1:43 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Good afternoon, everybody.

Q    Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No bunny today.  No bunny.  Just — just me and the Admiral and the team.  (Laughs.)    Okay. 

So, yesterday, the Florida Supreme Court upheld the state’s dangerous abortion ban, putting desperately needed medical care further out of reach for millions of women.  What’s worse, this ruling is also expected to trigger Governor DeSantis’s even more extreme ban that would prevent women from accessing care before many even know they are pregnant.

We will continue to stand with the vast majority of Americans who support a woman’s right to choose.  President Biden and Vice President Harris will continue to work to protect reproductive freedom and call on Congress to pass a law restoring the protections of Roe v. Wade.

Second, starting this week, the White House will push congressional Republicans to extend funding for the Affordable — the Affordable Connectivity Program.  Created as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the program is helping over 23 million Americans save between 30 bucks and 75 bucks per month on high-speed Internet costs.  But funding for the program is set to expire, and millions of Americans will lose this benefit in the coming weeks.

Six months ago, President Biden sent a request to Congress for $6 billion in supplemental funding to extend the program, but Republicans in Congress have failed to act.

If congressional Republicans continue to do nothing, tens of millions of their own constituents will see their Internet cost go up.  And some may lose access to high-speed Internet altogether.

Finally — actually, additionally — under the President’s Unity Agenda, we are prioritizing effort to counter the trafficking of illicit drugs to save lives.  We are leading initiatives to step up counternarcotics cooperation, including with Mexico and the PRC, and launch the Global Coalition to Address Synthetic Drug Threats, which brings together more than 150 countries against cartels and illicit finance.

Working with our Mexican — Mexican partners, we have charged leaders of the SinulaSinula [Sinaloa] cartel.  And yesterday, we charged 41 individuals connected to the Jala- — Jalasco [Jalisco] New Generation Cartel.  To date, we have sanctioned over 290 individuals and entities involved in the global illicit drug trade.

A lot more work is needed.  And that’s why the President is pushing hard for the House to pass the Senate’s border security agreement — or for — for Congress, more broadly, obviously, because it did not get thr- — did not get out of the Senate yet — for Congress to push forth the border security agreement, which would provide additional technology to stop these illicit drugs.

Now, it’s important to acknowledge when a mistake has been made and take responsibility for it.  So, I want to recognize the Daily Caller for having the integrity to retract their story about the false claims that circulated this week about the Easter Egg Roll.

Now, I’m quoting from their retraction here: “The ban of religious symbolism on eggs as part of the White House Easter Egg Art Contest has been longstanding, dating back decades, and the Biden administration did not make any modifications to this rule.”

So, we hope others learn from their good example.  So, I’ll leave that there.

And finally — finally, I want to read out the President — the President who — the President’s call.  He called Chef José Andrés to express that he’s heartbroken by his — by this news of the airstrike that killed seven aid workers and to express and share his deepest condolences.  The President conveyed he is grieving with the entire World Kitchen — World Central Kitchen family. 

The President felt it was important to recognize the tremendous contribution World Central Kitchen made — has made to the people in Gaza and the people — and people around the world.  The President conveyed he will make clear to Israel that humanitarian aid workers must be protected.

Now, as you can see, Admiral John Kirby is here to discuss the President’s call with President Xi and — and events in the Middle East.

Admiral, the floor is yours.

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you, Karine.

Good afternoon, everyone.

Q    Good afternoon.

MR. KIRBY:  As you all know, President Biden spoke by phone today with President Xi — Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China.  The purpose of the call was to build on the two leaders’ meeting in Woodside, California, back in November of last year.

Over the course of about an hour and 45 minutes, the two leaders held a candid and constructive discussion on a range of bilateral, regional, and global issues, including areas of cooperation and areas of differences.  They encouraged continued progress on issues discussed at the Woodside Summit, including counternarcotics cooperation, ongoing military-to-military communications, talks to address artificial-intelligence-related risks, and continuing efforts on climate change and people-to-people exchanges.

President Biden also emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, and he reaffirmed the importance of the rule of law and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

He raised concerns over the PRC’s support for Russia’s defense industrial base and its impact on European and transatlantic security.  And he emphasized that the United States’s — he emphasized the U.S.’s enduring commitment to the complete denu- — denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

President Biden also raised continued concerns about the PRC’s unfair trade policies and non-market economic practices, which harm American workers and families. 

President Biden also emphasized that the United States will continue to take necessary action to prevent advanced U.S. technologies from being used to undermine our national security, without unduly limiting trade and investment.

The President also repeated his call for China to release U.S. citizens who are wrongfully detained or under exit bans.

Now, we believe that there is no substitute for regular communication at the leader level to effectively manage this complex and often tense bilateral relationship, and both presidents agreed to pick up the phone and speak when needed. 

Following the leaders’ call, we will continue to advance our interests through Cabinet-level diplomacy, including visits to China by Secretary of the Treasury Yellen and in coming days — I’m sorry, in coming days — and by Secretary Blinken in coming weeks.

Now, if I could just — as Karine noted, just turn briefly to events in the Middle East.  We were outraged to learn of an IDF strike that killed a number of civilian humanitarian workers yesterday from the World Central Kitchen, which has been relentless in working to get food to those who are hungry in Gaza and, quite frankly, around the world.

We send our deepest condolences to their families and loved ones.

We’ve seen the comments from Prime Minister Netanyahu and from the Israeli Defense Forces about their commitment to conduct an investigation.  As we understand it, a preliminary investigation has been completed today and presented to the Army Chief of Staff, and we’ll — we’ll obviously look to see what they — what they discover in this preliminary one.

But we expect a broader investigation to be conducted and to be done so in a swift and comprehensive manner.  We hope that those findings will be made public and that there is appropriate accountability held.

But — I’m sorry.  More than 200 aid workers have been killed in this conflict, making it one of the worst for aid workers in recent history.  This incident is emblematic of a larger problem and evidence of why distribution of aid in Gaza has been so challenging.

But what — beyond the strike, what is clear is that the IDF must do much more — must do — must do much more to improve deconfliction processes so that civilians and humanitarian aid workers are protected. 

The U.S. will continue to press Israel to do more as well to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers.  And we’ll continue to do all we can to deliver this assistance to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks.  John, do you have any worries regarding Israel and Gaza about the floating dock?  And how can aid workers be protected?

MR. KIRBY:  “Worries” — what do you mean by “worries”?

Q    Any concerns about its status, viability?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I mean, let me break that up —

Q    (Inaudible.)

MR. KIRBY:  — a couple of ways. 

Q    Yeah.

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, obvi- — obviously the temporary pier — it’s known as a JLOTS — joint logistics over-the-shore — it’s on its way to the Eastern Mediterranean right now. 

It’s not — hasn’t arrived yet, and it’ll take some time once it gets there to be assembled and to achieve what we call interim operating capability.  We expect that — we expect that that will happen in coming weeks.  There’s no concern in terms of our ability and the skills taken to — needed to build it and to get it up and running. 

What we are working with partners in the region are two things.  One is the logistics flow, getting — getting the maritime materials to the pier, and then working the Israelis, in particular, about how that pier is protected and secured and how the aid, the material gets from the pier into Gaza and further distributed.

Those modalities are still being worked out.

Q    And do the recent events, like the strike you referenced, raise additional —

MR. KIRBY:  Oh, believe me, we’re under no — no illusion about the fact that Gaza is a war zone.  And forced protection of our troops, which will not be entering Gaza, will be first and foremost in the President’s mind as well as our military leaders to make sure that they can operate that pier — assemble it and operate it in a safe way.

But, believe me, we’re — we’re well aware Gaza is a — is a war zone.  And, frank- — fra- — that it is a war zone is, again, what makes it so challenging to get the humanitarian aid to people in need.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Nancy.

Q    Thanks.  John, you said that the White House is “outraged” by the strike that killed these World Central Kitchen workers.  Has the White House already conveyed that outrage to anyone in the Israeli government?  And what was their response?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I won’t speak for the Israelis.  We — we’ve been very clear about our feelings over — over this particular strike and our expectations of — of the Israelis.

Q    Have they provided or has the Pentagon been able to gain any understanding of what happened here yet?  I know it’s early, but it sounds, based on what José Andrés has said, that these workers were doing everything right.  Their vehicle was marked.  They were in a safe zone.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.

Q    What more could they have done?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.  It’s really — I mean, it’s devastating to — to see these images and to hear these early reports about the steps that they tried to take to protect themselves.  But the Israelis — look, they’ve already said this was on them and they’re doing this investigation. 

We obviously want to — want to make sure that that investigation gets completed and is as transparent as possible and, as I said in my opening statement, that there’s accountability to be — to be held here.

Q    One quick question on — on China.  What was the President’s message to the President when it comes to Chinese misinformation campaigns or any effort by the Chinese government or people associated with the Chinese government to interfere with the 2024 election?

MR. KIRBY:  I would just say that we’ve been clear consistently, even going back to the November meeting in California, about our concerns over our own election security and — and efforts by certain actors, including some from the PRC, to — to affect that.

Q    So, there was no new message in this conversation?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have a new message to read out to you today.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Selina.

Q    Thanks, Admiral.  On the death of those World Central Kitchen aid workers, which includes one American who was killed, Netanyahu’s reaction was, quote, “It happens in war.”  What is your reaction to that comment from Netanyahu?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t think it’d be useful for me to get into a tit for tat here with the Prime Minister of Israel from the podium.  We’ve been very clear about our expectations for this investigation.  We noted that the Prime Minister said himself there will be an investigation.  So has his military said that.

We look forward to that investigation being thorough and qui- — and swiftly done and, as I said, that — that it’ll be transparent, the results of it, and that if there’s accountability that needs to be had, that it will be had.

Q    But how can you take Netanyahu at his word?  As Nancy was saying, this was a deconflicted zone.  They had marked their car.  They had even coordinated their movements with the IDF. 

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, and as I said in my opening statement, the — obviously, setting aside this incident, because this isn’t the first one, there are issues of deconfliction that clearly need to be fleshed out and improved.

Q    So, how can the U.S. continue to send aid to Israel without any conditions?  Yes, they have a right to defend —

MR. KIRBY:  We’re not sending aid to Israel.  We’re sending aid into Gaza.  And that’s —

Q    Well, weapons.  How can they —

Q    Military aid.

Q    How can the U.S. continue to send military aid to Is- —

MR. KIRBY:  Oh, military assistance.

Q    — Israel without any conditions?  Is there no red line that —

MR. KIRBY:  Now, we —

Q    — can be crossed here?

MR. KIRBY:  You know, we’ve had this — we’ve had this discussion, you and me, quite a bit from up here.  They’re still under a viable threat of Hamas.  We’re still going to make sure that they can defend themselves and that the 7th of October doesn’t happen again.

That doesn’t mean that it’s a free pass, that — that we look the other way when something like this happens or that we aren’t — and haven’t since the beginning of the conflict — urge the Israelis to be more precise, to be more careful, and, quite frankly, to increase the nu- — the amount of humanitarian assistance that gets in.

You know, I haven’t been asked about it yet, but I expect that I would be.  You know, there was a discussion just yesterday with our Israeli counterparts about Rafah.  Now, this one was done virtually.  We expect there will be an in-person meeting here in a week’s time or so. 

But the whole reason to have that meeting was to talk about our concerns over a major ground operation in Rafah and to present viable alternatives for them to be more precise and more targeted. 

So, the idea that we’re — that we’re whirstling [whistling] past the graveyard here and we’re not paying attention to — to the civilian casualties or the civilian suffering is just not true.

Q    Right.  But these are verbal urgings, verbal commitments.  There’s no other incentive besides —

MR. KIRBY:  I — I know —

Q    — the urges and the discussions, right?

MR. KIRBY:  — you want us — you want us to hang some sort of condition over their neck.  And what I’m telling you is that we continue to — to work with the Israelis to make sure that they are as precise as c- — as they can be and that more aid is getting in.  And — and we’re going to continue to — to take that approach.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Matt.

Q    John, I just wanted to follow up.  Do you guys have confirmation of the nationalities of the victims who were — who were killed in — in the strike —


Q    — and that one was a U.S.-Canadian national?

MR. KIRBY:  I can confirm that one was a dual-national American citizen.  But I don’t — I couldn’t speak with authority about the nationalities of all of those.  And as I understand it, I mean, there could be additional casualties coming in terms of the count.  I just don’t know.

Q    And do you know if there has been any outreach to the family of that dual-national citizen from the White House?

MR. KIRBY:  The State Department has done some initial outreach, and I would fully expect you’ll — you’ll see outreach from us at the appropriate time.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Danny.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Thanks, Admiral.  Does — does the White House accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s explanation that this incident was “unintentional,” as he put it?

MR. KIRBY:  I think the investigation will bear that out.


Q    Sir, do you think that — given these circumstances, is there a role for some kind of a protective force for aid workers, given the threat of widespread famine and concerns about the — you’ve already discussed the JLOT[S] coming in and so forth.  Is there a — a role that could be considered to try to protect aid workers with a neutral-party security force?

MR. KIRBY:  That protective force ought to be the IDF, Kelly, as we’ve said.  And as they conduct operations in an urban, highly populated environment, they have a concomitant obligation to take care of the civilians that are living there  and the civilians, quite frankly, that are being moved about by the combat operations that are being conducted in a very confined space.  They have that obligation.

Q    Are you concerned that aid will be cut off for some period of time now?  Because José Andrés has said they were —

MR. KIRBY:  He has said — yeah.

Q    — suspending operations for a period.  The World Food Program is having difficulties.  It seems like this incident is exacerbating the crisis.

MR. KIRBY:  It certainly isn’t helping.  There is no question about that.  And we obviously respect Chef Andrés’s decision not to continue operations, at least for a time.  Certainly, we respect that.  And — and others may make that decision, as you talked about the World Food Program.

We’re not seeing a wholesale declination here of humanitarian assistance in there.  But obviously, yes, that’s a concern.  The more violent it gets for humanitarian aid workers — and as I said, this is one of the worst in recent history — the less likely it is that they’re going to be willing to take those risks, which means it’s more likely that the people of Gaza are going to just suffer all the more.

So, yes, it’s a concern.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Nandita.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  Secretary Blinken, during his presser in Paris, did not condemn the airstrike even though, as you confirmed, there was a dual American-Canadian citizen who was killed.  The French Foreign Minister, who was at the same presser, did.  You said you’re outraged.  Why — why is the U.S. not condemning this strike?

MR. KIRBY:  I think by out- — by saying we’re “outraged,” I think you can fairly characterize that as condemning the strike itself.  Of course, I mean, nobody wants to see this kind of violence happen to humanitarian aid workers who, as was noted earlier, were doing all the right things.

Q    And just to follow up to what, you know, was asked earlier about the — about the floating pier.  Are you considering moving it off the coast of Gaza?  I mean, just trying to figure out how —

MR. KIRBY:  Well, by definition, it’s going to be operating off the coast.

Q    Sure.  But, like, further away.  I mean, how do you ensure that any private partners that the U.S. ends up partnering with to deliver aid is actually protected given the recent set of strikes?

MR. KIRBY:  Right.  That’s what I said we’re working on right now.  I mean, force protection for the troops and the people that are going to be operating the pier is obviously going to be a paramount concern.  But it’s only as good as the aid that gets to the pier and then gets into Gaza.

So, there’s going to have to be plans made — plans with partners — to do everything that we can to ensure that that aid is safely assembled and collected at the pier and then safely distributed into Gaza. 

It’s going to be a multistep process.  We’ll be responsible for some parts of that, but not all of it.  That’s going to take some teamwork, and we’re working our way through that right now.

Q    I just have a quick clarification on something that the Secretary said, again, in Paris.  He appeared to suggest that Iran delivered missiles to Russia and that those are being used by Moscow to target the Ukrainians.  I mean, can you confirm if that was the case — not just drone missiles but ballistic missiles?  And if — if yes, since when has this transfer been underway?

MR. KIRBY:  I am not aware of specific verification that we can give to Iranian missiles being delivered to Russia for use in Ukraine.  They certainly continue to deliver drones and actually helping the Russians manufacture Iranian-designed drones.

And we do know that the Russians are and have been using now for quite some time ballistic missiles that they have gotten from North Korea.  But I’m not — I’m not personally aware of — of any — any verification that Iranian missiles have been — have been transferred and used.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  Admiral, you said that there is going to be an investigation into the World Central Kitchen strike and you’re reserving the U.S.’s judgment until that’s completed.  But what’s a reasonable timeframe for that investigation to be concluded?  And how regularly will the U.S. be getting updates on it?

MR. KIRBY:  I think in terms of timeframe, as I said in my opening statement, we — we believe an investigation can be thoroughly conducted in a swift manner.  Now, what is swift?  I think, obviously, we’re not going to dictate a date on the calendar to the Israelis. 

But it’s — it’s noteworthy that just before coming out here I was informed that they have completed a preliminary investigation and are reporting that up the chain of command.  That’s — that’s good.  That means that they’ve gotten some basic findings and some initial conclusions that they’re — that they’re willing to make. 

They have noted publicly that — that they were responsible here.  So, that’s another — that’s another reason to suspect that it shouldn’t need to be a long, drawn-out, weeks-long investigation.  I think something like this could probably resolve- — be resolved in a — in a matter of days.

Q    On the strike in Damascus.  Does the U.S. expect Iran to retaliate?  And if so, how?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, I can’t predict what the Supreme Leader and what the IRGC will decide to do or not.  I don’t know — in terms of retaliation, I assume you mean against the United States.  Let me make it clear: We had nothing to do with what — the strike in Damascus.  We weren’t involved in any way whatsoever.

So, the comments by the Iranian Foreign Minister that somehow we’re to be held to account or that we’re to blame is just nonsense.  We had nothing to do with it.

We will, as we always have, take our force protection very seriously to protect our troops and our facilities in Iraq and Syria.  And as we have demonstrated in the past, as President Biden has made very, very clear through the actions he has ordered, we will — we will do what we need to do to protect those troops and facilities.

Q    And finally, if I may, just on China.  You said that the two leaders made a commitment to pick up the phone and call each other when needed.  I’m curious —

MR. KIRBY:  When is the next one?

Q    No, I’m curious why it was needed now.  Why not next week, next month?  Was there a particular catalyst that they needed to have this phone call —

MR. KIRBY:  No.  No, no —

Q    — today?

MR. KIRBY:  — not at all.  I mean, they met, again, in November.  And the teams have been working a lot since November on fentanyl precursors, on climate change, on economic practices.  So, there’s been — on artificial intelligence.  There’s been a lot of staff-level work.  And both presidents thought that now, a few months later, this was a good time to kind of check in with one another, see how that’s going, discuss the future.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Hi.  Thanks, John.  Just wanted to follow up with a question that came from the front row about the conditions of military aid, and you said that the questioner wanted you to hang some conditions over their necks — that’s the Israelis — and your tone suggested you wouldn’t do that.  Why not?

MR. KIRBY:  I’ve already answered this question a whole bunch of times.  We believe that the approach that we’re taking is working, in terms of making it clear to the Israelis what our expectations are.

I’m not going to get ahead of decisions one way or another that we might take in the future.  What I’m saying is: Right now, we are continuing to support Israel because they continue to need military assistance because they continue to face a viable threat.

Q    But on the point of conditions, the President, on February 8th, issued a memo.  And it said — and you already know this, but just for context.  It said that it was the policy of this administration to “prevent arms transfers that risk facilitating or otherwise contributing to violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.”

Is firing a missile at people delivering food and killing them not a violation of international humanitarian law?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, the Israelis have already admitted that this was a mistake that they made.  They’re doing an investigation.  They’ll get to the bottom of this.  Let’s not get ahead of that.

Your — your question presumes, at this very early hour, that it was a deliberate strike, that they knew exactly what they were hitting, that they were hitting aid workers and did it on purpose.  And there’s no evidence of that.

I would also remind you, sir, that we continue to look at incidents as they occur.  The State Department has a process in place.  And to date, as you and I are speaking, they have not found any incidents where the Israelis have violated international humanitarian law.  And lest you think we don’t take it seriously, I can assure you that we do.  We look at this in real time.

Q    They have never violated international humanitarian law ever in the past five to six months?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m telling you the State Department has looked at incidents in the past and has yet to determine that any of those incidents violate international humanitarian law.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Nadia.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  Mr. Kirby, Israel has killed a senior Hamas leader in Beirut with precision weapons in an area where thousands of civilians were there.  They killed senior Iranian officials in Damascus — in the heart of Damascus with serious — there was thousands of civilians there as well.

Does it make sense to you that a vehicle marked with “World Central Kitchen,” after coordinating with the Israelis, that they didn’t see it?  And doesn’t it — this debunk your theory and defense of Israel that it is difficult for them because Hamas embedded with the civilian population when they can go after Hamas leaders in the heart of a civilian population in Beirut and in Damascus?

MR. KIRBY:  To your second question, no.  It’s not my theory.  I have talked about —

Q    Defense —

MR. KIRBY:  Wait.  Now, just — hang on just a second now.  W- — I’ve talked about this for months now.  Fighting in an urban, highly populated, condensed environment like that is tough.  But they have taken strikes against Hamas leaders in — successfully taken strikes against Hamas leaders in Gaza.

I can’t speak to what happened in Damascus.  That — I can only tell you that the United States wasn’t involved.  So, I’m not going to talk about the details of that whatsoever.  I’m telling you that they have taken precise strikes against Hamas in Gaza.  They have also taken strikes that have been not precise.

It looks as if, very clearly, what happened yesterday is one of those examples.  They’ll investigate that.  And our expectation is — and we’ve made this clear to them — that they’ll come clean about what they’ve learned, they’ll be fully transparent, and if people need to be held accountable, that they’ll be held accountable.

Q    Admiral.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  John, there’s another case of somebody who was in this country illegally allegedly murdering a young woman — this time in Michigan.  Her name was Ruby Garcia.  Donald Trump is out there now calling this “Biden’s border bloodbath.”  What do you call it?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, first of all, while I’m not aware of this — the specifics of this case, I mean, that’s just terrible news.  And our thoughts and prayers obviously go to the family of Ms. Garcia.  I mean, that’s — that’s the kind of news no family ever wants to get, ever.

And we would certainly defer to local law enforcement and investigative bodies to do th- — do the spade work that needs to be done to figure out exactly what happened to — to Ruby and to hold the perpetrators accountable for that.  So, why don’t we let the judicial process play out here before we start making grandiose bumper-sticker comments about what this says about the border.

And, Peter, to folks that are concerned about border security, the President would be the first one to stand up here and say he agrees: The border does need some security capabilities, that we do need more Border Patrol agents.  And all that has to happen is for the Speaker to do his job, put that supplemental on the floor.  Let’s get a vote.  Let’s get those 13,000 additional Border Patrol agents down there to do their jobs.

Q    But everybody in this room knows that the bill that you guys keep talking about as a solution is dead at the moment and —

MR. KIRBY:  Says you.  It doesn’t need to be dead, does it?

Q    The bill is dead.

MR. KIRBY:  Says you.

Q    When’s the vote?

MR. KIRBY:  You — you ask Speaker Johnson that.

Q    The bill is —

MR. KIRBY:  It doesn’t need to be dead.

Q    There are — there are real problems at the border while that bill just languishes.  Right?  The — the Chief of the Border Patrol is saying —

MR. KIRBY:  Exactly.

Q    — of 140,000 gotaways, if we don’t know who is coming into our country and we don’t know what their intent is, that is a threat.  Does President Biden agree?

MR. KIRBY:  The President absolutely believes that, along that border, we do have significant national security concerns that have to be met.  But you said something really good in your question that I loved: that while this — while these concerns are going on, the bill languishes. 

So, what’s needed?  It’s not — it’s not anything more from the President.  What’s needed is for Speaker Johnson to do his job and get that thing on the floor.

Q    The President —

MR. KIRBY:  Let’s get it voted on.

Q    — as — as the person —

MR. KIRBY:  They had a chance and decided not to act because certain people in the House Republican world wanted a problem rather than a solution.

Q    As the person in charge of presenting — preventing a terrorist attack in the homeland, does President Biden think that some of these border crossers could be in the United States right now plotting a terrorist attack against Americans?

MR. KIRBY:  The President is confident that throughout the interagency — DHS, the intelligence community — that we’re doing everything we can to be as vigilant as we can to ensure the safety and security of the American people here at home.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  Go ahead, Akayla.

Q    John, the call with President Xi.  Did the two leaders speak about Section 301 tariffs?  And any specific —

MR. KIRBY:  It did not come up.

Q    It did not come up.  But if you could just speak more about the economic nature of the conversation.  Did they speak about competition in specific industries, like semiconductors?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, they did talk about economic competition between our two countries.  And as I said in my opening statement, the President made clear that we have significant differences of opinion and concerns over some unfair market practices that the PRC uses that puts American workers and families at a disadvantage.  He was very clear about that.

Q    And just to follow up on Nancy’s question.  Are we clear to understand that the President did not warn President Xi about election interference?  That was — it felt like that was what you were implying.

MR. KIRBY:  It — it —

Q    Or is it there was no new message?

MR. KIRBY:  It — there was no new message today delivered on that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No — no, go ahead.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  So, you said earlier that two hundred and — more than 280 aid workers died since the start of the war.  Could you tell what the timeframe is for that?

MR. KIRBY:  Since the start of the war in — in October.

Q    So, since October 7th — 7th?  Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have a tick tock for you on —

Q    Right.  But roughly around then.  So, more than 200?

MR. KIRBY:  That’s our — that’s our — that’s our estimate here —

Q    Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  — over the course of these many months.

Q    So, did the President — has the President reached out to any other head of, you know, a humanitarian organization before today —


Q    — after an IDF attack?

MR. KIRBY:  I’ll take the question.  I don’t know.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  We’ve got to — we’ve got to wrap it up.  Go ahead, Andrew.

Q    Thank you.  John, you described — you described the — the strike as a possible mistake by Israel.  According to Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper, it wasn’t one strike but three:  the first one; then an interval during which aid workers got of their vehicles, removed the wounded, tried to move to another vehicle, which was struck; and then a third strike what — as they tried to move and escape in a third vehicle, at which point all of them were dead.

How would the second and third strikes of these marked vehicles be a mistake?  And why would the U.S. not more forcefully set conditions on the use of U.S.-made weaponry when it is being used to target aid workers?

If the first one was a mistake, the second two were targeted with the intent of killing everyone in that convoy.  So, how do you respond to that?

MR. KIRBY:  All right.  Well, first of all, there’s an investigation going on.  So, why don’t we let it get done and why don’t we see what they find, in terms of the decision-making process that led to this terrible outcome?

The Prime Minster and the IDF have noted that it was their error.  If you don’t like the word “mistake,” their “error.”

They’re investigating it.  Let them do that work and let them see what they come up with, and then we’ll go from there.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay. (Inaudible.)

Q    Thank you, Karine.

Q    Sorry, one — one more, John.  Two years ago, the IDF killed an Al Jazeera journalist.  They said that that was a — a mistake, that she was wearing a marked press vest.  She was shot anyway.  (Inaudible.)

MR. KIRBY:  They investigated it.  And they released the findings of their investigation, which found that they were at fault.

Go on.

Q    They did.  But my — my question, sir, is: In that case, the Is- — the Israelis did not initiate any criminal proceeding; in this case, if it’s found that the marked convoy was deliberately targeted, if not with the first shot but the second two shots, would the U.S. support any criminal penalties?

MR. KIRBY:  As I said, we would expect that should there be a need for accountability, that accounta- — that accountability be properly put in place for whoever may be responsible for this.  But again, that’s going to — a lot of that is going to depend on the investigation.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Just want to (inaudible).  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Two questions on China.  Admiral, this is an election year.  Does the President feel political pressure to act tough on China?

MR. KIRBY:  The President, as Commander-in-Chief, feels obligated and responsible for protecting the national security interests of the United States.  And much of his conversation with President Xi this morning — which was candid and constructive, very professional and businesslike — was arranged around those priorities that President Biden holds so seriously.

Q    Is TikTok part of the conversation part today?

MR. KIRBY:  TikTok came up today, yes.

Q    Have you talked to previous Secretary Mnuchin about his plan to buy it without the algor- — algorithm?  Or do you accept this plan?

MR. KIRBY:  Have we talked to Mr. Mnuchin about his — no, not that I’m aware of.  I mean, that — he — he should to speak to that as a private businessman.

Q    Can you share more details about the conversation on TikTok?

MR. KIRBY:  The President reiterated our concerns about the ow- — the ownership of TikTok.  He made it clear to President Xi that this was not about ban of the application, but rather our interest in divestiture so that the national security interests and the — the data security of the American people can be protected.

Q    Have you made progress?

MR. KIRBY:  Is there progress?

Q    On the deal to —

MR. KIRBY:  I — I know of no progress on — on that.  As far as I know, legislation hasn’t reached his desk, and it’s — it’s still on Capitol Hill.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Final question.

Q    Thank you.  John, I have a question on Ukraine and — and on Ramadan. 

So, Ukrainian President Zelenskyy is warning about a new Russian offensive coming in end of May or June.  Meanwhile, Speaker Johnson is ignoring calls to put to the floor the Senate-approved legislation and coming up with a new Ukraine aid. 

Do — does the administration have a deadline, which — after which you might consider emergency — some measures to support Ukraine without the (inaudible)?

MR. KIRBY:  We’ve already executed some emergency measures.  You saw the Pentagon was able to — to cobble together $300 million to support them in an emergency aid package.

We’re going to continue to look and see what more we can do.  But, quite frankly, our hands are — are very much tied here.  We need the supplemental.  That’s what is — what — that’s what will make a difference for Ukraine.

Q    Is there a deadline after which you would try to do something more?

MR. KIRBY:  The deadline was weeks, if not months, ago, when we needed the supplemental passed.  The time is now.  It’s past now. 

The Ukrainian commanders on the ground are making difficult decisions about where — what positions they’re going to hold, what weapons they’re going to use.  And in certain places of the Donbas, they are losing ground to the Russians.  So, it’s — it’s way past time.

Q    And one on Ramadan.  Why the President Biden has not included Muslim community leaders in the iftar.  And why is the event is not open press as it has been in previous years?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m — I’m going to — I’m going to — that’s a great segue for me to turn it right over.  (Laughter.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you, Admiral.

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, ma’am.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you so much.

Q    Well, Karine, can you answer this question please?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  (Laughs.)  So, just a couple of things on — on that question.  Look, you saw the President put out a statement very early on last month about — about Ramadan and, obviously, respecting — respecting the religion and respecting the event.

I will say, about tonight, that the President is going to continue his tradition of honoring the Muslim community during Ramadan.  And so, President Biden will — will host a meeting with Muslim community leaders to discuss issues of importance to the community.  So, he is going to be meeting with Muslim leaders, to your question.  He will be joined by the — Vice President Harris, senior Muslim administration officials, and senior members of his national security team.

And to continue the White House tradition of honoring Ramadan, as he did just last month, after the meeting, we will host a small breaking of the fast prayer and iftar with a number of senior Muslim administration officials.  So, that is what the President and the Vice President is going to be doing later today.

Q    But not — why not the community leaders?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I want to be really clear here.  So, community leaders expressed the preference of doing — of doing a meeting — a working group meeting, if you will.  They — they wanted to make sure that there was an opportunity to discuss the issues at hand.  They thought it would be important to do that.

And so, we adju- — we — we did that, we listened, we heard, and we adjusted the format to — to be responsive and so that we can get feedback from them.  And this is a request — this was actually a request from members of the community.  This is what they wanted.  And we understand that. 

They wanted to — they want the President and the Vice President and senior administration officials, obviously, national security folks, as well, who will be joining the meeting, to hear directly from them.

So, this is going to be seen as a working — working group meeting, and we are — the President, the Vice President — we are looking forward to having that — that opportunity.

Okay.  Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  We discussed earlier former President Trump is describing the situation on the border as a “bloodbath.”  But on Friday, we’re going to get jobs figures, and past jobs reports have shown that immigrants are helping the U.S. economy.  Is the view of this administration that the inflow of immigrants do more to strengthen the United States or hurt the United States?  Does it do more?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, Josh, I appreciate the question.  And I think it’s an important question, as we’re hearing clearly awful rhetoric from the other side.  So — but what we know and what this President believes — and you’ve heard this President say this before — is that we know immigrants strengthen our country and our economy as well.  It goes hand in hand here.

Think about the critical work eight immigrants — these eight immigrants were doing on Key Bridge when it collapsed — when it collapsed. 

While Congress failed to act on President Biden’s comprehensive immigration reform — remember, he introduced that on the first day of his administration because he understood the importance of fixing — fixing immigration, a system that had been broken — that has been broken for decades.  His administration has led the largest expansion of lawful immigration pathways in decades.  And we continue — we continue to work [to] ensure employers and immigrants can effectively navigate the laws in place.

And so, reforming our immigration system only strengthens our economy.  You hear the President talking about that, about making sure that we have an economy that works for everyone, making sure that there is dignity and respect for everyone.

And so — and by doing that, it boosts our labor supply, it helps solve workforce shortages and — some businesses are facing — right? — that we see businesses are facing. 

And so, we took a step forward not too long ago.  We spent two months working with the Senate, working with Republicans and Democrats, to try and figure out how do we deal with this broken system.  We saw — they — we put together what would have been, if put into law, the toughest and fairest piece of legislation that we have seen in some time.

But what we heard from the last ad- — last administration, from President Trump — and you heard me say this over and over again; you all reported this — that he told Republicans to reject that proposal because it would hurt him and help the President. 

That’s not how this President sees this.  This President sees the immigration system as a — as an issue that majority of Americans care about and that we should fix.  We should get to the bottom of this.

So, we’re going to continue to urge Congress, Republicans, to come back — right? — to get — come back to the table, move forward with that proposal, get it out of the Senate, and then move it over to this Hou- — the House, get it out of the House, put it in front of the — in front of the President.  He will sign it — the toughest and fairest law that we have seen in some time.

And this is not about politics for this President.  And to — just to go back to the beginning of — of answering your question, we know immigrants strengthen our country and also strengthen our economy.

Go ahead.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Just to follow up on the TikTok question.  The President brought it up with President Xi. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  President Xi.  Yeah, he did.

Q    Has he also raised the issue with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer?  Because the bill is — hasn’t been taken up by the Senate.  I mean, that’s where it is held up.  Has he conveyed those same concerns about ownership, about, you know, divestiture, like, to — to Schumer?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, we are in regular communication, this administration is, with leaders of Congress, including Senator Schumer — Leader Schumer and others.  And so, I don’t have a specific readout to — to give you about the President’s conversation on this particular issue. 

As — as my colleague — as the Admiral said, TikTok did come up and was raised on the call with President Xi.  I think that’s important.  The President has always been very clear about his concerns, and he’s been very public about that. 

There is a real threat po- — posed by certain technology services, and so — operating in the United States that put at risk Americans’ personal information and broader national security.  He’s been very clear about that, including the manipulation. 

So, he’s been public about it.  He brought it up with President Xi.  This is an issue, certainly, that we will continue to have that discussion.  I just don’t have anything specific to read out to you with any conversations with members of Congress —

Q    Does he want —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — on the President — on the President’s schedule.

Q    Does he want the Senate Majority Leader to bring the bill to the floor?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We have said we support that bill.  We welcome that bill.  We do not see it as a ban, right?  We see it as a divestment.  We’ve been very clear about that as well.  And we welcome that bill.  So, we want it to go through the process. 

We’ve been offering technical support of you — as you’ve heard us speak to before.  You’ve heard the National Security Advisor speak to this very recently, the last time he was at the podium.  You’ve heard me say that.

And so, we’re going to continue to provide technical support.  We’re going to continue to have conversations with members of Congress.  I don’t have any — don’t have anything else to share beyond that.

Okay.  Go ahead.

Q    So, during the call, did President talk to President Xi about supplying components to Russia to enhance their defense industrial base?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, we’ve always been very clear, and the President did raise that we are deeply concerned, obviously, about the PRC’s support for Russia’s war against Ukraine and its efforts to help Russia reconstitute its defense industrial base.  That came up.

I’m not going to go beyond that.  But that did come up on the call.

Okay.  Go ahead, Selina.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Is there anything you can say about President Xi Jinping’s reaction to all of the concerns that Biden laid out?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I would let President Xi speak for himself.  I’m not going to respond to him — for him.

Q    Any color about the tone of the conversation?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — you — there’s a readout of the call.  I’m not going to get into — get into reactions, personal reactions.  I will let President Xi speak for himself.

Q    And just lastly, the cost to attend a number of New England colleges this fall is topping more than $90,000 a year.  What’s the White House’s reaction to that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I mean, we have been very clear about how the cost of college is — is crushing many, many families.  We’ve talked about that.  And that’s why one of the things that the President has been very focused on is giving that student debt relief to — to many Americans and families out there.

While we tried to put for- — something forward, Republicans blocked it, and the President continued to find ways to move forward in trying to find really comprehensive measures to make sure that we’re giving relief to — to Americans so that they can — you know, so that they can start a family, so that they can buy a home.

And so, we’ve done that.  You’ve seen us announce a bunch of — a bunch of actions which the President is proud of and is going to continue to find ways to give that relief. 

The Department of Education has — has talked about the cost of — of college and has certainly worked with wor- — worked with students in fi- — in — in figuring out ways for them to afford going to school.  It’s important.  If someone wants to be able to go to college, they should be able to do that.  And they should be able to afford to make that decision.  Their family should be able to make that decision and not — and not go into debt.

And so, the President has been very, very clear about that.  He’s talk- — he’s talked about his own experience.  And so, you know, look, we’re going to continue to find ways to make sure that Americans get a little bit of breathing room, get a little bit of opportunity to move their — their lives forward, to reach their dreams the way that they choose.

And so, yeah, you know, we’re aware — we’re aware of how costly college can be.

Go ahead, Karen.

Q    Thanks.  The owner of the ship involved in the Key Bridge collapse has denied responsibility for the accident, and they’ve filed a federal lawsuit trying to limit the amount of damages that they would have to pay.  What is the White House’s reaction to that lawsuit?  And is there going to be an effort to force them to pay more damages?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I don’t want to get ahead.  As you know, there is an investigation currently happening.  The Department of Transportation is — is leading.  So, want to be really mindful, not get ahead of that, and not going to talk to an active lawsuit, as you just announced, from — from the ship owner.

But, look, I think it is important that we get to the bottom of this not just because — for us, but obviously the people of Baltimore, the people in Maryland need to have an answer here.  And so, we’re going to do everything that we can.  There’ll be investigation.  I want to be really mindful here.  But it is always important to make sure people are held to account.

For the President, he is going to do everything that he can, use a whole-of-government response, as you have seen from this administration, to continue to make sure that we do the recovery, to make sure that we rebuild that bridge, make sure they reopen the port. 

And you’re going to see the President on Friday doing that visit — visit to Baltimore.  We’ll have more details on that.  But just want to be really, really mindful.  If there’s investigation going on, don’t want to get ahead of that.

Q    Will he have any conversations with congressional leaders ahead of his trip to Baltimore to talk about getting funding rolling, knowing he will likely hear from local and state —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, it —

Q    — leaders about that?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, it’s a good question.  Look, we have said that we will fu- — the federal government will fully fund the — rebuilding that bridge.  That’s a commitment that the President is going to stand by.  Obviously, there are m- — there potentially could be an opportunity or will be an opportunity for — for Congress to get involved, and we’ll have those discussions.

We con- — we do — we are having those conversations with congressional members.  I can’t speak to what the President has on his calendar as far as speaking to congressional members about this particular issue ahead of Friday.

But I can assure you it is a conversation that members of his team are continuing to have and will continue to have as we move forward in making sure the people of Baltimore — you know, the community gets back on their feet as it relates to getting this bridge back, opening up the port.  It is critical.  It is important.  And we want to make sure we get that done.

Go ahead, Kelly.

Q    In the way you described the celebration with the Vice President and Muslim leaders and so forth, smaller-scale working group, isn’t that, on its face, really an acknowledgement that there is a great tension between the President and the Muslim community —


Q    — and that you can’t do it publicly because you would be concerned about protests?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:   So, look, I mean, the community leaders expressed their — their preference here.  They said this is what they wanted to — to see.  They wanted to make su- — they wanted to have a working group meeting.  That is something that they asked for.  It is — and we listened.  We heard them.

As you know, senior officials have been — you know, senior White House officials have been traveling the country, having really important conversations with members of that community — the Muslim community, the Arab community, the Palestinian community — because we understand how painful this moment is for them and we want to hear directly from them. 

This is a request from them.  They wanted to — they wanted to have a — again, a private working meeting.  They wanted this meeting to be held private.  So, we’re respecting that.  We’re respecting the fact that they want privacy. 

It is not the first time that they’ve requested a — a situation where it is private.  And so, that — this is what we heard during our outreach, and we’re going to respect that.  And this is what we’re doing today.

It doesn’t take away — it doesn’t take away how we’re going to continue to honor the tradition of the Muslim community as we speak about Ramadan, during Ramadan.  This is something that we’re going to respect and continue to do so.

But in this particular instant, they wanted — they wanted a working group meeting.  They wanted it to be private.  And we’re going to respect that.

Go ahead, Nancy.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Going back to the “bloodbath” question.  The former President used that terminology a week or two ago, but he’s talking about it again today.  What’s the White House reaction to the use of that term “bloodbath”?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m going to be really mindful here because it is — the President — the — the — obviously, the former President is also a candidate here, so want to follow the law with the Hatch Act.

But we have to denounce — our response is we have to denounce any — any violent rhetoric that we hear, certainly from our leaders — right? — that tears our country apart.  It could tear our country apart and puts our fellow Americans in harm’s way — in danger.  So, we have to denounce that.

And look, you know, I think and we think that the American people wants to see the country coming together.  That’s what they want.  They want to — they want to make sure that we respect our democracy.  They want to make sure that we respect the rule of law.  That’s what they want.

And so, that is what the President is going to continue to fight for.  I’m — we’re going — any type of violent rhetoric, we’re going to denounce that.  It doesn’t matter who it comes from.  We’re going to denounce it.

Q    Does the White House believe that there is a “bloodbath” taking place or a wave of migrant crime?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, we’ve been very clear about — I just laid out to Josh, when it comes to immigrants, how important they are to — to the fabric of this country, how important they are to the strength of this country, to our economy.

And that continues to — to be true, right?  That’s something that this President believes.  And we’ve always called out any — if there is any form of — of violence that — that’d be — could be caused by one person — right? — that we may have seen, we call that out as well.

And — and that is always important to do.  But in this instance, it is used to — in the way that this violent rhetoric is being used, it is being used to tear our country apart.  That’s how it’s being used.

And we have to — we can’t allow that.  Right?  This is not what Americans want to see.  Americans want to see us bringing the country together.

And — and so, that form of rhetoric, it is — it’s not helpful to us.  So, we’re going to continue to call that out, and we’re going to be very, very clear about that.

But this — you know, if — if a violent act is — ha- — happens, as we have seen, and someone is killed, we want to make sure that — that — you know, we’ve got to condemn that and want to make sure that the law comes into place and we let the law enforcement on the ground deal with that. 

But to denounce an entire community — we can’t allow that.  We have to denounce that, any type of violent rhetoric. 

Go ahead.

Q    Karine, just a quick point of clarification — Karine.

So, when Donald Trump is talking about a “bloodbath,” it is violent rhetoric.  What was it when Joe Biden said, in 2020, “We — what we can’t let happen is let this primary become a negative bloodbath”?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’m going to be really mindful and careful about Donald Trump, but if you read — because he is a — he is a candidate.  We’re talking about the 2024 election.

You should read h- — what he said in its context.  So, you’ve got to read what he said in context.

Q    I understand.


Q    “Bloodbath” is an ugly word —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  We’ve go- —

Q    — when Trump uses it.  What is it when Biden uses it?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  It’s not — no, no, no.  Let’s be very clear: You’ve got to actually ask me the question in context of what it was said — right? — and what the — what was said when he said that — right? — in his remarks, in his speech.  Right?

And so, that’s being disingenuous in your question.

Q    I’m reading a direct quote from Joe Biden: “What we can’t let happen is let this primary become a negative bloodbath.”

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  He’s talking about — he was talking about a group of people — a group of people.  That’s what he’s talking about. 

What the President was talking about during the primary was not to allow it to be — the words in — in the primary and that election to become negative.  Two different — two different things. 

Q    Okay.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  They’re not the same.  They’re not the same.  And your question is disingenuous. 

And so, look, I’m going to be really mindful here.  I’ve got to be really careful.  We have to denounce violent rhetoric, which — wherever it comes from — a former leader — we have to denounce that.  Because we saw what happened on January 6th.  We saw what happened there. 

When you have a mob of 2,000 people go to the Capitol because they didn’t believe in free — the free and fair election that just happened months prior because of violent rhetoric —

Q    (Inaudible.)

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — you’ve got to denounce that.  That’s not what leaders should be doing. 

All right, I think I have to go. 

Go ahead, Erica.  I — I rarely call on you.  Go ahead, Erica.

Q    I — rarely raise my hand.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I know.  You rarely raise your hand, so — (laughter).

Q    Back to college costs.  There are hundreds of thousands of families across the country waiting to see if their — their students will be able to afford college due to the botched rollout of the FAFSA.  And just this week, I mean, almost every day, the U.S. Department of Education is announcing another setback. 


Q    It’s — it’s April — (laughs) — and, you know, I’m wondering what — what the White House is doing, what the oversight looks like, and what accountability will look like for these families, particularly the ones who rely on financial aid to go to college.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  It’s a really good question.  And I just want to say that the administration is — is committed to ensuring that students have access to the maximum financial aid possible. 

So, like with most major changes, implementing this new system has brought certain challenges.  And we’ve been very honest about that, and we’ve been very clear about that.  Yes, we have had some challenges here. 

But we don’t want to forget: Over 6 million — 6 million records have been processed — and that’s important — and delivered to schools.  And the department has an all-hands-on-deck team to address issues quickly and get information out to schools and families. 

Our top priority is, again, to ensure that students can acces- — access maximum financial aid possible.  We understand how important it is to get this aid.  And so, we want to make sure that we get that done. 

There’s an all-hands-on-deck scenario.  And, yes, we have had some challenges.  And we — we acknowledge that, and we’re doing everything that we can to fix that.

Thanks, everybody.  I’ll see you tomorrow.

Q    Thanks, Karine.

2:39 P.M. EDT

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