Department Press Briefing – March 25, 2024

MR MILLER:  Good afternoon, everyone.

QUESTION:  Good afternoon.

MR MILLER:  Especially for those of you I see – actually just one of you – who traveled with us on this most recent trip.  Humeyra, hope you got some rest over the weekend.  I don’t see anyone else; Matt’s not here.  Hope you got some rest over the weekend, and I —

MR MILLER:  Looks like your colleagues who were on that trip did not show up today.  So anyway, I don’t have any opening statements, so Humeyra, you want to start us?

QUESTION:  Yeah, sure.  So on Rafah, Matt, Israeli delegation’s not coming here.  How will the U.S. be able to present its alternative proposals to Israel, since they’re not going to be here this week? 

MR MILLER:  So I saw the statement from the Government of Israel.  I would say it was a bit surprising and unfortunate.  The UN Security Council resolution that passed today from which the United States abstained, there were issues that we had concern – issues with which we had concerns related to that resolution, the fact that it did not condemn Hamas’s terrorist attacks of October 7th; that’s why we didn’t vote for it.  But the reason we didn’t veto it is because there were also things in that resolution that were consistent with our long-term position; most importantly, that there should be a ceasefire, and that there should be a release of hostages, which is what we understood also to be the Government of Israel’s position.  

So it is a bit surprising and unfortunate that they are not going to apparently attend these meetings.  Because, as you heard the Secretary say in Tel Aviv on Friday after he met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other members of the Israeli Government, we believe that, number one, a full-scale invasion of Rafah would be a mistake.  It would be a mistake not just because of the civilian harm that it would cause, which would be immense – there are somewhere around 1.4 million people in Rafah now, and the Government of Israel has not presented a credible plan to evacuate those people to other areas and take care of them once they were moved – but also – and this was, I think, an important thing that the Secretary said – we also think that this type of invasion would weaken Israel’s security.  It would make Israel less safe, not more safe.  It would undermine its standing in the world.

So we are ready to present to them plans that we believe would achieve their legitimate goal, which is the defeat of Hamas, but would do so in a way that does not cause undue civilian harm and does not weaken Israel’s overall security.  So we will look forward to continuing to have those discussions with them.

QUESTION:  But I mean, do you have a plan right now, like, when that would happen?  Would that be over the phone?  Would Secretary Blinken go?  Would you try to – and also has there been any communication with the Israeli Government at a high level following this decision?

MR MILLER:  So a few things in order.  So first of all, we started these discussions with them last week in Tel Aviv.  As you know, the Secretary discussed the potential invasion of Rafah with Prime Minister Netanyahu and the war cabinet in Tel Aviv, and laid out our very serious concerns.  Defense Minister Gallant is here today; he’ll be meeting with the Secretary in a little over two hours, and I would expect that will be the subject of conversations in that meeting.  And I understand he has a meeting with other officials in the government over the course of today and tomorrow.  So we will have those discussions there.

And then I am sure we will find other ways to make our concerns known to the Government of Israel at very senior levels, but I don’t have anything to announce with respect to that today.  

And then with respect to your final question – so we have had ongoing communications with officials from the Israeli Government about this UN Security Council resolution going back multiple days, going back to last week.  And we had talked about different versions.  As you may recall, there was a different draft that was put forward first that called for a permanent ceasefire, which is not something that we supported.  We, as you know, want to see an immediate ceasefire, but linked to hostages, and then we want to build that into something more enduring.  So we had been in close contact with them about this resolution.  And as I said, we believe this resolution is consistent with our policy on this matter, and consistent with what we believe to be the Government of Israel’s policy, so we have had conversations with them over the last 24 hours, and I’m sure those will continue.

QUESTION:  Yeah, just – just one – a couple of other things.  Just to be sure, so will the Secretary discuss with Defense Minister Gallant the alternatives that the United States was going to – no?

MR MILLER:  That will not be the main – I am sure that it will come up to some extent, but we do not have a presentation, a detailed presentation along those lines planned for this meeting today.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And I hope you don’t call this a hypothetical; this is now very much a high possibility, that everybody has the sense that whatever happens regardless of you presenting alternative options or not, Israel will just go ahead with this offensive the way it sees it appropriate.  They have said this publicly.  Actually, Prime Minister Netanyahu said it on the day that Secretary Blinken – we were there on Friday – we will go alone if need be.  So what is the – is the United States going to try to stop it if that would be the case?

MR MILLER:  So I think I would answer that by saying we will make clear to them what the Secretary made clear on Friday, which is that we believe this type of full-scale invasion would be a mistake.  It would be a mistake not just because of the extraordinary impact it would have on the somewhere around 1.4 million civilians who are in Rafah now, but it would also be a mistake because it would harm Israel’s overall security.  We think there is a better way to do it that would accomplish, as I said, what is a very legitimate national security goal of Israel’s, which is to defeat the Hamas battalions that remain in Rafah.

So we will continue to make that case to them.  I expect that we will have other ways to do so over the coming days, but I would not want to make any predictions about what will come after that. 

QUESTION:  So last week when you guys presented your resolution at the UN, there were complaints from people who said that it delinked the ceasefire from the release of hostages, and U.S. officials were rather vociferous in saying that that is not the case.  However, what you guys abstained on today does appear to delink them.  Is that your understanding of —

MR MILLER:  So we don’t believe it delinks them.  You see in the same paragraph it – the resolution calling for both a ceasefire and the release of hostages.  It’s not the exact language that we would have put forward, obviously, because the language that we would put forward is the language that we did put forward last week, but it is language that is consistent with our policy to call for both a ceasefire and the release of hostages, and that’s why we did not exercise a veto today. 

As I said, we did have concerns about the lack of other provisions in the resolution, but as it pertains to a ceasefire and the release of hostages, both the things that we called for were there in the resolution. 

QUESTION:  The other provisions you’re referring to – is there something more than just a condemnation of Hamas? 

MR MILLER:  That is the – that is our — 

QUESTION:  Or were they plural? 

MR MILLER:  That is our chief objection.  I’ll refer to the UN ambassador —

QUESTION:  Okay, but the abstention means that you’re — 

MR MILLER:  — for any —

QUESTION:  — okay with it, you’re willing to go along with it.  And so what do you expect now to happen as a result of the passage of this resolution? 

MR MILLER:  So I think — 

QUESTION:  Do you expect that Israel is going to announce a ceasefire?  

MR MILLER:  I do not.  So — 

QUESTION:  And then do you expect that Hamas is going to release hostages? 

MR MILLER:  So I’m glad you get – you mentioned that, because one of the things that we have objected to for some time is that most of the people that call for a ceasefire we believe are calling for Israel to unilaterally stop operations, and not calling for Hamas to agree to a ceasefire where they would release hostages.  

QUESTION:  Well, I think it goes both ways, doesn’t it? 

MR MILLER:  So – it could.  But so the — 

QUESTION:  So wait, wait, wait, wait.  The — 

MR MILLER:  No, the – but the resolution today is a non-binding resolution, but we do think — 

QUESTION:  So what’s the point?

QUESTION:  Why did you — 

MR MILLER:  — you could ask that — 

QUESTION:  Why did you abstain?  Why didn’t you veto? 

MR MILLER:  We didn’t veto because we thought the language in it was consistent with something that – the language as it relates to the ceasefire and release of hostages was consistent with the longstanding United States position. 

QUESTION:  So you don’t believe anything is going to happen as a result of the passage of this resolution. 

MR MILLER:  So I think that separate and apart from this resolution, we have active, ongoing negotiations to try to achieve what this resolution calls for, which is the – an immediate ceasefire and the release of hostages.  I don’t – I can’t say that this – this resolution is going to have any impact on those negotiations. 

MR MILLER:  But those negotiations are ongoing.  They’ve been ongoing over the weekend and they’ve made progress. 

QUESTION:  All right.  So I don’t expect you to answer this now, but maybe just stick this in  your pocket.  If that’s the case, what the hell is the point of the UN or the UN Security Council? 

MR MILLER:  So we think it plays an important role on a range of – a range of security — 

QUESTION:  Oh, it does, even though its action does absolutely nothing?  I mean, and that you’re going to get what you would like to see not out of the UN, but out of discussions in Doha?  

MR MILLER:  So we believe it’s important that the UN speak – the UN Security Council speak on matters of international security.  It’s why we’ve been engaged in this process.  It’s why we thought we were going to have a successful vote on Friday that Russia and China unfortunately and quite cynically vetoed, but I do believe that ultimately, if we were able to achieve a ceasefire and the release of hostages, it’s going to come not through a UN process but through the process with which we’ve been engaged – yes – in Doha. 

QUESTION:  Could I just follow up on that? 

QUESTION:  Just to put it in other words, I mean, do you expect not just Israel but Hamas – do you expect compliance that Israel would actually – and Hamas for that matter – would actually say, hey, look, here’s a ceasefire in the month of Ramadan? 

MR MILLER:  So I don’t think you’re going to see Hamas complying with any United Nations Security Council resolutions. 

QUESTION:  But do you want them to?

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  But I would say – as I said, it’s a non-binding resolution, but we do believe that the ceasefire and release of hostages that the resolution calls for is not only the United States position but has been Israel’s position.  This is what Israel has been trying to achieve through these negotiations.  So I would hope that we could get to that agreement through these negotiations, and I would hope we get that in the near future. 

QUESTION:  Let me just put it one more way. I mean, if the fighting continues, I mean on both sides, is that – again, saying it’s non-binding, but is that a violation of the Security Council resolution? 

MR MILLER:  Again, it’s a non-binding resolution and I would defer to international lawyers to speak in detail to that question. 

QUESTION:  Matt, I know what you said yesterday, that Israel told him that they will no longer allow UNRWA convoys to enter northern Gaza.  I mean, if we add to this that there are so many incidents where Israelis fired on people queueing for aid in northern Gaza, do you – do you still believe or do – is it still the U.S. assessment that Israel is not using food or assistance as a tool of war?  

MR MILLER:  So we have not made an assessment or draw the conclusion that they are in violation of international humanitarian law when it comes to the provision of humanitarian assistance into Gaza.  That said, we do believe there is very much more that they can do to let humanitarian assistance go in, both through Kerem Shalom and Rafah and also through the new 96 gate that opened up week before last, to allow convoys to move directly into the north without having to transit the somewhat perilous route inside Gaza.  So we do believe that there is more that they can do, probably more that they can do – and I should say it’s not just with respect to UNRWA but with respect to other UN agencies that are operating and providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza today. 

QUESTION:  The budget deal that was passed in the Congress also prevents you – prevent the United States Government from funding UNRWA.  And you’ve been asked about this here in this – asking you on this podium before, and you said that you wanted – you don’t want to talk about something that didn’t happen.  But now it seems that it’s happening.  What is your plan to give aid to Gaza now that you cannot deal with UNRWA? 

MR MILLER:  So first of all, I should make very clear that we’re going to comply with the law.  And you’ve heard me speak about the fact that we had to prepare for the possibility that this might become law because it’s something that you’ve seen members of Congress propose, and you’d seen it in a bill that had previously passed the United States Senate.  So we have been working to identify alternatives to provide humanitarian assistance to UNRWA.  

UNRWA will continue its work.  There are other countries that are funding UNRWA.  There are other countries that have lifted their pauses on funding of UNRWA over the past few weeks, and we expect that their important work will go forward.  As for the United States, we still will provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.  That is our commitment, it’s something that we have done for decades, and it’s something that we will continue to do.  

And so we have had a process ongoing to identify how we can best deliver that funding and that assistance outside of UNRWA if Congress did take the step that it has now taken, and I expect you’ll see us move along in that process over the coming weeks and months.  But UNRWA is not now the only humanitarian provider that’s operating in Gaza.  We’ve seen, for example, the World Food Program that has run some of these convoys that have moved up inside Israel and crossed into northern Gaza through the 96 gate.  So we’ll look to work with WFP and other programs – UNICEF, perhaps – on ways to get the humanitarian assistance that we can provide, that we can fund, in to the people who need it. 

QUESTION:  One last question, Matt. 

QUESTION:  I’m seeking if you have any comment about the video that Al Jazeera broadcast on Friday about Israeli drone attacking Palestinian, five men, with drone missiles.  I don’t know if you’ve see the video or not, but clearly in the video, at least from the way that we see it, they were unarmed, they look civilian, and they were targeted numerous time by rockets from a drone. 

MR MILLER:  So I’ve seen the video.  I’m not able to offer an assessment as to the identity of the individuals in the video or any of the circumstances surrounding it.  But it is something that we’ve asked the Israelis for more information about. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  A couple of follow-ups.  Now, you were saying, I think in response to Humeyra, on you will show the Israelis ways to target Hamas without having a full invasion.  Is that what you said, sir? 

MR MILLER:  Yes.  We’ve made that clear for some time. 

QUESTION:  Okay, all right.  You made that very clear.  Does that mean that the United States will actually go into combat against Hamas? 

MR MILLER:  No.  That is not at all what that means. 

QUESTION:  What does that mean? 

MR MILLER:  It means that we will provide advice to Israel —

MR MILLER:  – about ways that they can accomplish their legitimate objective —

MR MILLER:  – which is to defeat the remaining Hamas battalions that are operating in Rafah, but without a full-scale invasion that would lead to mass humanitarian suffering.  

MR MILLER:  But we have been very clear that there will be no U.S. combat troops on the ground. 

QUESTION:  And that would be also and the sharing of intelligence and things of that nature? 

MR MILLER:  Those are conversations we’re going to have privately —

QUESTION:  You have practically —

MR MILLER:  Hold on – with the Government of Israel.  I’m certainly not going to read them out here. 

QUESTION:  All right.  I have a couple questions to you on the resolution.  Now, does this resolution have any practical future? 

MR MILLER:  What do you mean, does it have any practical future? 

QUESTION:  I mean does it have – I mean, it’s a nonbinding resolution, right?  So does it have – could it be like a step forward towards a bigger binding resolution?  Is that how you see it? 

MR MILLER:  So I’m not going to speculate about what steps the United Nations Security Council are going to take next.  But we have been clear about what we are trying to achieve with respect to the conflict in Gaza, and that is to achieve an immediate, sustainable ceasefire linked to the release of hostages that we can then build into something more enduring.  That has been something we have been pursuing for some time.  It’s something that we have pursued in negotiations in Doha over the weekend.  And as I said, we believe that we’ve made progress in that, including progress in – over the weekend.  And we’ll continue to pursue it. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  Now, a couple more things on UNRWA in response to Ahmad’s questions and so on, on UNRWA.  Now, Israel, with the new law, that defunding UNRWA has become law, they can say we don’t want any UNRWA operations anywhere in Gaza or the West Bank, where that – are really totally dependent on the UNRWA operation.  I know you mentioned the World Food Program and so on, but it does not have the kind of mechanism and logistics in place and the history behind it that UNRWA has.  So do you expect that the Israelis will just throw out UNRWA lock, stock, and barrel? 

MR MILLER:  I am not going to make any predictions about what the Government of Israel – what steps the Government of Israel might take.  I will make clear, as we have, that we continue to support the important work that UNRWA does to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.  

QUESTION:  All right.  And lastly, I don’t know if you are following up on the West Bank.  The Israelis confiscated or ordered an issue to confiscate 3,000 dunams.  It’s the largest in many decades and so on.  Do you have any comment on that? 

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  We have been very clear in our position that these settlements are inconsistent with international humanitarian law and that they are ultimately a barrier to peace. 

QUESTION:  International law. 

MR MILLER:  International law.  Excuse me.  I’m so – I’m so used to — I’m so used to talking about humanitarian law in the context of the rest of this.  International law.

QUESTION:  Yeah, international law. 

QUESTION:  Extremely briefly, did you see this report about some Israeli general saying that he had been told by a State Department official that there was incontrovertible evidence that IDF troops had raped a Palestinian woman?

MR MILLER:  I did see that report.  It is not accurate.

QUESTION:  What does that mean?

MR MILLER:  My understanding — 

QUESTION:  What is not accurate?

MR MILLER:  My understanding of the meeting is that you had a State Department official who said in these meetings what we have said consistently publicly, which is that Israel must thoroughly and transparently investigate credible allegations of wrongdoing and assure – ensure accountability for any abuses or violations.  That’s what the – what this official said, which is what we’ve said publicly.  You’ve heard me say it from this podium many times.  Nothing more.

QUESTION:  Could I pick up another aspect of the Gaza – of the issue of NSM-20.  Could we discuss that in terms of what — 

QUESTION:  — what the communication has been so far with Israel?  `This was all done on – of course, over the weekend.  Has Israel presented assurances, if you want to call it that, and what’s the U.S. response?

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  So there was a deadline actually yesterday for us to receive assurances from all seven countries, not just Israel but all seven countries, to whom the United States provides defense articles and are in active conflict.  There is a separate provision of the memo that provides a separate timeline.  I think it’s six months for countries to whom we provide defense articles but are not in active conflict.

But for these seven countries – which are Colombia, Iraq, Israel, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, and Ukraine – we have received written assurances that are required in the memo.  In each case, these assurances were made by a credible high-level official in the partner government who has the ability and authority to make decisions and commitments about the issues at the heart of the assurances.  And the next step, as provided in the national security memorandum, is that we will be compiling a public – compiling a report and issuing it to Congress by May 8th.

QUESTION:  Okay.  So you – so they’re credible assurances.  I know you’re aren’t saying anything about just Israel, but all of these countries involved.  I mean, obviously the – there’s a lot of interest in Israel in light of what’s happening in Gaza.

QUESTION:  So it’s in the interest of the United States that what Israel is doing, it’s credible in terms of their assurances, but U.S. weapons.  

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  So first of all, I should be clear that these assurances are prospective.  But of course our view on them is informed by our ongoing assessments of Israel’s conduct in the war in Gaza.  So we have had ongoing assessments about their compliance with international humanitarian law.  I’ve spoken to them from this podium before.  We have the CHERG process, that is examining specific incidents.  We have not found them to be in violation of international humanitarian law, either when it comes to the conduct of the war or when it comes to the provision of humanitarian assistance.  So we view their assurances through that ongoing work that we have done.

And I should make clear those ongoing assessments are not something that started because of the national security memorandum, and they’re not something that stop because we got these assurances from Israel yesterday.  They will be ongoing.  When we get credible reports or credible allegations of misconduct, we look at them through the process that we have ongoing, and ultimately we will make the appropriate conclusions.  And to the extent that we are able to do so in the report that’s due on May 8th, they will be provided to Congress through that report.  

QUESTION:  Sorry, I just heard – you said every – all seven countries had submitted?

MR MILLER:  All seven, yes.

QUESTION:  I mean, you yourself have discussed the civilian casualties, the civilian toll there in Gaza.  So I mean, is that consistent with that?  I mean, so you think that even though there’s a civilian toll, that the U.S. – that the use of U.S. weapons – that they’re credible assurances that have been given there?  Is that not inconsistent at all to say that they’re — 

MR MILLER:  So they have given us assurances.  I would say, when it comes to finding a violation of international humanitarian law, that requires a fact-intensive analysis of relevant factors related to international humanitarian law.  So you’ve heard me speak to this before:  If you’re to assess whether a particular strike is in compliance with international humanitarian law, you have to know who was the target of the strike.  You have to know what steps they took to minimize civilian harm.  You have to know to what extent they were successful.  

And so we have ongoing processes to look at those things, and those were processes that started before this memorandum was signed by the President.  They were processes that were ongoing before we received these assurances.  And they’re processes that will continue to be ongoing.  But as of yet, we have not made a conclusion that Israel is in violation of international humanitarian law.  

QUESTION:  So could I follow up, Matt? 

QUESTION:  Do you have this – does this response from 11 NGOs saying that Israel is in breach of the national security memorandum, does that feed in at all to the U.S. assessment?  Is the U.S. listening to NGOs that have had experience or on-the-ground experience in Gaza?  

MR MILLER:  So we welcome reports.  We welcome credible information from NGOs or anyone else who has credible allegations about potential violations of international humanitarian law.  And we would urge NGOs or anyone else to submit them to the United States Government, to submit them to the State Department, and it’s part of what we will look at in our ongoing assessments.  

Anything else on Gaza before I move on? 

MR MILLER:  Janne, I know you’re not asking about Gaza.  (Laughter.)  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Yes, this is North Korea.  

MR MILLER:  Go ahead.  I’ll come back to you.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Following up on the UN Security Council resolution, you said that it’s nonbinding, but some others are also arguing that it is binding, like other – several other UN Security Council resolutions.  Has there been any – is there an ongoing discussion about this at the UN between the U.S. representatives and others on that?

And also the – I remember it was last November the UN Security Council also adopted a resolution calling for extended and urgent humanitarian pauses and corridors in Gaza, which was binding and which was rejected by Israel, like several UN Security Council resolutions in the past.  So will the U.S. encourage Israel to comply with UN resolutions and international law if Israel is not above the law?  

MR MILLER:  So with respect to the first resolution, it is our interpretation of this resolution that it is non-binding.  And for any detail on that, I would refer you to the office of our ambassador to the United Nations, who can of course speak in more detail of how we’d reach that conclusion.  With respect to the other resolution, of course we always expect all of our partner nations to comply with international law, and I’ll leave at that.  

Gaza?  Gaza.  Gaza.  Go ahead, Michel.  

QUESTION:  What did the Secretary discuss this afternoon with the Israeli defense minister?  

MR MILLER:  So it will be a continuation of the discussions that we had on Friday in Israel when the Secretary met with the Israeli war cabinet.  Defense Minister Gallant was in those meetings where we talked about our concerns about Rafah.  We talked about the need to increase the level of humanitarian assistance making it into Gaza and make sure that, that increase in assistance is sustained.  And then I’m sure that the defense minister will have other things on his mind, and we’ll have a readout of the meeting afterwards.  

QUESTION:  In this – in a video statement that he made in front of the White House, Minister Gallant has said:  We have no moral right to stop the war until we return all the abductees to their homes; stopping the war in Gaza before a clear decision is made endangers Israel’s security and may bring us closer to war from the north.

MR MILLER:  So —   

QUESTION:  Do you have – do you have any comment on that?  

MR MILLER:  So I haven’t seen his full statement, so I’m always reluctant to respond when I see a – or when I have a brief quote read out to me of what may be a larger statement.  But of course we want to see all the hostages returned home.  That has been something we have tried to achieve from the beginning, and of course it was the negotiations that led to the first pause that – in which the United States was an active player that secured the release of over 100 hostages.  And the United States has been actively engaged, including this weekend, to try to secure the release of every remaining hostage, and we will not let up on that goal.  

I would add, as you heard me say, that we also – I’ve said this two or three times already, but when you hear officials from the Israeli Government say that they want to see the defeat of the Hamas battalions in Rafah and they will not stop the war before that, we also want to see the defeat of those Hamas battalions in Rafah.  We share that same goal, but we think it’s a false choice to say that there’s not a better way to do it than smashing into Rafah in a way that would lead to an inordinate amount of human suffering.  

QUESTION:  And what about when he said that any ceasefire will endanger Israel’s security and may bring us closer – as Israel is – to war from the north? 

MR MILLER:  So, again, I’m a little reluctant to respond specifically to that comment because I haven’t seen the rest of what he – the defense minister said.  But it has been the position of the Government of Israel to try and reach a ceasefire that would secure the release of hostages.  That’s what they’ve been pursuing in these hostage negotiations; it’s what we’ve been pursuing.  

MR MILLER:  Shannon, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Just to put a fine point on the resolution, you said a couple times that you were surprised by the Israeli Government’s reaction to the U.S. abstention, but we do know the U.S. was involved in negotiations basically up to the vote.  So is there some kind of disconnect for that surprise to be there?  Did Israel not say they were against this kind of resolution? 

MR MILLER:  So I’m not going to get into our private conversations with officials from the Government of Israel, but we had been in close contact with them about this resolution going back into last week.  We obviously were in contact with them about the resolution that the United States put forward that was ultimately vetoed on Friday.  And when you kind of come down to brass tacks, the text of the resolution is something that calls for what we believe has been the Government of Israel’s position, which was a ceasefire and the release of hostages, so that’s why we found their statement today unfortunate and a bit surprising.  

All right.  Is this Gaza?  

MR MILLER:  I just want to finish up – finish up – go ahead.  I want to – and then I’ll come to you next, Ryan. Yeah, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  I have two questions on Gaza.  And the first question, you said to Mr. Said there will not be, like combat or any military troops on the ground.  But do you will have military advisors and intelligence advisor on border from Gaza?  

MR MILLER:  I would defer to the Pentagon to speak about – in detail about military matters. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  The second question on Palestine and the resolutions.  Like I mean, last question from me like 10 days ago you told me like there – there are many Arab countries that recognized Israel, even the border issues.  Israel doesn’t have a border.  So why USA doesn’t, like, take initiative and recognize Palestine, regardless this border issue, and, like, recognize it as a state and that may be – like help people feel that there is a hope that they will have a country, whether it is, like, one-state solution, two-state solution —  

MR MILLER:  Sure.  It is – it —   

QUESTION:  Like as Arab countries recognized Israel without borders —   

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  Yeah.  Because —  

QUESTION:  — why don’t you recognize Palestine without borders?  

MR MILLER:  Because it has been the longstanding position of the United States that recognition of a Palestinian state is something that should be negotiated between the relevant parties.  

QUESTION:  So with Netanyahu cancelling this delegation and promising to go into Rafah anyway, is the U.S. taking any precautions to make sure that U.S. weapons are not going to be used in that invasion that he is promising? 

MR MILLER:  So let me answer that in two ways.  Number one, to say – which is – it has always been our expectation that United States weapons be used in full compliance with international humanitarian law.  I know that’s a different question than what you asked, but I think it’s important to put on the record.  

With respect to what might happen in an ultimate invasion of Rafah, I said this a little bit in response to Humeyra’s question – I really don’t want to get ahead of the facts.  We do still expect to have discussions about this matter with the Government of Israel.  We believe there is a better way to do it.  And beyond that, I don’t want to speculate about what may happen down the road.  

QUESTION:  And real quickly.  I don’t know if you’ve seen this report, but Shin Bet has sort of threatened an American citizen who posted, I think, on social media about the location of Netanyahu’s son.  Is that okay?

MR MILLER:  Yeah, so I’ve seen the reports.  I – we’ve not talked to the individual in question.  I don’t – we don’t have the ability or have not yet verified, on behalf of the United States Government, the underlying allegations.  But I would say that as a general matter the United States would oppose any effort by any foreign government attempting to intimidate any individuals in the United States from engaging in protected free speech activities.  

MR MILLER:  All right.  Wrap up Gaza —

MR MILLER:  Do you want – all right, let’s move – all right, go ahead.  Go ahead.  We’ll move on.  

QUESTION:  On Mexico, the President Lopez Obrador was interviewed over the weekend and explained some hesitancy to go after cartels at the request or at the behest of foreign governments.  He called it part of his “Mexico first” policy.  I wanted to see if you had any response to that.  And then separately, a little more specific, there was some investigative reporting over the weekend that drug cartels are targeting seniors, Americans and Canadians, with timeshares, and extorting them to sell – or pressuring them to sell and then extorting them with upfront fees.  I wanted to see if you were aware of that issue, if you had any comment outside of the standard Travel Advisory.  

MR MILLER:  So I don’t have any comment on the second.  I have seen those reports but I just don’t have a comment.  With respect to the first, I’m not aware what the specific comment refers to, but the United States has been – made very clear that we want to work with the Mexican Government to stop cartels from smuggling dangerous drugs into the United States.  And we’ve had long – a longstanding productive partnership with the Government of Mexico to accomplish just that.  You’ve seen the Secretary travel to Mexico a number of times to further our work together to try and take on the cartels that are trafficking fentanyl and other drugs that do so much harm to the American public.  

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  Two questions on Russia, North Korea, and Ukraine.  North Korea announced that they expected Russia to recognize it as a nuclear state.  And the Russia’s Kremlin said that the escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula was due to United States deterrence power.  He also said that the Russia would guarantee a nuclear umbrella to North Korea.  So if Russia alone guarantees North Korea’s nuclear weapons, do you think North Korea will be recognized as a nuclear state?

MR MILLER:  So I will say what we have said before but – that is we are committed to the complete and total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.  And of course we continue to remain concerned about the growing and burgeoning partnership between the Russian Government and North Korea.  

QUESTION:  On Ukraine, Russia used a a large number of North Korean ballistic missiles against Ukraine.  However, Ukraine Government announced that defective with North Korean-made weapons.  How does the U.S. assess North Korea’s weapons?  Do you have any (inaudible) this?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any particular assessment to offer from here.  

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matthew.  Welcome back.  A couple of questions on Russia-Ukraine.  Staying on Moscow first and the Friday attack.  Kremlin continues to either pin the blame on Ukraine without evidence, and Putin’s ambassador to Washington has denied the fact that the U.S. has tipped off prior to the attack.  Can you please walk us through sort of the — 

MR MILLER:  I’m sorry, what was the – with respect to — 

QUESTION:  There was a tip-off from the U.S. – he denied that there was any tip-off from Washington.  Can you please walk us through some of your communications with the Russians in the run-up to last Friday?  And what do you know, when did you know it, and how did you communicate?  

MR MILLER:  So two things.  With respect to the first question, there was no Ukrainian involvement – period.  You’ve seen the Ukrainian Government make that clear?  And of course, with respect to these statements the Russians have offered zero evidence, because there is no evidence of Ukrainian involvement.  With respect to the warnings that we provided to the Government of Russia, yes, we did offer warnings to the Government of Russia in early March about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow, specifically potentially targeting large gatherings, including concerts.  

We gave them that private warning consistent with our duty to warn that we have when we see – or when we gather intelligence of terrorist attacks or potential terrorist attacks.  You might recall that several months ago, we warned the Government of Iran about a potential terrorist attack by ISIS-K in Iran, one that ultimately, quite tragically, also came to be true.  And it was because of that warning that we passed onto the Russian Government that we issued a security warning on March 7 where we, again, said to U.S. citizens that we had information about a planned terrorist attack in Moscow, potentially including – potentially targeting large gatherings, including concerts.  

QUESTION:  Was it communicated through diplomatic channels, through the DOD, or — 

MR MILLER:  I’m not going to speak to the specific channels through which we communicated.  

QUESTION:  As you know, France today raised its threat security level to the highest.  Is there any concern on your end that U.S. interests, U.S. companies – diplomats – might be under increasing danger abroad – in Europe, in this case? 

MR MILLER:  Look, we always encourage United States companies operating overseas to be vigilant to threats in their area, and we issued security alerts in various countries around the world, but I don’t have any updates to offer today.

QUESTION:  And back to Ukraine, heavy bombardments we have seen during past five days in a row – what is your reading of Putin’s motivation at this very moment?

MR MILLER:  His motivation?

QUESTION:  And is it – maybe because he is encouraged by the fact that Ukraine is – has a shortage of air defense.

MR MILLER:  So look, I think Vladimir Putin’s motives have not changed.  He wants to conquer Ukraine and subjugate the Ukrainian people.  He’s made very clear that his motivations haven’t changed, and you’ve seen him publicly reference just in the past 10 days or so that he has no interest in negotiating with Ukraine right now because he’s seeing the ammunitions shortages that they are suffering.  So from the perspective of this administration, it only highlights the need for the United States Congress to pass the President’s supplemental funding request and provide Ukraine with the weapons it needs to defend itself against Russia’s aggression.

QUESTION:  I’ve got one more, if you don’t mind.

MR MILLER:  Let me – let me go – that’s three, Alex, and we’ve been – we’ve gone around a lot.  So — 

QUESTION:  Please come back to me too, please (inaudible).

MR MILLER:  I’m not making any promises.  (Laughter.)  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  The Polish Government says that for the third time already, a Russian cruise missile flew through Polish airspace, and the Russian ambassador was called in and he just refused to show up.  Do you have to – do you have any response to that?  And did you have any contacts with the Polish authorities regarding that incident?

MR MILLER:  We have been in close communication with the Polish authorities about this matter, and we have said to them the – privately what I will reiterate publicly from this podium, which is our commitment to NATO and the security of our NATO Allies, which of course includes Poland, is ironclad and it will not waver.

QUESTION:  So would Poland be within its right to strike it down next time that —

MR MILLER:  I’m just not going to speak on behalf of decisions made by a foreign country.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  In 30 days, the Iraqi prime minister will be here in Washington D.C., and the Iraqi foreign minister (inaudible) Secretary Blinken.  What the Iraqi official says that they are saying that we are in negotiation with the U.S. Government and in post U.S. coalition forces to defeat ISIS relations with the U.S.  Is there any discussion with the Iraqi Government about the post-U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq?

MR MILLER:  I don’t want to get into our private conversations.  We do have the meeting with the foreign minister come up – coming up, and we will have a readout of that meeting afterwards.

QUESTION:  And have you got any understanding with the Iraqi Government, especially about the HMC meetings about the future and the evolution of your forces in Iraq?

MR MILLER:  I just don’t have any announcements with respect to meetings.

QUESTION:  Just a little bit more on Gaza, Matt.  You talked about relationship with Poland, right?

QUESTION:  You called it ironclad.  So how would you characterize the relationship with Israel right now?  Is that ironclad as well?

MR MILLER:  We have a close relationship with the Government of Israel.  They are a major non-NATO ally of ours.  It’s why you’ve seen us in such close communication with them.

MR MILLER:  Secretary’s been to Israel seven times now since October 7th.

MR MILLER:  There are things with – there are broad areas on which we agree.  The defeat of Hamas is one of them, a commitment to Israel’s security is another, and then there are of course areas where we have disagreements.

QUESTION:  Do you think there was any negative impact after the – the disagreements have been piling up, but today we saw Israel threatening to do something if U.S. policy wouldn’t change or if U.S. wouldn’t act in a certain way that it wants, and U.S. didn’t act that way and they followed through on their threat.  And right now a conversation that Washington thought was important is not happening.  How would you – is there any lasting impact on this, or how would you characterize the relationship right now based on that?

MR MILLER:  So I will leave it to professional pundits to make those types of characterizations.  I will just talk about —

QUESTION:  I’m not seeking professional pundits’ opinion.  I’m seeking —

MR MILLER:  No, no, no, I understand.  I will just talk about the facts of our relationship, which is we have very direct, candid discussions.  I was sitting in the meeting between the Secretary and the prime minister and the war cabinet on Friday, and I can tell you those conversations are at times quite direct on areas where we have disagreement, and that – disagreements, and that has been the case not just back to October 7th but since before October 7th.

And it is – I’ll just say it is partly because of our longstanding relationship with Israel.  It’s a relationship that is not just between this administration and the Israeli Government; it is a relationship that goes back between multiple governments, administrations both in the United States and Israel.  It’s a relationship between the American people and the Israeli people, and so it is because we have that kind of longstanding relationship that we can be pretty frank with each other.

MR MILLER:  We don’t make threats to them.  We don’t expect them to make threats to us.  We have direct, honest conversations about areas where we disagree, and of course honest conversations when we agree.

QUESTION:  Right.  You said you’d expect to present the alternatives for Rafah at some point.  I mean, are you – is the U.S. determined to present them no matter what?  I guess what I’m trying to understand is do you think Israel is genuinely willing to hear them out, or did you get any sense from them that this week was a bit of an exercise and the UN resolution saga gave them an out out of this.

MR MILLER:  So I’m not going to speak for what the Government of Israel intends or what they – but I will say that when we met with them in Israel on Friday, they made clear that they did want to see the options, the alternatives that the United States was going to present.  We think it’s important too that they see those options, because we do believe that the path that they are currently on towards a full-scale invasion of Rafah is one that would weaken Israel’s security and hurt the Palestinian people and cause inordinate human suffering that doesn’t need to happen.  So we will continue to have conversations with them about this. 

QUESTION:  And after today it’s still your understanding that they’re still willing to hear out those alternatives? 

MR MILLER:  I – this is something that just broke in the last few hours, so I’m not going to speak to what future conversations that we’re going to have with them, but we talk to the Government of Israel every day at different levels.  The Secretary has conversations with officials in the Israeli Government.  Our ambassador is in and out of the Israeli Government all the time, talking about things that they want from us and oftentimes presenting things that we want them to do.  And I do expect that those conversations will continue on multiple levels between our government and theirs about multiple topics, including a potential invasion of Rafah. 

QUESTION:  Completely different topic – Senegal.  The election results, after quite a bit of controversy on it, the outgoing president, President Sall, has congratulated the opposition candidate, Mr. Faye, on this.  Do you have a reaction?  Is it a happy ending?  Is it democracy triumphing?

MR MILLER:  So we congratulate the people of Senegal on their enthusiastic participation in yesterday’s well-run election.  We look forward to congratulating Senegal’s new president once the results are official.  And we note that both domestic and international observers have characterized election day as predominantly peaceful and that election officials, polling staff, party agents, and security forces were generally professional.  The commitment of the Senegalese people to the democratic process is part of the foundation of our deep friendship and strong bilateral ties.  So yes, when you ask the question about are we pleased with how this has proceeded, look, you had several months ago, a month ago, six weeks – I don’t remember the exact timing – potential suspension of elections.  We made very clear that we wanted to see elections take place as soon as possible, and you saw ultimately the courts in Senegal make that clear, and we’re pleased that those elections have proceeded. 

Nick, I call on you with some trepidation.  Whenever someone leaves the room and then comes back to ask a question, I get – I get worried what’s coming at me.  But go ahead.  I hope I don’t regret this. 

QUESTION:  This is on Afghanistan, and it’s a little old.  There’s a SIGAR report that said of the 2.9 billion that the UN has provided to Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal there, some of that – including U.S. taxpayer money – has gone into Taliban-controlled banks.  Are you familiar with that report?  And — 

MR MILLER:  I have – yeah, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  — what’s being done to prevent stuff like that from happening? 

MR MILLER:  So let me take that question and get back to you.  I have seen the report. 

MR MILLER:  I’m sure there’s more we have to say about it, but let me just take it back and get you a complete answer. 

QUESTION:  Follow-up?  Follow-up, Matt.  Thanks.  Follow-up. 

MR MILLER:  Go ahead.  Yeah. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  In light of the Moscow attack, does the United States have any plans to boost security cooperation with Moscow? 

MR MILLER:  No, obviously, I think.  So when it comes to the attack, a few things.  Number one, you saw the Secretary in a statement that he issued on Saturday express his deep condolences on behalf of the United States to the loss of life and the suffering by the Russian people.  Number two, when we have – if we have – intelligence in the future like the intelligence we had with respect to this attack, we will of course make it available to the Russian Government because we don’t want to see terrorist attacks be successful anywhere in the world.  We don’t want to see the Russian people suffer.  We have never had any quarrel with the Russian people.  

So we will of course provide – if we have intelligence information about potential attacks, we will provide that information to the Russian Government just as we provide it to the Government of Iran, a country with which we have deep, lasting disagreements – because we don’t want to see the people of Iran suffer.  And just like as our quarrel is not with the Russian people, our quarrel is not with the Iranian people. 

Hold on, I’m still answering another question. 

But that said, obviously we are not going to boost our security – or boost any security agreements or start any security agreements with the Government of Russia, a government that we have seen invade one of its neighbors unprovoked, kill thousands and thousands of people for no reason at all except to pursue the personal conquest objectives of the Russian president.  So no, we will not be taking that step. 

QUESTION:  One more?  

QUESTION:  One more.  As you probably know, Volodymyr Zelenskyy presidential term expires on May 20th, and there is no election on the horizon.  Will Zelenskyy still be the legitimate president of Ukraine for you past May 20th? 

MR MILLER:  So ultimately these are questions for the Ukrainian people to decide.  We want to see presidential elections and all elections in Ukraine.  But we recognize that it’s a difficult thing to conduct in the middle of the war.  This isn’t a question that’s unique to Ukraine; it’s a question that pertains to any country that is in the middle of a war, especially when you don’t just have the question of soldiers on the front lines being able to vote – you have the question of how you deal with these occupied territories where the Russian military is occupying Ukrainian land and would prevent Ukrainian citizens from making their voices heard in the election.  So it’s a very difficult issue to work through, and ultimately it’s a decision for the Ukrainian people to make. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Which?

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Thank you.  There is the fear among Palestinian that the new planned seaport will be built by U.S. Army, will be used as a U.S. military base, and also will be used to displace Palestinian from Gaza to other country, and also indicate that Rafah will be attacked because the aid, it’s much easier to bring it through the Egyptian borders, not from the port.  

MR MILLER:  So two things.  One, with respect to the pier that the U.S. military is constructing, it is for one purpose and one purpose only, and that is to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  It is not to displace the Palestinian people.  It is not to facilitate the arrival of U.S. troops in Gaza.  The President has made clear that there will not be U.S. troops deployed to Gaza.  It is just to deliver much-needed humanitarian assistance.

The second point I would make is what you have heard from the President to the Secretary on down to little old me, and that is that the provision of humanitarian assistance through that port is the same as the provision of humanitarian assistance that we’re providing through air drops.  It is meant to supplement, not replace, the delivery of humanitarian assistance through Rafah, but also through Kerem Shalom and through the 96 gate that Israel has recently opened to provide humanitarian assistance directly to the north.  Those cannot be turned off; they have to be not just kept open, but they have to be increased and sustained so – because ultimately that is the best way to deliver humanitarian assistance.  But the other options we’re pursuing are to supplement that assistance.

QUESTION:  And also not to take the gas in Gaza, or —

MR MILLER:  And not to what?

QUESTION:  The gas in Gaza, in the Sea of Gaza.

MR MILLER:  I’m not sure to what you’re – the gas? 

QUESTION:  The gas, yes.

MR MILLER:  The gas?  No, no, of course not.  It has nothing to do with that.

QUESTION:  Okay.  The other question, please.  Is it logic to cut off the fund for the UNRWA, regarding to UNRWA, even if there is 12 employees, they are cooperate with Hamas in October 7th, there is more than 30,000 served employees in UNRWA.  So is it logic to cut off that arm because this reason?

QUESTION:  Unless there is another reason to get rid of the UNRWA and to release or to get rid of the refugees’ issues?

MR MILLER:  So we have made clear that we support the work that UNRWA does.  We paused our funding because of the very serious allegations that UNRWA found credible; it’s not just that Israel found them credible, it’s that UNRWA did.  But as it pertained – I think you’re probably referring to the action that the United States Congress took.  We ultimately will follow the law because that’s our duty to do so.

All right, we’ll take one more up front, and then we’ll wrap for the day.

QUESTION:  Thanks, Matt.  Can you give an update on the number of evacuees from Haiti and on the helicopter lifts, and whether you anticipate any more charter flights to be going from Cap-Haïtien for Americans?

MR MILLER:  Sure.  So we have three flights, helicopter flights leaving today.  We have four that are planned for tomorrow.  We have facilitated the safe departure of over 340 U.S. citizens out of Haiti since March 17th.  That includes approximately 250 U.S. citizens who have departed Port-au-Prince, and another hundred that have departed through Cape – Cap-Haïtien.  We continue to explore other alternatives to evacuate American citizens from Haiti, but I don’t have anything further to announce today.

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

(The briefing was concluded at 1:59 p.m.)

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