HomeUnited StatesDepartment Press Briefing - February 26, 2024 - United States Department of...

Department Press Briefing – February 26, 2024 – United States Department of State

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1:20 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for being here. Happy Monday. Matt, you want to start us off?

QUESTION: You have nothing to say at the top?

MR MILLER: Do you want me to step – do you want me to —

QUESTION: You don’t want to say anything about NATO expansion?

MR MILLER: Do you want me to step out for a minute to give you a second to start your recording, which is what I think you’re doing? Stalling for time?

QUESTION: Well, no. I was just wondering if you don’t have anything to say about Sweden and Hungary and —

MR MILLER: We certainly welcome the – we certainly do welcome the vote in the Hungarian parliament today and look forward to it being finalized, and are ready to receive the instruments here in Washington and welcome Sweden as the 32nd member of NATO.

QUESTION: Okay. But so you’re waiting for the formal —

MR MILLER: Yeah. We’ll wait for the formal process to conclude. The Hungarian parliament voted, but that’s not the end of the process. They have to formally – as I think you remember with the Turkish vote a few weeks ago, they have to formally present the instrument here, and then we deposit it in our vault for it to be final.

QUESTION: Right. And of course you know that that has not yet —

MR MILLER: Has – it has not yet been finalized, and certainly hasn’t been presented to us.

QUESTION: And do you know if that’s going to happen today?

MR MILLER: I do not anticipate it happening today.


MR MILLER: I think there are still a couple of formalities that need to take place inside Hungary before they can be presented to us.

QUESTION: Okay. And then just one other one, which is kind of way off – way off-topic. But you’ve – I’m sure you’ve seen the reports about this guy, Alexander Smirnov, Israeli-U.S. dual citizen, who’s the guy who is an FBI informant and he has just been ordered jailed.

MR MILLER: Oh, yeah, right.

QUESTION: The only reason I’m asking about it here is that he is a dual citizen, so I’m just wondering if there’s been any contact, but with the – between the Israelis and you about consular access or anything like that.

MR MILLER: I’m not aware of any. I’ll have to check and see. I don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks.

MR MILLER: Humeyra.

QUESTION: Hi, Matt. So I just want to ask about this thing about Navalny. One of his – a close ally of him basically said he was close to being freed in a prisoner swap. I mean, is there anything you can tell us about that? The U.S. did put forward a substantial proposal; I think it was – you made it public in early December. Was he part of that?

MR MILLER: We put forward a proposal in early December to secure the release of Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, as we said at the time. I have always made it a practice from this podium – and I think you’ve seen it across the United States Government – not to comment on the details of our negotiations or the details of our work to try to secure the release of prisoners in Russia or in other countries. All I will say about this matter is that we have long called for the release of Aleksey Navalny, and that was our position on the matter.

QUESTION: Do you also – does the U.S. Government also agree with the assessment of this ally that he was killed because he was close to being freed in a prisoner swap?

MR MILLER: I think – so I do not have any assessment on that – I don’t have any comment on that specific assessment. As we have said, we believe that Vladimir Putin and the Russian Government are responsible for his death. But I couldn’t comment beyond that.

QUESTION: I have other questions, but if anybody else —

MR MILLER: Do other people want to do Navalny? Yeah, yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: If I could follow up on that. Just to understand how this works, is it at all possible for the U.S. Government to discuss a prisoner swap on his behalf without designating him wrongfully detained?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to try to get into a hypothetical that’s going to, by necessity, implicate me commenting on a specific situation. As I said, I’m not going to do so. I’m going to refrain from – I’m just going to refrain from commenting on any aspect of negotiations to secure the release of anyone around the world.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. Can I – this is – the question —


QUESTION: — contains a premise that I don’t think is accurate. Is there any authority under which the U.S. can make a determination that a —


QUESTION: — non-U.S. citizen is wrongfully detained?

MR MILLER: No, but I took Alex’s question to be can we try to secure the release of people who are non-U.S. citizens, which of course – well, maybe I misunderstood – which of course we can. But we – the wrongful detention statute only applies to U.S. citizens and other U.S. nationals.

QUESTION: I mean, there’s – as you know, there’s Levinson Act that actually expands beyond the U.S. citizens (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: To U.S. nationals, right, of which he was not.

QUESTION: Please come back to me.


MR MILLER: Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: I understand there were some early discussions on this front involving a potential swap for Navalny and U.S. citizens. Is there anything you can say about that —

MR MILLER: I’m just not going to speak —

QUESTION: — and when these conversations were happening?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to either internal deliberations or our work to secure the release of people held overseas. As I said, we had long called for Aleksey Navalny’s release.

QUESTION: And were there any conversations with the Germans on a —

MR MILLER: I’m just not going to speak to our conversations with any of our diplomatic partners about the work that we do to try to secure the release of wrongfully detained Americans or others held around the world.

QUESTION: But you don’t deny it, that there – I mean —

MR MILLER: I did not deny it, but I didn’t confirm it. I didn’t comment on it one way or the other. And you can read or not read whatever you want; sometimes people read things into that, mistakenly. But no, I didn’t comment on it at all.

QUESTION: Have you put forward any additional proposals to the Russians for the release of the Americans since that initial one you spoke about a couple of months or so ago?

MR MILLER: Our work to try to secure the release of Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan continues. It’s something we are working on every day, trying to figure out the best way to secure their release. As it pertains to any further proposals or any further conversations, I just don’t have anything to announce today. As I said, there are times when we feel it’s in our interest to make public – or in the interest of the work we’re trying to do to make public – certain details. But beyond that, we typically try not to comment at all because we don’t want to jeopardize the status of what are very – the very sensitive work that we’re doing to try to secure their release.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on this?

QUESTION: Staying on Navalny —

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Is this – let me – is this Navalny?

QUESTION: Ukraine.

MR MILLER: Let me go – let me just close out on Navalny and I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s not related to the hostages but it’s related to Navalny, the question being: Has the U.S. come to a determination at all as to whether the death of Navalny was coincidental or a concerted effort by the Kremlin?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any assessment to offer on the circumstances surrounding his death other than that the Russian Government is responsible for it.

QUESTION: Is the U.S. seeking to independently come to a conclusion as to whether his death was —

MR MILLER: We are always seeking more information about incidents of this nature. That’s certainly true in this – with respect to this incident, but I don’t have any assessment to offer.

QUESTION: Has there been diplomatic engagement with the Russian Government to seek answers about Navalny specifically?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any comment – any conversations to read out.

QUESTION: Okay. Relatedly, there was – there were reports from U.S. officials that the U.S. had engaged diplomatically on the matter of the anti-satellite capability that Russia has been developing. Can you provide any update as to whether the Russians have responded to that outreach?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to those conversations. We do have the ability to deliver messages to Russia. We did engage in diplomatic outreach to Russia to make clear our concerns about their pursuit of an anti-satellite capability. We’ve also had concerns with allies and partners of the United States as well as – conversations with allies and partners of the United States, as well as conversations with other countries around the world who think we ought to be concerned about Russia’s pursuit of this specific capability.

QUESTION: Well, does the U.S. believe that it’s making progress in altering the likely trajectory of what Russia may or may not do with this capability, either via the Russian Government or with its partners?

MR MILLER: So all I will say about that – because, again, there are limits to what I can say; there’s a very limited amount of information that’s been declassified because of concerns that the Intelligence Community has about making more information public – we have had what we feel to be very productive conversations with a range of countries around the world. We think it is incumbent on other countries who share our concern to make those concerns known. We expect that they will, and I will leave it at that.

QUESTION: I know Michele had a question on Navalny.

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just wanted to —

MR MILLER: You guys are confusing me sitting far – at the back.

QUESTION: I just wanted to get back to this —

QUESTION: There was no room.


QUESTION: — back to this (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: There’s a seat. You can come sit up front, walk and – (laughter) – go ahead. Sorry. Two – three seats up front.

QUESTION: I just wanted to go back to, like, the video itself, because you say you don’t like to have – you don’t like to publicize some of these negotiations. But these guys went out very publicly today and said that there was a deal. Are they wrong?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to comment to any extent on this beyond what I already have. So —

QUESTION: Matt, also just on this.

MR MILLER: Go – I told Janne I would come to her next, so go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. Ukraine and Russia and North Korea – first question. Regarding Ukraine’s defense industry corruptions, has the U.S. confirmed anything about Ukraine’s internal defense industry corruption, including artillery shells?

MR MILLER: So I’m not sure what specific report you’re referring to.

QUESTION: Because there are reports that Ukraine is involved with the – in defense industry corruption worth tens of billions of dollars, including the – I’m sorry, including the embezzlement of hundred thousand artillery shells.

MR MILLER: So I haven’t – I haven’t seen that specific report to which you’re referring. But we have long engaged in conversations with the Ukrainian Government about the need to take anti-corruption measures. We’ve seen them take a range of measures to crack down on corruption over the last couple of years. We think there’s more that we can – that they can do and we’re engaged in ongoing dialogue with them about that topic.

QUESTION: Secondly, Russia is using North Korean ballistic missiles against Ukraine, as you know that. But China’s role – what role does the U.S. seek from China, which is tolerating arms trade between North Korea and Russia? And will you impose additional sanctions on China?

MR MILLER: So we have made it clear to a number of countries that we think that the increased relationship when it comes to weapon-sharing between North Korea and Russia ought to be a topic of concern, that North Korea’s providing weapons to Russia for use on the battlefield in Ukraine ought to be a topic of concern, and we’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Humeyra, and then, Leon, I’ll come to you next, and then —

QUESTION: So I’ll go to Israel. I have a couple of questions, Matt, on what Secretary said in Buenos Aires on Friday. He said the Israeli settlements are inconsistent with international law. So I’m wondering why the administration – why it took the administration three years to sort of make that point? Was that something that you guys believed at the beginning of the administration and somehow decided to wait, or you landed at this decision just last week?

MR MILLER: So I’ll say two things. From a policy point of view, we have always been clear that we believe settlements are a barrier to peace and that they weaken, not strengthen, Israel’s security and position in the region. As a legal question, it is – excuse me, I still have this cough I’ve had for a week or so now – as a legal question, it is something that had been under review here at the department for some time. And as you know, the Secretary over the last several months has embarked on a process to try to ensure lasting peace in the region, to establish an independent Palestinian state, and we thought, as we were engaged in that important process, it was important to avoid any ambiguity about the U.S. position on this matter. And so that’s why he made the announcement he did on Friday.

QUESTION: Right. You said that there was a review that’s been underway. Can you – can you say when that started?

MR MILLER: No, we —

QUESTION: Was that at the —

MR MILLER: Only that we had been looking at this question for some time.

QUESTION: Right. And this is – I mean, I understand what you’re saying in terms of you have said that it is an impediment to peace before. But saying that it is inconsistent with international law is like a step sort of ahead of that, beyond that. What are you trying to achieve with this? Are you expecting that this would put some additional pressure on Israel about the settlements? Because this has been an ongoing conflict, dispute between you and the Israeli Government that you just can’t seem to agree.

MR MILLER: So what we are trying to achieve is the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel. That is the ultimate policy objective that we are trying to achieve. You’ve seen the Secretary focus his diplomatic efforts on it. You’ve obviously heard me speak to that a number of times from this podium. And so we thought, as we go about that process, it was important that we be clear and avoid any ambiguity about this particular legal question.

QUESTION: Would you have not said this the way Secretary said it if you have seen Israeli Government not unveil or like not have any plans to sort of add new housing units? Could this have gone in a different way?

MR MILLER: It’s hard to speak to a counterfactual, but we have seen the Israeli Government announce and explore new housing settlements, and we’ve had deep concerns about those. And as you heard the Secretary say on Friday, we think the settlements that they’ve announced prior to this date, the settlements that they announced they were exploring last week, are fundamentally a barrier to peace.

QUESTION: Have you given them a heads-up before? Have you spoken to them privately since then?

MR MILLER: I’m sure that we’ve engaged in conversations about them. As you know, we engage in conversations with the Israeli Government at a number of different levels, but I’m not aware of any specific conversation around this.

QUESTION: Matt, can I just ask you —

QUESTION: Can I follow up?


QUESTION: You say that this removes ambiguity in this – but actually what it does is restores ambiguity, the ambiguity that was in the original Hansell memorandum, which doesn’t say that settlements are illegal. It says that they are inconsistent —

MR MILLER: Inconsistent.

QUESTION: — or illegitimate. It doesn’t use the word illegal. So I’m not sure I understand how this removes the – it restores the previous ambiguity that had existed. Why don’t you guys just come out and take a position once and for all – are settlements okay, or are they actually quote/unquote “illegal” under international law?

MR MILLER: So I don’t think you should hear me saying that settlements are okay. You should see us – hear loud and clear – well, let me – hear loud and clear me saying from a policy perspective we believe they are a barrier to peace. From a legal perspective, we believe they’re inconsistent with international law.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you don’t believe that they’re illegal.

MR MILLER: I will let the lawyers, of which I am not, speak to the difference between those two terms if any, but on behalf of the United States, we —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR MILLER: — if any – we do not believe they are consistent with international law.

QUESTION: Because this is the entire – the entire point of the whole – the entire point of the Hansell memorandum when it was written in 1978 – believe me, I’ve done a lot of looking into this – was that it was ambiguous; that it did not put the United States down as having a position that settlements were illegal or not illegal or totally fine, but that it was intended to show unhappiness or your disagreement with settlement policy. But the fact of the matter is, is that when you say that this announcement on Friday removes the ambiguity, I just – that doesn’t – it restores the ambiguity. Because —

MR MILLER: So – I’m sorry.

QUESTION: — what the previous administration did, what the previous secretary of state did, was to say that the U.S. no longer regards settlement activity, quote/unquote “per se” —

MR MILLER: Per se.

QUESTION: — as being inconsistent or illegitimate. That seemed to remove ambiguity. This restores the previous ambiguity. How am I wrong?

MR MILLER: So I don’t find anything ambiguous about a statement from the United States that we believe the Israeli Government settlement program is inconsistent with federal law. I find that to be a very clear —

QUESTION: Not federal, international —

MR MILLER: — excuse me, international law, of course – a very clear, unambiguous statement. I cannot speak to the reasoning behind a memo that was written in 1978. Obviously, I was not here, but I can tell you our intention now is to be very clear about what we believe.

QUESTION: Yeah, so can I —

MR MILLER: Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m glad you mentioned 1978 because there was a lawyerly or a legal definition that was established then and so on. Plus, you guys are signatories to all the UN resolutions – 242 and so on – that basically say that settlements are illegal. So I don’t know why we – you – every so many years you feel that you have to reassert or dispel the ambiguity and so on. Let me ask you a couple —

MR MILLER: You would rather we hadn’t made this statement?

QUESTION: No, I’m saying you make these statements —

MR MILLER: Okay. Fair.

QUESTION: — all the time, especially —

MR MILLER: Fair enough. I’m just —

QUESTION: No, no, no. No, the statement is —

MR MILLER: I’m just being clear.

QUESTION: The statement is important because the previous administration basically sought to undo that.

MR MILLER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: And that’s why it is timely and it is important. I’m not saying it’s not important.

I want to ask you a couple questions, but also I want to say for the record, Matt, with all sympathies with Navalny and so on, but a Palestinian president has died in Israeli jails almost on weekly basis under torture. It would be – it would be great for the United States of America to say this should be unacceptable as well.

MR MILLER: We – so just to be very clear, we want every prisoner, every detainee anywhere —


MR MILLER: — in the world to be treated humanely, to be treated in accordance with international law. That is not just true in Russia. It is true —

QUESTION: Including – including in Israeli prison?

MR MILLER: Hold on, Said, just let me finish. And I will say what I – what I have to say. As I was going to say, is that’s true in Russia, it’s true in Israel, it’s true everywhere in the world.

QUESTION: Okay, excellent. Let me ask you about Samaher Esmail, the Palestinian American woman that was arrested early in February. Can you update us to any new development of this case?

MR MILLER: So I will say that we have obtained consular access and have – officials from our embassy have met with her. We are in contact with her and her family. We are providing all appropriate consular assistance, as we always do in these cases. There’s not a lot I can say about the case. It remains a legal matter, but we are in contact with her – her and her family.

QUESTION: Yeah, but she was apparently arrested for a Facebook post, I mean, nothing else. Let me ask you about the humanitarian situation in Gaza. It seems that Israel is doing everything possible to hinder the entry of the humanitarian assistance into Gaza by denying visas for humanitarian workers, by shooting policemen that try to organize these things and so on. So – so what are you doing to facilitate these human – human assistance shipments and so on? I mean, kids are coming out and saying we want a piece of bread. I mean, it’s really – it’s hard to imagine this is happening in the 21st century.

MR MILLER: So let me say a few things about that. First, as I’ve said a number of times, we continue to be at the forefront of advocating for increased, sustained humanitarian assistance to benefit innocent Palestinian in Gaza. We continue to be the largest humanitarian donor to the Palestinian people.

With respect to two specific points you raise there, first the delivery of humanitarian assistance inside Gaza, which right now is a difficult situation – so you have had this situation where the – the problem right now is not just getting humanitarian assistance into Gaza through either Rafah or Kerem Shalom, but getting it distributed inside Gaza, because of a lack of ability to secure shipments. There is a problem in that the police that were providing security to those shipments inside Gaza, some of them are members of Hamas; some of them are not. And so Israel does have a legitimate right to try to hold members of Hamas accountable as part of the ongoing military operation that they’re conducting.

But at the same time, we want to see the ability of shipments to be safely delivered inside Gaza and not looted by criminal gangs and others. So that’s a matter that we are in ongoing conversation with both the Government of Israel and our humanitarian partners on the ground about how to solve. It is a live question that we are dealing with every day. We haven’t reached a solution yet, but it’s something we’re actively engaged on – because it’s important not just that the humanitarian assistance get into Gaza, but that it get to the people that need it.

With respect to the second question that you raised, as it pertains to visa, so our position is clear: it’s that all regional governments must do what is necessary to enable this humanitarian response. That includes allowing international staff the freedom of movement to ramp up and help the response, and we hope all governments in the region will rapidly approve all requested visas for UN and INGO workers in an expeditious fashion.

QUESTION: Lastly, yesterday the Israeli prime minister told Face the Nation that any deal or any pause would only delay entry into Rafah. Do you have any comment on that?

MR MILLER: So I don’t want to speak to a hypothetical. Because right now, we are trying to secure a pause that would get hostages out, that would get humanitarian assistance in, and would greatly alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people. What happens after that? I think it’s too early to say. We are focused right now on trying to achieve that pause. We’ve had various officials from the United States Government engage in conversations last week and over the weekend to try to secure it. We think a deal is possible. We think a deal can be reached, and ultimately that’s where we’re focusing our efforts.

QUESTION: Can I follow on that (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: Leon. I told Leon I’d come to him.


QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: I’m just – I’m interested to hear what your take is – your reaction on the government of the Palestinian Authority which has resigned. That resignation has been accepted by President Abbas. How do you see that? Do you welcome that? Do you think it’s a first step to – towards a reform? And who would you support as a future government?

MR MILLER: So with respect to both the resignation and a future government, ultimately the leadership of the Palestinian Authority is a question for the Palestinians themselves to decide. It’s not a matter that I’m going to comment on from here. But we do welcome steps for the PA to reform and revitalize itself. The Secretary has encouraged the PA to take those steps in – when he’s been in conversations with President Abbas and others when we’ve traveled to Ramallah. That’s something you’ve heard this President speak to, and it’s something that we will continue to pursue. We think those steps are positive; we think they’re important – an important step to achieving a reunited Gaza and West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, so we will continue to encourage them to take those steps.

QUESTION: So you think they’re – the actual resignation is a step in that direction?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to speak to the actual resignation, because when it comes to personnel matters, those are questions that should be left to the Palestinians. But we have been engaged with them on the need to reform and revitalize the government, and we have seen them start to take steps in that direction, and we welcome them.

QUESTION: But again, you say you don’t want to comment on specific resignations, but then you – but then you welcome it.

MR MILLER: I – we are welcoming steps towards PA reform. There have been a —

QUESTION: Okay, so they – are the resignations part of the steps towards – toward reform?

MR MILLER: The – so I – I suspected you might ask —

QUESTION: I mean, come on. What’s —

MR MILLER: I just don’t want to speak —

QUESTION: We’re not idiots here.

MR MILLER: I just don’t want to speak to – I’m well aware of that, Matt. (Laughter.) I don’t want to speak to a personnel matter. But I think you have seen —

QUESTION: It’s not just the personnel.

QUESTION: It’s not a personnel (inaudible) —

MR MILLER: I understand, a government matter. When it comes to the personnel who are leading the government, it’s not something we have ever wanted to speak to. But —

QUESTION: Well, I know.

MR MILLER: But – but —

QUESTION: But then – then you say that, and then you come out and say —

MR MILLER: Let me finish.

QUESTION: — well, this is a good thing.

MR MILLER: President Abbas has said he is going to take steps towards reforming and revitalizing the Palestinian Authority. He has said that directly to the Secretary, and we welcome him taking those steps.

QUESTION: So you welcome him bringing in fresh blood?

MR MILLER: We certainly would welcome a revitalized, reformed Palestinian Authority.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: But not to comment on the actual resignation in any way. (Laughter.)

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Nadiya.

QUESTION: Allow me just —


QUESTION: — one last thing on this. You think it was necessary for the government to resign in order to move forward?

MR MILLER: That I am not – that I am not going to comment on. I will let the Palestinian Authority speak to that. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to comment on that from here.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Two questions, one to follow up on Said’s question. So you’re aware that the UN humanitarian organizations in Gaza said that 85,000 Gazans could die as a result of starvation, disease, or bombing. So what practically can the administration do to alter this reality? So you want to be seen as literally repeating rhetoric when you said we asked the Israelis to allow human aid organization to expedite the visas, to allow trucks to come, et cetera, so that these things on the ground does not happen?


QUESTION: So can we make sure that these people won’t face this death either by starvation or by disease?

MR MILLER: So there are two incredibly important things we are trying to pursue to alleviate the suffering of the [Palestinian] people. One is, as I said, to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, to make sure it’s sustained, and to break down any obstacles to it actually being delivered to those who are in need. But there is a second – and that work ongoing. It’s something we’ve been working on for some time. And there – as you know, we are involved at a really kind of granular, technical level with the Government of Egypt, the Government of Israel, and international partners in the region, and have been engaged with it really since the immediate days after October 7th.

But there is another way that we could help alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, and that is to achieve a humanitarian pause that would allow more humanitarian assistance to come into Gaza and would allow more humanitarian assistance to get to those who need. It would allow people better freedom of movement to move around Gaza and get to humanitarian assistance. And we have worked with the governments of Egypt and Israel and Qatar to achieve such a proposal, and we need Hamas to say yes. And so if Hamas wants to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people, they could agree to the proposal that we have put forward to achieve a humanitarian pause and get more humanitarian assistance in.

So when I see people calling for more to be done to allow humanitarian assistance in, we fundamentally agree with that. And everyone in the United States Government that is responsible for this brief is working on it, but Hamas plays a role too. And they —

QUESTION: So Hamas is —

MR MILLER: Hamas – I’d say Hamas plays a role too, and the people that are calling for us to do more should be calling for Hamas to get out of the way and allow more humanitarian assistance to come in as well.

QUESTION: You think the Netanyahu government is fine with all the conditions that will allow the humanitarian aid to come in?

MR MILLER: There are issues that we have to work through with the Government of Israel all the time, and we’ve been quite clear. I’ve spoken to them from this podium a number of times. The Secretary has spoken to them. I’m just saying that’s not the only impediment to humanitarian assistance getting in. If Hamas would agree to a humanitarian pause, a temporary ceasefire, that would go a long ways to alleviating the immediate suffering of the Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Okay. My second question is the Secretary was asked during the trip to comment about the Netanyahu plan for Gaza, and he said he’s not going to comment because he haven’t seen it. So the U.S. Government has not seen it officially. The White House dismissed it somehow as disagreement among friends. This plan – I’m sure you’ve seen it; not officially, but you read about it – fundamentally clashes with everything that administration calling, including just now when you talk about two-state solution. So is really the two-state solution a mirage, considering Netanyahu himself and his government don’t believe in it at all? So who are you going to implement it with?

MR MILLER: So with respect to the plan, first of all, again, we have not – you’re right that we have not engaged with the Government of Israel. We’ve seen press reporting, but we haven’t sat down to have a detailed – had a detailed conversation with the Government of Israel about this plan yet, so I will refrain from a specific comment until we have had the chance to do so.

But we have been very clear about what our position is with respect to the governance of Gaza moving forward, when it comes to questions about the reoccupation of Gaza and the reduction or potential reduction of any territory of Gaza. And we’ll continue to be very clear about that publicly and privately.

And when it comes to this question of the two – of two states, all we can do – and you’ve heard me say this before – is present our vision for peace and security in the Middle East, and make clear to the Government of Israel and make clear to the people of Israel that there is a path forward for lasting security, for better relations with Israel’s neighbors, and they have to take it. And if they are ready to do it, we are ready to work with them on how to achieve that vision.

QUESTION: But you have so many – you have so many tools – just the last – my last follow-up, sorry.

MR MILLER: Go – yeah.

QUESTION: But you have so much leverage over the Israelis, and this is fundamental vision of the President. So you can use all the leverage you want, including weapons that you sell to Israel —


QUESTION: — to make sure that this plan is on the – at least on the right path for implementation, considering we have, like, short time between now and November.

MR MILLER: So one thing I will say about that that people often tend to forget is that Israel, like other countries in the region, is a sovereign country that makes its own decisions. The United States does not dictate to Israel what it must do, just as we don’t dictate to any country what it must do. We present what we believe are the —

QUESTION: Unless you invade them.

MR MILLER: We present what we believe are the – (laughter). Good one, Matt.

QUESTION: Well, sorry —

MR MILLER: No, I mean – but come on. Yeah. We present standup hour at the – in the briefing room. We present what we believe are the best proposals to achieve peace and security, and we will continue to do that. But Israel has to make its own decisions, just as every sovereign independent country has to make its own decisions.

QUESTION: Can I just ask what did you say – what did you mean you mean when you just said to – that they have to take it?

MR MILLER: They have to – it doesn’t mean that they have to take it in that we can dictate to them. What I meant by “they have to take it” is we can present all the options in the world; we can’t control whether they take it or not.


MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. A question about today’s meeting between Secretary Blinken and the KRG prime minister. Why this meeting has happened at this time? Is there any connection between this invitation to the KRG prime minister and your discussion with the Iraqi Government about the evolution and the future of your forces in Iraq?

MR MILLER: So with respect to that meeting, the Secretary and the prime minister today underscored the importance of the U.S. partnership with the Iraqi Kurdistan Region in the context of their mutual enduring commitment to regional security and their shared values, including good governance and respect for human rights. Secretary Blinken expressed support for constructive collaboration between the Iraqi Government and the KRG as well as greater unity within the IKR to advance stability and economic prosperity for all of Iraq’s people.

This is not the first time the Secretary has met with the prime minister; we have done so in other contexts. With respect to the timing of the meeting, there’s nothing more about it than that we wanted to continue the conversations we’ve had.

QUESTION: And you talked about the unity among the Kurds, and Secretary Blinken in his remarks said at the beginning of the meeting he touched that issue too. What concerns do you have about the unity among the Kurds?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to that beyond what the Secretary said in his remarks.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Appreciate it. I wanted to circle back to the question that Said asked about the American woman detained in the West Bank and as well as the two brothers in Gaza. I know you are constantly doing assessments. Are you entertaining the possibility that these three or – and any other Americans detained by Israel post October 7th may be detained unlawfully or wrongfully detained?

MR MILLER: I don’t have – I don’t have any ability to offer that assessment at this point. We did meet with the two brothers today. We received consular access to them. Officials from our embassy in Jerusalem met with these two brothers at a detention facility inside Israel. We had been in contact with their family. This was our first time to speak directly to the two brothers, and so I don’t have any assessment to offer about their case other than that, as is true for all Americans in Israel or anywhere around the world, their safety and security is our first priority.

QUESTION: But like you often say when Americans are detained, say in Russia, I mean, that it’s something – I know – is there – there’s a process that you go through to establish that?

MR MILLER: There is a process that we go through, but we are just at the beginning stages of gathering information about these individual cases. We just met with the first detainee you mentioned last week. We just met with the two brothers today. So we’re nowhere near making that determination.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. My question is on Mexico. Has there been any engagement with the Mexican Government about the president of Mexico’s decision to publicly broadcast the cell phone number of a New York Times reporter? In the end she’s an American citizen, and U.S. press groups have called this action as dangerous.

MR MILLER: So I don’t have any diplomatic conversations to read out, but you might have heard the White House press secretary speak to this question on Friday. We support the independent free press when it does its work around the world. That includes in Mexico, includes any country in the world, and we wouldn’t want to see any action taken that would jeopardize any individual or any reporter’s safety.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Going back – going back to —

MR MILLER: Then I’m come to Jen and then Guita.

QUESTION: Thank you. Going back to Russia, does the department have any position on Russia’s forthcoming presidential election given the events of past couple weeks – not only murdering of Navalny but also they didn’t let the main challenger, Nadezhdin —

MR MILLER: Well, I don’t think it should be a surprise to anyone in the world that this will not be a free and fair election.

QUESTION: And on hostages, if I may, do you have any reaction to criticism that – coming from different corners – from the Hill, from other branches of government – saying that your approach towards dual citizens actually does embolden folks like Putin to go after more dual citizens. When the Secretary last year promised that the State Department will consider Kara-Murza designation as wrongfully detained, it was a year ago. Now you have more and more U.S. and dual citizens who have been arrested in Russia. Do you see any connection there? Because the criticism that your —

MR MILLER: I do not. All I’ll say – sometimes I get this question about dual citizens – we don’t see – we don’t look at dual citizens differently than any other citizen. An American is an American, and we try to do what we can to ensure the safety and security of every American overseas.

Jen and then Guita and then Olivia. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Matt, I know you don’t typically comment on hostage negotiations, but any comment on the discussions in Qatar today? We understand there has been some movement on the Hamas position that’s positive. Do you have anything on this?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to offer any comment other than what I said a moment ago, which is we did make progress in these conversations over the weekend and in the last few days. We continue to believe that a deal is possible and we are going to continue to pursue it.

QUESTION: And do you have any updates on the Americans who are believed to be hostages? Is it still your assessment that there are six?

MR MILLER: It’s still our assessment that it’s six, and I don’t have any information about their condition, unfortunately.

QUESTION: And then separately, there is an IAEA report that just came out saying that the Iranian of near-bomb-grade uranium has fallen. Do you have any comment or confirmation on this?

MR MILLER: So my understanding is that report has not been made public, and so I don’t have any comments on reports that have not been made public. But we remain seriously concerned about Iran’s continued expansion of its nuclear program in ways that have no credible civilian purpose, including its continued production of highly enriched uranium. And we appreciate the IAEA’s extensive efforts to engage Iran on longstanding questions to – related to Iran’s safeguard obligations.

Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Syrian Observatory has reported that there was a missile attack on the U.S. base in the – in Syria’s Koniko gas field yesterday, and then today there was an attack on a fuel tanker of the Syrian Democratic Forces and, it says, likely by ISIS. Now, the U.S. forces are in Syria in that area to control the resurgence of ISIS. I was wondering if the administration has seen any kind of a collaboration between ISIS and the Iranian-backed forces over there, the militia, post October 7th attack on Israel.

MR MILLER: So I’m not aware of any reports or assessments of such collaboration. I’m happy to take that back and get you a more detailed answer. And with respect to the attack, I would refer to my colleagues at the Pentagon.


QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Just to clarify, has the U.S. received any update on the military or humanitarian plan for Rafah from the Israeli Government?

MR MILLER: We have not.

QUESTION: Okay. So —

MR MILLER: We have not. We’ve seen the comments from the prime minister that he only received them I think last night. We have not yet been briefed on them, unless there have been some preliminary conversations at the embassy level in Jerusalem I’m not aware of. But we have not received any kind of detailed briefing at this point.

QUESTION: The prime minister mentioned as part of that plan the potential of moving citizens from Rafah north, north of Rafah. Understanding you haven’t seen the plan, even in the abstract, does that sound like a conceivable plan for 1.4 million people?

MR MILLER: I don’t think I should comment on the abstract before we see a detailed plan.

QUESTION: And sorry, just to revisit something that Said raised, which is the prime minister publicly saying that Rafah – an operation in Rafah will continue whether or not a hostage deal is reached, doesn’t that disincentivize Hamas from signing on to something that is predicated on a sustained ceasefire?

MR MILLER: I think Hamas should want to sign on to this deal because they want to see a humanitarian pause that allows more humanitarian assistance to move in to people in Gaza so ‑-

QUESTION: Do they?

MR MILLER: They should. I said they should. I said they ought to want to see that. So when it comes to Hamas’s incentives, I – far be it from me to offer assessments about what incentivize them and – incentivizes them and what doesn’t, but I would think if they truly cared about the Palestinian people, they should agree to the deal that is on the table because it will greatly alleviate the suffering of those Palestinian people.

QUESTION: Last one.


QUESTION: Just on the prime minister’s comments, he said that after the Rafah operation, total victory would be weeks away, not months away. Based on the military updates that the U.S. has been receiving from the Israeli Government, does that seem conceivable?

MR MILLER: I just don’t want to offer any assessments on the military campaign. I’ve always tried to keep from doing so here.

Humeyra, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just want to clarify one thing you said. You said we’ve had progress over the weekend. You mean like this very last couple of days, right?

MR MILLER: I mean we had progress with the conversations we’ve had between Egypt, Israel, the United States, and Qatar, yes.

QUESTION: Right. And based on the progress there, you’re still – are you hopeful or like not hopeful that – do you see a deal more likely after this weekend before Ramadan?

MR MILLER: I can’t make that assessment because it depends on Hamas. We believe a deal is possible and we hope Hamas will agree to one.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. In light of – and I know that there’s been denial that there’s illegal settlements, but there’s a Jerusalem Post article, February 24th, stating that the Biden administration has declared Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria as illegal. What is your response to previous Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comments February 23rd that he made on Twitter, and I quote, “Judea and Samaria are rightful parts of the Jewish homeland and Israelis have a right to live there. President Biden’s decision to overturn our policy and call Israeli settlements illegal will not further the cause of peace. It rewards Hamas for its brutal attacks on October 7th and punishes Israel instead. These Israeli communities,” he said, “are not standing in the way of peace, militant Palestinian terrorism is,” and a follow-up.

MR MILLER: Well, I don’t think you will be surprised to hear that I disagree with those comments. And I should reiterate again that it has been the long-standing U.S. position across both Democratic and Republican administrations – not just the Biden administration, not just the Obama administration, but Republican administrations as well – that settlements are a barrier to peace, they’re an obstacle to peace. We believe they weaken, not strengthen, Israel’s security.

QUESTION: Okay. If President Biden and Secretary Blinken think – if they don’t – if you don’t agree that it’s illegal – if you believe that it’s a barrier, as you said, to peace, so would your response for Israelis to live in their old land of Judea and Samaria – where is the justice, the question is, in allowing illegal immigrants coming across our southern border to settle wherever they want, causing havoc here in the United States, murdering our citizens, and robbing the American taxpayer?

MR MILLER: Well, I think I would say with respect to that you have seen this administration put forward a deal to further secure the southern border, and unfortunately Republicans in Congress have not taken it up.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Sir, Pakistan is moving ahead to build a pipeline that will transport natural gas from Iran, a move it says is needed to meet the country’s energy needs. U.S. expressed concerns on this project in the past. You still have those concerns?

MR MILLER: I’ll have to take that one back and get you an answer.

QUESTION: Sir, two major political parties in Pakistan are forming a new government, and still there are massive reports of rigging. So do you welcome the formation of the new government or do you believe that investigation should be done first before the forming of a government?

MR MILLER: So with respect to the formation of a new government, that’s a Pakistani process led by Pakistanis. We’re not a party to it and it’s not something that I would comment on. We want to see a government move forward in a way that reflects the will of the Pakistani people.

With respect to investigations into reported irregularities, we want to see those investigations proceed. We want to see them wrapped up as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Sir, Indian security forces have responded to the farmers’ protest by firing iron pellets and using drones to drop tear gas shells on the civilian protesters. We have seen some horrible images. What are your concerns on the barbaric – on this barbaric treatment of the civilian farmers?

MR MILLER: I haven’t seen those reports. I’ll have to take it back.

Go ahead here and then we’ll wrap up for today.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. The question is regarding a January 31st incident in which two Navy Seals lost their lives at coast of Somalia. So a U.S. district court in Richmond charged four individuals who were allegedly carrying Pakistani identification cards, and it is said that these individuals were transporting suspected Iranian-made weapons to Houthis in Yemen. So do United States raise this murder with the concerned authorities? And also I want to know, do you have any details from Department of Treasury or from Justice Department what will be the further procedure as United States has done the sanction on the individuals and entities who are linked with Iranian weapons transfer?

MR MILLER: So the Justice – with regard to this case, the – I don’t have any updates with regard to the second question, but with regard to this case, the Justice Department released a very detailed statement about this, I believe in connection to an unsealed indictment on Friday. It’s an ongoing legal matter, and because of that, I’m not going to comment further.

And with that, got to wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:04 p.m.)

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