11:36 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Looks like most folks are on.  Kirby has a few words at the top, and then we’ll take as many questions as we can in the next few minutes.  Thanks, everyone.

MR. KIRBY:  Hey, everybody.  Just a quick overview on the latest in the Middle East. 

First, yesterday we saw more than 300 trucks enter Gaza.  That’s more trucks than any single day since the war began.  And that’s progress.  But obviously, we need to see this number increase, and we need to see it sustained, to really address the dire humanitarian situation there in Gaza.

Also over the weekend, Ambassador Lew and David Satterfield had productive discussions with Minister of Defense Gallant, with the IDF, and with COGAT officials on the steps that the Israeli government has taken to implement the measures that the President discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu in their call last week.  That includes to increase the flow of humanitarian assistance, sharpen up the deconfliction process, and again, to reduce the risk and raise the confidence level of humanitarian workers.

We certainly welcome all these steps.  Again, the President requested to get more aid into Gaza and address civilian harm.  But what we need to see, as we’ve said before, is that these steps are implemented and then sustained over time.  That includes major improvements, again, as I said, to the deconfliction process.  And we’re going to keep pressing the Israelis on exactly that. 

Second, just to provide an update on our review of the IDF independent investigation of the killing of World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza, we continue to review the conclusions of that investigation that was released by the IDF.  I know everybody is very curious about when we’re going to be done with that, what we’re going to say about it.  We’re still working our way through it.  I don’t have an update for you today.

Third, as has been publicly reported, Director Burns was in Cairo over the weekend as part of the hostage negotiations.  I don’t have a specific update to provide you today, but the administration is doing everything possible to broker a deal that secures the release of all the hostages and leads to an immediate ceasefire.  And there’s simply no higher priority.

Where we are now is that a proposal has been presented to Hamas, and we’re waiting on Hamas’s response.  As you all know from tracking this before, a response from Hamas to any particular proposal, one way or another, can often take a matter of days just because of the nature of communications with them and with Mr. Sinwar.  So that’s the best I have for an update for you.  I don’t have more detail. 

I’m not going to — as much as I know everybody is interested, I’m not going to get into what the specifics of that proposal is or what it looks like or what was negotiated in Cairo.  That would be one of the surest ways to torpedo this, and I’m not going to do that. 

I do want to add on the hostage front, though, that Jake will be meeting with family members of the U.S. citizens that are being held hostage.  And he’ll be meeting them tonight, later this afternoon, here at the White House.

Now, just on the state visit: As you all know, the President and First Lady are prepared to welcome Prime Minister Kishida and Mrs. Kishida of Japan to the White House for an official visit.  That will include a state dinner.  This visit will be a celebration of our bilateral relationship as it evolves into a global partnership that is a force for peace and prosperity; also a recognition of the significance of our alliance.  It builds on the immense progress between our two nations to help create a safer and more secure Indo-Pacific. 

You’ll be hearing more from us soon, obviously, on the wide range of deliverables that will be announced by the leaders on Wednesday.  I’m not going to get ahead of that.  But I do want to highlight that, on Thursday, President Biden will welcome President Marcos of the Philippines to the White House for his second bilateral meeting here at the White House and also a chance to host the first-ever trilateral leaders’ summit between the United States, Japan, and the Philippines.  And again, we’ll have much more to say about that as we get closer to Thursday.

The United States, Japan, and the Philippines are three closely aligned maritime democracies with increasingly convergent strategic objectives, interests, and, frankly, concerns in areas like the South China Sea.

The leaders are expected to announce new initiatives across a range of important issues during this historic trilateral meeting.  It’s the first ever at the leader level, and so we’re going to look to find ways to continue to deepen the collaboration with our closest partners, again, to ensure a free, open, prosperous, secure Indo-Pacific. 

And with that, I’m happy to take some questions.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our first question will go to Aamer with the AP.

Q    Hey, thanks, John.  Thanks, Sam.  Any updates on scheduling of the Rafah meetings in Washington?

And then, second, will the President or anyone at the White House be meeting with Mr. Lapid while he’s in town this week?  I believe he is meeting today at the State Department. 

And I know you don’t want to talk about specifics on the Cairo talks, but generally speaking, is there any reason to be more optimistic that a hostage deal can come through soon, coming out of the talks this weekend?  Thank you, John.

MR. KIRBY:  Aamer, can you ask me your first question again?  I’m sorry, I was trying to write fast and I —

Q    Sorry.  On the Rafah meetings that were expected for Washington —

MR. KIRBY:  Oh, yeah.

Q    — is there any updates on timing on that?

MR. KIRBY:   Okay, thanks.  So, on Rafah, still no date certain.  Nothing set for the calendar.  We were hoping to be able to do it this week, but I’m not sure that it’s going to actually happen this week.  I think folks are really sort of circling around sometime next week.  But stay tuned, obviously when we know something.  But I’m not expecting one this week, but we’re still working the calendar items.

On Lapid, look, since the war started, Jake has met with Ron Dermer, Minister Gallant, Benny Gantz, Mr. Bennett, obviously and — and the Speaker of the Knesset.  And yes, he will be meeting with Mr. Lapid.  So he’s always made it a priority to meet with senior Israeli officials when they’re in town; Mr. Lapid is no exception.  And Jake will be having a discussion with him.

On the hostage deal, I really can’t say, honestly, Aamer, as — I went, really, as far as I could go in my topper.  There was a serious round of discussions and negotiations over the weekend.  Mr. Burns participated in that and represented us in those talks.  And at the end of the weekend, a proposal was submitted to Hamas, and now it’s going to be up to Hamas to come through. 

So what the chances are of that, I wouldn’t want to handicap it, except to say that — and I think it should be plainly obvious just by the amount of shuttle diplomacy that we’re doing and our counterparts are doing — we’re taking this very, very seriously.  And we really want to do — come to closure on a hostage deal as soon as possible.  Because again, with that hostage deal comes a ceasefire of some weeks’ duration, hopefully around six weeks, which could do a lot to ease the burden on the Gazan people and to help us improve that humanitarian assistance.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Justin with Bloomberg.

Q    Hey, guys.  Thanks for doing this.  Two quick ones.  The first was: I was wondering if you could just kind of give a general reaction to the Israeli statements over the weekend that were positive on ceasefire negotiations and possibly pulling some troops out of Gaza.  You know, are you encouraged by those?  Are you still kind of wait and see?  Just whatever you have on that. 

And then, I know you said you didn’t have an update on the talks themselves, but I was wondering if you had a response to the — if you could share if there was a response to the letters the President sent to the leaders of Egypt and Qatar on the hostage talks.  And if there was response, anything you could share there.

MR. KIRBY:  So as we’ve said before, the announcements and the statements coming out of the Israeli government over the last two, three days are welcomed.  And we are, as I said in my opening statement, beginning to see them move on some of the very specific things, the concrete steps that the President asked them to do.

So, again, these are welcome steps.  These are welcome announcements.  These are welcome statements.  But really, what it comes down to is sustainability and a commitment to meet these — commitment to follow through on these steps over time.

I don’t have a response to speak to in terms of the President’s communications with the Emir of Qatar and with President Sisi of Egypt.  Those letters were sent to convey the President’s strong view that we want them to urge Hamas to commit to this hostage deal and to abide by those commitments.  And as I said, a proposal was offered, and we’re going to wait and see what Hamas’s response is. 

And I honestly think that anything more that I would say — even though you’re not really asking about the hostage negotiations; you’re asking about the letters — anything more I would say at this point, you know, could potentially put that response in some kind of jeopardy.  And I just don’t want to do that, not when so many lives are hanging in the balance.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Andrea Mitchell with NBC.

Q    Hi, thank you.  Question about Khan Younis.  How are you interpreting it?  Have you sought any clarification about the repositioning of those troops, the withdrawal, as to whether it’s preparatory to something else, or is it a routine reservist, you know, withdrawal?  Or the rest, are they going back to their civilian jobs?  Can you give us any clarification about the military moves this weekend that were ordered?

MR. KIRBY:  Andrea, I’m really not going to do that.  I mean, that’s really for the Israeli Defense Force to speak to.  It’s their troops, their units, their movements.  And the last thing I’m going to do is try to talk for another military.  All I can —

Q    But have we sought any clarification from them as to what they’re up to? 

MR. KIRBY:  All I can say is —

Q    Because that’s been one of the issues on the table.

MR. KIRBY:  All I can tell you, Andrea, is that they’ve made it clear that these troops have been on the ground for four months consecutive, fighting, and they needed to be refit and get some rest.  So that’s our best understanding of what they’re doing. 

I don’t have any internal communications we might have had with them about this.  I will just add that we have consistently made clear that we don’t support a major ground operation in Rafah.  I would also add that we don’t see any signs that such a major ground operation is imminent or that these troops are being repositioned for that kind of a ground operation. 

The last thing I would add is that we’re still looking to have a conversation with the Israelis about Rafah here in coming days, hopefully sometime next week.  And the Israelis have assured us that there will be no operations in and around Rafah until we have had a chance to talk to them at greater length about the viable options and alternatives to a major ground operation.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Andrea Shalal with Reuters.  Andrea, you should be able to unmute yourself.  Okay, we see you unmuted yourself, but we cannot hear you.

Q    Okay, can you hear me now?

MODERATOR:  We can.  Yep. 

Q    Okay, thanks so much.  Thanks for taking my question. 

John, I’m just wondering about the aid — you know, flow of aid into Gaza and what you’re seeing there.  And then, you know, like, how many trucks do you think are possible per day?  Three hundred was a lot compared to what we’d seen earlier, but is still not — you know, not sufficient.  So what are you looking for there?

And then, on the investigation into the World Central Kitchen thing, can you give us any more details in terms of what you see there?  And I know that this has been asked before, but do you — you know, is there thinking about whether that did, in fact, amount to a war crime?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Look, on the trucks, what we’ve said and what we communicated to the Israelis is we’d like to see the flow

in the very, very near future get up to between 3- to 350 per day.  And today, as I said, we saw more than 300.  So that’s a good start but still not up to the upper range of that and — of the 350.  And, again, what matters is how it can be sustained over time.

I have nothing for you on the investigation.  As I said, we’re still working our way through it.  I just don’t have any updates for you on that. 

And as I’ve said before, the State Department continues, as always, through their ongoing processes, to review operations by militaries that receive, you know, U.S. security assistance.  It’s an evolving thing that they watch it, they examine facts as they develop.  They have not made any determinations at this time with respect to war crimes.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We’re going to try to speed through three more questions before we have to jump.

Our next question will go to Alex Marquardt with CNN.

Q    Thank you, guys.  Thanks for doing this.  John, in terms of what a potential Iranian retaliation could look like for the consulate strike last week, I know you guys have — I was wondering whether you guys could say a little bit more about what you may be tracking in terms of specific Iranian plans.  Do you have an expectation of whether targets could be civilian or military, U.S. or Israeli; whether Iran would retaliate themselves or have this done through proxies?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Alex, I’m going to be real careful here, because you’re talking about some intelligence assessments.  And I’m just not going to get into that. 

I will just tell you that, number one, we know that Iran has made very public threats against Israel itself.  And one of the things that the President said in his call with Prime Minister Netanyahu was that the Israeli government could count on the United States’ support for any self-defense needs against threats directly by Iran to Israel — again, threats that Iran has made public. 

Number two, our own people — not just our troops, but our diplomatic personnel, as well, in Iraq and Syria — are under constant threat.  We take that seriously, and we take the appropriate force protection measures we need to as the threat changes to make sure that they can protect themselves.  And that has not changed; that will not change.  We’re continuing to do that. 

But we take the threat to our own people and our own facilities seriously.  And we know that those groups, many of the groups that conduct those kinds of attacks, are supported, funded, resourced by the IRGC. 

So I think I’ll just leave it at that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Robin Wright with the New Yorker.

Q    Thanks, John.  A related question.  Has the United States received any message, directly or indirectly, that Iran might refrain from a military response for the attack on its facility in Damascus if the U.S. brokers a ceasefire?  In other words, is there any kind of understanding or sub-deal, deal parallel to the negotiations, on a ceasefire in Gaza?

And also, as related to Alex’s question, is the U.S. still seeing signs of Iran positioning to respond in any way?  And if so, where?  I know it’s related, but is there any detail you can provide, insight?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m sorry, Robin, the second part of the question was what? 

Q    Well, related to Alex’s question.  And are you still seeing signs, as U.S. officials said on Friday, that Iran is positioning for a response, both missiles and drones?

MR. KIRBY:  Oh.  Oh, I gotcha.  I gotcha.  I thought that was — I guess I should be more clear.  I thought it was kind of implied in my answer to Alex that, of course, we’re still considering this an active threat.

And look, I don’t really have a comment to make on the report that Iran claims they would refrain from responding if there was a ceasefire.  Quite frankly, if Iran desires a ceasefire in Gaza, then it should pull out all the stops to do what they can to press Hamas to accept the deal that’s on the table, to accept the proposal that was worked up this weekend, if that’s what they really want.  We want a ceasefire too.  They can lean on Hamas.  That would be the best outcome. 

And look, we want a ceasefire, again, that would release women, the wounded, sick, the elderly.  That’s really the focus.  But if Iran is serious about a ceasefire, they’ll use the influence they have with Hamas to press for a positive response to that proposal. 

Q    But has the U.S. received any message, directly or indirectly, to that effect?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have anything to offer on that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question, and unfortunately our last, will go to Nadia.  Nadia, you should be able to unmute yourself. 

Q    Hi.  Can you hear me now?

MODERATOR:  We sure can. 

Q    Oh, thank you, Sam.  Hi, John.  You said that, today, for the first time since October 7th, that 350 trucks of aid are entering Gaza.  I’m just wondering why it took that long.  And why — what were the major obstacles that prevented this vital aid to come to Gaza, especially for (inaudible)?  Is it the phone call from the President?  Is it a change of policy on the U.S. that made this happening?

MODERATOR:  Nadia, we can’t really understand you.  Are you on speakerphone?

MR. KIRBY:  Nadia, I could not pick up most of your question.

MODERATOR:  Now you’re breaking up.  So we’re going to move on and try get one more question.

We’ll go to Hiba.  Hiba, you should be able to unmute yourself. 

Q    Yes, Sam.  Thank you.  Thanks, John.  I want to follow up on the question regarding the Iranian consulate and the message that — reports on the message that the Iranian conveyed to the U.S. that they will go — they will refrain from hitting in case there’s a ceasefire.  Is it fair to say, John, that this report is not accurate?  Are you trying to tell us that? 

And my second question: On the strike itself against the Iranian consulate, some (inaudible) are saying it was unwise by the Israeli.  What’s your position?  We never understand what the administration position on the strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. 

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have anything more to say about the strike in Damascus, except that we weren’t involved in any way whatsoever.  And I need to just leave it at that.

And as I said to Robin’s question on this, I don’t have anything further to add on Iranian claims that they’re making this sort of promise.  You got to take pretty much everything that the Iranians say with a huge grain of salt. 

I would just add that if they’re serious about wanting a ceasefire, then they should put the pressure on Hamas to accept the proposal that’s on the table.  That’s it. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And thank you, everyone, for joining us.  Sorry this was a quick one.  But as always, reach out to the NSC distro if we weren’t able to get to you.  Thanks.

 11:58 A.M. EDT


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