Via Teleconference

2:02 P.M. EDT

MODERATOR:  Hey, everyone.  Thanks for joining us.  Kirby has a few words here at the top, and then we’ll get through as many questions as we can.

MR. KIRBY:  Hey, everybody.  I know you’ve all seen the statement from the President on the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor’s application for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders, as the President said, is outrageous.  And there should be — there is none — any equivalence between Israel and Hamas. 

Hopefully, you’ve also already seen Secretary Blinken’s statement, to the same effect, about our utter rejection of any equivalence between Israel and Hamas and of this particular call by the ICC, or arrest warrants, which we believe is totally without merit whatsoever. 

I know you all have questions, I’m sure, about the helicopter crash in Iran.  I’m afraid I’m just going to be disappointing to you; I don’t have any additional detail to share.  You’ve hopefully seen our statements.  We certainly offer — as the U.S. government, offer our condolences.  But we don’t have any more detail or context about the nature of this crash to speak to.  This would be something that Iranian authorities would have to speak to.

For our part, we’re going to continue to stand with the Iranian people as they fight for their own civil rights and — as they should.  And we’re going to continue to hold Iran accountable for all their destabilizing behavior in the region, which continues to this day. 

Lastly, if I could just quickly mention that National Security Advisor Sullivan is wrapping up his visit to the region today.  Today he was in Israel.  He had chance to meet with the leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, as well as the Minister of Defense, Mr. Gallant, and a couple of members of the Israeli war cabinet to include Benny Gantz.  The purpose there was to — the purpose there was to — I’m sorry, that was my granddaughter calling me.  I apologize for that. 

The purpose there was to talk, obviously, about the situation in Gaza and U.S. support — continued support for Israel in the face of the various threats that they’re under.  And, again, there was a broad range of discussions here to include humanitarian assistance and making sure we can increase that flow, get it more sustained, as well as doing everything that they can to reassure and make comfortable humanitarian aid workers as that aid starts to get in. 

And, of course, Mr. Sullivan reiterated our commitment to seeing Hamas defeated and also to try to see if we can’t get a hostage deal in place moving forward. 

So with that, with apologies for the interruption there, we’ll take some questions. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our first question will go to Steve with Reuters.

Q    John, thank you.  I know you don’t want to say much about Iran.  Will the U.S. send a delegation to the Raisi funeral?  And how might this incident alter U.S. relations with Iran?

MODERATOR:  I think we might be having an audio issue.  Can you try talking again?

Q    Can you still — can you hear?  Are you there?  Sorry.

MODERATOR:  Steve, can you try talking again, please?

Q    Okay, how about — is this okay?  I think the others can hear me.  I’m getting notes from —

MODERATOR:  I’m going to go on to our next question just in case it’s not something on our end, and then I’ll go back to you, Steve.

Aamer, would you mind unmuting and seeing if it will work?

Q    Can you guys hear me?

MODERATOR:  Yep, we can. 

Q    Okay.  And Steve was asking — I was able to hear Steve.  He was asking if the U.S. will be sending a delegation to the Iranian president’s funeral. 

And secondly, I wanted to ask myself: Can you sort of explain why the U.S. is expressing official condolences for the death?  This is someone the U.S. has previously cited for overseeing terrible human rights abuses.  Was this something that the President himself weighed in on?  And can you just sort of suss out, you know, the term “official” in the statement that was put out earlier?  Because I do think that is confusing to some people. 

And then second, could you also address the Iranian officials’ allegations that U.S. sanctions limiting aviation parts and supplies is at least partly to blame for this crash?


MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have anything on a delegation for a funeral to speak to today. 

And offering condolences is a typical practice.  I mean, President Raisi was responsible for atrocious human rights in his own country — the arrest and the physical violence against hundreds of protesters, for instance.  And, of course, he’s responsible for the support that Iran provides — or he was responsible for the support that Iran provided terrorist networks throughout the region, which obviously led to — the support that he’d given Hamas led to the slaughter of 1,200 innocent Israeli people on the 7th of October.

No question this was a man who had a lot of blood on his hands.  That said, as we would in any other case, we certainly regret in general the loss of life, and offered official condolences as appropriate. 

Now, as for this claim about U.S. sanctions being responsible, it’s utterly baseless.  The cause of the crash, of course, isn’t clear, at least not clear to us.  But I would note, Aamer, that Iranian official sources were out there citing poor flying conditions as a cause for concern, specifically fog. 

And every country, no matter who they are, has a responsibility, their own responsibility, to ensure the safety and reliability of its equipment, and that includes civil aviation.  So, again, totally baseless accusation.  No truth to it.  And it’s not surprising, sadly, but not surprising that the Iranian regime would once again find a way to try to blame the United States for problems of its own making.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Nick with PBS. 

Q    Hey, John.  Questions on Jake’s visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia.  The first one is on the Rafah.  Do you believe that the Israeli operation remains limited?  And the reassurances that Jake and the team got on Rafah, has that at all answered some of your concerns about what’s to come in Rafah, or what could come? 

And then, the Saudi question is: Are there steps being taken right now between DOD and the Ministry of Defense in Saudi Arabia?  And are those the final steps before the Saudi-U.S. bilateral security agreement is finalized?  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  So, on Rafah: Yes, of course, Jake raised our continued concerns about Rafah and the potential for any major operations there and the risk that that would put the hundreds of thousands of people that are still down there, near — in or near Rafah.

I’m not going to characterize Israeli operations.  I’ll just say what I’ve said before: We have not seen them execute that sort of an operation.  And part of the reason Jake went was sort of building out on this strategic consultative group format.  This was a little different format, of course, because Jake was over there in person, but it was building out on those conversations that we’ve had in that context, and he was grateful for the opportunity to do it.  It is another example of Israeli willingness to continue to hear us out on our concerns but, just as critically, on our ideas about alternatives for them to go after Hamas in Rafah that wouldn’t require a large ground operation, because we still believe there are viable alternatives available to the Israelis. 

On the second question about the Saudi discussions, I would just say that Jake was able to make significant progress on the bilateral elements of what we believe would be a truly historic deal that would lead to a more integrated region.  I could refer you directly to the Saudi readout, which, again, we think put it all into proper context.  It discussed it being a near-final bilateral agreement.  And I think I’d leave it at that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Kayla with CNN.

Q    Thank you so much for taking my questions.  I have two questions.  The first is with regard to the ICC.  I’m wondering, Admiral, if you can explain the difference in the U.S. posture with regard to potential war crimes in Ukraine — where just today Secretary Austin says the U.S. continues to work with the ICC on that — and the U.S. position on the ICC’s application for arrest warrants of Israeli leaders. 

And then, just, my second question is if you can give us a little bit more detail on what Jake Sullivan communicated to Israel’s defense minister when he essentially met with him right around the time that the news of the application for his arrest warrant was coming out.  What did the administration communicate that it would be willing to do in response to that?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah.  So, on your first question, as we have made clear for many, many months, while we aren’t a member — or a party to the ICC, we had committed and stay committed to helping Ukraine as they document evidence for a range of international bodies, not just the ICC, but a range of international bodies to investigate, document claims of war crimes by Russia.

I would remind everybody that it is an actual war aim of Mr. Putin to kill innocent Ukrainian people.  I mean, he’s deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure with the aim of killing innocent civilians, and it’s just baked into his operational strategy. 

As we have said before, that is not what the IDF is doing.  I’m not at all suggesting that there have been too many civilian casualties.  Of course, there have been.  And we continue to talk to the Israelis about being more discriminant, more targeted, more precise — part of what Jake’s conversations were.  But IDF soldiers are not waking up in the morning, putting their boots on the ground with direct orders to go kill innocent civilians in Gaza. 

And the larger issue here is: As I’ve said earlier, and as was in our statements, we don’t believe the ICC has any jurisdiction here with respect to what’s going on in Gaza.  And I’ll leave it at that. 

To your second question about Jake’s meeting with Defense Minister Gallant: I obviously wasn’t at that meeting so I can’t relay to you anything that Jake may have said in that moment or how close to the moment of this announcement by the ICC prosecutor was with relation to the meeting with Gallant.

I’ll just say that we’re going to continue to stay in touch with members of Congress as appropriate here on this, and I don’t have any actions one way or another to speak to today.

Q    Would the administration support any efforts by members of Congress to levy new sanctions on the ICC in response to this?

MR. KIRBY:  I would just say we’re going to stay in touch with members of Congress here.  This is only, you know, early hours here right after this television interview announcement.  And I just don’t have anything more to add.  We’re going to stay in touch with members of Congress, as you would expect us to do. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  We are going to go back to Steve and try this again, because he had a little bit more.

Q    How’s that?  Is that better?

MODERATOR:  Perfect.

Q    Okay.  Hey, and thanks for indulging me.  John, just following up on Nick’s question about the Saudi deal: If it’s near final, do you expect an announcement soon?  And is it contingent on an agreement for a pathway to a Palestinian state?  You know, what needs to happen now?

MR. KIRBY:  Yeah, I would probably not want to get into specific timing.  As you saw on the Saudi readout, “near final,” we agree with that; we believe we’re very close.  But I’m not at liberty now to put a date certain on it or a timing notion on this. 

But, look, as a part of this, I’ll just say what we said before: The effort here is designed to help get to — hopefully — get to normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which we believe, as I said earlier, will help lead to a much more integrated, cooperative region, which the President believes is better for security and stability, not just for the United States and our national security interests, but the interests of those who are living in the region. 

And from the very get-go, there has always been an understanding that as part of this process there has to be something in it for the Palestinian people, of course.  And the President remains committed to a two-state solution, but he recognizes that, you know, that’s not something we’re going to see anytime in the imminent future. 

We do believe that if we were able to get to a more integrated region, which would include potentially normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, that that could help set some of the conditions for leadership in the region to do what leadership in the region needs to do, and that’s really trying to get to a two-state solution. 

The bottom line for us is that we believe the only way to get a two-state solution that is sustainable and enduring is through leadership in the region and direct negotiations between the parties, and that hasn’t changed.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Nathan with KAN-TV.

Q    Thanks so much.  I wanted to go back to Israel.  Both Defense Minister Gallant and Cabinet Minister Gantz made statements in the past week, basically demanding from Netanyahu to clarify his day-after policy for Gaza.  Where does the U.S. stand on that?  Do you think these statements are helpful?  Does this echo the administration’s view?

MR. KIRBY:  I’m sorry, their statements on what?

Q    On the need to clarify Israel’s day-after policy in Gaza.

MR. KIRBY:  Look, this is something Secretary Blinken has been focused on since very, very early in the conflict.  And we continue to believe that active and energetic discussions about post-conflict Gaza governance are more than warranted.  And we are going to continue to have those discussions with our Israeli counterparts, as well as our Arab partners in the region to boot. 

We don’t believe that whatever the post-conflict governance picture looks like in Gaza, that it can include Hamas, and we certainly don’t still support any IDF occupation.  But this is a topic of ongoing discussions, has been in just recent days, and will continue to be going forward. 

I think, again, we’ve been very, very clear that Israeli military operations absolutely require a political plan to help ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas and a post-conflict situation in Gaza where the aspirations of the Palestinians who live there and call it home can be met.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Yuna with Israel 12.

Q    Hi.  Thank you for taking my question.  Another specific on the Saudi deal.  Is the Israeli element, the normalization element, is the key element of what you’re saying close to a statement, or there could be an agreement without the normalization for just the U.S.-Saudi?  Or is the U.S. or the Saudis waiting to see if there could be some progress or there could be some statement by the Israelis on this?

MR. KIRBY:  The significant progress I’m referring to from Jake’s trip is the bilateral elements between the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Q    Anything specific on that?

MR. KIRBY:  No, I think I’ll leave it at that.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Neria with Israel 13.

Q    Hi.  Thank you so much for doing this.  I wanted to ask about a Palestinian state.  We did hear that Netanyahu declared last Saturday, two days ago, that he will not be willing to allow a Palestinian state be formed, also as a part — also if (inaudible) of the normalization with Saudi Arabia.  How do you comment on that?

MR. KIRBY:  I hate to ask you to repeat the question, but it was a little broken there in the middle, and I didn’t quite get —

Q    I’m going to try to ask it again.  I’m going to try to ask it again.  I hope you can hear me well. 

We did hear Netanyahu’s declaration about not allowing a Palestinian state even if it comes with (inaudible) the Saudi (inaudible).  So I’m asking, how do you react to that statement by Netanyahu on Saturday, two days ago?

MR. KIRBY:  I would just — first of all, the Prime Minister can speak for himself, obviously.  I would just tell you that nothing has changed about President Biden’s commitment to a two-state solution.  He believes in the promise of it.  He believes it’s attainable.  He knows it’s not going to happen tomorrow — of course not — but he still believes in it.  And he also believes that it’s going to require leadership, leadership here in the United States but also leadership there in the region, to make it work. 

At the same time, he still believes in what I said earlier about the value of a more integrated, more cooperative region.  And he believes that normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia can help lead to that effort. 

Now, Jake was in Saudi Arabia, largely just working on the bilateral pieces of this between the United States and Saudi Arabia.  And as I said earlier, we’re close to finality on that, but there’s an awful lot of work ahead of us, diplomatic work ahead of us, and the United States will stay committed to that. 

I can’t speak for the Prime Minister and his views; he’ll have to do that.  But nothing has absolutely changed about where President Biden is on this.

Q    And if I can follow up on that, just to ask: Will the U.S. be willing to do a deal with the Saudis without Israel, if Israel will not be willing to allow a Palestinian state?

MR. KIRBY:  I just — I’m not going to get into a hypothetical at this point in where we are in the process.  Again, Jake had good discussions in Riyadh over the course of the weekend.  And as I said, you know, we are closer now than we’ve ever been in terms of the bilateral nature of this agreement, which could help lead, again, to a more integrated region.  And that’s what we’re focused on.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Danny with AFP.

Q    Thanks very much for doing this.  And thanks, Admiral.  Apologies if this has already been asked.  I had a slightly dodgy connection.  But I just wanted to ask your position on the ICC prosecutor asking for the arrest warrants for Hamas leaders.  Do you support that despite the President opposing the arrest warrant applications for Netanyahu and Gallant?  Thanks. 

MR. KIRBY:  There’s no — there’s absolutely — first of all, the ICC — we still don’t believe the ICC has any jurisdiction in this matter.  That’s — and there should be no equivalence rendered at all.  None.  It’s ridiculous to render equivalent Israel and Hamas after what Hamas did on the 7th of October.  They need to be held accountable.  In a military sense, they are being held accountable by the IDF.  And the United States is also, through our assistance to the IDF as well as, as you’ve seen, the sanctions that we have imposed, we are also looking at our own ways of holding Hamas accountable for what they did. 

But there’s no equivalence between Israel and Hamas, a known terrorist organization.  And again, we don’t believe the ICC has any jurisdiction in this matter. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Nadia.

Q    Hi, Sam.  Hi, John.  A couple of questions.  Talking on the two-state solution, there is a Reuters report — I think it was yesterday — that there is bipartisan efforts from both parties to block any chance of a plan for a two-state solution, because as you know, Netanyahu said it will be a reward for terrorism.  Is this an uphill battle for the White House if you have lawmakers going against it as well?

And second, just to clarify what the President said yesterday at the Morehouse College, he said that “I demanded a ceasefire,” and there was a clap from the audience.  But he did not say that it was conditional or humanitarian or repeating what was in the past six weeks, et cetera.  He just said “a ceasefire.”  Can you clarify this, please?  Thank you.

MR. KIRBY:  He was referring, Nadia, as we’ve all been referring, to the temporary ceasefire that we’re trying to get in place, tied to a hostage deal.  That’s what he was referring to — the same thing that we’ve all been referring to. 

Q    So no change of policy here?

MR. KIRBY:  There’s no change in policy. 

Q    Okay.  Okay.

MR. KIRBY:  And as for lawmakers: Look, again, I’ll let lawmakers speak for themselves.  We’re going to continue to engage members of Congress, as I said earlier, on all of these issues, and that includes our continued pursuit of a two-state solution, which we still believe is the right answer. 

And, you know, nobody is pollyannish about it here.  We understand how difficult this is going to be.  We don’t expect to get there, as I said, anytime imminently.  But, my goodness, that doesn’t mean you stop trying.  It’s still the best thing for safety and security in the region, not just for the Palestinian people, but for the Israeli people as well, because any two-state solution is going to have to factor in Israel’s security as a guarantee.  And we’re committed to that.  It’s the right thing to do for so many reasons.  And the President is not going to give up on that, and we’ll continue to engage members of Congress as appropriate going forward.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question, we’ll go to Haley with Scripps.

Q    Hey.  Thanks, Sam.  Thanks, John.  You mentioned that Jake had talked about efforts to get a hostage ceasefire deal in place.  I just wanted to see if you could provide any update, if there’s been any progress out of his trip to the region on this front.  Thanks.

MR. KIRBY:  I don’t have any specific muscle movements to speak to today.  It is something that we continue to maintain and even strain on, and that includes in Jake’s discussions over the weekend.  But I can’t, sadly, sit here and talk to you and tell you that — you know, that we’re closer right now than we were a week or so ago.  But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to stop working on it. 

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  Our next question will go to Brian with Fox.

Q    Oh, I didn’t know I was with Fox.  (Laughter.)

MODERATOR:  Oh, apologies.  I thought you were —

Q    (Laughs.)  That’s all right. 

MODERATOR:  We were going for you anyway.

Q    (Inaudible.)  Well, hey.  First, John —

MR. KIRBY:  You can be whoever you want to be, Brian.

Q    (Laughs.)  Thanks, John.  I hope you’re having fun with your granddaughter. 

But my question is just a follow-up on a couple of things with Sullivan coming out of the visit.  Is there anything concrete other than just the hope of a solution?  Or do we have something concrete coming out of that?

And then, on the ICC, what would we accept from them if we feel they have no jurisdiction?  Where do we think their jurisdiction lies?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, we don’t believe they have jurisdiction in this matter and, again, utterly reject this call for arrest warrants of Israeli leaders.  Just, again, totally baseless here. 

It’s not that we’re looking for something out of the ICC.  We’re looking to make sure Israel has what it needs to defend itself.  We’re looking for ways to hold Hamas accountable in an appropriate way.  And we’re looking to make sure that the people who — the Palestinians who live in Gaza not only get the food, water, and medicine that they need, but they can look forward to a future where they actually have a vote and a voice in that future, that their aspirations can be met.  That’s what we’re focused on here. 

And on your first question, I really don’t want to go any further than I went earlier, that we — Jake believes that he made significant progress on the bilateral elements, that is the U.S.-Saudi elements, of a package deal that we believe would have historic possibilities for a more integrated region.  And as I said earlier, we believe coming out of this weekend that we have achieved a near-final set of text on some of those bilateral agreements.  But it is really bilateral between the U.S. and Saudi at this point.

Q    So nothing concrete?  Just hope that we’re getting closer towards a solution?

MR. KIRBY:  Well, when you’ve — I mean, I’m not going to get — I’m not going to get ahead of the text, Brian, but the fact that we believe it’s near final should indicate to you that there are some specifics in there, some details, some tangible achievements.  But it would be imprudent for me to get into the details of it now when it’s not final.  Near final does not mean final, and I don’t want to get ahead of it.

Q    Would you be sharing those — do you anticipate being able to share some of those soon?

MR. KIRBY:  We hope we can get there real soon, and I’m sure we’ll be as transparent with everybody as we can be.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And apologies again for misidentifying you. 

Our last question will go to James Rosen.

Q    Thank you very much, Samantha.  And thank you, Admiral, as always.

This sudden transition in Iran, its causes are not known; as you say, the cause of the crash is not clear to the United States.  And it would seem to me the cause would have a significant impact, depending on what it is, on how this plays out inside Iran and what it might mean for the United States and the region and so on. 

For example, were it, in fact, a deliberate act and not a function of technical problems or weather issues, that might portend a more drawn-out power struggle inside the regime and so forth. 

Given that you don’t know that, what we do know is that this is very abrupt, bracing, perhaps traumatic in some quarters of Iran.  And I wonder if the United States, apart from extending its official condolences following this incident, is determined to exploit it for some advantage on the world stage against an entity that is, after all, not like China, a strategic competitor, but an out-and-out adversary.

MR. KIRBY:  All I would say to that, James, is that regardless of what caused the crash, regardless of how the Iranian government responds to the death of President Raisi and their foreign minister, and what their internal political dynamics are, we will continue to hold Iran accountable for their destabilizing behaviors; for their support to terrorist networks like Hamas and Hezbollah and the Houthis; like the attacks that they continue to conduct on shipping, in the Gulf region; and for their support for Mr. Putin in Ukraine. 

All those things, even as you and I are speaking, are still going on, even with the death of President Raisi.  And so, all of those things — it’s incumbent for us to be able to continue to hold them accountable for all of those things.  And we’ll do that.

Q    It sounds similar to what Jake Sullivan said at the lectern in the White House press briefing room the other day, when I asked about the new Russian defense minister.  In essence, in this system, there’s only one person that calls the shots.  In essence, as he more or less conveyed, it doesn’t matter who the defense minister in Russia is.  And it almost sounds as though you’re saying — telling us that it doesn’t matter who the Iranian president is; it’s the Ayatollah who calls the shots.  And those same destabilizing behaviors are very likely to continue regardless of whether Raisi had survived or whoever is put in his place.  Am I summarizing you accurately?

MR. KIRBY:  Yes, we have to assume that.  And the Supreme Leader is the one who makes these decisions.  And the Supreme Leader, as he did in the last so-called election, made sure to stack the deck with only candidates that met his mandates. 

So we don’t anticipate any change in Iranian behavior, and, therefore, the Iranians should not expect any change in American behavior when it comes to holding them accountable.

MODERATOR:  Thank you.  And that is all the time we have for today.  As always, if we didn’t get to your question, please reach out to the NSC press distro, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.  Thanks all.

2:35 P.M. EDT

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