bahrain and to the region in support of peace. And then I think the last point I would make about it is that this is a bilateral agreement between the United States and Bahrain, but we see it as potentially the cornerstone for cooperation among a broader group of countries that share mutual interests and a common vision with respect to deterrence, diplomacy, and escalation.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I have a Ukraine-related question, but before that I want to go back to Iran, if I may. We discussed in this room yesterday – also today, Kirby also mentioned that if Iran violates the – let’s say the deal – we will just lock it down, so we will not send that funding. It goes back to Matt’s question. Do you – can you please give us the timetable, the transaction process? What’s it going to look like? How many tranches will be sent – 6 billion will be divided. And at what point you will be able to weigh in? And do you have established mechanism to lock it down?

MR MILLER: I am not going to get into the exact details of the transactions as they move from South Korea, through banks in Europe, ultimately to these end accounts in Qatar. But we expect in the coming days or so that the – that that money will move ultimately to the final destination in Qatar. With respect to the mechanisms that are available to us, we have complete visibility into these accounts and have the ability to lock them down if we see Iran attempting to take actions that are in violation of this agreement and in violation of our sanctions. I’m not going to get into what the exact technical details are, but we have the full agreement to stop their access to this account going forward.

QUESTION: Thank you. While we’re on Iran, MAHSA Act just passed Congress yesterday. As you know, it demands the administration to sanction Iran’s human rights violators, particularly leaders of Iran. Do you find it appropriate that – I know that it’s not a law yet so (inaudible) Senate side and the presidential signatures necessary. But Congress already have expressed its will. Do you find it appropriate that right when Iranian people are going through this painful process, this first anniversary of Mahsa Amini’s murder – do you find it appropriate the butcher of Iran will not only be allowed to enter – to enter the United States territory, but also will be welcomed by local human rights – local NGOs such as Council of Foreign Relations, led by former administration officials? How appropriate is that?

MR MILLER: So I will just say that, as has been longstanding precedent, has happened under – going back really since the UN was founded and based in New York, we have an obligation as the host country to admit representatives of other countries no matter what we think of those countries’ policies. And that has long been the case as our obligation of the United Nations.

With respect to the president of Iran being hosted at a thinktank in New York, I won’t speak to that in particular. They’re obviously an independent organization that can make their own decisions. But I would say that when any organization hosts such a figure with a long history of spreading mistruths and saying the things that are – that – making claims that are not accurate, we would just urge them to watch very carefully what he says, make sure they hold him accountable, make sure that their members have full access to truthful, accurate information. And I would expect that they would do that.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. What can you tell us about the purpose and circumstances of Ambassador Tracy’s visit with Paul Whelan? Has that meeting already happened? Was it at our request? Is there a readout of the visit overall?

MR MILLER: Sure. So Ambassador Tracy did meet with Paul Whelan earlier today. It was a consular visit. We believe Paul continues to show tremendous courage in the face of his wrongful detention. Ambassador Tracy reiterated to him that President Biden and Secretary Blinken are committed to bring him home. You may recall Secretary Blinken had a phone call with Paul Whelan around a month ago – a little under a month ago – where he delivered that same message to him that we are working very hard to bring him home and we will continue to do so.

QUESTION: Separately, but maybe relatedly, can you confirm these reports that have emerged that Russian interlocutors have specifically raised the case of Vadim Krasikov in potential prisoner swap negotiations?

MR MILLER: I cannot. And I will say, as we have said a number of times, we have found that when it comes to our efforts to bring home these wrongfully detained Americans, the substance of negotiations and what we’re trying to do to bring them home and any specifics, it’s oftentimes not helpful to our effort to speak to those publicly, so I can’t do so here.

QUESTION: Absent from concrete conversations about his case, is his case something that the U.S. would consider in a potential swap? And if so, have you raised it with the (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: I’m just not going to – I’m not going to speak – obviously, we have shown that we are willing to make tough decisions, because we believe it is so important to bring Americans home. But that is a general statement. I don’t want to speak to any specific individual that might be detained in the U.S. or in another country. So.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, I wanted to ask regarding Mexico. What can President Biden do to stop the sex trafficking of children coming across our border from Mexico, especially in the state of California? And I have a follow-up.

MR MILLER: Well, we have obviously – let me try to speak to what this department’s work is, which is to counter human trafficking. And we have taken a number of steps to do that. But with respect to specific border operations, I would refer you to the Department of Homeland Security.

QUESTION: Okay. And finally, what is the Biden administration response to the Sound of Freedom movie that highlights the international child sex trafficking problem? It’s a horrific problem.

MR MILLER: I’m not familiar with that specific movie. Obviously, as I said, we’ve taken a number of actions to counter child trafficking around the world, but I wouldn’t want to comment on that specific movie.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Oslo Accord that was so famously signed on the White House lawn. It called for a Palestinian state by 1998. Of course, that date has gone. The situation is a lot worse today. Settlements spreading – now, you’re fully aware of what’s going on. And I’m wondering whether the time has come to really pull the plug on these accords, and perhaps pursue something entirely different, maybe less loftier goals or something that can – the United States can lead.

MR MILLER: So we don’t believe so. We continue to focus on our efforts on affirmative and practical steps that could promote a negotiated two-state solution, but at the same time we believe it’s important to advance equal measures of freedom and dignity as a means to advance further a negotiated two-state solution.

QUESTION: Do you believe that the elements or the components for a two-state solution are there, are still there? It can be done?

MR MILLER: I believe that it is important to – let me refer to something the Secretary said when he was asked – or when he spoke to this in a speech in December of 2022. He spoke to this exact when he said, “We know…at this moment the prospects of a two-state solution feel remote, and that may be an understatement to some,” as I believe you would agree with those remarks based on what you said. “But we are committed to” providing – or “to preserving a horizon of hope…[and] that means holding firm to the values that have anchored the friendship between the United States and Israel across countless transitions in government in both of our countries.”

So the two-state solution has long been United States policy, and it continues to be our policy that we will push for, and we believe it’s important to do so.

QUESTION: So why not, if you’re still committed to the two-state solution ultimately, why not recognize a state of Palestine saying that we would like to see this state of Palestine on such and such land, this land that was occupied or a portion thereof, and so on, and in the meantime, these things ought to be negotiated among the parties?

MR MILLER: We don’t believe that would be a productive step at this time.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. still committed to ensuring Israeli adherence to the principle of blue is blue prior to admission of the U.S. Visa Waiver Program?

MR MILLER: I will say that we are – if by blue – you’re referring to blue passports? Is that what you mean? We are committed to the principle that all American citizens be treated equally, yes.


QUESTION: Is it still the case that Morocco has not put forward a formal request for U.S. assistance in the wake of the earthquake?

MR MILLER: I do have an update on conversations with the Government of Morocco and our actions with respect to relief efforts in Morocco. One is that the United States Agency for International Development has deployed a small assessment team to Morocco to liaise with local responders assessing the situation and identifying humanitarian needs; and second, that we are exchanging specialized technical expertise through the United States Geological Survey and we continue to be further in close consultation with the Moroccan Government on how the U.S. can best support their efforts to provide a humanitarian response to this tragedy.

QUESTION: Have they rejected any U.S. offers of assistance at this point?

MR MILLER: I wouldn’t frame it that way. I would frame it that we are in discussions with them about what we can best provide to support their efforts.

QUESTION: Could I stay in Africa?


QUESTION: Mali. There was an attack today purportedly by Tuareg separatists. Generally speaking, I mean, what’s the concern level about the – a new flare-up of violence in Mali? And the departure of the UN peacekeepers and the presence of Wagner there, to what extent are those factors?

MR MILLER: We continue to be concerned both with the situation on the ground in Mali and with the presence of Wagner, or whatever you call the remnants of Wagner after the death of Yevgeniy Prighozin. We believe that they’re a destabilizing force in a country that did not need further destabilization.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Just real quickly, do you have any comment on the appointment of Ms. Kamikawa as the new foreign minister of Japan, and are there any plans set for Secretary Blinken to speak with her?

MR MILLER: I’m sure he will speak with her in the coming days, as he regularly does when new foreign ministers are appointed. The U.S.-Japan relationship has never been stronger. It is a – our alliance is a cornerstone of peace, security, and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific and across the world. Our government has had an excellent working relationship with the previous cabinet, and we fully expect close coordination on bilateral, regional, and global issues to continue with the new cabinet.

Thank you.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:24 p.m.)