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MODERATOR:  Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels media hub.  I would like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing.  Today we are very honored to be joined by John Kirby, the Coordinator for Strategic Communications at the National Security Council.

We will try to get to as many questions as possible in the 30 minutes that we have today, so please show your support and like the questions you’d most like us to cover.  And as always, you can notify us of any technical difficulties at TheBrusselsHub – it’s one word –

Finally, a reminder today’s briefing is on the record.  And with that, let’s get started.  Mr. Kirby, thank you so much for joining us today.  I’ll turn it over to you for opening remarks.

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  Thank you very much, and good afternoon, everybody.  I appreciate you all making some time for this.  I just want to run through a couple of points about – by way of update for our support to Türkiye and to Syria in the wake of those devastating earthquakes.  As you know, President Biden has absolutely made it clear that the United States is going to stay prepared to provide any and all types of aid to the people of Türkiye and to Syria, of course in response to this just almost overwhelming humanitarian crisis here on both sides of the border.

There is a page on USAID’s website that has a list of vetted organizations that are responding to this crisis should any individuals want to contribute, and obviously we encourage people to go look at that site and do so.  It’s at  For private businesses, USAID can also help connect you directly with local organizations whose needs match your interests, whether those organizations are in Türkiye or Syria.

Secretary Blinken will be on the ground in Türkiye on Monday to assess our ongoing response efforts there, and with respect to those efforts in Türkiye, our urban search and rescue teams are absolutely still hard at work assisting in live rescues even this week.  U.S. military helicopters are providing critical lift for Turkish, U.S., and international responders, as well as equipment and relief supplies.  To date, they’ve moved about 18 metric tons of critical relief supplies and relief workers, including tends, water and sanitation items, hygiene kits, diapers, heaters, even generators from Adana’s Incirlik Air Base to various points throughout the region.

Our teams also continue to conduct structural damage assessments of buildings with the hope of being able to help clear as many as possible.  To date, they have assessed more than 5,500 buildings, allowing thousands of people who are currently displaced to be able to return home.

In Syria, we absolutely need to keep the aid flowing so that the Syrian people can get the help that they need as well.  The decision earlier this week to open two additional border crossings for UN convoys is welcome, but it’s long overdue, and we’d like to see – we’d like to see even more access into Syria.  We believe that only a UN Security Council resolution codifying this agreement can ensure that the Assad regime does not go back on its word and allows this vital humanitarian assistance to reach so many desperate Syrians in need.

And with that, I’ll stop and take whatever questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We have a number of live questions teed up.  Let’s go to Hiba Nasr.  Hiba, you have the mike.  Can you hear us, Hiba?  Okay, let’s go to Oskar Gorzynski from the Polish Press Agency next.

QUESTION:  Hi.  Thank you for doing this.  So I have two things.  First of all – can you hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yes, we hear you.

QUESTION:  There’s some – okay.  Regarding the President’s trip to Poland, is there a possibility President Biden will meet President Zelenskyy either in Poland or somewhere else, maybe on the border?  And do you expect any announcements during the – deliverables during the trip?

And second question is on the Russian offensive in the Donbas.  There is some confusion about that.  Some expert I talked to say that what we see now is the offensive that’s been heralded, and Russia doesn’t have enough forces to conduct a bigger one later on.  And is that your assessment as well, that what we’ve – what we’re seeing now is the big offensive?  Thank you.

ADMIRAL KIRBY:  Okay, there’s a lot there.  I don’t have any additional meetings to speak to with respect to the President’s trip in Poland.  He’s very much looking forward to going, to meeting with President Duda, to thanking the Polish people for the incredible support that they have provided not only U.S. military forces there in Poland and our efforts to help the coordination of delivery of security assistance, but also just the generosity of the Polish people when it comes to hosting more than a million Ukrainian refugees.  And it’s just been incredible.

I mean, as I said the other day, Poland is certainly punching well above its weight in terms of its contributions in this devastating time for Ukraine, and the President very much wants to deliver that message personally to the Polish people.  He also will be making remarks about what is sadly now going to be an anniversary of this war.  And in that set of remarks, I think you can expect him to talk about the incredible international unity and resolve that there has been to support Ukraine and to hold Russia accountable, as well as the kinds of things that are going to be needed in terms of support going forward.

And I’m not going to get ahead of the President’s remarks or detail anything he might have to say with respect to what things are going to look like going forward, except the only thing I would add is that the United States has been the leading contributor of assistance to Ukraine, whether that’s financial, humanitarian, or security.  And we take our leadership responsibility seriously.  We have received terrific bicameral and bipartisan support from members of Congress on Capitol Hill for this kind of support.  They have allocated – or authorized, excuse me – another 40-plus billion dollars for 2023.  And we are already executing on those funds, and we believe that those funds will help us get through much of this year.  So we do believe that support for Ukraine will continue – well, we know that it will continue.  And that includes security assistance, but again, I won’t get ahead of the President.

On the Donbas, I am loath to try to speak for the Russian military or the ministry of defense.  What I can tell you, what we see is essentially really the only – I shouldn’t say the only – the most vicious fighting is happening around Bakhmut and in the Donbas area.  As you pointed out – you specifically talked about the Donbas – it’s fighting that is largely being done by Mr. Prigozhin and the Wagner Group as they try to secure Bakhmut, and the Ukrainians are bravely fighting to resist that.  Now, I don’t know where it’s going to go with Bakhmut, but even if the Russians are able to take the – they will not have achieved anything of strategic value.

And it’s difficult to say by what we’re seeing in the Donbas right now that this is some kind of major offensive.  It’s a continuation of what we have seen over the last weeks and even months of what looks like a purely selfish desire by Mr. Prigozhin to take Bakhmut, perhaps because of the gypsum mines that are there.  And he’s throwing ex-convicts into that fight.  It’s difficult to look at that and say with any kind of degree of certainty that this represents some new Russian offensive.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to a submitted question now from Maria Tsilinikou from Greece with Skai TV:  “Will the earthquake – will earthquake diplomacy change anything in Greek-Turkish relations?  On Syria, have there been any – has there been any contact with the Assad regime since the earthquake from the – by the U.S.?”

ADMIRAL KIRBY:  I’m sorry, can you repeat that last one again?

MODERATOR:  Has there been any contact with the Assad regime after the earthquake?

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  I know of no direct communication with the Assad regime.  As you know, we don’t have diplomatic relations with the regime.  Our work is all being done through UN- and U.S.-partnered organizations that are – that we have a long track record of working with, and getting the aid and assistance to them so that they can get it directly to the Syrian people.  As you know, USAID announced a week or so again another $85 million worth of funding just for this crisis, and it will be for both Syria and for Türkiye.  And we’re going to make that determination (inaudible) I can certainly confirm today that much of our support is going to our – to those humanitarian partners that are operating in Syria.

So funding is growing quickly; we’ll continue to assess where there are specific funding needs, and just like we’re doing today, we’ll continue to provide updates on how that funding is being flowed in.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to another live question.  Can we go to Tamam Abusafi?  Tamam, you have the microphone.

QUESTION:  Hello, you can hear me now?

MODERATOR:  Yes, we hear you.

QUESTION:  Oh.  How do you assess the level of Iranian threats in region, especially to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, while the international pressure is increasing on Iran right now?

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  I’m so sorry to ask you to repeat that last part again.

QUESTION:  How do you assess the level of Iranian threats in the region, especially to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, while the international pressure is increasing on Iran right now?

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  Okay, yeah.  So obviously, Iran continues their destabilizing activities.  I’m going to set aside for just a second the link with Russia, because I think that’s a really good question.  But obviously, they still continue to develop an advanced ballistic missile program.  They are obviously still improving their unmanned aerial vehicle capabilities.  They continue to provide direct support to terrorist organizations throughout the Levant and the Middle East.  They still continue to threaten maritime shipping.  And we have every reason to suspect that they continue to advance along their nuclear ambitions.

All of which is deeply concerning to the United States, to the region, quite frankly to the world.  We have seen a deepening defense partnership between Iran and Russia with respect to the fighting in Ukraine.  Make no mistake about it:  The regime in Tehran is directly assisting in tangible, demonstrable ways, to Mr. Putin’s military capability to kill innocent Ukrainian people.  There’s no other way to cut it.  They are sending several hundred drones to Mr. Putin and his military so that they can use those drones to target civilian infrastructure, to target homes, to target hospitals, to even hit playgrounds.  There is no doubt about it; Tehran is directly involved in helping Russia propagate this devastating war on the people of Ukraine.  And we are going to continue to hold the regime accountable – not only for all that, but the way they’re treating their own people as they continue to brutalize peaceful protesters.

So we and the international community are also aligned on this, but the United States is going to continue to hold the regime accountable for its activities.  Sadly, those activities continue to destabilize not only the region, but again, now the European continent.

I would – one more point, and that is that this burgeoning defense relationship between Iran and Russia goes both ways.  So yes, it’s true that Iran is helping Russia kill Ukrainians.  But what concerns us is the potential for Russia to return the favor and to provide or assist or help Iran develop even more advanced capabilities, particularly military capabilities, that would only further destabilize the region.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to another live question – this time from Suzanne Lynch.  Suzanne, you have the mike.

QUESTION:  Hi there.

MODERATOR:  Yeah, we got you.  Suzanne, I think you’re muted.

QUESTION:  Excuse me.  Can you hear me now?

MODERATOR:  Yes, we can.

QUESTION:  Hello?  Yeah, hi.  Just a question about your mention of the need for a Security Council resolution on those border crossings into Syria.  Is the U.S. looking for a resolution in the next few days and do you have support for that call from other members of the UN?

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  We believe there’s some support, yes, at the UN.  I can’t give you the vote count right now.  I mean, I would refer you to our mission at the UN.  And obviously we’d like to see this as soon as possible.  I mean, people are literally dying here, and time is of the essence.

QUESTION:  But yes, I mean, they did announce this breakthrough on Monday and the openings did open.  This was presented as quite a development last Monday, and it avoided the need for a Security Council meeting on this.  But America obviously feels this isn’t enough?

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  Right.  Because we’re not completely confident that Mr. Assad is going to abide by that, that he might act in capricious ways here.  We have, I think, good reason to suspect that.  So we believe a UN Security Council resolution could add some additional gravity and weight to the decisions that have already been made about keeping these – about opening these crossings.  They need to stay open.  And again, we believe a resolution will help lend gravitas to that very real demand, and we – obviously, we’d want to see one as soon as possible.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to another submitted question, this time from Dilge Timocin from the VOA Turkish Service.  He says:  “You noted that Secretary Blinken will be on the ground in Turkey.  Does this mean that the Secretary of State will visit the U.S. search and rescue teams in Adiyaman or any earthquake zone?

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  I don’t honestly know exactly what his itinerary is going to look like, and I would refer you to the State Department for that.  Secretary Blinken absolutely wants to go to assess ongoing efforts here, and where he’s actually going to go on the ground, I think the State Department is still working that out, and I wouldn’t want to speak for them or for him or for his travel agenda.

But it is important for us as an administration to make sure that we are taking a look for ourselves, to see exactly how relief efforts are going, and assess whether we need to do anything different, and make sure we have that conversation directly with our Turkish counterparts.  The Turkish Government is rightly in the lead here, and we want to be supportive to them and in ways that they believe is most necessary.  And that’s why Secretary Blinken is going.  But again, as far as where he’ll physically be on the ground, I think I need to refer to my State Department colleagues for that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to another live question.  Yunus Paksoy, you have the mic.  I’m afraid you’re muted, Yunus.

QUESTION:  I just unmuted.  Can you hear me now?

MODERATOR:  Yes, we have you now.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Perfect.  Thank you very much for doing this.  I’ll actually stay on the topic regarding the earthquake relief.  We’ve been obviously hearing the $85 million in humanitarian assistance, and that was last week when we heard it from the State Department.  Is there any kind of update that you can give, because we were told by the State Department spokesperson that we’d have more regarding the further assistance in the upcoming days.  Is there anything that you can update us on that?  Thank you.

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  Well, I sort of tried to get to that in my opening statement.  But, I mean, look, from day one our partners in Syria have been quickly pivoting existing stockpiles and resources towards the earthquake response.  There was things already on the ground or nearby that they could get to.  So far, they’ve been able to increase those efforts over just the past several days, as 95 trucks’ worth of aid have been able to cross the border into the northwest, even, quite frankly, in the face of some of their own staff members being killed or hurt as a result of the earthquake.  And even today, U.S. Government partners are, again, providing lifesaving assistance throughout all the areas of Syria.  And that assistance includes urgent health care, it includes shelter support, food, medicine, water, sanitation equipment, and things for general hygiene.

The additional funding I talked about, that’s going to help bolster these partners’ relief efforts and certainly improve it, maybe even expand it with an emphasis on the hardest hit communities there in Syria.  Now, those partners, I will say, include the White Helmets, who I think you all have seen have pulled countless survivors from the rubble, and U.S.-supported Syrian medics who have been treating survivors from Idlib to Aleppo and other affected areas.

So there’s a lot of work being done and that money is being directed to those partners for use in Syria, and I am more than happy to get another hub call here in a few days and provide even more updates, but I can tell you that even —

QUESTION:  I wasn’t – I’m not sure if I’m muted right now, but I wasn’t specifically asking for Syria.  Is there any kind of further consultation between the American and Turkish governments regarding further assistance, whether it be financial or physical, militarily?  Is there anything that you can update us on with the Turkish Government?

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  I don’t have any more updates on Türkiye.  I’m sorry.  I misunderstood the question.

QUESTION:  No, thank you very much.

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  But I – in my opening statement, I think I laid it out there.  The U.S. military stands ready to support with additional capabilities, but obviously we’re going to do that in lockstep with the Turkish Government.  The U.S. European commander has designated the U.S. Navy European commander as the lead for our military efforts, and there are – there’s a lot of military capability that we have existing on the continent and in the Mediterranean should that be required.  But again, everything we’re doing – and I laid it all out in my opening statement – is being done in complete consultation and in lockstep with the Turkish Government and what they determine the best needs are.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.


MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  We’ll go to another submitted question from Mohamed Maher from Al-Ain News.  “After U.S. aid to Syria after the earthquake, will there be any change in U.S. policy towards the Assad regime?”

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  I know of no such change – policy change with respect to the Assad regime.  All our sanctions are still in place, but as I think you saw, we executed a general license a week ago that will allow even more – will allow even more humanitarian assistance to flow, not that humanitarian assistance wasn’t flowing already even with the sanctions in place.  When people are dying and people are in need like they are in Syria, the United States will answer that call.  And we’re doing that, and we’re doing it through our partners – some of whom I just went through.  But there has been no change nor do we expect a change with our policies towards the Assad regime.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  I think we have one – time for one last question.  We’ll go to a live question: Marcin Wrona, you have the mike.  Can you hear us, Marcin?

QUESTION:  Yes, I hear you.  Can you hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yes, go ahead, please.

QUESTION:  Okay.  Wonderful.  So John, I would like to first ask a technical question because I heard some conflicting reports.  Is the President arriving to Poland on Monday evening or Tuesday morning?  Again, as I said, there are some conflicting reports.  And following on Oskar’s question about Volodymyr Zelenskyy, can you rule out – will you rule out a meeting with Zelenskyy during this trip or will there be, for example, a symbolic even crossing of the border between Poland and Ukraine?  Do you have anything on this?

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  Yeah, on the arrival details, we’ll have more to say about the trip in the next day or so.  So I think I’m just going to defer until later when we can provide more details about the actual schedule.  And on your second question, there are no additional stops planned for this trip outside of Poland.  And as I said at the very beginning, there – right now the President is looking forward to meeting with President Duda, with communicating with the Polish people, with making remarks there in Warsaw – and I don’t have any other meetings to speak to or to detail or preview today.

I would add that President Biden and President Zelenskyy have spoken regularly and routinely over the course of the last year, both face to face and over the phone.  And we fully expect that that direct communication between those two leaders will absolutely continue well into the future.  So again, without anything to preview, I would tell you that President Biden is very comfortable with his relationship – his personal relationship with President Zelenskyy and very confident that that relationship will continue.

QUESTION:  Thank you.

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  You’re welcome.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, sir.  Unfortunately, that is all the time we have for now.  Thank you all for your questions and thank you, Mr. Kirby, for joining us.  Before we close the call, I’d like to see if you have any final comments?

REAR ADMIRAL KIRBY:  No, thanks very much for this.  I enjoyed this engagement, and I am more than happy to keep doing it.  I – particularly when it comes to updating our efforts to support the people of Türkiye and Syria, so let me know when you want me to come back, and I’ll be happy to do it.

MODERATOR:  That’s great, sir.  Thank you so much.  Shortly, we’ll send an audio recording of the briefing to all the participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it is available.  We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can always contact us at any time at  Thanks again for your participation, and we hope you can join us again for another press briefing in the future.  This ends today’s press briefing.

U.S. Department of State

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