Joe Biden

On-the-Record Press Gaggle by White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby

June 20, 2024

Via Teleconference

11:12 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining us. Hope everyone was able to take some time off yesterday, if you were, and relax.

Kirby has a few words here at the top, and then as always, we'll get through as many questions as we can.

MR. KIRBY: Good morning, everybody. What I want to talk about today is Ukraine and our efforts to meet their critical air defense capabilities, their needs.

For more than two years, at the President's direction, we have prioritized strengthening Ukraine's air defenses to help protect the Ukrainian people against Russia's aerial attacks. But in recent months, Russia has accelerated both its missile and its drone attacks against cities and civilian infrastructure. They are trying to destroy Ukraine's energy system ahead of this winter. Again, this is not a new tactic for them, but they have certainly applied a lot more energy and effort into it in recent months.

As we've heard from President Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian military is in desperate need of additional air defense capabilities. We take our partnership seriously, especially when a partner like Ukraine is in such jeopardy. Right now, we know that Ukraine urgently needs these additional capabilities.

We have continued to dig deep and provide Ukraine with a variety of air defense systems and interceptor missiles from our own stockpiles, including those of the Patriot system, NASAMs, and of course, the Hawks.

Many of our allies and partners have stepped up in historic ways as well. But obviously, more is needed, and it's needed now. So as a result, the United States government has made the difficult but necessary decision to reprioritize, near term, planned deliveries of foreign military sales to other countries of particularly Patriot and NASAM missiles to go to Ukraine instead.

So let me just take a moment to explain what this means.

As you know, the United States has a robust foreign military sales program where our defense industrial base produces and then exports material to other countries, including, of course, air defense missiles. And what we're going to do is we're going to reprioritize the deliveries of these exports so that those missiles rolling off the production line will now be provided to Ukraine. This will ensure that we'll be able to provide Ukraine with the missiles they need to maintain their stockpiles at a key moment in the war and as we get, again, towards the end of summer and into the fall.

As a result, deliveries of these missiles to other countries that are currently in the queue will have to be delayed. To be clear, those countries will still receive the missiles that they have ordered. It's just that the delivery timelines will now take a little longer.

We have, of course, informed all the affected countries that we are taking this extraordinary step. And we're making every effort to minimize any negative impact to countries with affected foreign military sales cases. If any of our other partners were ever in a situation similar to Ukraine's, we would go to extraordinary lengths to support their security as well.

This decision demonstrates our commitment to supporting our partners when they're in existential danger. The United States firmly believes that this is the best course of action right now to support Ukraine, while still ensuring other partners receive the air defense missiles and capabilities that they've committed to purchase, again, on a delayed timeline.

Look, the broader message here to Russia is clear: If you think you're going to be able to outlast Ukraine and if you think you're going to be able to outlast those of us who are supporting Ukraine, you're just flat-out wrong. And we're going to make sure that we give Ukraine the critical air defense capabilities they need now and into the future. And we're going to keep working with our allies and partners to make sure that they too get the air defense capabilities that they ordered. And we're grateful to the nations that we've reached out to and have not only understood but many of them have been fully supportive of this decision.

So with that, we can start taking some questions.

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

Q: Thank you. Along those lines, could you talk about what are the ramifications for the United States of the defense pact signed by Putin and Kim Jong Un over the last couple days?

MR. KIRBY: Steve, I did not hear that question. Can you repeat it? I'm sorry.

Q: The ramifications of the defense pact that Russia and North Korea signed in the last couple of days.

MR. KIRBY: The ramifications of the --

Q: Defense pact.

MR. KIRBY: The defense agreement that they signed?

Q: Yes.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, look, I talked about this the other day, you know, but I'm happy to revisit it here now that they've made public the text of this agreement.

Number one, no surprise here, Steve. We've been talking about this and warning about a burgeoning defense relationship between these two countries now for many months, through a series of downgraded intelligence that we put out there.

So we've been sharing information publicly about how the DPRK has been enabling Russia's war in Ukraine and about their weapons transfers. Obviously, it's something that we've taken seriously. If we didn't take it seriously, my goodness, we wouldn't have made it public and wouldn't have been talking about it for quite some time.

Number two -- and I think this should be fairly obvious too -- when you look at the body of work President Biden has directed the national security team to do, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, we have been strengthening and bolstering our allies, our alliances, and our partnerships all throughout that region throughout the entire three and a half years of this administration, including through the historic trilateral agreement between the Republic of Korea and Japan and the United States, including through the AUKUS initiative, including by expanding our access and cooperation with the Philippines. And of course, we're going to continue to evaluate our posture throughout the Indo-Pacific as needed.

But we have prioritized this part of the world since the beginning of this administration. And that work, that effort, we believe, has right now and will continue to put us in the best possible position to be able to thwart any threats and challenges, not just on the Korean Peninsula but elsewhere in the region.

Q: And if you --

MR. KIRBY: But wait, just a couple more points, if I could.

That's not to say that this development, this agreement is not a concern. Of course, it is. It should be a concern to any country that cares about maintaining peace and stability, not just on the Korean Peninsula but in the Indo-Pacific. It should be a concern to any country that believes that the U.N. Security Council resolutions ought to be abided by. It should be a concern to anybody who thinks that supporting the people of Ukraine is an important thing to do.

And we would think that that concern would be shared by the People's Republic of China, since this agreement also seems to be in direct contrast with the statement that President Putin and President Xi made in Beijing just a month ago in which both countries called for a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Now, last thing I'll say here, Steve, and then I'm happy to take any follow-ups you have, is: Our view is that this agreement is also a sign of Russia's desperation. I mean, they're reaching out to North Korea for missiles, reaching -- they're still getting drones from Iran. They don't have a lot of friends in the world, and they're trying to do everything they can to pull on the strings of the friends that they do have.

Russia is absolutely isolated on the world stage. They've been forced to rely, again, on countries like North Korea and Iran.

Meanwhile, split-screen, if you will, Ukraine just organized a successful peace summit in Switzerland that had more than 100 countries and organizations sign up to support President Zelenskyy's vision for a just peace.

So, last thing I'll say, and then I promise I'll shut up on this: We're just going to keep supporting Ukraine as they defend themselves from Russia. And we're obviously going to keep looking for opportunities to strengthen, deepen, and bolster our strong and vast network of alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.

So, sorry, that was a long one. But go ahead, Steve. You have a follow-up?

Q: Thank you. Just a quick follow-up. Mike Turner is giving a speech, saying that the Biden administration isn't taking the threat seriously enough of Russia's space-based nukes. What's your response to that?

MR. KIRBY: Well, he's just wrong. He's just flat-out wrong.

Look, we have absolutely taken this very seriously. We've been working this particular problem set from every possible angle, including through intense diplomacy with countries around the world and, obviously, through direct conversations with Russia. We've been working hard to get other countries to join us in making clear what the dangers are of an anti-satellite weapon that's designed to carry a nuclear weapon, just like the one that Chairman Turner is referencing. And we put forth a resolution at the U.N. Security Council to do that just about a month or so ago.

As we said at the time, in February, when this was made public, publicizing this highly sensitive intelligence was highly irresponsible, and it was something that the intelligence community themselves had serious concerns with. And we had assessed that starting with private engagement, rather than immediately publicizing the intelligence, would have been a much more effective approach. So, obviously, as we said at the time, and we still are, disappointed that that opportunity was prevented by Chairman Turner's letter and then, thus, making it public.

Nevertheless, what I can say is: We're going to continue our efforts to dissuade Russia from putting a nuclear weapon into orbit. We're going to do everything possible to prevent that outcome. This is a national security issue. And quite frankly, it's not something that anyone should be playing politics one way or the other.

All nations, all individuals, anybody in public service, particularly here in this country, ought to be similarly concerned about the manner in which we talk about this and the approach that we take to try to stymie the Russian plans.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Jordan with Bloomberg.

Q: Thanks, Kirby. Two questions for you. First, on the Patriot missiles, can you tell us a timeframe of when the countries that will have their deliveries delayed, when they'll be able to get them? Are we talking weeks, months, years?

And secondly, wondering if the administration is aware of a pair of major cyberattacks on a software company used by auto retailers and whether there's been any determination if that's been carried out by a foreign actor and if there's any assessment of how that will affect the economy.

MR. KIRBY: So, on your first question, what I can tell you is that we expect the first shipments from this reprioritization of air defense missiles to Ukraine will happen over coming weeks. Certainly before the end of the summer, Ukraine will start to see the initial deliveries of these.

I can't say with specificity what the delay is going to be like for every country that is affected by this, because these are individual contracts. And as we have communicated to these countries and will continue to do so, we'll do the best we can to minimize their delay as much as possible. But each country is going to have a different set of circumstances applied to that based on how much they've ordered and, you know, what their own self-defense needs are.

But I also would just add that the scope of the deliveries that were given to Ukraine will span -- will provide them enough capabilities over the rest of this fiscal year and, of course, all next fiscal year. So about 16 months will be the focus of the timeframe to fill out Ukraine's inventory. And then, after that, the countries that have been asked to delay will start to get their deliveries.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question --

MR. KIRBY: Oh, wait a minute, before you go to the next question.

You asked -- I don't have a good answer for you on the reports of a cyberattack on the auto industry. I'm going to take that question, and we'll see if we can get something a little bit better for you.

Q: Thanks, John.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, sorry about that.

Q: Thank you. Our next question will go to Arlette with CNN.

Q: Hi, thank you. I have just two areas I want to touch on. Still on the Ukraine air defense capabilities: Do you have an idea of how many countries will be impacted by this?

And then, if I could also ask about Israel: How frustrated has the President been about Netanyahu's comments claiming that the U.S. was withholding some military aid for Israel? And what do you think Netanyahu's motivation was in making such a claim? And are there any plans -- or where do things stand -- plans for POTUS to meet with Netanyahu when he comes to Washington in July?

MR. KIRBY: Okay, there's an awful lot there.

Look, on the number of countries, I would just say it's a range of countries. But I think we're going to respect each country's prerogative to either acknowledge it and speak to it or not.

I would tell you -- you didn't ask this, but just to make it clear that this reprioritization will not affect Taiwan and what Taiwan continues to need and to receive from the United States with respect to their self-defense.

Look, on the Prime Minister's comments -- and I assume you mean the video that he put out, claiming that, you know, it was unconscionable for the United States to withhold assistance -- I would just -- a couple of points here.

Number one, obviously, we didn't know that video was common. And it was perplexing to say the least, certainly disappointing, especially given that no other country is doing more to help Israel defend itself against the threat by Hamas -- and, quite frankly, other threats that they're facing in the region -- than the United States. I mean, my goodness, this President put U.S. fighter aircraft up in the air, in the middle of April, to help shoot down several hundred drones and missiles, including ballistic missiles that were fired from Iran proper into Israel. There's no other country that has done more or will continue to do more than the United States to help Israel defend itself.

So those comments were deeply disappointing and certainly vexing to us, given the amount of support that we have and will continue to provide Prime Minister Netanyahu.

And I think you had, like, several other follow-ups on that. And I think I --

Q: Well, what do you think his motivation was behind making such a comment?


Q: (Inaudible) domestic audience at home, or is he genuinely concerned about some missing aid that they haven't gotten?

MR. KIRBY: No idea. You'd have to talk to the Prime Minister about what prompted him to do that. Again, it was vexing and disappointing to us, as much as it was incorrect. So, difficult to know exactly what was on his mind there.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Gordon with Wall Street Journal.

Q: My question was asked. I'm good. Thanks.

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

Nick, you should be able -- there we go.

Q: Yeah, sorry, Sam. Thanks, John. I think I know the answer to this, but just making sure: Does any air defense system in Israel -- is that affected by today's announcement?

And then, to go back to some statements from Israel: In the last 24 hours, what has been a private -- or reasonably private, I suppose -- dispute between the leaders of the IDF and the Prime Minister has exploded into public. Do you think that what is now a public dispute between the leaders of the IDF and the Prime Minister threatens U.S. goals when it comes to Gaza and the region and the overall war in Gaza? Thanks, John.

MR. KIRBY: Thanks, Nick. So, on your first question: No, there's no -- there's going to be no impact felt by Israel as a result of this reprioritization.

On your second question, I think it would be imprudent, at best, for us to speak about any intragovernmental tensions in Israel right now, except to say -- I think in answer to your question -- we do not believe that there's going to be any -- certainly any change to our objectives or our goals. And we don't see any impact of these tensions on our shared objective: getting all the hostages out, getting this deal in place, getting a ceasefire in place, and trying to find a way to end this war.

But beyond that, I'd let the parties speak to it.

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

Q: Hi, John. Thanks for taking my question. A follow-up maybe. On the Middle East: Can you confirm that Jake Sullivan is meeting today with the Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs, Ron Dermer? And what would be the agenda for that meeting?

And another question, if I may, on Darfur. One week ago, the United Nations Security Council demanded an end to the siege of the city of Al-Fashir. Since then, have you seen any sign that the fighting is calming down? And if not, what's the administration doing to try to prevent, like, a major humanitarian catastrophe there?

MR. KIRBY: I'm going to take your question on Darfur, Aurelia, and get back to you, rather than try to explain something that may just make me sound stupid. So I don't want to do that. I want to do that right and take the question for you.

On your first question: Yes, Jake will be meeting today with his counterpart, Ha- -- Hagnebi [sic], and -- I'm sorry about that -- and Mr. Dermer. And it'll be a wide-ranging discussion, I think you can imagine, about everything that's going on with the Gaza war, with our support to Israel, with our efforts to get a better sense of how they're continuing to prosecute operations against Hamas, as well as continuing to talk about the importance of closing on this deal.

Sorry, I blanked on his last name. It's Hanegbi. Hanegbi.

Anyway, that's the focus of that meeting today.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Haley with Scripps.

Q: Thank you. I'm curious, on the line of the hostage ceasefire talks, if there have been any additional developments or if you've heard back from Hamas additionally this week.

And then, when it comes to the supply of Patriots to Ukraine, I mean, I know -- I'm guessing you're probably not going to put a specific number on this, but what impact do you expect this to make quantitatively for them when it comes to the numbers they're asking for?

MR. KIRBY: I can tell you, on the Patriots, it's in the realm of hundreds that we're talking about, as I said, over the course of the rest of this fiscal year and into next fiscal year, the entire fiscal year for '25. So in the realm of the hundreds.

I don't have an update for you on the progress on the ceasefire deal. Again, it's our understanding that Hamas -- I'm sorry, that Qatar and Egypt are still talking to their interlocutors with Hamas and trying to see if they can close whatever gaps exist. And we're still hopeful and still watching this very, very closely.

And just to remind: As I said in my opening statement, it is in the realm of the hundreds, and it's both Patriot interceptor missiles and NASAM interceptor missiles. Both programs.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Keleigh with NewsNation.

Q: Hey, John. Thanks for taking my question. I wanted to ask about the tensions between Hezbollah and Israel and the concerns of a wider war. I know something you've spoken about and the administration has spoken out about not wanting to see this grow into a wider war.

On Tuesday, the IDF approved operational plans for an offensive in Lebanon. Since that approval, what discussions have the U.S. had to try to deescalate the situation?

MR. KIRBY: Well, as you know, our envoy, Amos Hochstein, has been in the region the last few days, shuttling back and forth between Tel Aviv and Beirut to have these exact conversations.

I won't speak to IDF military planning; they need to do that. I would just tell you that we still don't want to see a second front opened up. Obviously, we take the tensions and the rhetoric seriously by both sides. And we're doing everything we can to try to prevent that outcome. And those conversations are ongoing, literally as we speak.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Anita with VOA.

Q: Thank you so much, John. Going back to Putin and his travels in Asia: He's headed to Hanoi. Is there any indication, that you are aware of, that he seeks material support from Vietnam for the Ukraine war?

And then secondly, with the top State Department official headed to Hanoi as well this week, is the U.S. seeking a debrief from Hanoi on Putin's visit?

MR. KIRBY: Well, obviously, we have an embassy there, and they'll certainly have, in due course, appropriate conversations with their counterparts in the Vietnamese government.

But, look, I would just say, broadly speaking, our expectation is that Vietnam will continue to adhere to its commitment to, and its commitment and support for, the basic principles of the U.N. Charter, which include sovereignty, which include territorial integrity, and that they'll continue, as they have, to convey that these principles need to be upheld all across the world -- in Europe, as well as in Asia.

I'll let the two countries speak for themselves about the particulars of this visit and whatever they might agree to coming out of it. But I think it's -- I would remind you that that we, the United States, President Biden, elevated our bilateral relationship with Vietnam to a historic level, basically upgrading it to a comprehensive strategic partnership. And that's a partnership that we believe reflects well the strength of that bilateral relationship. And we're going to stay focused on continuing to deepen it, broaden it, improve it for our own mutual benefit to each other and to the region.

We're focused on this bilateral relationship in ways that we don't believe anybody else really is, and we're going to stay focused on that.

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

Q: Hi, Kirby. Hi, Sam. Thank you for doing this. First, to follow up about a question I don't think was answered. Is there a plan for a meeting between the President and Prime Minister Netanyahu during his speech in Congress?

And the second thing is: After the video by Netanyahu, was there any talks behind the scenes? I know that he met Special Envoy Amos Hochstein, but was there any attempt to scale it down a little bit? Any apology coming from Israel?

MR. KIRBY: So, on your first question, I don't have anything on the President's schedule to speak to.

On your second question, I think we've made it abundantly clear to our Israeli counterparts, through various vehicles, our deep disappointment in the statements expressed in that video and our concerns over the accuracy in the statements made.

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

Q: Thanks so much for taking my question. Going back to the issue of arms shipments to Israel, could you give us an update on the status of these 2,000-pound bomb shipments?

And is there anything to add about the shipment itself or advancing the deal of the F-15 fighters to Israel? Has that been approved, and will that go ahead?

MR. KIRBY: I'm going to let the State Department speak to the F-15 question; that's really more in their lane. I will just tell you a couple of things.

Number one, as I said earlier, material assistance to Israel and their ability to defend themselves has continued -- has continued to flow, even though there had been a pause put on those 2,000-pound bombs. I don't have an update for you on that one way or the other. But the idea that we had somehow stopped helping Israel with their self-defense needs is actually just not accurate.

On the F-15s, the only other thing I'd add is that these would be slated to be delivered in, like, 2029, if they're approved. And that approval process is ongoing, not related at all to the current conflict. But again, I'd point you over to the State Department to talk about that in a little bit more in detail.

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

Q: Hey, Kirby. Thank you so much for doing this. After hearing Netanyahu's remarks, we've heard really tough comments by the White House, and also, we're hearing you now saying that it was very disappointing. Did you try to tell -- to say anything to Israeli officials about it? Are you about to say today in your official meetings with Sullivan and senior officials in Israel?

MR. KIRBY: As I said earlier, I think to a question a few minutes ago, we've made it clear at various levels, through various vehicles, our concerns over the content of that video.

Q: And why do you think that he did that? Why do you think that he put that video out there? Do you have an assumption?

MR. KIRBY: No idea. You'd have to talk to the Prime Minister's office.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Morgan with Semafor.

Q: Hey, John. Thanks so much for doing this. Just one follow-up on the decision to reprioritize the air defense capabilities to Ukraine. You mentioned you notified other countries will be affected. What kind of reaction did you get? I mean, were they understanding? Was there a level of concern there?

MR. KIRBY: I think I could describe it as broadly understanding of it.

Q: Thank you. And I think we have time for one more question. We'll go to Marek with Polskie Radio.

Q: Thank you, Sam. Hi, John. On missiles: You said that Taiwan and Israel won't be affected. What about countries on the eastern NATO flank, close to Russia and Ukraine? Are those countries excluded? If not, why? There were cases when Russian missiles flew over Poland during Russian attacks on western Ukraine.

And my second question: Are you also considering putting on hold or redirecting deliveries of Patriot and NASAM systems itself, including launchers and radars?

MR. KIRBY: Including launchers?

Q: And radars.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, so to your first question, as I said earlier, we'll let the countries affected speak for themselves on this. As I said, the response we got was broadly supportive. And many of the countries that we talked to were, in fact, very supportive of this because they know how serious the need is in Ukraine.

As for the actual amount, this is about -- just to be clear, this decision is about reprioritizing the deliveries of missiles, the actual interceptor missiles. We did take a look at the broader system writ large -- the launchers, the radar systems, all that go with that -- and I think we'd be open to it. But the way that FMS is -- foreign military sales program -- is structured, right now we just don't have eligible systems coming off the production line. So it was something we looked at, but right now the focus is really going to be on the missiles themselves.

Q: Can I take it as a confirmation that eastern NATO flank countries are not excluded from the hold?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I'll let other countries speak for themselves. As I said, we spoke to a number of countries about this, and I don't think we're going to identify them here today. We'll let those countries speak for themselves. I mean, we're talking about air defense capabilities here. And some countries will likely be more willing to talk about their participation in this effort than others, and they should speak for themselves. So I'm just not going to get into that.

But I do want to go back, if I could, just on your question about systems. One thing I forgot to mention was: Separate and distinct from this effort -- and as I said, we're open to continue to look at the possibility of systems themselves being redirected. But even before this decision, we had been working closely with other countries, in Europe and beyond Europe, that have systems -- launchers, radar systems, and support systems -- about their willingness to contribute those systems to Ukraine's air defense capabilities. And so, that effort is ongoing; I would even describe it as a parallel effort. And we're going to continue to do that going forward.

MODERATOR: Thank you. And thanks, everyone, for joining. As always, if we weren't able to get to you, reach out to the NSC press distro, and we'll try to get back to you as soon as we can. Thanks, everyone.

END 11:44 A.M. EDT

Joseph R. Biden, On-the-Record Press Gaggle by White House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

Filed Under


Simple Search of Our Archives