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Department Press Briefing – January 30, 2024 – United States Department of State

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1:25 p.m. EST

MR MILLER: Hello, everyone. It seems dark in here. It seems like you guys are in the dark a little bit. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t been here in a few days. No, there we go. Let there be light.

QUESTION: And then there was light.

MR MILLER: And there was light. (Laughter.) Okay. I don’t have anything to start. Matt, you want to —

QUESTION: Really, you have nothing to start? Okay. So let me just start by one – to ask two separate things on the Gaza situation. One is, do you yet have a better idea of the aid – the money suspension to UNRWA, how much it is and how long it will last, that kind of thing?

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: And then I have a second, which is related but not the same.

MR MILLER: So it’s a complicated question to answer, and I’ll explain why. So we have provided already in this fiscal year around $121 million to UNRWA. We are the largest donor, or historically every year have been the largest donor to UNRWA, in the world. We have remaining about 300,000 – a little more than 300,000 —

QUESTION: Oh, 300,000.

MR MILLER: — in funds to – that we were planning to provide to UNRWA. That funding has been suspended. That would not be the total of our funding in this fiscal year. We would provide other funding, but it’s kind of difficult – it’s really impossible to say how much that would be, because, as you know, we are operating under a continuing resolution. We don’t know how much overall funding will be available for this fiscal year, and that would impact how much that we would be able to provide UNRWA. Historically, we have typically provided somewhere between 300 and 400 million dollars a year in funding.

QUESTION: So since October 1st, when the fiscal year started, you’ve given them 121 million?

MR MILLER: Around 121 million. Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. And then the – this 300,000 that you say was suspended that has —

MR MILLER: Planning to be delivered in the next couple of weeks, and it was suspended.

QUESTION: Okay. So that – so that means that you had – even in the CR or whatever the budget document is, you had only through the next couple weeks 121.3 million?

MR MILLER: Around – yeah, roughly. And we —

QUESTION: And then there was going to be more —

MR MILLER: More funding —

QUESTION: — if and when the supplemental gets passed?

MR MILLER: It’s – our next scheduled payment, not officially scheduled because the supplemental and the CR have not passed, but we would anticipate would have happened sometime over the summer. And the amount of the next payment would be dependent on how much funding was contained in the supplemental and a CR, or, if not a CR, a full appropriations bill.

QUESTION: But the – but the immediate impact of the temporary pause that was announced on Friday is 300,000?

MR MILLER: Correct.

QUESTION: And then – and, again, you don’t – you don’t know when that might be unfrozen or when the pause might be made permanent?

MR MILLER: So it will depend on the investigation that UNRWA is undertaking, that the United Nations is undertaking, and whatever remedial steps they put into place.

QUESTION: In the meantime, is there any way or is there any option for getting the 300,000 in suspended assistance into Gaza without going through UNRWA?

MR MILLER: No, but —

QUESTION: No?

MR MILLER: — what I would say to that is, first of all, let me just back up and say – and we made this clear in the statement. You heard the Secretary speak to this yesterday. We very much support the work that UNRWA does. We think it’s critical. There is no other humanitarian player in Gaza who can provide food and water and medicine at the scale that UNRWA does. We want to see that work continued, which is why it is so important that the United Nations take this matter seriously, that they investigate it, that there is accountability for anyone who is found to have engaged in wrongdoing, and that they take whatever other measures are appropriate to ensure that this sort of thing cannot happen again.

QUESTION: Okay. And then my second thing, which is a related but not UNRWA, which has to do with this operation that the Israelis launched in Jenin, the hospital today. What – do you have any comment on that? Is this something that you think is problematic or is it something that you look at with envy, like this is some kind of great “Mission: Impossible” mission that we wish that we could also do?

MR MILLER: So I’d say that we strongly urge caution whenever operations have the potential to impact civilians and civilian installations. That of course includes hospitals. We do recognize the very real security challenges Israel faces, and its legitimate right to defend its people and its territory from terrorism. Israel, of course, has the right to carry out operations to bring terrorists to justice, but those operations need to be conducted in full compliance with international humanitarian law.

QUESTION: Well, the – do those operations include going into hospitals and murdering people in their beds regardless of whether they’re —

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: — that they are suspected or even known terrorists? Is that okay with you guys?

MR MILLER: So there was a lot in the premise of that question. Obviously, they – we did – do know that they went into —

QUESTION: Well, you don’t think that they went in —

MR MILLER: We – well, hold on.

QUESTION: — and killed people who are completely innocent, do you?

MR MILLER: We – so let me say that this —

QUESTION: Because if you did think that, then you would be condemning it, right?

MR MILLER: We certainly would, but I would say that Israel has said that these were Hamas operatives. They have said that one of them was carrying a gun at the time of the operation. So I’m not able to speak to the facts of the operation. You’d have to pass some kind of legal judgement – know all of the facts of the operation. But as a general matter, they do have the right to carry out operations to bring terrorists to justice, but they need to be conducted in full —

QUESTION: Including in hospitals?

MR MILLER: So we want them to conduct their operations in compliance with international humanitarian law. We would generally say that we don’t want them to carry out operations in hospitals, but under international humanitarian law, hospitals do lose some of their protections if they are being used to – for the planning of terrorist operations, for the execution of terrorist operations.

QUESTION: The actual hospital – the actual hospital building does. But I mean, going in disguised as women and doctors and whatever is something different, and then going in and picking out people in particular rooms and particular beds and killing them seems to be something different.

MR MILLER: So again, not able to offer an assessment without knowing all these facts. I said some of the facts that have been presented by Israel are that one of them was carrying a gun and that they were planning to carry out or to launch terrorist operations. So you would have to look at all of those facts to make a specific assessment about this operation. But in general, we do want to see hospitals protected. It is important that no civilians were harmed in this operation, but – and as I said, we want – we do believe Israel has —

QUESTION: So how do you know – how do you know that?

MR MILLER: There have been no reports of civilians who have been harmed in this operation.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on that, please?

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Said.

QUESTION: Thank you. Actually, on both points. But on this particular one, I mean, Israel occupies the whole West Bank. They are under their control. They don’t need to disguise themselves as medics and go into a hospital and kill people, which you called non-civilians. They are actually civilians, but that’s beside the point. So —

MR MILLER: I – so that is very much – but hold on.

QUESTION: Just allow me. Allow me just to follow up.

MR MILLER: No, Said, but before you call someone a civilian that Israel has said is a member of Hamas, I need to put on the record that that is very much a question that’s in dispute.

QUESTION: There are civilian members of Hamas; it’s a political organization. I mean, you may disagree with their politics, but that does not make them militants, right? Or —

MR MILLER: I would very much —

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: I would very much disagree with that, Said.

QUESTION: That is —

MR MILLER: They’re a terrorist organization as have been —

QUESTION: Right, but that —

MR MILLER: — have been designated by the United States of America.

QUESTION: Right, but that’s an accusation of the occupier, a military occupier. They are making the accusation. I want to ask you: Is that a conduct befitting a state or a group of gangsters to go in and kill people, assassinate them as they sat in their beds?

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: Is that the conduct of a state? Will the United States ever do something like this under similar circumstances?

MR MILLER: So, Said, I am going to first of all note for the record, because it is important to note for the record, that Hamas is a brutal terrorist organization that carried out the brutal murder of 1,200 people on October 7th and —

QUESTION: We’re talking about the Bank, the West Bank. We’re talking about the West Bank, not Gaza.

MR MILLER: — and there are members of Hamas – and there are members of Hamas in the West Bank. And in addition to carrying out the brutal murder —

QUESTION: Right.

MR MILLER: — of 1,200 people on October 7th, has hid behind civilians in Gaza and been responsible for the death of many, many Palestinian civilians who they use as human shields. So before we talk about the people who died in this operation, I think it’s important to talk about who Hamas is, and it is not just – it is not a political organization, Hamas. It is – or Said. It is a terrorist organization that has carried out terrorist acts to kill civilians and has said it wants to continue to carry out those terrorist acts over and over again, and that context is important because Israel has the right to carry out antiterrorism operations to bring members of Hamas to justice. But as I said, we want them to be carried out in full —

QUESTION: I am asking you —

MR MILLER: Said, let me finish – in full compliance with international humanitarian law.

QUESTION: I’m asking you: Is this a conduct befitting a state that controls every single person in that whole territory?

MR MILLER: We think it is appropriate that they have the ability to bring members of Hamas to justice.

QUESTION: Fair enough, fair enough. That’s your answer.

MR MILLER: But that – but, as I said, it needs to be done in compliance with international humanitarian law.

QUESTION: Let me ask you on the UNRWA thing. Now, you’re cutting off aid at a time when several human rights officials are really warning that Gaza is on the verge of starvation. I mean, this is – it’s a real possibility. These people are facing famine and starvation, and you cut off aid because there is, allegedly, 12 people that are members of Hamas or have done this and so on, out of 12,000 employees. I mean, nobody talks about 158 employees by UNRWA – employed by UNRWA that were killed by the Israelis. But I want to go back to the issue of famine and the likelihood of starvation and famine and so on. What is your response to that?

MR MILLER: So the humanitarian situation in Gaza is dire. You have seen us focus from the beginning of this conflict on trying to improve the humanitarian situation. You’ve seen the Secretary travel to Israel to press Israeli officials to allow more humanitarian assistance to flow into Gaza. We have a special envoy we appointed who is in the region working every day on increasing the amount of food and water and medicine that goes into Gaza. And you have heard us say – and the Secretary traveled and met with members of UNRWA in the region – how important the work that UNRWA is – or that UNRWA does is to Gaza and to civilians in Gaza, and it’s important that work be continued. And I would say it is because that work is so important that it is also important that UNRWA and the United Nations take this investigation seriously.

I note the – you said “allegedly,” and that is very much true, but UNRWA found that the evidence that was presented to them was credible enough that they fired eight of these employees and have suspended two others. And so we think the work’s important, but this is an investigation that needs to be conducted thoroughly. There needs to be accountability. If appropriate, there need to be remedial measures to ensure that this can’t happen again. And there’s no reason that the United Nations can’t do this investigation quickly. And in fact, because of the important work that UNRWA does, it’s important that they do carry out this investigation quickly.

QUESTION: So what would be satisfactory for the United States and its allies to sort of say, okay, aid will resume?

MR MILLER: So I will only speak for the United Nations – or for the United States, not for other countries. But the steps that I just outlined are what we want to see, a full investigation. And as we said in the statement we put out on Friday and we have said since then, we welcome the investigation that the United Nations has launched. We want to see accountability. We’ve seen initial steps to accountability in that UNRWA has fired eight of the employees and suspended two others while they conduct the investigation. And we want to see measures put in place to ensure, to the extent possible, that this can never happen again. And so we are engaging with UNRWA. We are engaging with the United Nations about what those steps ought to look like. I won’t read out the details of those conversations, but they are in the buckets that I just outlined.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Simon, go ahead.

QUESTION: I want to come back to the ICJ ruling last week, because you haven’t had a briefing since then. Before the ruling, your colleague – we were asking what the U.S. view would be on whether Israel is compelled to follow what the court was asking it to do. I wonder, you have responded to the – the State Department has responded to the ruling, but on the specific – I guess one specific thing that the ruling requested of Israel is to report within a month on what it’s doing to ensure that genocide isn’t taking place. Is that something that the U.S. is calling on Israel to comply with?

MR MILLER: So I will say that a number of the things the court called on for Israel to do are things that we have said in our public statements and in fact in our private meetings with Israel. We’ve wanted to see them do more to allow humanitarian assistance to go into Gaza. We’ve wanted to see them do more to ensure that civilians are protected. And I will say we respect the court’s decision; we respect their ruling, as we said last week. And we expect Israel to determine what it has to do to comply with that ruling. It’s not a ruling that’s directed to us; it’s a ruling that’s directed to Israel. But we do expect them to determine what they need to do to comply with the court’s ruling, and we’ll be engaging with them about that matter.

QUESTION: After there’s a ruling, you’re able to say, okay, we’re happy with everything in here so our partner Israel should comply with what they – the way they deem —

MR MILLER: I think that we never want to address hypotheticals before they happen. So yes, we’re willing to comment on things after they happen, but not hypotheticals before they do. That’s general standing practice.

QUESTION: I mean, you might call this a hypothetical, but the court is also going to rule on Friday this week on – regarding the case with Ukraine and Russia. In that case, would you expect states to comply with what the ICJ says?

MR MILLER: I can guarantee that we will have something to say about that ruling after it happens. I wouldn’t want to preview what that would be. But as is true in this case, we certainly respect the court and its decisions.

QUESTION: Could I just follow up briefly on your response?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: When you said that you expect Israel – we expect them to determine what they need to do to comply, is that different from comply?

MR MILLER: Yeah – I don’t want – only because the court had a number of things that it prescribed and I don’t want to tick through those one by one, because they are not orders that were directed at us. We do expect Israel to comply with the ruling, but in terms of what the specific steps are, I would expect them to determine that, not the United States.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Back to the UN, Wall Street Journal’s reporting that they’ve reviewed intelligence that shows 1,200 UNRWA staffers have ties to Islamic Jihad. Does State have any concerns that the ties to terrorists among the staff goes at all beyond those 12, 13 who have been named in the —

MR MILLER: So this is a matter that we want to see investigated, and it is why we think an investigation is so important and that it be conducted thoroughly and it be conducted promptly. And we very much look forward to seeing the outcome of that investigation.

QUESTION: Are you concerned that that investigation is being – I mean, the UN has said a couple of times in public statements that it’s an independent investigation, but it’s very much not. It’s being conducted by a UN internal office. Do you have full trust that the U.S. is going to investigate itself and these allegations fairly?

MR MILLER: We do have confidence in the UN’s ability to conduct this investigation. We have been engaging with them about what that investigation might look like. I will keep those conversations private, but we do broadly have faith in their ability to investigate this. We’ve welcomed the initial steps that they have taken, but the proof will be in the pudding. I don’t want to judge anything in advance. We want to see a full, transparent, complete, prompt investigation, and any remedial steps that it recommends, as appropriate, we want to see implemented.

QUESTION: Any expectations for how long the investigation might kind of come to a conclusion? Are you thinking weeks, month?

MR MILLER: I would defer to the United Nations on that specific question, but I would say because the humanitarian situation is so urgent in Gaza, that just highlights how important it is that they do conduct this investigation promptly, conduct it thoroughly, and take any actions as – that they need to take to remedy the situation as soon as possible.

QUESTION: And what mechanisms are you guys looking – meaning if this investigation finds that these – the firings were rightfully made, that these individuals helped Hamas carry out the October 7th attacks, is – what kind of action – do you guys want to see sort of criminal indictments against these folks?

MR MILLER: Certainly we would welcome full accountability. We would demand full accountability, and of course that could include prosecutions for anyone that had violated the law.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the hostage talks, Matt, officials, including the Secretary, have been publicly telegraphing optimism around this latest round of talks. Can you give us any details on what’s underscoring these public pronouncements of hope and a strong proposal on the table?

MR MILLER: So let me echo something the Secretary said yesterday, which is: the less said about these, the better. As the Secretary noted, we do believe it is a strong proposal that’s on the table. We do believe it’s a proposal that – or not – it is a proposal that would lead to – could lead to a sustained pause in fighting and the return of hostages, something that has been a goal of the United States and other countries in the region. So we hope this proposal will be accepted; we hope it’ll be implemented. And we hope to see a pause in fighting and hostages returned to their families, and we’ll keep working on it. But as to any underlying details, I’m not – I don’t think I should comment on them.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any comment on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s comment’s today sort of doubling down on this maximalist approach, saying they would not pull out troops from Gaza, saying – keeping to these maximalist aims and saying they wouldn’t release thousands of terrorists in exchange —

MR MILLER: I don’t. I think I will – as I said, I think when it comes to this very delicate matter, the less said the better. And I think we’ll do our negotiating in private, not public.

QUESTION: And then on the UN assessment mission that the Secretary announced on his last trip to Israel, do you have any updates on when that might happen, the scope, anything?

MR MILLER: Yeah. So I don’t know if we’ve said this from here, but the assessment mission was delayed because of a renewed outbreak in fighting in the north. We saw Hamas fighters pop up and start launching rocket attacks into Israel, start shooting at Israeli forces. That made the conditions on the ground not tenable for conducting this humanitarian mission, not safe to conduct an assessment mission.

We have been engaging with the United Nations and with the Government of Israel on this matter. As you know, it’s something we’ve said and we want to see launched as soon as possible. We do expect some initial movements north to take place in the next few days to pave the groundwork for that assessment mission to move forward. And our hope would be, as I said, after that initial step takes place, that the assessment mission itself could move forward really just as soon as possible.

QUESTION: What sort of paving has to be done for this to take place?

MR MILLER: They have to assess conditions on the ground. You actually have to assess – before you can send the assessment mission in, you have to assess security conditions, the conditions of the road, how you would move and where, and some kind of factual and logistics things like that, to make sure that the assessment mission itself can be conducted as safely as possible. That’s what we anticipate happening over the next few days to pave the way for the assessment mission to go forward.

QUESTION: And then – last question – a group of Democratic lawmakers wrote to the Secretary asking for answers about his use of an emergency declaration to send arms to Israel last month twice. Does the – or the building intend to respond to their questions by February 9th? Any comment on that letter?

MR MILLER: So we always welcome engagement with Congress, and we will engage with them on this question, as we always do. I would say that the process that the Secretary followed and the process that we followed here at the State Department is the process that the law actually prescribes. There are two procedures for providing arms sales to foreign countries – well, more than that, but two in this specific section of the law.

One of them allows for us to go to Congress and provide Congress with notice, and there’s a review period. And the other specifically prescribes a situation in which there is an emergency need for transfer of arms, that we can provide that arms – that we can provide those arms through a different process, and that is the process that we carried out. So I see this described all the time as bypassing Congress. In fact, what we’re doing is following the statute that Congress passed.

And so we – and I will add that in each of these two situations when we did it, we did it in consultation with leading members of Congress, and we’ll, of course, continue to do that with respect to all of our arms transfers.

Shaun —

QUESTION: Can I go to another region?

MR MILLER: Yeah, of course.

QUESTION: Do we have more on the Mideast? Venezuela.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: The statement that you issued this morning – it gives a date of April, I believe it is, for these sanctions to go into effect. Is there some hope that this could actually change the Maduro – that Maduro could actually – that Venezuela could allow opposition candidates in by then?

MR MILLER: So we very much hope that they will abide by the agreement that Maduro’s representatives reached in Barbados. We very much hope that they will uphold the electoral roadmap agreement. That would mean announcing an electoral calendar that is agreed upon with democratic opposition. It would mean that the – an audit and update of the electoral registry, the release of additional political prisoners. And most importantly, it would mean that all democratic opposition political candidates could freely participate in the 2024 presidential election. And that is, of course, not what we have seen.

So we very much hope that the government will reverse the steps it’s taken. But we are ready to snap back our sanctions if they don’t. As you saw, what we announced today, there is one general license with respect to gold trading that we have already revoked. There is another one that is set to expire in April that pertains to the oil industry. And absent a change in course from the government, we will allow that general license to expire, and our sanctions will snap back into place.

So we went into this process with good faith. We wanted to accomplish several things. One, we wanted to secure the release of the ten Americans who are being held by Venezuela – six wrongfully detained and four others. We wanted to secure the release of a fugitive from justice. We were able to accomplish both of those things. We wanted to see Venezuela get back on the path to democracy, and we all made clear that if they didn’t we had the ability to snap back our sanctions, and we remain willing and committed to doing so if they do not change course.

QUESTION: Where does that leave U.S. policy if it’s been a failure, not necessarily because of the U.S., but if it’s been a failure to restore democracy? Does that mean that Maduro will go to pariah status, to the idea that he’d be considered illegitimate, that perhaps the U.S. would recognize someone somebody else?

MR MILLER: So I would say, first of all, with respect to the premise of the question – I know you did limit it to free elections, to the democratic process, but I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we were able to secure the release of 10 Americans, which was a very important goal of this policy and this agreement in the first place, and we’re glad to see those 10 Americans home with their families.

With respect to democracy, look, I’m not ready to write the end of the story yet. We have seen them take very concerning steps, and you’ve seen the response from the United States today. There is still time for the Maduro regime to change course. There is still time for them to allow a free and fair election. We are hopeful that that’s what they’ll do, but if they don’t, we are prepared to implement our sanctions.

QUESTION: Sure. Let me just ask something completely different. Do you have any reaction on ECOWAS? I’m going to Africa. Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso have formally said that they’re leaving ECOWAS and it’s quote/unquote under control of foreign powers, which presumably means the U.S. or maybe the French. Do you have any reaction to that, and where that leaves U.S. diplomacy in this region?

MR MILLER: So we are closely monitoring those developments. We are in close communication with ECOWAS itself and with member states. It’s a matter – not this withdrawal, but of course the general matter is a topic the Secretary discussed in his meetings in Africa last week when we traveled to four countries on the continent. We continue to support the efforts of ECOWAS and member states to bring peace, security, and prosperity to the region. We also continue to promote African-led solutions.

I will go back to what we said before, which is that we believe that the collaborative efforts that regional organizations like ECOWAS play are crucial in fostering peace, security, and economic development, and we will continue to engage with them and encourage – continue to encourage all parties in the region to engage in constructive dialogue to find common ground.

QUESTION: But just to put a point on it, I mean, are you calling for them to reverse this, to stay in ECOWAS, work with ECOWAS?

MR MILLER: Look, we would certainly welcome them to continue to work with ECOWAS. There are a number of steps that these particular three countries, we would call on them to do. We would call all of them to return on the path to democracy, in addition to continuing to engage with ECOWAS. And we will – what we will do is consult with the members of ECOWAS and our other partner countries in the region on the best way to try to encourage these states to return to democracy, or at least return to a path towards democracy.

QUESTION: Sure. I won’t take up too much more time, but just one completely separate issue as well, Pakistan.

MR MILLER: I love the tour of the – you’re like – you got me, like, hopping all over the world.

QUESTION: I was trying to get to each continent, but Australia probably not today. (Laughter.)

MR MILLER: Can we do – can we – if you can get an Antarctica question, that will be a first.

QUESTION: I would love to. That sounds like —

MR MILLER: I’d have to take it back, I’m sure.

QUESTION: And then New Caledonia.

MR MILLER: Please don’t. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Sure. No, but in serious, on Pakistan. I —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I’m sure you’re not going to have much to say about this, but the —

MR MILLER: I think there are people in the room who are waiting to ask about Pakistan. But go ahead. Go ahead. You —

QUESTION: Well, you know what I’m going to ask. The prison sentence to Imran Khan just before the election, does the U.S. have anything to say about this? Is this in keeping with democratic values?

MR MILLER: Sure. It is a legal matter ultimately for Pakistan’s courts. We have been following the case – the cases, I should say, plural – brought against the former prime minister but don’t have any comment on the sentencing. As we have stated consistently, we continue to call for the respect of democratic principles, human rights, and the rule of law in Pakistan, as we do around the world.

QUESTION: So specifically on Imran Khan —

MR MILLER: It’s a matter for the Pakistani courts. Yeah. Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Can we follow up on Africa?

MR MILLER: I’ll come to you next. I just called on Alex.

QUESTION: Just to follow up a little bit about Iran, given the fact that there is a mounting pressure for a more significant response, the Secretary yesterday said that we will do it “at a time and place of our choosing.” The fact that nothing has happened yet, is this the —

MR MILLER: That wasn’t even 24 hours ago, Alex. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Is it the part of strategy?

MR MILLER: So I’m just like – that was less than 24 hours ago that the Secretary said that.

QUESTION: So yeah, as my – but my obvious follow-up is —

MR MILLER: So just it’s important to – it’s important to point that out. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: But the obvious follow-up is: Is it a part of strategy?

MR MILLER: What’s that?

QUESTION: Is it a part of strategy that nothing has happened yet?

MR MILLER: Is it —

QUESTION: A part of strategy. As the administration is pondering over what to do, its next step, what is your response to critics that you might have wasted some time?

MR MILLER: So I would say that when we say “at a time and place of our choosing,” you should focus on the word “our,” not “your.” It’s a time and place of our choosing, not yours. And as the Secretary also said, we’re not going to telegraph the response in advance, we’re not going to telegraph the nature of the response or the timing of the response, and no one should read anything into that about when, where, or how that response might take place. But as he said, it could be multi-level, it could come in stages, and it could be sustained over time.

QUESTION: But can you speak to the objectives that you are trying to achieve here? Is it more than just this is completely wrong and don’t do it again, or it’s more than just sending a message? Are you going to go after troublemakers —

MR MILLER: So as the President said, we are going to hold accountable those who were responsible for the death of three U.S. soldiers.

QUESTION: Does the administration consider IRGC facilities, drone facilities in Iran, as a legitimate target now that they are targeting you?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to preview any steps that we might take. As you have heard multiple members of this administration say, we do not seek conflict with Iran, we do not want to see escalation of this conflict, we do not believe that escalation in the interests of the United States, not in the interests of Iran, it’s not in the interests of anyone in the region. But at the same time, we will take the appropriate steps to defend U.S. personnel, defend U.S. interests, and to hold accountable those who go after and injure and harm and kill U.S. personnel.

QUESTION: Okay, I appreciate that. But the question is: Do you consider IRGC facilities as a legitimate target? You might not choose that as an option, but is it a legitimate target?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t have any further comment than what I just —

QUESTION: Matt —

MR MILLER: I promised I’d go – I’d go here next.

QUESTION: The Secretary’s visit to Africa.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Can you shed a little bit the Secretary’s impression of Angola while he was visiting Angola? And also, was the Secretary able to accomplish the objectives they took there to Angola?

MR MILLER: Yeah. So I can speak to his impressions of Angola, but I would also encourage you to look at the comments that the Secretary himself made at a press conference in Luanda with the foreign minister of Angola, where he talked about his visit to the country and the investments that we have made in Angola and the economic partnership we have with Angola. And I know the Secretary welcomed the chance to visit the continent, to visit Angola specifically. As you may know, we discussed investments in the Lobito Corridor and the railroad that’s being built, an 800-kilometer railroad that’s being built across the African continent, which we believe will significantly improve economic development in Angola and neighboring countries and will improve the economic partnership between Angola and the United States.

The Secretary also was able to engage with the president of Angola about regional security issues. And the Secretary welcomed the opportunity to visit the continent, enjoyed it a great deal, and thought he was – one of the things you might have heard him say while he was there, thought it was important to be there not just to talk, but to listen.

QUESTION: So – and beside the Lobito Corridor, is there any other area that U.S. will be focused in Angola? I heard something about food.

MR MILLER: Sure. There were a number of things we discussed. I would refer you to the comments that we made. But he also did talk about our VACS program while we were in Angola, in which we focus on improving seeds and soil to combat climate change. I’d refer you to all of the comments he made while he was there for further information.

QUESTION: But what about the other countries that the Secretary also visit? How do you summarize the visit to Africa?

MR MILLER: It was an extremely productive trip and it was, I will say from our perspective, an extremely productive trip because the Secretary was able to engage in bilateral communications with each of the four countries that he visited, but also because he was able to engage with the people of Africa, didn’t just attend – was fortunate enough that we didn’t just attend government meetings but also engaged in a number of meetings with civil society and others. And he came away heartened with the cooperation that the U.S. can do with partners on the African continent.

QUESTION: And one last question. Is this some kind of preparation for President Biden to visit Africa soon?

MR MILLER: No, the President very much has made clear that Africa is a priority and he remains intent on traveling to Africa, but this trip was separate from any presidential travel.

Nike, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. On the Taliban, Chinese President Xi Jinping has accepted credentials from dozens of ambassadors in Beijing today, including an ambassador from Afghanistan from the Taliban government. So practical-wise, as an international practice, does the United States consider such act as an official recognition of the Taliban government?

MR MILLER: So I’ve seen those reports, and I think I would let the Chinese Government speak to what this means in terms of their relationship and whether they have formally recognized the Taliban or not. I’ve seen some comments from them to the contrary.

As we have said on behalf of the United States to the Taliban in public and in private, their relationship with the international community depends entirely on their actions, and we will be looking to see them take a different course of action than they have to date.

QUESTION: Would the United States urge China to use its influence over the Taliban to improve the rights of the women and girls?

MR MILLER: So we very much want to see the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan improved, and we would urge any country that engages with the Taliban to urge improvement on that front.

Go ahead, yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. I have two questions.

MR MILLER: Okay.

QUESTION: First of all, almost 47 journalists got notices from the Pakistan Federal Investigation Agency, FIA, under the charges of like disseminating. And this is something like international journalistic bodies have concerns like this is another threat for free speech. So how U.S. will see this development? How will you respond? Basically, already the free speech is under threat as general elections up ahead.

And secondly, Iranian foreign minister entered in talks with Pakistani foreign minister in Islamabad, said there is a third country that is involved in Iran and Pakistan to attack each other or something, like creating fear. So how do you respond this?

MR MILLER: There is a third country?

QUESTION: Yes, a third country is involved both in Iran and Pakistan doing terrorism for the both countries.

MR MILLER: So I don’t have any comment on that. And with respect to the first question, I’m not familiar with the reports. Let me take it back and get you an answer.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, and thank you, Matt. Yesterday, the Pentagon said that Kata’ib Hizballah in Iraq has some footprint of that attack that happened in Jordan, but today the Kata’ib Hizballah Abu Hussein al-Hamidawi, the secretary general of Kata’ib Hizballah in Iraq, they pushed a statement and they said that we announce the suspension of all our attacks on the U.S. troops in order to prevent embarrassment to the Iraqi Government, but if the United States will respond in attacking us, then we will resume our attacks. So how do you see this statement from the Kata’ib Hizballah?

And then, do you hold the Iraqi Government in any way responsible for not preventing these militia groups attacking your forces in Iraq, in Syria, and in Jordan?

MR MILLER: So I typically make it a practice not to respond to statements from terrorist organizations from the podium here. I will say, as we have said before, that we will hold accountable any organization that we find to be responsible for attacks on U.S. personnel in the region. As it pertains to the Government of Iraq, of course we have said that we want to see the Government of Iraq do more to hold accountable, to investigate, to arrest, to prosecute those who are responsible for attacks on U.S. forces, but we will also take steps to defend those forces ourselves, and that’s what you can expect us to do.

QUESTION: Yeah. Yesterday, you announced some sanctions on the Al-Huda Bank and the owner of that bank, Hamad al-Moussawi. Hamad al-Moussawi is a member of the parliament of Iraq, and he is a part of the coalition framework which – forming the current Iraqi Government. So do you still believe that there are some companies and banks in Iraq that are funding these groups and these groups are – get funding from these people, from the parliament and from the Iraqi Government, and they are using these funds to attacking you? So how do you deal with that situation in Iraq, that the Iraqi Government knows these people very clearly? Even 10 years ago, the Iraqi parliament made a statement that this guy, he is funding the militia groups and Iranian with the U.S. dollar.

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to make a comment with respect to that specific person, other than to say that we do of course expect the Iraqi Government to take action to hold accountable anyone that supports terrorism, that finances terrorism, and we’ll continue to engage with them in that regard.

QUESTION: And are you taking action?

MR MILLER: Continue – we will continue to engage with them on that regard.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: This is about Imran Khan. What would you say when you observe that all government institutions and others going after a key political figure in Pakistan before the elections and trying to keep him out of power? Don’t you think that such tactics are creating fractures in the structure of democracy in Pakistan?

MR MILLER: So the prosecution of the former prime minister is a legal matter and we would defer to the Pakistani courts with respect to a legal matter, but of course we want to see the democratic process unfold in a way that allows broad participation for all parties and respects democratic principles. We don’t take a position, as you have heard us say before, about internal Pakistani matters, and we don’t take a position with respect to candidates for office in Pakistan. We want to see a free, fair, and open democratic process, and when it comes to legal matters, those are matters for the Pakistani courts to decide.

QUESTION: General elections are in next eight or nine days in Pakistan. Do you think that – do you believe that it will be, like, free and fair when you’re sentencing a former prime minister?

MR MILLER: We certainly want to see a free and fair election, and we will be monitoring how that proceeds over the next week to 10 days.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: I’ll come to you in a minute.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: The Wall Street Journal reports India’s inclusion in a Canadian inquiry on Bangladesh on election interference, aligning with China and Russia. India’s involvement has also surfaced in Bangladesh election interference to keep Sheikh Hasina in power. The Bangladesh ruling foreign minister last week publicly asserts India’s support for their victory, similar to the 2014 and 2018 one-sided elections. Critics claim the U.S. is pushing back on democracy promotion in Bangladesh due to Indian influence. How do you respond?

MR MILLER: So I don’t have a response with respect to the Canadian inquiry that you referenced. That’s a matter for Canada to speak to. I will say with respect to Bangladesh, democracy – as we have said any number of times as it pertains to Bangladesh and others – advances peace, prosperity, and security. It is at the center of the United States’ foreign policy and we continue to engage with the Bangladeshi Government to advance democratic principles, which are key to ensuring peace and prosperity for all Bangladeshis.

QUESTION: The Human Rights Commission – one more, Matt, please.

MR MILLER: Sure.

QUESTION: The Human Rights Commission calls for the immediate release of detained political activities – activists in Bangladesh. The regime arrested 25,000 opposition members, including top opposition leaders, BNP leaders, to manipulate the January 7th sham election. What steps is the U.S. taking against the authoritarian regime for undermining democracy given the pre-elections visa restriction policy?

MR MILLER: So you have heard me speak about our concerns about the parliamentary elections in Bangladesh before. We did not find them to be free and fair. We have also expressed our concerns with the arrest of thousands of political opposition members in the run-up to those elections.

I will say two things. One, we urge the Bangladeshi Government to ensure a fair and transparent legal process for all of the arrested individuals. We also urge the Bangladeshi Government to allow opposition members and media professionals, civil society representatives, to participate meaningfully in the country’s democratic process and civic life, and we will continue to engage with the Bangladeshi Government to advance that point of view.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, and I’ll come to you next. Go ahead.

QUESTION: The Iranian regime continue to deepen its tie with the Taliban in order to integrate them into the axis of resistance. Would you be worried if the Taliban fighter show up in the Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to fight alongside Iran’s proxy against the Israel and the other U.S. allies?

MR MILLER: So certainly I would say what we have said to a number of countries and organizations in the region, which is we do not want to see this conflict widened, we do not want to see it escalated, and anyone, whether it’s in a country or an organization or an individual who is thinking about using this opportunity – using the crisis in the Middle East to try and advance their own goals, that they should very much think again.

Ryan, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just wanted to pick up on his Pakistan question, because you said earlier that that’s a matter for the Pakistani courts. When it came to Venezuela, that’s a political matter, it seems. The Venezuelan courts, of course, approved Maduro’s banning of the party. Now, you could say that court is under Maduro’s thumb, it’s a kangaroo court, but in Pakistan, the prosecution was held in secret. Just recently, the – his attorney – Imran Khan’s attorneys were kept out of the courtroom and they took attorneys from the prosecution team and made him – and put them on the defense team. Like, the – nothing about that prosecution seems less than kangaroo. So why would Venezuela’s be a political case, but when it comes to Pakistan that’s a matter for the Pakistani courts?

MR MILLER: So they are different situations, and we have not yet made that conclusion with respect to the Pakistani legal process. When you look at Venezuela, we are looking at the entire history of the Maduro regime in cracking down on democracy and, most importantly in this case, failing to carry out the commitments that they made to allow candidates to run. It’s a commitment that they made that the country has reneged on, and that’s why we were able to make the assessment in that case.

QUESTION: There might still be a determination on the Pakistan question?

MR MILLER: I just don’t – I don’t have anything to preview, but it’s not one that we’ve made at this time.

QUESTION: Well, I can’t do this right now because my battery is about – my phone battery is about to die, but when I go back to my desk and look up in the Human Rights Reports for the last year on Pakistan, it will say that the U.S. has confidence that the Pakistan judiciary is fully independent and free of political influence?

MR MILLER: I do not – I do not know what that report will say, but that’s not an assessment we’ve made with respect to this specific case, so – go ahead. And then we’ll wrap for the day.

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Matt. Just following up a small question on my colleague’s with regards to Pakistan and Imran Khan conviction. So basically you are happy with President Biden’s foreign policy with regard to Pakistan since last three, four years you think the U.S. has gained more respect in the ordinary eyes of Pakistani people? Like you think Biden administration has done well, basically?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to the views of the people of Pakistan. They can obviously speak for themselves, but we have engaged to promote stability in the region, to advance democracy in Pakistan, and to deepen economic ties between the United States and Pakistan, which will ultimately improve the lives of the Pakistani people. And we – that’s the policy that we will continue to pursue.

QUESTION: And just one more question, and this question I’m a little bit disappointed with the kind of response you gave to my colleague about the Chinese-Taliban relations —

MR MILLER: I’m glad to hear you passing judgment on my answers to questions.

QUESTION: Yes. Yes.

MR MILLER: That’s usual journalistic tactics. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I am a little bit offended because the U.S. has much big – well, because the U.S. had a much stronger response to that since decades, and the way you expressed it was very disappointing. With regards to girls’ education in Afghanistan, the U.S. has since the birth – since the beginning of the Taliban in the ’90s, girls’ education was one of the reason why media outlets like and me and the U.S. administration here from this podium – I mean, you took it very light, that you think that building relationship with Taliban without girls’ education is a small thing, basically? Is that what you are giving hint here? I mean —

MR MILLER: I think you are taking the opposite interpretation from my remarks than what I said, which is that we very much want to see the rights of women and girls improved in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: So – but that is very weak statement.

MR MILLER: What is the – so let me just —

QUESTION: The U.S. has stood by the —

MR MILLER: Do you have a question?

QUESTION: The U.S. has supported this girls’ education issue in a much stronger sense, and – I am just trying to say that —

MR MILLER: And – we are – this is the last – this is the last, I think, question of the briefing. So let me just say do you have a question before we close?

QUESTION: Okay. So basically what I’m saying is the U.S.’s stake has to – has become a little softer with regards to girls’ education and that is —

MR MILLER: So I would —

QUESTION: Taliban have ruined the whole religion of Islam by not allowing girls, so that’s – that’s —

MR MILLER: I would disagree with that. And in fact, if you listen to what I said in my comments earlier about Afghanistan, I said that for the Taliban to gain international recognition, it very much depends on the steps that it takes. And one of the steps that we would expect to see them take would be to improve the treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan.

And with that, we’ll wrap for the day.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on something?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: The way Nike asked the question about China and how they’re receiving the Taliban – I know you mentioned the U.S. policy with the Taliban, but do you have any concerns about China actually receiving a representative of the Taliban in the – in this context?

MR MILLER: So the only reason I’m not commenting on it specifically is I’ve seen also the Chinese Government put out some statement that it has not changed their recognition of the Taliban, so I want to have actual clarity on what it is the Chinese Government did before I make any formal assessment.

With that, we’ll wrap for the day. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: So – hold on a second.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I did manage to find it before (inaudible).

MR MILLER: I said the briefing was over. You don’t get the right to declare it’s still going. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Well, I’m just going to quote from you from your own Human Rights Report: “There was a lack of government accountability, and abuses, including corruption and misconduct by security forces” and – that “often went unpunished” —

MR MILLER: You better hurry before your service runs out – your battery.

QUESTION: — “fostering a culture of impunity among perpetrators. Authorities seldom investigated or punished government officials for reported human rights abuses and acts of corruption.” So what you’re saying now is that this – you could see a situation in which this – the prosecution of the former prime minister is actually an improvement over what you found in the Human Rights Reports for Pakistan last year.

MR MILLER: So certainly there are areas – there are areas for improvement that we would welcome in Pakistan, but that is not an assessment we have made with this specific case.

QUESTION: Got it. Thank you.

MR MILLER: Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:12 p.m.)

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