close
close

Department Press Briefing – May 28, 2024

1:22 p.m. EDT

MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. Raise this a little bit. I am going to start with comments on a couple things before going to your questions.

First all – off – as it relates to Georgia, earlier today the Georgian parliament voted to override the Georgian president’s veto of an anti-democratic foreign influence bill that fails to conform to European norms, effectively turning the bill into law. The United States condemns this action. In passing this law, the ruling Georgian Dream Party moved the country farther away from the European integration path and ignored the Euro-Atlantic aspirations of the Georgian people who have taken to the streets for weeks to oppose this law. The Georgian Dream has disregarded the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission legal assessment and that of Georgia’s closest partners, who made clear their concerns that the law would stigmatize civil society and media and limit fundamental freedoms. The ruling parties actions and anti-Western rhetoric threaten Georgia’s democratic trajectory, future economic security, EU membership, and also put the U.S.-Georgia relationship at risk.

Last week, Secretary Blinken announced that anyone who undermines democratic processes or institutions in Georgia, as well as their immediate family members, may be found ineligible for U.S. visas under a newly announced policy precluding travel to the United States. The United States has also launched a comprehensive review of bilateral cooperation between the United States and Georgia. As Secretary Blinken said last week, we will take Georgia Dream’s actions into account as we decide our own. The United States continues to stand by the Georgian people as they work for a democratic and Western future. It is unfortunate that Georgia’s leaders are choosing to forgo the steps needed to advance Georgia in the Western direction that its people want.

Turning to Gaza, we are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in Rafah over the weekend. Like many of you – I’m sure – I watched the videos that emerged from the fire that broke out in the camp there this weekend. Those images were heartbreaking, and I know the pain that those – those families are suffering through must be unimaginable, especially those who lost children and those who have lost family members for a repeated number of times. As we have said before, Israel has a right to go after the Hamas terrorist responsible for the cold blooded murder of civilians, as appears to have been Israel’s aim here, and Hamas should stop hiding behind civilians in Gaza. But Israel also has the obligation to do everything possible to minimize civilian harm as it carries out its operations. As soon as the United States saw reports of this incident, we reached out to the Government of Israel to express our deep concern over what happened, ask for more information, and urge them to undertake a full investigation.

Earlier today, Israel announced the results of a preliminary investigation and said that this strike was carried out using the smallest bomb in their arsenal, targeting terrorists 1.7 kilometers away from the al-Mawasi area where this fire took place. The IDF is continuing to investigate this matter and has promised that its investigation will be swift, comprehensive, and transparent. We will be watching those results closely. And we will continue to emphasize to Israel their obligation to comply fully with international humanitarian law, minimize the impact of their operations on civilians, and maximize the flow of humanitarian assistance to those in need.

With that, Ellen, you want to start us off?

QUESTION: Hi, Matt. Yeah, thank you. This weekend the death toll in Gaza passed 36,000 Palestinians. There are now 1 million Palestinians displaced by Israeli operations in Rafah and in the north. There hasn’t been much at all of humanitarian aid that can be delivered within Rafah – within – I’m sorry – within Gaza for the past several weeks. We all saw the pictures, as you said, of – this weekend of the civilians on fire in their tents – and the child who had their head blown off, if that was an authentic video. And – and today, numerous witnesses are reporting to news outlets that tanks have moved into the center of Rafah. And today we had a strike – an Israeli strike, according to the Gaza health officials, on a tent that killed 21 civilians in an area that was not an evacuation area, with 13 of the civilians as women who were therefore noncombatants.

And none of this obviously has crossed the red lines that President Biden has said or the U.S. has said against – about providing – improving humanitarian conditions or not going into center of Rafah in a way that harms civilians. Can you tell me why it hasn’t crossed those red lines, why the broad humanitarian situation is acceptable and why the situation in Rafah is acceptable right now?

MR MILLER: So let me just speak – because there was a lot in the leadup to that question, let me speak to some of the premises. So first of all, with respect to reports of tanks in central Rafah today, it’s not something we have seen or have been able to verify at this point. I’ve obviously seen those reports. What Israel has said is that they are conducting operations along the Philadelphi Corridor and on the outskirts of Rafah, but we will continue to look in that and discuss it with the Israeli Government.

With respect to this reported strike in the so-called safer area in the Mawasi camp, I know Israel has come out publicly and said they did not conduct such a strike, so again, it’s something that we will press them for more information to try to find out what exactly, if anything, happened and where these reports are coming from and what the apparent conflict seems to be. With respect to humanitarian assistance, I do want to speak to some potential improvement that we have seen. So first of all to your point about humanitarian assistance not getting into Gaza, there has been a great deal of humanitarian assistance that has been flowing —

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR MILLER: Well, there has been a bunch – a great deal that has been delivered into the north of Gaza over the past few weeks, something that happened because of the United States intervention and reversed a situation prior to that intervention where almost no aid was getting into northern Gaza.

With respect to southern Gaza, it continues to be a real challenge. There are a number of things that have made that a challenge, one being the closing of Rafah gate, two being obviously the military kinetic operations that are taking place there that make it tough. But that said, we saw a number of commercial trucks going in last week, which are not a replacement for humanitarian assistance but are important for a number of reasons. And then the President was able to secure an agreement with President El-Sisi Friday to allow the UN trucks that had been in Egypt to move to Israel, make it to Kerem Shalom. And we’re going to continue to work to get that aid delivered into Gaza.

So to the point of your question, it is important not just that it make it to Kerem Shalom but it make it through and be delivered. So we have seen some of that assistance, but it is – it continues to be an ongoing challenge to try to deliver humanitarian assistance in the wake of military operations. So it’s something that we’re continuing to work through.

With respect – having addressed all of those various premises, with respect to the broader question, look, we have made clear what our policy is with respect to Rafah. We do not want to see major military operations take place there in the way that we saw them take place in Khan Younis and in Gaza City. At this point, we have not seen a military operation on the scale of those previous operations. And if you just look at the number of brigades that were in Gaza City, that were in Khan Younis, this so far is a different type of military operation. But that said, it’s something that we are watching very closely, something that we are in touch with the Israeli Government about. And we will continue to press to them the importance of conducting legitimate operations to go after Hamas in a way that minimizes civilian harm.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Yeah. Jake Sullivan said recently that the U.S. – United States would be watching very carefully the level of number of deaths, actually, and level of destruction in Rafah specifically. Given the number of deaths and the level of destruction that we are seeing in Rafah – and today you have Israeli tanks that entered the zone – and you have already over 800,000 if not more Palestinians who fled the zone, has Israel crossed the red lines that Biden has – that the President has given?

MR MILLER: It is something that we can – when it comes to their military operations in Rafah, as I just said in response to Ellen’s question, it’s something that we continue to look at very closely. And as I just said, it so far is a different operation than we’ve seen in Khan Younis and that we saw in Gaza City, but this is something that we watch every day and something that we engage with the Government of Israel about every day as we talk to them about what their plans are and what U.S. policy might be, and as we talk to them about the need to minimize civilian harm and conduct their strikes in a way that minimizes civilian harm.

And I know that the question is not just about the fire that broke out over the weekend that killed upwards of 40 individuals and I know injured many more, but it is about everything. And we look at everything, but I do think it’s important when you look at that strike to find out what the actual cause of the fire is. Israel has said that it might have been that there was a Hamas ammo dump near the area where they took the strike, which, as I said, they claim was 1.7 kilometers outside the area where they had told civilians to move. That’s a very important factual question that needs to be answered when it comes to making these sort of assessments. So what we are pressing the Government of Israel to do is to conduct an investigation, present those facts publicly, so we along with the rest of the world can make the kind of assessments that we need to be able to do.

QUESTION: Matt, so I mean, there has been a lot of mistakes like this, correct? I just – first let me establish: Does the United States believe that Israel – what happened over the weekend was a result of a mistake?

MR MILLER: So we are going to wait to see the full results of the investigation. We’ve seen, as I said, the preliminary investigation where Israel has claimed, Israel said that they – they used the smallest bomb available to them to go after a very precise target. This wasn’t a 500-pound bomb or a 2000-pound bomb. I think it was like a 37-kilogram or 37-pound – a much smaller weapon designed to hit one site 1.7 kilometers away from the Mawasi area where they have told civilians to move.

Now, that said, clearly something happened, and what happened – we’ve seen Israel’s claim that it might have been the results of hitting a Hamas ammo depot. It’s not clear to me that they actually know, but they need to find out. They need to conduct the investigation. And we’re going to eagerly await the investigation and press them to make sure that the results of that investigation are presented openly and transparently to us and to the world.

QUESTION: Right. So if we take the initial statements, Netanyahu said it was a tragic mistake. There has been a lot of headlines with that – with those same comments, right. World Central Kitchen killings were also a tragic mistake. There was another one late last year on Maghazi camp that Israel has also called a mistake. Those are the two that comes to mind. There are – I can find numerous other incidents. Is the United States comfortable sending this many weapons to an army that seems to be making a series of mistakes?

MR MILLER: So let me say this. We are not comfortable with the loss of civilian – civilian life in any way, shape, or form. And I think we have made that quite clear. Number two, with respect to each of these incidents, it’s important to find out what happened, why it happened, and who was at fault. And so it’s important that this investigation proceed before we make any assessments that will help you answer that question. You’ve seen preliminary results; we want to see the full results.

That said – and I’ll say in previous investigations – so example – for example with the World Central Kitchen investigation strike, Israel, did conduct an investigation and presented those findings publicly, and then made changes in response to those findings, which we thought it was very important that they do. This seems to be a very different kind of strike, whereas in the World Central Kitchen they made a mistake about what the target was, and they thought they were targeting Hamas terrorists and they were not. That was a very clear mistake.

In this instance, they were targeting what seems to be legitimate targets, and they were successful in taking out those targets, and then, likely as a result, there was this fire that broke out. And it’s not clear how it was ignited, especially – as I said – when it’s over a kilometer and a half from the location of the strike. We need to find out how that happened. And if there are procedures that they need to take – that they need to put in place to prevent it from happening again, we expect them to put those procedures in place.

When it comes to our policy, we have made clear that we oppose any full-scale military operation, and that – what the ramifications to our policy would be of them launching such an operation in Rafah. We haven’t seen them do that yet. But as I said, it is something that we are watching every day and are in communication with them every day.

QUESTION: Right. Matt, but in – sorry, a couple of more things. In terms of the accountability measures, you say that after the WCK attack, there has been some changes. But if we look at other incidents – the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh, for example, and there has been a series of different incidents that involved a large amount of killings of civilians – it doesn’t look like the accountability measures are reprimanding certain forces. Are those really enough for the United States? I mean, we’re talking about, like, the death of actual people here. We’re talking about loss of life. Is the United States comfortable that several soldiers here and there are reprimanded, but what seems to continue to happen is there is a pattern of behavior and that doesn’t get to change in a large scale? Are you okay with that?

MR MILLER: So what we expect Israel to do is the same thing that we expect of our own military, and the same thing that we expect of all our democratic allies and partners. We expect when people inside their military make mistakes or when they operate outside of compliance with their rules of engagement, their own rules of engagement, or they operate outside of compliance with international humanitarian law, we expect them to fully investigate what happened; we expect them to make changes to policy, if changes to policy need to be made; and we expect them to hold people accountable if accountability is appropriate.

Now, with respect to the premise of your question, we’re still in the middle of a conflict, and they have a number of investigations open, including criminal investigations into people who potentially violated international humanitarian law, or violated Israeli law, or violated the IDF’s code of conduct.

So I – no, hold on – I think it’s too early to draw any broad, sweeping assessments about that question. Investigations take time, and it’s important that they run their course, but it’s important that if accountability is merited, that accountability is what takes place. And we will be crystal clear with the Government of Israel about their obligations to meet those standards.

QUESTION: I have a million follow-ups to that, but I’m sure my colleagues will do. I have one more final broader question I want to put to you. So since the start of this conflict, but specifically since U.S. response to ICC over the weekend, there’s been a lot of accusation that U.S. is actually eroding the very rules-based order it has long promoted, particularly against China and Russia, because certain truths, they say, are in contradiction to its policies when it comes to the war in Gaza. I’m just wondering, are you not worried that your credibility in the world is on the line here?

MR MILLER: We have heard people make the same claim about the United States in the past; I’m sure that they will make it in the future. I can tell you we apply the same standards, the same approach, and require the same set of behaviors out of all our partners anywhere in the world.

QUESTION: Can I —

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: For clarification, on —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: You were saying that on the strike today, it seems like you were saying – no, I’m sorry, the strike on Sunday – you seem to be saying two things: one of them that the Israeli military hit 1.8 miles away, and another —

MR MILLER: — point-seven kilometers.

QUESTION: Kilometers. And –

MR MILLER: That’s – that is what they have said.

QUESTION: But another point you said that the civilians were 1.7 kilometers away from where they were supposed to be. Which one is it?

MR MILLER: Maybe I misspoke; I don’t remember. But the point I was trying to make is the location of their strike, if you look at what the IDF has said publicly, was 1.7 kilometers away from the al-Mawasi site where they have told civilians to go.

QUESTION: So was it the civilians’ fault for being where they are, that they –

MR MILLER: No, that is not – that is not the point. That is – I don’t believe that’s – I don’t believe that’s the point I made; it’s certainly not the point I intended. The point was the fire took – broke out in the al-Mawasi camp, where civilians have fled. The strike was 1.7 kilometers away from there. How a strike 1.7 kilometers away ignited a fire that spread to that camp and led to that horrific loss of life is something that needs to be investigated. The IDF has said that they’re – is – they’re investigating it, and we are pressing them for results.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you a specific question on that?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Over the weekend it was reported that there was a U.S. official who said that Israel told the U.S. that it used the precision munition to hit the target, but that they believed it was shrapnel from the explosion that ignited a fuel tank nearby and started the fire. I am no military expert, but I don’t understand how shrapnel could have flown 1.7 kilometers in order to ignite that fire.

MR MILLER: I am not familiar with that conversation. All I can tell you is what they have said publicly, which is it might have been that there was a Hamas weapons depot located near the strike and that exploded, and that led to the fire. I don’t know if that’s true; I’m not sure if Israel knows that’s true at this point. They’ve only conducted a preliminary investigation. But the point of all of this is that question needs to be answered very much, and we expect them to conduct a full, transparent, open investigation to answer it.

QUESTION: Okay.

QUESTION: Follow-up.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: And then just when it comes to the continuation of Israel using precision-guided munitions in Rafah, at this point the U.S. still supports that?

MR MILLER: We have made no change to our policy.

QUESTION: So just – is it a yes or a no? I’m not asking —

MR MILLER: We’ve made no change to our policy. We have made clear that if there was a full-scale military operation, there would be some change. But as of yet, it’s not a change. I mean, we do support – as we always have – their ability to go after legitimate Hamas terrorists. And that, of course, includes using American-provided weapons. But we expect them to do so in a way that minimizes civilian harm.

QUESTION: And then just a last question. With regard to the reports of the Israeli tanks that are in central Rafah right now – I know you said you don’t – you haven’t verified those reports – has the U.S. asked Israel about those reports and an explanation for why those tanks might be in central Rafah?

MR MILLER: We – so we are in constant dialogue with them about their military operations and potential military operations in Rafah. I’m not going to get into any specific conversations, but we are constantly interrogating them about what they are doing and what they are planning to do.

QUESTION: So it’s safe to say you’ve interrogated them about this?

MR MILLER: I’m just not going to go beyond that.

Go ahead. And I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: Just on the numbers of people who fled Rafah in the past few weeks, it’s – one million is the reported number that’s coming from UNRWA. Is the U.S. satisfied with the plan or lack thereof of where these people are going? Obviously there’s the argument that they’re not safe wherever they go, especially since Rafah was a place where they’d gone to be safe. What’s your understanding on – Israel is also saying that they’ve been evacuating people. What level of evacuation are they assisting with? Is that accurate? What’s your understanding of —

MR MILLER: I will let Israel speak to what they are doing. I will say that the humanitarian situation continues to be incredibly challenging – not just in Rafah, but throughout Gaza. And two things about it: One, it’s why we are working so hard to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance and unlock policy barriers and unlock logistical barriers and unlock other barriers, the way the President was able to do on Friday in —

QUESTION: Do you guys have —

MR MILLER: Can I – yeah, but – but that said, there is an additional problem, which is the fighting in Gaza right now is not just confined to Rafah. You’ve seen Israel have to come back in and undertake clearing operations in places that they have already cleared in central and northern Gaza. And it goes to the point that you have heard us make, that while it’s important that Israel have a plan to fully – to the best of their ability eliminate Hamas’s ability to continue to carry out terrorist threats, they also need to have a plan for the day after, and that without a plan for the day after there will be no day after. So when you see Israel conducting military operations in places where it had previously conducted military operations and thought that it was done, it does give us great concern about the sustainability of this conflict.

QUESTION: And so but – but just more specifically, does the U.S. have an understanding about where most of these people are going and whether or not where they’re going is —

MR MILLER: My understanding if that they have gone to a number of different places. Some of them have gone back to Khan Yunis; some of them have pushed into western Rafah; some of them have gone to Mawasi. I don’t think there’s any one answer to that question.

QUESTION: And does the United States have an understanding of how much the IDF – the Israelis are assisting them or not assisting —

MR MILLER: I just don’t know.

QUESTION: Okay.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just want to go – to clarify something about the target that’s 1.5 or 1.7 kilometers away from the camp. Is this your assessment, or were you —

MR MILLER: Again, I thought that I was clear about it, but just to make perfectly clear, that is what the IDF has said publicly. And they announced that today, that it was the result of a preliminary investigation. We are expecting them to complete a full investigation and make that public, and we’ll – we will push them to do that.

QUESTION: All right.

MR MILLER: The U.S. does not have an independent assessment.

QUESTION: You don’t have any —

MR MILLER: No.

QUESTION: Or if it did even happen in 1.7 or not?

MR MILLER: No. This is – as I –

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR MILLER: Yeah, no.

QUESTION: And I just want to go back to the ICJ ruling over the weekend or last Friday, and a lot of the reading in the region now is that this two incidents now in Rafah is an Israeli response to the ICJ, that we’re not going to stop that. What is your assessment?

MR MILLER: So we have made clear that we respect the court’s vital role in this area and that we fully expect Israel to comply with its obligations under international humanitarian law, and we will keep pressing them to do that. I don’t know that there’s any reason – any way to draw a connection between the two. The importance to us is that – the important question to us is whether Israel is complying with international humanitarian law or not, and that’s something we’re pressing them to do.

QUESTION: And so you want Israel to then – to accept this order from the ICJ?

MR MILLER: We want them to fully comply with their international humanitarian law obligations. We respect the court’s role. Israel has said that they are complying with the court’s order. My understanding of the way the process works is that assessments of compliance are made by the court at the next step of the process, so we’ll defer to that.

Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. First, I want to give out a shoutout to my student visitor friend from Gaza, sitting in the back. They came with me today to attend the briefing.

MR MILLER: Welcome.

QUESTION: So, yeah. I wanted to follow up on Leon and Humeyra’s questions on the red line. Is there actually a red line? I mean, do you have a – like a yardstick by which you measure a red line that Israel may cross or may not cross?

MR MILLER: So the —

QUESTION: And what is that red line?

MR MILLER: The National Security Advisor to the President spoke to this last week from the White House podium and made clear that there is no mathematical formula that you can apply, but it’s something that we will be watching very closely and discussing with our Israeli counterparts.

QUESTION: So in theory, Israel can strike anywhere basically and say there are Hamas operatives? They can do that?

MR MILLER: So I’m not – I’m not going to deal with your theories. I’m going to deal with reality. And what we have said is how we will assess their compliance with this question.

QUESTION: But that is a plausible hypothesis.

MR MILLER: No, it is not.

QUESTION: It’s not a plausible – okay.

MR MILLER: I’m not going to deal with – I think you know I don’t deal with hypotheses.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MR MILLER: I try to deal with facts from this podium.

QUESTION: So I just wanted to ask you – the statement that was issued by this administration over Rafah – when you say Israel has a right to pursue Hamas or to go after Hamas, isn’t that implicitly a green light for them to do whatever they want under that pretext?

MR MILLER: No. And Said, I think that ignores everything that we have said a number of times. It absolutely it not. It is —

QUESTION: Okay. And —

MR MILLER: It is encouraging them to take out terrorists who launched a brutal attack on the state of Israel and carried out the cold-blooded murder of civilians, and at the same time we expect them to do so in full compliance with international humanitarian law, minimizing the harm to civilians. And I know I’ve pointed this out to you before, Said: Hamas could make this a lot easier by stopping hiding behind civilians.

QUESTION: Right, okay. Well, I mean, two weeks ago I remember asking you from here on – and I in fact mentioned the name of those who were killed. Four of them were children and so on. When they – whether they are going to be safer in Mawasi and in Tel al-Sultan where they were headed – where they were asked to leave as at the time seemed like part of a larger plan to move people into a safer zone. But obviously it’s not. I mean, we saw killing 45 people in Rafah. We saw killing another 21. Nobody knows how many and so on just yesterday. So there is – there seems to be no end. Do you guys have any kind of perception on how this thing is going to end and when this horror show stops?

MR MILLER: So, Said, as often, there was a lot of premises before you got to the question.

QUESTION: Right.

MR MILLER: I will say with respect to the premises, we have been very clear. Of course, Israel should not carry out strikes in the designated safer areas where they have told people to move. They say that’s not what happened here. They are going to conduct a full investigation. We are going to await the outcome of that investigation before passing judgment, as I think is fully appropriate to do. We want to have all the facts at our disposal.

When it comes to how this ends, I think we have also been pretty clear that in addition to a military plan, Israel needs to have a political plan for the day after and for presenting an alternative to Hamas. And we have not yet seen such a plan and we’ve been working with our partners in the region to come up with one that we will present to the state of Israel because we think that is just as important as the military campaign they are conducting.

QUESTION: Lastly, on the aid, if you guys are unable to influence Israel on allowing aid in, what makes you think that you’re going to be influential with their military operation in Gaza? This is —

MR MILLER: So again, I’m going to reject the premise. We have intervened and seen our interventions been successful throughout the course of this campaign. It was because of U.S. intervention that Rafah was opened in the first place. It was because of our intervention that Kerem Shalom was opened and that Erez crossing was opened and that Zikim crossing was opened and that Ashdod was opened and that trucks are now coming from Jordan, coming through Israel, and making it directly into northern Gaza. And it was because of the intervention of the United States just on Friday that trucks were – UN trucks were allowed to move again through Egypt into Israel, into Kerem Shalom, and then ultimately on to the people who need them. So I fully reject that premise and I don’t think it’s supported by the facts of the history.

Go ahead, Nadia.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I have two quick questions. I have to leave within the hour. One, you have called behind this podium many times for the protection of Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Can you tell us where are these safe zones? Can you just name them, identify where are safe zones in Gaza that people can go to?

MR MILLER: I would leave it to the Government of Israel to speak to those. Obviously, Mawasi is one of them. I know they have designated others. There are maps that are publicly available, but they are – I would leave it to them to speak to that.

QUESTION: Okay. And second, the co-founder of Human Rights Watch and a Holocaust survivor – he was actually born in Nazi Germany – he said yesterday, and I just wanted to quote him – he said that over a period of time Israel has obstructed delivery of humanitarian assistance. The victims were young children who were starved or badly malnourished that will be affected their ability physically and mentally for the rest of their lives. And on this basis alone he believes that Israel is engaged in act of genocide. So is he wrong whether it’s legally, ethically, or politically? How can you counterargument this for the co-founder of Human Rights Watch and a Holocaust survivor?

MR MILLER: So let me first – let me first of all say with respect to the humanitarian situation, it is of course dire and I have no doubt that the long-term impact, especially on the children of Gaza, is going to be severe, and they are going to be paying the price of suffering through this conflict for years and years to come. And that of course is not even to speak of the families who are left without loved ones, including children, who have died over the course of this conflict.

It is not our judgment, continues not to be our judgment, that Israel is committing genocide. Nothing they have done meets the legal definition of that, and we have seen them take steps to allow humanitarian assistance in. We have seen them put in place measures to try and minimize civilian harm. As we spoke to when we released the National Security Memo 20 report, there are Israeli lawyers who are integrated into their targeting processes and have the ability to give binding orders to block certain targets from being taken.

So all that goes into making that legal determination, and it just – we just fundamentally do not see it that way and don’t think the facts support it at all. That is not to say that there has not been massive human suffering. Of course there has. And a great deal of that is on Hamas, who continues to hide behind civilians, and of course a lot of it is on Israel that needs to take additional steps to minimize civilian harm and minimize civilian suffering, and that’s what we will continue to press them to do.

QUESTION: Okay. Can you take a question on the – an investigative reporting by The Guardian and magazine 972, which is basically saying that Israel for the last ten years or nine years have been pressurizing the ICC, spying on them? And what will be the response from the U.S. if you think an ally of yours has been pressuring an international legal entity? They’re trying to try people for crimes against humanity and war crimes.

MR MILLER: So I read that report. I think it’s important to say we don’t have – we have not verified that ourselves at this point, and so I don’t want to speak to hypotheticals about what the United States may or may not do. But of course we would oppose threats or intimidation against any public official.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Tom.

QUESTION: Do you have any examples of where an internal Israeli or IDF investigation has led to meaningful accountability?

MR MILLER: I know they have a number of ongoing investigations. This is a conflict that is still relatively new, and they have a number of investigations that have led to criminal prosecutions, which of course is a further step. As it relates to the broad scope of Israeli investigations over the years, I know there have been places where people have been held accountable. I know there are places in this conflict, for example, where they disciplined officers who, for example, were filming themselves inside mosques, and I’m happy to follow up with specifics on those incidents.

QUESTION: I mean, I ask the question because you’re hanging an awful lot on faith in this process. And for example, in the National Security Memorandum 20 report, you talk about being convinced by Israel’s, quote, “credible and reliable… assurances” over this. I mean, there are two cases in which American citizens who have been killed at the hands of the IDF have had no meaningful accountability. So I think people will perhaps be puzzled by your belief in assurances in that.

MR MILLER: So the – what our – what we believe is that they have a process here. We’re not making any lasting judgments yet as to what that process will yield because they’re ongoing.

QUESTION: But these are – these are ongoing.

MR MILLER: They – but the —

QUESTION: But there have been many in the past that have been ongoing and have reached no conclusion, and they also create a situation where you’re able to get into a holding pattern and say, okay, there’s an investigation going on —

MR MILLER: So —

QUESTION: — so we’ll hold judgment. And in the end —

MR MILLER: But the alternative is to short-circuit an investigation and pass judgment in the middle of one, which also —

QUESTION: No, no, I’m asking —

MR MILLER: — is not appropriate.

QUESTION: I’m not asking to pass judgment on these current incidents. I’m saying, where is the evidence that there was meaningful accountability and the evidence that these things are prevented from happening, which follows up what Humeyra was saying, on the basis of internal Israeli processes? Because a huge amount weighs on this now. The International Criminal Court, it – one of your objections to it is that they have an independent internal process. The ICJ – same thing. NSM-20 – same thing. All of these incidents, you are hanging on a belief in that process being effective, and I’m asking you for the evidence that it is.

MR MILLER: So let me just level-set here in that Israel is a democracy that has prosecutors and independent judges who can, in the case of prosecutors, conduct investigations and make their own determinations about what is appropriate. I know you want me to – I —

QUESTION: I don’t want to —

MR MILLER: Sorry, I don’t want to – I don’t want to put words in your mouth, because I hate it – let me say I hate it when people do it, so let me take that back. I don’t want to put words in your mouth. I know there is often a demand for us to try to jump to the end of an investigation, and I get the point you’re —

QUESTION: I’m not – I’m asking you about – I’m actually asking —

MR MILLER: I get the – I get the point you’re – I get the point you’re making is different, but you —

QUESTION: I’m asking for the evidence that these have been effective. For example, in the case of two American citizens —

MR MILLER: You cannot – you cannot reach an – you cannot reach a conclusion about the results of these investigations in the middle of a conflict when the —

QUESTION: That’s not what I’m asking.

MR MILLER: But it is. To have faith in the – to have faith in the process, you have to have faith in – you have to be able to look at what the outcomes it has generated are. And we’re not at a place where you can do that.

QUESTION: The conflict is a hundred years old; in its current form it’s probably 40, 50 years old.

MR MILLER: And there —

QUESTION: And when the IDF says that – or the internal system says there is a process of internal investigation, I’m asking you for some evidence that that is effective, that it stops it happening again, that it creates accountability.

MR MILLER: And so —

QUESTION: For example, in the last two years with two American citizens who have been killed, there has been no meaningful accountability when, at the time, what the Israelis said was there is an investigation, and you have relied on that as well.

MR MILLER: So I just cited one case where there were officers who were disciplined for taking actions inside a mosque, and there are a number of those similar cases that have been publicly reported. But I do think that it is impossible to pass a full, lasting judgment on the process while you’re in the middle of it. I get the point that you are making, but we’re just not in a position to declare that all the investigations that Israel are conducting are sham investigations while they’re ongoing. I don’t think it’s fair to do that. We would object if someone did that with respect to our military justice system while the investigations were ongoing.

Now, if six months from now or nine months from now or wherever we are at the end of this process or where a reasonable amount of time has passed, and we are able to look at this and say there are investigations that have run their course where we think action was warranted and action has not been taken, we will be the first to say that publicly and we will be first to hold Israel to account. And you have seen us do that in other instances – for example, when it comes to violence in the West Bank, where we don’t think Israel has taken appropriate actions to hold people accountable. We have taken our own actions to hold people accountable, and that’s the standard that we will continue to apply.

QUESTION: I mean, what do you think of a military court system that in the cases of Palestinians that appeared before it, there was a 99 percent conviction rate? In the cases of Israelis that are held before, separately, the civilian system because they aren’t in the same territory to appear before the military system, rights groups say that these are whitewashes, that there is – there are virtually no – there is no accountability or investigation.

MR MILLER: I think I’m going to wait, as I said, to see the outcome of the investigations that are ongoing before I pass any judgment.

Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Two topics – Ukraine first, then I want to go back to your opening statement on Georgia as well.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: I want to get your comments on the latest – the state of the latest offensive in Kharkiv and attack on the mall over the weekend. And in light of that, we’ve heard very credible voices from allies in terms of lifting all the sanctions on the weapons. NATO secretary general said that it’s time to do that. Baltic states say that it’s time to do that. Poland says that. Britain says that. U.S. Congress says that. Helsinki Commission said that. Are they all wrong?

MR MILLER: I will say that we continue to see – first of all, see Russia launch intentional strikes on civilian targets. And unlike other conflicts where I think people will ask me questions about, the Ukrainian military is not embedding itself inside malls and schools and other civilian targets that the Russian military continues to hit. And so we will continue to support Ukraine by flowing weapons to the frontlines. And you’ve already seen a number of drawdowns from the supplemental package. A number of – a great deal that assistance has already reached the frontlines.

When it comes to our policy – I’ve spoken – I spoke to this last week and the Secretary has spoken to this. Look, our policy has been that we don’t encourage or enable strikes outside Ukraine’s borders. But if you look at the broad sweep of our policy, we have made clear that Ukraine has no bigger supporter than the United States. And we don’t just say that. We back it up with our military assistance. We back it up with our diplomacy in marshaling a coalition of more than 50 countries around the world to support Ukraine. And we back it up with the measures we’ve taken to hold Russia accountable.

QUESTION: Are you open for further consultations on this very topic? The Secretary’s going to meet with NATO secretary general to —

MR MILLER: Look, we always discuss with our allies and partners whatever is on their mind when we have those meetings, but I don’t have anything further to offer.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you. Back to Georgia. On your opening statement, is it fair for us to expect more than just verbal condemnation? I know you just said we’re going to, but I think —

MR MILLER: (Laughter.) So – so Alex – no, no, hold up – the only reason I’m going to laugh is for weeks —

QUESTION: You said —

MR MILLER: Hold on, let me just – let me just mention – a rare interruption of the question. For weeks you asked me that question. We announced a policy to impose visa restrictions last Thursday. And then today you’re asking me if we are going to do more than verbal condemnation, when I think if I check the record that’s exactly what we did last Thursday. But – but sorry, go ahead.

QUESTION: Just to explain where I am coming from, I mean, we were told for many years in this room that sanctions are meant to be a behavior change, to just encourage behavior change – not for punishment, right? I mean, are you honestly – you said we’re going to take action where we want, but I’m just failing to understand. If you’re going to do it eventually and the sanctions are meant to be to change behavior, why don’t you just hurry up?

MR MILLER: So we announced this policy on Thursday – so I know you want us to hurry up. I will also say that when we make further designations, those designations aren’t public. So you won’t necessarily know when we designate people with visa restrictions because they’re confidential under federal law. But the visa restriction policy that we announced on Thursday is not the only thing that we have made clear could change as a result of Georgia’s actions. As the Secretary announced on Thursday, we are conducting a comprehensive review of the relationship between the United States and Georgia.

We provide Georgia $390 million dollars of annual assistance every year for things like military assistance, economic development projects, building institutions, civil society. And we have to reassess all of that if the Georgian Government is going to now regard the United States and other Western partners not as partners anymore but as adversaries.

QUESTION: There’s another law that they passed today that overrode the president’s veto, which is called offshore law. Do you have any reaction to that?

MR MILLER: I’m sorry, what was that?

QUESTION: Offshore law is going to allow the – Georgians —

MR MILLER: Separate and apart from the one – I’ll have to follow up and get – get a reaction to that.

QUESTION: Please get it, yeah.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about Iran?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: There’s reporting today or yesterday that the U.S. is urging allies, particularly the UK and France, to back off efforts to censure Iran at an upcoming IAEA meeting for fear that it could trigger some sort of reactions from Iran. Is there any accuracy to that reporting?

MR MILLER: No, that that report is not true. We have not lobbied any country to vote against or abstain from any resolution in that regard. We are actively increasing pressure on Iran through a combination of sanctions, deterrence, and international isolation to counter their destabilizing behavior and prevent them from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Janne, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. It was reported that North Korea launched a new military reconnaissance satellite shortly after the South Korea-Japan-China summit in Seoul, South Korea, but it exploded in the air. What is your comment on that?

MR MILLER: So we condemn the DPRK’s May 27th launch, which incorporated technologies that are virtually identical to those used in its unlawful ballistic missile program. This launch was in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. We have been in close consultation with our ROK and Japanese counterparts regarding the launch, and we urge all countries to condemn the DPRK’s unlawful WMD and ballistic missile programs, and press the DPRK to engage in serious dialogue, which to date it has refrained from doing.

QUESTION: But the common goal of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula was not included in the joint declaration of the South Korea-Japan-China summit. It is known that China has no intention of pursuing North Korea on the issue of the denuclearizations. Can it be seen that China is tolerating North Korea’s denuclearization?

MR MILLER: So I will just speak for the United States and say that we have made clear, including in our direct engagements with the People’s Republic of China, that we would welcome them playing any kind of productive role in countering the DPRK’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction programs. We will continue to make that clear, and I think I’ll leave it at that.

Guita, go ahead.

QUESTION: Taiwan, Matt?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: As you’re aware, China conducted military drills around the Taiwan Strait and Taiwan itself. The Taiwanese president has suggested to China to, and I quote, “share the heavy responsibility of regional stability with Taiwan.” Do you think this is a good move on the part of Taiwan, and do you have any general comments on this suggestion?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to that in specific. I will say, with respect to the PRC’s activities, we put out a statement from the Secretary on Saturday where we expressed our deep concern and said that we think the PRC should do everything to maintain stability and refrain from taking actions that increase de-stability across the Taiwan Strait.

QUESTION: All right. Do you – somewhat on that, the PRC has argued that its position on the – is based on United Nations General Assembly Resolution 2758. Deputy Assistant Secretary Mark Lambert’s clarification – he made some clarifications in a recent event where he exposed the PRC’s distortion of UN General Assembly Resolution 2758. Is there – what’s the – does the resolution endorse China’s sovereignty – sovereignty claim over Taiwan, and what’s the distortion? Can you tell us?

MR MILLER: No, it does not, but in – for any further comments, let me take it back. I haven’t seen Mark’s comments. Let me take it back and talk to him about his full comments.

QUESTION: Okay. I have one more, please. Again, China – Taiwan has been banned from attending the World Health Organization meeting this year, whereas in – as of – since 2009 to 2016, it did attend those – the assembly. On Friday, countries including the U.S. and several others issued a joint statement supporting Taiwan’s participation, and Secretary Blinken has issued a statement saying that the U.S. support is in line with Washington’s “one China” policy. Do you have any further comments on that? Can you spell out the difference between Washington’s “one China” policy and Beijing’s “one China” principle.

MR MILLER: So I don’t really have any further comment to those two statements that we put out. Our “one China” policy has not – has not changed. And we have made clear repeatedly that we think Taiwan should be able to participate in the WHO session, that we think that when they were a participant they brought meaningful expertise that enriched the discussions there and the debates there, and we want them to be allowed to participate in future sessions.

QUESTION: All right. Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Speaking of the reactions to the conflict in Gaza, today Iraqi cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said in a statement that what Israel is doing in Gaza, they are doing with the support of the U.S. and U.S. President. And he asked the Iraqi Government shutdown the U.S. embassy and expel the U.S. ambassador in Iraq. Do you have any concern or reaction to that statement?

MR MILLER: So I’m aware of his comment. I will just say that we value our broad relationships – or broad strategic relationship with Iraq and remain committed to working with the Government of Iraq to expand opportunities for all Iraqis, and support Iraq’s security, stability, and sovereignty.

QUESTION: And what’s your reaction to the recent attacks to the U.S. brands in Baghdad – the attack at the KFC and also there were different attacks – which the Iraqi policy says that this is anti-Israel motive behind these attacks?

MR MILLER: So we are tracking those reports and obviously condemn the act of violence, and we welcome the statement by Iraqi authorities that they are investigating the attack and want to see them fully do so.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matthew. What is Secretary Blinken’s goals at the NATO foreign ministers meeting?

MR MILLER: So we did a call on that last week where we outlined what we intended to cover at the NATO foreign minister meeting. The Assistant Secretary for Europe James O’Brien discussed that, and I will refer you to transcript for a kind of full elucidation of the trip’s goals. But I’ll say in general, this is the – one of the trip – the – it is the last meeting of foreign ministers before the Washington Summit in July, so it will be making the final preparations for the summit, including talking about our broad support for Ukraine.

QUESTION: And what consequences could the U.S. impose on Israel for the bombing in Rafah?

MR MILLER: I have spoken to that, I believe, at length already in this.

QUESTION: And how does the U.S. feel about Israel taking responsibility for the bombing in Rafah? Is it sufficient?

MR MILLER: Is it sufficient?

QUESTION: Sufficient.

MR MILLER: Again, I think I spoke to that at length and to a number of questions already.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. As per a joint investigation by German-based DW and Süddeutsche Zeitung and Sweden-based Netra News revealed that former and current members of the Bangladeshi death squad, Rapid Action Battalion, routinely get deployed as UN peacekeepers. Since the U.S. sanction are as – are maybe for gross violation of human rights, how concerned are you that its officers are being deployed in UN missions that the U.S. funds significantly – around 27 percent fund contributing by the U.S. from the taxpayers’ money?

MR MILLER: So we’re aware of these reports. Peacekeeping operations play an essential role in promoting international peace and security, and it is essential that peacekeeping personnel protect human rights. In accordance with the UN Due Diligence Policy, the UN relies on troop and police contributing countries to self-certify that they are not sending troops or police who are implicated in committing human rights violations or violations of international humanitarian law.

QUESTION: Following recent revelation of the immediate past police chief’s massive corruption in Bangladesh, who is subject to two U.S. sanctions, could you tell us whether any U.S. agency has found any of his assets test in the U.S. or any other country and whether the U.S. has frozen such assets? Similarly, do you have any findings about corrupt former army chief General Aziz, as you imposed visa restriction recently? Will you take any action against the regime’s top leadership essentially from – why are these individuals are getting a free pass to do anything or everything?

MR MILLER: So with respect to the first question, I don’t have anything to announce. With respect to the second, I’m aware of the allegations and the media reports that you referenced. We’ve been quite clear that we believe corruption saps economic growth, hinders development, destabilizes government, and undermines democracy. We have made anti-corruption a core national security interest since the outset of this administration, and our detailed implementation plan for this strategy has been articulated at a number of senior levels, but I don’t have anything new to announce. And as you know, we never preview sanctions or other actions that we might take.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead. And then we’ll come to Ellen, then we’ll wrap. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just a quick one on Gaza. Do you have reports saying —

MR MILLER: On what?

QUESTION: On Gaza.

MR MILLER: Yeah. Sorry.

QUESTION: And specifically humanitarian aid and specifically on the pier. There are reports saying that the pier – the U.S. has suspended aid because the pier broke down or what have – I don’t have the details on —

MR MILLER: Yeah, so I know that there was – there were some issues with – due to the weather over the weekend. I know the Pentagon has a briefing this afternoon, and I’ll leave it to them to speak to that.

Ellen, go ahead. Then we’ll wrap up.

QUESTION: One of my questions was his, but I wanted to ask, what’s the situation with the humanitarian groups able to – being able – not being able to access aid from Kerem Shalom? They say it’s too dangerous for them to. Could you discuss the situation in general?

MR MILLER: It is something that we continue to work through with the United Nations and with the Government of Israel and with the IDF. It’s related to these questions of deconfliction and coordination that we have been working through, that the Secretary discussed on our last trip.

We – there are a number of things at play here. One, we have seen kind of improvements in deconfliction and coordination, but sometimes that’s been tough to communicate down to the unit level, which goes to the question of these groups being able to travel to a checkpoint and then actually make it through a checkpoint and not sit at a checkpoint for hours when you expose yourself to potential harm.

But then the other thing I’ll say is that for a number of days we weren’t actually even getting humanitarian assistance to Kerem Shalom because of this issue with it being stopped in Egypt. We’ve now seen it flow, and so we tend to work these things kind of one – we’re always working on all of it, but as you get humanitarian assistance into Kerem Shalom, then have a much greater need to kind of break down those barriers to delivery, which we’re actually working on.

Go ahead, then we’ll wrap.

QUESTION: Can I finish on Turks and Caicos?

MR MILLER: Sure.

QUESTION: I know this came up a couple of days ago, but some Americans – I believe five – have been arrested there for what they say is mistakenly bringing ammo to the island. They face a 12-year sentence for that. I think one was freed today with a suspended sentence. Some members of Congress are pushing the State Department to change the Travel Advisory. Is that anything that’s under discussion?

MR MILLER: So I am never going to preview changes to a Travel Advisory or even talk about whether something is under discussion or not. But I will note that our Travel Advisory to Turks and Caicos does make note that people should be aware of local laws, which would of course prevent people from being – landing themselves in this situation in the first place. So we do encourage all Americans to check our Travel Advisory to Turks and Caicos or any other country that they might be visiting, because it does contain important information that is important to their safety and their well-being.

And with that, we’ll wrap for today. Thanks.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:14 p.m.)

# # #

Back To Top