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Department Press Briefing – March 11, 2024 – United States Department of State

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MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. We have a couple of guests today who are going to give opening comments. Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Rich Verma will start, followed by Deputy Administrator of USAID for Management and Resources Paloma Adams-Allen. They will give opening comments, they’ll be happy to take a few questions, and then we’ll resume the usual briefing after they finish.

The budget request we are sending to Congress today will allow the Department of State and USAID to continue advancing the Biden administration’s vision of a free, open, secure, and prosperous world while delivering on issues that matter most to the lives and livelihoods of the American people. The President’s FY25 budget request includes 58.8 billion for the State Department and USAID. This is a $718 million or 1 percent increase above FY23. We are grateful for Congress’ partnership in resourcing State and USAID to meet the many challenges that we face today.

U.S. diplomacy and development are more essential than ever to ensure American security and prosperity to solve global challenges and uphold universal values. Over the past year, the United States, with our friends and colleagues and allies around the world, have faced a range of significant challenges – from the conflict in the Middle East, to Russia’s ongoing brutal war against Ukraine, to historic levels of irregular migration and forced displacement, to unprecedented and growing global humanitarian needs.

Our budget request invests in the personnel, the programs, and assistance that the State Department and USAID need as we stand at the front lines of these issues. Just allow me to outline some of our highest-priority areas in the request.

First, we must employ all the tools at our disposal to outcompete China wherever possible. The FY25 request will allow us to continue to invest in the foundations of our strength at home aligned with likeminded partners to strengthen our shared interests and address the challenges posed by the PRC and harness those assets to compete with the PRC and defend our interests. We are aligning our foreign assistance to advance U.S. values by building a network of likeminded allies and partners both globally and with concerted focus on the Indo-Pacific as a region of vital importance to the U.S. and global security and prosperity.

The $4 billion discretionary request across foreign assistance and diplomatic engagement for the Indo-Pacific Strategy represents our ironclad commitment to advancing an affirmative vision of U.S. values for the region. While many aspects of the discretionary request help advance this goal, discretionary resources alone cannot meet this need. It is imperative to our national security that we also have mandatory, reliable funding to outcompete China, and that is why the request also includes $4 billion over five years in mandatory funding to enable the United States to invest in new ways to outcompete China and focus on new and critical investments split between two important funds.

We are requesting $2 billion to create a new international infrastructure fund which will outcompete China by providing a credible, reliable alternative to PRC options while also expanding markets and opportunities for U.S. businesses. This fund will support transformative, quality, and sustainable hard infrastructure projects. Additionally, we are seeking $2 billion to make game-changing investments in the Indo-Pacific to strengthen partner economies, improve good governance and the rule of law, bolster connectivity between partner countries, and support their efforts, including through multilateral fora, in building resilience and pushing back against predatory efforts.

Our second key priority in this request is ensuring Russia’s war in Ukraine remains a strategic failure. We are requesting 482 million, which would sustain crucial support for Ukraine in its resolute defense of its people and independence from Russia. Our request also provides the resources needed to deliver critical economic development and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine’s brave and resilient citizens.

Let me be clear, though. These funds are in addition to the October 2023 National Security Supplemental Request. The FY25 resources start re-establishing a base budget for core and enduring programs for Ukraine but cannot replace the funds requested as part of the supplemental.

Third, advancing peace and security in the Middle East remains a top priority for us, including working with our partners to end the conflict between Israel and Hamas and deliver lifesaving assistance to Palestinians. The President’s request of 7.6 billion maintains our longstanding investments to support key partners in the Middle East and North Africa and their security against growing violence by extremists and Iran-linked malign actors. The funds would unlock resources to partner with citizens of the region, foster economic growth, and advance good governance and respect for human rights.

Fourth, delivering solutions to shared global challenges such as irregular migration and forced displacement, countering synthetic drugs, a rapidly changing climate, and growing humanitarian crises. Now, to do this we are mobilizing resources to promote economic prosperity, grow energy sectors, strengthen health systems, invest in food security, and to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis. Our partnerships are crucial to tackling these global challenges, and ones that affect our own hemisphere, including irregular migration, forced displacement, and the illegal synthetic drug crisis in the United States. These additional resources will allow us to work together with key allies and partners on these challenges and towards a free, open, and secure, prosperous world.

Fifth, we will continue to work – continue our work to ensure U.S. interests and values are protected in the digital and emerging technology sector, including through the CHIPS Act. We are grateful to Congress for providing 500 million over five years to work with our partners and allies to secure and expand our critical semiconductor supply chains and promote the adoption of trustworthy telecommunication technologies.

Now, success in all of these policy areas is not possible if we do not have the people, the platforms, and the tools to achieve these objectives while being responsible stewards of taxpayer resources. So to that end, with FY25 funds, we must also continue the Secretary of State’s ambitious agenda to modernize American diplomacy, to ensure we are equipped to seize the opportunities of the 21st century. These resources will strengthen the department by improving the morale, recruitment, and retention of our global workforce, which spans the Foreign Service, the Civil Service, and our locally employed staff at embassies around the world.

And to meet these global challenges and to fulfill the President’s priorities, we need a growing workforce empowered by more training and greater flexibility. Our request expands State’s and USAID’s workforce by establishing nearly 350 new positions, and also filling 200 of State’s existing Foreign Service vacancies. We will focus on expanding our engagement in the Indo-Pacific region, increasing professional development and training options, and establishing a new diplomatic reserve auxiliary corps to meet future crises. We will also continue to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility initiatives, to include broader recruitment and retention. We’ve requested 5.6 billion to keep our people, our buildings, and information around the globe safe and secure, including for an expanded presence in the Indo-Pacific, in Libya, and the Eastern Caribbean.

In addition, the United States multilateral contributions are indispensable to shaping international institutions and partnerships critical to our national security interests. Therefore, our request includes 1.7 billion for contributions to international organizations such as the UN, WHO, NATO, and UNESCO, as well as 1.2 billion for contributions to UN international peacekeeping.

Finally, I would also like to emphasize what we are doing to provide better services to the American people. Our request will enhance the department’s consular services for passports, visas, and U.S. citizen services overseas. Increased staffing and IT capacity will reduce wait times and improve customer service that many Americans and visitors to the United States count on.

Now, as I said at the outset, this budget will advance the Biden administration’s vision of a free, open, secure, and prosperous world, but it also delivers on issues that matter to the lives and livelihoods of Americans. Better, faster, and more convenient services from our consular services is one area. But so is reducing the flow of fentanyl, promoting greater economic opportunity, ensuring global health security, and creating jobs. And these are all other examples of how the department will deliver on things that matter most to Americans.

Now, with that, let me hand the floor to Deputy Administrator Paloma Adams-Allen, who will address the key USAID elements of the FY25 budget request, and then we would look forward to a few of your questions as well. Paloma.

MS ADAMS-ALLEN: Thank you, Rich. Thanks so much, Rich. Thank you, Matt. Good morning. Good afternoon. As Rich has just described, we really find ourselves at another decisive juncture, where U.S. leadership on the global stage is critical for continued growth and prosperity here at home, for our national security, and for extending the reach of dignity around the world.

The President’s FY25 budget request calls for 28 billion for USAID, a request that reflects our commitment to responding to the historic conflict and climate-driven disasters that continue to wreak havoc globally, while also advancing longer-term development objectives like strengthening democracy, global economic resilience, and our systems for the response and prevention of climate and health shocks. This request also assumes the appropriation of the critical humanitarian and economic support funds we’ve been fighting for in the National Security Supplemental. So before I take questions alongside Rich, I just wanted to highlight a few of the areas that are critical for USAID.

On the humanitarian assistance front: In the last three years alone, due to natural disasters and ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and beyond, the number of people in need of assistance has grown to 300 million, an increase of 64 million from 2021. For the U.S. to continue to lead, to support our partners and allies, and to save lives amidst some of the world’s toughest challenges, this year’s budget requests 6.3 billion for USAID’s humanitarian assistance efforts, which cover an average of 75 crises per year, including ongoing emergencies in Gaza, Haiti, and Afghanistan. It also includes 1.1 billion for USAID’s Feed the Future programs to address the global food crisis driven by climate-induced shocks and exacerbated by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s long-term economic stability depends on its ability to continue generating revenue, so this year’s request includes 321 million to bolster its economy, including building up its energy infrastructure and increasing agricultural exports. It also includes funding to continue the support that the government provides in terms of basic social services as well as the Ukrainian people’s work to strengthen democracy.

In terms of our economic and democracy-strengthening priorities, we know that leveraging private sector capital and business expertise is critical to closing the gap between the current levels of development assistance and the increasing need. So we’re requesting 50 billion for USAID’s EDGE Fund, which is already generating partnerships and attracting the additional resources needed to promote sustainable business practices, market-based innovations, and inclusive entrepreneurship. And we’re asking for another 50 million to boost the economic resilience of countries facing mounting debt, slowing growth, high inflation, declining investment, and widening inequality, all of which we know can undermine democratic gains.

To meet the urgency and magnitude of the digital threats to development progress, the request includes 94 million to scale USAID’s digital, cyber, and emerging technology programming, including our work to build and strengthen open, inclusive, and secure digital ecosystems, and leverage proven technology for better development outcomes.

To meet our commitment to tackle the global climate crisis, this year’s budget requests 2.8 billion for USAID-managed climate programs that lay the foundation for the modernization and expansion of the energy infrastructure needed to power schools, hospitals, and economic growth. We will also continue to increase food and water security by providing people with access to lifesaving early warning systems and more resilient agriculture and conservation practices.

To reaffirm the U.S. global health leadership, the budget request includes 4 billion for USAID-managed accounts to prevent child and maternal deaths, bolster nutrition, control the HIV/AIDS epidemic, protect the global health workforce through the President’s Global Health Worker initiative, and it includes 650 million for USAID to sustain global health security programs to help detect, respond to, and prevent future infectious disease threats.

And last but not least, as Rich noted, we’re supporting our people. Beyond our critical programmatic funding, this request also reflects our commitment to strengthening and investing in our global workforce. With our $2.2 billion request, we are prioritizing the recruitment, retention, and training of the personnel with the skills and experience needed in a modern development and humanitarian enterprise. So an additional 145 positions will help us grow our ranks of career humanitarians, contracting and AI specialists, economists, engineers, and others. And it will position us to better address the compensation and other concerns of our local staff who serve our missions overseas, ensuring that we live up to our values but are also able to compete for much-needed talent.

So, to wrap up, from day one the Biden-Harris administration – of the Biden-Harris administration, the United States has confronted and led the world to respond to complex threats and the most pressing global challenges of the day. We look forward to continuing this work with the support of the American people. Thank you.

MR MILLER: Okay. Take a few questions. Matt.

QUESTION: Thanks. I guess these are to both of you, and I don’t know, Rich, do we call you ambassador or a deputy secretary?

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Whatever you want.

QUESTION: What do you prefer?

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Rich is great. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. I have a couple, but I think they’ll be really quick. And the reason that I have a couple is because we have not actually seen the Function 150 justification. We’ve only seen a couple fact sheets that were sent out.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: I think it came out just —

QUESTION: Well, I haven’t seen it. It’s not been in my email, so anyway – but I think these will be real quick.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Correct.

QUESTION: And then – and – but that’s on top of what is in the supplemental, which has not yet been approved already.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: That’s correct.

QUESTION: Which is – how much is that? That’s part of the 60 billion?

MS ADAMS-ALLEN: It is 16.3 billion.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Yes.

QUESTION: Okay. So of the – all right. And then – okay, I just wanted to make sure that was right.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: And Matt, just – maybe I’ll just make the point that I made that this base budget in FY25 is not a substitute for that supplemental, and that supplemental is growing more and more important every day.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Correct. Yes.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Think it’s $100 million in security assistance.

QUESTION: Yeah, but you know what? I’ve seen individual arms sales to Taiwan that you guys have put out to TECRO that are more than 100 million, so I don’t understand how this is historic. Can you explain that?

And then I’ve got one last one which is about embassies and consulates. I don’t know if you want to take those.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Happy to take that. Look, we break out Taiwan for the first time and have a specific line item for it. It reaffirms our commitment to security assistance for Taiwan and to a free and open Indo-Pacific. I think it’s very clear. I think it stands on its own.

QUESTION: Okay. But, I mean, it is not in itself historic because – the size of it is not historic. I mean, you guys have sold them —

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: I think – yeah, here’s what I would say —

QUESTION: You guys have – there have been many, numerous, transfers to the Taiwanese over the years that have exceeded 100 million at a time.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: That’s true. That’s true, and we’re very proud of the longstanding security assistance we’ve provided. I’d also say take a look at our Indo-Pacific Strategy more broadly and the new kind of funding requests that have gone in, including mandatory spending and new accounts.

QUESTION: Okay. Last one – and this is just on – you said 5.6 billion for supporting the staff or – and improving and expanding the diplomatic presence abroad. Does that include funding for the new embassy in the Seychelles, which I know that you were there to announce? The Maldives, which former Secretary Pompeo was there to announce? And is there any funding for the consulate in Western Sahara that was announced by the previous administration? And is there any funding for a consulate in Jerusalem?

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: So I was in Seychelles. I was also in Maldives, so glad to see the progress there. And we are kind of – Doug, why don’t you jump up? Yeah.

QUESTION: All right. Then you mentioned Libya and the eastern Caribbean, so in Libya where? Back in Tripoli?

QUESTION: Because you had an embassy that you closed down. I mean, it was in a hotel room, basically, but it was an embassy.

MR PITKIN: We’re in active negotiations for an interim facility that would provide appropriate security and staffing support adjacent to other international —

QUESTION: All right. And then you mentioned, Rich, the eastern Caribbean.

MR PITKIN: The Secretary has not made a final determination on which specific islands. That planning is ongoing, but would enable two very small, focused posts.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: This would build on the Vice President’s trip where she made the initial announcement, and the planning actually does continue. And I think what you’ll see is a very strategic focus on key areas where we believe having a diplomatic presence is important – the Indo-Pacific, eastern Caribbean, coming back to Libya – so these are again, I think, reflective of the need to be where the greatest kind of urgency and some of our crises are, but also just to kind of regularize our diplomatic presence in places.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Paloma, you want to add anything?

MS ADAMS-ALLEN: No, I’m good.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Okay.

QUESTION: Hi, thank you very much.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Thank you.

MR PITKIN: I think we’d have to come back on the specifics for that, so we can follow up.

QUESTION: You don’t have any timeline?

MR PITKIN: Not at this point.

QUESTION: But you have – can you confirm you have the political will to open it within this administration?

MR PITKIN: All those elements are part of the decision process, both the political will, the security, the appropriate resources. So at this point I think we’d have to take that for the – a more specific timeline.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: No, it’s not hidden. We have – as has been discussed here, I think, multiple times, we have a pause on our funding —

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: — to UNRWA until the investigation is complete. That doesn’t mean we are not providing funding for Gaza, for the West Bank, for the humanitarian needs, and there’s a significant commitment in here. But until that particular investigation concludes itself, we’re going to look to other organizations as we do today: World Food Program, UNICEF, other outlets.

QUESTION: Right. And so it’s – it would be wrong to say that U.S. has written off the possibility to resume funding for UNRWA.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: I think what I would say is there is a pause pending the outcome of the investigation.

QUESTION: And you said there is significant commitment for Palestinian people. I’ve seen 3.3 for Israel. Does that number include for West Bank or Gaza?

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: No, there’s an additional amount of funding. I think it’s around – Tracy, do you want to take that? Yeah.

MS CARSON: There’s 10.3 billion in humanitarian assistance, and those are the sources we would use to support Palestinian refugees.

QUESTION: Okay. And in terms of the agencies, the WFP, did you say?

MS ADAMS-ALLEN: Thank you. No, that’s it.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Okay.

MR MILLER: Alex, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. I appreciate that. A couple of questions, if I may. On Eurasia – Central Asia and Europe – what I have written there, line 199 – you mentioned some portion will go to Armenia’s economic and democratic resilience. Can you just give us the numbers? How much of that portion will go to —

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Sorry, you said on Armenia?

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Okay. You got it.

MS CARSON: I’ll get back to you on that.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: In one – we have it broken out, but we’ll make sure we get that to you.

QUESTION: I appreciate it. On democracy programming, I didn’t see any funding for a summit, democratic – democracy summit for 2025. Do you guys not expect a summit for 2025?

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Again, if —

MS CARSON: There is. There’s $3 billion in democracy, and of that we’re assuming roughly $345 million will support the work that we’ve been doing related to the democracy summit.

Roman, do you have a figure in terms of numbers of folks who have received assistance? Sorry for —

MR NAPOLI: Tracy might, I think.

MS CARSON: I’ll get back.

MR MILLER: We’ll take one —

MS ADAMS-ALLEN: That continues our issue, and this is why the supplemental is so urgent.

MR MILLER: One more from Nike, and then we’ll wrap, and I’ll take questions.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: I don’t – I don’t believe so. I think this is the traditional security assistance. There’s also IMET assistance. And again, you have to read that together with the totality of our assistance in the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the new mandatory funding we’ve also added. So I think that’s how I would describe that particular —

MS CARSON: Yeah, it’s Foreign Military Financing grant-based assistance that we would provide to Taiwan.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Yeah.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Okay.

MR MILLER: Thank you both.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Thank you.

MS ADAMS-ALLEN: Thank you.

DEPUTY SECRETARY VERMA: Thank you, Matt. Thanks, everybody.

MS ADAMS-ALLEN: Thanks, everyone.

MS ADAMS-ALLEN: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Okay. Just get situated here. All right. Who wants to go first? I don’t know if I have to call on Matt first and if he’s already a first question, or I go to somebody else.

QUESTION: You can go to someone else. I want to —

MR MILLER: It doesn’t matter. I just want to – I just want to follow the rules, formal or informal.

QUESTION: I don’t think there are any rules. I think you can – you can go to someone —

MR MILLER: So we’ll go to somebody who hasn’t asked —

QUESTION: I wanted to ask about Haiti.

QUESTION: I mean, I also wanted to ask about Haiti.

MR MILLER: We’ll go to somebody who hasn’t asked a question.

QUESTION: What can you tell us about the expectations for the meeting in Jamaica today?

QUESTION: Will Prime Minister Henry have any presence there, virtually or other?

MR MILLER: I am not aware of any, but as always, I will defer to him speak to his travels.

QUESTION: And is it your understanding he’s still in Puerto Rico?

MR MILLER: Again, I’m going to defer to him to speak to his travels.

QUESTION: And then can you tell us any more about the decision to evacuate some embassy personnel over the weekend?

MR MILLER: So as you may aware, we have been on ordered departure status since last July, where we have ordered a certain number of embassy personnel to leave. Since we went to that status last July, there have been embassy personnel that have left at different times, and at times we have moved additional personnel in. So we had a number of embassy personnel that left over the weekend. We had additional security forces that deployed to the mission because of the security situation there. And we’ll continue to assess the situation and what – make whatever appropriate decisions we need to protect our staff and personnel there.

QUESTION: Can you get – can you say anything further about any American passport holders in Haiti, if there’s any American citizens reaching out to the embassy hoping for assistance, given the – the precariousness of flights in and out of Haiti and things that are developing quickly?

MR MILLER: So – yeah, so we are in contact with a number of American citizens in Haiti. I do want to reiterate that we have had a Level 4 travel alert for Haiti for more than four years now, making very clear to American citizens that, number one, they should not travel to Haiti, that it is not safe to travel to Haiti; and number two, that they are – if they’re in Haiti, they should leave as soon as it’s safe for them to do so. Now, obviously, that’s a warning that has been in place for four years. It’s not safe for a number of them to leave right now, and they’re not able to leave right now because the airport has been damaged and commercial carriers have suspended flights.

So what we are asking U.S. citizens to do today is to register through our crisis intake form, which you can get to through the embassy’s website, and we will communicate with them the best information we have when we have it.

Said – oh, Humeyra, go ahead. I will – let’s —

QUESTION: If it’s on Haiti —

MR MILLER: Let’s finish up on Haiti.

QUESTION: Mine is about Palestine – yeah.

MR MILLER: Yeah, we’ll finish up on Haiti and then go – yeah, Nike.

QUESTION: MSS – the United States has placed $200 million assistance to the Multinational Security Support Mission to Haiti. Can you provide more details on MSS? What are the exact plans? And is the United States able to execute the assistance under current security circumstance?

MR MILLER: So we are committed to the success of the MSS. You have seen not only the United States commit money to the MSS, but also the Secretary has met with his foreign counterparts to seek to raise funds from additional countries to fund the MSS. Secretary spoke to the president of Kenya on Friday to discuss the deployment of the MSS, and we continue to look to expedite that mission as soon as possible. And so that’s something we’re in the – in conversation with the Government of Kenya about, and something we’re in conversation with other countries around the world. And I can assure you that the United States will do its part to fund that important mission.

QUESTION: Can I please follow up?

QUESTION: No offense here, but just for example, it’s fair to assume the Kenya forces do not speak Creole. So my question is: How are they going to communicate with the Haitians National Police? How are they going to tell who is good cop, who is bad cop? And same thing goes with other multinational forces.

MR MILLER: So I will defer ultimately to the Government of Kenya to speak to how that mission will operate. We are there in a support function by – with providing them financial assistance and providing them logistic support. But obviously, there are translators that you can bring to bear, there are other resources you can bring to bear to work through those issues, and it’s something that we will look to do in the coming weeks.

QUESTION: The bureau – State Department’s Bureau for INL used to have a – some teams on the ground to help with Haitian police – National Police forces to fight drugs, illegal – I mean, illegal drugs and crimes, and to help maintain security. Are they still there on the ground, or where are they when this violence happened?

MR MILLER: I’ll have to take that back and follow up. I’m happy to look into it and follow up with you. Anything else on Haiti before we move on? Hands go up; hands go down.

Go ahead, Tom. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: We’re okay to move on now? Why is the United States building a port off the coast Gaza when there’s a perfectly good one that —

MR MILLER: Wait, I thought we – let me just – I thought we were still on Haiti. Nothing else on Haiti?

QUESTION: We’re still on Haiti?

MR MILLER: Okay, we are moving on. Yeah, let me just – let me just – I’ll come to you —

QUESTION: Yeah, no, that’s fine. It’s fine.

MR MILLER: Let me just – let me just make – let me – I want to close out Haiti before we move on.

QUESTION: Thank you. So what’s going to happen with U.S. citizens who are still in Haiti? Are there any evacuation plans? And then second, how does this affect the southern border in terms of migrants and also drugs?

MR MILLER: So I had spoke to the question with respect to American citizens a moment ago, which is that they should register with our crisis intake form. We will provide them information to the extent that we are able to do so at – the airport is – currently has been damaged, and the commercial carriers have suspended flights. And I just want to reiterate that we have made very clear for more than four years that United States citizens should not travel to Haiti.

With respect to the question about the border, I would defer ultimately to other agencies to speak to this.

Now, Haiti or something else?

MR MILLER: I promised Tom I’d come to him first, and then I’ll —

MR MILLER: So we are looking to build or looking to – or exploring a maritime option to get humanitarian assistance into Gaza because the other options have not proven sufficient so far, is the bottom-line answer to that question.

So we are – have provided air drops. We’ve been providing those over the past – a little over a week to get emergency assistance in, and we are exploring a maritime option to get additional assistance in. But I should be clear – and you’ve heard me say this and others in the administration say that – that there – it is no substitute for assistance continuing to come in over land. And so we’ll continue to push for it to come over land. Now, whether that comes through Ashdod Port and then travels over land, or it comes through Jordan, or comes from Egypt, ultimately doesn’t actually matter. It matters how it gets – it matters that it gets into Gaza, whether it comes through a port or another means.

So we’re going to push to see the land routes expanded. What we are doing is to supplement that, not replace it.

QUESTION: But, I mean, it’s turned what is a political issue into a logistical one. This is not about trying to get into some remote region of the world with a natural disaster. This is a place that is very easily accessible. And you talked about the current situation you haven’t been able to get to sufficiently. That means you haven’t been able to persuade the Israelis to let enough aid in over land and to secure its distribution. So why is that still a problem?

MR MILLER: So I will say that, first of all, we have seen some modest improvements in the humanitarian situation and the distribution of aid over the past few days. We’ve seen trucks able to move around the southern part of Gaza with more freedom than they were able to do, say, a week or 10 days ago. We’ve seen additional trucks move to the north of Gaza from the south. We saw for the first time flour released from Ashdod and make its way into Gaza, something we have been supporting for some time. And we saw the Government of Israel agree to open additional crossings.

So yes, they need to do more. We’ve seen an improvement but we think they need to continue to do more, and so that’s what we’re going to continue to push them to do.

QUESTION: I mean, it does just come back to this fundamental point about leverage. And when you’re providing the amount of military aid that you are providing, in fact, there’s a – the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act says that humanitarian aid should not be blocked by countries that are recipients of military aid from the United States. And it would seem extraordinary still that leverage cannot be brought to bear when the UN is now saying malnutrition is so severe, they’re quoting that 25 people have died now.

MR MILLER: Well, first of all, it is the intervention of the United States that has led humanitarian assistance to go into Gaza in the first place. Secretary Blinken has engaged on this consistently in his meetings and his phone calls with leaders of the Government of Israel. The President of the United States has been involved in this. The President of the United States traveled to Israel and cemented a deal that Secretary Blinken initially reached to allow Rafah to open in the first place; and it was our intervention that allowed – that got Kerem Shalom to open; and it is our intervention that has led to the Government of Israel agree – to agree to open additional crossings into Gaza.

So it is the work of the United States that has led to an improvement in the humanitarian assistance situation. Now, that improvement hasn’t been enough, and that’s why we continue to engage consistently at the highest levels of the Government of Israel, and that’s why the President continues to speak out on this and that’s why the Secretary continues to speak out on this, and that’s what we’ll continue – that’s what we will keep doing.

MR MILLER: Humeyra, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Has the Israeli Government presented Biden administration with a humanitarian and/or military plan for Rafah?

MR MILLER: They have not.

QUESTION: What is your latest assessment, based on your conversations with them, whether or not they would go ahead without the humanitarian plan?

MR MILLER: So I won’t speak to the conversations that we have had with them, but we have made clear, both in those private conversations and as you have heard us say publicly a number of times, that it is our judgment that they cannot, should not, go into Rafah without a humanitarian assistance plan that is credible and that they can actually implement.

QUESTION: Right. And Netanyahu, we’ve heard him say multiple times, I think, over the past couple of days that the Rafah operation will happen one way or the other. And the President said in the MSNBC interview that Rafah is a red line, although he then quickly said he will continue to support Israel. So I guess I’m asking, what is the U.S. prepared to do when and if Israel goes ahead with the Rafah offensive?

MR MILLER: So the “if” there – I think you know – triggered my answer that I’m not going to —

QUESTION: But it’s not – it’s not —

MR MILLER: Well, you – no, no, no, hold up. Well, you said that —

MR MILLER: But the – no, because the “if” I —

QUESTION: But the prime minister said that.

QUESTION: I think the – well, no. Here’s the – here’s what I’m going to say. The “if,” I think, does make it a hypothetical, because we have said what we need to see to be able to support a Rafah operation, and that is a credible and implementable humanitarian assistance plan. The Government of Israel has said that they will implement a humanitarian assistance plan. They haven’t just said that to us; they have said that publicly. We haven’t seen such a plan yet. So I think before we either pass judgment on whether this is possible or whether any such plan is credible and can be implemented, and whether we talk about what we would do next, I think let’s wait and see what it is that they come up with.

MR MILLER: Said, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Yeah, just a couple of things on the Rafah thing because we’re talking about 1.4 million people. It’s a lot of people. It’s crowded and so on. And, in fact, the Israelis have been bombing it, so they’re reducing the area in which people can live. So what, in your view or in your discussion – what methods, what methodology is Israel – will Israel use to basically move these people and get them out of harm’s way?

MR MILLER: So, Said, I can’t —

QUESTION: What is conceivable?

MR MILLER: Sorry. I can’t answer that question because I haven’t seen the plan. It is incumbent upon them, not us, to develop that plan. We will wait and look at it and pass judgment on it when we see it.

QUESTION: But can you see that you can actually move that many number of people to —

QUESTION: — let’s say either south or north and so on?

MR MILLER: I think I want to —

QUESTION: Will they be allowed to go north?

MR MILLER: I think I want to wait and see what any plan looks like before I pass judgment on it —

MR MILLER: — which should be obvious.

QUESTION: Yeah, one more question. Now, isn’t – doesn’t U.S. law call for stopping shipments of arms to a country that prevents the distribution of American aid, humanitarian aid, as we have seen with the flour?

MR MILLER: So that is the law and we have seen the Government of Israel take steps to allow humanitarian assistance in, including to allow humanitarian assistance in. Now, they haven’t done enough —

MR MILLER: — but we’ve seen them take steps. And because it’s our judgment that they haven’t done enough, that’s why we’re pushing them to do more.

QUESTION: But they are still holding flour that you guys have sent to Gaza.

MR MILLER: No, that’s not accurate.

QUESTION: That’s not – okay.

QUESTION: Can I follow up on Gaza?

QUESTION: All right, let me just follow up on a couple of things.

MR MILLER: Just hold on. Let me just – one at a time.

QUESTION: On UNRWA, I wanted to ask about UNRWA. Now, today I think Canada and Sweden said that they will resume aid to UNRWA. They – basically they paused because of the very same reason, so they must be convinced that the evidence is enough, sufficient to allow the resumption of aid. Why not with the United States?

MR MILLER: So every country has to make its own determination. But again, we’ve laid out a very clear standard that we’re going to apply, which is we are going to await the outcome of the investigations that the United Nations is conducting. I think it’s important to remember, Said, it’s not Israel that’s conducting this investigation, it’s not another body. It’s the United Nations itself, which of course administers all of this aid, that is conducting the investigation.

Despite the number of times you have asked me this, we are going to wait until the outcome of that investigation before making any determinations, which I think is obviously the appropriate step to take.

QUESTION: I fully understand, but it’s the same set of evidence and the same set of investigators and the same set of investigations that other countries are privy to, like you are.

QUESTION: If they can arrive —

MR MILLER: I don’t – hold on. Said, I don’t believe anyone is privy to the outcome of this investigation because it’s not been completed, let alone briefed to us yet or to any other country, for that matter.

QUESTION: I just am saying they’re not different sets of investigations. It’s the same investigations.

MR MILLER: Correct. And every country will have to make its own determinations.

QUESTION: And one last thing. Have you – are you aware that UNRWA reports says that Israel coerced some agency employees to falsely admit Hamas links? Were you aware of —

MR MILLER: I have seen those reports. I don’t have any independent —

QUESTION: You haven’t —

MR MILLER: I don’t have any independent ability to assess them.

QUESTION: Do you still expect a truce to be announced during Ramadan, and is there any progress in the talks that the U.S. is doing?

MR MILLER: So I am not going to make any forecasts one way or the other. We continue to believe that an agreement to achieve a ceasefire and secure the release of hostages is important. We’re continuing to work on it, we’re continuing to pursue it, but I wouldn’t want to offer any kind of assessment.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Can you just – like I’m trying to understand when President Biden said that entering Rafah is a red line, and the same time he will say we’re going to keep sending weapons and support Israel. I mean, just in English wording, how does it work? Red line, don’t enter Rafah; and the same time we’re going to give you weapons if you enter Rafah or not. Is that right?

MR MILLER: So I think the President’s remarks were very clear. But again, as I said, with respect to Rafah, let’s just wait and see what the plan that Israel develops looks like before we pass any judgment either on whether it’s credible, whether it can be implemented, or what the United States will and will not do. But as the President said in that interview and as you’ve heard the Secretary say and me and others from the administration say a number of times, we support Israel’s right to continue to defend itself, and that’s what we’ll – that will be our policy.

QUESTION: And so what about – did you watch the report on CNN inside Gaza hospital and see the starvation of children? Images we used to see in Uganda, some images we see in African countries like 20 years ago, now we’re seeing it in 2024. Kids are starving to death.

MR MILLER: So I didn’t see that specific report, but obviously we’ve seen multiple reports of incredibly dire humanitarian conditions on the ground in Gaza. And that’s why we not only have been pushing the Government of Israel to do more – and as I’ve said, we’ve seen some modest improvements but not enough – but it’s why the United States has air dropped its own humanitarian assistance in and is working on a maritime option to get assistance in.

QUESTION: A last question. Just last —

MR MILLER: Last one. Last one, then I’m going to go to – go ahead.

QUESTION: So basically, we experienced like dramatically the changing of tone of this administration. I mean, from this podium, Israel has a right to defend itself. People are dying day after day. Today the tonality changed. We saw the primary election. Some voters decided to stay uncommitted votes. President Biden in his speech changes tonality toward the – what’s happening in Gaza. Who is going to hold accountability for all the crimes that Israel committed for the past five months?

MR MILLER: So first of all, I don’t think that’s an —

QUESTION: Do you still think it’s —

MR MILLER: Let me just say I don’t think that’s an accurate assessment of the situation. We have made our judgments based on the facts on the ground, and that is what has driven our policy and what will continue to drive our – to —

MR MILLER: Hold on. I said I was going to go to Matt next. Matt, go ahead.

QUESTION: I just want to ask one brief thing about what you said in response there. You said let’s wait until we’ve seen the plan before we pass judgment on whether it is credible or implementable, correct?

MR MILLER: Correct. Correct.

QUESTION: So does that – does that mean that you are going to pass judgment on the plan when you see it?

MR MILLER: I would expect that —

QUESTION: So when – when the Israelis – so when the Israelis put out the plan, we’ll get the U.S. perspective?

MR MILLER: I would expect that —

QUESTION: Judgment up, down? Needs improvement?

MR MILLER: I’m not going to say exactly the outcome, but I would expect that ultimately we will have a view on that plan, yes.

QUESTION: Well, ultimately.

MR MILLER: But I mean —

QUESTION: After they finish, after they – if they’re done?

MR MILLER: We are waiting to be briefed on that plan, but yes, we will obviously have a view on what it looks like.

QUESTION: Okay. So if you don’t like it or if you do like it, we can expect to hear?

MR MILLER: I’m going to wait to see what it looks like, but I am sure that —

QUESTION: But you’re going to say —

MR MILLER: Hold on. Hold on, Matt. Just to say I am –

QUESTION: You’re going to pass judgment on it?

MR MILLER: I am sure that I will be here and you will have questions, and I will answer those questions about the plan.

QUESTION: Matt, sorry. Just on that.

MR MILLER: Whoa, whoa, everyone. I’ll get to you. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Just on that —

MR MILLER: Humeyra, then – and then Nadia third.

MR MILLER: Nadia, I’m going to get to you.

QUESTION: You seem to be putting a lot of hope on that plan, but do you – does the administration have any indication or any knowledge that the plan is being indeed developed?

MR MILLER: The Government of Israel has said privately to us that they’re developing such a plan, and they —

QUESTION: Have they said so in recent days?

MR MILLER: Hold on. And they have said publicly that they are developing a plan.

QUESTION: Right, that was a little while ago. Like, I mean, this moves really, really fast, and we have seen Netanyahu sort of say things that they’re going to go ahead with Rafah regardless.

MR MILLER: I cannot speak —

QUESTION: So do you still – you’re still certain they’re developing this plan?

MR MILLER: I cannot speak for any government but my own, and I can tell you that they have told us that privately and they have said it publicly.

QUESTION: And just one last thing, because I think – I’m just going through your answer to Tom’s question. You talk about how U.S. has pushed a lot Israel on the humanitarian aid and made progress even though incremental or sort of bigger in some other things. But what he was asking you – I think – was specifically related to 1961 Foreign Assistance Act that says humanitarian aid should not be blocked by countries that are recipients of military aid from the United States. So we have heard you a lot from this podium saying Israel should do more. So based on that, does the United States consider Israel to be impeding the flow of U.S. aid into Gaza or not?

MR MILLER: That is not a judgment that we have made.

QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Matt. Two questions on Turkish foreign minister’s – Fidan’s meeting with Secretary Blinken last week. First, the joint statement mentions a commitment to a result-oriented and a positive bilateral agenda. I was wondering if you could elaborate more on the specific areas of positive agenda between the two countries.

QUESTION: Thank you. And on the fight against terrorism, the – according to the joint statement, the two countries relaunched counterterrorism consultations to expand fight against terrorism. What steps will be taken in this regard? And additionally, what are the steps that the U.S. plan to take in order to overcome disagreements with Türkiye regarding its approach to defeating ISIS or Daesh in Syria, as Türkiye sees the U.S. support to YPG as the biggest obstacle to relations?

MR MILLER: So I don’t have any additional steps with regard to your first question to announce other than that we will be working with our Turkish allies on this question very intently over the coming weeks and months. And when it comes to disagreements that we have with the Government of Türkiye, we will raise them directly and candidly, as we have done on a number of occasions, and seek to work through those.

QUESTION: And was that discussed during the meetings, the U.S. support to YPG in Syria?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any readout on the meetings other than the one that we put out on Friday.

I promised Nadia I’d go – and she’s going to really get angry at me if I don’t, if I break that promise. (Laughter.) She’s already interrupting like everybody else, so —

QUESTION: Okay. Okay, thank you. So in addition to the questions asked by my colleagues, I have two more. So the President said that he – we cannot afford to have 30,000 more Palestinian dead, indicating a red line if Israel carries on with the plan to go to Rafah. So 60,000 Palestinian dead is a red line and 30,000 was not a red line?

MR MILLER: So you are – hold on.

QUESTION: And if your answer – just one second. If your answer is we don’t want to see any civilian Palestinians dead, which is the usual answer you give us, what did you do in the last five month to make sure that Israel avoid killing civilians, which we know as a fact 70 percent are women and children?

Now, as we have talked about at length both in this room and in other rooms here in Washington, from other podiums and in other forums from – on behalf of the United States, this is a difficult situation precisely because of the way Hamas chose to conduct this war. Hamas launched this war on October 7th, went into Israel, then immediately fled back into Gaza, and not only hid behind hostages that they took – Israeli citizens, but hid behind Palestinian civilians. And so Hamas bears a great deal of responsibility for putting civilians in harm’s way.

But that said, when you ask what it is that we have done, we have consistently engaged with the Government of Israel to encourage them to take steps to minimize civilian casualties. That has been the hallmark of our engagement with the Government of Israel since day one. But just the very tragic fact of the matter is that they are engaging in an urban environment where Hamas hides its tunnels under schools, under mosques, under apartment buildings. We see Hamas leaders embed themselves in apartment buildings with civilians, including children, including women. And so it is a very difficult situation.

And that is – so I will say finally that because of that incredible human toll and because of the incredibly dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, it is why we have been so intensely engaged on trying to achieve a ceasefire that would see a cessation of hostilities, an alleviation of suffering of the Palestinian people, and an increase in humanitarian assistance coming in.

QUESTION: Okay. But Hamas is not your ally, is not your partner. You designate it as a terrorist organization. I’m asking on the other side, which is you share the same value with them, which is Israel. So my question to you is not about Hamas and how the war was started, because we passed that stage.

MR MILLER: No, no, but —

QUESTION: Not to take away from what happened on October 7th. But my point to you is: What the – does this administration do —

QUESTION: — to use the leverage that Israel – that you have over Israel to make sure that no more civilians are dead?

MR MILLER: But – but Nadia, my point is you can’t answer the question about Israel’s conduct without giving an accurate assessment of the situation that they are in of trying to conduct legitimate military and counter-terrorism operations against an enemy that has sworn the destruction of Israel – sworn that they would destroy Israel and kill Israeli civilians – and hides behind civilians. So this isn’t a situation – a traditional battle situation where Hamas troops are out in a field or deployed in a military garrison sometime and you conduct a – you can conduct a military operation where you have a simple target and you know there’s going to be no civilian harm. That’s just not the situation that Israel faces in Gaza because of the way Hamas is – has decided to quite cowardly hide behind civilians.

So we will continue to press Israel to do everything it can to minimize civilian casualties, and everything I have said about the situation that they face doesn’t in a bit minimize their responsibility to do so. And that’s why we’ll continue to engage with them.

MR MILLER: Hold on, hold on – I’m going to move on, only because we’ve –

QUESTION: No, just – just —

MR MILLER: Hold on. We’ve been here an hour already, and I’ve got other people I have to get to before we break.

QUESTION: Matt, there’s a video —

MR MILLER: So – go ahead.

QUESTION: — that shows how Israel —

MR MILLER: I – as I’ve said, we’ve been here an hour and I’ve got other people I got to get to before I cut this short. Go ahead.

MR MILLER: So obviously we don’t agree with that comment. It is the – it is North Korea’s repeated reckless and provocative acts that have brought instability and continue to bring instability to the Korean Peninsula, and it’s why we stand with our South Korean allies.

QUESTION: Second question. And the – the Chinese Government is forcibly sending North Korean defectors back to North Korea. What message is the United States taking in response to this?

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

MR MILLER: Go ahead. Guita, I’ll come to you next. Behind – and then —

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Ramadan Kareem; today is the first day of the Ramadan.

QUESTION: Yes, it’s holy month for the Muslim.

MR MILLER: So we are aware of the comments in question. You have heard me speak before about the U.S. Government’s concerns surrounding the cases against Muhammad Yunus, including that they could represent a potential misuse of Bangladesh’s laws to harass and intimidate the doctor. Ambassador Haas simply reiterated those comments, acting in his capacity as the U.S. Government’s highest ranking representative in Bangladesh.

QUESTION: One more, Matt. According to media reports, the “India out” campaign is growing larger in the region. Following the one-sided sham elections in Bangladesh, people are promoting a boycott of goods made in neighboring India, suspecting Indian authorities of covertly wanting to keep Sheikh Hasina in power. How do you read this situation?

MR MILLER: So we are aware of the reports of this campaign. I’m obviously not going to comment on any individual consumers’ decisions, whether it’s in Bangladesh or anywhere around the world. But we value our relationship with both Bangladesh and India. We will continue to work with both countries’ governments to pursue our shared interests, including to ensure a free, open, secure, and prosperous Indo-Pacific region.

MR MILLER: Guita, go ahead.

MR MILLER: So ultimately it is – we back the Iranian people in their expression of their democratic – legitimate democratic political aspirations, and we will continue to do that. We don’t endorse violence in any instance.

QUESTION: How do you see the trials recently that Iranian judiciaries just putting on trials against – bringing lawsuits against the U.S. Government? See, they’re asking also for reparations in each of them. When the Iranian Government or even the plaintiffs don’t have any way of collecting, then what do you think these trials are for?

MR MILLER: So I think we – it is safe to say that we have long had concerns about the rule of law in Iran, including the independence of its judiciary system.

MR MILLER: Go ahead. Alex, you’ve already had one. I’m not sure I’m going to get back to you today. Go ahead. Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: So India today has tested the – a missile with the MRV technology. Since India is such an important partner in the Indo-Pacific, what does this really mean for the stability of the region?

MR MILLER: So let me take that question and come back to you.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I’m going back to the question about your meetings with Turkish counterparts. Have you raised the concern – your concern about the Turkish military operation in Kurdistan region of Iraq and also northwest Syria?

MR MILLER: Again, I don’t have any comments other than that we put out – about that meeting other than we put out in the readout. Other than that, I’ll keep the diplomatic conversations private.

MR MILLER: Certainly we welcome any decrease in hostilities against our forces. We have made clear that the attacks on our forces were unacceptable and that we would take action to defend U.S. interests and U.S. personnel, and we will continue to do so if appropriate.

Go ahead, and then we’ll wrap there.

QUESTION: So I’m sure you’ve seen that Pope Francis has called on Ukraine to have the courage to raise a white flag and negotiate with Russia. I’m curious about your response to that.

MR MILLER: Sorry. So I have seen that the Vatican has subsequently clarified those comments. Obviously, we support Ukraine’s right to defend itself. We have said time and time again that nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. We support its peace formula, and we would support its efforts to peacefully end this war, but that requires Vladimir Putin to stop attacking, to stop trying to take and claim and hold Ukrainian territory, and to agree to negotiations – and he has so far not been willing to do so.

QUESTION: — one thing that ahead of his White House meeting Polish President Duda said in a Washington Post op-ed, that he will propose that NATO should raise the pledge of defense spending, the minimum defense spending from 3 – 2 to 3 percent. Would the U.S. support that?

QUESTION: Just a follow-up?

MR MILLER: And then I’m going to wrap for today because I’ve got to run. Thanks, everyone.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt.

(The briefing was concluded at 2:20 p.m.)

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