1:26 p.m. EDT
MR MILLER: Good to see everyone again after a week away. Let me start with some brief comments before coming to questions.
Part of the United States strategic efforts to engage emerging leaders and changemakers throughout – through the Young African Leaders Initiative, the Mandela Washington Fellowship 2023 Summit kicked off this morning in Washington, D.C. The three-day summit caps off six weeks of academic study and leadership development at 28 institutions of higher education in 20 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. Driven by young leaders, nearly 6,000 strong, who have gone on to address key issues such as democracy and voting rights, food security, economic equity, public health and education, the Mandela Washington Fellowship has been a vital public diplomacy tool to help catalyze positive change within the Sub-Saharan Africa – within Sub-Saharan African nations for nearly a decade.
On Wednesday, Secretary Blinken will address the 700 Mandela Washington Fellows at this year’s summit during the closing plenary session. In addition to the Secretary, Administrator Samantha Power, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Elizabeth Allen, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee, and other U.S. Government and private sector leaders will also address the Mandela Washington Fellows. And we would like to welcome them to Washington and encourage them for all their efforts on behalf of the nation.
With that, start us out?
QUESTION: Thanks. If I could start with Tom West’s meeting with the Taliban representatives today. What was discussed in that meeting? How did it go?
MR MILLER: I’m going to wait. We have a readout that we have coming. We’re working on putting together the details now. And I’m going to wait and withhold comment till we have the – all those details wrapped up and put out. It should be in the next hour or two.
QUESTION: Okay. And the Taliban said they discussed the lifting of travel and other restrictions on Taliban leaders, and the return of Afghan Central Bank assets. Is that something that’s seriously under consideration?
MR MILLER: Again, I’m going to wait until – just because the meeting just wrapped and we’re still in talks with the people that were there at the meeting, I’m going to wait until we have the readout out to talk in detail about the meeting.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you guys have any update —
MR MILLER: Good to see you in the front row.
QUESTION: There was no room back there. (Laughter.)
MR MILLER: These – I see. Someone took your seat. I see. It was confusing to me; I’m used to people in their – you know.
MR MILLER: Sorry.
QUESTION: Alix Dorsainvil, do you guys have any update on her abduction in Haiti last week?
MR MILLER: I don’t. I will say we are aware of the reports that two U.S. citizens were kidnapped in Haiti. Obviously, the safety and security of American citizens overseas is our highest priority. We are in regular contact with the Haitian authorities and will continue to work with them and our U.S. Government interagency partners. But because it’s an ongoing law enforcement investigation, there’s not any more detail I can offer.
QUESTION: You don’t know who’s holding her at this time, or you can’t share that information?
MR MILLER: Again, because – as is usually the case with ongoing law enforcement questions, I’m not going to comment on any of the underlying details.
QUESTION: And can you tell us if there’s been any – if those who have abducted her have requested anything from the U.S. Government?
MR MILLER: Again, I just think it would be inappropriate to comment on details. You shouldn’t read into that one way or the other what the answer might be. But because it’s an ongoing law enforcement situation, those are obviously quite sensitive and I just don’t want to comment on the details.
QUESTION: And just the last question. This doesn’t have to do with the details of the investigation. But she was abducted the same day that the State Department put out a new Travel Advisory and drew down the majority of the U.S. diplomats who are in the country. So do you think that there is any linkage between those two things?
MR MILLER: I have no reason to believe there is.
Any more on Haiti before I –
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Haiti. So the – now that you have a lead force, potentially, for the police mission or force in Haiti, which will be led by Kenya, something you are actively on, it’s supposed to be a multinational force. So are there, to your knowledge, any other countries that will now confirm and will be involved? And specifically the United States, will you fund this force? Will you send police officers or anything like that?
MR MILLER: Sure. Let me say there are a couple things that need to happen as next steps before we get to addressing some of those questions. First, the United Nations – the UN Security Council needs to pass a resolution authorizing this mission. The United States, along with Ecuador, are going to introduce a resolution at the UN Security Council to take that step. That’s the first step that needs to happen.
The second step is that the Government of Kenya needs to conduct an assessment mission, which they plan to do in the coming days and weeks. And then once they have conducted that assessment mission, they, as the lead of this of this multinational force, will talk with other partners about what additional type of assistance they need, what other countries might participate. That’ll kick off a series of discussions, of which the United States will of course be a party.
We do – we are committed to finding the resources to support this multinational force. As I said, I think it’s too early to get into any details about what those resources might be. But after the Kenyans have conducted their initial assessment mission, we will of course be in contact with them about what it might look like. I would note Secretary Blinken, on – actually, before we left Australia, had a call with the president of Kenya to talk about how we might coordinate this work, and we’ll continue to be in close coordination with them.
QUESTION: Okay. Just to follow up, any date yet for the UN resolution to be introduced by you and Ecuador?
MR MILLER: No. But in the near future.
QUESTION: Same topic. Thank you. It’s been, I think, about 10 months since the Haitian president first requested international intervention, and as you’ve just clearly detailed, there’s still a lot of steps that need to happen before that international intervention can take place. Do you think that in those roughly 10 months, has that allowed the situation to deteriorate further to what we’re seeing now?
MR MILLER: I think the situation has been challenging for some time. It was – it was – that’s not been a secret of any kind. We’ve talked openly about it. We have recommended that U.S. citizens do not travel to Haiti for some time. We have made it a priority to find a lead nation to operate this multinational force. That has been a challenge. There have been a number of conversations, some of which have been publicly reported, some of which have not. But I will say that we are pleased, as the Secretary said in a statement that we issued – or as the Secretary has said, we are pleased that Kenya is stepping forward and giving positive consideration to leading this – to taking this role.
QUESTION: And the U.S. – can you just say why you didn’t see – the U.S. was not fit to lead an international intervention?
MR MILLER: We just thought there were other ways in which we could be supportive that would be both more appropriate and more useful than taking the lead role. We have been committed to the safety and security of the Haitian people. We’ve been a large humanitarian donor to relief efforts in Haiti for some time, and we have worked behind the scenes to find a lead nation to run this multinational force and are pleased that that has been successful.
Yeah, before – anything else on Haiti before I go?
QUESTION: Different —
MR MILLER: You will be next. Okay, go ahead.
QUESTION: Change —
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. To North – thank you, Matt, and I have two questions for the North Korea. Secretary Blinken has mentioned to possibility that Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu would purchase weapons from North Korea. When North Korea provides new weapons to Russia, to concern is that it could cause threat to – I mean security of Ukraine as well as the Korean Peninsula. What can you say about security uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula? Then I follow up.
MR MILLER: Yeah. I would say, as the Secretary noted over the weekend, it certainly did not appear that Defense Minister Shoigu was in North Korea for vacation. I’m not going to speak any more – in any more detail, but will say that we have imposed a number of sanctions on North Korea in the past for various activities. We’ve also imposed sanctions on a number of entities and individuals around the world for assisting Russia in its war effort. We won’t hesitate to do so in the future.
QUESTION: These actions are subject to UN Security Council sanctions. The role of the UN Security Council is weak now. How will the United States respond to this?
MR MILLER: Respond to what?
QUESTION: Respond to the – to this happening. You have own individual sanctions you imposed.
MR MILLER: Sure. I will say, as I said in my previous answer, we have never hesitated to impose sanctions on North Korea and North Korean entities when we’ve found violations or when we’ve found actions that merit sanctions, and we won’t hesitate to do so in the future. But of course I’m not going to preview any specific action.
QUESTION: Lastly – lastly, Kim Jong-un invited Russian President Putin to Pyongyang this fall. How can you see this? How did you comment on this?
MR MILLER: Obviously there’s been a close relationship between those two countries for a while, one that’s not exactly been productive to increasing the security of the world, and I wouldn’t expect that to change as a result of this meeting.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Said, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m going to switch topics to the Palestinian issue. On the visa waiver issue, I mean, it seems that Palestinian Americans and Arab Americans are unhappy with the MOU because it’s convoluted. They don’t really understand what’s going on. So my first question to you I asked last week: Could there be any – at any time an effort to publish this so people know exactly what you guys agreed with the Israelis on?
QUESTION: And second, the Israeli Government’s public-facing guidance directs some U.S. citizens to use a smart application which allows the Israelis really, like, intrusive access to their – everything that they do. Have you looked into that?
MR MILLER: I —
QUESTION: Are you aware of this app or —
MR MILLER: I am aware of the app. I’m not going to speak to the specific kind of technical details of how —
QUESTION: All right.
MR MILLER: — Israel is going to implement the program other than to say the important thing for us is that the Visa Waiver Program is implemented without discrimination and that the same rules apply to all American citizens.
QUESTION: But it seems that still Gazans are not really included. It seems – or at least somehow —
MR MILLER: No.
QUESTION: — they are not equally included.
MR MILLER: So I would say, as I have said before, our understanding is that Americans who are in Gaza are very much included in this program. They might have different procedures because of the different security situation in Gaza, but it is our expectation that they will be included in this program. But we will be monitoring the implementation over the coming weeks and months to make sure that they are included and are not discriminated against.
QUESTION: And finally, Amnesty International slammed a Israeli court decision to demolish a Palestinian Bedouin village in the Negev. Do you have any – are you aware of these reports?
MR MILLER: I am. I —
QUESTION: And do you have any comment on that?
MR MILLER: Yeah, I’d say it’s critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps.
QUESTION: That’s inside Israel. The Palestinian Authority has absolutely nothing to do with that. They have no authority whatsoever.
MR MILLER: I understand – that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance and negotiate a two-state solution, and that certainly includes the demolition of homes and the evictions of families from their homes.
QUESTION: Yeah, on Ukraine, President Zelenskyy’s chief of staff has said that there are talks this week on security guarantees in Washington. Do you have anything on this?
MR MILLER: Sure. Those talks are going to kick off this week. Those are an outgrowth of the statement that we released at – that the G7 released on the margins of the last NATO Summit in Vilnius, where President Biden and G7 leaders made clear that we were going to engage in negotiations with the Government of Ukraine about our long-term commitments to Ukraine’s security so it can establish a military that can defend itself and deter a future attack, rebuild its economy, protect its citizens, and pursue integration into the Euro-Atlantic community.
I will note this is separate and apart from the security assistance that we regularly provide now. We’ve made clear that we see this proceeding on two tracks: one, security assistance to support their efforts to repel the Russian aggression inside their country; and two, to establish a long-term military that can serve as a deterrent effect from future Russian aggression. So those meetings are going to start this week. I would add that since we released that joint declaration at the – from the G7 and EU in Vilnius, 12 other countries have joined their names to the declaration. So talks will begin this week about how we can decide on the actual details of those security commitments going forward.
QUESTION: And on the summit in Saudi Arabia this week on Ukraine, do you support this summit? Who will attend it? And what’s the goal of it?
MR MILLER: We do, of course, support this summit. We have long said that it is important that Ukraine be in the driver’s seat when it comes to any potential diplomatic resolution to this war. It’s important that countries that have not yet heard directly from Ukraine hear from Ukraine, so we are gratified that there will be countries that are attending this summit to talk directly with Ukraine. If your question was with respect to what other countries will be attending, I would defer to the governments of Saudi Arabia and Ukraine to that – to answer that question. If the question is respect —
MR MILLER: Let me – I’m coming to you. You don’t have to – if the – (laughter) – you don’t have to jump in.
QUESTION: All right.
MR MILLER: If the question is with respect to what U.S. Government —
MR MILLER: — officials will be attending, I can confirm that there will be U.S. Government officials. Not ready to make announcements yet about who those will be, but as the week goes on, certainly you can expect that we will do so.
QUESTION: One more on UAE. Do you have any updates on the case of Tierra Young Allen, known as Sassy Trucker, who is stuck in UAE?
MR MILLER: No. Only that – what we’ve said previously, that we’re aware that she is unable to depart the UAE. We take seriously our commitment to assist U.S. citizens abroad. We’re providing all appropriate consular assistance in this case, and we will remain in regular communication with her and her family.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Did anyone else want to do something on Russia-Ukraine before I —
MR MILLER: Go.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Welcome back.
MR MILLER: Thank you.
QUESTION: I do want to move to South Caucasus, but before that Russia-Ukraine.
MR MILLER: Do Russia-Ukraine and then I’ll make sure – before you do your South Caucasus question, I’ll see if anyone has on it.
QUESTION: You said – thanks so much. You said that talks will take place this week. In this building? Or —
MR MILLER: If – not the – not the talks happening in Saudi Arabia but the talks about long-term security commitments —
MR MILLER: — will be talks virtually – held virtually.
MR MILLER: It’ll be at the deputy assistant secretary level.
MR MILLER: She is not a deputy assistant secretary, no.
MR MILLER: No.
QUESTION: Well – so I just wanted to make sure.
MR MILLER: She is the – the acting deputy secretary.
QUESTION: So on Eurasia issues, right – so —
MR MILLER: On Europe – European issues. Yeah.
QUESTION: Oh, Europe. Okay. Fantastic. On Russia abducting Ukrainian children, indicted Russian war criminal Maria made a statement, a report saying that, well, since the beginning of the war, we have received more than 4 million – 4.8 million residents in Ukraine, and more than 700 of them being children. What do you think she’s saying here and what is your response?
MR MILLER: I would not – I would not begin to try to get into her head and speculate about what she’s saying. I would say, though, that one of the worst incidents we have seen in this war is the deportation of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including civilians who have been forcibly separated from their families. I will note that was an important consideration in the Secretary’s determination that Russian forces and officials have committed crimes against humanity. We call, as we have before, for Russia to stop those abusive actions and return Ukraine’s children. And I would say that we support accountability for these crimes.
QUESTION: Are you going to share your information on this very matter with the ICC very soon?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to any specific matter. I will note, as the Secretary did last week when I believe we were in New Zealand – maybe it was Australia – the few days run together – but I think when – it was when we were in New Zealand – that we will cooperate with the ICC’s investigations. We support accountability through the ICC and a number of mechanisms. But consistent with the ICC’s confidential treatment of requests with respect to any specific request for information, we will keep those details confidential.
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you. Please come back to me on South Caucasus. I have —
MR MILLER: How could I not?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Anything else on Russia before I —
MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: All right. Can I follow up on talks you mentioned about? What kind of security guarantees could be provided to Ukraine? Is it kind of Israel formula President Biden mentioned before?
MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to comment about the eventual outcomes of talks that are just beginning other than to make clear what President Biden and other leaders of the G7 and the EU and, now, the other 12 nations that have joined the statement have made clear, is that we are committed to the long-term security of Ukraine and helping Ukraine build a long-term security infrastructure that can deter Russian aggression. What the details of that will look like, of course, will be something that will be covered in these conversations and conversations that will go on for some time. And I don’t think it’d be appropriate for me to try to get ahead of those talks.
QUESTION: Yeah. Another short question. The Secretary this Thursday will participate in the ministerial in the United Nations. Do you expect him to meet Ukrainian Secretary Kuleba if he will be participating?
MR MILLER: I don’t know – I don’t know if he will be – I know Secretary Blinken will be participating. I don’t know the other participants that will be there, so I’ll have to – I’ll wait until later in the week to see who else has been confirmed as an attendee.
Any Russia – Russia? Go ahead.
QUESTION: (Off-mike.) So President Zelenskyy made a statement yesterday like an hour after a major drone explosion in Moscow. And I’m quoting him here, he said, “Gradually, the war is returning to the territory of Russia – to its symbolic centers and military bases, and this is an inevitable, natural, and absolutely fair process.” So I just wonder if the administration supports that stance, specifically with regards to symbolic centers, which appears to mean kind of civilian targets.
MR MILLER: I will say that – first of all, I’m not sure that I would agree with that interpretation of what symbolic centers means. I will say that we neither encourage nor enable strikes outside Ukraine’s borders. But as we have said many times, it is up for – to Ukraine to decide how to conduct this war. And when it comes to strikes, as you raised, on civilian centers, it has been Ukrainian civilian infrastructure that has been targeted over and over, Ukrainian civilians that have been murdered in this war – schools, hospitals, apartment buildings. I could go on down the list. So I don’t think any attempt to draw any equivalency is one that’s actually backed up by the facts.
QUESTION: Right, but if I could follow up on that, I mean, we’re not —
MR MILLER: Go ahead – go ahead. I’m going to move —
QUESTION: — arming Ukraine —
MR MILLER: I’m going to – I’m going to move – I’m going to move the room.
QUESTION: — or we’re not arming Russia —
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.
QUESTION: The Iraqi Government has informed the recent KRG delegation to Baghdad that they are not being paid international oil companies’ duties for their past operation in Kurdistan Region of Iraq, which there’s a lot of U.S. companies are operating in the Kurdistan Region.
QUESTION: Okay. The Iraqi Government has informed the Kurdistan Region delegation that they are not going pay the international oil companies for their past operation in the Kurdistan region of Iraq. There are a lot of U.S. companies are working and operating in the Kurdistan region. And to that end, the U.S. Development Finance Corporation, FDC, has extended over 300 million U.S. dollars to these energy firms in the Kurdistan Region. What’s your reaction to this Iraqi decision? And the second: How do you engage to make sure that the U.S. companies in the Kurdistan region will get their share and the U.S. loans government are secure?
MR MILLER: So I would say, first of all, I don’t know it to be a fact that the Iraqi Government has taken that position. I will say generally, we have repeatedly urged Baghdad and Erbil to agree on a range of issues of mutual interest, including a viable budget and a new national hydrocarbons law. We will continue to encourage the parties to determine a way forward that benefits Iraq’s foreign investment climate and respects the important contributions of U.S. entities, including in the energy sector, while advancing the interests of all Iraqi people.
QUESTION: And one question on the – yesterday’s visit by the UN envoy to Iraq to Iran, and she met with the Iranian foreign minister. What’s your comment on that? And do you believe that for having a political stability in Iraq, we should talk to Iran first?
MR MILLER: I won’t speak to the UN envoy’s visit. I will say that, obviously, Iraq has bilateral relationships with Iran. What we have always said is we would like for those bilateral relationships to be a normal relationship that reflects Iraqi sovereignty. We haven’t always seen that in the past. You’ve seen us implement policies to try to prevent or lessen or mitigate the way that Iran tries to gain leverage against Iraq. And so in the extent – to the extent there are bilateral relationships between the country, we hope that it would be one that respects, as I said Iraqi sovereignty.
QUESTION: Have you sent any correspondence to Iran through the UN envoy to Iraq? Because there are some Iraqi media outlets saying that you sent a message to Iran yesterday.
MR MILLER: I will never – I have – as I have said before at this podium, I will not comment on specific engagements. But we’ll note, as we have many times, that we have always said we have the ability to deliver messages to Iran when it’s in our interest.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Iran follow-up? Matt?
MR MILLER: Go – let me – do you mind if —
MR MILLER: All right.
QUESTION: Thank you. A member of the Iraqi parliament – actually he is the member of the finance committee – has said that Iran has been printing Iraqi dinars in Argentina, shipping them back to Baghdad, exchanging them into dollars, and then trucking them to Iran. Is the United States aware?
MR MILLER: I will have to take that one back.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: The United States may be aware. I’m not personally. So I don’t know. (Laughter.) Go ahead, Olivia.
QUESTION: This is on China unless there’s more on —
MR MILLER: It’s fine. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. With the removal of Qin Gang as foreign minister, will the U.S., has the U.S. extended the invitation that he originally accepted to visit the United States back in June to his replacement or anybody else?
MR MILLER: I don’t know if we have yet officially extended that invitation, but it was an invitation to the foreign minister. Obviously, Wang Yi is now serving in the role of foreign ministers, so I would expect that the invitation would be extended to him. Whether that has actually happened, I do not know. We are engaged in a number of conversations with Chinese Government officials even as we speak. And I would expect at some point we would make clear that the invitation extends to the new foreign minister.
QUESTION: Okay. And you would expect it to be accepted?
MR MILLER: I would expect so. Given that the Chinese Government had already accepted the invitation, I would assume they would. But of course, I won’t speak for them.
QUESTION: Okay. Still on China, but slightly separate topic. There’s been this drumbeat of revelations regarding Chinese cyber activity that’s targeting email accounts within this department or reportedly embedded malware in military systems. Is it fair to say that that cyber activity by the Chinese, including malicious cyber activity, is on the increase even as diplomatic engagement is increasing?
MR MILLER: I am going to, as we have before, decline to comment on any specific incident, which I know you were asking it generally, but you were referring to increased diplomatic engagement, so I think you were getting at a specific reported attempt. So I won’t speak to any specific action. I will just say generally that we constantly monitor attempts to breach our various systems. And as the Secretary has made clear, when we see those attempts, we don’t hesitate to hold the actors accountable.
QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that, if I may?
MR MILLER: If Olivia yields the floor.
QUESTION: You had a follow-up? Okay, go ahead, go ahead.
QUESTION: Well, I – one quick one, and then I’ll turn it over to you, Leon. It’s just in the past, the U.S. has tried to engage with China, say, to roll back cyber activity that had a momentary effect, and it seems to have subsided almost entirely. So I’m just wondering if there’s any thinking going into re-initiating that kind of conversation.
MR MILLER: I will say that the Secretary did raise the issue of attempts to breach United States systems in his meeting with Wang Yi and raised it to say that we always watch for this type of activity and we will never hesitate to hold people accountable for it.
QUESTION: Thank you. Leon, over to you.
QUESTION: Yeah, I was just wondering why you are so reluctant to spell out things as they are. You’ve always been very keen in the past to say that Chinese hackers or this or that. And in this incidence, which comes at a time, as was pointed out, that there are a lot of diplomatic engagements in Beijing, you’re being very, very (inaudible).
MR MILLER: We have yet to determine an actor, which leaves me unable to speak to specific actions we would take to hold specific countries accountable. I’ve said before we have no reason to doubt the assessment that Microsoft made, but the U.S. Government itself has not made its own attribution, so that leaves me in a place where it’s difficult to speak about –
QUESTION: Yeah, I mean, Microsoft came out and said it was the Chinese –
MR MILLER: That’s what I just said. And we have no reason to doubt it, but until the United States Government makes its own assessment, which is a technical matter, it leaves us unable – leaves me unable to comment specifically on the incident.
QUESTION: May I ask about Niger?
MR MILLER: Please.
QUESTION: I just wanted to ask a little bit about the coup determination question. I mean, what do you, what does the U.S. Government, need to see before it can call this a coup? And are you concerned that holding back, as you are right now, is going to lead to some blowback in the region about sort of the U.S. hesitancy about what pretty clearly is a coup?
MR MILLER: No, let me say first of all with respect to the region we have been in close conversations and consultations with partners in the region. Secretary Blinken on the trip to New Zealand and Australia and Tonga was on the phone throughout that trip with leaders in the region talking about our approach and their approach and how we should align it. And I don’t think there is any daylight between us and our partners in the region with respect to the actions that we are taking and the actions that they are taking.
And with respect to any determination, I’d say we haven’t made a determination yet because it is still an ongoing, fluid situation. It is clear that there has been an attempt to remove President Bazoum from office. It’s not yet clear that attempt will ultimately be successful, so we are watching and monitoring very – monitoring the situation and trying to prevent President Bazoum from being removed from office.
But we have made very clear, Secretary Blinken has made very clear, that the future – that the hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance that the U.S. has provided and is continuing to provide to Niger is very much in the balance, depending on the outcome of the actions in the country. It is important that democrat – that U.S. assistance hinges on continued democratic governance in Niger.
Anything else on Niger before we – I realized we hadn’t done that. All right, I’m going to – before I – I’ll come back to you. Go ahead. Behind you.
QUESTION: Thanks. Martina Strong was just – was confirmed last week for the ambassador to the UAE. I was just wondering why it took so long for President Biden to nominate someone to that position, as well as your frustrations with the delay in confirmations.
MR MILLER: I will say that we have – there are of course a number of nominations that the President has to make, and we’ve worked through them expeditiously. In respect – with respect to the delays in Congress, obviously that was something we were very frustrated by. We were quite public with that. Secretary Blinken came to this podium to speak to our concerns about holds that had been placed by certain senators on ambassadors, including career ambassadors, who were being held up for issues that had nothing to do with their qualifications for the job to which they were nominated. And we were heartened that a number – I think it was 14, I may be off by one or two nominees – ambassador nominees were confirmed in – last Friday, the last day that the Senate was in session before adjourning for August.
But I would add that that number’s not sufficient. There are a number of ambassadorial nominations that remain pending on the floor that are being held up for no reason at all related to that nominee’s qualifications, and that it hurts United States national security when we don’t have confirmed ambassadors in place. Because those ambassadors weren’t confirmed before the recess, you now have another six weeks that the Senate is in session that they can’t even get a vote on the floor. So we will continue to work with members of Congress and hope that we can get all of our nominees confirmed expeditiously.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. On Bangladesh, millions of people marched capital city Dhaka in protest demanding the resignation of the ruling Prime Minister Hasina. The local and international media reports that on Saturday police and ruling party members brutally attacked peaceful demonstrations – peaceful demonstrators and opposition leaders, resulting in hundreds of injuries, including the top opposition leader, Mr. Gayeshwar Roy. How do you assess the – monitor this escalating situation, considering the government’s apparent hardline stance towards the opposition and police brutality? What steps will the State Department take to ensure the possibility of a credible and peaceful election in Bangladesh?
MR MILLER: We are concerned about the reports of intimidation and political violence in Bangladesh surrounding this weekend’s political protests. We encourage the Government of Bangladesh to investigate reports of violence thoroughly, transparently, and impartially, and to hold the perpetrators of violence to account. We urge Bangladesh to create a safe environment for people to peacefully assemble and voice their concerns, and we call on all parties to respect fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, and to refrain from violence, harassment, and intimidation.
And I will say finally that free and fair elections depend on the commitment of everyone – voters, political parties, youth wings, and police – and cannot take place in an environment with political violence.
QUESTION: One more on Bangladesh?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. People are – we, everybody, knows that Bangladesh is approaching a national election, and the U.S. also declared a visa policy to ensure democratic process in Bangladesh. Also the ruling prime minister also ensure U.S. and the EU, the European Union, that there will be a free and fair election. But the main opposition party using arson, terrorism, and vandalizing the country capital as last week. They were attacking not only civilian properties, also the police properties. They burned everything there. They made a situation like a war field at the capital. The – and on a demand of a election-time government, which is unconstitutional declared by the supreme court of Bangladesh. What is your comment?
And then I’ll have a small question.
MR MILLER: My comment is the same as I made in response to the previous question.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. And my – another. I want only one observation from you. Last 15th of June, while descending a judicial review application that just labeled – Canadian federal judge labeled BNP as a terrorist organization. The judicial review was filed against the rejection of a BNP activist request for political asylum in Canada. This is the fifth time they labeled the party as a terrorist organization. What is your observation on that?
MR MILLER: I don’t have any observation on that.
QUESTION: Bangladesh – one more.
MR MILLER: Let me —
MR MILLER: Let me – go ahead, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. So – sorry.
MR MILLER: No, go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. Yesterday Denmark announced that they were looking for legal ways to prevent a burning of holy books in the aftermath of increasing attacks against Qu’ran, and there were a similar statement from Sweden too. And today there was again incidents of Qu’ran burnings in both Sweden and Denmark. Any comment on – comment on it? I know you have previously said that you see the burning of holy books as freedom of expression, but I’m wondering if you are concerned that these increasing attacks against Qu’ran could turn into violence against Muslims.
MR MILLER: Of course we are concerned that it could spark violence. That is why we have said we condemn the burning of religious texts. It is something that we have spoken to a number of times at this podium. At the same time, we recognize the right to freedom of expression even when it’s freedom of expression – it’s acts of freedom of expression with which we may disagree. That continues to be our policy.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. A couple questions on the South Caucasus, Georgia first. Hundreds of Georgians last night got out in Batumi protesting a shipment of Russian tourists to their country. Some of them got arrested by pro-Russian government. Georgia’s 20 percent is still under Russian occupation. Do you think they have legitimate concern?
MR MILLER: Do they have legitimate what?
QUESTION: Concern about not letting Russians into their country and —
MR MILLER: Let me take that one back.
QUESTION: Okay. As you also know that Georgia’s occupied Abkhazia region last week decided to gift very strategic airport Sukhumi to Russians. Does department have any position on that?
MR MILLER: I’ll take that one back as well.
QUESTION: Okay, two Azerbaijan. The Secretary spoke with Aliyev on Saturday. He raised his concerns about Lachin corridor situation on the ground. This is not the position where the Secretary wanted to be in this month, right, when he was hosting former ministers last month in this town?
MR MILLER: This is not – what did you say? This is not the position —
QUESTION: Not the position you guys wanted to be in. You were talking about a peace agreement.
MR MILLER: Yes, and we continue to talk about a peace agreement and we continue to believe that a peace agreement is within reach. However, we have always said that for it to be within reach both parties have to make difficult compromises, and that’s why the Secretary has been remained engaged in talking to the leaders of both Armenia and Azerbaijan to encourage them to make those difficult compromises so we can – they can reach an agreement.
QUESTION: Is it your observation that the situation has been worsening that caused the Secretary’s concern?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to comment on the situation —
QUESTION: Okay, and the Secretary’s not —
MR MILLER: Last one, Alex, and then I’ve got to move to some others.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up. You did —
MR MILLER: This is like number six for you, I think, so —
QUESTION: Yes. You didn’t mention the state of human rights in the country when you had the readout about this call. We discussed the case of Qubad Ibadoglu just a week ago. Would you be surprised if Secretary did not mention those cases during that phone call? I just want to make sure you guys are not putting out new template without mentioning human rights when you have a high-level call.
MR MILLER: We always – I will say human rights is always on the table for the United States, and we raise our concerns publicly and privately.
Go ahead, back of the room. I’ll come to you next. Back of – yeah.
QUESTION: Good afternoon. So two questions, one Ukraine, one Nicaragua, if that’s all right. Pope Francis yesterday calling for the Black Sea initiative to be restored. The Biden administration, do they feel the Vatican can help make that happen, the Black Sea initiative?
MR MILLER: We certainly would encourage anyone’s support for re-instituting the Black Sea Grain Initiative, and of course that includes the pope. If you look at Russia’s actions since the Black Sea Grain Initiative, they – they have made very clear that for all their protestations that what they are concerned about is the supposed inability for them to export grain or inability to export fertilizer – both of which were not true, since our sanctions did not apply to either of those activities – their actions have proven that that’s not their real concern. And when you look at how they’ve bombed ports in Odesa, how they’ve taken out key facilities to facilitate the export of grain, how they’ve been practicing attacks on ships in the Black Sea, it’s clear that they want to use food as a weapon of war, and the result has been the increase by 17 percent in grain prices since the termination of this initiative.
So we welcome any countries who are willing to get involved to encourage Russia – I would say two things: one, to call out Russia’s actions for what they actually are and call out Russia’s propaganda for what it actually is; and two, to encourage Russia to rejoin the initiative.
QUESTION: All right. One more on Nicaragua, if you will, please. So I know the State Department has called for the release of Catholic Bishop Rolando Alvarez, the same for Father Fernando Zamora Silva. Have you heard from Daniel Ortega’s government yet after this?
QUESTION: Okay. And then —
MR MILLER: And then that was – I’m going to go because we’re running out of —
QUESTION: Well, just real quick – one more just real quick.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: I don’t get here too often. Thank you.
MR MILLER: Well, you can come every day. (Laughter.) It’s a free and open room.
QUESTION: What’s the message to Daniel Ortega – thank you. What’s the message, the Biden administration’s message to Daniel Ortega, who continues to persecute the Catholic Church in Nicaragua?
MR MILLER: I would say that we of course believe in the freedom of religion everywhere and would encourage the release of wrongfully detained – people who are detained for exercising the freedom of religion.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Two questions on Taiwan. The Taiwanese vice president and frontrunner for the presidential election, William Lai, is expected to transit the U.S. before and after his visit to Paraguay on August 14th. Earlier this month, the Financial Times reported that Lai made remarks at a campaign event that seemed contrary to the U.S. “one China” policy. He said that, quote, “When Taiwan’s president can enter the White House, the political goal that we’re pursuing will have been achieved.” What is the State Department’s comment on those remarks and on this upcoming transit?
MR MILLER: I don’t have any reaction to his remarks. I will say that from the United States perspective, our “one China” policy has not changed, continues to be our policy. And with respect to his transit, such transits have happened numerous times going back decades over multiple administrations, and there’s nothing out of the ordinary about them.
QUESTION: Okay. And also, although he said he supports the cross-strait status quo, there’ve been some concerns about his foreign policy and that he may support Taiwanese independence. What is the administration’s view of this? And is it concerned that either during the election cycle or if he is elected, this could negatively impact U.S.-China relations?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to comments by a candidate for office, really, in Taiwan or any other country.
MR MILLER: Couple more and then we’ll – go ahead.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Taiwan? So Matt, you just mentioned the U.S. “one China” policy. U.S. officials have said that the United States “one China” policy is based on Taiwan Relations Act, Six Assurances, and three communiques. Are there any wordings in those documents explicitly prevent a democratically elected vice president from transiting into a city in the United States?
MR MILLER: I do not have those – the entire law in front of me or the various communiques, but I will say that transits are well established president – precedent, as I said, that go back multiple administrations.
All right, at the back, and then we’ll wrap up.
QUESTION: Thank you. So I’m just wondering if you have any comment on the fact that Chinese companies are pouring billions of dollars in past few months to Korean – South Korean companies in an effort to reach the U.S. markets and skirt the U.S. EV rules.
MR MILLER: I will say about that, number one, we certainly understand that other countries like South Korea have relationships with China, including economic relationships. We have a significant economic relationship with China. I will say with respect to all of our enforcement actions we always look on ways to improve those actions, in ways to tighten those actions, in ways to enforce them, including people who are – people and entities that are trying to evade them. That’s a general comment without respect to any specific report, but that remains our policy and will be going forward.
(The briefing was concluded at 2:07 p.m.)
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