Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Tel Aviv, Israel
1:22 P.M. IDT
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Hello. Hi, everybody. Okay. I just have a quick domestic thing that I want to hit with you guys. So, later today, in D.C., there will be a classified briefing in the Senate to talk about the national security stakes for the Bipartisan Innovation Act, and the stakes are very high.
The classified briefing will be held by Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks, and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.
As Jake said in the briefing room earlier this week, our national security requires a secure and resilient supply chain. We must invest in semiconductor manufacturing in the United States to compete with China, get Javelins to Ukraine, and so much more. There is a pathway for the Bipartisan Innovation Act with strong bipartisan majority. It's now or never, and no one should play politics with our national security.
And with that, I welcome you guys on our trip to the Middle East. And as you see, Jake Sullivan, our National Security Advisor, is here to talk about our first -- our first stop into Israel.
Jake, all yours.
MR. SULLIVAN: Thanks, guys. So, a couple of hours from now, we'll land in Israel, and the President is very much looking forward to his first trip to Israel as President. Obviously, this is not his first trip to Israel as Joe Biden; it will, in fact, be the 10th time he has come.
And his strong support and commitment to the state of Israel and to the U.S.-Israel relationship is widely known both in Israel and in the United States. And this trip will be an opportunity for him to reaffirm and reinforce that as President of the United States. He believes that it is important at this critical moment in the world -- with the turbulence we are facing; at a period of geopolitical competition; at a time when there are significant challenges that we are confronting from climate and energy, to food, to nuclear proliferation -- that we deepen and intensify our engagement and relationship with our closest allies and partners in the world.
That was true in the Indo-Pacific, it's true in Europe, and now it will be true here in Israel with a longstanding partner not just in security but across the full range of the relationship.
The first thing that will happen is an arrival ceremony. He will give remarks where we -- he will have the opportunity to lay out, in his own voice, his vision for the U.S.-Israel relationship and his strong and ironclad commitment to Israel's security and Israel's future as a democratic and Jewish state.
He will then have the opportunity to engage in a briefing on both the state of play with Iron Dome, which the U.S. has supported strongly over the years and which the Biden administration, working with Congress, has supported to the tune of $1 billion just in the past year alone.
That briefing also will cover a new laser-enabled missile defense system called Iron Beam, which is in development now and which will involve a partnership between the United States and Israel, just as Iron Dome did, where our two countries working together can take us to the next generation of missile defense technologies that help defeat threats coming from both state and non-state actors.
After the briefing on Iron Dome and Iron Beam, he will go to Yad Vashem and have the opportunity to pay his respects at the Holocaust Memorial. It is something he has done before. But he feels very strongly that, as President, it's important for him to visit Yad Vashem to reflect upon and remember this immense human tragedy of the Holocaust. And he will also have the chance there to meet with Holocaust survivors. That will complete his program for today.
And tomorrow, he will engage in a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Lapid. And they will cover the full range of subjects, from the U.S.-Israel security relationship, to regional issues, to cooperation on science and technology, including new announcements that we will have on engagement on various forms of emerging technology that the Biden administration and the government of Israel will work on together in the years ahead.
He'll do a press conference. And he will also, in the context of that meeting with the Prime Minister, engage with the President of the United Arab Emirates and the Prime Minister of Israel for the first time at the summit level in a new format called "I2U2" -- Israel, India, the United States, UAE.
And there will be a significant announcement around food security and agricultural technology, which is an area where all four countries can come together to help deal with an immediate crisis facing the entire world.
He will then have the opportunity to meet with President Herzog, the President of Israel, as well as with former Prime Minister, member of the Knesset, Bibi Netanyahu.
As I said at the podium, the President -- the American President traditionally meets with a range of figures across the Israeli government, reflecting that our relationship with Israel is not just about one person, one leader, it is about the state of Israel and about engaging across the political spectrum.
He'll have a reception with other Israeli leaders so that he gets the chance to engage with a number of critical leaders and stakeholders.
And then the President will drop into the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games, which brings together Jewish athletes from around the world, including from the United States, where we have a very strong delegation that is going to do very well at these games. And the President is going to get the opportunity to give them a pep talk as -- as the games get underway.
So that's the -- that's the game plan over the course of the next, oh, 36 hours. A lot -- a lot of business to get done. The President is very much looking forward to it.
And then we will have the opportunity to talk about the stops the following day in the West Bank, including an East Jerusalem hospital and with President Abbas, when we next -- when we next get together to gaggle.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q: So by meeting with the -- both the Israelis and the Palestinian leaders, is he hoping to take some steps toward resuming the peace process?
MR. SULLIVAN: The President will make clear his longstanding commitment and his administration's commitment to a two-state solution, which he believes is the best path to ensure a viable, democratic Jewish State of Israel and a Palestinian state where Palestinians can live in freedom and dignity.
He is also mindful of the challenges that have existed for many years in terms of moving that peace process forward.
He was heartened by the recent steps, including the phone call between Prime Minister Lapid and President Abbas. There has not been contact between an Israeli prime minister and the president of the Palestinian Authority in several years before that call. That is a positive step -- engagement between Defense Minister Gantz and Prime Minister -- President Abu Mazen as well.
So these are steps he'd like to encourage both sides to build on, but he won't be making formal proposals for the launch of some new peace initiative. What he will do is try to encourage both sides to find a pathway where, step by step, they move closer towards a vision that works for both Israelis and for Palestinians and for the region as a whole.
Q: To follow up on that, Jake, is there going to be any kind of public statement from the President on Israeli settlements?
MR. SULLIVAN: The President has been clear, the administration has been clear that we want to see steps that are helpful and advance the cause of a two-state solution. And we don't want to see steps that set back or constrain the cause of a two-state solution.
And we've said that, from our perspective, a range of activities are of concern to us, whether it be incitement to violence or payment to terrorists' families or settlements, demolitions, evictions. All of this will be on the agenda over the course of the next three days.
Q: Will there be any update on the reopening of the consulate in East Jerusalem?
MR. SULLIVAN: Our position is that we would like a consulate in East Jerusalem. Obviously, that requires engagement with the Israeli government. It requires engagement with the Palestinian leadership as well. And we will continue that engagement on this trip.
Q: Does the President brings -- plan to bring up anything about Shireen Abu Akleh? There have been many people calling for him to center the issue, asking for prosecutions. What's his stance on that?
MR. SULLIVAN: Secretary Blinken actually spoke with Shireen's family a short while ago. He has invited the family to the United States to be able to sit down and engage with them directly.
The administration, at the President's direction, has been very much engaged in helping try to determine what exactly happened around the tragic circumstances of her death.
And we put out a statement on July 4th that indicated, one, that we do believe that it is most likely that her death was caused by an IDF soldier; and, two, that we don't have reason to believe that it was intentional; and three, that there will have to be efforts made and accountability and making sure that we find a way to conclude this chapter justly.
This is someone who is a journalist, an American citizen. The President, Secretary of State, the entire team grieves for the family. It is a horrific tragedy, and we will continue to work and engage deeply on it. And, of course, this subject will be one of the subjects at play in this visit.
Q: And just to pick up on the press freedom issue, Jake, a U.S. judge has given the administration until August 1st for the administration to weigh in on the MBS -- whether MBS should be given immunity in a lawsuit by Khashoggi's fiancée. Has the President decided on that, or is he waiting until after the trip?
MR. SULLIVAN: So I would have to refer you to DOJ, which is engaged in the litigation in that case, in terms of the litigation posture that they would take.
Q: Jake, can I follow up on a couple of things you said on energy in the briefing yesterday, or the day before?
You said there was additional capacity in the Gulf to pump oil. I'm wondering: To what extent are you worried that eating through that buffer could pose a risk?
MR. SULLIVAN: Sorry, it's a little hard for me to hear you.
Q: Sure. You said yesterday there was additional capacity in the Gulf for oil production. What -- to what extent are you guys worried that eating through that buffer could pose a risk in and of itself?
And then, you also mentioned the kind of gas caps plan that you've been working on at the G7. Can you update how China and India have responded to that plan and where those negotiations are?
MR. SULLIVAN: Sure. On the first piece, our position when it comes to energy security, particularly in respect to the Gulf but globally, is that we want to see an adequate supply of energy on the market to ensure that we're sustaining strong economic performance and that we are not unduly burdening customers at the pump. And we also want that energy supply to be sustainable over time, meaning having spare capacity as a part of the equation.
Those basic elements remain the touchstone of our policy. And we're in constant contact not just with producers in the Gulf, but producers globally. We're also working, obviously, on domestic production as well. And those conversations will continue during this trip. They -- you know, the President talked about energy security in Asia, he talked about energy security in Europe. He'll talk about energy security here.
And we believe that there -- these conversations have taken a very constructive turn. And we will continue to apply the same kind of principles, approaches, and logic to the question of inadequate supply of energy that we have over the course of many years through multiple administrations.
On the issue of the price cap, there are detailed discussions unfolding, particularly between the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, with respect to the modalities of this, the specifics of this, how this would work. And that will continue to get refined. That is not a process that will be completed in days; it will take time because of the number of elements that have to be worked through.
We are already now engaging with a number of the key consuming countries, including the countries you mentioned and others as well. And those are themselves detailed discussions, but because of their sensitivity, I don't want to read them out here.
I will just say that we are being transparent, direct, and straightforward with the major consuming countries about our intent to work to reduce Russian revenues while at the same time to try to minimize disruption to the global economy and to consumers in all of these various countries, including consumers in the United States.
Q: Jake, there has been reports that President Biden won't be shaking hands on this trip. What is the basis of that protocol, given that COVID is largely spread via airborne?
MR SULLIVAN: So you guys have seen, over the course of the past year and a half, as we've been in different stages of this pandemic, we have taken different approaches to both the question of masking and the question of contact -- physical contact.
You've seen that play out on the course of foreign trips, how leaders physically interact with one another. That's changed over time. It's had different iterations, different manifestations.
All I will say is that we're in a phase of the pandemic now where we are seeking to reduce contact and to increase masking, as we're standing here masked before you, to minimize spread.
But, you know, I can't speak to, you know, every moment and every interaction and every movement. That's just kind of the general principle we're applying here.
Q: In other words, there could be handshakes, but it's not recommended? Help me --
MR. SULLIVAN: I think just the simplest way for me to put it is that we're in a phase of the pandemic right now where we're looking to increase masking, reduce contact to minimize spread. That's the approach we're taking. How exactly that plays out in any given interaction is something that we will see unfold.
Q: Jake, will there be a press conference when we're in Saudi Arabia? Will the President speak to the press when he's there?
MR. SULLIVAN: I'll defer to my colleagues in terms of the formalities of his engagement with the press. But we do expect that he will have some way of communicating with you guys while he's there. I don't know about a formal press conference.
Q: Will we see him with Saudi leaders? Will we see him with MBS?
MR. SULLIVAN: I'm going to, again, defer the question of what exactly the arrangements are in terms of press pools and press access and all of that to my friends on the communications team.
I will say that, from the United States' perspective, it's important that we have transparency and that you get as much access as possible to see the full range of engagements that occur there.
We're not -- we're -- we, the United States, are not going to seek to limit anybody or anything from anything.
Q: Can you detail what some of those engagement -- we've got no --
Q: We've got nothing.
Q: -- nothing on what the schedule will be in Saudi. Can you run through some of what --
MR. SULLIVAN: So, as I said at the podium a couple of days ago, we'll have a bilateral program with the Saudis on Friday night. That program will involve the King, the Crown Prince, other ministers in the Saudi government. Then on Saturday, we will have bilateral meetings with a number of other key leaders from the region before we roll into the full summit.
And then in terms of more details on exactly how those meetings will be sequenced and stacked, you know, let's get through the Israel piece, and then we'll be in a position to lay out for you in full each of the elements of the Saudi stop.
Q: But can you just give us a preview or like the broad overall theme of the President's remarks at the GCC+3 Summit? Is he going to be returning to the "autocracies versus democracies" theme, or is he on to something else?
MR. SULLIVAN: The President is going to give a broad, strong vision statement and strategy for the Biden administration's approach to the Middle East at a consequential moment. And he will talk about security. He'll talk about economics. He'll talk about America's historic role in the region and his commitment to maintain strong American leadership in the Middle East going forward on a basis that is appropriate for 2022 rather than 2002. And he will also talk about human rights.
But I really want to give him the opportunity to lay out that full case, which he will do at the table with the other leaders.
Q: Jake, on the President's meeting with Prime -- former Prime Minister Netanyahu, it's no secret that Biden and Bibi haven't always seen eye to eye, especially on the issue of Iran. What are the expectations of this meeting? And how does the current political turmoil in Israel not impact the President's long-term goals?
MR. SULLIVAN: Fundamentally, one of the key messages that we're sending on this trip at this time is that the relationship between the United States and Israel is not about who sits in what chair in Israel or in the United States. It is about a relationship between two countries and two peoples.
And so, despite the fact that Israel has entered election season, the President can have an equally robust engagement with the Israeli government and the Israeli public as he could if we were not in election season. That's point one.
Point two is that the President believes it is very important to show engagement across the Israeli political spectrum because, like the United States, Israel is a democracy where people have different points of view, where you have leaders representing different points of view, and he wants to engage with them.
And then, third, he's got a very long relationship with Bibi Netanyahu. It has always been a straightforward relationship. The two men have talked candidly about issues where they see eye to eye and many issues where they do not see eye to eye.
This meeting will be no different, but the President emerges from those meetings feeling that he's represented his perspective effectively and gotten former Prime Minister Netanyahu's perspective. And in that way, these are constructive and productive meetings, and we expect nothing different tomorrow.
Q: Jake, can you give us an update of the FSO supertanker that's, you know, in danger of sinking or exploding in the Red Sea? Will the President be discussing this matter to raise funds to potentially -- to potentially avoid an environmental disaster there without Gulf leaders?
MR. SULLIVAN: This is something we've been focused on for quite some time. Obviously, the Houthis have considerable responsibility to ensure that a solution can be facilitated and executed.
I can't say for certain that the President will engage on this at the table with the Gulf leaders in detail, but it is something he has directed his team to work on actively so that we can avoid an environmental catastrophe. And our team has been very much deeply engaged with the key countries in the region to try to make progress on it, as well as with the United Nations and others.
Q: Jake, what's the President going to tell Israeli leaders about his efforts to resume the nuclear deal -- the Iran nuclear deal?
MR. SULLIVAN: He's going to be straightforward about it the way he has been publicly and the way that we have been in our diplomatic engagements in the region. There is a deal on the table; it involves a mutual compliance-for-compliance return to the JCPOA. The President believes Iran should take it.
At the same time, we are not holding back in terms of enforcing the sanctions. We have done two rounds of designations over the course of the last few weeks to crack down on smuggling and to increase the economic pressure on Iran.
So the President's policy has been clear and straightforward, and that's how he's going to lay it out for countries in the region, some of whom have different perspectives, obviously, including Israel. And he will make the case that from the view of the United States and the Biden administration, diplomacy is the best way to reach what is a shared goal of ensuring that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon.
Q: Jake, currently it does not look like the Saudis are about to make major commitments on human rights or energy. Are you concerned that the President could conclude this trip and return to the states relatively empty-handed?
MR. SULLIVAN: I do not believe that the President -- well, let me step back. I have confidence that after the President has the opportunity to engage with the Saudi leadership and with his Gulf partners, he will be able to demonstrate material progress to the American people in terms of the things that matter to them and for regional peace and security.
I'm not going to get ahead of what he will say on the trip, but he is coming with the intention of having productive, constructive discussions that lead to material progress on a range of different fronts.
Q: How would you gauge "material progress"?
MR. SULLIVAN: I mean, it's a bit of an existential question, I guess. (Laughter.)
Q: I mean on -- on human rights, for example, what would be "material progress"? What would you want to see from them?
MR. SULLIVAN: Well, first, I think -- one thing that I have to say has been interesting to me is the way that there has been a relative glossing over of what has happened on the ground in Yemen, which we regard is a massive human rights issue -- because you're talking about trying to avoid the death, destruction, and suffering of millions -- tens of millions.
And a part of the context for this trip -- what has already been accomplished in moving into this trip has been the product of intensive diplomacy. And that is a fragile but real ceasefire -- that is now in its third month that the Saudis have invested in and, we believe, on this trip will demonstrate a further commitment to -- and that has saved a significant number of lives and improved a significant number of lives in Yemen.
It's been interesting that this was the top issue for many people with respect to the U.S.-Saudi relationship. And now that there is a ceasefire in place, there's a kind of sense of, "Well, okay, let's just put that thing on the back burner."
We do not believe we can put that issue on the back burner because that ceasefire is fragile. It needs to be protected. It needs to be nurtured. It needs to be built upon. And continued progress on Yemen alone, if there were nothing else, would be a significant achievement with both important consequences for regional stability and, even more important, massive human -- positive human consequences. So that's just one thing that I would reinforce.
You said there'll be no progress on energy, no progress on other things. I -- you know, I would take issue with those characterizations at this point, but I'm not going to get ahead of what happens both on this trip and in the weeks that follow.
Q: Jake, right before we left, the State Department acknowledged that at least three Americans have been detained in Venezuela. I'm wondering if you could talk about the President's engagement or your engagement on trying to get those guys home.
MR. SULLIVAN: Look, the President has made it a personal priority to try to get unjustly detained Americans and hostages home. You've obviously seen him talking to the families of unjustly detained Americans in Russia.
The Secretary of State and I -- not a week goes by where one or both of us isn't working directly with families, talking directly with families to consult on a way forward to get folks home.
We have efforts in train with the government of Russia, the government -- the regime in Venezuela, the government in Iran. We are engaging the Taliban.
Q: What about the Saudis? What about American citizens and residents in Saudi?
MR. SULLIVAN: Let me just finish the answer to the question he posed.
To try to find a resolution that gets the government of China and everywhere where there are American citizens who are currently detained, to get them released and get them home. And we will continue to try to make progress.
Venezuela, specifically, we made a first step that was really important. We did get a couple of Americans out, and that was a great thing. But it was bittersweet because there's a lot of Americans still there, and we've got to get them home.
With respect to the Saudis: When we came into office, there were three American citizens detained in Saudi prisons. The President directed his team to work that. All three of those citizens were released from prison. And we're continuing to work to try to remove the remaining restrictions on them.
Q: Jake, going back to Iran quickly: On the sending drones to Russia that you warned was a possibility on Monday at the briefing, what's the evidence on this? Has Iran done it, or is the U.S. warning that this is in the works? And is Putin's visit to Iran related to this?
MR. SULLIVAN: I can't speak to what is driving Putin's visit to Iran, but the timing surely is interesting.
As far as what the evidence is, I can't speak further with respect to sources and methods. I would point out that when we have laid out information related to Russia's war effort in Ukraine and Russia's engagement with other countries, it has borne out on a regular basis. And I think -- I can understand the frustration of us saying things and then saying we can't say more. But I think over the course of months, we've built up a pattern in which we do not lightly come before you and lay out information if we do not have confidence in what we are saying.
As I said at the briefing, we have not seen evidence of delivery, but we have seen evidence of engagement between the two countries on this specific issue of large numbers of UAVs, including weapons-enabled UAVs for Russia to acquire from Iran.
And we think that this is of interest, to put it mildly, to the countries we will be visiting on this trip. Because Russia deepening an alliance with Iran to kill Ukrainians is something that the whole world should look at and see as a profound threat but a particularly acute threat to countries in the region since these same kinds of UAVs are the UAVs that were destroying infrastructure and killing people in both Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East.
Q: Jake, can you tell us anything about the identity of the ISIS leader in Syria that was killed, beyond his nom de guerre?
MR. SULLIVAN: So, I confess that I cannot tell you more -- not because, you know, we're trying to withhold information but because, standing here right now, I'm not sure what DOD has cleared for release. That's just me being totally honest.
But what I will endeavor to do is consult with them and get you as much information as we can provide, given, you know, obviously, the sensitivity of the issue.
What I can say is that he was one of the top ISIS leaders -- operationally significant, very much relevant to the efforts ISIS was undertaking in Syria. And so, we believe the strike actually deals a real blow to ISIS's efforts.
Q: Jake, maybe I misheard earlier, but on I2U2, is Modi participating in that?
MR. SULLIVAN: Yes.
Q: And what is the goal of bringing India into so many issues, right? That seems to be an ongoing theme. We've got IPEF, the Quad, now I2U2. Why? What are you trying to achieve
MR. SULLIVAN: So, first, India plays a critical role in the Indo-Pacific. And it's one of the largest, most significant, most strategically consequential countries in the Indo-Pacific, and so it should play a central role in our strategy, including through the Quad.
India also has very longstanding ties to and engagement in the Middle East, and relationships not just with the Gulf countries but relationships -- a relationship over the years with Israel. And so just as the United States can play a critical and central role in helping deepen Israel's integration into the region, India has a role to play in that as well.
So bringing together Israel, India, and the United Arab Emirates, especially around an issue where the four countries have unique capacities to bring to bear on agricultural technology, leading to greater food production, leading to an alleviation of the food security challenge -- this is the kind of thing that really fulfills the President's vision of a more integrated, more globally engaged Middle East across the board that isn't just focused on issues that have been top of mind for American foreign policymakers over the last 20 years -- terrorism and wars. This is a different kind of approach, and it's about expanding partnerships, expanding the geography rather than contracting or narrowing it.
And so we very much look forward to Prime Minister Modi's participation in this event. And we think I2U2 can become a feature of the broader region, just as the Quad has become a central pillar of the Indo-Pacific strategy of the United States.
Q: Jake, New York City yesterday released this PSA about what to do in case of a nuclear attack, and it got a lot of coverage. I'm wondering: Is that just the media kind of jumping on a routine thing that happens, or have you guys seen some sort of intelligence that you've shared with city, state, and local officials of a heightened risk of nuclear attack right now?
MR. SULLIVAN: I do not believe that it was the result of any intelligence-sharing from the federal government to New York City that led to this. I can't speak as to why they put it out at this point.
Q: Jake, I have a question from a member of the radio pool. What is the White House's response on the expected absence of Saudi Arabia from a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Desert Shield and Desert Storm Memorial on Thursday at the National Mall?
MR. SULLIVAN: We'll have to get back to you on that. I was not tracking the groundbreaking ceremony participation issue -- who's coming, who's not coming.
Q: All right. Thank you, Jake.
MR. SULLIVAN: Okay. Thanks, guys.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right, guys. I just have one -- one additional thing that I wanted to address because it came up in the -- in our briefing on Monday, and it's about the Yosemite wildfires. So I just want to share some stuff that we're doing.
So we're closely monitoring the Yosemite wildfire, and the President has been briefed. As always, we are grateful for the brave and swift work of federal, state, and local first responders. Together with state and local partners, the Department of Interior is deploying significant air and ground resources to reduce the intensity of the fire, limit spread, and contain spot fires. We also know the impacts of extreme weather are making wildfires more intense, and no one is immune from climate change. That is why the President has continued to tackling -- to making tackling the climate crisis one of his top priorities.
And so the Department of Interior is the -- is the place to go on any other specifics and details you all may have. So just wanted to touch on that.
And another thing I just wanted to touch on as well, as you all were asking Jake about the COVID protocols -- so I just wanted to say, like: Look, the President takes a range of COVID precautions and additional ones when he travels. You heard from the COVID team yesterday, when they -- they talked through how they are -- the preparations that they are taking with BA.4 and for BA.5, which is now the majority of cases in the United States. We are always monitoring what's going on in the countries, and so we are prepared for this. But we are also -- always on these trips, we take precautions. And -- and so, for us, this is not abnormal. These precautions that we take are decisions made by the President's doctor.
I will add: Ahead of this flight, the President tested negative for COVID, and he will test during the trip. And we are closely, again, monitoring BA.5. It's reasonable to expect him to take some additional precautions. And so I just wanted to put that out there for you all to know.
Q: Karine, are you increasing the cadence of the testing?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I don't have anything more to change. As you know, when he travels, there are -- there are protocols that countries have that we adhere to, that all of you and myself have to adhere to in order to visit that -- that host country. But wanted to just have some -- give you guys some transparency on that.
Q: Can you just clarify: Is there a new policy around shaking hands or not?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, what I'm -- what we're saying is we are taking precautions.
Q: Is one of those precautions not shaking hands?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: What I'm saying is we're going to try to minimize -- we're trying to minimize contact as much as possible where -- where we can. And so that is what the focus is going to be on this trip. And --
Q: Karine --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah.
Q: -- the President was in very lengthy handshaking, selfie sessions the last two days at the White House. So is this a brand-new policy as of today that we're tr- -- that you guys are trying to reduce contact?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: This has nothing to do with a brand new policy. What we're saying is we tend to take extra precautions. While -- while COVID is not gone, it's still very much around. And so while we -- we've talked about BA.4, we've talked about BA.5, especially as it relates to the COVID briefing, as the COVID team laid out. And so we are taking extra precautions.
BA.4, BA.5 is now the majority of cases that we're seeing in the United States. We're always monitoring what's going on in the country.
Again, this is up to his doctor as we're seeing what's happening across the (inaudible).
Q: I mean, I think we're dancing around this question, which is: There's reason why the President might not want to be seen shaking hands with the Crown Prince, and it seems like you've -- like he was just on the South Lawn of the White House embracing members of Congress, all that sort of thing. And now, suddenly, there's what appears to be a change. And so I just want to give you a chance to --
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Well, I mean -- no, no, no. There's -- I wouldn't say there's a change. And here's the thing -- that's why you're asking me if he's going to shake hands or not. We are saying that we're going to try to minimize contact as much as possible. But also, there are precautions that we are taking because this is up to his doctor.
BA.4, BA.5 is indeed, as we're seeing, increasing. And we want to make sure that we're taking those precautions to keep him safe and to keep all of us safe. And that's -- you know, and we just want to be very clear on that.
Q: Karine, Jake deferred some of the questions on press access in Saudi to you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: Yeah. Yeah.
Q: Will you commit to the President having a press conference while he's in Saudi Arabia?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: So, right now -- right now I can say that we -- we're not -- we don't have a -- a press conference for Saudi, but what we are trying to do is trying to make sure that you guys hear from the President in Saudi on -- on the bilat, on the trip, and make sure that you guys hear directly from him.
Q: Why won't there be a press conference? And what does that say about his commitment to press access and the free press?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I have to tell you, I mean, if you're -- if we -- well, if we are going to make sure that you guys hear from him, that is press access. I don't -- I -- I disagree with the characterization of your question. We are -- we are right now working to make sure that there is press a- -- press access, that you actually hear from him directly.
Q: But would this be him by himself, as opposed to him with the Crown Prince?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm not going to get into specifics. I'm not going to get ahead of -- ahead of what that's going to look like. We are working, on our side, to make sure that you guys hear directly from him, because we want you to have access and to hear from the President on this trip.
Q: And will there be press access to the bilats? Will there be pool sprays?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: That one -- again, we're working through that, and we will have more to share. Like, remember, we're going to have another gaggle as we head out from Israel to Jeddah, so -- Jerusalem, specifically, to Jeddah. So that -- so, you will have -- you will hear more from us about Saudi Arabia.
So, clearly, we want to make sure -- and this is what Jake said; this is important to us -- we want to make sure there's transparency. We want to make sure there's access.
I don't think having a formal press conference is the only way to go. I think hearing from the President, hearing directly from him, which is what we are working to -- towards, making sure that happens and that you guys have that opportunity to hear how -- what -- how -- what he thinks and how the conversations went and more broadly how the trip went.
Q: Just to be clear, Karine: So, at this point, you're saying that you are not sure whether pool will have access to the bilat between the President and the Saudi leadership?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I'm saying that we will have more to share in the next day or so. That's what I'm saying.
Q: Karine, will we hear from the President about the -- you -- you previewed the inflation numbers, that it would likely be high today. I don't -- I'm just curious if we're going to hear from the President or if you maybe -- it still seems too early for the data to have come out back home.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: (Inaudible.) So, as we know -- as you just stated, Justin, the data is -- we haven't seen the data yet. I pre- -- we did a little bit of a preview on Monday in the briefing room. It'll be out at 8:30 Eastern.
Again, we -- we expect the backwards-looking inflation data to be highly elevated, mainly because gas prices were so high in June.
The good news is that energy prices have come down substantially this month and are expected to fall further. Just some data here: The average retail price of gas was 11 percent higher in June than it was in May. And the cost of gas in July is already down 7 percent from June peak and down 5 percent on average. And even though gas prices shot up quickly when oil prices rose, they have not come down as quickly as oil -- oil has.
We continue to call on oil and gas companies to pass on their lower costs to consumers. American families should not be the first to pay and the last to benefit.
Again, the numbers are not out yet. But this is what we have -- we have been predicting and laying out for you all and our expectations.
Q: Karine, one question on Ukraine. It's been past 60 days since the President signed the Lend-Lease Act. So, by law, the administration should already be coming out with a mechanism or a procedure in terms of expediting the lending and leasing of weapons to Ukraine. Why hasn't the administration come out with that?
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: I want to make sure I get -- I get you an answer here, so let me connect with our team and make sure that we have an answer on that particular question.
Q: All right. Thank you.
MS. JEAN-PIERRE: All right. Thanks, guys.
2:04 P.M. IDT
Joseph R. Biden, Press Gaggle by Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/356764