MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2023, 10:00 A.M. EST
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. My name is Doris Robinson and thank you for joining us today. Today’s briefing is a preview of the upcoming state visit of President Yoon Suk Yeol of the Republic of Korea, as well as news of the day. As a reminder, this briefing is on the record, and a transcript will be posted later today at fpc.state.gov.
I am pleased to introduce John Kirby, NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications. And with that, I will turn it over to John.
MR KIRBY: How are you all doing this morning? Ah, hello. (Laughter.) It’s as quiet as a church in here, man.
All right, good to be with you guys. As noted, this week President Biden will welcome President Yoon to the White House, his second official state visit, making – marking not only the first state visit by an Indo-Pacific leader during the Biden-Harris administration, but the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-ROK alliance. This visit is truly a celebration of the last seven decades of our ironclad alliance, and we look forward, of course, to the next 70.
Under the Biden-Harris administration, the U.S.-ROK alliance has grown far beyond the Korean Peninsula and is now a force for good – literally – in the Indo-Pacific, and quite frankly, around the world. Side by side, the U.S. and the Republic of Korea are implementing our Indo-Pacific strategies, and we’re doing it together. This visit will build on the two leaders’ multiple engagements since President Yoon’s inauguration just one year ago.
Additionally, we expect the visit will celebrate the U.S. and the Republic of Korea’s collaboration on various initiatives under President Yoon’s strong leadership. The alliance remains committed to pursuing dialogue with the Democratic Republic of Korea to achieve a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to longstanding differences and to achieve the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
We’re going to have a lot more detail to come out this afternoon at the White House briefing and throughout the week, but I just wanted to set the stage for what we anticipate will be and what we’re excited to see in the second state visit by such a good partner, such a good friend, such a good ally as the Republic of Korea, and in particular President Yoon. So we’re very excited about it, and happy to take a few questions.
Yes. I think you have to wait for the microphone.
QUESTION: Thank you, Admiral Kirby. Bingru Wang with Hong Kong Phoenix TV. President Yoon, you recently had remarks on Taiwan. He said Taiwan is a global issue. I wonder if this administration had conversation with him ahead of time. Did you encourage his remarks? And when he comes here, how President Biden is going to address Taiwan issue with him? And both President Biden – you had – have previewed his phone call with President Xi for more than two months now. Could you please explain why this phone call has been delayed? Thank you.
MR KIRBY: I think there was like seven questions. (Laughter.) So look, on President Yoon’s remarks, he can speak to his remarks. He’s the president of a sovereign nation, and as representative of the – he represents the Korean people, he speaks for himself, he speaks for his nation, he speaks for his people, and we’ll leave it there.
On Taiwan, I think clearly we expect in the course of the next couple of days that tensions in the Indo-Pacific will be high on the agenda. And tensions come from lots of places in the Indo-Pacific. I just mentioned the Democratic People’s Republic just a few minutes ago, but it’s also coming from an aggressive and coercive set of behaviors by China, particularly in the South China Sea, but also across the Taiwan Strait.
The President will make clear, as he had consistently made clear, that there’s no reason for these tensions to devolve into any kind of conflict. Nothing’s changed about our “one China” policy. Nothing has changed about the fact that we don’t support Taiwan independence. But also, nothing has changed about the fact that we’re going to continue to help provide self-defense capabilities to Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act.
So without getting too far ahead of the President, I think you – President Yoon can expect that President Biden’s approach to cross-strait tensions will be very, very consistent, very much the same as it has been not just during his administration, but previous administrations.
Now, you asked about a call with President Xi. The President has said himself he expects to have a phone conversation in the near future, and he will. I just don’t have anything on the schedule to speak to. It is important because the issue really gets not – I know you’re asking about a phone call, but the issue is really about the lines of communication, the channels of communication between the United States and the PRC. And they remain open at various levels, and they should remain open. In fact, we’d like to see them broaden and deepen to include military-to-military communications, which the Chinese cut off after Speaker Pelosi visited Taiwan. We want to see if we can get that channel back open.
I think we can all agree – back to my earlier point – when there are these tensions in the Indo-Pacific, when there is so much to be concerned about in the security environment, that that’s exactly the time when you want those channels of communication to be open.
So we look forward to being able to get Secretary Blinken back to Beijing. As you know, he was practically on his way when there was a Chinese spy balloon transiting the United States, the North American continent. And we are in discussions with the PRC about potential visits by Secretaries Yellen and Raimondo as well because we all get fixated on the security components of this relationship, but there’s also broad economic concerns between our two countries that also need to be addressed.
So we are in these discussions and we’ll see where they go. That answer your question? Did that answer all seven questions? (Laughter.)
MR KIRBY: There will be a phone call between the two leaders at a time that the – both leaders deem is appropriate. It doesn’t mean that, because they haven’t spoken recently, that there isn’t lines of communication open between them as it is. And I would remind you, I mean, President Biden and President Xi have met several times. In fact, I think President Xi is one global leader that President Biden has met almost – may have been the most, but certainly one of the most that he’s met. They’ve known each other since they were both vice presidents. And so they have an easy way of communicating with one another, and they’ll get on the phone when the time is right.
Yeah, you, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you for arranging this chance. This means a lot to Korean correspondent. Thank you.
My question is – I am Pil Gyu Kim from JTBC, South Korea.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: Recently, two documents reveals that the U.S. intelligence has been eavesdropping the South Korean officials. I wonder if this issue will be discussed at this summit. Do you think President Biden will express his regret to President Yoon at this time?
MR KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about these documents that have found themselves – or have found their way into the public domain. So I’m just not going to address reports of what may or may not be in those documents.
What we’re going to talk about over the next couple of days is how strong this alliance is, how committed the United States is to our security commitments on the peninsula and to the Korean people, and we’re going to talk about ways we can broaden and deepen that relationship. I mean, it is again – we focus a lot when we talk about the U.S.-ROK alliance, we talk a lot about the security environment. And that’s all well and good and certainly appropriate, but our relationship is bigger than just the security component. There is an awful lot that we are doing together to improve trade practices, to address climate change, to work on issues like food and energy security, to support Ukraine. There’s an awful lot on the agenda, and that’s what the President is going to stay focused on.
Yes, sir. I’ll come over here in a second – promise. We’ve got plenty of time. We’ll get around. As long as you don’t ask seven questions each, we’ll have plenty of time. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Kirby, thank you for doing this. My name is Min Lee from Chosun Ilbo, South Korea.
MR KIRBY: Yes.
QUESTION: Can you confirm in your report from the Financial Times that the White House had asked the Korean Government to urge chip makers like Samsung or SK to not fill any market gap in China if Beijing bans Micron from selling chips?
And another question on Ukraine. Do you expect that ROK would make public about its military aid to Ukraine after the summit? Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Well, look, I’m not in a position to confirm that press report. What I can tell you is that ROK firms are investing in the United States. They do stand to benefit significantly from the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS Act incentives that President Biden worked so hard for. And ROK companies have pledged, I think you know, more than $50 billion in new investments in electric vehicles and electric vehicle batteries, solar, semiconductors, all since 2021.
So we look forward to working with our partners and allies, including and especially the ROK, in building a more secure global telecommunications ecosystem and a more resilient supply chain for semiconductors and for the many products and services that they enable. So we expect there will be a very robust discussion on this over the course of this week, and we’re looking forward to having that discussion.
On Ukraine, I think it’s worth noting South Korea has – the Republic of Korea has already contributed more than $200 million – I think it’s like $250 million in humanitarian assistance – to Ukraine. They’ve really stepped up. They’ve also been very vocal about condemning Russia’s aggression and being out there in front on that, and we’re very grateful for that.
Secretary Austin holds a contact group. He just did his most recent one last week in Ramstein. More than 50 nations participated in that, including the Republic of Korea. This is not just a European continent issue; this is a global issue, what Mr. Putin is doing inside Ukraine. And the Republic of Korea clearly understands that, President Yoon clearly understands that, and they’re stepping up.
Every nation – because they’re sovereign nations, every nation must choose for itself whether or not it’s going to support Ukraine, and if it is going to support Ukraine what that support’s going to look like. It’s not the United States position to pressure or push or cajole another nation to do more or to give different types of capabilities. They have to make these decisions for themselves, and we respect that. The Republic of Korea has been a contributor to supporting Ukraine, and again, we’re very, very grateful for that. And whatever they might choose to contribute in the future, of course we’d be grateful for that as well, and I’m sure the Ukrainian people will.
QUESTION: Thank you. Thank you, Admiral Kirby. My name is Kohei Tsuji from Japanese television NHK. My question is that two America’s important allies in Indo-Pacific, Japan and Korea, their relationship has been improving under President Yoon’s leadership.
MR KIRBY: Indeed.
QUESTION: I would like to ask you, what does the U.S. expect U.S.-Japan-Korea trilateral relationship that is very important to the region is going to develop given that two nations’ relationship is improving.
MR KIRBY: You’re absolutely right; the bilateral relationship between the Republic of Korea and Japan has improved, and President Yoon has really been a strong advocate for that and a leader in that regard, but Prime Minister Kishida as well. I mean, both these nations, both these leaders have stepped up to improve these bilateral relationship by the bilateral relations. We here in the United States – President Biden also wants to see not only that bilateral relationship continue to grow and deepen but to improve trilateral cooperation. And that’s largely focused on security concerns in the Indo-Pacific but not just in security concerns.
I would note it’s interesting that you should ask that question. Under President Yoon, the Republic of Korea has laid out a new National Security Strategy for the Indo-Pacific that talks about the ways in which the republic can continue to support to a better security environment and to address common threats and challenges, not just the threat – although it’s a significant one – from the DPRK. But Japan, too. Prime Minister Kishida and his government has put out a new national security strategy which posits them to be more assertive and more active on the security front, so there’s a lot of good things happening here.
Both nations individually, just unilaterally on their own, improving their military capabilities, investing more in security – in the security environment, in the security realm, but also working together not only with us but with each other – more exercises, right, more operations together, more military-to-military relationship building and communication, more information sharing. There’s a lot to this. It’s multifaceted and it’s very positive to see. Obviously, President Biden wants to continue to see that grow and deepen because it’s not just good for the republic, it’s not just good for Japan, and it’s not just good for the United States; quite frankly, it’s good for all of our allies and partners in the region.
Yes, ma’am. Yeah, you.
QUESTION: Hi, I am Yangsoon Kim from KBS, Korean media. Just a follow-up question from him and regard with the leaked document. I’m not talking about the method of the gathering the information, but the people from the Korean NSC last visit, he said that Korea and U.S. and Japan will discuss about the sharing information systems which is intelligence information system, sharing with the trilateral countries. Is it – can you say about that?
And one more question is about a lot of the Koreans’ doubt about the reassuring about extended deterrence from the U.S., and will be discussed in this summit meeting? And I heard that President Biden will make a substantial step about the extended deterrence, and can you preview or is it about the NATO system or something like that?
MR KIRBY: No, I’m not going to get ahead of President Biden on that, but we have talked about the policy of extended deterrence and how important that is to us, particularly in that part of the world. And I have absolutely no doubt that the idea of deterrence and extended deterrence in particular will be on the agenda. I’m going to – I’ll demur to President Biden and President Yoon to speak about their conversation at the appropriate time, but I think you can absolutely expect that the notion of extended deterrence and how we can continue to improve and strengthen our ability to contribute to this – to the mutual security commitments in the alliance I think will certainly be front and center.
We all share a concern – certainly we both share a concern – about where things are going in Pyongyang, and I will take this opportunity to stress that we reiterate our call to the regime in Pyongyang that we are willing to sit down without preconditions to talk about the denuclearization of the peninsula, complete denuclearization of the peninsula. That’s still our policy goal, and we’re willing to sit down with Kim Jong-un and his team without preconditions to do that. They have not taken us up on that offer.
So, in the meantime, we’ve got to make sure that the alliance is ready across a spectrum of military capabilities to defend our mutual and our shared interests, and we’ll do that. And we have been improving – back to your first question, we have been improving as part of this effort to make sure that we are ready to defend ourselves and our alliance; to improve information sharing bilaterally, of course, with the Republic of Korea, and that will continue.
I’m not going to detail here from the podium what all that looks like, but we already have a robust system in place for how to share information with our allies. We’re improving that now because North Korea continues to conduct provocative – continues to conduct provocative actions, continues to launch missiles, continues to test, continues to try to intimidate. So we’ve got to do everything we can to sharpen our capabilities, and a key part of that is, of course, improving information sharing. So that will continue.
Let me go here, and then I’m going to start moving around to the back. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you so very much. Alex Raufoglu from Turan News Agency. Admiral, welcome back. Been a while, so you do owe us several questions. Let me start with the region. How did the administration read China’s – Chinese ambassador’s comments over the weekend that ex-Soviet states lack basis for sovereignty? They did backtrack it a little bit, but the intention of what he was —
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think – I mean, I think we’d certainly like to see them walk further away from that kind of a sentiment. I can’t – I’ll let them speak for themselves, but clearly these are two countries, Russia and China, that are growing closer together in ways that are not in keeping with, certainly, our view of what contributes to peace and security, not only in Europe but around the world; certainly in ways that are inimical to what we believe are our national security interests.
And right – at this particular time, nobody should be helping Mr. Putin conduct this war or giving him a pass, because this fight in Ukraine, obviously it’s about Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and the violence that had been visited upon them in a completely illegal and unprovoked way by Russia, but it’s also about the idea of sovereignty. I mean, the very ideas enshrined in the UN Charter, which, obviously, Russia is also a part of the Security Council, and they’re simply – everything that Mr. Putin is doing and at least the rhetorical support that he continues to get from the PRC flies in the face of those very principles that those two nations, who are both Security Council members, have signed up to. I mean, this really is about sovereignty.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. Let me ask you about Wagner Group as well. Over the weekend, we heard Prigozhin was quoted as saying he instructed his mercenaries not to take any POWs but murder them. We have seen videos. They are in fact beheading Ukrainian soldiers, ISIS style. I’m having a hard time of understanding, honestly, why the administration is not designating them as a terrorist group, which Congress has been asking for. I do hear from State when it comes to Russia, Russia’s designation as SSD, justifying – saying that we don’t want to prevent NGOs from operating, which is understandable, but I haven’t seen any convincing reason to why you guys are —
MR KIRBY: I’ll tell you we have already put a lot of pressure on Mr. Prigozhin and the Wagner Group, and we’ll continue to look for opportunities to do that. We designated them as a transnational criminal organization. We have sanctioned and will continue to look for other tools that we can apply. It’s reprehensible what Mr. Prigozhin seems willing to do – not just in Ukraine, throwing prisoners and convicts at this fight in Bakhmut, but also what – but what he’s doing and trying to do in places like Africa across the continent.
We’ll take – we’ll continue to look at options going forward about how we can continue to hold them accountable and to call out the atrocities that Mr. Prigozhin and his mercenaries are conducting, again, in Ukraine and around the world. But believe me, we know we have the authorities and the tools available to us to continue to hold him accountable, and we will.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. And finally, on – stepping away from the region briefly, on Iran-Azerbaijan. There’s an increasing Iranian-Azerbaijan tension – Iranians’ threat is increasing in the region. After Azerbaijan opened up an embassy in Israel, we have seen some attempts to murder an MP in Azerbaijan, some attack against embassy. So the question is, in wake of this increasing tension, where are you standing and who are you going to support if we witness – if this translates into actual conflict? Thank —
MR KIRBY: Now, look, we’ve been very clear we don’t – we don’t certainly want to see violence or conflict persist here. Comes as no surprise that Iran would be continuing to destabilize activities in the region there. And look, broadly speaking, we continue to support all efforts to integrate Israel into the region, and I would refer to Azerbaijan for any further comment.
Yes, ma’am. Go ahead. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Patricia Vasconcellos from SBT Brazil. Sergey Lavrov is expected to arrive at the UN in New York today in order to chair a meeting at the Security Council, and some U.S. diplomats and European diplomats are expected to protest. Your reaction on that?
And a second question, if possible, on Brazil and Ukraine. In Europe, where President Lula is now, he said that he knows the difference between an invasion and territorial integrity, that he never equated Russia and Ukraine, but now that the war has started someone needs to talk about this. And regarding this, he understands that from his perspective, that sending weapons means putting more power in this war. Your reaction on that? And what was said from the U.S. side during the contacts that were made between U.S. and Brazilian officials in the past days?
MR KIRBY: Okay, I’m not going to – I won’t detail diplomatic conversations, for one. On your first question, I’d refer you to USUN, our mission up at the United Nations, to speak to that. I’m not aware of that particular meeting and I wouldn’t be qualified to speak to that.
But on your – the second question, the one in the middle, look, we all agree – certainly here in the United States – that this war should end, should end right away. And it could end if Mr. Putin would do the right thing and pull his troops out. Unfortunately, what he’s willing to do is to persist in this war. He’s the one who invaded Ukraine. Let’s not forget who the aggressor here – it wasn’t Ukraine. It was Mr. Putin and Russia. They invaded in a completely unprovoked way. When there still were diplomatic solutions that had to be explored, he refused to do that. And he’s been bombing their cities, bombing their factories, bombing their electrical power, bombing their water, killing innocent civilians, month after month after month, all the while trying to build up capability to go back on the offense inside Ukraine in the spring. So every indication is that Mr. Putin is the one who wants to persist in the war.
So with all due respect, of course we want peace. Of course we want this war to end. But if Russia were to stop fighting, the war would end. If Ukraine stops fighting right now, Ukraine ends. And that’s just simply unacceptable to President Biden and this administration, which is why we’re going to do everything we can to support Ukraine’s ability to defend itself, defend its territorial integrity, its sovereignty against this Russian aggression so that when the two sides can sit down and try to negotiate a peaceful outcome here, President Zelenskyy can do it from a position of strength.
So I say again that the United States is extremely committed, absolutely, stridently committed to peace and to seeing an end to this war. But it has to be done in a way that comports with President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people’s will and desire and perspectives. As you’ve heard President Biden say many times, nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. So any peace discussion – and we would certainly welcome any credible discussion of peace, including, by the way, President Zelenskyy’s peace plan, what he calls for a just peace, which we are helping try to see him actualize. But it has to be done in a credible, sustainable way, which means it has to start from the perspective of the Ukrainian people and President Zelenskyy who represents them.
QUESTION: Do you expect any change from this view that comes from Latin America, that this thought that the president has, that it’s – countries that are sending weapons needs to stop with that? Do you expect a change in that view, though?
MR KIRBY: I would have to say that these – Latin American leaders, like leaders around the world, have got to speak for themselves and speak for the people that they represent. We would all like to see this war end. We – it would be great if we didn’t have to send another package of security assistance to Ukraine. Unfortunately, we need to. And it’s not just the United States. It’s nations around the world. I talked earlier about more than 50 nations are providing some sort of support in Ukraine. Some of it’s military; some of it’s not. But because so much of the world community understands that, as I said before, if Russia stops fighting, the war ends; if Ukraine stops fighting right now, Ukraine ends. And that has to be, must be, and certainly continues to be in the United States and in President Biden’s view an unacceptable outcome at this point.
Yes, go ahead.
Not at this point – an unacceptable outcome, period.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Rabia Iclal Turan from Anadolu Agency. My question will be about NATO and Ukraine. NATO chief Stoltenberg Friday visited Ukraine, where he said that all NATO Allies have agreed Ukraine will become a NATO member. I was wondering what is the U.S. position on Ukraine’s membership, as it will be also on the agenda of the NATO summit in July. How do you see the likelihood of Ukraine joining NATO in the near term? Thank you.
MR KIRBY: We believe in NATO’s open door. We also believe that NATO membership has to be a discussion between the country in question and the Alliance. And we certainly wouldn’t at all get in the way of those conversations. Our focus right now is making sure that Ukraine can defend itself against a very active, very bloody, very violent invasion of their territorial integrity – a re-invasion, quite frankly, because the Russians had already invaded in 2014. That’s got to be the focus right now, helping Ukraine succeed on the battlefield so that they can succeed at the negotiating table.
Let me go in the back. Way, way in the back there. Yeah.
QUESTION: Thank you so much. I’m Jungmin Lee from KBS. Just very quick questions. So you —
MR KIRBY: Few – a few questions?
QUESTION: Very quick one question.
MR KIRBY: Okay.
QUESTION: (Laughter.) So you already gave a lot of comments on Ukraine, but will two presidents discuss on South Korean military support to Ukraine, not other support? Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Well, I certainly would not get ahead of President Yoon here or what he’s willing to talk about one way or the other. As I said, the Republic of Korea has been a supporter of Ukraine, more than 200 – I think it’s $250 million in humanitarian assistance and non-lethal assistance to Ukraine. And as I said, President Yoon’s also been one of those leaders around the world who has stepped up vocally to make it clear where South Korea stands on this unprovoked and illegal invasion of Ukraine. And we’re grateful for all of that.
Every nation, as I said, has to decide for themselves what they’re going to provide or not and whether they’re willing to change that provision. It is – these are sovereign decisions. And I think, at the risk of sounding a little corny here, but that is what’s at stake in Ukraine. It is, of course, Ukrainian lives, first and foremost, no question about it. But it is the idea of sovereignty; it’s the idea that Ukraine is an independent nation and should be able to exist as an independent nation. Because make no mistake, that’s what Mr. Putin wants to take away from them. He hasn’t changed that. He doesn’t believe that they should exist as a free, sovereign state.
And sovereignty is very much at stake here. The whole idea behind the UN Charter, as I said earlier, is at stake here. And wouldn’t it be hypocritical if the United States, whose convening power has been so effective in bringing together all the support for Ukraine, were to try to dictate terms to other nations about what they should or they shouldn’t provide to Ukraine? These are sovereign decisions, too. Sovereignty is also being respected when you talk to other nations about what they are or are not willing to provide.
Now, of course, we want to see as much support as – for Ukraine as possible. That Secretary Austin holds these contact groups so frequently. We want to keep that support going. But we want to respect the decision making of leaders around the world. So I will certainly let President Yoon speak for himself and for the people of Korea in what they may or may not be willing to do. They have done a lot. Let’s just start from that perspective. They’ve done a lot. They continue to support Ukraine. That’s noteworthy, and it’s certainly welcome by President Biden.
Let me go back there. Go ahead, you in the aisle there. Yes, sir, with the blue suit. There’s a lot of blue suits.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Shinichi Akiyama. I’m working for Japanese newspaper Mainichi. And my question is about North Korea. What is the recognition of the U.S. Government about the situation of North Korean – is North Korea the nuclear weapon state or not? And could you explain why?
And other question is about trilateral cooperation. As you mentioned, this U.S.-ROK summit, extended deterrence will be one of the main topics. And will Japan – how will the Japan will be involved in such discussion or creating a new mechanism or something like that?
MR KIRBY: Well, on the first question, nothing’s changed about our policy. We want to see the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. That’s what we’re after. And as I said earlier, we are willing to sit down without preconditions with Kim Jong-un and his team to effect that outcome. They have yet to take us up on that offer; quite to the contrary, they continue to pursue nuclear capabilities, nuclear weapons capabilities, and they continue to conduct provocative actions which only destabilize not only the peninsula but the region. But nothing’s changed about our position. We want the complete denuclearization of the peninsula.
MR KIRBY: We want to see the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
On your question about trilateral relations, we’ve had and continue to have terrific discussions with our Japanese allies about ways we can all three work together. As I said earlier, that cooperation is certainly deepening and improving across the spectrum of military capabilities. The President is grateful for Prime Minister Kishida’s superb leadership in this regard. As I said, he has authored a new national security strategy which really does focus on Japanese military capabilities to self-defense capabilities to advance our own shared interest in peace and security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.
And so I think we’ll continue to look for opportunities to discuss this with our Japanese allies but also trilaterally between the three of us. And I have no doubt that as a matter of course of this week, in this state visit, that the idea of improving trilateral cooperation between our three countries will absolutely be high on the agenda.
Yeah, you in the middle there. Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Seungmo Nam from South Korea media, SBS. As you know, the South Korea wants a strong and more specific extended deterrence pledging during this visit. Then from the perspective of the U.S., what’s the most desired outcome that the U.S. wants from South Korea?
MR KIRBY: I would start that answer by saying we already have a terrific relationship with the Republic of Korea. As I outlined at the beginning, they are – this alliance is a linchpin of peace and security for the Indo-Pacific region. They’re good friends, they’re good partners, good trading partners, good investment partners. And of course, obviously we continue to do everything we can to improve the military capabilities of the alliance, a set of commitments that the United States takes very, very seriously.
There’s going to be a lot on the agenda for the next few days. The security component is just one of them; economics and trade will be another one; investments will be another one; climate change. There’s an awful lot that we’re going to – that we are now and that we look forward to continuing to work with the Republic of Korea going forward.
I can appreciate the question you want me to kind of get ahead of the announcements that are going to be made by the two leaders. And I’m just simply not going to do that. You’ll hear more from them after they’ve had a chance to have these discussions, and I won’t get ahead of that. But it’s not about what more we’re expecting from the Republic of Korea. It’s about what more we can expect from each other together, as partners, to improve our cooperation along all those different lines of effort. It’s really about what can we do together. That’s going to be the focus over the next couple of days.
Yes, sir, in the back there on the aisle.
QUESTION: Hi. I’m Ryohei Takagi from Kyodo News, Japan’s news agency. Thanks for briefing.
President Yoon said in interview with Washington Post, he said he cannot accept the notion Japanese have to ask for forgiveness on historic issues. So what is your reaction to it?
And then another just logistic question is where the President Yoon will stay here in Washington. Blair House?
MR KIRBY: I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about where he’s going to stay for security purposes, so I’ll refer you to his delegation to talk about that. That would probably not be appropriate for me to speak to.
But on your first question, we’ve certainly taken note that Prime Minister Kishida and President Yoon have continued a productive dialogue about some of the historical concerns between those two countries. And they’re beginning to move things forward. And the United States appreciates that, and the United States understands that those are difficult conversations to have, given recent history.
But we also respect that this is a conversation that these two nations need to have, these two leaders need to have, without interference by the United States. We’re grateful that they have proven able to talk about these things, and even to move forward tangibly and demonstrably on some of these issues. But it’s really for them to speak to, not for the United States.
Back here. Yeah, go ahead. In the front row there.
QUESTION: Thanks. I was wondering – because you’re saying the United States wants this war to end in Ukraine. Right? And they want to help Ukraine to defend itself. So when will the right point be, the right time, to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine? They have been asking for that – the delegation from the Ukrainian Parliament here last week, and also in Ramstein last week. So when it the right point for –
MR KIRBY: You’ve heard President Biden speak to this, that they are not on the table for now. What we’re focused on now are the kinds of capabilities that the Ukrainians themselves say they really need in the weeks and months ahead as they anticipate that the Russians are going to go on the offense and they want to be able to prepare themselves for offensive operations.
And so we’re focusing – if you look at the recent packages that we’ve sent, they’re all focused on the kinds of capabilities that will help them in this critical spring and the summer months ahead, and that is basically combined – what we call combined arms, maneuver operations. So it’s taking mechanized infantry and armor capabilities and even air defense, and netting them together with conventional infantry tactics to improve an army’s ability to maneuver in open terrain and to effectively defeat enemy forces in that kind of terrain.
And if you look at the arc from the Donbas all the way swinging down towards the south, I mean, it’s a lot of farmland. It’s a lot of open terrain. And it’s those kinds of capabilities that we’re focused on. We’re taking battalions, multiple battalions of Ukrainian armed forces and sending them outside the country for weeks at a time to train on those tactics, on those operations. And we have given them hundreds, just the United States alone, hundreds of armored vehicles and including they’ll have Abrams tanks here coming soon to help them do that.
So that’s where the focus is right now. It’s also on air defense. You heard Secretary Austin talk about this in Ramstein just this week: air defense is a priority and it’s going to continue, because it’s important for supporting combined arms operations in the field but also because President Putin continues to bomb and strike, with Iranian drones, civilian infrastructure throughout Ukraine. So that’s where the focus is. And I just don’t have any decisions one way or the other to speak to when it comes to fighter aircraft. The President has already spoken to that. It’s not on the table for —
QUESTION: But Ukraine is asking for F-16s.
MR KIRBY: As I said, we’re in constant discussion with the Ukrainians almost every day about what the capabilities are that they need the most in the weeks and months ahead, and that’s what we’re focused on.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR KIRBY: Yes, in the back there, with the pink sweater.
QUESTION: Hey, hello. Alejandra Arredondo from EFE Spanish news agency. My question is regarding to the meeting this week in Colombia about Venezuela with different countries. So my question is under what conditions will the U.S. lift sanctions to Venezuela before elections? Or what measures from Venezuela does the U.S. need in order to lift sanctions before an election is held? Thank you so much.
MR KIRBY: I don’t have any announcements with respect to sanctions in Venezuela, and I’m certainly not going to get in – hang on a second. I – let me finish, and then if you have another question, if I fail here, you can tell me I fail. Certainly not going to get involved in their domestic politics.
What we have said is that, that if we see demonstrable efforts by the Maduro regime to advance the will of the Venezuelan people in meaningful ways, then we are willing to take a look at the sanctions regime, but it’s still in place largely, and appropriately so. And so again, if we see steps out of the Maduro to be willing to actually advance the will of the Venezuelan people and act on their behalf and to move a process forward, then certainly we’d be willing to talk about that and consider that. But I have no sanctions changes or policy changes to speak to today. We will continue hold people accountable for corruption and for illegal behavior and for civil and human rights abuses. That’s always going to be a foundation of our policy.
QUESTION: What steps in particular? There’s talks right now with the Colombian Government being there and with the opposition. They talk about maybe having a calendar leading to elections and that parallel to U.S. sanctions and Petro talked with President Biden last week and that was one of the topics. What specific measures in what you mention could be a potential for lifting sanctions?
MR KIRBY: Yeah, I think – look, we’re – we’ll have to see what Mr. Maduro is willing to do. I mean, it’s not about laying out a menu of options that he simply picks from. It’s about seeing demonstrable ways, tangible ways, where he’s taking the will of the Venezuelan people seriously and willing to move forward on a meaningful, democratic political process there. So we’re just going to have to see. We’ll have to see.
QUESTION: My name is Olga Koshelenko. I am from 1+1 Media Ukraine, and I have lot on Lavrov and UN. Taking this opportunity, are United States Government officials going to have in-person contacts with Lavrov to discuss Paul Whelan or Evan Gershkovich cases or something? And more broadly, from your senses, what is the real purpose of Lavrov showing up in New York? From some point, I believe it’s not maintaining peace and security and to defending the UN Charter.
MR KIRBY: Well, I mean, he’s in New York because Russia – it’s now their turn to be the president of the ** president of the national security council, and that’s a process that we respect. As the host nation for the United Nations, we have to respect that. So that’s what he’s doing here. And again, we’re going to – in the Security Council and elsewhere around the world, we’re going to continue to look after our interests and the interests of the Ukrainian people. And I’m sorry – your first question was —
QUESTION: Those in-person contacts with Lavrov —
MR KIRBY: Oh, about wrongfully detained Americans. We continue to discuss with Russian officials the wrongful detention of Mr. Whelan and certainly now Mr. Gershkovich, who are being detained – and Mr. Whelan’s case now for years – on ridiculous, false charges. And we’re going to stay focused on doing everything we can to get these two gentlemen home to their families where they belong.
There is already – we have made a proposal to Russian officials about Mr. Whelan in particular, and we did that even – well before Mr. Gershkovich was detained – which the Russians have not acted on. And we urge them to take that offer seriously and let’s move forward in getting Paul back home to his family where he belongs.
I don’t have any specific conversations to speak to with respect to Mr. Lavrov being in New York, but I can assure you that there isn’t a day that goes by that our team and the team over at State under Mr. Carstens, the Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs, isn’t working and trying to communicate directly with Russian officials about getting these two gentlemen released and back home. It’s significant. And you said you’re from Ukraine? Is your family all still there? And everyone doing okay? You staying in touch with them?
MR KIRBY: Yeah. Yeah. It’s truly inspiring what the Ukrainian people have been doing this last year. It really is amazing, and I hope that they all recognize and know how committed President Biden will stay to helping Ukraine succeed on that battlefield so that Mr. Zelenskyy, when he’s ready, he can determine what a negotiation looks like and what the circumstances are. It’s got to be his decision.
QUESTION: Hello. This is Yoo Jin Kim, Kyunghyang Daily News from South Korea. And thanks for underscoring the U.S. position on assistance to Ukraine. So is it fair to draw that U.S. will welcome, if ROK Government decides to send arms to Ukraine? And if Russia retaliates against ROK Government’s decision, what will be the consequences faced by Russia? And quick question on the investment, because since you mentioned that it’s on the table of the summit, U.S. – President Biden’s expected to announce measures to regulate U.S. outbound investment in advanced technological sectors in China like – such as artificial intelligence and advanced chips. Since U.S. is working with G7 countries to forge a cooperation on that issue, would U.S. expect the same from ROK Government as well?
MR KIRBY: Well, and we certainly would let the ROK Government speak to that themselves. I mean, I won’t get ahead of announcements the President will or won’t make, but one of the things that will be on the agenda clearly over the next few days is how we can deepen and broaden our trading partnership with South Korea and how we can together start building a more resilient supply chain for things like semiconductors. There’s an incredible amount of investment – I mean, it looks like more than $100 million – I’m sorry, more than $100 billion in the United States by the Republic of Korea just since the beginning of this administration in the United States foreign direct investment, and in fact 3 billion just in the first quarter of this year. So there’s an awful lot of opportunity for us to deepen and strengthen our trade and economic partnership, and I have no doubt that the two leaders will discuss that. But I won’t get ahead of any announcements the President might or might not make. There is, as I said earlier, a real need. We’ve seen this, certainly through the pandemic, that we’ve got to have a more resilient supply chain when it comes to things like chips and semiconductors.
On your first question, we welcome any contribution by any nation to support Ukraine, whatever that is. And we aren’t – we’re not grading them. It’s not like people are on some kind of sliding scale. Every nation decides for themselves whether they are going to support Ukraine, and if so what that looks like. And South Korea, the Republic of Korea, has in fact supported Ukraine, as I said, with a tremendous amount of humanitarian assistance and non-lethal capabilities. And if President Yoon makes a decision to change the scope of that, that’s certainly something for him to speak to. We already appreciate what the Republic of Korea is doing, and we would welcome any additional contribution by any nation who wants to see Ukraine continue to succeed on the battlefield.
Okay. I got time for just a couple more, and then I think we’re going to have to go. Yes, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you. Sputnik News, Russia. Russia’s Deputy Chief of the Security Council Dmitry Medvedev recently said that Moscow is ready to consider sending its advanced arms to DPRK should Seoul decide to provide arms to Ukraine. Do you see any security risks for Seoul here?
MR KIRBY: I – we haven’t seen any indication that that sort of defense cooperation has taken place. I think you know a few weeks ago we revealed publicly that North Korea had shipped some artillery shells and ammunition to the Prigozhin Group under – I’m sorry, the Wagner Group under Mr. Prigozhin in Ukraine. But we haven’t seen anything that sort of broadens or deepens that.
Look, Mr. Putin knows he’s struggling in this war. It – he knows his military has not done well – poor command and control, poor leadership, poor morale, certainly poor operational effectiveness on the battlefield, and a large part of that goes to the bravery and skill of the Ukrainian soldiers who are facing them and the Ukrainian people who are supporting their army in the field. But it also goes to the fact that he’s running through his inventory of arms and ammunition, of missiles, and of people. Because he just continues to throw flesh at this fighting
And so we also know that the export controls and the sanctions that we put in place are certainly pinching his defense industries, his ability to acquire, procure, and put in the field additional military capabilities. So what’s he do? He reaches out to a country like Iran for drones. And we know that the Iranians have sent – already sent several hundred of these drones, which they use – the Russians continue to use to kill innocent Ukrainian people. We know that he’s reached out to other countries as well, that he continues to try to reach out to the PRC, to China, to provide arms and ammunition, because he knows that he’s hurting. He knows that things are not going well.
This is not the time, as we’ve said, for any nation to be making it easier for Mr. Putin to kill innocent Ukrainian people. Nobody should be making it easier for him to continue to violate Ukrainian sovereignty. And we’re going to continue to make that case. We’re going to continue to make sure that Ukraine can defend itself.
Yeah. You had another one?
QUESTION: I just want to clarify my question. I asked about —
MR KIRBY: Well, it was a good answer, even if it wasn’t to your question.
QUESTION: Yeah. Absolutely, I agree. Russia is considering sending advanced weapons to DPRK in retaliation for Seoul sending arms to Ukraine. So —
MR KIRBY: In return for South Korea —
QUESTION: Sending arms to Ukraine.
MR KIRBY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Do you see any threat —
MR KIRBY: Well, first of all, let’s not get ahead of where we are. The Republic of Korea’s support for Ukraine has been largely in the non-lethal category. Only President Yoon and the Korean people can decide whether they want to change that and send additional or different kinds of capabilities. So let’s be clear where we are right now. And only President Yoon can speak for what the Republic of Korea will or will not do.
And I’ve seen Mr. Medvedev’s comments with respect to assisting the DRPK. Again, I would argue – we would argue – that what needs to happen on the peninsula is the denuclearization, a de-escalation of tensions. And providing capabilities in any context to make the security environment on the Korean Peninsula less secure and less stable is to no one’s benefit.
What we will do – again, I can’t speak hypothetically for what Mr. Medvedev is saying or what Russia will or won’t do, and I certainly can’t speak hypothetically to what President Yoon might do to support Ukraine. What we will do is two things in the context of this discussion: one, continue to support Ukraine on the battlefield. We are the leading nation in contributions to their self-defense, and we’re going to continue to be that leader. We’re going to continue to make sure that they can succeed on the battlefield, as President Biden has said, for as long as it takes. And two – and this gets back to this week – we’re going to continue to look for ways to deepen and improve this alliance that we have with the Republic of Korea, which we take seriously. Five of our seven treaty alliances in the United States are in the Indo-Pacific region, and this is a key one, as I said, the lynchpin that we believe – a lynchpin alliance to security and prosperity across the Indo-Pacific. We’re going to look for ways to continue to improve that.
Our commitment, our obligation to defend the Republic of Korea is ironclad, and the United States will continue to do what it has to do to make sure we meet that commitment.
Okay, guys. I’m afraid I’m going to have to call it quits here. I do appreciate your time. I think we got to just about everybody. And look forward to seeing you throughout the rest of the week, a very important week. The President is very much looking forward to this state visit, and we’ve very excited to have President Yoon and his team here. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you. That concludes today’s briefing.
**Footnote: Russia currently holds the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council.