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Update on Hostage Situation and Humanitarian Aid in Gaza

MODERATOR:  Welcome to the Foreign Press Center.  My name is Miranda Patterson, one of the media relations officers here at the FPC.  Thank you for joining us.  The purpose of today’s briefing is to provide an update on the hostage situation and humanitarian aid in Gaza.  As a reminder, this briefing is on the record.  A recording and transcript will be available on our website later today, fpc.state.gov.  

I’m pleased to introduce our briefer today, Mr. John Kirby, NSC Coordinator for Strategic Communications.  He will start with opening remarks and then open for questions.  As a reminder, please be sure to state your name and outlet before beginning your question.  And with that, over to you, Mr. Kirby. 

MR KIRBY:  Good morning, everybody.  Just a few comments here at the top and then we’ll obviously take your questions.  

First, on the conflict in Gaza, we continue to stand firmly with the Israeli people as they defend themselves against the threat of Hamas, a truly genocidal threat posed by Hamas.  Military assistance from the United States continues to arrive in Israel on a fairly regular basis, and it includes the sorts of weapons that the Israeli Defense Forces need most to continue to go after particularly the leadership of Hamas.  

At the same time, under President Biden’s leadership, we and our partners in the region are also, even after Hamas refused to continue the humanitarian pause, are throwing assistance into Gaza, including food, water, medicine, and fuel.  Last week we conducted a successful U.S. airlift of more than 54,000 pounds of medical items and food aid for delivery to the civilians in Gaza on U.S. military aircraft.  Yesterday we conducted another such airlift of some 36,000 pounds of food assistance and medical supplies.  In coming days you’ll see additional support coming from the United States. 

We know there are more than a million displaced people internally in Gaza and we know that they are in desperate need of this kind of help.  The United States has been and will remain the single biggest contributor to UN relief efforts there, having provided more than a billion dollars to support UNRWA’s mission since 2021.  

We of course recognize that there has been a significant number of civilian casualties from this conflict, innocent people killed and innocent people wounded, Israeli and Palestinian.  Each one is a tragedy and we mourn them all, and we know that each one leaves a hole inside a family that’s grieving.  So we’re going to continue to work with our Israeli counterparts to help them be as careful and as deliberate as they can be in the prosecution of their operations.  We believe they are receptive to this approach and that they are taking steps to remove innocent people from the crossfire in which Hamas all too willingly places them. 

As Secretary Blinken has said, how the Israeli Defense Forces conduct this fight matters.  What also matters greatly is the return of all those hostages.  Hamas ended the pause that saw more than a hundred of those innocent people held hostage getting out.  We want them all to get out, all of them, including of course our fellow Americans, and we are still working hard with our partners in the region to get that done.  It’s shameful what Hamas has done to these people, and all the moreso that they have additional women and children they know and they won’t let go.  Not an hour goes by where our team is not working on this, not one single hour.   And that is not going to change until we get everyone back with their families where they belong. 

Now, speaking of where things belong, I’m sure many of you saw yesterday that the U.S. Government took additional action to go after Russia’s defense and material sector to disrupt the Kremlin’s access to the tools it uses to perpetrate its illegal war against Ukraine.  The Department of the Treasury sanctioned a network of nine entities and five individuals who have been involved in procuring electronics with military applications for Russian end users.  The Department of Justice also unsealed two separate indictments against the leader of this network for a years-long scheme to unlawfully export sensitive military-grade technology from the United States to China and Russia.  

And the Department of Commerce added 42 entities in countries around the world for activity that goes against U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, specifically when it comes to supporting Russia’s military and defense industrial base.  That includes joint Iran-Russia drone production.  These actions make clear that the United States will continue to hold to account anyone supplying Russia with tools to conduct its war, no matter where in the world they are. 

At the same time, we want to make sure that Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself against Russia’s war.  President Biden will be meeting virtually today with other leaders of the G7, where I can assure you he will stress our commitment to providing support to Ukraine, especially as they enter into the dangerous winter months.  We know that Russia is trying to take the offensive in the east, though they have failed to achieve any significant progress.  We know they plan to attack Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure, which is why we’re still sending air defense systems and backup generators, as well as from other of our partners and allies.

And we know that they have not given up – the Russians have not given up – on their intent to subjugate the whole country, which is why it’s so critical for our own Congress here to fund the President’s supplemental request.  As Jake Sullivan, our National Security Advisor, said just earlier this week, we’re out of money and we’re nearly out of time.  We know there is bipartisan support in Congress for Ukraine, but it’s being stymied by a number of Republicans who want to hold support for Ukraine hostage to some pretty extreme border policies.  

The President has been clear we’re willing to talk about the border; we’re willing to negotiate in good faith over ways to improve border security.  The President submitted an immigration reform proposal on day one of this administration, and he proposed a national security request supplemental that would help secure the border with 1,300 additional border agents and other necessary tools to help stop the flow of fentanyl into this country.  Congress should pass it.  Just yesterday, one of President Zelenskyy’s top advisors said that without U.S. support, there is a great risk that Ukraine could lose this war.  The Ukrainian people certainly can’t afford that, Europe can’t afford that, and our own national security interests can’t afford that.  

What we can afford, what we should afford as a nation this big and as powerful as the United States is, is every effort possible to keep Ukraine whole and free, and the flanks of NATO free of potential Russian aggression because if Mr. Putin is allowed to just have his way with Ukraine, where does it stop?  It could very well threaten our NATO Allies.  It could very well trigger an Article 5 commitment, and then troops from the United States and our NATO Allies would be involved in this war.  We have an opportunity here as the winter approaches and the clock starts getting smaller to help Ukraine very much claw back the territory that belongs to it and to its people, and to expel Russian forces from Ukrainian soil.  But again, time is precious.

Okay.  With that, we can take some questions.  Yeah, go ahead.  Yellow tie there.

QUESTION:  Thank you, John.  Marcin Wrona, TVN Poland.  Well, you ended you remarks by saying where does Putin stop, and in Poland this question is very vitally important.

MR KIRBY:  I know it is.

QUESTION:  So there is a full diplomatic offensive of Ukrainian officials in Washington now and it’s of course all about the aid for Ukraine.  But the fight for the money for Ukraine seems to be stalling in Congress.  So how confident are you that you will not run out of money?  How confident are you that there will be no impasse at some point, that an agreement will reach at the Capitol Hill?

MR KIRBY:  I can’t handicap it.  I can’t give you odds here.  What I can tell you is that if we don’t get relief, if Congress doesn’t act on the supplemental request that the President submitted and we don’t get additional funds appropriated to support Ukraine, by the end of this year – which means by the end of this month – we won’t have the resources to continue to help Ukraine, at least not from the United States.  

And it’s important to remember that the United States is virtually leading the effort internationally to continue to support Ukraine.  A lot of other countries are looking to us for that example, for that leadership, and what – we’re the biggest contributor of any country to Ukraine’s security and other economic needs.  And if we just pull the plug, the effect that that might have on other countries and their ability to support Ukraine could be well nigh disastrous.  

And it’s a gift to Vladimir Putin.  It’s a big old Christmas gift to him because he’ll get exactly what he wants.  He thought by invading Ukraine he could divide the West, fracture us.  All he did was strengthen us, improve our resolve and our determination.  And that resolve is still there.  It’s certainly still there, but from President Biden.  And I would argue that it’s actually still there with the majority members of Congress – both chambers, both parties.  But we’re talking about a small number of Republicans here that are basically holding that assistance hostage because they have some border policies that they want to ram through.  

And again, the President’s willing to negotiate in good faith about the border.  If we didn’t think the border was important, we wouldn’t have added some $6 billion to the supplemental request for the border and for Department of Homeland Security.  So let’s talk about that, but let’s not make the Ukrainian people suffer as a result of the dysfunction up on Capitol Hill.

QUESTION:  Well, for instance now, how would this affect countries like Poland if there is no more money for the Ukrainian aid, countries that are on the eastern flank of NATO?  How would this affect us? 

MR KIRBY:  I don’t – I mean, the money that we’re talking about is for supporting Ukraine.  I can’t speak for what Poland will or won’t do.  Well, again, look, I mean, you heard – as I mentioned in my opening statement, one of Zelenskyy’s top advisors said that without U.S. support, they could risk losing this war.  Nobody wants that to happen, but – except for Putin, right?  So what happens then?  He hasn’t given up, Mr. Putin, on his plans to subjugate the whole country; to just wipe it off the face of the map as an independent nation.  And if he gets Ukraine, that puts him right up against the eastern flank of NATO.  

And so I think I can – we can fully understand why the Polish people would be concerned about that.  We’re concerned about that because an emboldened Putin that just feels like he can keep going and going – well, once you get through Ukraine, where are you going?  You’re right up against the eastern flank of NATO. 

And we have helped Ukraine claw back now more than 50 percent of their territory over the last going on two years – us and our allies and partners, including Poland.  And we’ve been able to do it with no foreign troops on the ground.  None.  No U.S. troops, no Polish troops.  Been able to do it – they’ve been able to do it on their own, and they’re still willing to keep doing it.  They’re still willing to take back territory.  They’re still willing to suffer and sacrifice for their own people and for their own country.  And the message that this sends if we can’t get additional funding is, well, you’re really on your own now because you’re not even going to get any support economically or from a security perspective to do that.

This is a dangerous time, particularly on the calendar – not just because we’ve got this activity on Capitol Hill.  And we’ve got a deadline at the end of the year here in terms of our appropriations, but it’s a dangerous particularly time on the calendar in Ukraine.  As I said in my opening statement, winter is fast approaching.  And we know – I went to the podium a few weeks ago and downgraded some information that we had about Putin’s deliberate intentions to weaponize energy, to go after critical energy infrastructure in Ukraine, to once again make victims – yet again – the Ukrainian people in the coldest months of the year.  And we’re going to do everything we can to help them through that.  But our ability to help them through that, it very much depends on support from Capitol Hill.

Yeah.  Yeah.  Go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Kirby.  Igor Naimushin, RIA Novosti News Agency, Washington Bureau, Russia.  So two questions please.  So the first one is:  What are the certain steps that the U.S. administration is doing right now on its own, with allies and partners, as a contingency plan to prevent any serious destructions in security assistance to Ukraine – so if Congress does not pass supplemental bill?  And the second one is a follow-up.  Based on the White House assess – do you believe that Ukraine has capabilities that are sufficient right now to continue fighting without U.S. security assistance, supported only by other allies?  

MR KIRBY:  I kind of answered the second question, but I’ll just do a quick recap.  On the first one – you heard Mr. Sullivan talk about this on Monday – if we aren’t able – if it’s come to impasse and we aren’t able to get additional appropriated funds, we’ll do what we can.  But what we can do is going to be severely limited compared to what we have been able to do over the last couple of years in terms of supporting Ukraine.  I’m not going to speculate about what that’ll look like, and I can’t speak for our partners either, to your other question.  They’ll have to speak for themselves and what they’d be willing to continue to support in terms of Ukrainian security assistance.  

I can tell you that – and as I said earlier, the President is going to be speaking with the G7 leaders today, and I have no doubt that this will be on the agenda.  They have been united in resolve.  NATO has been united in resolve in terms of continuing to support.  And countries even in the Indo-Pacific region, they’ve been united in resolve to helping support Ukraine.  We would like to see that support from them continue.  But a complete lack of U.S. assistance – if the U.S. alone pulls the plug, it’s going to have a significant negative impact on Ukraine’s ability to fight this war.  I’d point you back again to what one of Zelenskyy’s top advisors said just yesterday, which is that without U.S. support, it’s possible they could lose this war.  I don’t know how more stark I can put it than he did himself.  


QUESTION:  Good morning, Mr. Kirby.  Lamia Rezgui from Al Jazeera.  The U.S. Navy just shot down a drone from an area in Yemen controlled by the Houthis.  How serious are these kinds of attacks, and how – what is U.S. assessment on them?  Another question regarding the pause in Gaza.  Should we expect any other pause soon?  Can you update us on talks regarding this pause?    

MR KIRBY:  On the – on – I haven’t seen this latest report of a recent downing, but obviously there’s been quite a bit of activity – it’s okay.  It’s okay.  Let me finish.  There’s been quite a bit of activity coming out of Yemen with the Houthis launching missiles northward, launching missiles at ships in the Red Sea as well as drones.  And so I’d say a couple of things.  Number one, we continue to urge every actor in the region – state or non-state – this is not a time to be looking to widen or escalate the conflict.  

Number two, the United States has significant national security interests in the region.  We need to defend those interests, and we have.  We have intercepted many of these missiles and many of these drones, and we’ll continue to do that to protect our sailors, our troops, our ships, our facilities, as well as our allies and partners, and that includes in Israel.  We’ll do what we have to do to help protect them.  

And as for what we may or may not do with respect to the Houthis, I’m not going to telegraph any punches.  I’m not going to get ahead of where we are.  But as you heard Jake Sullivan say just the other day, we’ll respond in a manner and a time of our own choosing.  We’ve proven we’ve been moving to do that in Iraq and in Syria, and we’ll continue to do what we have to do to defend ourselves.  But our message is to Houthis: stop; stop.  

On your second question about the pause, I wish I could give you odds on this.  I can’t.  All I can tell you is as I said in my opening statement, we’re going to work this hour by hour.  The pause allowed for a release of 100 people.  It allowed for an increase of humanitarian assistance – more trucks, including more fuel, into Gaza.  

But here’s something else that gets lost in the talk about the pause.  Pause meant a week of no fighting, right.  It literally saved lives because there wasn’t fighting going on.  So a pause is important in that regard too.  We’re going to keep working very, very hard to try to get another humanitarian pause in place to get more hostages.  As I said at the opening, we know Hamas has women and children that certainly qualify under that first tranche that they simply won’t let go.  And we want to see them immediately – they – well, we want to see all the hostages released, but we certainly want to see those women and children released just as soon as possible.  And again, that includes some Americans.  

Okay, yeah.  I’ll work around.  I got – we got time, guys.  Go on.   

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Alberto Simoni, Italian La Stampa.  Thank you, Admiral, for doing this.  A follow-up from (inaudible).  What is your assessment on the level of Iranian regime involvement in such attacks?  I mean, not just the one that happened last week in the Red Sea, but other.  So do you think Iranian regime is planning, giving equipment, or enabling such a way this kind of attack?  Secondly, if I may, just related, tomorrow marks the two months since Hamas assault on Israel, and beginning (inaudible) Israel operation on the strip of Gaza.  You have always talked about the risk of escalation in the region.  So two months later – yesterday that risk higher or lower (inaudible.)  Thank you.  

MR KIRBY:  Well, without getting into intelligence, we know that the Houthis are supported by Iran, not just politically and philosophically but, of course, with weapon systems.  And the kind of system that they are – weapons that they are using – missiles and drones – are all supplied by Iran.  So Iran is absolutely complicit here in what the Houthis are doing.  Again, I won’t speak about specific intelligence matters, but as Jake Sullivan said, I think, better than I could on Monday, the Houthis may be – their finger may be on the trigger, but the gun in their hand was provided by Iran – pure and simple.  And as for your second question about escalation, again, I’d go back to what I said earlier.  Our message to any actor in the region – state or non-state – is: don’t escalate, don’t widen, don’t deepen this conflict.  

I don’t want to discount the attacks that are going on outside of Gaza on our ships, on commercial ships, on our troops and our facilities in Iraq and Syria.  And I don’t want to discount the rocket activity that continues to happen across the border with Lebanon in northern Israel.  Those things are all worrisome; they’re all of concern to us.  That said, we haven’t seen any – right, to date, anyway – we haven’t seen another actor jump in with both feet to help Hamas.  So we’re going to continue to send a strong message, do additional force posture in the region, carrier strike groups, air missile defense, additional aircraft squadrons, and our willingness to use those capabilities to defend ourselves to make it clear to actors in the region that we take very seriously our national security interests there.  

I’ll go to you, and then I’ll start working my way back.  Go ahead.  

 QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  Janelle Dumalaon from Deutsche Welle.  Sir, the IDF has called an alleged two-to-one ratio of militant to civilian deaths tremendously positive.  Should the U.S. Government take this as a sign that Israel isn’t taking U.S. warnings to protect civilian lives in Gaza seriously?  

MR KIRBY:  I would tell you, as I said at the top, almost from the very beginning of this conflict we’ve been talking to our Israeli counterparts about – certainly about the support they’re going to continue to get from the United States as they battle against Hamas, but also that – that as democracies, fellow democracies, we know we have an added burden here to protect innocent life and to try to conduct military operations in a way that minimizes impact to civilian life as well as civilian infrastructure.  

And we have been talking, again, to our Israeli counterparts about that since the beginning, and they’ve been receptive to those conversations, and they have taken steps to try to minimize civilian casualties.  I mean, just in the last few days, dropping leaflets and making available maps of localities where people shouldn’t go and where it would be safe to go.  That is in the nature of telegraphing your punches.  That’s something not a lot of modern militaries would do – lay out a map and say: here’s where you don’t want to be.  That – there’s a certain amount of risk that the Israeli Defense Forces are taking by doing that, and we understand that.  

The right number of civilian casualties is zero, and I’m not going to stand here and pretend that there haven’t been many, many thousands of innocent people killed from this conflict – Israeli and Palestinian certainly – in Gaza – many, many thousands in Gaza – and many thousands more injured and wounded as a result of the military fighting.  There’s also been more than a million people internally displaced inside Gaza.  I mean, as the Israelis operated in the north, they allowed for humanitarian corridors to the south.  People took them up on that, so now they’ve got hundreds of thousands of additional people in the south as they begin to look at operating in the south.  That’s an added burden on them to make sure that they don’t put those same civilians they asked to move from the north to south in greater danger in the south.  And they understand that.  

So I won’t speak for the Israelis, their military operations, or their specific tactics, but I will just tell you that we’re not going to stop making sure they know that we support their efforts to go after Hamas – legitimate – they have a right and a responsibility to protect themselves against terrorist threats; at the same time continuing to urge them to be as precise, careful, cautious, and deliberate as they possibly can be.  

Yeah, in the back there.   I’ll get you – we’ve got a half an hour – plenty of time.  

QUESTION:  Diyar with RUDAW Media Network.  The first question:  Has the Saudi Arabia requested the United States to show any restraint to – in response to the Houthis’ attacks in the Red Sea?  

MR KIRBY:  I didn’t get the first part of your question.  

QUESTION:  Has the Saudi Arabia requested the United States to show any restraint in responding the attacks by Houthis in the — 

MR KIRBY:  Has Saudi Arabia?  

QUESTION:  Yeah.  

MR KIRBY:  Not that I’m aware.  

QUESTION:  Okay.  Then this week, the Arab Muslim countries delegation will be here in Washington, D.C., and they take a proposal to end the war in Gaza.  Will the United States take this proposal into consideration?  And in what circumstances the United States support the permanent ceasefire in Gaza?  

MR KIRBY:  I’m not going to get ahead of a meeting that hasn’t happened yet or a proposal that hasn’t been articulated yet.  I’ll just tell you that we do not support a ceasefire at this time.  And I think it’s important that we talk a little bit about what we mean.  When we talk about a permanent ceasefire, that is a step that you take in advance of ending a conflict.  Both sides lay down their arms, and it’s a sign that we’re going to get into some sort of negotiations to end the conflict.  We don’t support a permanent ceasefire at this time – a ceasefire that would benefit Hamas, allow them time to refit, resource, retrain, and regroup for additional attacks on the Israeli people.  It also would pretty much validate what they did on the 7th of October.

We do support continued humanitarian pauses, which are localized, specifically designed for certain purposes, such as the one we had in place for a week, which allowed aid in, hostages to get out, and are tailored to meet those kinds of purposes.  So we do support additional humanitarian pauses, and as I said earlier, we’re going to keep working with our partners to see if we can get – to get that humanitarian pause back in place.  

QUESTION:  And my last question:  What do you have to tell me about the militia groups attacks in Iraq?  Do you blame Iraqi Government for these attacks?  Because some of the groups who are attacking you and threatening you to departure the U.S. forces in Iraq, they are part of the government.

MR KIRBY:  We know that the attacks are coming from groups that are backed by Iran and supported by, resourced by the Revolutionary Guard Corps.  

Yeah, right there.  Yeah.

QUESTION:  Yunus Paksoy, CNN Turk.  The United States, for the past month or so, has been talking quite frequently about the day after in the post-war Gaza.  You’ve been saying that there should be a security mechanism acceptable to the international community, Gazans, and Israel, and there could be international force as well.  But as recent as yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu said that it should only be the IDF and indefinitely.  So who’s going to stop Israel from basically a de facto landgrab?  Is it the United States (inaudible) what are the – what’s the nature of the conversations that you’re having with the Israeli Government about this?  

MR KIRBY:  I’ll just tell you nothing’s changed about our views, and the Vice President was recently in the region making those views clear.  We do not support an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza.  We don’t support any shrinkage of the territorial space of Gaza.  We don’t support any permanent displacement of the people of Gaza outside Gaza.  And what we do support is a future for Gaza governance that does not include Hamas but does include a mechanism – actually, mechanism’s not a great word – does support a process through which and a governing institution through which the Palestinian people have a vote and a voice in their future.  We believe that one step in that direction, a good step in that direction, would be a reformed Palestinian Authority, a revitalized Palestinian Authority that is more credible to the Palestinian people.  That’s what we believe.  

Yeah, go ahead.  

QUESTION:  Admiral, thanks so much for coming here.  Alex Raufoglu from news agency Turan.  Let me go back to Putin briefly and get your quick thoughts on his trip to the Middle East and potential hosting Iranian president tomorrow.  Of course, its implications are both on Gaza and Ukraine.  Broadly speaking, the U.S. has any sort of, like, geopolitical (inaudible), if you want, here (inaudible) him trying to capitalize on the anger in the Arab world by positioning himself as an opposition to the West (inaudible) narrative (inaudible).  I have a second topic (inaudible). 

MR KIRBY:  You said what?  

QUESTION:  I have a second topic.   

MR KIRBY:  Look, I will let Mr. Putin speaks to his travel habits.  I don’t – I would just tell you that he obviously acts only out of his own self-interest here.  And part of that self-interest is making sure that he has additional ways to kill innocent Ukrainians, and some of the way that he does that is through the use of Iranian drones.  So like, again, I don’t know what he’s going to talk about in Tehran, but it’s certainly not implausible that it will – that it would include methods in which this defense relationship between their two countries can be improved, which is not only not good for the Ukrainian people but it’s certainly not good for the region.  An Iran that can avail itself of Russian military capabilities, and therefore become more lethal and more dangerous to its neighbors, obviously that’s not good for the Middle East.

But I – look, we’re focused on this.  We have taken action through sanctions to hold both Iran and Russia accountable for this burgeoning defense relationship.  We’ll continue to do that.  And that’s why it’s important, even more important, his visit to the Middle East – as background, even more important that Congress work with the administration to pass the supplemental request – which, oh, by the way, includes additional funds for Ukraine and additional funds for Israel, because the runway for our support for Israel also is growing shorter if we don’t get support from Congress for that additional security assistance.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  My second topic on press freedom, particularly American journalists that are arrested in Russia.  Can you fill us in on what you guys offered to the Russians that they rejected a couple of days ago? 

MR KIRBY:  No, I’m not going to do that.

QUESTION:  And then adjacent to that, RFE/RL reporter, second American citizen that has been arrested (inaudible). Is the President aware of the case and what does he think about designation – (inaudible) being designated as wrongful?

MR KIRBY:  That’s going to be up to the State Department.  As you well know, since you cover that building, they have their own process for determining wrongful detentions.  I’m not going to get ahead of the State Department and their process.  That’s really a question better put to my colleague over there at the State Department.  I would just say, broadly speaking, the President has remained very, very focused on the cases of wrongfully detained Americans overseas, and we have worked very, very hard to bring home now more than 35 wrongfully detained Americans from around the world.  

We are certainly mindful of Mr. Whelan’s case.  Years and years now he’s been wrongfully detained in Russia, and of course Mr. Gershkovich from The Wall Street Journal, who was doing nothing but being a reporter, doing his job.  These espionage charges are trumped up, false, ridiculous, and we’re going to do everything we can – continue to do everything we can – to find a way to bring both of those gentlemen back home with their families where they belong.  And I would tell you, as I think – and the nature of your question alluded to, we have made a serious proposal to the Russians for both gentlemen, and they have refused to act on it.  

So we’re just going to keep our shoulder to the wheel.  We’re going to keep trying.  They need to be home with their families, and President Biden takes his responsibility as Commander in Chief very, very seriously, and he’s proven in the past he’s willing to make the difficult decisions that it might require him to make to get them released.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) prisoner swap proposal or something else?

MR KIRBY:  I’m not going to get into the details, but I think you can understand why I wouldn’t negotiate in public.  The less I say about these proposals the better chances that they might have to get some traction, but it would not be appropriate for me to negotiate here for their release in public.  We’re going to focus on this literally every day.  We’re not – that hasn’t changed and it’s not going to change going forward.  We know their families, particularly at this time of year with the holidays approaching – going to be a particularly sad time for them.  For the Whelan family, I think now it’s a decade, and they deserve to be reunited with Paul.  The Gershkovich’s deserve to be reunited with Evan, and we’re just going to keep working at it as hard as we can.  We have to.  We absolutely have to.

Yeah, in the yellow tie back there.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Admiral Kirby.  This is Mushfiqul Fazal representing Just News BD and South Asia Perspectives.  Moscow recently accused U.S. Ambassador Peter Haas, U.S. ambassador in Bangladesh, for interfering Bangladesh internal affairs.  As you know, Ambassador Peter Haas very much engaged to restoring – to holding a free, fair, and inclusive election with the political parties, civil societies, and the other stakeholders.  And he expressed his security concerns in Bangladesh as (inaudible) he is facing violent rhetoric from the Bangladesh regime people.  So what is your responding about the Russian (inaudible) and his safety and security in Bangladesh?  And I have one follow-up.

MR KIRBY:  Of course you do.  I mean, look, back in the Navy we had a single two-syllable word to describe an allegation like that, which I will spare you from.  I’ll just tell you that it’s absolutely false and the Russians know it’s false.  This is just classic Russian propaganda.  They know it’s false.  We want the same thing the Bangladeshi people want and that’s free and fair elections.  And that’s what the ambassador was – and his team was and will continue to work with all sectors of Bangladeshi society, including civil society, including engagement with opposition parties and individuals as well as the sitting government, to work hard to make sure that the democratic aspirations of the Bangladeshi people are respected.  That’s what we’re doing.


QUESTION:  Thank you, Admiral.  India, China, and Russia, according to India Today reports, they are on the same side to back Bangladesh authoritarian prime minister, and Bangladesh current regime is moving ahead another one-sided election, crackdown on opposition, and putting opposition in the jail.  So are you stepping back from your position, as you say, that you will take all necessary steps to hold a free, fair, and credible election in Bangladesh?

MR KIRBY:  We believe in a free and fair election in Bangladesh and we’ll continue to make that case.  We don’t take sides in foreign elections, and that doesn’t change with – in Bangladesh’s case either.  We support a free and fair election.  We’re going to continue, as the ambassador team will, to do what we can to support that basic aspiration of the people of Bangladesh.

Yeah, over there.  I’ll go to you and then to you two in the back, yeah.

QUESTION:  Thank you so much, sir.  This is Jahanzaib from ARY News TV Pakistan.  Sir, United States and Western Union – European Union have designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, but the United Nations does not consider Hamas as a terrorist organization.  Is it a concern that a world body does not consider Hamas as a terrorist organization?  And secondly, sir —

MR KIRBY:  We hold them as a foreign terrorist organization.  That’s our policy.  And we’ve added, as you know, additional sanctions on Hamas in just recent weeks.

QUESTION:  So secondly is about India’s failed assassination attempt on Sikh Khalistan leader Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.  Deputy NSA was in India and met with the Indian foreign minister and talked about this.  What kind of response you are getting from India on this assassination —

MR KIRBY:  I’m not going to talk about diplomatic conversations.  As you know, this is a matter under investigation.  We’re taking it very, very seriously.  We’ve conveyed our very serious concerns to our Indian counterparts.  They have said that they’ve launched an inquiry, an investigation.  We think that’s a good step.  Obviously, we want to see that investigation be as credible and transparent as possible, and that for – and that people that are responsible for these attacks are held properly accountable.  And I have to leave it at that. 

In the back there, yes, with the grey – there you go. 

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Daria Gerasina with Russia’s RIA Novosti agency.  If the United States Congress fails to support the supplemental package today, do you think that this will eventually bring closure the prospects of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine?  And will you place – I mean “you” as the United States Government – will you raise the issue of peace talks during talks with Ukraine officials today?  At least mention it. 

MR KIRBY:  I think what it brings closer – no, no, no, no.  I’m actually trying to answer the question.  I think what it brings closer, and the Ukrainians have said this themselves, is their potential defeat at the hands of the Russian military, and that should be unacceptable to everybody – not just here in the United States but around the world.  And for congressmen, members of Congress, to say that they support a strong national security and a strong defense, they should be all in to support Ukraine.  Because if Ukraine falls, and Mr. Putin is emboldened, you want to think the – you think the cost supporting Ukraine is high now?  Think about how much higher that’s going to be, not just in national treasure but in blood, American blood, if Mr. Putin gets his way and then starts to threaten NATO.  

So that’s what I think is a potential here if we don’t get the support for Ukraine.  And look, we’ve said it a million times; I’ll say it a million and one more time:  How and when this war ends is going to be up to President Zelenskyy.  Now, he’s put forward a peace formula.  He’s talked about some sort of a peace summit that he wants to pursue.  We’re helping him operationalize that peace formula.  But whatever peace looks like, it’s got to be determined by President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people.  And whatever the negotiations look looks, it has to be acceptable – it has to start with a foundation of being acceptable to the Ukrainian people and to President Zelenskyy.  It’s not going to be legislated from afar.  We’re certainly not going to dictate those terms to them.  

The conversations today that you’re talking about, this is really about helping shore up Ukraine’s defense industrial base, and it’s being hosted over there at the Pentagon, because whatever – whenever the war ends and however it ends, Ukraine’s still going to have a long border with Russia, and they’re still going to have significant defense and security needs, and they’re going to need a process by which they can continue to help defend themselves.  And so that is what the conversation today is about.  It’s not about peace talks, it’s about helping them develop the mechanisms to have a healthy defense industrial base, which they are no question going to need thanks to what Mr. Putin has done to that country. 

The young lady next to you. 

QUESTION:  Thank you very much.  My name is Mila Chernova; I’m from Sputnik News.  My first question:  Will the – on Russian President Putin’s trip to United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, he also discussed Ukraine and Gaza during his trip.  If you are following Putin’s travel, and what comments do you have?  And whether there is out of this a trip will be also discussed during today’s meeting.

And my second question:  On Gershkovich, you said Russia refused U.S. proposal; if you can give any details of that proposal.  And if you are preparing another proposal on Gershkovich, and when can it be made?

MR KIRBY:  As I said before, I’m not going to negotiate for Mr. Gershkovich’s release or Mr. Whelan’s release in public.  We have made a serious proposal; we have made, in Mr. Whelan’s case, other serious proposals, all of which the Russians have denied to discuss with any measure of good faith.  So we’re going to keep at it, and we’ll continue to have these discussions, and we’ll continue to try to get something moving in a positive direction to get both of them home.  But I am certainly not going to talk about the details of it here.  We would never do that, because the more public you make that, the less chances of success you’re going to have. 

And as for Mr. Putin’s trip, I think I’ve already answered that question.  I don’t expect it’s going to be a major topic of discussion over at the Pentagon today, and I don’t – I can’t speak for what Mr. Putin is hearing or saying when he – in the region.  It is clear to us that through his relationship with Iran, he is all – fully interested not only in being able to kill more innocent Ukrainians but in destabilizing even further a tense situation in the Middle East by the potential provision of military capabilities to the Iranian military.  

I – and all I can speak for in terms of our policy with respect to the war in Gaza is what I’ve said repeatedly from the podium here today.  We continue to support Israel in their right and responsibility to go after this truly genocidal threat of Hamas and continue to urge them to be as careful and deliberate as possible when it comes to civilian casualties, and we’re going to keep doing everything we can to get humanitarian assistance in.  As I said, more aid is getting in.  Even with the pause lifted, humanitarian assistance is getting in, and obviously we want to get all those hostages out.

Yeah, over here. 

QUESTION:  Hi.  Dan Rivers from British TV, ITV News.  Has Israel engaged in meaningful talks with the U.S. about a sort of post-conflict vision for Gaza?

MR KIRBY:  We have talked with our Israeli counterparts for quite some time about post-conflict Gaza.  The President raised it in his meeting with the war cabinet on the 17th of October when he went to Tel Aviv.  The Vice President raised it in her discussions over the weekend, and certainly at various other levels, including at Mr. Sullivan’s and Secretary Blinken’s level.  He just finished a third trip to the region.  It obviously was a focus of those discussions.

So yes, they’re engaged in meaningful discussions about this.  

QUESTION:  And has that tempo increased recently?  There’s been reporting suggesting it has.

MR KIRBY:  Tempo?

QUESTION:  Of those discussions.  Have they become more intense over the recent days?

MR KIRBY:  I don’t know that I’d describe them as more intense.  I would say that we continue to have – we have had and will continue to have discussions with them about what post-conflict governance in Gaza needs to look like.  I wish I could sit here and tell you we’ve had all the answers.  Part of the reason we’re having these discussions is because we don’t have all the answers.  And the more time that elapses, the more we realize we’ve got to continue to work at that, at that problem set.  There’s a lot more questions than there are solutions right now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a conversation worth having and continuing to have, which we’ll do, as I said earlier.

While I can’t tell you perfectly today what it needs to look like, what we can tell you is what we don’t want it to look like, and the Vice President I think very clearly articulated that over the weekend.  And just as importantly, in the macro sense, it’s got to look like something that is credible and authentic to the aspirations of the Palestinian people.  That’s really what we’re shooting for.

Yeah.  Yes, ma’am, go ahead.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Admiral.  So first on Angola, it’s still hard to believe that the recent meeting that just happened between President Lourenço and President Joe Biden can bring benefits from Angola.  So how do you evaluate the meeting between President Lourenço and President Biden?  And just to clarify to the Angolan people how this meeting will be benefit the Angolans.

MR KIRBY:  Yeah.  No, that’s a great question.  I mean, I would first point you to what President Lourenço said after the meeting, which is that he thought it was very productive, and it was good, it was constructive, and that he felt very positive coming out of that meeting about the future of U.S.-Angola bilateral relations.  And look, I mean, we are their third largest trading partner – they are our third largest trading partner in Sub-Saharan Africa.  There’s a lot of economic ties already between our two countries, and the President wants to see those expand, and that’s one of the reasons we’re so excited about that economic corridor that will certainly run right through Angola.  

That could bring – not only will it bring jobs in terms of the creation of the corridor, but the corridor itself will bring additional economic opportunities and investment opportunities for the Angolan people in the future.  It’s part of the President’s program for global investment and infrastructure.  It’s designed to provide ways for other countries to tap into healthy, vibrant, and transparent investment opportunities that they can’t get from other sources and from other nations.  

And so we’re excited about it.  The President was excited about it.  They had a long discussion about it in that meeting.  So as far as we’re concerned, there’s a lot of opportunity here, a lot of positivity in the bilateral relationship.

QUESTION:  And now on Zimbabwe sanctions, are they still – does Biden administration still thinking of starting or looking for more ways to evaluate the situation in Zimbabwe regarding the sanctions?  I know Biden administration decide to continue the sanction, and these sanctions having been affecting a lot the Zimbabwean people even though it’s not targeting to the people, but it’s affecting the people.  Is any way this administration’s reconsidering to evaluate the situation in Zimbabwe in order to relieve the sanctions?

MR KIRBY:  I really don’t have an update today on sanctions reviews for Zimbabwe.  But I would point you to our State Department colleagues, who might be able to get you more information on that.  But I have nothing to announce or speak to when it comes to that today.

I’ve got time for just a couple more.  Yes, ma’am, in the middle there.

QUESTION:  Thank you.  Sarah Canals from Spain, Cadena SER Spanish radio.  There have been growing diplomatic tensions between Spain and Israel recently after Spanish prime minister warned Netanyahu about respecting international law.  Has the U.S. talked to the Spanish Government about it?  Is it a concern that Israel’s military operations are triggering such tensions amongst European allies?  

And then also on Ukraine, very quick question:  If Congress doesn’t manage to pass funding – I know you don’t want to speculate about what this would look like on the ground, but is the U.S. working on a plan B on that specific scenario?  

MR KIRBY:  Mr. Sullivan talked about this yesterday.  We need this funding.  There’s – and as our Office of Management and Budget Director Shalanda Young put, I think, very succinctly in a letter to Congress, there is no other magical pot of money to pull from.  There is no other place to go.  Without the funding, we will not be able to provide security assistance and other economic and financial assistance to Ukraine.  There’s no other place to go.  Now, Jake said it himself well – we’ll do what we can with what we have left.  But as I said, that takes us to the end of the year and not much else.  So we need this funding from Congress. 

On your first question about Spain, I’m certainly not going to talk about diplomatic conversations one way or the other, and Spain should speak for itself and its bilateral relations with Israel or any other nation for that matter.  That’s not for us to get involved in.  Spain is a key NATO Ally.  We’re grateful for the support that Spain continues to give the United States military, particularly in terms of the homeporting of destroyers there on Spanish soil.  Spain has been a tremendous ally and partner when it comes to supporting Ukraine as well, but every nation has to speak for itself here when it comes to what’s going on in the Middle East.  And I would respectfully point you back to our Spanish colleagues to speak to their relationship with Israel.  All I can do is speak for our relationship with Israel, which I’ve been doing here for much of the last hour.  

Yeah.  Yes, ma’am.  Next to her.  Right there.  Yeah.  And then I’ll come over here in one moment.  

QUESTION:  Thank you – I’m Jia from China’s Ciaxin Media.  My first question is about – in the call yesterday between Secretary Blinken and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, did the two sides reach any consensus about or did they discuss any room for coordination in terms of mediation efforts in the Gaza crisis?  And also, NATO *Director General Stoltenberg warned recently that the West might be expecting some bad news from the Ukrainian front.  So specifically, according to the U.S. evaluation, what kind of bad news is most likely to come out? 

MR KIRBY:  (Laughter.)  I – I’m not – I won’t speak for our Ukrainian partners and what they’ve been doing.  President Zelenskyy has said himself that the counteroffensive hasn’t achieved the kind of success that he had hoped it would succeed over recent weeks and months.  But he has also made it clear that they’re going to stay at that effort, and there is still fighting along that front, from east all the way to the south.  And it’s important, again, as I said before, as the winter comes and it gets harder for armies to move on the ground, and yet we know the Russians are going to continue to try to stay on the offense or to pursue an offensive strategy.  It’s all the more critical – right now, on the clock – that Ukraine gets the support that it needs.  

Now, on your first question, I certainly won’t speak for Secretary Blinken and his phone call.  I think you can understand that.  What we have said in the past is that if China can be helpful here in terms of Israel’s fight against Hamas, then, as we have said with many other countries, we would certainly welcome a discussion about that.  They want to use or can use their influence in the region – for instance, their relationship with Iran – to make it clear to Iran that their destabilizing activities and their support for groups like Hamas and Hizballah and the Houthis are only raising tensions and are unacceptable.  I mean that would be helpful, but I certainly would let our State Department colleagues speak to the details of that conversation.  Does that answer your questions?  

Yeah, over here.  Yes, ma’am.  We’ll make you the last one.  

QUESTION:  Thank you.  I’m Annelise Neilson, Sky News, Australia.  The Israeli prosecutors say they’re facing some significant challenges gathering evidence to move ahead with prosecutions for those Hamas fighters who used rape as a weapon of war on October 7th against Israeli women.  The U.S. has provided monetary support to Ukraine for similar kinds of evidence gathering and prosecutions.  Is the White House going to help with that – to help prosecute those guilty of rape as a weapon of war?  And then my other question – sorry for a double-header – we’re all waiting with bated breath in Australia about the NDAA passing through Congress (inaudible) — 

MR KIRBY:  So are we.  

QUESTION:  Yeah.  (Laughter.)  How important is it that this information sharing aspect for enabling the AUKUS agreement gets through for the NDAA?  

MR KIRBY:  The answer to your second question is: critical.  Obviously, it’s critical.  AUKUS is such a significant opportunity here in the region to not only help Australia develop a nuclear-propelled submarine capability, but the other benefits that will come from that in terms of both our security needs in the region but also in terms of the defense industrial base for both our countries – and, of course, the UK’s.  So it’s critical to get that support.  And the information sharing is a key part of that, has to be, when you’re talking about developing those kind of capability.  

On your first question, I don’t know – honestly, I don’t know of any plans to do that, to help with – to financially assist in the prosecutorial efforts.  So we can take that question and see if we can get back to you with a better answer.  I’m not aware of any efforts to do that.  But you heard the President speak about this yesterday, this – the sexual assault and violence that had been perpetrated by Hamas on innocent women and children.  It’s despicable.  And the Israelis, again, not only have every right and responsibility to go after Hamas leadership, but every right and responsibility to look into this and prosecute those war crimes.  But, again, I – we’ll just have to get back to you and see if there’s anything that we’re doing financially to support.  I don’t know.  

Source : State.Gov