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Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby Holds an Off-Camera Press Briefing en Route to Philippines

PRESS SECRETARY JOHN F. KIRBY: OK, what's on your mind?

Q: Can we ask about Vietnam? Since you were in the meetings, I know Secretary Ashton talked about, you know, we're always going to lead with our values: did the issue of human rights come up in any of the meetings and how? How was it addressed?

MR. KIRBY: The Secretary absolutely brought up human rights in his meetings today. And, you know he said it the way you have heard him say it before, we lead with our values as President Biden has made very clear, and that good friends and partners should be able to have open and honest discussions with one another about these difficult, fairly sensitive issues. And he noted, that you know, the United States doesn't always get it right either. And that we have to be, all of us have to be, open and honest about the importance of human rights and civil rights and governing societies where people are empowered to grow and to develop and to be able to freely express themselves.

Q: There is a new government in Vietnam. Did they have specific asks for the Secretary? I mean obviously you guys signed the MOU this time but did they have any ask what they would want the United States to, beyond COVID assistance, perhaps?

MR. KIRBY: There was there was a genuine appreciation in every meeting for the assistance that the United States is providing with vaccines. And as you heard the Secretary say, we've given that Vietnam five million. And as the Secretary made clear that there's no strings attached to that. We're not asking for a quid pro quos here, we're not asking for anything in return. This is a global pandemic and the United States wants to help. But the meetings covered a lot of different issues - maritime security clearly was one. Military cooperation another, but I think in general the way, and without getting too specific or speaking for the Vietnamese, the Secretary came away with a sense that what they really want is a continued and closer relationship with the United States military. And the Secretary made it very clear, on more than one occasion today, that he very much wants that too. 

Q: So will there be more port calls and more exercises between U.S. and Vietnamese troops?

MR. KIRBY: We didn't get into those kinds of details today. It wasn't, you know, the meetings didn't get down to that exact level. There have been port visits, in fact as you know the carrier Carl Vinson, first time ever had a chance to visit here. We certainly would like to see more military-to-military relationship building. One of the things they talked about today was the enhanced defense cooperation agreement. But there were no specifics today about, you know, a port visit here or there or an exercise.

Q: On the SIVs, the flights. do you have any updates? They were supposed to come in on the 29th. Have they landed? Processing at Fort Lee? Anything?

MR. KIRBY- I’m going to have to refer you to the State Department for that. I don’t have any updates for you. As you know, when this first group of special immigrants do get to the United States, they will be temporarily housed at Fort Lee. That is all still moving right along. And we're certainly pleased to be able to contribute to this effort. But our focus really is on the temporary housing of this first group, and I would let the State Department speak to process beyond that. 

Q: Do you know, are there, are there any plans for any other bases or any other temporary housing kind of in the works outside of Fort Lee?

MR. KIRBY: Right now the focus is on Fort Lee. We don't have a specific request from the State Department to pursue another installation. Obviously, this is a State led effort and should there be that need, we will certainly take into consideration. But right now there's no additional request for assistance in terms of U.S., domestic U.S. installations.

Q-Can you talk a little bit about the importance of the U.S. Indonesia exercises that are going right now? Garuda Strait? And I know we're going to the Philippines that we've got U.S. exercises with the Philippines going on now too there. Can you talk about some of the things put in place with the pandemic? What extra precautions are put in place to kind of protect the service members on all sides during these exercises?

MR. KIRBY: Well we're happy to participate in these bilateral exercises. They're important for improving our interoperability. You heard the Secretary talk in his speech the other night about integrated deterrence. And that's not just a U.S. idea; it's not just a U.S. vision. It's about leveraging the capabilities and the interoperability that we have with allies and partners around the world, not just in the Indo-Pacific. And so these exercises allow us to improve that interoperability and those capabilities in this particular region. So we're obviously grateful for any and all opportunities that we get to train. As for COVID protocols, as you know, we are working, continue to work, to increase vaccinations among the force, and we obviously observe CDC guidelines throughout the force, particularly for those who are unvaccinated, so social distancing, the proper wearing of masks as appropriate. Nothing's more important to the Secretary than the health and well-being of our people and their readiness. And that means taking this this virus very very seriously.

Q: At the Pentagon, are you considering any mandatory vaccinations at this point? Is that an option that you're just looking at? 

MR. KIRBY: Right now, the vaccine remains voluntary, but as I said many times, you know, we're certainly watching the approval process and the Secretary has never been about closing down options with respect to the proper vaccination of the force.

Q: Overall, between Singapore and Vietnam, how's the Secretary feel about the trip so far?

MR. KIRBY: He's enjoyed it, he's learned a lot and he's greatly appreciated the chance to interact with his counterparts, right now in Vietnam, of course today he's really looking forward to the next stop with the Philippines. As you know he's going to be meeting with President Duterte this evening and then his counterpart tomorrow as well as other Filipino officials. For the Secretary, this was a very important trip to make. We have been to the Indo-Pacific, his first international trip, but that was largely to the north, Japan, South Korea, India. This is his first chance to engage in person in Southeast Asia. And as you know, Jim, this is a vital region, for economics. He talked about the - he talked about the straits; it's a vital economic part of the world. Obviously it's a part of the world where China continues to be very aggressive in the space. So it was important for the Secretary to get here. And I can tell you that in just the last few days, he feels like - the reason for coming is absolutely validated in the discussions that he's having and the reception that he's getting: both in Singapore and in Vietnam; very warm welcome, very genuine interest in having the United States be engaged in this part of the world, and to listen to them. A large part of what he's been doing is listening and getting a sense of this part of this part of the world from their perspective; the challenges as they see it. So he's been very grateful for the opportunity, very delighted with how it's going so far, and as I said, very excited about our last stop in the Philippines. OK? Alright.