THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to the Washington Foreign Press Center. My name is Jake Goshert. I am one of the media relations officers here at the FPC, and I’m pleased to welcome John Kirby back to the Foreign Press Center.
If the past is any guide, I believe today’s briefing will be very useful and informative, as there are few better equipped to brief about the Biden-Harris administration’s national security and foreign policy priorities than Mr. Kirby. Previously an assistant secretary and spokesperson at both the State Department and the Pentagon, in his current role at the National Security Council Admiral Kirby coordinates interagency efforts to explain U.S. policy, and is a senior administration representative on many vital global issues.
A quick reminder of the ground rules today. The briefing is on the record. After his opening remarks, Admiral Kirby will be taking questions. If called for a question, please wait for the microphones and begin your question by stating your name, outlet, and country. And I want to note we have identified a small number of preselected questions, pre-submitted questions, questions that were global or regional in nature, and they are invited to sit in the front row. We’ll take those questions and then also many others from those in attendance.
Admiral Kirby has graciously set aside enough time to answer several questions from throughout the room. In order to ensure we get as many people as possible, please maintain your professional decorum and speak your question when asked. The briefing will end promptly at 11:45. We will also post a video and transcript of the briefing afterwards on our website. And with that, I’m going to turn the briefing over to Mr. Kirby.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: 11:45? That’s going to be a long briefing.
MODERATOR: 10:45. (Laughter.)
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Well, good morning, everybody. It’s good to be back. I just have a couple of comments at the top I want to make by way of update in terms of U.S. assistance to Türkiye in the wake of those devastating earthquakes. I can report today that our two urban search and rescue teams are now on the ground and they are moving into position out of Incirlik Base. And these are two nearly 80-person search and rescue teams. Our Disaster Assistance Response Team is also setting up their base of operations in Incirlik, and they are beginning to coordinate needs with the Government of Türkiye.
At the request of the Government of Türkiye, of course, USAID is looking to provide some support for field medical services. They’re still in talks about that and what that could look like. USAID is also evaluating assistance to support both emerging housing, food, hygiene, and other needs as well. And of course the Department of Defense is working closely with their counterparts in the Turkish Government to identify any future capabilities that might be needed to support the response. I don’t have anything to support specifically about military assets, but we’re in constant contact with our Turkish counterparts on that.
And as the President made clear, the United States will do anything and everything that we can to help the people of Türkiye recover from these devastating earthquakes. We all know that the casualties continue to climb as more people are found in rubble and the devastation, and so our thoughts and prayers go out to them as well as to the people of Syria, who also suffered from these earthquakes. And we are working with partner – U.S. partner humanitarian assistance groups to assist in Syria as well. As you know, we don’t have a diplomatic footprint there. But we’re doing everything we can through partnered groups and organizations to provide that kind of assistance.
So with that, I’ll take some questions. Who wants to go first? You want to go? Yeah.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah. Thanks for the question. As you know, even during the summit, President Biden announced that a new special envoy for implementation of the Africa Leaders Summit initiatives – by the – his name is Johnny Carson, working out of the State Department – he’s already been on the job since before the summit ended. And we are beginning to already put into place some of the obligations and commitments that nations made about climate, food security, energy security, and some other things. So there is work going on right now, and I’ll leave it to Mr. Carson to describe in greater detail. But the bottom line is even before the summit ended, we had identified a leader, a known leader, to take charge of our implementation program and put it into place.
It was a robust few days there with the Africa Leaders Summit, and the President was grateful for the time that he had to spend with those leaders. And we all recognize that while there are certainly many challenges on the continent, there’s also a lot of opportunity, and the United States needs to be a significant partner.
QUESTION: I appreciate you do this for foreign press. And my name is Jinmyung Kim and I’m with South Korea’s Chosunilbo. And my question is about economic security policy. So recently the U.S. and Japan and the Netherlands have agreed to limit the exports of chips manufacturing equipment, of the technologies to China.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: And I want to know how the NSC coordinates with other U.S. Government agencies and also U.S. Congress to form these economic security policies. Is there any mechanism or task force to cooperate with other agencies to make the U.S. policies consistent?
And if you forgive me to ask a new component to my question, is – so last night the President Biden said that supply chains begins in America, which is good, but it can be also understood as a little bit protective. And how does the U.S. allies and partners fit into this picture? Thank you.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: I mean, both those questions are kind of related, aren’t they? So I don’t have any announcements to make with respect to any arrangement between the U.S., Japan, and the Netherlands. There were some good discussions last week trilaterally. Certainly supply chains, in particular micro-electronic supply chains, were a part of that conversation, but so was an awful lot else, like the war in Ukraine and China’s growing influence throughout the Indo-Pacific and around the world. So there was a lot on the agenda.
So I don’t have anything to speak with that – speak to specifically with that. But I can tell you that we’re going to – and this kind of gets to your second question – we’re going to continue to work with allies and partners around the world to help build more resilient supply chains. And as the President noted last night, that certainly has to start here. We’ve got to do it, too. And in the President’s view, this has got to be a whole-of-government effort for the U.S. Federal Government. It can’t just be owned by any one agency. We all have a hand in this, whether it’s the Department of Defense or Department of Homeland Security, Department of State, the Department of Energy. So there’s a lot of work to be done.
I will tell you the Department of Commerce will continue to lead the charge on our export controls, and all departments and agencies across the U.S. Government are involved in that process as well. So it’s a real team approach under President Biden, and we’re going to continue that. And that team approach includes not just intra-U.S. Government but our efforts with allies and partners around the world.
I think we all saw throughout the pandemic how fragile, in some cases, supply chains can be. And the President’s committed to making sure that we shore that up and make them more resilient, more viable, particularly in times of crisis.
Who else? Go ahead.
QUESTION: John, Alex Raufoglu from Turan News. First of all, welcome back; having been long enough a part of the FPC, I do want to recognize the significance of your coming back in a couple of months.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Thanks.
QUESTION: So please keep them coming; it’s significant. Two quick questions; one is about Ukraine. As you know, we are approaching to the first-year anniversary of Putin’s invasion.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: And there is no sign of Putin coming back to the table. Correct me if I’m wrong. Is it time for the U.S. to evolve from providing Ukraine with the weapons that it needs to hold the line to actually win the war? And as you know, what I’m talking about – jets – that Ukraine has been asking for a long time.
Secondly, on Armenia-Azerbaijan, your boss Jake Sullivan has been involved into the peace process, but tension has been evolving. I’m just wondering if you guys are running out of tools, if there’s anything you can do at this point to move the needle. Thanks so much.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah. Let me take the second one first and then I’ll get to Ukraine. I mean, that you rightly noted that Mr. Sullivan has had conversations with his counterpart. Secretary Blinken has been involved, of course. I mean, we’re all mindful of the tensions there. And while we’re focused on urging the parties to return to negotiations, we are also calling for the restoration of commercial traffic to the Lachin corridor. And I think you may not know – maybe you do – we just named now a Senior Advisor for Caucasus Negotiations, Mr. Louis Bono, nd so we’re going to remain engaged largely through his offices, but certainly at all levels that are appropriate. But we need – we want to see the tensions decrease; we want to see both sides go back to the negotiating table. That’s important.
On Ukraine, I wish I could tell you you’re wrong. I would love nothing better, honestly, today than to be able to say: Mr. Putin has decided to give up his war in Ukraine and pull his troops out, as they should be pulled out, and end this brutal invasion. Sadly, we can’t do that. He has shown no indication of being willing to negotiate – in good faith or not – negotiate at all. In fact, quite the opposite. He continues to show a lust for more bloodshed and a desire to visit war on more Ukrainians in more places. And this is not just continued air attacks on their – on infrastructure, energy, and water, but also attacks particularly in the Donbas on places like Bakhmut and Soledar. In Bakhmut, there’s still vicious fighting going on.
So everything we see out of the Kremlin tells us that Mr. Putin wants to continue to fight this war, which is why we’re going to do what we can – not just the United States but nations around the world – to support Ukraine and their ability to succeed on the battlefield. Now, yeah, that has a lot to do with weapons and systems, and I’ll get to your question about that in a second. But it also has to do with financial assistance as well, making sure that Ukraine can still govern itself, that they have the resources to keep paying government employers and keep hospitals open and schools open. So there’s a lot of work being done to help support Ukraine, and you heard the President talk about this last night. We’re going to continue to do that for as long as it takes.
Now, what kind of systems are coming in the future, I’m obviously not going to get ahead of decisions. We have – we just announced another package a week or so ago that included some longer-range capability for these HIMARS that the Ukrainians are using, as well as artillery ammunition, small arms and ammunition, more vehicles. And we’re going to continue to do that going forward.
You can hardly blame the Ukrainians for wanting more, given what they’re facing every day. We understand that, and that’s why we’re in constant communication with them, almost every day, about what the capabilities are, what the needs on the battlefield are. And we’ve evolved that over time. When the war first started and (Russian) tanks and columns were moving on Kyiv, it was Javelin anti-tank missiles that they needed the most and we were trying to get them to him in a hurry, and Stinger air defense missiles. And as the war changed, it became more about long-range fires and artillery pieces, howitzers, the HIMARS. Then it became more about air defense because of what Putin has been doing with Iranian drones and cruise missiles. Air defense is still a significant capability.
And now, as the Ukrainians prepare for what will likely be more fighting in the spring when the weather improves – and I won’t get ahead of Ukrainian plans, but as they prepare – they’ve identified that they need to get better at something called combined arms maneuver. This is the ability to take large units and maneuver them and fight effectively across open terrain – oftentimes open terrain. And that’s why the Department of Defense is doing battalion-level training outside of Ukraine, so that they can get better at this combined arms maneuver and those kinds of operations. And it’s why we have, in the last few support packages, included armored vehicles like Bradleys and Strykers, and it’s why our allies and partners who have done the same, providing additional armored vehicles, so that they can perform better and more effectively come spring when the weather improves.
Yes, ma’am. Go ahead. Carolina, right? Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Kirby. Well, you keep on saying – and President Biden said it yesterday – that you are going to support Ukraine, the U.S. is going to support Ukraine for as long as it takes. But is it also with everything it takes? You have been listing now a couple of things. You have been supporting Ukraine financially. But they want F-16 fighters. Is the United States going to send F-16 fighters?
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: I’m just simply not going to get ahead of any announcements of future security assistance. Yes, the Ukrainians have made clear that they want some advanced capabilities. They’ve talked about fighter aircraft. We’re going to continue to talk with them again in real time about capabilities and what can be provided. But what can be provided by the U.S., what can be provided by allies and partners?
Yes, go ahead. After I get through the first row here, we’ll work back there. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Cristobal Vasquez, France24 in Spanish. So the Chinese influence in Latin America has been growing. I think right now it’s the largest trading partner of every country except Colombia. Do you guys think it’s too late for the U.S. to catch up, considering that growing influence?
And concerning Lula’s visit —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: — to the U.S., is there any specifics you can share with us about perhaps any additional help, additional financial help to the Amazon Fund, and other details about Lula’s agenda here in D.C.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: So let me take the second one first. We’ll have more detail later this week about President Lula’s visit on Friday. We’re looking forward to that, and I think you can imagine they’ll be a wide range of issues to be discussed between President Lula and President Biden, not just regional – certainly not just issues in Brazil, but hemispheric issues as well as global issues because the war in Ukraine is affecting everybody. And that – that’s going to lead me to your first question. But anyway, we’re looking forward to President Lula coming and having a robust discussion with him, and we’ll have more to say about the agenda as we get closer. And certainly we’ll have an ability to characterize the visit for you after the fact.
But on the agenda, I think you can imagine it will be the war in Ukraine because it has had an affect around the world. Food security and energy security are two of the biggest ways in which Putin’s war has affected nations all over the world, and it’s had a profound impact, particularly in Latin America as well as throughout the African continent.
The Russians would have you believe, as Mr. Lavrov likes to say, that this is a war started by the West, and it’s the West’s fault that places throughout the world, particularly in Africa and Latin America, are having issues with energy and food security, which is farcical. It would be a laughable comment if it wasn’t so serious, the impact that it’s having. It’s Mr. Putin’s decision to – it was his decision to conduct this war, to make this invasion. And it’s because of that decision that energy and food security have been so drastically affected over recent months and affecting particularly low and middleincome countries, which is why President Biden worked so closely with the G7 to put in place a price cap on Russian oil – not to take it off the market, but to make sure that Mr. Putin could limit his profiteering ability so that he couldn’t use all those revenues off of oil to fund weapons programs and keep his soldiers in the field conducting atrocities against the Ukrainian people. And it’s why it was so important for us to have the African Leaders Summit and to bring leaders together through the continent so that we could talk about things like energy and food security.
And you said something about the Chinese and the influence in Latin America and whether we can catch up, and I would just take issue with that. I mean, you make it sound like we’re on our back feet. We have worked closely with our Western Hemisphere partners on many issues. Just yesterday, the Vice President held a conference of sorts to talk about her call to action and the work that we’re doing to get at the root causes of migration throughout the hemisphere.
We are seeing historic movements of people. Not since World War II have we seen this many people on the move, and a lot of it’s coming in the Western Hemisphere. And, yes, the Chinese want to take advantage of that, and they roll into places with empty promises and high-interest loans, and they don’t care what they leave in their wake. That’s not the way the United States does business. We work in partnership with our friends and our allies around the world, and that’s going to continue, and certainly in Latin America as well.
We all have shared threats. We all have shared challenges. We all have shared opportunities, and that’s what we’re – and that’s what we’re working on. That’s what we’re focused on. But I would take issue with the fact that we need to catch up. I’ll tell you what is catching up: the Chinese reputation for self-interest and selfishness and exploitation. That narrative is catching up for the rest of the world.
Yeah, in the back there. Go ahead. Yeah, you. Yes, you with the coat and the beard.
QUESTION: First of all, thank you so much. We’ll start with Türkiye. So —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah, who are you with?
QUESTION: Anil Sural from Türkiye —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: — Once Vatan newspaper. Thank you so much for doing this for your —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah. Seriously, our condolences.
QUESTION: — foreign journalists. Frankly, I know you are from Pentagon. Thank you so much. So two teams arrived in Türkiye, and they’re almost 200 rescue team. What kind of help do you plan or do you intend from now on? Have you ever contacted Turkish officials about (inaudible) directly? The most important thing right now is —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Before you go on, have we contacted them about what directly?
QUESTION: The earthquake.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: The earthquake. Okay.
QUESTION: Yeah. The most important thing right now is humanitarian help. Tens of thousands people need rescue.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: As you say, they’re under things.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: But it should be as soon as possible. I know they thank you so much, the United States, and some of the country of the world, directly. The immediate help, I know from the Fairfax and the Los Angeles, but they definitely need more people because maybe a couple days later I’m sure it will be tons of food, medical. It will not be no problem, because I was in Sakarya Turkish earthquake 1990. But it should be more rescue teams. What is your plan about it near future?
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: How is your family? Is your family okay over there?
QUESTION: Thank you. They are good, but most of my friends – 13 million people is of Türkiye. I have friends that I contact first —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Are they okay?
QUESTION: Most of them okay, but it’s hard to say they’re okay because I’m (inaudible) that I drink water —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Even those who not – were not physically affected are —
QUESTION: The cycle is – even is —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: So, look, I mean I tried to talk about this at the opening. I don’t – I hope you didn’t miss the way I ended my opening, which is to say that we are going to stay in close contact with our counterparts in Türkiye to make sure that we are communicating every day about what their needs are, what they want, and what we can provide.
But President Biden began to lean forward – as soon as the news broke, he wanted his team leaning forward, not waiting necessarily to be asked, but making sure that we had in place and that we alerted agencies and organizations to lean ahead. Obviously, we have to do that in lockstep with Türkiye. They get to decide who comes into support aid and assistance. We respect that. But we wanted to make sure that in anticipation of requests, that we were leaning forward, and we did that, and we’re going to continue to do that.
So I can’t tell you right now how much more aid and assistance the United States is going to provide because we have to work that out in real time with the Government of Türkiye and President Erdogan and what his needs are. What I can promise you is that the United States will continue to have those conversations and will continue to lean forward and be as ready as we can to support with as much as we can, obviously in lockstep with the Government of Türkiye. We understand.
QUESTION: Thank you.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: We know the devastation, and again, our heart and thoughts —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) Türkiye two days ago. Thank you.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah. I can tell you we’re going to stay at this and we’re going to do everything that we can to support the victims of these devastating earthquakes. Türkiye’s not just a good friend but they’re a NATO Ally, and we take that very, very seriously.
Ma’am. I’m going to see how much I can get the microphone person to run all around. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: I had another question about China and Latin America, about the balloon that was detected flying over Latin America.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: What kind of communication has the United States has had with partners in the region in the last few days? What is your assessment of that balloon, if it poses a threat to partners in the region? And it was seen flying over the Atlantic coast in Colombia; there are military bases there and the U.S. is a huge partner for Colombia in security assistance. Are you worried about security theft? What is your assessment on this? Thank you.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: A lot there, isn’t there? What I can tell you is that we are – we’re going to be reaching out to allies and partners all over the world who we believe need to know more about this Chinese spy balloon program. And I think you’re going to hear more from us later today about that, so I don’t want to get ahead of conversations. But we are going to be making sure that our allies and partners around the world have the same sort of context about this program that we do.
I can’t speak for the track of this particular balloon. We did acknowledge that there was a second one flying over parts of the hemisphere south of us. We did not assess that that balloon was a physical military treat, any more than the one that was flying over the continental United States. And obviously, we routinely take appropriate action to preserve our own informational and physical security in situations like this, just like we did last week. But I won’t get into more detail about what that looks like.
But again, we’re having conversations with our allies and partners so that they understand the same context that we have now about this spy balloon program by China. We are certainly not the only nation in the world that has been overflown by these balloons, and we’re going to be sharing some of that context. But again, I’ll reserve additional comment until later today when I think we’ll have more to say about that. Does that help?
Yeah, in the back there. Yes, sir, you with the glasses.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah. You’re the only one with glasses on.
QUESTION: I had to look around. Thanks. Nirmal Ghosh from the Straits Times of Singapore. I’m wondering if you could give us a bit of a rundown on the state and level of U.S.- China military-to-military dialogues, meetings, contacts, and so forth which apparently were there prior to August last year, then were suspended, then the two presidents met, and so forth. What is happening now on that level? Thank you.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Unfortunately, not a lot. One of the purposes of Secretary Blinken’s travel, planned travel, to Beijing was to try to work out a resumption of those communication vehicles. It was also – there was climate, bilateral climate conferences that got suspended. So the whole – coming out of Bali, both presidents agreed, let’s see if we can move this relationship forward in a better direction, and let’s start by having our teams get together and see if we can’t restore some of those communication vehicles. And you’re right, the military- to-military was one of them.
We think it’s important for those vehicles to be open and we continue to seek open lines of communication with China because without those lines, misunderstandings can lead to miscalculations, and nobody wants to see that. And the military-to-military channels are particularly important (inaudible) comes to reducing the risk of miscommunication and miscalculation, reducing the risk of some kind of conflict.
So it’s very important to get those channels back open again, but obviously, now is not the appropriate time to have those discussions. Now is not the appropriate time for Secretary Blinken, as he said himself, to travel to Beijing. So unfortunately, not a lot of movement has been taken on those particular lines of communication. We seek competition with China, not conflict. You heard the President talk about that last night. Nothing has changed about that.
And as the President said last night, we believe we’re in a really good position to compete – strong economy; jobs coming back – actually, roaring back here in the United States. We have got terrific programs for innovation, terrific public partner – private-public partnerships with respect to high tech, and the United States, he believes, is poised to compete quite well in this competition. But that’s how we look at it, a strategic competition. We don’t seek any conflict with China.
Yeah, you in the red sweater there.
STAFF: Red sweater? Okay.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Go ahead. Yeah, you. No, this guy – yeah, right there. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: There’s only two red sweaters that I see, and the other guy’s in the front, so —
QUESTION: Thank you so much. My name is Diyar Kurda —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Your name is who?
QUESTION: Diyar Kurda. I’m Washington, D.C. bureau chief for Rudaw video network, Kurdistan region of Iraq. Today a delegation by the Iraqi deputy prime minister to arrive in Washington, D.C., and they’re going to have a meeting with Secretary Blinken. Also, they’re going to have a meeting with some people in the White House. Before they visiting D.C., the Iraqi foreign minister, when he had a meeting with the Russian foreign minister, he said that we’re going to discuss with the U.S. how to pay the Russian energy firms. What he said – I’ll quote him —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: How to what?
QUESTION: We are going to discuss with the U.S. partners how to pay Russian energy firms, companies.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Oh.
QUESTION: He said, we will discuss this problem with the American side, because there are sanctions, but the sanctions should not be imposed in Iraq because there are still ongoing cooperation between Iraq and Russia, and also there are still active Russian oil companies in Iraq. Are you willing to waive Iraq on the Russian sanctions in any circumstance?
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Well, I’m not going to get ahead of the State Department.
QUESTION: And my second question, on the – my second question: On the continued cash flow from the Federal Reserve transfer, I know you took some restrictions, but there are still concerns that there are still cash flow, dollar cash flow from Iraq to Iran and also elsewhere. Then how the national security address the continued dollar cash flow from Federal Reserve transfer? How will the U.S. assure that the central bank of Iraq has the capacity to strongly monitor and enforce the new rules?
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah. I tell you what, I’m going to take that question, because I am probably not the best person to talk to you about that. So we’ll have my staff take that question for you, and we’ll see if we can get you a good answer.
Simon, go ahead, buddy.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Kirby, for finally giving me a question after six months. I know the – (laughter). I know the White House, Karine Jean-Pierre and yourself and your office, have been discriminating against me, and I’ve said it at the White House. Even during the U.S.-Africa Summit, you did not take questions from Africans, in the briefing room and even in the background call. So I thank you for giving me a question.
I want to ask you if you are just lying to the American people. When you were asked at the press conference a few days ago about the Chinese balloon, you were asked to give details. You said there were previous incursion in U.S. airspace when President Trump was in power. You were asked to provide evidence – when, how long did they last – and you did not provide those evidence. So the question many people are asking, especially on the right: Are you just lying to the American people?
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: So Simon, we – after coming into office and beginning to study and learn more about the Chinese spy program, balloon program, we did the responsible thing in trying to learn more about it, and that’s to do some forensics and looking retroactively about how they operated these balloons. And in doing that work, we discovered that on at least three occasions that we know of, there were brief incursions into U.S. airspace in previous years before we took office. And what I can tell you is that we have offered briefings to some key officials from the Trump administration so that they can come in and see the forensic work that we did, the evaluation and the analysis that we did, and they can see it for themselves.
I’m not going to get ahead of those briefings. I’m certainly not going to detail them here. We’re still talking about some classified information, and I’m certainly not going to, again, get ahead of the discussions that we are willing to have with key officials from the Trump administration.
But don’t miss the forest for the trees here. It’s not – it’s not just about one, or two, or three brief incursions into U.S. airspace in years prior. In some ways, it’s not even just about the incursion into our space last week, our airspace last week. It’s about a concerted effort by the Chinese to develop this sort of capability, which provides them additional surveillance assets, over countries without their permission, and sometimes without their knowledge. And that’s why today we’re going to be discussing this with some of our allies and partners around the world, so that they can get a sense of what we have come to learn about this spy balloon program.
Let’s go over to this side. Yes, ma’am, go ahead. No, you’re not a ma’am; she’s a ma’am.
QUESTION: Thank you; I am the ma’am. (Laughter.) Hi, my name is Yangsoon Kim, from KBS, Korean Broadcasting System, South Korea. You were going to tell more detail afterward about the spy balloon, but I’m going to asking that. The China spy balloon had (inaudible) in five continent, and mostly everywhere, but is the South Korea included in – (laughter). Or either South Korea or North Korea. (Laughter.)
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Nice try, nice try. I’m not going to get ahead of individual conversations we’re having.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) just spy balloons in the (inaudible) Taiwan Strait and the Japan and most of the Taiwan area, so we are very curious.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: I’m sure you are. But I’m – we’re – we’re going to reserve those conversations for – with our allies and partners privately, and they can choose how they want to characterize it.
But again, to Simon’s question, don’t lose the larger story here, which is that this is a program that the Chinese have been working on for several years. They have been trying to improve it, and grow it, and increase it, and to gain intelligence insight from it, and the United States is not the only nation that has been affected by this. And we think it’s important for our allies and partners to also be made aware. But again, we’ll have more to say about this later today. I don’t want to get ahead of those conversations, okay?
Let’s see, way in the back there. Go ahead, you in the – on the aisle there. Yeah, with the gray jacket. There you go. Yeah.
QUESTION: Hi, thank you very much. My question related to the FMF program toward Taiwan. Is there any development to share? Has the U.S. and Taiwan had discussions since President Biden signed the spending bill?
And if I may, what kind of defense capabilities should Taiwan enhance in the U.S. view given the rising threat from China? Will it apply to FMF program? Thank you.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah, I don’t have any specific conversations to read out today (inaudible) any future FMS – FMF deals with Taiwan. You know we just very recently agreed to – I think it was a billion dollars’ worth of FMF not too long ago, and we take those responsibilities to help Taiwan with its self-defense very, very seriously, all governed by the Taiwan Relations Act and, of course, the “one China” policy. And we’ve had terrific bipartisan support in Congress for, what, 30-plus years on supporting Taiwan’s self-defense needs, and we’ll continue to do that. I – again, I don’t have any specific articles to talk to today, but I can assure you that the – these are conversations that we continually have with Taiwan about their self-defense needs and what capabilities might be most appropriate for them given their own self-defense requirements. So I really don’t have more to say than that.
I’m going to go over here to this side. Way in the back there, black sleeves – there you go.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir. Johanna Roth, Zeit Online, Germany. Yesterday, The Washington Post published a story regarding the size of this Chinese surveillance operation. I was wondering to what extent that came as a surprise to the government, and maybe you can elaborate on this.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Whether we were surprised by the Washington Post story, or surprised by – because we often are surprised by The Washington Post. Just kidding. I’m not going to – I think I’ve said about as much on this as I can today. We are going to have conversations with allies and partners about this program and about what we’ve learned, and I think I need to leave it at that. You’ll hear more from us later today on that. Sorry, I wish I could help more.
Yeah, you go. In the gray jacket there.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Augustinas from Lithuania public broadcaster. I wanted to ask – could you preview for a bit what decisions can be realistically expected this year in NATO summit in Lithuania? For example, do you think that it’s realistic to expect for NATO to somehow more specifically define its future relationship with Ukraine, for example compared to 2008 summit in Bucharest which was famously vague, and for example —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Famously vague?
QUESTION: Yeah. It – there was a promise that Ukraine will be —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Famously vague – that sounds like the title of my autobiography. I like that. (Laughter.)
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: I just – sorry, it just stuck in my head. I’m sorry, I completely blew up the question.
QUESTION: Is it – is it also realistic to expect that Baltic countries – there’s going to be some solution to bolster air defenses of Baltic countries? And do you think that new defense plans of eastern flank of NATO will be confirmed in the summit as well? Thank you.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: There’s not a lot I can do to answer those questions specifically. I certainly won’t speak for the Alliance. Secretary General Stoltenberg is in D.C. today; he’ll be meeting with Secretary Austin at the Pentagon as well as Secretary Blinken. I believe that Secretary Blinken and Secretary General Stoltenberg will be doing a press conference today, so I think better to let him speak to his plans for the upcoming summit.
Let me just, if I could – this won’t satisfy your questions, but I think it’s an important thing to – couple of things. One, NATO has never been more united than it is now, nor more resolved to meet its obligations to itself and to its members, and that includes our Allies in the Baltic region, who we recognize have a huge stake in what’s going on particularly right now and have been terrific supporters of Ukraine, in many ways punching well above their weight. And we respect that and we’re grateful for that.
One of the things that we in the United States made clear from the very beginning of this war was that we take our Article 5 commitments very, very seriously, and Secretary of Defense Austin under President Biden’s order put more American troops on the European continent to shore up the eastern flank of NATO, something to the order of 20,000. And he has now put in place an ability to keep that extra 20,000 on the continent in a rotational basis.
So we are making it very clear our commitments, and that does include some additional air defense. I mean, we moved some aircraft around, we devoted more aircraft to NATO airspace to make sure that we sent a strong signal to Mr. Putin that NATO airspace is NATO space, and we took that seriously. And other nations, certainly along the eastern flank but elsewhere throughout the Alliance, have done this, and we’re grateful for that.
What’s going to come out of the summit, again, I don’t know and certainly would encourage you to ask that question to Mr. Stoltenberg today – much better position to answer that. But I – from our perspective, we believe that the Alliance – again, more united, more resolved, more relevant now than it’s ever been. And the United States remains committed. President Biden remains committed to doing everything we can to continue to make sure we – that we’re contributing and shoring up particularly the eastern flank of the Alliance. And on defense spending, you continue to see now, particularly in the wake of Mr. Putin’s war, many nations working harder to get to that 2 percent pledge, and we certainly – we’re glad to see that and we continue to encourage it.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: I cannot speak to the President’s travel at this time.
Go back over to this side. Yes, sir. No, over here. That’s all right. We’ll – I’ll go to you, and then —
QUESTION: Thank you. Good morning.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: I’ll go to – I’ll get you in a second. He already stood up, so it’s all right. I got – I know it’s – I got time. It’s fine. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Kozhybayev Rustem, International News Agency Kazinform from Kazakhstan. My question about the United States strategy for Central Asia. I would like to ask: Are the United States considering correction the strategy for Central Asia in the context of the change in geopolitical situation? And if so, what changes can be expected? What are the prospects for adopting a new strategy for Central Asia given the fact that the current one was adopted during the United States presence in Afghanistan? Thank you very much.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Can you just – the first question you —
QUESTION: The first question about United States considering correction —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Correction?
QUESTION: Correction, yes, the strategy for Central Asia.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Well, there’s a lot there. And I certainly would refer you to my colleagues at the State Department (inaudible) speak (inaudible) much more clarity than me. We have been grateful to Central Asian countries for the support many of them helped provide us while we were fighting in Afghanistan, and we continue to stay closely linked and in conversation with many of those countries, particularly now that we are not in Afghanistan, and recognizing that the – recognizing continued credible threat by groups like ISIS in the region.
I don’t know of a – that our strategy, as you put it, is being rewritten or needs to be rewritten. Again, I’d refer you to the State Department on that. All I’d say is that we recognize the importance of Central Asia on so many levels. I talked about terrorism, but it’s beyond that, of course – energy security, food security, climate change. There’s an awful lot on the agenda with Central Asian states, but again, I don’t know of any shifts that are coming.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Tom Watkins with The National. Just since you’ve been speaking, Prime Minister Sunak’s spokesman has said that Britain is indeed considering sending fighter jets to Ukraine. It remains to be seen, obviously, if they will. Does that change U.S. posture at all? Given what we saw with the tanks, there was kind of this steady drip, drip of like, “Well, we’re going to do it.” “Well, we’re not unless you do.” If Britain does step up and begin sending jets, would that change the U.S. position to —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Again, I don’t want to engage in a hypothetical or speculate about future security assistance that the U.S. would provide. From the very beginning – and by the way, we’re very grateful for everything the United Kingdom has done to support Ukraine. They’ve been very active, very energetic, and terrific partners as always – and I certainly can’t confirm these reports. I’m just hearing about it for the first time. But from the very beginning, we’ve made clear – and it has been an idea reinforced through these Ukraine contact groups that Secretary Austin has put in place, I think eight now – that these are sovereign decisions that nations make, and we respect that.
Every nation has to decide for itself what it’s willing to provide Ukraine and under what circumstances because every nation has their own national security interest to think about, and their own alliances to measure up to. So they’re all sovereign decisions. We respect that. We certainly have not been twisting arms one way or the other, but we have been actively talking to allies and partners about what kinds of capabilities they can provide and, again, under what circumstances.
It is clear that Ukraine is going to continue to need support, as you heard the President talk about last night, for quite some time into the future because it is very clear Mr. Putin is not willing to end this war, and that as the weather improves their needs will evolve and change. I can’t get ahead of where we are now. Every time we announce a security assistance package, you hear directly from me. We lay it out there in the public, and we’ll continue to do that.
QUESTION: Thank you. I was going to ask a two-pronger, but you kind of answered my initial question.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: No, go ahead, shoot. We’ll see if – what’s the second —
QUESTION: The second part is actually back on China. You said that you – the U.S. seeks competition with China, not conflict. Do you despair whenever a general or an admiral comes out and says that they’re ramping up for some sort of kinetic action by 2025, 2027? What’s the disconnect there?
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: We – you heard Secretary Austin talk about this. We don’t believe that conflict is inevitable, and frankly, there’s no reason for it to come to that. Now, individual military leaders can speak for themselves, but our view is that conflict is not inevitable and not – certainly not on that particular timeline. We know that President Xi has said that he wants his military poised and ready by 2027 if – if that’s – if – for that kind of eventuality, but our sense is that there’s no reason for it to come to that.
Nothing has changed about our “one China” policy. We don’t support Taiwan independence. We do support their ability to defend themselves. Nothing has changed about that. What we seek is, again, a strategic competition, not a conflict. And because we have not changed our policy with respect to “one China,” there should be no reason for – again, for it to come to that.
So you talked about a disconnect. I guess I would take issue with that. We have been nothing but consistent and nothing but clear. President Biden has repeatedly on many occasions talked about his adherence and continued belief in a “one China” policy.
Yeah. I’ll take just a couple more, and then I’m going to have to go. Go ahead. You’ve been quite vigorous over there. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral Kirby, for doing this. This is Mushfiqul Fazal working for Just News, BD and South Asia perspectives. From the beginning, the U.S. is arguing for a genuine and credible election in Bangladesh.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: But with this call, we experienced already two farcical elections in 2014 and 2018. The regional two big neighbors, like India and China, are very much supportive to the current authoritarian Prime Minister Hasina, and we have seen how Indian authority played their role in last two elections to keep current prime minister in power by any means. Now, another election is coming, and people are demanding a genuine election, like U.S., under a neutral caretaker administration. Do you think India will be with you, this time at least, for upholding democratic rights in Bangladesh, as you have developed your engagement in this regard? Thank you very much.
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: I certainly can’t speak for India; we wouldn’t presume to do that. I can only speak for the United States, and we absolutely look forward to deepening our engagement with Bangladesh. Our cooperation on climate change, development, the economy, humanitarian assistance, security, all that shows the full range of our strong partnership and the future potential of that partnership. We support an inclusive, democratic Bangladesh in which all Bangladeshis can thrive, a prosperous future which will also be built on stronger democratic institutions and participation of all Bangladeshis in elections and governance of their country.
Free and fair elections are everyone’s responsibility. That includes voters, political parties, youth wings, police, and that – those free and fair elections cannot take place in an environment where there’s political violence.
I can take one more, and then I’ve got to get going. Gosh, I don’t know what I’m going to do. In the back there – yeah. Thanks.
QUESTION: Cool. Thank you. Last question. So the President said yesterday at the State of the Union that he doesn’t have to apologize for investing in America. So what does this mean for the ongoing negotiations with the European Union on the Inflation Reduction Act? Is there still room for some exemptions until March?
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Well, I will speak about specific outcomes here. We – as you know, the President’s put up a taskforce specifically designed to work with our EU partners on supply chains and trade, and to also provide a venue for them to share with us their concerns about the IRA and for us to walk them through our implementation plans for the IRA. So that taskforce is up and running. There – those conversations are happening. You heard the President last night. I mean, it – he obviously believes strongly in investing here in our economy, because he knows that a strong American economy has reverberations around the world.
And – but that, obviously, we – as he said when President Macron was here, we’re certainly interested in learning more about what European concerns are and willing to talk about those and to consider those concerns. And that dialog remains open, and it will remain open going forward. Again, I just don’t have any specific outcomes or exemptions or waivers to speak to today.
Okay, listen, I almost did a full hour. I – thanks very much. Unfortunately, I’ve got to get going, but I appreciate this. And if it’s okay, I’ll come back again sometime soon —
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Go ahead.
QUESTION: How do – how does the U.S. Government see this neutrality, and what will President Biden say and do to push Lula to go harder on Ukraine?
REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY: Look, this gets almost exactly to the question I just answered. These are sovereign decisions that nations have to make, and we respect that. We don’t believe – I can only speak for us – we don’t believe that this is the time for business as usual with Russia. They are killing thousands upon thousands of Ukrainians, innocent people that meant no – that pose no threat to Russia – none. He moved across that border almost a year ago with no provocation and no excuse, and millions have been flung into refuge inside their country and outside their country.
It is utterly despicable what Mr. Putin has been doing for almost a year now inside Ukraine, and we believe that there is terrific international community – unity about holding him accountable. I mean, at the UN not long ago, 143 nations voted to condemn his political annexations of areas in the south and the east of Ukraine. And as I said, more than 50 nations are showing up every time Secretary Austin gets one of these contact groups together.
But in the context of those contact groups, every nation votes for itself, every nation decides for itself, and that’s important. I mean, it’s kind of ironic, isn’t it, your question? The whole issue at play right now in Ukraine, aside from obviously the death and destruction, but the larger issue of play is one of sovereignty. It’s one of independence. It’s one of the people of that country having a vote and having a say in their future and determining it for themselves. But wouldn’t it be deeply ironic and unfortunate if the United States was willing to trample on that very idea in order to pursue the policies that we are pursuing or try to force others to pursue? I mean, we wouldn’t do that; we couldn’t do that.
It is all about sovereign space, sovereign decision making, the sovereign will of a people, of a country. That’s what we’re standing up for. And so President Lula, democratically elected by the people of Brazil, he has to speak for them. He has to decide in accordance with his own – the strength of his own democratic institutions. And we respect that. The President’s very much looking forward to his visit, and I’m sure that the war in Ukraine will be a part of it, but there’ll be a lot of other issues on the agenda too.
Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.