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Department Press Briefing – July 20, 2023

1:23 p.m. EDT

MR MILLER: I was about to say that something feels missing in the room.

QUESTION: I’m here. I’m in the room.

MR MILLER: (Laughter.) Something feels different. Nothing to start, so if you’re ready –

QUESTION: Oh, you don’t have anything? Okay. Let’s just start with North Korea and the situation with Private King. And what more do you know, if anything?

MR MILLER: I will say that the case continues to be an extremely high priority for the department. Our diplomatic efforts are ongoing. The White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, of course, are all continuing to work together on this matter to ascertain information about the well-being and whereabouts of Private King. We have relayed messages to the DPRK that Private King crossed on his own and we want him returned safely. We have also asked for more info on his well-being.

I will say that we retain a number of channels through which we can send messages to the DPRK. As I said yesterday, those discussions are quite sensitive; such discussions are quite sensitive, so I’m not going to go into further details at this time. But we remain engaged in this matter and it is a priority for us to seek his safe return.

QUESTION: Does it remain the case that there has been no response from the North Koreans to your multiple avenues of outreach?

MR MILLER: I am not going to get into any potential response from the North Koreans. As I said, such discussions can be quite sensitive. But we have –

QUESTION: I’m not asking what –

MR MILLER: I understand. I –

QUESTION: — the response is. I’m just wondering if they – have they even acknowledged that they’ve got him?

MR MILLER: I understand. All I’m prepared to say today is that we have made clear to them, we have relayed messages to them, that we are seeking information about his welfare, and want him returned safely.

QUESTION: Well, do you have —

MR MILLER: I don’t want to get into whether they’ve responded or not.

QUESTION: Do you have any indication that they’ve actually received – have they acknowledged getting the request for information?

MR MILLER: I will say we are confident that we have the ability to send them messages, and I don’t want to get into – to send them —

QUESTION: Well, all right. I’m confident about your ability to send a message – a message to people, too.

MR MILLER: To send them messages that they —

QUESTION: But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they —

MR MILLER: — that they receive. To send them messages that they receive, which – but I don’t want to get into whether –

QUESTION: So you won’t say whether you know that they have gotten them?

MR MILLER: I’m just going to say we have confidence in our ability to send messages that they receive.

QUESTION: All right.


QUESTION: A follow-up on that. So prior to this case, I wonder if you could talk us through what is the status of relations with – or communications with the North Korean regime. I think when the – this administration came in, there was initially like an outreach, and you were saying for a while that you hadn’t heard a response. So is there a regular, in any form, back and forth between the U.S. and Pyongyang?

MR MILLER: There is no regular contact. I will say communications between our two countries are limited. We have made clear on a number of occasions that we have wanted to have discussions with them about their nuclear program and their violation of UN Security Council resolutions. We have made outreach to them on a number of occasions, but the responses have been limited.

QUESTION: Is there a specific military-to-military line for avoidance of – for deconfliction and that kind of thing?

MR MILLER: I will leave it to the Pentagon to speak to that.

QUESTION: Secretary of the Army said she was worried about how he may be treated, if confirmed. What is your position on that? Is that something you are worried about, how he will be treated inside North Korea?

MR MILLER: Certainly I think we would always have concern, given the treatment by North Koreans of past detained individuals, we would have that concern. And that’s why – one of the reasons why we are reaching out to ask for more information about his well-being.

QUESTION: Just a follow-up on – you said that the U.S. has relayed messages that Private King crossed on his own. Do you say that to mean that he didn’t do so with the support or the encouragement of the U.S. Government?

MR MILLER: Correct.

QUESTION: Okay. And then is there any reason to believe at this time that he had any contact with the North Koreans before crossing over?

MR MILLER: Not that I’m aware of, no.

Anything else on this before we move on? Okay, Said, let’s go to you first.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. Sorry for being late. I don’t know if you said anything at the top about the visa waivers, but I wanted to ask about that.

MR MILLER: I did not.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, first of all, I asked you yesterday whether there is going to be any kind of guidelines to really determine where Israel complies or not, does not comply with its pledge. Do you have any guidelines – special guidelines? Or are they – they’re the same for all countries that have had visa waivers?

MR MILLER: Well, so they’re – the general principles are the same for all countries with respect to compliance with the Visa Waiver Program. Of course, there are always technical considerations that I won’t get into from here that we will be monitoring. There are policy considerations and technical considerations that we will be monitoring to ensure that they are compliant before making any decision about actual entry into the program.

QUESTION: Mm-hmm. Well, it seems that despite the U.S. pledge, it seems that the treatment of – equal treatment for Gazan Americans is just not there.

MR MILLER: So I will say that Israeli authorities have assured us that all U.S. citizens, even those on the population Palestinian registry, will be eligible for visa-free travel. Israel’s regulations and public-facing guidance should reflect this understanding. We do expect that the Israeli Government will further modify its regulations and public-facing guidance in the coming days to fully reflect these understandings. We seek equal treatment regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity for all U.S. citizens, including those who are in Gaza.

QUESTION: And including getting in and out of the Erez Crossing?

MR MILLER: I will say that we of course recognize that the security situation is different in Gaza than in the West Bank, which of course would necessitate different procedures for people who are in Gaza. Nevertheless, it’s our expectations that Americans who are in Gaza are included in this program.

QUESTION: I have a question on Lebanon, but that will wait.

MR MILLER: Okay. Anything else on this? Well, just do your Lebanon question, then. We’ll – go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m sorry?

MR MILLER: You can do your Lebanon question now, if you want.

QUESTION: Oh, okay. Great. Well, the Lebanese –

MR MILLER: I don’t mean to put you – I didn’t mean to put you on the spot. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: It’s okay. The Lebanese Government – the Lebanese lodged a complaint yesterday with the European Union because the European Union seems to be saying that Syrian refugees should remain there. And I was wondering whether this was also the position of the United States Government. Where do you stand on the Syrian refugees in Lebanon? Because there has been a lot of calls to get them out, send them home, whatever.

MR MILLER: First of all, we continue to thank the Lebanese people for their generosity in hosting so many refugees. We acknowledge the strain that such a sustained response has placed on Lebanese society and Lebanese infrastructure. We are concerned by the harmful anti-refugee rhetoric and scapegoating of Syrian refugees in Lebanon. We continue to reiterate that all refugees and displaced persons should be treated humanely, and anyone detained should be afforded all applicable legal protections.

As we have said before with respect to the return of refugees to Syria, any refugee returns should be voluntary, safe, dignified, and coordinated with the UNHCR. We don’t impose – we don’t oppose individual voluntary returns, but as we’ve said, the conditions in Syria today do not allow for organized large-scale returns.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Arab League follow-up?


MR MILLER: You have a follow-up? Yeah, we’ll do a follow-up and then —

QUESTION: Did you discuss the refugee situation – did the Secretary discuss the refugee situation with the Arab League secretary-general yesterday?

MR MILLER: I don’t have a specific readout, but that is typically one of the conversations we discuss with partners in the region.

QUESTION: Okay, on Iraq but I don’t want to take —

MR MILLER: Now you’re jumping in line, but go – go – let me come to you next, because —


QUESTION: I’ll ask on Iraq. Okay. And I saw your statement on the protesters in Iraq and condemning the attacking on the Swedish embassy in Baghdad. Do you have any reaction to the Iraqi prime minister’s decision to expel the Swedish ambassador in Baghdad?

MR MILLER: I would say that we would urge restraint and open dialogue between our partners, Sweden and Iraq, on this issue.

QUESTION: And then what’s your comment to the Muqtada al-Sadr’s comments today? He said that – he said that: I will talk to the American, the U.S. is the country of terrorism and homosexuality country, and they are not allowed to condemning us. Do you have any comments on this?

MR MILLER: Who made that comment?

QUESTION: Muqtada al-Sadr. He is the Shiite cleric in —

MR MILLER: Yeah, yeah, of course. I don’t think I would have any comment on that other than – what was in – what was he specifically reacting to with that comment?

QUESTION: To your statement that you’re condemning Iraq on the protesters. They —

MR MILLER: On the protests? Well, I don’t have any specific reaction to him, obviously, than to say that we strongly condemn the attack on the Swedish embassy in Baghdad, and there is no place for violence and violations of law.

QUESTION: And you know that there Muqtada al-Sadr has a lot of supporters in Iraq when he – he’s taking to the streets and a lot of people doing this protest. Even the – yesterday’s protest was the Muqtada al-Sadr’s supporters. Do you have any concern that maybe this will lead to the protest against the United States in Iraq?

MR MILLER: I would say first of all that just with respect to physical infrastructure, our embassy is located in a different area than the Swedish embassy. In terms of any potential threats to our embassy, we’ve seen no reason to change the posture at our embassy now, but of course we always monitor the situation on the ground. But I would just reiterate that any protests should be peaceful protests. We fully support the right of anyone, anywhere in the world, to protest peacefully on any issue that they may – on which they might want to raise their voice. What we oppose, anywhere in the world, are protests that turn to violence, and unfortunately that’s what we saw last night.

QUESTION: And one last question. The Iraqi president summoned the U.S. ambassador over your remarks about Louis Sako, Cardinal Louis Sako. Are you still on the same page about Louis Sako?

MR MILLER: Yes, absolutely. And I would reiterate that we remain concerned with the harassment of Cardinal Sako. His position as a respected leader of the church is under attack from a militia leader who remains under sanctions, and we will reiterate that concern directly to the Iraqi Government.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR MILLER: Did you want to do one on Iraq? I just – I promised you’d come next.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on that, did you convey your message of condemnation directly to the Iraqi PM? We saw the statement, but did the ambassador reach out to the Iraqi Government?

MR MILLER: I’m not aware whether he had any specific conversations about this, but certainly we generally make such concerns known both publicly and in private diplomatic conversations.

QUESTION: And do you have any comment on the desecration of Qu’ran in front of Iraq embassy in Sweden, given their repeated actions in Sweden? What is the U.S. position on freedom of speech and expression in relation to actions that may be considered offensive to religious beliefs and values?

MR MILLER: Yeah, I’ve spoken to this before and I will say, as I’ve said before, that it is abhorrent for anyone to burn or deface a religious book held in honor by so many people around the world. We appreciate the significance of the holy Qu’ran and other texts.

At the same time, we support the right to peaceful freedom and – peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. We support the right of – to freedom of religion or belief for everyone. So we condemn such acts as the burning of a Qu’ran. We think they are abhorrent. But at the same time, we recognize the right for people to freely exercise their right to expression.


QUESTION: My name is Nazira. I’m from Afghanistan. So this is the first time that I would like to ask my question. Any update about U.S. relationship with the Taliban, number yak?

And the second question: There is so many Afghans who left Afghanistan and they are still in Abu Dhabi’s camp. Their situation is very tough. The weather is so hot and they keep complaining in contact with me or with some other Afghans. Any possibility to expedite their case through maybe State Department?

MR MILLER: I will say on the second question it is an issue on which we continue to remain focused and work. On the first question with respect to the relationship with the Taliban, on a number of different fronts, on – first on the counterterrorism front, we are holding the Taliban to their commitments under the Doha Agreement, including their commitment to Afghanistan not being used as a safe haven to plot terrorist attacks against the United States of America and our allies. We continue to condemn the Taliban’s treatment of women and girls in the country. I spoke to that just yesterday. And we continue to express that there are a number of changes that the Taliban need to make, if they ever wish to achieve the legitimacy that they claim they seek.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: I’m going to change regions, if I may.

MR MILLER: You can do whatever you want. I called on you.

QUESTION: Other Afghanistan? I’d like to speak to Haiti.

MR MILLER: It’s a bit of a potpourri today anyway, so you can —

QUESTION: Potpourri. (Laughter.) Jumping one country to another. Haiti, please. The UN food agency said on Monday that it’s lacking funds for its program for Haiti. In fact, its program now is 16 percent funded – only 16 percent funded for the other half of the year – which means basically they’re going to have to cut their funding for several – tens of thousands of people in food aid in Haiti. So the Haitians are not getting food; they’re getting aid cuts. They’re not getting security. There was a meeting at the Security Council, which didn’t agree on sending an international force of some sorts. So, what are you prepared to do more now on Haiti to set up this force, which the Secretary said was urgently needed? And that’s my question.

MR MILLER: I will say that we continue to work with partner nations to identify a lead nation for a police-driven, multinational force. It is urgently needed, as the Secretary said. I don’t have any updates on that today, but I do hope to have them in the near future.

QUESTION: Can we stay in the region?

MR MILLER: Where’d that come – oh, yeah. All the way in the back. It’s the voice of God in the back. (Laughter.) Not to elevate your status, sorry. It’s already elevated.

QUESTION: Just staying in the region on —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.) (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Just staying in the region, on Jamaica. There are reports that the U.S. is not going to renew the visa for the consul general in Miami. And I wonder if – A, if that’s true, and B, if that’s related to the fact that the Jamaicans won’t accredit the same-sex partner of an American diplomat.

MR MILLER: So I would say two things. Number one, that one of our top priorities is to ensure that privileges and immunities are granted to spouses of personnel assigned to U.S. embassies and consular posts, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identify. The department’s policy regarding the accreditation length of diplomats from missions to the United States however is applied universally, absent a reciprocal accreditation policy. And diplomats accredited to those missions are expected to end their tour after five years and depart the United States.

QUESTION: Right. But you could give a waiver, and you’re not giving a waiver in this case?

MR MILLER: I don’t have – we have not at this point. But I don’t have any further update.

QUESTION: Just a follow up on —


QUESTION: Is there an actual case of a diplomat whose same-sex spouse is being denied those privileges in Jamaica, or is that not accurate?

MR MILLER: It’s a policy concern at this point. It’s a policy concern.

QUESTION: It’s an overall policy concern, not a specific concern.

MR MILLER: Correct.


QUESTION: Second question.

QUESTION: That – wait. That it could happen or that it has happened?

MR MILLER: That it is a policy concern that same-sex spouses would not be granted the same rights and privileges.

QUESTION: Yeah, but has it actually happened?

MR MILLER: I’m not aware of it happening with respect to a specific individual, but —

QUESTION: I mean, it’s a concern of mine that I might get hit by a bus when I walk out onto the street, but —

MR MILLER: It is a concern over a specific policy as it – that could be applied.

QUESTION: Yeah. But it hasn’t been yet?

MR MILLER: Not that I’m aware of.


QUESTION: Different question.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: On human —

MR MILLER: No, no, I’ll come to you soon.

QUESTION: Oh, sorry.

QUESTION: Thanks, Matt. Late in September this year is World Maritime Day and the United Nations is holding events. Iran had offered to hold a parallel event in Tehran, but today apparently the United States shot it down and let them move to reject that offer. Can you expound on that, please?

MR MILLER: You’re right, that the International Maritime Organization today rescinded a decision for Iran to host a World Maritime Day event. I wouldn’t say it’s just the United States. I think the vote was something like 15 to 2; I may have that – with some additional abstentions, I may have the numbers exactly wrong, but I think that’s generally in the ballpark.

But you’re right about our position, which is that Iran has no business hosting any official international gathering related to maritime affairs, because it has repeatedly demonstrated its contempt for international maritime rules, standards, and safety. You’ve seen them interfering with the free navigation of vessels recently, so we did think that it was appropriate that they not be allowed to host this event, and the IMO agreed with that.


QUESTION: A follow up?



MR MILLER: I will come. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Switching over to Russia, I wanted to ask about the new sanctions today, on the 120 individuals and entities. I know their release said that it was to further hold Russia accountable for the war in Ukraine, but is there something specific that prompted these? If you could speak a bit more to why now and why?

MR MILLER: I would say, first, before I – I do want to highlight a couple of the examples, but first to answer that question – so one of the things we made clear when we first started rolling out sanctions – on the first day of the invasion, the immediate days that followed, and then the months since then – is that we would do two things: one, continue to look at ways to impose sanctions on new individuals or new entities that we thought would be appropriate to further our goals of holding Russia accountable, number one; and number two, degrading its ability to conduct the war.

Sometimes those new sanctions come because we’re able to gather new information. Sometimes it’s because we see new entities behaving in a way that they didn’t. A lot of this is technical work that does take time. And then the second thing we continue to do is to look for ways to tighten our sanctions when we see sanctions evasion.

So I will say with respect to these specific examples, if you look, number one, was a leading Russian engineering procurement construction entity that’s directing construction activities for future Russian energy export activities; another was one of Russia’s top producers of metal such as copper, zinc, gold, and silver; five additional Russian financial institutions, so you’ve seen us impose sanctions on Russian financial institutions in the past. So with all these sanctions, what we’re always doing is trying to find additional ways to, as I said: one, hold Russia accountable, and two, choke off its ability to either fund, finance, or construct materials for its war machine.

QUESTION: So this has nothing – the timing doesn’t have anything to do with the Black Sea Grain Initiative?

MR MILLER: No, these sanctions were on track well in advance of Russia’s decision to withdraw.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. Thanks, Matt. Christian persecution is a serious problem in Iran. According to Voice of the Martyrs, a report, its pastors are often arrested, tortured, and imprisoned, and their families are harassed. What are President Biden’s policies in dealing with Iran on this matter? And I have a follow up.

MR MILLER: We continue to support the free exercise of religion everywhere, obviously, including Iran.

QUESTION: Okay. What countries has President Biden imposed sanctions on for persecuting Christians? And has he spoke out on this matter at the UN?

MR MILLER: Let me just say that I just spoke in the last ten minutes, I believe, about the persecution of one Christian leader in Iran’s neighbor, Iraq, and made very clear our concerns on that. So it is obviously a concern that we have. We are concerned about the persecution or mistreatment of any religious figure or any person attempting to exercise their religious beliefs anywhere in the world.

Goyal, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Two questions on human trafficking and human rights, one here in the U.S. in Richmond, Virginia. Yesterday, part of grand jury came up with a human trafficking against two people. They were bringing some people from overseas from India here and using them or exploitation – exploitation was going on at their stores and restaurants or also at gas stations and at home. My question is that many cases have taken place here in the U.S. Many are still going on, but many people don’t report because of fear of persecution but they are threatened to – they take their passports and immigration status and that they – we will report you if you report to anybody. But these two people – part of grand jury yesterday in Richmond – came up that an FBI did investigate. My question here: how the State Department take these human trafficking and the people bring them as – not domestic workers but as visitors – visas on then defraud them and exploit them?

MR MILLER: I would say that we – combatting human trafficking continues to be a major priority for this administration. It’s something that we work with – we work on as part of our diplomacy. It’s obviously a law enforcement matter. I don’t want to speak to the specific case because it is a pending law enforcement case, as you noted.

QUESTION: And second, overseas human trafficking or human rights. Indian American community here, especially the Hindu community, is very much concerned, and they are asking the questions that what is being done in Pakistan that minorities are under attack and Hindus communities are – their temples are burned, and 150-year-old temple in Karachi were leveled to the ground by the authorities there and nobody is taking attack – and dozens of Hindu womens were forced to – what do you call that? They will kidnap, and also the – a lot of things going on against them, even raping and all that. So what message do you think you have here for the Indian American community and Hindu community who are now flooding Pakistan to the U.S. and in India?

MR MILLER: I would say that we support the free exercise of religion anywhere in the world and oppose any attempts or uses of violence to suppress that right of people to exercise their freedom of religion.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, Shannon.

QUESTION: Thanks. Can I just circle back to the King case?


QUESTION: Is this at all typical – what’s your level of concern that you still haven’t been able to get any information on his status, location, if he’s okay, et cetera?

MR MILLER: I’m just going to say that obviously this remains a very sensitive issue for a number of reasons. And I don’t want to go into that level of detail, at least from this podium.

QUESTION: And then shortly after the news broke, a couple hours after, you said the State Department had not reached out to any foreign government on Tuesday. Is there any reason there was a delay from when the incident happened to when the State Department was making contact with foreign governments?

MR MILLER: I would say in the immediate aftermath of the event, the Pentagon had made first contact. We were ready to make contacts at appropriate time. We’re not going to detail all of the channels through which we make those contacts. But as I said today, we have delivered messages to North Korea to make clear that we are seeking information about his well-being and that we want to secure his return.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Jahanzaib from ARY News TV, Pakistan. During the last few days, we have seen a number of terrorist attacks in Pakistan killing civilians and security forces. And according to some media intelligence reports, all attacks were planned in Afghanistan. Pakistan military chief warned the Afghan Taliban of an effective response by his forces if they fail to stop their harboring militants who plot cross-border attacks from Afghanistan. So, we have seen a statement from the White House official about the Taliban for their anti-terror pledges. You just spoke about it. How much confident you are the Taliban will fulfill their promises to not provide safe havens to the terrorists?

MR MILLER: I don’t want to express any amount of confidence or lack of confidence. I will say that we will hold them to their commitments. But as we have said before, we remain – we retain the ability to conduct our own operations in the region to ensure that, regardless of any promises that the Taliban makes and regardless of their relative ability or willingness to uphold them, that we retain the right to protect American interests.

QUESTION: So Pakistan’s ruling party will dissolve parliament soon for the general elections going to be held by November. The stakes are very high for the coming election, and experts believe that the elections in Pakistan unlikely to be free and fair. How does the United States promote and support the principles of free and fair elections in Pakistan?

MR MILLER: So, I will make clear that we support the peaceful upholding of fundamental democratic principles such as free media, free speech, freedom assembly. We champion the rule of law, not just in Pakistan but around the world. These principles are the foundations for democratic elections. I have spoke to this both with respect to Pakistan specifically and of course as it relates to other countries on numerous occasions.


QUESTION: Thank you. Today marks the 49th anniversary of the Turkish invasion to the Republic of Cyprus, which was the first invasion in European soil after World War Two. At the same time, we see President Erdogan in Türkiye calling for a partition of the island. Do you still support the UN resolutions that call for a unification of the island?

MR MILLER: I’ll take that one back.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Excuse me. With regard to China, today’s July 20th, marking 24 years since the Chinese Communist Party launched a deadly persecution against tens of millions of Falun Gong practitioners. The Biden administration has stepped up action in sanctioning individuals responsible for the persecution. However, there are reports on the ground that the persecution continues to persist, organ harvesting continues to persist. So I guess my question is: Does the administration have plans to pressure Beijing further with regard to this?

MR MILLER: I think we’ve made our position clear on this. As you’ve said, we’ve imposed a number of measures already. It’s an issue that remains of concern for us, but we never preview sanctions or other enforcement actions from the podium.

Anything else?

QUESTION: I got one more.

MR MILLER: Go ahead, and then I’ll wrap up.

QUESTION: This has to do with Congress, but it doesn’t have to do with subpoenas. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Foreign – State and Foreign Ops today marked up the – the budget, basically. I presume that you’re happy with the result of that if you even know what it is, because I think it just happened an hour or so ago. But included in that were some – was an amendment related to this case in Cambodia that I’ve raised with you before about Theary Seng —


QUESTION: — which explicitly calls for her to be designated wrongful or unlawfully detained. And I’m just wondering, one, if you support that kind of an amendment, and two, has there been any movement on the consideration of this designation within the building?

MR MILLER: I will do the second one first. I don’t have any update on the status of that consideration. Obviously, as you and I discussed before, we continue to call on her release. And with respect to the amendment, I don’t know that we’ve – I certainly haven’t reviewed it in detail. I don’t know if the building has, so I don’t want to take a position from here.

All right.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Thanks, everyone.

(The briefing was concluded at 1:51 p.m.)

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