Department Press Briefing – October 2, 2023

MR MILLER:  I like this.  Noisy room today.  Don’t let me interrupt.  Let me start with some opening comments.  

I’d like to echo the President’s disappointment that, despite longstanding and strong bipartisan support for Ukraine as it fights back against Russia’s invasion, that the continuing resolution that passed Congress on Saturday did not include desperately needed support.

Ukraine’s resilience, courage, and determination have inspired the world.  The United States is proud to stand with more than 50 countries in helping Ukraine repel the Russian invasion and secure its future.  While we have the ability to continue to support Ukraine’s ability to defend itself in the immediate term, we have already exhausted much of the existing security assistance funding.  It is imperative that Congress take action.  

Strong majorities in both houses of Congress support continued assistance to Ukraine because this is not simply about Ukraine.  It is about the world we want to live in.  If we allow authoritarians like President Putin to do whatever they want to other sovereign countries, then the whole UN Charter will be shredded, and we are going to live in a world where this kind of aggression can happen anywhere, anytime.  That would be far more expensive for the American people and far more dangerous for the American people.

We must continue to put Ukraine in the strongest possible position to defend itself.  That means supporting them now, while also transitioning to a more long-term posture in which its people can rebuild and live safely in a resilient and thriving democracy, fully integrated with Europe.

We cannot under any circumstance allow America’s support for Ukraine to be interrupted.  Our allies, our adversaries, and the world will be watching.

QUESTION:  That was it?  I thought you said you had a couple of things.  

MR MILLER:  I could – I’m sure I could — 

QUESTION:  You could go on?  

MR MILLER:  I’m sure I could talk on.  We could talk about — 

QUESTION:  Okay.  All right.  But you’re still convinced that Ukraine funding will come through at some point, right? 

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  As the President made clear — 

QUESTION:  Yeah, yeah. 

MR MILLER:  — he does believe it will come through.  We think it’s important that Congress act. 

QUESTION:  So – okay.  Can I ask you about another thing that wasn’t in the CR?  And that is PEPFAR.  What’s your understanding of funding for that, which has been hailed by both sides of 1the aisle as being one of the greatest foreign policy and public health achievements of the last 20 years? 

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  So in the short term, PEPFAR will be able to continue providing the lifesaving prevention, care, and treatment services in partnership with PEPFAR-supported countries.  However, the fact that Congress did not reauthorize the program sends a message to partners around the world, especially in Africa, that we are backing down from our leadership in ending HIV/AIDS as a public health threat.  The Biden administration remains supportive of a five-year, clean PEPFAR reauthorization — 

MR MILLER:  — so we can continue the work – we can continue the work now.  But we do need, in the long term, a full reauthorization.  

QUESTION:  Well, now, for how long?  

MR MILLER:  So this was an authorization – the authorization of certain programs has expired.  We’re still figuring out exactly what that means.  There’s some appropriations that have continued, so we’re going to work through it.  But the program can continue in – for now, as we work through — 

QUESTION:  Well, yeah.  But for now – what, like for three days or a week or two weeks? 

MR MILLER:  I don’t have a timetable.  We’re going to work through it, and work through it with Congress, and call on them to reauthorize the program long term. 

QUESTION:  And does it need to be reauthorized – well, when is the – like the drop-dead deadline, that like it – there won’t be any money left for it? 

MR MILLER:  I’d have to get back to you on the drop-dead deadline.  

QUESTION:  So when it’s – no one has thought to look at for that? 

MR MILLER:  It’s — we have thought – we are continuing to work through the question with Congress.  But we are able to keep the program running for now. 

QUESTION:  All right.  Thanks.  

MR MILLER:  Go ahead, Will. 

QUESTION:  Back to Ukraine aid, on the direct budgetary assistance that the U.S. provides to Ukraine.  Wondering how long that would be able to continue without anything in the CR.  And what’s the importance of that? 

MR MILLER:  So I’m not able to put a timetable on it.  I would refer you to the Pentagon, my colleagues at the Pentagon, to answer that question, because ultimately it relates to Pentagon drawdown authority.  I will say that, while we have some remaining drawdown authority that we can draw on to continue to provide security assistance to Ukraine in the short term – in fact, we have another drawdown package coming in the coming days – USAI funding has been suspended, FMF funding has been suspended.  Those are contracting programs that allow us to contract for Ukraine’s — in the long term.  So we’re not able to do that without further action by Congress.  And so we are calling on Congress to fully fund our request to support Ukraine’s short- and long-term security assistance, and also to allow the Pentagon to refill depleted Pentagon stocks, which is something that they’re not able to do without further action. 

QUESTION:  But also going to the – beyond the Pentagon, the economic side, to the direct government aid that – provided to the Ukrainian Government through USAID and other mechanisms. 

MR MILLER:  We are continuing – the vast majority of that funding has lapsed.  We are continuing to work through what we can continue to provide to Ukraine.  But it is important that Congress take action. 

MR MILLER:  Yeah.  Go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Matt, could you expand on what has been said, how that message has been delivered on that direct budget support, in terms of what measures the Ukrainians need to take to root out and fight corruption to maintain that support?  

MR MILLER:  So we have been very clear and direct with our Ukrainians counterparts on this question.  This is a question that obviously goes back to before the full-scale Russian invasion, where we have been working with Ukraine to urge them to root out corruption and talking about best practices they could rely on for tackling corruption.  That conversation has continued, has continued as recently as the Secretary’s visit, where we talked through these issues directly with President Zelenskyy, with others in the Ukrainian Government.  

And will say that we have seen Ukraine take aggressive action, and that includes aggressive action as recently as the past few weeks, to tackle corruption.  And we welcome them continuing to take these steps.

I will say, oftentimes I see this get portrayed as about – as something Ukraine needs to do to win support from Western allies and ultimately fulfill its European aspirations, to become a member of the EU, and certainly that is true.  You see members of Congress, saying they want to see Ukraine take anti-corruption action – so it’s important that Ukraine show them they are.  You see members of the EU saying they want that, and so it’s important that Ukraine show that they’re taking those steps.  But it is also important for Ukraine’s ability to build a long-term economy, a long – that can sustain the type of effort we expected to see.  And having – they are going to be a neighbor of Russia in perpetuity; they need to have the economy that can kind of – that can support a security apparatus that can deter future Russian aggression, and they can’t do that if there is widespread corruption at different – in different sectors of the economy. 

QUESTION:  But has there been a specific communication recently, or a series of communications, saying you will not get that direct support to your budget unless these specific measures are taken? 

MR MILLER:  I am not going to get into specific conversations, other than to say that it continues to be a high priority for us that we raise with our Ukrainian counterparts, and it continues to be a priority for Ukraine.  And we have seen them take action in response to specific requests that we have made as recently as the past few weeks. 

QUESTION:  Can you say whether it’s a condition or not of —

MR MILLER:  I just can’t read out further any private diplomatic conversations. 

QUESTION:  On Ukraine.  In addition to all of these headwinds that we’ve just been talking about, Matt, we’ve been hearing from U.S. officials about the Kremlin perhaps sensing an opportunity, maybe making a concerted effort to push propaganda through its intelligence agencies to undercut support for Ukraine aid, and to fuel pro-Russian political parties and sentiment wherever it can.  Does the State Department have a plan to counter the effects of an effort like that? 

MR MILLER:  So, it is something that we have been focused on since before the Russian full-scale invasion even began.  I will say that we have found that the best way to combat Russian disinformation is with transparency.  It’s why you saw the administration in the runup to the full-scale invasion declassify intelligence information – oftentimes not just about what Russia had done but what we expected Russia to do, so we could ward off attempts by the Russian Government to mislead people in Europe or people around the world.  And we will continue to do that.  It’ll continue to be a priority for us going forward. 

QUESTION:  Separately but relatedly, looking at the election outcome in Slovakia, are you aware of any Russian effort, messaging effort, in that outcome?  And generally, do you have a comment on the outcome of those elections, which obviously have implications for aid to Ukraine, at least now with the — 

MR MILLER:  So with respect to Russian interference, we’ve seen the public reports of that.  We’re not able to verify them ourselves.  We’re in close contact with our Slovak counterparts about them.  In general, with regard to the election, I’ll say Slovakia of course is a crucial NATO Ally, partner, and friend of the United States.  We will continue to work together with the government chosen by the Slovak people to advance our shared goals and mutual interests.  And as I’ve said about a number of countries from this podium, the United States does not take sides in foreign elections; our only interest is in a free and fair electoral process in accordance with Slovakia’s longstanding democratic tradition. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  On Russia and China and North Korea, the foreign ministers of North Korea and the Russians will meet in Pyongyang this month, and there is a summit meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Russian President Putin in Beijing this month.  What impact do you think the solidarity between Russia and China and North Korea will have on South Korea, U.S., and Japan? 

MR MILLER:  So, I would say that – there’s kind of a lot to unpack in that question.  But as it pertains to China, one of the things that we have urged in our conversations with Chinese officials, something that Secretary Blinken urged and other officials have urged, is that China is uniquely positioned to use its influence with the DPRK to urge the DPRK to take de-escalatory steps, to urge the DPRK to return to diplomacy – all steps we, of course, do not see the DPRK as willing to take.  But we will continue to encourage them to use that influence to the – any degree that is possible and that they are willing to do. 

With respect to Russia, we continue to be concerned about increased ties between Russia and North Korea, especially as it comes to any potential transfer of weapons either from the DPRK to Russia or from Russia to the DPRK. 

QUESTION:  Kim Jong-un declared that it would strengthen anti-United States solidarity.  China will also participate on this.  How can you comment on this, because Chinese is also supporting what Kim Jong-un said?  

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any further comment than what I just said. 

QUESTION:  I’d like to ask you a question on Karabakh.  AFP had a team that was able to go into the capital of Karabakh, Stepanakert, and they describe a absolute ghost town.  Obviously, we know tens of thousands of Armenians fled Karabakh.  The Armenians call it ethnic cleansing.  Does the United States abide by that qualification?  Do you think there was ethnic cleansing here in Karabakh? 

MR MILLER:  So we take allegations of ethnic cleansing, genocide, or other atrocities seriously.  We are in touch with contacts on the ground about the situation.  We won’t shy from taking appropriate actions to respond to allegations of atrocities and promote accountability for those responsible for atrocities when we see evidence that they’ve taken place.  But as always, a determination regarding genocide or ethnic cleansing is based on a deliberate, evidence-based process.  It’s not something I can speak to with any degree of finality from this podium. 

QUESTION:  But the region has been emptied of its civilian population.  I mean —

MR MILLER:  It is certainly true that a hundred thousand, or I should say around a hundred thousand, ethnic Armenians have departed Nagorno-Karabakh for Armenia.  Now, we don’t know – I don’t think any of us can say whether – what percentage of those plan to remain in Armenia permanently, what percentage of them may want to come back, if the conditions allowed, if they felt sufficient assurances about their treatment if they would return, which is why we are reiterating our call for an independent international monitoring mission that would provide transparency and reassurance to the population of Nagorno-Karabakh that the rights and securities of ethnic Armenians would be protected, particularly for any of those that wish to return.  Azerbaijan has made those assurances.  We think there ought to be an international monitoring mission there to observe and guarantee them.

QUESTION:  Follow-up on that?

QUESTION:  Thanks so much.  The first report of the UN team mission to Karabakh just came out.  When you were talking about international – deploying international monitors, is that a mission you had in mind?  And if so, is it long term, short term?  And does it bounce back to the initial question that my colleague asked:  What is your definition or sense of what’s going on right now?

MR MILLER:  So the – first of all, we welcome that mission.  We continue to work with our allies and partners about what a more long-term mission ought to look like.  I don’t have any update on that today.  And in – with respect to – what was the second question?  What the situation was on the ground?

QUESTION:  Right.  The situation —

MR MILLER:  The situation on the ground is exactly as I just described it, where around 100,000 ethnic Armenians have left Nagorno-Karabakh, and relocated to Armenia.  We believe that they ought – if they wish to return, they ought to have their rights respected, and that there ought to be an international monitoring mission in place to secure that.

QUESTION:  Is there any room left for peace agreement?

MR MILLER:  We think certainly there ought to be.  There are other issues beyond the status of Nagorno-Karabakh that are at dispute between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and we would encourage them to return to peace talks to discuss and ultimately come to resolution on those issues.

QUESTION:  Can I have one on Georgia, please?  I have a last one very quick.  There are allegations coming out of Georgia, as was emphasized by the prime minister as well today, accusing the U.S. funding efforts in Georgia, USAID particularly, claiming that they are trying to overthrow Georgian Government.  There have been a litany of accusations against civil society members.  (Inaudible) last question about Georgia.  But now this.  Where this is coming from, and what is your response?

MR MILLER:  I haven’t seen those specific comments, but of course the only involvement that we have in Georgia is for humanitarian and pro-democracy purposes.  We take no position on the leadership of Georgia.  We take no position on elections in Georgia, other than that they ought to be free and fair.

QUESTION:  What reason the prime minister is under the impression he is targeted by the U.S.?

MR MILLER:  I’m sorry?

QUESTION:  What reason the prime minister – pro-Russian prime minister – is under the impression that he is targeted by the U.S.?

MR MILLER:  So, again, I haven’t seen those specific comments, so I’m not going to make any other response before I’ve had a chance to read them in detail.

QUESTION:  And one last question on Georgia, if I might. 

MR MILLER:  Let me come back to you, Alex.  That, I think, is four, and we’ll —

QUESTION:  May I move on to Kosovo —  

QUESTION:  — and Serbia?  You heard the White House said on Friday – raised this concern about the troop buildup.  It seems at least the Serbian Government saying today that they’ve reduced the number of troops.  Have you been able to verify that?  Are you sort of – are you satisfied that that has been addressed?  And what level of concern remains?

MR MILLER:  So we have seen the reports that Serbia has withdrawn military personnel and equipment away from the border.  We have not yet verified those independently, and we will be looking for further confirmation.  But if true, that would be a welcome step, something that we called for to happen last week, and we would welcome them having taken that step.

We continue to be concerned about the cycle of rising tensions and sporadic violence in northern Kosovo, and encourage both parties to return to the EU-facilitated dialogue.

QUESTION:  Have there been any contacts with officials on either side since this Friday?

MR MILLER:  So there have been.  The Secretary, of course, talked with President Vucic on Friday, and we’ve had other conversations over the weekend – not at the Secretary level, but at other levels inside the State Department.

QUESTION:  Can I follow up?

MR MILLER:  Let me – I’ll come —

QUESTION:  Follow-up?  

QUESTION:  Yeah, because it’s a follow-up.  So the Serbs said that they told the White House on Friday that the troops were decreasing, and then you have even Serbian president going – getting on the record, saying that last year they had 14,000 troops, that right now the number was 7,500.  And now it’s reducing to 4,000.  So my question:  Why did you then issue a statement saying troops were increasing, when he told you that they were decreasing?

MR MILLER:  Because we did see an increase of Serbian forces at the border.  Now, with respect to whether they are decreasing since Friday, we’ve seen reports, but as I said, we have not yet verified those.

QUESTION:  Did Joe Biden – no, I just want to follow up because –

QUESTION:  — this is really something that I follow here from the day one.

QUESTION:  Did Joe Biden sign off on these exact words when the statement went out?

MR MILLER:  So I’m not going to speak to internal deliberations inside the government, but I can tell you we have confidence in what we said about the —

QUESTION:  And my last one —

MR MILLER:  No, let me – I’m – now I’m – just the same way I cut out —

QUESTION:  But this is —

MR MILLER:  Hold on, just this – I will – if there’s time I’ll come back.  In the same way I cut Alex off, there’s a lot of people with a lot of topics.  I’m going to move to Said.

QUESTION:  But the other one is a question on — 

MR MILLER:  Said, go ahead.

QUESTION:  I don’t finish the — 

MR MILLER:  I – I – we’ll – I’ll come back if there’s time.  We’re going to go to Said.  I want to make sure we have a chance to get everybody in the room.  It’s always a little busier on Monday; haven’t had a briefing for a few days.

QUESTION:  Yeah, but there is an important issue for —

MR MILLER:  I know.  Said, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  You began by noting how Ukraine has inspired the world in fighting against an illegal military occupation.  And I wonder if you think that the Palestinians ought to be so inspired as to fight an illegal occupation with the same kind of intensity and the same commitment, and, also, count on a limitless commitment of support by the United States and the rest of the world, as you stated.

MR MILLER:  We are firmly committed to a two-state solution, as we have spoken to a number of times, Said.

QUESTION:  Right.  But you said that Ukraine is inspiring the world, and the Palestinians have a right to be, as members of this world community, to be so inspired and fight occupation, correct?

MR MILLER:  We certainly take steps that would improve the dignity, the economic situation of the Palestinian people, as well as an ultimate two-state solution.

QUESTION:  Okay.  And one other question.  Today – yesterday, the Israeli occupation forces forced a Palestinian family to destroy her own home in East Jerusalem, with her children, and move out.  Do you have any comment on that?

MR MILLER:  It is critical, as we’ve said on a number of occasions, for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions, and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution.  And that certainly includes the practices of forced demolitions and evictions of families from homes in which they have lived for generations.

QUESTION:  Follow-up on Israel?

MR MILLER:  Let me – I’ll come  here.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  Just on the situation in Türkiye and northern Iraq.  Do you have any reaction to what happened in Ankara, and then the subsequent strikes? 

MR MILLER:  So the United States strongly condemns the October 1st terrorist attack at the Turkish Interior Ministry in Ankara.  You saw the Secretary speak to this yesterday.  We wish those injured a speedy and full recovery, and we stand firmly with our NATO Ally Türkiye and the Turkish people in the fight against the PKK, which has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States.  We condemn any acts of terrorism against Türkiye and its people.

QUESTION:  A follow-up on this?

QUESTION:  Yeah.  And the Turkish president, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he said that:  We are extending our military operations in Syria and also in Iraq.  And this is at a time that the Iraqi Government is rejecting all the violations into their sovereignty.  They said that this is not a sign of a good neighbor.  What’s your position and comment on that? 

MR MILLER:  So we recognize the legitimate security threat the PKK poses to Türkiye and we urge Türkiye to pursue joint counterterrorism cooperation with Iraq in a way that supports and respects Iraqi sovereignty.  

QUESTION:  Related subject? 

QUESTION:  Another question? 

QUESTION:  This is on same —

MR MILLER:  Lee, I’ll come to you after we – let’s do the left and then we’ll — 

QUESTION:  Thank you, (inaudible).  About four years ago, the United States administration reached an understanding with the Turkish Government that the YPG elements in northern Syria would move 30 kilometers – 19 miles – south of the border, and that still hasn’t fully materialized.  Do you still recognize that understanding between the two countries or do you say that was the previous administration of ours? 

MR MILLER:  Let me take that one back so I can get you a more detailed response.

QUESTION:  So as you mentioned, the PKK terror group was behind yesterday’s terror attack in Ankara.  And as you may know, there have long been anger in Türkiye against the PKK and also against the U.S. for its support to YPG, its Syrian branch in Syria.  So, you might have seen it on Twitter yesterday when many Turkish Twitter users reacted against Secretary Blinken’s post, accusing the U.S. of training and arming the PKK Syrian branch YPG.  So, I’m wondering, how can the U.S. address those concerns among Turkish public about its support to YPG or, broadly, SDF, and how does the U.S. plan to proceed in pursuing relations with an entity that is recognized as a terrorist organization by its NATO Ally Türkiye? 

MR MILLER:  So first of all, we condemn any act of terrorism against Türkiye and its people.  As I said, the PKK has been designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the United States.  We stand firmly by Türkiye and the Turkish people in their fight against the PKK, and we will continue to do so.

QUESTION:  Okay.  In light – thanks, Matt.  In light of UNRWA donors’ – that’s a UN agency – recent meetings at the UN, will the U.S. ask the UN to inspect and disarm UNRWA refugee camps that have become well-equipped arsenals?  And I have a follow-up question. 

MR MILLER:  Do you mean – where particularly do you mean? 

QUESTION:  In the Middle East. 

MR MILLER:  In the Middle – yeah. 

QUESTION:  In the Middle East. 

QUESTION:  UN Relief and Works Agency.

QUESTION:  Okay, so regarding Israel — 

MR MILLER:  I was – I wanted to get a little more specific. 

QUESTION:  — and the Palestinian idea.  But the UNRWA issue, so — 

MR MILLER:  So I will say that, as we have said before, we have long recognized Israel’s right to defend itself and take actions to secure its territory. 

QUESTION:  Okay.  The follow-up to that is:  Will the U.S. challenge the official Palestinian school curriculum, which rejects the two-state solution by teaching the next generation to reject any recognition of Israel?  

MR MILLER:  So, I will say that we support the two-state solution.  You’ve seen me asked about that on a number of occasions.  That will continue to be our policy, and that will be our policy as it pertains to anyone on either side of this longstanding conflict who wants to take a different position. 

QUESTION:  What about those well-equipped arsenals and the concerns that Israel has that are happening – that are occurring in the UN agency UNRWA camps? 

MR MILLER:  Again, as I’ve said, we support Israel’s right to secure its nation.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much.  Jahanzaib Ali from ARY News.  Just curious, what will you discuss with the Indian Foreign Minister Jaishankar on the issue of Hardeep Singh Nijjar, killed in Canada? 

MR MILLER:  So, the Secretary actually spoke to this on – at a press conference on Friday when he was asked about it.  As he made clear then – I’ll reiterate now – we remain in close coordination with our Canadian colleagues on this question.  We have engaged with the Indian Government on a number of occasions to urge them to cooperate with Canada’s investigation.  And the Secretary had an opportunity to do that in his meeting with the foreign minister on Friday. 

QUESTION:  But is he agreed to cooperate with Canada —

MR MILLER:  I will let the Indian Government speak for themselves and I will speak for the United States Government, and we urge that cooperation.  

QUESTION:  So, my last question:  There was a deadly bomb blast in Pakistan, another suicide attack – more than 50 people killed, most of them were children.  And those that claim – TTP and ISS always claiming these attacks.  So, we have heard a number of statements from Biden administration officials that the U.S. will keep its capability to target terrorists in Afghanistan.  So what stops the U.S. from targeting TTP and ISS hideouts in Afghanistan? 

MR MILLER:  So, first of all, let me say I did put a statement out on this Friday, but I do want to reiterate our deepest sympathies for those killed and injured in those attacks.  The Pakistanis have suffered tremendously from terrorist attacks.  They deserve to practice their faith without fear.  We of course offer condolences to families who lost loved ones and a speedy recovery to those who are injured.  

And I will say with respect to counterterrorism cooperation, we cooperate with Pakistan in a range of multilateral fora on issues including terrorist designations and global strategies to defeat terrorist groups.  Earlier this year we held a high-level counterterrorism dialogue to discuss the shared terrorist threats facing our two countries and to work on strategies to cooperate in areas such as border security, terrorist financing – and we will continue to work with Pakistan to ensure that we can better assist Pakistan’s effort to counter all forms of violent extremism. 

QUESTION:  Thank you, Matt.  With the U.S.-Mexico High-Level Security Dialogue coming later this week, there will be particular attention, of course, to the effort to combat fentanyl and fentanyl precursors.  The question I have is:  How does Secretary Blinken measure success in the joint U.S.-Mexico fight against fentanyl?  Is it less overdose deaths in the U.S.?  Is it more labs destroyed in Mexico?  Is it less seizures at the U.S.-Mexico border?  How is success measured?

MR MILLER:  So I would say that we are always looking for progress on all of those fronts.  The Secretary has spoken to this on a number of occasions, and noted that we do recognize that we have a demand problem in the United States, and that we need to take steps on the United States side to reduce demand.  At the same time, we need to take steps with our Mexican partners to crack down on trafficking, and that would include the destruction of labs in Mexico.  It would include interdiction of smugglers both at the U.S. border and, of course, within Mexico. 

And so we will continue to take steps.  We would welcome progress on all of those metrics, of course.  I wouldn’t want to put a bar – we have seen increased cooperation with our Mexican counterparts, and we’re going to look to continue that because, as the Secretary has noted a number of times, fentanyl remains the number-one killer of young people in the United States.  And cracking down on fentanyl trafficking from Mexico and elsewhere is one of his top priorities as Secretary.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  

QUESTION:  On Russia?  Thank you.  There are reports that the United States has informed Russia that Washington is not planning to invite Vladimir Putin to the upcoming APEC summit in November.  Can you confirm that?  Are you planning to?

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any – I don’t have anything I think I want to say about invitations.  We’ve said we recognize our obligations as the host of APEC, but we are going to honor our sanctions rules and regulations in making invitations.  I’ve been asked about that in the context of other individuals.  I would also say I would be highly surprised if Vladimir Putin, who has been at times reluctant to leave his own borders recently for fear of arrest for the war crimes he’s committed – I’d be highly surprised if he wanted to show up at a meeting in San Francisco.

QUESTION:  What about Sergey Lavrov?  Do plan on inviting —

MR MILLER:  Again, I don’t have anything in – specific to say about invitations to APEC.  

QUESTION:  Wait, wait, wait.  In that last comment before last, are you saying that the United States would arrest Putin, if he showed up in San Francisco, when you’re not a member of the ICC?

MR MILLER:  I – so we’re getting into the realm of the most unlikely hypothetical, since I do not think that Vladimir Putin will be — 

QUESTION:  You entertained the question.  It wasn’t my question.  

MR MILLER:  I know.  It — 

QUESTION:  You entertained the question, and then you said it would be highly – or you would find it surprising if Vladimir Putin showed up outside — 

MR MILLER:  And I said — 

QUESTION:  — or to leave his own borders to — 

MR MILLER:  Correct.  

QUESTION:  — come, given that he is facing an indictment by the ICC.  

QUESTION:  Now, if you’re saying that, all of a sudden, the United States is prepared to act on an ICC — 

MR MILLER:  No, that is — 

QUESTION:  — warrant or arrest notice — 

MR MILLER:  That is not at all what I said.  We have wanted to —

MR MILLER:  Hold on.  Let me just finish.  

QUESTION:  It’s the implication of what you said.  

MR MILLER:  We have wanted – it is not – so the ICC is not the only way that we have said that Vladimir Putin ought to be held responsible for war crimes.  

QUESTION:  Yeah, but that’s the only indictment that he’s facing.  And you — 

MR MILLER:  Correct.  We have said that there are other accountability mechanisms that we are pursuing.  The ICC is just one of those.  That said — 

QUESTION:  Well, I mean, yes, it might be surprising —  

MR MILLER:  — we are deep into the hypothetical.

QUESTION:   — but are you saying – but are you saying — 

MR MILLER:  He is not going to be in San Francisco in November.  I think we can all be pretty clear about that.  (Laughter.)  

QUESTION:  Okay.  Well, then there’s the answer to the question right there, right?  

QUESTION:  In all fairness, Khrushchev in 1960 promised that if there’s a war between the United States and Russia, San Francisco would be spared.  So there you go.  It could — 

MR MILLER:  Okay.  Okay.  Guita, go – let’s get – Guita, get us back on track, please.  (Laughter.)  

QUESTION:  Your Iranian counterpart was today asked about the nuclear talks, and he referred to some different initiatives for different parties, but he also referred to the JCPOA as the eventual goal of the talks.  I know you have said, the Secretary have said, that you believe in diplomacy.  But my question is specifically:  Does the Biden administration still believe in the JCPOA?  Would that be the framework of any diplomacy that you do?

MR MILLER:  Let me say that we continue to believe diplomacy is the best option for containing Iran’s nuclear program.  We will continue to urge Iran to take de-escalatory steps.  I think we are a long way off from Iran even considering re-entering the JCPOA, given that they just in the past few weeks refused IAEA inspectors.  So our policy hasn’t really changed.  We’re committed to ensuring that they do not have a nuclear weapon.  We’re committed to diplomacy to constrain Iran’s nuclear program, but we have not yet seen them take the kind of de-escalatory steps that we think are important for them to take.

QUESTION:  Late last week the DOD released the 2023 strategic counterterrorist – Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction report, and it referred – it said that Iran has not complied with the Chemical Weapons Convention.  Is the United States aware of any facilities that Iran has not declared?  Because that was part of the report.

MR MILLER:  I think I will let my colleagues at the Pentagon speak to a DOD report.

QUESTION:  Staying on Iran — 

QUESTION:  One last one, please.

MR MILLER:  Go ahead.  And I’ll come to you, Matt.  Thanks, Matt.  

QUESTION:  No, no, go ahead. 

QUESTION:  Iran is – seems to be also eyeing the – eyeing Antarctica.  The commander of the army’s naval force said last week that the – that Antarctica is a good place to control – quote /unquote “control” ballistic missiles, given that the UN sanctions on the missiles will be – will expire pretty soon.  How do you see this comment from them and that they want to do?   

MR MILLER:  I think that feels a little more like biting off more than they can chew.  I would say with respect to Antarctica, Antarctica should remain a sanctuary for peaceful exploration and scientific research.  The United States remains steadfast in its commitment to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which expressly prohibits the establishment of military bases in Antarctica.  And although Iran is not a party to the treaty, we unequivocally oppose any efforts to militarize Antarctica.  Military activities should have no place in that unique environment, whether they be by Iran or anyone else.

QUESTION:  How about the moon?  

MR MILLER:  I’m not aware of — 

MR MILLER:  — a treaty as it relates to – but when — 

QUESTION:  Since you guys basically — 

MR MILLER:  When the Iran – when its space exploration program gets to the moon — 

QUESTION:  Well, okay.  But this is not just – I’m not just making this up, but you guys basically acknowledged – not you personally or not the State Department personally – but that they had successfully launched what could be considered an ICBM.  So Antarctica is one thing, but space is another.  And it’s attainable.

MR MILLER:  As we’ve said, we believe that their missile – that those specific launchers are in violation – are in violation of the ballistic missile – the UN Security resolutions that relate to ballistic missiles with respect to Iran.

QUESTION:  Right, the ones that are about to, like, fade away — 

QUESTION:  — in the next 10 days, right?

MR MILLER:  We’ll have more to say about that at a later time.  

QUESTION:  Okay.  And then – at a later time?  

QUESTION:  After they – after they’re withdrawn. 

MR MILLER:  Well, no.  Well, I can say what I said before, which is those are not the only authorities we have to constrain — 

QUESTION:  Here to you, but these are international; these are UN sanctions.  

MR MILLER:  Right.  They’re not the authorities that we – only authorities we have and they’re out the only authorities our partners have, and we’re continuing to talk with them about the best way to constrain Iran’s activities.  

QUESTION:  All right.  And just one other thing on Iran is that you have seen kind of the fallout, especially among Republican critics of the administration’s policy on Iran – have really started to lean in on this whole email trove that was released, involving people who are close to Rob Malley.  Do you have anything new to say about that?  Do you believe, as some U.S. senators have said and congresspeople have said, that an Iranian influence operation infiltrated the U.S. Government?

MR MILLER:  I do not have any reason to believe an Iranian influence operation infiltrated the United States Government.  However, as it relates to Rob Malley, that remains an ongoing investigation.  So of course, I can’t – I can’t — 

QUESTION:  Well, no, not specifically about him, but about the other people who were —

MR MILLER:  And my comment pertained to that.  I do not have any reason to believe that.  

QUESTION:  Okay, one more on — 

MR MILLER:  Let me go ahead to – I’m going to go to some people who haven’t had a question yet.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  About a statement by Ambassador Peter Haas in Bangladesh on possible visa curb on media.  So radical groups that advocate Taliban-style role in Bangladesh with opposition leaders, hailing the move by the ambassador, are already threatening media persons, even circulating list of journalists critical to radical views.  Other side, civil and human rights activist, anti-war crimes campaigners, editors, journalists, writers, minority leaders found the statement by the ambassador on possible visa curb on media as an affront to freedom of press that has been a pivot to the fight against terror.  Do you support the statement by the ambassador and deny outright the concern raised by such a large liberal group who vouch for secular nation?

MR MILLER:  So, let me restate or state in slightly different language what I said last week, which is the United States wants what the Bangladeshis themselves want: free and fair elections that are conducted in a peaceful manner.  The government, political parties, civil society, and the media in Bangladesh have all expressed their desire that the upcoming national elections are free and fair and conducted in a peaceful manner – as we want.  The visa restriction policy that we’ve announced supports this objective and the desire of the people of Bangladesh to freely choose their leaders.  And for the – I don’t know – well, I’ll just say the United States does not support any particular party and does not want to influence the outcome of the election, only to ensure that the people of Bangladesh may freely choose their leaders.  

MR MILLER:  Sam, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Did USAID fund the Wuhan Institute of Virology and/or any of its U.S. collaborators, either directly or through sub-grants?

MR MILLER:  I will refer you to USAID to respond to that question.

QUESTION:  I have submitted questions to USAID.  I’ve submitted questions by email.  I’ve asked repeatedly in this room on this issue.  I don’t need to go through what the pandemic caused, and the controversy around this issue.  The fact of the matter is that USAID recently cut off funding to these virus protection programs.  British Medical Journal did a lengthy report noting that USAID had cut off this very quietly.  It seems to be an orchestrated attempt to disengage responsibility.  So, it’s a simple empirical question of central importance.  Did USAID fund the Wuhan Institute of Virology or its U.S. collaborators? 

MR MILLER:  And again – and again, I would refer you to USAID to speak to the specifics of their funding program.  

QUESTION:  They are not responding to my emails.  I have repeatedly emailed both State and USAID.  I usually get responses when I email to State.  I have not gotten a response when I email on this issue.

MR MILLER:  I will look into that.  It is up to them to respond, but I will look into that question for a response.

QUESTION:  More generally, does the State Department claim that the gain-of-function research or gain-of-function research of concern, also called the creation of potential pandemic pathogens in the academic literature – does the State Department maintain that this does not violate the Bio Weapons Convention or the – and the U.S. implementing legislation, the Bio-Weapons Anti-Terrorism Act of 1989?

MR MILLER:  We have spoken to this a number of times, and I don’t have anything to add today.

QUESTION:  No, no.  Okay, what – I’m sorry, what – do you claim that you – that that does not? 

MR MILLER:  Again, I don’t have anything to add to what we’ve said on this on a number of previous occasions.  

QUESTION:  It’s just that the person who wrote the treaty says that it does.  

MR MILLER:  Alex, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Francis Boyle with the University of Illinois.

QUESTION:  (Off-mike.)  

MR MILLER:  Alex, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  One more on Iran, if you don’t mind.  Ukrainian foreign minister today came out with numbers that last month – Happy October, by the way – in September, Russia launched a record number of Shaheds, Shahed drones, on Ukraine, more than 500.  Now, we had the largest number, 413, in May.  What is your sense of why Iran is being involved in its efforts in Ukraine?  And what does it tell you about the – what kind of regime we are dealing with?  

MR MILLER:  Look, I think we’ve seen Iran continue to take steps to support illiberal regimes to, support acts of aggression, both in its backyard and around the world.  This is consistent with its unfortunately very unhelpful activities around the world.  We have taken steps to impose sanctions on those who have provided such weapons to help Russia’s war against Ukraine, and we will continue to do so. 

QUESTION:  Have you not seen new transactions between the two, Russia and Iran, whether it’s about resource or —

MR MILLER:  I don’t have any specific announcements to read. 

QUESTION:  Yeah, Matt. 

MR MILLER:  We’ll wrap up here. 

QUESTION:  On Niger, do you have any comments on the Algerian mediation?  Are you aware of it?  Do you support it?  And do you coordinate with Algeria on it? 

MR MILLER:  Sure.  We encourage Algeria to continue to work with ECOWAS, which is leading efforts to resolve the political crisis in Niger.  The United States and Algeria partner closely and regularly on bilateral and regional parties, including on – priorities, including on shared efforts to de-escalate conflict and advance regional stability, and that includes in the Sahel.  This was a topic during the Secretary’s meeting with his Algerian counterpart on August 9th and during our meetings at UNGA, the UN General Assembly.  As Algeria takes a seat on the UN Security Council next year, we look forward to continuing to work together on this and other regional and global priorities. 

And with that, we’ll wrap for today.  

QUESTION:  Any comment on Slovakia —

MR MILLER:  We’ll wrap here.  Thank you. 

(The briefing was concluded at 2:10 p.m.)

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