1:20 p.m. EDT
MR MILLER: Good afternoon, everyone. I do not have any opening comments, so Matt?
MR MILLER: I could talk about it a little bit, but you’re right.
MR MILLER: There’s an announcement coming that I don’t want to get too far ahead of.
QUESTION: Okay. Well, what can you say about it?
MR MILLER: So I will say that we do expect that later today Israel will announce changes to their policies to ensure equal treatment for all U.S. citizen travelers without regard to national origin, religion, or ethnicity. Our understanding is that this policy will apply to U.S. citizens, including Palestinian Americans on the Palestinian population registry. And that will begin a process in which we will monitor not just their implementation of these policies but their compliance with these policies and compliance with other facets of the Visa Waiver Program. And by September 30th, the U.S. Government will make a decision on whether they merit admission into the program.
QUESTION: So I asked this earlier, but the Visa Waiver Program is not something that’s new. And it’s also not something that is new for Israel to want to be a part of. The requirements for entry into becoming – for a country to become eligible or to be admitted into VWP have been pretty standard for, what, 30 years?
MR MILLER: I’ll take your word for it.
QUESTION: 40 years?
MR MILLER: For some time. Yeah.
QUESTION: Almost 40 years – since 1988. I just don’t understand how this – Israel saying that they’re going to comply and you guys are going to monitor – haven’t you been monitoring – haven’t you been looking at this since – ever since they first asked to become part of this, you guys have been looking at their policies and have determined that they are not eligible, okay. And I don’t understand what this thing today is – how that changes anything.
MR MILLER: So you are correct that they have not merited entry into the Visa Waiver Program. They’re announcing changes in their policies today. But —
QUESTION: But they could have announced changes in the policies in 1991.
MR MILLER: They could have. They could have announced then or since then, but they didn’t. They’re announcing them today. Now, over the —
QUESTION: So why does this merit some kind of signing ceremony or some kind of – some kind of a new agreement? Why aren’t you just saying, yeah, we’re going to continue to look at your policies and see whether you meet the requirements?
MR MILLER: The agreement is just to govern our examination of their compliance with the policies, but I – I’ll be very clear —
QUESTION: But —
MR MILLER: They’re announcing – let me —
QUESTION: You already had —
MR MILLER: Of course.
QUESTION: There was already an examination of their criteria, of their eligibility – has been in the works —
MR MILLER: Correct.
QUESTION: — for almost 40 years.
MR MILLER: And this is a new change in policy that they are making. And over the next few weeks —
QUESTION: Yeah, but so —
MR MILLER: Wait. Hold on. Let me just – let me —
QUESTION: Okay, that’s fine. But why does that warrant – why does that merit – is it just because the Israeli president is in town today —
MR MILLER: It’s – no, it’s to monitor their —
QUESTION: — or yesterday?
MR MILLER: It is to monitor both policy and technical —
QUESTION: Well, why does that —
MR MILLER: Well, I’m answering – is monitor both their technical and policy compliance with the new polices they’ve announced and with our requirements for the Visa Waiver Program.
QUESTION: Okay. That’s —
MR MILLER: But let me just – and I’ll say, over the next few weeks, we will be monitoring very closely – you’ll be able to look at the policies that they announce today. We’ll be able to look at them. You’ll able to see if they meet the Matt Lee test. We will be examining them to make sure —
QUESTION: Well, it’s not my test (inaudible).
MR MILLER: Hold on. We – no, but I’m – let me finish.
QUESTION: It’s not my —
MR MILLER: We will be examining them to ensure that they meet the U.S. Government’s standards for admission.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) it’s not up to me whether Israel meets the requirements for the VWP. It’s up to Israel to make sure that they meet the requirements at least as set —
MR MILLER: And it —
QUESTION: — by Congress. And if you’re going to change them, okay, that’s —
MR MILLER: And —
QUESTION: — if Congress is going to change them, that’s fine. But the fact of the matter is they haven’t met the requirements for the – since VWP became – came into existence. They don’t now. And there’s no guarantee that they will in the future. So I just don’t understand why this – you’re making a big deal out of some agreement that is going to – basically says that you’re going to keep looking at the same thing that you’ve been looking at for the last 40 years.
MR MILLER: What I will say – I – so whether we’re making a big deal out of it or not is a relative term. I would say it is —
QUESTION: You guys had the call.
MR MILLER: I would say —
QUESTION: You guys are making the announcement. The Israelis are leaking it left and right.
MR MILLER: I would say it is —
QUESTION: I mean, come on.
MR MILLER: It is Israel that is making changes to their policies. We are not changing the requirements to the Visa Waiver Program. They’re changing —
QUESTION: Okay. So —
MR MILLER: — making changes to their policies. We will monitor them. At the end of this process —
MR MILLER: — we will determine whether they met the requirements for entry or not.
QUESTION: Okay. I mean, is there any concern at all that whatever Israel does – even if they fulfill the – their – what they’re pledging to do – even if they do that – that it will not be entirely equal treatment for Arab Americans, Palestinian Americans, particularly those who have family or live in Gaza? Because if not, you’re looking at a kind of separate-but-equal situation, which I don’t think this administration or any other wants to be a part of.
MR MILLER: I will say that the requirements are very clear, and our understanding of the policy that they are going to announce today is that it will apply to all U.S. citizens, including Palestinian Americans, including Palestinian Americans who are on the Palestinian population registry, but this is not the end of the process. We will be monitoring their compliance with the policies they’re announcing and their compliance with the Visa Waiver Requirements, and we will see at the end of it whether they’ve met the full requirements for entry into the program.
QUESTION: Okay. And what happens if they haven’t – if we get to September 30th – and I realize this is a hypothetical – but if we get to September 30th and they haven’t met all the requirements, they don’t get in, obviously, but do they have to then meet the 3-percent visa rejection rate for the next fiscal year in order to be eligible for entry in 2024?
MR MILLER: So my understanding of this – and we’ll – we’re starting to get into the level of technical detail that’s a little bit beyond my complete and total grasp, but after September 30th we obviously enter a new fiscal year and we start to look at new data for visa entry. And that’s correct.
QUESTION: Okay. So everything goes back to square one —
MR MILLER: Everything resets after September 30th, correct.
QUESTION: All right. Thank you, then.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: May I please follow up on this?
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: So will you have like a special guideline, a litmus kind of guideline, to ensure that Israel is abiding by your regulations and rules? Or would you apply what already is in existence?
MR MILLER: I don’t want to get beyond the announcement – or, sorry, should say ahead of the announcement, which has not yet been made. It will be coming out, my understanding, later today from the Government of Israel. But we have made clear what the requirements are. I just went over what those requirements are. And we expect that Israel will comply with them if they are to merit entry into the Visa Waiver Program.
QUESTION: So still there is a – there’s a lot of confusion, or lack of understanding, at least for me – lack of understanding on what —
MR MILLER: Well, there’s a policy that’s not yet been announced, so I could understand —
QUESTION: I understand. I understand.
MR MILLER: I could understand why you would – why you would not understand it.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) and just – my question is does that include – I mean, I know I asked you about this issue within this room. And that will include all Palestinians, including Gaza Palestinians?
MR MILLER: Again, let me not get ahead of the announcement. Why don’t we wait, see what the announcement looks like today, and we can follow up after that.
QUESTION: No, but – I mean, it is —
MR MILLER: I’m here every day, Said. The announcement will come, and I’m happy —
MR MILLER: After the details are public, I’m happy to talk about them in detail.
QUESTION: And I’m sure I will be asking you —
MR MILLER: I’m sure.
QUESTION: – again on this. But let’s say there are three crossings into Gaza.
MR MILLER: Correct.
QUESTION: The main being Erez Crossing, which I think maybe 2 or 3 percent of those who try can actually get through and so on. So what you’re saying now, under this new regulation, your hope is – so for Israel to be fully qualified to be in this program, they would have to allow anyone with an American passport to go in and out without being hindered, without having to stay for day after day or – I mean, week after week sometimes before they cross. Correct?
MR MILLER: Again, I recognize your eagerness to discuss a policy that has not yet been announced. Why don’t we, if you – with your indulgence, table the question till it’s been announced and we can discuss it in further detail.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
MR MILLER: That’s fine. Go ahead.
MR MILLER: Oh, sorry. Go ahead, go ahead. We’ll come to you next time.
QUESTION: I have a question about the U.S. civil society actors urge the chairman – I don’t know if you’re aware of the situation, but the aid for UNRWA is being held in Congress. Are you in touch with the Hill, with Capitol Hill, on the release of those funds for the Palestinians?
MR MILLER: I’m not going to speak to any conversations that we may or may not be having with Capitol Hill. But I will say that we do support the intended use of the funds in question, which are designed to address worsening food security in Palestinian communities.
All right – go ahead.
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just to follow up on the Travis King case, have you spoken with any partners trying to get information about his whereabouts, whether he’s alive and well? And have you gotten any more information since yesterday?
MR MILLER: We have had conversations. What I will say is that, as you know, yesterday the Pentagon notified the relatives of U.S. Army Private Travis King. The White House, the Pentagon, we here at the State Department, and the UN are all continuing to work together on this matter to ascertain information about the well-being and whereabouts of Private King. We are still gathering facts, and I want to be very clear that the administration has and will continue to actively work to ensure his safety and return him home to his family.
In terms of contacts with foreign governments, yesterday the Pentagon reached out to counterparts in the Korean People’s Army. My understanding is that those communications have not yet been answered. We retain a number of channels though which we can send messages to the DPRK. As you can imagine, in a situation like this, those discussions are quite sensitive and I’m not prepared to go into all the details at this time. What I will say is that we here at the State Department have engaged with counterparts in South Korea and with Sweden on this issue, including here in Washington.
QUESTION: And have you gotten any information about whether he’s alive, what his well-being is?
MR MILLER: We are still gathering information, but we do not have any of those details at this point.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
MR MILLER: Go ahead, Janne.
QUESTION: Yeah. Follow-up. Thank you, Matt. North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missile into the east coast yesterday again. Why do you think North Korea is continuously launching ballistic missiles? And I follow up on that.
MR MILLER: Sure. I will say that we condemn the DPRK’s ballistic missile launches, as we have condemned their previous ballistic missile launches. They are in violation of multiple UNSC resolutions. They pose a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and the international community. We remain committed to a diplomatic approach to the DPRK, call on them to engage in dialogue, and our commitments to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remain ironclad.
QUESTION: Another question on the U.S. soldier’s defecting to North Korea. What is your view on the possibility that North Korea will use this soldier’s defecting to North Korea as leverage in negotiations?
MR MILLER: I wouldn’t want to speculate on any details or any possibilities of what remain – what remains a situation that is under investigation. We are still trying to gather information here about the whereabouts of Private King, and I think it’s appropriate to try and gather that information and ascertain the full facts before speculating on where this might go.
QUESTION: If this soldier wants to stay in North Korea, will the United States not force through his repatriation?
MR MILLER: Again, I don’t want to get into “ifs” before we know the full facts.
MR MILLER: Sure. We have renewed the electricity waiver for a 20th time, again allowing Iraq to render payment for electricity imports into restricted Iranian accounts held at the Trade Bank of Iraq. The one thing that is different about this renewal is that this latest package also expands the waiver to authorize the transfer of funds from those restricted accounts in Iraq to restricted accounts in select third-party banks.
The other terms of this transaction are the same as the previous transaction, which is these funds will remain in accounts where they can only be used for non-sanctionable activity, and with every transaction approved in advance by the Department of Treasury.
QUESTION: Why the declaration of this waiver is 120 days? You – this is the 20th time that you are waiving Iraq. Why it’s not longer time, for a year —
MR MILLER: I can’t get into the exact timeframe.
QUESTION: Yeah. Last week I asked you this question and I will ask it again, about Iraq, Iran gas for oil, barter exchange there. Is this a violation to your sanctions on Iran?
MR MILLER: I will say that this – that we continue to review Iraq’s announced oil for gas swap, including in relation to our current sanctions. We continue to implement all U.S. sanctions on Iran. I will say that, separately, we strongly support Iraq’s path to energy autonomy and efforts by the Iraqi Government to improve essential services they provide to the Iraqi people. I don’t have any further comment than that.
QUESTION: And one last question on Iraq. On Iraqi Kurdistan – Kurdistan region of Iraq has no parliament at this time and it’s not clear if the region could have an election later this year, which they should have last October. The Kurdistan region president has submitted a formal request to the Iraqi Independent High Commission – Electoral Commission to schedule a date for the Kurdistan region election, but still no date has been scheduled. Any engagement or comment on this?
MR MILLER: No.
QUESTION: Israel. Can you follow —
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
MR MILLER: I will say it must be another day that ends in Y if I’m up here discussing another subpoena from Chairman McCaul. We have seen a number of subpoenas from this committee, and the thing that continues to be disappointing about the committee’s actions is that in all of these instances they issue subpoenas when we are in the middle of good-faith negotiations with them about what we can provide to them, consistent with the very real obligations we have to protect certain information.
I will say, as it relates to this particular subpoena that the committee most recently issued, we had already provided a subset of responsive documents, including senior-level memos. Just last Friday, State Department staff were in continued conversations with the committee, where we made clear that future productions were forthcoming. And in the middle of those discussions, the committee short-circuited them and issued its latest subpoena.
I would note, as I have noted before, that the courts have made very clear that they expect congressional committees to engage in communication, negotiations with the Executive Branch in good faith. They can – they ask us for documents; we go back to them and engage about what we can provide, what we may be able to provide under some restricted circumstances, and what documents are harder for us to provide. The courts have expected that the committees would engage with us in good faith. And what we have seen from the committee is a continued short-circuiting of that process, where we think we’re engaging in good faith, and in the middle of those conversations the committee jumps ahead with a subpoena.
So I will say, for our perspective, we will continue to engage with the committee on all of the multiple lines of inquiry that they have opened into this department, just as other committees have opened multiple lines of inquiry into other departments of the U.S. Government. But I would just say issuing back-to-back subpoenas while we are actively responding to their requests cannot be considered acting in good faith.
QUESTION: So the State Department is going to respond to this most recent document request?
MR MILLER: We will continue to engage with them. I will say – I said “continue to engage them.” We were in the middle of conversations about what we could provide in response to their information request when they issued the subpoena. So we will continue to engage in those conversations. We were planning to provide documents; we will continue to plan to provide documents. And we will continue to impress on the committee that while we were in the middle of these discussions about what we actually can provide them, that what we want to provide them, that issuing a subpoena in the middle of that is unhelpful and unproductive.
QUESTION: Can I —
MR MILLER: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just on this. Today is Wednesday, which is another day that ends in the letter Y. Have you gotten a new subpoena from them today? Or was that just —
MR MILLER: No. But it’s 1:40, so we’ll – there’s plenty —
MR MILLER: It’s 1:40. There’s plenty of time left in the day.
QUESTION: And – hold on. And it sounds as though, from what your comments were just now, that you’re getting a little bit exasperated with this, or maybe more than a little bit. I mean, at what point do you – would you say this is now at least borderline harassment?
MR MILLER: It’s not —
QUESTION: And not real oversight?
MR MILLER: I would say that it is unproductive to issue subpoenas when we’re in the middle of these negotiations. I would also say it is inconsistent with the process that the courts have laid out for appropriate, legitimate oversight. The courts have made clear that Congress should not just jump into subpoenas, especially when they’re in the middle of conversations with the Executive Branch about the Executive Branch protecting legitimate Executive Branch equities.
So there are probably a number of words I can use for the committee’s tactics. I will say, for our perspective, we will continue to engage with them in good faith, and all that we would ask is that they do the same.
QUESTION: Okay. But right now you’re saying that they are not engaging in good faith.
MR MILLER: Correct.
QUESTION: And then, look, this is not the only issue on which Chairman McCaul has demanded answers. There’s the Rob Malley situation, there’s stuff on China; in addition to that, you have the House Oversight Committee demanding documents and information about Hunter Biden, about John Kerry’s travel and hiring practices. Is any – are any or all of these affecting your – the department’s ability to do its job?
MR MILLER: I will say I don’t think they are affecting our ability to do our diplomatic missions. They certainly take up a lot of time from our congressional relations staff; they take up a bunch of time from the legal staff. There are other people that get pulled into having to respond to document requests. I will say, though, that comes with the territory. We expect that there’s going to be oversight. We expect that we’re going to have to provide documents. That is the typical process, especially when Congress is controlled by a party different than the administration.
We fully intend to and have been upholding our obligations to cooperate with those oversight requests. The problem is when you start to get multiple subpoenas and – in the middle of document requests that we have already gotten, it does make it more difficult. I’ll just say it makes it more difficult to respond to new document requests when all the staff that are responsible for dealing with those document requests are involved in the previous 10 or 15 or 20 or however many are ongoing.
QUESTION: So has Secretary Blinken reached out to Chairman McCaul to say hey, this is (inaudible)?
MR MILLER: Not specifically. He has had a – he has had conversations with him in the past about oversight matters, but no.
QUESTION: But I mean this week.
MR MILLER: No, not this week.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR MILLER: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Turkish President Erdogan has started a three-state tour to Gulf countries on Monday, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE. He is ending the tour today in Abu Dhabi, where Türkiye and the UAE signed 13 agreements, and with those agreements, Erdogan said the relations between the two countries will rise to the level of strategic partnership. I was wondering if you have any take on that, any comments on Türkiye improving its relations with Gulf countries.
MR MILLER: I would say that we certainly encourage it. We always encourage diplomatic relations between our allies and partners in that region and in others.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Tobias Ellwood, chairman of defense committee of UK’s parliament who recently visited Afghanistan, says that there is progress in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule. He urged the UK Government to re-engage with the Taliban and reopen its embassy in Afghanistan. Do you agree with Ellwood’s assessment, and does the U.S. consider a similar move to prevent what Ellwood says that returning Afghanistan into a bloody war or other crisis?
And second question: A group of Afghan women took to the street today, and they protested on Taliban’s recent ban on beauty salons. We are witness of a lot of pressures on women and girls in Afghanistan. How long this ban and pressures will go on?
MR MILLER: I would just say in respect to the first question, no, we are not reconsidering opening an embassy at this point. We, as do our allies and partners, do engage with the Taliban on some issues. We’ve found that to be productive in certain circumstances. I will say that the – we have always made clear to the Taliban that there are certain steps that we expect them to take if they want to gain any form of international legitimacy, which they are a long way from reaching, if at all possible.
And I will say one of the things that goes into that question of international legitimacy relates to your second question, which is the treatment of women and girls in the country, which continues to be abhorrent. We’ve noted the latest moves by the Taliban, which follow, unfortunately, in a long line of steps they have taken to discriminate against women and girls. We strongly object to those steps, and of course we know that others in the international community take note and they consider those in assessing their relationship with their government.
Yeah, go ahead.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) question. Thank you, Matt. I’ve learned from my Israeli sources that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is seeking to form a unity government with Hamas. Being that Hamas is a genocidal terrorist organization, what does this say about the Palestinian and Arab leadership that wants to embrace a genocidal organization? And I have a follow-up.
MR MILLER: I think I will wait to comment on any actual announcements versus unnamed sources that you might have.
QUESTION: Okay. Another issue you were talking about, UNRWA. The follow-up is with all the American money now flowing into the UN agency UNRWA, what reforms have taken place within USAID and externally to guarantee none of these funds are getting into the coffers of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad? After all, all money is mutually interchangeable, and the UNRWA money frees up money that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad can use to murder and terrorize Jews. Please elaborate.
MR MILLER: I will say we have long had policies and intensive monitoring mechanisms to ensure that the funding we provide does not flow to terrorist organizations.
QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. I have one question, but just few related to it, so if you allow me, please. Yesterday —
MR MILLER: (Laughter.) I feel like I saw this movie yesterday.
QUESTION: Yesterday, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Ms. Elizabeth Horst stated that the whole cipher thing with Pakistan is fake and her boss, Donald Lu, is innocent. And today the interior minister of Pakistan says that the secretary of Imran Khan, who’s gone missing for a month, has now stated in front of the police that Imran Khan basically told him that this whole cipher thing, let’s make up this thing, and try to pressurize the military.
So there is a lot of similarities between the deputy assistant secretary and the interior minister. So the cipher was fake, basically?
MR MILLER: I don’t know how many times I can respond to this question from the podium and give the same answer, which is that these allegations, such as they are, are completely unfounded.
QUESTION: And do you know that for the sedition charges that the interior minister is levying on the former prime minister, the minimum – that sentence is death sentence, the minimum punishment is death sentence?
MR MILLER: I will take your word for it.
QUESTION: So a former prime minister, who was a national hero, and who has huge following in the U.S., who has millions of dollars for his cancer hospital, the U.S. is going to let him be charged on sedition, which is something related to the U.S.? Why doesn’t the U.S. help out with resolving this whole issue?
MR MILLER: I will say, as I have said before, that the U.S. does not involve itself with domestic political questions, and we do not take sides on political parties in Pakistan or any other country.
QUESTION: Just last one –
MR MILLER: Go ahead, Shannon. Go ahead. Let me go ahead. I have to make it to a meeting in a few, so let me try to finish up.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. So Mexico reached out to the U.S. about concerns regarding some barriers that Texas has placed on the border. Now the U.S. arm of the International Boundary and Water Commission for the State Department has tried to reach out to Texas. The State Department says they’ve not gotten any response whatsoever about these barriers. Is there a next step the State Department can take if Texas continues to stonewall?
MR MILLER: Let me take that one back and get an answer.
I’ll do two more, and then I’ll go. Michel, and then (inaudible).
MR MILLER: Yes. I will say that the Secretary met today with the Arab League secretary-general to launch a U.S.-Arab League Strategic Dialogue. This dialogue builds on the 2012 Memorandum of Understanding to identify and enhance areas of cooperation between the United States and the Arab League. The Arab League is a valued partner. They’re a member of the Defeat ISIS Coalition and participate in multiple important diplomatic efforts to address regional conflicts. And we look forward to discussing and working with them on topics including reducing tension in regional conflicts, climate change and health security, information and communications technology infrastructure, and universal values spelled out in the United Nations Charter.
Go ahead. We’ll wrap up.
QUESTION: A couple of questions on Russia, if you don’t mind. Russia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday – or said today it would deem all trips traveling to Ukrainian ports to be potential carriers of military cargo, and their flag countries to be parties to the conflict on the Ukrainian side. Do you have a reaction to this, and how do you interpret the message about ships?
MR MILLER: I will say that Russia continues to use food as a weapon of war. This is the second day in a row we’ve seen the Russian Federation make threats against ships in international water. Yesterday the Kremlin spokesperson made implicit – maybe you would even call it explicit – threats about ships carrying Ukrainian grain, saying that they could not ensure their safety, which I think everyone can figure out what that means. And today you see them doubling down on these threats – again, a second day in a row after launching attacks on Odesa, which is the major port for shipping Ukrainian grain.
So I think it ought to be quite clear to everyone in the world right now that Russia is using food as a weapon of war – not just against the Ukrainian people, but against all the people in the world, especially the most underdeveloped countries who depend on grain from the region.
QUESTION: And then just on the BRICS summit, Putin will not attend the BRICS summit in August in South Africa. Do you have a reaction to this, and have you raised this with South African counterparts? And do you have any update on the AGOA Forum set for Johannesburg in August as well? Lawmakers have called for that to be moved.
MR MILLER: I don’t have any update on the forum. It’s one of the issues that we remain in conversations with the South African Government about, and I won’t comment on those.
I will say with respect to the BRICS forum – the BRICS meeting, however, one of the many ways in which this war has been a strategic failure for Russia is its vastly diminished standing in the world. And there is no better example, no better illustration of its vastly diminished standing in the world, than that the president of Russia, President Putin, can hardly leave his own borders now. He’s an international pariah who can barely leave his own borders for fear of arrest.
We’ll end there. Thank you.
QUESTION: I have a question on —
MR MILLER: I’ve got to wrap. I have a meeting.
(The briefing was concluded at 1:50 p.m.)