National Security Council
Via Teleconference

10:34 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Hey.  Good morning, everyone.  Thanks so much for joining today’s News of the Day Gaggle with White House National Security Comms Advisor John Kirby.  I’ll turn it over to him for a topper, and then we’ll take some of your questions.

MR. KIRBY:  Good morning, everybody.  So, just right off the top, since I know many of you are closely tracking the events out of Nairobi, we hope you can understand that this is an evolving situation and we’re working to obtain and to help you get as much information as quickly as possible. 

We’ve all seen the reporting, and I just want to stress again that the United States is deeply concerned about and we condemn the reported violence in all its forms.  We offer our deepest condolences, of course, to the families who have been impacted by this violence.  And we continue to urge restraint so that no further Kenyans are put in harm’s way while exercising their right to peaceful public assembly.  That right is protected by the Kenyan constitution, and we believe it must be respected. 

The United States has been in touch with the Kenyan government to urge appropriate use of force by the police, to respect human rights, and quite frankly, to respect due process for those that have been detained.  And we will continue to push for calm to prevail. 

And now, yesterday — switching to Haiti — the Multinational Security Support Mission, that will grow eventually to 2,500 multinational personnel, arrived in Haiti.  As you know, this effort is being led by Kenya and with strong support from the United States.  The mission includes personnel, financial support from over a dozen countries that will support the Haitian National Police as they increase their anti-gang operations, build their capacity to maintain public safety, and to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches everybody in need.

The United States is this particular mission’s largest financial contributor and the largest donor to Haiti in general, providing more than $300 million and up to $60 million in equipment.  And we’re going to continue our diplomatic outreach to encourage others to join that effort as well. 

We’ve also worked with Kenya and other partners to integrate critically important accountability and oversight measures into the mission. 

Now, I want to be clear right at the top here: This mission is not going to solve all of Haiti’s problems, but it is a good, positive first step and to provide the best chance for Haiti to get on a path toward democratic governance and rule of law.  It is about making the Haitian National Police better — better resourced, better led, better trained, better capable.  That’s what this is about, and we’re going into it with that in mind. 

Shifting topics, if I could: Today, we also welcomed the announcement that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will serve as the next Secretary General of NATO.  President Biden and Prime Minister Rutte have worked very closely together over the past decade when Joe Biden was Vice President and, of course, now that he’s Commander-in-Chief.  And they work together on a variety of issues, including our shared strong support for Ukraine, on safeguarding advanced technologies, and strengthening the transatlantic alliance.  President Biden strongly believes that Mark Rutte will make an excellent Secretary General.  And he’s grateful for his willingness to serve in that capacity. 

We’d also like to thank, of course, Jens Stoltenberg for a decade of service to the Alliance during the most consequential period of European security since World War Two.  Under his leadership, the NATO Alliance has become larger and stronger, and Allied unity is at an all-time high, which has been an important priority for President Biden. 

And that takes us right — I mean, his leadership has really guided us right toward next month’s 75th anniversary summit for NATO, here in Washington, D.C., which will be followed by the leadership transition, of course, in the fall when President — I’m sorry, when Secretary General Stoltenberg steps down and the new Secretary General, Mark Rutte, steps into the job. 

Finally, as you all know, Evan Gershkovich appeared in court today for the start of what we view as nothing more than a sham trial.  I’ll state it again: Evan has never been employed by the United States government.  Evan is not a spy.  Journalism is not a crime.  And Evan should never have been detained in the first place. 

Russia has failed to justify Evan’s continued detention.  He, like fellow American Paul Whelan, is simply being used as a bargaining chip.  Embassy Moscow was granted brief access to the courtroom before the proceedings began today.  They were not permitted to speak with Evan.  So, obviously, we’re going to follow this closely.  And of course, our embassy in Moscow will continue to seek to attend any and all future hearings. 

Now, look, I think this goes without saying too, but all of us — all of us admire Evan’s resilience.  I’ve seen a reporting that his friends say he continues to be in good spirits, which is just incredible given what he’s going through.  While he shouldn’t be going through these proceedings at all, it’s always reassuring to see his smile and to hear reports of his morale. 

We want both Evan and Paul to know that we all care deeply about their wellbeing and that this administration will continue to do everything it can to bring them home, and that includes, right now, the effort to try to find a way to get these guys released back to their families, where they belong, is ongoing.  It’s alive, and we’re keeping at it. 

And with that, I can start taking some questions. 

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  First up, we’ll go to Aamer Madhani.

Q    Hey there, John.  Is Israel’s launch — is an Israeli launch, cross-border offensive, Lebanon (inaudible) Hezbollah — if that were to happen, will the U.S. back Israel militarily?

And then secondly, on the Assange case, was the White House involved in helping forge the agreement that led to Assange’s release?  And has the President discussed the matter with the prime minister or any other Australian government officials ahead of the announcement?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, the White House was not involved in any way whatsoever in Julian Assange’s case, and the decisions pursuant to that, to his sentencing and his repatriation back to Israel.  That was a DOJ matter, and they’re the only ones that can speak to it. 

I don’t have any conversations to read out to you from the President with respect to this.  The White House was not involved in any way. 

On your first question — look, first and foremost, we don’t want to see a second front opened up, period.  And that’s why we’ve been working so hard on diplomacy and trying to find a way diplomatically to prevent that from happening.  We don’t believe that it’s going to be in anybody’s interest, quite frankly, least of all the Israeli people.  So we’re working diplomatically to prevent that outcome from happening.  That’s where our focus is on. 

But as we have said repeatedly, and as we will continue to say: We stand with Israel.  We’re going to continue to make sure Israel has what it needs to defend itself.  And as the President has proven in the past, if there’s a way we can prevent further attacks on Israel, we’ll do that.  And certainly, we’re going to continue to help Israel defend itself; that’s not going to change. 

But as for a hypothetical, specifically with respect to the northern border line, the Blue Line there with Lebanon, again, we want to see no second front opened, and we want to see if we can’t resolve the tensions out there through diplomatic processes. 

MODERATOR:  Next up, we’ll go to Jeff Mason.

Q    Thank you very much.  John, Jake Sullivan has a meeting today with Mr. Gallant of Israel.  Could you give us a sense of what you expect the two of them to discuss and also what time that is and whether or not we should expect a readout?

MR. KIRBY:  Hey, Jeff.  You broke up a little bit, but I think I got the gist of the question.  This was about Jake’s meeting with Defense Minister Gallant. 

Q    Yes.

MR. KIRBY:  He’s meeting with him as we speak, Jeff.  That meeting started a little bit after nine o’clock.  And as far as I know, sitting here, it’s still ongoing.  And we absolutely will have a readout of it. 

Broadly speaking, I don’t think you should expect any major surprises coming out of this discussion.  I mean, Jake is looking forward to sitting down with Defense Minister Gallant to talk about what’s going on in Gaza; to talk about — to get a sense of Israeli operations, not only what they look like now, but what they’re going to look like in the future; to talk about how we’re going to continue to defend Israel and make sure that they have what they need. 

And obviously, they will talk about the — what Aamer just asked me about — the tensions up near Lebanon and that border, and what the path forward could look like for a diplomatic solution to this, to prevent a second front from opening up. 

I have every expectation that they will talk about the broader concerns of Iran in the region and their destabilizing behavior and the manner in which they, Iran, continue to resource, to fund, to support, to train groups that are now attacking Israel but also are supporting such attacks. 

So I think the full range of topics will be discussed.  I think, also, I would have every expectation that the humanitarian situation will be front and center for Jake, for sure.  He’ll want to talk to the Israelis about what more we can do to get more trucks in and not only get them in, but get them to the people that most need that aid and assistance. 

As you know, though Kerem Shalom is open and trucks are queued up outside, not a lot of them are getting in, and it’s not because of the Israelis; it’s largely because just criminal gangs now are looting these trucks.  And the World Food Program and the U.N. drivers are obviously concerned about getting attacked.  And so, we’re going have to continue to work with the Israelis to try to address that problem as well. 

So, again, I think a broad, big agenda, lots to talk about, but we’ll have a readout when it’s over.

MODERATOR:  Next up, we’ll go to Kellie Meyer.  You should be able to unmute yourself.

Q    Hi, John.  Thanks for doing this.  A couple quick questions just on the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs warning of a threat to U.S. troops in the region — as we’ve been discussing, the tensions between Hezbollah and Israel.  Any more precautions that are being taken that you can speak to right now?

MR. KIRBY:  One of the things I’m very careful to do is not talk about the specifics on force protection and what we do to ensure force protection.  I would refer you to the Chairman to speak to that more.  I don’t know how much more he’d get into that. 

We’re certainly mindful of the risk to our troops and our facilities throughout the region.  And that risk has certainly not mitigated in recent months, obviously, with what’s going on.  So it’s something we’re watching very closely.  We continue to monitor it.  We also modify force protection procedures and protocols as the threat changes, and it does change.  But I think I need to leave it there. 

MODERATOR:  Next up, we’ll go to Aurelia.

Q    Hi.  Thanks so much for taking my question.  A follow-up on Kenya.  Not that long ago, President Ruto was at the White House, and President Biden said Kenya and the United States share democratic values.  Would you say that this is maybe — this is still the case after the response to the protests?  And more generally, does the administration condemn the use of force against the protesters?  Otherwise, how would you qualify what Kenyan police did in Nairobi?

MR. KIRBY:  I’ll tell you, you know, as a democracy, the Kenyan constitution does allow for the use of defense forces to augment police, particularly like in protecting critical infrastructure.  At the same time, that same constitution includes freedom of assembly and the right to protest peacefully, and calls for the government of Kenya to respect the rights of all its citizens. 

So, again, we remain deeply concerned about the violence that we’ve seen, and we absolutely condemn the violence.  We don’t want to see anybody hurt.  And that includes violence that’s perpetrated on innocent, peaceful protesters. 

So we’re going to be in touch.  We have been in touch.  We’re going to stay in touch with our Kenyan colleagues as appropriate.

MODERATOR:  Next up, we’ll go to Alex Ward.

Q    John, I know — thanks for doing this.  I know, you know, the administration has responded a thousand times to the stuff about, you know, the weapons delays or — reported weapons delays, et cetera.  But there’s been reporting today that, basically, it seems like there’s been a — because the U.S. has sent so many weapons ahead of time, there’s just been sort of a lower amount headed now, and wondering if you think that might be the issue. 

And then, sort of number two here, relatedly is: Is Netanyahu someone the administration really feels they can work with now?  Obviously, he is the prime minister, and he is — but he is the interlocutor, but is he someone you guys feel you can have good-faith conversations with about this conflict now?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  Alex, on your first question, I just want to make a couple of points, because I’m not going to — I can’t speak to the State Department process here.  They run this process by which foreign military sales and provisions of weapons and assistance, you know, get to Israel.  So I’ll let them speak to sequencing and timing.  You know, we don’t have perfect visibility on that here to speak to that reporting and that process. 

I would just tell you, number one: Aid and assistance, military assistance, continues to flow to Israel; that we are in constant touch with our Israeli counterparts about what they need and doing everything we can to get them what they need.  I mean, my goodness, you have the defense minister here today.  Actually, you know, this week he’s been here having meetings; met with Blinken, met with Austin, and now he’s meeting with Jake today.  I mean, nobody can say that we’re not attune to and staying in touch with the Israelis about what they need. 

Number two, as you and I speak here, Alex, there remains only one shipment of high-density, low-precision munitions that has been paused.  Everything else continues to flow.  Again, on the timeline, you know, I’d have to — and the sequencing — I’d have to refer you to State.  But Israel continues to get arms and ammunition.  It continues to flow.  We want to make sure that they have what they need.  And that will — that commitment will not waver. 

On your second question, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I would just tell you that these are two leaders who have known each other a long, long time — decades.  And they come from different political traditions.  They have differing views on a number of issues that are germane not only to the region, but certainly specific to Israel.  And they are absolutely competent and capable of being honest with one another.  He is the elected prime minister of the State of Israel, and he, therefore, is the leader that we will work with and we have worked with him. 

I’m not saying that it’s all been smooth in every single instance, including in recent days, but we are not going to get into — we’re not going to respond to every one of the Prime Minister’s political statements and his public pronouncements.  What we’re focused on is making sure, again, that they have what they need.  And we believe we’re fully capable of doing that with Prime Minister Netanyahu and with this government. 

And that’s what we’re focused on.  It’s head down — it’s making sure that Israel can defend itself, but just as critically, as I said earlier, that we continue to get humanitarian assistance in to the people who are in need and that we get this ceasefire deal in place. 

It’s one of the things that — we haven’t talked about it this morning, but we’re still working with the Prime Minister and his team to try to get the ceasefire deal in place so that we can potentially end this conflict.  And that’s what we’re focused on.  And that means we’re going to stay focused on that effort with the Prime Minister and his team because he’s the government in place. 

MODERATOR:  Next up, we’ll go to Brad Dress.

Q    Yeah, thank you.  Just one question.  So, despite U.S. efforts, the Houthis are continuing to attack merchant ships.  And now they appear to be getting more successful.  Why are efforts not working?  And do you think the U.S. needs a new strategy to deter that?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  I think a couple of things are germane here.  There’s a religious fervor that the Houthi leadership have instilled into this effort.  As I went to the podium a while ago — a week or so ago — and laid out for everybody, this isn’t about standing up for the people of Gaza.  It’s not about — it’s not some popular movement to assist people in the region, because the ships that they’re hitting, sometimes, in one case in particular, was meant to go to a Yemeni port to bring in grain to hungry people in Yemen.  They have instilled this sort of religious fervor to this and made it some sort of cause célèbre here.  And when you do that, it becomes even more difficult to, as you put it, deter and dissuade.  We’re mindful of that. 

So what we’re focused on is taking away their capability to conduct the attacks.  And that is why we continue to hit targets inside Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen where we think an attack is imminent and about to occur.  We’re going to continue to do that.  That’s why we still have a coalition of 20-some-odd nations operating in the Red Sea and beyond to try to defend against these attacks. 

And while, yes, they have had a couple of successful strikes in most recent days — and I know one vessel in particular sank as a result of the attack — by and large, most of their attacks are not successful.  You don’t see press releases about it; you don’t necessarily see video of it.  But they miss a whole hell of a lot more than they hit, and that’s because we’re out there working hard to make sure that that’s the outcome, at the same time making sure that we’re doing everything we can to try to degrade their capabilities. 

But they’re still getting supplied; they’re still getting resourced by Iran.  And as I said earlier, I have no doubt that that will be a topic of discussion when Jake and Defense Minister Gallant speak today, about what we can do together to try to take away some of those capabilities.  And that’s what we’re focused on. 

MODERATOR:  Next up, we’ll go to Nadia Charters.

Q    Thank you, Eduardo.  Hi, John.  A couple of questions.  Canada has called its citizens to leave Lebanon.  What is the U.S. assessment regarding a similar call?  I know you have not done something similar to that.  Do you believe that the situation is safe for U.S. citizens to stay in Lebanon?

And second, any update — I know you mentioned the negotiation with Hamas.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Hamas is insisting that they will accept the deal if phase three clearly calls for the end of the war.  And this is the sticking point with the Israelis.  Israelis said we’re happy to go along, but phase three does not mean end of the war.  Can you just give us your perspective on that?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  On your first question, I’m going to refer you to the State Department.  Obviously, we want all Americans in Lebanon who are still there, either on business or other travel, to be as careful as possible to make sure that they have registered with the State Department system so that the State Department can stay in regular touch with them and that they do everything they can to be — to watch out for their own safety. 

But as for any announcements or pronouncements, that’s really a State Department call, and I’d have to refer you to them. 

Clearly, nothing is more important to President Biden than the safety and security of Americans wherever they are.  And that includes overseas, and that certainly includes a place like Lebanon.

What we’re trying to do is prevent a second front from opening up.  We’re trying to prevent an escalation of this conflict that certainly would put the people of Israel and of Lebanon at greater physical risk than the risk that is already being incurred by them, particularly those that live near the Blue Line.  We want to prevent that outcome, which is why we have been working so hard diplomatically and intensely, thus so, to prevent a second front from opening up and an expansion of this conflict. 

But we will, as appropriate, of course, stay in touch with all Americans in Lebanon.  Those that sign up to be informed, we’ll make sure that they have the latest and greatest information. 

But as for any particular pronouncements, that would be a State Department call. 

On your second question, the President laid this out really, really well at the end of May.  He laid out the entire, sort of, phasing of this process.  And it is advancing that phasing and that process that we’re focused on, where you want to get to phase one.  Phase one gives you six weeks of a ceasefire; it gives you more humanitarian assistance, up to 600 trucks a day; and obviously, critically, it gets a first rendering of hostages — women, children, the elderly, sick — out quickly, back to their families. 

And then as the President laid out, Nadia, while phase one is ongoing, the two sides then begin to negotiate phase two.  So, I understand.  I’ve seen public pronouncements and comments of people, you know, on either side, where they want to sort of leapfrog over the process.  But the process as we’ve laid out, the process that Israel itself proposed and has endorsed calls for phase two negotiations to begin when phase one is agreed to and underway, that’s the process that we still believe is the right one and the appropriate one.  And that’s the one that we’re going to continue to talk to both sides about. 

And we still believe that discussions about it are valuable and warranted.  And we’re going to do everything we can to see if we can’t get phase one implemented and started so that the rest of the process can take place. 

Then last thing I’ll say is, as the President said in his speech on the 31st of May, that you get to phase two — if you can get phase two negotiated and complete, well, that potentially — you know, that gives you a potential cessation to the hostilities itself.

MODERATOR:  Next up, we’ll go to Marek.

Q    Thank you, Eduardo.  Hi, John.  One question.  According to Reuters, two close advisors to Donald Trump have presented him with a plan to end Russia’s war in Ukraine, in essence by forcing Ukraine to the negotiating table and the ceasefire based on so-called prevailing battle lines.  From what we know about the plan right now, which side would this plan benefit if it’s implemented?  And does it make sense, this framework?  Does it make sense to you?

MR. KIRBY:  Look, I think you all know — I think I missed the beginning of your question.  But is this a proposal put forth by folks on the Trump team?  Is that what you were saying?

Q    Yes.  General Kellogg and — they say that they have positive feedback from former president.

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.  Yeah, yeah.  Okay.  I thought that’s what you said. 

Look, I would just — I would just say a couple of things here.  First of all, in our view, I’m not going to comment about the 2024 election.  I’m not going to get, you know, into a public debate here with respect to what former President Trump’s advisors may or may not be talking to him about it. 

So, with that as a caveat, the President’s commitment to supporting Ukraine has been manifestly steady and strident and consistent.  We built a global coalition now — more than 50 countries that are supporting Ukraine as they defend themselves.  He just signed at the G7 in Italy, a week or so ago, a historic bilateral security agreement with Ukraine.  And he understands — he understands that the stronger Ukraine’s position is on the battlefield, the stronger they will be at the negotiating table when that time comes, Marek.  And you know who gets to decide when that time comes?  President Zelenskyy.  And nobody else. 

And what we’ve said is: Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.  And we’re standing strong to make sure that President Zelenskyy has everything he needs so that if and when he’s ready to go to the table, he can do it from a position of strength and that he knows he’s got our backing and the backing of those some 50-some-odd countries. 

Unlike some folks, President Biden believes that any decisions about negotiations, quite frankly, have got to be up to President Zelenskyy and Ukraine.  We’re not going to force Ukraine to surrender any of its territory, because we understand that if Putin is allowed to conquer Ukraine and subjugate its people, any of its people, the consequences would be severe.  He and dictators all around the world would just be emboldened, and we think the world would be a much more dangerous place. 

I think that pretty much sums up our views.

MODERATOR:  Next up, we’ll go to Laura Kelly.

Q    Hi.  Thank you for taking my question.  Just going back to the distribution of aid in Gaza, what is the White House position on where responsibility for distribution rests?  There’s this blame game going on between Israel and the international aid organizations with security inside Gaza for distribution being seen — I think is one of the major impediments.  So who’s responsible for security at this point?  What does the White House want to see happen?

MR. KIRBY:  We want to see the ceasefire deal in place.  We want to get that ceasefire deal in place — 

Q    But, like, while you’re working on the ceasefire deal.

MR. KIRBY:  No, but — let me finish.

We want to see the ceasefire deal in place.  Because if you get that ceasefire deal in place, you get six weeks of calm; you get six weeks of calm, you can maybe get up to several hundred trucks a day.  And the goal of phase one is 600 trucks a day.  So you ask me what we want to see.  We want to see this deal put in place, which is why we —

Q    So the challenge of getting — the challenge of not distributing humanitarian aid is pressure on Hamas to go to the ceasefire deal?

MR. KIRBY:  No.  Look, there’s a lot of reasons why aid and assistance is being held up.  One of the principal reasons right now is criminal gangs that are operating particularly at Kerem Shalom.  That’s not the Israelis’ fault.  And as far as we know, these gangs have no connection to Hamas specifically. 

So we’re going to continue to work with the U.N.  We’ve been talking to the U.N. about seeing if we can’t help get them personal protective gear and equipment, communications, radio communication, so that their truck drivers can feel a little bit more safe, which you can’t very well blame these guys for being a little bit nervous about driving a truck into Gaza when their convoys and their trucks could be attacked by these criminal gangs and thugs.  And we — so we’re going to obviously work with them and the IDF to see what can be done about that. 

But, yes, look, security of these convoys is a live issue.  And I’m not trying to pull — take Hamas off the hook here, because Hamas has, in fact, allowed some of this activity to go on and don’t have the best interests of the people of Gaza forefront in their minds.  In fact, we’ve all seen Sinwar’s comments about how civilian casualties and civilian suffering actually works — he believes works to his advantage.  So, Hamas is absolutely partly responsible here for this as well. 

But there’s — you know, it’s a combat zone.  And combat operations and combat areas certainly make the delivery of humanitarian assistance a lot more challenging.  So we’re going to continue to talk to the U.N., we’re going to talk to the IDF about what we can do to make it safer and to make it more palatable for these drivers to take this aid in.  But the way to get to that, the real answer to this is to get to phase one of this ceasefire deal.  You get hostages home to their families.  You get six weeks of a sustainable calm that will allow the comfort level for aid organizations to increase to a degree where they can move freely about Gaza.  If you have a six-week ceasefire in place, then nobody is shooting at anybody, and it should be a lot easier to move humanitarian assistance.

MODERATOR:  Thanks.  Next up, we’ll go to Paris Wong.

Q    Hello.  Thank you, John.  I’m going to focus to Indo-Pacific region.  So, in an interview on Tuesday, Philippines ambassador to the U.S. said if there’s a conflict between Taiwan and China that would affect the Philippines, that it would most likely agree to the U.S. using its military bases in the defense of Taiwan.  So does the Biden administration welcome Philippines’ willingness to work with the U.S. on Taiwan safety? And also, does this mean the United States has successfully mobilized from North Asia to Southeast Asia, from Japan to Philippines, to form a security network in the Indo-Pacific?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  I think you know I’m not going to get into hypotheticals or speculate about the conflict across the Taiwan Strait.  Nothing has changed about our One China policy.  We don’t want to see the status quo changed or altered unilaterally.  We certainly don’t want to see it changed or altered by force. 

And everything the President has been doing — in our conversations with the PRC, in our work with allies like South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines — has been designed to prevent that outcome from happening.  And that’s what we’re focused on. 

The Philippines is a treaty ally.  We take our alliance commitments seriously with the Philippines, as we have demonstrated certainly in recent weeks and months.  And it was terrific to have President Marcos here to participate in the first-ever trilat between the United States, Japan, and the Philippines when we were hosting Prime Minister Kishida for the state visit as well.

So, an awful lot of work has been done by President Biden and this team in terms of shoring up our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.  And the reason you do that is to make it clear that we don’t want to see a conflict, that we do have the capabilities in place to defend ourselves and defend our allies, and that there should be no reason for any of these tensions to erupt into conflict whatsoever.

MODERATOR:  Thanks, everyone.  That’s all the time we have for today.  If you have any follow-up questions, feel free to reach out to our team.  Thanks again.

    11:09 A.M. EDT

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