Joe Biden

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

March 25, 2024

Via Teleconference

11:12 A.M. EDT

MODERATOR: Hey, everyone. Thanks for joining. Sorry, again, we're running a little late. Kirby has a few words at the top, and then we'll try to get through as many questions as we can.

MR. KIRBY: Thanks, everybody. I think you probably saw -- today we abstained on a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza until the end of Ramadan and the release of all the hostages.

Our vote does not -- and I repeat that -- does not represent a shift in our policy. We have been clear and we've been consistent in our support for a ceasefire as part of a hostage deal. That's how the hostage deal is structured, and the resolution acknowledges the ongoing talks.

We wanted to get to a place where we could support that resolution, but because the final text does not have key language that we think is essential, like a condemnation of Hamas, we could not support it. Though because it fairly does reflect our view that a ceasefire and the release of hostages come together, we abstained.

Now, I do have a quick scheduling note. I think you all are aware Vice President Harris will welcome President Bernardo Arévalo of Guatemala to the White House today. The visit underscores the United States' commitment to supporting good governance and democracy in Guatemala, following President Arévalo's inauguration in January of this year.

We look forward to strengthening the U.S.-Guatemala bilateral relationship and advancing joint ongoing efforts to promote development, bolster democracy, and address the root causes of migration in this hemisphere.

With that, I'll take some questions.

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

Q: Hey, John. Thank you. And thanks for your words about the U.N. resolution. It sounds like Netanyahu is threatening to cancel the visit of the high-level delegation this week over this whole situation -- and, in fact, may have already canceled it. What's your reaction to this? Is this open revolt from the Israelis?

MR. KIRBY: Well, look, I would just note that Defense Minister Gallant is in town today and tomorrow. He's meeting with Secretary Blinken, and he's going to meet with Jake, and he's also going to get a chance to meet with Secretary Austin. And I have no doubt that in those discussions we'll have ample opportunities to talk with him about what's going on with their planning for Rafah, and as well as what's going on inside negotiations to get all the hostages out.

So we're focused on moving things forward. We're focused on getting all those hostages out, getting aid in, and doing everything we can to support Israel as they continue to fight Hamas.

Q: And have you been formally notified that the Israeli delegation is not coming?

MR. KIRBY: As you and I are speaking right now, Steve, I don't have any information that we've been notified that there's any changes to an Israeli delegation coming over to talk about Rafah.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Andrea Mitchell with NBC.

Q: Hi. If I could follow up. I think there's a distinction between Gallant being here now and the fact that Ron Dermer and the National Security Advisor were due to arrive Tuesday for Wednesday meetings. So the Israelis had said if we let this pass, this resolution pass -- which we have, by abstaining -- that that would mean that Ron Dermer, the closest advisor to Netanyahu -- and can you also, John -- can you clarify reports in Israel that Israel has now accepted the hostage release outline that was on the table this weekend with Bill Burns and Barnea and that it's now up to Hamas whether to accept this latest deal with a proportion of (inaudible) released or hostages released? Thank you very much.

MR. KIRBY: Hey, Andrea. No, I'm not able to confirm any specifics coming out of the discussions over the weekend.

As you know, there were active conversations in Doha. I would just point you back to what Secretary Blinken said at the end of last week, that he believes that we're closing the gaps, but we're not there yet. I just can't confirm any specific back and forth over the course of what happened this weekend.

And then to your first point about Dermer -- again, I would refer you to the Israelis to speak to their plans for a separate delegation visit --

Q: Well, they have said -- they've said this morning, to me personally, that Dermer would not be coming if we let this pass. And we've let it pass by abstaining.

So how disappointing is it that the closest advisor to Netanyahu will not be physically here for meetings, unless they change their mind?

MR. KIRBY: I would just tell you we were looking forward to having an opportunity to speak to an Israeli delegation later this week about exploring viable options and alternatives to a major ground offensive in Rafah.

I'll let the Israelis speak to whether they're coming or not. And I saw what Prime Minister Netanyahu said he would do, and I've seen some early press reporting in just the last couple of minutes that they have moved forward with that. I can't confirm it. They can speak to that. That's really for them.

All I can tell you is we were looking forward to having a discussion with them about alternatives and options to a major ground offensive because we don't believe that a ground offensive in Rafah is the right course of action, especially given the 1.5 million people who are seeking refuge down there -- seeking refuge, by the way, as the result of Israeli operations that were taking place in Khan Younis earlier and, before that, Gaza City.

So we felt we had valuable lessons to share, valuable perspectives to offer. And we were looking forward to doing that.

If, in fact, there's not going to be a delegation visit this week, then we will obviously keep having conversations with our Israeli counterparts and doing the best we can to continue to share our perspectives with them.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to David Sanger with the New York Times.

Q: Thanks, John. On a different topic: You'll see that Treasury is about to announce a series of sanctions on the Chinese Ministry of State Security related to the Volt Typhoon

intrusions into U.S. infrastructure. I think this is the first time that you have ever named the Ministry of State Security as the force behind this. And I'm wondering whether or not you can just walk us a little bit through what went into this since, obviously, the topic came up at Riverside. There were efforts to quietly work out with the Chinese a halt to the Volt Typhoon intrusions, and I take it from the Treasury sanctions that that has failed.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, David, I'm afraid I'm going to be completely unsatisfactory to you today on this. As you know, we don't preview and talk about sanctions in advance. And I'm afraid I'm going to have to refer you to Treasury on that one. I'm sorry.

Q: Okay. It's only 10 minutes out, so you're not that much in advance. I mean, they've -- you know, they've embargoed. But the problem is we need -- I think we're going to need something from the NSC -- and if you want to do it after Treasury, it's fine -- that sort of takes us through the national security side of this, which Treasury is not going to go do, as you know.

MR. KIRBY: I get it. We can follow up with you afterward.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Colleen with the AP.

Q: Hi. Thanks a lot. Kirby, I understand you said that the abstention doesn't change the overall tenor of how the U.S. feels about this issue. But I just wonder, given the outcome of the vote, how you think this is going to affect the talks with Gallant even. You know, does this change how things are being discussed?

And it looks like -- you know, just to reiterate, it looks like Netanyahu has canceled the visit this week. So I just wondered, like, how do you move forward from here?

MR. KIRBY: Well, again, the Israeli government can speak to their plans or canceled plans one way or the other. I'll let them speak to that.

Those meetings with Defense Minister Gallant haven't happened yet, so why don't we have the meetings and see how they go. We'll give you a readout of them.

They were not intended -- these discussions with Gallant, by the way, were not intended, as we said last week, to replace what we had hoped to do with an Israeli delegation, specifically on Rafah. Now, clearly, Rafah will come up in the meetings with Defense Minister Gallant; I have no doubt about that. But those meetings were long scheduled and were considered separate and distinct from what we were hoping to get done with the Israeli delegation.

But again, now that that delegation may not be happening, we'll see how the meetings go with Defense Minister Gallant. Again, three meetings over the course of the next 24, 36 hours with our Secretary of State, our Secretary of Defense, and the National Security Advisor. Those are pretty weighty meetings. Those are pretty -- I would suspect that they'll be significant discussions. And as I said in my earlier comments, we're looking forward to having them.

And then, you know, to your broader question about how things go forward, we're going to keep having discussions -- as we will today and tomorrow -- with our Israeli counterparts about the prosecution of their operations against Hamas. We will keep making clear to them that they continue to have the support of the United States when it comes to eliminating that threat, as well as, you know, making it clear that we still want to see more humanitarian assistance get in, that we still want to see a reduction in civilian casualties, and just as critically -- and I know I'm beating the drum here -- but just as critically, that we get a hostage deal in place, a ceasefire in place that will allow us to get all the hostages out and increase that level of aid.

So those discussions are going to keep happening notwithstanding what appears to be, you know, Israeli frustration with our abstention at the U.N. today.

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

Q: Hi, John. Thank you. Do you see this -- does the White House see this as some sort of escalation, the fact that the delegation is not coming, the message about the U.S. not voting against, not putting on a veto? Because the language that we're hearing from the Prime Minister's office, from the Israeli government is very, very different from what we saw until now. And is that the way the White House sees it also?

MR. KIRBY: There's no reason for this to be seen as some sort of escalation. There's no reason for it to actually be any kind of escalation of tensions here.

Again, I will go back to what I said at the very top: Nothing -- nothing has changed about our policy. Nothing. We still want to see a ceasefire. We still want to get hostages out -- all of them. And we still want to see more humanitarian assistance get into the people of Gaza.

The reason we abstained is because this resolution text did not condemn Hamas. And we really believe that Hamas should be condemned for what they did on the 7th of October. That was in our language that we submitted late last week that got vetoed by Russia and China. So that's what led to the abstention, was the fact that we were, you know, disappointed that there was no language in there about condemning Hamas.

But as I said at the beginning, the broad outlines of what we support are supported in the text of the resolution, which is a ceasefire for hostages to come out.

So that's where we are. Nothing has changed about our policy. I'll let the Israelis speak to their views of what happened up in New York City today. But we're keeping on. We're keeping on in terms of supporting Israel. And we're going to keep on in terms of trying to see if we can get those hostages out through a -- to a ceasefire.

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

Q: Hey there. Thank you so much for taking the time. John, can you give us the latest of your understanding of the situation of the attack in Russia, the terror attack, and in particular whether the U.S. believes that ISIS-K is changing strategy or on the rise, or whether this is sort of part and parcel with expectations of that group?

MR. KIRBY: I don't really have a whole lot more to offer. I think you know -- you saw we put out a statement over the weekend. We continue to strongly condemn that terrorist attack. And, again, our thoughts and prayers go out to all those who lost their lives and to the loved ones that are left behind and for all those that were hurt and injured in this attack.

I mean, the Russian people were the victims here. And just like any other innocent civilians elsewhere in the world, they certainly didn't deserve that.

Again, as we made clear, we did warn Russia in early March about a planned terror attack. And as you saw, we also issued a public advisory to Americans in Russia on the 7th of March. And we also saw -- we said ISIS bears sole responsibility for this attack.

I would just say that with respect to ISIS writ large, and even ISIS-K specifically, we are very vigilant in monitoring this group's activities and their planning as best we can. We said that we're going to be able to keep a tab -- keep tabs on them and other terrorist groups, and we've been doing it. We have been doing that.

In fact, it was because of the aggressive way in which we have been monitoring ISIS that we were able to give the Russians a warning that, in fact, they were heading for a potential terrorist attack in the very near future. That's the fruit of a lot of the work that we've been putting and a lot of attention that we've been putting on this group.

Now, I would also tell you that because we're watching it very, very closely, we don't see any sort of credible threat by ISIS to the American homeland. But again, not something we're taking for granted. Watching them very, very close. And as -- again, as I think we demonstrated, we have the ability to monitor this group pretty closely.

Q: And on a very different topic: We're a couple weeks out from the Japanese Prime Minister's visit. I'm wondering if you can give us any details about whether the administration has spoken with the Japanese administration about the Nippon Steel bid or agreement to take over U.S. Steel, or whether the two governments haven't talked about that, as opposed to talks with, for instance, the union or the private companies.

MR. KIRBY: Let me take that question, Josh, and get back to you. I don't have anything on conversations that we've had, but it's entirely possible that I'm missing something. So I'm going to take that question.

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

Q: Hi. Thank you for taking my question. I just wanted to follow up on the previous question. And you mentioned we don't see any credible threat to the American homeland. Just wanted to check on the concerns that the U.S. Central Command chief told lawmakers in Congress that ISIS retains the capability and the will to attack U.S. and Western interests abroad in as little as six months with little to no warning, and then the concerns from Republicans on Capitol Hill that they would use the border to do so.

Just wanted to see if this is something that you're monitoring or concerned about.

MR. KIRBY: Well, of course, we're monitoring the threats coming -- potentially coming to the homeland. DHS continuously monitors all available intelligence to them down at the border. As I've said, the farthest I can go with you today is that we don't see an imminent, credible threat by ISIS to the homeland. But again, I also said in my previous answer: We don't take that for granted, and we're watching it every single day.

And for the Republicans and people that are worried about potential security threats at the border, they ought to pass the border security bipartisan funding bill that we asked for and the supplemental request that we asked for, because it would give us more Border Patrol agents, it would give us more capabilities down there, and it would certainly give us an opportunity to better protect the border.

So if you're serious about protecting the border, then you ought to be serious about passing the supplemental funding that the President asked for and that the Senate, in a bipartisan way, passed.

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

Q: Hey, John. Thank you. Can I push you a little bit on the fact that you're saying this is not a change in policy? This resolution does not link the ceasefire with the hostage release. It describes the ceasefire in the context of Ramadan. So how is that not a change in policy, given what the U.S. has been trying to do with the Security Council recently?

And can you talk --

MR. KIRBY: Hey, Nick --

Q: Yeah, you go.

MR. KIRBY: As far as -- I've looked at it. It does talk about the need for an immediate ceasefire and a release of the hostages. That is what we want. We want an immediate ceasefire so that the hostages can all be released so aid can get in there.

Anyway, go ahead. You had something else.

Q: No, no. So you see this as linking the hostage release to a ceasefire, bottom line? That's what you -- that's how you read this resolution?

MR. KIRBY: It talks about an immediate and sustainable ceasefire and to secure the immediate release of all the hostages, as well as alleviating the tremendous suffering of the civilians of Gaza. Those are the same principles that we've been arguing for now for many months.

Q: And can you talk about the shift in Rafah that the administration has gone through in the last few days or weeks, from "we need to see a credible plan" to, as you just put it today, "we don't believe a ground offensive is the right course of action"?

MR. KIRBY: I'm sorry, repeat that one again? You broke up a little on me.

Q: You know, a few days or weeks ago, the language on Rafah was "we need to see a credible plan," and the language in the last few days or so, as you repeated today, is "we do not believe a ground offensive is the right course of action." Can you talk about what seems like a bit of a shift in policy on Rafah?

MR. KIRBY: Again, no shift in our policy. We said even -- we said weeks ago that we don't believe -- in fact, we said that we believe a major ground operation in Gaza would be a disaster absent any proper accounting for the safety and security of the refugees that are still there. We still believe the same thing.

I think -- I don't see any change in the rhetoric there. We don't support a ground operation into Gafah [sic] -- Ra- -- I'm sorry, Rafah. And we were looking forward to the opportunity to having a discussion with our Israeli counterparts about some viable alternatives to that.

I want to go back to my previous answer, making correct -- a small correction, and my staff and team reminding me here that in the Senate bipartisan bill there was not border security funding. So I just want to make sure that you know I know that I made a mistake on that.

But nevertheless, if you're serious about border security and you're in the House of Representatives, you ought to be moving forward on the President's supplemental request.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Our next question will go to Selina with ABC.

Q: Hi, thank you, Admiral. With Netanyahu canceling this meeting with the delegation, is there any chance the U.S. can convince Israel to change their stance on Rafah? What chance is there?

MR. KIRBY: Well, we'll have to see, won't we? It's certainly not ideal that they won't be coming to D.C., apparently, to have this discussion. But as I said earlier, that doesn't mean that our ability to talk to them and to have conversations have been eliminated. And as I said, Defense Minister Gallant is here for the next 24, 36 hours, and so we look forward to having conversations with him too, and we have every expectation that Rafah will come up as a part of those discussions.

Q: And on Gallant, it's no secret that there is this rift between Gallant and Netanyahu. So you talk about the various meetings he's having with the administration, but what influence does the administration actually believe he can have on Netanyahu?

MR. KIRBY: That's between him and the Prime Minister.

Q: And just lastly, VP Harris told ABC News that the U.S. has not ruled out consequences if Israel invades Rafah. I know you'll say you won't get into hypotheticals, but has that message been conveyed to Israel? And what could those consequences be?

MR. KIRBY: You're right, I'm not going to talk about hypotheticals. We have been crystal clear throughout that we're going to do what we have to do to support Israel to eliminate a viable threat by Hamas. That support is ongoing. I feel like I say that every day, and maybe I'm not saying it in a way that makes it stick, but we are still supporting Israel and their ability to go after Hamas. That hasn't changed.

At the same time, we have candid, frank conversations with them about the need to be more mindful of civilian casualties, to allow more humanitarian assistance to get in, and to help us as we all try to get those hostages out. You can do two things at the same time. That's what we're focused on.

Q: Right. But has that message, that consequences have not been ruled out, has that been conveyed to Israel? Those three things can also be true at the same time.

MR. KIRBY: I don't have anything to add with respect to specific conversations.

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

Q: Thanks for taking my question. Just going back to the issue of Rafah and the comments Vice President Harris yesterday, do you see a situation in which if Israel does decide to go on its own for a ground operation in Gaza, that the U.S. will restrict the types of arms and ammunitions that it's providing Israel in order to carry out this operation? Or are these things totally separate from each other and the U.S. will continue its military support regardless of an Israeli operation in Rafah?

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, I'm not going to get into a hypothetical situation here. I'll just tell you that we continue to support Israel as they go after Hamas. And nothing has changed about our view that a major ground operation in Rafah would be a mistake.

Q: But could you see U.S. arms and ammunitions being used in that type of an operation?

MR. KIRBY: Again, I'm not going to speak hypothetically for an Israeli operation that hasn't occurred yet.

MODERATOR: Our next question will go to Vivian with the Wall Street Journal.

Q: Thanks so much, Sam. Hi, John. I just want to follow up from Selina, because she mentioned it a moment ago but you didn't quite react. Bibi Netanyahu has now officially said that he will pull out of the meetings. And so, if you can give us just a straight reaction to their decision not to participate in the interagency, that would be great. And then, I do have a follow-up as well.

MR. KIRBY: It's disappointing.

Q: I mean, can you elaborate?

MR. KIRBY: We're very disappointed that they won't be coming to Washington, D.C., to allow us to have a fulsome conversation with them about viable alternatives to going in on the ground in Rafah.

Q: Okay, thanks for that. And just really quickly, sort of a follow-up also to Nick: You talked about, again, that this is not a shift in U.S. position regarding the U.N. resolution, the abstention -- that it's not a shift in U.S. policy. But I really wanted to push you on the Hamas element of it. You know, previously, in previous months, the failure or the absence of blatant condemnation of Hamas's actions would have been a non-starter for the U.S., and now the U.S. has chosen to abstain from a vote that does not include that language. And so, I wanted you to address that particular issue.

You know, I don't question whether or not you all condemn Hamas's actions, but does this at least show a shift in terms of where the priorities lie right now, the urgency of a ceasefire or the humanitarian condition? I mean, can you just kind of explain why now you abstain from something that lacks that condemnation of Hamas's actions versus, before, where you would not have done that -- the U.S. would not have done that?

MR. KIRBY: I'm sorry, can you repeat? I'm sorry, I lost you for a second there. Can you --

Q: Just in terms of, you know, the fact that now the U.S. is abstaining from a resolution that does not blatantly, outwardly condemn Hamas's actions, that would have been a non-starter previously. And so, I'm just wondering if you can address that change. You're saying it's not a shift in position. So why now would the U.S. be willing to abstain from a vote? Is there a shift in terms of the urgency of the ceasefire, humanitarian situation? I mean, I just want to understand why now we abstain from a vote that doesn't condemn Hamas versus, before, where that would have been a non-starter.

MR. KIRBY: Okay, yeah, you broke up again, but I think I got the gist of it.

As I said at the top, there's no change in our policy here. And if you look in the resolution, in the very same paragraph it calls for both a ceasefire and the release of hostages. And that is -- broadly speaking, that is in keeping with what has been our policy. We want to see an immediate ceasefire so that we can get all the hostages out. And, again, those two things are covered in the very same paragraph of the resolution. But it did not -- it did not condemn Hamas. And the one that we submitted on Friday did have a condemnation of Hamas.

We believe that that should be a no-brainer. Anybody -- everybody should be willing to get behind a resolution that condemns Hamas for what they did on the 7th of October. But it didn't. And so, because absent that -- it did broadly reflect our views that it was important to have a ceasefire so that you can get hostages out -- we decided to abstain. We couldn't support the resolution because there was no condemnation of Hamas. But because in other broader ways it did reflect our policies and our views, that we abstained.

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

Q: Thank you. Can you say who that delegation, that's now been canceled, who they were supposed to have been meeting with?

And when you talk about alternatives, are you able to provide any more details about what the alternatives that the U.S. is proposing would look like? You know, how many are there? Is it a suite of options? Is it one option? Is it on the humanitarian front? Is it about going after Hamas? Can you fill out any more of those details? Thank you.

MR. KIRBY: I'm not going to be able to be very satisfying on either of those. I mean, since, obviously, there's not going to be a meeting later this week, there's no point in going through what the delegation on our side would have looked like. Clearly, Mr. Sullivan would have been hosting that meeting and would have been personally involved, but I don't have any more detail on who else might have been in the room.

Again, it's disappointing that they're not going to be able to come and that they're not going to be able to participate in that conversation.

As for the viable alternatives, since we obviously aren't going to get the chance later this week to lay them out, I think I'm going to reserve public discussion of them with our hopes that we'll still get an opportunity to share those with our Israeli counterparts over coming days, obviously in some different form. But I don't think it would be useful for me to lay them all out publicly when we haven't had a chance to discuss them privately with our Israeli friends.

MODERATOR: Our last question will go to Anita with the VOA.

Q: Thank you so much, John. I'll ask about Russia. Now that the U.S. and Russia have a common enemy in ISIS-K, will this, could this, or should this open the door for security cooperation between the two countries?

And then, we've seen that Russia is obviously blaming Ukraine for this terrorist attack. Do you see a danger of this information influence campaign on, you know, support for Ukraine and Russia and the possibility that it might escalate this conflict?

MR. KIRBY: What conflict? The conflict in Ukraine?

Q: Yeah.

MR. KIRBY: Yeah, look, there's not going to be any security assistance with Russia and the United States, if that's what you're asking.

We had a duty to warn them of information that we had, clearly that they didn't have. We did that. I'll let them speak to what they did or didn't do with that information. But clearly, there was a successful terror attack along the lines that we warned them there could be.

And as for escalation with Ukraine, it should surprise exactly nobody that Mr. Putin and his cronies in the Kremlin keep trying to find a way to pin this on Ukraine. There was no linkage to Ukraine. This was an attack carried out by ISIS-K operatives -- period, end of sentence, end the story. No connection to Ukraine. And this is just more Kremlin propaganda, anything that they can do to try to link it back to what they're doing in Ukraine and to try to scramble to scratch out some sort of justification for the continued violence and depravations that they have been visiting upon the Ukrainian people now for more than two years.

MODERATOR: Thank you. That's all the time we have. As always, if we weren't able to get to your question, please reach out to the NSC distro and we'll get back to you as soon as we can. Thanks.

11:45 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

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