Department Press Briefing – April 3, 2024 – United States Department of State

1:37 p.m. ED

MR MILLER: All right. I don’t have anything from the top, so Shaun, do you want to start us today?

QUESTION: Sure. Welcome. I wanted —

MR MILLER: Don’t look at me that way. Yeah, I’m going to call you out on that dirty look you flashed me. You can go second. (Laughter.) Sorry. Meant in jest.

QUESTION: As you might guess, we – I’m sure all of us want to start on the – this issue with the foreign aid workers who were tragically killed in Gaza. What do you make of the Israeli explanation of it? Prime Minister Netanyahu says it was unintentional and that they’re investigating this. Is that enough at this point? What is the United States looking for Israel to do?

MR MILLER: So we are looking for them to do two things – one, to conduct a full, swift, and transparent investigation; and if that investigation shows that accountability is appropriate, then there of course should be accountability. And we will wait to see the results of that investigation before we pass judgment on it. The Israelis have said to us, and they’ve said publicly, that they intend to conduct this investigation swiftly. We want to see it wrapped up as soon as possible and see them put in place any measures to prevent this from happening again in the future.

And that’s – go to the second point that we think we need to see, not just – and they don’t have to wait for the outcome of this investigation to do it – they need to put in place better deconfliction and better coordination measures to protect humanitarian workers and to protect all the civilians on the ground. And it is something that we have consistently said to them over the past few months, is that they need to improve their deconfliction measures and they need to improve their coordination measures.

I saw that the defense minister, Minister Gallant, said that they are going to stand up a situation room to improve coordination between aid workers and the IDF. That’s something that is absolutely critical; it’s something that’s overdue. Secretary Blinken has, in his conversations with Israeli counterparts, made the case for some time that they need to stand up something like that. He raised that with Minister Gallant as recently as last week when he was here in Washington. And so we’re glad to see them do it. It should have been done sooner, but it’s an important step for them to take going forward. But ultimately, as is – as the case with all of the measures they’ve put into place, we’re going to judge them on the results, not the intent.

QUESTION: Now, I mean, there’s – this obviously is something that’s happened before. And not to have a – not exactly this situation, but there was the tragedy with people searching – receiving aid who were killed. If you go even before October 7th, there was the investigation into the killing of Shireen Abu Akleh. I mean, do you think that the Israeli investigations and the U.S. responses have had an impact? Particularly the U.S. responses. I mean, do you think that the – that just saying that you’re going to wait for the Israeli investigation, for the Israelis to act, has had an impact?

MR MILLER: So there have been times that the steps they have put into place because of – at our urging have had an impact, and have had an impact to the – to – have had a positive impact. For example, when the Secretary traveled to Israel and pushed them to implement better deconfliction, we did see an improvement in deconfliction. We saw them evacuating specific neighborhoods instead of just sending blanket evacuation orders across entire stretches of north Gaza, and those did have a positive impact, but they haven’t been sufficient. And so that’s why I made this point at the beginning, that we want to see them take further steps – like the ones that they say they’re standing up – but we’re going to watch, and if there are more things that need to be done, we will of course call on them to do so.

With respect to investigations, look, I don’t want to pass judgment on what this investigation will show, just as you don’t want to pass judgment on what any investigation would show before it’s concluded. It’s important that they conduct a full, transparent, swift investigation. They need to find out exactly what happened, and we will – I’ll wait to pass judgment on it until it’s completed.

QUESTION: Just one more before – following up on that, but I mean, the President himself laid out this aid plan at the State of the Union. It was quite a – the United States was – is it – was very visible on that, saying that – talking about the portable pier and everything. What does this say about that? I mean, is this – is this ruining the U.S. efforts to get aid in? I mean, obviously it – the U.S. can still do it, but tons of aid that were supposed to go in are – have already gone back because of – because of this killing.

MR MILLER: So it will not affect our efforts to stand up the pier to deliver aid through sea. That effort is ongoing. The Pentagon is working hard on that, and I know they brief on that on a regular occasion, and we want to get that stood up as soon as possible. Of course, this strike does reveal the very difficult situation that aid workers on the ground inside Gaza face when it comes to not just receiving aid in Gaza but then actually delivering it. So, for example, and I know we’ve talked about this quite a bit over the past few months, it’s one thing to get aid into Gaza, either through Rafah or Kerem Shalom or through a maritime option when we have that up and running. The real question is being able to distribute it, and that’s of course – it’s in the distribution efforts where we saw this tragic strike take place yesterday.

So it does, of course, raise real concerns about the safety of those aid workers who are doing that dangerous work. And I think it’s important to remember that these were seven tragic deaths yesterday, but over 200 aid workers have lost their lives since this conflict began. So that just reiterates and heightens the need for Israel to do better going forward, and it’s why the steps that Minister Gallant outlined yesterday, we are going to be watching closely to see if they are fully implemented and implemented in a way that yields better results, because there very much need to be better results.

And again, I’ll come back to one point that we often make, and you – you’ve heard me say this; you’ve heard the Secretary say this publicly, but this is a case that we make directly to the Government of Israel. We need – they need to do better in delivering – in allowing humanitarian assistance to be delivered, and in achieving better deconfliction and coordination measures for the benefit of the innocent civilians inside Gaza who are suffering. That’s enough of a reason to do it on its own; that should be enough of a reason to do better. But it is also in Israel’s security interest to do better. And so we will continue to press them to do that.

QUESTION: Just one more. Is – could there be any repercussions for the United States? I mean, I know you’re going to say that you’re waiting for the result of the investigation and everything, but as we’ve discussed, I mean, the – we’ve had this before investigations; we keep seeing these – it wasn’t just these seven; I think there are 208 workers or so who have been killed, by some tallies.

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: So obviously, something’s not happening. Are there more measures that the United States could do, could – more pressure that the United States could employ?

MR MILLER: So we are going to continue to say exactly what we think about this publicly, we’re going to say exactly what we think about this privately, we’re going to offer our best advice to them on things that they could do better, and we are going to push them to do better, as we have done since the beginning.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Matt, there’s been reporting in Israeli media about how the attack has taken place. Basically it said the drone fired three missiles in succession and, like, each of them sort of struck one of the cars. And Reuters just – we have an interview with José Andrés, actually, just on our wire. And he told us that the Israeli army targeted the convoy, quote, “systematically car by car.” And president – Prime Minister Netanyahu talked about this being a mistake and unintentional. How do you reconcile those two, the reporting and what José Andrés is saying, and what Prime Minister Netanyahu is saying?

MR MILLER: So two things about that. So, number one, the chief of staff for the Israeli Defense Forces has come out and said it’s a – it was a misidentification. So while they were – I took that to mean while they were targeting those cars, they did not believe that it was a World Central Kitchen that was operating those vehicles at the time. But that said, we need to wait and see the outcome of this investigation to know with any confidence what it was that happened, and we’re going to wait to do that.

But the second thing is – the second point is, it doesn’t really matter how they made the mistake. At the end of the day, you have seven dead aid workers who were there trying to deliver humanitarian assistance. So whatever the reason was that led to this tragedy, whatever the mistake that happened inside the IDF, it’s unacceptable, and they need to do better, and they need to put measures in place to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

QUESTION: And given there was an American citizen killed in this attack, why isn’t the United States conducting its own investigation?

MR MILLER: So we don’t conduct investigations of the type I believe you’re referring to from this building, so I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t presume to speak to any.

QUESTION: The – I mean, could the administration consider sort of Department of Justice can do that, FBI can do that?

MR MILLER: Again, that – we don’t conduct that type of investigation from the State Department. I’m not going to speak on behalf of any other agency.

QUESTION: And I just want to ask the evergreen question. We’ve reported, and other media outlets have reported as well, that U.S. – that the administration is looking at furthering a big $18 billion aircraft package, weapons package, to Israel. We reported that earlier this week. And looking at President Biden’s statement last night saying, like, this is not a one-off, there are – and you just talked about the number of humanitarian workers who’ve been killed. There are a lot of journalists who’ve been killed. Doesn’t this kind of, like – given the accusations of disregard for noncombatants by the IDF, doesn’t this kind of incident make U.S. stop and reconsider its arms sales or military aid to Israel?

MR MILLER: So let me say two things with respect to that question. Number one, with respect to some of the reporting that we’ve seen over the past few weeks about arms transfers or potential arms transfers to Israel, some of which we have not officially notified to Congress and have not moved forward on at all, but a lot of those are with respect to weapon systems that would not be delivered for years – long after, hopefully, the conflict in Gaza has been resolved. It’s something we’re –

QUESTION: But I’m not – I’m not entirely —

MR MILLER: No, no – but no – I just want to say that I think it’s important to – because it does go to the exact point. We have had a longstanding security relationship with the State of Israel that predates this administration, that predates the current government in Israel. And that has existed through Democratic and Republican administrations in Washington, and through governments of different parties in Israel, because we are committed to Israel’s long-term security.

So when I get questions and when I see some of the reporting about arms transfers or potential arms transfers to Israel, some of which started years ago or were approved years ago, and some of which relate to systems that won’t be delivered until years down the road, I think it’s important to put in context that those relate to our overall security relationship with Israel and our overall commitment to Israel’s defense against a number of adversaries that it faces in the region that are committed to the destruction of Israel.

Now, with respect – with respect to the question I know that you’re getting at, which we’ve addressed a number of times here, we continue to be committed to Israel’s defense, but we continue to press them consistently to ensure that they fully comply with international humanitarian law; and, critically, that when they do make mistakes, as they very well – they very obviously did yesterday, that they are transparent about those mistakes, that they investigate them, and, if appropriate, there’s accountability.

QUESTION: I’m not entirely sure how the delivery date for this being down the line four years, five years, has an impact on your decision-making today because you’re making the decision today with the information that you know there are, like, various accusations about Israeli military’s conduct in Gaza; elsewhere there are incidents that the State Department is looking at whether Israel has breached international rules – like humanitarian law – so I’m not entirely sure how relevant it is that the delivery of those are, like, down the line. But – just one last thing. You said a minute ago – so you talked about misidentification. Are you referring to the video of Israel chief of staff, or are you —

MR MILLER: Correct.

QUESTION: I mean —

MR MILLER: Yeah, correct. The statement he said publicly.

QUESTION: And also is that what Israel – is that what U.S. Government have been told, that it was a misidentification?

MR MILLER: They have told us – they have told us the same things privately that they have said publicly.

QUESTION: But I mean, that – they took the strike, but they didn’t – they weren’t aware that it was a WCK convoy?

MR MILLER: I am not going to – they have – they have – as I said, the thing that – the point about misidentification that General Halevi said in that public statement is what they have communicated to us privately. I’m not going to get further into the conversations, but ultimately what’s important is that they conduct an investigation to identify how that mistake happened – exactly how it happened and what they can do to prevent it from happening in the future?

QUESTION: So —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: — a short follow-up on that. Also, in the IDF statement, Halevi said that the misidentification was at night. Is that the understanding of the U.S. Government as well? And can you shed any light on why aid convoys are traveling at night at the moment?

MR MILLER: I don’t have any reason to dispute that statement. And with respect to aid convoys traveling at night, I think they – they travel at different times during the day, but some of them, especially those traveling to the north of Gaza where the aid situation has been much more restricted and there’s been much – a more desperate humanitarian situation, sometimes they’ve been traveling at night to minimize the scenes like we saw several weeks ago where you saw stampedes of desperate individuals trying to rush out and take aid from the trucks. So they’ve been trying to move at times that would mitigate the risk of that happening.

QUESTION: And just one —

MR MILLER: But I – they also do move during the day. They don’t move only at night.

QUESTION: Okay. And one on just timing. I know you say a swift investigation. Can you give us any more detail whether this is days, weeks —

MR MILLER: I would defer to the Government of Israel to speak to that. We want to see it happen as soon as possible while ensuring that it is thorough and gets to the actual bottom of what happened.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Just one more on this and then a question on the Benny Gantz comments from today. So has the Government of Israel shared with you any information that prove that this was what they’re saying, a misidentification, or are you just trusting that at this point?

MR MILLER: They – what we are trusting is that they’re going to conduct a full investigation. But that said, we will look at how that investigation is conducted, we will look at the results of that, and then we will pass judgment on it. So I don’t want to pass judgment on anything that they have said privately or publicly until they’ve conducted a full investigation. And I only say that because, as is true with our own military, as is true with militaries around the world, oftentimes the early events of what happened don’t bear out when you conduct a full investigation into the underlying facts. So we’re going to wait and pass judgment when we see the full results.

QUESTION: But in a way you’re passing judgment by standing up there and saying it was a misidentification already before you have the actual facts before you.

MR MILLER: I don’t have any reason to dispute that, but we will pass – we will wait and see the full investigation.

QUESTION: Okay. Benny Gantz, Israeli war cabinet minister, said today that he would call for parliamentary elections in September. What is the U.S. response to that? Would you support such elections taking place?

MR MILLER: That is entirely a decision for the Israeli people and the Israeli – members of Israeli Government to make.

Yeah, go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) something that Humeyra asked? When you’re talking about three strikes on this convoy, I mean, even if we take at face value that it’s just a misidentification, I mean, is that appropriate? I mean, you have a convoy which is apparently clearly marked by aid, but if it’s – whoever it was in there – having three strikes, so systematically destroying it – is – do you think that’s an appropriate way to go at —

MR MILLER: I – it’s hard to comment on that without getting into a hypothetical. You can obviously see a scenario if they were a convoy of clear terrorists, that it might be appropriate. That obviously was not the case here. So I think we will wait, as I said, for the results of the investigation to pass judgment on how this mistake happened. But as I said, it ultimately doesn’t matter whether it was three or two – they killed seven aid workers. How ever they made the mistake, it resulted in a tragedy that should have never happened, and that’s what they need to prevent from happening again.

QUESTION: Can I – can I —

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Thank you. On the investigation, Matt, do you believe that Israel’s record in investigating itself is a good record? They have come up with good results in the past? I mean, there have been – there has been so many investigations. Can you cite one investigation where they actually came clean?

MR MILLER: So they have spoken to a number of investigations, including one where you had members of the IDF who behaved inappropriately inside a mosque, and they spoke to those members being disciplined. They have spoken to a number of other investigations that they have ongoing. I’ve read comments last week from the chief lawyer inside the IDF who talked about a number of ongoing investigations they have. But ultimately, let’s just wait, see what the investigation comes up with, and then we can make our judgments.

QUESTION: Okay. Now, I have a couple more – just bear with me. On the misidentification, so when they say misidentification, does that tell us that they were actually after three-car convoy that had Hamas fighters in it and they were targeting, or – I mean, movement of fighters by cars, which is obviously unusual and so on? Is that – is that what you think they meant?

MR MILLER: I don’t know what they were after. And ultimately, as I said, it doesn’t really matter what they were intending to do, because what they did do was kill seven aid workers, and it’s unacceptable and should not happen again.

QUESTION: Okay. So there’s been about 196, I believe, 196 aid workers killed in Gaza; 175 UN workers, including UNRWA workers and so on. So I want to ask you: Do you believe there’s any kind of – what is different about this strike, the fact that this particular strike was – owned or headed by a famous chef and it had citizens of Canada and Australia and Britain and the United States, and not just Palestinians. Is that the only difference for this strike to garner such a great deal of space and to engender the anger of the President of the United States of America and your anger?

MR MILLER: So Said, I won’t speak to why anyone strike gathers more attention than others. That’s a decision is largely not made by the United States Government. I will say, when it comes to the United States Government speaking out, we have talked at length about the need for Israel to do more to minimize civilian harm and minimize death to aid workers. That didn’t start this week with these deaths, this – the tragic death of these seven World Central Kitchen workers. We have talked about it for some time and we have pressed the Israeli Government to do better and offered them ideas on how to do better. And as I said at the outset, one of those ideas was to stand up the kind of situation room that they are now standing up.

QUESTION: Last question, on Rafah and the meeting that took place on Monday. It seems that there are deep differences between the United States of America and Israel on the Rafah invasion. Can you update us on what’s going on? What will the United States – what does the United States expect – does it – what does the United States expect Israel to do? Because we’re talking about movement of maybe one and a half million people.

MR MILLER: We – I couldn’t tell if you were – I was just going to jump in, and sometimes I’ve jumped in and you —

QUESTION: No, please, please. Go ahead.

MR MILLER: — you’ve not been done with the question, so I didn’t want to interrupt you.

QUESTION: No, I’m fine. Go ahead.

MR MILLER: So with respect to a potential operation in Rafah, what we have made clear to them is we share the goal of dismantling the remaining Hamas battalions that are – that exist in Rafah and do pose a legitimate security threat to the State of Israel and the people of Israel. But we do not want them to conduct a full-scale operation that we believe would not only lead to a high number of civilian deaths and would hinder the delivery of humanitarian assistance, but would ultimately weaken Israel’s security. So what we did in that meeting that the Secretary attended at the White House a couple of days ago is to offer them our best advice on other ways to accomplish that mission. And we will have follow-up meetings in the coming days to further that conversation.

Go ahead. I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. So you said that we have seven dead international aid workers and you want to avoid seeing more killing in the future. So therefore, you said that you asked Israel to coordinate better and to establish deconflicting zones. But this is contradict with what exactly happened with World Central Kitchen. They coordinated with Israelis to every detail and they went into exactly the deconflict – deconflicting zone on the beach, and yet they were targeted. So how this applies now? What difference does it make?

MR MILLER: That has been – that is exactly the point I was making. They have had deconfliction measures, they have had coordination measures to try to prevent tragedies like this from happening, and they haven’t worked well enough. Clearly they haven’t worked well enough when you see not just these seven aid workers that have been killed, but over 200 aid workers that have been killed since the outset of this conflict. And so they need to do a better job. Some of this has been bureaucratic with aid workers not talking to the – having the right – with the IDF not having set up the right channels to communicate with aid workers and messages not getting passed back and forth.

But as I said, ultimately, whatever the details are that broke down here, the result is unacceptable, and that’s why they need to do better. And so that’s why they need to have improved deconfliction and coordination measures to prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.

QUESTION: Okay. So as a result of the killing of the World Central Kitchen staff – also Anera, which is an American NGO, suspended their work in delivering aid to Gaza. And before that, UNRWA was targeted by the Israelis of saying there is some people who are involved in the October 7 attack, and we’re still waiting for the investigation. So practically, three of the vital organizations that providing aid to Gaza either suspended their work or they don’t have enough fund to help the people who are starving in Gaza.

Some people believe that this actually is kind of a strategy on behalf of the Israelis to use food as a weapon of war and to prevent Gazans of receiving the aid, and therefore forcing them to leave, as some kind of strategy by Prime Minister Netanyahu. Do you see it? Can you entertain this for a second, this thought that actually this is not a mistake or unintentional or haphazard or was accident, but actually there is some kind of thought process that get into it by the Israelis.

MR MILLER: So a few things just in the preface to the question first. So with respect to UNRWA, it’s not just the Israeli Government that found that there were UNRWA workers that participated in the terrorist attacks – it was UNRWA itself. And I think that’s always an important thing to remember, UNRWA itself that actually briefed the United States on its own findings.

With respect to UNRWA, it does continue to operate. Obviously it’s faced funding challenges, but you’ve seen a number of countries who have resumed their funding. And UNRWA is continuing to do important work on the ground now – vital work – that we want to see continued. So while they have faced funding challenges, they are continuing to deliver humanitarian assistance inside Gaza, and it’s critical that that work continue. I – obviously there are organizations that are going to look at what happened the other day now and be worried about the safety and security of their employees. How could they not be? And so it is why it is incumbent on the Government of Israel to institute better measures to give confidence to aid workers that their employee – or to give aid organizations that their employees won’t be killed just trying to deliver humanitarian assistance.

With respect to the overall policy, look, I can just speak to what the Government of Israel has said and what they have done. So they have said they want to see humanitarian assistance come in and they have allowed humanitarian assistance to come in through Rafah, through Kerem Shalom, through the 96 gate. They’re working with us on this maritime option that we are standing up with the cooperation of other countries in the region. But in all of these circumstances, it has been not enough. It has been too little. It has been plagued in many cases by bureaucratic delays and bureaucratic obstacles that we are continuing to try to work through.

But it’s kind of the same thing as – with respect to – it’s the same point I’m making with respect to these deaths. Whatever the reason the number – the amount of humanitarian assistance hasn’t gotten in at the levels it should had, the ultimate fact is the fact, which is not enough food, not enough water is getting in right now. And the Government of Israel needs to do more to allow it to get in and to facilitate it getting in.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you. Just want to follow up Said’s questions on nearly 200 aid workers killed in Gaza and your – difference in your approach. President Biden yesterday expressed outrage over the killing of seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen in Gaza. Is the administration also outraged by the killing of nearly 200 aid workers, 100 journalists, 30,000 – 33,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children? Are you outraged by this too?

MR MILLER: We are outraged by every loss of civilian life in Gaza. And you have heard the President speak to this, you’ve heard the Secretary speak to this in saying far too many civilians have been killed, too many aid workers have died in this conflict, too many journalists have died in this conflict, and we want to see Israel do a better job in minimizing all of those casualties.

QUESTION: Just one more on that. Biden also, in the same statement, said that Israel has not done enough to protect aid workers and civilians. And you yourself said that you have repeatedly urged Israel to take some steps to minimize civilian harm in Gaza. If there are steps that Israel needs to take and Israel chooses not to take them, doesn’t that mean that Israel is deliberately attacking aid workers and civilians?

MR MILLER: No, I don’t think you can necessarily make that conclusion because there —

QUESTION: Why?

MR MILLER: Because sometimes there are bureaucratic obstacles that are presented. And we try to work through those bureaucratic obstacles. But —

QUESTION: How do you explain the killing 33,000 Palestinians, then?

MR MILLER: So partly this is because Israel is operating in an incredibly difficult environment where Hamas hides behind human shields. They’re operating in an urban environment where Hamas has constructed tunnels beneath apartment buildings, hides in mosques, hides in hospitals, even hospitals that – like al-Shifa that Israel had cleared. Hamas returns to those hospitals. And so it is an incredibly difficult environment, and the Israeli Defense Forces face real challenges —

QUESTION: But does this justify killing of civilians?

MR MILLER: Real challenges – but I’ll say it does not minimize at all their responsibility to do everything possible to prevent taking civilian life.

Tom.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on the several questions about the value of investigations after actions by the IDF, I mean, you have called numerous times for investigations after Palestinians have been killed in recent years. Some of those have been U.S. citizens. In the last two years, Omar Assad, February 2022, found dead after being detained by Israeli soldiers. You called for a thorough criminal investigation, full accountability. Shireen Abu Akleh, as we know, May 2022, a U.S. citizen – you called for a full investigation. June 2023, Omar Qatin, a U.S. resident in Turmus Ayya, which is a town full of U.S. passport holders in the West Bank – you called for full accountability and justice. I haven’t – what – are you satisfied with the outcome of those three investigations, for a start? And then what should we read into your call for an investigation in this case —

MR MILLER: So I can’t speak to the specifics of every one of those investigations. Some of them predate my —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: I would say some of them predate my time here before I was working at the State Department. I can say with respect to the investigation of Shireen Abu Akleh, of course, we called on Israel to investigate and we also called on them to cooperate with our investigation. And they did cooperate with our investigation that the U.S. security coordinator conducted that concluded that gunfire from IDF positions was likely responsible for her tragic death. And so there were steps that they took to cooperate with the investigation that we had.

Ultimately, as it pertains to the deaths of – and I should say there are two other cases that are ongoing right now, one of American citizens who were killed in the West Bank, one that’s being conducted by – one investigation that’s being conducted by Israeli law enforcement, one that’s being conducted by Palestinian Authority law enforcement. And in all of those cases, we want the same thing. We want a full investigation. We want to – it to happen as quickly as possible, but we don’t want that swiftness to come at the expense of thoroughness. Ultimately, it’s important that they get it right.

And then with respect to all of them, we will make judgments on a case-by-case basis on whether that investigation was conducted fully and appropriately and led to appropriate outcomes and results.

QUESTION: I mean, B’Tselem, which is a very well respected Israeli human rights group, several years ago said it would stop cooperating with military investigations in Israel because – in its words – they are “nothing more than a masquerade.” Do you see that view? Do you have any sympathy with it?

MR MILLER: Let me just say with respect to – I think we’re all going to have a chance, the entire world, including the journalists in this room, including the United States Government, to look at an investigation being conducted by the Israeli Defense Forces with respect to the killing of these World Central Kitchen workers, and we are all going to be able to make our own independent judgments about the thoroughness and the reliability of that investigation. I know that we will do so, and I’m sure that all of you as well – will as well.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR MILLER: Yeah, let’s stay on. Alex, I’m just —

QUESTION: Yes.

MR MILLER: I’ll come back to you. Stay on – I’m sure we’ll stay in the region.

QUESTION: Matt, just want to follow up on Said and a Rabiyah question regarding this attack on WCK convoy. It’s not an isolated incident. Been attacks on conveys before, on UNRWA’s storage facilities; people queuing for aid in Gaza have been also targeted by Israel forces. And now you’re calling them for an investigation. You’re calling them to change some – to make some changes so this incident doesn’t happen again. But don’t you think that the U.S. soft approach toward Israel in this war also let them to get away with it, for example?

MR MILLER: So I would —

QUESTION: (Inaudible) do that?

MR MILLER: Sorry, sorry. I would disagree with the characterization. We have on a number of occasions pressed them to do more on deconfliction measures, on protection of civilians, and they have taken steps that have been important; in most cases – nearly all cases – not enough, but steps that have been tangible and that have produced results. But we want to see them do better, and that’s why we’ll continue to engage with them on that – in that regard.

QUESTION: But do you think it was better enough? Let’s say, I mean, that northern Gaza is on the verge of famine already. Aid are not coming in for a while now, for months. Your pressing the Israelis’ counterparts, it seems that doesn’t yield results any more.

MR MILLER: So I will say that you can look back at the history of our engagements with the Government of Israel and show where it has produced tangible results. And that includes in the immediate aftermath of October 7th, right up to the recent history, starting with the first trip that the Secretary made to the region when he urged the Government of Israel to open Rafah, and then the President came two days later and cemented that agreement to open Rafah, which allowed humanitarian assistance to get in.

We then engaged with them to urge the opening of Kerem Shalom, which is an important step to allowing more humanitarian assistance to get in. The same thing is what led to the opening of the 96th gate in the north, the same thing that led to flour coming in through Ashdod, the same thing that is leading to the opening of a maritime route to get more humanitarian assistance in.

When it comes to deconfliction measures, it was our involvement that led to them to implement a humanitarian pause, not just the pause of one week, but three-hour pauses with four hours’ notice in the early days of the war when they were bombing neighborhoods, oftentimes with kind of blanket notices but not with any kind of specificity. And it was our involvement that led them to start offering those pauses. It is our involvement that led to them offering, as I said earlier, specific neighborhood evacuation orders rather than just these blanket orders.

That said, in all of these cases, we want to see them do more and we want to see them do better. We want to see them to do more to let humanitarian assistance in and to protect civilian lives. And that is why we are consistently engaged with them, from the President of the United States, to the Secretary of State, to our team on the ground, and everyone in the United States Government who works on this matter.

QUESTION: The last – my last question about the statement that issued by the White House’s today on the – President Biden’s statement regarding this attack on – the latest attack on the convoy. The President sounded outraged and heartbroken, and blamed Israel that they are not doing enough to protect aid workers. Does this language signal a change in policy, or is just a statement regarding this incident?

MR MILLER: It was a statement about this incident. But it’s not a change in policy because we have always, as I said, consistently been telling the Government of Israel that they need to do more to protect aid workers and civilians and journalists. Now, we’re glad to see them taking additional measures now; as I said, those measures were overdue. We’ve been urging them to do them from some time – for some time. But this has always been the policy that we have clearly communicated to them that we want them to follow.

Camilla.

QUESTION: Matt, sorry, just one on the U.S.-Canadian dual national who was amongst those killed. World Central Kitchen has also named him. Can you confirm that the State Department has reached out to his family, and what if any consular support the U.S. can give?

MR MILLER: We have reached out to his family. We reached out to his family yesterday to offer our condolences and to offer any consular assistance that we can provide. That is always our standard practice in these cases when we see an American citizen who has tragically lost their life overseas. We offer any type of assistance that we can to facilitate whatever they need in the wake of this tragedy. And we’ll keep, obviously, the details of that private, but we have been in touch with his family.

Let me just make sure. Stay in the – finish up on Gaza before – go ahead. Guita, sorry.

QUESTION: Thanks. In the neighborhood?

MR MILLER: In the neighborhood, yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you. Regarding the attack on the Iranian facility in Damascus, I was wondering, well, we know that the United States has sent messages to Iran saying that it was not involved. It had no idea of this operation. I was wondering what – how was the American message received? Was it accepted, do you think, considering that there are now a number of officials threatening retaliation?

MR MILLER: So I am not going to speak to how it might have been received. The Iranians can speak for theirselves. I will just say that we made very clear to the Iranians that we had no involvement in this strike, we didn’t know about it at the time, and we warned them not to use this attack as a pretext to attack U.S. facilities or personnel.

QUESTION: Since then, have you – has the administration possibly followed up with reaching out to an intermediary, somebody that – a country that Iran trusts – to hone in that message?

MR MILLER: I am not going to speak to our range of diplomatic engagements, but as we have made clear over a number of months, we have the ability to send messages, very clear messages, to Iran both directly and indirectly, and we do so when it’s in our interest.

QUESTION: Matt, do you know if – have you – has the administration been able to ascertain the – that the facility, the Iranian facility, was indeed a diplomatic one, as Iran claims?

MR MILLER: We are still gathering details about what it – what precisely type of facility that was.

QUESTION: And given the Iranian response or threats, are U.S. interests – troops – in the region and across the world, have they been put on alert?

MR MILLER: So I would defer to the Pentagon to speak to that. Obviously, we have been broadly – excuse me – we have been broadly – and I’m not speaking on behalf of the Pentagon but just on behalf of the State Department – broadly concerned about escalation since October 7th, and if you’ve seen us take a number of steps over time with respect to our embassies. We are constantly monitoring the situation and making assessments about the precise threat environment at any given day. But I don’t have any updates to posture to announce. And with respect to American forces in the region, I would defer to the Pentagon for comment.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much. Two questions, basically. First question specifically: For you being diplomat, do you think so attacking diplomatic missions and diplomats in an area that is dedicated or declared a diplomatic mission? It sounds like the U.S. have no condemnation on this Israeli strike. It will be another continuation for Israel, another signal to continue this effort. Because the attack, where it happened, that location were adjacent to other missions, like Iranian mission is right next to it. So what is your comment?

MR MILLER: We do not support attacks on diplomatic facilities, but as I said in response to Guita’s question, we’re still gathering information about what type of facility this was.

QUESTION: And my other question is regarding the United States position on the strong support to Indian opposition as the State Department issued many statements in the support of Delhi Chief Minister Kejriwal and then the (inaudible) of Congress. So it seemed like United States have very strong position to – to condemning the attempts to silence the opposition in India. But regarding the political prisoners in Pakistan, specifically the female prisoners that are still behind the bars of a many political charges. So why so strong position for Indian opposition and nothing for the Pakistani political prisoners?

MR MILLER: So I would – I would – I would not agree with that characterization. We have made clear on a number of occasions that we want to see everyone in Pakistan treated consistent with the rule of law, treated with respect for human rights, as is our position with respect to any country in the world.

QUESTION: The female prisoners —

MR MILLER: (Inaudible) go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you, Matt. It’s been 110 days since journalist Samer Abu Daqqa was killed; 65 days since six-year-old Hind Rajab, her family, the medics sent to save her were killed. Per Shaun and other colleagues’ earliest question, today should be Shireen Abu Akleh’s birthday, our Palestinian-American colleague, I might add, killed in 2022. So I’m wondering if you have updates on not just the investigations but actual accountability measures in response to these? And if not, how can this administration’s approach of relegating things to months-long investigations while not changing policy – all as thousands more are killed – be a justified approach?

MR MILLER: So I would say that with respect to Shireen, I did speak to that a moment ago. We can —

QUESTION: Right, but in terms of accountability measures as well.

MR MILLER: Yeah, I know. I know. We condemned her killing when it happened. We still condemn it now. There was an investigation conducted by the United States that found no reason to believe that that death was intentional, but it is a tragedy nonetheless. With respect to investigations – and, look, this is – I used to have to answer questions on behalf of the Justice Department that were very similar to this – investigations in some cases take time. You heard me a minute ago say we want them in every case to be conducted swiftly but not at the expense of thoroughness. And that is our position with respect to these investigations in Israel; it is our position with respect to investigations anywhere in the world, whether they impacted American citizens or they involve other types of tragedy. So we will continue to press for not just full investigations but, when warranted, all appropriate accountability measures.

QUESTION: But so – yeah, like, given that approach, I understand; but given, again, that thousands of people have been killed since these instances I’ve laid out – Hind Rajab’s killing, the journalist’s killing – like, how is this justified given – and as you’ve said yourself, like, the material consequences of these things matter. The fact that seven aid workers have been killed matters. So how can this approach continue to be justified if – well, at the end, what matters is thousands of people continue to be killed with no change in policy.

MR MILLER: So there are two things here. I think one is with respect to investigations, and we want to see accountability measures, when appropriate, for people who have behaved inappropriately, in violation of IDF code of conduct or in violation of international humanitarian law, we want to see accountability inside the Israeli system. But it’s also true that we have pressed the government to enact operational changes to prevent further civilian loss of life. And we have seen them – as I have spoken to at length – enact changes over time. Those haven’t been sufficient. We have seen Minister Gallant announce new changes that they are putting in place just yesterday, and we are going to watch those and make our judgments based on how they work.

QUESTION: Finally, one more. As our colleagues have pointed out, hundreds of aid workers, doctors, volunteers have been killed even before this week. U.S. has cut funding to UNRWA, the World Central Kitchen is pausing operations, Anera is pausing, all out of fear of their workers being killed. And you think of, for instance, the Mr. Rogers quote, the infamous Mr. Rogers quote, if you’ll humor me: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things on the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” I imagine you and your colleagues have come into this work hopefully trying to be helpers, too. So I wonder, what’s the United States’s message to the helpers in the world trying to help people in Gaza, given those helpers are being killed with American military aid?

MR MILLER: So you saw the Secretary speak to this not the – with a very similar quote yesterday, speaking in Paris about how aid workers are the helpers that run into conflict to provide help to those who need it. And our message to them is what it has been throughout this conflict, that we support the work that you do, we fund the work that aid organizations do in Israel, in Gaza, all around the world, and we want to see that work continue, and we will continue to make very clear to the Government of Israel that it needs to do much better to protect those workers from harm.

All right. Any more in the region before move on?

QUESTION: It’s a – one follow-up question.

MR MILLER: We’ll finish here, and then I’ll take a few.

QUESTION: When you said that you don’t expect that this attack is going to impact the humanitarian pier being set up and the support from that pier getting to where it needs to go, I assume, or are you —

MR MILLER: No, I was – what I was speaking to is the – you have to – when you think about the pier, you have to think about the same way as I think delivery through Rafah or anywhere else. There is both getting aid in through the pier and into Gaza, that’s the first step; and then there’s the delivery of that aid inside Gaza.

QUESTION: Sure.

MR MILLER: We do not expect that it would impact the first; of course, the ability of humanitarian aid workers to deliver aid inside Gaza, which is what we saw tragically impacted yesterday, continues to be an ongoing concern. And so it’s why it’s important that the Government of Israel improve deconfliction and coordination measures.

QUESTION: So could this incident delay that pier being up and running and getting the support to people?

MR MILLER: I would refer to the Pentagon for any comment about the timeline of this pier, which you should not read into one way or the other, other than that it’s a project that they are managing. It’s just something I’ve never been able to speak to from here.

Humeyra.

QUESTION: Just on – to follow up on that one, actually, have you had since yesterday any conversations with any – with Pentagon or with any possible humanitarian aid partners on the ground about how concerned they are because now it would be expected that perhaps they would look for additional measures to ensure their safety and security?

MR MILLER: We’ve had a number of conversations with humanitarian aid organizations who, as you might expect, as you would obviously expect, are incredibly concerned about what happened. But the sad truth is – as we’ve spoken to, as some of you have mentioned in your questions I’ve spoken to – these are not the first death of aid workers. There have been 200 aid workers that have been killed. So the very sad truth is that the workers doing this important work are aware of the risk, because they’re living with them every day and are putting their lives potentially on the line to deliver humanitarian assistance.

So what we have heard from aid groups is they want to see the Government of Israel do better, and that’s what we have pushed the Government of Israel to do.

QUESTION: And have you picked a partner on who’s going to distribute from that pier, who’s going to pick it up from the pier?

MR MILLER: I’m not aware of any further updates or developments on that question. It’s something we’re continuing to work through.

QUESTION: Just a couple of other things. Is it the State Department’s or is it U.S. understanding that there are – there is already famine in Gaza? You have warned of imminent risk, but is it your understanding that there is already famine in —

MR MILLER: I am not aware of an assessment that there is currently famine. Now, there are places where we have a lack of information, particularly in northern Gaza, where it is very clear that there is acute food insecurity and there is a potential for famine. What’s actually occurring on the ground is very difficult to know. Bottom line is there needs to be more food delivered to people who desperately need it, because if famine is not already occurring, there are at least parts of Gaza that are on the brink of famine, and we need to get food in to those people.

QUESTION: And two more things. Palestinian Authority wants a vote at the UN Security Council in April to become a full member. Does the U.S. oppose this, and if necessary would you veto it?

MR MILLER: So I am not going to speculate about what may happen down the road. But we have always made clear that we believe the – while we support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and you’ve seen the Secretary engage in very intensive diplomacy over the past few months to try to establish a Palestinian state with security guarantees for Israel, that is something that should be done through direct negotiations through the parties – something we are pursuing at this time – and not at the United Nations.

QUESTION: Okay. And the final thing is —

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

QUESTION: — Kirby said – sorry, I’m almost done – Kirby said yesterday on the podium that the State Department has not found that Israel’s military conduct has violated international humanitarian law. His comment sounded conclusive and definitive. So I just want to follow up and clarify: Does the State Department have such a definitive conclusion that it has looked at all of the incidents raised so far, and all of the incidents and the review on those have been concluded, and as a result, you have a definitive assessment that no violations have occurred?

MR MILLER: So I saw what the admiral said. He also said that we have ongoing processes here at the State Department, and that is —

QUESTION: Yes, that is what he —

MR MILLER: I – so that is correct. We have ongoing processes here at the State Department to examine that very question, and we have not at this time concluded that Israel has violated international humanitarian law, but these are very much ongoing processes with respect to that question.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up one single thing on that?

MR MILLER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is – have any of those – when you’re making the assessments, have any of those gone to the Office of the Legal Adviser?

MR MILLER: I have made it clear that we are not going to talk about the specifics of internal deliberations and how we’re conducting those processes. But there —

QUESTION: This is – it’s about international humanitarian law, so it’s a legal assessment —

MR MILLER: There – and there are a number of offices inside the State Department that are involved in these assessments, but I’m not going to speak to the exact specifics.

QUESTION: Are you able to say how many incidents in total are you looking at? Is it a couple? Is it dozens?

MR MILLER: A number of them. I’ll leave it at that.

Shaun.

QUESTION: Hey, Matt, in yesterday’s presser —

MR MILLER: I meant Shaun, but go ahead, Alex. I’ve been – I’ve been overlooking you for some times, so go ahead.

QUESTION: Yeah, back to yesterday’s presser. At the presser the Secretary seemed to suggest that Russia has already received Iranian ballistic missiles and – and has used it in Ukraine. The White House yesterday couldn’t confirm that. Did the Secretary mean to say that? Was it translation error? I should mention that he was speaking in French.

MR MILLER: He was speaking in French, and we have made very clear that we have been concerned about the burgeoning security partnership between Iran and Russia. The Secretary was speaking to the fact that they have delivered drones already.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to move to the South Caucasus. Secretary spoke with Aliyev today. If you look at Azerbaijan readout, Aliyev was venting about this week’s meeting-slash-Armenia summit. And he said that the failure to postpone the trilateral meeting – despite his concerns, he says – will lead to escalation of tension and – rather than peace. Does the Secretary agree with that assessment, and is a meeting still on?

MR MILLER: So I – with respect to that, I am going to defer to a statement that we have coming out shortly. The President spoke to – I’m sorry – the Secretary spoke to President Aliyev earlier today, and we’ll have a readout coming.

QUESTION: About – about the particular point that Aliyev made, did the Secretary – will that change any decision? Yeah.

MR MILLER: We will speak to that in the readout, but their meeting is – the meeting is still ongoing.

QUESTION: All right. On Georgia, do you have anything for me on Georgian Government’s trying to press – reintroduce, let’s say, the Russian law? They tried it last year; they failed. It looks like they are trying —

MR MILLER: So we’ve seen the reports that they are considering that potential legislation. And And I would just say that last year, tens of thousands of Georgians took to the streets to make their European ambitions known and to reject the last attempt to implement this law. Georgia has a historic opportunity to open EU’s accession talks, and we stand ready to continue to support Georgia in that process.

QUESTION: I have one more, if I may, on Russia sanctions. It appears as the administration removed three of Russia sanctions from the SDN list, targeting VTB Bank subsidiaries. U.S. imposed them two months ago against a Russian oligarch because of sanction violations. What is the reason for that decision?

MR MILLER: So with respect to that specific question, I’ll refer you to the Treasury Department. But I would note that we have continued to impose new sanctions on Russia, including just in the past few months, and have taken measures to tighten the enforcement of our existing sanctions.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR MILLER: Shaun, go ahead. And then I’ll come to you next.

QUESTION: A different topic – Uganda. The constitutional court in Uganda today struck down a bid to undo the anti-LGBTQ law. I was wondering if the U.S. has any reaction to the court ruling and whether this will have any implications on policy toward Uganda, including potentially more sanctions (inaudible).

MR MILLER: So the United States continues to be deeply troubled by human rights abuses in Uganda and by the anti-homosexuality act. We believe that law undermines the human rights, prosperity, and welfare of all Ugandans. The Ugandan Government’s failure to safeguard the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons is part of the broader degradation of human rights protections that puts all in Uganda at risk and damages the country’s reputation abroad.

And with respect to United States actions, so we have already imposed sanctions, including the visa restriction policy. We have ended Uganda’s eligibility for the African Growth and Opportunity Act, curtailed direct government-to-government funding to programs implemented with Uganda, issued a business advisory, a travel advisory, and advocated for Uganda’s full compliance with the social safeguards agreed to in the World Bank lending – in World Bank lending. And we will continue to take all appropriate measures.

QUESTION: And just – just a very brief follow-up on that. I mean, it’s not the only place in Africa where this is happening. Ghana – there’s still the debate there. I mean, is there a concern about a broader push against LGBTQ equality in Africa? And particularly on Ghana, is there any communication on that with the Ghanaians?

MR MILLER: So we are deeply concerned by legislation under consideration elsewhere in Africa and globally – it’s not just in Africa – that targets LGBTQI+ persons and their allies. We believe that governments should protect the – all individuals in their countries, and that every person deserves full dignity, and that these laws, whether they be in Africa or anywhere else in the world, undermine the human rights, prosperity, and welfare of individuals, and risk damaging their country’s reputation abroad.

Go ahead, and then I’ll come to —

QUESTION: Would you have a comment on the earthquake in Taiwan, the worst in 25 years?

MR MILLER: I would say first and foremost we express our deepest condolences on behalf of the United States to the at least nine people dead and 900 injured and their families and everyone who was affected. We stand ready to support the people of Taiwan at this difficult time. USAID staff in the region and here in Washington will continue to closely monitor the earthquake and tsunami warnings, and will remain in close contact with the American Institute in Taiwan and are ready to provide assistance if necessary.

QUESTION: Also, with the AIT chairperson now in Taipei, would you have a message ahead of the inauguration next month of Taiwan’s president-elect?

MR MILLER: I would say that the chair will meet during this trip with a range of senior Taiwan leaders, political figures, and scholars from across party lines to discuss continued U.S.-Taiwan collaboration on issues of mutual interest, such as regional security, mutually beneficial trade and investment, and people-to-people, educational, and cultural ties. But broadly, U.S. policy has not changed. We have a longstanding, rock-solid partnership with Taiwan, and we look forward to continuing that unofficial relationship through the Taiwan political transition.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: On equality, the Secretary announced a new chief DEI officer yesterday, but there’s criticism both internally and outside of State on why this took so long. The position was vacant for 10 months and doesn’t require Senate confirmation, so why did it take so long if this is such a top priority for the Secretary?

MR MILLER: So we were working to find the best possible candidate, and we believe we did find the best possible candidate. Oftentimes when it comes to these jobs, you have to go through difficult bureaucratic procedures to fill basic positions, but I will say the emphasis that the Secretary has put on this job has not wavered – and has put on this issue has not wavered – throughout that time, that our work to expand diversity has continued since the outset of this administration because the Secretary believes that having a workforce that reflects America in all of its diversity makes us stronger and improves our national security. And we look forward to working this – with this new diversity officer to expand the work that we are already doing.

And I’ll take one more and then wrap for the day.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir. An Indian internal investigation has found the involvement of the intelligence officials into the assassination attempt on Sikh leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun in New York. According to Indian media, that report is also shared with the State Department. Do you have any response on that because you were also waiting for that (inaudible)?

MR MILLER: So I’m not going to speak to media reports. I will just say that we have made clear to the Government of India that we want to see them conduct a full investigation, and we continue to look forward to the results of that investigation, but I don’t have any updates to offer.

QUESTION: Sir, according to some media reports, the United Nations has delivered more than $2.9 billion in cash to Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control, resulting in the flow of U.S. funds to the extremist group. So sir, is this happening with the consultation of U.S. Government or —

MR MILLER: No, not at all. So let me make clear that we require all of our partners to have safeguards in place to ensure that assistance reaches those who need it. We also require robust monitoring and reporting from partner organizations implementing assistance programs, including those in unstable and unfriendly environments. When there is cause for concern related to the delivery of assistance, we have plans and protocols in place to respond, and we will continue to monitor all of our assistance programs and seek to mitigate the risk that U.S. assistance could indirectly benefit the Taliban or could be diverted to unintended recipients.

QUESTION: Any response to the President Biden’s letter? Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif has said that Pakistan is willing to work with the U.S. for global peace and regional prosperity. What support can U.S. offer Pakistan in addressing security threats from neighboring countries and combatting the Pakistani Taliban?

MR MILLER: So we will continue to work to expand the security partnership between the United States and Pakistan. We have spoken to that a number of times from this podium. It’s been a priority for us and will continue to be so.

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

(The briefing was concluded at 2:35 p.m.)

# # #

#Department #Press #Briefing #April #United #States #Department #State

Leave a Comment