1:11 P.M. EDT
Q Good afternoon.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Good afternoon, everyone. This morning, the President and the Vice President, who joined from Air Force Two while en route to Las Vegas, met with senior administration officials, including Attorney General Merrick Garland, Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients, FBI Director Chris Wray, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Principal Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer, and Homeland Security Advisor Liz Sherwood-Randall.
The President, Vice President, and their national security teams discussed steps they are taking to safeguard the homeland and the people of the United States — including Jewish, Arab, and Muslim communities — following the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel.
We are in touch with faith leaders and communities across the country to provide support, listen to their concerns, and offer the full resources of the federal government during what is a very difficult time for many people in the Jewish community, but also for people all — of all faiths.
As you all have seen, the President continues to be highly engaged on this subject, between the briefing today and his meeting yesterday with Jewish community leaders. He and the entire Biden-Harris administration are committed — committed to doing all we can to protect against antisemitism and other forms of hate in the aftermath of this weekend’s horrific terrorist attacks.
And to discuss these events and answer any of your questions, Admiral John Kirby is here from the National Security Council.
MR. KIRBY: Good afternoon, everybody.
Q Good afternoon.
MR. KIRBY: Just a couple small things here at the top. I’ll start with the saddest of news. We can now update the number of Americans that we know have been killed to 27 and the number of unaccounted for stands today at 14. We’re obviously doing everything we can to support and inform the families.
Now, sadly, five more families have now gotten the worst possible news that any family can conceive of getting. And we’re going to stay in touch with them as appropriate.
Same goes for those family members of those who are unaccounted for. And by “unaccounted for,” we mean that. We don’t know where they are. They don’t know where they are.
So, we’re going to obviously stay in touch with them as well. And certainly, we’re continuing to work with Israeli officials to make sure that we’re getting as much context and information as possible that we will share with them.
Also, as you, I think, realize, we are all acutely aware of limited availability right now on commercial flights out of Israel and the demand signal by U.S. citizens who may want to depart.
The President has asked his team to ensure that we are assisting U.S. citizens who do want to leave Israel and providing them with a safe means of doing that.
So, beginning tomorrow, the United States government will arrange charter flights to provide transportation from Israel to sites in Europe. They’re still working through some of the details of that to assist U.S. citizens and their immediate family members who have, for whatever reason, not been able to provide commercial transit out of the country.
And I would add that we’re also exploring other options to expand the capacity of doing this, including exploring whether it’s possible to help Americans leave by land and by sea.
So, again, we’re working hard on this, we know there’s a demand signal out there, and we’re going to try the best we can to meet it.
I would encourage any American citizen in the need of assistance to please complete the intake form that you can find on Travel.State.gov. It’s very simple. Go right to that site. There is an intake form. Fill it out. It helps the State Department process these requests. It also helps us get a sense of what the scope of the — of the need is.
And I would refer you to State on that. I’m sure you guys are going to ask me that. I don’t have hard figures handy with me now.
We do know there are certain American citizens that want to go. It’s all available through the State Department’s website, and I’d encourage them to go look at that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Okay. Go ahead.
Q Thanks for taking my question. Gaza’s main powerplant has run out of fuel, and the humanitarian situation there is becoming quite dire. I’m wondering if there have been any communications about allowing shipments of food, fuel, electricity to help lessen civilian casualties and suffering there.
MR. KIRBY: Yes. There have been ongoing conversations with our Israeli counterparts about the need for continued flow of humanitarian assistance.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, MJ.
Q I had a couple of questions on the American hostages. Is it still the case that the administration doesn’t know anything about the condition of the American hostages? And is the number still believed to be “less than a handful”?
MR. KIRBY: Yes and yes.
Q And I know you’ve been pretty open about that information about the hostages is very hard to ascertain at this moment. The limited information that you do have — is that coming mainly from the Israelis and Qataris or is there another source of information that you’d be able to —
MR. KIRBY: The families, too. I mean, as I mentioned yesterday, some of these families actually saw their loved ones being abducted and taken away, so they have been a significant source of information as well.
Q Just one other quick thing. The — the assumption that the hostages may not necessarily be in one place — was there specific intelligence to point the administration to not make that assumption? Or is that based on something else?
MR. KIRBY: I won’t speak about specific intelligence matters. But it is a common tactic in the Hamas playbook to break up hostages and move them around in, sometimes, small groups.
So, we have nothing that would indicate to us that they would follow a different set of protocols, but I can’t stand here before you and prove to you that that is exactly what’s happening.
We have to — we have to — in order to think about our policy options, you have to make some assumptions. And we can’t rule that out as a possibility.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Ed.
Q Jewish audience question, please.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Ed. Go ahead, Ed.
Q Thank you. Thank you, John. What is the status of the $6 billion that Iran was set to have access to?
MR. KIRBY: It’s still sitting in a Qatari bank. All of it. Every —
Q Is there an agreement now —
MR. KIRBY: Every dime of it.
Q Is there an agreement now to, in essence, withhold it from Iran should they come asking for it?
MR. KIRBY: None of that money has been spent, and I have no updates to provide today.
Q Was a decision to reach a quiet understanding with Qatar about whether or not it would be accessed by Iran made because of the attack or political pressure in recent days?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to talk about diplomatic conversations one way or another, Ed. What I can tell you is that every single dime of that money is still sitting in a Qatari bank. Not one of it — not one dime of it has been spent.
I’d also remind because this ke- — you know, I — in certain audiences, inconvenient facts are easy to forget. The regime was never going to see a dime of that money.
And this account, although it’s moved from South Korea to Qatar, was set up by the previous administration for this exact purpose. In fact, I think it was back in 2018, the former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo actually talked in quite some detail about how this money in these accounts could only be used for humanitarian purposes and that there was going to be oversight.
We’ve done nothing different. It is the same process. All we’ve done is move that fund from South Korea — where, for some technical reasons, it wasn’t accessible — to Qatar, where it is more accessible.
All that said, none of it has been accessed by the Iranian — by — by Iranian — by — by Iran at all. And even if they had accessed it, it wouldn’t go to the regime, it would go to approved vendors — that we approved — to go buy food, medicine and medical equipment, and agricultural products and ship it into Iran directly to the benefit of the Iranian people.
Q And let me ask you one other. Has the United States independently verified the photos released by the Israeli Prime Minister’s Twitter account today showing the images of dead children?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t think we’re going to be in the business of — of having to validate or approve those images. They’re coming from the Prime Minister of Israel. And we have absolutely no reason to doubt their authenticity.
Q Jewish audience question, please.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Mary. Go ahead, Mary.
Q To — to follow up on these questions about the $6 billion, I understand Iran hasn’t access to any of this yet; it’s, you know, intended for humanitarian purposes. But there have been reports of this quiet agreement. So, yes or no, if Iran wanted to access this today, could they?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to speculate one way or another here about future transactions. What I can tell you is: None of it has been accessed, and we are watching every dime, as you would expect we would. We’re watching it very, very closely.
And I’m not going to —
Q So, you’re not going to say if they can still tap into it today?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not in a position to speak about these press reports. I’m telling you: Nothing has been accessed, and we have oversight. We — we have oversight over — over what can be accessed and for what purposes.
Q And on another topic, the President said yesterday that he told Netanyahu that it’s important, even with all of the emotion and anger and frustration, that they “operate by the rules of war.” Why does the President feel the need to underscore this point?
MR. KIRBY: The President feels strongly about the Law of Armed Conflict and — and the proper respect for innocent life anywhere in the world, no matter where it is. And that certainly includes — maybe even especially includes — our own military operations.
Q But is the President worried that Israel may have already violated the rules of war or that they might going forward?
MR. KIRBY: It’s all — it’s just part of the conversations that we’ve been having with our Israeli counterparts about — about the prosecution of the — of these military operations.
The Palestinian people are, likewise, innocent civilians. They didn’t ask Hamas to come in and do this. And I think it’s — it’s always on the President’s mind — the protection of civilian life.
Q And one last quick thing. I’m wondering what you made of the former President last night, calling the Israeli Defense Minister a “jerk,” saying that Hezbollah was really “very smart.”
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to comment about comments on the campaign trail. That’s well beyond the pale for me.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Thank you. Kirby, can you give us an update on the intelligence about Iran’s role in this? Anything changing in terms of what you’re seeing or what the U.S. assesses to be Iran’s role?
MR. KIRBY: No, I don’t have any updates for you. We’re still looking into this. But, again, no direct evidence that Iran was a participant in these attacks in an- — in any way.
But, again, you know, we’re still — we’re still monitoring it. We’re still — we’re still looking at it.
And if I could go back, Mary, just — while I’m not going to comment, I — I would just add that we take seriously our bilateral relationship with Israel. We don’t get to decide, obviously, who their cabinet officials are. That wouldn’t be our business. But we have strong relationships with them. And it’s important now that those relationships continue to improve and grow — right? — particularly in this time of crisis.
And so, we’re focused on getting things done and supporting Israel. That’s where our heads are.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Joey.
Q Yeah. Thanks, Karine. Admiral, speaking of Iran, what did President Biden mean yesterday in his remarks when he said he, quote, “made it clear to Iranians, ‘Be careful’”? What was that referring to?
MR. KIRBY: It refers precisely to his comments the day before about not wanting to see any third party, be it a terrorist group or a nation state that might have hostile feelings towards Israel, that — you know, thinking that this might be a good time to take advantage of that and to — to widen and expand the conflict, very much in keeping with what he said the day before.
Q Well, was that message communicated to Iran or —
MR. KIRBY: The President of the United States said it publicly. I think that’s pretty good communication.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Danny.
Q Jewish audience question, please.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Danny. Go ahead, Danny.
Q Thank you, Admiral. I just wondered if you could explain to us the — just about how the — the President came to say yesterday that he’d seen pictures of militants beheading children. Obviously, it’s important to, you know, make sure the disinformation doesn’t get out there. How did — how did he end up saying that?
MR. KIRBY: He’s referring to images I think many of you — you have seen, certainly your colleagues have reported on, and, obviously, Israeli officials have spoken to as recently as today. We know that Secretary Blinken was also shown some additional images by Prime Minister Netanyahu.
So, I mean, the thing I think — and just allow me a second here. You know, we all need to be prepared for the fact that there’s going to be additional gruesome images coming out, and there’s going to be some pretty tough reports for all of us to swallow. This is not over.
And all that is — and — and the — certainly the President’s comments yesterday — to underscore the utter depravity and the barbaric nature with whi- — which — with which these terrorists murdered and butchered innocent Israeli civilians.
And that further underscores why — and this is what the President’s specific point was yesterday — that we got to stay with Israel. We’ve got to continue to make sure they have the support that they need.
Q But has the President actually seen the photos?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Go ahead —
Q Yesterday, there was —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Seung Min. Go ahead.
Q A couple of follow-up questions, actually, to what Mary had been asking. Regarding the issue about abiding by the laws of war, Israel does continue to halt supplies of food, other aid materials to Gaza. So, I’m wondering if the U.S. feels that is an appropriate action by the Israelis and if you’ve made any concerns about that to the Israeli — the Israeli government.
MR. KIRBY: We are having conversations with Israeli officials about the continued need for humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people who are victims here as well.
Q But does that — does the U.S. see that as any sort of a violation of the laws of war?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not — I’m not going to stand up here and — and put a bumper sticker on it. We are having active conversations, as we would anywhere around the world, with the Israeli counterparts.
Q And regarding the former President’s comments last night, setting aside the politics of it, do you have any concern that he may have revealed classified information as it relates to the death of Soleimani in 2020 in his comments last night?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not in a position to comment on that right now.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Jacqui.
Q Thank you, Karine. John, one quick one on the charter flights. Are those free of cost to American citizens (inaudible)?
MR. KIRBY: I’d refer you to the State Department. Typically, they are, but I mean, I — I don’t have the — they’re still working through the details of how they’re going to coordinate these.
Q Okay. And then, on the — the $6 billion, we know that a hundred senators were told on Tuesday night that the plan was basically to leave any requests for withdrawals pending indefinitely. And now we know that House Democrats were told by the Deputy Treasury Secretary behind closed doors this morning pretty much the same, with one added layer — that there’s an agreement with Qatar not to let those funds be dispersed.
I just — why is it that you won’t come out and say that the U.S. does not intend to let this money get — go to Iran?
MR. KIRBY: Jacqui, we — we’ve always had — since the beginning, we’ve always had the ability to provide oversight over the disbursement of these funds. We’ve always had the option, if we wanted it, to look at transactions and to make a call about whether we found it valid or not. That has not changed.
And even now, as you and I are speaking, none of that money has been accessed by anybody. It’s still all there.
Q Is — is it because we think that freezing it, essentially, again would complicate any negotiations with Iran or our ability to get Americans home in the future?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to go into any more detail.
Q Okay. And then on the overland and by sea and — and by land efforts. I guess, why is it that we find ourselves in so many situations trying to get Americans out and that it’s largely happening, you know, not through a government effort, but we’re telling, you know, civilians to find their way across a border in a warzone. Happened in Ukraine. It — you know, it — why is that we’ve found ourselves in that position so many times it seems?
MR. KIRBY: In what position exactly?
Q Where we’re directing American citizens to basically find their way — their own way to U.S. help on the other side, whereas you’ve got other countries that are sending their military in or are doing evacuations in a more formal way.
MR. KIRBY: Well, first of all, Americans and dual passport holders live all over the world. And sometimes they choose to live in places where — where bad things happen. You know, we’re not in a — we’re not in a position of lecturing to Americans where they can go live, work, or travel, recreate.
Number two, they don’t have to tell us that they’re there. So, sometimes it’s really hard to get a sense of what the population is.
In places like Israel, there is — there — there are a lot of Americans. Most of them are not — well, most — maybe most are dual nationals, but a lot of Americans are — are there. Other nations have smaller populations. And maybe they have — you know, they have to make their own decisions about how they’re going to handle those smaller populations.
We also have to be respectful of the needs and the desires of Americans who — who live there. We know that some want to leave. We also know that a lot of them want to stay. It’s home. They don’t want to go. And we have to respect that as well.
So we tailor the approach based on what’s going on — and what’s going on geographically inside a country, because some parts of countries that are in distress are safer than others, and people are less likely to want to go. You have to take all that into consideration.
And the other thing I’d say to your question is i- — as this situation evolves, you should expect that so too will our approach evolve. And — and if there’s a need to do more or to do it differently, well, by goodness, we’ll — we’ll do that. But right now, in the early hours, there was still ample commercial flights going out of Ben Gurion. And certainly there were some viable land routes.
We kept — and part — part of the reason why we’re doing this is because we have such good communication with Americans and we’re having these conversations. And we realized that as the situation has evolved, more and more Americans were expressing a desire to leave. And because not all carriers are working out of Ben Gurion, this made sense as the next best move.
If we have to adjust it, we absolutely will.
Q Thank you for that. On the Day of Jihad, are we doing anything to fortify, I guess, the U.S. against any potential activity against Americans with — domestically or abroad, given the calls for a Day of Jihad and your statement yesterday that now is not the time to go back and look at any intelligence gaps? Is it the time being that tomorrow is supposed to be this Day of Jihad?
MR. KIRBY: What — what I meant by yesterday was we’re focused on making sure that our — our intelligence-sharing with the Israelis is as sharp and as good as possible for the operations that they are in.
I saw some reporting that made it sound like I blew it off. That is not the case. We understand that there will — there will be a need to go back and look at what was missed, by whom, and when. Of course we’re going to do that. But we’ve got to stay focused on the task at hand right now.
And as for your second question: absolutely. We are constantly in touch with local law enforcement, state and — state and federal officials across the country to — to make sure that we are as — as vigilant as we can be to be able to identify and disrupt any threats to the American people. We’re absolutely going to stay focused on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’ll jump around. Go ahead.
Q John, is the concern about publicly addressing the $6 million as now being frozen a concern that it would suggest culpability on the part of Iran on these specific events? And is that too volatile a statement for the U.S. government to make publicly since, clearly, it’s being communicated privately to lawmakers and others?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I don’t have anything more to add on this, Kelly. All I can tell you is we haven’t seen any specific evidence that Iran was — was involved specifically with these attacks.
But as we’ve said, broadly, yes, they are certainly complicit. We’re not walking away from the fact that Iran has supported Hamas and other terrorist networks.
So, this is not about being unwilling to — to speak to culpability. We’ve already spoken to the culpability and complicity of Iran with respect to support to terrorist groups. I’m just not able to go into more detail than that.
I — I would tell you that — again, I’m reminded — I know I sound like a broken record — but not a dime has been accessed, and we are watching it very, very closely.
Q When the President spoke about the hostage situation in yesterday’s event with Jewish community leaders and the fate of Americans broadly and that he didn’t want to say too much publicly for obvious reasons, could you just speak to what his view is about an American military role in another country when Americans’ lives are at stake? How would he view the calculus there? Is it deferring to the Israeli — the IDF? Is it working in partnership? How would he describe, as Commander-in-Chief, what his priorities are with that kind of potential?
MR. KIRBY: As Commander-in-Chief, his first priority is always the safety and security of the Amer- — of Americans that are overseas as well as our own national security interests.
And we have national security interests throughout the region. Moving the carrier strike group to the Eastern Med is part and parcel of that concern he has of our broader national security interests here.
Now, the Israelis have made it very clear that they don’t want foreign troops on their soil — that they want to prosecute these operations on their own. And they have every right to want to do that.
Now we have some — some experts that were already in country, in part providing advice and counsel on, like, hostage recovery. We obviously have a terrific information and intelligence-sharing relationship with Israel. We’re working to improve that. And certainly we have a strong defense relationship when it comes to providing weapons and munitions, and we’re doing that.
And so, no, there are no intentions, no plans to put American troops on the ground in combat.
Q He hasn’t been given any updated —
MR. KIRBY: And there is no interest by the Israelis —
Q — plans or options to that effect since Saturday?
MR. KIRBY: There are no plans or intentions to do that. So, there are no active planning efforts underway to do that. And the Israelis have made it clear that — that they would not welcome that in — in any event.
What we’re going to do is make sure that — now, this is a very capable — small but very capable military, and we’re going to do everything we can to improve those capabilities.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead in the back.
Q Thanks a lot —
Q Thanks a lot, Karine.
Q Go ahead.
MR. KIRBY: You guys fight it out. (Laughter.)
Q Kirby, is the U.S. contemplating the creation of a humanitarian parole program like the one for Ukrainians for people of Israel or people on the ground?
MR. KIRBY: I’m not aware of any such plans.
Q And I have another question. Is the U.S. willing to withhold the military aid to Israel until they create a humanitarian corridor?
MR. KIRBY: We are providing them military aid as we speak. So, no, there’s no plans of — of holding back military assistance. We wouldn’t do that. The President has been talking now for three days about how we’re going to keep giving them the capabilities that they need.
That doesn’t mean we aren’t going to have conversations with them — as I’ve answered now three or four times — about humanitarian assistance and the importance of that getting into the — the people of Gaza.
Q Do you see the creation of this corridor as an advantage for — for Israel?
MR. KIRBY: As a what?
Q As, like, a strategic advantage for Israel — creating the corridor.
MR. KIRBY: It’s the right thing to do for humanitarian assistance. It’s the right thing to do for innocent victims who are — who are actually being held hostage, literally, as well, by Hamas.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Brian.
Q Thanks a lot. Thanks, John. The oil sales coming out of Iran have increased over the last year. Is the U.S. looking at what it can do with the existing oil sanctions to decrease the — the amount of barrels coming out of Iran?
MR. KIRBY: Without getting into specifics, I can tell you that we are constantly reviewing our regime sanctions against Iran. And we will continue to do that.
Q Should we expect some announcements or — or more additional —
MR. KIRBY: That’s as far as I’m going to go today.
Q — enforcement of the sanctions?
MR. KIRBY: That’s as far as I’m going to go today.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Janne.
Q Thank you. Thank you, Karine. And thank you, John. I’m here. Okay, I have —
MR. KIRBY: I know. I see you. (Laughter.)
Q I have two questions for you. And first question: Regarding arms trade between Hamas and North Korea, Hamas used the North Korean rockets to attack Israel. Can you tell us about the current situation where North Korea is providing weapons to Hamas?
And second question: How will the Middle East crisis affect United States’ security strategy on the Korean Peninsula?
MR. KIRBY: I can’t —
MR. KIRBY: I can’t confirm the reports about the — the rockets. I’m happy to take that question and — and see if we have more information on it. I just don’t have that today.
And as for how what’s going on in the Middle East is going to affect our view of the security environment on the Peninsula — or, quite frankly, anywhere else in the world — we’re a big enough, strong enough nation, and we’ve got global responsibilities to — to look after our national security interests anywhere and everywhere.
We’re still also supporting Ukraine in their fight against Russia. We’re still doing an amazing amount of work in the Indo-Pacific to shore up our alliances and our partnerships and to try to increase stability, security, and prosperity throughout the region. So, we’re not worried about our ability to do all those things.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Tam.
Q Yeah, thank you. On the $6 billion, I’m trying to figure out if you’re saying that policy hasn’t actually changed in any way or just that you aren’t willing to talk about changes that may have happened —
MR. KIRBY: Bingo.
Q — in the last 24 hours.
MR. KIRBY: It’s the last one.
Q Okay. All right, and — (laughter) — lovely, thank you for clarifying.
The other question is: On “Morning Edition” today, we had someone on who is an American citizen living in Gaza. Is the United States doing anything to help American citizens who are trapped in Gaza who may want to get back to the U.S.?
MR. KIRBY: And — and you me- —
Q Not about the hostages, but —
MR. KIRBY: These are Palestinians.
Q Yes. Like dual passport holders.
MR. KIRBY: Yeah, the — the first and most important thing that we’re trying to do is — is, as I mentioned yesterday, allow for safe passage. But right now, they — they can’t leave. So, we would have no physical means of permitting that transit out. And so, that’s why we’re so actively having conversations with the Israelis and the Egyptians about a safe passage corridor so that people who want to leave can leave.
And then, at that time, you know, if it’s onward travel that they might need, then, you know, we’d be more in a position to — to be more physically involved. Does that make sense?
Okay, yeah. I was — well, I was going to arress- — address your first question, but I think I’m just going to leave it.
Q Well, you could still. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: No, I’m going to leave. I’m going to leave it.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Catherine.
Q Thanks. Just to go back to the President’s comments yesterday about the pictures. He said he never thought he would see and have confirmed pictures of terrorists beheading children. At that point in time, had he seen such photos? What had he seen that made him say that?
MR. KIRBY: I don’t have anything to add to — to what he said. I mean, again, you guys have all reported on these atrocities. You’ve — some of your outlets have even run some of these images. They’re — they’re plain for everybody to see.
And the Prime Minister’s office has spoken to that. Even before today, they’d spoken to these kinds of atrocities. And again today, the Prime Minister showed Secretary Blinken some additional grotesque imagery.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Akayla. Go ahead, Akayla.
Q Sorry, one more.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Akayla.
Q On the aid package, is there anything you can tell us about what the request will be to Congress, what that’s going to look like, what the connotations are there?
MR. KIRBY: Nope.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Akayla.
Q I had the same question as Catherine. But can you just specify whether or not Taiwan funding and possibly border security funding could be a part of that request?
MR. KIRBY: Nope. (Laughter.)
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Peter.
Q Admiral, the Hamas representative gave an interview to Russian television in which they said they’d be willing to trade hostages for Hamas prisoners in any prisons, including in the United States. And they specifically said the United States has traded prisoners before, citing the Iran deal that was just made. Is that something the United States would consider doing in the case of the American citizens?
MR. KIRBY: I — I haven’t seen that particular report. So, I’m — I’m going to be loath to comment specifically on it. What I will tell you, just broadly speaking, is we obviously take seriously our responsibilities to get Americans held overseas back with their families. We have, in the past, entered into negotiations to do exactly that. And we have not foreclosed any option right now in terms of these particular hostages.
Obviously, if they can — if — if their return to their families can be arrived at in a peaceful way, without additional risk to their lives, that is certainly something we would take very, very seriously.
Q Including the possible release of people that we might be having in our prisons?
MR. KIRBY: Again, I — I won’t get ahead of where we are. Even — Peter, even if I had more knowledge about this offer than I do today, my answer to you would be the same. It’s never a good idea to negotiate for the transfer of hostages or detainees in public, lest you torpedo the actual success you’re trying to achieve.
But I don’t have a lot more granularity or context on this. All I can tell you is — as Jake said himself, better than I can — we’ll do everything that we can — everything possible that we can to get these Americans back home.
I would remind, Peter: We still don’t have a lot of information about exactly how many, where they are, not even all who they are. So, there’s an awful lot of information we need to gain before we come up with any concrete policy options.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q How does the Israeli strike on the Syrian airports change the situation? And then, can you also address reports that E- — the Egyptians warned the Israelis in the days prior to the attack?
MR. KIRBY: I — I alrea- — I’ve — I’ve been asked that question about the Egyptian warning. I don’t have anything on that. You’d have to talk to Eg- — Egyptian authorities. I don’t have anything, and I certainly wouldn’t talk about intelligence matters.
And on your first question, that’s a better question put for the Israeli Defense Forces, not for the United States. We’re focused on helping them go after Hamas.
Q And question —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, in the back. Go ahead.
Q Question about Lebanon. So, Hezbollah is continuing operating against the Israeli targets at the border — Lebanese-Israeli border. Are you still concerned that — that Hezbollah could be taking part in this war?
MR. KIRBY: Sure. Yeah, absolutely.
Q And do you have any intelligent information about the capability of Hezbollah, that they’ve been preparing and we know that their capability is way stronger than Hamas?
MR. KIRBY: They are a potent terrorist group, no question about it. We watch them closely. The Israelis watch them closely. We don’t want to see this conflict widened. We don’t want to see Hezbollah make that kind of a decision.
And I would remind, again, that we take our national security interests very seriously in the region. And the reason why we moved a carrier strike group to the Eastern Med was to act as a deterrent for any other actor, including Hezbollah, that might think that widening this conflict is a good idea.
Q America forces might — last question. America forces might join the war if Hezbollah made a difference —
MR. KIRBY: Are you — are you implementing a policy decision there?
Q No, I’m just — I’m just asking —
MR. KIRBY: Or is that a q- —
Q You have a big — two ships, one coming on the way. So, I’m just wondering if Hezbollah changed the game and — and did make a big impact in the war and made Israel look — another surprise maybe.
MR. KIRBY: I appreciate the effort to try to get me to confirm a hypothetical. I’m not going to do that.
Q No, I’m just —
MR. KIRBY: I’m not going to do that. There is no intention or plan to put American troops on the ground in Israel. There’s no desire by the Israelis for that outcome. So, I’m just not going to get ahead of where things are.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, (inaudible).
Q Great, thanks. Thanks, John. One of your priorities has been, as you said, to keep the war confined to Israel and Gaza. So, are you concerned that that’s going to be more difficult as causalities grow in Gaza and as the war escalates?
MR. KIRBY: It’s going to — I mean, I think the prospect of widening is going to depend a lot on — on other actors outside Israel.
Q And then, just a quick follow-up. The U.S. is accelerating PGMs that Israel already paid for and then potentially considering sending even more after that. Have there been any restrictions put on how Israel uses those weapons? And if not, why not?
MR. KIRBY: I won’t speak about that for Israeli operational security reasons. And I’m not even going to get into detailing the kinds of munitions that we’re being pr- — that are being provided to them. The Israelis have a right to have that information protected for their — for their own ability to conduct operations.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Nadia.
Q Thank you. John, I’m here.
MR. KIRBY: Oh.
Q I want to press you on a previous question.
MR. KIRBY: Good. Good.
Q This administration —
MR. KIRBY: I like that.
Q Good. This administration fought very hard against misinformation. You hold the truth as a gospel, so facts matter, I guess. When you have misinformation, it leads to incitement and what to come. So, again, whether it’s the stories of beheaded babies or the rape, I just want to make sure that you are 100 percent sure of these stories, because they prepare us to what to come.
And I have in mind the Iraq War, where notable outlet, including many of our colleagues here, disseminated misinformation and governments’ lie, actually, about the war. There’s no comparison here. But I’m saying —
MR. KIRBY: There’s no comparison —
Q I don’t take —
MR. KIRBY: — whatsoever.
Q Yeah. I don’t take somebody else’s information as if you don’t verify it yourself. So, are you saying there is no need to verify it yourself because you trust the sources? And I’m asking — my question to you is: How do you separate between facts and misinformation?
MR. KIRBY: I’m — that — that — boy, that’s a — I mean, I taught a whole class at Georgetown on that. I mean, we can talk about this for hours. (Laughter.) I mean, look, obviously, we take seriously —
MR. KIRBY: What’s that? (Laughter.)
Q (Inaudible.) (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: You’re going to have to register — you’re going to have to register for the class.
Q I’ll take the whole course with you, John. (Laughter.)
MR. KIRBY: I don’t know if you can handle the reading list, James. (Laughter.)
Look, we take it — we take it very, very seriously — the — the need to be as factual and, certainly, truthful as we can possibly be. If you’re suggesting somehow that we’re taking that lightly, I mean, I would again refer you to many of the reporting many of your colleagues have done about the atrocities that have already taken place — excuse me — in just the last few days and comments made by Israeli officials themselves.
It’s — it’s obvious, sadly — but it’s obvious what Hamas has proven willing to do to innocent Israeli citizens. We’re — we’re going to — we’re — we’re not going to shy away from talking about the groteq- — grotesque nature here of what these terrorists have done.
But I also think it’s important that we all — and I’m not — I don’t mean this a chastising way, but we all have to keep the larger picture in mind here of what’s going on and — and how important it is for Isra- — Israel to be able to eliminate this very real, very tangible, very demonstrable threat to the lives of their own citizens.
Q One more question, just quickly. If you manage to succeed to open the border crossing with Egypt through Rafah, can you guarantee that Palestinians from Gaza who are exiting will go back? Because there is a fear —
MR. KIRBY: Will go back?
Q Yes, go back to Gaza after the war ends. Because there’s a fear that when people leave, as history told us, since you (inaudible) at Georgetown, you — they do- — they don’t come back. So, they don’t come back. There’s people worried about an ethnic cleansing, that when people leave, they don’t come
MR. KIRBY: I know, I understand that. Our focus right now is making sure that — and not all of them are going to want to leave, but wh- — those who do, who really want to get out, that they have the ability to get out. That’s the real first priority.
And — and, you know, if there’s a concern about getting back in at the appropriate time, we’ll certainly deal with that as a policy issue going forward. I mean, the bottom line here is that we know that Gaza is home for these people, and they — if they want to go back home, they should absolutely be allowed to go back home. But they should be able to make those decisions, just like citizens anywhere should be able to make those kinds of — of decisions.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead, Naomi.
Q Thank you. Today, Senator Bob Menendez was accused of being a foreign agent. Is the White House considering or will consider putting a national security assessment on the situation?
MR. KIRBY: I have no- — nothing to update or comment on that.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Gerren.
Q Thanks, Karine. Hi, John. Are you — is the White House concerned or have any response to the court order in Kenya that temporarily blocked deployment of security officers to — on the multi-national mission to Haiti? And if this legal challenge is successful, is that concerning? Is that — does that change the U.S.’s pledge in this mission going forward?
MR. KIRBY: I’m going to have to take that question, sir. I’m — I wasn’t tracking that. I don’t want to — I don’t want to speculate.
Q Thank you.
Q Thanks, Karine. Thanks, Karine. Thank you, John.
So, a follow-up question on social media and misinformation. Social media platform X says it has removed hundreds of Hamas-affiliated accounts and has taken down thousands of posts since Hamas attacked Israel. Does the adminishirn [sic] think — does the administration think that enough is being done about potential misinformation surrounding this war? And how concerned is the administration about this?
MR. KIRBY: We’ve seen the reports that X has — has taken down quite a bit of misinformation. I mean, we — we certainly support those decisions. That — that kind of information has no business being out there, certainly when you know it’s — absolutely know it’s false. So — so we’re grateful and support that.
That was obviously a corporate decision that they made. And, again, we think it was — it was done in the right vein.
Q And a follow-up question on sending U.S. troops. So, you said there’s no intention and no plan to do so, but has it been ruled out? Is that still an option depending?
MR. KIRBY: There is no intention, no plan, and, frankly, no desire by the Israelis for U.S. combat troops to be involved in this conflict.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: James, last question.
Q Okay. Thank you very much, Karine. And thank you, Admiral. Two questions on the Mideast crisis.
Twenty-seven Americans killed is a very large number. That is larger than the number of Americans who were killed by terrorists during our withdrawal from Afghanistan, larger than the number of Americans killed at the USS Cole, larger than the number of Americans killed at Benghazi or beheaded by ISIS. And I believe it’s accurate to say that after all of those events, direct U.S. military action was ordered by the Commander-in-Chief.
Twenty-seven Americans killed. Why is it the posture of the Biden administration to just let Israel handle this job, in essence, instead of U.S. forces going in and getting the guys that killed our people?
MR. KIRBY: James, we will do, as Jake said, everything we can to get those American hostages home with their families. We recognize that they are not the only people being held hostage, other nationalities are included in that group. We don’t have enough information right now to make a policy decision about how to do it.
So, I can appreciate the sense of urgency in your question. Believe me, we share it. But we aren’t going to act one way or another until we have enough information to act upon.
Q And then, on the hostages issue. You have suggested that it’s a very small number of hostages — American hostages being held in Gaza, “less than a handful.” And I assume that that is — that assessment is still operative. Has there been any discussion amongst President Biden and his aides about how to avoid the fate of Jimmy Carter in this situation, where we actually saw the President of the United States and his administration become, in effect, hostages themselves to a foreign terrorist organization?
MR. KIRBY: With all the respect that President Biden has for President Carter, I can assure you that he is not focusing on history here, even domestic history; he’s focusing on what’s going on now and making sure that we are doing everything we can to support Israel and look after our national security interests in this moment — because this is not 1979, it’s 2023.
And Hamas is an organization that has existed for many years with the support of Iran. We’ve got enough challenges just dealing with this that we’re focused on that and that alone.
Q Jewish audience question, please.
Q Thank you, Admiral.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Thanks, Admiral.
MR. KIRBY: Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Appreciate it. All right. Thanks, everybo- — well, not thanks, everybody — thanks, Admiral.
All right. Go ahead, Seung Min.
Q Just one from me.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What else — what else do you have?
Q Is the President okay with having a lawmaker who’s accused of conspiring to act as an agent of a foreign government remain as a member of Congress?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: The Admiral was just asked this question. I just don’t have anything to say beyond what he shared.
Q Specifically referring to Bob Menendez’s superseding indictment.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: No, I don’t. And he was literally just asked this question. I’m just not going to say any more to what he just added.
Q Karine, does the President feel supported by the Democratic Party writ large, by lawmakers, by his party for his actions now with regard to Israel?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, the President is — I mean, very much to what the Admiral just said about the moment that we’re in, about what we’re seeing, this ter- — terrible event that happened this past weekend within Israel is that — who is an al- — ally, who is a friend — is what we saw this — this terrorist organization do — Hamas — which is kill hundreds of li- — take hundreds of lives, murder people.
And we believe — this President believes it is the right thing to do to continue to assist the people of Israel as they’re dealing with this devastating, horrific time.
And so the President — as President, as Commander-in-Chief — has difficult decisions to make — right? — difficult decisions to make on behalf of the American people. Right? The Admiral talked about how there is a national security piece of this as well. We have, as we all know, Americans — 27 Americans who have — who have sadly perished, and some — and many of are still missing.
Seventeen [Fourteen] still are missing.
And so, it is the President’s duty as Commander-in-Chief to do everything that he can to protect us and to also assist in this horrific, horrific events that we saw this weekend.
Q My question is more does he feel that his party is supporting him in that and does he sense — or does he sense divisions amongst some parts of the party?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Look, I — I can’t speak to — I — we’re not sensing division, right? We’re — the President is focusing on the job at hand. The President is going to always focus and make sure that Americans and our — our national security is front and center. And this is part of that.
But also, you know, Israel is a friend. And what they have gone through — the people of Israel have gone through these past couple of days is horrific. And so, we are going to stand by them, as the President has said, as they go — go through this terrible time.
Remember, they were — as you know, as you all have written about — attacked by a terrorist organization — a terrorist organization. And so, the President is going to continue to do his duty as Commander-in-Chief and as president.
Q Do you have an estimate on how many American citizens are trying to leave Israel right now?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t. I don’t have an estimate. As you — as you just heard from the Admiral, we announced the charter that State is going to be running, just don’t have any — any intel.
And you know, the commercial flights are still — still ongoing in Israel. So there are opportunities for folks to leave. I just don’t have any number for you.
Q And are there any active threats that — on the domestic front that law enforcement is tracking at this moment stemming from Saturday’s attack?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I can say is that we’re always monitoring. Clearly, we’re going to monitor to make sure, you know, that — to make sure if there are any threats, obviously, we would — we would address those. But there is nothing active that I can — that I can announce to you or lay out to you at this time.
Q There is —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: We’re monitoring right now. But there is nothing that — there are no active threats at this time.
Q Now in the second week of the House [not] having an elected Speaker, does that change at all any conversations the President may be having with senior House leaders — Republicans, Democrats — about speeding this process along?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Which process?
Q Of electing a Speaker.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I mean, look, it’s their process to run. They are — you know, this is the House Republicans, as I’ve said over and over again. It is their process. The President doesn’t have a vote.
It is — what we’re seeing is certainly shambolic chaos that we’re seeing over there on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue, and they need to get their act together. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on behalf of the American people.
We’ve said this over and over again. They need to figure this out. How are they going to — going to select their Speaker, that’s up to them. But of course, the President wants to continue to move forward on — on making sure that the business of the American people is done.
But this doesn’t stop the President for — for — you know, continuing to do the work. We announced junk fees the other day. The President does — has been doing — being pretty engaged and active every day on behalf of the American people, and that’s something that he’s — he’s going to do.
But of course, we want to see the House Republicans get their — get their act in order.
Q Understanding the sort of uncharted territory that –this is, there is not a —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is chartered territory.
Q Yeah, so —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is.
Q No, I understand that. So, I’m asking: There is not a role, then, that the administration sees that the President could play here to try —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: It is not for us to fix. It’s not for us to fix the chaos in the House Republicans. It’s not for us to fix. They have the majority, as you know, in the House. It is for them to fix.
We’ve never seen a conference behave this way or be this chaotic. And, you know, it is important for Republicans who have the majority to figure this out — to figure this out and get their — and — and get the — they created the situation, and they have to figure it out and elect their Speaker so we can move on.
Q Karine, will you take our Jewish audience question?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Go ahead.
Q On CPI inflation. The CPI inflation report came out today. It was hotter than expected: 3.7 percent year over year, unchanged from the prior month.
You talk about all the spending last year to lower costs. The last couple of months, how was that lowering costs?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, what we believe is that Biden- — Bidenomics is an action, right? You’re talking about lowering costs — right? — and that’s something that the President is certainly continuing to do.
Inflation is falling while — while employment remains strong. As you speak to CPI, inflation has fallen 60 percent since last summer. And the core inflation, as we really — as you’re speaking to this data — fell to its lowest level in two years. And so that matters.
Let’s not forget about wages are higher than they were last year, accounting for inflation. Prices fell for core goods like cars and furniture for the fourth month in a row. All of those pieces are in the data — the CPI that came out today. And that matters.
Q But people still hear Bidenomics, and they see rent is up 7.4 percent year over year, car repairs, car insurance is up almost 19 percent. So costs are not coming down for all Americans.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, here’s the thing. As we know that when it comes to housing people are still dealing with a lot, right? We understand how that — that economic hardship, as it relates to housing specifically. That’s why the President put forth a plan to deal with — on the federal level, how to help people lower costs with housing. So that is important as well.
But when you think about wages, wages are indeed up, which matters — over the last year, accounting for inflation, and even more for blue-collar workers and those not in management. So, that matters — as I mentioned — as I mentioned moments ago.
So, look, the President is going to continue to grow the economy. When we talk about Bidenomics, we see the economy growing, we see unemployment at under 4 percent, we see jobs created under this administration is more than 13 million jobs — more than 14 million jobs at this point. And that’s what — that’s what we’re going to focus on.
When it comes to Republicans, they want to slash taxes for the wealthy. That’s what they want to do. That’s what they’re putting forward — cut Social Security, cut Medicare, cut Medicaid — they already started talking about that again recently.
So, the President is going to focus on what is — what is needed for the American people to continue to give them that little bit of breathing room. And that’s what the President is going to focus on.
Let’s not forget yesterday —
Q One more quick one, if I could.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q Is it still appropriate for the President to go to Philadelphia tomorrow given all the Americans trying to get out of Israel and the imminent ground war there?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, look, the President has to do multiple things at once — multiple things at once. The President is going to go to Philly. He’s going to continue to talk about Bidenomics. He’s going to continue to talk about what he’s doing to — to bring back manufacturing, to create — create good-paying jobs. That’s what you’re going to hear from Americans. That’s something that Americans also want to hear from.
The President is — has been engaged in the situation that we’re currently seeing — the horrific situation that we’re seeing in Israel. That’s what he’s going to continue to do.
He was engaged today. He’s been engaged for the last — every day since the attacks. And we’re going to do everything that we can — we just announced — right? — State just announced the — the charter flights — right? — so that’s something that is going to help get Americans out of Israel.
And so — and also, commercial flights are still ongoing. I want to make that very clear.
But the President is going to make Americans a priority. He has to do multiple things at once. That’s what you’re going to see the President do.
Q I just want to go back to the Chairman Menendez thing.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q Because in another realm, this would be a bigger effing deal. A successor to the President as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is being accused —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, he’s no — he’s no longer chairman, right?
Q No. But the President was once the chairman of the Senate Foreign —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Oh, I see what you’re saying.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I — I see.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: You’re making that connection. Got it, got it.
Q Yes, the successor to the then-senator —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Successor — no, I got it. I got it. I got it.
Q — has been accused of being a foreign agent for Egypt, which, not for nothing, is involved in this situation right now, for that matter.
Has the President been brought up to speed on this? If he has no comment today, can we seek comment on whether he has any concerns —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — that someone with that kind of a position may have been accused of this and whether he should be running for reelection?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, we have always said it is a serious matter, right? We’ve always said that. And we’ll continue to treat that as a serious matter. I just don’t have anything else to share beyond any statements from the President. I just don’t have anything outside of that. But of course — of course, we see this as a serious matter.
Go ahead, Kelly O.
Q Has the President requested any sort of biographies on the families or the victims in Israel in order to have outreach? Would you expect, with this number of Americans killed, that he would have — by letter or call or something — anything you can share about that direct — President Biden to these American families?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: And it’s — it’s a very good question. You know this president, Kelly O. You know this is a president — when it comes to human tragedy like this or any type of loss, this is a president that takes this very seriously and — and tends to reach out and have those conversations with — with family members who have lost a loved one.
I don’t have anything to read out to you at this time or to — a plan or anything like that to lay out. But this is, of course, something — as the president of the United States, Commander-in-Chief to — to hear — you know, to hear what has 27 — 27 American lives have lost. This is something that affects him deeply.
If — if and when we do outreach and have any conversation with the families who have lost their loved ones, we certainly would share that. But, of course, this is someone — this is a president who wants to hear and wants to know about — about folks who lost their lives and also wants to hear directly from the families. I just don’t have anything to share at this time.
Oh, go ahead.
Q We also see that he — he attends Catholic mass —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q — every week. Has he expressed any desire to go to a synagogue or to — or a mosque, for that matter, or to — to have any kind of a faith experience in light of this?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have anything to share as — as the President visiting a synagogue or a mosque.
Obviously, at the top briefing, I mentioned how we are — we are there for all faiths who are, you know, potentially going through some really difficult times in this — in this moment.
And certainly, you know, when it comes to what — you know, the question I was asked about Homeland, we’re certainly going to monitor and keep track. But we are here for the Jewish community, we are here for the Arab community, we are here for the Muslim community.
And certainly, it is also important for the President for people to feel protected and to feel safe. And that’s what his Homeland Security is doing — his advisors here. That’s why he met with them today to get an update. And certainly, we’re going to stay on top of that.
Q Thanks, Karine. UAW has expanded their strike. Obviously, we’re four weeks into this now. How concerned is the White House about getting a resolution and potential economic impacts?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, look, we’re going to monitor this very, very closely: the situation — certainly the economic impacts. But look, the President has says — says this all the time; you hear me say this all the time: We respect unions, their right to use their option for collective bargaining. We believe that works when both sides come together and negotiate and come together in this — in this instance, there are multiple sides and — you know, and come together in good faith to get a win-win agreement.
And that’s what we want to continue to — to see. We’re not going to talk about specific tactics or the specifics in negotiations. But certainly, we’re going to m- — we’re going to continue to monitor.
Q Is there any engagement you can tell us? White House officials, obviously, have been in Detroit and have —
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. I don’t have any travel from White House officials. As you know, Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su has been engaged and so has the Senior Advisor here, Gene Sperling — have both — have been the two people who have been — have had direct communication and — certainly not part of negotiation but offering any assistance that might be needed to the Big Three and UAW. I just don’t have any specific engagement to read out or any travel at this time.
Go ahead, Tam.
Q Karine, just one quick question. Has the crisis in Israel caused the President’s major address on Ukraine to be delayed? And does he still plan to deliver it?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don’t have any update on the President’s Ukraine address. I’m sure that we will hear — continue to hear from the President. As he said y- — last — or this week: Next week, he’s going to put forth a supplemental — supplemental plan on additional funding that he’s going to be asking for. And don’t want to get ahead of that. Certainly, the best path forward.
I just don’t have anything to share on any remarks or extensive remarks that the President will be giving or might give on Ukraine. But certainly, you guys will continue to hear from the President on all important matters, whether domestically or foreign.
Okay, thank you so much.
2:07 P.M. EDT