NEWS

Department Press Briefing – April 1, 2024

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1:19 p.m. EDT

MR MILLER: Hello everyone. Good afternoon. I don’t have anything to start with, so – Matt, welcome back.

QUESTION: Well – well.

MR MILLER: Welcome back for a short period. I know you’re traveling with the Secretary.

QUESTION: Well –

MR MILLER: Happy to have you today.

QUESTION: I’m sure you are. I won’t – never mind. Let’s just start with Gaza. Two things. One, in terms of the Secretary’s involvement or the State Department’s involvement with this meeting, virtual meeting today, can you tell us – with the Israelis about Rafah?

MR MILLER: So the Secretary is at the White House right now participating in the meeting with representatives of the Israeli Government to lay out an alternative approach to dealing with the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah. When I walked out, the meeting had not yet broken, or at least I’m not aware of it yet having broken, and expect a statement from the White House at its – upon its conclusion.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, was there anything specifically that the State Department wanted to convey, to get across to the Israelis in this meeting?

MR MILLER: So I don’t want to speak too specifically about the meeting that is, as far as I’m aware, ongoing. We’ll have a statement afterwards. But the Secretary would, I expect, reiterate the concerns that he expressed when he was in Israel some 10 days ago now about the dramatic humanitarian impact of a full-scale ground invasion in Rafah.

QUESTION: Okay. And then secondly, I presume that you have seen some of the images, video and still photos, plus witness accounts and written witness accounts of what happened at the Shifa Hospital. Do you have anything to say about that?

MR MILLER: Yeah. So I have seen a few things – one, the accounts in the media from inside Gaza, and I of course have seen what the IDF has said about the operations that it has conducted, where it has said it has killed a number of members of Hamas and detained I think several hundred additional members of Hamas. We, as often is the case, don’t have any – the ability to get full ground truth, because we don’t have anyone on the ground in Gaza.

I will say from our perspective, the things that you have heard us say before, of course, remain true. It’s we generally don’t want to see Israel operating inside hospitals in Gaza. We want to see hospitals be protected sites. But it is concerning that after Israel had conducted an operation earlier in this campaign to clear al-Shifa, that al-Shifa again was apparently infiltrated by Hamas fighters.

And so two things about that: One, look, obviously, we – it would be great if Hamas would stop hiding behind civilians and stop hiding inside civilian infrastructure, including hospitals; but two, it points out what we have been saying all along, which is the need for Israel to have a sustainable, long-term strategy when it comes to Gaza, that it’s not enough to just clear certain neighborhoods or hospitals or any other geographic areas or buildings of Hamas. They need to have a long-term, sustainable strategy that is not just a security strategy but also a political strategy if they really want to secure the future of Israel against the terrorist threat that has to date emanated from Gaza.

QUESTION: Okay. And so you don’t have any comment on what you’ve seen from the aftermath of the two-week operation against the hospital?

MR MILLER: Not beyond what I just outlined.

QUESTION: All right. And then when you say – and this will be it for me. Then when you say Israel needs a sustainable, long-term strategy for Gaza, have you seen one yet from them?

MR MILLER: We have not yet seen one, no. And that’s what we have been in conversation with them about, that what they —

QUESTION: But presumably the meeting today is just about Rafah, right? It’s not —

MR MILLER: It’s just about – it’s just about Rafah.

QUESTION: Right.

MR MILLER: And the point I mean – a sustainable, long-term strategy means something beyond a military strategy. It means —

QUESTION: Yes, but —

MR MILLER: — a political path as well.

QUESTION: So a political path to two states, right, from your —

MR MILLER: That is our preferred – that is our preferred policy. But you need a political path of some sort for it.

QUESTION: But have you seen –

MR MILLER: No. No.

QUESTION: But have you seen one from the Israelis that is even – that is even short of two states?

MR MILLER: At this point we have not, no.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Matt, just to follow up on al-Shifa, Israel has given some numbers: 200 militants have been killed; 900 suspected militants detained, of whom some 500 have been identified as Hamas. Does the United States have any assessment that these numbers are correct?

MR MILLER: We don’t have an independent assessment, no.

QUESTION: Do you have an assessment on how many civilians around that operation have been killed?

MR MILLER: We do not.

QUESTION: Okay. Moving on to this strike, the suspected Israeli strike in Damascus, do you have anything to say on this (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: I don’t. Obviously, it just happened in the hour or two before I came out here. We are in conversations with partners in the region, gathering more information, but at this point don’t have confirmation either of the target or the responsible party.

QUESTION: Do you know if the United States was given a heads-up by Israel about this?

MR MILLER: Again, we are gathering information. I don’t have anything about the strike right now. I don’t have anything beyond that to offer.

QUESTION: Okay. Do you have any concerns that this might sort of escalate tensions, which are already high —

MR MILLER: So I don’t –

QUESTION: — and it would endanger the hostage talks in any way?

MR MILLER: So I don’t want to – before we have gathered information about what exactly this was, I don’t want to speak to it specifically. But of course, we are always concerned about anything that would be escalatory or cause an increase in conflict in the region. It has been one of the goals of this administration since October 7th to keep the conflict from spreading, recognizing that Israel has a – the right to defend itself from adversaries that are sworn to its destruction.

But with respect to the hostage talks, there is no reason why this incident should have any impact on the hostage talks. We have long believed it is in the interest of everyone to see these hostage talks succeed because you would not just see a relief to the civilian population in Gaza that desperately needs it; it would enable the increase in humanitarian assistance into Gaza and of course it would get the hostages out. So no, I don’t – no, I don’t believe it should have any impact on it.

QUESTION: Can you say how those talks are going as far as —

MR MILLER: I don’t have any new assessment to offer today.

QUESTION: Okay, two final things. This is about last – this is from last week about these authorizations of these bombs to Israel. They have been approved a long time ago by Congress, but it looks like the State Department has decided to do the transfers last week, the week before. Why was that decision taken, like, recently?

MR MILLER: So let me – I think it would be helpful to step back and put this in a little context, and the context is that we – the United States has a decades-long commitment to Israel’s security. Israel is surrounded by entities that are sworn to its destruction – not just Hamas but Iran and proxy groups that Iran sponsors, Hizballah among them, who have repeatedly talked about their desire for the destruction of Israel.

We believe Israel has every right to defend itself against those opponents, and we to that end have a longstanding security relationship with them where we provide them more than $3 billion annually in security assistance. Now, the way that that works – and I know you prefaced this in your question, but just for the benefit of everyone else – the way that that works is we provide them with $3.3 billion a year in security assistance. They don’t always draw all of that down in any given year, but they come to the United States, request certain defense articles. We make assessments about whether those are appropriate or not. We notify them to Congress in the regular course of business.

And oftentimes what happens – let’s say just as an example, this is a fictional example; let’s say they requested a hundred planes – we make a decision, we notify Congress. That doesn’t mean that they take a hundred planes tomorrow once that notification has been given and once the approval has been given. They draw those down over time, and sometimes it takes years to fulfill those requests.

And so those are the types of things that – I see you wanting to go. Bear with me. I know – I know this is long, and then you’ll have the opportunity for a follow-up. Those are the types of things that often take years to fulfill, and they were happening before October 7th and they have continued after October 7th.

So what these are about in many cases are about self-defense, but also deterrence and replenishment. And so we make these in the regular course of business, and what I can tell you about them is that we follow the same procedures with respect to everyone that we do for every other country in the world, which is that we notify Congress. And in fact, since October 7th we have gone above and beyond to notify Congress about these transfers. There is a statutory threshold where we are required to notify them of transfers. We have been regularly briefing the committees to let – to make them aware of every transfer that we are making.

QUESTION: So I’m going to have to combine my questions now that you’ve taken up so much time to answer. I understand —

MR MILLER: I would apologize, but I don’t think you’d believe it.

QUESTION: Oh no, I’m just joking. Of course take your time. I understand the fulfilling can take years, but are you basically saying that the authorization of the transfer coming in these recent weeks was a coincidence?

MR MILLER: So I’m not saying it’s a coincidence. Israel has been engaged in a military conflict, and of course when you are engaged in a military conflict you deplete your military stocks and you need to —

QUESTION: So there was a request in recent weeks —

MR MILLER: And you need to see those – I’m not going to —

QUESTION: — for the – for the additional fulfilled – for the fulfillment of these particular —

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to get into —

QUESTION: — weapons.

MR MILLER: As is always the case, I’m not going to get into the timings of exact requests from here.

QUESTION: Okay. My final —

MR MILLER: Let me just – I’ll be quick. That’s a – but this is a process that we keep Congress fully apprised of, our relevant committees.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: But when you see these types of requests and when they get publicly reported – and you have to remember that Israel is in an armed conflict and is expending a great deal of defense materiel, and some of that needs to be replenished for Israel’s long-term security.

QUESTION: Right. And my final thing on this is, like, the Secretary and a lot of senior officials from this administration basically said far too many Palestinians have been killed. But when you go and make the – and we know that the administration’s policy hasn’t changed; it is not conditioning weapons to Israel. But when you go and make such an authorization of the transfer in recent weeks, even if the actual weapons transfer has been approved years ago, don’t you think that is going to damage the weight of your word, your credibility, and basically your sincerity in saying that far too many Palestinians have been killed?

MR MILLER: So I do not agree with that at all. We have been very clear that we want to see Israel do everything it can to minimize civilian casualties. We have made clear that they need to do every – that they need to operate at all times in full compliance with international humanitarian law. At the same time, we are committed to Israel’s right to self-defense, and this is a long-term commitment the United States has made, that it made before October 7th and that continues – it continues since October 7th.

So obviously the fight in Gaza is connected to Israel’s long-term security in very substantial ways. I got into some of that with response to Matt’s question. But Israel still faces – in addition to the security challenge posed with – in Gaza, it still faces an Iran that is hostile to Israel. It still faces Hizballah on its northern border that is hostile to Israel and says it is committed to the destruction of Israel. And so we are going to continue to support Israel’s ability to defend itself against those sworn enemies that want to see it end as a modern state, or a state at all.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, a 2,000-pound bomb is self-defensive, in your opinion?

MR MILLER: It is a – so they need to have the ability to defend themself against a very well-armed adversary – like I said, Iran; Hizballah, which has thousands and thousands of fighters and quite sophisticated materiel and quite sophisticated weaponry, as we’ve seen them deploy – excuse me – against Israel in the last few days. So yes, they do need the modern military equipment to defend themselves against those adversaries.

QUESTION: Yeah, but that was in Gaza, or beginning in Gaza.

MR MILLER: And we have made clear to them that when – that whatever weapon they use in Gaza, be it a bomb, be it a tank round, be it anything, that we expect them to use those weapons in full compliance with international humanitarian law, and we have said it – we have had very frank conversations with them about the fact that far too many civilians have died through their operations and that they need to do better in taking into account the need to minimize civilian harm. And we’ll continue to do that.

QUESTION: And just a – on that point – okay. So the requests were done years ago, what have you, but this time around you were suspiciously very careful not to publicize it. Usually we do the notifications to Congress, and we do a statement that had a – but this time, I understand you didn’t need to do it because of this, but —

MR MILLER: Do we – so I’ll just say we did notify Congress. We did – we followed – we followed the —

QUESTION: I know, but you didn’t publicize it.

MR MILLER: So it is not —

QUESTION: It’s what you do on arms sales and all that; you publicize it.

MR MILLER: So that’s not true with regard to most arms sales around the world. I know people have gotten used to our – the tempo of arms sales with respect to Ukraine. But that is a very different situation than our arms sales to Israel or any other country with which we have a security relationship because we stood it up from nowhere right before an active war, where most of our security relationships we don’t publicize our ongoing sales. What we do is we notify Congress about those sales, and we have done that with respect to these sales to Israel, as we do with respect to sales anywhere in the world.

QUESTION: Okay. Just to – last question on – back on – okay, I understand it’s a bit early, but obviously you don’t deny there was a strike by Israel on the consulate in – like I said, in the embassy of Iran in Damascus.

MR MILLER: So we’ve seen the strike. But again, I want to let the consultations that we have ongoing with partners in the region take place, allow – before we can – before I comment any further.

QUESTION: But it’s definitely escalatory.

MR MILLER: That’s not what I said, either. I said —

QUESTION: No, I’m saying that.

MR MILLER: You’re saying that. I thought it was a question.

QUESTION: I’m asking you to react.

MR MILLER: So Humeyra kind of – that’s good. Humeyra kind of did speak to this. I’m not going to comment with respect to this particular strike because, again, we just need to know more information about it before we do. And that includes drawing any conclusions from it. As a general principle, of course we are worried about escalation. We are worried about anything that would cause the conflict to expand or widen in any way.

QUESTION: I have one on Havana, a couple on this.

MR MILLER: Let me come back – let me back to you so the room doesn’t go into an uproar. Said, go ahead. But I will definitely come back.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. Now, you said that Hamas returned to al-Shifa Hospital. There are some 800 fighters and so on and all these things. Now, is that your – you are citing the Israeli narrative, or you have your own independent information?

MR MILLER: We don’t have our own independent assessment. But you have seen Israel produce the names – hold on – the names and photographs of known Hamas fighters who it has killed or captured.

QUESTION: How many? I mean, they showed names and Hamas fighters in al-Shifa Hospital?

MR MILLER: I have – I have seen the information they have publicly released. Said – hold up, Said, just let – I know you get – let me just finish.

QUESTION: No, no. I —

MR MILLER: I know. But let me – said, just —

QUESTION: I’m not interrupting. I’m trying to understand what you’re saying.

MR MILLER: Good. So we have seen them release – I don’t think there’s anyone who has cause to dispute that yes, they have – there were Hamas fighters hiding in al-Shifa Hospital – again, not for the first time.

QUESTION: Okay. So you are certain that the reason that Israel went into al-Shifa Hospital one more time is because Hamas fighters were there, and not hundreds of civilians that are taking refuge there?

MR MILLER: So I think it is certainly a fair conclusion, given what has been their goal since the outset of this campaign – to take the fight to Hamas – that is exactly what they were doing, yes.

QUESTION: And you believe that Israel has achieved that goal now by eliminating Hamas, or would you like to see them go back to al-Shifa Hospital again?

MR MILLER: So that is – I answered that question somewhat in response to Matt. I think there is a concern that you saw Hamas back inside hospitals.

QUESTION: Right.

MR MILLER: I don’t know why I don’t hear more people calling on Hamas to stop going into hospitals. You shouldn’t have to clear Hamas from a hospital once, let alone twice.

QUESTION: Right.

MR MILLER: But yes, we do have the concern that Hamas has been able to re-establish itself in a hospital that Israel had already cleared, and that points to an ongoing challenge for Israel in the way it conducts its operations.

QUESTION: Right, yeah. Just bear with me. A couple more questions. So, but why do you think – in your opinion, what value is there strategically for Israel to burn all the building, destroy all the equipment, destroy every last X-ray machine and everything in the hospital and not keep it? If their fight —

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: — is with the fighters, why must you destroy – and they left. There were – there was no fighting when they left – just to burn the buildings and burn the things and destroy everything.

MR MILLER: So let me just say this gets —

QUESTION: Why is that okay?

MR MILLER: Let me just say this gets into where – I’m often asked to comment on – to questions where there are conflicting accounts.

QUESTION: Right.

MR MILLER: And Israel has said that is not what they did, and we don’t have ground truth on that question. Israel has said what they tried to do is protect patients and not operate in places when there are patients, to evacuate people from the hospital, and only operate in a way that would impact the Hamas fighters that were there. Obviously, it’s an incredibly difficult situation. There shouldn’t be terrorists in a hospital at all. And so it is incredibly difficult to operate there and achieve a legitimate counterterrorism goal in a way that minimizes harm to patients, which goes back to my first point, which is Hamas shouldn’t be in a hospital at all.

QUESTION: Well, Hamas shouldn’t be – as far as Israel and the United States is concerned should not be there, period. But —

MR MILLER: I would think, Said, everyone could conclude – I would think, including you, I would think everyone could conclude that Hamas should not be inside a hospital.

QUESTION: Well, honestly —

MR MILLER: I don’t think – I don’t think – I hope, anyway, that that’s not a controversial opinion.

QUESTION: Well, okay. But that’s a different issue altogether.

MR MILLER: Not really.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: Not really. No, it’s kind of the core of what we’re talking about.

QUESTION: Okay. Let me ask you something. You talked about the 2,000-pound bombs and so on. You think that it is really wise to send it at this time when this far, in this battle or this war, it has only been used in Gaza? I mean, I know you say that Israel is surrounded by people that wish it (inaudible) and so on. But in fact, it’s surrounded by Egypt, with very good relations with Israel; it’s surrounded by Jordan, with good relations with Israel; it’s surrounded by Syria, that is obviously embroiled in its own civil war and can’t even defend itself against attacks, as we have seen today. So quite the contrary, it’s – Israel is surrounding Hamas, and it’s using these weapons to do that. And in fact, I mean, the F-35, to the best of my knowledge – I could be wrong – has only been used in combat against the people of Gaza.

So how could you justify sending all these weapons when you have the most hapless people probably on Earth, destroyed moving from one place to another and so on, and you send these weapons to sort of just finish the job or continue the job? I don’t know.

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: What logic is there in sending in sending those weapons?

MR MILLER: So the logic is exactly what I outlined a moment ago. Despite the fact that Israel has a – has diplomatic relations with Egypt and Jordan, it does not change the fact that Hizballah is parked on its northern border and is sworn to the destruction of Israel. It does not change the fact that Iran – no, not exactly, not right on its border, but well within striking distance – is committed to the destruction of Israel and continues to fund proxies committed to the destruction of Israel.

So yes, Israel faces incredibly serious threats not just from Hamas – although Hamas is clearly one, as we saw on October 7th – but from other adversaries that it needs our assistance to continue to defend itself against.

QUESTION: Lastly, please.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, let me – one more, Said.

QUESTION: Just one last one, if I may. Are you aware of a report made or a conversation that Israeli officers made with – to – or an interview with Haaretz where they say that Israel established some sort of – an illusionary kill zone line and so on? Are you aware of that?

MR MILLER: I —

QUESTION: And they actually kill whoever walks or moves about in that area?

MR MILLER: I read that article and I noted at the end that the IDF says that that, of course, is not what they have established. There are, of course, areas of significant combat where any civilian could wander in and be the – unfortunately be killed, either by fire from Israel or by fire from Hamas. If you walk into an active conflict zone, that’s a possibility. But I have noted that the IDF said they have not, of course, established kill zones. It would be incredibly inappropriate for anything like that to be established, and we’ve not seen evidence at this point that they have.

Go ahead, and I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: Thanks. There’s reporting that Israel submitted a plan to the UN that would essentially dismantle UNRWA, transferring staff and funds to World Food and some other organizations. Have you seen that plan? Do you support it?

MR MILLER: I have not seen that plan. I can’t speak to whether somebody inside the United States Government has. We continue to support the work that UNRWA does both in Gaza and in the broader region. We think that they play a critical role in delivering humanitarian assistance to people who need it. Now, the United States cannot fund UNRWA by statute now, given the recent action by Congress. So we are exploring ways that we can direct the humanitarian assistance we are committed to providing the Palestinian people through other organizations, and we look forward to identifying ways to do that and continuing to support humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians. But that does not mean that we do not also support UNRWA’s work; we want to see it continue.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Matt, today the Knesset passed a law, 70 to 10, voting to pave the way for the closure of all Al Jazeera offices inside Israel. I am just wondering if you have a comment on that.

MR MILLER: So we support the independent free press anywhere in the world, and we think the work that the independent free press does is important everywhere in the world, and much of what we know about what has happened in Gaza is because of reporters who are there doing their jobs, including reporters from Al Jazeera. I’ll say, just with respect to Al Jazeera, obviously we – I think it’s well known that we’ve not always agreed with all of Al Jazeera’s coverage, but it’s a media organization that we engage with. I’ve done interviews with Al Jazeera. Other people from the department have done interviews with Al Jazeera.

So what we will continue to make clear is that we support the work that the free press does.

QUESTION: Our assessment with that passage of this law and previous incidents with our crew in Gaza, that this, like, enhanced our suspicion from the beginning that our crews were actually targets, not by mistake or by – did you – does this trouble you that a media organization becomes the target of the Israel and become part of the targets in this war?

MR MILLER: So with respect to targeting – and I mean targeting in a sense not through a law passed by the Knesset but I think with respect to potential military targeting – Israel has said very clearly that that’s not what they have done. Obviously, that would be incredibly inappropriate. You’ve heard the Secretary speak to this, that it is tragic how many journalists have lost their life in this war, because, as I just spoke to a minute ago, they go – they put their own lives at risk in bringing us information about what’s happening inside Gaza, and it’s important that we continue to get that information. And so we support the work that journalists do in Gaza; we support the work that they do around the world.

Tom, go ahead.

QUESTION: The – just to go back to the meeting between U.S. and Israeli officials, why is this happening virtually?

MR MILLER: I will leave it to the White House, which is the primary – White House took the lead in organizing this meeting, so I’ll leave it to them to speak to that.

QUESTION: But, I mean, there’s an important diplomatic element, because we know – I mean, Benjamin Netanyahu said in press conference yesterday that he pulled the delegation traveling to send a message because of the UN Security Council vote. So it will worry people that on such an important issue – and it’s not a long flight from Tel Aviv – that this meeting is not happening in person. I mean, what does that say about your ability to persuade the Israelis on the issue of an invasion of Rafah when you haven’t been able to persuade them even to fly to Washington?

MR MILLER: So I’m in a little bit of a box here because I can’t talk about the outcome of the meeting, because it’s still – maybe it’s broken now since I’ve been at the podium. We will have more to say about the meeting later today. But I’ll just say I would not expect this to be our final engagement on this issue.

QUESTION: Do you think you can persuade them? I mean, this – so far, this doesn’t feel like a huge success of your argument, because you’ve been saying for weeks you don’t support a ground invasion of Rafah. The Israeli prime minister has been saying for weeks they will go in.

MR MILLER: So we will continue to make what we believe is the best case to Israel about actions that it should take in Rafah that won’t just minimize civilian harm and prevent an unnecessary loss of life in a place where you have somewhere around 1.4 million civilians living today, but also would be in Israel’s long-term security interests. And I think that’s an important point that we don’t – the case that we are making to Rafah is not just about the interests of the Palestinian people. It’s also about Israel’s long-term security interests, and you heard the Secretary speak to this some in Tel Aviv – I know you were there – about the toll that this has taken on – this campaign has taken on Israel’s standing in the world and its ability to influence countries around the world. And we think that a full-scale of invasion of Rafah would only further that impact to Israel’s standing. So we’re going to make that case to them. Ultimately, they’re a sovereign country and will make their own decisions. But we’re going to make the – we will lay out to them the way we see it.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: And will this conversation also make clear what the U.S. will do if they go ahead with a full-scale invasion in response? Or is this just laying out alternatives?

MR MILLER: So two things about that. One, with respect to the broader question, not tied directly to this meeting, I’ve gotten that before and I’m just not going to speak to hypotheticals. We’re going to take it one step at a time and not make any predictions about what will happen.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Yeah, but what will – and then with respect to the meeting itself, again, I’m not going to speak in detail about a meeting that was still ongoing when I walked out here. We’ll have more to say about it once – we’ll have more to say about once it’s concluded – at a very high level.

QUESTION: Okay, and just one more question on Israel.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I understand the regular course of business when it comes to arms sales, of course, Israel, any other country. But I’m just trying to understand if – if you’re saying that these weapons were promised, they were approved, the process went through, and now they’re going forward, is that regular process being examined at all given what’s going on in the Israel-Hamas war or not at all?

MR MILLER: So that process is a process that applies not just to Israel but to every country that – with whom we have a security relationship. So it is one that is longstanding, and again, there are dozens if not hundreds of open orders for Israel that go back years under which they receive defense articles from the United States. So no, that is not a – it is not a new process and it’s not one just with respect to Israel, and no, we’re not re-examining the entire process. But obviously we always look at – we always look at requests that come from any country in light of their current needs and in light of our ability to supply them. But again, I think it’s important to remember that these are requests that were made and approved in many cases years ago – not just months ago, not just before October 7th, but years ago – and were approved years ago.

QUESTION: So all of those orders that have been approved will go forward?

MR MILLER: So I can’t say all of them – that will go forward, because Israel may come back and not want some of them. You’re talking about orders that are – orders that —

QUESTION: If Israel wants them, they’ll go forward?

MR MILLER: — that – years old. I cannot speak with respect to every request. And as I said, there are dozens of open requests that date back years. But when a country comes and makes a request and the United States does its due diligence and goes through the formal process of notifying Congress and then delivers those arms to a country – if a – if a country has ordered, like I said, 100 planes and they’ve taken 20, they still have the ability to come back and ask for the other 80 with which we’ve committed to provide them.

Anything else on Israel before I go? Let me – go ahead, Guita, and then I’ll come to Humeyra next.

QUESTION: Thank you. You referenced Iran a couple of times just in the past 10, 15 minutes. It seems like the – their proxy groups in Iraq have attacked – conducted an attack against Eilat in Israel, so despite everything that the U.S. is trying to do to contain the war to just the Gaza Strip, it’s – Iran is doing the opposite. Now, what options are you –could there be besides diplomatic options that are really not going anywhere?

MR MILLER: So two things on that. One, we have – or I should say one, I think it reinforces the point I was just making about the Iranian-supported proxy groups who are committed to the destruction of Israel – not just Hizballah, not just Hamas, but proxy groups that exist in Iraq and did attempt to launch an attack against Israel over the weekend. But two, we will continue to make clear to those groups and to Iran that it is not in their interest to take strikes against Israel, it is not in the interest to take strikes against the United States, as we have done for some time.

QUESTION: How much confidence do you have in the Iraqi Government to contain them? Because the foreign minister was here, the prime minister is supposed to be coming, and there hasn’t – the government hasn’t really been able to deliver.

MR MILLER: So I would say that that is an ongoing conversation we have with our Iraqi counterparts about the need to take action against proxy groups that launch attacks from within Iraqi – inside Iraq. You have seen, obviously, a dramatic decrease in the number of those attacks over the past month or six weeks, but it is something that we continue to engage with the Iraqi Government about.

Any more on – Humeyra. Humeyra, and then we’ll come here.

QUESTION: Just one thing. In your answer, Matt, to me and a few others on the weapons thing, you mentioned the threat from Hizballah, like on Israel and all that. So were you trying to suggest that in the course of this latest authorization for the transfer, did you get any assurances from Israel that it’s not going to use these, like, in its offensive in Gaza, but it’s only going to use these against Hizballah?

MR MILLER: So no, that’s not what I said at all. I think you’re reading quite a bit into —

QUESTION: Okay, no, I just want to make sure that —

MR MILLER: Hold – quite a bit into my answer, but again, the recent authorizations that you’re talking about were in many cases made years ago.

QUESTION: Right, but – but just —

MR MILLER: Right, years ago. Before October 7th.

QUESTION: Yeah. But just to be sure, there has been no assurances – United States has not sought any assurances from Israel just in the wake of this or just before this transfer? Like, you can use it in this place and you can’t use it in that place – there’s been no such conversation —

MR MILLER: So I’m not – I am not going to get into the private conversations we have with any country —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR MILLER: Hold on, hold on – any country in the world, but that is not to read into – you should not read into that that we are imposing some kind of conditions. The – what we expect with respect to the defense articles that we supply to Israel and other countries are that they operate in compliance with international humanitarian law.

Now, with respect to a campaign against Hizballah or a potential campaign against Hizballah, we have seen – we want to see that issue resolved diplomatically. We want to see Israeli citizens able to return to their homes in northern Israel, we want to see Lebanese civilians able to return to their home in southern Lebanon, but that’s a path we’re pursuing diplomatically.

QUESTION: And just by law, you had the authority not to make the transfer, right? Like even if Congress had approved this years ago, even if the fulfillment takes years, United States Government certainly had the – has the authority not to fulfill it today, right?

MR MILLER: So whether we have the authority or not is one question. There are always ramifications if you have committed to supply a country with something and you don’t. This gets very technical and —

QUESTION: Matt, I’m just wondering if you had the option.

MR MILLER: And – but again, we are committed to the defense of Israel. I know people want me to say some kind of different answer, but we are committed to Israel’s long-term security, and again, this is something that predates October 7th and will continue to be the policy of the United States, and we – and we will, in keeping with that commitment, continue to be very direct and candid with Israel about how it is in their interest to use the articles of defense that we provide them, as well as weapons that they manufacture themself, in full compliance with international humanitarian law and in a way that minimizes civilian harm.

QUESTION: Final thing, I promise: Are you expecting today’s talk to feature at all the humanitarian plan that Israel is supposed to present to you?

MR MILLER: Why don’t we just wait – let’s – I think I’ve probably talked enough about these ongoing talks. Let’s wait for what we’ll have to say about them at the conclusion.

Go ahead. Yeah.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on this question —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: — especially on Lebanon – you have been saying you are trying to resolve the issue on the northern borders diplomatically. You’ve been successful so far, but are you concerned that now it’s been escalating for the last two weeks? Are – is the risk higher now?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to assess a relative level of risk. Our concern about escalation is high, it has been high since October 7th, and that is why we have engaged in a diplomatic process to try to resolve the very real security challenges that Israel faces without further conflict, and what’s – what we’re going to continue to pursue.

QUESTION: One more question. During the Secretary visit to the region, can you confirm the reports that the Arab ministers gave him an Arab proposal on how – on the day after and on the establishment of a Palestinian state within three years?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to confirm that report, but the path forward for Gaza and the West Bank and the Palestinian people is something that we have been engaged with with partners in the region. As you may recall, when the Secretary traveled – and I should back up; it’s really been something that we have been engaged with partners since the immediate aftermath of October 7th, but it’s a process that intensified when he traveled to the region in early January and started direct coordination with Arab partners about how to rebuild Gaza, establish security inside Gaza, and ultimately provide a political path forward for the Palestinian people. And that’s something that we continue to engage with our Palestinian – or I’m sorry, our Arab partners about, but I don’t want to get into specifics of those conversations.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Matthew?

MR MILLER: All right. One more and then we’ll – and then we’ll – I’ll take some others.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. One question on the Kurdistan region election. As you know that this election has been scheduled for June 10th, and it’s supposed to be further delayed, especially the KDP, the ruling party, is refusing to participate in that election. In the past few days, the U.S. ambassador met the KDP leader twice. So do you have any concern that the election, the KRI election, will not happen in the scheduled time? And then how are you going to encourage the KDP and other political parties to overcome the disputes and having election either on June 10th or any other day this year?

MR MILLER: So we understand the IKR president and various Iraqi authorities and political parties are actively considering next steps. We encourage efforts to schedule free, fair, and credible elections in the IKR.

And I realize I forgot to come back to you about —

QUESTION: You don’t —

MR MILLER: Yeah, I – we could do – it seems like we could do the whole briefing on it, so let me – we’ll move on for now and then come back if there’s more time.

Go ahead. I promised.

QUESTION: Thank you. Per the CBS 60 Minutes reporting that aired on Sunday, a first incident of Havana syndrome took place in Frankfurt with an employee of the U.S. consulate. This happened two years before the already known cases that occurred in Havana in 2016. Can you confirm there was an incident in 2014, at least one incident in Frankfurt, that led to apparent Havana syndrome symptoms?

MR MILLER: So we have made it a practice to not confirm or comment on specific reports in this regard. What I will say is what we have done for affected employees, and that is we have implemented the HAVANA Act passed by Congress that has allowed us to provide additional support to those affected employees, including reimbursement for medical care, including free care at military hospitals and other military treatment facilities; it includes help with their careers if they have been affected by, say, a prolonged absence from work. The safety and security of our personnel remains the top priority of the Secretary, and we are doing everything possible to help those affected.

QUESTION: A couple more on Havana still. Does the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research have confidence that – in the U.S. Intelligence Community’s assessment that it is unlikely that a foreign adversary is causing Havana syndrome?

MR MILLER: So we do. It has been the broad conclusion of the Intelligence Community since March 2023 that it is unlikely a foreign adversary is responsible for these anomalous health incidents. It’s something that the Intelligence Community has investigated extensively and continues to look at. We will look at new information as it comes in and make assessments inside the State Department and with our Intelligence Community counterparts.

QUESTION: But you can’t confirm whether INR agrees with that in this building?

MR MILLER: No, I said we do – they do share that.

QUESTION: You do? You do. Okay.

MR MILLER: They do share that assessment.

QUESTION: And I don’t know if you’ve seen the report that aired on Sunday, but will any State Department employees who believe they are victims of Havana face consequences for publicly questioning the intel community’s assessment?

MR MILLER: No. Of course not.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.

MR MILLER: And let me – I said – let me just come back and say of course not and in no case would we in any way hold employees – I guess “accountable” is not even the right word. In no case would we discipline employees for speaking their mind. They have the ability to do that. We encourage it. But that doesn’t change our assessment. And I say the – I should say our – the Intelligence Community’s broad assessment that a foreign adversary is unlikely to be responsible for these incidents.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Russia, North Korea, and China. Russia opposes extending the term of UN Security Council’s panel of experts on sanctions against North Korea. How concerned is the United States about this?

MR MILLER: Incredibly concerned. I spoke to this at detail – in detail last week. It’s unfortunate that Russia and China decided to exercise their veto. This is a panel that has – whose work has previously been extended unanimously, and I think it’s clear what happened here is that Russia made a bargain with the DPRK in return for the DPRK arming it in its war against Ukraine. And now we’re seeing Russia deliver on its end of the bargain.

QUESTION: So how will violations of North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests be sanctioned in the future?

MR MILLER: So we still have a full range of sanctions on North Korea, and we will continue to enforce those.

QUESTION: On China, President Xi Jinping and Russian President Putin will hold a summit meeting in China next month. What do you think about the solidarity between Russia and China?

MR MILLER: So we have made clear that we have concerns with the, I think, full-scale partnership – I’m going to get the words exactly wrong – that we have seen between Russia and China. We have made very clear that we don’t want to see China do anything to help support Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, and we will continue to make that clear.

QUESTION: Follow-up?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Two separate topics. Let me start with the latest extension of RFE/RL reporter Alsu Kurmasheva’s pre-trial detention today. What was your reaction to the court decision? And with the American embassy officials being present for the first time, what can you tell us about her condition?

MR MILLER: So we are deeply concerned about the – about her detention in Russia. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the Kremlin’s continued attempts to intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices. The charges against Ms. Kurmasheva are just another sign of the weakness of Putin’s regime. And with respect to her condition, I would refer you to the embassy officials who were there at her hearing.

QUESTION: She happened to speak about that, from the court hearing. She said is in poor condition, she doesn’t feel very well, there is no minimum conditions for her. I know you are in the middle of fact gathering when it comes to designating her arrest as wrongful, but how much of what we have heard publicly from her today will help you expedite the process?

MR MILLER: So we look at a broad range of information when it comes to making those determinations. Some of that information is public; some of it is not public. Some of it is information that’s available to the United States Government, and we’ll continue to collect information in this case, as we do in all potential wrongful determination cases.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m going to Armenia-Azerbaijan.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Over the weekend we saw the Azeri side was trying to push a narrative that the Armenian side was trying to escalate, and something that the EU monitoring mission didn’t confirm. What – how much do you know what’s going on? And how concerned are you about potential escalation? And what kind of reaction will that invite, if that happens, presumably this week basically?

MR MILLER: So we saw the statement from the Government of Azerbaijan over the weekend. I would note that the EU monitoring mission said yesterday that the Armenia-Azerbaijan border was calm and quiet, with no unusual military troop or artillery movements, despite those statements. We caution and will continue to caution against escalating rhetoric or hostilities along the border. We continue to encourage the creation of conditions for a just and dignified peace in the region, where the rights of all are respected. And as you’ve heard me say from this podium many times, the only way to ensure a sustainable peace is at the negotiating table.

QUESTION: I know the Secretary has an engagement this week with the Armenian side. Is there anything you’re going to do in terms of like reaching out to Azeris to prevent escalation?

MR MILLER: So we will continue to make clear to both Armenia and Azerbaijan that escalation is in no one’s interest. I don’t have any diplomatic conversations to preview.

QUESTION: Have the Azeris been even invited to the meeting that will happen this week, or —

MR MILLER: So I think, again, this meeting, remember, is about Armenia’s reforms and its democracy, economy, and resilience. The peace process is not the focus of this meeting; it’s a meeting between the U.S., EU, and Armenia to discuss economic diversification, humanitarian assistance, support for refugees, and supporting Armenia’s political reforms in areas such as democracy and the rule of law. It is not a regionally focused meeting.

QUESTION: And final one from me, if I may, on the 60 Minutes investigation. There are reports about – that Americans living in Tbilisi also talked about them being impacted. How concerned are you about Russian operations in the region, in Georgia (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: So again, I’m not going to comment on specific reports – as I said, we make it a practice not to do. But we obviously are concerned with the destabilizing act – actions of Russia all around the region.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Follow-up on that.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So this is on the meeting between U.S., South Korea, and Japan on Friday to counter North Korea’s cyber threats. What are some of the things that came out of that meeting that the U.S. is doing to counter these cyber threats, and how big of a problem is it for the U.S.?

MR MILLER: Let me take that back and get you an answer.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matthew. Can you confirm that next week an Israeli delegation is going to come to Washington in person? Will Secretary Blinken participate in that?

MR MILLER: No, I cannot confirm that. As I said, I would not expect that the conversation today will be our last one, but I don’t have anything else to offer.

QUESTION: And regarding the likely shuttering of Al Jazeera in Israel, the – what the Israeli Government said over the years is that the channel has been known to instigate violence and is just – obviously, it’s a propaganda arm of Qatar. What do you make of those pushbacks?

MR MILLER: I don’t have anything to add to what I said a moment ago, which is obviously we – we have made clear we don’t agree with everything that Al Jazeera airs. But at the same time, we support the free, independent press anywhere in the world.

Michel.

QUESTION: But it’s not independent.

MR MILLER: Michel, go ahead.

QUESTION: It’s owned by Qatar.

MR MILLER: Michel, go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah. Are you concerned about the security situation in Jordan, especially that there are reports stating that the regime is under threat from Iran and its proxies?

MR MILLER: No. I – we have a close working relationship with the Government of Jordan, and I don’t – I don’t share that assessment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Go ahead. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks. Thank you. One’s I want to follow up on Said’s question about the reports of kill zones in Gaza. You said that you haven’t seen evidence of such a thing. But we’ve seen, for instance, the two Palestinians who are waving white flags killed just days ago. We’ve seen repeated reports of Israeli snipers killing people outside of hospitals, people afraid to even walk into the streets to save people who are bleeding out. So it seems understandable to say we’ve seen reports, Israel denied it, we’ll look into it. But I wouldn’t say there’s not evidence of Israel establishing some form of this kind of practice. Does that seem preliminary, to say that kind of thing?

MR MILLER: No, we have not seen evidence of what was – what was reported in this article. Now, have we seen a number of incidents of civilian harm? Of course we have. We have seen those, and that happens in every war, and I can tell you what we have said before, which is we take those incredibly seriously. We have engaged with the Government of Israel to make clear that those accounts need to be investigated, and if soldiers are found to have operated in violation of either the IDF code of conduct or international humanitarian law, they need to be disciplined.

QUESTION: And then on al-Shifa Hospital, I know you’ve talked at some length about it, but I am just wondering, we’ve gone from months ago the idea of Israeli forces targeting hospitals to being outlandish, to now they’ve done this attack on al-Shifa, and statedly and ostensibly they say that they’ve killed Hamas terrorists. Nevertheless, we’ve seen reports of kids, women found gruesomely killed, executed, reportedly even a surgeon who was there for 172 days treating patients killed. And some victims we can’t even confirm their – the identity because of the state of their bodies.

So I’m wondering, given this attack, given the evident lack of care for civilians, given that we can’t an update on investigations into, for instance, the now two-month killing of Hind, the medics sent to save her, how can the U.S. approve any action into Rafah, a slice of land where 1.1 million Palestinians are seeking refuge? If a targeted attack on a hospital looks like this —

MR MILLER: Yeah, so —

QUESTION: — what would an attack in any form on Rafah look like?

MR MILLER: So again, do not believe that this attack was on the hospital. The attack was on the Hamas fighters that are hiding inside a hospital.

QUESTION: Still – still to my point —

MR MILLER: Some – hold on. Some place that they should never be. But it makes – you make a good point with respect to Rafah, which is why we have made clear we don’t want to see a full-scale military operation. But I think the premise of the – I shouldn’t say the premise of the question because I don’t want to attribute this to you, but the other alternative is that Israel does nothing about the Hamas fighters that continue to exist in Rafah, and we don’t think that’s an acceptable alternative either. So what we have said is there needs to be a targeted military operation in Rafah that targets the Hamas fighters in a way that minimizes civilian harm and not a full-scale operation. That’s been what we have been making clear to them.

QUESTION: Just one small follow-up on that, if you’ll allow. I guess this just gets to a broader question about – what does the U.S. see as sort of the path out of here? Like is it political? Because what does it mean for Israel to defend itself ongoingly? Like is it a matter of eradicating everyone who is associated with Hamas? Because that —

MR MILLER: Yeah —

QUESTION: I don’t know. It doesn’t necessarily seem like a goal that has led to the protection of civilians up to this point.

MR MILLER: So there needs – they – there need to be battlefield successes and there needs to be a political path forward, and that is what we have been engaged with partners in the region to develop and ultimately to present to Israel. Because as you have heard the Secretary say, without a political path forward for the Palestinian people, Israel and the Palestinians are going to be stuck in this same cycle of violence that they have been stuck in for decades. And that’s not in the Palestinian people’s interest, as we have seen over the past nearly six months. It is not in Israel’s interest, as we saw very clearly on October 7th.

And so that is the work that we are doing inside the United States Government to try to develop that political path forward that we think ultimately is in the best interests of the Palestinian people, the Israeli people, and the broader region at large.

And go ahead (inaudible).

QUESTION: Yesterday Türkiye held local elections. I know it’s the local elections, but it has a significant outcome. So do you have any comment or statement about these elections, the process of these elections, or the results?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any comment on that. We typically don’t comment or take a position on elections anywhere in the world.

QUESTION: And the elections are over. Do you have any updates about President Erdogan’s visit to Washington?

MR MILLER: I do not.

Go ahead, and then we’ll wrap for —

QUESTION: Thank you very much, Matt.

MR MILLER: Or come to Guita.

QUESTION: I have some good news about one of the U.S. detainee in Afghanistan, Mr. Ryan (inaudible). I spoke to the – a senior Taliban official. They said that he’s in good health and he speaks to his family. Another detainee before him was Joshua (inaudible), who also contacted me after he was released from the Taliban. I had requested the Taliban that these detainees should be released immediately without any conditions in the Holy Month of Ramadan. They said we will definitely do it if you give us commitment that the U.S. will release our detainees and – and not a media group so big as Al Jazeera, and it’s a small-town niche media group. Is there anything I can convey that, like, these detainees should be, I mean, given back to each other, or it’s too much out of my —

MR MILLER: I – with all due respect, I think I will decline to conduct diplomacy via you through this podium.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: But I will say two things. One, we are concerned despite those assurances – well-meaning as they may be – we are concerned about the well-being of Americans detained in Afghanistan. And number two, we are actively working for their release and will continue to do so.

QUESTION: All right. My second question is – are drones have been reported flying in different parts of Afghanistan. Any things you can share that at least —

MR MILLER: No. No, I don’t have any comment on that at all.

QUESTION: Just last – last —

MR MILLER: Let me go to Guita because we have to wrap.

QUESTION: Just one more.

MR MILLER: That was – that was two. Guita.

QUESTION: I have five, six questions. I don’t even get three.

MR MILLER: And – Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Matt, Human Rights Watch has issued a report on the situation of the Baha’is in Iran. It said that the Iranians’ persecution of this religious minority is tantamount to crimes against humanity. I was wondering, since the State Department has been following their situation – this situation of the Baha’is in Iran, if you would have the same assessment as Human Rights Watch.

MR MILLER: Let me take that back and get you an assessment. I haven’t seen that. That – obviously it’s an issue we’ve been following. I haven’t seen that specific report, but let me talk to others in the building who might have and get you a response.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: With that, we’ll wrap for today. Thanks, everyone.

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

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