Joe Biden

On-the-Record Press Gaggle by White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby Previewing President Biden's Travel to France

June 04, 2024

Via Teleconference

11:35 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining our on-the-record gaggle with John Kirby, who's our White House National Security Communications Advisor.

As promised, Sean is never allowed to moderate one of these gaggles ever again.

And with that, we're going to turn it over to Kirby, who will start with a topper. (Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY: Sean Savett. May he rest in peace. He had his moment and he blew it.

Good morning, everybody. Great to be with you again. As you all know, later today President Biden is going to travel to France to commemorate, alongside our allies and partners, the 80th anniversary of the historic D-Day operation.

As you all know, Operation Overlord not only freed France's western region during the Second World War, but set the course for the liberation of the rest of Europe. It was the beginning of the end of Nazi Germany. And it absolutely helped lead to our current rules-based world order that has continued to make us all safer and more secure.

While in Normandy, the President will speak with our nation's veterans and veterans from Allied powers. And they'll deliver remarks about the continued impact of their contributions. American and Allied forces exhibited remarkable bravery, skill, and intrepidity -- intrepid bravery on D-Day, excuse me, and throughout the war. Their bold defense upheld freedom and democracy everywhere.

Now, that war showed the world the value of strong alliances and partnerships, which is the lesson that continues to resonate today in Europe and well beyond. This visit will come at an important moment, as Ukraine continues to face down Russian threats in its east and north and as we are working to address the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.

President Biden has made revitalizing our relationships a key priority, recognizing, of course, that we are stronger when we act together and that today's challenges require global solutions and global responses.

Now, to that end, while he's in France, President Biden will also participate in an official state visit with President Macron. France is, of course, an important U.S. ally -- in fact, our nation's oldest ally. And this visit will underscore continued U.S.-French leadership on a range of consequential issues.

During their bilateral meeting, the presidents will discuss priorities like supporting Ukraine, of course; the need for a free and open Indo-Pacific region; addressing the crisis in the Middle East; and efforts to combat climate change.

As you all know, there will be a series of deliverables coming out of this state visit. I will not be able to get into the details of that today. We will have more to say on that a little bit later and a little bit closer to the state visit.

But I think in broad terms, what you can expect from the deliverables out of the state visit are a few things. You can expect that they will underscore the power and the importance of the transatlantic relationship. You can expect that they will help deepen our Indo-Pacific cooperation, not just from a security perspective, but also from an economic and diplomatic one.

You can expect that the deliverables will help us increase clean energy investments and opportunities, as well as to improve and increase nuclear energy capacity. And I think you can expect the deliverables to highlight U.S.-French cooperation with respect to the Olympics to help make sure that the Games are safe, secure, and sustainable, and that they can truly demonstrate the very best in athletic achievement.

The President looks forward to these engagements this week and to advancing our cooperation on these and so many other pressing topics.

And with that, we can start taking some questions.

MODERATOR: Thank you, sir. And I should clarify the reason why Sean is not allowed to moderate anymore is because he wished John Kirby a very happy birthday yesterday.

So, first up we'll go --

MR. KIRBY: Sean had a good life. He had a good run at it. And now it's over. Yeah.

MODERATOR: Yeah. With that, we'll go to Aamer. Aamer, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q: Hi, John. And I'm sorry I missed the call yesterday to wish you a happy birthday.

Any reaction to the elections in India? And I was also curious: What does the administration make of it? Looking like it might be less of a lopsided victory for Modi and the BJP than had been anticipated.

And then, just on France: Do you anticipate the President will meet with President Zelenskyy while there? Zelenskyy is expected to be in Normandy. Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: Hey, Aamer. On the India elections, we certainly (inaudible) how the vote of the Indian people are to voicing them -- voicing their desires and participating in a very vibrant democratic process. So we celebrate that with them. And we applaud the government writ large for successfully completing a truly massively sized electoral undertaking. And we look forward to seeing the final results.

To your second question: Not all the votes have been tallied and counted, and we're going to withhold judgment or comment until such is the case.

On your second question: I don't have anything on the -- anything additional in the President's schedule to speak to, Aamer. I think you'll hear more specifics on the President's schedule as we get a little closer. I know Mr. Sullivan might have some things to say later this evening on the flight over.

But look, I would just, you know, note: In the past, certainly it's not uncommon when President Zelenskyy and President Biden are in the same city or town for whatever the purpose is, that it's not uncommon for them to find time to meet and to discuss issues in Ukraine with one another.

But again, I just don't have anything formal to announce or speak to right now.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next up we'll go to Andrea with Reuters. Andrea, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q: Hey, thanks so much. And Happy Birthday, John.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, thank you.

Q: Or belatedly.

On Ukraine, I just want to ask: You know, there's obviously a lot of work going into preparing the leaders' summit for next week. Do you have anything to read out for us now in terms of progress on the Russian assets? And, you know, do expect that that will feature into the discussion with Macron?

And we were asking Karine yesterday about the peace conference that's taking place in Switzerland. But it's still not clear to me, you know, why President Biden decided not to attend that. And I wonder if you can say what you expect to come out of that. You know, the Vice President will be there, and obviously Jake will be there too. So I just wanted to get a little elaboration on that. Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah. On your first question, again, without getting ahead of the discussions that haven't happened, as you well know, we have -- our position is that we do believe that it is a worthwhile endeavor to look at the potential use of (inaudible), Russian frozen assets, to assist Ukraine, particularly in reconstruction. Now, we've also said we can't do that unilaterally because the assets are held all over the world. And so we got to have participation and assistance with our allies and partners, or it won't work. You're not going to be able to get the full weight of those assets applied to reconstruction efforts in Ukraine.

This is something that Secretary Yellen has discussed in the run-up to the G7 with other finance ministers. It's certainly something Secretary Blinken has discussed. And I have no doubt that it will come up in discussions when President Biden certainly has an opportunity to speak to leaders in France but also later at the G7.

But, you know, where that's going to go and whether we're going to have some sort of decision soon, I can't speak to that. But it is an idea that we believe has merit and should be explored. But in order for it to happen and to be effective, we got to have the participation of friends and partners on that.

On the peace summit, I talked about this a little bit yesterday. Ukraine has no stronger friend and supporter than Joe Biden, and that's from the very beginning of this war till today. We're going to continue to make sure Ukraine has what it needs to defend itself. That support evolves as the battlefield evolves, as it has since February of 2022. And that won't change.

And I would note that sending the Vice President of the United States and the National Security Advisor is senior-level, sober, serious representation. And we're grateful that the Vice President and Mr. Sullivan are going to make that trip and be there at that summit.

We have participated in every peace summit that Ukraine has sponsored to date, at various levels of course, because of the levels (inaudible) summit.

And I would also add -- this kind of gets at your last question: Ever since Mr. Zelenskyy came up with this peace formula of his, this 10-point formula, no other nation has more strongly tried to see it operationalized and pushed forward than the United States. We have been behind him every single step of the way on this peace formula, really trying to make sure it's well understood around the world and that we're looking for ways to get it operationalized. Obviously, it's his peace formula, and we respect that, but we are right there side by side with him on that. And we'll certainly see what happens here in Switzerland.

In terms of outcomes, I can't get ahead of that.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Next up, we'll go to Michael Shear with the New York Times. Michael, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q: Hey, guys. So, John, you may make news on a couple of answers here.

One, do you have anything about what Biden is going to be doing tomorrow? It looks like an entirely down day. Will he just be doing touristy stuff, or is there some reason why he's down the entire day?

Second, could you talk a little bit about the sort of odd position that the President will be in over the next couple of weeks where, on the one hand, he's really rallying the Allies behind Ukraine but, at the same time, in a very different position than most of those same leaders when it comes to Israel and Gaza, and so the tension about that?

And then finally, how old are you, John?

MR. KIRBY: (Laughs.) Damn you.

Q: You have to tell the truth. You're still under oath as a spokesman for the White House.

MR. KIRBY: That is correct. I am 61. Thank you.

What was you second question about Israel, Gaza? I'm sorry, Michael, I didn't hear it.

Q: Just the fact that he's in a very different place on the two issues. He's in unison with the Allies and the leaders that he's going to be talking to -- Macron but also the others at the G7 -- on Ukraine. But when it comes to Israel, he is in -- you know, in some ways, very isolated and in a different place than France and Britain and a lot of the other European and G7 countries are when it comes to, you know, Israel and Gaza and the war.

MR. KIRBY: Okay, I got you.

Q: There's a tension there. And how does he reconcile that?

MR. KIRBY: Okay. There's a lot there. I'll try to do this quickly.

So, look, on the schedule, I'd refer you to the White House team on the President's schedule. As you know, we're taking off tonight. We'll be flying all night long and then getting into Paris, I believe, you know, midday or so. And I know the President has some internal staff meetings on his schedule shortly after we arrive -- you know, preparatory, the kinds of things that you would do in advance of the weighty engagements that he has over the following three days: speaking at Normandy, at the cemetery; speaking the next day at Pointe du Hoc; and then a state visit.

I mean, there's a lot on the calendar, and I believe they're going to take advantage of the afternoon tomorrow to make sure that we're working through all the internal mechanisms and do that right.

So I think there's preparatory meetings on his schedule, which is why it's probably not showing up publicly just because they're internal staff preps, which we do, you know, every time. What makes this one different, of course, is we're flying all night. And then with the time zone difference, you get in and it's already -- half the day is gone in Paris, just because (inaudible). So I think that's what's driving all that.

But again, feel free to go to the White House folks for more detail if you'd like.

On your second question, I'd say a couple of things. And I don't want to get too far ahead of the G7 here since, you know, we haven't really talked much about that in any great detail.

But number one, the President respects that every one of our allies and partners have had their own views. You know, we've seen some nations in the past, you know, come out recently and call for unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Allies -- NATO Allies have said that. We just don't agree. We don't agree that's the way forward. And many nations have different views, of course, about what's going on in Gaza. The President respects that. He appreciates that. It's the very idea of sovereignty and territorial integrity and the precepts of the U.N. Charter that apply. And he respects all that. It doesn't mean we have to agree on everything.

The President looks forward, when he goes to France here this week, and then eventually in his conversation with G7 counterparts, to talk about our position and the objectives we're trying to achieve for peace and security in the Middle East.

And we believe a couple of things: that this deal, what's on the table right now, is the best chance -- he called it "a decisive moment" -- the best chance to get the all the hostages out and to get a path to a permanent cessation of hostilities coming out of phase two, if Hamas will accept the deal.

And if you get that, then you can talk about really advancing a vision for post-conflict Gaza and what that needs to look like (inaudible). And if you can get that, then you can really start to get some momentum towards other goals we have in the region, like normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia. And of course, all of that can help build to an eventual two-state solution, which the President believes, unlike some people -- he believes that it still is best achieved through direct negotiations between the parties.

So, look, he recognizes that not every nation agrees with his policies. He knows that not every American agrees with everything he's doing in Gaza. But he doesn't govern. He doesn't make national security decisions based on popularity, and he doesn't do it based on contrary opinions outside the United States. He does it based on what he believes is in our best national security interest.

And he believes the approach that he's taken, this team has been taking, is the best path forward for Israel's security being guaranteed, so they don't have to live next to Hamas, and for an eventual state for the Palestinian people.

So I think I'd leave it at that.

The last thing I'd say -- because you talked about tension: Disagreements with allies and partners is not something new to President Biden any more than unity and cooperation and collaboration, which he also fosters across a range of issues. And so I have every expectation that Ukraine in that regard will also be a prominent topic to be discussed.

And then, I answered your third question about my age. I would also note that Sean Savett was 34. There will be not a 35. I just wanted to add that. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next up we're going to go to Sara with CBS. Sara, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q: Thank you all. Can you hear me?

MODERATOR: Mm-hmm.

Q: Great. And Happy Birthday, Kirby. Sorry, Sean. (Laughs.)

Can you confirm the reports that Ukraine has, for the first time, used U.S. weapons across the border in Russia? And does the partial lifting of the restrictions against using U.S. weapons in Russian territory give Ukraine the freedom to shoot down Russian aircraft that are launching glide bombs from the sanctuary of Russian territory?

MR. KIRBY: So I can't confirm your first question. As I said, we're just not in a position on a day-to-day basis of knowing exactly what the Ukrainians are firing at what. It's certainly at a tactical level. So, I can't confirm that. I can tell you that they understand the guidance that they've been given.

And on your second question, I just want to note -- there has been some confusion on this: There's never been a restriction on the Ukrainians shooting down hostile aircraft, even if those aircraft are not necessarily in Ukrainian airspace. I mean, they can shoot down Russian airplanes that pose an impending threat. And they have. They have since the beginning of the war.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you. Next up we'll go to Danny Kemp. Danny, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q: Thank you very much. And I just want to say: Save Sean. He's a (inaudible) nice guy. (Laughter.)

MR. KIRBY: I can see it now: #Savett.

Q: I'm starting it right after this. (Laughter.)

I just wanted to ask a kind of broader-picture question. And we've had three pretty massive announcements in the last -- basically, in the space of last week on the Gaza peace deal, on

Ukraine weapons, and now on migration. I just want wondered, what's the sort of thinking behind that? What's the hurry? Is there a kind of a sense that the President wants to get everything sort of sorted right now, at the moment, for some reason?

MR. KIRBY: Well, I can't speak to the immigration issue that you're talking about.

But just to, I think, to the larger, broader theme of your question, what you're seeing is the President moving out with an appropriate sense of urgency on some of the key foreign policy issues of the day, in both trying to get ahead of events, but also, quite frankly, trying to respond to events as they occur, events that have prompted him to reevaluate our policy and reevaluate our approach and reevaluate what we're doing to support allies and friends.

I mean, had it not been for the six-month gap, who knows whether Russia would have tried to press the advantages that they tried to press in the Donbas and then towards Kharkiv. But what you're seeing now, in the last month -- you know, five security assistance packages being rushed to Ukraine now that we finally have the funding -- is in response to the fact that we didn't have any funding for six months and the Russians were pressing their -- trying to press their advantages in the east.

What you're seeing in terms of his remarks on Friday with respect to Gaza and what we're trying to do to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself also is a reflection somewhat of the fact that we didn't have supplemental funding. As you know, there was quite a bit of supplemental funding applied there to helping our ally, Israel.

But it's also a reflection of what we're seeing on the ground and the fact that Hamas still is operating in Rafah, and the Israelis felt strongly that they needed to deal with that threat, as well as watching closely and trying to respond as fervently as we can to a dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, which is why we, you know, have put the pier off the coast, which is why we continue to conduct airdrops, which is why we continue to try to press the Israelis to open up and sustain more crossings into Gaza.

So it's a combination of trying to get ahead of issues as best we see them developing, but also responding in real time to what's going on.

And that's -- again, that's -- I think that explains quite well the President's sense of energy here.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Next up we'll go with Nick Schifrin. Nick, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q: I feel like we need alliteration. #SaveSean. (Laughter.)

John, number one, the Qatari spokesman just came out and said something interesting -- so I wonder if you could just elucidate a little bit -- that Qatar has received a formal Israeli proposal for the hostage deal as outlined by the President on Friday. We talked yesterday about how Hamas received this proposal in writing on Thursday night. So can you just kind of square that circle? What is the status of whatever it is in writing? Who's approved it and who sent it to whom?

And then, just an elucidation on one of the President's quotations in his Time piece. Time asked the President this question: "Some in Israel have suggested Netanyahu is prolonging the war for his own political self-preservation. Do you believe that?" The President's answer was: "I'm not going to comment on that. There is every reason for people to draw that conclusion." And then he goes on to talk about the domestic unrest over the judicial changes. So can you just try and translate for us what the President was trying to say? Thanks.

MR. KIRBY: On your first question, Nick, I have not seen those comments by a Qatari spokesman. All I can do is go back (inaudible) before, that that proposal had been transmitted to Hamas on Thursday night.

So we'll go back and take a look at what the spokesman said. And if there's some additional context that needs to be provided, I'll have the team do that. But we stand by our comments before, that the proposal was transmitted to Hamas on Thursday evening, before the President's speech.

On your second question --

Q: And sorry, John, just to -- and Hamas has not provided a formal response yet. Is that right?

MR. KIRBY: That is correct.

On your second question, I think the President was very clear in his answer on that, and we'll let the Prime Minister speak to his own politics and to what his critics are saying. And the President was referencing what many critics have said.

For our part, though he and Prime Minister Netanyahu do not agree on everything -- and he talked in that interview about some of the things they don't agree on, such as on a two-state solution -- but for our part, we're going to make sure that Israel has what it needs to continue to eliminate the threat by Hamas and that we're going to continue to work with the Prime Minister and the war cabinet to try to get this proposal over the finish line -- a proposal, I would add, that was an Israeli proposal that they crafted after some diplomatic conversations with us, in which they've acknowledged is their proposal. So that's what our focus is going to be on.

MODERATOR: Great. Thank you. Next up we'll go with Emily Goodin with Daily Mail. Emily, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q: Hi. Thanks, guys. I have two questions. My first question is about: What message is the President sending with his decision to visit the American cemetery that his predecessor did not visit?

And then secondly, do you have any details on what Dr. Biden and Mrs. Macron are going to be doing? I thought you guys might be better friends now, John, since you share the same birthday with the First Lady.

MR. KIRBY: (Laughs.) The First Lady and I have not talked about our shared birthday.

I don't have anything on her schedule to speak to. I believe you would have to go to the First Lady's office on that. That wouldn't be something that I'd be able to speak to.

But on your first question, the message is simple: that the service and the sacrifice of American troops in wars overseas -- World War One, I think in the case that you're referring to, and of course, World War Two, with his visit to Normandy -- should never be forgotten. And our commitment to honor that sacrifice should never waver. And our obligations to those they leave behind, even though it may be generations ago, can never be lessened.

And that's the -- those are the messages that the President is trying to send with these visits, that these -- in these two wars, of course, these brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines, they didn't sacrifice their futures for nothing. And we need to take every opportunity that we can to acknowledge that. It's somber. It's sober. But it's a very serious obligation for all Americans everywhere. And he looks forward to paying respects to all of them. And I think I'd leave it there.

MODERATOR: Thank you. I think we have time for maybe one or two more.

MR. KIRBY: I can squeeze in, yeah, one or two more.

MODERATOR: All right. We'll go with Kayla from CNN. Kayla, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q: Thank you so much, guys, for doing this. And I'm marking my Outlook calendar for all future June (inaudible) so that we won't (inaudible) in the future.

I wanted to zoom out a little bit, John. I'm just wondering if you could talk about the stakes for this particular visit and the upcoming series of engagements with transatlantic allies, given Russia's latest aggression, deteriorating political goodwill in the U.S. and Europe, and the forthcoming elections in the UK and the U.S. Like, describe this moment for the transatlantic and how important the moment is for the President.

And then, as a follow-up to that: When the President gives his speech on democracy from Pointe du Hoc, how do you expect that message to be different from his prior addresses on that topic?

MR. KIRBY: Okay, on your first question, I mean, I can't really describe it any better than the President has. He really believes we're at an inflection point in history. And it's not tied to elections, whether they're here or in the UK, or anywhere else for that matter. He believes it's tied to the way geopolitics are changing, the way challenges are being presented to us all around the world in different ways, whether they be security challenges, economic challenges, social and cultural challenges; that, across the world, we're at an inflection point and that, in his view -- and this kind of gets to your second question -- in his view, there's a power in democracy, there's a power in observing the voice of the people and in trying to reach and achieve the aspirations of the populace that

can't be underestimated. And that the idea of standing up to aggressors, whether they actually be in the act of aggression or

anticipated to be in the act of aggression, standing up to that and making it clear what you stand for, as well as what you stand against, matters today.

And so, I think if you look at the next couple of weeks, it will be a busy couple of weeks for the President, certainly on the world stage. And he will take full advantage of the opportunity to talk about the moment we're living in, the importance of democracies working together on behalf of their peoples, but also the importance of American leadership, as he has described in that Time Magazine interview, as the world power, and the obligations and the responsibilities that come with that.

And when he talks about American leadership, it's not an arrogant leadership. It's a humble leadership. He recognizes that for as powerful as we are and as much good as we can do, we need help. Our allies and partners bring things to the endeavor that we can't always bring, and that we are much more -- we send a much stronger signal about lofty words like "peace" and "freedom" and "stability" and "security" when we're working in concert with one another.

And so I think he's going to, again, use the opportunity to send that broader message to the world.

And then, on the Pointe du Hoc speech -- again, I want to be careful that I don't get ahead of him and preview the speech too much. But what makes that opportunity, in terms of speaking about the power of democracy and standing up to aggression, is that you can point to real lives that were impacted at Pointe du Hoc. You can point to real blood that was spilt in pursuit of that loftier goal. And you can tell stories about real men who climbed real cliffs and faced real bullets and real danger in the pursuit of something a whole hell of a lot bigger than themselves. That's what makes being able to talk about democracy at Pointe du Hoc differently.

If you've never been, any of you, I can't recommend it enough, going to Normandy, walking the beach, seeing the cemetery. But going to Pointe du Hoc, you can still see the craters from the battleships that were firing preparatory fires onto the ground to try to neutralize the Nazi gun pits there. You can still walk in those craters. You can still look at those cliffs, and they are shear. I mean, you're looking straight down at a very tiny strip of beach. And you think about these guys climbing those cliffs, hand over hand, foot over foot, being killed all the way up, and then crossing over that cliff and doing what they did. It's eye watering.

That's what makes Pointe du Hoc special and different. And it's a way of telling the story, not only of camaraderie on the battlefield, but of camaraderie between democracies that the President really believes is appropriate for this particular moment that we're living in, this inflection point.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And for our last question, we'll go with Justin Sink from Bloomberg. Justin, you should be able to unmute yourself.

Q: Hey, Kirby. Thanks for doing this. Happy belated.

I just wanted to look back on the question Nick asked, about the Time Magazine interview. Israel's government has come out and condemned the President's remarks pretty strongly, saying that it was outside the diplomatic norms of every right-thinking country. I'm wondering if there's a sense among you guys that there needs to be a conversation at this point between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Biden, and if you anticipate this having any impact on the negotiations over the peace deal proposal that are going on right now.

MR. KIRBY: I'm sure that the two leaders will talk again as appropriate. They've stayed in touch since the beginning of the conflict in Gaza, and they will continue to stay in touch. I have nothing on the schedule to speak to.

And there should be no impact at all on this proposal to get the hostages out and to get some sort of temporary ceasefire in place during phase one. It was a good-faith effort by Israel to put this proposal on the table. We're grateful for that good-faith effort. Now Hamas needs to accept it.

MODERATOR: All right, thank you. That's all the time we have for today. If you have any questions, feel free to email our distro. And I hope you guys all have great Tuesdays. Thanks.

12:10 P.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, On-the-Record Press Gaggle by White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby Previewing President Biden's Travel to France Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/372552

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