US State Dept Presser – Oct 31, 2023
The US State Dept spokesperson Matthew Miller held a press briefing on Oct 31, 2023.
Excerpts with Q-A on Bangladesh tweaked to appear upfront.
MR MILLER: I have no opening remarks
QUESTION: America and Europeans have demanded free, fair, and participatory election in Bangladesh, and current ruler Hasina Sheikh is holding power since 2009. Does America aware that due to the Indian influence, due to the Indian direct and indirect support for Awami League and Hasina Sheikh, there is complete – it’s like logical and impossible for Bangladeshi people to have a voting right and have a free, fair, and participatory election. Number one.
And I have a – second question is Hasina Sheikh hold a press conference last night. At the conference, she made some inflammatory and derogatory comments which is concerning the security of U.S. ambassador, His Excellency Peter Haas. Very few people in the world understand the body language and mockery of Hasina Sheikh. She did the same thing – why August 4, 2018 Marcia Bernicat’s car came under attacked under the direction of same Hasina Sheikh. She is making the same joke and same mockery sitting down at a press conference and making mockery —
MR MILLER: So let me – I think I get the question. Let me just say that we have made clear that we expect the Government of Bangladesh, as we expect every government, to comply with their obligations under the Vienna Conventions for the safe protection of diplomats.
And with respect to your first question, as I’ve said before, as I said yesterday, the holding of free and fair elections is the responsibility of everyone, all political parties, voters, government, civil society, and the media. And what we want in Bangladesh is the same thing the Bangladeshi people want, which are free and fair elections conducted in a peaceful manner.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. Bangladesh prime minister responded U.S. Ambassador Peter Haas call on dialogue between the ruling party and opposition by prime minister by saying that she will have dialogue with the opposition if the U.S. President Joe Biden does the same dialogue with the former U.S. President Donald Trump. Then she can – might think about this dialogue, as she refused to hold any dialogue between the political parties. And she – her administration’s very much attacking on the opposition. Today, two opposition leaders killed by the police – gunfire and they are arresting – already two top leaders arrested in Dhaka. So every day they are arresting opposition leaders and activists, so how could you believe that there will be an election free, fair, and inclusive?
MR MILLER: So I won’t have any comment on the first part of your question other than to say that the goals I outlined before for free and fair elections, we do believe that dialogue is important to achieving those goals. With respect to your second question, we are closely monitoring the electoral environment in Bangladesh leading up to January’s election, and we take incidents of violence very seriously. We are engaging and will continue to engage with the government, with opposition, with civil society, and other stakeholders to urge them to work together for the benefit of the Bangladeshi people, to ensure free and fair elections that are conducted in a peaceful manner.
QUESTION: Thanks. I’ll be very short. I have two short questions following – about Bangladesh. The opposition BNP-Jamaat alliance unleashed mayhem across the country. The opposition BNP has announced a new program of blockade for road, railways across the country, which has created fears for further violence. People of the country believe that BNP has chosen the path of violence to foil the upcoming general election. Will you slap visa sanctions on the bad actors that they are killing the police officers and they vandalized the residence of the chief justice?
MR MILLER: Well, as you know, because I’ve said this before, we don’t announce visa or any other sanctions before we make them, but we continue to support a free and fair election in Bangladesh and believe it should be conducted peacefully.
QUESTION: Neighbouring country, since we’re in the region. You had some sanctions on Myanmar today that target the oil and gas state enterprise. Just wondering, though; sanctions were specifically looking at financial services provided to the MOGE, the state oil and gas company. Why not do full blocking sanctions on MOGE, put it on the SDN list and prevent the – as you say, this is a huge source of revenue for the Myanmar military junta. Why not just use full sanctions?
MR MILLER: So we believe that the actions we took today were important to maximize concerted pressure on the military regime to change course that built on our previous sanctions. But with respect to specific sanctions decisions, I’d refer you to the Department of Treasury.
QUESTION: And this is – I mean, Chevron did have a relationship with – U.S. company Chevron had a relationship with this state enterprise. That relationship no longer exists, and you finally do the sanctions that have been called for a while. Is there – if people were going to ask the question of why didn’t the U.S. do this earlier when you perhaps had more leverage over them, what’s the response?
MR MILLER: Again, I’d refer you to the Department of Treasury for a response on that.
QUESTION: Okay. So can you just give us, if there is any update, an update on both the Gaza situation with the aid trucks and with trying to get people out of Rafah?
MR MILLER: Let me start with the aid trucks. So as I mentioned, around 45 went in yesterday. We think it was actually at least 45 – might have been a few more than that that made it through – for a total as of yesterday of at least 175 trucks that moved through Rafah Crossing by end of day yesterday. Another 59 have moved today.
QUESTION: Sorry, that’s since when?
MR MILLER: That was since they reopened, which I think was the 21st, since Rafah reopened. Another 59 have gone through today, which of course means more went through today than went through yesterday. We are continuing to try to increase the number that make it through Rafah every day so we have sustained deliveries of humanitarian assistance to the innocent civilians in Gaza, with – and are trying, as the Secretary said on the Hill today, to get up to a hundred trucks a day.
QUESTION: Okay. But in terms of people coming out of – it’s like one-way traffic going in, right? It’s – you still haven’t gotten any – none of the American citizens that are – that you’re aware of have been able to get out through Rafah?
MR MILLER: They have not been able to get out as of yet. I will say that we are making very good progress on this issue. You may see – have seen some reports that have moved from the region just in the last few hours about the possibility of Rafah gate opening tomorrow. We have been intensely focused on this. As you know, the Secretary called the prime minister and foreign minister of Qatar yesterday to talk to him about impressing upon Hamas the need to make this happen. Ambassador Satterfield has been intensely engaged on the question. The President, of course, has been involved in it as well.
I’m not in the position to make any announcements as I stand here right now, but I would say that we would welcome any agreement that would permit the safe exit of American citizens, families, other foreign nationals. It’s our understanding that should we get there, it’s not a process that would incur – would occur instantly. People would move out over several days. So while I can’t get into any further details at this point, I would say that all of the American citizens who are in Gaza should continue to register with the State Department and look out for any announcements from us, and as soon as we have any actual information, we will make it available to them.
QUESTION: Are you – 10 days ago when we were out in the region, we were hearing the same thing. “Oh, yes, it’ll be open; the Egyptians are waiting for them.” And then it never happened. Are you more confident today than you were back then?
MR MILLER: I – with all of these things, I want to wait and see it actually happening. I – as I said, there are reports that Rafah gate will open tomorrow.
QUESTION: Right, but there were reports that it —
MR MILLER: I’m not – and – but – I know. That’s – I’m not in a position to confirm those reports as of yet. I will say that we are intensely focused on getting the gate open, not just for one-way traffic of trucks coming in but for American citizens and other foreign nationals coming. Can’t make any announcements today, but we have made good progress on this even in the past few hours and hope to keep making progress to get those American citizens out.
QUESTION: Okay. Last one: Yesterday, I gave you a little bit of grief about the amount of humanitarian aid that you had pledged for Gaza, being 100 million at the time. There is more that the Secretary testified, Secretary Austin also testified to this morning. Can you be a little bit more explicit about how much you’re asking for from Congress for Gaza specifically?
MR MILLER: I can’t say Gaza specifically. What I can speak to is the request that we made in the supplemental package that the President requested, which is for a total of $9.2 billion in additional humanitarian assistance. Of that 9.2 billion, 5.7 billion is for USAID, and it would go to affect – it would go to fund USAID assistance programs in Ukraine and other areas affected by the war in Ukraine and Gaza. I can’t break down the 5.7 billion.
QUESTION: Why – okay, why not?
MR MILLER: Because we haven’t – because the money hasn’t been allocated yet. It has to be funded, then it has to be allocated, and USAID would make those decisions based on needs on the ground when we get there. But I can tell you that there’s a $5.7 billion request. Some significant subset of that money would go to humanitarian assistance in Gaza.
QUESTION: Okay. But you will accept that that’s still a drop in the bucket compared to what you are asking for and what you’re already giving to Israel.
MR MILLER: Again, it is a smaller number than what we’re giving to Israel, but you have to remember that we are not the only one, as I said yesterday, that is funding humanitarian assistance to Gaza. There are other countries in the region as well that are contributing, and we will hope that others will do more.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Could I just follow on one part, on Rafah? There have also been reports – AFP reported, I think it was in the Egyptian press as well – that wounded Gazans would be crossing starting tomorrow. Is that something you can either confirm or give a take on?
MR MILLER: I can’t confirm – I cannot confirm that. What I can say is one of the problems all along has been opening Rafah for traffic to flow from outside of Gaza to Egypt. If that report turns out to be true, it will mean that Rafah is open for not just one-way traffic trucks going in, but also individuals going out. And we would hope that any agreement to get any individuals out would also unlock the possibility of American citizens, their families, and other foreign nationals coming out. That’s what we have been intensely focused on. When I said the Secretary made this call, the calls that the President has made to leaders in the region, and of course Ambassador Satterfield’s work on the ground, is to trying to reach any agreement.
So while I can’t make an announcement today, we do think we’ve made very real progress on this, as I said, in just the past few hours, and every American citizen should, of course, stay tuned for updates from the State Department. As soon as we have actionable information – and again, I don’t want to promise anything before we know – before we’re able to deliver it. But as soon as we have actionable information about American citizens having the ability to exit through Rafah, we will make it – we will make that information known to them.
QUESTION: — Could I ask one other aspect of the conflict? I know you’ve said before you’re not going to give commentary on every strike. But there’s quite a prominent one on the Jabalia refugee camp today. Israel said that it killed a Hamas commander, but the health ministry in Gaza is saying over 50 people were killed. Do you have a take on this and about the civilian – what appears to be a heavy civilian toll here?
MR MILLER: Again, I can’t – I’m not going to offer commentary on every strike. We’re just not in a position to do so from a podium here without information that we have verified on our own. I would just reiterate what I have said before, which is, of course, Israel has the right to defend itself. We have talked to them about that right and we’ve talked about it publicly. But as we have said publicly and have also communicated privately to them, they also have the burden and the responsibility to exercise that self-defense in a way that minimizes civilian harm.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Have you laid down any red lines for Israel, though? Is it justifiable enough that there is a Hamas commander purportedly in this refugee camp that would then kill scores of civilians? Is that acceptable to the U.S.?
MR MILLER: So again, I don’t want to speak to the circumstances on the ground when we’ve not been able to verify them for ourselves at this point of a strike that just happened. I don’t think it would be appropriate for me to do so. What we have communicated to them is what – the exact same thing we’ve said publicly, which is we think that it is important that they conduct their operations in a way that minimizes civilian harm. Secretary spoke to this, I thought, quite clearly on the Hill today, when he said that – that we see the loss of – the significant loss of civilian lives. He’s personally affected by the loss of civilian lives, whether they be Palestinian or whether they be Israeli. And it’s why we will continue to make clear that we expect the Israel Government to operate in a way that protects civilian lives.
QUESTION: But if the IDF says, oh, there was a Hamas commander here, there was a Hamas commander there, is that sufficient for the U.S.?
MR MILLER: I’m just not going to – I’m not going to get into hypotheticals or to – and I don’t have the ability to comment on each individual strike.
QUESTION: And is there any progress on the safe zones for civilians that were supposed to be stood up?
MR MILLER: It’s, again, an area that we continue to work through with – it’s – that Ambassador Satterfield works on with the Government of Israel, with the United Nations, with other partners in the region about what is the best way to protect the civilians who are inside Gaza.
Yeah. I promised Tracy to —
QUESTION: Thank you. The Secretary also spoke – I know you don’t want to comment on individual strikes, but the Secretary also spoke about how civilian casualties will inflame the Arab world. And so it – given that that’s already happening now with this strike this morning, which was pretty big, is Israel really doing enough to protect – to avoid civilians?
MR MILLER: So let me refer you to a piece by the Secretary that just published in The Washington Post, I think, a half hour before I came out here, where he talks about the need to minimize civilian harm and the need to get humanitarian assistance in. And one of the – and this goes to the first part of your question – one of the cases he makes in that piece is that protecting civilians from harm and getting humanitarian assistance in to civilians isn’t just the morally right thing to do. Of course, it is, and that’s enough reason to do it on its own. But it is also the best thing to do for Israel’s security. It is the best thing to do that we can do, that Israel can do to prevent the conflict from widening, to prevent other actors from coming in, along with our deterrence measures that we will continue to enforce. So we will continue to make that case to the Israelis publicly, just as we have privately.
QUESTION: Okay. And following on the trucks, the Secretary also said this morning that as far as they know, as far as you all know with the inspections that they and Israel are doing, no spillover or whatever they call it – spillage has gone to Hamas as far as you can tell to this point. But there are also reports that Israel has blocked a fair number of those trucks from going in. Trucks arrived to be inspected and move into Gaza, and Israel’s saying no to quite a number of them. Is that – can you confirm that? And if so, why? What is Israel finding that they don’t want going in? And how big a problem is that?
MR MILLER: I can’t confirm that, actually. I wasn’t aware of that, haven’t seen reports of them rejecting, but it certainly very may well be true. They have an inspection regime that they have stood up to verify that only humanitarian assistance is going in. They’re tracking that very closely. But it’s an inspection process that – they are running, not that we are running.
But then, as the Secretary said, no, we have not yet seen any diversion of humanitarian assistance once it’s gotten into Gaza. But it’s an issue we’re concerned about, it’s an issue the Israeli Government is very much concerned about, so we’ll continue to monitor it.
QUESTION: On the aid trucks into Gaza, the Secretary said today in testimony right now we’re up to almost 60 trucks, we hope – trying to get to a hundred this week. That is the bare minimum of what’s needed. I guess if the bare minimum is not yet being reached by the U.S., why is the Secretary asking for more aid at all, whether it’s – however much of a portion of $9.5 billion is going to Gaza?
MR MILLER: Because we are trying to ramp up the ability to get more and more assistance in to the civilians in Gaza who are caught in this conflict through no fault of their own and are suffering the consequences of this conflict through no fault of their own. So we’re going to do two things: one, work with Congress to get more humanitarian assistance approved from the United States Government because we believe, as I said, it’s not just the morally right thing to do but it’s also something that is in the best interests of Israel’s long-term security; and we’re going to keep working on a diplomatic basis to try to open Rafah gate and work with the Egyptian Government, the Israeli Government, and the United Nations to get as much humanitarian assistance flowing in. A lot of that humanitarian assistance is coming, as I said to, I think, Matt’s question, from other countries in the region and from international relief organizations, not necessarily from the United States.
QUESTION: One more question, if you don’t mind. Senator Chuck Grassley has written to the Secretary a few times about Fritz Berggren, a State Department employee, accusing him of maintaining a publicly available blog that includes a lot of antisemitic content. He called the Jewish people the devil’s children recently. So your – State has confirmed to us that he is still an employee. Has he faced any disciplinary action?
MR MILLER: So because of privacy restrictions that apply to every federal employee, I’m unable to talk about any individual employees’ employments – employment – employment file and employment status here at the State Department. I will say, of course, as a general rule, we oppose antisemitism in any form. Secretary has spoken to this quite publicly. Our special envoy to oppose antisemitism has spoken about this in a number of occasions. And we will continue to work to root it out around the world just as we try to root it out here at home. But I unfortunately, because of privacy reasons and federal statutes, can’t speak to an individual employee’s case.
QUESTION: Yeah, just to move on to – well, back to something that the Secretary addressed during his testimony today, he talked about what the situation in Gaza might be like the day after this – this war, the current conflict, sort of ends. There’s a preference, I guess, from the Secretary’s point of view, for some kind of revived Palestinian Authority. Could you talk a bit more about what discussions you are having? Are there talks with the current Palestinian Authority to see if they are willing to do that? Do you think that’s a feasible thing to have an authority, even if they are Palestinians, to be kind of imposed by Israel after a military operation that – do you think that would be accepted among people in Gaza?
MR MILLER: So I don’t want to get into what the future may hold and I don’t want to get into any details. I think it’d be premature to do at this point. I will say we have had very preliminary talks about what the future of Gaza might look like. The Secretary started those conversations in his trip to the region just in the aftermath of the October 7th attacks. And we have continued those talks at the assistant secretary level, and the Secretary has raised it at time – when in calls with his counterparts. And I expect that it will be the subject of a good bit of diplomatic engagement moving forward. I don’t have any announcements to make about that at this time.
But a couple of things are clear to us. Number one, Israel cannot occupy Gaza. They have said that they don’t want to occupy Gaza and we don’t – we expect them not to occupy Gaza. Number two, Hamas cannot continue to govern Gaza. So that leaves you the question of what comes next, and we are going to be actively engaged in trying to answer that question and answer it in counterpart – or in conjunction with counterparts in the region. But I wouldn’t want to get ahead of that process to try to forecast what it might ultimately look like.
QUESTION: Would the people of Gaza have a say in that?
MR MILLER: Of course, they would. Our end goal is always the establishment of a two-state solution where the Palestinian people have a voice in their own future. That is our policy, it has been the policy from the beginning of this administration, and that is ultimately our policy with respect to the people of Gaza and the people of the West Bank.
QUESTION: In terms of the other countries you might help out with that, who are the sort of – who are you talking to? Who can we say —
MR MILLER: I don’t think I should get into any further details at this point. We’ll keep it confidential.
QUESTION: Just very quickly on that, the – obviously the Secretary is speaking for the United States, but do you think the Israelis are on board with this, the idea of having the Palestinian Authority, which many people in Netanyahu’s government hasn’t – haven’t actually been very fond of, taking control —
MR MILLER: I think I should let the Israelis speak to what they will or will not support. But they have been very clear that they do not expect to occupy Gaza. And we have – the President has made clear that he expects Israel will not occupy Gaza. So it is a conversation that we will have to have with the Government of Israel and with other partners of the region of what the actual administrative authority will be, as well as a conversation we have to have with the people of Gaza going forward.
QUESTION: Matt, on this I have a couple of questions too. The EU is considering sending a mission to Gaza after the war to control the area. Do you support such mission?
MR MILLER: Again, I think it’s premature to talk about what is going to come next when we’re in the middle of – or I should say it’s premature to talk publicly at this point about what might come next when we’re in the middle of a conflict where our immediate focus is getting humanitarian assistance in to the civilians that are being affected. But it is very much the subject of internal conversations here, and as I said, emerging conversations with our partners. But I don’t think I should try to at this point publicly speculate about what possible missions or other structures we may or may not support.
QUESTION: And do you have any comments on the Houthis announcing that they joined the war against Israel, and they already launched missiles and drones to Israel?
MR MILLER: So I will just say, as we have said from the beginning, one of our top goals is to keep this conflict from spreading. As the President has made clear, anyone hostile to Israel that thinks – that is thinking about joining this conflict should not do it, should think twice. And I will leave – I will leave it at that.
QUESTION: And what’s your expectation or your assessment of Hizballah joining the war, and especially that their secretary general has a speech on Friday?
MR MILLER: Again, I don’t have any assessments. We’ve seen the cross-border activity with Hizballah unfortunately launching attacks inside Israel, shelling targets inside Israel, and of course, Israel responding. It is our – as I said, we do not want this conflict to widen. We’ve sent a very clear message to Hizballah and other actors that they should not enter the conflict. And I will leave it at that.
QUESTION: And my final question. Assistant Secretary Leaf will be in Beirut tomorrow. What would be her message to Lebanon?
MR MILLER: I think I’ll let her speak to the leaders of Lebanon privately before I announce what she’s going to say publicly.
QUESTION: Any update on getting fuel inside Gaza Strip? Today two of the main hospitals announced that they will not be operational by tomorrow if they don’t get more fuel.
MR MILLER: It is, again, an area where we have made progress, and continues to be the subject of intense diplomatic engagement, but I don’t have any announcements to make today.
QUESTION: Any update on the work on the water pipeline that you said yesterday that —
MR MILLER: No. Again, I – not – something that I know we’re making progress on, but I don’t have an announcement.
So Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Just to follow up on what he just said about the Yemen – the Houthi – what factors should Israel take into consideration in its response to Yemen?
MR MILLER: I will let Israel make those determinations for itself. I don’t think I should publicly prescribe what factors they should take into consideration.
QUESTION: But it is your position that they should not fight back —
MR MILLER: Again, I’m going to keep the advice that we would give them private. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to weigh into it here at the podium.
QUESTION: Okay, fair enough. On Secretary’s speech today, just – well, not to change the angle, but different – flip side of the story, when he talked about profound connections between the two wars in Ukraine and in Israel. He mentioned that – how they’re (inaudible), both conflicts, and they both are serious. My question is: Is it fair for us to expect that, given the Secretary’s assessment – it’s very strong assessment – that the department is considering some obvious steps to – in terms of like Russia portion of his statement – to first —
MR MILLER: In terms of Russia —
QUESTION: In terms of Russian portion of his statement, that Russian – Russia’s war in Ukraine is equal to what Hamas is doing in Israel. By the way, it also came out from President —
MR MILLER: You mean steps beyond supporting Ukraine in its fight to defend itself —
QUESTION: Two such —
MR MILLER: — and supporting Israel in its ability to defend itself? Those have been pretty significant steps already.
QUESTION: Two particular – well, two particular steps would actually back it up perfectly, but one is to call Russia who it is. The President said that Putin is doing what Hamas is doing; that means State Sponsor of Terrorism. And secondly, to grant same rights to Ukraine that you have granted to Israel to fight back outside of its borders.
MR MILLER: So we don’t grant or not grant any rights to Ukraine. We have made clear that with the weapons that we supply to them, those should not be used to launch attacks outside their own borders. But Ukraine ultimately makes its own decisions about how to wage its war. I would say with respect to your question, again, we have been the largest supporter of Ukraine’s right and ability to defend itself and repel the Russians’ attack from its borders, just as we are supporting Israel’s right to defend itself from the terrorist attacks. So I get that you continue to push for the one – this one thing that you think would be the magical thing that we are doing that we’re not now, but I would make – take a look at all of the billions of dollars of arms that we have provided to Ukraine that have had some pretty decisive impacts on the battlefield, if you want to see the strength of our commitment.
QUESTION: I mean, and don’t get me wrong. I mean, the question is that why is it that Israel has the right to fight back outside its border that Ukraine doesn’t have by using the U.S. weapons? What’s —
MR MILLER: Ukraine has the right to make those decisions for itself. I don’t have any – I think it’s a little bit of a false comparison.
QUESTION: Can you please come back to me later on it, a different —
MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. Yesterday, an Israeli air strike hit the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital for cancer patients in Gaza. The Turkish Government condemned the attack, saying that it was carried out despite all necessary information, including the hospital’s coordinates being shared with Israeli authorities. Do you have anything to say on that? And does the U.S. believe an hospital can be a legitimate military target, and do you think such actions are in line with the laws of war?
MR MILLER: So again, I’m not going to comment on individual strikes from this podium. But as I said yesterday, hospitals are important civilian – pieces of civilian infrastructure that deserve to be protected.
QUESTION: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matthew. I’m going back to the Houthis fire missiles to the Israel. You said multiple times, even the President said that – do not do that, but they are doing that. Do you think that they are joining the conflict or not? Because —
MR MILLER: Again, I’m not going to make an assessment about that from here, and Israel can make its own assessments about a conflict with Israel. I will just reiterate what our policy has been, which is that anyone that’s thinking about this conflict should not – joining this conflict should not do it.
QUESTION: And do you have any red lines for the Iranian-backed groups, because they are attacking you every day?
MR MILLER: Again, we have made clear that the United States reserves the right to defend its interests, defend its personnel, and will defend its interests and defend its personnel. But I do start to chuckle when I oftentimes hear people here asking me to announce strikes from this podium before they’ve happened or preview actions that we might take. The Secretary and Secretary Austin got pushed to do the same thing on the Hill. Secretary Austin made quite clear today we’ll respond, if we choose to, at a time and place of our choosing. And I think for any number of reasons I ought to leave it at that and not preview any actions we may or may not take publicly from the State Department podium.
QUESTION: One last question. You are saying that the attacks on your forces in – by Iranian-backed groups is a – separate things with the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Why do you think that? Because they are saying that we are attacking the U.S. forces because their involvement into this conflict.
MR MILLER: They can – they can make whatever claims they want about why they are taking their actions. We have made clear that the responses that we have taken are separate and apart from the conflict between Israel and Hamas.
Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks, Matt. Just a brief preface to a couple questions here. There is a lot of reporting in the media that mentions occupied territories, so I want to clarify for our audience, Matt, how these lands become occupied, since the UN Resolution 181 gave the land to Arabs, not Palestinians. How did these lands that were never given by the United Nations to Palestinian Arabs become occupied Palestinian land, and whom did this land belong prior to what you claim that Israel became the occupier of? And just a brief follow-up.
MR MILLER: I don’t think I’m going to get into doing history lessons from here, just as a general rule.
MR MILLER: I will say that we believe, again, that the ultimate resolution for peace between Israel and the Palestinian people is a two-state solution along 1967 borders with mutually agreed swaps.
QUESTION: Okay. Just finally, does the State Department agree with the Turkish President Erdogan that Israel is the occupier of their ancestral land?
MR MILLER: It has been – that has been – I’m not going to comment on comments made by the president of Türkiye, but our position on the status of lands in Israel and what the policy ought to be has been clear for some time.
QUESTION: I had —
MR MILLER: No, go ahead. I’m going to move.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matthew. What’s the State Department’s stance on the House bill to provide supplemental funding to Israel? Does the GOP wanting to strip IRS funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, a non-starter for Democrats, make it harder to get supplemental assistance to Israel?
MR MILLER: So I will let others in the government speak to specific legislative packages, most – or first and foremost, the White House. But I will say that our goal is what the Secretary testified to this morning, which is to achieve full funding for Ukraine in its battle against Russian aggression and full funding for Israel to help it defend itself against the terrorist attacks from Hamas, as well as to provide humanitarian assistance to the innocent civilians in Gaza who are a party to this conflict through no fault of their own, as well as the other pieces in the bill. But in terms of specific legislative tactics, I’m going to let the White House speak to that.
QUESTION: Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib criticized the administration’s response to the Hamas attack, claiming that the Biden administration is on the wrong side of history. Does the State Department have any response? Does it have any concerns about the growing domestic opposition?
MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to specific comments by a member of Congress. I will say that we stand by our policy. We stand by both of the things we have done, which is, number one, to ensure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself. They suffered a brutal terrorist attack and have the right and the obligation to defend themselves, as any country would. And two, our intense and ongoing work to get humanitarian assistance in to innocent civilians in Gaza.
QUESTION: And finally, is there anything you can share with us regarding what happened with the Houthis?
MR MILLER: No.
QUESTION: Switching – thanks. Switching the region to NATO if possible. As you know, NATO’s foreign ministers will gather on November 28. Is it your hope that Sweden will be there?
MR MILLER: We want Sweden to be approved to enter NATO as soon as possible. I won’t put a timeline on it other than to say we want it to happen as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: How frustrated are you that this is taking longer? The Secretary had a conversation with his Turkish counterpart and Hungary also appears to have its own new demands.
MR MILLER: I won’t say we’re frustrated. I’ll say that we want them to be approved as soon as possible. But it’s something that we have spent a good amount of time working on. We have welcomed the announcement by the president of Türkiye that Sweden’s accession would move through the Turkish parliament. We’re watching that very closely, and hoping it gets approved as soon as possible. And we have also noted the comments from Hungary from – that they would ultimately support it as well, and we expect them to do so.
QUESTION: And my final question, if you don’t mind.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: On Azerbaijan. Yesterday marked International Day of Political Prisoners. We just had talks in Baku at the deputy assistant secretary level. I’m just wondering if you guys managed to raise the case of Gubad Ibadoghlu, and others. Gubad’s family reached out to the congress members, and there was a letter to the Secretary from the Hill two weeks ago. Anything you guys could have done that you haven’t done yet?
MR MILLER: So we are – continue to be troubled by the arrest and detention of Gubad Ibadoghlu, and we are alarmed by the reports that his health continues to deteriorate. We have urged the Azerbaijani Government on a number of occasions to immediately release him. We urge Azerbaijan to protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all, consistent with its own constitution and international obligations and commitments, and we have made that clear both publicly and privately.
Michel and then Jen, and we’ll wrap up.
QUESTION: Matt, a further on Gaza. Why doesn’t the U.S. support a ceasefire in Gaza?
MR MILLER: I have spoken to this a number of occasions. We believe a ceasefire would allow Hamas to continue to arm itself and continue to launch terrorist attacks against Israel. I don’t think you can count on Hamas when – I think when people call for a ceasefire, they’re calling for Israel to stop firing. I don’t think there’s anyone that actually expects that Hamas would agree to a ceasefire, a terrorist organization. That said, we have made it very clear that humanitarian pauses – either to allow hostages to come out, or to allow humanitarian aid to come in – would be something that would be appropriate.
Jen, and then we’ll wrap up.
QUESTION: Do you have any readout of the Secretary’s meeting with the new speaker of the House? Was it productive?
MR MILLER: I do. I won’t characterize it, other than to say that it was an introductory meeting. It was the first time the Secretary had a chance to meet with the speaker. He talked to him about a number of things; most importantly, the President’s request for supplemental assistance to support the Ukrainian – support Ukraine and to support Israel and to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza and into other areas. And he had the chance to talk to him about his recent diplomatic engagements in the region, and how we see – and what are our primary diplomatic goals in terms of securing the release of hostages, getting American citizens out, and preventing the conflict from widening.
QUESTION: But you wouldn’t say it was productive?
MR MILLER: I just – I haven’t gotten a detailed – I haven’t gotten the Secretary’s characterization of the meeting, so without getting that, I’m reluctant. And I was up here getting ready to come talk to you all, so I was not in the meeting myself.
QUESTION: And then, so there’s been a lawsuit filed against the State Department and the Secretary on behalf of some Americans who are trapped in Gaza. Are you aware of this? Do you have any comment on it?
MR MILLER: So we’d never comment on litigation. I’d refer it to the Justice Department. I will just say that everyone here at the State Department has no higher priority than getting those American citizens out of Gaza, getting them out as soon as possible. The President – it has been something the President has focused on, and has spent real time and effort on, and raising with his counterparts in the region. And as I said, the Secretary has been on the phone and conducted meetings about this when we were in the region.
We continue to do everything we can to get these American citizens out. It’s been a difficult process for some of the reasons I’ve gone into in previous days, when you have Hamas controlling one side of the border and just not being willing to let anyone go. That said, we continue to work on it, we have made progress, and I hope that we can get them out in the coming days.
QUESTION: Sorry, is Satterfield still in Egypt?
MR MILLER: I – I don’t remember where exactly he is. I know I maybe should get a body tracker on him; I don’t have one. (Laughter.) But I know he’s been moving around the region quite a bit. I don’t know where he is at – I think it’s almost 8:00 at night there now.
QUESTION: Do you mind if I just do something on a completely separate – on Venezuela?
MR MILLER: Sure.
QUESTION: I know you had some reaction on this yesterday, but the supreme court of Venezuela is saying it’s invalidating the opposition primary. This, of course, comes just days after the arrangement around – announcement of the United States of an ease of the sanctions on Venezuela. What’s your level of concern about this? Do you think this can be reversed? Has there been any discussions with the authorities in Caracas?
MR MILLER: So I will just reiterate what the Secretary said on the Hill today in an answer to this question, which is Venezuela made commitments as a part of the political roadmap that it signed. We expect them to uphold those commitments, and if they do not meet those commitments under the electoral roadmap, we have the ability to take steps – we have the ability to take steps of our own. I don’t want to announce what those would be. I’ll leave it at this point that we expect them to uphold their commitments.
We’ll leave it at that. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:46 p.m.)
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