James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

2:28 P.M. EDT

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Good afternoon, everyone.

Q    Good afternoon.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, you just heard from my colleague over at the State Department who has confirmed that Hamas sent a response.  I’m going to turn things over very quickly to my colleague, Admiral John Kirby, who will share more updates in the region.


MR. KIRBY:  Thanks, Karine.

Good afternoon, everybody.

Q    Good afternoon.

MR. KIRBY:  As Karine noted, there has been a response from Hamas to the hostage deal.  We’re currently reviewing that response, and we’re discussing it with our partners in the region.

Director Burns, as you know, is there, and he’s working this in real time on the ground.  I won’t be able to comment any further on this until we know where things stand.  I hope you can understand that.  I know everybody is curious about what’s in this response, what the Israeli reaction to it is.  I’m just not going to get ahead of the process.

We want to get these hostages out.  We want to get a ceasefire in place for six weeks.  We want to increase humanitarian assistance.  And the last thing that I want to do is say anything at this podium that’s going to put that process at risk.

Regardless, as we’ve said before, we still believe that reaching an agreement is the absolute best outcome not only for the hostages but for the Palestinian people.  And we’re not going to stop working to that outcome.

Now, as you know, the President talked with Prime Minister Netanyahu this morning.  The call lasted about 30 minutes and was constructive. 

The President reaffirmed his message on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  The two leaders discussed the shared commitment of Israel and the United States to remember the 6 million Jews who were systematically targeted and slaughtered in the Holocaust, one of the darkest chapters in human history, and to forcefully act against antisemitism and all forms of hate-fueled violence.

Now, of course, the two leaders spoke about our efforts to secure the hostage deal, including through these ongoing talks today.

During the call, at the President’s urging, Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to ensure that the Kerem Shalom crossing is back open for humanitarian assistance for those in need.

And I also want to take a moment to address the latest reports now out of Rafah, which was also a topic of discussion on the — on the call. 

I’ll reiterate again that we cannot and we will not speak for IDF operations.  But we’ve made clear our views about operations in Rafah that could potentially put more than a million innocent people at greater risk.  During his call with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the President again made this clear.

He also made clear that we continue to believe that the hostage deal is the best way to avoid that sort of an outcome while securing the release of those hostages.  And as I said, those conversations continue.

Just one more thing: President Biden hosted His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan for lunch at the White House.  That probably wrapped up here just recently.  They discussed the strong partnership between the United States and Jordan.  They also spoke about the situation in Gaza, of course, including efforts to secure the hostage deal and to get more humanitarian assistance into the civilians of Gaza.

Now, we’re going to have a more detailed readout of that conversation here very, very soon.  Just don’t have it right now.  But you’ll be seeing it shortly.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Steve. 

Q    As far as you can tell, which proposal did Hamas accept?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to get into that, Steve.

Q    And is the issue over how long a ceasefire would last?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, you’re asking me for the parameters around the response and the deal itself, and I’m just not going to do that.

Q    Lastly, Israel has called on people in — in Rafah to evacuate.  Is — does that presage a full-scale assault?  What — what are we seeing?

MR. KIRBY:  As I said in my opening statement, I’m not going to speak for IDF operations or their military intentions and plans.  They should be the ones to answer those kinds of questions. 

What I can only reiterate is that we’ve been consistent and the President was consistent again this morning that we don’t support ground operations in Rafah that would put the majority or even any of the — the civilians there at any greater risk.  We want to see their safety and security allowed for and factored in.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Seung Min.

Q    Noting your caveats at the top, are you able to say whether Hamas was agreeing to something that had been discussed over the last several days?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, without getting into the details of it — and Director Burns is still talking to partners about this — there have been ongoing negotiations and talks here for weeks.  And the Director traveled recently to see if we can’t bring this thing home.

And, again, without speaking about the details of the response by Hamas, I think it’s safe to conclude that that response came as a result or at the end of these continued discussions that Director Burns was part of.

Q    And when do you think you’ll have a better sense of what is happening?  When will you get a readout from Director Burns?  Later today?  Early tomorrow?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t know.  The President has been briefed on — on the response.  He’s aware of where the situation and where the process is.  What you’re asking me is like when are we going to get, like, a final — you know —

Q    Like, what is the answer?  Yeah.  (Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah — a final, you know, table slap here.  There is a — there’s a process that has — that — that has been worked in the past and will be worked this time.  You get a response by Hamas.  We’re going to have to evaluate that.  We’re going to see what’s in it.  Certainly, the Israelis get it — must have a chance to look at this and to evaluate it.

And Director Burns, as — as we speak — literally, as you and I are talking — are having these conversations with partners in the region.  You know, it would be great — I’m sure we’d all like to have an answer as soon as possible.  But I just don’t want to get ahead of that process.

Q    And a quick follow-up on the readout.  When do you expect the Kerem — Kerem Shalom crossing to reopen?  Or is it already reopened?

MR. KIRBY:  It should be open very, very soon.  Prime Minister Netanyahu committed to opening it on the call this morning.  So, at 2:30, is it open?  I don’t know.  But he assured the President that it would be reopened.  It had been closed for several days.

Q    Okay.  And one more.  Cindy McCain, the executive director of the World Food Programme, said over the weekend that Northern Gaza is in a, quote, “full-fledged famine.”  Is that the assessment of the U.S. government as well?

MR. KIRBY:  The U.N. has not declared a famine in Gaza writ large.  But I don’t want to understate the degree of need here and the — the dire situation that so many people in Gaza are in, particularly with respect to food and water.  So, it is not a great situation, clearly.  And that’s why, again, we’re working so hard to get this deal in place, so we can keep that humanitarian assistance up at a higher level.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Mary.

Q    Thank you.

Q    I understand you don’t want to get into the specifics here.  But is it your understanding that this is Hamas’s final offer?  I mean, is there still room to negotiate here?

MR. KIRBY:  I think it’s going to depend on our evaluation and the Israelis’ evaluation of the response and where we go from here.

Q    And as Steve mentioned, the Israelis are already warning people to evacuate Gaza.  If they do go through with this operation, is the U.S. willing to consider putting limits or conditions on aid to Israel?

MR. KIRBY:  I won’t get ahead of where we are right now, Mary, in the process here, and I’m certainly not going to speak to hypothetical operations that haven’t happened yet.  I think we just have to see what transpires. 

The President was very direct — and consistently so — this morning that we don’t want to see major ground operations in Rafah that put these people at greater risk.

Q    But, you know, a month ago, the administration did make clear that the U.S. would change its approach — right? — if Israel didn’t take significant steps to address the humanitarian crisis.

MR. KIRBY:  That’s right.

Q    Does that still hold?  Is it possible that the U.S. could change course —

MR. KIRBY:  Of course.

Q    — if the humanitarian process isn’t improved?

MR. KIRBY:  Of course.  We always —

Q    And presumably, a Raf- — 

MR. KIRBY:  No, no.  We always have the right to adjust our policies as appropriate, and that has not changed, no.

Q    And presumably, an operation in Rafah would jeopardize steps to address the humanitarian crisis?

MR. KIRBY:  All I can say is we’ve been very direct and very consistent in our views of concerns about operations in Rafah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, M.J.

Q    Does the U.S. currently have any sense of whether Israel is inclined or not inclined to accept this deal?  (Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY:  I — I won’t speak for the Israelis.

Q    The — when the President and the Prime Minister spoke earlier today, was this specific framework discussed?  And did the President encourage, put pressure on the Prime Minister to accept this framework?

MR. KIRBY:  You’re talking about the — what the — what Hamas says they responded to?

Q    Yes.

MR. KIRBY:  So, just — and just so you have the tick-tock here, by the — when they were talking this morning, we did not have news that Hamas had responded.  So, that news broke after their call. 

That said, as I mentioned in my opening statement, of course they talked about the hostage deal and the importance of getting it secured.

Q    So, you’re saying when the two leaders spoke, Hamas had not yet accepted —

MR. KIRBY:  It would be wrong —

Q    — this framework —

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.

Q    — so the President would not have specifically asked the Prime Minister to —

MR. KIRBY:  Correct. 

Q    — potentially accept this framework?

MR. KIRBY:  It would be wrong for you to conclude that — that the call this morning was about having the Israelis accept the Hamas response.  The Hamas response hadn’t happened yet.

Q    Did he broadly encourage the Prime Minister to get, yes, to some sort of deal?

MR. KIRBY:  He, as he has consistently with Prime Minister Netanyahu, urged that we get this deal secured.  But it wasn’t a — it wasn’t a pressure call.  It wasn’t about twisting his arm towards a certain set of parameters.

Director Burns is in the region having these conversations with the Israelis, the Qataris, the Egyptians, as — again, as we speak.  And — and that’s the forum for working out the parameters of it.  But the President clearly talked to the Prime Minister about the importance of getting a deal done, yeah.

Q    And, John, what is the President’s position on a limited operation into Rafah?

MR. KIRBY:  I think I — I don’t think I can answer it any differently than I did with Mary.  We’ve been very clear that we don’t support a major ground operation in Rafah, operations in general that put at greater risk the more than a million people that are sheltering there. 

And the question right now is a hypothetical.  I mean, we’re aware that they’ve dropped leaflets.  We’re aware that they’re — that they’re warning people to evacuate.  I’ll let them speak to their operations and to their intents — intentions.

Nothing has changed about where we are with respect to operations in Rafah that could put those people at greater risk.

Q    Right.  But you know that they are asking people in the area to evacuate and the possibility of a limited Rafah operation is on the table.  So, I’m asking: Does the President believe that Israel can execute a limited operation into Rafah while adequately protecting the lives of civilians there?

MR. KIRBY:  The President doesn’t want to see operations in Rafah that put at greater risk the more than a million people that are seeking refu- — refuge there.

Q    So, he wouldn’t support a limited operation into Rafah?

MR. KIRBY:  I think I’ve answered the question.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Francesca. 

Q    In the back.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Francesca, go ahead.

Q    Picking up on the timeline.  So, prior to Hamas saying that they accepted this proposal, what, as you understood them to be, were the sticking points for either Hamas or the Israelis in the — the deal that had been on the table?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to get into that.

Q    Okay.  Did it involve Rafah in any way?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to talk about the parameters of the proposal that was worked before this Hamas response, and I’m certainly not going to talk about the response right now.

I mean, I do understand the curiosity.  And you guys are all asking exactly the right questions — all very fair.  But I really do hope you understand that the last thing I would ever want to do from this podium is say something that could put this very sensitive process at greater risk.

We are at a critical stage right now.  We got a response from Hamas.  Now Director Burns is working through that, trying to assess it, working with the Israelis.

I mean, my goodness, folks, I don’t know that it gets any more sensitive than right now.  And the worst thing that we can do is start speculating about what’s in it.

Q    And one more thing on Rafah.  What was your understanding why the Israelis were only evacuating part of Rafah at this time?

MR. KIRBY:  You’d have to talk to the Israelis.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Danny.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Thanks, Admiral.  You’ve previously said several times that the ball is in the court of Hamas at previous stages of negotiations.  Would it be fair to say now that the ball is in Israel’s court?

MR. KIRBY:  It’s going to depend on what the response actually says and the conversations that we have with the Israelis about what — where we go from here.

Q    And just one other thing.  If I can ask, I mean, is — do you have any sense that Israel is currently using this threat or the start of an operation in Rafah as a means of putting pressure on Hamas at this stage of the negotiations?

MR. KIRBY:  Again, you’d have to talk to the Israelis about their intentions.


Q    You said that they — that — that you did not know the news during the call.  But were you surprised by — was the White House surprised by Hamas saying that they’ve reached a deal or agreeing to the agreement?

MR. KIRBY:  It wasn’t like we had a heads up about it.  We — we knew that, as I said publicly, they had a proposal in front of them, and as was just remi- — I was just reminded of the fact that I said many times it was — the ball was in Hamas’s court.  So, we certainly knew that they had it before them, and we were waiting on word.

We had hoped that there would be word very, very soon.  We certainly hope that there could be word today.  But did we know the exact moment that Al Jazeera was able to break the news that Hamas had a response?  No, we didn’t predict that particular moment.

Q    Are you encouraged that that — that there — that you are at this sensitive point?  You’ve been talking about it’s a very sensitive point, it’s important —

MR. KIRBY:  We’ll be encouraged when we get a deal in place and we can start seeing hostages get back with their families.  That’ll be encouraging.

Q    And if I can, what role, if any, do you feel like the leaflets and the pressure of an evacuation or the evacu- — the announcement of evacuating, do you think that had any role in — in triggering Hamas to do —

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t think we know that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    John, can you talk a little bit about the timeline, as the administration understands it, of those evacuations?  How much time do people have to leave?  Do you — did you guys put any demands on the Israelis in terms of how those evacuations are to take place under the parameters that you guys have talked

about previously?

MR. KIRBY:  We’re asking questions of the Israelis about what their intentions are here and what the — what the larger purpose of this evacuation is and sort of where they’re wan- — wanting to go.

I think to answer your question, though, you’d really have to go to the Israelis and to — to speak to their military operations and plans.  I’m not going to get ahead of that. 

But are we curious about the timing and the intent and where they’re going?  Yes, absolutely.  And the President expressed our curiosity about that on the call today.

Q    But more than curiosity, are you expressing what you want to see happen in terms of those evacuations, how they take place, whether Israel is prepared for people moving around within Rafah?

MR. KIRBY:  I would just say — again, without — without — I don’t want to get ahead of operations that haven’t happened.  I don’t want to speak for the Israeli military.  I can just say that we don’t want to see operations in and around Rafah that make it harder for the people that are seeking refuge there and shelter to be safe and secure.  And we have made that case privately to the Israelis.  The President did it again today with the Prime Minister directly.  We certainly made it publicly.  We’ve been very, very consistent about that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Jacqui.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  John, noting everything that you’ve said about the concerns expressed by the U.S. about the risk to Palestinians in Gaza with a full-scale operation, is the U.S. still aligned with Israel in its intention to eliminate the terrorist threat posed by Hamas?

MR. KIRBY:  Of course.

Q    And is there any feeling that Hamas may be trying to trick the public in some way?  You heard Israeli officials commenting on this latest proposal as — as a trick, and —

MR. KIRBY:  Oh —

Q    — there’s been a lot of pressure to — go ahead.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, no, I’m just — go ahead.  Sorry.  I’m listening.

Q    Well, there’s — there’s been, you know, pressure on the administration to make sure that the needs of Palestinians are — are being served and that the U.S. support for Israel isn’t, you know, overhanded.  And you had the — the report come out earlier today or maybe yesterday that the U.S. was potentially weighing withholding an arms shipment to Israel.  Is there any concern that Hamas was trying to capitalize on that public pressure and, you know, “play a trick,” as Israeli officials put it?

MR. KIRBY:  I mean, I don’t think there’s any possible way I can answer that question unless I got between the ears of Mr. Sinwar, and that’s a place I really don’t want to be.  I think that is a great question for him.

You know, it’s interesting.  I stand up here and answer questions, Karine does, Matt Miller at the State Department, Pentagon colleagues, the President does, Prime Minister Netanyahu does, and the IDF military spokesman does. 

You know who hasn’t answered a single question about his intentions and what games he might be playing or where he intends to take this?  Mr. Sinwar, the head of Hamas.  And I think it’s — I think it’s high time that he answers some of these questions and he come clean about what his intentions are.  I don’t know.

All I know is we got a response.  Bill Burns is looking at that response.  He’s talking to the Israelis about it.  And we’ll see where this goes.  Hopefully — hopefully — whatever is in this thing, hopefully it can lead to those hostages getting out real, real soon with their families where they need to be. 

And as each new — as each day passes, their lives get further at risk.  So, time is really of the essence here.

Q    Well, noting your answer, is it still a good idea to try to negotiate with terrorists, then?

MR. KIRBY:  It’s — it’s not — it’s not like — it’s not like we sit down pie in the sky and say, “Hey, today’s a good day.  Let’s negotiate with terrorists.”  You — you got to negotiate with who you got to negotiate to get people back with their family.

So, frankly, if — if there’s a better idea to get those hostages home with their families, I think we’d love to hear them.  I just don’t think there’s another way to do it.  There’s no other way to do it, quite frankly.

You got to negotiate through Qatar with Hamas to get those folks back with their families.  And it — does — you know, that’s the hard work of diplomacy, qu- — you know, sometimes it means you got to sit across the table from some really bad folks that you’d rather not have to talk to.  But they got those hostages, and we want them back.

Q    But the U.S. backs Israel’s intention to eliminate Hamas?

MR. KIRBY:  We, of course, back their right and responsibility to go after the Hamas threat, to eliminate that threat.

Now, look, Jacqui, I’ve said many times here, you’re not going to eliminate an ideology through military operations.  But does Israel have a right and responsibility to eliminate a threat that they suffered on the 7th of October?  A hundred percent.  Absolutely, they do.  And we’ve been nothing but — but very steadfast on that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Gabe.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Thanks, John.  Speaking about a tick-tock, what prompted this morning’s call?

MR. KIRBY:  I think you’ve heard me say many times now, they talk as appropriate.  And given where we were in the hostage deal negotiations, given where we were with humanitarian assistance and Kerom — Kerem Shalom being shut down for several days, certainly given where we were with expectations in Rafah, this made all the sense in the world for today to be the day that the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu speak.

Q    But when exactly was the call set up?  Was it this morning?  Was it yesterday after the rocket attack that killed the three Israelis?  Or what — what specifically prompted it?

MR. KIRBY:  I would tell you the initial planning for the call took place late in the weekend, is about what I’d say.

Q    And one more on a different topic.  Why did the U.S. halt an ammunition shipment to Israel last week?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, look, I’ve seen the press reporting on this.  All I can tell you is that — to Jacqui’s question — our support for Israel’s security remains ironclad.  And I’m not going to get into the specifics of — of one shipment over another.

Q    It’s our — NBC is reporting that it included 2,000-pound bombs that may have been used in Rafah.  Did concerns over Rafah and what the Israelis could use this ammunition for — did that play any role in halting that shipment?

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have a better answer for you other than the one I just gave you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    I just want to go at that question one more time.  Did the United States put a pause on an arms shipment to Israel?  Is that — is that reporting correct?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to confirm that report.

Q    Okay.  Just another on another topic.  Well, same topic, different question.  Over the weekend, the Queen of Jordan said in an interview that the United States is giving the world mixed messages, offering both expressions of concern and support for Gaza in addition to providing arms to Israel.  Can you — can you comment at all on this — on her criticism or her critique of the United States’ position?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m — I’m not going to — I don’t think it’d be appropriate to get into a back-and-forth here from the podium on this. 

We have said that two things can be true at once, and they are.  Israel has a right and a responsibility to defend itself, and we’re going to continue to provide for their security and help them with that.  And at the same time, they have a right and obligation to be careful about civilian casualties and getting more humanitarian assistance in. 

And that’s why we’re working so hard on this hostage deal.  And that’s why the American — the President and the United States continue to lead the world in terms of actually making a difference in that outcome, making life better for the Palestinian people.  No other country is doing more than the United States to try to increase that — that assistance and get this — get this ceasefire in place.

Q    And just really quickly, the Israelis stopped a broadcast of Al Jazeera over the weekend.  Can you comment on whether that’s an appropriate action for a United States ally?

MR. KIRBY:  We don’t support that action.  As we said very clearly on World Press Freedom Day on Friday — I know Karine talked about this — the work of independent journalism around the world is absolutely vital.  It’s important to an informed citizenry and public, but it’s also important to — to help inform the policymaking process. 

So, we don’t support that at all.

Q    And did the President bring it up at all in his call with —

MR. KIRBY:  The focus of the call was on the hostage deal and on Rafah.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  I’m going to give it to Al Jazeera.

MR. KIRBY:  You saw my — sorry.  You saw, I —


MR. KIRBY:  — I think I put a statement out this morning on that.  So, we have officially reacted to it.  Sorry.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Al Jazeera.

Q    Thank you so much, Karine.  Thank you, John.  Is the administration planning on discussing the banning of Al Jazeera in Israel with the Israeli government? 

We just celebrated the freedom of the press here in the United States and across the globe.  And then this decision came, and it was really a big shock.

MR. KIRBY:  As I just said, we don’t —

Q    Would the administration raise this issue with the government of Israel?

MR. KIRBY:  We have raised this issue, and I made a public statement about it.

Q    And on — on the — on Rafah.  Has Israel presented or provided the administration with a comprehensive plan for the (inaudible)? 


MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Ed.

Q    I want to take you back to this report on whether shipments were paused.

MR. KIRBY:  Okay.

Q    Are the reports wrong?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m not going to confirm the press reporting, Ed.  What I’ve said is our security commitments to Israel are ironclad.  The President pushed very hard to get that supplemental funding so that we could continue to help Israel with its security needs and —

Q    You can appreciate the ambiguity makes it sound like it’s true.

MR. KIRBY:  I can’t —

Q    That we held it up.

MR. KIRBY:  I can’t speak for what you appreciate in my answer.  (Laughter.)  All I can do is tell you that my answer is not going to change.

Q    All right.  What is the definition of a assault or attack on Rafah, in the view of the White House, that would be seen as impermissible?

MR. KIRBY:  There hasn’t been an assault or an attack —

Q    Well, there’s reports tonight that there are —

MR. KIRBY:  — in terms of a ground operation at this time.

Q    Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  So, let’s not get ahead of where we are.  The President did express, again, our concerns about operations in Rafah that would put at risk these — these people finding or trying to find shelter there. 

I think it would be a futile e- — exercise for me to get up here and — and give you a laundry list of what would or would not compose some kind of ground operation in Rafah.  We have to — well, let me put it another way — the IDF has to speak to what their intentions and their plans are.

Q    But it’s still ground operation versus missiles that may be landing over Rafah tonight, which is what we’re hearing.

MR. KIRBY:  Well, it doesn’t matter whether it’s missiles or rockets.  Things that kill innocent people — that’s not okay.  And, again, the President made it clear that we don’t want to see operations in Rafah that put at risk —

Q    And how does —

MR. KIRBY:  — those million and a half people that are there.

Q    How does the President assess Bill Burns’s ongoing attempts to make sure this deal comes together?

MR. KIRBY:  It’s a nice side way of getting at sort of talking to the parameters of the deal.  I appreciate that.  He’s very grateful for —

Q    Oh, no, I was — I was more genuinely interested in what he thinks —

MR. KIRBY:  Oh, really?

Q    — of the CIA Director’s work on this, yes.  (Laughter.) 

MR. KIRBY:  Excellent.  I’m sorry.  I impugned your question.  (Laughter.)

The — look, I think he’s very grateful for the — the work that Director Burns and the whole team has been doing to try to get us to this point.  But it only really matters if we can get the deal in place — and I’m sure Director Burns would agree me — would agree with me on that — and those hostages can get home.

But he’s — he’s done terrific work thus far, and I know that he wants to see th- — get this across the finish line, as this — just as much as we do.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Jonathan.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  Admiral, on a different topic.  Reports breaking just the last few minutes that a U.S. soldier has been detained in Russia.  This apparently happened in the last few days.  The reporting is he had been stationed in Korea, traveled to Russia on his own.  He’s being accused of some sort of theft.  Are — is the administration aware of this report?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes.

Q    What can you tell us about what happened?

MR. KIRBY:  I can’t really say much about it right now, Jonathan.  I hope you can understand that.  And, certainly, it’s a better question put to our DOD colleagues.  But we are aware of this case.

Q    And other matter just related to Russia.  There has been threats from Moscow in the last couple days about striting — striking British military facilities because of the — and also simulating nuclear drills, as it sharply rises tensions because of weapons manufactured in the UK being used in the conflict.  This says it could potentially apply to other ally countries as well — theoretically, the United States.

Do you have a response to that?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, what I’d say, number one, is it’s just reckless and irresponsible for the leader of a major nuclear-armed power to be saber-rattling the way that he is with respect to potential use for — for nuclear weapons. 

We’re — obviously, we monitor this and have continued to monitor this very closely.  I can tell you we’ve seen nothing, even despite the reckless rhetoric, that would cause us to change our strategic deterrent posture. 

And, look, lastly, if — if Mr. Putin and Russian officials are worried about their troops in Ukraine getting hit with weapons from other countries, then the easiest thing to do is just take your troops and leave. 

Q    Thank you. 

Q    There are reports of AFP right now that Israel is committing airstrikes on Rafah — intense airstrikes on Rafah right now.  What would that timing mean to the relationship between the President and the Prime Minister?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, (inaudible), you — you know something I don’t know.  I haven’t seen those reports.  I can’t confirm it.  I’ll just go back to what I’ve said, I don’t know, half a dozen, if not more, times today: We don’t support operations in Rafah that put people at greater risk. 

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  Thank you, Karine, and thank you, John.  I just wanted to make it clear that regarding the limit on the refined petroleum provided by Russia to North Korea, the annual refined petroleum limit under U.N. sanctions against North Korea is 500,000 barrels.  But last week, you say that the limit was exceeding that 6- — 165,000 barrels in March alone.  So, how many barrels were supplied in January and February?

MR. KIRBY:  I will have to take that question and get back to you.  I didn’t bring the barrel data with me today. 

Q    And one one more quick question again.    State — yes, State Department Spokesperson Miller said that the sanctions against this will be imposed through these months, and a North Korea oil tanker sanctioned by the U.N. is currently staying in Chinese water.  So, is China included in the sanctions this time?  Or U.N. sanctions against Russia and sanctions against China are together?

MR. KIRBY:  I — I will admit that I will owe you now yet another answer.  I’ll get back to you with something more detailed. 

I will only just say, to exit myself from this question gracefully, that — (laughter) — that — that we want everybody to enforce the sanctions that are against North Korea appropriately and consistently.  And not everybody does.  And North Korea has benefited from sanctions evasions by countries in the region and beyond the region.  I’ll leave it at that.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Okay.  I’m going to — we’re going to have to start wrapping it up.

Q    Thank you very much, Karine.  Thank you very much, John.  I have a question on Russia and growing ties between China and Russia.  Putin is reportedly visiting China this month, and right before this visit, just last week, we learned that Russian police raided the homes of Falun Gong practitioners in Russia — this is a group persecuted in China — and detained several of them. 

Does — does the White House have any reaction to this?  And then I have a follow-up one.

MR. KIRBY:  I haven’t seen the reports about the detention of these individuals.  If the — if they’re true, certainly, that would be concerning to us.  But I’d probably refer you to the State Department to speak a little bit more about that than — than I can. 

Just, again, writ — writ large, we have seen China and Russia try to go — grow closer together.  We believe a big reason for that is, frankly, the United States and — and putting themselves in positions to — to either oppose our foreign policy objectives or to try to be an obstacle to them in many, many different ways. 

So, it’s — it’s concerning to us. 

The most specific concern that we have right now is the fact that some Chinese companies are providing microelectronics and components so that Mr. Putin can continue his defense industrial base improvements and developments and put weapons in the field that just kill innocent Ukrainians.

And, again, we’ve been — we’ve made those concerns clear directly to our Chinese counterparts and at the U.N.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  All right.  Jared.  Ja- — oh, yeah —

Q    Oh —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  You have the last question.

Q    Yeah, I did want to ask just a clarification, first, on the King’s visit.  Is he meeting with any other senior administra- — Defense Department, anybody?

MR. KIRBY:  I — I — not that I’m aware of.

Q    So, this wasn’t, like, a broader bilateral, kind of —

MR. KIRBY:  No.  No, the President hosted him for lunch.  They’ve done this before in the past.

Q    And, secondly, can you give us a —

MR. KIRBY:  I — I can’t — but, look, I — I can’t speak to his whole schedule while he’s in town.  So, I’m not aware of any other meetings, but that doesn’t mean that he’s got something —

Q    But it wasn’t, like, a broader bilateral here at the White House?


Q    And on the pier, the temporary pier, if you could give us an update on that and whether or not, like, a ceasefire would need to be in place for that to be fully implemented and operational.

MR. KIRBY:  A ceasefire doesn’t have to be in place for the pier to operate.  Now, obviously, somewhat — it’s a whole heck of a lot easier if there’s no fighting going on.  But it doesn’t have to be. 

In fact, one of the big issues that we are still working out is what the force protection laydown would look like and how the — not — not just the people operating the pier but the material itself can be safe from any — any attack. 

As far as I know — and, again, you should go to the Pentagon for more detail — the — essentially, the pier itself has been constructed.  It is not in place because, last week, they had some weather issues in the Eastern Med, so they weren’t able to put it in place. 

You should go to the Pentagon for, like, where it is right now.  As I understand it, it’s still not being put into place.

Then you’ve got to anchor it, and you’ve got to make sure you build a causeway so you can get to and from it.  And so, there’s still a lot of work that has to be done to get it operational, and that would include the force protection laydown.

But no, the short answer to your question is you don’t have to have a ceasefire in place to use the temporary pier.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thank you, Admiral.  Appreciate it.

MR. KIRBY:  Thank you, Karine.  Appreciate your — appreciate your patience.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  No, you’re all good.  Thank you.

Q    Thank you.

Q    Thank you, John.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Thanks. 

All right.  I do have a couple of things at the top.  I wanted to get to the — to the Admiral at the beginning. 

So — so, tomorrow, the President will deliver remarks during the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s annual Days of Remembrance ceremony.  You can expect the President to make clear that during these sacred days of remembrance, we honor the memory of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust and we recommit to heeding the lessons of this dark chapter: Never again. 

He will speak to the horrors of October 7th, when Hamas unleashed the deadliest day for Jewish people since the Holocaust. 

And he will speak to how, since October 7th, we’ve seen an alarming rise in antisemitism in the U.S. — in our cities, our communities, and our — and on our campuses. 

The President will touch on how his National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism is putting the full force of the federal government behind protecting the Jewish community and that all Americans must stand united against antisemitism. 

He will reaffirm that we respect and protect the fundamental right to free speech, but there is no place on any campus or anywhere for antisemitism.  There is no place for hate speech or threats of violence against — against the Jewish people. 

Next, today, as part of the Economic Opportunity Tour, Vice President Harris is traveling to Michigan to announce $100 million in funding and resources for small- and medium-size auto manufacturers and auto workers. 

The Vice President will also announce actions to expand workforce training and improve job quality in the EV supply chain. 

For decades, trickle-down econ- — e- — economics drove manufacturers overseas.  Thanks to the Biden-Harris administration’s Investing in America agenda, companies are making historic investments in EV battery supply manufacturing.  More than 20 auto and battery plants have been announced, after no net new plants opened under the previous administration. 

Historic contracts secured the — by the UAW and the Big Three automakers in Detroit, as well as recent organizing victories, like Volkswagen in Chattanooga, Tennessee, ensure that these jobs of the future will provide comp- — comparable wages, retirement security, and respect at work.

These actions build on the Biden-Harris administration’s ongoing work to ensure that the workers and businesses that built the auto industry remain community anchors for generations to come. 

And, finally, I want to acknowledge some important news.  While the previous administrations oversaw the largest one-year increase in murders ever recorded, under the President’s — this President’s leadership, President Biden, violent crime is at a nearly 50-year low. 

Thanks to the extraordinary efforts of law enforcement and community leaders, Americas are safe — Americans are safer from violent crime today than they were a year ago.  Violent crime declined across every category in the first quarter of 2024, and murders are down 17 percent. 

Let me be clear here: This reduction in crime is no accident.  President Biden and his administration are taking historic action to make our communities safer and give our law enforcement officers the tools they need to protect and serve.

We are stopping the flow of illegal guns and making the largest-ever federal investment in fighting and preventing crime through the American Rescue Plan, which every Republican in Congress voted against.  But we can’t stop now. 

Through the Safe [Safer] America — America Plan, the President is calling on Congress to invest $37 billion to support law enforcement and crime prevention.  Every family deserves to live in a safe community.

With that, Seung Min.

Q    Thanks.  You had another school, Columbia University, announce this morning that they’re canceling commencement ceremonies.  I’m wondering if the White House is concerned that the situation on college campuses is not calming down, despite what the President said last week.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I want to quote what the President said from last week, as you laid that out for me.  And here’s the quote: “Peaceful protest in America — violent protest is not protected; peaceful protest is.  It’s against the law when violence occurs.  Destroying property is not a peaceful protest.  It’s against the law.  Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations — none of this is a peaceful protest.”

And it is unfortunate that a small group — a small group of people went too far and cost their classmates this important event.  We’ve talked about it many times from here.  When it’s — when it comes to commencement day and when it comes to speaking at commencement events, this is something that the President has done for some time now.  And he understands that this is a moment of joy, a moment of celebration.  And — and we feel for them.  We feel for each of the graduates. 

And — and we’re going to continue to reiterate the President’s comments and statements and what we’ve said from this podium to call for protest peacefully.  And that’s what we’re going to continue to do. 

But we do feel for them.  These are graduates who are going to miss out on an incredibly important day of commencement.

Q    Quick follow-up.  Does the White House anticipate any issues — or how are you preparing for any potential issues when he delivers the remarks at Morehouse later this month?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, I’m not going to get into — I’m not going to speculate on what might happen, might not happen.  Obviously, when it comes to any type of — when it comes to events and security, that’s something that Secret Service obviously is going to — going to deal with and — and figure that out on their end.  But I’m not going to get into specu- — to speculate from here. 

I’m just going to reiterate what I just said about how the President truly enjoys doing commencement speeches.  He understands how important — not just for the graduate but the families and the loved ones that are there to celebrate a really, truly important day.  And so, that’s what we’re looking forward to. 

As you know, the President is also going to go to West Point and honor — honor those who serve to protect our country.  And — and so — and we’ll continue to do that, obviously.  And so, that’s what he’s going to look forward to: really being there for the graduates and lifting them up in this moment.

Q    Thank you, Karine.  Congressman Ro Khanna said that the President should and will be out visiting these campus among the protests — amid the protests.  Is there any plan for him to get out there and talk to students —


Q    — right now?  Okay. 

And then, separately, GW’s president has called for Metro Police in D.C. to intervene to dismantle what they’ve deemed an illegal encampment.  And D.C. police have so far refused to respond to that call.  It’s happening in the President’s backyard.  Is there any reaction from the White House on what should happen?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, that is something that I’m going to leave to the local law enforcement and universities.  That’s for them to figure out, for them to work it through.  They know what is happening on the ground.  And we’ve always been very clear about that.  And we’ll continue to be clear about that.

We’re going to continue to call for peaceful protest.  And, you know, dissent cannot lead to disorder.  And so, going to continue to be very, very clear, as the President has been, as I have been, as so many of us here on — in this administration has been.

Q    Any idea why D.C. police would not respond —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I would —

Q    — to this call?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I would refer you to the D.C. police.  That’s something for them to speak to.

Q    Okay.

Q    In the back.


Q    And then, j- — lastly, on these reported plans for the U.S. to bring over Palestinian refugees, potentially.  Is there anything you can tell us about where we are in the works with that?  And what — I know it would have to depend on coordination with Egypt, which so far has been resistant to cooperate on this.  What — what can you tell us about this plan?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t have anything further to announce.  I know I was asked this question a couple of times last week.  I just don’t have anything else to share.

Go ahead, Steve.

Q    Karine, the — the speech tomorrow, is it a broad-brush speech or will he get into some of the specifics of the Gaza conflict?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I’m not going to get ahead of the President too much.  Obviously, it is a day of remembrance.  You know the term.  We — as I just stated at the top: Never forget — or never again. 

And so, certainly the President will — will talk about that day and how horrific it was for the Jewish — Jewish Americans, Jewish community. 

I just don’t want to get too far ahead.  But obviously, it’s an important day for — for not just Jewish Americans but Americans more broadly.

Q    Thank you.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead, Karen.

Q    Thanks, Karine.  Given the key role that Jordan has played over the last several months in the Middle East — especially on humanitarian aid — and the day’s development, there was obviously a lot of news value to the King’s visit today. 


Q    Why didn’t we see the President and the King together for a photo op?  Why was that closed press?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, look, we try to do everything that we can, obviously, to give you all as much access, give the press as much access.  It is sometimes the — the visitor — the visiting country have — you know, they have their own requests, and we try to certainly accommodate their request as well.

And so, look, we will try all — every — at every turn, at every of these events to make sure that there is press — there is press access.

In this particular instance, it’s a — it was a private lunch.  And we tried to also accommodate the visitors that come here as well.

Q    So, the King did not want to do anything on camera today?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I — I would leave it up to — to the King and his team to speak to that.  But, again, we try to also accommodate the visiting country as well.

Q    And if there’s any news from the Israeli side on this — the — where things stand, should we expect to hear from the President today or this evening on this?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I don’t have anything to — of note or any changes to the President’s schedule at this time.  Obviously, if there i- — are any changes, we — you all will be one of the first, if not the first, to know.  I just don’t have anything at this time. 

The President was going to speak tomorrow.  So, stay tuned.

AIDE:  Karine.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Go ahead.  Go ahead.

Q    Thank you.  I just wanted to go again at the speech the President is —


Q    — is exp- — is giving tomorrow.  I mean, just given the context in which he’s giving it, where there’s — you know, 34,000 people have died in Gaza.  He’s going to be talking about “never again” and a genocide.  And he’s protested almost everywhere he goes, you know, with that moniker of — of “Genocide Joe.” 

And it’s a — I’m just wondering: How is he going to sort of thread the needle of — of address- — of addressing a genocide that happened quite a while ago while there are some people who are saying that there is one happening right now that he bears some responsibility for? 

I mean, I understand that that’s not the view of the administration, but it’s still a very tricky line to — to walk.  And I’m just wondering if you can share any sort of thought as to whether he may be trying to send us a subtle message with the speech at all or if there’s any sort of nod to the broader context in which the speech is being given.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  So, I’m going to let the President speak for himself.  I gave a broad stroke of the day —

Q    Yes.

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  — and how important it’s going to be for the President to speak on this Day of Remembrance, the ceremony.  So, just going to be really mindful there. 

On your broader question, look, the President understands that this is an incredibly painful time.  And we have said that over and over again, and we understand that.  And he also respects the right of all Americans to peacefully protest and also with the understanding and — and the knowledge of having those conversations, those sometimes really tough conversations with community leaders. 

And we have done that on the White — White House — you’ve heard from senior White House officials — or you’ve heard us talk about senior White House officials going across the country, having those conversations with Muslim leaders, Arab leaders, Palestinian leaders in talking through this painful moment. 

And I would also — also say that this is why this hostage deal is so important.  This is why we continue to work around the clock.  This is why Director Burns is there meeting — and obviously meeting — continuing to meet with partners in the region to try to get to this deal so we can get that all-important humanitarian aid, get that ceasefire that is much needed, and also make sure that we get the hostages home, which also — American hostages are part of those hostages, and we need to get them home to their loved ones. 

So, that’s what we’re going to continue to do.  The President will speak for himself tomorrow.  So, I would say: Tune in.  Listen to what he has to say.  But we understand how painful this is for many, many communities across this country. 


Q    Has he had an input from any of those communities that you mentioned?  Like, as he’s been sort of wrestling with his speech and working on it, have any of those communities had any input into what he should say or what (inaudible) —

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  I can’t speak — I can’t to — to that — that question about input from communities.  But the President understands how important this moment is.  And I would say this is a president that tends to meet the moment when it comes to speeches and remarks like these.  He understands what’s going on, has the finger — his finger is on the pulse as far as what people are feeling. 

And so, I’m just not going to get beyond that.  And I would say: Tune in.

Go ahead, Gabe.

Q    Karine, just really quickly.


Q    What’s your response to Kristi Noem’s comments implying that Commander should be put down?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Look, you know, when we learned last week, obviously, like all of you, in her book that she killed her puppy, you heard me say that was very, very sad. 

We find her comments from yesterday disturbing.  We find them absurd.  And — and here, this is a country that loves dogs.  And you have a leader talking about putting dogs down, killing them.  And that’s a disturbing statement to say.

I would say to — I would say to her — is she should — probably should stop digging herself in a hole. 

Thanks, everybody.

Q    Where — where is Commander now?

MS. JEAN-PIERRE:   Who?  Oh.  So, Commander — we said this back in the fall.  Commander is living with family members. 

Q    Where?

Q    In Delaware?


MS. JEAN-PIERRE:  Yes.  We said this before. 

All right.  Thanks, everybody. 

3:14 P.M. EDT

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