Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

11:33 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Hey, everyone.  Thank you for joining this on-the-record gaggle with Jake Sullivan.  We have only a short amount of time, so we probably have time to take questions from the room, but we’re going to turn to Jake now.

MR. SULLIVAN:  So, we obviously feel very good about the NATO Summit and its outcomes.  I think you’ve seen a tremendous display of unity.  Genuinely, concrete progress on everything from the defense investment pledge to the contributions that — to 2 percent — that 23 out of 32 Allies are making.  And, in fact, Canada, the final Ally that doesn’t have a plan in place for 2 percent, is getting one in place.  So we’ve got all 32 Allies now on track to get to 2 percent.

And, of course, later today, we’ll have the Ukraine session, where we will see the concrete building blocks in the bridge to NATO that we’ve talked about before, with full agreement from all Allies and full buy-in from Ukraine as well. You may have heard from Andriy Yermak earlier today. 

You know, their view that we are delivering for them is holding significant at this summit, both in terms of the NATO outcomes and the commitments on F-16s and air defense.

So we’re feeling good about where we are.  And I think the broad message coming out of this summit is not just unity, but purpose and resolve and strength from the NATO Alliance on our 75th anniversary. 

So with that, I’d be happy to take your questions.

Q    Jake, obviously this is taking place in the context of the President’s domestic political situation.  He’s talked a lot about how America is back on the world stage.  Have you or the President had any conversation with any world leaders or any of your counterparts expressing concern about the President’s standing here at home and the potential return to a Trump administration?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I haven’t heard that in the President’s conversations with his counterparts.  What I have heard is they went around the table yesterday in the North Atlantic Council session, the session just with the NATO Allies — was a drumbeat of praise for the United States but also for President Biden personally, for what he’s done to strengthen NATO, especially as president but also over the course of his entire career.  And leaders really made a point of reinforcing their gratitude to him on that.

The President met with Prime Minister of the UK yesterday.  That conversation was extended and substantive, particularly on Ukraine, on the situation in the Middle East, and on how we carry forward the special relationship under a new leadership in the UK. 

So the focus here really has been on the substance.  It’s been on what we’re trying to deliver for the defense of the Alliance and deliver for Ukraine and deliver in our partnerships with the Indo-Pacific.  It hasn’t been about politics.

Q    Jake, Ukraine has called for Allies to lift all limits on the use of their weapons.  Is that something the United States would consider or support?

MR SULLIVAN:  We’ve made our position clear, which is, you know, we have a common-sense policy about cross-border strikes when Russia is attacking from the other side of the border.

We’ve seen that play out in Kharkiv; it could potentially play out in other areas of that border like in Sumy.  But we have not authorized the use of ATACMS for deep strike into Russia.  And I don’t have any announcements for you all today.

Q    Just to be clear, though — not having an announcement, does that mean your policy hasn’t changed?

MR. SULLIVAN:  Our policy has not changed.

Q    May I ask about Viktor Orban’s so-called peace mission?  He went to Moscow, Kyiv.  He met with President Xi.  Do you have any reason to believe that this is coordinated with former President Donald Trump?  He will be meeting him.

MR. SULLIVAN:  I’m not going to speculate on that.  All I’ll say is that it certainly isn’t coordinated with the Ukrainians.  They’ve indicated that they have grave misgivings about any effort to negotiate some kind of fake peace with Russia without the Ukrainians being at the heart of that effort.  And the U.S. position, the Biden administration position is: Nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. 

So whatever adventurism is being undertaken without Ukrainian’s consent or support, you know, is not something that’s consistent with our policy or the policy of the United States.  But I can’t speculate as to what Orban is up to exactly or what other people are up to.

Q    Jake, one more.  The White House keeps saying that the Allies know President Biden, they trust him, they’ve seen him on many occasions.  But what’s your message to U.S. enemies who may misread President Biden’s performance at the debate?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I would say look at this summit.  Look at NATO having added two very strong and capable Allies in Finland and Sweden.  Two countries that were historically neutral, avowedly neutral, have now said we’re going to be part of this defensive alliance.

Look at what we’ve gotten the Alliance to do in terms of stepping up on burden-sharing.  Look at what we’ve gotten them to do in terms of investments in their own defense industrial bases.  The capacity and strength of this Alliance should send a clear message to any of our adversaries anywhere in the world.

And as we speak right now, we’ve got Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand sitting in that room, confirming that we will coordinate closely with our closest democratic allies in the Indo-Pacific so that there is a network, a latticework of allies, globally, standing up for democracy and standing against the kind of aggression we’ve seen from Putin and the support for that aggression from some of these other dictators.

Q    Can we ask a bit about the F-16s that are being provisioned?  Anything you can say about how many might be available for Ukraine this year, for instance?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I think it’s a completely fair question to ask for details on numbers, exact dates, exact places.  And those are just things I can’t share for operational reasons.

What we have said is that the transfer is underway and that Ukrainian pilots will be operating in theater this summer in F-16s.  Beyond that, in order to ensure that there is sufficient operational security for them to be able to use this capability effectively, we have to be careful about what we say.

Q    Can you just speak broadly to why the President — the U.S. authorized this?  What do you think the upside is for Ukraine?  What does it mean for Ukraine to have the F-16s made available?

MR. SULLIVAN:  Well, first, just for context, the President first announced his authorization for the transfer — third-party transfer of F-16s.  It’s the Danes and the Dutch actually providing the aircraft.  The U.S., of course, is central to this because it’s a U.S. platform — back in Hiroshima, at the G7, in May of last year.  So, more than a year ago.

So this has been a work in progress because we’ve had to get Ukraine to produce pilots.  Those pilots have had to get trained.  All of the capabilities to support an F-16 squadron or a set of squadrons had to get in place.  And that is a laborious and time-intensive process, as we said at the outset and we’ve been very clear about.

But once in place — the F-16 is a fourth-generation fighter aircraft — it will provide capability to Ukraine to be able to help defend the forces on the frontline and also help Ukraine as it seeks down the road to take back territory as well, territory that Russia currently occupies but that is sovereign Ukrainian territory.

So, it is an important and sophisticated capability, but the ramp-up period to get it operational has been considerable.

Q    Our friends at the AP are also saying $225 million in need and weapons being announced for Ukraine.  Is there anything you can say about that?

MR. SULLIVAN:  The President will have something to say today about that, so I won’t get ahead.

Q    Jake, can I ask you about the situation in Gaza?  I have two questions. 

One is: I just wanted to get confirmation that a portion of the bombs that were paused have been restarted.  Can you explain that?

MR. SULLIVAN:  As the President said a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. policy on this has been clear.  We paused the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs.  That is what we have held, because we believe that they are not able to be effectively used in densely populated areas without causing undue civilian harm.  Two-thousand-pound bombs.

The President has stood by that.  That continues to be our policy.  There’s been no deviation.

We have had shipments where other capabilities that are not 2,000-pound bombs were mixed in.  And this is just a simple logistical matter of unmixing them.  So there’s never been a policy of a pause on capabilities other than 2,000-pound bombs. And there’s not a policy on that today.

Q    Can you give us an update on talks towards a potential pact of some kind to cease hostilities or pause (inaudible)?

MR. SULLIVAN:  We see progress.  We see the possibility of reaching agreement.  Obviously, can’t guarantee that because there’s a lot of details to be hammered through.  Our teams in the region, as we speak, are working through many of those details.  We think that the remaining issues can be resolved, should be resolved.  And we’re going to keep driving until we actually get a deal.  And President Biden will say a few words about this later today.

Q    Do you think you’re more optimistic than you were the last few weeks, since (inaudible)?

MR. SULLIVAN:  “Optimistic” is always a hard word to use in a sentence around this tragic conflict.  But I think the signs are more positive today than they have been in recent weeks.  Yes.

Q    Moving back briefly to Russia, sorry.  There’s an ODNI report that talks about Russians targeting specific demographic groups in its war.  Can you — you must be aware of that report.  Is that of particular concern for the U.S.?

MR. SULLIVAN:  Well, first, I would just say that this is out of the Russian playbook from past elections as well.  So they are repeating a lot of the tactics and tradecraft they’ve used, targeting particular populations in the United States to try to influence the outcome of our election.

And, yes, this is of serious concern to the United States and to me personally.  It’s not a matter of politics; it’s a matter of national security.  This is a hostile foreign power trying to interfere in American democracy, and it should be intolerable to every American.

Q    Another on Russia.  Do you have anything to say about Russia vowing military response to the U.S. deployment of missiles to Germany?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I did not actually see what they said, so I will have to take a look at that before I respond.  You said they vowed a military response?

Q    Yeah.  “Without nerves, without emotions, we will develop a military response, first of all, to this new game.”

MR. SULLIVAN:  Okay.  I mean, I can’t interpret that sentence.  But what we are deploying to Germany is a defensive capability like many other defensive capabilities we’ve deployed across the Alliance across the decades.

So, you know, more Russian saber-rattling obviously is not going to deter us from doing what we think is necessary to keep the Alliance as strong as possible.  And beyond that, we’ll have our opportunities to understand better what the Russian position is on this, and we will respond accordingly.

Q    Jake, just back to the F-16s.  Without getting into operational questions, in terms of basing for those aircraft for operation missions, they would not be taking off from NATO airbases or — NATO nation air-bases — if they’re carrying out operational fights against Russian forces?

MR. SULLIVAN:  The F-16s will be based in Ukraine.

Q    And then, sorry, just one other follow-up.  You were asked about the Orban meeting.  Is the U.S. government aware of his plans to meet with former President Trump?  And do you have any specific response to that piece?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I have not heard directly from anybody about this meeting.  I have heard indirectly about it, as many of you have.  So, that’s basically all (inaudible).

Q    But there hasn’t (inaudible) diplomatic engagement of that that you’re aware of?

MR. SULLIVAN:  Not that I’m aware of.

Q    Can I just quickly go back to talks in the Mideast?  Impossible to tell, but can you give a sense whether a deal could be reached in days?  Or is this just a holding pattern in the negotiations?

MR. SULLIVAN:  Always impossible to handicap, but, you know, these are — this is a complex negotiation with a lot of moving parts and a lot of details to be worked through.  So I think there’s still miles to go before we close, if we are able to close. 

So I don’t want to say that it’s immediately around the corner, but it does not have to be far out in the distance if everyone comes at this with the will to get it done, because the deal is there for the doing.

Q    And you announced today this pact, ICE Pact, as it’s being called?


Q    This is in response in part to collaboration between Russia and China, obviously.  I wonder if you could say a few words about what the U.S. will get under this.

MR. SULLIVAN:  I think this is a very exciting initiative. The ICE Pact is a pact between the U.S., Canada, and Finland, about enhancing the collective capacity of our three countries to build icebreakers at a time when we are seeing an increasing need for those icebreakers from partners around the world who want to operate in both the Arctic and Antarctic regions and can operate there with greater freedom than before because of the impacts of climate change.

And, yes, there are authoritarian nations that are making or offering the icebreakers to the world, want to corner the icebreaker market.  We’re determined to have democracies be in the lead in producing icebreaking capabilities.  Both Canada and Finland have considerable experience in shipyards and producing icebreakers.  The U.S. is currently producing icebreakers for our Coast Guard, but we would like to expand that to include building icebreakers here in the United States, American-made with American jobs, to sell to countries around the world as well.

All three of us stand to benefit from this.  But beyond that, we then will have the industrial base for a capability that has both economic and strategic purposes.  And democracies need that, and the U.S. is happy to be at the center of it.

Also, if we can make this work — and I believe we can make it work — then it becomes a model for other forms of shipbuilding as we go forward.  Other types of capabilities that we can partner with democracies on it becomes a new model for how the United States can both rebuild its own shipbuilding industry and also ensure that we have the industrial base as the West to be able to produce the necessary types of every kind of ship needed for economic and security purposes in the future.

Q    Can you speak to geopolitical risks of it?  Is it that the Chinese will start shipping in the Northwest Passage, and the U.S. and Canada would (inaudible)?  What is the risk?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I think the biggest geopolitical risk is the same kind of supply chain chokepoint that you see in a lot of other industries, where if the capability to build this atrophies in the West and a country that does not share our interests or our vision for the world corners the market and they’ve got leverage on us that is undue — but not just on us, the United States, but democratic nations around the world. 

And we also believe that having an inherent capacity that is scalable and sustainable to build ships, not just icebreakers, but (inaudible) ships, has deep both strategic and direct military purposes in the future.  The ICE Pact is not about military, but the broader spillover effects of this can have that kind of impact.

Q    Jake, can I ask one more on the Middle East?  I just want to ask you about the pier.  We’re hearing reports that the pier off the coast of Gaza will be permanently removed.  I wanted to, A, confirm that that’s accurate.  And, B, I just wanted to know what happened.  I know this was touted quite a bit by the administration as a possible route to getting humanitarian aid in.

MR. SULLIVAN:  Well, first, it was a route to getting humanitarian aid in.  And I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but we unloaded a significant number of pallets that have provided lifesaving assistance. 

And our view has always been all of the above: Every route we can get aid in, including a maritime pier, if we can do it, we should do it.  And some of that food over days and weeks that it was being delivered has made a difference in trying to deal with the heartbreaking humanitarian situation in Gaza.

I don’t have an announcement for you today.  I’ll let CENTCOM speak about their plans with respect to the pier.  But I do anticipate that in relatively short order we will wind down pier operations.  And the reason for that is because if we now look at the sustained supply of aid getting in through many of the crossings that, frankly, President Biden got opened — the Zikim crossing and Kerem Shalom crossing — the real issue right now is not about getting aid into Gaza, it’s about getting aid around Gaza effectively.  That’s partly why Israel announced this daily humanitarian pause to try to create better conditions to move aid around.

But there are a lot of things that we need to work through, including lawlessness; armed gangs; in some cases, Hamas itself trying to disrupt and derail the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  And that is really, chiefly, the obstacle to ensuring that the people of Gaza, the innocent people of Gaza get the lifesaving food, water, medicine that they need.  It’s distribution within as opposed to distribution from without, into Gaza.  And so that’s had an impact on our thinking about the duration of the pier remaining (inaudible).

Q    Did you see the pier as a success?

MR. SULLIVAN:  Look, I see any result that produces more food, more humanitarian goods getting to the people of Gaza as a success.  It is additive.  It is something additional that otherwise would not have gotten there when it got there.  And that is a good thing.  It is an unalloyed good thing, from my perspective, that we were able to get thousands of metric tons worth of food into Gaza.  And if the pier hadn’t happened, if that food wouldn’t have gotten in, for me it’s hard to think about why one would object to that.

Q    Can we have one more?

AIDE:  We have time for one.

Q    Just one more.  Ukraine asked Poland to shut down Russian missiles over western Ukraine.  There was some confusion initially about Poland’s response.  But two days ago, Polish defense minister told me that Poland will not be unilaterally shutting down those missiles, that it needs to be decided by NATO.  So what’s your position on that?

MR. SULLIVAN:  Our position is let’s get that air defense into Ukraine so Ukraine can shoot them.  That is the most effective way to protect the skies of Ukraine.  So that’s why we’ve been going around to every Ally and saying, “Any system you can spare, spare it,” because we want as many strategic air defense systems inside of Ukraine, operated by Ukrainians, defending their skies.  And we think that’s by far and away the best method of stopping the Russian aerial attacks.

This is the last one?

AIDE:  This is the last one.

Q    There’s a CNN report that — I’m wondering if you would say anything to it — that the U.S. has uncovered a Russian government plot to assassinate the CEO of a German arms manufacturer, Rheinmetall.  The CEO, Armin Papperger.  A foiled plot, obviously.  Is there anything you can say about that — whether the U.S. has intelligence about that?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I don’t have anything to say about that today because I’m actually not sure what it is that —

Q    Okay.

MR. SULLIVAN:  Yeah, so I’ll just leave it at: Let me go find out — not about the underlying story, but about, you know, what we could say on that (inaudible).

Q    And in (inaudible) earlier, the President was trying to put on a show, in part for his domestic audience, on what he sees as the importance of NATO.  How is he viewing this domestically in terms of the stakes for the U.S., given that there are two pretty different visions for NATO on the ballot?

MR. SULLIVAN:  Well, look, there are voices in our country who say what’s the value of NATO, and the President does believe that it’s his job as the Commander-in-Chief and as the leader of the nation to remind the American people of what NATO has delivered in terms of security and prosperity for the United States over 75 years, and then what the lack of NATO would mean for us going into the future.

But, you know, he doesn’t believe that that’s an uphill battle.  He believes that he is reinforcing preexisting goodwill on a bipartisan basis by a vast majority of the American people.  But he does think the 75th anniversary is a good opportunity for everyone to take a pause and collectively remind ourselves that we are extremely lucky to have NATO, and we would be very unfortunate if we were to leave it or if it were to fall apart.

Q    (Inaudible.)  Since I know you were at Camp David with the President (inaudible), when you saw the President on stage, were you surprised by that performance?  At any point, have you had any concerns about the government’s decision-making capacity or anything along those lines?  Were you surprised?  Was that the person that you saw on the stage unlike the person you had seen days before at Camp David?

MR. SULLIVAN:  I do not have concerns.  He said he had a bad night.


Q    Thank you, Jake.

MODERATOR:  Thank you, everyone, for joining.  And thank you to our poolers in the room.  They have recorded very artfully, and we’ll send around an audio to the group.  So thank you, everyone.

11:54 A.M. EDT

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