James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:18 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Good afternoon, everybody.

Q    Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay, a couple things at the top. 

So, from day one, President Biden has treated climate change with the urgency it requires.  Against the backdrop of extreme heat we’ve seen across America, tomorrow President Biden will announce additional actions to protect communities from extreme heat conditions.  This includes investments through NOAA to improve weather predictions as well as grants through the Department of Interior to bring clean, reliable drinking water to communities across the West.

At the event, the President is also going to hear from FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and NOAA Administrator Dr. Rick Spinrad on the steps — on the steps being taken on how to protect the millions of Americans being impacted by extreme heat across the country.

The mayors of Phoenix, Arizona, and San Antonio, Texas, will also be on hand to talk about the impacts of the climate crisis on their communities and the steps they are taking with this administration to protect communities from it.

Also today, President — President Biden announced his intent to nominate former mayor, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley, as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. 

Since day one, the President — the President has fought to strengthen and defend Social Security, which tens of millions of Americans have paid into and depend on for their livelihood.

Governor O’Malley is a lifelong public servant who has a proven track record of delivering results for the people he serves and who has always been a strong proponent of strengthening Social Security.

President Biden extends his gratitude to the acting commissioner for her steady leadership of the Social Security Administration during this interim period.

Now, I know many people have been following the news in Delaware today and have — and are going to have a lot of questions.  And so, here’s what I’ll say at the top before I turn it over to my colleague, the Admiral:

Hunter Biden is a private citizen, and this was a personal matter for him.  As we have said, the President, the First Lady — they love their son, and they support him as he continues to rebuild his life.  This case was handled independently, as all of you know, by the Justice Department under the leadership of a prosecutor appointed by the former president, President Trump.

So for anything further, as you know — and we’ve been very consistent from here — I’d refer you to the Department of Justice and to Hunter’s representatives, who is his legal team, obviously, who can address any of your questions.

With that, I have the Admiral here, Admiral John Kirby, who’s going to take — who’s going to take any foreign policy questions you all mi- — may have and also give a preview of an important meeting that the President is going to have tomorrow: a bilateral meeting with the Prime Minister of Italy.

And with that, Admiral.

MR. KIRBY:  Thanks, Karine.  Good afternoon, everybody.

So, I think, as you know, tomorrow President Biden will host Prime Minister Meloni of Italy at the White House here to reaffirm the strong bipartisan relationship and partnership, quite frankly, that — “bipartisan” — (laughs) — bilateral relationship and partnership between our two nations.

The President has been looking forward to this visit quite a bit.  The United States and Italy are close NATO Allies and G7 partners.  We’re important trade partners.  And there are very strong bonds between our two peoples, as the somewhat 18 million Italian Americans, I think, can attest to.

As we deal with important global challenges, including Russia’s war against Ukraine and the climate crisis, the U.S.- Italy partnership and Italy’s strong voice in the EU and within the NATO Alliance certainly remain important.

Italy hosts approximately 30,000 American service members, Defense Department employees, and, of course, all their family members across five major military bases throughout Italy, which is the second-largest permanent presence in Europe.  And we’re certainly grateful for that.

We work closely with the Prime Minister and the government of Italy on Ukraine as well as a range of other shared interests.

Tomorrow’s meeting will give both leaders a chance to explore some of those shared interests, including regional challenges, our shared commitment to, obviously, as I said, Ukraine, which Italy has been a great partner on, providing both military and economic and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.

The leaders will also able to discuss developments in North Africa, closer transatlantic coordination regarding the People’s Republic of China.  And we expect that they’ll also discuss Italy’s upcoming presidency of the G7 in 2024.

Now, President Biden has met and spoken with Prime Minister Meloni a number of times since she took office last fall, including in Bali at the G20 Summit, in Hiroshima at the G7 Summit, and certainly as recently as Vilnius at the NATO Summit.  And they’ve consulted regularly along the way with other G7 partners, again, across a range of issues.

So there’s a good, productive relationship here.  President Biden, I know, is very much looking forward to the discussion, and, of course, we’ll have a full readout for you when that — when that meeting is over.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also just remind that today marks the 75th anniversary of the day that President Truman desegregated the United States military.  And it’s an opportunity — we ought to take this opportunity to recognize, first of all, what a courageous decision that was for President Truman at the time, but also recognize the equal bravery, the equal sacrifices, and the terrific service of generations since that decision of members of color who deserve to be equally honored for their service to this country in peace and in war.

Diversity makes the United States military stronger.  In fact, it’s one of our greatest strengths.  It not only — especially not as an all-volunteer force — helps us better represent the American people that we serve and defend, but it also leads to better decision-making, more unique perspectives at the table, better operational performance.

That doesn’t mean that we got it all figured out.  It doesn’t mean that there’s not still work to do.  There is.  It’s important that we continue, in the spirit of President Truman, to break down barriers so that all qualified service members — no matter their race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or religious background — are treated with dignity and respect, can reach their full potential in service to this country, and have their contributions valued.

So, again, today is a great day to look back at the courage of President Truman and the generations of service members of color, but also it’s important that we look forward in making sure that we keep that spirit going and that we don’t let it flag.

That’s all I have.

Q    Can we ask about the situation in Niger very quickly right now?  Did the Nigerien military storm the presidential palace there to free the President, President Bazoum, from his security services who are holding him, sir?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, look, we — we have watched this with deep concern, Peter.  We certainly condemn any effort to detain or to subvert the functioning of Niger’s democratically elected government.  And we’re still gathering facts here.  And that government, as you know, is led by President Bazoum.

We specifically urge the elements of the presidential guard to release him from detention and to refrain from any violence.  We certainly welcome the strong statements and steps taken by the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union to defend Niger’s democracy.  And obviously, we’re closely monitoring this situation.

But it’s all unfolding right now, and we’re just going to have to stay tuned to it.

Q    The message to Americans that are on the ground there?  And how many U.S. citizens, outside of the military members, do you believe are in Niger?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have an estimate of how many Americans are in Niger —

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. KIRBY:  — or military members, but — but obviously, this is a very tense situation.  We would advise all Americans in Niger to — to be careful about where they are and what they’re doing.  We just don’t know enough about what’s going on.  So, this is a time to put safety first.

Q    Preliminary discussions about evacuations or anything like that?

MR. KIRBY:  Nothing like that right now, Peter.  It’s all just unfolding.  We’re just watching this very, very closely.  We’ll have to see how it unfolds.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, April.

Q    John, two questions.  One on Africa and another subject.  What is the update and what are you doing as it relates to the grains issue going to Africa out of Ukraine?  What — what’s happening now?  Can you give us an update?  Because early on in this war, there was a strong concern.  The President of Ukraine told Greg Meeks — then, at the time, the head of Foreign Affairs — that he was very concerned about these African nations, these third-world nations that had hunger and food instability there.  What is (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, it’s a — it’s a great question, April.  And, you know, Mr. Putin is hosting African leaders there in Moscow starting today, I think.

And, look, I don’t know what he plans to tell them, but I sure as heck hope that he — that he plans to be honest with African leaders about the effect that his decision to pull out of the grain deal is going to have on African nations.

So much of that grain that was getting out of Odesa and Black Sea ports from Ukraine was going to countries that need it most — developing countries across the so-called Global South.  And, of course, that includes the African continent.

And we’ve already seen grain and foodstuff prices fuctu- — fluctuate, go up.  They’ve gone down a little bit, gone up.  But there’s — there’s volatility in the — in the market that wasn’t there before.

So, I sure hope Mr. Putin is willing to be honest with African leaders about the effect that this is having or could have on them.

Q    So, does that honesty come with a solution as well?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, no.  And thanks for the reminder I didn’t actually get to your question.

We — the best way for this grain to get to market is through maritime lanes — through the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.  And, obviously, that’s not going to happen now or at least for some time.

So, we are working with our EU partners, we’re working with Ukraine and other European partners to see if there’s other ways to get grain to market overland.

But that’s not as efficient.  It’s not effective.  You can’t move as much or as fast via land routes, whether it’s truck or rail.  But — but we’re working to see what we can do to try to alleviate the — or increase the flow.

Q    And last question: As you mark the moment about the integration of the military, are you intertwining that with this moment, this racially and politically divisive moment, to show that patriotism is not just one group?  The integration of the military shows that many people are patriots.

MR. KIRBY:  I sure hope so.  I mean, when a soldier fights and bleeds, that — that blood is red.  It doesn’t — doesn’t matter what the color of the skin was.  And you don’t have to look any further than just recent conflicts that this country has fought and see the contributions — I mean significant contributions — and the cost in blood — American blood put forth by people of color for — for this country.  In fact, people of color were fighting for this country even before they were given all the rights of citizens. 

And so, yes, I think this is an opportunity — it must be an opportunity for us to recognize that bravery doesn’t — isn’t divided by race or color or creed.  It’s not — it doesn’t — doesn’t matter who you — who you worship or whether you worship at all.  Bravery, skill, the courage that goes along with being a member of the United States military — that’s something that comes from the heart.

And — and especially now, with an all-volunteer force, people are, you know, signing up to do this.  They’re not being told to do it.

So I hope it is an opportunity for all Americans to recognize that all Americans who have served this country in uniform continue to defend it bravely.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  John, I’d like — I’d like to follow up on the Grain Deal Initiative.  Can you tell us what are the most efficient ways of delivering alter- — the most efficient alternatives of delivering grain from Ukraine?  You were talking about consistent work with the partners.  What exactly are those alternatives?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, as I think I said to — to April — look — look, the most efficient way is by ship.  I mean, that’s just the best way to get the maximum amount of grain out on a timely basis.

You could use rail.  You could us truck routes.  You could also look at perhaps other EU ports, but you got to — you got to get it out of Ukraine to be able to use other EU ports.

So, there is just — there is — there is no more efficient way than by maritime traffic.  That’s just a scientific fact or physical fact.  But we are going to continue to work with our partners in Europe to see if there is other overland ways to — to do it.

Q    A second question, if I may.  Is — is there an agreement between the U.S. and its allies regarding the location, method, and timing of the F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m sorry.  Can you repeat that question?  I was writing myself a note.

Q    Like, is there a consensus between the U.S. and its allies regarding the location, method, and timing of the F-16 training for the Ukrainian pilots?

MR. KIRBY:  So, here’s what I can tell you: We are pursuing F-16 training for Ukrainian pilots in Romania and Denmark.  The dates, the locations, the length of the syllabus, all of that is still being worked out.

And I can’t give you a day on the calendar and say, “Well, it’s going to start in Romania here, and it’s going to start in Denmark there.”  I just don’t know.  We’re still working that out.  But we know it’s going to be in Denmark and Romania. 

And there could be other sites as well.  That’s where we’re looking at right now.  I know that the Brits are also beginning English language training for Ukrainian pilots so that they can actually operate the controls on an F-16.  So that’s — that’s getting started here, I think, soon.

But we’ll just have to see.  We’re — we’re all taking this with the appropriate sense of urgency, and we want to get them trained as much as we can — or as fast as we can.

Go ahead, Trevor.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  John, so, a Niger follow-up: Is there any involvement of the administration in some of the regional conversations that are happening right now?  I know that Benin is sending their president.  Is that — is — is the U.S. involved in those regional discussions at all?

MR. KIRBY:  Regional discussions about?

Q    Niger.

MR. KIRBY:  Niger.  I’m not aware of any specific regional discussions on Niger.  Again, this is just unfolding.

Q    Okay.  And then, on the — the Italian meeting tomorrow.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard you guys express an opinion as far as Italy leaving the Belt and Road Initiative, whether you think that’s a good idea.  You’ve — obviously, you’re not supportive of the Belt and Road Initiative and have been trying to create alternatives to it.  So, do you think it’s a good idea for them to leave?

MR. KIRBY:  That’s certainly for the Italians to speak to.  I mean, that’s their sovereign decision.  I — I would let them characterize it if, in fact, they’re going to leave and whether they would and on what time frame would really be for them to speak to.

So, separate and distinct fr- — I don’t want to speak for — for them one way or the other.  But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that more and more countries around the world are seeing the risks and, quite frankly, the lack of reward for economic partnerships with China in — in that regard.

And it goes also to — to Africa as well.

So, again, these are decisions that these countries have to make.  And you said we’re — I think you — I — I don’t want to put words in your mouth — but that we’re — we’re pursuing alternatives or something.

I mean, we — we’ve created an alternative: the — the PGII that the President announced at the G7 last year — the Partnership for Global Investment and Infrastructure, just to lay out the — the acronym there.  I mean, that is a good alternative, and it is getting some traction.  And so, we’re going to continue to invest in that and continue to encourage our partners to as well.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Jeremy.

Q    Thanks.  John, on the situation in Niger, is what we’re witnessing right now a coup or an attempted coup?  And is the U.S. taking any protective measures at the embassy or in terms of movement of the U.S. troops who are based there?

MR. KIRBY:  We’re not putting a title on it right now, Jeremy.  We’re watching this unfold in near real time, just like you are.  It’s not entirely clear exactly what’s going.  We just got these reports that — that the President is being detained.  And, of course, we urge for his speedy release.

So, we’ll just — we’ll just kind of have to watch and see where this goes.

Q    And then, on this unidentified aerial phenomena hearing that’s happening on Capitol Hill.  David Grusch, who sat on a U.S. Air Force panel on UAPs, he says that he was informed of a UAP crash retrieval and reverse engineering program based on interviewing 40 witnesses over 4 years.  Does such a program exist?  And do you believe that the American people deserve to know if it does?

MR. KIRBY:  I have no information on that to provide for you today one way or the other.  I would just say what I said last week when I got asked about this: We obviously take the issue of unidentified aerial phenomena seriously. 

There is a whole office at the Pentagon that is stood up to analyze the data, collect reports, collate those reports, and forward them up appropriately.  And that’s, I think, testament of the fact that — that we know that in some cases, these phenomena have impacted military training, have then impacted military readiness.

Q    But these — this hearing today does seem to have brought this issue to kind of a new level of public consciousness.  And so, I wonder if — if the President believes that these claims warrant further investigation.  Do you guys see some of these claims and allegations as credible?

MR. KIRBY:  If the President didn’t believe that the sightings by pilots were serious enough to be — to be considered, he wouldn’t have wanted the Pentagon to stand up an office to — to look at this, to analyze the data, to collect reports, and provide a system by which we can collate the information and better figure out what we’ve got here.

But that work is ongoing.  So, if — if your — if your question is, you know, do we think we need to be transparent with the American people, of course, we — we need to be as transparent as we can be. 

But the truth is, Jeremy, we don’t have hard and fast answers on these things.  We are trying to get smarter on it.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Sebastian.

Q    Thank you.  Again, on Prime Minister Meloni.  On the Belt and Road, is this something that the President will bring up with the Prime Minister at least, whatever his position — the Belt and Road issue?

MR. KIRBY:  I think I’ll just leave it as I did in my readout: They certainly will talk about shared concerns and perspectives and challenges with respect to the PRC.  But in terms of specific agenda items, I don’t have anything beyond that.

Q    And on the Prime Minister herself, to what — to what extent is President Biden uncomfortable with her being a far-right politician, that she opposes — well, you know, her party opposes a bunch of things that the President fights for.  And of course, in Europe, generally, it’s got — you know there are dark roots to that whole movement.

MR. KIRBY:  The President has enjoyed working with her.  And certainly, on issues of foreign policy, there has been a lot of overlapping and mutually reinforcing approaches that — that were taken with Italy.  Italy is a NATO Ally, and they are a very competent NATO Ally.  And they’ve been a tremendous supporter of Ukraine.  They’re hosting something like 170,000 Ukrainians on Italian soil, just taking care of these folks while this war rages on.

And they have provided millions of dollars of security assistance, humanitarian assistance, economic assistance. 

I mean, there is — just in the — in my opening statement, you can — there is an awful lot of things to talk about with the Prime Minister.  The President is looking forward to that.

And, again, there has — there has been a lot of — a lot of alignment on a lot of key foreign policy issues.

Q    On the domestic issues, internal Italian —

MR. KIRBY:  The — the Italian —

Q    (Inaudible) sets them aside —

MR. KIRBY:  The Italian — the Italian people get to decide who their government is.  It’s a democracy, and the President respects that.

And he also respects that — the work that he’s been able to do with the Prime Minister, again, that cre- — on — on a range of issues.  But that’s what they’re going to talk about.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Weijia.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  Hi, John.  Thank you.  So, back to Jeremy’s questioning.  Does the United States believe that there might be life outside of Earth?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have a position on that one way or the other to speak to today.

What we believe is that there are unexplained aerial phenomena that have been sighted and reported by pilots, Navy and Air Force; that these phenomena have in some cases had an impact on our training ranges, on our pilots’ ability to fly, train, operate, and stay ready.  That alone makes it a national security issue worth — worth looking at.

We don’t know.  We don’t have the answers about what these phenomena are.  Otherwise, I guess we’d have a catchier name for it.  Unexplained — “unidentified aerial phenomena” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but it’s an honest assessment of what we think about this problem set.  And so, we’ll see where it goes.

Q    Okay.  And then, on Trevor Reed, has the administration, on any level, communicated with Russia about Trevor Reed since he was injured?

MR. KIRBY:  Since he was injured?  I know of no communications with Russian officials since the reports of his injury.

Q    I ask because Secretary Blinken echoed what we heard from Karine yesterday, which is that, you know, the administration believes that Trevor’s case and what he did should be a separate case from the negotiations to bring Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich home.  But my question is: How can the administration say that so confidently if you haven’t even heard from the Russians about it?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I think the Russians have heard from us plenty.  We ju- —

Q    No, I —

MR. KIRBY:  No, no, no.  Let me finish.  I think they’ve heard plenty from us about where we stand on Americans fighting in Ukraine.  I mean, you don’t have to — I mean, even the most casual observer sitting in Moscow can take two seconds online and see how vociferously and strongly we have not only not encouraged Americans to go fight in Ukraine but actively and energetically urged them not to. 

And so, I won’t speak for Mr. Reed.  He can speak for himself and the decisions he made.  But I can assure you, and anybody in Moscow can look at what we’ve said and be equally assured, that he went of his own accord.  Nothing has changed. 

And Karine, I think, did this very well with you yesterday, talking about the risks that Americans might take if they go to Ukraine.  They should not go.  This is not the time for Americans to be in Ukraine.

As for Americans that are being wrongfully detained in Russia, nothing is going to change, from our perspective, about what we’re going to have to do or try to do to get them out.  Evan and Paul need to come home.  And we’re going to continue to work at that.

But nobody in Moscow should be under any illusion that Mr. Reed was in Ukraine at our urging or our encouragement or that it’s — that his decision to go there should be connected in any way to what we’re trying to do to get those two wrongfully detained Americans home.

Q    And you honestly believe that the Russians won’t hold this against the U.S. as the U.S. tries to get the other two men out?

MR. KIRBY:  Man, I’ll tell you, if I — if I could get inside the head of Russian officials and know what they were going to decide and do, I’d — I probably would be in a very different place.

I don’t know.  I can’t — I can’t possibly begin to predict what they’ll think or say.  But if by some infinitesimal, small degree there’s anybody in Moscow that thinks that we’ve changed our policy about Americans fighting in Ukraine, again, I urge them to listen to this press conference and read everything we’ve been saying for the last 16 months. 

Now is not the time for Americans to be in Ukraine.  And we had nothing to do with Mr. Reed being there.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Just a couple more.  Go ahead, Janne.

Q    Thank you.  Thank you, Karine.  And hi, John.  I have two questions on Russia and North Korea and South Korea.  The Russian defense minister was invited to North Korea for the 70th anniversary of armistice agreement.  And it is known that the Russian defense minister will discuss importing weapons from North Korea.  What do you think about the direct arms deal with North Korea by Russian defense minister about this and not the Wagner Group’s?  Can you comment on that?

MR. KIRBY:  I certainly can’t confirm the report that you just laid out there.  That said, it’s been no secret, and we’ve talked about it many times, that Mr. Putin is reaching out to other countries for help and support in fighting his war in Ukraine.  And that includes, we know, some outreach to the DPRK.

It’s, I think, a testament of the fact that Mr. Putin knows he’s having his own defense procurement problems, his own inventory problems, that his military remains on the back foot, and he’s trying to shore that up. 

Nobody — nobody should be helping Mr. Putin kill more Ukrainians.  But the fact that he’s reaching out to North Korea, or could be, additionally, that’s — that wouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody.

Q    So do you think that this will be used in the war in Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  I couldn’t begin to confirm that.  I don’t know.

Q    One more.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We got to — we got to keep — go ahead, Francesca.

Q    Thanks, John.  In the Department of Justice’s statement on the Biden administration lawsuit against the state of Texas, it said, quote, “The presence of the floating barrier has prompted diplomatic protests by Mexico and risks damaging U.S. foreign policy.”  End quote.

Liz Sherwood — Sherwood-Randall and a group of Biden administration officials were in Mexico this week.  Did the Mexican government raise the issue of the floating barriers?  And does the White House believe that the floating barriers hurt U.S. diplomatic efforts?

MR. KIRBY:  There was a delegation in Mexico, largely to look at issues surrounding fentanyl.  I don’t know if the issue of the barriers came up.  That wasn’t the purpose of Liz Sherwood-Randall’s trip down there.  It was really to talk about the counternarcotics efforts, specifically — specifically around fentanyl.  And I would refer you to the DOJ on more details on that.

On — on the bar- —

Q    But do — but do the floating barriers —

MR. KIRBY:  On the —

Q    — do you believe that it hurts U.S. foreign policy?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, it’s certainly not helping.  But I can’t tell you that there’s been a direct impact on our diplomatic relations with Mexico.  They — they’re very good.  They’re very strong.  And we have a lot of mutual shared concerns — including, as I said, fentanyl — and certainly issues about immigration.  And we’re working closely with Mexican authorities on that.

Q    And on another topic, quickly — on Ukraine.  Do you believe that the counteroffensive is moving too slowly?

MR. KIRBY:  President Zelenskyy himself has said that he — that it’s not progressing as fast as he would like, and they’re not moving as far every day as they would like.  The United States is not going to take a position on that.  We’re not going to armchair quarterback this Ukrainian military operation.  They should be able to be the ones that — and only the ones to speak to progress against plan.  And again, they’ve already acknowledged that they’re not going as far or as fast as they would like.

That said, they are moving.  It’s not a stalemate.  They’re not just frozen.  The Ukrainians are moving. 

And what we’re going to do is make sure — and you saw this just yesterday; I think Karine announced another package of support — we’re going to make sure that they have the kinds of tools and capabilities they need to stay on the move, that we’re giving them the relevant kinds of tools they need to continue to make progress in their counteroffensive.  And to the degree it can be better progress, progress that they’re more content with, then that’s all to the good.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Darlene.

Q    Thank you.  Back on Trevor Reed.  To what extent was the U.S. government aware of his plans to go to Ukraine and take up arms against Russia?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not aware that we had any —

Q    Did he give any advance notice to anyone at the White House —

MR. KIRBY:  I’m certainly not aware —

Q    — or NSC?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m certainly not aware of any, nor — nor would we expect that.  I mean, other Americans have fought in Ukraine, unfortunately, and they don’t have to report their departure or their whereabouts to the United States government.  I’m aware of no information that we had.

That’s said, we made it very clear when the war started: Don’t go.

Q    And then one question on the Prime Minister’s visit tomorrow.  After she was elected, President Biden had warned of the spread of authoritarianism and far-right populism, given her political leanings.  Has his view of the Prime Minister changed at all because she is such a strong supporter of Ukraine?

MR. KIRBY:  He has a good relationship with Prime Minister Meloni, and he has enjoyed working with her, as I detailed in the opening comments, across a range of issues and in a range of venues.  And they have spoken several times outside of those venues.  They — they get along quite well, particularly on issues of foreign policy.  And again, the President is looking forward to this visit.

Q    I wanted to ask also about the visit with the Prime Minister tomorrow.  Does the President plan to bring up issues of LGBTQ rights in Italy?  That’s been something that her party has been clamping down on in the past couple of months.

MR. KIRBY:  So just a couple of — I’m not going to get ahead of the discussion that hasn’t happened yet.  We’ll give you a full readout when the meeting is over.

But President Biden’s foreign policy really is rooted in human rights.  And we approach our engagement with countries around the world from that perspective — a respect for human rights, civil rights, freedom of expression, and equality. 

And we’re never shy about stating that either publicly or privately, and we’ll continue to do that.


Q    To the back?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Alex.

Q    Thank you.  Admiral, you had a question about the counteroffensive a little bit back.  Let’s say there is not much more progress by the time, kind of, the late summer rains start, and then, you know, the cold, obviously, comes pretty early in that part of Eastern Europe.  I mean, is there a sense that they need to negotiate before this thing drags on into ’24?  I mean, when does diplomacy kick in?

MR. KIRBY:  When does what kick in?

Q    Diplomacy.

MR. KIRBY:  That’s going to be up to President Zelenskyy.  He gets to determine if and when he’s ready to sit down and negotiate. 

Right now, his country is still under attack.  He still has tens of thousands of Russian troops on his soil dug in deeply, entrenched, protected by minefields, on ground that doesn’t belong to them.  And he has every right to want to reclaim his territorial integrity and his country’s sovereignty. 

But only President Zelenskyy is going to be able to determine that now.  He’s put —

Q    But —

MR. KIRBY:  Hang on a second now.  He’s put forward a 10-point peace formula that we are working with — with him and his government to help actualize because we believe that for any diplomacy to work, it’s got to — it’s got to start — the foundation has to be President Zelenskyy’s view of what a just peace looks like.  So, he’s laid that out with 10 points.  We’re helping him actualize that.  

So, to some degree, the work of diplomacy — the pre-work of diplomacy has begun — has begun months ago. 

And, in fact, Jake Sullivan, the National Security Advisor, spoke to — to Mr. Yermak, his equivalent in the Ukrainian government, just today.  And this was one of the topics that they discussed was this idea of a just peace and how to actualize it.

Q    But Zelenskyy — he has said he needs F-16s, ATACMS, more heavy armor to make progress, especially because the defensive positions are so heavily mined and fortified.  I mean, isn’t there kind of a disconnect that if you want them to win, should they not have what they say they need?

MR. KIRBY:  They — they do have what they need.  We have provided the Ukrainians everything they asked for in the months leading up to the counteroffensive and continuing right through it.

Again, Karine just walked you guys through a whole big old package yesterday.  And all the stuff that’s in that package is stuff that’s relevant to the fight that they’re in in this counteroffensive.

But this notion that they didn’t get everything they needed before the counteroffensive or that a shortage of capabilities is what’s causing delay is not true.  They got everything they asked for and continue to get everything they asked for now.

Now, I — I recognize they alwa- — that — that — and you can’t blame them for wanting more.  And we’ve talked about F-16s; the training will begin sometime soon and hopefully thereafter followed by actual aircraft. 

And — but they’ve got tanks.  They’ve got artillery.  They’ve got HIMARS.  And we’re going to continue to work with them every single day about trying to fulfill their needs as best we can.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Owen, you have the last question.

Q    Thank you, Karine. 

Admiral, good afternoon.  Has the — do you know if the administration has seen the images of the bombed-out Transfiguration Cathedral in Ukraine?  A few days ago, it happened — this big, beautiful cathedral bombed out.  Some debate over whether it was Russian missiles or falling Ukraine debris.  But have — have you seen those images?

MR. KIRBY:  I have not.

Q    Okay.  And then, finally, any update on the Tuberville situation, on the hold?  Is the administration planning on meeting with him?  What’s the situation on that?

MR. KIRBY:  Secretary of Defense Austin has spoken a couple times in — in just the last couple of weeks with Senator Tuberville.  He maintains his hold.  And now we’re up to over 300 nominations that are being held.  And it’s having a real effect on military families.  Spouses who are not able to take jobs in the next location because they can’t set up a move.  That’s not hypothetical; that’s actually happening.  Children who are having to be disenrolled from schools that they were supposed to start in the fall because they can’t execute the move to get there.  They can’t make it in time for the school session to start.  That’s not hypothetical; that’s happening.

You’ve got senior officers who are being asked to delay their retirements, their well-earned retirements — speaking as a retiree — and they — and they’re not — and they’re not able to do that.  Or they’re willing — they’re willing to delay that to stay in the military a little longer while this — while this very dangerous hold persists.

And some will inevitably start voting with their feet.  And they just won’t be able to do that for a variety of reasons.  And we’re going to lose that talent because they’re not willing — they aren’t willing as a family to stay behind.

Q    Sure.  But one of Tuberville’s contentions is that taxpayer dollars should not be funding travel-related expenses for abortions for military members.  You say what?

MR. KIRBY:  The President and the Secretary of Defense say that it should be. 

I talked about this the other day, so I won’t go through it all again, but our service members don’t get to decide where they get stationed.  That’s why you call them “orders.”  You go where you’re told to go.  You go where — you go where the duty demands.  And most of our service members serving in states across the country aren’t residents of those states.  But they’re also not going to violate state law.  If you get stationed in a place like Alabama, you’re going to obey Alabama laws. 

But if you’re a service member — and you deserve, as a service member, appropriate healthcare, including reproductive health care.  The military has an obligation to make sure you get that healthcare.

And for those who say that this is some sort of political and it’s not readiness — but it’s readiness.  A healthy force is a ready force.  And woman service member or a woman family member has every right to expect that when they sign up to serve in the military, they’re going to get the healthcare that they deserve. 

And so, the military has put in place a policy — not one that Secretary Austin wanted to have to put in place but these state laws are forcing him to put in place — to allow female service members and their fam — and — and women family members that need reproductive care — can’t get it where they’re stationed — to have the time off and some travel allowance to go take care of their own health. 

It’s a covenant that you make with the military when you sign up, and it’s a covenant that the military makes with you when you sign up.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Appreciate it.  Thank you.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  All right, Darlene.  Whatcha got?

Q    Thank you.  Have you seen the President since Hunter Biden showed up in federal court since the deal fell apart?  Did he have any reaction that he has agreed to allow you to share with us?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’ll tell you this, and I’ll repeat this as what I said at the top, which is the President loves his son.  The President and the First Lady love their son, and they support him as he’s rebuilding his life and trying to move forward.

I have not spoken to the President today.  He has been busy continuing to work on behalf of the American people, as he does every day, with internal meetings.  And so, I will leave it there.

Q    Is the White House any closer to figuring out when the President will make his promised visit to Africa this year?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t have a visit to preview at this time.  But as you know, the President met with African leaders at the end of last year.  It was incredibly productive.  And he promised to visit the continent of Africa this year.  I just don’t have anything to lay out.

As you know, the Fir- — the First Lady has traveled to the continent; so has the Vice President.  And so, we have kept our commitment in continuing to grow and develop that relationship with countries in Africa.

Q    And last question.


Q    I wanted to follow up on your comments yesterday about Commander.  You shared a statement that said the Bidens have been working with Secret Service and the Residence staff on leashing protocols.  You talked about how the Secret Service has treated these biting incidents as “workplace incidents.”  A statement went on to say that the President and First Lady are grateful to the Secret Service and the staff for keeping the family safe, but what we didn’t hear yesterday was any statement of contrition or an apology or — you know, that they’re mortified or regret that Commander has been behaving like this.  So —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look —

Q    — would you like to update the statement?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, the statement came from my colleague that I was reiterating over at the First Lady’s office.  I would certainly refer you to the statement again.

Look, we are — the President and the First Lady continues to be incredibly grateful to the Secret Service and the Executive Residence staff.  That continues to be the case. We are working through this to make this situation even better.  I don’t have anything else to add.

As I mentioned yesterday at the top, you know, being here on this complex, this White House complex, is incredibly unique and can be stressful situations for family pets.  And we are working — we are certainly working through — working through this particular situation with the Secret Service to make this — to make this better.

Go ahead.

Q    Hi, Karine.  Earlier this week, you said the President was never in business with his son.  But can you say specifically that the President did not have discussions of any kind with Hunter about his business dealings?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I appreciate the question.  I’ve been asked this question multiple times in different various — variations in different ways.  I — as you mentioned, I was asked this question multiple times on Monday.  Nothing has changed.  I don’t have anything to add to what I stated on Monday.

Q    Can you give us a preview of the President’s briefing on heat?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I gave you a little bit of preview.  He’s going to be announcing some actions tomorrow.  The extreme weather, as you all know, has been — has been a difficult time for families and Americans across the country, especially out West.  And so, you’re going to hear from the President about this. 

Let’s not forget: Climate change — climate change is real.  That’s why the President has taken some historic actions to deal with this issue, to deal with climate change — a crisis that he called when he first walked into this administration.  And let’s not forget: The Inflation Reduction Act is one of the — one of those laws that has — that is giving or going to give the most resources to deal with climate change.  The President is very proud of that.  And you’ll hear directly from him on this issue tomorrow.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Have the President and his attorneys been in touch with Hunter’s legal team today?  And, you know, have they been keeping tabs on the proceedings?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, I — I don’t have anything to share.  I would refer you to — on this particular issue, I would refer you to Hunter’s representative.  I would refer you to the Department of Justice.  I don’t have anything to share beyond on what I shared at the top of this — of this briefing.

Q    It’s — it’s extremely rare in such a high-profile case for a plea deal to fall apart like this.  Does the President believe that the prosecutors — the federal prosecutors in this case have acted appropriately and competently?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  As you know, Jeremy, this was an independent investigation that was — that was overseen by the Department of Justice.  We’ve — as we’ve been very clear, they are independent.  We give them the space to do — to do their work.  We believe in the rule of law.

I just don’t have anything else to share on this.  I would refer you to the Department of Justice.  Again, this was done independently.  And I would also refer you to the — to Hunter’s representatives.

Q    And then, on — on Senator Tuberville and his continued hold on these military promotions, he floated a potential way to move the nominations more quickly by saying that he’d be open to limiting the debate time on each individual nominee.  Does the President believe that it’s time to start moving some of these military nominations individually and voting on them individually through the Senate?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, Jeremy, I understand the question, but this is something that one senator is holding up.  One senator.  One Republican senator.  And it shouldn’t be done this way.  It shouldn’t be done this way.

I think the Admiral did a really good job laying — laying out what this means for our military families, our military service members.  They don’t deserve to be treated this way.

When we talk about this particular legislation and the — not just the legislation, but as we move forward with these types of nominations, they should be done in a bipartisan way.

And so, it’s unfortunate that this senator, Senator Tuberville, is treating this as a political stunt.  And it’s — he has to answer to military families, and he has to answer to military members, who do everything that they can to protect us.  And he’s putting them in harm’s way.

And so, I get the question, but this is really — this is truly, truly on Senator Tuberville here.

Q    Does there ever come a point, though, where, you know — especially as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is set to retire, you need to fill that position — where it’s maybe worth, especially for the most senior positions that really put national security at risk, to start moving some of these individually?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — Jeremy, we shouldn’t be in this situation.  I get it.  I hear what you’re saying.  But we should not be in this situation.

Senator Tuberville should not be putting our military in this situation, not be using political ploys or political stunts to put our military in this situation — to put not just the military but our national security for Americans across this country.

And so, I get it.  I get that there are potential other pathways to get there.  But we shouldn’t be here.  We just should not be here.  And what he is doing is dangerous and it’s insulting.

Go ahead, Weijia.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  President Biden has spent most of his political career working on gun laws, on gun reform.  Does he believe that someone who is charged with possessing a firearm illegally should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, here, I’m going to be — I think I know where this question is going, and I’m just going to continue to say: As it relates to this — the case that we’re seeing in Delaware, I’m just going to not speak to that.  It is an independent matter.  This is up for the Department of Justice.

Even with the question that you’re asking me, it’s up to — it’s up to — it’s a — it’s one of those legal, criminal matters.  And it’s up to that process — that legal process.  I’m just not going to speak to it here.

Q    But, again, the President, when he was a senator, crafted gun legislation. 
MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I understand.

Q    As president, he talks often about the need to get illegal firearms off of our streets.  So when someone possesses one illegally, what does the President believe should happen to them?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  The President has been very clear.  You just laid out where his po- — position has been, what his policies have been, what he was able to pass into law.

I’m going to be very mindful here.  I’m going to be very careful because I see where this question is going.  And I’m just going to refer you, as this has been an independent investigation — it’s overseen by the Department of Justice — I’m going to let them speak to this as they are moving forward.

Q    Thank you, Karine.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  The President has nothing on his schedule today other than his daily presidential briefing.  So can you share with us what he’s up to —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:   Yeah.  Yeah.  Happy to.

Q    — who is he speaking with?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yes.  Absolutely.  So, the President participated in an interview with Jay Shetty, who you all may know, to discuss the administration’s effort to tackle the mental health crisis that affects millions of Americans.

As you know, the President just — just yesterday announced a new rule to make sure that mental health is deal- — is dealt with in a — with a — in parity; that mental health is indeed health.  You heard him say that directly yesterday.

Jay Shetty’s podcast, “On Purpose,” is the number one health and wellness podcast, with an average of 21 million downloads each month.  So — just so that you all have this, it will — the interview will post on Monday. 

And he, of course, has internal meetings.  He’s had that throughout the day. 

And later today, he’s going to be delivering a toast at a gathering to — to just say goodbye and thank you to Louisa Terrell.  As you all know, she will be leaving her position as the Director of OLA.  And so, we will all be toasting her later today.

Q    And then, can you give us an update when it comes to East Palestine?  The President has said that he would go.  He has not yet.

And also, Governor Mike DeWine asked the President to issue a major disaster declaration a few weeks ago.  Will — is that something the President is going to do?  And if so, when?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, on your first question, the President intends to go.  Don’t have a time or a date to preview at this time.  I have to look into Governor DeWine’s request.  I have to check in with the team and with — and I would also refer you to FEMA.  I just don’t have anything to share on that piece.

Let me try and go around here.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Moments ago, you said that nothing has changed, when you were asked about the President’s previous remarks on his son’s business dealings.  But the language has, in fact, changed.

So, I just want to clear this up once and for all.  The President has previously said that he has never discussed overseas business dealings with his son.  But the White House now says that the President has never been in business with his son.

So, why the updated language?  Which statement is true?  Or is this semantics and they’re both true?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  As I stated on Monday when I was asked this question multiple times, nothing has changed.  Nothing has changed on this.

Q    So both of those statements are true?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Nothing has changed on this. 

And so, you could ask me a million different ways on this question.  Nothing has changed.

Q    Yeah, the only reason I ask is because the White House and the — the President’s circle — you know, that language does seem to be somewhat different, and I didn’t know if there was any distinction there.

I wanted to ask, though, about Elizabeth Naftali.  She’s made more than a dozen visits here to the White House and met with some of the President’s most senior advisors.  Can you tell us a little bit more about those visits, why she was here?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I would have to look into that.  I’ve not — I’ve not been tracking the — these visits that you’re mentioning to me.

Q    Thank you, Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  No problem.  Thank you.

I’m trying to — go ahead.

Q    I wanted to ask about the Methane Summit today at the White House.  Can you just sort of explain who is sort of on this task force that’s being established; sort of what the next steps are; who was involved, I guess, in the summit today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, as you know, the Methane Summit happened earlier today.  It is something that — as it’s related to climate — certainly to climate change.  This is something that the President certainly is committed to.  And you’ll hear from him more tomorrow as he talks to — as he talks about the execi- — the excessive heat that we’ve seen.

So, but just to give you a little bit of the download here — some details: It was the first-ever White House Methane Summit.  The event was brought together — brought together federal, state, and local leaders to discuss the need to reduce methane emissions, to protect public health, and create thousands of good-paying union jobs.

The summit spotlighting cutting-edge detection technology and — technologies and how state and tribal governments are responding to dangerous emissions events.

Look, the way — the reasons why we’re doing it why — now is because millions of Americans are being impacted, as I just mentioned, from extreme heat.  You’ll hear more from the President tomorrow.

And so, it is important, and we think that the conversation is incredibly timely.  And so, we were ha- — we were glad to have it here at the White House.

Q    Did the President take part in the summit at all?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, the President did not take part in the summit.  I just laid out what his day looked like.  He did an interview to talk about mental health because it’s — it’s part of the Unity Agenda that the President has been talking about for over a year now and wanted to make sure that he communicated directly to millions of Americans; 21 millions of Americans particularly — in particular listen to this podcast.  And I — I mentioned as well he had some internal meetings with some senior members of his team.

Go ahead.

Q    I wanted to know if you have any updates on if President Biden is willing to declare a climate emergency.  There’s been more push from progressive lawmakers and activists for him to do that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I don’t have anything new to share there.  As you know, you know, the President has the most aggressive and ambitious climate agenda since day one, as I mentioned at the top, as we’re — as he’s going to talk about the extreme health [heat].

And — and the Inflation Reduction Act is certainly an example of how seriously the President has taken this.  And he’s going to continue to take action.  You’re going to continue to hear from him on this issue.  I just don’t have anything to share on climate emergency.

Q    Is that still on the table?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I just don’t have any additional actions to preview at this time.  But, look, I think if you look at the President’s actions over this past two years, he’s taken — he’s — he’s taken more action, has been more aggressive on dealing with climate change than any other president.

Let’s not — the Inflation Reduction Act is going to make a difference as we’re trying to deal with this climate crisis.  And so, he has an ambitious agenda w- — to deal with climate — climate — climate change, and he’s going to continue to move forward with that agenda.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  A group of automakers, including GM, are forming a new EV charging company to challenge Tesla.  I’m just curious if the White House has any reaction to that or if you played any part in helping them get that launched.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Are you talking about the — the seven companies —

Q    Yeah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — that are — yeah.  So, look — and you’ve heard us — you’ve heard me and others talk about this.  That’s Bidenomics.  Bidenomics is working and is in action.  And because of this President’s policies, you have these seven major automakers coming together to install, I think, 30,000 high-powered EV charging stations.  And that’s a — that’s progress.  That’s going to help middle-class families.

The President’s Investing in America agenda, this is part of that.  This is part of Biden- — Bidenomics, as you hear us talk about.  It’s creating new union jobs for installation and maintenance. 

So, this is impr- — important moves — step forward as we talk about how to deal with this climate crisis.

Q    Any antitrust concerns about multiple companies working together in that fashion?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I — I don’t have any — any concerns to lay out t- — for you today.  But we think this is an important step forward as we’re dealing with this issue, as we’re also talking about buil- — creating jobs, as we’re building to economy. 

Again, this is Bidenomics in action.

Go ahead, Francesca.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Has any progress been made since we last talked about this on bringing home Travis King from North Korea?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t have anything new to share than what I shared yesterday during the briefing.  Look, as you know, we have — we have the U.N., we have the DOD, we have the State Department, here — us here as well at the White House are all engaging together on this.  I just don’t have any more information to — to share.

We are still trying to gather all the facts on this.  And our concern is the well-being of — of the private.  I just don’t have anything further to share on this.

Q    And the Federal Reserve has just announced an interest rate hike by a quarter point, which brings it to the highest level in 22 years.  Does the White House have a comment on that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  As you know, we see the Federal Reserve as being independent.  We give them the space to make sure that they are able to make monetary decision.  It is up to them to make that decision.  I’m just not going to comment about that — about their — about the decision today.

Go ahead.

Q    Regarding the federal judge in California blocking the administration’s asylum rules, as of right now, what is the back-up plan should this ruling not be stayed by the next circuit of the Supreme Court?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, right now the way that we see the ruling is nothing has changed.  The — the — we think that — we think that they made a mistake, but nothing has changed.  It — we continue to move forward with our plan.  The Department of Justice has responded to this.  So I certainly will refer to — you to them, but nothing has changed.  We’re going to move forward.

Let’s not forget the action — the plan that the President has put forward has — has actually shown — actually shown a lower number in migrants’ illegal — illegal migration into this country than we’ve seen in the last two years.  So the plan the Pr- — the President has put forward is working, and that is important.

Again, nothing has changed in this.  We’re going to see — we’re going to see — I believe we’re going to see this — this stay that we’re — for the next 14 days, and the Department of Justice has appealed it — and — and trying to extend the stay.  So that’s where we are currently at this moment.

Go ahead, Jon.

Q    Thanks a lot, Karine.  Just the other day, a U.S. drone was damaged by a Russian military jet over Syria.  How does the U.S. classify that particular incident?  Has there been any outreach by U.S. officials to their Russian counterparts about this — about rules of engagement going forward?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, a couple of things: We’ve seen the reports — the early reports of a second Russian fighter aircraft this week flying dangerously close to our drone on a def- — on a defeat ISIS mission. 

So I would reiterate that Russian — Russia’s close approach to and deployment of flares over U.S. drones during a routine mission against ISIS targets violates — it is — indeed violates established protocols and international norms. 

So, we remain focused on — on the mission to defeat ISIS, as evidenced by our recent strike against an ISIS leader in Syria this month.  And so, we are certainly aware of the initial reports.  Don’t have anything further to share on that piece.

Q    And then, separately, not wanting you to comment on the Fed decision, rather to comment on the White House’s view as it relates to inflation: Do you see inflation coming down from the level that it is right now, around 3 percent, even further by the end of this year?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’m not going to get into predictions or hypotheticals from here.  What I can say is that the President has been very committed — very committed to making sure that we lower costs for the American people. 

We have seen from other data points, as you know, that we’ve seen inflation come down by two thirds in the past 12 months.  That’s important.

And a lot of that is because of the President’s economic policies.  And not just that: We’ve seen wages go up.  We see inflation easing.  We see creating jobs — more than 13 million jobs.  That’s because of what this — the work that this president has done. 

I’m not going to get into hypotheticals.  I’m going to let the experts detect or try to figure out what inflation looks like moving forward.  What we’re going to focus on is doing everything that we can to lower costs for the American family.

Q    Thanks, Karine.

Q    You said that you see inflation easing in the response that we just gave.  Is that based upon a forecast coming from the President’s economic advisors?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  That’s based on the facts.  That’s based on the data that we’ve seen: CPI, PPI, all the data that we’ve seen the past couple of months.  That’s where we’re getting that.  Two thirds — that’s — that’s important.

Inflation has fallen for 12 months in a row — 12 months in a row.  And that’s because of the work that this administra- — administration has done.

And so, look, I’m not going to get, again, into forecast here.  That is something for the experts to do.  But I can speak to the work that this president has done and will continue to do.  When it comes to his economic plan, the number one thing that he talks about is lowering costs for the American people, and he’ll continue to do that.

Thanks.  See you tomorrow, guys.

2:16 P.M. EDT

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