12:46 p.m. EST
MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
MR MILLER: Does it seem dark in here?
QUESTION: Yes, it seems very dark.
MR MILLER: Yeah, it seems dark to me. Hopefully just you guys, not me.
QUESTION: What’s that? It’s just our mood.
MR MILLER: Just you. It’s just your mood? Okay. (Laughter.) Well, with that, with that auspicious opening, let me –
QUESTION: We just want to know – I mean, is it good for – is it okay for the cameras? Will they see you?
MR MILLER: We need the – I think we need the supplemental to pass ASAP. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Well, is that somebody cutting back on the electricity?
MR MILLER: Yeah, right. Yeah, I don’t know, but it is dark in here. I can see you. I can see you, Matt. And more to the point, I can hear you, so – (laughter).
QUESTION: No, I’m more concerned about the cameras being able to see you. Can they?
QUESTION: There’s enough light on him.
MR MILLER: No, I think we’ll be –
QUESTION: Is there? Okay, all right.
MR MILLER: All right.
QUESTION: You have nothing?
MR MILLER: I’m ready to take your questions.
QUESTION: Okay, all right. Let’s start with Gaza and Middle East. Last week, several U.S. officials, including the Secretary and the Vice President, others, talked about the importance of Israel not repeating what it did in the north in the south. And I am wondering now that the operations in the south have begun, if you think that they are doing or following your advice.
MR MILLER: Let me say a few things about it. One, I think it’s too early to make a definitive assessment. The Secretary was very clear about how we want to judge this based on results, not based on intent.
I will say that in the first few days of this – of renewed military campaign against the south, we have seen some things that don’t look like the operation as it was conducted in the north. For example, in the north, at the commencement of operations, you saw them ask or order more than a million people to move. We’ve seen a much more targeted request for evacuations here where the Israeli Defense Forces have identified specific neighborhoods where they plan to conduct military operations and urged in advance of those operations the people in those neighborhoods to move, rather than telling an entire city or an entire region to vacate their homes. So that is an improvement on what’s happened before. They have instructed them to move to areas that we know are deconfliction zones. It’s one of the things we discussed with them last week. So UN-supported facilities where people can be out of harm’s way. So that is an improvement.
But what the Secretary made clear in our meetings with the prime minister and other officials of the Israeli Government on Thursday is that we do not want to see a military campaign in the south that looks like the north. And what we mean by that: We do not want to see the same level of civilian casualties; we do not want to see the same level of mass displacement. They briefed us on plans that were very detailed that they said were intended to avoid mass displacement and civilian casualties. But as the Secretary made clear, it’s not just intent that matters; it’s results. And we are watching very closely and will continue to watch very closely before we draw any definitive assessments.
QUESTION: Okay. But there are already reports that the operation in the south has taken a large civilian toll. Do you not – you don’t have a – you still think it’s too early to say?
MR MILLER: I think it’s too early to draw a definitive assessment. I will say that unfortunately we do expect to see civilian casualties as a result of this campaign. That is sadly true in all wars; it is especially going to be true in a war in a crowded urban environment where the opponent, Hamas, is using civilians as human shields and hiding themselves, hiding their fighters, hiding their infrastructure, behind civilians.
So what we have made clear to Israel is that we expect them to comply with international humanitarian law and do everything they can to minimize civilian harm so we don’t see a repeat in the south of what we saw in the north. And with respect to that, we’re at the very early stage of the operation, and I think it’s too soon to draw a definitive conclusion.
QUESTION: The Israeli Government is conducting this investigation to look at Hamas using rape as a weapon of war against Israeli women and girls on the 7th. They say they’ve now collected more than 1,500 eyewitness accounts of sexual assault, sexual violence, including rape against women and girls that day. Is that something that the Biden administration condemns? And also, have the Israelis shared any of that evidence with U.S. officials?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to what they have and have not shared with us. We have been briefed extensively on a number of their findings. We don’t, of course, have our own independent assessments to make right now. We don’t have people on the ground conducting such assessments. But we have seen Hamas commit atrocities both on October 7th and since October 7th, and we obviously condemn those atrocities and support Israel’s actions to hold Hamas accountable for them.
QUESTION: On Friday, the UN secretary-general said – I’m paraphrasing, but seemed to say that every – all this evidence should be investigated. As far as I am aware, the UN has not confirmed that they will take up a separate independent investigation. Is that something —
MR MILLER: I’m not aware whether they are, but certainly we support an investigation. The Israeli Government is conducting one, and they have our full backing in doing that.
QUESTION: Last question for you is there are these reports now about during – this is about the Hannukah celebration period we’re about to go into – Jewish organizations canceling celebrations, menorah lightings. Something like that happened in London over the weekend. It also happened in Williamsburg, Virginia. I’m wondering if the State Department has a message for American Jews ahead of the holidays about how to approach public celebration.
MR MILLER: Yeah, I would say one of the very unfortunate, tragic things we have seen since October 7th is a rise in antisemitism both here in the United States and around the world. And we condemn antisemitism in the strongest possible terms. We oppose antisemitism wherever we see it. And of course, we tell American citizens always to make decisions based on their best safety and security assessments. And this is not a specific piece of – this is not a specific recommendation here that’s specific to any one city. As you know, the State Department does provide travel advice for events around the world, and we when we have updates to provide based on circumstances on the ground, we provide that.
So, but I would just say in general it is tragic that we have seen after the – after more Jews were killed on one day than any time since the Holocaust that one of the responses has been actually an increase in antisemitism. That is extremely tragic, and I think it’s incumbent upon everyone in positions of authority to speak out against it.
QUESTION: Just to come back to the Israeli offensive, I wondered if you could sort of talk to us a little bit about what is behind this messaging the end of last week and over the weekend. Is there an assessment – for example, the Vice President calling the death toll devastating and Secretary Austin talking about driving the population into the arms of the enemy. This suggests that the administration has come to some kind of conclusion that the way that the Israelis have been conducting these operations has not protected civilians. Is that – is that like – is there a finding or has there been some kind of assessment that has come out with that?
MR MILLER: I think you can take those comments at face value, just as you can take the Secretary’s comments not just last week but the ones he made in previous weeks at face value. You heard him say several weeks ago that far too many Palestinians have been killed as a result of this conflict. You heard him say before that that Israel needs to take additional steps to protect civilians. And we’ve had very direct conversations about steps that they can take to protect civilians, including as recently as last Thursday when we were in Israel.
So I don’t think it is a secret that we think that too many Palestinians were killed in the opening weeks of this conflict. We want to see Israel take additional steps to minimize civilian harm. We talked to that about them when we were in Israel last week. They briefed us on their plans. And if you go through their plans about how they intend to minimize civilian harm, you have to step back and remember that the Israeli military is one of the most professional militaries in the world. They have legal determinations that they make when conducting strikes. They go through procedures where they weigh civilian harm when they conduct any of these strikes. They have put in place these plans I mentioned a moment ago to evacuate specific neighborhoods to keep civilians out harm’s way rather than just telling an entire population to move.
So they are going about this with a certain degree of deliberateness to try to minimize civilian harm. But again, it’s not just the intent that matters; it’s the results. So we want to be – we have been very transparent with them about what our beliefs have been. The comments that the Secretary made publicly were the same comments that he made in the meeting with them, that we want to see them take additional steps and we’re going to be watching to see how they do.
QUESTION: And it’s been noted that, yeah, you’ve had these warnings to civilians, but at some points people have been told to go to certain areas or these areas will be safe, and then those areas have then been bombarded. Is that something that you’ve witnessed and are able to —
MR MILLER: So that is – it is exactly – so let me talk about it this way. So I think that was one of the criticisms of the first – of the first few weeks of this campaign, that people were told to move to the south without giving a specific place to go, and then there were attacks on Khan Younis after people had moved to Khan Younis.
One of the differences that the Israeli Government has proposed going forward is there are UN-designated facilities in Khan Younis, in Rafah city, in central Gaza, and in the south where the Israeli Defense Forces have directed people to go. And those places are on lists of deconfliction zones that should not be the target of military campaigns. So that is an improvement that we have seen – at least an intent, at least in their plans – and we’re going to see how it’s actually executed.
QUESTION: I think kind of the nature of the offensive itself, I thought – I guess I understood that in the initial northern phase there was this massive aerial bombardment and then – and then the ground operation. I guess we’re going through that again. Is the message there should be a more surgical ground operation without the preceding aerial bombardment? Because that’s where a lot of these civilian casualties seem to be coming from.
MR MILLER: I don’t want to speak to the specific military operations and military decisions the Government of Israel will have to make and our conversations with them about those tactics that they might pursue. I think it’d be inappropriate to do that.
What we have said is they need to take additional steps to protect civilians. I just went through some of the – what some of those steps are and some of those steps that we believe they are taking. But as opposed – there go the lights. But when it comes to specific tactical steps that they might take, I think I’ll keep those conversations private.
QUESTION: May I follow up on this?
MR MILLER: Yeah, Said. Go ahead.
QUESTION: So I understand you correctly, you’re saying that the killing of 700 Palestinians over a period of 24 —
MR MILLER: Said, I always —
QUESTION: No, no. I —
MR MILLER: I always like when I use my own words, not when you try to put words in my mouth.
QUESTION: Matt, I want to understand what you said properly.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: You said that we have seen improvement. I’m asking you directly: You’re saying that the killing of 700 people in a 24-hour period is an improvement? So I’m just asking you to say yes or no —
MR MILLER: I don’t —
QUESTION: — in accordance with what you said.
MR MILLER: So Said, I don’t think you were listening very closely to what I said.
QUESTION: I was listening very closely, every single word.
MR MILLER: Well, clearly not, because what I said —
MR MILLER: – is we have seen improvement in their plans for Khan Yunis, their plans for the south. We have seen them evacuate specific neighborhoods —
MR MILLER: – rather than entire neighborhoods, so the numbers of displaced persons will hopefully be lower in southern Gaza than it was in the north. But when it comes to results, we are going to monitor it very closely. And I think I was pretty clear about that, and I think the Secretary was pretty clear about that on Thursday.
QUESTION: So give us a figure. What would be acceptable? What would be acceptable? Because you talked about —
MR MILLER: Said, we mourn the loss of every civilian life. We don’t want to see any civilians killed in this.
QUESTION: What have you done to really minimize that? Remember, Gaza is the size of Washington, D.C. When you tell people to move like now and they have nowhere to go – nowhere to go. They’re striking in Khan Yunis. They’re saying actually we’re hitting every place in Gaza. So where should people go?
MR MILLER: People should go —
QUESTION: What should be the end —
MR MILLER: Said, let’s take it one question at a time before – you asked a question. Let me answer it.
MR MILLER: People should go to the UN-designated sites where – that are on Israeli lists as deconfliction zones that should not be the target of military campaigns. There are already people who are sheltering in those. As the campaign moves to the south and Israel evacuates specific neighborhoods or orders specific neighborhoods to be evacuated, that is where people should go.
QUESTION: Okay. But you know – we know that they bomb UN facilities and so on. Let me ask you a couple of other questions. You said that Hamas committed atrocities. Right? Okay. Do you call the killing of 20,000 Palestinians an atrocity? Does that befit the term atrocity?
MR MILLER: Said, I was speaking to the intentional murdering of civilians that we saw Hamas commit. I don’t think – and correct me if I’m wrong – I don’t think there’s anyone questioning that Hamas intentionally killed civilians. That is by —
QUESTION: Well, have you —
MR MILLER: Let me – that is by definition an atrocity.
QUESTION: And you don’t think that Israel intentionally kills civilians?
MR MILLER: We think far too many —
QUESTION: When you bomb neighborhoods —
MR MILLER: I have not seen evidence that they’re intentionally killing civilians. We believe that far too many civilians have been killed. But again, this goes back to the underlying problem of this entire situation, which is that Hamas has embedded itself inside civilians – inside civilian homes, inside its mosques, in schools, in churches. It is Hamas that is putting these civilians in harm’s way.
I – for all the questions, and I understand why people stand up – I stand here and people ask me questions about what Israel should do. I’m happy to take those questions. I’m surprised I don’t hear more people saying, why doesn’t Hamas lay down its arms? Why doesn’t Hamas move out of schools?
QUESTION: So you’re asking —
MR MILLER: Why doesn’t Hamas take additional steps to protect civilians?
QUESTION: So you’re – okay.
MR MILLER: Because we think they should, as we think Israel should.
QUESTION: Okay. So you are asking Hamas to surrender. Is that what you’re asking them to do right now?
MR MILLER: We would welcome Hamas laying down its arms and surrendering at any point.
QUESTION: Hamas is not an army. They don’t have air force. They don’t have a navy. They don’t have artillery. They have none of these things. They don’t really have any kind of regular kind of structure —
MR MILLER: They —
QUESTION: – that they can conduct their surrender. Right?
MR MILLER: Said, they may not have a navy. They —
QUESTION: They —
MR MILLER: Oh, no, no, no, no, no. No, no. No. Let me finish. They may not have an air force. They have sufficient firepower to have killed 1,200 people on October 7th. So don’t tell me that Hamas can’t lay down their arms and take additional steps to protect civilians, let alone moving out of all the areas that are putting Palestinian civilians in harm’s way. They absolutely can. They could do it today if they cared at all about civilian life.
QUESTION: My last question to you. The UN – a former official in the UN, Mr. Mokhiber, said that the most clear-cut case of genocide – the Israeli bombardment and the killing of 20,000 people thus far is the most clear-cut case of genocide. Do you agree with him?
MR MILLER: So the State Department has a rigorous process for evaluating when some – what constitutes genocide, ethnic cleansing, or a crime against humanity. Those are terms we only use with very explicit care.
MR MILLER: You’ve seen us be very —
QUESTION: So —
MR MILLER: Said, let me – you’ve seen us be very deliberate about that in the past. We are monitoring the evolving situations and are examining facts as they develop. It’s an extremely challenging space to get all the information that’s – that might be available. But we support Israel’s right to continue to take action to ensure that Hamas can never conduct terrorist attacks like it did on October 7th again. And as part of that, we urge Israel to take all possible measures to minimize civilian harm, and I’ve just gone through a number of those measures.
QUESTION: But it doesn’t qualify for genocide? No?
MR MILLER: I just answered that.
Go ahead, Tracy.
QUESTION: Thank you. Going back to your answer to the question about the reports of rape of Israeli women by Hamas and use of sexual violence as a war crime – as a weapon of war, you said we’ve seen Hamas commit atrocities. We obviously condemn atrocities. But you didn’t use the words rape or sexual violence. And I’m wondering if there’s a reason for that and not a more explicit condemnation of rape.
MR MILLER: Look, only because we haven’t made an independent assessment, our own. We’ve obviously seen the reports that Hamas has committed sexual violence. They’ve committed rape. We have no reason at all to doubt those reports. When you look at all of the atrocities that Hamas carried out on October 7th and the atrocities that they’ve carried out since, the fact that they continue to hold women hostages, the fact that they continue to hold children hostages, the fact that it seems one of the reasons they don’t want to turn women over that they’ve been holding hostage and the reason this pause fell apart is they don’t want those women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in custody – certainly there is very little that I would put beyond Hamas when it comes to its treatment of civilians, and particularly its treatment of women.
QUESTION: May I?
MR MILLER: Yeah. Go ahead.
QUESTION: On the UN-administered deconfliction zones that you’ve mentioned a few times now, are you – is it clear to the U.S. that those zones have the capacity and the resourcing that they need to absorb the presumably tens of thousands of people who will head their way?
MR MILLER: It’s something that we continue to work on. Our Special Envoy David Satterfield is, of course, still in the region. He’s been there since he was appointed and is having daily conversations with the relevant UN agencies about this question. And we have been trying to surge aid into those UN agencies. Absolutely they could use more assistance. They could use more capability, and it’s something that we’re trying to deliver in what is, of course, a very challenging environment.
QUESTION: So it’s not clear that these zones are actually a viable option for the people who need to flee to them?
MR MILLER: Look, when it comes to making a choice about being in an area that – where – that is undergoing major combat operations versus evacuating to a UN-run – either a refugee center or another UN-run facility where you can get food and water and medicine, certainly I think the choice is pretty clear. But the conditions are still pretty difficult, even in those sites, and we’re trying to increase the level of assistance that we get in to address that humanitarian issue.
I will say that one of the things that we have seen since the breakdown of the pause of last Friday, is we saw initially a diminution in the amount of aid going into Gaza through Rafah. We have been trying very hard to get that aid back up, not just to the levels that it was at during the pause, which was around 200 trucks a day, but to actually increase it and to change the nature of what’s coming in so it’s not – these are not just deliveries of humanitarian assistance from relief organizations, but also some resumption of commercial activity, so there can be commercial deliveries in. And I think we’re making progress on that. We are – have urged that Kerem Shalom be reopened, not as a crossing but for screening. I think we’re making progress on that.
So the answer – I know it’s a long – I know it’s a very long answer to your question, which is – but I think the answer is it is not a perfect situation by any stretch of the imagination. There aren’t a lot of perfect answers in this very difficult situation. But we’re trying to improve it as much as we can.
QUESTION: I do want to talk about the aid, but I just want to highlight the fact that – I mean, you highlighted that one important step the Israelis are taking is to point to these deconfliction zones. But again, it is not clear that those are going to be a viable option for many or even most of the people who need to use them.
MR MILLER: I think that certainly the deconfliction zones are a place where people can go to be safe from attack.
QUESTION: Some number of them. But maybe some will —
MR MILLER: That is – to be safe from attack. The question – but, that said, we also need to increase the level – the amount of food, water, medicine that’s getting into Gaza for those sites, as well as for people – other people – most commercial activity is suspended, and so even if you’re at home you may not have access to food, water, medicine, let alone in a refugee facility. So we’re trying to get all this increased for the benefit of everyone inside Gaza.
QUESTION: Okay. So on aid, you said you wanted to talk about it. So what is the picture right now? How many trucks are getting in? How many do you expect to get in the next several days?
MR MILLER: So we don’t have – we actually don’t have reliable data about the number of trucks that have moved in yesterday, Saturday. We know that they resumed and were going in over the weekend, but there’s been kind of spotty reporting from the ground of how – what the actual number is. So we don’t have one as of 1:10 today. Hope to have one later today or certainly tomorrow. But whatever the number is, it’s not an acceptable number. It’s not at the 200 trucks a day that was happening during the pause, let alone where we want to get it to.
We have seen fuel start to go back in. We saw that in the immediate aftermath of the pause being suspended, the Israeli Government was not, early on Friday, allowing fuel to go in. We had some very frank conversations with them about the need for fuel to come in, and we saw some fuel go in Friday. We saw additional fuel go in Saturday. But it’s at the level of fuel that we were at before the pause began. We’ve made clear we want to see it back up not just to the level of fuel that went in during the pause but actually higher numbers than that and are having ongoing discussions with the Israeli Government about how to get there.
QUESTION: Just quickly related to this, obviously there are still people waiting to come out. How many Americans are waiting to come out? And we spoke earlier about reports that one, if not more Americans, may have lost their lives waiting to come out. Have you verified those reports? Are there any more coming in?
MR MILLER: So there are more than 1,000 American citizens, legal permanent residents, and their family members who have departed Gaza. There are around 750 who are left. That includes 220 American citizens. The rest are family members or legal permanent residents. And with respect to that report of a potential American fatality, we still have not been able to confirm it, unfortunately. It’s someone – if the report is true, it’s in northern Gaza, where we have just very limited information and very limited communications abilities and very limited ability to investigate or even reach people. So it’s something that we’re still trying to confirm at this point.
QUESTION: Sorry, last one. And then I promise to cede the floor. Is – as part of that verification process, is it going to be determined whether the casualty was the result of an action taken by Hamas or an action taken by the Israeli military?
MR MILLER: We’re not even at the point where we’ve confirmed that there was a fatality yet, let alone how it happened. So certainly we would want to know how it happened, but we first have to confirm that there actually was a fatality.
QUESTION: I have others on the West Bank, but we’ll defer to colleagues for now.
MR MILLER: Go ahead. Let me stay in the region before we move on. Yeah, go ahead. I’ll come to you, Janne, but I suspect it’s not about Israel.
QUESTION: Thank you. So on Friday, an Israeli airstrike killed my colleague, Muntasir al-Sawwaf, who is a Gaza-based journalist reporting for Anadolu. This came one week after his – 44 members, 45 members of his extended family, including his parents and brothers, were killed in a previous Israeli airstrike. First of all, do you have anything to say on that specific attack as a comment? And secondly, considering that you know, nearly 70 journalists were killed since the start off the war in Gaza, do you think Israel might be deliberately targeting those journalists to control the flow of information from Gaza?
MR MILLER: Let me just say – let me first extend my condolences to you, to the entire – your entire organization, and to, of course, his family. We are always deeply saddened to learn of the death of any journalist. The Secretary has spoken to this and spoken to the fact that journalists do extraordinary work under the most dangerous conditions. That has been true in this conflict as it has been in so many conflicts before it, and it is a tragedy that we have seen so many journalists die in this conflict, just as it is a tragedy that we have seen thousands of other civilians die.
I don’t have any information to suggest that the Israeli Government is targeting journalists in this conflict. But as I said, the Secretary has made clear it’s not just intent that matters, it’s results. And that’s a conversation we’re going to continue to have with them, and we are going to continue to look at the campaign as it progresses and assess the results.
QUESTION: But the Secretary also said last week that Israel has one of the most sophisticated militaries in the world and is capable of minimizing harm to civilians. I mean, more than 15,000 Palestinians – including women, children, and journalists – were killed since October 7th. Does that mean that that killing of thousands of civilians, including journalists like my colleague, could have been prevented?
MR MILLER: Certainly we have thought that there are additional steps that Israel could take to minimize civilian harm, which is why – which is why —
QUESTION: But – but obviously they’re not taking those steps —
MR MILLER: Well, I say, which is why we’ve had these conversations and why we’ve encouraged them to take additional steps, which they have said they are going to do for the campaign in the south. But I expect that this will continue to be an ongoing conversation. And as I said, we’re going to monitor how this campaign proceeds as it does.
QUESTION: Yeah, thank you, Matt.
MR MILLER: Let me just – let me —
MR MILLER: Said, let me just – I will come back to you —
QUESTION: I want to clarify something you just said.
MR MILLER: Go – go ahead.
QUESTION: Okay, does the United States supports the Israeli proposal for establishing a buffer zone between Gaza and Israel? And if say so, do you have any idea what’s the nature of this buffer zone?
MR MILLER: So I will say that one of the principles that you heard the Secretary lay out quite clearly in Tokyo in a speech three weeks ago was that there should be no reduction in the size of Gaza.
QUESTION: And one more question. Yesterday there were an attack on the Iranian-backed groups in Iraq. And there’s some Iraqi sources, they suspected United States in this attack. And do you confirm that? Have – has the United States conducted? Or were there any counter-battery attacks to these Iraqi forces? And also, finally, at this, do you believe that the Iraqi Government could stop these militia groups from attacking the United States, as the Secretary Blinken spoke with Prime Minister Sudani on Friday?
MR MILLER: Yeah, so I will leave it to the Defense Department to speak to this alleged incident. But one of the things that we have made clear to the Iraqi Government – and Secretary Blinken made this clear to Prime Minister Sudani when they spoke on Friday – is that we believe the Iraqi Government has the responsibility to prevent and respond to these attacks against American personnel who are in Iraq, again, at the invitation of the Iraqi Government to carry out D-ISIS activities. The Iraqi Government has said that they would take action to prevent such strikes, and we expect them to do so.
QUESTION: Have you – have you seen any actions from the Iraqi Government? Because they are saying that since the beginning of this —
MR MILLER: I don’t want to get into – I don’t want to comment on that. And I don’t want to certainly comment into the – our private conversations. But we have been made very clear to them —
QUESTION: Have you seen any results —
MR MILLER: Let me just – that we have made very clear then that we expect them to take action.
QUESTION: Have you seen any results on the ground?
MR MILLER: I’m just not going to speak to that.
QUESTION: Okay, one last question. Do you have anything to share with – about the Iranian cyber attacks on the U.S. institution? What’s the level of the damage of this cyber attack?
MR MILLER: I don’t. I know that my colleagues in other agencies have put out a statement on that, and I’ll refer to that.
Elizabeth, go ahead.
QUESTION: Is an FTO redesignation of the Houthis more likely after yesterday’s attacks in the Red Sea?
MR MILLER: It is something that we continue to consider. We have not made a determination yet. You may recall that we lifted that that designation when we found that the designation was a barrier to the delivery of humanitarian aid that would help civilians. So it’s the subject of ongoing conversations inside the administration, but I wouldn’t want to make a – put my hand on the scale one way or the other.
QUESTION: And then just to follow up on that, is the administration concerned that this escalation from the Houthis could undermine the work you’ve done on the political process in Yemen?
MR MILLER: So we continue to support a peaceful resolution to the Yemen conflict. That’s been a priority for this administration since day one. Our special envoy for Yemen is traveling to the Gulf this week to continue intensive U.S. diplomacy and regional coordination, both to safeguard maritime security in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden in the midst of these provocative and dangerous attacks by the Houthis on International shipping. Those have threatened almost two years of progress to end the war in Yemen. And we will keep trying to end that war, reach a durable solution, and work with our allies and partners to respond to these Houthi attacks which threaten global shipping, threaten the global economy, threaten countries far outside Israel, far outside the region. I think this is a matter of global concern; it’s why we’re talking about it with allies and partners around the world.
QUESTION: Matt, can I go back to something you said in response to one of the questions about sexual violence? I’m just interested because the phrasing that you used was curious to me, at least. You said you have no reason to doubt any reports that rape was used as sexual – sexual violence was used by Hamas. You said the fact that they, meaning Hamas, continue to hold women hostages – okay, that is a fact – the fact that they continue to hold children hostages – that is also a fact – but then you said “the fact that it seems” one of the reasons they don’t want to turn women over that they’ve been holding hostage – and the reason that the pause fell apart – is that they don’t want those women to be able to talk about what happened to them during their time in captivity. “The fact that it seems” – why do you – is this just conjecture on your part?
MR MILLER: I’ll —
QUESTION: Or do you know – do you have very good reason to believe, evidence to believe that Hamas is deliberately continuing to hold on to female hostages because they’re concerned that they will speak about atrocities that were – that they were subjected to?
MR MILLER: So I will accept the edit – not fact seems is a better way to say it. But let me – let me answer the – let me answer the question. The humanitarian pause, which resulted in a release of hostages, was negotiated with some very clear terms, and that was that children and women would be the first priority to be released. Near the end of that pause last Wednesday, Thursday, when we were getting towards the end, Hamas was still holding on to women that should have been the next to be released. They refused to release them.
MR MILLER: They broke the deal, came up with excuses why. Ultimately, I don’t think any of those excuses were credible, and I shouldn’t get into any of them here. But certainly one of the reasons that a number of people believe they refused to release them is they didn’t want people to hear what those women would have to say publicly.
QUESTION: Well, when you say —
MR MILLER: I don’t – I won’t say “fact” because I don’t know it for a fact. That’s without —
QUESTION: Okay, but when you say a number of people believe, who?
MR MILLER: I just – let me just say that —
QUESTION: People in the U.S. Government?
MR MILLER: I – let me – let me just finish my answer. We have seen Hamas commit all kinds of atrocities.
MR MILLER: I don’t – no, hold on. Matt, I’m —
QUESTION: I’m a little bit concerned that you’re trying to go —
MR MILLER: I —
QUESTION: I am not suggesting that these things did not happen.
MR MILLER: Right.
QUESTION: And I am not suggesting that what you suggest —
MR MILLER: And Matt, I just – I just want to be —
QUESTION: — is their reason for not releasing the remaining female hostages is wrong. I just want to know —
MR MILLER: I just want to be very sensitive in my language, Matt.
QUESTION: — do you have any evidence to suggest that that is what it is, or is it just conjecture?
MR MILLER: I want to be very sensitive in my language when talking about people that continue to be held hostage that have families on the outside. I will – so I will – what I will say is we know Hamas has committed atrocities. We know they —
QUESTION: I —
MR MILLER: Hold on. They continue to hold women. They were going to release these women, and then suddenly at the last point reneged on the deal and were never able to provide a credible reason why. We hope that they will change their mind and release those women, but we haven’t seen —
QUESTION: Okay. So, but you don’t know, though, for certain that the – that the or a reason for them reneging on the deal and not releasing them is because they’re worried about them speaking about what they endured?
MR MILLER: So I am not able to speak with a definitive assessment that that is the case. We would like to see them release the hostages so they could talk about whatever treatment or mistreatment they had undergone.
QUESTION: Sorry, Matt, just a quick —
MR MILLER: Let me – I’ve got – Said, I have gone to you a number of —
QUESTION: On this point. Please. Please, Matt. On this point.
MR MILLER: Elizabeth, go ahead.
QUESTION: Matt, Matt.
MR MILLER: Olivia. I’m sorry – Elizabeth? (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Matt, Matt – can I follow on this point?
MR MILLER: Said, I – Said, I asked you —
QUESTION: Is it – what do you mean? That they are IDF soldiers?
MR MILLER: Said, I will come – Said, I will come to you.
QUESTION: They could be soldiers?
MR MILLER: Said, I will come – there are women who are not soldiers who continue to be held.
QUESTION: I understand. But there are women, Palestinian women, in Israeli prisons, right?
MR MILLER: No. And there are women – so I will come back to you. You’ve had a number of questions already.
MR MILLER: Olivia, sorry, go ahead.
QUESTION: Just specifically on that point, there is still one American woman being held that we are aware of, right? Is everything that you’re saying applicable to her situation?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to expand any further than I have in my remarks expect to say that we do want to see her released. We had hoped to see her released as a result of these negotiations last week. Hamas reneged on the deal and wouldn’t release her, but certainly we are concerned for her situation as we are concerned for the situation of all the hostages.
QUESTION: Okay. And West Bank —
MR MILLER: Yeah. Go ahead with the West Bank.
MR MILLER: I will – I promise I will come to you before the briefing is over. I promise. I just want to stay in the region before – a little bit longer before we move on.
QUESTION: Sure. The Secretary last week said that he had made clear to his Israeli interlocutors that the U.S. had expectations for Israel addressing extremist violence in the West Bank. Has any of that moved forward from the U.S. perspective? Have the Israelis taken concrete steps and given you evidence that they have?
MR MILLER: We have seen them take some steps to respond to extremist violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. We don’t think those steps have been sufficient. We think they need to prosecute people who engage in violent activities against Palestinians. And one of the things that the Secretary made clear in his conversations with the Israeli Government is that, while this doesn’t in any way obviate the need for them to take additional actions, that we are prepared to take our own actions on behalf of the United States Government.
QUESTION: So some of those actions are said to be visa restrictions on some of the extremists at hand. Are those set to be rolled out in any near term?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to about a timetable, but the President signaled in an op-ed a couple weeks ago that those were under consideration, and as I said, we have made very clear to the Israeli Government that we will be taking additional steps to hold people responsible for violent extremism against Palestinians – to hold those people accountable.
QUESTION: And what options do you have in the case of American extremists who are perpetrating violence in the West Bank? Can you issue —
MR MILLER: So certainly you cannot – can’t issue a visa restriction against an American citizen, a blue passport holder, but I would say that for actions that take place inside Israel, the Israeli Government should hold people accountable no matter what their nationality is.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: All right. Janne, finally, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Matt. South Korea successfully launched a solid fuel space launch vehicle yesterday. How do you see this different from North Korea’s recent military satellite launch? And I’ll follow up.
QUESTION: And second question: The State Department designated North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. What are your predictions about the possibility of North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism engaging in dialogue with the United States in the future?
MR MILLER: So we have made clear that – from the outset of this administration that we would welcome dialogue with the DPRK. We would welcome a peaceful resolution to our concerns over its destabilizing activities. We have made clear that we do not seek conflict with the DPRK in any form or fashion, but as of yet, those entreaties have all been rejected, and I wouldn’t want to make any predictions about the future.
QUESTION: About terrorism?
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead, yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. On plot against American – an American citizen on India, according to New York Times report, I quote, “India’s intelligence services have been” – “have long been accused of orchestrating targeted killing[s] in the country’s immediate neighbors.” As a plot against an American citizen foiled by the U.S. Government informant and exposed in federal court, do you think it should be stopped in anywhere and everywhere? And what is the Indian response as you expose these incidents?
MR MILLER: So two things. One, we have made clear that we oppose transnational oppression no matter where it occurs or who might be conducting it. That’s not a comment specific to India. That’s a comment specific to any country in the world.
Second, with respect to this specific case, there is an ongoing law enforcement matter at issue here, and we don’t talk about those from this podium. I would defer to DOJ to do that. But I would say that when these – when this alleged incident was brought to our attention, we made very clear at the most senior levels of our government to the most senior levels of the Indian Government how seriously we would treat something like this. They have opened an investigation into the matter and we look forward to seeing the results of that investigation.
QUESTION: Two more on Bangladesh. In light of the current situation in Bangladesh, where the government conducting election in an unprecedented manner by detaining 20-plus-thousands opposition party leaders and activist, custodial death keeps rising as three opposition activist died in six days, arresting family members in absence of the targeted individual, allowing newly minted King’s Party to participate to secure their win, all major political party – including the main opposition, BNP – boycotting the election; how does the U.S. Government assess the likelihood a free and fair election atmosphere in Bangladesh?
MR MILLER: Again, I’m not – and then I’m – I’m not going to – I’m going to move on after this one, because we – I’ve got limited time. I’ve got – I know there’s a lot of people that still have questions. I’m not going to speculate on the outcome of the elections. I will say what we have said a number of times before, which is we will continue to engage with the government, opposition, civil society, and other stakeholders to urge them to work together for the benefit of the Bangladeshi people to ensure free and fair elections that are conducted in a peaceful manner.
MR MILLER: Shaun. Shaun. Guys, guys, guys, one at a time. Shaun, go ahead.
QUESTION: Sure. Could I ask you a few things really quick?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Cuba, Ambassador Rocha. Do you have anything to say about him?
MR MILLER: The only thing I’d say – again, an ongoing law enforcement matter here. We’ve seen an indictment unsealed today. We commend the work of law enforcement in this matter – the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Diplomatic Security Service here at the State Department – and the actions they have taken so far in this case, and we will in the coming days, weeks, months work with our partners in the Intelligence Community to assess any long-term national security implications for this matter.
QUESTION: In terms of decision making, I know he was – it’s quite some time since he was in senior positions, but is there any concern about the decisions that were made in the past about how – about the ones that were carried out in light of his —
MR MILLER: Again, it was, as you point, some time ago. I think it’s been over 20 years since he left the State Department. But with anything respect to the intelligence or national security implications of this, we’re going to work with our partners in the Intelligence Community, others in the national security community, to make exactly those sorts of assessments.
QUESTION: Sure. Could I stay in Latin America? Venezuela.
MR MILLER: Sure.
QUESTION: A couple things there, but the referendum regarding Guyana. Do you have anything to say about that? Apparently, 95 percent of the Venezuelans, authorities have announced, in favor of this. Do you have any message in terms of how Venezuela should go about after this? Do you recognize some legitimacy to the vote? How do you feel about it?
MR MILLER: I will say that we support a peaceful resolution of the border dispute between Venezuela and Guyana. The 1899 award determined the land boundary between Venezuela and Guyana should be respected unless or until the parties come to a new agreement or a competent legal body decides otherwise. So we would urge Venezuela and Guyana to continue to seek a peaceful resolution of their dispute. This is not something that will be settled by a referendum.
QUESTION: Could I stay in Venezuela?
MR MILLER: Yes.
QUESTION: The statement that you issued late Friday about the sanctions relief in Venezuela. Has there been any determination yet on whether Venezuela is actually – the Maduro government has gone through – has gone ahead with its part of the bargain on this, and whether the U.S. is going to go ahead with sanctions relief?
MR MILLER: So they have not gone through with their part of the bargain. There are two additional steps that we want to see them take. We want to see them release political prisoners, and we want to see them release wrongfully detained Americans. That was part of the framework agreement that we had agreed – that we had come to with them. They have not carried our their part of the agreement. We urge them to do so. But at the same time, we are considering the matter and will suspend some of the sanctions relief that we put in place earlier this year if we determine that adequate progress to the commitments they made to us have not been made.
QUESTION: So if. There hasn’t been a decision yet?
MR MILLER: Correct.
QUESTION: I’ll be brief, but I could take you to another part of the world as well?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: It’s in Niger. The authorities in Niger quit over the weekend. The anti-jihadist force, the G5, and a Russian delegation’s coming today. Is there any worries about – any greater worries about the trajectory of Niger and how things are going there?
MR MILLER: I don’t think any additional worries. Obviously, this is a country that had a coup d’état earlier this year. And what we are trying to do is directly engage with the Nigerien Government as well as our partners in the region, other countries in the region, to try to urge them to get on a path back to democracy. We want to see them take quick, credible steps towards a civilian-led government. We’re not seeing those at this time, but that will be the policy outcome that we continue to try to achieve.
QUESTION: Just finally, Ambassador FitzGibbon is, according to reports in the region, about to present her credentials formally. Does that indicate any sort of recognition or at least de facto recognition of the authorities in Niger?
MR MILLER: No, it does not. Her presence there is an element in this effort I just described to try to negotiate a quick and credible democratic transition in Niger. We’ve been without an ambassador for more than a year and a half there. As we’ve said, the democratically elected government was deposed in a coup, and our goal now and the goal of ambassador – the new ambassador will be to try to move Niger back in a transition to democracy.
QUESTION: And just very finally, Henry Kissinger.
MR MILLER: You said that last time. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I am trying to hit everything here. Henry Kissinger. I’m not going to ask you for a great assessment on his life and times, but is there anything in the department that’s being planned in light of his death?
MR MILLER: Let me get back to you on that. I’m sure there are things that probably people here are planning; I’m not aware of any. The Secretary put out a statement on this on Thursday. And if there are – if we have any events to announce, I’ll come back to you with those.
Alex, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Welcome back. A couple topics; on Ukraine first. Does the Secretary have any concern on the current state of play on the battlefield, given the White House flagging the funding issue, that this might get out of control without congressional funding? And let me also –
MR MILLER: So I will say that they’re kind of two questions linked together. Certainly with respect to the battlefield, it’s a tough situation. The Ukrainian forces are fighting against very entrenched – the very entrenched Russian military. We’ve seen them make progress. The progress has been difficult, but we have seen them continue to make progress. And when we were in Brussels last week, we spoke directly with the foreign minister of Ukraine about this matter.
With respect to the supplemental, yes, we’re absolutely concerned that the level of funding has expired. We are now relying on residual funds from the drawdown that will soon – we’re at I think over 97 percent of those having been exhausted. We’ll very shortly run out of any runway at all. So yes, we are very concerned. It’s why the Secretary joins the President and others in the administration in urging Congress to act as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: There is some reporting that Ukraine’s new long-range delivery from the U.S. was pushed back to next year. Is that the reason, or was it –
MR MILLER: I’m sorry, what was the –
QUESTION: New delivery of long-range rockets to Ukraine was pushed back.
MR MILLER: I am just not going to comment on any weapons, on any weapons decisions or weapons delivery before those decisions have been made. And with respect to the actual delivery of weapons, that’s a question for the Pentagon.
QUESTION: Thank you. Moving to Azerbaijan, if I may. Iranian naval commander just arrived in Azerbaijan. Any worries on your end about Azerbaijan potentially flirting with Iran?
MR MILLER: I’m sorry, any worries about –
QUESTION: Azerbaijan’s flirting with Iran these days?
MR MILLER: I don’t – don’t have any comment on that. Abby, go –
QUESTION: On –
MR MILLER: Let me – I’ve got to – I’ve got to go to Abby, because I’ve got to wrap.
QUESTION: Please come back to me on Azerbaijan.
MR MILLER: I’ve got to wrap shortly, and I’ve got a few people to go. Abby, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Russia. Can you provide any information on reports that a U.S. citizen was reportedly found dead in a temporary detention center (inaudible)?
MR MILLER: So we have seen those reports. We don’t – we haven’t confirmed them yet, and so because of that I don’t have any comment.
QUESTION: Can I have one quick follow-up on a previous subject?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: There are people who are accusing the UN of slow-rolling the probe into alleged sexual violence committed by Hamas. Do you have any specific comment on that? I know you’ve dealt with a lot of the aspects.
QUESTION: I’ll be very short.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you. I have a question about the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty journalist, the U.S. citizen – U.S.-Russian dual citizen, Alsu Kurmasheva. Several lawmakers have written the Secretary asking to designate her as wrongfully detained. Has that designation – has a decision made – been made in her case yet or not? And if not, why?
MR MILLER: So it has not, and I will say, as I’ve said on a number of occasions about previous wrongful determined – determination cases or cases where people have called for us to determine that someone is wrongfully detained, it’s a matter that we take very seriously here. It can sometimes be a very deliberate process where we have to look at the statutory requirements. Sometimes the situation changes over time, where information that is available to us at one stage changes as we acquire new information.
So as always, no one should read anything into the lack of a wrongful detention determination at any given point. It is an ongoing active process inside the United States Government.
QUESTION: Can you tell us at what stage it is right now?
MR MILLER: I can’t. And with that, I have to wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:34 p.m.)