US State Dept Presser

State Dept Presser – Sept 28, 2023

14 Min
<strong>State Dept Presser – Sept 28, 2023</strong>

The US State Dept held a press briefing on Sept 28 with spokesperson Matthew Miller fielding questions. The Q -A on India, Afghanistan and neighbourhood is tweaked to appear upfront. Some excerpts

QUESTION: I’m wondering about Secretary’s upcoming meeting with his Indian counterpart, Jaishankar, because Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau just said he was sure that Blinken would raise the murder of Sikh separatist leader with his Indian counterpart. So, will he?

MR MILLER: So, one of the practices I’m going to continue to try to adhere to, which is to not speak publicly about what Secretary Blinken or other representatives of this department will say in their meetings before —

QUESTION: Well, it sounds like Mr. Trudeau did not get that —

MR MILLER: Hold on, hold on. I will speak for myself – before the Secretary has a chance to say it directly to those counterparts. So, what I will say, however, is that we have consistently engaged with the Indian Government on this question and have urged them to cooperate, and that engagement and the urge for them to cooperate will continue.

QUESTION: Right. And in your continuous engagement when you’re urging the Indian Government to cooperate, what kind of feedback are you getting?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to – they can speak for themselves. I’m not going to speak to what they say in private diplomatic conversations. I will speak to what I say or what we say, and that is we urge them to cooperate with the Canadian investigation.

QUESTION: And there were the comments of the U.S. ambassador to Canada I think maybe a week ago. I’m not entirely sure if you were asked about this publicly, but he basically said the intelligence that was provided by Five Eyes led to Justin Trudeau’s – Canadian prime minister’s – assessment. Are you able to confirm that in any way?

MR MILLER: I am not going to speak to intelligence matters from the podium.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: In a TV interview with a local Bangladeshi TV channel, Channel 24, U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh Peter Haas expressed his security concern – not only his security concern, even the embassy personnel – in Bangladesh. So, his concern is legit, quite legit, because we have seen couple of attacks the U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh recent years under the current regime. Is the Secretary taking these concerns seriously?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to discuss specific details around security at the U.S. embassy or the personnel that work there. I will say that of course the safety and security of our diplomatic personnel is of the utmost importance to us. And per the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, every host country must uphold its obligations to ensure the protection of all diplomatic mission premises and take all diplomatic steps to prevent any attack on personnel. The United States values its relationship with Bangladesh, and we expect that the government will take all necessary actions to maintain the safety and security of all foreign missions and personnel in the country, including ours.

QUESTION: One more one. Is U.S. considering to more rounds visa restrictions in Bangladesh, including the pro-government media who helped the regime to be a monster?

MR MILLER: Was the question are we going to impose?

QUESTION: Yeah, we have seen from Dhaka embassy that you are thinking about more rounds of visa restrictions on the media personnel – basically the propaganda machine of —

MR MILLER: I’m not going to announce specific steps, preview steps that we might take from the podium. We have taken steps to impose restrictions under the Secretary’s authority against members of law enforcement, the ruling party, and the political opposition who we believe to be responsible for or complicit in undermining free and fair elections in Bangladesh. And as we made clear when we announced this policy on May 24th – that’s when we announced the policy, not the imposition of sanctions on specific individuals – but when we announced that policy, that it could be applied to any Bangladeshi individual who we believe was responsible for or complicit in undermining the democratic process. So we retain the option to impose sanctions on other individuals if and when we believe it’s appropriate.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I have two questions for you, sir. One of them is that a week or 10 days ago there was a big rally outside the White House by Pakistani Americans. It was probably one of the biggest ones since President Biden has taken his office. Is the State Department aware about the Pakistani American feelings, at least what President Biden has chosen to do in Pakistan by supporting this whole regime change?

MR MILLER: We do not support regime change in Pakistan, for the hundredth thousandth time – I don’t know how many times we’ve had this exchange.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) in America, Pakistani Americans.

MR MILLER: Let me make clear what our policy is and that we do not take a position in – with – as it stands, to elections in Pakistan. We support free and fair elections and do not take a position one way or another. And of course, we’re aware that in the United States – and it’s one of the things that makes the United States great – is that people can come and express their First Amendment rights.

QUESTION: Exactly. So that’s what I’m trying to come to. Like, so, a lot of the Pakistani Americans are now seriously starting to feel that – how is President Biden making his judgment when on one side you have an ally country who is providing weapons in war against Ukraine – you stand here and you talk about Germany, Belgium, other countries being ally of the U.S. with the war in Ukraine. With Pakistan you don’t talk about it. With Pakistan the biggest rally happens here; you don’t talk about Pakistan. So there needs to be a little clarity with regard to foreign policy at least with regard Pakistan. Otherwise, Pakistani Americans and Pakistani diaspora really feel that it is either something to do with President Biden’s personal grudge against Imran Khan or something like that is happening there.

MR MILLER: No. I would say that you are here almost every day and I take questions and speak about Pakistan almost every day, and I make clear whenever talk about this that we see Pakistan as a valued partner of the United States with whom we work on a number of issues. That hasn’t changed and it will not change.

QUESTION: I just want to know what the latest is on the Travis King situation.

MR MILLER: I don’t have anything to say. He obviously arrived back in the United States on a Department of Defense plane. It’s now a Department of Defense matter. So, I’d refer anything to them.

Yes. Alex.

QUESTION: My main (inaudible) about Karabakh. Before that, a very quick question. Just speaking on Russian disinformation, Putin today praised sham elections in Ukraine as, quote/unquote, “open, fair, and competitive,” which reminds me that you guys were supposed to come up with sanctions. Are we not too late? Are we chasing the ambulance here?

MR MILLER: I think you know the answer: that we do not impose – or we do not preview our sanction decisions from the podium. But we have been quite clear about our opinions on the so-called elections, the sham elections, the fake elections that President Putin has staged in Ukraine; and we have been quite clear that no one in the world respects those or believes that they are real elections. And I think our record of imposing sanctions on Russia and other measures to hold them accountable for their actions with respect to Ukraine has also been quite clear.

QUESTION: Thank you. Moving to Karabakh, do you have any comment on Karabakh Armenians’ statement today that they will cease to exist next year? They reported the U.S. is trying to announce its own Disaster Assistance Response Team in the region. Do you have anything on that?

MR MILLER: So, with respect to a Disaster Assistance Response Team, Ambassador Power announced yesterday that USAID had deployed a Disaster Assistance Response Team to coordinate the U.S. humanitarian response. That team will assess the situation and identify priority needs to scale up assistance and work with partners to provide urgently needed aid. And if you talk to USAID, they can provide you more details about that.

QUESTION: And on Karabakh Armenians’ statement that they will cease to exist as an entity as of next year, what is the U.S. response to that?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any specific comment on that. I think what I would reiterate with respect to Nagorno-Karabakh is that overall, we think it’s important that the ceasefire be maintained, that the humanitarian needs be addressed, and that an independent international mission to provide transparency, reassurance, and confidence to the residents of Nagorno-Karabakh be established as soon as possible. That is our priority for dealing with the immediate situation and one that we are working to get off the ground.

QUESTION: I mean, how serious, really, are you on this international mission? I mean, you’ve mentioned it but, I mean, one doesn’t get the sense that it’s going to go anywhere. And would Azerbaijan accept that in any way, shape, or form?

And then second, related to that, the separatists have announced officially they’re disbanding. They will cease to exist. You have tens of thousands of Armenians who fled.

 MR MILLER: So we are quite serious about the international mission. We think the international mission is important because it relates to all of the other questions about humanitarian assistance, about humanitarian needs in the region. We are so serious about the international mission that the Secretary raised it in his call with President Aliyev, pressed him to support an international mission. You may have seen that the Azerbaijani Government came out yesterday and said that they do support an international mission, and in fact in their statement said one of the reasons they are supporting it is because they have been pushed to support it by the United States.

So, we are quite clear on it. We’re working with our allies and partners on what the best mechanism to effectuate that is. But we think it’s important to provide transparency and to assure that humanitarian needs are being addressed on the ground.

QUESTION:  A follow-up on the international observation mission. Can you specify what countries you’re going to work with and also what their – what role is this mission going to play on the ground?

MR MILLER: Yeah. I can’t preview specifics right now because it is a matter that is ongoing with a number of allies and partners in the region. Both under what auspices that mission would be launched, who would participate, what its scope would be, what it would look like – all those things are under discussion. So I don’t want to make any kind of a – I don’t want to make any kind of announcement before we’ve nailed down the details. But it is a matter we are working on.

QUESTION: In a statement today, Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry urged Armenians of Karabakh to become part of the multiethnic Azerbaijani society. This is according to their statement. And Azerbaijani authorities also announced an online portal to register Armenian residents in Karabakh to provide them services. What is your read or assessment on this? Is that a step that is welcomed by the U.S.?

MR MILLER: I will say that we continue to be greatly concerned about the humanitarian situation in Nagorno-Karabakh. We think it’s important that residents of Nagorno-Karabakh be able to make the decision to leave if they want to leave and to be able to return if they want to return. It’s a decision that they all have to make as individuals, but we think it’s important that they be able to make that decision for themselves. And we think there ought to be unhindered humanitarian access to the region to make sure that populations in need can get the support that they require.

Again, I’ll go back to the international mission. We think to best effectuate that it is important that an international mission be established to ensure that those humanitarian needs are addressed.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: With regards to the visa waiver issue, in the last couple years, few years, the U.S. denied visas at – I guess at Israel’s behest denied visas to Omar Barghouti, the founder of the BDS movement; Bassem Tamimi, a nonviolent activist Palestinian, and so on; and Hanan Ashrawi, who was a frequent visitor to Washington and so on, participated in all the talks and Camp David and all these things. And I wonder now, will they be given visas? Will they be allowed to come to the United States?

MR MILLER: I think you’re aware that visa records by law are confidential, and because of that we can’t discuss the details of individual visa cases and that also means that I can’t speculate on whether someone may or may not be eligible for a visa now or in the future.

QUESTION: At least in one case, there is a person with – an Israeli citizen. Will they be allowed to come to the United States?

MR MILLER: Again, I cannot speak to any one individual case. Those are determinations that a consular officer makes on a case-by-case basis when they review the facts and determine whether an applicant is eligible for a visa based on U.S. law.

QUESTION: Can you speak to the case of a U.S. citizen who is being prevented from leaving the West Bank by Israel to get back to the United States, which is where he is a citizen of?

MR MILLER:  That is obviously a different matter.  I’d want to look at the facts of that specific case before I comment but —

QUESTION: The guy’s name is Ubai Aboudi. He lives in Ramallah, and he’s the executive director of a group called the Bisan Center for Research and Development. And the Israelis are not letting him leave.

MR MILLER: I’m not familiar with the facts.

QUESTION: So how many Israelis are you preventing from leaving the United States right now or will you under this – the VWP program when it goes into effect?

MR MILLER: We do not prevent people from leaving the United States. I obviously am not aware of this individual case and can’t speak to the reasons why.

QUESTION: All right. Let me just ask one more question. I mean, this is at least interpreted by the Israelis, by the Americans, by Mr. Netanyahu himself to be really a great victory for Mr. Netanyahu at a time when you have a great deal of differences, especially over the judicial reforms and so on. Do you feel that now he’s far more emboldened to continue despite probably the sentiment of hundreds of thousands of Israelis if not millions of Israelis by really giving them this kind of gift at this particular time, at a time when his government does all kinds of abuses?

MR MILLER: I would say the decisions that we make with respect to Israel are decisions we make about in the best interests of United States national security and in the best interests of the security of the region. They are not decisions that we make with respect to any one government. They are decisions we make with respect to the relationships between the United States and Israel. And I should reiterate that President Biden has been a friend of Israel for decades. He has been outspoken about how this relationship transcends U.S. and Israeli administrations because of our shared long-time commitment to democratic interests and values. That does mean there are times when we disagree with things that this – disagree, that things that this Israeli Government does, as we have disagreed with positions that previous Israeli Governments have taken. And when that happens, we express our disagreements openly, we express them privately with them, we at times press them to take different actions; but it doesn’t mean that we don’t take – we don’t take decisions that we believe are in the best interests of the United States and in the best interest of the Israeli people.

QUESTION: So you don’t think that this kind of thing under this kind of prime minister will in any way impact his resolve to continue pushing forward for the judicial reforms? You don’t think that that is totally independent of that?

MR MILLER: I think that it is totally independent, especially when you consider the fact that we have been quite clear about the fact that we think such changes as judicial reform need to be taken with the widest consensus possible. We’ve been quite clear, including in conversations directly between the President and the prime minister.

QUESTION: The Iranian IRGC yesterday put the third version of their imaging satellite to the low orbit, and they may use this technology to facilitate their nuclear programs and ballistic missiles. Do you have any reaction and comments on that?

MR MILLER: Yeah, we have seen the reports that Iran launched a satellite. We have long made clear our concerns about Iran’s space launch vehicle programs, that they provide a pathway to expand its longer-range missile systems. Space launch vehicles incorporate technologies virtually identical and interchangeable to – with those used in ballistic missiles.

Iran’s continued advancement of its ballistic missile capabilities poses a serious threat to regional and international security and remains a significant non-proliferation concern. And I will just reiterate, as I’ve said before about a number of activities in this regard, that we continue to use a variety of non-proliferation tools, including sanctions, to counter the further advancement of Iran’s ballistic missile program and its ability to proliferate missiles and related technology to others.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: General Hiftar apparently met with President Putin and with a top military official while in Moscow today. What is the U.S.’s assessment of Moscow’s welcoming of General Hiftar? And is there a concern that this might be a potential destabilizing moment for Libya’s future?

MR MILLER:I would say we have urged every country in the world when they engage with Moscow to look at the destabilizing effect that Russia has had not just in Ukraine but in Africa and all throughout the world, anywhere that they operate. And so we would take – we would urge any country that’s considering engagement with Moscow or that is entering into agreements with Moscow to go into that with very clear eyes about the destabilizing effect of Russia’s activities.

Shannon, go ahead.

QUESTION: We’ve seen some reports from Department of Homeland Security and other agencies that employees are being notified a shutdown might be imminent. Has the State Department sent any kind of communication like that?

MR MILLER: I am not aware of us sending a communication out to employees of that nature. We have had planning going on for a number of days, contingency planning in the case – in case there is a shutdown. We continue to work through that planning in the coming days to make decisions about what functions are essential, what functions are essential to national security that cannot be suspended even in the case of a shutdown, and what functions unfortunately do have to be suspended while a shutdown continues.

That said, we remain hopeful that Congress will do its job and fund the government. But we are making contingency planning in case they don’t.

QUESTION: And can I also briefly ask about the email hack earlier this year that impacted the State Department? Sources from over on Capitol Hill say that some 60,000 emails from the State Department alone were gathered in that hack. Is it still the case that the State Department feels that there were no classified emails that were obtained in the hack? And has the State Department determined through its own investigation who was behind it?

MR MILLER: So a few things. Number one, I will confirm that yes, it was approximately 60,000 unclassified emails that were exfiltrated as a part of that breach. Number two, no, classified systems were not hacked. This only related to the unclassified system. Number three, we have not made an attribution at this point. But as I’ve said before, we have no reason to doubt the attribution that Microsoft has made publicly.

Again, this was a hack of Microsoft systems that the State Department uncovered and notified Microsoft about. We have no reason to doubt their attribution in the case.


QUESTION: Matt. Yesterday, you mentioned that there were some additional meetings between U.S. and PRC officials, and I’m wondering if those have taken place, are scheduled to take place, whether they’re in Beijing or the United States.

MR MILLER: There was a meeting here yesterday that Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Dan Kritenbrink held with the PRC Vice Foreign Minister for Asia Sun Weidong here at the State Department. The two sides held a candid, in-depth, and constructive consultation on regional issues as part of ongoing efforts to maintain open lines of communication. This is one of the now many follow-up meetings we have had since the Secretary’s trip to Beijing in June, and I expect that we’ll have a readout later today that will provide further details on the meeting.

QUESTION: And since we’re on the topic today, I’m wondering whether in any of these meetings U.S. officials have taken the time to warn Beijing against interfering in elections in 2024. Has that – especially as these reports have come out saying that there’s more of an inclination potentially on the part of the PRC to leverage technologies to intervene in elections around the world, but especially in the United States, has that specific issue been raised?

MR MILLER: So I am not going to speak to whether we have raised that specifically in any one of these meetings. But I will say we have made clear a number of times to a number of actors around the world that we would take interference in United States elections very seriously.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: North Korea has adopted a constitutional amendment to enshrine its policy on nuclear force. I’m just wondering from that, the United States try to take additional action because of the recent change of DPRK?

MR MILLER: So the DPRK’s unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs constitute a threat to international peace and security and the global non- proliferation regime. We reiterate that the DPRK should understand that the only viable path forward is through diplomacy. We have made that point clear a number of times; they have continued to reject it. We will do what we have been doing, which is to consult closely with the Republic of Korea, Japan, and other allies and partners about how to best engage the DPRK, deter aggression, and coordinate international responses to their multiple violations of UN Security Council resolutions.

QUESTION: Barbara Leaf, assistant secretary, sat with four representatives last week during the UN meeting – with the Qatari, the Egyptians, French, and Saudi – regarding the French initiative to resolve the conflict in Lebanon regarding the election. Do we have the right impression that the U.S. are not happy with the French initiative that has not achieved anything, and now the Qataris are stepping in to continue their own initiative?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to the French initiative. I will say that we continue to support free and fair elections, and leave it at that.

 Thank you very much.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:19 p.m.) # # #