Via Teleconference

11:50 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Hey, everyone.  Thanks again for bearing with us this morning.  Kirby has no toppers, so we’ll go straight into your questions. 

Our first question will go to Aamer with the AP.

Q    Hey, thank you very much.  Two quick news-of-the-day questions, and then I just had one also — a short one that’s like things sort of emerging into next week. 

But on the news of the day, does the President agree with Leader Schumer that Netanyahu has lost his way and that it’s time to hold new elections in Israel?

And secondly, on the TikTok development, does the White House view this emerging Steve Mnuchin effort as a possible solution to the national security issues with the platform?

And then finally, there’s this bipartisan group of senators that wrote a letter to leadership this week, and it’s waving red flags on the Afghan SIV issue with the March 22nd government funding deadline.  What is the administration doing to make sure this gets done?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Look, we know that Leader Schumer feels strongly about this.  I’ll certainly let him speak to it and to his comments. 

We’re going to stay focused on making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself while doing everything that they can to avoid civilian casualties.  And of course, we’re still focused — laser-focused on trying to get a temporary ceasefire in place so that we can get the hostages out and get more aid in.  That’s where our head is right now. 

I don’t have any information on the Mnuchin effort you’re speaking to, Aamer.  I don’t have any context on that.  We’re still focused on continuing to work, providing some technical support and assistance to Congress as this bill, which just passed the House, moves on to the Senate.  There’s an ongoing legislative process for that.  We obviously want to see the Senate take it up swiftly.  And we’re focused on making sure we’re providing them the context and the information we believe is important so that this bill can actually do and address the national security concerns that we have with respect to TikTok.

But I’ll tell you what I’ll do, since I didn’t have anything on yet for the Mnuchin effort you spoke to, but I will take that question, and we’ll have the team take a look and see if we can get you something a little bit more cogent than what I just gave you. 

And, look, on Afghan SIVs, I think, as you know, we project that all 7,000 remaining Afghan SIV numbers are going to be exhausted by August of this year, so the end of the summer, at the current rates that they’re being issued.  So that’s why we requested from Congress an increase of 20,000 SIVs, which would provide a visa for all individuals with a demonstrated eligibility for the program.  And so we’re going to continue to urge Congress to move forward on that.

Even though our war in Afghanistan ended, our commitment to Afghans and our commitment to those who helped us in that war has not ended.  And we absolutely feel fully committed, and morally so, to do everything we can to get those folks a pathway out of Afghanistan.

MODERATOR:  Great.  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Steve with Reuters.

Q    Hey, John.  Welcome back.  Since you mentioned the hostage deal, give us an update on where things stand with that.  Are there any active negotiations going on right now?  Getting any movement from Hamas on that front?

MR. KIRBY:  Hey, Steve.  I wish I had some tangible progress to speak to.  I don’t.  But I can clearly state that discussions and conversations are ongoing.  We are a part of those discussions and those conversations.  And we’re still hopeful that we will be able to get there.  But I don’t have an update for you.

Q    And secondly, the U.S. is imposing sanctions on several individuals related to settlement activity in the West Bank.  Why were these people specifically chosen for the sanctions?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, these three individuals and two entities were sanctioned because they own or control — I’m sorry, sanctioned three individuals and two associated entities that are owned or controlled by those individuals.  That’s what this was about.

These individuals have engaged in repeated violence against Palestinians and, in some cases, Israelis too, in the West Bank.  And as we made clear before, extremist settler violence that we’ve seen increase sharply since the attacks on the 7th of October threatens peace, security, and stability of the West Bank. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Karen with the Washington Post.

Q    Hi.  On the attack — the IDF attack on the UNRWA facility in Rafah yesterday, I wonder how concerned you are about Israel openly targeting either Hamas or police in Rafah at a U.N. facility that is key to resolving the aid issues that you’ve outlined in the south and whether you have any more information on this person who was targeted.

Separately, there’s a report that the Israelis — that the United States is aware of plans that Israel has to relocate people in the south in order to proceed with their Rafah offensive.  I know Jake said yesterday that the United States had not seen any plans.  And I wonder if, in fact, you’ve seen anything.

And finally — sorry, I have one more.  There was another report yesterday that the United States this year has held talks on two occasions, with Iran and Oman, over both the Houthi strikes and the nuclear situation, and I wonder if you could comment on that.  Thank you. 

MR. KIRBY:  Thanks, Karen.  Lots there. 

So, on the strike at an UNRWA distribution facility, we’re very concerned about that strike that apparently killed and wounded civilians.  What I can tell you is that we are in touch with our Israeli counterparts.  We’re trying to gather some more information about exactly what happened. 

Obviously, we offer our deepest condolences to all those who were affected by it.  And we have called for a swift investigation by the Israelis into exactly what happened.  And as I said, we are and we’ll stay in touch with them to get more information, but we want to see a swift and thorough investigation as to exactly what happened here. 

And I would just reiterate: Again, we certainly understand, respect, and support Israel’s right to defend itself and to go after Hamas leaders, but we’ve also been clear that they have to do this in a way that protects innocent civilian lives and humanitarian aid workers who are on the ground to protect those innocent civilian lives.  We want to see them do everything they can to differentiate between civilians and Hamas. 

And again, I don’t have anything more — or more information about the high-value target that they said that they were going after.  The Israelis can speak to that.  Again, they certainly have a right and responsibility to go after Hamas leaders, but they also have an obligation, as we have said many, many times, to protect innocent civilian life and particularly to protect those who are trying to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance to those more than a million individuals who are trying to seek refuge down in Rafah. 

And that brings me to your second question.  We’ve seen the reports that they have plans to relocate people out of Rafah into what they’re referring to as sort of humanitarian islands inside Gaza.  We haven’t seen those plans; I’ve seen press reporting of it.  We can’t confirm that that is, in fact, a plan that they have.  We’ve not seen that.  But again, our position has not changed.  We do not want to see large-scale operations in Rafah that don’t — unless there is a credible, legitimate, executable plan to provide for the safety and security of the civilians that are there. 

On Iran, I can’t confirm the reports that you’re referring to.  What I can say, just in general, is that we have many channels for communicating with Iran and for passing messages to Iran.  Again, I will comment on those, except to say that all of these discussions are focused on raising the full range of threats that are emanating from Iran and the need for Iran to cease its escalation across the board in the region and the support that they are providing to various groups that are doing everything they can to undermine peace and security.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Molly with ABC.

Q    Hi, Admiral.  Thank you so much.  ABC News spoke with a senior Israeli official who said that the U.S. is slow-walking supplies of ammunitions into Israel and that the pressure is enough that it’s not putting them under threat but it is putting them on notice.  Does the administration have any response to this?

MR. KIRBY:  I would just tell you we continue to provide Israel with the tools, the capabilities, the weapons systems that they need to defend themselves.  And the President has spoken to this.  He spoke — he’s spoken about it numerous times in just recent days.  They have a right and responsibility to defend themselves.  We’re continuing to provide them that critical support.  In fact, as I think you know, we surged air defenses to them in the wake of the October 7th attack.  And I’ll just leave it at that.

Q    Can you speak at all to the speed at which we’re providing them though?  Has it slowed down?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to get into the timeline for every individual system that’s being provided.  We continue to support Israel with their self-defense needs.  That’s not going to change.  And we have been very, very direct about that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Jordan with Bloomberg.  Jordan, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q    I have a few questions on the statement the President made on U.S. Steel.  Were the Japanese given a heads-up that the President would be releasing a statement opposing the deal? 

And how does the President plan to ease any tensions with Tokyo, especially given the upcoming state dinner? 

And thirdly, wondering if you can clarify if the statement means that the President wants a Nippon Steel transaction to die or does he think it can be changed.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I don’t have any diplomatic conversations to speak to with respect to your first question. 

We have an incredibly close partnership, friendship, and alliance with Japan.  And the President is very much looking forward to Prime Minister Kishida’s visit and to discussing the broad range of issues in our bilateral relationship, whether they be diplomatic, economic, or even in the security front.  There’s an awful lot to talk about, an awful lot to explore. 

The alliance with Japan is stronger than it’s ever been, and it’s a real keystone to peace and security in the Indo-Pacific.  So we’re looking forward to that visit, and we believe it’s going to be a very, very productive one at that. 

And, I’m sorry, you had your third question, which I did not write down and therefore did not remember.

Q    No problem.  Can you clarify whether the President wants the Nippon Steel purchase of U.S. Steel to die, or does he believe it can be changed to satisfy the conditions you laid out in his statement?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I’m not going go beyond what he said in his statement.  I mean, as he said, he has the back of American steel workers, and he’s committed to iconic American steel companies remaining in American hands.  And I think I’ll just leave it at that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Danny with AFP.

Q    Thanks, Admiral.  A couple of things from the other side of the Atlantic.  The first one is about an ally of Navalny, who was apparently attacked in Lithuania.  Lithuania has blamed Russian secret services for that.  Just wondering if you have any — if you’ve got any read on that or any details. 

And the second question is just about the Netherlands, where the far-right leader, Geert Wilders, says he’s not going to stand for prime minister anymore.  Just wondering if there’s any reaction to that far-right figure dropping out of the picture.  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Well, on the second question, I’m certainly not going to speak to domestic political issues in the Netherlands.  We’ll let that individual speak for himself and for his decision-making. 

On your first question: Yeah, we are very, very concerned about this attack on Leonid Volkov.  As you all know, he has been a longtime associate — or was a longtime associate of Mr.  Navalny, and certainly has been outspoken in his criticism of the Kremlin.  Just terrible, terrible, brutal reports coming out about the attack on him by an individual wielding a hammer.  Just incredible violence.  We certain wish him the best for a speedy recovery. 

While we can’t — don’t have much more detail on who did it and the motivation behind it, or any additional context with respect to the actual act itself, it is, I think, a reminder — and it should serve to all of us as a reminder — of the very real threats that civil society members in Russia face on a daily basis.  It certainly underscores the danger and the peril that they face just for the simple act of speaking out in opposition.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Nick Schifrin with PBS.  Nick, you should be able to — oh, there you go. 

Q    Thanks, Sam.  Thanks, John.  Questions.  First, a clarification on the previous question that Steve asked about the sanctions.  John, can you just confirm one basic fact that this is the first time an actual outpost has been sanctioned rather than just people?  Just wanted to clarify that.

And then, Gaza humanitarian.  What have you seen in the last day or so in terms of Israel’s opening up an additional gate in the north?  How significant is that?  Are you seeing enough trucks that you’ve been hoping to see? 

And do you believe there’s any progress being made on a crucial question that Israel doesn’t seem to have the answer for, at least not publicly, which is how trucks are going to be secured?  Are you working with Israel on that?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  So just to be clear — and if I wasn’t, I apologize — the outposts themselves are not what’s being sanctioned.  The individuals and the entities that those individuals own are what’s being sanctioned, not the outposts themselves. 

On Gaza: You’re right, the Israelis did open up a new crossing; they call it the 96th Gate, which is geographically closer to northern Gaza.  As you know, Kerem Shalom is way down at the south there.  And that’s something that we’ve been pushing for.  There have been — and we would call — we would call it minimal amounts of aid getting through the 96th Gate so far.  And, you know, today we saw some slow-rolling of movement overnight.  So, nothing actually got in overnight.  

But at other crossings, there’s been some improvement.  Too early to tell if we’ve been able to commit to the improving flow — I’m sorry, if the Israelis have committed to improving the flow of assistance. 

But again, just in the aggregate, Nick, not enough is getting in. 

Q    Sorry, can you just clarify why nothing got in overnight?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, I think we’re seeing just, I guess, not as much effort being applied by the Israeli side to increase that flow. 

And I want to go back on my original answer to you.  The outposts are, in fact, being sanctioned because they are owned by sanctioned individuals.  I was incorrect on that.  So the outposts were designated, but they were designated due to their ownership or control by designated individuals. 

I apologize for the error, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to clean it up.

Q    Got it.  So the entity referred to, that is the outpost itself?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q    Got it.  Okay, thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Apologize for the confusion. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Serena with Scripps News.

Q    Oh, thank you, guys, for doing this.  I was wondering, Admiral, if you could give us an update.  Israel reportedly set a deadline with Hezbollah to come to a diplomatic agreement for tomorrow.  And Hezbollah’s leader has said they’re going to continue fighting.  Is there any update you can give us on what’s happening in the north and concerns over the conflict spreading wider?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have any update on this deadline that you’re talking about.  We can take that and come back after the gaggle is over. 

But we have continued to see exchanges or blows from both sides up there.  And as I think you know, Amos Hochstein has been engaged diplomatically with leaders on both sides to see what we can do to keep it from escalating.  I would say that we haven’t seen a dramatic escalation of the violence up there or something that leads us to believe that a quote, unquote, “second front” is about to open up.  But it’s not something we’re taking for granted.  And as I said, we’re actively engaged diplomatically with leaders from both sides here to avoid that outcome. 

But as for the deadline and where that sits, and whether we have an assessment of that, I’ll have to take that and come back to you.

Q    And, Admiral, can I ask a second question?  On Haiti, just, can you give us an update on the situation and what you’re watching for?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, watching it very, very, very closely.  It remains a challenging environment.  The violence has been increasing, not decreasing, as well as the instability.  And of course, the Haitian people are the ones that are suffering as a result.  So that’s why we felt positive about the outcomes of the meeting in Jamaica, which was led by dozens of Haitian stakeholders, all designed to create an inclusive, transitional presidential council. 

And I think — one point I’d like to make: It was a meeting facilitated by CARICOM and certainly supported by lots of our international partners — Brazil, Canada, France, Mexico, even the United Nations.  And of course, we were involved. 

It was a Haitian-led meeting, and it was — and the decisions and the outcomes were derived at by Haitians.  And so we think that’s very, very positive.  And it’s an important message to make sure we continue to reiterate. 

In addition to us participating in that, I think you saw that Secretary Blinken announced an additional $100 million for support for the Multinational Security Support Mission and an additional $33 million for humanitarian assistance. 

So we’re going to keep working really, really hard with our international partners to move this idea of a Multinational Security Support Mission forward, which would be led by Kenya.  And we’re doing everything we can to try to accelerate that deployment in support of the Haitian National Police. 

So there’s still a lot of work to do.  The situation on the ground is still not safe, not tenable for the Haitian people.  We recognize that, our international partners recognize that, and Haitian leaders recognize that. 

So there’s been some good progress on the diplomatic front.  Certainly good progress from the United States on the economic support front.  But we have a lot more work to do to get this Multinational Security Support Mission up and running and on the ground to assist the Haitian National Police.

MODERATOR:  Thank you so much.  Our next question will go to Gordon with the Wall Street Journal.

Q    Hey, John.  I wanted to follow up on Nick’s questions a little bit about the aid inside. 

One is: Are there other specific gates that you guys are proposing the Israelis open to get aid in?  But then, kind of on this practical issue of vehicles and trucks inside Gaza that can distribute the aid, can you update us on efforts to essentially get more trucks inside Gaza to distribute the aid?  And then anything you can add more about the security of those trucks once they get in there?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, so — I mean, there are other crossings into Gaza that we are talking to the Israelis about opening and using.  Again, we were glad to see that the 96th Gate opened up.  We’d like to see it get used a little bit more than it has been. 

We have seen an increase in trucks that are, in general, being applied to the crossings and, you know, just across the board, but not enough.  So there’s been a general increase, not at the 96th Gate, but if you look at Rafah and Kerem Shalom.  But it just hasn’t been enough. 

The airdrops, as you know, have continued.  They are helping to supplement, but they’re not going to be as good as trucks can be.  And it’s hard to — one of the reasons why it’s so important to get this temporary ceasefire in place is because it’s hard for truck drivers and for the aid organizations that are supporting the truck drivers to get the material from the crossings to where they need to go for distribution because of the combat, because of the violence.  And that is why we are working so hard on this temporary ceasefire, because with a stoppage in the fighting, it’ll make it a lot easier for these trucks to get where they need to go. 

Q    But just to clarify real quick, I visited Rafah recently and saw all these trucks, but my understanding is those trucks that are all lined up — the thousands of trucks — are not the same as the ones that would go into Gaza because they would do, like, transfers of stuff.  But you’re saying you — your understanding is you’re helping to obtain more trucks for inside Gaza to do the distribution?

MR. KIRBY:  No, I’m not aware of any effort to do that.  And that’s not what I meant to convey.  Certainly, it’s always been the case that — in some cases, for some of the aid and, depending on where it’s going, there’s transfers from the trucks that go in across to other trucks that can move it inside Gaza. 

But I’m not aware of any effort that we’re undertaking to provide physical vehicles — additional physical vehicles inside Gaza.  I’ll go back and check on this to make sure I’m not wrong, but I don’t think that we’ve got an active effort to actually man- — or to procure or to provide additional distribution trucks inside — for use inside Gaza. 

When I talked about the increase of trucks, I was talking about the trucks making the crossings.  And there has been an increase in the last week or so in general — not, as I said, through the 96th Gate.  But in general, there’s been an increase, but it’s not enough.  I mean, it’s just several hundred, and it’s just not enough.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Michael with McClatchy.

Q    Hi there.  Thanks for doing this.  There’s a vote underway in the Senate to confirm Dennis Hankins as ambassador to Haiti.  I just wanted your reaction to that vote.  It’s been about three years since the last ambassador was there. 

And then secondly, John, you obviously spoke to your efforts to expedite the MSS.  But in the interim, what are you providing, if you can provide any details, to the HNP for them to sustain the fight against these gangs until the MSS can be deployed?  Are you providing ammunition?  What other assistance are you providing?

MR. KIRBY:  On your first question, obviously, we certainly urge a swift confirmation for Mr. Jenkins [Hankins] as our ambassador to Haiti.  This is a critical time to make sure that we have an ambassador in place, and we certainly urgently need him in place.  And again, we’re working with our partners on Capitol Hill to get him confirmed as soon as possible.  We certainly hope that that vote proceeds swiftly and in the affirmative. 

On your second question about the HNP, I know we are continuing to talk to Haitian leaders about their needs and about the HNP’s needs.  I don’t have any announcements to make or anything to preview for you, but we’re mindful that the HNP is doing critical work and has come under attack.  And we’re in close discussion with our Haitian counterparts and international partners about the HNP’s readiness and sustainability. 

Quite frankly, that is another reason why this MSS mission is so important, because it would really be, as it says, a security support mission supporting the HNP.  It is the main muscle movement that we’re looking hopefully to get in place soon to do exactly that — to bolster and support the HNP’s efforts.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Kelly O with NBC.

Q    Hey there.  I wanted to go back to the first question, if I could, that Aamer asked.   Was there any advance notice from Senator Schumer about his remarks?  Or did the White House in any way approve what he said?  I know they’re co-equal branches of government, but was there any coordination there regarding his comments about Prime Minister Netanyahu?

MR. KIRBY:  Hey, Kelly.  He did give our team advance notice.  And I apologize to Aamer if I did not answer that question.  But we did have advance notice that he was going to deliver those remarks. 

And again, we fully respect his right to make those remarks and to decide for himself what he’s going to say on the Senate floor.  We obviously feel strongly about this.  We understand and respect that.  This wasn’t about approval or disapproval or editing in any way.  But it was — but he did give us a heads-up that he was going to do it. 

Q    And if I may, just for time — my colleague Gabe Gutierrez is in the Dominican Republic, and I know there’s been some reporting that Haitian refugees might be processed through Guantanamo.  I wonder if you could comment on that.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I’ve seen that.  What I can tell you on that, Kelly, is that — if you can just give me a second, because I had a feeling this question may come up. 

There’s a Department of Homeland Security task force called Task Force Southeast.  And that task force continually watches and monitors migrant flow rates and all the different conditions under which migrants do flow in that particular part of the world, down in the Caribbean.  And particularly, they watch closely maritime migration trends, people that are trying to flee to safety by boat. 

So we’re always monitoring that.  We adjust — they adjust their assets to meet the challenges that come with maritime migration.  And in doing that, they’re always looking at different options to try to address the challenges that maritime migration might incur. 

So it’s our policy to return non-citizens who do not have a fear of persecution or torture or legal basis to enter the United States.  That won’t change.  Those that are interdicted at sea will be subject to immediate repatriation pursuant to, again, longstanding policy and procedure. 

There has been — in the past, one processing location for maritime migrants has been the Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay.  It has been used in the past for that exact purpose, for repatriation processing.  It certainly remains an option to look at for, again, that eventuality.  But I don’t have anything firm and I don’t have any concrete plans here to speak to.

I think it’s important for people to remember the context here — that maritime migration remains a challenge in the Caribbean.  We have to monitor it.  We have to assess the flow. We have to do the proper repatriation processes.  And, again, Guantanamo Bay has been used in the past for that.  And so we’ll certainly keep the options open as we continue to look at that. 

I would tell you though — the last thing I’ll say, and I promise I’ll shut up — is that we’re not seeing a heavy flow of Haitian migrants, certainly by sea — actually, by any means right now.  We’re just not seeing a heavy flow of that. 

But because the situation is not getting better, because we know it’s dangerous and unstable for the Haitian people, it would be irresponsible if DHS and the interagency wasn’t taking a look at what we might do should that flow dramatically increase and how we would properly handle individuals that might be seeking to flee.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will — sorry, our next question will go to Nadia.  Nadia, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q    Yeah, I did.  I did.  Hi.  Hi, Sam.  Hi, John.  The Israeli Defense Minister said that for those who doubt that we go into Rafah, I will tell you, you will see soon.  So how serious do you take his statement?

And second, on building the pier in Gaza, will the Israelis be involved in building or controlling or distribution?

And also, an NGO like World Central Kitchen has managed to deliver 750,000 meals a day to people in Gaza.  And the U.S. government hopes that they will provide 2 million meals a day in two months.  So where do you see the disparity here?

And finally, if you allow me, on TikTok: There was some leaked tapes of pro-Israeli group pushing to ban TikTok because it has unfiltered videos of Palestinian children and women killed in Gaza.  And they believe this is — it’s reaching youth worldwide, especially in the United States.  So are you aware of this?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not aware of the last thing you said.  As I want to just stress, our national security concerns about TikTok have to do with its ownership by a Chinese company.  It is not about First Amendment, freedom of speech, or the content itself.  It’s about divestiture.  It’s about the ownership of apps like TikTok. 

Let me go back to your top here.  On Rafah, I won’t speak for the Israeli military and what their plans are.  They have said repeatedly and consistently that they want to conduct operations in Rafah to go after remaining Hamas leaders and Hamas military units.  They have every right and responsibility to protect their people against those threats, and we recognize that. 

That said, nothing has changed about our concerns that we would not support such an operation unless or until they can properly account for the safety and security of the more than 1 million people that are seeking refuge in Rafah, that sought refuge in Rafah as a result of operations in Khan Younis and, weeks before that, in Gaza City.  They have that obligation, and we’re going to continue to talk to them about that.  That’s still critical to us. 

On the temporary pier in Gaza, there is a lot of work being done right now, largely by the Department of Defense and some of our allies and partners, to move not only the infrastructure itself, the temporary pier and its components, but also to get humanitarian assistance and ships with humanitarian assistance moving in the right direction so that we can use that pier as quickly as possible. 

But there’s an awful lot of work that has to be done to get all the pieces in place and to begin the construction of this temporary pier.  And we are still working with allies and partners about all the particulars and the modalities of how exactly the operational component of it will — actually, that sounds like gobbledygook.  We’re still working with allies and partners about how we will safely operate and use the pier to support the people in Gaza in terms of how the material will flow to the pier, how the material will flow from the pier, and we can make sure it gets to the people that are most in need and get there in a safe and secure way. 

That’s a much better, more English way of putting it. 

But we’re still working our way through that. 

And I did not — your third question about meals per month.  Can you repeat that?  Because I don’t think I quite understood it.

Q    Yeah, sure.  My understanding is an NGO, like World Central Kitchen, has been able to deliver 750,000 meals daily to Gaza, and they’re building something similar to a pier.  And my question to you, John, is: Your plan is to deliver, as the Secretary said yesterday, 2 million meals a day in two months.  So how come an NGO with little resources are able to deliver it now, and the U.S. government needs two more months to deliver 2 million, which is, you know, not far away from almost like 750,000 (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I can’t speak to the reports by the NGO.  Certainly, they can speak to their capacity and their capability.  I’m in no position to judge one way or the other.

We welcome the contributions of everybody and anyone that is willing to get food, water, medicine to people in need in Gaza.  So we commend their efforts.  I’ll let them speak to their capacity.  All I can do is speak to our capacity and what we’re trying to get done.  You’ve heard the Secretary talk about that.  And we’ll see where it goes. 

And obviously, as we have since the beginning here, we will continue to push and prod to get more humanitarian assistance in as much as possible.  It’s why we started doing airdrops — not to replace the trucks, but to supplement the trucks.  It’s why we’re talking about a temporary pier to supplant — not to supplant, but to support efforts by other partners, including NGOs, to get humanitarian assistance in.

Look, more is more.  And right now, more is better.  And so, again, we applaud the efforts of everyone who’s trying to get more in to the people of Gaza, and that includes our own efforts as well.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Yuna with Israel Channel 12.   Yuna, you should be able to unmute yourself.  There you go.

Q    Hi.  Thank you, John.  Thank you for doing this.  Following up also on Rafah, you’ve said before that the U.S. hasn’t seen any programs or anything that would suggest that there is something that would allow moving the civilian population, the evacuation.  Has that changed?  Has the U.S. government seen any plans of that sort?  Has that changed the U.S. perspective on this?

MR. KIRBY:  No and no. 

Q    Have you asked?  Was there a refusal to show these kind of plans?  I’m kind of wondering where it stands.

MR. KIRBY:  No, I know of no refusal to show any plans.  As I said earlier in the gaggle, we’ve seen the press reporting that the Israelis have — that the IDF spokesman said that they’ve got a plan to move — or they’re working on a plan to move Gazans into what they call humanitarian islands.  I can’t speak to those plans.  I’m not disputing their reporting; I’m just saying we’ve not seen such plans. 

Q    And another question, if I may, about the Schumer speech.  You said that President Biden was informed and updated.  And after that — and because this is such a rare speech, after all — is there some sort of a conversation or call being planned between President Biden and Netanyahu or someone else within the administration after the speech or regarding the war in Gaza and in general?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, in general, I mean, we’ve been in touch with our Israeli counterparts dang near every single day at various different levels, including through our embassy in Jerusalem, with Ambassador Lew.  So there’s been constant, daily conversations with our Israeli counterparts at various levels, up to and including the President, of course. 

I don’t have a call with Netanyahu to announce or preview for you today.  They have spoken at various intervals since October 7th.  And you can count on the fact that they will speak again.  No doubt about it.  I just don’t have one to announce right now. 

But we will constantly stay in touch with them, as we should, as we must.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Neria with Israel Channel 12 — 13.  Excuse me.  Israel Channel 13.

Q    Hey.  Thank you, Sam.  Thank you, Admiral, for doing this.  I was wondering: Some may see Chuck Schumer’s speech today as an intervention in Israeli domestic politics.  What do you have to say about that?

MR. KIRBY:  I think we’ll let people speak for themselves and how they want to see it.  And as I said, Leader Schumer feels strongly — obviously strongly enough to make the comments that he did.  I think we’re going to let him speak to his thought process there. 

But again, our focus is on making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself, that everything is being done to avoid civilian casualties, that more aid gets in, that hostages get out.  We’re still having these conversations about a hostage deal.  That’s what we’re focused on.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’ll next go to Nathan with KAN.

Q    Thanks so much.  Again, going back to the Schumer speech: Just in general, does the administration have any policy regarding the need for elections in Israel?  This relates also to the national intelligence assessment presented this week that spoke about Netanyahu’s political viability.  Is it the U.S.’s view that it is time for political change in Israel?

MR. KIRBY:  That’s going to be up to the Israeli people.  And the issue of elections is, in the parliamentary process, up to the Israeli government, a government elected by the Israeli people.

Q    Would it be a wise move for Israel to move towards elections after the war is over?

MR. KIRBY:  That is up to the Israeli people.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  I think we have time for one more question.  We’ll go to Patsy with VOA.

Q    Thank you, Sam.  Hi, John.  I have a question on Ukraine and Yemen. 

But just to follow up on Haiti, can you confirm Prime Minister Henry is being housed at a U.S. military base in Puerto Rico?  And does the administration believe there’s a role for him in Haiti post his resignation?

MR. KIRBY:  I know he’s in Puerto Rico, Patsy.  I don’t know where he is.  He’d have to speak to his specific whereabouts.  But he’s still in Puerto Rico. 

And again, we applaud him for doing the right thing and putting the Haitian people first and being willing to — being willing to step aside.

Q    Can we get your reaction to reports of Speaker Johnson planning to send a Ukraine aid package to the Senate but making it a loan or Lend-Lease program?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to get ahead of a legislative process that hasn’t executed yet.  We believe that the supplemental passed by the Senate will answer very well.  Our strong desire to continue to support Ukraine will answer well Ukrainian defense needs, as well as Israeli defense needs and other concerns to our national security around the world. 

So we continue to urge Speaker Johnson to take that bill up, put it on the floor, get it voted on, and get it moving forward.  And we know there’s strong bipartisan support for it if it can be made available to a vote.

Q    And on Houthis, can you confirm their claims that they have this new hypersonic missile in their arsenal and how might this impact U.S. operations in the Red Sea?

And if I can just sneak in an Afghanistan question.  Senator Rubio has introduced a bill asking the U.S. to hold off contribution to the U.N. for aid to Afghanistan until they can confirm that the money won’t go to the Taliban or other terrorist groups.  Does the administration support this bill? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Look, on the hypersonic thing, those reports are inaccurate.  There’s absolutely no indication that the Houthis have access to a hypersonic weapon.  So I can walk you off of that. 

And, I’m sorry, can you repeat the last question?

Q    Oh, yes.  So, Senator Rubio has introduced a bill asking the U.S. to hold off contribution to the U.N. on aid for Afghanistan until they can confirm that the money won’t go to the Taliban or other terrorist groups.  Do you guys support this bill?

MR. KIRBY:  I won’t get ahead, again, of a bill that’s still in its early stages.  I would just tell you that, you know, we haven’t recognized the Taliban as the government in Afghanistan.  If they want such recognition, if they want legitimacy, they got to meet their commitments, particularly to women and girls and to human rights in Afghanistan.  And we are not providing direct support to them diplomatically, economically, or in any other way. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And thanks, everyone, for joining us.  Sorry we were a little late.  As always, if we weren’t able to get to your question, please reach out to the NSC press distro and we’ll try to get back to you as soon as we can.  Thanks.

12:38 P.M. EDT

Stay Connected

Sign Up

We'll be in touch with the latest information on how President Biden and his administration are working for the American people, as well as ways you can get involved and help our country build back better.

Opt in to send and receive text messages from President Biden.

Scroll to Top Scroll to Top