Via Teleconference

MODERATOR:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for joining us this afternoon for our gaggle.  Again, this will still be on the record.  But this time, we have our National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan joining us.  So I’ll turn over — turn it over to him for opening remarks. 

MR. SULLIVAN:  Hi, everyone.  Thanks for joining.  John Kirby is taking a well-deserved vacation this week, so I’m filling in as his understudy.  I hope you’ll bear with me.  I’m happy to take your questions on anything and everything, but just a few things to say at the top.  
First, a trip announcement: President Biden will travel to New Delhi, India, from September 7th to the 10th to attend the G20 Leaders’ Summit.  And there, along with our G20 partners, he’ll discuss a range of joint efforts to tackle global issues, from the clean energy transition and combating climate change, to mitigating the economic and social impacts of Russia’s war in Ukraine, to increasing the capacity of the multilateral development banks, including the World Bank, to better fight poverty and take on the significant transnational challenges that are afflicting countries across the world. 
While in New Delhi, President Biden will also have the chance to engage with a number of leaders on the margins.  We don’t have specific announcements today of the bilaterals he’ll have while he’s there, but we’ll provide you that information as things go on.  
And the President will also reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the G20 as the premier forum of economic cooperation globally, including by committing to the U.S. hosting the G20 in 2026. 
From September 4th to the 7th, Vice President Harris will travel to Jakarta, Indonesia, to attend U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit and engage with leaders from the Indo-Pacific.  The Vice President and ASEAN leaders will review the unprecedented expansion in U.S.-ASEAN relations under the Biden-Harris administration, and the Vice President will reaffirm the United States’ enduring commitment to Southeast Asia and to ASEAN centrality.
Throughout these two summits and her additional engagements on the margins, the Vice President will advance initiatives to promote our shared prosperity and security, to focus on the climate crisis, on maritime security, on infrastructure, on economic growth, and on efforts to uphold and strengthen international rules and norms in the region. 
And this will be, you know, the latest in a string of visits she has made since coming into office as Vice President to Southeast Asia, and her personal investment has been important to the overall elevation of our relationship with both individual ASEAN states and ASEAN as a collective. 
The visit that she’s making builds on President Biden’s participation in the U.S.-ASEAN Summit and the East Asia Summit last year in Cambodia, as well as the ASEAN — the U.S.-ASEAN Special Summit in Washington, D.C., the first time that a U.S. President has hosted the ASEAN leaders in Washington.  President Biden did that in May of last year. 
And, as I noted, this is the Vice President’s third trip to Southeast Asia in the past two years, one to Singapore and Vietnam in ‘21, one to Thailand and the Philippines in November of 2022. 
We’ll have more information on the specifics with respect to both of those trips as the dates approach. 
I would just make one other point relevant to the G20, which is that the President really wants to use it as an opportunity for the United States and like-minded partners to bring forward a value proposition, particularly to the countries of the Global South, and where he will really focus a lot of his energy while he is there is on the modernization of the multilateral development banks, including the World Bank and the IMF. 
We have heard loud and clear that countries want us to step up our support in the face of the overlapping challenges they face.  So, as we continue to extend critical support to Ukraine, we’re going to be delivering for the rest of the world as well.  
And given both the scale of the need and, frankly, the scale of the PRC’s coercive and unsustainable lending through the Belt and Road Initiative, we need to ensure that there are high-standard, high-leverage solutions to the challenges countries are facing.  And a way to get the most bang for our buck is through the World Bank and the IMF, which are highly effective and transparent international financial institutions that were founded on and continue to embody U.S. leadership.  
So, President Biden has been committed to fundamentally reshaping and scaling up the World Bank to more effectively deliver both poverty reduction and inclusive economic growth, while also addressing global challenges from climate to migration and to the recovery from COVID-19.  
The President nominated Ajay Banga to be the president of the World Bank precisely to make this vision a reality.  And when the President put forward his supplemental funding request to the Congress, he had an element of that supplemental funding request to dramatically scale up World Bank and IMF concessional financing.  That would amplify the impact of ongoing reforms to the World Bank and advance progress at a truly global scale. 
So, together, our IMF and World Bank proposals will generate nearly $50 billion in lending for middle income and poor countries from the United States alone.  And because our expectation is that our allies and partners will also contribute, we see these proposals ultimately leveraging over $200 billion.  That is the proposal that President Biden will carry with him to Delhi and that he will work with the Congress on to deliver through the supplemental funding request.  
We see this request as strategically necessary.  We see it as providing much-needed support to developing countries, to help maintain strong global solidarity in the face of Russia’s illegal war, and to offer a credible alternative to the coercive and unsustainable lending practices at the PRC.  And, of course, it is the ultimate value proposition that the United States can deliver through the mobilization of this kind of finance. 
The last thing I’d say at the outset — I’m sorry to go on for so long — is you will have all seen the announcement out of the Commerce Department this morning about Secretary Raimondo’s trip to China next week.  She’ll be going to both Beijing and Shanghai.  
And, really, her trip is an encapsulation of the approach that the Biden administration is taking, where we are engaged in an intense competition with the PRC, but intense competition requires intense diplomacy to manage that competition so that it doesn’t tip over into conflict and also so that we create every opportunity to work together with the PRC on issues that are in our mutual interest. 
Secretary Raimondo will carry with her the message that the United States is not seeking to decouple from China, but rather to de-risk, and that means protecting our national security and ensuring resilient supply chains alongside our allies and partners while we continue our economic relationship and our trade relationship. 
And, you know, Secretary Raimondo’s engagements, her messages in all of her meetings while she is there will not just be a reflection of where the United States stands on these issues, but a reflection of the convergence with our G7 partners that was embodied in the — in the G7 statement at the Hiroshima Summit a couple of months ago. 
So that’s what she intends to do while she’s there.  And we believe that we can pursue intense diplomacy even as we are engaged in competition and that, in doing so, we can ensure an effective approach to relations with the PRC that protects our national security, that ensures economic stability, and that continues to stand for the basic principles of fairness and a level playing field in the global economy. 
So let me stop there, and I’d be happy to take questions. 
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our first question who go to Aamer with the AP.
Q    Hi, Jake.  So, I had just two questions, Ukraine-related.  Russia has reported success in its push in Northeast Ukraine.  Just going forward, what do you see as complications presented to Ukraine by Russia’s reported gains?  And many of our colleagues on the ground keep hearing the Russians have improved their performance and capabilities.  Do you agree with that assessment, and, if so, what’s most notable about Russia’s tactical and strategic progress?
And then, secondly, I was just wondering to what extent are you hearing from U.S. friends and allies’ concerns about the future of Ukraine funding?  Is the split ambiguous talk from some in the Republican presidential field on Ukraine resonating with allies and/or worrying them, from what you’re seeing and hearing in your conversations?  Thank you. 
MR. SULLIVAN:  Just taking those in reverse order.  First, there are strong Republican as well as Democratic voices in both the House and the Senate in key leadership positions advocating on behalf of continued financial support to Ukraine so that they have the tools they need to defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity. 
So we believe that the support will be there and will be sustained.  Even if there are some dissonant voices on the other side of the aisle, we believe that, at the core, there is still a strong bipartisan foundation of support for our Ukraine policy and for supporting and defending Ukraine. 
And so we have communicated that to our friends in Kyiv and to our allies and partners.  And our view is that our allies and partners and our Ukrainian partners have confidence that the United States will continue to be there, as we have committed to be there as long as it takes.
With respect to Russia’s battlefield performance, you know, I’m not going to be an — an armchair general here.  I will say that war is an inherently dynamic enterprise, and there is learning that takes place in the conduct of war on both sides, adjustments in tactics, changes based on how the — the other side is fighting, changes in terms of figuring out through trial and error what works and what doesn’t work. 
At the same time, Russia continues to face a number of fundamental challenges in terms of its capacities, both with respect to the ground force and with respect to the integration of its various forces to try to both engage in — in defense and offense.  And Ukraine is taking every opportunity to try to exploit those shortcomings and vulnerabilities. 
The last thing I would say on this front is, given the quite shockingly poor performance of the Russian forces in the early months of the war, they’re starting from a very low base in terms of any question with respect to improvement.  
With respect to what’s happening on the battlefield, we have been clear all along that this battlefield is very dynamic, that this is not like a television episode where, in this episode, it’s Ukraine all attack and Russia all defense, and the next episode is Russia all attack and Ukraine all defense. 
There is attacking and defending taking place on both sides at multiple points along a very extended frontline of trace, and it is true that the Russians had been attacking up in the Northeast.  It is also true that the Ukrainians have been defending up in the Northeast quite effectively. 
And, you know, when I originally laid out the rationale for the provision, for example, of our dual-purpose improvised cluster munitions — the DPICMs — one of the arguments I made is that it was about giving Ukraine tools to be able to defend the territory it currently holds against further Russian attacks.  That was not a conceptual argument.  It was an argument that reflected the reality that Russia will attack in places, and they are attacking. 
But, of course, Ukraine is also attacking; Ukraine is also making gains.  It’s making gains in the South, as we have seen most recently in the last 24 hours, and it will continue to probe for weaknesses and vulnerabilities in the Russian lines and to — to try to take territory in a methodical way while also trying to fight this war sustainably so that it continues to put pressure — can continue to put pressure on Russian lines as we go forward. 
So, that’s where we are.  It is, as I said, a dynamic battlefield.  It is one where we need to continue to move the fundamental elements of both defense and offense — in particular, the artillery ammunition and the mobility that Ukraine needs to be able to both hold ground and take ground.  And that’s what we’re going to continue to do, working with the coalition of nations that has been supporting Ukraine since the start of this conflict. 
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Vivian with the Wall Street Journal.  Vivian, you should be able to unmute yourself.
Q    Hi.  Can you guys hear me?
Q    Okay.  Thanks.  Thanks so much for doing this, Jake.  I actually wanted to follow up on Aamer’s question.  Really bluntly, I want to hear from you if you think this is a stalemate, because that is a growing consensus or at least a growing view among many close observers of this war. 
And you talked about the lessons that you’ve learned throughout the course of this battle.  You know, if you could get into a little more detail.  You’ve looked at the ammunition element of it.  You know, what do you — what is U.S. learning and doing to perhaps avoid a stalemate, if you do not believe it is a stalemate yet?  Thanks. 
And I actually have one more question that’s unrelated, but if you want to answer that
MR. SULLIVAN:  No, go ahead. 
Q    Totally unrelated.  With regard to Saudi, I wanted to know if the U.S. is prepared or — to allow Saudi to enrich uranium, whether as part of potential talks to normalize relations with Israel or just in general.  Is it something you would entertain, particularly if they do it within IAEA standards?  Thanks. 
MR. SULLIVAN:  So just on the last question, I’m not going to get into the details of the discussions that we’ve been having with Saudi and Israel with respect to Saudi’s interest in a civilian nuclear program.  I’ll just leave that where it belongs, which is in those diplomatic channels for now. 
There is still a ways to travel with respect to all of the elements of those discussions, and they get quite technical, as you know.  So, we don’t expect any imminent announcements on that issue or on the broader question of normalization.  But it’s something we continue to work on in close consultation with both the Saudis and the Israelis.
And, also, when it comes to any kind of civilian nuclear component, it’s something that we are, of course, you know, interested in the IAEA’s view as well.  So I don’t have anything further to — to report on that today.  
My answer to you is no, we do not assess that the conflict is a stalemate.  As I noted before, we continue to support Ukraine in its effort to take territory as part of its counteroffensive, and we are seeing it continue to take territory on a methodical, systematic basis.  
Obviously, you know, there’s a lot of voices that you have seen that have said, “Why can’t X happen,” or “Why can’t Y happen?”  Ukrainians are operating according to their tactics and their timetable, making progress according to the strategic and operational decisions of their commanders and their leadership, and we’ll continue to support that. 
And, you know, if you look at how the United States has approached this conflict to the beginning, to your point about learning and evolving, we have evolved at each of the significant stages of the war, from the early phase with a focus on Javelins and Stingers; to the big fight in the Donbas with the focus on artillery and HIMARS; to the counteroffensive with the focus on mobility, including tanks and infantry fighting vehicles; to helping facilitate and enable, you know, a range of other weapons that give Ukraine capabilities to strike both on the frontlines and behind them. 
And, you know, we will continue as we go forward to look at what are the tools necessary to help Ukraine make progress, how do we provide those tools on an expedited basis, how do we provide the necessary training so that they have what they need.  That’s what we’re going to continue to do. 
And, you know, I cannot handicap or predict how things will end up unfolding in the course of this war.  But we are continuing to support Ukraine in its counteroffensive efforts. 
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Andrea with Reuters. 
Q    Hey.  Thanks so much for joining us, Jake.  I wanted to push a little further on China.  So the President, a couple of — I think it was, like, a week ago or two or so — said that China’s economy was slowing and growing even less quickly than people have generally — or than China has reported.  Since then, there’s been a lot of discussion about the lack of transparency in assessing the Chinese economy. 
What is your information about Chinese economic growth?  And, you know, are you concerned — are you starting to get concerned that the — you know, that that could lead to further slowdown in the, sort of, global economy that, you know, could — could have economic spillover ramifications for the U.S.?  Or could it in fact be a good thing that would sort of reduce inflation? 
And I realize I’m asking you an economic question, but because Gina Raimondo is heading to China, I’m just wondering if you can reflect on that. 
And then I just have another quick moment on something else. 
MR. SULLIVAN:  Look, one of the things that Secretary Raimondo will reinforce when she’s there is something we’ve been saying all along: Contrary to claims by some voices in China that, you know, we are seeking to slow down China’s economy or weaken China’s economic growth, that’s just not the case. 
We are focused on protecting our national security and ensuring resilient supply chains and otherwise sustaining an economic relationship with China.  And as long as China’s playing by the rules and is operating as a responsible actor in the global economy, you know, we think a stable Chinese economy is a good thing for — for the world. 
So, in terms of what information we have, we — we gain information from a wide variety of sources, the same as you guys do and that — that other governments do.  And we have watched, over the course of the past months, a reduction in the level of transparency and openness with respect to reporting basic things — like, for example, the youth unemployment numbers — or cracking down on firms in China that had a practice of providing basic information to the world on the puts-and-takes in the Chinese economy.  
These are not, in our view, responsible steps.  We believe in openness and transparency and reporting.  That is what we practice here in the United States.  That’s what the other major economies practice.  And we think, for global confidence, predictability, and the capacity of the rest of the world to make sound economic decisions, it’s important for China to maintain a level of transparency in the — the publication of its data as well. 
So, you know, all of that will be part of the agenda of what Secretary Raimondo discusses when she’s in Beijing and Shanghai next week. 
Q    Then can I just follow up on the supplemental?  So, you know, China is one of the largest shareholders of both the World Bank and the IMF.  But it sounds to me like you’ve changed the rhetoric pretty significantly in recent months or over the past year in terms of what — you know, how you see the World Bank and the IMF. 
Are you basically staking a claim that these are Western institutions and that China has not been a responsible player in these organizations?
MR. SULLIVAN:  No, I’m not staking a claim that either the World Bank or the IMF is a, quote/unquote, Western institution.  There are shareholders from across the world in them.  What I did say in my opening comments and what I believe to be true is that the United States is a leader in both of these institutions. 
And as — as a leader in both these institutions, we have insisted upon and secured high standards, transparency, effective governance, and that has served the benefit of the countries receiving financing from both the World Bank and the IMF.  
But this is part of the point, from our perspective.  You know, we believe that an institution that is genuinely inclusive — like the World Bank and the IMF — is the best way to drive concessional financing to developing and emerging economies in every major region of the world.  We believe that this is a way to mobilize a substantial amount of capital in a noncoercive, nonopaque manner that can deliver real results and accountability and also can go to the core development needs of these countries.  
So, I am not suggesting that these are Western institutions.  I am suggesting the World Bank and IMF are a positive, affirmative alternative to what is a much more opaque, more coercive method, which is the Belt and Road Initiatives Method.  
But, as you noted, China is a shareholder in both the IMF and the World Bank.  And, you know, we — we don’t believe that that stands in the way of these institutions playing the kind of role they have played over decades.  Because, for us, this isn’t about being against another country; it’s about being for an affirmative vision of high standards, transparent, sustainable financing.  That’s what we want to deliver with Ajay Banga at the helm of the World Bank.  
And remember also, China supported Ajay Banga as president of the World Bank, as basically every other country in the world did.  So there should be consensus around trying to drive towards World Bank and IMF modernization, evolution in a way that gets buy-in from all of the G20 economies, including China, because it serves the interests of the global economic system. 
So our support for the World Bank and the IMF are not against China. 
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Raquel with Global TV. 
Q    Thank you so much, Jake, for doing this.  I want to ask a question about the conversation you had yesterday with the Brazilian — your Brazilian counterpart to follow up with President Biden’s conversation with Lula.  I wonder how much of these conversations had to do with the BRICS meeting now in South Africa.  The group is debating its expansion.  China wants this group to become a geopolitical rival to the G7.  They are also discussing a way to reduce the dependence of the U.S. dollar.  
So, how concerned are you that this group that is formed by some of the biggest economies in the world could grow and threaten the U.S. economically, geopolitically?  And also about the conversation, did you discuss a possible visit of President Biden to Brazil this year or any plans for them to meet on the sidelines of the G20?  Thank you. 
MR. SULLIVAN:  We didn’t really talk about BRICS, although he is there in Johannesburg now.  We were talking about a number of other issues related to the President’s call with President Lula.  And we did not discuss a visit.  We didn’t get into that issue. 
We did talk about the possibility that the two presidents will see one another on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly and carried forward work that they’re both interested in on workers’ rights and a global labor agenda, which is an affirmative kind of vision that these two leaders have, and that was one of the — the main topics of conversation. 
Celso and I also agreed that he and I would — would get together when we’re in New York to discuss the full range of issues, both bilateral issues and global issues.  
We are not looking at the BRICS as evolving into some kind of geopolitical rival to the United States or anyone else.  This is a very diverse collection of countries in its current iteration — with Brazil, India, South Africa’s democracies; Russia and China as autocracies — with differences of view on critical issues in the Indo-Pacific, in the war in Ukraine, on a — on a range of other things. 
So, from our perspective, you know, we will continue to work on the strong positive relationships we have with Brazil, India, and South Africa; we will continue to manage our relationship with China; and we will continue to push back on Russia’s aggression.  But, from our perspective, this is — we — we do not look at this group through geopolitical terms. 
In terms of economic questions and so forth, our view is that the United States, as I said at the outset of my comments, is seeking to enhance its value proposition, the G7’s value proposition, to the Global South broadly through investments in the kinds of things that these countries are looking for to deal with the challenges that they face and also to seize the opportunities in the modern global economy. 
So, we’ll continue to do that and continue to work our relation- — work on our relationships with all of these countries.  And we believe that we are in a positive place with certain members of the BRICS and, obviously, you know, a different place with certain other members of the BRICS. 
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Jeremy with CNN. 
Q    Hey, Jake.  Thanks so much for doing this.  Just to take another stab at the Saudi question, are you guys at all considering the President meeting with MBS on the sidelines of the G20?  And could you just kind of maybe give us a big picture view of, you know, what the U.S. needs as — you know, getting out of Saudi-Israeli normalization and how far away that actually might be? 
And then, secondly, on China, just with Raimondo going there, you know, becoming the third Cabinet official in as many months to — to go there, when do you think we’ll start to see some kind of concrete results from these trips to China?  Thanks so much.
MR. SULLIVAN:  Well, I’ll start with your second question because I think — and I’ve said this repeatedly, which is we do not view these trips as about deliverables or particular policy outcomes.  We view them as a method of managing a complex relationship, a competitive relationship, so that that competition doesn’t tip over into conflict. 
And doing that requires diplomacy.  It requires engagement.  It requires high-level interaction so that each side understands what the other is doing and what they are not doing.  And that’s really what these visits have all been about.  
We are not sending Cabinet officials to China to change China, nor do we expect these conversations to change the United States; rather, we each have the opportunity through this high-level engagement to ensure that there is a basic, stable foundation in the relationship, even as we compete intensively in a number of domains. 
It also gives us the opportunity to explain why we are doing things.  So, for example, Secretary Raimondo will be able to walk through with the PRC the rationale behind the outbound investment executive order that President Biden issued some days ago.  She will press the PRC on some of the economic policy decisions from — and other national security decisions from the counterespionage law to this lack of transparency on economic data so that we can understand where they are coming from.  
But I don’t think of this as we send a bunch of people, and then there’s going to be a big outcome that’s — that’s fundamentally transformative.  This is rather about managing a complex relationship. 
With respect to Saudi, peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel would be a big deal.  It would establish a more integrated, more stable Middle East region.  It would help create a circumstance in which the countries of the region, including those who’ve signed the Abraham Accords, Israel and Saudi, could collaborate on everything from economics to technology to regional security.
And that would benefit the United States of America in a fundamental way because we have an interest in a more integrated, more stable Middle East where de-escalation, as opposed to escalation, is the order of the day.  
We also have an interest in a constructive, effective relationship and partnership with both Israel and Saudi Arabia — we, the United States, do — as we work on a range of mutual interests.  And so, you know, we see this both through the prism of our relationship with each country, their relationship with each other, and the relationship of a peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia to the larger cause of regional stability. 
And so, from our perspective, it is worthy to pursue this objective.  There are a lot of elements to this.  We need to work through all of them, and we will do that, you know, in, you know, as effective and systematic a way as we can.  And we — you know, as — as and when we have more to report to you, we will — we will report it. 
Finally, on MBS, I don’t have anything to announce on the G20.  But as we get closer and start firming up what exactly the schedule will look like, we’ll share more on the question of bilateral meetings. 
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Nick with PBS. 
Q    Thanks, Jake.  If I can take it back to Ukraine, officials across multiple agencies tell me that there is a frustration with Ukrainian military strategic decisions being made in terms of where Western weapons are going and how many troops are dedicated to the East versus the South, as well as skepticism about Ukraine’s ability to succeed in this counteroffensive.  And I’m wondering if you could confirm both the frustration or skepticism or at least speak to those —  these — these people who are talking to me about those — those two aspects.
And then, one more question, if — if you don’t mind.  On China, you know, Chinese officials telling me that there’s a level of frustration with the U.S. that’s leading them to think even climate change requests are seen as efforts to contain China.  And they refuse to pick up Secretary Austin’s call because they’re essentially offended by the sanctions. 
Are there steps the U.S. believes it needs to take in order to address some Chinese concerns or perceptions of U.S. intentions, or — or do you think that you don’t need to address those Chinese concerns as part of your strategy?  Thanks.
MR. SULLIVAN:  We have to be responsible, which is we have to make ourselves available to high-level military-to-military communications so that there is not a mistake or an escalation that causes harm to regional stability.  We have done that.  The Chinese have not.  So, as far as we’re concerned, in that respect, the ball is in their court.
When it comes to climate change, asking a country that is the world’s largest emitter, the largest generator of coal-fired electricity to step up to its obligations to reduce carbon emissions, for that to be described as a U.S. effort to contain China is sort of absurd on its face.  And, from our perspective, that — the notion that the U.S. has to provide some reassurance on this question, as opposed to that China needs to do its part — play its responsible role when it comes to addressing the climate crisis, you know, we — we just fundamentally reject that notion. 
So the — the course of the past few months has reflected a genuine and sustained willingness by the United States of America to engage at high levels, including to go to Beijing to sit with PRC senior officials to indicate that we are prepared not only to manage the relationship responsibly, but also to look for areas where we can work together with China where it’s in our mutual interest and in the interests of the broader world. 
And to the extent China continues to stonewall on issues that matter not just to us or not even primarily to us, but to others around the globe, that’s on them, and I think the question should be better posed to them than it is posed to me. 
With re- — with respect to Ukraine, I — look, I’m not going to confirm that anonymous officials are complaining to you about Ukraine.  I — that — I can’t say one way or the other.  What I will say is that I have not handicapped this war.  And one of the reasons I have not handicapped it about what I think will happen or what’s a good tactic and what’s a less-good tactic is because this war has produced so many surprises right back to the beginning.
And I think that the U.S. government should approach the question of battlefield conduct with a level of humility even as we do our best to provide our best advice and then Ukraine makes its own sovereign decisions about how it’s going to proceed.  
That’s — that’s how I look at it.  That’s how the President looks at it.  That’s the policy of the United States, and I can’t speak to anonymous voices who, you know, have a complaint of one kind or another.  
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Ben with ABC. 
Q   Hey, Jake.  Thanks for doing this.  Kind of along the same — in the same vein, many U.S. officials have said that, you know, it’s natural that the Ukrainians will be moving relatively slowly considering the degree to which Russia has been — has mined the battlefield and strengthened its defensive positions over the winter. 
And that’s, of course, understandable, but — but ahead of the counteroffensive, was there a lack of awareness on the U.S. intelligence side of just how good those — those defenses would be and perhaps overconfidence that the U.S. tactics taught to the Ukrainians would be able to — would allow the Ukrainians to deal with them more quickly than — than has come to pass? 
And if it’s all right, I have a question for Iran as well.  I was wondering if you could provide an update on the deal to free the five Americans and if you thought Iran was appearing to act in good faith so far.  
MR. SULLIVAN:  So, on Iran, we believe that things are proceeding according to the understanding that we reached with Iran.  I don’t have an exact timetable for you because there’s steps that need to yet unfold, but we believe that that remains on track, and we look forward to the day when those five Americans are home safely with their families.
With respect to Ukraine, the — those coalition partners, including the United States, who are consulting with the Ukrainian military in advance of the counteroffensive certainly took into account the layered defenses that the Russians had built, including the fact that there would be minefields in — in those defensive belts and that those minefields could be replenished from standoff by — by the Russians. 
The advice that coalition partners, including the United States, gave the Ukrainians really centered around a form of combined arms maneuver.  That’s what the Western tanks and infantry fighting vehicles were — the provision those were geared around.  
The Ukrainians have adopted — or adapted their own strategy for dealing with these minefields, you know, based on their experience of the reality of combat, which is always different from the planning of combat, and they’ve adjusted accordingly.  
So, I would — I would say that the Ukrainians were aware, we were aware of the thickness of the Russian defenses.  But at the end of the day, there is a massive difference between planning and reality when it comes to any conflict and particularly a conflict as — as complex as this one. 
So, Ukrainians are doing it their way, and we’re continuing to provide them the tools to be able to do it.  And, you know, we’ll see where things end up as the weeks unfold. 
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Patsy with VOA. 
Q    Thank you.  Thanks, Jake.  I hope you guys can hear me.  Jake, I think the — on the topper you already pre- — pre-answered my question a little bit.  But let me just dig a little deeper on the VP attending the ASEAN and East Asia Summit.  Can you address criticism that the President, by not attending personally, is disappointing the region yet again after canceling his trip to Papua New Guinea last year, and, in effect, that will be helpful to China’s effort to expand –expand its influence in the region?  
And just on that note, also, while the VP was in the region last year, she made a visit to the Palawan Island to make a point to China about its unlawful claims on the South China Sea.  Can we expect anything like that this time?  And I have a question, if you don’t mind, on Secretary Raimondo’s visit to China.
MR. SULLIVAN:  With respect to the region, it’s interesting that at the end of the Camp David trilat, there were various commentary pieces published, the thrust of which was “Is the U.S. doing too much in the region, and is that somehow a problem?”  Now the — the underlying premise of your question is “Is the U.S. not involved enough in the region?”
And, look, this is going to be a constant tug and pull.  But if you just look at the year 2023, President hosted an AUKUS Summit.  He hosted a state visit with both the prime — the President of Korea and the Prime Minister of India.  He traveled to Japan for the G7.  He held a Quad Summit.  He most recently held the trilateral at Camp David.  He will be hosting the Pacific Island leaders. 
He has — he attended both the first East Asia Summit virtually and the East Asia Summit last year in person.  He has sent his vice president to Southeast Asia twice, and this will be her third trip there making a substantial investment in ASEAN as an institution and in ASEAN centrality.
The President actually was in Indonesia less than a year ago for the G20 and — and for a substantial bilateral program with Joko Widodo.  And, you know, on top of all of that, the President has, for the first time of any president, hosted ASEAN at the White House for a special summit. 
So, you look at the totality of what the United States has done in the region in the course of the past two and a half years, and it is an unbelievable track record, not just of showing up in meetings — though we have showed up, I would assert to you, at more meetings or hosted more meetings in combination with showing up at them than any previous president — but actually in the results that we have generated. 
The relationships and alliances that — that we have managed to build from Northeast Asia to the Philippines to Australia, the partnership with India, the work we’ve done with ASEAN, all while trying to effectively manage the competition with the PRC, I would put our record of achievement and engagement in the Indo-Pacific up against any American president and any other country in the world in the past two and a half years.
And we’ll happily stand on the basis of that record, but we’re not standing pat.  We’re going to continue to move forward with more high-level active engagement as long as Joe Biden is president. 
MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We have time for one more super-quick question.  We’ll go to Nadia with Al Arabiya. 
Q   Thanks.  Hi, Jake.  I have a couple of questions: One on Niger, one on Iran.  On Niger, can you update us on the condition of President Bazoum?  Also, the French seems to be dismayed that the administration sent Acting Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland to Niger without consultation.  Is this — was that a mistake, and do you think now you got to coordinate with them on every step of the way? 
And on Iran, if you allow me — Iran hostage deal — there seems to be unclarity about Shahab Dalili, who is detained in Iran since 2016.  Was his name swapped for another detainee which is rumored to be the brother-in-law of Emad Sharghi?  And do you think that the $6 billion that was sent to Iran — or was going to be sent to Iran is not enough to include him in the deal?  Thank you so much. 
MR. SULLIVAN:  So, first, we’re not sending $6 billion to Iran.  We are transferring funds from one restricted account outside of Iran to another restricted account outside of Iran to operate under supervision to ensure that — that those funds are spent on non-sanctionable transactions.  
Second, I cannot speak specifically to any individual detainee at this point.  We’re still working to ensure that we get our Americans safely out.  So, we will continue to keep that focus. 
With respect to the question of consultation with the French, it is simply not true that we sent Acting Deputy Secretary Victoria Nuland to Niger without consulting with our friends in Paris.  We did consult with them in advance of that.  I personally was engaged in those consultations.  So, that’s — that’s an inaccurate statement
And our understanding is that President Bazoum is in Niamey, is continuing to be wrongly held.  He should be freed.  He should go — be back about the business of — of serving as the democratically elected president of Niger.  And we are working intensively with all of our partners, including with France, to try to ensure the preservation of democracy in Niger.
We’ll continue to do that, and we’ll continue to support the efforts by ECOWAS.  And we’ve been very closely consulting with them every step of the way and will continue those consultations as well, because, of course, they are the players right there in the region.  They are the neighbors.  They’re the ones who have a very significant stake in this, and we want to make sure that anything we do is closely coordinated with that. 
MODERATOR:  Thank you, and thank you to our guest briefer for joining and spending so much time with us.  And, as always, if we weren’t able to get to you, feel free to reach out.  Thanks.

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